Fact v Fiction? Dennis Wheatley and the occult: the debate

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Bob Rothwell
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Fact v Fiction? Dennis Wheatley and the occult: the debate

Post by Bob Rothwell » Sun 10 Jul, 2005 16:19:09

Did Dennis Wheatley get his occult facts only from books and conversations with occultists as he claims or was his knowledge also based on deeper, more personal involvement?
This question has always been at the heart of anyone who has read DW's occult novels, so impressed are they with the facts contained in them. Indeed, to get the flavour of most of his adventure novels, he is proud to tell us that he travelled all over the world to get the true atmosphere of a country before writing about it. So did he ever follow this trait with his occult research and actually attend occult ceremonies?

The following are quotations presented for DW's defence:
Author's note to The Devil Rides Out, 1934 wrote:"I desire to state that I, personally, have never assisted at, or participated in, any ceremony connected with Magic— Black or White."
Rear cover notes to They Used Dark Forces, 1964 wrote:Dennis Wheatley is an acknowledged authority on Black Magic yet he has never attended an occult ceremony of any kind. How then, did he acquire the knowledge that enabled him to write such books as 'The Satanist', 'The Haunting of Toby Jugg', 'To the Devil a Daughter' and 'Strange Conflict'? He gave the answer in the first literary programme on B.B.C. Channel 2:
'My backgrounds come largely from very extensive reading over many years, but before I started with "The Devil Rides Out", I secured introductions to many famous occultists, including the late Aleister Crowley, the Reverend Montague Summers and Rollo Ahmed. Long talks with them provided invaluable material. They also convinced me that dabbling in the occult can lead to lunacy.'
Dennis Wheatley talking to Tim Stout; Supernatural magazine, January 1969 wrote:"I have never been to a magical ceremony. I think those who do are liable to become so involved they neglect their work and family and maybe end up in a lunatic asylum, if they meet someone really bad. I always take every opportunity of stressing this fact."
Extract from a letter from Dennis Wheatley; Daily Mail, 17 March 1969 wrote:"I have never attended an occult ceremony because I consider it dangerous to become involved in such matters."
Dennis Wheatley talking to Graham Lord; Sunday Express, 16 August 1970 wrote:"And as for black magic I myself have never been to a magical ceremony in my life, and I reckon it's definitely dangerous to do so. You can get so fascinated you can neglect your family, your job, and everything else, and if you're at all weak-minded you can end up in a loony bin."
Dennis Wheatley talking to Peter Grosvenor; Daily Express, 27 March 1975 wrote:"All my writing life I've talked to witches and warlocks—great and small. But despite that I've never been to a black magic ceremony in my life, or even a seance and I never shall go either."
Peter Underwood; p.122, The Ghost Hunters, 1985 wrote:"I've never attended any magical ceremony in my life," he told me. "Although by all accounts there is plenty of black magic practised at the present time. I don't intend ever to play a personal part in the subject; I am convinced that it can be dangerous."
Do the following quotations from two respected authors suggest otherwise?
Anthony Masters; p.68, The Man Who Was M, 1984 wrote:(Maxwell) Knight told his nephew, Harry Smith, that he and Dennis Wheatley went to Crowley's occult ceremonies to research black magic for Wheatley's books. "They jointly applied to Crowley as novices and he accepted them as pupils," Smith told me. "But my uncle stressed that his interest – and also Wheatley's – was purely academic."
Peter Underwood; pp.122-127, The Ghost Hunters, 1985 wrote:Although Dennis always said that he had never been present at a magical or occult ceremony of any kind or even at a séance, this was not strictly true. In my autobiography, No Common Task, I recount one 'occult' ceremony that he told me about, and there was another occasion where the full story has never been told.
That first occult ceremony, as he called it, took place in Wales, at Trelyden Hall near Welshpool, the home of long-standing friends of the Wheatleys, Charles and Joan Beatty, or Joan Grant as she is better known. It was a pleasant, rambling old house where Charles Beatty practised magic rituals and strange rites which included what he called a Ceremony of the Roses, one magical ceremony that Joan and Dennis Wheatley did witness.
That Ceremony ... was held in a darkened room, with light concentrated on a sofa covered with black velvet and sprinkled with rose petals. Joan Beatty entered wearing a long cloak fastened at the neck with a silver clasp in the shape of a rose. Charles, also wearing a long dark cloak proceeded to address Joan and shower her with rose petals from a huge bowl on a table at the side of the sofa; after making various passes with a sword and speaking quietly to her, he seemed to put her into some kind of trance.
In the otherwise dead silence Charles continued quietly to issue commands to her and she appeared to writhe and breathe deeply as he continued his abjurations and then, after a few more passes with his sword and sprinkling with rose petals, she raised one hand as though in a dream and unclasped her cloak; when it dropped to the floor, it revealed that she was completely naked. She raised her hands above her head, looked upwards as directed by her husband and, as she stood there, like a statue, Charles flicked more rosewater and rose petals all over her body, which was denuded of all body hair. When her body was glistening and quivering in ecstasy, he led her to the sofa, where she lay in an abandoned position. He anointed her whole body with some aromatic oil until she appeared to be in an ecstatic condition, writhing and contorting her body sensually in tune with the administration of his hands. The tension mounted as she stretched and raised herself to meet his hands as they stroked and darted all over her body; soon his lips replaced his hands and eventually Joan reached and passed a fever pitch of excitement. As she became calmer and lay as though asleep but with her eyes open, Charles ceased to touch her and after making a number of passes over her inert body, in a low, monotonous voice he commanded her to speak – or could it all have been in Dennis's vivid imagination?
