Book Reviews Perceptions Magazine, November 2019
The Secret History of the Hell-Fire Clubs:
From Rabelais and John Dee to Anton LaVey and Timothy Leary
By Geoffrey Ashe
Bear & Company
One Park Street
Rochester, Vermont 05767
Copyright 1974, 2000, 2005, 2019 by Geoffrey Ashe
304 pages, 6 x 9 Paperback, U.S. $18.99
Reviewed by Brent Raynes
Author Geoffrey Ashe, better known as a leading Arthurian researcher, who penned such works as The Discovery of King Arthur and Eden in the Altai, decided to delve thoroughly into the historical background of Britain’s infamous Hell-Fire Clubs. Tracing the origins of this movement to the works of Francois Rabelais, a former Franciscan and Benedictine French priest, and the activities of John Dee, an astrologer-royal to Elizabeth I, Ashe shows how these clubs with their anything-goes philosophy of “do what you will” centuries later became the famous motto of Aleister Crowley, an alleged black magician. The far-reaching impact of the anything-goes philosophy even influenced later movements like the hippie revolution, Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, and the Hells Angels motorcyclists club. Ashe details the first Hell-Fire Club that was founded back in or around 1720 by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and next in 1732, the Society of the Dilettanti, examining the life of Sir Francis Dashwood, a founding member of the Dilettanti group and what he describes as the scandalous Permissive Society of Medmenham, also known as the Monks of Medmenham. He also documents other Hell-Fire Clubs that spread across England, Scotland, and Ireland. While during the late 1960s the hippie/drug culture was largely thought of as an American movement, it really wasn’t. “The ghost of Crowley was present in Californian cults,” Ashe wrote, “but the ghosts of Wharton and Dashwood were present too, though unrecognized.”
How a Secret Society Influenced the Destiny of a Nation
By Steven Sora Destiny Books
One Park Street
Rochester, Vermont 05767
2019, 288 pages, 6 x 9 Paperback, U.S. $18.99 ISBN: 978-1-62055-906-2
Reviewed by Brent Raynes
Steven Sora, the author of such previous works as The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar and Secret Societies of America’s Elite, in this latest volume Rosicrucian America examines how this secret society influenced America’s Founding Fathers and early American settlers, like George Washington, Ben Franklin, and William Penn of Pennsylvania. He details how Dr. John Dee and Sir Francis Bacon, key members of the Rosicrucians and said to have been the most influential men in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, had much to do with Britain’s colonization of the New World and how the impact of the Rosicrucian Order can be found throughout North America.
Sora reveals how Bacon envisioned America as the New Atlantis, as a utopia of liberty and freedom, which he explained was a key tenet of the so-called “Invisible College” of the Rosicrucian Order. Described is Bacon’s possible authorship of Rosicrucian texts of the early 1600s and his connections with Sir Walter Raleigh’s School of Night. In addition, Sora reveals how William Penn had Rosicrucians come to Philadephia and that the city was laid out in esoteric principles, even bearing reference to Bacon’s New Atlantis. Even the modern Georgia Guidestones are said to have been the work of the Rosicrucians.
John A. Keel: The Man, The Myths, and The Ongoing Mysteries
by Brent Raynes
(Available on Amazon)
Reviewed by Joey Madia
If you are interested in the paranormal—whether it be UFOs, cryptids, or poltergeist and haunting phenomena—chances are good that you know the name John A. Keel. A journalist turned paranormal investigator and author of some of the foundational works in the field (including perhaps his most famous—The Mothman Prophecies), Keel was cutting edge and controversial.
To fully appreciate his complexity, Brent Raynes—a life-long investigator, publisher, and podcast host—delivers a text that is part biography and part survey of the areas that Keel was studying and the prevalent investigators who are still carrying on that work. I found this approach to be refreshing and appropriate given who Keel was, and, as stated in the subtitle, the “ongoing mysteries” that survive him in death. It is also an opportunity for the reader to apply Keel’s cutting-edge theories in “real-time” to the cases that Raynes includes, which cover areas such as tulpas, poltergeists, alien abduction, and the lore around Aleister Crowley.
