Charles Williams, ritial magic, satanism and the "Black Mass"
- This was originally posted on the Coinherence-l group on the work of Charles
Williams, but I thought it might be of interest here too
On 20 Sep 2009 at 21:36, AJA wrote:
> If not the Golden Dawn, where does the black mass p. 92 in WiH come from?
> Richard Sturch was kind to provide me with a translation as I don't have
> Latin. Re-reading that passage it does seem the soul that is being offered in
> sacrifice to the powers of darkness. The Golden Dawn wouldn't have used any
> of this in ritual? Who would have, I wonder. Or does this black mass come
> simply from CW's imagination?
Ronald Hutton, in his book "The triumph of the moon" attributes the notion of
the Black Mass at least in part to writers of fiction, including Charles
He notes that Madame Blavatsky warned against ritual magic. "To those who
ignored her advice and yet retained a commitment to Christianity, the
temptation to place their work in the context of a supernatural battle
between good and evil was often irresistible" (Hutton 1999:255). Hutton
mentions Machen, who attacked Pan (the favourite pagan god of the Victorians)
and Brodie-Innes, who suggested that those who had been accused of witchcraft
in the early modern witch trials had been Satanists.
"Further cautions were provided by the three most famous Christian initiates
of the Golden Dawn's successor orders. Two came to the decision that magic
was bad in itself" (Hutton 1999:256).
The two were Evelyn Underhill and Charles Williams. The third, who took a
different line, was Dion Fortune.
Of Williams, Hutton (1999:256) says:
"The other was Charles Williams, who achieved national distinction between
1930 and 1945 as a writer of 'theological thrillers'. A common feather of
these was the appearance of ceremonial magicians as figures of evil, and the
last in the sequence, _All Hallows Eve_, was also the most explicit in its
condemnation of magic as a pursuit essentially selfish, wicked and
destructive. By then the publish firm Faber had persuaded him to write a non-
fictional work, _Witchcraft_ (1941), which it hoped would cash in on the
success of the novels. It proved to be a milder version of Summers, based
upon minimal research and dedicated to providing 'a brief account of the
history in Christian times of that perverted way of the soul which we call
magic or (at a lower level) witchcraft'. The mildness lay in his insistence
that by torturing and executing alleged witches instead of trying to redeem
them, the early modern authorities had been almost as guilty of flouting
Christ's teachings as their victims."
Concerning Dion Fortune, Hutton (ibid) says:
"In her novel _The Demon Lover_ (1927)... Her occultist hero Dr Taverner
frequently engaged in combat against 'Black Lodges' of wicked magicians, the
worst of whom have long hair, consume odd brands of coffee and cigarettes,
and live in Chelsea."
Hutton then goes on to note that "Members of the world of early twentieth-
century British occultism who rejected Christianity could be just as
concerned with the dangers of malevolent magical forces."
"The greatest member of that world fitted the same pattern. Given that his
reputation represented the biggest glass house in contemporary ceremonial
magic, Aleister Crowley was in no position to throw stones himself; but this
is what he did. His most overtly populist work, _Moonchild_ (1929) pitted a
hero closely identified with himself against Black Lodges of evil rivals in
just the manner of Dr Taverner, save that his 'black' magicians were
recognizable caricatures of former colleagues with whom he had fallen out.
This was no doubt deeply satisfying, and it also provided Crowley with an
apparent easy answer to the attacks upon his own name; thatb there were
indeed wicked magicians about, but that he was one of the good guys. In his
more serious writings he addressed the nature of bad magic more delicately.
_Magick in theory and practice_, also in 1929, defined 'the brothers of the
Left Hand Path' as those who worked for pure self-aggrandizement, ignoring
any higher or more general good... This was a long way from talking about
Satanists, but the villains of _Moonchild_ raise 'vile things' from the
Underworld, and the notion of a world divided into the right and wrong sort
of magician, both capable of working with superhuman entities, presented a
strong parallel to Christian cosmologies" (Hutton 1999:257)
So, Hutton concludes (ibid) "By the 1920s, therefore, fictional images of
secret societies of evil magicians, produced by occultists themselves, were
circulating among the British reading public. It was but a short step from
them to the notion that such groups actually existed in contemporary Britain.
Such a step had been taken long before in France, where the modern revival of
ceremonial magic had begun, and where occultism had been a language of the
radical intelligentsia in general. During the 1890s the country was swept by
assertions, given very prominent publicity, that Satanists were at work
there, and growing rapidly in power and numbers. The stories centred upon the
ritual of the Black Mass, a blasphemous and erotic parody of the Roman
Catholic service, and were spread principally by an intelligent and
articulate individual who claimed to have been a member of the network and
witness to its ceremonies. Upon investigation, the tales turned out to be
baseless, and the key witness a self-promoting prankster; but their exposure
was not made apparent to all of those who had read the original allegations;
and the concept of the Black Mass entered modern consciousness -- both in
France and far outside it as the most striking single image of Satanism at
While Hutton cites his sources, curiously enough he does not name the
Now one can see a similar phenomenon in the recent past, with the popularity
of Dan Brown's _The da Vinci code_, a novel which many of the gullible took
to be fact. My son, who works in a bookshop, tells of an irate customer who
demanded a copy of a book mentioned in _The da Vinci code_, and simply would
not accept it when my son told him that it was a fictional work mentioned in
a work of fiction. "It says it right here" said the customer, poi8nting to
the page in _The da Vinci code_.
Crowley sent a copy of his _Magick in theory and practice_ to a young
novelist Dennis Wheatley, who used it as the basis for his own best-seller
novel _The devil rides out_ (1934), and thus made his fortune. And the views
of many English-speaking people on Satanism, wicked magicians and the Black
Mass were doubtless shaped by that.
And I have no doubt that many people having, read about it, sought to emulate
it. So if much of Satanism was originally a fictional creation, it was later
turned into fact.
But for all this, the ritual Williams describes in War in heaven is not
really a "Black Mass", though he does describe Persimmons as a "satanist".