Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith & Lawrence Pazder

The first book ever to be written on the subject of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) was Michelle Remembers in 1980, co-written by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Over a period of one year, Pazder records hundreds of sessions where Smith allegedly recovers repressed memories of herself as a five-year-old undergoing a prolonged period of ritual abuse at the hands of a satanic cult. She is tortured, sexually abused, locked in a cage, witness to murders, and painted in the blood of sacrifice victims. At one point, a Satanist sews horns and a tail into Smith’s flesh. The scars left by this surgery would have proved invaluable in authenticating the account, but there is no such evidence on Smith’s adult body.

The ceremonies were gory and bizarre, and bore no relation to the rituals of the Church of Satan. Nevertheless, Pazder wastes no time in naming this specific organisation as the perpetrator of Smith’s abuse. He also states, in total ignorance of known facts: “The Church of Satan is a worldwide organization. It’s actually older than the Christian Church.” Pazder was forced to withdraw his assertion of the Church of Satan’s involvement after the book’s publication, when Anton LaVey threatened to sue for libel.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Smith’s idea of Satanism suffers from the same faulty assumptions as Doreen Irvine’s account (see From Witchcraft to Christ); she depicts Satanists as worshippers of the literal devil of the Bible. The rituals are filled with pointless, nonsensical, sinister elements, and horror movie trappings, including at one point the appearance of a monstrous spider crawling across the altar cloth and a vampire bat with claw-tipped wings perched on the altar’s edge. In the final quarter of the book, Satan makes regular appearances in the flesh. And Smith’s depiction of him is an all-out horror movie cliché, right down to the horns on his head and the claws on his hands. Curiously, he has a pig’s snout and sports a tail that occasionally shape-shifts into a snake. Fire sprouts from his back. Amusingly, Satan insists on continually speaking in rhyming verse throughout the account:

The knife is ready. It is time to begin.
It has been poisoned and sharpened very thin.

I confess that when I began reading this book, I seriously considered that this child might have been the victim of some deeply unethical occult group. But by the time I finished, the entire tale had made a nosedive into total religious farce. In addition to enduring the devil’s bad poetry, Smith witnesses heads spinning, just like Linda Blair in the movie The Exorcist (1973). Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael appear to Smith at various points during her dark days in the ritual chamber. Absurdly, Mary sprinkles her sentences with French, which would not have been her native language, nor is it Smith’s. The two authors’ combined depiction of Satanism seems to be a fusion of their own Catholic prejudices and Pazder’s past encounters with unusual religion from when he was working and living in Africa in the 1960s. He goes as far as drawing this comparison himself in the book. It’s hard to see how Pazder maintained any credibility with his peers after publishing this unconscionable mix of psychiatry and superstition as fact.

It also turns out that some of Smith’s claims are provably false beyond reasonable doubt. Early in the story, she is allegedly involved in a car crash that is staged to look like an accident, as a means of the Satanists getting rid of a dead body. Conveniently, it happened so long ago that police and hospital records of the event were destroyed at the time of Smith’s therapy. However, Pazder overlooked the fact that it’s possible to check the newspaper records in library archives. No such incident was reported around the time indicated by Smith’s testimony.

The book features a photograph of a mausoleum at Ross Bay cemetery, at which a ritual allegedly took place. However, when this building is snapped from different angle (as another photographer has demonstrated), the mausoleum is revealed to be within eyeshot of suburban houses. Maybe the Satanists used one of Doreen Irvine’s invisibility spells!

Towards the end of the book there is an eighty-one-day non-stop ceremony. Yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school have revealed no indication of her being missing for a lengthy period of time.

There are many more problems with Smith’s account that I could raise, but these examples suffice to destroy her credibility. All that remains is to determine whether she is delusional or an outright liar. The coherency and detail in her account causes me to side with the latter.

Even without the evidence against Smith and Pazder, the simple fact that nothing can be corroborated ought to raise warning bells in the minds of readers. But many people have never made the mental effort to learn what criteria they ought to use in determining truth from falsehood. People tend to believe things if they merely feel true, or if they simply want to believe. The ability to believe claims in the absence of evidence is how witch-hunts are born. And in this instance, that’s exactly what happened.

