Von Junzt and the Black Book — Part Two

“Long ago,” answered Bran somberly, “you told me that nothing in the universe was separated from the stream of Life – a saying the truth of which I have often seen evident. No race, no form of life but is close-knit somehow, by some manner, to the rest of Life and the world. Somewhere there is a thin link connecting those I seek to the world I know. Somewhere there is a Door. And somewhere among the bleak fens of the west I will find it.”

— Robert E. Howard, “Worms of the Earth”

Perhaps the young Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt had sought, in his brief collaboration with Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, relief from darker subjects. He still yearned, all evidence to the contrary, to prove his early researches false.

Von Junzt sailed to Corsica, Sardinia and Malta (with Ladeau along as a guide and interpreter), where he visited numerous megalithic sites in 1818-20. Friedrich was particularly impressed with the mazzeri (or “dream hunters”) of Corsica, whom he felt carried on “witch-cult” traditions dating back to the Stone Age.  He was left in awe by the dolmens still extant on the island.

Friedrich became convinced that the gigantic monuments of the central Mediterranean had been built by ancient peoples at the behest of beings other than human, and had served – the temples in particular – as gateways to extra-mundane realms which could be opened when the stars were suitably aligned. Von Junzt concluded that myths of the Titans and the Cyclopes who built such structures referred in a distorted way to these beings.

Throughout his travels in the Mediterranean (as well as his previous researches in France and Germany), wherever von Junzt discovered a “witch-cult”, he also heard tales of a “Black Man” or “The One Black Master.” At that point, he began to piece together, in his own mind, the concept that behind all of the veils of superstition loomed Nyarlathotep. According to Ladeau’s diary, Junzt, over time, came to view Nyarlathotep as “an infinitude; a manifold splintering of Chaos, whose name is Legion, in whom all is One and one is All. And all leads to Ultimate Chaos, which is Azathoth.”

As he traveled compulsively from place to place, von Junzt correlated the geography of the world he knew with that described in “The Nemedian Chronicles.” Sicily and Malta had once been upland plateaus within the northern Stygian Dominion later cast down by the Hyborians. Algiers, too, had lain within ancient Shemitish and Stygian territory. In fact, certain obscure references within “The Nemedian Chronicles” led Friedrich to speculate that the ruins of Kheshatta, the shadow-haunted “wizard city” of Stygia, lay south of al-Jaza’ir itself.

This, along with his discovery of the original, uncorrupted reference in Solinus regarding the “Sixtystone” of the North African troglodytes, convinced von Junzt that a journey to Algiers would be worthwhile.

(The relevant passage from Gaius Julius Solinus exists in an obscure translation by the 16th-century printer and classical scholar, Henri Estienne. He is frequently known by his Latinized sobriquet, Henricus Stephanus. Estienne’s version of Solinus is to be found in the “Stephani Quarto,” a rare work now almost unknown, but familiar to Ladeau, who brought it to the attention of his good friend. Both Friedrich von Junzt and the nineteenth-century ethnologist, Professor William Gregg seem to have read the “Stephani Quarto” and paid close attention to the passage from Solinus it contains. Both men eventually met inexplicable fates. That of Gregg was the more mysterious, and may even have been the more dreadful. His story is recounted in “The Novel of the Black Seal,” one of the interlocking tales in Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters.)

Von Junzt and Ladeau were aware of the perils awaiting them in North Africa. Pirates of Algiers still took European captives for ransom or slavery, though not on the huge scale they had previously. Only four years earlier (1816) a British expedition, led by Exmouth and supported by the Dutch, had bombarded Algiers to force the Dey, Omar Agha, to cease such practices. He had yielded, freed about three thousand slaves and signed a treaty. Thus, von Junzt and Ladeau felt they should be fairly safe. However, Friedrich hid the fact that he was a wealthy baron. He saw no point in tempting people with such a long tradition of piracy and, instead, represented himself as a Belgian scholar.

While taking care to avoid trouble in Algiers, the pair made the acquaintance of a drunken, disreputable Tuareg marabout, or wandering holy man and religious teacher. This particular one, known as Amalu, also had a vast repertoire of desert legends and traditions older than Islam. Some of his living came from recounting these, some from selling talismans he made, some from telling the future, and some from presiding at significant events like weddings, births and funerals.

Amalu spoke understandable French. Ladeau and von Junzt treated him with respect, listened to his tales, gave him presents and money, and plied him with the finest liquor he had ever poured down his bearded throat. In return he told them Tuareg folk tales, such as the tradition – which Amalu swore was no mere legend – of the repulsive folk his folk called the Kel Essuf, or “People of the Night.” He spoke of an ancient kingdom ruled by evil wizards in which serpents were worshiped. Amalu also whispered of the prophecy, known throughout North Africa since before the Romans had ruled it, of a “Son of the Ocean” who knew neither age nor death and would come to lead the Berber tribes to greatness, forging a new empire.

Amalu knew the legend of Atlantis in detail. He averred that the “Son of the Ocean” would be an Atlantean, and described a ruined city hidden deep in the Hoggar region that had been an outpost of Atlantis. He promised that he could guide the two Europeans there, gain them the protection of a Tuareg band on the journey, and guarantee them immunity from having their throats cut by the grim “People of the Blue Veil.”

