The Black Book

The Black Book

At this witching time of year, in the chill of lonesome October when the leaves turn brown and pile in drifts, and the frosted pumpkins begin to rot in the fields, we turn our minds to elongated shadows and gloomy pits, deep willow woods and gaping cavern mouths, secret places that elude the sun, chill haunts where spring the roots of black magic. It has always been a part of the Western esoteric tradition, but it is something that is seldom talked about in polite circles. It carries a taint of decay, a discoloration of disease, and most practitioners of the arts are leery of contracting its infection by casual contact.

Central to the black arts is the fabled Black Book that was referred to in hushed and horrified tones by the Christian demonologists of the Renaissance period such as Boden and Remy. It went under various names according to various learned authorities, but its qualities were always the same. It was a book of damnation that taught occult practices for the spreading of evil abroad across the land. Inspired by the Devil himself, it had but one purpose, to corrupt and destroy all those who fell under its influence or used its methods. Even to open the Black Book, or to hold it in the hands, or touch its binding of human skin, was to become a lost soul forever barred from entry into heaven, forever damned to hell.

The reason the book had many names is because it never actually existed in a material form. Various real grimoires, having titles well known but which few men had actually read, were chosen by the Christian demonologists to represent it. Works of dire reputation such as the Grand Grimoire, the Goetia, the Picatrix, the Key of Solomon, were vilified in harsh terms as corrupting tomes to be strenuously avoided, lest those whose idle curiosity led them to read within should be forever lost in the coils of the Evil One, he who is called the prince of shadows and deceiver of the flesh.

The Victorian occultist Arthur Edward Waite studied these books and many others of a similar foul reputation during his researches in the British Museum Library, and he observed rather dryly that when the grimoires were actually read, it turned out that their contents were not nearly so damnable as the references of the demonologists would lead one to suppose. Indeed, the common effect of reading them was more apt to be tedium than damnation. Waite was not the first to condemn and dismiss the supposed black grimoires — the student of Cornelius Agrippa, Johannes Wier, had done much the same two centuries earlier in the course of defending the reputation of his former master.

But these men had actually read the grimoires — it seemed that those most apt to condemn such infamous occult books as soul-searing one-way tickets to hell were those least likely to have actually studied them — the learned divines and inquisitors of the Catholic Church. The fabled black book of the Devil had the uncanny property of becoming smaller and less significant the closer one examined it. The reality was just not up to the task of sustaining the mythology.

Even so, the myth of the Black Book persisted down to modern times. The celebrated writer of horror stories, H. P. Lovecraft, created it anew in the early part of the 20th century in the form of his Necronomicon — which is perhaps the most well-known of its incarnations. In part, Lovecraft’s imaginary black book of evil was based on the equally imaginary book The King In Yellow, invented by the writer Robert W. Chambers and used in several of his supernatural stories. We may have left the era of the quill pen and the ox cart behind us, but the fable of Satan’s Black Book has followed us. Yet always it remains an illusion that vanishes like a mirage when it is approached and investigated.

Even those modern writers who have attempted to actually create the Black Book must be judged to have failed in their purpose. The self-proclaimed Satanist of San Francisco, Anton Szandor LaVey, made such an attempt in his The Satanic Bible, published in 1969, but it was weak plant that bore scant fruit. Several intrepid writers, myself among them, have written versions of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, but no actual book can begin to approach the mystery or power of the original that existed in the imagination of Lovecraft alone — and perhaps, also in the akashic records of the great library of the astral world.

The Black Book does not yet exist in a cohesive, tangible form despite these attempts, and has never existed intact and entire in our material world. It is an enduring myth that from time to time has been associated with an actual but poorly known text, or a lost text, or even an imaginary text, and that is all. But in this gloaming of the year, when we hang suspended between summer and winter, when the dead are said to leave their graves and walk among us, unseen but not unfelt, we will imagine what the Black Book would contain in its pages, if there actually were such a book.

