Alembic – Timothy d’Arch Smith

alembic timothy d'arch smith.jpgAlembic – Timothy d’Arch Smith
Dalkey Archive Press – 1992

Alembic is a novel about alchemy, insanity, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and  magic. If that doesn’t make you want to read it, this blog isn’t the place for you. Alembic is the only novel by Timothy D’Arch Smith, a name you might recall from my earlier posts on his bibliography of Montague Summers and Books of the Beast, a collection of essays about the books of Aleister Crowley, Summers and Austin Spare. D’Arch Smith is a pretty cool guy.

The plot of Alembic is fairly puzzling. The narrator works for the English Government’s secret alchemy department. While he’s taking some time off work to visit his famous rockstar mate, he bumps into his coworker’s daughter. He falls in love with her, and they have some adventures. This story is punctuated with flashbacks of the narrator’s days in the army. 

In truth, it’s not a very good story.

Most of the novels that I’ve read this year have been of the trashy horror fiction variety. That style of writing is usually fairly to the point, and the books are plot driven, focused on the tale, not the telling. Alembic is quite the opposite. It reads like a book written to showcase the author’s writing. D’Arch Smith uses his verbiage to great comic effect at times, but overall, the writing style is overwhelming. Several secondary characters get lost and blend into each other in the dense text.

cadaver tomb rene chalon richierThe cover image of the book is a drawing of this statue. Originally the statue held the actual heart of René de Chalon. Cool.

When I started reading this book, it reminded me of the early novels of Flann O’Brien. This might have been due to the fact that Alembic was put out by Dalkey Archives, a publisher named after one of O’ Brien’s novels, but the grandiose descriptions of the utterly banal definitely seemed a bit Flannesque to me.  The other influence that I couldn’t help but notice was Nabakov’s Lolita. Yes, unfortunately this is another book about a grown man falling in love with and raping a child. I didn’t like this part. The girl in here is 14. The male is in his mid twenties. Aside from one comically repulsive scene, this book isn’t sexually explicit, but it was still unpleasant to read the narrative of a diddler.

Timothy D’Arch Smith has also written a book about the Uranian poets. These were a gang of paedophiles who liked writing poems about little boys. Hey, reading/writing books about something doesn’t mean you like it, but why put it in your own fiction? I don’t mean to be accusatory, but I did wonder why he didn’t just make the girl two years older. 

One possible explanation might be the fact that the book revolves around a Led Zeppelin styled band named Celestial Praylin. I’m not a big enough Zeppelin fan to have been able to understand the similarities between them and the fake band, but the cover of the book and every review I’ve read of it has mentioned Zeppelin. D’Arch Smith used to be close with Jimmy Page. He was the guy who got Page all his books on Crowley, and he later dedicated his Books of the Beast to the rocker. Anyways, as we all know, Jimmy Page repeatedly raped a 14 year old when he was in his late twenties, so maybe it just felt natural to include a bit of child abuse in a Led-Zeppeliny book. Anyone wanting to play the “14 is old enough to give consent” or “times were different back then” cards can fuck right off. He knew it was wrong and he did it anyway. Page is a nonce.

aleister crowley signatureThe lettering of the title on the cover of Alembic is clearly based on the signature of Aleister Crowley although I’m not entirely sure why. It probably has something to do with the magical child/homunculus motifs that run through the book.

I was a bit surprised with Alembic. I really liked the other books that I’ve read by this author, and I had wanted to read this one for ages. There were several parts that made me laugh out loud, and there are some cool ideas in here, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected to. Given the role of alchemy plays in the narrator’s life, I suspect that there were levels of meaning in this book that went totally over my head.

A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Porn

The most exciting part of Francis King’s Sexuality, Magic and Perversion was doubtlessly a passage towards the end of the book where King is discussing how magic has been portrayed in works of pornography. He points out that most of the occult-themed porn that had appeared at the time that he was writing his book had been written by people who had no real knowledge of occultism. He mentions one exception to the rule, referring to a book titled Inpenetrable (the spelling mistake is neither mine nor King’s), a pornographic novel that features the Order of the Golden Dawn invoking demons, worshipping Satan, and indulging in buggery, rape and psychic murder. According to King, the author of this intriguing text actually seemed to have had a decent amount of occult insight.

francis king on inpenetrable
After reading this passage, I had to find the book it’s describing.