Michelle Remembers opened the floodgates for countless reports of satanic ritual abuse. Pazder was considered to be an expert. He became involved in the Cult Crime Impact Network and lectured to police agencies about SRA during the late 1980s. By September 1990 he had been consulted in more than a thousand ritual abuse cases.

Closure of the Satanic Panic finally came with the publication of the Lanning Report (1991) by the FBI. Three hundred cases of multi-victim, multi-offender SRA were examined and no physical evidence of abuse could be found. Aside from the occasional unethical pseudo-Satanist, there was no evidence whatsoever of any underground occult organisation engaging in SRA. This document can be read in full on the internet. Conspiracy theorists still like to keep the phenomenon alive. I read this in an online forum: “The Lanning Report is load of pig shit, if you ask me. Written by the same people it claims ‘do not exist.’” Of course, the conspiracy theorist doesn’t require actual evidence of the FBI’s involvement in a cover-up; the mere suspicion of it is enough to warrant belief.

During the years of the Panic, the lives of many law-abiding Satanists (and other non-satanic occultists) were subjected to the judgements of a dangerously ignorant population (including its law enforcement) that was feeding on a diet of sensationalist propaganda.

By contrast, the uncovering of real, verified, widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church has to be one of the most spectacular reversals of expectation in history, as we discover that real evil lies within those who masquerade as the good, rather than those who merely enjoy the glamour of sinister symbolism.

The Satanic Panic must never happen again. That will only be possible through the widespread triumph of reason over superstition.

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Liber Null & Psychonaut by Peter J. Carroll

In 1978, Peter J. Carroll co-founded a magical order called the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT), deriving its name from the two Greek gods Thanatos (death) and Eros (sexual love). Liber Null and Psychonaut are two books, collected here in one volume, which are aimed at the newcomer to the organisation, as well as those seeking entry, and those pursuing their own individual magical path. The books explain the fundamentals of Carroll’s brand of occultism, which he calls “chaos magic.” His two primary influences are, by his own admission, Aleister Crowley and Austin O. Spare. Carroll describes his order as a “satrap of the Illuminati.” Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with that one.

“Chaos” is a term that Carroll uses as a substitute for what a philosopher might call God, or what I, in my own personal vocabulary call the Infinite. Chaos is the ground zero of everything that exists. It is a useful term, because it removes any notion that the Infinite is a personal being, or is in any way sypmathetic to the human condition. “Gnosis” is the term used to describe a state of no-mind gained through the use of trance. “Kia” denotes the basis of consciousness, the essence of which is will and perception. These are just some of the terms employed in the IOT’s lexicon.

This book really hit the spot, in terms of what a reader like myself hopes to obtain from reading a magical text: fresh insights and new angles that I might be able to integrate into my own personal understanding of the universe. The book was a treasure trove in this regard. It was especially exciting in light of my own experiments in psychokinesis. Carroll’s system not only accommodates such phemonena, but mirrors the very techniques I’ve already discovered trough trial and error, and suggests avenues for improvement. Those who pursue psychic abilities from a purely scientific perspective are missing out, in my opinion.

So often a magical text is concerned with personal development and influencing others – what the LaVeyan system calls “lesser magic.” Refreshingly, Carroll is chiefly preoccupied with “greater magic” – acts of a genuinely paranormal nature. He describes a interesting technique using personal “sigils” – where a desire is written down in words, and the words are then visually reconstructed into a “glyph of desire.” I have nothing to say, presently, on whether such a technique works, but it certainly was interesting.

I was by no means in agreement with everything that Carroll asserts, especially in regard to reincarnation. There was the bold assertion that a magician could carry his life forward into a new body, by means of a particular visualisation at the moment of his death. Unless Carroll himself has all the memories of a past life and can demonstrate this, how on earth could such a claim be proven?

Nevertheless, this was a thoroughly engrossing read, full of insight. I finished it wanting to read it all over again.

