Von Junzt and the Black Book — Part Six

Conrad shook his head. “Have you ever thought that perhaps it is his very sanity that causes him to write in that fashion? What if he dares not put on paper all he knows? … Men may stumble upon secret things, but von Junzt dipped deep into forbidden mysteries. He was one of the few men, for instance, who could read the Necronomicon in the original Greek translation.”

— Robert E. Howard, “The Children of the Night”

Friedrich, Baron von Junzt, had met with difficulties when it came to having his life’s work, Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, published. No orthodox press in Europe would touch it. Even commissioning the task privately led to one printer destroying a manuscript, and to a second committing suicide. Junzt had a second manuscript in reserve against such eventualities, and he entrusted that to his friend Alexis Ladeau, who copied out another for complete security, placing it in the vault of a Paris bank. Friedrich then left for Riga on the Baltic, hoping the furore and scandal would have died before he returned.

Being a Prussian nobleman and a scholar, he knew much about the Teutonic Knights and the Brotherhood of the Sword, those medieval orders which had conquered the original Baltic Prussians and Lithuanians. Von Junzt had studied their history, and the life of the Scandinavian scholar who had translated the Necronomicon from Greek into Latin in 1228. That twisted savant was a Swede named Olav Veramius, though some scholars had confused him with the Danish antiquarian and physician, Olaus Wormius, who lived later, between 1588 and 1624.

Wormius had indeed read the Necronomicon, and been repulsed. He threw his copy, which had come into his hands by chance, into the Kattegat. Veramius, on the other hand, had been a person as malignant as he was formidable. The antediluvian cult of Cthulhu had existed in Lithuania in his day; the Teutonic Knights had striven to eradicate it. That they failed was largely the warlock Veramius’s doing.

The cult still existed when von Junzt arrived in Riga in 1836. He considered that, and other shocking facts he learned in Lithuania, serious enough to report in a lengthy letter to Ladeau. He instructed his friend to add his findings to the final chapter of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Ladeau complied.

Von Junzt went to Moscow and organised an expedition to Mongolia as planned. The March of Muscovy was expanding into central and north-east Asia in those days, against the resistance of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and other tribes. The Kremlin was taking land almost as fast as the Yankees in North America.

With a hard-bitten Kalmyk named Toghrul as his guide (vouched for by several high-born Germans in Moscow), Friedrich set out to explore the shadow-cloaked mysteries of Inner Asia. Toghrul would provide von Junzt with an introduction to the Torghuts of Mongolia and the time-lost cult of Erlik which had gripped that ancient land since Hyrkanian times.

Toghrul was an indifferent Erlikite, at best. However, he was not indifferent to the sackful of silver rubles bonded back in Moscow, contingent upon the safe return of Freiherr von Junzt. The stalwart Kalmyk led Friedrich to the Altai Mountains, where the German scholar penetrated many of the mysteries of the Erlik cult. From there, they journeyed south toward the Plateau of Leng. As advised by Herrmann Mulder, the two carefully skirted the citadel of Yahlgan in the Khingan Mountains.

All of Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s travels during this period are shrouded in mystery. The only resources we have (all second-hand data) are the diaries of Alexis Ladeau, which were published a century later by Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, along with the not-entirely credible comments of Gottfried Mulder in his Die geheimen Mysterien Asiens – mit einer Anmerkung zum Ghorl Nigral (1847), also known as Secret Mysteries of Asia.

While in the Altai Mountains, Junzt first encountered the Tcho-Tcho people or, at least, an offshoot called the “Tchortchas“. Friedrich later conjectured that they were a Manchu tribe which had interbred with the not-quite-human Tcho-Tchos. He soon encountered far worse.

Upon reaching the dread Plateau of Leng, Toghrul disappears from the record (i.e., The Ladeau Bequest). For reasons von Junzt does not specify, the repulsive Tcho-Tchos of the region allowed the German savant to live and depart, unharmed, months later. The “corpse-eating cult of Leng” had been abominated for untold ages throughout Asia. During his time on the plateau, von Junzt glimpsed the Elder Pharos, his being the first account brought back to the modern West. He also heard rumours of cults dedicated to Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth in the Chinese mountains further east.