In a footnote, King claims to have traced 3 separate printings of this intriguing book. One printing credits a Joel Harris as the author, one credits an Aristotle Levi, and the last seems to have completely withheld the author’s name. King points out that the text in all three editions was produced by photo-lithography, suggesting that all three derived from a previous edition that he has never seen. He also believes that the texts he had seen were published in 1970 or 1971.

I spent a few days trying track down a copy of Inpenetrable, but I could only find one other reference to it. Ellic Howe briefly alludes to it in the penultimate paragraph of his 1972 book The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. He claims that this peculiar work of pornography had recently been brought to his attention by a friend. Judging by the details Howe gives (or lack thereof) and the year that his book was published (the year after Sexuality, Magic and Perversion), I’d be surprised if Howe’s friend hadn’t been Francis King. Howe provides no extra clues about the origin of this peculiar text.

ellic howe inpenetrable
The title of the book, Inpenetrable, didn’t yield any other results, so I decided to search up the name/s of the author. “Joel Harris” led to a dead end, but there are a few, scant mentions of Aristotle Levi online. It seemed as if this guy wrote two other books, Spawn of the Devil and In the Devil’s Power, but there was no other mention of Inpenetrable anywhere. It turns out though, that Spawn of the Devil was translated into Danish and published as I Djævlens Magt, which translates as “In the Devil’s Power” – the two titles were a result of my browser’s automatic translator. There was only one book. Spawn of the Devil (and its translation) came out as part of the Svea Book series, a pornographic series that was published in Denmark in the late 60s and early 70s by a porn company called Nordisk Bladcentral. Some sources credit the work of this Aristotle Levi to a woman named Erica Schoeb, but Erica holds the copyright for all of the books in the Svea series, so it seems likely that she was the series editor or publisher rather than the actual author of any of its texts.

After several hours of searching with these clues, I found an index of science-fiction pornography that gives the following summary of Spawn of the Devil; “Maureen Graille, a seventeenth century witch, is reincarnated in the present.” Bingo! King had mentioned “Maureen Graille, the heroine of the book” in his brief discussion of Inpenetrable. I realised that Spawn of the Devil and Inpenetrable could potentially be two entries in the same series, but judging by the genre I was dealing with, I assumed it more likely that they were just different titles for the same work.

Ok, so I hadn’t been able to find a copy of Inpenetrable, would Spawn of the Devil prove any easier to track down? Like I said, there were very few (maybe 5) mentions of Aristotle Levi or his work online. I don’t want to give away my book-finding techniques to my competitors, but I’ll say that after quite a bit of searching, wrangling, infiltrating strange facebook groups and google-translating, I managed to obtain a single copy of Spawn of the Devil from a dusty, second-hand bookshop somewhere in the Middle-East.

spawn of the devil - aristotle levi
Spawn of the Devil – Aristotle Levi

Svea Book – 1969

Let’s start off with the physical book itself. There’s a few scratches on the cover, but nothing you wouldn’t expect on a book published in 1969. There’s no cover image or blurb on the back. There’s nothing inside other than the story itself – no details on the author or advertisements for other books.

The text is peppered with typos, but the standard of the writing is pretty good. I imagine that the writer probably wrote other, less smutty, books under a different name. In fact, some of the sex scenes in this book seem so sudden and unnecessary that I would be surprised if the author hadn’t originally had loftier aims for this work. This might well have been intended as an occult thriller that was a little too sexy for respectable publishing houses. Maybe after a few refusals, the author took his manuscript to a smut house and was told that instead of being too sexy, the text wasn’t sexy enough. Perhaps he cried into his typewriter as he reedited his manuscript and filled it with “hot cock-sticks”, “quivering quims” and “tight little shitholes” as a last resort to get it published. I’ve read other occult based porn in which the standard procedure was one sex scene per chapter, but this isn’t quite the same. Spawn of the Devil frontloads the smut – once the story gets going, the sex takes a backseat. There’s a few chapters towards the end with barely any riding at all.

