Dark Literature: The Fear of Forbidden Books
By Scott Corrales
Blame H.P. Lovecraft for putting thoughts of the ultimate forbidden manuscript in the minds of all readers of the occult - reality and fiction. The Necronomicon
, that powerful grimoire compiled by Abdul Alhazred "the mad Arab" and its subsequent alleged translations have transformed it into the holy grail of books on the occult, whose existence is believed by half the world and denied by the other.
Curiously enough, such texts do exist - perhaps not all of them having the power to summon the Old Ones from their exile, but enough to bewitch humans throughout the ages. Did Johan Heiberg, a
Danish scholar, come across one such text in the early 20th century?
In searching through a catalogue, Heiberg came across a book whose existence had been overlooked despite the two great sacks of the city of Constantinople. The manuscript was of an ostensibly religious nature, but the careful penmanship of some forgotten medieval scribe concealed odd mathematical signs, suggesting that the original had been erased over to make space for the new text. Careful study revealed that the underlying text was, in fact, an Aristotelian treatise on mechanics that had been lost since antiquity.
In 1999, a curious news item emerged from the Middle East regarding the discovery of an unusual manuscript, believed by many to be another addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls due to the use of some of the same phrases and metaphors as the existing scrolls. Identified as the “Angel Scroll” and describing a journey to the heavenly realm, the papyrus was considered a significant discovery that would shed light on ancient Hebraic mysticism and the early years of the Christian tradition.
The unusual scroll was purchased by the Benedictine order in the early 1970s and later taken to one of the order’s monasteries on the border between Austria and Germany where it was subjected to intense scrutiny. In a fashion worthy of “The Da Vinci Code” or any other contemporary scriptural thriller, the monks involved in analyzing the scroll were sworn to secrecy. But one of them--known only as “Mateus”—was unable to keep the secret and left a transcription of the text and a commentary with a close friend, who conveyed it to an Israeli academic and a physician interested in the Kabala.
The “Angel Scroll” – according to the “Mateus” transcription – is the story of Yeshua ben Padiah’s religious experience during his stay at Ein Eglatain, a monastic community on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea, and how the angel Panameia took him on a journey through the various levels of heaven. The text also goes on to describe embalming techniques, the resurrection of the dead, and the use of curative herbs and stones. The phrases “sons of light” and “sons of darkness”, common to the Dead Sea Scrolls, also appear in this particular scroll with certain grammatical similarities.
Despite the obvious excitement over such revelations and the possibility of another significant addition to the Qumran Texts, Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine abbot and an expert in the Dead Sea scrolls, was openly skeptical about the revelation – particularly because the oath-breaking monk “Mateus” was quite alive and well, and if such a manuscript were in the possession of his order, Pixner would be the first to know.
Secrets of the Vatican
Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons”, along with other works of popular fiction, have made the average reader (and viewer) interested in the veritable tidal wave of books and documentaries involving papyri and parchments kept in secret by various religions out of the fear that their disclosure could upset their theological applecart, to employ a lighthearted turn of phrase. But do such written works really exist? Are there texts whose very existence could cause history to be re-written and cause doctoral theses to become instantly worthless? Books whose nature has the slightest whiff of the paranormal about them? The mind immediately conjures up the grim image of the blind librarian Jorge de Burgos in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and his efforts to place poison on the pages of the second volume of Aristotle’s Poetics – a book considered dangerous due to its discussion of comedy and laughter as weapons against the establishment.
“There are no secret books in the Vatican,” said Msr. Jorge Mejia, the South American archbishop in charge of the Vatican’s Apostolic Library, during an interview with Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper in 2000. “There is confusion, in fact. Until the 17th century, the Vatican Secret Archives and the Apostolic Library were a single entity. Given the immense size of the holdings, a decision was made to separate them. The word “secret” comes from the Latin and means “segregated” or “separate”, although it is true that there are some parts that cannot be seen, as occurs with any archive.”
Although Pope Leo XIII opened the Vatican archives to scholars, part of it always remained secluded, which covered holdings from 1922 and onward, with the end of the reign of Benedict XV. It is believed that some of the Church’s most controversial documents, such as its documents involving the Second World War, would remain in reserve. “No one believes that such documents are kept in the archives under my care,” said the Monsignor. “Furthermore, I do not believe that they are kept anywhere. And if they exist, they would belong to the archives of the Secretary of State. I do not think that it would be correct to say that items are missing or that we have concealed them. We have no interest whatsoever in hiding things.”
