Here’s my latest thinking on how to describe Heretics:
A novel of the occult set in 1959 and 1859
You know how the Victorians were very upright, very religious and so prudish that they even covered their table legs? Well it might have been true of a few upper middle class families but for most people the reality was different. Costume dramas perpetuate the idea of the proper Victorian but forget to mention the appalling social conditions, the high infant mortality rate, the prostitution, the violence, the squalor, the baby farms.
The Victorian characters in Heretics are different. They pretend to have the virtues expected of their class but they consider themselves to be heretics for a reason. For a start they practice the occult but they still go to church. They conjure demons but cover their tracks by doing good works. And they are involved in a very dangerous game which could have consequences for the fabric of time itself.
And all of this before Alexander Harrison finds a way to travel back in time from 1959 and join their ranks. Now the race is truly on to stop their common enemy, Bella Nightingale, before it’s too late and she destroys all of their lives…….
Find out more at: www.samsalt.com and darknessbegins.com
- It’s different to previous versions.
- It has the key points I want to promote but distorts the storyline somewhat.
- The photograph is designed to be eye-catching rather than accurate. The clothes the woman is wearing are more likely to be around 1900 than 1859.
- At the Wirksworth book fair the flyer with this photograph and this blurb attracted far more attention than the book I was actually selling.
I admit it. I’m getting distracted. Eventually I will get around to writing about Gardnerian witchcraft and the history of witchcraft but I also have these rather wonderful books on Alex and Maxine Sanders which deserve some comment. Between them they founded a school of Wicca known as Alexandrian Wicca. Alex died in 1988. As far as I know Maxine is still alive though her website doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2004.
You can read about Alex and Maxine via their wikipedia entries.
The reason I mention them here is because there was a definite tendency to link witchcraft with satanism in the 1960s. Indeed Alex Sanders said that he followed the “left-hand path” for some time early in his career. The press also liked to sensationalise stories about witchcraft and satanists and were happiest when they could find salacious photographs to illustrate their exposes. Even these biographies feature several photographs of naked participants in various ceremonies and, as you can see, “Maxine, The Witch Queen” quotes the News of the World on its cover.
Just like “Devil Worship in Britain” these books also feature noteworthy blurbs. For “Maxine”, part of the blurb reads “Maxine Sanders….. has been threatened with death for daring to tell her story. But she will not be silenced!” For “King of the Witches” the blurb tells us “A master of the occult reveals the forbidden secrets of sorcery, witchcraft and black magic.”
It’s only fair to warn you that if you continue to read these posts your own life may be in danger from occult forces beyond your comprehension.
I came across this book, which has been in my collection for many years, whilst thinking through my next blog post on witchcraft in Britain and couldn’t resist posting photos of the cover.
In case we are left in any doubt as to the sensational nature of the book we are told inside that the authors found it “no easy task to write this book. Warnings and threats followed their attempts to uncover the secrets of Britain’s thriving satanist cults – secrets which are guarded as closely as an insane killer.” It goes on to say that “they persevered in their researches and produced this frightening account of the obscene practices which are so widespread in this country today.”
The book was published in 1964, not long after some of the action which takes place in my novel Heretics. It is fairly typical of the 1950s and 1960s in its approach to any aspect of the occult and has no trouble conflating genuine practices with whatever wild stories will sell another popular book.
At the end of the book the authors include a personal statement as to the veracity of their research and call upon “lawyers and statesmen” to give the people “the legislation they demand.” It all sounds very familiar to other moral panics promoted by the mass media over the years.
There are those who sought to prevent me publishing this blog but I have decided it is my obligation to go ahead whatever the risks to my personal safety!
As I began to think about this blog post I realised that I could not do it justice in a single post and it will need to be split up over several posts. I will begin then by talking briefly about the motivations and relevance of the subject to my writing.
Much of my writing contains references to occult lore and practices and Heretics is no different. My approach has always been to be as accurate as possible in portraying these beliefs and practices. That’s not to say that plot and story become subservient or that I do not invent some details where the story demands them. I do however want to distance myself from the Disneyfication of much modern writing, both fiction and alleged non-fiction. A witch is a witch whether male or female. I’ve had people argue with me that there is no such thing as a male witch and that I should use wizard for the male equivalent. Yes, but only if you watch Disney films and read Harry Potter books. I actually like the Harry Potter books but I deplore the fact that magic in them is reduced to waving a wand and speaking cod-Latin.
In Heretics I have endeavoured to present witchcraft as it was practiced in the 1960s and to represent the way it was reported in the popular press at the time. Broadly speaking we can trace the origins of this type of witchcraft to a single person – Gerald Gardner. Indeed it is often referred to as Gardnerian witchcraft. More of this in a later post.
In the meantime I can strongly recommend The Triumph of the Moon, sub-title “A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,” by Ronald Hutton as the best analysis of witchcraft in Britain currently available.