It is supposed to have been inspired or actually written by the Devil, who is reputed in Christian theology to be the father of all lies. Therefore it must be designed to deceive and mislead those who read it. The grand promises it makes of wealth and power and beauty and eternal life should all be presumed to be untrue. Yet they will be phrased in such a seductive manner that the susceptible reader will find himself unable to resist their siren allure. They will be designed to play upon the weaknesses and impulses of certain human beings who are open to deception and to spiritual corruption, by triggering character flaws in their natures such as greed, lust, envy and hatred.

If these sound familiar, they should — in past centuries they were known as deadly sins — deadly to the soul, not the body — an archaic term we distance ourselves from today. Who talks about sins anymore? Almost nobody, not even the priests and ministers. Yet these weaknesses of human nature still exist and are just as apt to cause the downfall of human hopes as they were when clouds of dark smoke arose from the blackened, crackling flesh of burning women in public squares.

In exchange for the offer of power, wealth and other things desired by the impressionable reader of the Black Book, the crafty author will demand a pledge of obedience and loyalty. In the lore of European witchcraft, as assembled from the confessions under torture of women accused of the black arts, this pledge took place at the sabbat gathering of witches, when the Devil presented his Black Book and demanded the neophyte of witchcraft to impress the print of his thumb in blood beneath the oath. This is all very fanciful, of course, but if the Black Book actually existed, the confirmation of the pledge would take a different form — it would be the requirement that the reader commit some initial act of unspeakable evil and perversity, as a confirmation of his sincerity in his oath, and to forever bind him to evil and prevent him from turning back to the light.

We see something similar among modern street gangs, where the new member of the gang is required to commit a crime, such as a random murder, in order to confirm his sincerity. This may be largely an urban legend, but it illustrates the necessary initiatory act that would be near the beginning of the black book.

The instructions of the text would teach practical methods of black magic, but woven among its rituals and techniques would be a path leading the reader progressively further along in his descent into hell, which in not a locality of space but a state of mind. The reader would be induced by the text to deliberately break all bonds of love and friendship with other human beings by betraying and injuring those he loved. In order to weaken his conscience, he would be encouraged to take “strong drugs” that would open his mind to illegal and immoral acts.

Drugs were used in this manner by Charles Manson to shape the members of his Family, prior to the murders he induced them to commit. Drugs were used in a similar way by Aleister Crowley to weaken the resistance of his followers to sexual acts considered sinful or perverse by society as a whole. Crowley used drugs to aid in destroying his own sense of conventional morality — although he needed little enough help in this effort.

Sexual perversion would play a crucial role in the working of the Black Book. Sex has a powerful hold over most human beings. By inducing its reader to break his sexual taboos, even the strongest taboos among them, the book would addict the reader to such sexual acts, since normal sex seems tame by comparison. When the sexual taboos are broken, it is easier to break other taboos, such as the one against murder.

One of the texts that exists in the real world, and which comes nearest to being a genuine Black Book, is the 18th century work 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. This book is a catalogue of all the sexual perversions of mankind, arranged in an intensifying level of severity. De Sade was guided in his ordering of the perversions by his own sexual desire over the course of his life. When a perversion ceased to arouse him, he moved on to a stronger perversion, and in this way the catalogue of human depravity was graded from mild to unspeakably vile.

De Sade was a very clever man. He arranged his detailed descriptions of his sexual perversions so that in between each set was a moral diatribe designed to weaken some scruple or moral principle in his reader. Thus, he first sexually aroused his reader, then taught a lesson mocking virtue and faith. In this way he established a conditioned reflex similar to that of Ivan Pavlov’s famous salivating dog, which salivated at the ringing of a bell, because it had been trained to associate the sound of the bell with food. De Sade trained his readers to associate sexual pleasure with mockery and indifference to accepted moral standards. His intentional purpose was to deprave the sexual appetites of his readers and to use that depravity to turn them away from religion.

The final perversions in The 120 Days of Sodom are all descriptions of sexual pleasure derived from torturing, mutilating and slowly murdering innocent victims. This is the final state De Sade hoped and intended his reader to achieve — the state of morals, or lack of morals, that he himself had attained after a long life of debauchery and crime.

