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

LUDOVICO MARIA SINISTRARI: PART TWO (Demon Lovers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUDOVICO MARIA SINISTRARI: PART TWO (Demon Lovers)

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…

My First Attempt at Writing Short Fiction

Recently, I had to take a writing class as part of my degree, and one of the assignments was to write a short story. I’ve long wanted to write fiction, but I always felt unprepared. The class I took was pretty great though. The instructor’s attitude was; “I don’t care if you don’t feel ready. You’re handing me in a story at the end of the week, so shut up and get to work.” It was the kick up the hole that I needed.

There were no topics assigned, but it was suggested that we write about something that we were interested in. Before putting pen to paper, I had to sit down to think about what interests me. I glanced at my desk, noticed the books on aliens and black magic that I had been reading, and shrieked, “Eureka!”

Here is the story I came up with. It may not be a masterpiece, but I feel that it’s a decent first attempt, and I think that anyone with an interest in the books I review will probably enjoy it. I definitely plan to write more short fiction in the future.

night shift

Night Shift – Duke De Richleau

My First Attempt at Writing Short Fiction

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.

* * * *

20160803_210212

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

Who is the Duke De Richleau?

It may come as surprise to some of you, but I am neither French nor a Duke. Le Duc De Richleau is the hero in a collection of 11 novels by Dennis Wheatley. For all of the philistines reading my blog, Wheatley, was a prolific author of trashy adventure novels. Most of his books were spy novels, but he was also a self proclaimed expert on the occult, and some of his books, 2 of which I have already reviewed, deal with black magic. The Duke De Richleau series contains 3 Black Magic novels, including The Devil Rides Out, perhaps Wheatley’s most famous book.


20160605_232803
The Devil Rides Out
Hutchinson and Co – 1972 (Originally published 1934)
It’s been a long time since I read this one, but I remember it well enough to know that you don’t need an in-depth review to decide whether or not you should read it. This book is about Satanists, pentagrams, rituals, goats, spells, and demons. If you know that much and don’t want to read this, you’re a piece of shit. This is definitely one of the best places to start if you haven’t read any Wheatley before. The movie is deadly too, but for the love of Satan, read the book first.
2016-06-05 23.32.5920160605_232906
My copy of Devil Rides Out is a fancy hardback reissue. Some of these have illustrations.

 

20160605_232704
Strange Conflict
Arrow – 1981 (Originally published 1941)
Unlike the other two books in this post, I read this one last week, so it’s still fairly fresh in my memory. This was an enjoyable entry to the series, but it’s a pretty bad book. It sees the Duke and his mates being hired to discover how Nazi U-Boats have been successfully figuring out the trade routes of English ships. Using astral-projection, the Duke figures out that the Nazis are getting their info from an evil Voodoo priest in Haiti. Ok; Voodoo Nazis, sounds great right? Well yeah, that is super cool, but let’s just think about the idea of using astral projection as a means of espionage for a moment. Astral projection gives the Duke the ability to leave his body and go anywhere in the world. The book starts off with him sitting in his apartment in London as the city is being bombed to shit. WHY THE FUCK DID HE WAIT 2 YEARS TO START SPIRIT-SPYING? Why did he not volunteer to start sleep-creeping the Nazis as soon as they entered Poland? Also, out of the Duke’s team of friends, 3 out of the 5 are able to astrally project themselves. If 60% of people can do so, why the fuck were the British government so fucking slow to organize a full-on Astral attack on Germany? It doesn’t make any sense.

Anyways, as soon as they figure out that the bad guy is in Haiti they decide to head over to kill him in his sleep. I have mentioned elsewhere that Wheatley was not one to be concerned with cultural or political sensitivity, and a trip to Haiti provides several lolworthy examples. This was written in 1941, so the author’s use of the term Jap is excusable, but referring to the “Jap” character as a “dirty little yellow rat” might be a bit much for the modern reader. Failing that, the description of the Haitian natives is sure to offend:
“Those coloured bums have just no powers of organisation at all and it’s like one big tropical slum. If it weren’t for the climate and the masses of fruit that can be had just for the plucking the whole darned lot of them would have starved to death long ago… The niggers live in little more than tents made from tying a few banana palms together.”  There’s another thoroughly unpleasant passage describing the parents of a missing teenager whose corpse has just been found in the hospital; “The man and woman were Mulattoes… The woman was a characterless bag of fat which appeared to have been poured into the good-quality silk dress that restrained her ample figure”.
He also refers to one of the black characters as a “wooglie”, although I’m not entirely sure whether or not that’s a racial slur. (My guess is that it probably is.) To top it all off, the book ends in an amazing proclamation on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.