And some of the sex scenes are absolutely ludicrous. I’m by no means an expert on literary pornography, and I know that different people get off on different things, but many of the sex acts described in here come across as vulgar and hilarious rather than titillating and sexy. I can’t deny the fact that I greatly enjoy vulgarity though, and I will admit that the following two page description of a disgusting incestuous liaison made me laugh so hard that I cried.

spawn of devil erotica
Please read both pages (higher res image here). It gets better and better. LOL.

Looking back, one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was Francis King’s assessment of the author as a knowledgeable student of the occult. The occultism herein is largely of the Dennis Wheatley variety, but, like Mr. Wheatley, Mr. Levi clearly has a basic understanding of what he’s greatly exaggerating.

spawn devil inside coverI presume the pseudonym is a mix of the Greek fella and Eliphas Levi.

This book is super rare. If you plan on hunting down a copy, good luck to you. If you’re not pushed, here’s a summary of the story:

The story starts off with Maureen, a witch, observing an orgy in the forest. She isn’t partaking, just watching. When she leaves, she is apprehended by an angry mob of villagers who presume she had just finished up early and was heading home. The mob go on to capture all of the revelers.

All of the revelers are burned at the stake along with Maureen and her husband, Tom. Just before they are set alight, Maureen promises Tom that they will live again.

300 years later, a pair of twins that regularly have been having sex with each other since they were children both feel a sudden urge to go and dig a hole in a certain part of their village. They discover a strange ring. The sister, who is named Maureen, puts it on.

Soon thereafter, Maureen is having lunch in a fancy restaurant. By chance, she meets a lady called Celia Aston. It turns out that Celia is one of the leading members of a magical secret society called the Golden Dawn. She invites Maureen and her brother Tom to her house where she shows them her magical book collection and introduces them to her husband.

Maureen gets it into her head that she wants to be in Celia’s position. To put a curse on Celia, Maureen and Tom perform a gruesome black-magic sex ritual:

sex ritual curse
Yuck, but also Hahahaha.

The ritual is successful and Celia dies soon thereafter. Using mind control, Maureen convinces Celia’s grieving husband to marry her within a matter of months.

Later on, during a Golden Dawn orgy, Maureen manages to summon a spirit. It’s either Pan or Satan, or maybe both. Only Maureen and a crucified prostitute that Maureen had hired for the occasion actually see the spirit. The prostitute goes insane afterwards. While this is all happening, one of the other members of the Golden Dawn, a lady named Nona, simultaneously gets raped and senses that Maureen is a bad apple.

After this night of black magic and debauchery, Nona and her boyfriend visit a very powerful old witch named Kyleen to see if anything can be done about Maureen. They don’t know it, but Maureen was actually watching them do this by means of black magic.

Maureen summons the spirit of Pan to kill all three of them. She is successful in doing so, but unfortunately for her, Kyleen had been able to do some summoning of her own. Shortly afterwards, Maureen and Tom are killed when their ship sinks during a cruise. Just before they die, Maureen reassures Tom that they will meet again.

The book ends in the future. In the year 2236, a set of twins are born, a boy and a girl.

Spawn of the Devil isn’t the greatest occult-thriller in my collection, but it’s nowhere near the worst. Its combination of black magic and silly synonyms for genitalia pleased me immensely, and I can’t imagine a book more appropriate for this blog. Moreover, the process of reading about it in King’s book, researching it, tracking it down, waiting to see if it would ever actually arrive, and then reading and reviewing it a few months later has been rather exciting. When I started this blog and began reading books by people like Montague Summers, Timothy D’Arch Smith and even Francis King himself, I was jealous of the depths of their research and of the discoveries they had made in the realms of occult literature. It may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I found it immensely satisfying to solve part of a mystery posed by one of these individuals 47 years ago.

francis king inpenetrable footnote

Inpenetrable was first published by Nordisk Bladcentral as as Spawn of the Devil, a novel by Aristotle Levi. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to know who Aristotle Levi (or Joel Harris) was. My reading suggests that he probably wrote other books (under a different name) in the late 60s/early 70s. He clearly had an interest in the occult. His repeated use of the word bollocks means that he was almost definitely British. This book was published in Copenhagen and translated into Danish, so it is possible that he had some other link to Denmark. Does this description sound familiar to anyone? I wonder if there’s anybody alive today who knows his true identity. If anyone has any further information on Aristotle Levi, Joel Harris, Inpenetrable or Spawn of the Devil, please, please, please, leave a comment or email me to let me know.