The central ritual of the Black Book would also be one of violation, mutilation, and murder. This would be its Great Rite, so to speak, the final and absolute confirmation in evil that is the underlying purpose of the Black Book, its very reason to exist, in comparison with which all its promises of power and wealth, all its teachings of practical magic, are insignificant. The true Black Book is first and last a book of damnation — the damnation of the self, and the spreading of damnation among others by lies and evil acts.

We see an allusion to this Great Rite of damnation in the mythology of the child sacrifice at the witches’ sabbat, where gathered witches were supposed by their Catholic inquisitors, and by the demonologists who wrote about witchcraft, to have sacrificed a baby in order to drink its blood and to harvest its fat for their flying ointments. The French novelist of the 19th century, Joris-Karl Huysmans, described a somewhat similar scene in the climax of his novel Là-Bas (usually translated into English as Down There), which details the descent of a curious man into the depraved practices of Satanists.

As the Devil is the spirit of lies, the promises of the book are all lies, but by the time the reader discovers this to be so, he is already damned in a very real sense — cut off from normal human feelings and normal social interaction by his perversions and crimes. His perverse desires act as an addiction holding him down and preventing the arousal of spiritual feelings or impulses. By his graded initiation into evil, the voice of his good angel is rendered mute to his ears.

As you can see, were the true Black Book to exist, it would be a very wicked text indeed. It is perhaps just as well that it exists only in fable, or at most, only in various detached fragments scattered far and wide, each of them possessing a limited power to do evil. Let us hope it always remains so, and that no individual possessed of sufficient creative ability, and having open communications with the spirit world, ever decided to bring this myth of the true Black Book of the Devil into our world.

©2009 by Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

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One Response to “The Black Book”

  1. Grey Glamer says:

    Philosophically, the notions of the Devil and the Black Book are difficult to reconcile with a genuinely theistic worldview, or at least with the variants of monotheism which we’ve inherited from Neoplatonism, courtesy of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The problem dates back at least as far as Saint Augustine’s refutation of the Manichean Heresy. Parsed in the simplest form: If existence ultimately derives from an omnipotent and all-benevolent Creator or Source, then everything in existence must be good, insofar as every individual thing partakes of existence; evil, therefore, cannot be anything with positive existence, since evil would thereby partake of goodness, which is an absurdity.

    Now we can mess with our definitions of good and evil, or we can question the omnipotence or the benevolence of the Creator, and thereby resolve the issue one way or another. The problem, though, is that traditional Judeo-Christian theology – properly understood – is unwilling to compromise upon any one of these points. (Many variations of Pagan belief would be equally reluctant to part with these arguments, I might add.) The solution, per Augustine, is to define evil as the absence or privation of goodness. Now this privation must exist for God to create anything apart from Herself, since the creation of something without boundaries would be God creating God, which is impossible. (Or more to the point, practically meaningless.) Indeed, Augustine goes out of his way to interpret the whole “separating the light from the darkness” as the necessary condition for the creation of one complementary whole which is inherently good. (Leibniz famously expanded upon this very point throughout his works on metaphysics.)

    The problem here is that the more evil something gets, the less real that something gets. And if, like the medieval inheritors of Neoplatonism, you are inclined to equate power, wisdom, and beauty with existence, then the traditional Devil must be weak, idiotic, and hideous – hardly something to be feared. Obviously, I don’t believe in the traditional Devil, or really any Devil at all. (Which makes the horns I’m about to don for that Halloween party all the more ironic…) I think there are energies which resonate with light, and those which resonate with darkness – Seelie and Unseelie, to borrow from the Scottish mythology – yet neither is inherently good or evil. What does happen from time to time is that very powerful energies within individual beings and groups can turn back upon themselves, cease to flow freely, and thereby cause self-inflicted harm and harm to everyone around.

    So perhaps the Black Book *cannot* exist in its truest form, simply because its existence (which qua existence must be inherently good) would necessarily contradict the book’s very nature as something of ultimate evil. It remains a powerful shadow in our narrative of archetypes, and thereby stirs something primal and important within us, if only to remind us why we should – why we must – chart courses which affirm rather than deny life.

    My thanks for the harrowing walk through the history of the myth. Be safe and be well this Samhain night!
    .-= Grey Glamer´s last blog ..The Virtues of Magic: Desire =-.

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