“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.”
While the Necronomicon gets all the press, my personal
favorite Tome of Eldritch Lore is undoubtedly Unaussprechlichen Kulten by Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt. Known
primarily by its translated name of “Nameless Cults” or just The Black Book, it
is a catalogue of horrors and secrets, compiled by a German who spent his life traveling around the world, prying into the darkest corners of the occult.
His errand was quickly
stated. He wished my aid in obtaining a volume in the first edition of Von
Junzt’s Nameless Cults—the edition known as the Black Book, not from its color,
but because of its dark contents. He might almost as well have asked me for the
original Greek translation of the Necronomicon. Though since my return from
Yucatan I had devoted practically all my time to my avocation of book
collecting, I had not stumbled onto any hint that the book in the Dusseldorf
edition was still in existence.
Unlike most Eldritch Tomes, it isn’t actually that old,
having been written within living memory of the pulp era, and whereas most of these
books were meant to be kept as closely guarded secrets, The Black Book was
intended to be published widely.
A word as to this rare
work. Its extreme ambiguity in spots, coupled with its incredible subject
matter, has caused it long to be regarded as the ravings of a maniac and the
author was damned with the brand of insanity. But the fact remains that much of
his assertions are unanswerable, and that he spent the full forty-five years of
his life prying into strange places and discovering secret and abysmal things.
Not a great many volumes were printed in the first edition and many of these
were burned by their frightened owners when Von Junzt was found strangled in a
mysterious manner, in his barred and bolted chamber one night in 1840, six
months after he had returned from a mysterious journey to Mongolia.
While the German title is usually translated as “Nameless
Cults”, a more accurate translation is “Unspeakable Cults” with the double
meaning of both “Forbidden” and “Unpronounceable”, both of which make sense given
the Lovecraftian names contained therein. While most of those interested in the
occult have heard of the book, and may be somewhat familiar with it, most have
only read poor translations and pirated editions.
Five years later a
London printer, one Bridewall, pirated the work, and issued a cheap translation
for sensational effect, full of grotesque woodcuts, and riddled with
misspellings, faulty translations and the usual errors of a cheap and
unscholarly printing. This still further discredited the original work, and
publishers and public forgot about the book until 1909 when the Golden Goblin
Press of New York brought out an edition. Their production was so carefully
expurgated that fully a fourth of the original matter was cut out; the book was
handsomely bound and decorated with the exquisite and weirdly imaginative
illustrations of Diego Vasquez. The edition was intended for popular
consumption but the artistic instinct of the publishers defeated that end,
since the cost of issuing the book was so great that they were forced to cite
it at a prohibitive price.
To read an original copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten with its heavy leather covers and rusty
iron hasps was to delve into secrets of every kind. From Lemurian religions to
the Thuggee, from pre-human monoliths to ruins of antediluvian civilizations, Von
Junzt wrote about dark things and forgotten lore. But he was no mere scholar,
collecting and retelling tales told by others. He sought out these hidden cults
himself, tracking them down one by one, learning their secrets and attempting to
drag them, wriggling, into the light.
Von Junzt spent his
entire life (1795-1840) delving into forbidden subjects; he traveled 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; and
in the chapters of the Black Book, which range from startling clarity of
exposition to murky ambiguity, there are statements and hints to freeze the
blood of a thinking man.
What lends the Black Book its aura of dread is this very
proximity; these are not ancient tales chronicled by a historian, but a log of things
discovered still extant. Von Junzt went out to the darkest corners of the world
and found these secret cults, and they can still reach out into the world for those who meddle
in their affairs.
Reading what Von Junzt
dared put in print arouses uneasy speculations as to what it was that he dared
not tell. What dark matters, for instance, were contained in those closely
written pages that formed the unpublished manuscript on which he worked
unceasingly for months before his death, and which lay torn and scattered all
over the floor of the locked and bolted chamber in which Von Junzt was found
dead with the marks of taloned fingers on his throat? It will never be known,
for the author’s closest friend, the Frenchman Alexis Ladeau, after having
spent a whole night piecing the fragments together and reading what was
written, burnt them to ashes and cut his own throat with a razor.