My hero, Montague Summers

montague summersToday, the 10th of August 2017, is the 69th anniversary of the death of Reverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers. Monty was the early 20th century’s foremost expert on witchcraft, and if you’ve read through this blog before, you’ll probably know that he has long been one of my heroes. He seemed to have spent most of his life reading, writing, editing, and translating books on witches, vampires and restoration drama. I sometimes wish that I could spend as much time in the library as he, but alas, life is cruel and I am burdened with a thousandfold responsibilities that hinder my erudition.

I’ve read two books about Monty recently, the first of which, The Galanty Show, is an autobiography that was posthumously published in 1980.  While I had read elsewhere that this book does not go into much detail on Summers’ experiences with the occult, I thought that it might at least throw some light on how he adopted his rather peculiar attitudes toward the paranormal. I had my eye out for a copy for a while, and I got a good deal on one last year. It smells a bit moldy, but otherwise it’s in absolutely perfect condition.

montague summers galanty showThe Galanty Show; the Autobiography of Montague Summers
1980 – Cecil Woolf Publishing

Montague Summers was born into a wealthy, conservative family, and was raised to be one of those people who like to look back at the past and pretend to themselves that it was better than the present. Modern beliefs are crass and stupid; old ones are better: ‘People used to believe that witches existed, but they don’t now. Hmmm, witches must exist! Damn this modern incredulity!’ He felt the same way about literature too; he once claimed that Varney the Vampire (1847), a serialized Penny Dreadful, was as good as Dracula (1897), the single most influential vampire story ever told. In fairness to Summers though, he comes across as relatively self aware and willing to laugh at himself in this autobiography. If he was a snobby old plonker, he was at least a charming, snobby old plonker.

I had already surmised about as much about Montague Summers after reading a few of his other books, and by the time I got around to reading the Galanty Show, I was not so much interested in how he acquired his beliefs as I was in how sincere these beliefs were. Unfortunately, he is fairly elusive on this point. He seems more intent on characterizing himself as an old-fashioned man of letters than he does on telling his life story or discussing his metaphysical beliefs. In truth, this book is mostly just him talking about the books and plays that he was and wasn’t allowed to read when he was a child.

Now, it should be remembered that this autobiography was unpublished during Summers’ life, and the bibliography discussed below states that he had intended to write a second autobiographical work. This unwritten volume would have presumably covered his experiences studying theology, his supposed ordination as a Catholic priest, more information on his fascination with the occult, and perhaps even some brief discussion of his alleged sexual misdemeanors. In other words, it would have covered the really interesting parts of his life. The 8 page essay on Summers in Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Books of the Beast was more elucidating than his own autobiography. (In said essay, the author refers to the Galanty Show as “rather dull”.)

But The Galanty Show is not an absolutely horrible read. It’s boring, snobbish and full of references to works that few, if any, alive today have read, but this very pomposity is moderately entertaining. There was one part in which Summers is describing an old man who used to run a book shop, and he says; “A bath might have been of signal benefit, for I imagine he had washed neither face nor hands for many a twelvemonth.” I laughed heartily after reading that and hence determined to incorporate the word ‘twelvemonth’ into my lexicon. There are also two short chapters on witchcraft and ghosts, but Monty makes these more about books he has read and stories he has heard than about deep personal reflections. If your interest in Montague Summers is due to his expertise on Witchcraft, this is not essential reading.

montague summers witchcraftThese are the books that Montague Summers wrote about witches.

A few weeks ago, I acquired a copy of the Montague Summers edition of Henry Boguet’s Examen of Witches. I thought that I had completed the collection of works on Witchcraft translated, edited and written by Summers, and I was going to make a facebook post with a picture of the collection. Luckily, I decided to check myself before I wrecked myself. There’s no complete Montague Summers bibliography online though, and so I purchased a copy of Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Montague Summers;  A Bibliography.

montague summers bibliographyMontague Summers; a Bibliography – Timothy d’Arch Smith
The Aquarian Press – 1983 (First Published 1964)

Apart from a brief introduction, this is just a bibliography. There are two editions (as far as I know), and my copy is the revised and slightly expanded 1983 version.

witchcraft montague summersThe books about witches that Montague Summers edited, translated or introduced.