“Leng” is hard to identify or locate. Some scholars assert it is the name given to Tibet by devotees of Erlik, others that it is a small, arid, demon-haunted highland somewhere between Tibet and Mongolia (which seemed to be von Junzt’s definition) and others think it mythical. It is hinted in the Necronomicon that Leng exists beyond the natural boundaries of Earth, only to be reached through the “keys” and “gates” of which von Junzt wrote so often.

It was during this segment of his journey that Friedrich seems to have “visited” both Shamballah and Yian-Ho. It would appear from Ladeau’s diaries that von Junzt did not do so physically, rather that he journeyed to them in an astral or dream state of some sort. Leng, as with other Tcho-Tcho enclaves, was a source for the black lotus.

Friedrich told Ladeau that neither place existed here on our Earth, instead confirming the testimony of Herrmann Mulder that they resided in the “lands of dream” and that both locations were extra-dimensional redoubts of the priests of Erlik. He described the “thousand bridges” of Yian-Ho and the Naacal priests, the Kuen-Yuin, that rule it. Apparently, the German savant also told Ladeau that anyone expecting a “messianic figure” to emerge from Shamballah would be gravely disappointed.

Traveling south from Leng to Kyrgyzstan, von Junzt rode into the temple-city of Yolgan, founded by a splinter-sect who fled Yahlgan in Mongolia centuries earlier. His earlier induction into the Erlik cult (and his stay in Leng) allowed this. There he learned of the schism which had resulted in the foundation of Yolgan. Twin sisters were born with the sign of the “Daughter of Erlik Khan”. The sect supporting the junior “Daughter” attempted a coup d’etat. Though defeated, their faction was still strong enough to avoid annihilation. Instead, they chose exile.

Von Junzt learned a great deal in Yolgan. While degraded in contrast to their northern cousins in regard to religious zeal and scholarship, the monks of Mount Erlik Khan still possessed many “forbidden volumes” unknown to the West. Some tomes were brought with them and some were later donated by pious lay Erlikites. One of many was The Testament of Carnamagos. Another was the (apparently) nameless treatise by Ibn Schacabac which Alhazred used as a primary reference for his own Necronomicon.

Friedrich sailed from British India and disembarked in Marseilles by way of Alexandria in early 1839. He was ready to write his second warning to the world concerning the dark forces facing humanity. His knowledge was hard-won, to say the least.

Von Junzt found that Ladeau had not succeeded in having the manuscript of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten printed. Alexis had, in fact, been arrested, and confined in prison for months without trial. Conservative political and religious forces had engineered his imprisonment. Von Junzt, being both wealthy and a nobleman, was able to pull strings and effect his friend’s release. The two men were closely watched and emphatically warned to publish nothing.

Von Junzt ignored the ban. He paid a large sum to have a mere one hundred copies of his book printed in secret. This was the famous “Dusseldorf Edition”, published in late 1839. The printer, who defiantly placed his name on the book, was one Gottfried Fvindvuf Mulder.

Gottfried had been an apprentice book-binder when he approached his illustrious relative, Herrmann Mulder. Gottfried was a distant cousin of Herrmann (though of common birth), and had always idolized his dashing, erudite Prussian kinsman. When he learned that Herrmann had returned to Heidelberg, Gottfried journeyed there and ingratiated himself. Herrmann endured Gottfried’s presence for his own, inscrutable reasons. The junior Mulder’s skills in printing (and his interest in the occult) led to his crucial role in the publication of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Gottfried was found dead in Prague, apparently of a laudanum overdose, in 1851.

While this blogger has never seen any of the Dusseldorf copies, they are said to be bound in black calf-skin leather over thick boards, and to be fastened with three iron hasps. Robert E. Howard assured his public that it did not become known as the “Black Book” from the colour of its binding, but “because of its dark contents”. (“The Thing on the Roof“)

The ill-famed Church of Starry Wisdom possessed at least one copy before its members were forced to disband and flee Providence in Rhode Island. An auction of its many occult volumes was planned, and a catalogue prepared, but the auction never took place. The catalogue describes a copy of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Besides confirming the above details, it specifies the book contained 192 pages 12 by 16 inches, was printed in Gothic black-letter, and had seventeen full page illustrations.