Ladeau and von Junzt, despite being sorely tempted by Amalu’s offer, decided not to push their luck. The fickle hospitality of the Lords of the Sahara was well-known and the two Europeans had collected a treasure-trove of lore already. As von Junzt said at the time (according to Ladeau’s diary), “Wolves are a grand sight. From a distance.”

Bidding farewell to Amalu with a jug of Bordeaux, Friedrich and his friend took ship to Marseilles by way of the Balearic Islands. From Marseilles, the two men traveled north to Paris, where Alexis stayed to get his affairs back in order.  Von Junzt journeyed on to Brittany, a region rich in megalithic monuments. He was particularly awed by the Great Broken Menhir of Er Grah and the Carnac Stones.

Sailing from Brest, von Junzt crossed the Channel to Britain, an island he had long yearned to explore. There, he examined Stonehenge and Avebury. The huge stone monuments caused Friedrich to wonder – as he had before, on Corsica, Sardinia and Malta – whether the megaliths were of “Pictish” or “Turanian” provenance, recalling the ancient wars which ended the Hyborian Age. He even considered the possibility that they had been reared by wholly pre-human hands.

In England, von Junzt followed his established practice of asking the local country people their view. Most of them said that they were the temples of ancient Druid sorcerers. Although von Junzt did not dispute them, he was certain the monuments had been raised long before the first Druids walked British soil.

He does not describe in his “Black Book” what led him to do so, but, from Avebury, Friedrich headed west. He came to the “desolate valley” where the abandoned castle known as Exham Priory stood. It had been deserted for two centuries when von Junzt saw it. Even after so long a time the locals were unwilling to discuss it, so deep was their horror of the place and the de la Poer barons who had formerly lived there. All of von Junzt’s talents for penetrating secret matters and gaining the confidence of strangers were tested to gain knowledge of the local legends in Anchester. (H.P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls”)

Further west, Friedrich journeyed into the Severn Valley, which he found to have a haunted reputation as well. He first passed through Goatswood (the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, saw fit to leave his usual area of operations in eastern England solely to find and destroy a coven that worshipped in Goatswood) and then Brichester. Of his stay in Severnford, Junzt stated laconically in Von Unausspreclichen Kulten, “The island beyond Severnford is avoided by those who value their lives and sanity.”

Passing north to Scotland, Friedrich noted the occurrence of “Dagon” as an element in several obscure place-names. He theorized that such were perhaps remnants of Phoenician visitations, but did not rule out (as always) the possibility of “primordial Turanian influence.” Junzt also recalled that there were Dagon cults only a few hundred miles to the south, on the Biscayan coast.

Entering Scotland and investigating by his now established methods, von Junzt found the cult and the image of Bran Mak Morn, the Dark Man, a contemporary fact in the wild hills of Galloway. Descendants of the ancient Picts cherished the belief that Bran Mak Morn would return to establish the Pictish Empire again. Friedrich became certain there were close links between the Basque race and the prehistoric Picts; his earlier discovery of the “Nemedian Chronicles” had initiated that belief, and now he viewed it as established fact. Recent genetic studies seem to bear out von Junzt’s conjectures to a certain degree.

Von Junzt heard the hideous legends of the Worms of the Earth, their sacred Black Stone, and the fateful Bell of Morni which hangs “in a hidden cave under the heathered hills.” He had no success in penetrating that particular cult; it was even more secretive than most, and accessible only to folk of Pictish blood. But Friedrich established its reality. The folk-tales concerning the “Worms” reminded him strongly of the Tuareg legend of the “People of the Night” and their “Ikshakshar” stone, of which Amalu had told him in North Africa, confirming the ancient testimony of Solinus.

It appeared to von Junzt that Bran Mak Morn’s bargain with the “People of the Dark” must have led the remnants of the Pictish people, harder pressed than ever after their great king’s death, to follow his example and make pacts with those beings and the horrors they worshiped. Friedrich learned of ancient monuments, mazes and jewels being “keys” to open “doors.” In his writings thereafter, the theme of “keys” and “doors” to strange places beyond the world recurred many times.

Traveling back by way of Britain’s eastern coast, von Junzt arrived in London in time to view Giovanni Belzoni’s exhibition of Egyptian antiquities in Piccadilly (1821). Greatly interested, he formed the intention of going to Egypt someday, though that interest was not altogether healthy; it held the sprouting seeds of obsession.

“The Nemedian Chronicles”, with their accounts of prehistoric Stygia and its “shadow-guarded tombs” had gripped his imagination. Von Junzt had also read in the Necronomicon of the accursed Pharaoh Nephren-Ka, who built a subterranean labyrinth holding foul secrets and driven a pact with Nyarlathotep, soul and messenger of the mindless Outer Gods, Lord of Chaos and Ancient Night. Friedrich partly craved to investigate the legend, and partly hoped to prove it was false, just an ancient invention. Within himself he knew it was a forlorn hope.

His romantic idealism lay in ruins. As Kipling was later to write, he “knew the worst too young” – or believed then it was the worst. Far from a higher, nobler reality existing behind the sordid appearances of the world, as Kant had taught, there existed alien dimensions and beings to make the most dreary scientific materialism seem like the prattle of optimists.

He was twenty-five, and had only begun his exploration of awful truths.

Images by Rafael Kayanan, Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

Tags: Bell of Morni, Bran Cult, Bran Mak Morn, exham priory, kipling, Nemedian Chronicles, Severn Valley, Sixtystone, Stephani Quarto, Stygia, Tuaregs