To give the Devil his due

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

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

ride to the sabbathRide to the Sabbath!

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

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

To give the Devil his due

Die Faustbücher

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

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

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

faust demon 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

faust demon 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An assortment of Faustian Demons from Magia naturalis et innaturalis

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

Oh, and happy Easter!

Die Faustbücher

Satan’s Disciples – Robert Goldston

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Satan’s Disciples – Robert Goldston

Some Thoughts on Satanism…

Image1Satanism is a truly ridiculous concept. Satan, a character most famous for his appearances in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, is supposed to be a nasty, horrible, unpleasant individual, a real shit. Why would anybody choose to follow him?

Imagine this. You’re working in a restaurant and some dickhead customer starts getting lippy because there’s mayonnaise on his sandwich. You understand his dilemma, mayonnaise is fucking gross, but he’s being rude with you and acting as if it’s your fault. You can’t speak your mind to him because you need to keep the job, but you determine to remember his face in the hopes that you will someday be able to wreak vengeance on him.

Ok, now fast forward 5 years. You have since become a millionaire and bought a big house on the outskirts of town. One night you are sitting at home, watching a good film and sipping on a glass of fine Beaujolais wine. Ahhhh, what bliss! But hark, there’s a knock at the door. Low and behold, it’s the shithead that complained to you about the mayo in his sandwich. You remember him, but he has no recollection of you; complaining to service workers is a habit of his and he doesn’t keep track. It turns out that he got separated from his friends on a camping trip and he has had to walk 30 miles back to the city alone. He managed to say hydrated by drinking his own piss, but he’s starving and he’s asking if you could spare some food. You tell him that you were about to sit down to dinner and you invite him in. Once he’s sitting at the table, you stroll into the kitchen and return  with a jar of Hellmans and two spoons. Bon Appetit, cunt!

I presume that you’ve realised that in the above scenario you’re a Satanist, the shitty customer is Christianity, and the mayonnaise is Satan. Let me clarify; Satan sucks for everyone, but Christianity is so shitty that it’s actually worth debasing yourself by pretending to like mayonnaise in order to defy it. I hope that makes sense; I think it’s a pretty tight analogy.

20160822_231909
You might then ask whether Satanists are really worshiping Satan or just pretending to worship him in order to scare/upset Christians. Well, it’s a little of column A, a little of column B. The Satan of Satanism isn’t quite the same Satan that appears in  the New Testament; he has been upgraded. To a Satanist, Satan represents freedom rather than evil

Let me clarify; Satanism and Devil worship are not the same thing. To Satanists, Satan is a good guy. There are relatively few people who actually worship the ‘evil’ Satan that appears in the Bible, and those that do are morons. To worship that Satan, you would have to believe the stories about him, but believing the stories about him would mean that your Holy Book would be the same Holy Book as the Christians. This would make you a shitty Christian instead of a Satanist.

20160822_231559

So if Satanism is not about the pursuit of evil, what is it? Well, it’s impossible to pin it down at this stage. Most modern forms of Satanism are derivations of LaVeyan Satanism, which is, at its roots, a pragmatic reevaluation of morality. It’s basically Nietzschean philosophy dressed up for Halloween. Labeling this mode of thinking as ‘Satanism’ prevents most people from taking it seriously, but this very repulsion allows Lucifer’s hordes to delude themselves into believing that they are edgy elitists and not just a shower of fedora-goths. (LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic; Satan is thought of as a symbol rather than a deity.)

20160822_231939

The really shitty thing about Satanism is that it’s not nearly as cohesive in practice as I’ve so far made it out to be. It’s an absurd, if entertaining concept, and like all ‘religions’, it acts as a magnet for absolute morons. I joined a bunch of ‘Satanic’ discussion groups on facebook (for research purposes), and I have been absolutely horrified with the stupidity of the people posting in those groups. I’m talking serious idiots here; cretins of the lowest order. Most of the people who publicly declare themselves Satanists are cringey teenagers or aging, uneducated slipknot fans. Think of a 40 year old white guy with 2 ball-bearing necklaces, a lip piercing, and a 19 year old girlfriend that he met in a Dairy Queen after the ICP concert; a guy whose facebook profile pic is a moody black-and-white selfie with a superimposed pentagram. The people who want you to know that they’re Satanists are a lowly bunch indeed.

Also, the self-centeredness and focus on power of Satanism make it really attractive to far-right dickheads and racist scumbags. Fuck those people.

Satanism is quite funny, but the term Satanism is used and understood in such drastically different ways that it has become nonsensical and impractical. It means entirely different things to different groups of people, and due to their common levels of ignorance and opposing understandings of the term, these different groups of people are very unlikely to take the time to try to understand each other.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who disagree with what I’ve said here. Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below, email me, or message me on facebook.

20160822_231816Now, get outta here!

Some Thoughts on Satanism…

Lucifer Rising – Gavin Baddeley

20160512_224450
Plexus – 2006

This book deals with the different manifestations of Satanism within modern culture. It focuses on rock music and heavy metal, but it also discusses serial killers and horror movies. Sounds pretty great, right? A recommendation for this book showed up on my goodreads account, and my copy was ordered within moments of reading its description. I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disapoint. The author is a priest in the Church of Satan, and the history and outlook of LaVeyan Satanism is central to this book. I like LaVey, so I was entertained, but the author’s tone might be grating on some readers, particularly if they were Christian.

