Von Junzt and the Black Book – Part One

Reading what von Junzt dared put in print arouses uneasy speculations as to what it was he dared not tell … But the contents of the published matter are shuddersome enough, even if one accepts the general view that they but represent the ravings of a madman.

Robert E. Howard, “The Black Stone”

[Warning to the readers: what follows is speculation about a fictional, non-existent occult book written by a fictional person. Friedrich von Junzt and Alexis Ladeau did not exist in real life; the “Black Book” does not exist; nor does the frightful Necronomicon. Miskatonic University is also fictional. So – let us hope – are Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, and Cthulhu.]

Robert E. Howard considered H.P. Lovecraft “the greatest living writer.” He corresponded with HPL in famous – sometimes heated – exchanges of letters. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith both contributed, very early on, to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and invented ghastly occult grimoires of their own as companions to HPL’s Necronomicon. Smith’s main hideous tome was The Book of Eibon, from primal Hyperborea, and Howard’s, the Nameless Cults of von Junzt, “the German eccentric who lived so curiously and died in such grisly and mysterious fashion.”

Nameless Cults is mentioned (by Howard) in “The Children of the Night” (1931), “The Black Stone” (1931), “The Thing on the Roof” (1932) (all first published in Weird Tales), and “The Hoofed Thing,” unpublished in REH’s lifetime. According to REH, a faulty, slipshod and downright exploitative London translation of 1845 was responsible for the volume’s English title. Clark Ashton Smith always referred to the tome as “Nameless Cults.”

I’ve read that H.P. Lovecraft suggested a German title which did not catch on – Ungenennte Heidenthume  – and that Unausspreclichen Kulten was devised by August Derleth. The latter literally means “Unspeakable Cults.” As “Unausspreclichen Kulten,” von Junzt’s book has been referenced in countless Cthulhu Mythos stories starting with Lovecraft himself, who mentioned it in virtually every tale he wrote from 1931-on. A strong argument could be made that, after the Necronomicon, Howard’s invented book of occult lore is the most important tome in the entire Cthulhu Mythos.

REH does not tell his readers much about von Junzt, not even his Christian names. H.P. Lovecraft devised the “Friedrich Wilhelm” (which Howard was quite aware of). I’m assuming von Junzt’s family belonged to the Neiderer Adel or lower nobility, with the title of Baron (Freiherr) and that he was a second son.

He lived from 1795 until 1840, and spent his life “delving into forbidden subjects; he travelled in all parts of the world, gained entrance into innumerable secret societies, and read countless little-known and esoteric books and manuscripts in the original …” (“The Black Stone”)

Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt, as best this blogger can ascertain, was born near Dusseldorf on the Lower Rhine, north of Cologne, on the 23rd of November 1795. His magnum opus, Von Unausspreclichen Kulten (Of Unspeakable Cults), was eventually printed in Dusseldorf. His father was the Freiherr Matthias von Junzt, his mother Sieglind a niece of the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, Wilhelm IX. (Neither REH nor Lovecraft names von Junzt’s parents.)

The Napoleonic Wars occupied Friedrich’s entire boyhood. After winning at Austerlitz (1805), Bonaparte created the Grand Duchy of Berg, with Dusseldorf as its capital. Von Junzt’s father and elder brother fought with the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstadt. Both were killed in October 1806, when Friedrich was almost eleven. His mother had already died bearing Friedrich’s sister, Marta. They had become the last of their branch of the family.

(It was after Auerstadt that a later acquaintance of Von Junzt’s, the Prussian officer and sociopathic genius, Hermann Mulder, resigned his commission in disgust. Mulder then enrolled at Heidelberg and studied with distinction.)

Because of his kinsmen’s deaths, von Junzt hated Napoleon and fought against the Corsican when old enough, though no soldier by nature. Friedrich was wounded at Leipzig, in October 1813. That ended his military career, and in 1814 he enrolled at Heidelberg. He had intended, at first, to choose Konigsberg because of its associations with Immanuel Kant, whom he admired. To Junzt, the metaphysician and philosopher was a far more important personage than Bonaparte. Friedrich eventually decided on Heidelberg instead — then called Ruperto Carola – which was beginning its second “golden age.” He enrolled there after Hermann Mulder had left; they only met years afterwards.