I was dismayed to discover that my Montague Summers Witchcraft collection is 3 books short of complete:

  1. He provided the introduction and notes for The Confessions of Madeleine Bavant in 1933. I am presuming he was also the translator, but I’m not sure. This one was banned as obscene shortly after publication, and all unsold copies were destroyed. It’s fairly rare.
  2. He also wrote an introduction and notes for an edition of Richard Bovet’s Pandaemonium, a 1684 work on demonology. This has been reprinted since, and there are copies available, but they’re fairly pricey. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.
  3. Finally, he wrote a foreword for Frederick Kaigh’s Witchcraft and Magic of Africa. This book is fairly widely available, but it’s the least appealing of the three by far.

Will I ever complete the Montague Summers Witchcraft collection? Probably not. The Confessions looks impossible to track down, and he didn’t have enough involvement with the other two to warrant me spending much money on them. Besides, I should probably read a few more of his books before I buy anymore. I’m sure it won’t be long until Monty’s next appearance on this blog.

montague summers vampires and werewolves
These are just some of the other cool books by Montague Summers.

LUDOVICO MARIA SINISTRARI: PART TWO (Demon Lovers)

demoniality-liseux-version
To quickly summarize what I’ve already written about Ludovico Maria Sinistrari: he was a Franciscan Friar who wrote a book that was basically a list of all of the sins that he could imagine. I wrote a lengthy blog post explaining Sinistrari’s beliefs about sodomy, and while I believe it was an informative and insightful post, it may have seemed slightly out of place in this blog. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a blog about Satan and the paranormal and spooky stuff? Surely sodomy isn’t very spooky? Well, no, but the chapter on Sodomy from Sinistrari’s De Delictis is one of the two sections from that book that is widely available in translation, and I don’t like half-assing things. The other, more infamous section, which we are going to look at today, fits far more comfortably within the context of this blog; it is a chapter on Demoniality. Demoniality, for those of you who don’t know, is the act of having sex with demons. Oh yeah, now we’re getting back on track.

The story of the manuscript of Demoniality is as interesting as its contents. In 1872, a French bookseller named Isidore Liseax spent a short holiday in England rummaging about in some antique booksellers. In one of these stores, he found a short manuscript titled “Dæmonialitas” and bought it for sixpence. He took it back to France, translated it, and published it 3 years later. It wasn’t until I read an essay on Sinistrari by Alexandra Nagel that I realised why this story sounded so familiar. Remember what I wrote about the opening to Bulwer Lytton’s Zanoni?

Liseux had never heard of Sinistrari, and he spent a long time trying to figure out who had written the text he’d purchased. Its author was listed as Ludovicus Maria of Ameno, but Liseux wasn’t able to find out any reliable information about such a man, and it wasn’t until he serendipitously opened a copy of the list of writers banned by the Vatican to just the right page that he discovered that this Friar of Ameno was the same person as the author of De Delictis. De Delictis had been unbanned for more than a century at this stage, and while it wasn’t widely available, Liseux managed tracked down a copy with a little persistence. Once he understood the nature of that work, he was certain that his manuscript on demoniality belonged to it. It followed the same structure as the other entries, and indeed De Delictis contained a chapter on demoniality. Liseux’s copy, however, while it started and ended the same way as the chapter in De Delictis, was largely expanded. The chapter in De Delictis is a mere 5-6 pages long, while Liseux’s manuscript was more than 80 pages. Liseux, by a stroke of extreme good luck, had found and paid next to nothing for the uncut edition of a paper on sexual intercourse with devils and spirits, the cut version of which was included in a book that was banned by the Vatican, the text of which had been written by a perverted, 17th century, Franciscan Friar. Holy quaint and curious volumes of forbidden lore!

There has been some discussion about the authenticity of the text. Why wasn’t the full text of Demoniality included in De Delictis? (Remember that De Delictis had actually only been banned for what it said about the qualifications of Judges, not for its details on sexual depravities. The lurid details in the apocryphal Demoniality pale in comparison to ‘the Doctrine of the Clitoris’ as laid out in the canonical chapter on sodomy.) Also, if you read Liseux’s introduction to his English translation of the text, several discrepancies arise. Alexandra Nagel has done an impressive job of listing and accounting for these discrepancies in her essay “Tracing the mysterious facts in Isidore Liseux’ publication of De Daemonialitate by Ludovico M. Sinistrari”, and if you’re interested in the details, her paper is better researched and more informative than what you’re going to read here. Suffice to say, the expanded version of Demoniality was probably intended to be included in a later edition of De Delictis that was never published. While I believe Nagel’s conclusion that Sinistrari was in fact the author, I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if he wasn’t. This is a book about fucking monsters (and I use ‘fucking’ here as a verb, not an adjective). Does it really matter who wrote it?

