Von Junzt and the Black Book — Part Four Essay
…indeed, a glance at the hieroglyphs by any reader of von Junzt’s horrible Nameless Cults would have established a linkage of unmistakable significance - Von Junzt and the Black Book — Part Four Essay introduction. At this period, however, the readers of that monstrous blasphemy were exceedingly few; copies having been incredibly scarce in the interval between the suppression of the original Dusseldorf edition (1839) and of the Bridewell translation (1845) and the publication of the expurgated reprint by the Golden Goblin Press in 1909.
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Alexis Ladeau had remained in France while his friend, the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt, went to England and Scotland. Early in 1821, Junzt rejoined Ladeau in Paris, where he studied the mad Yemeni poet Alhazred’s Necronomicon further. Afterwards Friedrich resumed his travels, accompanied by the Frenchman. Junzt not only had the title Freiherr, but with it a fortune which allowed him to do much as he pleased. Obsessed by his discoveries, Junzt would travel the world seeking evidence – or disproof – of the dreadful things he had learned.
Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis and the Comte d’Erlette’s Cultes Des Goules were among the first forbidden occult books Junzt read. His friend Ladeau referred him to these volumes when they were students. Neither book approached the Necronomicon in dreadful content, but they were shocking enough.
Soon after, Junzt met an older German contemporary, Herrmann Mulder (Lovecraft and Conover, Lovecraft at Last). Mulder was the source of indisputably unique material for the Dusseldorf scholar’s “Black Book.” Mulder revealed to von Junzt a tome far, far rarer than those of Prinn or d’Erlette, rarer even than the Greek text of the Necronomicon – the fabled Ghorl Nigral.
Some, if not most, occult scholars doubt the Ghorl Nigral even exists. Very few have ever seen it, even in its singular and unique Deutsch translation, let alone the Naacal original. The Muvian codex is perhaps the oldest extant book on this planet.
Some traditions aver that the Crawling Chaos and Mighty Messenger of Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, presented the book to the sorcerers of Mu. The legend arose for a number of reasons. The Ghorl Nigral was certainly a product of highly advanced and unknown (to twentieth-century men) science. Its pages are leaves of unidentifiable, well-nigh indestructible pliant metal, its covers, plates of an equally unknown greenish mineral. Nyarlathotep may indeed have contributed to its content in some way. He was (and has been) known to instruct human beings in the making of strange, subtle mechanisms whose effect, in the end, is destructive. The Ghorl Nigral holds formulae for the latter – and, it appears from the practices of the monks of Yahlgan, certain hellish medical and surgical techniques (REH, “The Black Hound of Death”).
The continent of Mu is provably a part of the Howard Mythos (and, by extension, the Cthulhu Mythos). In “The Shadow Kingdom” Kull says, “The hills of Atlantis and Mu were isles of the sea when Valusia was young,” and in “A Song of the Race” a girl sings to Bran Mak Morn, “Mu is a myth of the western sea, Through halls of Atlantis the white sharks glide.” And Mu, it can be strongly inferred, was destroyed long before the Lemurian Archipelago and Atlantis foundered. Lovecraft and Smith referred to Mu regularly within their own weird tales.
How Mulder obtained the Ghorl Nigral, came to show it to the Baron von Junzt, and what became of it – and him – afterwards, is a complex, obscure story. To begin with Mulder, he was born in Heidelberg, son of a minor Junker family. Unlike von Junzt, he was a soldier and fighter by nature, a cavalry lieutenant in 1795 (Prittwitz’s Death’s Head Hussars, the 5th Regiment) and an excellent swordsman even by hussar standards. He served against Napoleon’s forces in the early 1800s.
Mulder’s family name has humble origins, if traced back far enough. Mulder is the German, literally, for “moulder,” a shaper of wooden bowls. Like Baker, Carter and Taylor in English, it derives from a plebeian trade. In the Prussian officer corps, surrounded by men of more ancient lineage named “von this” and “von that,” Mulder might well have been regarded as an upstart and treated with scorn.
Mulder would not have taken kindly to that. I picture him as looking as distinguished as any of his fellow officers – tall, blond, arrogant and ruthless, the archetypal Prussian warrior. His answer to gibes and condescension would have been to outdo his fellows in ferocious courage and cruelty. Mulder succeeded, won their respect, and even became a member of the secret (and aristocratic) Order of Wotan, which revered the ancient Germanic war-god and observed pagan rites. The Order was rumoured to offer its deity human sacrifices as the ancient Germans had done, by hanging and spearing, for victory in battle – the ultimate Prussian death-cult.
Mulder was disgusted by the state of the Prussian army at the time. Its humiliating defeats by the French in 1806 confirmed his view. He resigned his commission and – with the intense German respect for erudition – set about gaining a doctorate from Heidelberg. While student sabre duels were not yet the craze they later became, Herrmann Mulder carried scars from duels fought as a hussar, alongside those from wartime charges and melees. A ritual scar also crossed one eye, part of his initiation into the Order of Wotan.
Mulder, like von Junzt, read Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis, and followed Prinn’s example by travelling east to Turkey. He was wholly aware that the Ottoman Empire had decayed from the splendour and conquests of Prinn’s day. Mulder found it soft and corrupt – and he also found a cult of Erlik in Istanbul. In pagan Turkic and Mongolian myth, Erlik is the god of evil, darkness, death and the underworld.
