The so-called Wiccan “Rule of Three” (also called the “Three-fold Law” or “Law of Return”) is a moral code held by many witches. Karma is another word that (more or less) covers the same general territory. The energy that you “put out there”—whether good or ill—will return to you three times stronger. It’s not something that’s really a dogma among Pagans, but more of an admonition, or warning to neophytes, that there is a reward—or punishment—in harmony with the magic you work and the intent behind it.
An unflattering picture of the babbling orange idiot who knows the nuclear codes and a candle are all it takes to participate. The event’s Facebook page is here. If you can’t be at Trump Tower at the appointed time, face east and let ‘er rip… Some helpful instructions can be found here. Facebook event page here.
Black Sabbath shared a manager with an explicitly Satanic band called Black Widow, and some people had a hard time keeping the two straight, or pretended they did. Nick Tosches’ crazed review of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid mixed up Ozzy and Black Widow’s singer Kip Trevor, who does not, in fact, sound like “Keith Relf whining about the tampons stuck up his nostrils.”
I mention this because I’d never heard of Vincent Price’s nearly 90-minute-long occult crash course Witchcraft-Magic: An Adventure In Demonology before I read an interview with Black Widow’s Clive Jones in the book Black Sabbath FAQ. Talking about the popularity of horror movies in the late 60s, Jones went on a tangent about his relationship with Price:
Vincent Price gave me… because he was on CBS, whenever he released an album, he gave me an album, which I still use to this day, of him talking about black magic and the war, and how black magic was used for good causes, as well as worshiping the devil type stuff.
As soon as I read those words, I made haste to Discogs to track this sucker down. Look, I don’t know what your idea of a good time is, but when it is the witching hour, and the autumnal equinox, and everyone is making ready for the festival of Samhain, and like that, fun for me means settling down with a hot mug of tannis root tea and an hour and a half of Vincent Price talking demonology, accompanied by spooky sounds from a 1969 synthesizer. From the bewitching intro:
Do you believe in witches and magic? [Chuckles] I hope so, because it can be unwise not to. Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in luck? Do you believe in premonitions—being somewhere where you know you’ve been before, although you know you’ve never been there? Do you believe in dreams and the unseen forces of astrology? Do you believe that there is order and genius in the hundred thousand million galaxies similar to our own? Do you believe that the life of our bodies is the beginning and end, or do you believe in reincarnation? Perhaps in heaven and in hell? Do you believe in prophecy and poltergeists? Heh? Do you?
Yes, you see, the universe is populated with spirits: unseen forces which permeate all things, both tangible and intangible, both visible and invisible. Things we see and things we don’t, things we know or think we know and things we know nothing of: the natural and the supernatural. So come with me into the magic world of the supernatural—the world of witches and demons, warlocks and sorcerers, oracles and seers, alchemists and wizards—into the unfathomable world of the unknown, the world of the spirits and unseen forces that guide our destiny. They are everywhere. Let’s turn down the lights and throw another log on the fire.
Original pressings of Witchcraft-Magic apparently included a booklet called (gulp) “The Hand of Glory,” and one wonders who put so much research and care into this set. The album’s script, which traces the history of witchcraft through the Bible, the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and Nazi Germany before turning to practical instruction in the dark arts (see side three, track three, “How to Make a Pact with the Devil”), is the work of a mysterious figure named Terry d’Oberoff, whose only other credit appears on the 1970 debut of an LA soul group called—wait for it—Black Magic.
Below, hear a needle drop of the whole double LP. If you’d like to hear more wailing of damned souls and less surface noise, Amazon has it on MP3 for $4.99.
I had a friend who liked to collect occult illustrations from the earliest woodcuts of witches sabbats to hand-painted plates of winged demons. My friend did not see these pictures as telling a history of the occult, but rather a luminous narrative of the imagination’s power to invent monsters.
Similarly fabulous creatures can be found in the illustrations to the Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros, a rare book on the occult dating from 1775 which is held by the Wellcome Library. The volume is written in a mixture of German and Latin and contains 31 water-color illustrations of the Devil and his demonic servants together with three pages of magic and occult ritualistic symbols.
With the warning “NOLI ME TANGERE” (“Do Not Touch”) on its cover, the compendium can be seen as a last attempt by those of faith to instil fear among the superstitious. After all, the Compendium Artis Magicae was produced during the decade of revolutions (American and French) and in the Age of Enlightenment—when reason, science and the power of the individual dominated, and the first stirrings of industry were about to change Europe and the world. The horrendous witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries were long banished and the last execution in England for witchcraft took place in 1716 (1727 in Scotland, 1750 in Austria, 1782 in Switzerland), while the practise of witchcraft ceased to be a criminal offense across Europe during the century (England 1735)—all of which makes this Compendium Artis Magicae all the more bizarre.
The illustrations are a mix of Greco-Roman mythical monsters (chimeras such as Cerberus and Hydra), Phoenician gods (Astarte/Astaroth) biblical devils (Beelzebub, Satan), while some look as though they were inspired by witnessing the slaughter of men and beasts on European battlefields.
Just like New England in 1692-1693, the little town of Vardø, located far north of the Arctic circle, in the extreme northeastern part of Norway—it’s actually much closer to Russia than it is to Sweden, which is unusual for a Norwegian town—experienced a witch crisis all its own in the 17th century. The witch trials ended up affecting an unusually high percentage of the local townspeople—the entire county of Finnmark had a population of 3,000 people, but 135 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, 91 of whom were executed. As in Salem, the method of “pond dunking” was used:
it was often part of the process to include “trial by water”—the result being seen as “God’s will”. Those accused were bound hand and foot and thrown into the water. If the person floated, it was sign of their guilt. If they sank, they were innocent. During the Vardø witch trials, all those that were subjected to “trial by water” floated—thus guilty in the eyes of God.