Liseux found the manuscript in 1872, published the first French edition in 1875 and followed with an English Translation in 1879. This translation was popular enough to convince him to publish another section of De Delictis, that on sodomy, a decade later. One of the readers of Liseux’s translation of Demoniality was our old friend, Montague Summers. Summers was thoroughly impressed with the contents of the work but not the translation. In 1927, he re-translated Demoniality from the original Latin and wrote an introduction and set of notes to go with the text. I own a copy of Summer’s translation, but Liseux’s is available online. Summers spells Sinistrari’s first name ‘Lodovico’ (here and in his other works), but I haven’t seen that spelling anywhere else.

demoniality-summers-versionDemoniality (The Montague Summers Edition) – Lodovico Maria Sinistrari
Dover Occult – 1989 (This translation first published in 1927)

The book starts off explaining that demoniality is a separate offence to bestiality. Bestiality is having sex with an animal, but while demons are alive, they are not entirely corporeal and therefore don’t really count as animals. Sinistrari knows what demons are not, but it’s trickier to say what exactly they are. He distinguishes between evil demons who only fuck people to bring them into the power of Satan and a far less dangerous class of spirits who only fuck because they’re horny. These other spirits are composed of incubi and succubi. (Incubi are male spirits who fuck females, and succubi are female spirits who fuck men.) Surprisingly, most of what Sinistrari has to say is on the less malevolent, horny spirits, and the result is that this text feels more like a book on cryptozoology than a book on traditional demonology.

succubusThis succubus is a bit little. That man is a nonce.

In fact, if like me, you have an interest in books about cryptozoology/the paranormal/the Fortean, you’re very likely come across references to this text. Sinistrari’s descriptions of fuckable spirits are broad enough that they seem to fit many of my favourite monsters. Sinistrari argues, with evidence from Saint Anthony, that the gods, centaurs, fauns and nymphs of Paganism were all real entities and that the stories of them seducing humans were actually true. Montague Summers, in the introduction to his translation of Demoniality, argues that both the Jinns of Islam and the fairies and leprechauns from W.B. Yeats’ Celtic Twilight (an awesome book) fit Sinistrari’s decription perfectly. Hmmmmm, what other group of unproven creatures have been compared to fairies? I believe that our old pal, Whitley Strieber argued that his visitors had a lot in common with the fairy abductors of celtic lore. If that’s not enough for you, Strieber actually presents Sinistrari’s ideas as evidence for his visitors in Communion; in fairness, the similarities between stories of alien abductions and visits from incubbi/succubi are striking. Dmitri Bayanov presents ideas from Sinistrari’s Demoniality in his essay Historical Evidence for the Existence of Relict Hominoids. A relict hominoid is basically a Bigfoot. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge then that Demoniality is actually a book about sexual intercourse with Satanic demons, the Great God Pan, leprechauns, genies, fairies, aliens and sasquatches. I can’t say for certain that Sinistrari specifically intended for his text to be interpreted this way, but given his reasoning and willingness to accept the authority of other writers, I really don’t think he would have had a problem with this interpretation.

priest-having-sex-with-bigfoot-an-alien-and-a-demonIt’s all good, baby!

According to Sinistrari, Incubi and Succubi are surprisingly like people. They have physical needs and desires; they eat smells (solid food would be too much for them), and they fuck each other, people and animals. These spirits are endowed with both free-will and morality, and Sinistrari even suggests that they might have their own form of organized religion and worship. They are more spirity than humans and hence also more spiritual and closer to God. The fact that they are closer to God means that it’s as bad for them to have sex with us as it is for us to have sex with animals.

This weird logic means that for a human to have sex with an incubus or succubus is actually a dignifying rather than a shameful experience. Sinistrari never openly condones sex with this class of spirits, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t consider it to be all that bad. In terms of sin, he puts demoniality in the category of pollution. This means its comparable to getting or giving oral sex or a single finger up the bum. You might get an extra Hail Mary as penance after confessing it, but that probably wouldn’t stop you from doing it again.