She talked, Dennis told me, as though she was in a previous incarnation, in ancient Egypt in fact, and the Wheatleys listened fascinated as Charles took down every word she uttered. He seemed obsessed with traditional occult symbolism and ceremonies, and it seemed to Dennis that his concentration and power influenced whatever powers were abroad that night. Joan Beatty spoke in every way as though she were living in Egypt centuries ago, and the Wheatleys never forgot that strange and striking ceremony. Dennis in particular was certain that some kind of power that was not of this world flowed between Charles and his wife that night, and he not only used some of the rituals and ideas that he witnessed that night in future books but also became very aware that reincarnation could well be a fact.
The second occult ceremony which Dennis used to say he almost witnessed took place in the 1950s on the occasion of the Wheatleys' first visit to Brazil, where Dennis obtained a great deal of background information for his last Gregory Sallust novel, The White Witch of the South Seas. On the evening of their first day in the country, a friend, Tony Wellington, arranged for them to attend a Macumba or Umbanda, a ritualistic Brazilian religion which worships West African gods, the ceremonies involving drumming, dancing and apparent possession by means of communicating with Voodoo gods.
Tony Wellington was a member of the British Embassy staff and he arranged for the Wheatleys to have a police escort in case they were discovered and set upon by the worshippers as not being members of the cult; their white skins alone would mean nothing, as thousands of rich white people in Brazil worshipped the Voodoo gods.
Tony and his wife, Joan and Dennis, two policemen and two policewomen made up the party, and they drove several miles into the country and into a dark forest. There they left the two cars they were travelling in and proceeded on foot through the trees and up a narrow stairway composed of short boards kept in place by pegs on which hung the bodies of a number of chickens, their heads missing. Eventually they arrived at a plateau with tiers of benches on two sides and at one end a Voodoo altar containing fruit, flowers and crude pictures of saints.
Here the women were separated from the men, and when the place was filled with hundreds of people, the ceremony began. An old white-haired Negro smoking marijuana led a shuffling dance followed by a string of girls who linked arms, formed a circle and swayed backwards and forwards to the rhythm of drumming. At this point Dennis usually said that a downpour of rain caused all the participants to run for cover and so they never witnessed any occult ceremony or manifestation, but he told me that in fact the ceremony was well under way before the rain began.
The drumming had increased to a tremendous pitch and when the old Negro retired to a position beside the altar, the girls' dancing became more and more abandoned. Then a sinewy young negro, tall and slim and naked, bounded into the centre of the circle and proceeded to dance and spring into the air to the obvious delight of the circle of girls, whose light frocks and skirts were soon thrown away as the heat and excitement of the ceremony affected each of them. Suddenly the male dancer stopped dead, as motionless as a statue. The drumming faded away to a dull throbbing, the dancing girls came to a standstill and they watched as he ran his hands up and down his gleaming body as he strutted round and round within the circle of girls, a rampant cock of the roost. After making the rounds of the circle several times, he became supple and alluring, then jerked his body erect, tense and thrusting as he responded to the renewed crescendo of the drums and the delighted clapping of the girls.
Soon the drumming ceased again and a young Negress, completely naked, ran into the circle and began to dance. The drums began again, this time in an unchanging monotone, and the girl danced, her eyes fixed in a sightless stare. She broke out of the circle and made her way towards the old Negro beside the altar and there danced before him, almost touching him and inhaling the smoke from his pipe; then she made her way towards the rows of chanting men – now dancing and stamping to the rhythm of the drums, now completely motionless, her arms high and legs apart, panting in the moonlight.
Back into the circle of girls a live black cock was handed to her. She raised it high above her head and then, holding the terrified bird at arm's length, she began to turn, faster and faster; she swung the cock by its legs; faster and faster she whirled in frantic ecstasy. The drums rose to a shattering finale, the girl was suddenly motionless and the dying cock twisted its neck convulsively and crowed before it died. And then the rains came and everyone ran for cover.
It was a scene which Dennis was to draw upon in the years that followed – or was it all in his imagination? Certainly it was an evening that sickened both Joan and Dennis, but the atmosphere and the tension and the excitement that were created by the drumming and the dancing always remained with them.
The debate continues...