 

Grimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies

grimoires owen daviesGrimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies
Oxford University Press – 2009

Normally, when I review an occult book or a book on occult books, I spend most of the review criticizing the book’s claims and/or the author. Grimoires by Owen Davies is a no bullshit history of magical books, and thankfully, I don’t have much to criticize. This book was clearly very well researched, and it never gets bogged down in speculations on the efficacy of the books its discussing. This is an academic work, but don’t let that scare you. The actual history of grimoires is almost as interesting as the ridiculous back stories that these books so often include.

I’ve read and researched a few of the books discussed in here (The Lesser Key of Solomon, The Grand Grimoire, the Abramelin text, the Faustian Grimoires, the Necronomicon, the Satanic Bible) so some of this was revision for me, but there’s also a tonne of stuff that I had never heard of. I added a few books to my to-read list while reading this.

I thought I’d have way more to say about this one, but I don’t. It’s pretty good though. I’m quite sure I’ll be referencing my copy again in the future. If you want to read a book about the history of books of magic, this is yer only man.

The Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft

spear of destiny ravenscroftThe Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft
Weiser Books – 1997 (First published 1973)

I’m going to have to summarize this one before I comment about it.

In the late 50s, the author of this book, Trevor Ravenscroft, met a lad, Walter Johannes Stein, who had spent years researching the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny. Stein was going to write a book about the stuff he had learned, but he was dying, so he gave all of his information to Ravenscroft so that he could write the book instead. The Spear of Destiny, or the Spear of Longinus, is the spear that pierced Christ’s side when he was on the cross.

One morning, when he was a young man, Stein woke up and started reciting entire paragraphs of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, one of the seminal Holy Grail texts. Fascinated by his strange new ability, he decided to buy a copy of Parzival, presumably to compare with the passages he was reciting. Well, the copy he bought had some interesting notes in it. He tracked down its previous owner through his bookseller. The previous owner was Hitler. Hitler and Stein became friends (kinda). Together, they went to a museum in Austria to see a spearhead that some had claimed was from the Spear of Longinus.

When they were standing in front of the spearhead, Hitler started to glow and Stein realised that his friend was being possessed by Satan.

You see, Hitler was interested in the grail and spear because he thought they could provide him with access to the Akashic records. The Akashic records, for those of you who don’t know, are the imaginary library of memories of every human experience ever experienced by anyone. Hitler wanted access to these records for the purposes of gaining power, but he didn’t want to spend a lifetime of meditation to get there so he took a bunch of hallucinogenics in a black magic ritual to speed up the process. Unfortunately, while tripping on peyote, Hitler became possessed by the Devil. The Devil is actually one of the negative powers that came into being after some of the species that lived on the lost city of Atlantis evolved from stretchy mutants into Aryans.

Oh, and Heinrich Himmler was a zombie.

Ok, so Ravenscroft goes into a lot more detail than that, and I’ve left out all of the stuff about psychic time-travellers, but the above is a pretty fair summary of this book.

There are many, many issues that a student of history might take with Ravenscroft’s account, but there are two facts that are especially worth considering.

  1. The Hofburg Spear, the actual, physical spear that the events in book revolve around, is definitely not the Spear of Longinus.

The Hofburg Spear is of medival origin. It didn’t exist until hundreds of years after the death of Christ. This single fact obliterates nearly all of Ravenscroft’s claims.

