Wicca vs. Trump and Voodoo vs. Hitler

I don’t normally write about politics, but here we go. There has been a bunch of recent articles (BBC, FoxNews, DailyMail…) about groups of witches casting spells to get rid of Donald Trump. Personally, I think that Trump is a piece of shit and that his administration is a pack of horrible cunts, but I don’t have a very high opinion of  unkempt, dreadlocked wiccans either.  And imagine the chaos that would ensue if their spell actually worked. Congress would round up every goth with a triangle tattoo and burn them at the stake. I think that American witches would do well to draw as little attention to themselves as possible for the next four years.

Anyways, putting hexes on fascist dictators is really nothing new. In 1941, Willie Seabrook and friends attempted to kill Adolf Hitler with voodoo. I found the full Life Magazine article about the ritual online, and I’ve uploaded it here for you.

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hitler-voodoo-6Pretty cool, huh?

Wicca vs. Trump and Voodoo vs. Hitler

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

Year in Review: 2016

2016 is very nearly over, and although it was a tremendously shit year in a lot of ways, it was a pretty good year for this blog. Not only did the site’s traffic increase to 4 times what it was in 2015, I also believe that my content has improved in quality. For much of the first year of the blog, I was reviewing books that I had read a long time ago. At this stage, I’m reviewing books right after reading them, and the more I read on these topics, the more links I have been able to draw. Not every post on here is groundbreaking, but there have been a few this year that I am quite proud of. Here’s my top-10 list for 2016:

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10. The Haunters and the Haunted

A look at the different versions of Bulwer Lytton’s classic ghost story. This post features Colin Wilson getting pwned.

 

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9. The Books of Whitley Strieber
(Communion, Transformation)
I want to bully this guy so much.

 

 

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8. Seabrook’s Witchcraft

Willie Seabrook: explorer, sceptic, sorceror and sex-pervert. My hero.

 

 

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7. Matthew Hopkins’ Discovery of Witches

The coolest physical book in my collection

 

 

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6. Dictionary of Demonology/Dictionary of Witchcraft
The biggest disappointment of 2016

 

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5. The Fiery Angel
A curious, Russian occult novel that turned out to be based on a true story.

 

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4. Black Magic Grimoires
An in-depth look at some of the most infamous works of black magic.

 

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3. Ludovico Maria Sinistrari (Part 1, Part 2)
A weird Friar who believed in randy fairies and gander-neck appendages that grew from between the legs of horny women.

 

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2. Varney the Vampire
You won’t find many reviews of this book that are as thorough as this one.

 

 

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and finally… 1. Michelle Remembers
My post of the year without doubt. An on-site investigation into the diabolic, incestuous rape fantasies of a masochistic idiot and sex fiend.

 

 

 

I want to stress that this is a list of the best posts from this blog in 2016. (It most certainly does not reflect the 10 best books that I read in 2016!) I hope that Nocturnal Revelries has been insightful and entertaining to the people who have found themselves reading through it over the last year. I have really enjoyed reading and writing for this blog, and I intend to keep the content coming during 2017. That being said, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in March, and I imagine that she’s going to leave me with significantly less time to spend reading.

Thanks for all of the support. Read books, drink tea, skip mass and have a good new year!

(Oh, and just in case you didn’t know, I have facebook, twitter and tumblr pages set up so that you can keep track of what’s happening on the blog even if you don’t have a wordpress account.)

Year in Review: 2016

A Big Mistake…

dictionaries-of-witchcraft-and-demonologyDictionary of Demonology and Dictionary of Witchcraft – Collin De Plancy
(Edited, abridged and completely banjaxed by Wade Baskin)

Philosophical Library – 1965

My main reason for starting this blog was to share my thoughts and queries on the books I was reading. I had seen tumblr blogs that consisted of pictures of the kinds of books that I review here, but there was rarely any discussion on them. Goodreads usually has the books listed, but a lot of them are reviewless. There’s facebook groups that discuss books, but I generally find that their scope is either too broad or too specific for my tastes, and most of the users are insufferable imbeciles. I thought a blog to be the perfect medium to present my musings. The first book I reviewed was Wade Baskin’s translation of Collin De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

Reading that review, you’ll notice that the focus wasn’t really on the content of the book; it was more a post about my confusion over its publication and edition. Well, yesterday, 3 years after buying my copy of the Dictionary of Witchcraft, my confusion over its publication was finally alleviated.

