Hail to the King!

Towards the end of last year, I wrote a long post about the work of Stephen King. I had read nothing but King for a few weeks prior to writing that, and so I decided to give him a break for a while. He has been showing up in the news recently due to his hilarious behaviour on twitter and for the record breaking new trailer for It, and so I decided to indulge myself with a smattering of his marvelous brand of trashy horror fiction.

it stephen kingIt – 1986

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I remember being thoroughly creeped out by the video box of the 1990 movie version when I was a kid but being a little disappointed when I actually got to sit down and watch It. With the new movie coming out in September, I decided that I had better read the book now so that I can act cool and knowledgeable to anyone who mentions it to me in the coming months.

In some ways, It is a brilliant novel. The characters are great, the scary bits are very scary, and the transitions between past and present are really well executed. I also have personal reasons for enjoying the story of a gang of losers getting into rock fights with bullies, building hideouts in the woods, and breaking into abandoned houses. I was a little older than the characters in the book when I went a very similar, although significantly less supernatural, set of adventures myself.

Several scenes in the book involve the kids breaking into an abandoned house only to meet It in different ghoulish forms. When I was 18, my friends and I broke into an abandoned house and went rummaging through the cellar. When we were down there, we saw a strange light glimmering on the wall by the stairs. This was rather frightening as it was well after dark, and that set of stairs was our only escape route. We grabbed what we could from the debris on the ground (a stick, a rope, a rusty grill…) and prepared to do battle with whatever it was that was coming down the stairs.

We waited in silence for several minutes, but nothing moved and the light eventually went away. Afterwards, as we sat on some chairs that we had fashioned from old breezeblocks, we came up with a story to explain the peculiar glare. It had been the ghost of the former resident of the house, an old woman who was none too pleased with our presence in her home. We wrote a song about it that began:

In the hoose (sic), the times we had.
Our antiques (sic) made the Granny mad.
Her toilet, it was brown and crappy;
in the bin, her vaginal nappy.

shitty toilet
Her toilet was indeed both brown and crappy.

Anyways, there are several genuinely creepy scenes and ideas in here, but It is a very long book, and in truth, it’s a little incohesive. By 1986, Stephen King was the most popular novelist in the world. He could have written complete rubbish, had it published and sold a million copies. I’m not saying that this is rubbish, but I reckon it could have done with a bit of editing. Some bits aren’t really unnecessary to the lengthy plot, and some crucial plot elements (It‘s origin, the Turtle, how some adults can see Pennywise) are given scant explanation. This doesn’t detract too much from the book however; when a novel’s opening scene depicts a clown dragging a small child into a sewer to eat him, one aught to adjust their expectations accordingly. Don’t question the plot’s coherence; just turn your brain off and enjoy the trashy horror goodness.

When reviewing an extremely popular work, I try not to repeat information or ideas that will be available from thousands of other blogs and websites, but I will say that the infamous sex scene towards the end of this novel was damn weird.

I tried to rewatch the old movie version right after finishing the novel, but it’s very long and aside from Tim Curry, the acting is awful. I lasted about 20 minutes before watching a best-bits compilation on youtube. I will definitely be going to see the new version when it comes out.

 

cycle of the werewolf stephen kingCycle of the Werewolf – 1983

This story is packaged as an illustrated novel, but in reality, it’s shorter than some of King’s short stories. It’s about a werewolf on the loose in a small town. There’s nothing in here that you wouldn’t expect from the title and cover of the book. It’s not an unpleasant read, but I don’t think anyone would say that this is King at his finest. I read it on my commute to work one day.

 

carrie stephen kingCarrie – 1974

 King’s first novel, Carrie, is also one of his best. I started it one morning last week and had finished it by that afternoon. Obviously, this is a very popular work, one that has spawned 3-4 movie versions, and I was familiar with the plot before reading it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

This is nowhere near as ambitious as a novel like It, but I reckon Carrie is actually the better book. The reader quickly comes to understand Carrie’s plight and to lust for her revenge, but this book also encourages its readers to consider how they treat the Carries in their own lives. It’s a simple formula, but it’s entertaining and effective.

 

I love Stephen King, but I’ll probably leave him alone for another few months. He’ll doubtlessly appear on this blog again. Oh, and sorry for the recent lack of posts; there should be a few new ones popping up fairly soon.

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

tarry thou till i come crolyTarry Thou till I Come or Salathiel, the Wandering Jew – George Croly
Funk and Wagnalls – 1902 (Originally Published in 1828)

A long time ago, I read Paul Murray’s article on the greatest Gothic novels ever written. At that stage I had already read most of the books on the list*, and out of the ones I had not yet read, there was only one that I had never heard of: Salathiel The Immortal by George Croly. Murray’s description of the book reads:
Now almost forgotten, the Reverend George Croly was a friend of the Stoker family. In Salathiel the Immortal (1829), there are similarities of predicament between Salathiel and Dracula (as well as with that of Melmoth the Wanderer). Salathiel led the mob which promoted the death of Jesus, in return for which he was condemned to the misery of the undead state. A reshaping of the Wandering Jew legend which underlies so much of the gothic genre, including Melmoth the Wanderer. Like Maturin, Croly was a Church of Ireland clergyman.”
I have emboldened all the parts of this description that convinced me that I would have to read this book. I looked it up to research further, but could not find a single review. Ohhh, the alluring mystique! I quickly ordered a copy online, and when it arrived, I was thouroughly impressed with the physical book. It was printed in 1901, includes several full page colour illustrations, and ends with a bunch of notes and critical essays. It’s about 700 pages of small text though, so it sat on the shelf for four years before I found the time to read it.

tarry thou frontispiece
So, the Wandering Jew is a legendary character who was supposedly doomed to immortality after insulting Christ during the events leading up to his death. In this version of the tale, he is Salathiel, a priest of the Temple who had been gravely insulted by Christ’s heresy against traditional Judaism. Salathiel is the man who led the crowd demanding the blood of Christ. The book begins right at the moment of his exultation. As Jesus is lead to the cross, Salathiel hears a voice whisper “Tarry thou till I come” and understands that this is the voice of God telling him that he is going to have to wait around on Earth until Jesus returns on judgement day.