  1. Ravenscroft never actually met Walter Johannes Stein, the supposed source for nearly all of his information.

Ravenscroft starts his book off telling his reader that Walter Johannes Stein, his good friend, deserves most of the credit for writing this book. The first chapter of this book describes, in detail, the pair’s first meeting. A few years after this book was published, Ravenscroft admitted that he never met Stein in person. He said that he had only ever been able to talk to his spirit through a medium.

When you take away the subject and the source, there’s really nothing left. It’s hard to find a footing for any meaningful criticism of this book. It’s too stupid a book to bother pointing out where it’s factually inaccurate. Ravenscroft is clearly attempting to be a part of the fantastic realism movement started by Pauwels and Bergier, but his book is one step stupider than the stuff they put out. While they encouraged speculation, Ravenscroft just tells lies. In Arktos, Joscelyn Godwin describes The Spear of Destiny as “the ultimate degradation” of the Frenchmen’s work and “blood-curdling work of historical reinvention”. A fair assessment.

Some have claimed that this book was originally meant to be a novel but that Ravenscroft’s publisher convinced him to write it as non-fiction so that it would sell more copies. I’ve no idea if that’s true or not. The book is so inflated with shockingly boring details that have little relevance to the story that it’s hard to imagine how it would have turned out as a novel. The story here is rather anti-climactic too, so I’d hope that Ravenscroft would have come up with something better for a work of fiction.

As a work of non-fiction, this is seriously one of the worst books I have ever read. I know I say that kind of thing more often than other people, but this really was a turd. The Spear of Destiny was written in an era when it was considerably more difficult for people to fact check an author’s claims, but much of the stuff that Ravenscroft tries to get away with is so clearly rubbish that I can’t imagine anyone being able to believe this shit. This book makes Holy Blood, Holy Grail seem like a serious academic study written to impeccable standards. Batshit crazy books can be entertaining, but this one wasn’t. It was tortuous.

The Spear of Destiny is a surprisingly popular book (my copy is from the 9th printing!), and you’ll find plenty of other articles online that do a better job of discussing its specific inaccuracies. I liked this one, in which the author worries about how to write about this book “in a way that was not plain sneering.” I hold myself to no such standards, so here is a picture I made of Jesus and Hitler spit-roasting Ravenscroft:

jesus hitler

Video Nasty and Year in Review (2017)

2017 was a pretty good year for me. I got a much better job, became a dad and went back to university (again). These changes, while mostly enjoyable, meant that I didn’t get to review or read as many books as I have in the last few years. However, I feel that the quality of this year’s posts has been of a decent standard. Here’s the best of 2017.

liber falxifer10. Liber Falxifer 
A heavy metal grimoire of dark black magic.

halloween and satanism9. Halloween and Satanism
Anti-Semitic Christian bullshit propaganda for assholes.

tarry thou till i come croly8. Tarry Thou Till I Come 
Including it here because, as far as I know, this is the only review of this book online. The tale of the Wandering Jew.

arktos joscelyn godwin7. Arktos
Some bullshit about Donald Trump. A very cool book.

holy-blood-holy-grail6. Holy Blood, Holy Grail
Jesus had a kid, and Hitler was a descendant of Dracula.

crowley book 45. Aleister Crowey’s Law and Lies
Getting to grip’s with Aleister Crowley’s bullshit.

faust demon 144. The Books of Faust
This one took a lot of work.

red book of appin scarabaeus3. The Red Books of Appin
Myth busted.

the aleister crowley scrapbook2. The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook
An interview with a Crowley expert.

robert anton wilson the sex magicians1. The Sex Magicians
My contribution to the conspiracy theories about the conspiracy theorist.

Well, there you go: Nocturnal Revelries’ best of 2017. (Just to remind you, as with last year, the links in this post are to the best posts of the year, not the best books that I read.) This blog has been going for nearly 3 years now, and I’ve reviewed about 170 books so far. I recently added an index page to the site in case anybody is looking to see if I’ve looked at a specific book or author.

Thanks for all of the support and interest. Remember, this blog has twitter and facebook pages to help keep you up to date with my ramblings. I’ve a few posts planned for the near future, but who knows what’s going to end up featured here in 2018. I’m going home for Christmas for the first time in years too, so I doubt I’ll post again until January. As always, you can email me with recommendations, questions, comments or threats. If you currently work in retail, know that my heart bleeds for you. For everyone else, enjoy the time off work, and don’t forget to go to mass on the 25th.