Studious and idealistic, Friedrich loved his university years. The thinkers of Central Europe were more introspective and spiritual than politically active. It was an age of princely despots, especially in the German states; there was no practical way to reform the community, and trying meant an indefinite term in prison. Echoing Plato – and now Kant – they postulated a perfect, ideal realm beyond the reach of science or the senses.

At Heidelberg, von Junzt met his life-long friend, the French student Alexis Ladeau. Ladeau’s father had been an ardent, merciless revolutionary and member of the Committee of Public Safety. Alexis’ mother, Odette, was a sister of Christophe Morand, the young “law student of Tours” who mysteriously disappears in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The End of the Story.” Odette was intelligent, rebellious, and a friend of Madame de Stael before the latter’s exile to Switzerland. Alexis was born and grew up in the village of Drancy le Grand, a few kilometers from Paris, with a population of about three hundred.

Alexis believed in the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, and was a convinced atheist, but despised the Reign of Terror and thought that Bonaparte had cynically betrayed the Revolution to make himself a more absolute ruler than the monarchy he had helped depose.

Von Junzt studied mathematics, astronomy and philology. It was Ladeau who drew his attention to Ludwig Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis and the Comte d’Erlette’s Cultes des Goules. Ladeau was acquainted with the Necronomicon and Book of Eibon as well, but the single copy of the former known to exist in Europe at the time was located in Paris. Ladeau had a powerful interest in the occult and supernatural, though he claimed to be a sceptic. Ironically, it was Ladeau that introduced Friedrich to Rudolf Yergler’s Chronike von Nath. Von Junzt found much of interest in the seventeenth-century tome penned by the German madman. The book sparked Junzt’s life-long interest regarding “dream-travel” to other spheres and dimensions.

Von Junzt, fascinated by German folklore, and at that time believing witch cults to be nothing more, did some research into medieval covens. He learned that in the Middle Ages they had been almost as well-organized as the knightly orders, though more secret and grotesque.

Shortly afterwards, von Junzt learned that such cults still existed.

Von Junzt became acquainted with one such cult in his mother’s native Hesse-Kassel province. Pagan German tribes had set up pillars made from huge tree-trunks, representing the World Tree, on sacred hilltops. They had been called Irmensul, “giant columns.” Charlemagne, in his campaigns against the heathen Saxons, had destroyed such a column some leagues west of Sieglind’s ancestral home.

Local peasants dreaded the site, and followers of the Old Religion still gathered there. They reverenced the dark powers which attacked the World Tree, symbolized by a snake and four black stags. The cultists were said to perform obscene rites and sacrifice children. Von Junzt laughed the notion to scorn; after all, it was the nineteenth century now, and this was Westphalia, an enlightened, cultured land.

Friedrich was sufficiently interested to gain access to the cult, though, and attend initiation rites. These were held at the winter solstice. Von Junzt – and Ladeau, who was with him — found that the gossip was true, more than true, and the rites were ghastly. The snake and stags of legend proved to be symbols for beings so outre, so terrible, that accepting their reality might topple a man’s mind.

Von Junzt had discovered records of the cult in the library of his great-uncle, the Landgrave Wilhelm IX, now an Imperial Elector. Wilhelm had fled to Denmark with his family when the French conquered the region, but returned after the Battle of Liepzig. Another Wilhelm – Wilhelm Grimm, one of the brothers Grimm – had become secretary at the Elector’s library in that year of 1814. Von Junzt would find common ground with the brothers later.

At the beginning of 1815, though, von Junzt and Ladeau made their way to Wewelsburg in the Alme Valley of Westphalia. This was the central shrine of the cult von Junzt had discovered. Its headquarters lay in Schloss Wewelsburg, built in the early seventeenth century as a residence for the prince-bishops of Paderborn. Two witch trials had taken place there in 1631. It had decayed, all but abandoned, throughout the eighteenth century, and by 1815 had become the property of the Prussian state.