Ok, so we’re off to a good start: a cursed priest doomed to walk the earth until the end of time. Now this tale was originally published in 1828, so you would imagine that its 500+ pages cover a time period of almost two millennia. However, the protagonist’s most striking feature, his ability to survive for thousands of years, barely comes into play in the events of the story. The book ends with the destruction of the Second Temple, roughly 35 years after Jesus was crucified. Yes, Salathiel shows impressive endurance and manages to escape from some very tricky situations, but aside from the book’s title, first chapter and final chapter, there is very little in here that suggests anything preternatural about the title character; by the end of the book, he might be as young as 60.

tarry thou sorcerorSalathiel meets a sorceror and spirit (That’s him in the back.)

This book includes virginal maidens, gloomy dungeons, heros, tyrants, curses, bandits, miraculous survivals, clergy, secret passageways, night journeys, and strange spectres: in short all the things that one might expect to find in a Gothic novel. But these elements are strewn (rather sparsely I will add) amoungst 500 pages of historical fiction about the siege of Jerusalem. Realistically, this is a fairly dry adventure novel about a warrior who has little fear of death. The main character has to rescue his family from captivity about 5 times, he escapes from captivity himself about 10 times, and finds himself doing battle (both physical and mental) with countless foes. He becomes stranded on a desert island, he briefly takes command of a pirate ship, he plans devastating attacks against the Roman forces, and he does it all for the love of his wife and children. There are a few spooky parts; he meets a ghost, a magician and some strange spirits, but these events only make up a few paragraphs in this tome. Referring to this book as a Gothic novel is a bit of a stretch.

 

 

 

Just some of the adventures on which our hero finds himself

So maybe it’s not Gothic, but is it any good? Well, it took me well over a month to finish it. I found the first 300 pages or so to be very, very boring. In fact, when I was reading it, I started wondering if this was not a precursor to the modernist novel. I wondered if Croly had deliberately avoided mentioning the legend of the wandering Jew and instead focused on extremely boring details. The horrendously wordy prose inflicts a sense of brutal tedium on his reader, and this technique gives that reader a sense of what life would be like for an individual who was doomed to live forever. Is this a stroke of absolute genius, or is it just poor writing? It’s hard to say.

The characterization is quite awful. Aside from their names, Salathiel’s associates are mostly interchangeable; they’re either completely good or completely bad. Also, some characters reappear after hundreds of pages of absence, and the reader is expected to remember exactly who they are. The biggest problem is with the title character though. Aside from a few hasty moments when he is contemplating his daughters being courted by a goy, Salathiel, the hero of this novel, is a very sensible, rational, empathetic individual. The idea that he was the man that led the mob against Christ (the proverbial ‘Jew that broke the camel’s back’) is very strange indeed. I would not be surprised to find out that Croly had written the novel and tacked on the few Wandering Jew parts afterwards because he realized that nobody would be interested if he didn’t lure them in with a familiar legend.

tarry thou jesus crolyLOL, keep walking, lil bitch!

Of course, the legend of the Wandering Jew is in itself quite bizarre. The idea is that Jesus put a curse on the lad for being mean to him. Let’s just recall that the fundamental belief of Christianity is that Jesus Christ died so that the sins of man could be forgiven. Isn’t it a bit odd then that he would personally inflict immense suffering on any individual for wronging him? Also, the nature of Salathiel’s trangression isn’t even that severe when you consider the context in which it occurred. He, a holy man, genuinely believed that Christ was a heretic trying to pervert his religion. Sure, it was a shitty thing to do to try to get him killed, but Salathiel seems genuinely remorseful afterwards. If Jesus had only cursed him with a bad dose of verrucas, Salathiel probably would have had to sit down for a while to contemplate his bad behaviour, and I reckon he’d quickly realize that he had been a bit harsh. He would have asked God for forgiveness, and if God had truly meant all the stuff that he had just had Jesus tell everyone, he’d have to forgive Salathiel immediately. As things currently stand, Salathiel is doomed to suffer regardless of how remorseful he is. Jesus is a hypocrite.

To today’s socially conscious reader, the title of this book might set off alarm bells. After all, the Nazis once made a propaganda film titled Der Ewige Jude (the German name for the Eternal/Wandering Jew). The legend of the Wandering Jew is doubtlessly anti-Semitic in its origins, but in fairness to Croly, I think it is safe to say that this book was not anti-Semitic by the standards of the time in which it was written; he’s definitely not attempting to demonize the Jews. He is however, more than happy to malign black people at every given opportunity. At one point he refers to Ethiopians as “Barbarians, with a tongue and physiognomy worthy only of their kindred baboons”.

In fairness, this book does pick up quite a bit towards the end, but overall, it’s really not that great. Tarry Thou till I Come will be a real treat for anyone with an interest in historical, religious fiction, but it’s likely to bore the pants off everyone else. If you want to go ahead and check it out, the text is available online at archive.org. Make sure that you read this version though, as some of the other versions online only contain the first two out of its three volumes.

melmoth wanderer penguinMelmoth the Wanderer – Charles Maturin
Penguin – 2012 (Originally published in 1820)

Like I said earlier on, I bought my copy of Salathiel quite a while ago. I had originally planned to make this a comparative post weighing Croly’s book against Charles Stuart Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, a book that I had read long before hearing of Croly’s. Unfortunately, so much time has passed since reading Melmoth that I can’t remember it terribly well. I do recall it being similar to Salathiel in the following ways:

  • It is also excessively long.
  • It is also about a cursed immortal.
  • It was also written by a protestant clergyman from Dublin.