Edgar Cayce on ESP by Doris Agee

Edgar Cayce was an American psychic who lived from 1877 to 1945. The majority of his work consists of channelling answers to questions while in a hypnotic trance. This was called giving a “reading.” Readings consisted of: giving general advice on life from an astrological basis; giving medical advice on ailments; helping to locate missing persons; providing information about ancient Atlantis and the future of the planet.

Interestingly, Cayce was a devout Christian throughout his life, which is hard to marry with his use of astrology, given Christianity’s condemnation of magic. It is claimed that he had no education in this art, which is hard to believe, since his language mimics the general practice of astrology, which is, in my opinion, a rather flawed magical art.

The book begins, very interestingly, with a chapter entitled “The Universal Mind,” which is concerned with where Cayce obtains his information. The idea is that there is a sea of consciousness, of which our individual minds are just an aspect. Cayce’s trances allowed a greater flow of information from the Universal Mind than his normal waking consciousness would be able to process. I resonate very much with this way of thinking, and I was eager to know more.

Unfortunately, after a few chapters of this nature, the book changes tack, and concerns itself with raising Cayce on a pedestal rather than teaching anything useful about psychic abilities. I quickly grew bored reading case after case of supposedly accurate psychic readings. All the while, the sceptic in me was making note of the fact that, while the author Doris Agee had access to “The Cayce Files,” she chose to relay the stories to using aliases, which makes any verification of facts impossible.

When reincarnation was mentioned, Cayce’s readings always fell into a pattern that I see so often with frauds. Have you ever noticed that when a psychic talks about somebody’s past life, that life is always special: he either lived in Atlantis, or he was an Egyptian priest, or he was present with Jesus at the cruxificion, and so on. Statistically speaking, why would your past life be any more special than your present? But it always is. And that’s very telling, isn’t it?

The clincher came when Cayce offered some prophecy about the world’s future, that great “earth changes” would take place between 1958 and 1998, including the destruction of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. FAIL.

I get frustrated when reading books about psychic matters, because it’s hard to tell the genuine information from the fraudulent. All things considered, I have to categorise Edgar Cayce in the latter group. What a waste of time.

Entangled Minds by Dean Radin

My interest in books on psychic phenomena lies in the fact that I’ve had personal experience. First as someone who witnessed a genuine demonstration of psychokinesis, and then as someone who decided to go after the elusive proof by figuring out how to do it for myself (and getting results). I first heard of Dean Radin from the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know!? Sadly, he was confined to the DVD extras, but after listening to him, I felt he was the most impressive voice of all the interviewees (the less said about J.Z. Knight, aka Ramtha, the better). It’s worth tracking down the extended cut (Down the Rabbit Hole), where Radin takes his rightful place within the film itself.

Radin is currently Laboratory Director at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, California, and has been involved in parapsychological research at various universities for over two decades. At Stanford Research Institute he was part of the then classified US Government “Stargate” program, which investigated psychic phenomena. I would say his credential are in order. But the real question is, does his book come up with the goods?

In my opinion, this is the book to read on psychic phenomena, for both the open-minded skeptic and the psychic dabbler seeking a little more confidence. God knows, the world is awash with “psychic” frauds; it’s about time we had a book by a believer who is prepared to be rigorous and dispassionate with the empirical data.

Pitting my own conversations with skeptics against the historical information in this book, I can only conclude that when the skeptic says, “There’s no evidence,” this is more of a blind materialistic assumption than a statement of fact based on informed opinion. Across the 20th century, there is a wealth of statistical information in favour of the reality of psychic phenomena. The trouble with validating psychic phenomena seems to stem more from the fact that the observed effects are not large enough for many people to make the necessary paradigm shift regarding how the universe works. There is still an unfortunate philosophical materialism in the minds of scientists, which hasn’t yet been eroded by the assertions of quantum physics.

The majority of skeptics mischaracterise psychic abilities as “magic powers,” and when no magic (to their preconceived standard) is forthcoming, everything psychic is then characterised as ridiculous. But the real focus of this book is not power of any kind, but the deepening of our understanding of the nature of the relationship between mind and matter, something that is by no means well understood – except in the faulty presuppositions of the materialists, who suppose the mind to be nothing more than a product of the physical brain, and ultimately an illusion.