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Post by Alan » Mon 11 Jul, 2005 04:22:10

I must qualify my answer of "maybe" by a matter of definition (webmaster: refers to poll, now removed). I have no doubt that DW is telling the truth when he says that he has never actually participated in a magical ceremony, black or white. However, one can "dabble" in the theory of the subject simply by reading extensively, visiting ceremonies as an invited spectator, talking to experts on the subject, etc and I feel this is what he did.

The problem is that unlike, say, electronics (where reading extensively about it can't possibly result in any danger as long as you don't attempt to make use of your knowledge by rewiring a house without qualifications), there is some evidence that simply reading deeply about demons, the darker reaches of the astral plane, elementals, etc can actually attract such things to you.

My guess is that unlike certain other writers... H P Lovecraft springs to mind... DW actually believed in the philosophy he was writing about, even if he disguised certain facts either to prevent amateur dabblers getting into trouble or to make the story faster moving. The methods used by his character for defence against astral "nasties" (pentacles, "thinking blue", scrupulous physical cleanliness, etc) certainly ring true enough, suggesting that maybe DW had found it neccessary to consider how to protect himself at some stage. The detail he goes into about how to construct a pentacle, what herbs to use, how to place the horseshoes, etc seem pretty detailed for someone who simply spent a few moments skimming a book for "local colour".

Nigel Jackson

Dennis Wheatley and the Occult

Post by Nigel Jackson » Mon 5 Sep, 2005 22:56:19

Dennis Wheatley's almost Manichaean spiritual philosophy may well be very unfashionable in the present climate of politically correct relativism but in my view 'The Devil Rides Out' conveys a very timely warning about the dangers of dabbling with the so-called 'Black Arts' which is no less relevant now than it was back in the 30's. Certainly Christopher Lee, a man well-read on magical and arcane subjects himself, has said that he especially wanted the film of TDRO to convey a cautionary tale about the insidious dangers of Black Magic. I myself am, like Monsieur Le Duc, a practical student of the Esoteric Doctrine and in my view Dennis Wheatley possessed quite a considerable insight into the Magical Art and especially the psychic pathologies associated with its darker phases - The Devil Rides Out is not only a true classic of the supernatural occult thriller genre, right up there with Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', but also a penetrating insight into the spiritual powers of darkness into whose toils the unwary, the thrill-seeker and the naif can be lured and caught fast in a web of Ab-human malice. The power of Evil is a real force, a cunning, vast and tireless potency of malevolence at work behind the scenes of the modern world and all our suave scepticism cannot alter the reality of this struggle in which the soul of man is suspended, unwittingly caught between the radiant Powers of Light and the Dominions of Darkness and their Infernal Master. Dennis Wheatley's appreciation of this profound spiritual conflict, the age-old battle in which we are immersed, is exceptionally acute and instructive. I think many occultists would benefit from a careful reading of TDRO and one can see that the ritual minutiae and protective measures described therein are more than just minor detail but the fruit of serious research into the traditional world-view and practises of Magicians and Mystics throughout the ages. I would recommend 'The Devil and All His Works' in this context also.