Shagging one of Lucifer’s Henchmen is a different story; doing so is only ever done to improve your relationship with the Dark Lord. Satan’s malevolent spirit-servants are incorporeal and must either create a body out of filth or possess a corpse in order to be able to fuck. Also, they feel no joy when they’re getting rode. If you shag one of these, you are going to Hell. The sexual act itself would only count as pollution, but as it also serves as a contract with Satan, it becomes a damnable offence. The problem is that most people don’t know the difference between a friendly neighbourhood succubi and a cacodaemon, and just as attempted murder is as bad as murder, attempted sex with an evil demon is just as bad as sex with an evil demon. This means that a minor fling with an amorous Incubus could potentially land a person in as much trouble as bending over for the cock of Asmodeus. Now you know the difference, I hope you’ll think to look before you leap!

Another thing to be careful of is the way that spirits can alter their form. Regardless of their true appearance, demons seem to be able to appear in whatever form is most pleasing to their lover. This shapeshifting can get their lovers even deeper into sin. If a demon was to have sex with a man whilst appearing as that man’s sister, the man would be guilty of incest as well as demoniality. If the demon was to appear as that man’s dog, the man would be guilty of bestiality. Even if you knew full well that your lover was a demon and ask you asked it to look like a corpse for 10 minutes, you’d soon be guilty of necrophilia. Basically, roleplaying counts. You’re already in trouble for fucking a spirit; don’t make it worse by getting kinky.

But wait; wasn’t Sinistrari’s main problem with sodomy that it was sexual activity that didn’t lead to procreation? How is having sex with airy spirits any worse? Surely that doesn’ lead to procreation either! Well, actually…

Haven’t you read the Bible? Remember the Nephilim from Genesis? The Nephilim were a race of giants that were created when the Sons of God (fallen angels) mated with the daughters of men. Remember Jesus Christ. Who was his Da again? Now if he Bible contains stories of Spirits mating with humans, you’d better believe it’s possible. So how do they do it? Babies come when a penis sperms into a vagina; how can a spirit be expected to do this? Well, it used to be assumed that the spirits would turn into a succubus, fuck a man, save his cum, turn back into an incubus, fuck a woman and then fill her with the cum that they had taken, but there are a few problems with this theory. The first being that the resultant baby wouldn’t actually be demonspawn; it would be a perfectly normal human baby whose parents had never met. Another problem that Sinistrari notes is the fact that sperm rapidly loses its potency once its outside the body. Semi-corporeal demons would have no way of keeping the gip warm during the interlude between extracting it and injecting it. There’s other problems here too that I’m sure you can work out, and Sinistrari concludes that demons must cum their own cum and that this cum is capable of impregnating humans.

incubusAn Incubus works his magic. Why is he standing in a circle of eggs?

Sinistrari claims that Romulus and Remus, Plato, Caesar Augustus, Merlin, and “that damnable Heresiarch yclept Martin Luther” were all the offspring of spirits. You’ll notice that with the exception of Martin ‘the Proddy’ Luther’, these were all great men. That’s because spirits are closer to God than humans. The only problem is that human/spirit offspring are the same as horse/donkey offspring; they may get the beneficial aspects of both their parents, but mules can’t reproduce. Augustus had a daughter (who died very young), and Romulus may have had a son named Aollios and a daughter named Prima (such claims have been contradicted), but as far as I know all the other lads mentioned were either infertile, gay or just didn’t fuck. As mad as Sinistrari’s claims might seem to us, there was research and twisted, but apparent, logic behind them.

What about the Nephilim though? Why is it that demonspawn used to be giants, but modern day demonspawn are regular sized? Well there are four elements, right? So there must also be four kinds of spirits: air spirits, fire spirits, water spirits and earth spirits. (As silly as this might sound, it probably made decent sense to people living in the 17th century.) The spirits that fucked the daughters of men were air and fire spirits (again this is logical; angels came from the sky), and because fire and air are the more expansive elements, their offspring, the Nephilim were giant. After the flood, the fire and air spirits didn’t want to come down to Earth anymore because it was too wet for them, and so the only spirits left to fuck humans were the smaller, more condensed, water and Earth spirits. When you follow Sinistrari’s reasoning, it becomes apparent that he was actually a very smart guy living in a very dumb age.

demoniality-title-pageThe subtitle of the work, “A treatise wherein is shown that there are in existence on earth rational creatures besides man, endowed like him with a body and soul, that are born and die like him, redeemed by our Lord Jesus-Christ, and capable of receiving salvation or damnation”, has a nice ring to it; don’t you think? It just slides off the tongue.