On Reading and Collecting Occult Books

occult paperbacksThis, my friends, is what it’s all about. Fuck your fancy hardback collection!

How could a person possibly enjoy Simon’s Necronomicon if they’ve never heard of Cthulu? Could they possibly feel the full impact of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness having never before encountered the dread cry of “Tekeli-li!”? Haven’t you ever noticed the references to Pallas Athena and the Balm of Gilead in Poe‘s the Raven? They couldn’t have made much sense to you unless you were familiar with Greek mythology and Biblical lore. Speaking of mythology, isn’t the Simon Necronomicon, the text that we started off with, basically just a silly version of the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth?

Even the silliest, most entry-level texts of Occultism require an awful lot of background reading if they are to be understood and fully appreciated.

“Occult” literally means hidden, and many “Occultists” out there limit their research to the esoteric. Occultism is generally concerned with spirituality and the supernatural, and many “occultists” that I have encountered have little to no interest in the major world religions, history, philosophy or science. I personally fail to understand how they can comprehend the Hidden without first studying and attempting to understand what is in plain view.

The internet has made countless esoteric texts instantly available to the neophyte. A few clicks on wikipedia and Curious George ends up bypassing Homer and the Bible and gets straight into nutty books filled with references to these works. These n00bs can’t possibly understand the stuff they’re supposedly reading.

Maybe I’m just getting old. I have similar complaints about kids these days being able to download obscure black metal records when they’ve never listened to Megadeth or Anthrax. When I was a teenager, we had to buy albums and check the thank-you lists in the cd booklets to find the names of other cool bands. Nowadays a kid can go from being a Justin Bieber fan to a devotee of obscure Finnish death-doom in just a few clicks. Start at the start or go die in your posehole, you annoying little snots.

And music, while obviously very different to literature, can also contain references to other music. (I felt chills the first time I heard the singer from Crypt Sermon bellow out “Fool, fool!” in this track, a song that is incidentally based on a story from the Bible. If you don’t understand the “Fool, fool!” reference, please abruptly find the closest exit and leave the hall. (That’s another heavy metal reference btw.)) This being said, a person can certainly enjoy a song without having heard older songs of the same genre. References within music (and fiction) generally serve aesthetic purposes.

Occult texts are a little different though. Their writers often deliberately attempt to obfuscate their message, and esoteric references are one of the more popular methods of doing so. These references, while often having an aesthetic quality, primarily serve as what I’ll refer to as “initiation bridges”. You don’t get to cross the bridge and pass on to green fields of understanding until you’ve done your research and found out what the reference means.

mythology book collectionSome of my books on Mythology

No matter how much background reading you do, you’re bound to run into these initiation bridges on your quest for secret knowledge. In my opinion, however, the occult adventurer is better off starting off on their quest with at least some of their homework done. If you want to become a psychologist, you need to study the history of psychology. Why should it be any different if you want to be a magician?

If you want to be a Satanist, please read the Bible and familiarize yourself with who Satan really is. It strikes me as bizarre that a person whose religion is named after a character from a book would not have read said book. Bizarre, but not surprising; Christians are in the same boat, with the same book. Hard copies of the Bible are widely and cheaply (if not freely) available, and it is my firm belief that every Christian, Satanist, atheist and occultist should have a copy of it on their bookshelf for reference. I have a few.

bible collection

I recently finished reading Liber Falxifer, a grimoire that I can’t imagine making much sense to anyone who isn’t familiar with Gnosticism and the book of Genesis. Indeed, it was my ruminations on that book that led to this post. Check this out:
poser occultist booksI saw this posted on facebook a few weeks ago. That collection of 6 books makes up the entirety of an individual’s library. Now look, I understand that it’s not fair to judge a person based on the number of books in their collection, but I think it is fair to judge a person based on the types of books in their collection. The books in this collection are fancy-pants hardbacks that sell individually for anything between 50 and 1000 dollars. Does expensive mean better? Can you remember the tale of the Emperor and his new clothes?