In my initial post, I discussed my suspicion that Baskin had split De Plancy’s text into two separate volumes; the Dictionary of Witchcraft and the Dictionary of Demonology. I noted that the likelihood of me ever reading the Dictionary of Demonology was minimal due to its high price and the low quality of its counterpart. I requested information concerning this issue in my blog post, but nobody responded. I tried to pretend that I didn’t care. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. For two years, I lay awake every night, wondering why Baskin had chosen to do such a thing. Why had he split the one text into two books? Had he really done so? Why was one more expensive than the other? Was it a much better book? Would the super-exciting entries in the Dictionary of Demonology make up for the dull entries in the Dictionary of Witchcraft? Had Baskin saved all the best bits for the half of the collection that I didn’t own? Eventually I decided that I was going to have to get my hands on a copy of the Dictionary of Demonology, regardless of the cost. I wasn’t going to be paying for the book; I was paying for peace of mind.

Can you imagine my excitement when I arrived home on Tuesday to find the book in my postbox?

Eagerly I dashed inside. I forced myself to get changed and pour a cup of tea before I opened the package. I wanted the moment to be perfect. I put on my fez and a crisp shirt, and took the Dictionary of Witchcraft off the shelf and placed it on the coffee table so that it could get a good view of the unboxing of its sister text. After carefully pulling the order slip from the packaging to make sure that this was the text I was expecting, I gingerly took the book from the envelope, and lo and behold!

It’s a slightly larger version of the other book. I don’t mean larger as in expanded; I mean the pages are a little bit bigger. Apart from the title, the Dictionary of Demonology is word-for-word the same book as the Dictionary of Witchcraft. It’s just an earlier edition.

Oh, I am fortune’s fool! I am a stupid dunce. I wear a nappy and pick my bum.

wtfOne of the very few differences between the books, this mysterious, apple-holding princess appears only on the cover of DoD.

Looking back, it seems pretty obvious that this would have been the case. There is a note in the Dictionary of Witchcraft that reads,’Originally published under the title Dictionary of Demonology’. I’m not sure how I overlooked this, although it might have something to do with the fact that this claim is erroneous. This book was actually ‘originally published’ under the title Dictionnaire Infernal!

Both books claim to have been published in 1965. Maybe the Dictionary of Demonology saw a limited run and turned out more popular than expected. Then the publishers could have decided to put out a second edition (using smaller paper to save on printing costs). This would account for the fact that Dictionary of Demonology is much harder to find than Dictionary of Witchcraft. (Also, the listed price on the book cover is $10 for DoD, but only 6 for DoW.)

suckyfontThe comic-sans title really screws with the tone of my bookshelf.

I know this post doesn’t really say anything about the content of either book (the earlier post speaks on that a little), but it has been immensely gratifying to write. I have wasted far more time and money on these books than is reasonable, but at least now I have answers. Maybe someday a person who is wondering about the difference between these two books will end up on this page, and my folly will be their deliverance. I can rest easy tonight, knowing that I might so aid the community.

A Big Mistake…

Books of Black Magic

20160803_210246 The Book of Ceremonial Magic – Arthur Edward Waite
Bell – 1969 (First published in 1898 as The Book of Black Magic and Pacts)
Imagine, if you will, a man who takes it upon himself to read a bunch of cooky books on black magic and then proceeds to write about how utterly silly they are and how stupid the people who believe in them must be…  Sounds like a real cool guy, right? I’m referring, of course, to Mr. Arthur Edward Waite. Waite, famous for creating the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, is the author of this rather interesting book on grimoires, spirits, ceremonial magic and infernal necromancy.

Waite’s writing style can be painfully long-winded and academic, and nowhere is this as apparent as the headache-inducing introduction to this work. I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s about, and I would recommend that you skip it. Aleister Crowley, who is going to pop up a few times in this post, had a personal dislike for Waite and modeled Arthwait, one of the characters in Moonchild, on him. In chapter 12 of that novel, Crowley says; “Arthwait was naturally slow of thought and speech; it took him some time to warm up to real eloquence; and then he became so long-winded, and lost himself so completely in his words and phrases, that he would speak for many hours without conveying a single idea of any kind to his hearers, or even having one to convey.” Keep in mind too that Crowley himself was pretty bad for talking absolute shite.

 

Some of the minor illustrations within.