2016-06-05 23.31.59
Mr Wheatley, you charmer!

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I don’t mind reading racist books as long as I’m not giving money to the author. In this case, the author is long dead, and I buy these books second hand. However, the most recent editions of Wheatley’s novels have been abridged, and the horrible racism and misogyny have been removed. This is utterly infuriating. It’s not that the publishers want to prevent the spread of racist ideas; it’s that they want to make Wheatley more palatable to the tumblr generation. Fuck that; if you buy a book about Nazi devil-worshippers but get offended by fictional characters’ racism, you need to kill yourself immediately. Yes, Wheatley was a shit, but if you can’t read a book by a person that you might not like in real life, you’re a stupid fucking loser. If you come across something in a book that makes you uncomfortable, think critically and learn from the experience. Censorship of literature is immoral, and anyone who begs to differ can go and help themselves to a hearty swig of bleach.

The rest of this book is standard Wheatley fare; chases, rituals, beautiful but enchanted young women, demons, the works… The ending involves a bit of the old deus ex machina, and I got the feeling that ol’ Dennis might have been making it up as he went along. I wouldn’t recommend this one as a starting point for his work, but it’s worth a read if you like this kind of garbage.

20160605_232625
Gateway to Hell
Arrow – 1974 (Originally published 1970)

I don’t remember much about this one to be honest. It definitely wasn’t as good as Devil Rides Out, but I gave it 5/5 stars on goodreads, so it was obviously thoroughly enjoyable. More diddies on the cover too; can’t go wrong like.

Overall, Wheatley’s writing is bad (He admitted so himself), his plots are silly, and a lot of his ideas are liable to trigger you into oblivion, but I really love his books. There’s something comic-booky about them, and I like to treat myself to one in between heavier stuff.These are just the Black Magic novels from the Duke De Richleau series, and I’ll probably review the others at some stage too.

Who is the Duke De Richleau?

The Fiery Angel – Valery Bryusov

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Neville Spearman – 1975 (Valeri Briussov)
Dedalus – 2005 (Valery Bruisov)

I came across the title of this book when I was reading Colin Wilson’s The Occult two years ago, and from his description, I knew that I’d have to read it at some stage. I spent a while trying to track down a copy at a decent price, and when I found one, it spent a few months lying on the shelf before I got around to reading it. When I finally got around to it, I was met with an unpleasant surprise. Some of the pages were entirely blank. See the below video for details:


Like I said, I had ordered this a good while before picking it up to read, and so I didn’t feel it fair to demand a refund. I doubted that the bookseller had known about the defect, but I was having a slow day in work, and I decided to drop them an email to pass the time. Below is the message I sent.

my email

When I wrote that email, I did not expect a response. Fortunately, I was wrong; they replied promptly:
response
Many’s the stupid email I have sent, but I have never been so satisfied with a response. Normally you get a feebly polite apology. I take my hat off to the individual who sent the above response to me. It makes me happy to think that there are companies out there that deal with customers as they should be dealt with. If you’re talking to a jackass, talk to them like they’re a jackass. (Although, note that the seller did very courteously offer to send me a replacement.) I was extremely satisfied with my dealings with this seller, and I encourage all of my readers to buy books from them whenever the opportunity arises.

Anyways, I soon thereafter bought a different copy of the book (the more recent Dedalus edition), and that version lay on my shelf for another year before I got around to it. While the Spearman edition has a foreword by Colin Wilson, the Dedalus version has an afterword by Gary Lachman. Surprisingly, the Dedalus version also omits a two page foreword by Bryusov himself that really should be part of the text. In it, Bryusov claims to be the editor of the tale and not the author so-to-speak. Otherwise, the text of the two books are identical copies of the same original printing. (There are identical imperfections on the same pages in both versions, one of which looks like a squished fly.) If I had to choose, I would buy the Spearman version, but I would make sure that it has all of the pages before buying! (My copy is missing pages 76, 77, 80, 81, 84, 85, 92, 93, and a few more.)

