Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Monty and Al: The Priest and the Beast

by Frater V.I.M.
Montague Summers
(1880 - 1948)
The Rev. Montague Summers is a rather controversial figure in the occult. His books on witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves are unique for two reasons: first, they are almost unmatched in their attention to detail and historical source material, often bringing up facts ignored by most other works on the occult, and secondly, although they were written in the 20th century, Monty was a firm believer in the reality of everything he wrote about.

Unlike others who write about “vampires” and water the concept down into some vague form of psychic ability, Monty means ACTUAL vampires when he writes of them: he means 100% the real deal, actual bloodsucking corpses that really sleep in graves and really rise from them. Monty’s mammoth work on Vampires, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin is still to this day unmatched as a serious history of vampirism.

Likewise, when he discusses the witch-cult, he pulls no punches and does not try to convince anyone that the witches were either misunderstood pagans, nor were they a figment of Xian imagination. They were what the historical record says they were: devil worshippers who practiced black magic. Not surprisingly, Wiccans and others in the “Witchcraft-isn't-Satanism” camp are quick to ignore his works on witchcraft and dismiss his views as irrelevant.

What greatly annoyed Monty’s critics then (and has led to him being forcibly ignored today) is his combination of holding “outdated,” “ignorant” views on the one hand, while on the other backing up what he says with more facts and records than the skeptics dare to look at it. In this sense, Monty’s work is dangerous to the “rational,” skeptic narrative that dominates the world of religious and occult history today. Monty was an unapologetic medievalist who loathed the "reason" of modern writers. In this Monty was not alone, but what made (and still makes) Monty a threat is his vast erudition and learning on the subjects of which he spoke. While it is true that Summers stretched a bit here and there in regard to some figures in the history of witchcraft (Salem and the Freemasons are two prime examples that come to mind) in the main his work far more valuable than his opponents give him credit for.

Many occultists who loathe Monty’s views on history find it easy to dismiss him on the grounds that Monty was a Catholic Priest who was the sworn enemy of the witches, and therefore his viewpoint is invalid. However, the picture is a little more complicated than that. While it is true that Monty claimed to be a Priest of the Catholic Church . . . the reality is, the Church has no record of his being ordained. And he certainly never oversaw any Parish.

There is even a large gap missing in the records of Monty’s life, a gap that many of his contemporaries speculated was spent being involved in the sort of Black Arts that he so vehemently railed against in his books. This we'll never know the truth of, but it is interesting to note that for all the time Monty spent screaming that witches were vile, horrible creatures, and swearing his allegiance to the Church which persecuted them, all the while Monty was actually a personal friend of . . . Aleister Crowley. As noted by Geroge Knowles, the webmaster of controverscial.com:

“Through his researches into witchcraft and the occult, Summers naturally came into contact with some of the leading occultists of his day. This lead to a curious friendship with the notorious Aleister Crowley, as described by the author Charles Richard Cammell in his book Aleister Crowley. In it he reveals that Crowley and Summers not only knew each other but also shared a mutual admiration. At one time both Crowley and Summers lived in Richmond, Surrey, as did Mr. Cammell, who tells us that they used to meet in his flat and discuss their many interests in an atmosphere of friendship and wit.”

Crowley himself was asked about his views on Monty in a 1928 interview by author Lance Sieveking, to which Crowley humorously replied: “I haven’t seen Monty Summers for years . . . he takes care of that. He knows what would happen. . . . I should change him into a toad.”

This was obviously a good-humored joke about Summers keeping away from Crowley, for in Crowley’s diary entry for July 5th 1929 we read:

“Dinner with Monty Summers! The most amusing evening I have spent in decades.”

It is reported in Lawrence Sutin’s biography of Crowley, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, that Summers kept a large portfolio of newspaper clippings and articles about Crowley on his desk, and when asked why he kept such a thing, Monty replied that Crowley was “one of the few original and really interesting men of our age.”

For all of this, Crowley’s name is conspicuously absent from Summers’ books on witchcraft and Satanism. However, there is one passage from his 1937 work, A Popular History of Witchcraft, where Summers makes direct reference to Crowley's work, even if he doesn't mention him by name. In his chapter on the Black Mass we find the following:

“There are in use by witches to-day volumes simply entitled Magick, which give the full ritual for the celebration of Black Masses, with diabolic litanies, and other infernal ceremonies including the blood sacrifices on the altar. A Gnostic Mass is described, and one rubric runs, ‘the blood sacrifice is the critical point of the World Ceremony of the Proclamation of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, as Lord of the Aeon.’”

While this passage would certainly infuriate many a Thelemite today (who would certainly insist that Summers had no idea what he was talking about, and had no business writing such “libel,”) there seems to be no indication that his old pal Crowley ever tried to take him to court over it.

For more information on the life of Monty in general, the article about him here is a decent place to start.