In January the two young men arrived at the castle for a cult gathering. Friedrich had reason to think the ceremony would be momentous. His training in astronomy led him to believe the cult leaders expected certain star configurations of January 1815 to have vast potency. Von Junzt suspected they meant to perform a loathsome sacrifice, worse than he had witnessed before. He felt obliged to prevent it, and also thought the cult leaders mistaken in their interpretation of stellar movements. Friedrich did not believe their rite would have the outcome they desired, and what happened at Wewelsberg proved him correct.

Von Junzt is often vague and evasive in his “Black Book.” He is particularly so concerning the events of 11th January 1815. He and Ladeau arrived at the odd triangular castle with its three domed towers on the 9th, and it is a matter of record that the north tower was gutted by fire on that date, after being struck by lightning. The two young men survived, but a number of others perished, and the cult declined afterwards.

Before the lightning strike, von Junzt learned that the cult also considered the weird rock formations called the “Externsteine” to be a place of power. These are natural pillars over a hundred feet high, not far from Wewelsberg. The Externsteine were sacred to the early Teutonic peoples, and another Irminsul was evidently located there. Charlemagne defeated pagan Saxons in that region. A 12th century Christian carving at the Externsteine depicts the Descent from the Cross. Beneath the Cross is a bent tree which may represent the pagan World Tree subjugated by Christianity.

Von Junzt discovered ancient symbols, far older than any runic inscriptions, on some of those rock pillars. He considered them “primordial Turanian,” and confirmed that view a couple of decades later. When the Nazi movement triumphed in Germany, Heinrich Himmler and the SS took an interest in the Externsteine as a valuable monument of the German ancestral heritage. Perhaps they knew something of their occult meaning and power as well. Himmler had read the “Black Book” in the original Dusseldorf edition.  Himmler, strangely enough, established his SS citadel at the Wewelsburg.

Von Junzt’s experiences haunted him for months. He convinced himself he had hallucinated, and took refuge in exotic drugs, drink and debauchery, in the company of Ladeau, while he studied at Heidelberg. Neither was cut out to be a voluptuary, though. Their natures inclined them to intellectual idealism. Friedrich began to investigate other such cults as the one that had shocked him so. His motive at first was to prove to himself that these societies were the province of low, barely sane degenerates; that no awful realities lurked behind them after all. Von Junzt was forlornly seeking his innocence again.

He did not find it.

Ladeau and von Junzt rejoiced over Waterloo (fought in June of 1815). At the Congress of Vienna, which followed, the Grand Duchy of Berg ceased to exist. Dusseldorf was acquired by Prussia, which recognized the von Junzt family’s sacrifices. Now the heir, Friedrich remained in possession of the title and estates. That wealth made it possible for him to travel all he wished throughout his life. Still, Dusseldorf declined after the Napoleonic Wars. The results of the Congress of Vienna disappointed Friedrich; he ignored war and politics ever afterwards.

During the nine months that followed Waterloo, the young baron saw to the legal aspects of his inheritance and Prussian citizenship. Also, and more congenially to his temperament, he spent weeks at Cologne, where he toured a number of medieval monasteries, poring over obscure Latin and German manuscripts. In a certain foundation established by Irish monks in the tenth century, he made the most momentous literary discovery of his life – the “Nemedian Chronicles”. He was barely twenty. A complete post is needed to cover this adequately, and one will follow.

With Napoleon defeated for good and all, and a first rough rendition of the Chronicles into modern German finished, von Junzt travelled to Paris with Ladeau in May of 1816. In the French capital, Ladeau introduced von Junzt to the dread Necronomicon — the Latin translation of 1228.