Von Junzt distributed the books to a number of correspondents and interested people, from Germany to England to the U.S.A. Miskatonic University is believed to have been presented with three first edition copies. Von Junzt then settled down to hard, unceasing work on a new book based upon his travels in Asia. He was visited occasionally by Gottfried Mulder.

Alexis Ladeau was understandably worried concerning the mental state of Junzt. The Parisienne did what he could to bring his old friend back to a frame of mind more congruent with modern, “enlightened” European society. All the while, he kept up his diaries, which are, on the whole, the only extant records we have of Friedrich’s last expedition.

Von Junzt finished the manuscript at last, on a spring night in 1840, in the locked and bolted chamber where he habitually worked. He had prepared an ingenious and fireproof hidden safe in which the manuscript could be sealed at short notice, in case of a raid by the authorities. Friedrich seems to have aroused opposition that may not have been human.

Ladeau, as is well known, found von Junzt dead after breaking into the still-locked room the next day. Alexis discovered the marks of misshapen, taloned fingers on his friend’s throat. It is possible that the long arm of the monks of Erlik had reached from deepest Asia to silence von Junzt and repress his final work.

The manuscript had been scattered in tatters and shreds about the room. Ladeau, though distraught, swept them into von Junzt’s concealed safe and closed it, after which he informed the police. On instructions from people in high places, they did not look very hard for the murderer. One may gravely doubt the polizei would have found Friedrich’s killer even if they had been conscientious.

Ladeau, still in Dusseldorf, took the fragments of von Junzt’s last manuscript and painstakingly joined them together. He read them. Having done so, he burned the closely written pages and crushed the ashes under his feet until he was sure every word had been eradicated. Then Ladeau cut his own throat with a razor.

When the news spread, many owners of copies of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten destroyed them, in fear of sharing the two men’s fate. Others reasoned that it was the final manuscript which brought about von Junzt’s death and provoked Ladeau’s suicide Those stalwart occultists retained what swiftly became known as the “Black Book” for its dark subject matter.

Alexis Ladeau was a man of steely nerves, for all his quiet nature. He had fought two duels as a student – neither of them willingly – one against a ruthless, notorious rake and fine pistol shot. He had faced Cthulhu cultists in Louisiana. Ladeau read thoroughly, and aided to have printed, Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten without failing in resolution. One has to wonder just what was written on the manuscript pages he burned in horror and utter despair.

In any case, few copies of the Black Book’s first edition survived. From time to time rumors circulated that the manuscript Ladeau left in his Paris bank for safety had been rediscovered. They never proved substantial. Five years after the shocking deaths of von Junzt and Ladeau, a London printer named Bridewall got hold of a copy of the Dusseldorf edition. He had it translated into English and issued a print run.

The general view of scholars is that the translator had acquired his knowledge of the German language from a child’s primer, and in addition was drunk most of the time. The name by which the book is generally known to the Anglophone world – Nameless Cults – graced the Bridewall translation first. It was so shoddy that, as Robert E. Howard wrote, “publishers and public forgot about the book until 1909, when the Golden Goblin Press of New York brought out an edition.” (The Thing on the Roof”)

The Golden Goblin publishers were more artistic than practical. They produced a handsome, beautifully bound and printed volume, with illustrations of commensurate quality by Diego Vasquez. In consequence, it was too expensive for wide sales. As for content, the publishers censored it so strictly that a quarter of the original text was missing. As an artistic curiosity it is interesting, but as a faithful and accurate reproduction of Junzt’s original book it is worthless.

The “unexpurgated German copies, with heavy leather covers and rusty iron hasps” are almost impossible to find. The narrator of “The Black Stone”, writing before World War Two, thought that there were not “more than half a dozen such volumes in the entire world today”.

It may be just as well.

Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan, Alex Kozhanov Gutalin, Mariusz Kozik and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Tags: alexis ladeau, black lotus, bridewall edition, daughter of erlik khan, elder pharos, erlik, golden goblin press, gottfried mulder, ibn schacabac, leng, mount erlik khan, naacal, secret mysteries of asia, tcho-tcho, the ladeau bequest, von junzt, yahlgan, yian-ho, yolgan