Witchcraft (The Story of Man’s Search for Supernatural Power) – Eric Maple

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Octopus Books -1973

This is a pretty cool coffee table book on witchcraft from the 70s. Most of it is the kind of stuff you expect from a 140 page overview of an overwhelmingly broad topic, but there were a few cool bits in here that I hadn’t come across before; some of the details on the torture techniques of the inquisitions made me feel rather uncomfortable. The section on Wicca is far too long, but otherwise the book  is pretty good. The images are by far the best part. I have a bunch of other books on the topic that are far more detailed, but I paid less than a dollar for this one, and I feel like it was a wise purchase.

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An irresponsible mother allows a dog-like serpent to give her a little bit of licky-licky-bum-bum in front of her kids.

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The caption below this Roman mosaic in the book claims that its intention was to “to crush the evil eye’s potency by means of pecks, bites and stabs”. Hang on though! The eye isn’t just being pecked, bitten and stabbed; there’s also a man farting at it.  And is that just a fart? That brown stream spewing from the man’s anus looks like it’s carrying baggage! Either way, think of how disrespectful that is! Imagine being captured by your worst enemy; he pokes you with his trident, throws you in a cage with gross insects and wild animals, stabs you with a sword, and then adds insult to injury by farting in your eye. What a blackguard!

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Good boy Jimmy, scratch that mentally handicapped woman’s face with your rusty nail. She won’t be casting any more spells on you after that!

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These images are the coolest part of the book. They’re from the aftermath of the 1963 desecration of Clophill Graveyard in England.  These grisly exhumations are thought to have been the work of Satanist Necromancers. 7 graves were desecrated and chicken’s feathers and blood were found strewn across the scene. One of the corpses was a lady named Jenny Humberstone who died in 1722. Her grave was opened 3 more times after the initial incident. I suppose that if you’re going to dig up a corpse, it’s probably more polite to exhume somebody that nobody remembers. It’s still pretty fucked up if you ask me. There was actually a horror movie made about Clophill church a few years ago, but it looks absolutely shit and I probably won’t be watching it.

 

The Satanic Mass – H.T.F. Rhodes

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Arrow – 1964

Arrow – 1973

Through an unfortunate postal error, I ended up with two copies of this little gem. I came across the title in the bibliography of Richard Cavendish’s Black Arts, and I knew that I had to read it. I’m glad I did; it’s really not as trashy as it looks.

Rhodes seems convinced that the heretical Cathars have been almost entirely responsible for all varieties of Satanic worship since their untimely end in the early 14th century. He portrays the Cathars as neo-Gnostics who renounced the physical world and the Demiurge that had created it. The Cathars supposedly believed that the Catholic church was worshiping this evil creator God, and hence saw any inversion of Catholic ritual as a positive form of worship of the true God.

Rhodes maintains that most Satanism is rooted in Christian dualism. This basically means that devil worshipers only worship the devil because they think that God is the evil one, and anything that goes against this bad God’s wishes must therefore be good. And sure, what other reasons could a person have for turning to Satan? A few dolts aside, I doubt there’s many people who get involved in Satanism solely through their desire to do evil.

What’s interesting about Rhodes hypothesis is that he pinpoints a specific movement and tentatively links their practices with the charges brought against the Templars, witches, Sabbat attendees and dodgy French aristocrats. One of the less convincing, but very interesting arguments he makes is that the alleged homosexuality of the Templars and later heretics had its roots in the Cathar practice of ejaculating into anything other than vaginas. The Cathars preached that sex was evil because it brought forth more souls into the material world. Abstinence may have been their goal, but they were realists. They understood the physical need to ejaculate, and they supposedly preached that it was better to be a sodomite or an onanist than to risk reproducing. Apparently their homosexual compromise was to become institutionalized in later Satanic movements.

Well, at least he’s being creative.

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If I were to judge this book by its cover, it would get a 10/10.

My biggest complaint about this book is that Rhodes presumes his reader has a solid understanding of all of the stuff he’s talking about. He introduces obscure characters and events from history and presumes that the reader is familiar with them. I would recommend checking out Huysman’s Là Bas  and the wikipedia articles on the affair of the poisons and the Taxil hoax before picking this one up.