I have plenty more to say about Sinistrari, but I’ve already written more than 5000 words about him, and I doubt anyone is that interested. (If you ever want to chat about him, e-mail me or leave a comment!) Demoniality is genuinely one of the most interesting texts that I have come across, both for its history and content, and I’ve no doubt that I’ll be referring to it again. If you have an interest in demonology or cryptozoology, this is is a must-read. Both Demoniality and Peccatum Mutum are available online too, so you have no excuse other than being boring.

Vampires and Vampirism – Montague Summers

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Dover – 2005 (Originally published as The Vampire: His Kith and Kin in 1929)
This is Montague Summers‘ first book on Vampires, and as much as I love the author, I have to admit that this was a rather dry read. I actually started this book to make sure that I would understand references that I might have encountered in another book I’ve been reading; Varney the Vampyre. As it turns out, that book is referenced in this book, but it contains very few references to vampire lore. (Varney is fucking DEADLY though. Expect to see it reviewed here in a few weeks.) Anyway, there’s 5 chapters in Summers’ book, and I’m going to go through each one.

1.The Origins of the Vampire
Here Summers explains several of the different elements that may have created and/or fed into the vampire legend. It includes copious stories of the reanimated dead, ghosts, premature burials and a huge section on incorruptible corpses. Apparently, there’s two ways that a corpse can remain incorrupt; the person has to have been either really good or really bad.

This chapter also includes a frustratingly multilingual section on necrophilia and necrosadism. Unfortunately the more lurid details are only given in French or Ancient Greek. I’m not joking; whenever Monty wants to give some really grisly details, he’ll switch languages. My French is poor, but it was good enough know that I was missing out on the best bits, particularly the story about the Garcon who said. “Que voulez-vous, chacun a ses passions. Moi le cadavre, c’est la mienne!”

(I have found an online version of the text, and I’ve just spent 10 minutes pasting those bits into google translate. It was worth it; my necrosadistic desires have now been satiated.)

2. Generation of the Vampire
This is all about how vampires become vampires. It mostly deals with excommunication from the church. Montague Summers knew a lot about the history of the church, and he wants to make sure that his readers are aware of this. Pretty boring stuff to be honest.

3. Traits and Practice of Vampirism
There’s a lot about suicide in this chapter, including some fascinating stuff on Russian suicide cults. Apparently one group of these fucking lunatics built a huge building with no doors or windows that was only accessible from a trap door in the roof. They’d jump in through the trap door and then they’d starve to death. Imagine the stench, the anxiety, the shame and the regret that these people had to endure until their dying moments.

4. The Vampire in Ancient Countries
I was expecting this section to be a bit boring, but it was actually quite interesting. It’s about the different types of vampiric ghouls that have cropped up around the world through history. I think that the sequel to this book, The Vampire in Lore and Legend (1929), takes up where this chapter leaves off.

5.The Vampire in Literature
This section was definitely the most disappointing, disappointing because I expected it to be the most interesting. This is just a bunch of summaries of different plays based on John Polidori’s story, The Vampyre. The summaries given are so detailed that I skipped through most of them; I didn’t want to ruin the stories in case I ever come across the original texts. Not only does this chapter contain the summaries of these plays; it also contains extensive lists of their cast members. This chapter is full of boring information, but it says very little.

Image1The pictures in this book are bizarre. I don’t remember why this mad woman is in there.

Overall, this is a decently interesting read even if it does get dry as fuck at times. There’s 5 chapters, and the way they’re structured seems a bit arbitrary, particularly the first 3. However, the worst thing about this book is that it’s full of quotes in different languages but contains no translations. If you really wanted to get the most out of this, you’d need to speak Ancient Greek, Latin, French and German. This is a bit different to the author’s books on witchcraft too. It serves more as an explanation as to how the Vampire legend developed than it does as proof of the Vampire’s existence. Monty never denies that vampires exist, but he doesn’t spend much time trying to convince you that they do.  As mentioned above, he wrote another book on vampires, but I reckon it’ll be a while before I get around to that one.