Two things before I start my actual review. First of all, the name of the author is spelled differently on my two copies of this book. It’s spelled Valery Bryusov most places online, so I’m going to use that spelling. Next, this post contains a few spoilers. If you are sure you want to read this one and you’re like me and like knowing as little as possible about a book before reading it, maybe you should read the book before you read the rest of this. (But make sure you do come back to finish reading this when you’re done. I discovered some cool stuff about this book that you’ll want to know!) If you’re not sure about whether or not you want to read this one yet, read away. The spoilers here won’t ruin the suspense of the novel.

So what’s the big deal here? Why did I bother with this book? Well, it’s a novel about magic, the witch-craze, repressed sexuality and perversion. What more could I possibly ask for? Set in 16th century Germany, it tells the story of a hard man called Rupprecht who’s making his way home after gallivanting around Mexico for a few years. He becomes enchanted by a girl who is staying in the same hotel as him, but he quickly notices that she’s carrying some serious baggage; she is possessed by demons and she practices black magic. As so often happens, this woman’s personality flaws make her seem all the more attractive, and Rupprecht decides to wander around with her for a while. She tells him that she’s searching for a former lover, and Rupprecht agrees to help her find him. Oh, and it also turns out that her old lover is either an angel or devil. (We’re never made entirely sure which side this ‘Fiery Angel’ is on.) At this point, Rupes’s compliance makes you start to wonder whether it was by natural or infernal means that he was so enchanted; shouldn’t he be taking this as his cue to tell Renata to fuck off?

Well, they wander around a while looking for the Fiery Angel, but Renata gets disheartened and decides that the only way to find him will be to ask the devil for help. Renata doesn’t want that kind of guilt on her conscience though, so she convinces Rupprecht that he should sell his soul so that she can find out where her boyfriend is. Rupprecht is a hard man and everything, but he clearly gets off on kinky sado-masochistic power struggles. The more he can debase himself for the sake of his lady, the stronger his mental ‘gasm shall be! He offers his soul to Satan and actually kisses the Dark Lord’s ringpiece in order to cuckold himself; what a creep!

There are several other twists and turns in their complicated relationship, but eventually Renata runs away on Rupprecht. After a bit of moping around by himself, he bumps into Faust and Mephistopheles and wanders around with them for a while. When he finally stumbles across Renata again, she has joined a nunnery, changed her name to sister Maria, and she’s gotten herself accused of witchcraft. (Typical, right?) She is of course guilty of witchery, but one gets the impression that the reasons she is being charged have less to do with her actions and more to do with the fact that nunneries are mad places full of mad people. The whole thing very quickly turns into a Devils of Loudun situation, and Renata is sentenced to death. Rupprecht tries to rescue her, but things don’t really go according to his plans.

That’s the basic plot of it, but there’s a tonne of cool bits that I’ve left out. Rupprecht attends a witches’ Sabbath, he spends time with Cornelius Agrippa and Johann Weyer, he performs ceremonial black magic and summons demons, and Renata and he have a tonne of kinky sex. (Ok, so we don’t get the juicy details, but judging by the way they act with eachother and the fact that Rupprecht claims that Renata wanted to do more than just regular inny-outty, we can assume that no door was left unopened!) One interesting feature of the text is the fact that although this is a novel about witchcraft and magic, it is also very much a piece of historical fiction. At no point in the book does anything happen that might not actually be explained in real life. Perhaps the most curious thing that occurs is that Renata knows Rupprecht’s name before he introduces himself, but I’m sure you can imagine 100 different ways that a person might find out the name of another guest at the same hotel as them.

Despite the fact that it is mentioned in neither Colin Wilson’s foreword in the Spearman edition nor Lachman’s afterword, it turns out that this book, particularly the last few chapters, is actually largely based on a true story. In 1749, a nun named Renata Maria Saengen von Massau was one of the last women in Germany to be executed for the crime of witchcraft. (She died in 1749, but The Fiery Angel is set over 200 years earlier; I don’t think any dates are specifically mentioned, but Cornelius Agrippa, who dies at the end of the book, actually died in 1535.) I found two different accounts of the real Renata’s life in my library. One is from Robbin’s Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. This is a rather sympathetic account that suggests that poor Sister Renata was a victim of mass hysteria. The other account of her life that I read was in Montague Summers‘ book, The Geography of Witchcraft. Monty was fully convinced that this woman was indeed a vile Satanist, and his account is even more fanciful than Bryusov’s.