I also think it’s fair, and even important, in this situation, to judge a person based on the types of books NOT in their collection. His six books doubtlessly contain references to texts not in his possession. Does he just use wikipedia to check these references? Don’t get me wrong; I use the internet to research stuff all the time. Just remember that in this case, this person has thousands of dollars to spend on books, and it very much seems that he wants people to know that he’s a book collector. It looks like he has deliberately limited his purchases to obscure, expensive books, and as you can tell, this pisses me off. Books are for reading, not for showing off.

Yeah, ok. I am obviously guilty of showing off my book collection at every given opportunity, but at least I actually read them.

You might accuse me of jealousy, and while I can freely admit that I’m jealous of anyone who clearly has fewer responsibilities than I, I would not trade my extensive collection of trashy paperback classics for a much smaller collection of far more expensive texts. For a thousand dollars, you could buy one copy of Liber Falxifer from an Ebay auction or literally hundreds of peculiar and interesting paperbacks from library book sales and second hand book stores. Which choice is going to give you more hours of entertainment? Which choice is going to give you more knowledge?

Interestingly enough, the author of Liber Falxifer seems to agree with me on the price issue. In an interview he actually encouraged people to download pdf versions of his sold-out books rather than paying anything over the original sale price for second hand copies. I have to say, I respect him for that. The original prices for his works are reasonable for nice books put out by an independent publisher.

You see, I understand that some things are worth more than others, but just as an expensive video game is useless without a console, so too is an occult book without an appropriate amount of background knowledge. I don’t think it controversial to say that Occultism is about knowledge, and spending a ridiculous amount of money on a rare occult book does not make you a knowledgeable occultist.

web of occult books.jpgI’m already seeing about 5 more connections between these texts.

I had an English teacher when I was in secondary school who used to say, “You can buy fashion, but you can’t buy style.” I’ve been struggling to make a very similar point as succinctly. To sum up this post then: Any fool can buy books, but true understanding of the Occult is available only to the dedicated student.

The practical value of studying the occult is a separate matter, one which I might address in the future. For now, it shall suffice to say that personally, I reckon most of it’s absolute rubbish.

To end on a positive note though, let us remember that while many texts require extensive background reading, these texts will likely also lead to further reading. One of my favourite things about reading is finding the name of some curious book being mentioned and then going out and tracking down a copy, only to find it filled with references to other curious tomes. You’re never going to run out of books to read, thank goodness.

occult book collection.jpg“Not for sale. Just showcasing my collection as of 2017.”

The Unknown Origins of the Nine Unknown Men

talbot mundy nine unknownThe Nine Unknown – Talbot Mundy
1923

This is a 1923 adventure novel by Talbot Mundy. It’s a moderately entertaining read, but the writing is surprisingly heavy for a work that was originally serialized in Adventure Magazine. It has the kind of plot that makes you want to read quickly, but the writing is so dense that you can’t really skim through it. The frustratingly large cast of characters is made up of protagonists from Mundy’s other works, and as I haven’t read anything else by Mundy, I repeatedly found myself having to consult the first chapter in order to figure out who was who. By the end of the novel I had figured out that the team of good guys consists of a Sikh, a Muslim (with several interchangeable sons), a Christian priest, a strange Indian man and four white guys. The white guys are the heroes from other books by Mundy. I’m sure his fans would have loved this crossover, but I could barely tell these lads apart.

This dream team was assembled by the priest to help attain a mysterious set of books that contain some terrible knowledge. These books are kept by a very secretive and mysterious secret society known as the Nine Unknown or the Nine Unknown Men. The priest intends to burn the books as soon as he gets his hands on them in order to keep the public from ever reading their secrets. Naturally enough, the Nine Unknown don’t want to let this happen. (I found the priest’s name, Father Cyprian, quite intriguing; Saint Cyprian of Antioch was an alleged sorcerer and author of several grimoires. Can we be sure that he really wants to burn these books?).