In 2011 a memorial for the victims of the witch trials was erected and unveiled by the Queen of Norway. The designers of the memorial were two highly esteemed artists, Peter Zumthor of Switzerland and Louise Bourgeois, born in France but active in the United States. The memorial, known as the Steilneset Memorial, is located next to what is believed to be the execution site of many of the 91 victims.
The memorial consists of two parts, a long hallway suspended near the beach, Zumthor’s “Memory Hall,” a long cross-hatched frame containing a corridor with 91 lamps, each one illuminates a window and a plaque that tells the story of the men and women killed with testimony from their trials. That is connected to the Bourgeois contribution, a black box made of glass with a constantly burning chair in the middle, with mirrors suspended above it. This part is called, “The Damned, The Possessed, and The Beloved.”
Of the artists’ process, Zumthor has said, “I had my idea, I sent it to her, she liked it, and she came up with her idea, reacted to my idea, then I offered to abandon my idea and to do only hers, and she said, ‘No, please stay.’ So, the result is really about two things—there is a line, which is mine, and a dot, which is hers…. Louise’s installation is more about the burning and the aggression, and my installation is more about the life and the emotions [of the victims].”
Doorways to Danger is a 1990 British short film warning of the risks in flirting with the occult. Here’s the description from the Amazon listing:
Dabbling in the occult is widespread and often thought of as harmless entertainment. But this video shows why it is dangerous to get involved with spiritism, fortune telling, witchcraft, magic, and Satanism. The program introduces the real life stories of those who have been involved in these activities and shows the way out based upon a Biblical perspective.
A description also opens the video, and what comes next is pure gold: A cheesy montage of occult images with a song poem-esque number underneath warning of the hazards of looking up your horoscope and fooling around with a ouija board. And we’re off!
The anecdotal evidence that follows—offered up by supposed experts and decidedly non-experts alike—often seems scripted and/or total B.S., and the “slippery slope” examples given as gateways to full on devil worship (playing Dungeons and Dragons; watching Ghostbusters II!) are a hoot-and-a-half. One of the highlights is the segment with the band Heartbeat (“one of Britain’s top Christian groups”), who we get to see recording and then have an obviously rehearsed conversation about occult dabbling. The late ‘80s fashions they’re sporting will also surely induce a chuckle or two (and dig those hairdos!).
The video was produced by an organization calling itself the “Christian Response to the Occult.” Forming in 1982 by the Deo Gloria Trust, “to give a Christian answer to the inroads that occultism was making into society at that time,” the group later merged with the existing and ideologically similar, Reachout Trust.
Here’s Tom Poulson, the director of the CRO and the man behind Doorways to Danger:
We have a divine commission both to warn and inform our friends, family and neighbours that there is an enemy of God, actively engaged in both blinding them to and drawing them away from Jesus. We neither want to shout ‘FIRE!’ so loudly that people rush towards it, nor remain silent and see people receive life-endangering burns from their involvement with the occult.
Indeed, no one actually shouts “FIRE!” in Doorways to Danger, but to say that believing in things like “bad luck” could lead you into the arms of Satan comes pretty damn close.
In 1944, a Scottish medium called Helen Duncan became the last person to be prosecuted under the archaic Witchcraft Act of 1735. Duncan was a popular medium, who held seances across Britain during the 1930s and 1940s, and claimed she had incredible paranormal skills, these were often proved to be fake. For example, she said was able to produce ectoplasm, but when photographed and examined, this turned out to be regurgitated muslin cloth; she also claimed she could make spirits appear when under a trance, but these “spirits” proved to be nothing more than a sheet of cheesecloth with a cut-out picture from a movie magazine. Yet such was Helen’s charismatic appeal that she attracted many devoted followers and fans, including the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who believed Duncan had powerful psychic abilities.
Her psychic “talents” came to the notice of the Royal Navy after Helen claimed she saw an apparition of a dead sailor from the sunk ship HMS Barham, during a seance in Southampton. She said the dead sailor claimed his ship had been sunk with the loss of all life on board. As this was during the Second World War, official announcements about any sunk British vessel were held back so as not to damage morale. Duncan claimed she knew it HMS Barham as she had seen the ship’s name in the band of the dead sailor’s hat.
Ms. Duncan and her less than convincing ectoplasm.
Though this all sounds deliciously spooky, it is rather unlikely, as the names of ships were no longer written on sailor hats, and more importantly, the family members of all the ship’s crew had been notified of the loss of life, meaning the news of HMS Barham’s sinking was known locally in Southampton amongst a few families but not nationally. However, the Navy were so concerned that Helen Duncan may have been operating as a German spy that they kept tabs on her and her paranormal activities.
This eventually led to Duncan’s prosecution under the Witchcraft Act, and her incarceration for nine months in prison. At her trial, the respected historian and high-ranking Freemason, Alfred Dodd testified to Duncan’s authenticity. It was also known that Churchill took a personal interest in the case and questioned the use of the Witchcraft Act to prosecute Duncan. During the trial, the judge forbade Duncan from proving her psychic abilities in court—how she intended this is not quite clear. However, the resulting conviction and imprisonment seemed overly harsh for a woman who was considered to be fraudulent and no real security threat. If only Scooby-Doo had been around back then, eh?
Followers of Helen Duncan have consistently maintained her authenticity, and long after her death in 1956, she continues to hold considerable sway over those with an interest in the paranormal.
The following documentaries investigate Duncan’s claims to psychic powers and the events surrounding her trial. Each takes a different approach, from the supportive and personal, to the objective and scientific.