Unlike Salathiel however, Melmoth the Wanderer is very definitely a Gothic novel. Its title character is immortal due to his dealings with Satan, not Jesus Christ. I know that I enjoyed Melmoth, but I recall it getting a bit boring in places. Regardless, all book-goths are obliged to read this one. The cover of the edition of this book that I own is one of the reasons that I try not to buy modern reprints of old books. Luminous pink, turquoise and orange for the cover of one of the classics of Gothic literature? No fucking thank you Mr. Penguin!

 

*The following is the list of Paul Murray’s 10 favourite Gothic novels from the article that set me on the track of Salathiel.

  1. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  2. History of the Caliph Vathek by William Beckford
  3. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  4. The Monk by Matthew Lewis
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  6. Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
  7. Salathiel the Immortal by George Croly
  8. Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Pecket Prest
  9. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Dracula by Bram Stoker

Now that this post has been published, I have managed to review all of these books except Frankenstein. I’ll have to reread it and get it up here soon!

To give the Devil his due

amelia wilson the devilThe Devil – Amelia Wilson
Barrons – 2002
I bought this book for 2 dollars from a thrift store years ago. I finally picked it off the shelf recently because it’s short and I needed a break from a very long, dry Gothic novel that I have been reading. It met my expectations but did not exceed them. The paper it’s printed on is nice, and there are lots of cool pictures, but it contains very little information that I haven’t come across before.

The first half of the book goes into the origin of Satan as a devil. It discusses Biblical pseudepigrapha, folklore and Zoroastrianism. I liked this part, and was pleased at the level of detail it went into. Wilson clearly does not like how Christians have turned Lucifer into the bad guy.

ride to the sabbathRide to the Sabbath!

Next up, there is a section on the witch trials. Nothing special. This is followed by a short and very disappointing chapter on Satan’s place in modern society. There’s a page or two on films featuring the Devil, and very cursory glance at how he has influenced modern music. The Church of Satan is mentioned, but the author doesn’t attempt to explain its philosophy. There is one reference that quite irritated me. It reads; “One figure who has stirred a lot of controversy, is Aleister Crowley, a renowned ceremonial magician and expert in the occult who wrote extensively on the subject. There is no hard evidence that Crowley was in fact a Satanist, although many people who do consider themselves Satanists have read his books.” That’s all the book has to say about Crowley. There is absolutely no explanation as to why Wilson thought it important to mention him, and the wording of her reference suggests that Crowley was a Satanist because many Satanists have read his books. By the same logic, drinking water and breathing air are also Satanic. If you want to read a decent book on Satan’s place in modern culture, check out Gavin Baddeley’s Lucifer Rising.

hell
Wow, this is the most boring post I’ve written in quite a while. In fairness to myself though, I wasn’t give much to work with. This book wasn’t absolutely awful, but there are plenty of far more insightful texts on the same topic. I’ll keep it only because I enjoy filling my bookshelves with books that mention the devil in their titles.
devil books

Die Faustbücher

faust demon 17It was long ago that I first noticed the big can of worms labelled ‘Faust’ on the shelf of literature,  and despite an occasional peek inside, I was never certain of the precise nature of its gooey contents. Recently, I felt compelled to make a more thorough investigation, but after determining to take down the curious container in order to examine its contents, it slipped off the shelf, smashed on my head, and covered me with its slime.

faust demon 13The (very cool) illustrations throughout this post are taken from Doktor Johannes Faust’s Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis (Dreifacher Höllenzwang, letztes Testament and Siegelkunst), the Faustian Grimoire.

The Faustian legend, the story of a man selling his soul to the devil for a few years of power and wisdom, has so many potential sources that it is quite impossible to say precisely where it came from. The character of Faust draws on several real individuals including Simon Magus, Agrippa of Nettesheim, Paracelsus and the actual Johann Georg Faust, a travelling German magician who lived in the 16th century. However, as fascinating a topic as this is, I don’t want to pretend that I have any novel ideas on the origin of the legend. My goal for this post is more to outline and examine some of the major strains of the rather complicated textual history of Faust. The Faustian legend has long been considered an appropriate topic for serious academic study, but despite, if not because of, the quantity of writing about this legend, it can be quite tricky to distinguish between the different types of books about Faust. I’m going to look specifically at Faustian chapbooks, the plays that immortalized the legend, and some Faustian grimoires.

faust demon 16

The first printed versions of the Faust story appeared in German chapbooks in the late 16th century. The very first and seemingly most popular of these Faustbuchs was titled Historia von D. Johann Fausten, dem weitbeschreyten Zauberer und Schartzkünstler or The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus. The first widely read edition of this text was published in 1587 in Frankfurt by Johann Spies, but a slightly different, shorter version exists in manuscript form. New editions of this Faustbuch almost always contained additions to the tale (usually appropriations of other folk tales), and as the Wolfenbüttel Manuscript dates from the same time as the Spies edition yet contains a more concise version of the tale, it is assumed to be closer to the original text. (We do not know the origin or author of the original text.) The Spies version was translated into English in 1592, and it was almost definitely this translation that introduced the story of Faust to Christopher Marlowe. (I got my info on the Wolfenbüttel Manuscript here.)