Monsignor Mejía advised the La Nación interviewer that the oldest series of documents kept at the Vatican goes back to papers from the reign of Pope Innocent III in the year 1198, although there are older individual documents going back to the papacy of John VIII in the Ninth Century A.D. The Vatican’s most treasured manuscripts include The 1209 Bible, copied from a 4th century manuscript, 7th century gospels from a long-vanished German abbey and 3rd century papyrus copies of the Letters of St. Peter.
Everyone knows about the Voynich Manuscript and its intricate illustrations, which have been interpreted as meaning everything from medicinal treaty to a book on high magic. Much has been written about it over the decades, with no conclusive result being obtained. Cryptographers are usually infuriated at esoteric musings over the book's true nature and meaning, but there are even other, less known documents. The Rohonc Codex is among them.
The Codex Rohonc
appeared in the mid-1800 and its bizarre script caught the attention of academicians and code-crackers alike, who did their level best to decipher it. A Hungarian historian dismissed the manuscript as a hoax, going as far as to blame a famous antiquarian whose works had deceived many a scholar. Nearly five hundred pages long, the Codex Rohonc
has a profusion of symbols, interspersed with illustrations of a religious/ military nature. As to the language represented by the symbols, experts have ventured many Eastern European tongues (Dacian, Cuman, Hungarian) as likely candidates. The document is kept by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where it awaits a new generation of experts to tackle the mystery.
When Documents Vanish
The contents of some books – treatises on witchcraft, alchemy and other occult subjects – makes them irresistible to specialized collectors who will stop at nothing to add them to their personal libraries. The removal of a paperback spell book from the local library is a small loss, but what happens when a major university library loses texts with an assessed value of one million dollars?
A set of thousand year-old Chinese parchments and books dealing with “mysterious subjects from the Sung, Yuan, and Qin periods” vanished from Harvard University’s Yenching Library in October 2000. The Yenching holds the largest collection of Far Eastern books outside of Asia.
The texts, described as being of enormous historic and literary significance, were removed from a guarded pedestal in the rare book collection. Senior Librarian Nancy Cline contacted the FBI immediately to report the theft and the missing materials were included in an FBI website aimed at alerting potential buyers of ill-gotten works of art and books.
Legend of the Emerald Tablets
God or human wizard? All books of esoteric lore speak reverently of Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes Thrice Great and his coveted "Emerald Tablet". Worshipped by the Greek residents of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, and identified with the ancient deity Thoth, the scribe of the underworld, Hermes Trismegistus was believed to have been a human monarch who ruled for three thousand years and wrote an amazing thirty-five thousand books -- a useful way of filling up three millennia. Yet only fragments of this mythic figure's writings have been handed down from hoary antiquity, ironically through the works of Christian authors.
The most significant of these works was a document referred to as the Emerald Tablet, which was supposedly buried along with Trismegistus's mummy under the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. The Tablet allegedly reveals the secrets of alchemy. Although the Hermes Thrice Great's mummy still waits patiently for archaeologists to find it (although the "Tomb of Osiris" discovered in 1998 does offer fascinating possibilities), part of the Emerald Tablet's metallurgical secrets can be found in the Leyden Papyrus--brought back to Europe in the 1820's by Johann d'Anastasi--which escaped the destruction of alchemical texts mandated by the Emperor Diocletian in 298 A.D.
Fabio Zerpa, better known for his work in ufology, cites the Count de Gebélin's belief that the Emerald Tablet is merely another name for the legendary Book of Thoth -- a forbidden book some ten thousand years old which would have been the basis of Egyptian civilization and occultism, as well as the key to "mastering the secrets of the air, the sea, the earth and the heavenly bodies". In Primitive World, his treatise on Egypt, de Gebélin remarks that the Book of Thoth survived destruction because it was cleverly disguised as a game, as we shall see below.
An Egyptian priest, Nefer-Ka-Ptah, retrieved the book, which had been sealed in a series of nested sarcophagi and kept in the bottom of Nile. Upon studying it, the priest was able to learn the art of numerology, communication with entities living across space and time, clairvoyance, and the art of building "magic mirrors" which do not reflect the viewer's countenance, but rather other worlds inhabited by loathsome beings.
Nefer-Ka-Ptah died a suicide, according to the story, and the Book of Thoth was spirited out of Egypt. Its magical powers and hidden knowledge would spread around the world in the form of the Minor and Major Arcana of the Tarot, which first appeared around 1200 A.D. in Italy as carticellas
("little cards") and were banned in 1240 and 1329 by bishops across Europe as malign. In his book The Black Art (Paperback Library, 1968) Rollo Ahmed, notes that the High Priestess card represents the Egyptian goddess Isis--perhaps the most tangible link to its Egyptian origin.
Destroy That Book!
