Friday, 6 February 2015

Forgotten Lore (Bookhounds of London)

In the wake of Ken Hite's recent KWAS, Goetia, I'd like to talk about grimoires. What are they, and what can a Keeper do with them?

A grimoire can best be described as a magic text, filled with occult secrets, intended to instruct the reader. Often the instruction contains information on how to cast a spell, to summon forth demons, angels or other spirits, and how to attain supernatural power. Supernatural power is a wide-ranging term, but it doesn't mean the ability to chuck fireballs about; it means the ability to find things, or do things, that the user otherwise cannot find or do. Often this means finding treasure, coercing someone to fall in love with you, or some other relatively mundane feat which the user desires, but cannot achieve himself. This is usually tailored to the customer's specific desires; for example, many military men, even in the Enlightenment, believed they could increase their martial skill through diabolic means, or attributed a rival's ability to the machinations of the Devil.

There are several things to bear in mind when considering grimoires, but the chief fact is this: people prefer to believe that the best kind of magic is exotic magic, from some foreign source. The West looks to the East for its magical inspiration, while the East looks to the West. This is one of the reasons why Hoodoo magic, for example, often draws on European sources for its mystic authority. The publisher William Delaurence, also known as De Laurence, of Chicago, cribbed much of his knowledge from authors like Levi and Waite, turning their work into his mail-order Book of Moses. Meanwhile Levi and Waite were getting their information from sources like the Kabbalah, and Levi happily prattles about an eternal knowledge that can be found 'the crumbling stones of old temples and on the blackened visage of the Assyrian or Egyptian sphinx, in the monstrous or marvelous paintings which interpret to the faithful of India the inspired pages of the Vedas, in the cryptic emblems of our old books on alchemy, in the ceremonies practised at reception by all secret societies ...' 

Mystic isn't what you find next door. Mystic is what you find in far-off lands, where there are foreigners and strange, spicy foods. It's even better if your source is both foreign and old; age gives even the most crackbrained of philosophies a dignified patina.

Another thing to bear in mind is that grimoires are often banned, or at any rate frowned upon by the powers that be. Delaurence's work, for example, is still outlawed in Jamaica, even today. Sometimes this can lead to less-than-amusing instances of mistaken identity. Dungeons and Dragons, in the 1980s, was frequently condemned by hard right-wing and conservative Christian movements, and people like Patricia Pulling and Jack Chick tried to convince us all that the game's Satanic underpinnings led to suicide, and worse

The third thing to bear in mind is that you don't really need any kind of qualification, or experience, to write a grimoire. Anybody can do it, and with mass publishing, many hundreds of thousands have done it, often under assumed identities, occasionally under their own name. Delaurence knew that putting his own name on a book guaranteed a sale, such was the power of his reputation, but frequently the imagery used to promote his books is pseudo-Hindu, evocative of the mysterious East. Even today, it's not at all difficult to find many hundreds of small presses churning out occult text after text, most of them almost certainly rehashing the grimoires of old, much as Delaurence himself did.

What does this mean for Bookhounds of London?

To begin with, it means that, if the protagonists' shop becomes known for selling grimoires and odd incunabula, they are probably going to run foul of the law. Someone will make a complaint, probably some busybody who glanced in the window and saw something they didn't like. The police, even if they don't really believe in magic, are going to be very interested in the kind of shady customers who do, and who probably frequent the shop. The police may even begin to suspect that the characters are involved with pornography, or worse. As for the local church, while the Anglicans have always been a bit live-and-let-live, there's bound to be a firebrand out there somewhere willing to camp out on the characters' doorstep and accuse them of corrupting minds, or working in Satan's army.

It also means that there will be dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of self-published or small press authors, besieging the bookshop monthly. You sell this stuff, they say, so why not sell, or even publish, mine? Here, I have the authentic mysteries straight from the trackless jungles of Tibet, or the scorching deserts of India, the mysterious pyramids of Timbuctoo ... and so on. Some of them will actually know what they are talking about, but most won't. Lack of knowledge has never stopped an author yet.

Meanwhile the customers will be after texts that service their peculiar needs. It might be true love, promotion at work, hidden treasure - most likely along the lines of 'where did granny put the will' rather than heaps of gold, but treasure nonetheless - success at cards, success on the stage, or any one of the thousands of other desires that people come up with. If your shop is frequented by theatrical types, they will want a specific kind of grimoire. Bored housewives will want something else, and so on.   

Ah, but what about the true mysteries? After all, the Goetia KWAS isn't about fakers and cheesecloth ectoplasm; it presumes spirits can be summoned up.

To begin with, it's reasonable to assume that, most of the time, the Bookhounds will be selling on these texts, rather than using them. All kinds of ideas can flow from this. For example, what about the dissatisfied customer, the one who bought your forged grimoire, tried it, and found that it didn't work? That could result in something fairly mundane, like a Reversal in the shop's fortunes, as the bad press gets around. It could also have unforseen results, as with the customer who thought he was summoning up one demon, but in fact found himself summoning up something else altogether, thanks to a misprint or your Hounds' careless forger. In that event, the entity summoned up might want to return to the store, either to have a little bit of fun with the people responsible for its release, or because it needs something - the bits of its book that the Hounds didn't use in the forgery, for example.

It's also possible that the customer who successfully summons demons might want to use them against the Hounds, for whatever reason. Imagine the lovelorn suitor, passionately pursuing, say, the book scout, or owner of the shop. That customer might send a demon in to seal the deal. Or someone wanting more books might send demons to the shop as a persuader, either to get the Hounds to find the books for her, or to get the Hounds to lower their price. Or the collector who's trying to get hold of all published editions of a particular imprint, sending the Hounds to demon-haunted places in pursuit of his prize.

But suppose for a moment that the Hounds decide to summon some demons of their own? There might be many reasons for doing so, but one of the most likely is financial, to keep the shop going, or to engineer a Windfall.

Well, demons are notoriously unreliable fellows. They might stick around, haunting the book stacks. Or the same ritual that summoned them might have let lesser spirits in as well, things which could make life very tricky for the Hounds. When asked to exterminate these pests, the original demon might reply that it's not in the Pact for it to play rat-catcher, or it might acquiesce, for a fee, of course.

The chief thing to bear in mind is, whatever this spirit, fallen angel, or Cthulhoid remnant is, it has a personality, and it has goals. The summoner might see it as a tool, or a servant, but nothing could be further from the truth. A demon is an intelligent entity, and it knows what it's getting into when it responds to a summons. It's done this many thousands of times before, after all. Some demons are warlike, gnashing their teeth and stamping the ground, relying on intimidation and fear. Others are whining, flattering little toadies, promising everything, delivering very little. There may be smooth politicians, envious belchers of hate, careless gluttons, glamorous seducers, and thousands of other types among the demonic ranks.

If you rely on them, beware, for they are not and never will be your friend and ally.

God forbade it, indeed; but Faustus hath done it: for the vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with mine own blood: the date is expired; this is the time, and he will fetch me.

Read more at:
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 God forbade it indeed, but Faustus has done it. For the vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years has Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill in my own blood; the date is expired, this is the time, and he will fetch me ...
God forbade it, indeed; but Faustus hath done it: for the vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with mine own blood: the date is expired; this is the time, and he will fetch me.

Read more at:
Copyright ©
God forbade it, indeed; but Faustus hath done it: for the vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with mine own blood: the date is expired; this is the time, and he will fetch me.

Read more at:
Copyright ©

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