That being said, if you manage to slog through the intro, there’s lots of juicy stuff in here. The first half of the book gives the backstories to the most infamous grimoires. Waite breaks them down into three categories: books of transcendental magic – the least bad kind of magic, composite rituals – slightly sketchy magic, and black magic rituals – the purely diabolical. He goes into a satisfying amount of detail on the supposed origins of each text while also supplying his own opinions about their likely dates and places of origin.

The second part of Waite’s book, the Complete Grimoire, is basically all the good bits of the different texts that are discussed in the first half. It lists all the necessary precautions and steps you’ll need to take if you plan on summoning a demon to do your bidding.

20160803_210738Is this image over used? Waite and I agree that it’s not.

Waite’s overall stance is that Black Magic is really dumb and that these books are all forgeries for idiots. You’d wonder why he bothered writing a book about something that he had such disdain for. (If you’re a long term reader of my blog, you’ll remember that I said almost the exact same thing about his translation of Eliphas Levi’s book, Transcendental Magic.) He seems to have enjoyed making fun of gobshite occultists.  Good lad, Waite.

I simultaneously read this along with some of the grimoires that it’s about, and hence the second half seemed quite repetitive to me. The scope of this book is broad enough that it could serve as an introduction to the topic, but the writing is probably a bit too dense for casual readers. You can always check it out online to see if it’s what you want before buying a copy. Personally, I really enjoyed reading it.

 

20160803_210305The Goetia – Translated by Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers, edited by Aleister Crowley, and supposedly written by King Solomon.
Weiser – 1995
This edition was first published in 1904.
Original edition of the Lemegeton compiled mid 17th century.
Text purports to be from 10th century BC.

The Key of Solomon, perhaps the most famous grimoire, is supposedly a set of magic spells left by King Solomon. The Lesser Key of Solomon, or the Lemegeton, is its dirty sequel. (Although sequel might not be the correct word here. It’s more like when a band releases a collection of crap songs and covers that weren’t good enough to make it onto their last album; the Lemegeton is the Reload of Solomonic grimoires.) The Goetia is the first of four (or five, depending on who you ask) sections of the Lesser Key. It was translated by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Matthews, head of the Golden Dawn, and published by his protégé, Aleister Crowley, although by the time this was published, Mathers and Crowley were no longer friends. It has the usual crap about drawing fancy triangles on the floor and all of that nonsense, but most interestingly, it contains the names and details of 72 demons (most of which come from Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum). This edition also includes several of Louis Le Breton’s drawings that originally appeared in the second edition of Collin De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

20160803_211006One of Louis Le Breton’s drawings of a demon, accompanied by Crowley’s version.

This is mildly entertaining to flick through, but the most interesting parts are included in Waite’s book. If you have Waite’s book, this book will only be interesting if you’re a big Crowley fan. The physical book is quite nice, as Weiser editions usually are, and it contains some introductory essays by and about Mr. Crowley. In my opinion, the best parts of this text are the pictures that Crowley drew of the demons:

 

Notice any patterns?


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The Grand Grimoire: Being a Sourcebook of Magical Incidents and Diabolical Pacts
Compiled by Darcy Kuntz
Supposedly written by Antonio Venitiana del Rabina and King Solomon.
Holmes Publishing – 2008
Source material exists from 1521, 1522, and 1421.
Text purports to be from 10th century BC.

Now, this is it; the boldest and most infamous of all grimoires. Like the Goetia, the Grand Grimoire has its roots in Solomonic ceremonial magic. The first half gives instructions on how to summon Lucifuge Rofocale, Satan’s right-hand man, and the second half is about how to summon other demons.

20160803_210901 Lucifer and his entourage don’t really come across as super scary in this one.

I bought this book a long time ago, but the first few times I picked it up to read through it, I became confused by the introduction. The title of the edition I bought is “The Grand Grimoire. Being a Source Book of Magical Incidents and Diabolical Pacts“. There’s no blurb on the back, and there is very little information about this edition online. All of these factors led me to think that it might actually be a book about the book that I wanted to read.  I sent a message to Darcy Kuntz, the editor, on Goodreads, but he never responded to me. However, after looking through it and doing a bit of research, I have figured out that this is a version of the Grand Grimoire and not just a book about that text.