Some books are not merely forgotten in libraries, or conveniently placed in hard-to-access locations to keep their availability restricted to a few chosen: others are actively sought out for destruction, as occurred with the works of Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, a French occultist whose works – known as “the Missions” – purportedly disclosed contact with the sources of ancient hidden wisdom. “The Mission of India in Europe and The Mission of Europe in Asia
” were allegedly complied by means of astral travel on the author’s part, enabling him to access ‘the Earth’s secret lairs” in search of knowledge.
Despite efforts aimed at its destruction, including a search-and-destroy campaign by the Nazis during World War II (curious, given Hitler’s obsession with the occult, as we are reminded by Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark), a copy survived to sate the curiosity of future generations. “You may wonder,” he writes “how I have been able to lift the veil that covers [Asia’s] most secret mysteries, when the joint efforts of missionaries and diplomats have been unable to do so. This veil is in fact formed by immense mountains, fortresses, virgin forests, deserts, cities, temples, crypts and subterranean cities of astounding size. And the secret it covers is guarded by millions of men of science and conscience, bound under the seal of Divinity by the same oaths that were taken in the days of Moses, Jethro, Orpheus, Zoroaster or Fo-Hi.”
While not a Theosophist, the works of Saint-Yves d’Alveydre read like an impassioned Blavatsky, dropping the names of occult brotherhoods and deities. Descriptions of the wonders of Agartha appear to constitute the principal goal of the book.
Jacques Bergier, in his own book on forbidden manuscripts, mentions another set of books destroyed by orders from a higher power: “In 1897, the heirs of Estanislao de Guaita were given orders to destroy four unpublished manuscripts by the author, dealing with the subject of black magic. This order was carried out to the letter, and not a trace remains of these manuscripts.” The reasons for these purges of forbidden books, he theorizes, is an effort to keep certain knowledge from becoming widely known before humankind is able to make proper use of them, or to spare our species from a fate that perhaps only H.P. Lovecraft could imagine.
A Decision for Tsar Nicholas
One can easily picture the scene: a cold night in 19th century St. Petersburg under the double-headed imperial eagle. A cloaked man walks along the burnished halls of the Winter Palace, his boot heels clicking on polished marble. The palace guards allow him to pass unchallenged, fully aware of who he is and who he reports to, deep in the recesses of the palace. He eventually arrives at the study of Nicholas, Emperor and Autocrat of all Russia; a guard nods and opens the door. The man enters, bows stiffly, and places a bundle of papers on the Tsar's desk. The Emperor thanks his agent politely and dismisses him, proceeding to leaf through the dossier's cold pages.
It was October 1903, and the tsarist secret police had just assassinated a scientist, Mikhail Filipov, whose activities had been been monitored for some time, suspecting him of being a clear and present danger. The manuscript undergoing the emperor's scrutiny bore the title "The Revolution for Science or The End of All Wars
" - anything bearing the word 'revolution' at this period in time was considered a threat to the body politic - and we can picture the emperor's brow narrowing as he read not the political tract he was expecting to see, but a most peculiar document.
Filipov had made apparently made a scientific breakthrough. He managed to find a way to cause an explosion by means of a focused short-wave beam. "I am able to transmit," he wrote excitedly, "the full force of an explosion in a short-wave beam. The explosive wave is transmitted fully along an electromagnetic carrier wave, causing a stick of dynamite exploding in Moscow to make its effect felt in Constantinople. My experiments show that this phenomenon can take place a distance of thousands of miles; the use of such a weapon during a revolution will cause uprisings among the people and will make wars completely impossible."
We can also imagine the tsar taking a slip of paper from his desktop and scribbling a note with a pen, signing it with a flourish. A ring of a concealed bell would summon a courtier to pick up the order and deliver it to the proper channels. Filipov's laboratory and its contents - particularly his papers - would be utterly destroyed by the secret police.
If the tsarist secret police had not treated the scientist “with extreme prejudice”, as we say nowadays, would his scientific papers have served to create a weapon that would have been in service around World War I, adding to the carnage not only of the battlefield, but causing the destruction of distant capital cities throughout Europe and even farther afield. Perhaps the loss of this information – however despicable the motives of the imperial authorities – saved millions of lives in the future.
Perhaps a kinder fate awaited Robert Payne, author of Zero: The History of Terrorism, in which he provided indisputable proof of the existence of secret governments on a planetary scale, soon found out that he may have stumbled upon something much more perilous than a cabal of secret bankers or Trilateralists. Shortly after the book was published in 1951, the first edition was almost entirely purchased by an unknown party. In spite of Payne's apparently stunning revelations, not a single item appeared in the press, nor were any reviews available. In true mystery fashion, Payne died only months later. The story appeared in French author Serge Hutin's Gouvernants Invisibles