Like any well-educated man of the day, Friedrich could read Latin – in his case, excellently. The Necronomicon, with its harrowing descriptions of Azathoth, the imbecilic demiurge which pulsates at the chaotic center of infinity, Yog-Sothoth, coeval with space-time yet exiled beyond it until “the stars are right,” and Cthulhu, dead but able to “eternal lie,” proved all too consistent with abominable truths von Junzt already knew. It described in detail the nature and activities of Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, soul and messenger of the Outer Gods. It also described  accursed lost cities in the Rub al Khali or “Empty Abodes” of Arabia, and the weird plateau of Leng in Central Asia. And the tome proved congruent with disturbing knowledge von Junzt had already gained – concerning the primordial Picts, for example, of whom much was written in the “Nemedian Chronicles.”

Von Junzt and Ladeau discovered the reality of a ghoul community in the catacombs and sewers of Paris. This was one of the assertions in d’Erlette’s Cultes des Goules, and it proved true. Certain phrases in the ghoulish language were also found genuine by the pair. Von Junzt later found other warrens of ghouls in Egypt and even Boston, their burrows extensive under Beacon Hill.

It was Ladeau who – also in Paris – showed von Junzt the Liber Ivonis. This medieval translation of The Book of Eibon had much of the original content missing. It had allegedly been created by a great wizard of the primal continent Hyperborea, destroyed since before Atlantis sank.

Eibon was a devotee of the amorphous and abominable god Tsathoggua, from whom he received, according to Clark Ashton Smith, “a knowledge so awful that it could only have been brought from outlying planets coeval with night and chaos.” Howard might not have disagreed with that, since he wrote to Smith in a letter of March 1934, “Suppose that at some immeasurably distant time a real civilization existed, whose builders were possessed of infinitely greater knowledge than ourselves. If some cataclysm of nature were to destroy that civilization, remnants of knowledge and stories of its greatness might well evolve into the fantastic fables that have descended to us.”

In Paris, Junzt and Ladeau entered a number of occult societies. Unlike that of Wewelsberg, for the most part they had nothing to them. Ignorance and primitivism on the one hand or corrupt ennui on the other formed their breeding environments. Various occultists they met turned out to be fakers, such as one engaging fellow who claimed to be the immortal Count of St. Germain, to be many centuries old, to have known Richard the Lionheart and Madame du Pompadour, and to have faked his own death in 1784 to escape being harassed. Von Junzt and Ladeau exposed him, and a couple of other fakers, though it had never been their prime objective; not that it kept the dupes from believing.

Travelling in France, von Junzt read legends of the real cause of the massacre at Limoges in the fourteenth century, of the Sign of the Goat beneath the cathedral, and found that the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young was still worshipped in Haute-Vienne, in Bearn, and the Basque country. Here too von Junzt inveigled his way into the cults, and learned that their beliefs contained neither fraud nor delusion. In Bordeaux and elsewhere on the Biscay coasts, he discovered the hideous links of the Deep Ones with humanity, and read the legends of the nest of Deep Ones that existed off the shores of Galicia in north-western Spain.

Von Junzt returned to Hesse-Kassel for a time in 1816. Wilhelm Grimm was still employed in the Elector’s library, and his brother Jacob had joined him there, shortly before von Junzt arrived to pursue research among his great-uncle’s wide range of books and records.

The brothers Grimm had been born in Hesse-Kassel. Now about thirty, they had abandoned their original plans for a career in law. The Grimms had settled on research of their own, into linguistics, folk songs and stories, but faced years of extremely frugal living; there was little money to be made from these subjects. As they assisted von Junzt with his own studies, the three found a good deal in common. They shared an intense interest in folklore and the history of the German language.

A wealthy baron, von Junzt helped the brothers with a regular stipend while they laid the foundations for their life’s work. He actually worked with them on their two-volume work Deutsche Sagan (German Legends), published between 1816 and 1818; he insisted his contribution was minor and refused any credit. Upon his death in 1840, the brothers Grimm were among the few to attend his funeral.

Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

Tags: alexis ladeau, averoigne, book of eibon, brothers grimm, christophe morand, chronike von nath, clark ashton smith, externsteine, friedrich wilhelm von junzt, heidelberg, herrmann mulder, himmler, irmensul, nameless cults, nazis, necronomicon, unaussprechlichen kulten, von unaussprechlichen kulten, wewelsburg