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The bulk of this edition is a word for word transcription of the edition of the Grand Grimoire that our friend, A.E. Waite, published in the June 15, 1895 edition of his magazine, the Unknown World. (How fucking awesome is it that those scans are online?!? The Grand Grimoire starts on the 35th page of the pdf.) Kuntz’s book also includes some passages taken from Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic. The confusing introduction of this edition of the Grand Grimoire is a mash-up of the introduction in Waite’s magazine and some other sources. Entire phrases are lifted from the entry on the Grand Grimoire in Lewis Spence’s Encylopedia of Occultism, to which no references are given. Tut-tut, Mr Kuntz. Your name says it all! Plagiarism aside, I just wish the introduction had been a little clearer about how the book had been compiled. Then again, maybe the organisation was deliberately awkward to give off a more genuine grimoire experience. Summoning Belzebuth just wouldn’t be the same if the instructions you were following  were organized in a coherent order!

There are other parts in Latin or Italian that Kuntz claims were taken from a source titled “Le Grand Grimoire“, but he doesn’t elaborate on what this source was or how it differs from Waite’s translation. I have found a pdf of a more complete translation than Waite’s. This version includes an English translation of the Sanctum Regnum section, although the Citatio Praedictorum Spiritum section remains in Latin in both the pdf and Kuntz’s edition. The pdf version also includes a third section which is made up of other “magic secrets”, including the method of raising the dead that Eliphas Levi alluded to in the chapter on Necromancy in his Rituals of Transcendental Magic. (LET THE DEAD RISE FROM THEIR TOMBS!) What’s interesting about the inclusion of this ritual is the fact that Waite actually claims that Levi made it up. In chapter IX of the Complete Grimoire, he claims that this ritual “must be given on the authority of Lévi; for no available editions of the work which is in question, nor yet of the Red Dragon, nor indeed any ritual of my acquaintance, contains it. There is reasonable probability that he invented it to make out his case at the moment.” I know that the pdf version is definitely worded differently to Kuntz’s version, so either it is a different translation or it was based on another manuscript of the grimoire. If it was based on another text, maybe that text is the one that Levi had read. Then again, maybe somebody read Levi and decided to add his bit onto the end because they thought it was cool; I certainly did. This is the problem with pdf versions; you don’t really know how genuine they are. (It’s bit sad when you contemplate that you’ve spent hours of your life researching the authenticity of an online edition of a translation of a forgery.)

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This is the lad who shows up if you perform the ritual of the Black Hen correctly.

Other things to note regarding the compilation of the pdf version:
One of the spells, “The Secret of the Black Hen”, was mentioned in Waite’s book, wherein he suggests that it was a late addition to the Red Dragon (another name for the Grand Grimoire).  The pdf also includes several spells from the Grimorium Verum, including instructions on “HOW TO CAUSE THE APPEARANCE OF THREE LADIES OR THREE GENTLEMEN IN ONE’S ROOM AFTER SUPPER”. There’s also another short section on commonly held superstitions that ends with the statement, “I have related these beliefs to amuse our readers but not to obligate the readers to believe all of them because they are mostly nonsense”. This pdf edition seems to be a compilation of different bits and pieces from a variety of grimoires and books about grimoires. It’s still pretty cool though; some of the spells at the end are grizzlier (and often far sillier/funnier) than the first two parts of the “authentic” text.

If you know anything about the compilation of the different versions of the Grand Grimoire, please leave a comment below or email me.

* * * *

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I have other grimoires in my collection, both books and pdfs, and I’ll doubtlessly get around to them at some stage. I suppose I’ve talked more about the actual books and what they’re composed of than the efficacy of what’s actually written within. It’s hard to imagine somebody reading through these texts and trying to carry out the rituals, but I’m sure that attempts have been made. I think that the tasks described in these books, although ludicrously tedious and difficult, are less likely to prevent somebody from attempting the rituals than is the fundamental problem of Black Ceremonial Magic addressed by Waite: these rituals require the sorcerer to supplicate God to give them control over evil demons in order that they may perform evil deeds. Why would an all-knowing, fundamentally good, God grant such a request? Also, in the grander rituals in which one of the rulers of Hell is evoked, the instructions given allow the sorcerer to essentially trick the demon into doing his/her bidding. These are not instructions on how to make a Faustian pact; it is expected that the sorcerer will get away without paying for the demon’s services. How many times would the demons fall for this kind of trickery before they cop on? Personally, I wouldn’t fuck about with a demon. It’s only polite to pay for what you’re given.