The book includes much data on intuition, telepathy, psychokinesis, presentiment. You won’t find anything on levitating objects, but you will find curious statistics on the outcomes of dice throws. There are some startling experiments on random number generators and their correlation to major world events like 9/11. At times the book is a little monotonous, simply giving example after example, but such repetition is justified in a topic as controversial as this.

Those interested in learning psychic abilities will not find any instruction sets in here. That’s not the focus of the book. Radin’s aim is clearly to effect some change for the better in a scientific community that is still stuck in the wrong paradigm. Entangled Minds is an important work. I can’t comprehend how any rational-minded skeptic could fail to be impressed with Radin’s handling of the topic.

Liber HVHI by Michael W. Ford

Michael W. Ford calls himself a “Luciferian.” What this means, and how it differs from “Satanist,” is not easy to nail down. Equally difficult to answer definitively is the question: “What is Luciferianism?” Briefly, I think it is fair to say that a Luciferian is someone who finds greater relevance in the meaning of Lucifer (light-bearer) than Satan (adversary). There is certainly no evidence of a belief system of any significant scale called “Luciferianism” (despite what conspiracy theorists would assert). Furthermore, Ford’s own “Luciferian Magickal Order,” the Order of Phosphorous, is not the only contender; there is also the Ordo Luciferis, Ordo Luciferi, Temple of the Dark Sun, Neo-Luciferian Church.

The title of the book under review is an inversion (of sorts) of the Hebrew name of God in the Old Testament, rendered either as JHVH or YHWH. Y and J are the same in Hebrew, as are V and W. The language contains no vowels, so there is often some guessing required as to the correct pronunciation of words; hence we have Jehovah and Yahweh. Written backwards we get HVHJ. Where Ford comes up with HVHI is not explained, nor is any clue given as to how to pronounce this “name.”

Liber HVHI is a modern grimoire, drawing upon the myths of various past cultures, with a particular emphasis on Ahriman of Zoroastrianism. Also central to the book is the Qlippoth, a variation of the Tree of Life glyph from the Hebrew Cabala. Much of the historial material was so unfamiliar to me, and communicated with such brevity, that it was impossible to digest coherently. I also failed to grasp the reason for the importance Ford’s approach to magic. I understand myths as approximations to truth, which is why myths are always evolving over time, or outliving their usefulness. Ford’s insistence on the use of ancient myth strikes me as backward. It’s like learning astronomy, but refusing to let go of Ptolemy’s geocentric universe. In reading Liber HVHI, I was reminded of Anton LaVey’s opening statement in the preface to The Satanic Bible:

This book was written because, with very few exceptions, every tract and paper, every “secret” grimoire, all the “great works” on the subject of magic, are nothing more than sanctimonious fraud – guilt-ridden ramblings and esoteric gibberish by chroniclers of magical lore unable or unwilling to present an objective view on the subject.

And yet occasionally Liber HVHI struck a note of brilliance, as Ford communicated a rare insight, one hard to grasp by those unfamiliar to the Left-Hand Path. These flashes are what kept me reading, but they were few and far between. The material of worth in this volume would have filled a pamphlet. The book makes occasional references to a previous work of Ford’s, Luciferian Witchcraft. Perhaps I would have gained a little more out of Liber HVHI if I had started with the other one, but somehow I doubt it. There is a clarity to modern occult writers like Anton LaVey and Michael Aquino that is sadly lacking here.

From Witchcraft to Christ by Doreen Irvine

When I was fifteen, in high school, we had one period of Religious Education per week. For about half of the school year, this lesson consisted solely of our class reading through From Witchcraft to Christ, chapter by chapter. Today, revisiting the book two decades later, I’m amazed by how much of the story I remember. You might say it had something of an impact on me originally; it certainly reinforced Christianity and coloured my opinion of the occult.

When I was fifteen I was completely naive, and when I became a Christian at age seventeen, I wasn’t much brighter. Now, however, as an adult who survived the brainwashing exercise of religion and came out the other side with a razor sharp intellect, my memories of Doreen Irvine’s autobiography take on quite a different light. My intention in re-reading this book is to either confirm or deny my suspicion that what we are dealing with here is a liar.