I read the online translation of the Wolfenbüttel Manuscript and the 1592, English translation of the Spies edition of the Faustbuch.  Both tell the standard story of Dr. Faustus. (I’m going to assume that my readers have some familiarity with the legend, but for those who need a reminder, it’s basically the tale of a smart lad who gets bored, sells his soul to the Devil for 24 years of servitude, spends the rest of his life either causing mischief or having theological debates with his Hellservant, and eventually comes to regret his decision just before he has his body torn apart and strewn in shite.) The Faustbuch gives more detail on some of the events that are only briefly alluded to in other more popular versions of the tale, including Faust’s trips to Hell and Outer-Space, but the sections in here that Goethe and Marlowe chose to omit completely are chapters in which Faust plays the role of a folk hero, uniting lovers or stealing wine from the wealthy to give to poor students. There was one part where he comes across four other magicians who are performing a party trick that involves them cutting off their heads and reattaching them. Faust gets jealous and interferes with their trick so that one of their heads becomes unattachable. It really reminded me that episode of the X-Files where the magician’s head fell off. The other memorable Faustian rarity included in here is an episode in which Faust temporarily curses a man’s penis with flaccidity to prevent him from making love to another fellow’s wife.

The manuscript version has only 44 chapters, while the Spies version has 63. These extra chapters tell of Faust seeking paradise from a mountaintop, explaining the nature of thunder, casting a spell on some drunks to keep their mouths open forever, showing the Duke of Anholt a big magical castle, getting Mephistopheles to summon him 7 beautiful women so that he can ride them, digging a tunnel to treasure guarded by a Hellish serpent, and a few other bits and pieces. Later editions of the Faustbuch doubtlessly contain more such additions, but I’m in no rush to seek them out.

And indeed many other chapbooks were printed about Faust, but they all seem to have been published in German and I haven’t been able to track down translations. Wikipedia mentions Das Wagnerbuch (1593), Das Widmann’sche Faustbuch (1599), Das Pfitzer’sche Faustbuch (1674), and Faustbuch des Christlich Meynenden (1725). I haven’t read any of these, but I presume that they are just slightly different tellings of the same story. Several of these texts, along with a bunch of Faustian grimoires, were assembled in a collection called Das Kloster by a guy called Johann Scheible between 1845 and 1849, but again, I don’t think this has ever been translated in its entirety.

marlowe faustThe Tragedy of Doctor Faustus: Norton Critical Edition – 2005
Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe’s play played a huge role in popularizing the legend amoungst English speaking audiences, and may still be the most popular version of the story. It was written between 1588 and 1593, but the earliest surviving text version of the play dates from 1604 (the so called A text). There’s also a longer version of the play, dating from 1616 (the B text). The B text spends more time making the Pope look like a dickhead, features slightly more on-stage devilry, goes into more detail on the Horny Knight subplot (not as interesting as you might think), and depicts a more gruesome end to Faustus. There’s also lots of small differences between the wording of the two texts. Both versions are considered canonical at this stage, and many printings of the play include the two of them.

Personally, I reckon the A text is probably the best place to start if you haven’t read anything else about Faust. (The additions in the B version are frivolous, and they upset the tone of the play in my opinion.) In the A text, Marlowe trims the folkish-fat from the Faustbuch, and while presenting an issue that demands contemplation, he doesn’t get bogged down in existentialism; as George Henry Lewis wrote, “The reader who opens ‘Faustus’ under the impression that he is about to see a philosophical problem treated philosophically, will have mistaken both the character of Marlowe’s genius and of Marlowe’s epoch.” This is the reduced nonsense version of the tale and genuinely one of my favourite pieces of literature. I beseech you to take the time to read it if you have not already done so.

Marlowe 2nd edition.jpgTitle page of 2nd edition of the B version of the text.

 I first encountered Marlowe’s Faust in a class on Renaissance literature when I was 20. I had a part-time job in a carpark at the time and I managed to read the two versions of the play over the course of my Sunday shift. It felt mighty good to get paid for reading a book (although the essay that I wrote about the play afterwards was absolutely rubbish). 10 years have passed, and as it so happens, I managed to reread the B text while in work today.  It still felt good.

The popularity of Marlowe’s Faust led to several other dramatic treatments of the play including William Mountfort’s The Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, made into a farce (1697) and John Rich’s The Necromancer, or Harlequin Dr. Faustus (1723), but these were mere pantomimes. The texts are online, but I have spent the last month reading nothing but different versions of the story of Faust, so I’m not going to bother with them right now. The next important development in the story of the story of Faust comes in the 19th century when Goethe completes his version of the tale after working on it for almost 60 years.

faust demon 4It is quite certain that Goethe was familiar with at least some of the Faustian Grimoires that were kicking about Germany at the time. (Although this image almost definitely dates from after his death.)

While there are two versions of Marlowe’s rendition of the story of Faust, there are two parts to Goethe’s. (There are several early versions and drafts kicking about too, but unlike Marlowe’s, there is some certainty about which is the definitive version of Goethe’s play.) The first versions of Goethe’s Faust appeared in the early 1770s, but the first version of a distinct Part One was published in 1808. It was revised 2 decades later. The second part was published in 1832, a few months after Goethe’s death. He had only just finished it when he died.

faust part oneFaust: Part One – Penguin Classics Edition – Translated by Philip Wayne (1971)
Faust: First Part – Bantam World Drama – Translated by Peter Salm (1967)

Part One is a relatively straightforward version of the first part of the tale of Faust. The biggest difference here, and this doesn’t really come into play until Part Two, is that Goethe’s Faust doesn’t make a deal with the Devil; he makes a bet with him. Faust bets Mephistopheles that nothing the Devil can offer him will be able to provide him with any real sense of satisfaction. Goethe also introduces Gretchen, a corporeal love interest for the Doctor, and it is Faust’s betrayal of Gretchen that makes this play a tragedy.