Despite their different standpoints, Summers and Robbins both present the same basic story. Sister Renata had entered a nunnery when she was about 19 years old. She spent the last 15 of her 50 years in the nunnery as the subprioress. Everything was going fine in her life until a girl named Cecilia Pistorini started throwing fits in order to gain entry into the convent. Cecilia believed her hallucinations and spasms were messages from God, and she thought that this should allow her to skip through the novitiate stage of becoming a nun. Renata wasn’t convinced, and she suggested that the girl might have been putting it all on. Cecilia remembered this, and when she eventually became a nun, she convinced herself and others that Sister Renata was a witch. As she was dying, another senile old hag of a nun claimed that Renata had bewitched her, and this forced to the prioress of the convent to look into the matter. Word got out, and the idea that Renata was a witch caught on with other idiot nuns in the convent. They started imagining that they had been bewitched or possessed and a bunch of them started screaming things out during mass. The more attention they got from the local priests, the more horny they became and the more they acted up. This did not look good for poor Renata. She denied all of the allegations at first, but after twenty lashes with a consecrated rawhide bullwhip, she started to remember her sins.

In Renata’s confession, she claims to have given herself to Satan when she was only 8 years old. She spent her teenage years having sex with demons and learning the craft of Satanism, and then when she was old enough, she decided to join the convent with the sole purpose of bringing it down from the inside. (It’s a bit hard to understand how the other nuns didn’t notice anything for the first 49 years that she had been there.) She claims to have ridden to the Sabbath several times a week, to have made love to the Devil on countless occasions, and to have stolen consecrated hosts with the purpose of throwing them into the toilet. The way she stole the hosts was pretty cool. Before she would go to receive communion, she would cut slits in her flesh, and when the priest would give her the communion wafer, she would sneakily stick it into the communion-shaped holes that she had carved into her own body. She did this just so she could throw the body of christ into the crapper. What a legend!

There’s an interesting part in the Verbatim Reports from Sister Renata’s trials that might have been Bryusov’s source of inspiration for the character of Rupprecht.

“Q. Was she a witch?
A. Yes.
Q. Where did she learn this and from whom?
A. A grenadier had taught her in Vienna, where she and the whole household had gone with her father during the Hungarian war.
Q. How did she meet this grenadier?
A. As happens in wartime. The grenadier had often given her bread when she was hungry, and finally he promised to teach her something.
Q. What then did this grenadier finally teach her?
A. He gave her a paper, on which all sorts of letters were written. On this paper she had to draw a circle and stand inside it. In addition, she had received a charm [Zetel] with various words on it; and if she could read these words, then she could make passers-by in the street lame and crippled.”

In The Fiery Angel, Rupprecht doesn’t meet Renata in Vienna, but he is a soldier that meets her in a time of need, and they do spend time together studying the black arts. I think it’s quite likely that Rupprecht originated as a re-imagining of the mysterious grenadier from the real Renata’s confessions.

In the book, Renata dies in Rupprecht’s arms, but the real Renata was not quite so lucky. Her judges decided to show her some leniency in her execution though, on account of the fact that she had been seduced by Satan at such a young age. She was shown the courtesy of having her head chopped off before being thrown into a barrel of burning tar. Apparently the executioner made such a clean cut that her head popped clean off her body with the first blow from his sword, and he was given a round of applause for his accuracy. Imagine a crowd of people cheering a man for decapitating a 69 year old woman.

All in all, this is a very interesting book. I found the first half dragged a little bit, but it really picks up later on. Bryusov knew his stuff when it came to witchcraft, and there are a few books mentioned in here that I am going to have to try to track down. In truth though, this book is more about the psychology of attraction than it is about black magic. Apparently the plot of the story is largely based on events from the author’s own life. He basically took the story of a love triangle that he had been involved in, chose characters from a famous witch trial to play the roles, and set the story 200 years before those people had actually lived. The result is actually deadly. I mean, as mad as it sounds, I think this book would be an enjoyable read for a person with no interest in witchcraft or demonology. For those of us who are interested in those topics, this is a must read. Five stars.

 

 

 

The Fiery Angel – Valery Bryusov