The problems begin with the author’s note at the beginning. “I have of necessity omitted many details of my former life, the people I was associated with at this time and other personal details.” She explains that her intention “was to present a readable account of part of my life and to avoid having to relate definite dates and situations with known persons living or dead.” Unfortunately for the reader, such details could have corroborated Irvine’s claims, Without them we are left to simply wonder how much of what we are reading is fantasy. This is especially important given the fantastical nature of some of her claims, which we will come to shortly.

Nevertheless, the early part of book has an air of credibility; the reader gets the feel of someone relating direct experience. Irvine was a disadvantaged child, living in a council estate in Britain during World War II, with her mother, alcoholic father, and younger sisters. She was mischievous and a ringleader to the children of the neighbourhood, continually getting into trouble. Home life got worse when her mother upped and left and her father brought home a mistress. In her early teens, a local charity worker decided to help Doreen by getting her a job as a maid for a local upper class woman. Doreen stuck it out for a while, but naively longed for the idea of a better life in London. After saving some money, she left on the train without a word to anyone. In the big city, she quickly found work as a prostitute, then as a stripper, calling herself Daring Diana. In this profession, she made some serious money, and was able to afford a classy flat for herself. Despite material success, her main problem was loneliness, for which she turned to drugs. Heroin addiction ended up ruining her ability to do her job, so she returned to prostitution and also indulged in shoplifting. One day she was caught stealing jewelry and got three months in prison, which at least served as a withdrawal clinic for the drugs.

You can tell that this is shaping up to be one of those sensationalist Christian testimonies where the author revels in telling the audience how rotten she was, and how great God is for saving her. In all honesty I have nothing but contempt for such screw-ups. If you’re dumb enough to invite a man to stick a heroin needle into your arm, then you deserve whatever consequences befall you; I have no sympathy. The only time I felt any sense of respect for Doreen was when she was getting it together as a stripper (something she no doubt looks back on with disdain). Not the most respectable of jobs, but you’ve got to salute a woman who brings about material success for herself using whatever assets she has. That said, for the most part, this is the story of a young girl who squandered the opportunities given to her and whose recklessness brought about her undoing. The message of the book is basically: “God rescued me from my stupidity.” Am I being too harsh? Frankly, the people I have respect for are those who have the sense not to ruin their lives, or those who bring themselves back from the brink of disaster by their own determination. Doreen Irvine, however, belongs to the self-pity school of thought: “Poor me. Help me, Lord.” You ever notice how such testimonies are always about acceptable sins: “I was an alcoholic, but God redeemed me!” “I was addicted to heroin, but by the grace of God I’m now free.” “I was an IRA hitman, but by God’s mercy I am forgiven!” “I was a Satanist, but the might of Jesus freed me from the power of the devil!” You never hear anyone say, “I used to rape little boys, but through the blood of Christ my sins are washed clean!” That’s why I can’t stand these big boastful displays of past sin, because there’s sin that’s trendy to parade, and there’s SIN that isn’t.

You may have noticed that From Witchcraft to Christ hasn’t yet included any witchcraft. That’s because there’s not a lot of it, only a couple of short chapters worth. And it’s these chapters where Irvine’s credibility falls asunder. The believable detail of the early chapters is replaced with the sort of summarising brevity that is indicative of someone who wasn’t really there doing what she claims to have been doing. But that’s only a minor criticism. The details that she does give are enough to damn her.

When she came out of prison, she went back to her life as Daring Diana the stripper. One night, she overheard two girls talking about a “Satanist temple.” She asked them about it. At first they were reluctant to say anything, but with a quick nudge, they conceded to take Doreen to their Satanist meeting place. Doreen was blindfolded and taken by car to a secret location. There were about five hundred people in the hall, which was draped in black. A Satanic ceremony takes place, involving the sacrifice of a cockerel, people dressed in robes, and lots of chanting. The ceremony is said to last two hours, but Irvine gives practically no detail. Afterwards, she is asked by the chief Satanist if she would like to join their religion. And she does.