Goethe’s Faust is considered by many to be the single finest accomplishment of German literature. The entire work is full of allusions to mythology, philosophy and 19th century German politics, and although Part One seems very straightforward in comparison to Part Two, it still contains some rather weird bits that are hard to make sense of. Believe me, I’ve had to read Midsummer Night’s Dream more times than I can count, so when I saw the section titled “Walpurgis Night’s Dream” I thought I’d breeze through it. Let’s just say that I was very wrong… Also, Goethe’s Faust is considered a Closet Drama (a play that is not actually meant to be performed), and while it looks like a play, it reads more like an epic poem. Because of its complicated poetic nature, any translation is bound to be infinitely inferior to the original. Thankfully, one of the versions of Part One that I own is a straightforward prose translation. I read this in conjunction with chapter summaries online to make sure that I was getting the most out of the work.

faust demon 5

I first read Part One a few years ago, but I went over it again for this post. Directly afterwards, I picked up the copy of Part Two that I had nabbed from a free books table at school last year. To my great disgust, the translator had attempted to put the whole thing in rhyming verse. I went to the library the next day and took out a few different translations. They all rhymed. It turns out that the rhyming scheme and meters used in Part Two are actually relevant to its plot; hence the lack of prose translations. I judged the 2009 Penguin translation by David Constantine to be the best one. It contains brief chapter summaries and decent notes. I also found these online chapter summaries and notes by Bruce McLennan to be extremely helpful in making sense of what was happening.

faust part twoFaust: Part Two – Penguin Classics Edition – Translated by Philip Wayne (1971)
Faust: Part II – Penguin Classics Edition – Translated by David Constantine (2005)
Faust I & II – Princeton – Translated by Stuart Atkins (1994)

Part Two of Goethe’s Faust steers well away from the traditional Faust story. Here, Faust falls so madly in love with the conjured phantom of Helen of Troy that he travels to the underworld of Ancient Greece so that he can be with her. He is accompanied by Mephistopheles and a Homunculus created by his friend Wagner. (I wondered if Goethe, a German Freemason might have encountered the mysterious Die Sphinx, but it was actually published 41 years after his death!) Things get a bit awkward because Mephistopheles is a Christian devil (I mean a Devil according to Christianity, not a Devil that goes to mass), and devils don’t have any jurisdiction in the Greek underworld. The three lads embark on separate journeys of self discovery and each encounter a bunch of different, often rather esoteric, characters from Greek mythology. This is fairly heavy going; I’m decently familiar with Greek mythology, but I would have been completely lost without the footnotes.

goethe and defoeI noticed that this shitty version of Faust Part Two has the exact same cover as another shitty book in my collection. (Image is Eugène Delacroix’s Mephistopheles Over Wittenberg, 1839)

mephistophiel
Goethe’s Mephistopheles (and his Homunculus) seem to be extensions of Faust’s personality rather than separate characters. (I’m sure there have been essays written comparing these three characters to Plato’s tripartite soul, Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego and probably even the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) Goethe’s Faust isn’t a warning to the curious; it’s a deeply symbolic and philosophic exploration of virtue, evil and human nature. I’m sure the original German text is far more enjoyable, but Constantine’s translation is still a rewarding (if very challenging) read.

“These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters;
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.”
Marlowe’s Faustus – Act I, Scene I

Magical books play a role in all of the different versions of the Faust story that I have thus mentioned, and it was only a matter of time before followers of the legend began seeking/counterfeiting these diabolical grimoires. There are many grimoires attributed to Faust, but like everything else relating to this legend, they’re mostly in German. The most well known is probably Magia naturalis et innaturalis, oder dreifacher Höllenzwang, letztes Testament und Siegelkunst. Like the other Faustian grimoires, this work was supposedly written in the early 16th century, but the earliest edition dates from a few hundred years later. (This one was supposedly from 1505, but it was published in 1849.)

black raven
Magia naturalis et innaturalis features the above image of a black bird right at its beginning, and you might read online that this image has supposedly led to the book becoming known as The Black Raven. However, looking for a translation Faust’s Black Raven will almost certainly lead you to a pdf version of very short Faustian grimoire titled ‘Doctor Johannes Faust’s Magical Art and Miracle Book or The Black Raven or also called The Threefold Coercion of Hell’. I’ve seen a few other bloggers complain that this translation isn’t accurate and that it’s far too short. While I can’t comment on the accuracy of the translation, I can say for certain that this is not supposed to be a translation of Magia naturalis et innaturalis. This short document is actually a translation of a grimoire called Dr. Johann Faustens Miracul-Kunst- und Wunder-Buch oder der schwarze Rabe auch der Dreifache Höllenzwang genannt that was included in Scheible’s Das Kloster (original text here).

original black raven.jpgThe Black Raven of Dr. Faust’s Wonderbook

Owen Davies, in his Grimoires: A History of Magical Texts, refers to what sounds like yet another text featuring the curious bird, and so it seems that that the Black Raven is actually a subgenre of Faustian grimoire rather than a specific text.

Magia naturalis et innaturalis has been translated, but these translations have been put out in small runs, and I haven’t found a copy online. I really doubt that the text lives up to the standard of its accompanying images anyway; it looks like a Kabbalistic nightmare. I did read through the translation of the shorter Black Raven, but reading it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as trying to figure out where it came from. People distinguish between Faustian grimoires and Solomonic grimoires, but this read like a shit version of the Grand Grimoire: Draw a circle on the floor, say a few spells, howiye Mephisto.

An assortment of Faustian Demons from Magia naturalis et innaturalis

Well that about covers what I wanted to say. Hopefully this post will help clear things up for anyone doing preliminary research on the texts of Faust legend. There are of course many more books on, about and supposedly by Faust, but I have limited this post to the Faustian Chapbooks or Faustbooks, the major dramatic representations, and the grimoires attributed to the learnéd doctor. Although the legend of Faust is distinctly satanic and deals with the occult, allusions to the legend and the Faustian theme are to be encountered infrequently by anyone with an interest in literature. I hope it will be a long time before I write another dedicated Faustpost, but you are quite sure to come across references to this legend in many of my future posts. To conclude then, I want to warn you that if you’re seriously considering making an infernal pact with the Prince of Hell but are worried about the consequences… don’t hesitate. Remember that Goethe’s Faust got away with it. Open a vein and sign up immediately. You’ll be fine.