There are some really cool parts in here. I was particularly interested in the account of the mass of Saint-Sécaire.  A mass “murderous in intention. The victim against whom its malevolence is directed is supposed to wither away and die of the mysterious St. Secaires sickness which no physician can cure.” Apparently there is no St. Secaire on record, and it seems rather uncertain where the origins of this legend come from. I’ve also come across mentions of this suspicious ceremony in Summer’s History of Witchcraft and Demonology, and apparently Aleister Crowley wrote a short story about it too.

I cannot deny that I laughed heartily when reading the details of the ancient and esoteric ‘ritual of the faggot’. The spell spoken during this ritual, which is used to gain control of another individual, contains the line; ” In the name of all demons, depart, faggot”. Imagine the accusations of hate-speech that could be made if a  modern day magician was overheard attempting this ritual from inside their garage.

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Doesn’t that make you want to read this book?

One final thing that I found very interesting was a biblical quotation on the title page book. It says:
‘Get thee abacko me owld scrat.’
Luke iv, 8 (dialect version)
The King James version of this line from Luke 4:8 is:Get thee behind me, Satan
I can’t find information on the dialect version mentioned in the text. I don’t know if it was an actual text, a joke, or something else. Either way, I would love to read more scripture in that dialect.

I would imagine that a more academic book on Satanic ritual would probably be quite dull.  This one has a nice balance of objectivity and goat worship. Rhode’s claims aren’t all believable, but they are worth thinking about. He rarely discusses the rationality or morality of the practices and beliefs of the Satanists, and he tries neither to polish nor to tarnish their already squalid reputation. The links between some of the sections are a bit weak, and in honesty, the last chapter is extremely dry, but overall there is more good than bad. Plus, the 1964 edition is worth owning just for the cover! (I reckon the more-boring later version was redesigned to look  like the Satanic Bible.) I’ll give it 7/10 and recommend this book to anyone interesting in Satanism.

Blasphemers and Blackguards, Do What You Will (A History of Anti-Morality), and The Hellfire Club

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The Hellfire Club on top of Montpelier Hill.

In Dublin, the phrase ‘Hellfire Club’ is almost exclusively used to refer to the ruins of the hunting lodge on top of Montpelier Hill. Families walk up to these ruins on Sunday evenings after dinner, and everybody knows the legend of the Devil appearing there during a card game:

Some lads were up at the lodge, gettin’ locked, shaggin’ tarts and playin’ cards. One of of the lads drops his cards on the ground. He stoops over to pick them up and notices that the lad beside him has hooves for feet. He stands back up and the other lad (Satan) disappears in a flash of smoke.

That story scared the shit out of me when I was little. I had visited the lodge when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until 2 years ago that I got to go back.

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A view from inside.

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The lodge was built over a pre-historic passage tomb.

Anyways, the original ‘Hellfire club’ was actually a group of 18th century English politicians. It was probably little more than an excuse to get drunk and talk lewdly, but it has literally become the stuff of legends. Several other clubs, including the one that met on top Montpelier hill,  have inadvertently assumed the Hellfire moniker, and these groups are the subjects of the three books I am reviewing.

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Blasphemers and Blackguards (The Irish Hellfire Clubs) – David Ryan
Merrion – 2012

This book gives an account of the several different organizations that were founded by wealthy rakes in Ireland during the 18th century. The clubs consisted of upper-class individuals who were able to use their place in society to get away with murder. The Irish clubs don’t seem to have been involved in much satanism, but it’s not hard to see how a group of licentious and wealthy individuals of Protestant descendency could gain a diabolical reputation in a country that was mostly populated by poor Catholics. Besides, the crimes that some of these groups committed were far more reprehensible than the boudoir blasphemy of the real Hellfire Club.