Anyone who has done some research into the occult will see that Irvine has no more knowledge of the subject than you would gain from a few Hammer movies or Dennis Wheatley novels. She refers to her religion as “the order of Satanism,” not seeming to realise that an order is a subdivision of a religion – a religion that is never named. Perhaps it’s the order of Satanism of the religion Satanism? On another occasion she refers to it as “the most ancient order of Satanism.” If so, you would think that the leader would be called by a legitimate occult title like “Ipsissimus” or “High Priest.” No, Irvine has no familiarity with occultism, so in her limited imagination she continually refers to the leader as “the chief Satanist.” Often, she erroneously refers to Satan as Lucifer, something that crept into Christian tradition through a mistranslation of the Old Testament into Latin. You would think the real Prince of Darkness would know that he isn’t a minor Roman deity. Irvine is also fond of calling her master Diablos; it’s unfortunate that the devil can’t spell (correct rendering “Diabolus”).

Irvine furnishes us with some of the rules of Satanism that she was required to obey:

1. Secrecy is the keynote for all Satanists. They must never reveal the whereabouts of the temples to an outsider or the things that go on inside the temple.

And yet somehow all it took for Doreen to be transported right into the heart of the most secret organisation (one whose existence isn’t even known today in the internet age) was to ask a couple of its members in a stripclub?

3. Satanists must never enter a Christian church unless sent in to spy by the chief Satanist.

Why not? What would a Satanist be afraid of? The power of the Christian Gospel? I think not.

4. Satanists must never read the Holy Bible for their own edifiction.

Again, why not? What self-respecting Satanist would be afraid of a book he thinks is full of lies? Compared to Anton LaVey’s “Nine Satanic Statements,” Irvine’s rules of Satanism seem rather infantile.

Lies are compounded upon lies, as Irvine thoroughly insults the reader’s intelligence in her tale of how she became initiated as “the queen of black witches” (another title that has no existence in occult lore). She had to walk through a bonfire, and as she did so, the devil walked with her, visibly as a black figure. On several occasions she talks about seeing Satan physically, hearing his voice audibly, then later as a Christian she makes the same claims about Jesus. Of course, there’s not a shred of evidence, and the reader is simply expected to take her word for everything. One night Irvine is with her witch chums on the moor when several men come over the hill. She uses her Satanic powers to make the witches invisible, and avoid getting caught. Brimming with occult power, with zero esoteric knowledge. How does she do it?

In the two brief chapters about Irvine’s experiences with Satanism and witchcraft, she had opportunity to completely blow the lid off this. But she refains. Details are scant, events are summarised, locations remain unknown. She talks about how the meeting places used as Satanist temples change regularly to maintain secrecy, but after she becomes a Christian she doesn’t seem to have any trouble getting in touch with her old pals and attempting to convert them.

Irvine’s conversion to Christianity is fraught with difficulty, as apparently she is possessed by numerous demons. Rev. Arthur Neil exorcises her over a period of many months. The demons that leave her have names like Doubt, Deceit, Lust, Lies, Pride, Witchcraft, Tormentor. That’s right, folks, if you’ve ever experienced doubt, that’s not your brain’s way of making sure you have a robust enough reason to believe in something; that’s an infernal demon from the pit of hell gnawing at you! There’s even a demon called Lesbian. Yes, all you rug-munchers; you are possessed!

Once Irvine is on the “right path,” the final quarter of the book is taken up by sanctimonious, melodramatic stories of her early ministry as an evangelist. Oh, now we get the detail. I had to smile when she sprained her ankle and had to cancel one of her appointements, for she believed that to be Satan’s doing. This reminded me so much of the silly damaging ideas that used to occupy my own brainwashed mind in another life.

It’s difficult to know how much of Irvine’s story is deliberate deceit and how much is down to over-enthusiatic evangelists preying upon a psychologically unstable woman. In any case, it is clear that Irvine’s witchcraft experience is entirely bogus, or at best grossly exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Interestingly, there’s not a single mention of the Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) of children, something which became a staple of Satanic testimonies in the 1980s and 1990s (the period known as the Satanic Panic). Clearly, in the 1970s, when Irvine wrote her story, SRA hysteria had not become part of the zeitgeist. It’s omission makes From Witchcraft to Christ an important book historically, for it demonstrates how people simply accept sensationalist tales, regardless of their content or veracity. This book has become a big seller in Christian circles and is still in print today. That depresses me, because the material is easily debunked by anyone with a healthy sound mind. Sadly, the success of this book only attests to the credulity of the general mass of humanity.