Oh, and happy Easter!

Satan’s Disciples – Robert Goldston

satans disciples goldston.jpg
Ballantine Books – 1962
I added this book to my to-buy list immediately after stumbling across a picture of the cover somewhere online. I was worried that the book itself might not live up to the cover image, but it delivered.

This is a trashy and rather sensational history of satanism and witchcraft. Robert Goldston skips the boring parts (numerology, kaballah, astrology, palmistry…) and goes straight for the sadistic orgies, blood sacrifices, and hag torture. Needless to say, I enjoyed every page.

The introductory chapter to this magnificent work claims that “It can be safely asserted that from the year 1200 until the middle of the seventeenth century, the overwhelming majority of the people in Europe worshipped Satan and regularly attended his festivals.” While I have come to expect this kind of exaggeration from Christian writers writing about Satanism, nearly all of Goldston’s condemnations are actually directed at the church. He doesn’t quite espouse Satanism, but the book, as a whole, almost seems like an attempt to justify it.

While claiming to be a “a full account of witchcraft for modern readers”, this is really more a mish-mash of descriptions of some of the grislier characters, legends and phenomena from the history of witchcraft, each description doing its utmost to err on the side of ridiculous. Included are tales of the ‘blood cows’ of Elizabeth Bathory, how Oliver Cromwell sold his soul to the devil (I believe it, the cunt!), a woman who gives birth to a pair of goblins and feeds them to her dog, and Doctor Fian, a Scottish wizard who specialized in pube magic. There’s a wonderful account of a priest who stupidly banished a demon to a toilet and thus ended up with a burnt, shit-besplattered arsehole, and there’s the heartwarming tale of the Chatelaine De Beauvoir, a lady that I can’t find mention of anywhere else who managed to convince a troop of young men to be her sex slaves. She divided these men into different groups of animals (some were dogs, some were birds) and had them do her perverted bidding. When a police officer inquired how she maintained control over these fine fellows, he was told that she did so by feeding them her shit. What a cool lady! There’s also plenty of other stories about rape, incest and cannibalism. This book definitely doesn’t shy away from the nasty stuff. There’s one particularly brutal account of a young nun who is accused of witchcraft and jailed. Confined to her cell, she is routinely raped by her three guards. At first this treatment leads her to attempt suicide, but she later grows to like it and eventually ends up spending the non-getting-raped parts of her days worshipping Satan.

Towards the end of the book, Goldston temporarily abandons his objective of chronicling the history of witchcraft and devotes a single chapter to the actual practice of Black Magic. Chapter 11, Spells, Curse and Demons, is basically a grimoire in and of itself. It includes useful spells to cure gout, guard against vicious animals, summon Satan, get rid of a headache and kill your enemy. Crucial stuff.

In ways, this book was quite similar to Peter Robson’s The Devil’s Own, but while equally as trashy, this one contains a bibliography and actually makes frequent reference to real historical texts. I wasn’t surprised to see William Seabrook’s book on witchcraft in its bibliography either. All three of these books have a delightful bullshit/reality ratio, and if you have enjoyed one of them, you will definitely like the others. I would really love to know if anyone has recommendations for similar books.

 

Dracula vs Hitler

thebargainfrontcoverThe Bargain – Jon Ruddy
Knightsbridge – 1990
Although it’s disguised as a novel, Jon Ruddy’s The Bargain is likely the most historically accurate account of the sinister proceedings that brought an end to the second world war that has ever been published. This is the true story of how Count Dracula used an army of vampire whores to bring and end to Third Reich.

It took me approximately one minute to order a copy of this book after seeing an image of its cover online. I don’t regret my purchase. The cover is phenomenal, and the book itself is actually fairly enjoyable. There’s lots of sex, swearing and gore, and it really wouldn’t be fair to expect anything more from a book with that cover. To use Ann Radcliffe‘s distinction, this book is very much a horror novel rather than a tale of terror, and sometimes some straight forward horror is just what I need.
thebargainbackcover
Dracula never died, but he got really annoyed when Hitler invaded Romania, so he  made a bunch of vampire prostitutes and got them to fuck/infect/kill German soldiers. This is very much a Dracula versus Hitler story, and while that is obviously super cool, I was hoping that it would be more of a Dracula and Hitler (up a tree) story. I feel like that these boys would probably like each other, and instead of reading about their rivalry, I’d prefer to see them going out for a beer together. Holy shit, imagine how entertaining it would be if Dracula and Hitler had a weekly podcast where they just shared their stories and opinions. I mean, it would be evil as fuck, but I would definitely listen to it.

I had a fairly similar complaint when I read Dennis Wheatley’s They Used Dark Forces.  That book is about Hitler and black magic, but the dark forces in question are largely being used against Hitler. If I’m reading a novel about Hitler, I want him to be the main bad guy. I want to read allegations of him being a vampire or a black magician. I want a book that explains how Adolf Hitler would drink the blood of a virgin, then sprout wings and fly into the night sky to pay homage to Lucifer, his lord and master. If anyone knows if such a book exists, please let me know!

This book was still pretty sweet though. Read it.

Ludovico Maria Sinistrari: Part One (Help, there’s a clitoris in my asshole!)

Ludovico Maria Sinistrari (1622-1701) was a Franciscan priest, professor and advisor to the Holy Inquisition, a real smart guy overall. He spent the last 12 years of his life writing a book called De Delictis et Poenis Tractatus Absolutissimus or The Most Absolute Treatise of Crime and Punishment. This tome was basically a list of all the crimes that people could commit and the appropriate punishments to go with them. Sounds like a pretty useful book for an inquisitor to have, right?

