Vade Retro Satanas: Counter-initiatic cartographies.,
This review is from: Witchcraft and Black Magic (Paperback)
This classic book by that most erudite of priests, the Reverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers, was originally published in 1946 only to be greeted by a wave of consternation and dismay among secular modernist critics such as H.G. Wells who found the traditionalist Catholic perspectives expressed therein quite unpalatable to their rationalistic sensibilities. The book was originally contracted by Penguin, but their editors upon reading Fr. Summers' manuscript dropped the project post-haste, the work eventually being issued under the auspices of Rider & Company.
In fact this authoritative treatise is likely to rankle with many whose world-view has been shaped by modernity and its nihilistic creed of amorality and anti-theism - in consideration of the unbridled proliferation of satanism, witchcraft and occultism during in the last 50 years Fr. Summers words have likely gained rather than diminished in relevance. As the Reverend Summers asserts: ' The existence of evil surely needs no argument, no proof: it is self-evident, a vivid and terrible reality. The power of evil - who can look out upon the world today, a world shattered and wounded and rent, and not recognise its cruel tyranny?' Thus Summers sets the tone for his survey of the demonic cults of hell, heterodoxy, subversion and malignity which have their mysterious roots in darkest antiquity and which in fungus-like manner flare up at intervals over the centuries, finding, it would seem, a peculiarly congenial climate in our own day, thriving in a cultural morass of blind materialistic arrogance, overweening ego-hubris and rudderless relativism.
Summers is under no illusions as to the nature of the pathologies which he fearlessly examines, drawing upon the authority of many wise and judicious minds of previous ages. Nor is he blinkered either by humanistic delusion or misplaced tolerance, dealing very ably with sceptics on the one hand and the revisionist camp of CG Leland and Margaret Murray on the other. His outlook is grounded in traditional Christian doctrine, which in common with all traditional civilizations, looked upon and dealt with malefic sorcery, witchcraft and magic and its wretched and anti-social practitioners in an explicit context of malignant criminality, degeneration, cacodaemonic intrusion and pseudo-spiritual aberration - indicators of the intrinsically Counter-Initiatic complexion of these phenomenon. The fact that Summers' work was cited favourably by the Traditionalist Whitall Perry, onetime secretary of Rene Guenon, should affirm that the viewpoints regarding witchcraft advanced by the good Father accord very closely with authentic Traditionalist doctrine concerning heterodoxy, subversion and the Counter-Initiation. For witchcraft is indubitably a manifestation of tendencies very closely related to the Counter-Initiation. It is this that gives the Rev. Summers work a special pertinence in an age in which such baleful errors flourish so visibly and are embraced so enthusiastically by the deluded, in connection whereof which we might recall the wise warning of the Holy Qur'an:
'Whoso chooseth Shaytan for a patron instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest.' (Surah 4)
This tome is undoubtedly an extremely sound and learned exploration of these dark subjects and is especially remarkable for its profound scholarship and close familiarity with primary sources: furthermore the spiritual, Biblical and theological basis of understanding is essentially traditional, medieval in fact, in complexion. Summers goes back to the beginning, describing the 'war in heaven' and fall of the angels, tracing the origins of these errors and deviations, as did Joachim of Fiores and Cornelius a Lapide, to the poisonous vice of ego-pride, the rebellious but deeply deluded assertion of seperative and contingent existence which must manifest in catastrophic opposition to and dislocation from the transcendent spiritual order: 'Pride was the cause of the fall of him who has been called Lucifer - the Light Bearer. Pride, the most corrupting and corroding, the most hideous of all sins. Pride and lust for power. If we would gauge the horror of these, look out upon the misery of the world today. For the spawn of pride is war.' Here Fr. Summers links the disquieting origins of 'this horrid craft' with the very tap-roots of modernity itself and thereby illuminates some of the knottiest problems pertaining to the crisis of this age of darkness through which contemporary humanity stumbles lost and astray.
Summers' chapters guide the reader through the various developments of these noxious delusions, vices and abnormalities through the centuries even unto our own day, from the worlds of Assyria and Rome, through the Middle Ages and the Tudor and Elizabethan eras, through the airy disbelief of the Enlightmenment and to their revival in contemporary times, without neglecting their equivalents in primitive cultures. For Summers was speaking with a certain personal authority on these dark matters, the witness of personal experience and spiritual metanoia no less.
The stylistic atmosphere of Montague Summers' writing is an intellectual and aesthetic pleasure, a mature prose richly wrought with literary archaisms and adorned with delectable excerpts, verses and curious citations from diverse rare works as he expounds upon his themes with eloquent and fervent conviction, casting the dispassionate light of his clear intelligence into some very tenebrous corners of history. Fr. Summers concludes: 'Witchcraft - black magic -Satanism, call it by what name you will, for it is all one, the cult of the Devil is the most terrible power at work in the world today...England has repealed the laws against witchcraft. The Divine Law she cannot repeal.'
A unique and clear-sighted study which was never more worthy of our attention and consideration, as a sound historical survey of its subject 'Witchcraft and Black Magic' has not been bettered in the 70 odd years since it first appeared. Fr. Summer's other book 'The History of Witchcraft and Demonology' along with his valuable volumes on vampirism and lycanthropy are also very highly recommended, renewing what might be termed the traditional Catholic demonology of the Middle Ages and as such they form essential resources regarding these subjects.