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Post by Alan » Tue 6 Sep, 2005 00:09:53

I find myself very much in agreement with the main points of Nigel's views here, except the first - that reading 'The Devil Rides Out' will convey a warning about dabbling in the blacker side of the esoteric arts. When I first read it - at a very tender age- I found the whole thing so fascinating that I couldn't wait to get to grips with the ab-human powers. I half hoped that I might get menaced by a "sack-like thing" so that I could have an excuse to draw a pentacle and send the elementals packing! Now, 35 years later, I realise that relying on the "instructions" provided in "Devil Rides Out" would have proved highly ineffective!

As Nigel points out, DW's Manichean philosophy is no longer a staple of literature, which today is full of relativistic anti-heroes - but fashion has a way of turning back to itself on a regular basis (look at what young women are wearing nowadays, for example) - can it be long before the moral majority turn from persecution of smokers and turn their guns on "The ok-kult" as personified in thrash music and scanty tops? If so, the world will need sensible, considered opinions about the subject more than ever. DW (posthumously) and his readers are in a position to make a great contribution to this debate. As Nigel says, "Dennis Wheatley's appreciation of this profound spiritual conflict, the age-old battle in which we are immersed, is exceptionally acute and instructive." But one must be careful that such a work does not prove a double-edged sword, in that there is always the risk it might "glamourise" its subject, or even convery a subtextual message no longer relevant. I can well imagine a modern puritan making the point that all of the wicked satanists are foreigners (including Simon Aron, a Jew), that the sexual tension between Rex and Tanith allowed the evil powers in, that a few accurate shots from a gun can defeat the devil himself. Imagine what the redneck fringe might make of THAT scene!

My suggestion - read DW the way he intended his works to be read, as fascinating, exciting thrillers that just happen to have a more accurate occult background than most. And take heed of the warning posted at the front of all of his occult works - that this work is a romance and not intended as an instruction manual! If you MUST use DW's characters as a role-model for your own life. concentrate on the general philosophy behind his stories, that decency, unselfishness, true friendship, courage and a belief in the light are well worth cultivating... And if you DO find yourself menaced by something from the pit, seek more professional and competant help than that which can be found within the pages of a novel.

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Post by TonyGosling » Thu 14 Jun, 2012 20:58:38

DW got much of his info about the occult from son of a Bristol banker, Montague Summers
Legend has it that Summers was himself an occultist until he witnessed something so dreadful ....
he decided the world needed to know.

I'm concerned about the fate of the Summers' family property - namely the Montague Summers archive - his lost papers now found
Including 'genuinely important lost works'
I've spoken to Ian Kahn about it
01:22 - 07:59 Recent discovery of Monatgue Summers' 1950's lost papers in the US.
http://www.radio4all.net/files/tony@cul ... eb2012.mp3
They have been given to Georgetown University special collections boss John Buchtel - who refuses to discuss it

BTW do have a listen to the interview I did on Wheatleyesque lines with the right reverend Sean Manchester
http://www.radio4all.net/files/tony@cul ... ummers.mp3

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Post by Charles » Thu 14 Jun, 2012 21:31:15

Dear Tony,

Thanks for all that.

I appear to have had more luck with Special Collections. They're cataloguing everything at the moment and have promised to let me know as and when they come across any DW/Summers correspondence.

Meanwhile, you can see a little about the Summers / DW relationship in the site's virtual museum, including two important pieces of Summers/Wheatley ephemera, on page

http://www.denniswheatley.info/museum/r ... =7&exhib=2

Just about to have a look at your other links - many thanks !

Best wishes to all,

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