Sinistrari was thorough in his work, and De Delictis, not only contains chapters on perjury, blasphemy, homicide and the likes; the author goes into delicious detail on the sins of the flesh, including incest, bestiality and ‘sacrilege with a nun’. Surprisingly enough, the book was put on the Vatican’s list of banned books for more than 40 years, not because of its lewd details, but because of what it says about the necessary qualifications of judges.

Unfortunately, the entire 600+ pages of Latin text that makes up De Delictis has never, to my knowledge, been translated into English. As far as I know, only three sections of the book have been translated: the chapters on Lewdness (Homosexuality), Sodomy and Demoniality. A professor named Hugh Hagius translated and published a small run of the section on Lewdness, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy. The other two sections were translated and published by a guy named Isidore Liseaux and are widely available. Demoniality came out in 1879, and due to its popularity, Liseaux went ahead publishing Peccatum Mutum – The Mute Sin, alias Sodomy in 1893. I usually don’t start with the Sodomy till I’m nearly finished, but today I’ll make an exception.

peccatum-mutum
First of all, Sinistrari has to lay out what sodomy actually entails. He believes that Sodomy proper is fucking and cumming inside an arse. Things get tricky when he considers the guilt of an arse fucker who cums outside of the bum. He tells of Dominicus Raynaldus, who concluded that “whoever has thus penetrated even without offering libation to the case, is to be sentenced to death, though not to be burnt after death”, but Sinistrari isn’t convinced. He seems to think that those who cum outside the arse probably only deserve to be tortured a bit. He’s firm but fair, and he notes that if a man bums once or twice but doesn’t cum inside the shitter, his torture should be mitigated; however, no such leniency should be shown to repeat bummer who tries to beat the system by bumming freely but withdrawing to jip.

Is the fuckee as guilty as the fucker? Well, if they wanted to get bummed, then they’re getting executed. If they didn’t want to get bummed, it’s up to them to prove it. If the bummee is younger than 18 years old, they should only be “scourged in a jail, or confined a long time in it; or he should be dragged for a few moments through a blazing fire”. If the bummee is less than 14 years old, they go unpunished, unless they are “a very cunning lad” who “is up to trickery”. These cunning lads, some of whom are as young as 10, “ought to be caned inside the jail, or even flogged around the prison yard”. So if you walked into your house and saw a man sodomizing your 10 year old son, you’d have to be able to prove that your son hadn’t been up to any tricks if you wanted to save him from a whipping after his rape.

Sodomy, of course, is not exclusively practiced by gay men. Sinistrari considers whether a “husband may penetrate into his wife’s rear vase in order to get up his mettle, provided he has no intention or runs no risk of discharging in it”. He doesn’t condone such behaviour, but he definitely doesn’t consider it to be too serious. A spot of anal foreplay is a mere peccadillo. Naughty but nice, eh Sinistrari? This is all a bit surprising given that he later claims that sodomizing a woman is worse than sodomizing a man. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I believe it was something along the lines of; ‘Sure, if you’re bumming a man, the bum was your only choice, but why would you bum a woman when she has a lovely pussy that’s designed to take in your gip!’ By similar logic, it’s also worse to bum your wife than it is to bum a prostitute.

I want to add a quick autobiographical interlude while we’re on this topic. I first heard of anal sex when I was 10 or 11. My friends and I were kicking football down the road from our houses, when one boy, let’s call him Joe, stopped the game and asked, ‘Did yous know that you can have sex in the bum?’ There was a pause of a few seconds as we let that sink in. ‘Yeah, that’s how ye always have sex,’ another boy responded. His response was hardly surprising to anyone who had seen his drawings of the female anatomy. The genitalia in such pieces resembled a diamond shaped crease which housed three holes of equal diameter: one brown, one pink and one yellow: three separate but inter-changeable components of one busy orifice.

‘No, I don’t mean up the fanny, I mean sticking yer dick up the actual hole that the shit comes out of; it’s called anal sex and your da does it to your ma every night.’
We were impressed, but nobody was surprised. By age 11 we all knew that all adults engaged in an innumerable amount of depraved acts. The most recent additions to our list had been the revolting ‘rainbow shower’, the confusing ‘ice-cream lick’ and the abominable ‘toilet tart’.

‘That’s gross, you’d get shit on your willy,’ another boy exclaimed. He was a bit younger, and apparently, his willy had not yet become a dick. ‘Yeah, a shit smelling dick, then ye get a blow-job afterwards,’  I added; this was a good chance to show off my vocabulary. ‘I don’t know boys, you guys seem to think it’s gross,’ Joe, seeing that we were intrigued, spoke with delighted smugness, ‘it might seem gross at first… but it’s like I always say… What comes out, must go back in”

I don’t know if I appreciated quite how funny that line was at the time he said it, but I do recall thinking it was very funny indeed. It has stayed with me for nearly 20 years, and I like to quote it whenever the unspeakable sin of the Greeks comes up in conversation.

Anyways… Sinistrari considered sodomy a crime punishable by death for any layperson found guilty of it. Things are a bit different for Sodomite priests, but it’s a little unclear as to why and how this was so. Sinistrari lays out the Franciscans’ method for dealing with bummers within the order. The Sodomites would be stripped naked in front of all members of the order, soundly scourged (“soundly” means two whippers instead of one), and then pushed through a fire. The fire would hurt like fuck, but the real reason for this part was to the burn and scar the victim’s skin so they could be identified them as a bummy-man in future. Also, the punishment for sodomy should always involve fire. Duh! Remember what God did to Sodom? Oh, and after the fire, the victim was locked up in a cage and fed only bread and water 3 times a week for a total duration of 3 years, and this was best case scenario for a Sodomite priest. If they had been found guilty of multiple bummings, they would continue to recieve several scourgings a week during their time in the cage. If the public somehow found out about the priest’s sins, he would be hung. The punishment was more to preserve the good name of the Catholic church than it was to deal with the sinner.