Books of Black Magic

Witchcraft (Its Power in the World Today) – William Seabrook

witchcraft

Willie Seabrook was an explorer, cannibal, black magician, bondage freak and journalist. This is his book on Witchcraft, and it’s fucking wonderful. The book deals with Seabrook’s personal experiences with witchcraft, and while a lot of it is fairly unbelievable, it is deadly craic. It’s a bit like reading a Dennis Wheatley novel told in the first person. I put this on my to-buy list after reading about it in Cavendish’s Black Arts, but after seeing it referred to in my favourite section of the Illuminatus! trilogy, I knew I had to get my hands on it. The  Illuminatus authors have Seabrook playing a part in a conspiracy involving Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Aleister Crowley, Robert W. Chambers, J.K. Huysmans, and H.P. Lovecraft. (Expect a post on Bierce soon; I reckon I’ll get around to Chambers before Christmas.) It is implied that the Illuminati murdered Seabrook over what he published in this book and made his death look like a suicide.
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(p. 296, Illuminatus! Trilogy)
After reading this, I had to own a copy of Seabrook’s book. It’s not super rare, but it took me a while to track down a copy for what I considered a reasonable price. My edition has a fairly boring cover, but the edges are coloured an interesting purple.
purpleaki
Beyond the Mauve Zone?

So there’s three parts to the book. Each part is comprised of short accounts of different things that Seabrook witnessed. The first part is on Doll magic, and it’s probably my favourite. There’s one particular story about a deceitful white explorer in Africa that I absolutely loved. A lad cheats a tribe out of money and soon thereafter goes missing. Seabrook was mates with the lads in the tribe, and one day, one of the boys asks if he wants to see something interesting. Guessing that it has something to do with the disappearance, Willie warns him that if its the missing white man, he’ll be obliged to tell the police. The native laughs this off and brings Seabrook into the jungle and shows him something good. It’s the rotting corpse of another native, strung up to a tree. The ropes binding it to the branches are digging into the flesh of the corpse’s bloating neck, and things are starting to ooze. The corpse is wearing the clothes of the missing explorer, and if Seabrook was to have gotten up close, he would have seen clippings of the missing explorer’s hair stuck onto the head of the corpse.

The missing explorer was found dead a few days later after having died of a constricted windpipe. Black magic had caused what had happened to the corpse to also happen to the victim.
Fuck yes. That is the good stuff.

The second part of the book is on Werewolves and Vampires, and the third is on general occulty stuff. It tells of Seabrook’s friendship with Aleister Crowley.  This book is the origin of that famous story of Crowley walking behind a man, mimicking his gait, and consequently being able to make him collapse without touching or speaking to him. There’s also a part in here about Seabrook’s relationship with Upton Sinclair, author of Oil!, the most boring book I have ever read.

The book ends with a few chapters about kinky psychic-bondage experiments that Seabrook performed with his lover. He had a special gimp mask made for his partners that was basically designed to maximise sensory deprivation. He’d make his girlfriend Justine wear this mask, then tie her up by the wrists until she started hallucinating. They hoped these hallucinations would tell the future. The following images are not from the book, but they are extremely relevant. (They’re from an article about Seabrook from a 1942 edition of Click Magazine.)
seabrook's babe
One of Willie’s babes. Looks like he knew how to pick them.

seabrook mask
He was a man that knew what he liked, God bless him.

Overall, this book is delicious. The stories might seem unbelievable, but that hardly matters. They’re entertaining. Plus, the author maintains that he doesn’t believe in magic the whole way through the book, and his incredulity is charming. Seabrook comes across as  a remarkably interesting, and I am definitely going to keep my eye out for his other books. There were a few times in this one when he would write something quite rude, and it would take me a while to figure out if he was being bold or not. At one stage, I believe he refers to a woman’s vagina as a pickle-jar, but maybe he meant something completely different.  Like other similar books, this contains references to other texts that I am going to have to try to get my hands on. Unfortunately, some of the books mentioned herein are fairly rare, and any copies I can find are extremely expensive. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait till I’m rich. Until then, I’ll leave you with some awesome pictures that I found after hunting down a reference from this book. On page 20, Seabrook mentions an article from a 1939 edition of Life magazine about Ozark superstitions. Finding the full thing online really made me happy that we live in the internet era. (Full article here)
witch
This is why I do this blog. DEADLY!

Witchcraft (Its Power in the World Today) – William Seabrook

The Discovery of Witches – Matthew Hopkins and Montague Summers

buk
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.

Image1
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.)

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(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.

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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.

The Discovery of Witches – Matthew Hopkins and Montague Summers