The first few chapters give a short yet surprisingly comprehensive history of Satanism, but the latter half of the book is mostly taken up with interviews. Some of these are excruciatingly embarrassing (Glen Benton is an idiot), and some are genuinely hilarious (Euronymous is precious). Varg Vikernes from Burzum has claimed that the interview with him is entirely fake. (He also claims that this is the worst book that he has ever seen.) I know lots of Burzum fans who claim to dislike Varg. Well, I always thought Burzum’s music was crap,  but I think he’s a pretty funny guy. (Don’t get me wrong; I know he’s a right-wing scumbag, racist, murderer and all-round crazy person, and I certainly wouldn’t say that I ‘like’ him, but let’s be honest; he regularly brings the lols.) There were a few interviews in here that weren’t hugely insightful, and it seemed that some of the interviewees may have been chosen based on their availability rather than their unique insight or authority on the topic, but this doesn’t take away from the cooler parts of the book. It might also be worth noting that I’m a fan of quite a few of the musicians interviewed herein, so I was probably more entertained than most people would be. If you don’t like rock music, this book might be a bit boring.

Baddeley suggests that there are as many different forms of Satanism as there are forms of christianity. (He also shows how hazy the lines between some forms of christianity and Satanism can be.) This book acknowledges the fact that Satanism is a very loosely defined set of beliefs and behaviors, and the author provides a thorough and entertaining account of the movement’s more interesting facets. (I picked up some cool recommendations for bands, movies and books too.) Overall, I would recommend this as a good primer for anyone with an interest in the Devil’s place in Rock’n’Roll.

I started writing a paragraph about my own take on Satanism, but it turned very lengthy very quickly, so I think I shall save it for a later date. Until then, Hail Satan!
(Update: This is what that paragraph eventually turned into.)

 

 

 

Lucifer Rising – Gavin Baddeley

7 Footprints to Satan – A. Merritt

20160105_214024
Orbit/Futura – 1974

About a year ago, I was in a second-hand book-store when I came across a little black book titled 7 Footprints to Satan. It looked fucking deadly, but it was 30 dollars and I thought that was a bit much to spend on a book I hadn’t heard of. I came home and found a copy online for less than a tenner. The seller provided no image, and I presumed the cover would be the same as the one I had seen in the shop. Can you can imagine my absolute joy when the package arrived and I first saw the above cover?

Look at that thing! It’s some kind of snakey, arachnid alien holding some jewels, a bloody heart, and a hot drink. Book covers do not get much better than that! Now a person who has not read it might presume that the entity on the cover is the Satan referred to in the title of the book, but a person who has read it will have absolutely no fucking idea of what that thing is supposed to be. I doubt that the artist who drew the spiderbaby had actually read the book. Unfortunately, the story didn’t quite live up to the cover, but the cover lives up to itself even after having finished the story. Just looking at it now makes me want to read the book again even though I know how little they have to do with each other. Take a moment there to scroll back up and really soak that image in. Fucking deadly.

So, the book starts off with a lad being kidnapped by a bunch of weirdos who manage to convince the police that he’s a mental patient. They take him to a mansion owned by a chap who claims he is Satan, and that’s where the fun begins. Satan runs a weird culty mafia thing, and he forces his followers to gamble with him on his 7 footprints game. Like all good cult leaders, Satan is a massively tall freak with an enormous head who can’t be killed by bullets. He knows everything about everyone, and he has a seemingly infinite amount of power and wealth. It’s never made definitively clear whether or not he’s really the Devil, but every time that you think that he’s actually just a fat Chinese drug dealer who picked a cool name for himself, something weird happens that suggests he at least has some connection with the archfiend. It wouldn’t be accurate to describe this as supernatural horror, but it does feature individuals with superhuman strength,  doppelgängers, and even telepathy.

It also features plenty of casual racism, but this seems to have been a trend in early 20th century horror. I’m sure that there were plenty of racist authors outside of the horror genre in that era, but I think that the ways in which race is presented within the texts written to frighten people is quite telling of the real fears of the readers of the day. (Maybe some day I’ll write a blog post, if not a master’s dissertation, on that topic.) Some of the stuff in here is pretty rough; there’s a passage that reads:
There was a Hebraic delegation of a half-dozen on their way home to the Bronx, a belated stenographer who at once began operations with a lipstick, three rabbit-faced young ‘sheiks’, an Italian woman with four restless children, a dignified old gentleman who viewed their movements with suspicion, a dumb-looking black…
Pretty good right? Within the space of a single sentence he’s managed to be nasty about three different ethnicities. At another stage, he refers to a black guy as an ‘ape-faced monstrosity’, and at the point when Satan admits to having killed his daughters, the protagonist has an Ah-Hah! moment and explains that Satan must be Chinese. Oh! and there’s also a scene featuring the most offensive stereotype of all! In the second chapter, Officer Mooney appears. He’s a New York cop with a ridiculous Irish accent that is made visible in the text; “Sure,lad. Ye’re in no danger, I’m tellin ye. Would ye want a taxi, Doctor?’ (Admittedly, that accent is entirely accurate.) The thing is though, that I wouldn’t even call this is a racist book; it would be more accurate to call it a book with some racist parts, and that’s actually worse when you think about it. The racist parts don’t add anything to the story. I’m not saying that it would be excusable if the racism were a motivational force in the plot, but that would at least give an understanding of the author’s purpose. As it stands, it looks like Merritt was just throwing his bigotry in for a laugh. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t pay for a book that contained that kind of nastiness if I thought the author was going to get any of my money, but my copy is second-hand and the author died 70+ years ago.

I read this in two sittings, and I had a dream about being stuck in Satan’s mansion after reading it. It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. Merritt wrote some other books with equally cool titles, and I doubt that this is the last book of his that will appear on this blog.

 

 

 

 

7 Footprints to Satan – A. Merritt