Now, what if you agree with what Sinistrari has to say about Sodomy but you still feel the urge to go out and bum? Well, Sinistrari acknowledges that if a man is tempted by the arse of another, he “may lawfully kill the person compelling him to commit sin.” That’s  right folks. Want to bum, but don’t want to be a bummer? BE A KILLER. Well, in fairness, Sinistrari doesn’t really promote that idea; he accepts it only if there are no alternatives. Still, I thought it an interesting insight into the perversity of Catholic thought.

Ok, let’s recap what we have learned so far. We know that sodomy is when an arse is fucked and came in. We know that sodomizers and sodomizees are equally as guilty. And we know that both men and women can be sodomized.
Keeping that in mind, let’s imagine a man having anal sex with his boyfriend. At the end, much to their mutual delight, the top blows his gip right up the bottom’s arse. It follows that the top has sodomized and is guilty of sodomy, and the bottom has been sodomized and is guilty of sodomy. Afterwards, they switch roles, and both lads have had to chance not only to commit sodomy, but also to sodomize. Happy days!
Now let’s imagine a male/female couple attempting the same feat. The man fucks his girlfriend in her ass and cums inside. He has sodomized and is guilty of sodomy, and his girlfriend has been sodomized and is guilty of sodomy. What now though? Is their night of passion over? Does the female never get the opportunity to sodomize back? What about lesbians? No sodomy for them at all? Sinistrari, 17th century, Franciscan friar though he may have been, seemed to believe in gender equality, and he seemed to think it was completely unfair that women were denied the chance to commit sodomy due only to their lack of the appropriate penetrative member.

“But of course women can sodomize!” I hear you say, “What about a finger or utensil up the bum?” Well, according to Sinistrari, a finger or dildo up the arse doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It’s a dirty practice of course, and he considers it pollution (a far less serious sin), but sodomy requires internal ejaculation (or at least the attempt to do so). He considers whether it’s possible if a woman could cum into another woman, but he regards this as unlikely. Interestingly, if a woman could come into another woman, it would count as sodomy regardless of the orifice. Now, if neither dildoing arses nor attempting to cum inside their partner’s holes through some form of erotic contortionism can deem a woman guilty of sodomy, is it at all possible for a woman to be a true sodomizer?

Well, I don’t want to be condescending here, but it seems to me, my good friend, that you have never heard of a little thing called the “doctrine of the clitoris”. It’s ok. there’s no need to be embarrassed. Lots of people haven’t heard of it yet. Sinistrari explains; “there is a particular part of the a woman’s body, which Anatamists call the clitoris. This part consists of the same tackles as a man’s yard, namely, sinews, veins, arteries, flesh and so forth. When in a chafe, it also resembles the yard. The clitoris distends with the rushing of seminal spirits, and, like the yard, is provided with a nut. At the top of the nut there is a hole”. Clitorises are funny things, and if they see too much use, they pop out. Yes, that’s right. A well-used clitoris is liable to burst the “exceedingly thin membrane that covers it” and rush out of its hidey-hole to remain dangling between the female’s legs for the rest of her life. A distended clitoris is often the size of a middle finger, but sometimes they are much bigger. In fact, “there was once at Venice a courtesan whose clitoris was the size of a gander’s neck.” Imposing clits are not overly common in polite European society, but in Ethiopa and other African countries, clitorises are burnt off at birth. This is because clitorises can get so big that they actually prevent the woman from being able to receive a penis into her vagina. Clits are the cause of several of the tales of women instantly turning to men. Popped clits don’t just look like cocks either; they act like them too. A clitoris is liable to grow “so big that it erects like a man’s yard, inticing them to coition, just as males”.

clitsMy friend Tim drew these pictures two years ago. They had nothing to do with Sinistrari, but they fit in pretty well here. Thanks Tim.

Now this is the interesting part. If a woman’s clit has popped out, it will swell and get hard as she gets horny. When this happens, the lascivious wretch might use it to “satisfy [her] filthy lewdness.” According to Sinistrari, women with wiggly, finger-like, distended clitorises like nothing better than impartially shoving these bizarre members into vaginas and anuses. That, dear readers, is how a woman can sodomize. This makes it rather easy to try a female accused of sodomy too; all you have to do is see if she has a huge clit. “Should the clitorus hang out in a woman, it is presumed she made use of it.” Case closed.

But what about the “must cum inside” rule that we talked of earlier? Well, Sinistrari does address this issue. He says; “If they make use of the clitoris as it is clearly demonstrated, in either of the female vases, they are guilty of downright sodomy; even thought the seed of the incuba does not enter at all into the case of the succuba, yet the crime is perfect in its kind. For there is copulation between them in due form, whilst generation can not ensue”. I can’t say I find this terribly convincing, but I am glad that he found a way to level the sodomy playing field. The punishment for female sodomites is same as for males. Women who clit men or women should be hung and burnt. Men and women who get clitted by women get the same treatment.

clitorisJust so you don’t think I’m making this up. (From page 13 of the book)

This post has become far longer than I expected it be, and if you have made it this far, I think you deserve a bit of a break before I start telling you about Sinistrari’s ideas on Demoniality (the fucking of demons). That text is more in line with the general theme of this blog, and you can expect the post on it at some stage in the next week or so. Until then, I want to make it very clear that I have been summarizing the ideas of a man who has been dead for more than 300 years, and I find his ideas both repugnant and very silly. The inherent homophobia and ignorance in his book is ludicrous, and the notion that we shouldn’t do something because it stops more people from being born is horrendous. The world is already horribly overpopulated, and I would encourage everyone to engage in sexual practices that don’t result in childbirth. Be safe, wear a condom, make sure your clitoris doesn’t pop out, and when in doubt, remember the schoolyard adage:
‘Up the Gee – HIV, but up the bum – no harm done.’