This book is fairly academic: it’s properly researched and sourced, and I never felt like the author was bullshitting. Ryan gives a trustworthy account of the facts about these clubs, while also delineating and discussing the folklore that has developed around the Hellfire legend. I’m from Dublin and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this account of the city’s shadiest secret. 7.5/10

The Hellfire Club – Daniel P. Mannix
New English Library – 1970

This book focuses on the The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe. While the Friars were not the original Hellfire Club, they were definitely the most infamous. This book is full of tales of blasphemy, debauchery and political upheaval. Even the less lurid parts of the book are fairly interesting. John Wilkes comes across as a particularly interesting character.

The big problem with this book is that it’s not properly sourced.  Many of the events herein are undoubtedly based in fact, but there are episodes in this book that seem to be taken straight out of works of fiction. One such episode, which involves a baboon dressed as Satan, is almost definitely based on a scene from Charles Johnstone’s novel, Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea. Chrysal was a satirical novel published between 1760 and 1765 that poked fun at the political leaders of the time. The novel is narrated by a golden coin that at one stage enters into the pocket of a Hellfire monk. Somehow, the experiences of this imaginary golden coin managed to transmigrate themselves into facts in Mannix’s supposedly historical account of the Club.

That being said, the subtitle of this book is “Orgies were their pleasure, politics their passtime”, and I wasn’t particularly surprised or disappointed to find that this book is a tad sensational. I’m giving it a 6.5/10 for its entertainment value.

Do What You Will (A History of Anti-Morality) – Geoffrey Ashe
W.H. Allen – 1974
This book has sections on Rabelais, John Dee, the Marquis De Sade and Aleister Crowley, but it’s really about the Hellfire Club.  Dashwood’s club is again the focus, but this time the author is reasonable in his assertions. Ashe presents very similar information to Mannix, but he does so in a far less credulous manner. This book is definitely worth reading if you want a legitimate account of the Monks of Medenham.

The subtitle of this book is ‘A History of Anti-Morality’, but more than half of the book’s chapters are on the Hellfire Clubs.  I obviously find the clubs fascinating, and I understand that their members played an important role in the politics of the 18th century, but I’m not convinced that they are the single most important anti-morality movement in the history of the world. I’m certain that I’m not the only person to notice this as recent editions of this book have actually been renamed ‘The Hellfire Clubs’. Basically, Ashe has arbitrarily chosen several groups and individuals, and assigned them an inordinate amount of moral accountability. It’s not that any of the material here is irrelevant, it’s the fact that so much has been left out. Compiling a history of anti-morality would be an outrageously difficult and lengthy procedure, and ultimately Ashe has failed in this task.

I was very interested to read a book that had consecutive chapters on the Hellfire Clubs and the Marquis De Sade. There are many parallels with Hellfire legends and the events in De Sade’s fiction. I have often wondered if the Divine Marquis had heard tales about the Brotherhood of Wycombe and taken inspiration from them. Think about it; he was a nobleman and a libertine, writing only a few years after the dissolution of Dashwood’s posse. I find it hard to believe that he had never heard of the friars taking young harlots into the sacrilegious abbey at Medenham or the Hellfire caves at Wycombe. I’ve done a little research to verify this link but I haven’t found anything to substantiate it. If anyone has any suggestions on where to look, I would love to hear from you!

Anyways, although I think that this book falls short on what it sets out to do, I did enjoy reading it. The stuff in here isn’t bad; there’s just not enough of it. That being said, there is an abundant amount of information on the Hellfire Clubs in here, and I would urge anyone who has any interest in this topic to get their hands on this one. I’m going to give this one a 6.5/10.

BONUS REVIEW
Secret Societies – Nick Harding
Chartwell Books Inc. – 2006
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I’m not hugely interested in most secret societies. I inadvertently bought a copy of this book as part of a collection on satanism.  It’s quite short and quite shit. It provides a little information on about 20 different secret societies, but doesn’t go into detail on any of them. I don’t really know why a person would buy a book like this. I suppose it would be quite good if you were taking a long flight and you needed something to halfheartedly glance at now and then. I am reviewing it as part of this post as it contains a section on Dashwood’s Hellfire Club. Let’s just give it a 4/10 and leave it at that.