Image3Clearly a case of Lycanthropy rather than Vampirism, but a cool picture nonetheless. Could this be the instance spoken of by the great one?

The Books of the Beast – Timothy D’Arch Smith

beastCrucible – 1987
This book popped up in my suggestions from Goodreads a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I came across a quote from it that claimed that Montague Summers had attended Black Masses that I decided to buy it.

It’s a rather interesting collection of essays about different books, their authors and their publishers. The first and longest essay is about Aleister Crowley and his predilections for certain colour combinations and kinds of paper. That might sound a little boring, but I assure you it’s a very entertaining read. Not only is it quite funny at times, it is also astoundingly well researched and documented.

Timothy D’Arch Smith didn’t know Aleister Crowley or Montague Summers personally, but he did know people that knew them. He was also a dealer of rare books for a very long time, and it is rather apparent that he’s an expert in the field. (He’s still alive; I don’t know if he’s still working.) The level of detail in here is genuinely exciting, not only because the subject matter is interesting but also because the author has apparently been able to devote his life to tracking down and examining and reading rare books about magic and sex. DEADLY.

Yes, that’s right; not all of the essays in here are about magic. One is about the collection of dirty books in the British Library and another is about Ralph Chubb, a gay paedophile. It turns out that T.D.S. is also an expert on the Uranian (bent ref) poets. Apparently there was a bunch of poets in the early 1900s who had had enough of keeping their desire to bum youngfellas to themselves. Ralph Chubb was really into it. Smith’s essay is very interesting, and I wanted to read some of Chubb’s poems to see what he was talking about, but I felt a bit wary looking them up on Google.

It is suggested herein (and elsewhere) that Montague Summers, a name my readers should be familiar with at this stage, might well have indulged in a few Uranian fantasies himself. This book also suggests that he attended Black Masses. Monty you scoundrel! In his own books, Summers violently condemns such activities, but it is here suggested that he was a practicing occultist in his youth. Smith believes that Summers was sincere in his admonitions against the Black Arts, but I’m halfway through Vampires and Vampirism at the moment, and I’m really finding it tough to believe that Summers was as credulous as he makes himself out to be. Then again, maybe he witnessed something genuinely diabolical at a Black Mass and set out to warn the world of the dangers of the powers of Hell. (Smith also wrote an entire book on Summers that I hope some day to obtain.)

There’s some other bits and pieces in here too. There’s an essay on Florence Farr (a member of the Golden Dawn who shagged both Yeats and Shaw) and an autobiographical piece. Both are interesting and worth the read. There is also a short essay on Francis Barrett, author of The Magus, an influential book of magic; however, from what I have seen online, modern editions of Smith’s book have replaced this essay with another chapter on Crowley. This seems a pity as I really enjoyed the piece on Barrett. (If anyone reading this review has a copy of the newer edition, I would be happy to scan the section on Barrett in return for a scan on the newer part on Crowley. Leave a comment or email me.)

The cover of my edition is super lame, and the page numbers on the contents page are wrong (I don’t know if it’s a numerological joke or a mistake), but all in all, this book was great; it’s short, funny and insightful. I read it in a day, but I feel that I’ll probably consult it again. Timothy D’Arch Smith seems like a real cool guy.

The Discovery of Witches – Matthew Hopkins and Montague Summers

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Cayme Press – 1928

This is a cool one.  This pamphlet contains Matthew Hopkin’s treatise on witchcraft from 1647 and an essay about Hopkins by my hero, Montague Summers. Hopkins, for those of you who don’t know, was England’s self proclaimed Witchfinder General. From 1644 until 1647, he traveled from village to village, trying and torturing those unfortunates accused of witchcraft. England was going through a civil war, and the state of political turmoil made it possible for Hopkins to assume authority and roam about as he pleased, burning bitches and getting money. It is believed that he was responsible for the deaths of 300 people. (This works out at as more than half of the total number of witches killed in England from 1400-1700.) The story goes that he stole the Devil’s list of names from Lucifer himself, and that’s how he knew where to look and who to interrogate. There was a movie made about him in 1968 that featured Vincent Price in the title role, and many heavy metal bands have written songs about him. I think he was a pretty neat guy.