Let the honest Christian reader take note, you should be every bit as concerned as I am to expose people like Doreen Irvine. Liars in your ranks do you no credit.

If you would like to see this lady in action, telling porkies for Jesus, look her up on YouTube.

The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish

The cover illustration on my copy of this book features a spooky skull, dagger, black candle, pestel & mortal, all sitting on what is presumably an occult grimoire. Along with the title, The Black Arts, this is presumably meant to mislead the would-be magician with the promise of forbidden secrets, and to perhaps evoke outrage from the “moral” majority, which is always good for popularity. Neither the title nor the illustration factored into my reasons for reading. First, Richard Cavendish is a well respected name as a researcher, and secondly the book was first published in 1967. Students of the occult will know that the Church of Satan (the first above-ground Satanic organisation) was founded in 1966, by one Anton Szandor LaVey, who published The Satanic Bible in 1969. Since then, LaVey has been the defining voice of what constitutes modern Satanism. It was my hope that Cavendish’s book would, on the other hand, provide an insight into pre-LaVeyan Satanism, if there even was such a thing.

The first thing I noticed about The Black Arts was that there’s nothing very black about much of the content. Cavendish devotes chapters to explaining the magical theory of the universe, numerology, the Cabala (or Kabbalah), alchemy and astrology. Only the last quarter of the book is devoted to ritual magic and devil worship. Cavendish does not appear to put much credence in occult theories, judging by his occasional critical anecdotes. Most of the time, however, he is completely dispassionate, simply offering us the historical facts and allowing us to make of them what we will. This is the real strength of the book. Key occult figures like Aleister Crowley, Eliphas Levi, John Dee are mentioned frequently, but in a scattered fashion. I would have loved a more comprehensive outline of their lives. H.P. Blavatsky is notable by her complete absence.

Regarding medieval Satanism, it is impossible to separate truth from lies, as it was an unfortunate habit of the Christian Church to brand heretics with the label “Satanist” and to accuse them of strange practices. In fact, the term “Satanist” would seem to have originated with the Church, and there is no evidence of the word being used to denote an actual ideology before Anton LaVey actively embraced it. In medieval times, accusing Satanists of stealing unbaptised babies for ritual sacrifice is a pretty sure way of ensuring that mothers baptised their infants fast. Satanists were, at least to some extent, the boogeymen. Although the spread of “devil worship” was certainly not nearly as prevalent as the Church made out, there remains some evidence of witchcraft afoot – an inversion of Christianity, where the devil is worshipped in place of God. The extent of witchcraft, and its exact nature, are lost in the mists of time.

I got a great deal out of this book. Much of the occult is based on flimsy ideas that don’t hold water when examined rationally. If there can be said to be any power in the speaking of incantations during ritual, it is not in the words themselves, but in the magician who chooses to invest power in the words. In other words, the magic is inside you, not in dusty old grimoires. One interesting anecdote for modern Satanists is the term “Shemhamforash,” which is quoted in The Satanic Bible during ritual, without explanation for what it means. According to Cavendish, the word is a name of God, arrived at through a numerological calculation on the Bible passage Exodus 14:19-21 (where the Israelites cross the Red Sea). These three verses are said to be significant because each contains 72 letters (in the original Hebrew). Interesting how LaVey, who put no credence whatsoever in the Bible, would use something derived from the Bible in his own Satanic rituals. That should tell you something about magical lore; it is all unneccesary fluff, borrowed from elsewhere. Its effectiveness is only in the effect you choose to give it upon yourself.

Magicians wishing to find powerful secrets will no doubt be disappointed by this book. Those who value separating truth from error will appreciate it. I think this handy volume has allowed me to avoid a lot of future disappointments and dead ends in my own research. Well worth the time invested.