I was introduced to Keel’s work after watching the film based on his book about the cryptid sadly named “The Mothman” and visiting the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia on the Ohio River in 2009, where my wife and I saw an interdimensional being. Ten years later, we are professional paranormal investigators and authors and the works of John Keel have been invaluable to our work and understanding of these complex phenomena. Raynes sought out others who personally knew and collaborated with Keel, including Rosemary Ellen Guiley, who provides the Foreword and an interview. This is bittersweet, as Guiley, one of the most respected investigator–authors in the history of this work (and my mentor, friend, and publisher), passed away right as the book was being published. In short, because there is lots to cover, writers like Raynes and Guiley are the most qualified to speak about and shine a light on Keel, which makes this book a must-read for anyone with an interest in the paranormal.
It is no surprise that considerable pages are spent on The Mothman, including interviews and anecdotes from many of the key witnesses (much of which is available in other books and documentaries) but also from lesser-known witnesses and Swedish researcher Ake Franzen, whose visits to Point Pleasant and intimate involvement with one of the first witnesses I knew nothing about. There is also the corollary phenomena, such as the Men in Black and UFO sightings during that time. Keel was in contact with all of the luminaries in the field—such as Colin Wilson, Ivan Sanderson, Jacques Vallee, and Allen J. Hynek—some of which he got on with, and some of which he didn’t. Being a pioneer-prophet, Keel’s ideas were at first maligned before being adopted by more than a few initial skeptics. If you want to try and understand the history of in-fighting, squabbling, and back-stabbing that is an embarrassing but undeniable facet of our field, this book does a fine job of laying some of it out. Part of this was because Keel was no-nonsense and tell-it-like-it-is—a privilege that he more than earned. After all, he was truly ahead of his time with his theories of “ultraterrestrials” and the theory that hauntings, UFO sightings, and cryptids are all related phenomena, and the nuts and bolts and flesh and blood theories of the paranormal don’t make sense once you begin to depth-dive into the cases. Keel also led the call for a multidisciplinary study of phenomena—including religion and mythology—that has been answered by a growing number of investigators and authors. My own work, which I term transdisciplinary, is very much in line with what Keel was urging fifty years ago.
There isn’t the space to cover in this review all of the facets of Keel’s life, from TV writer to magician to world traveler—you’ll just have to read the book. Raynes offers some eyebrow-raising revelations about the Military–Industrial–Intelligence Complex’s interaction with/manipulation of the phenomena. I appreciate Raynes’s warts-and-all approach. Keel didn’t always get it right and was at times coy (like his contemporary Grey Barker) about where pure fact ended and the literary flair began. I have always struggled with this when engaging with his work, and I appreciate Raynes giving a full picture. Many of the interviewees that share anecdotes and impressions throughout the book are also honest about a man who was far more complicated than most.
No matter where you land on the spectrum of thoughts about Keel, he was inarguably a pioneer, a talented investigator and writer, and one of the true giants on whose shoulders we all stand. His perseverance in the face of trials is inspiring (Mothman Prophecies sold poorly and money for a traveling investigator/writer is often short). He definitely wasn’t in it for money or for glory. Along the way we learn a lot about the biographer, to whose passion and professionalism I can personally attest—and there is ample evidence in the chapters of this book for you to come to your own conclusions about what Raynes has accomplished. He knew Keel for decades, starting as a boy, and even received communications from him through a “ghost box” after Keel passed.
No need for skepticism—several of us have recently received communications from beyond the veil indicating that Keel is indeed still at it, and he is working with at least one investigator, recently deceased, whose impressions of Keel are included in the book.
As the subtitle says: the mysteries are ongoing and probably always will be.
Just how Keel would want it.