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The essay is fairly interesting. Summers gets upset over the fact that people presume that burning at the stake was the standard method by which witches were executed in England. Although many witches were burned alive in Scotland and on the continent, most English witches were actually hung. Those few that were burned were usually being burned for other, additional offences. Summers deems Hopkins a humbug, a quack and a mountebank largely on the basis that Hopkins was not familiar with the classic literary works on witchcraft. The fact that he claimed to be an authority without having first poring over the literature really seemed to grate on Monty. (Summers was enormously erudite and is responsible for many of the existent translations of these works with which Hopkins was not acquainted.)

hopkins
(Image From Robbins’ Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology)

Hopkins’ pamphlet takes the form of a dialogue between himself and a person who is not convinced of the legitimacy of his work. He explains how he began his witch hunt, the nature of witchcraft and the different methods of ‘examining’ a witch. These different forms of examination were really just different varieties of sadistic torture. Hopkins was a notorious witch-pricker. He and his accomplices, John Stearne and Goody Phillips, would spend hours sticking needles into women’s flesh. If they found a spot that would not bleed, this was taken as proof of diabolic interference. (The Devil always left his mark somewhere on his servants’ bodies, and the spot where he left this mark would not shed blood.) The only real problem with this method is that there is a finite amount of blood inside a human body, and the more pricks you give a person, the more likely the next prick will prove bloodless. In fairness to Hopkins though, pricking was only a preliminary method of testing. If the results weren’t conclusive, the witch would be ducked.

Remember that amazing scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the crowd decide to throw an alleged witch into the pond to see if she floats? (Watch it again and notice how they inaccurately claim that witches should be burned!) Well, a good game of sinky-floaty was also a favourite pass-time of Hopkins.

Image3
I’d allow her to swim in my pond any day.

Summers describes how before the witches would be thrown into the pond, they would have their thumbs tied to the feet on the opposite sides of their body so that their limbs would be making the sign of the cross. The reason that witches were dunked in this manner was not to see whether or not they were made of wood; it was because water, which is in some way divine by its nature, would not accept a servant of Satan into its bosom. This method of trying a witch always seemed particularly bizarre to me, but apparently the practice of dunking occurred in some parts of Europe up until the late 19th century.

Can you think of anyone else who floated on water though? Hmmmmmmmm? I wonder what his excuse was…

Other suspected witches were either ‘watched’ or ‘walked’. Watching a witch involved placing the crone in a room with a small chink or hole in the door until she either made a confession or something else occurred to prove her guilt. She would be forced to sit in an awkward position, and tied up if she refused to remain still. The watchers would keep an eye out for spiders or small flies that slipped into the room through the fissure in the door. If they were unable to squash these bugs, this would be taken as proof that they were actually the accused’s familiar spirits come to relieve their master in her hour of suffering. An elusive midge could provide interrogators with enough evidence to send a witch to the tree. Watching sessions could last days, and the witches were starved throughout.

‘Walking’ was when witches were deprived of sleep and energy by being forced to stay up all night, running back and forth in a small room. Ándale, ándale! Arriba, arriba!

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Hopkins also provides an entertaining list of the names of all the witches’ familiars that he encountered. He claims that these wicked spirits have “names which no mortall could invent”, and while Ilemauzar, Pyewackett, Jarmara, Jeso, Holt, Saoke, Griezzel, Wynoe, Panu, and Mrit are all quite unusual sounding, Pecke in the Crowne, Vinegar-Tom, Jockey, Sugar, Newes, Littleman, Prettyman, Dainty, and  Greedigut all sound very much like they were invented by a mortall, and that’s not to mention Elizabeth, Collyn and Sandy. Best of all though, one witch claimed her familiar was named Jesus. (Summers gets hot and bothered over this, claiming that “to name the Sanctissimum Nomen would be to banish the familiars and dissolve the enchantment.”)

After a few years, local authorities became suspicious of Hopkins, and he was forced into early retirement. There are stories that he himself was ducked, but there is no evidence to believe that this actually  happened. He died from tuberculosis in his late 20s. (Vincent Price was 56 when he played him in the movie.)

This book is fairly old. I had been keeping an eye out for an affordable copy for quite a while before I found this one, and all things considered, it’s in pretty good condition for what I paid for it. The cover and spine are in rough shape, the pages are yellowed and the edges worn, but I’ve been able to figure out that before I purchased this copy, it had probably remained unread since its publication. Several of the pages are bound together on the wrong side, making the book impossible to read without either tearing them apart or using a very small camera to slip between the pages to photograph them. Maybe there is a specific word for this kind of printing error, but I am unaware of it. Check out the video below to see exactly what I mean.