Also thrown into the mix are a fake Nine. These impostors share the protagonists’ goal of attaining the books, but they want to do so for their own benefit. These lads are trained killers and hypnotists and cause some serious problems for the good guys (and the original Nine, who actually seem pretty chill once you get to know them). Fires, jailbreaks, trips to a brothel, talking corpses, unruly mobs and vicious battles ensue.

Ok, so an adventure novel about a secret society and a set of mysterious books that features hypnotism and chatty corpses sounds like the kind of thing that you’d expect to find reviewed on this blog. However, the really interesting thing about this novel is not the text itself but the conspiracy theory that grew out of it. You see, there are people out there who have come to believe in the literal existence of the Nine Unknown.

The internet is full of confused references to this book and the conspiracy theories it inspired. Most depict that the Nine as guardians of society, withholding dangerous information about nuclear physics to protect humanity from itself. This much is revealed or at least suggested by the end of the novel. But you’ll find many websites that claim that Mundy’s novel mentions the specific topics of the forbidden books being sought by Father Cyprian. The topics of the nine forbidden tomes are supposedly propaganda, physiology, microbiology, the transmutation of metals, communication (both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial), gravitation, cosmogony, light and sociology.
9 unknown ancient origins
(From Ancient-Origins.net)
You see, the problem here is that the topics of the books are never given in Mundy’s novel. Like many of the best conspiracy theories, this idea has its origin in Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians. While the two Frenchmen don’t actually claim that the list comes from Mundy’s novel, the passage in question (or at least the translation of this passage) certainly makes it seem like Mundy had given the list. The supposed topics of the Nine books are almost definitely of P+B’s invention. Also, in the passage in question, they quote Mundy, and although I am working with a translation (presumably of a translation), the quote is not to be found in The Nine Unknown. Looking up the quote online only brings up links to Pauwels and Bergier’s text. I’m not entirely convinced that Pauwels and Bergier made up the quote, but given the rest of their body of work, it really wouldn’t surprise me if they had.

Aside from Mundy, Pauwels and Bergier’s only other source on this topic is Louis Jacolliot, a man whose ideas of Agartha, a city in the centre of the world, I have previously come across in Arktos. (Arktos is a wonderful book, but it’s basically a compilation of some of the worlds craziest conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, it contains many references to the work of Pauwels and Bergier. It also contains several references to Om, another novel by Mundy.) P+B say of him; “Jacolliot states categorically that the society of Nine did actually exist. And, to make it all the more intriguing, he refers in this connection to certain techniques, unimaginable in 1860, such as, for example, the liberation of energy, sterilization by radiation and psychological warfare.” Note that Jacolliot died more than 30 years before the novel was written, so his knowledge of the Nine would be very interesting if it was real. However, while Pauwels and Bergier claim to have found information on the Nine Unknown in Jacolliot’s work, they fail to mention the specific text in which they found this information. I have not read anything by Jacolliot, but other people have, and as far as I know, nobody has found the section alluded to by P + B. Mundy’s novel is then, as far as any sane person has been able to tell, the earliest mention of the Nine Unknown.

A big chunk of Pauwels and Bergier’s section on the Nine Unknown has to do with the Nine’s origins. Apparently they were founded by Emperor Asoka (Ashoka). You will notice however, that all respectable sources (examples 1, 2, 3) on the Emperor completely fail to mention the Nine. Is that because the Nine have suppressed this information or because it’s a load of bollocks? I’ll let you decide.

Since Pauwels and Bergier’s book came out, the Nine Unknown have become key players in the world of occultism and conspiracy theories. They pop up everywhere. Anton LaVey thanked them in the dedication that was included in the first editions of the Satanic Bible. According to Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient Series (expect a post on same soon), the Nine are a benevolent group of mystics including the immortal Count De Saint Germain. They even appear as rockstars in the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
nine unknown illuminatus

Mundy’s text has been widely available for almost a century, and you’d think that anybody writing about the Nine Unknown would have started with reading this book. Unfortunately, judging by the articles I’ve seen online, this has not been case. If you want to read it yourself, it’s available online. However, nearly all of the copies of the text I found online were incomplete, missing several pages at the very end of the novel. Here is a link to the complete text.