I read Hopkin’s pamphlet online a long time ago, and Summer’s essay is interesting but not exactly mind-blowing. As a whole though, this book is fucking cool, and the extra effort I had to put into reading it made it all the more enjoyable. It’s Walpurgisnacht tonight too, so turn the tables on Hopkins and make it your business to go forth, make love to the devil, ride to the Sabbath, and hang a witch-hunter.

Happy Walpurgisnacht!

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I thought I’d celebrate Walpurgis’ night by reviewing a classic work on witchcraft. Read it after you get home from the mountaintop.

The History of Witchcraft – Montague Summers
The Mystic Press – 1988
Originally published in 1926, this is the first full book on witchcraft by Montague Summers. Monty is a hero of mine. He was a Roman Catholic priest (of sorts) who spent most of his life reading, translating and writing books about witchcraft, black magic and vampires. Apart from his very apparent erudition, the most striking element of his work is his earnest belief in the topics he’s writing about.

His writing can get a little irritating at times; he seems to believe that anything that can be found in certain books must be true. The criteria he uses for determining the truth value of an account is whether or not he likes the book wherein he  has found said account. After discussing the necromancy of the Witch of Endor, he exclaims that; “The whole narrative undoubtedly bears the impress of actuality and truth.” For anyone who doesn’t know, the Witch of Endor was a hag who performed a necromantic ritual in front of King Saul. Now, Saul died approximately  3000 years ago, but the source that this information comes from, the First Book of Samuel, was only written about 2600 years ago. This means that even if the story ever had any basis in truth, it was still dragged through four centuries of oral re-telling before it was ever written down. Aside from that, it’s a fucking mental story that even the Church Fathers struggled to believe. But, it suits what Monty is saying, and so therefore it is undoubtedly true.

There is, of course, the possibility that Montague Summers knew that books disproving the supernatural are far less likely to sell and entertain, and thus he may have written the most sensational accounts possible in order to make a living for himself. I’m not saying he was a charlatan, but at times he seems incredibly credulous, and I’m not sure that I can believe that a person as well-read as he could possibly be so stupid.

And he really is very well informed on this topic. This book is comprised of a series of paraphrased accounts of witches, sabbats, and possessions from other, more ancient texts. The last chapter here is basically a list of every play in the canon of English literature that deals with witchcraft. One of the nicest features of this book is that each chapter has a detailed notes section that gives the source of nearly every account given.  Summers seems to be the leading authority on witch-lit; nearly half the books on witchcraft in my library were either translated or introduced by our Monty. (And most of the other half are his originals)

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(Also known as ‘The History of Witchcraft and Demonology‘)

I don’t want to ruin the fun for anyone who’s going to read this, so I’ll just mention a few parts of this book that made me chuckle.

First of all, Summers really hated Protestantism. He points out that Scotland and England were full of that heresy, and hence also full of witches. Good old Catholic Ireland however, had barely any witches, and the witches that did show up there were all prods. He also claims that prods disrespectfully refer to the Holy Communion wafers as ‘Jack-in-the-box’. LOL

Secondly, this book introduced me to Fascinus, my new favourite Roman God.  I hadn’t heard of this particular chappy before, and there was something in Summer’s peculiarly awkward mention of him that made me want to look him up.

Summers also gives a satisfying account of my old friend Tanchelin. Apparently Tanch used to go around claiming to be God himself, and his followers “regarded this lunatic wretch with such an excess of veneration that the dirty water from his bath was actually collected in phials and solemnly distributed among them.” The fun didn’t last long however, as apparently “a priest maddened by the outrages and profanities of this hellish crew, scattered the heretic’s brains upon the deck of his royal barge.” I have to say, this Tanchelin character becomes more interesting every time I come across him. That priest sounds fucking cool too.

Overall, this book was quite enjoyable. Whatever about the author’s ludicrous beliefs, this account is well written and well referenced. The subject matter is very depressing when you stop to remember that this isn’t a work of Gothic fiction. I had intended to review it with its companion piece, The Geography of Witchcraft, but 1000+ pages on witchcraft over two weeks would be too much for me. I’ll save that one for Halloween. I’ll give this one a 7.5/10 and recommend it to anyone with any interest in witchcraft.