A number of Robert E. Howard’s yarns feature devotees of Erlik doing dark deeds, and Erlik has much in common with REH’s take on Odin, a “fiendish spirit of ice and frost and darkness” (TCotH). As Mulder was a member of Odin/Wotan’s death cult already, and familiar with the Turkish language, he would have found small difficulty gaining entry to the cult of Erlik. He also learned in Istanbul of Mount Erlik Khan and the city of Yolgan, situated in the Black Kirghiz country beyond Afghanistan. Howard describes it as “not like any other city in Asia … built long ago by a cult of devil worshippers … driven from their distant homeland … ” (REH, “The Daughter of Erlik Khan”).
The cultists of Mount Erlik Khan were without doubt more dreadful and primordial than their pale imitators in Istanbul. Mulder, a dreadful man himself, came to their hidden city and entered their cult. The monks of the ruling caste were “tall, shaven-headed men with Mongolian features.” (“The Daughter of Erlik Khan”).
The ancient “homeland” from which they had been driven – probably by power struggles within the order — was Inner Mongolia. Among its “black mountains” brooded an Erlikite citadel called Yahlgan. Yahlgan was incomparably more ancient than its offshoot, Yolgan. Its denizens were directly descended from the Naacal, proto-Stygian enslavers of the Lemurian refugees after the Great Cataclysm.
The Naacal monks were racially proud to an extreme degree. They and their Stygian cousins were slave-masters for millenia, as were their more distant kindred, the Imperial Atlanteans of Negari. The Erlikite priesthood of Yahlgan excluded any Lemurian/Hyrkanian admixture, even after so many eons. Yahlgan was a “last redoubt” which had withstood the millennia, and mingling with their former slaves would be the final admission of defeat. The irony was that — through the tutelage of Yahlgan — the proto-Stygian deity, “Nyarlak” (Nyarlathotep), had become “Erlik,” the war-god of the Hyrkanian (and later, Altaic) nomads who had long ago thrown off the Naacal yoke.
In REH’s “The Black Hound of Death”, Erlikite monks transform their victim into something like a werewolf. The narrator says, “What unguessed masters of nameless science dwell in the black towers of Yahlgan I dare not dream, but surely black sorcery from the pits of Hell went into the remolding of that countenance.” That ancient order, devoted to death, corruption and evil, kept the original Ghorl Nigral, written on indestructible leaves of flexible metal, in their hidden citadel. They combined perverted surgical and biological science with sorcery.
Despite some uncertainties regarding details, Herrmann Mulder achieved, beyond any doubt, an astounding feat. He found Yahlgan, probably in the igneous Greater Khingan Range of Inner Mongolia. He became one of that hideous order – the first modern European to do so – stole the Ghorl Nigral from the citadel, and escaped with it. A priestess of Erlik (perhaps even the true “Daughter of Erlik” herself) assisted him in the remarkable theft. Mulder evidently seduced her and made her part of his scheme. However, far from being a mere dupe of his, she craved the power the Ghorl Nigral could give, and hoped to share it with Mulder — or betray him and have the book entirely to herself, free of the confines of Yahlgan.
In any event, the double-cross was Mulder’s. During their flight, he used her as a decoy to throw off pursuit, and then abandoned her. Later, still followed by the vengeful priests of Erlik, and knowing the penalties they would exact if they caught him, he came across a band of Turkomen tribesmen with a captive – a Zaporozhian Cossack. Mulder, desperate, attacked the band alone, and after shooting three, he slaughtered the rest with his sabre. He had not been one of the best blades in the Totenkopf Hussars for nothing.
Mulder had rescued the Cossack with a purpose in mind. The two rode hundreds of miles as only Cossacks and hussars ride, watching each other’s backs. The priests of Erlik followed them, relentlessly dogging their trail.
At last, almost overtaken near the Aral Sea, Mulder turned on his pursuers. According to Ladeau’s diary, Herrmann would never reveal to von Junzt just how he escaped the Erlikite priests. In Gottfried Fvindvuf Mulder’s The Secret Mysteries of Asia, Herrmann’s cousin theorized that the Prussian sacrificed the Cossack in a ritual taken from the accursed pages of the Ghorl Nigral.
By devious routes Herrmann Mulder returned at last to Germany with his prize. He met von Junzt in the early 1820s, after the younger man’s visit to the British Isles. Mulder was then a few years past forty. Herrmann’s distant cousin, Gottfried (who later published Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten), made the introductions. Herrmann showed von Junzt the Ghorl Nigral.
The stolen codex was written in the same hieroglyphs as the scroll in the Cabot Museum (HPL,”Out of the Aeons“). The Ghorl Nigral was the most ancient book on Earth, as well as the most dreadful. Mulder learned to read it in Yahlgan, making him the only westerner of his day able to do so. He translated it into German, but jealously guarded both the original and his translation, letting neither out of his sight.
Von Junzt, however, played upon Herrmann’s monstrous ego and was allowed to examine the original codex. The result was the “Ghatanathoa Passage” in Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which not only recounted T’yog’s ascent of Yaddith-Gho, but also included many Muvian “ideographs.” That knowledge would be vital to Junzt during his later Pacific voyage.
Mulder hoped he would be safe in Prussia, where he was a war hero, well born, and where Oriental strangers would be conspicuous. The latter fact did save his life again. When certain priests of Erlik appeared in Heidelberg, he was warned, and promptly fled to the U.S.A. with the Ghorl Nigral. Upon reaching Massachusetts, he left his translated copy in Arkham — for reasons unknown — and disappeared from the pages of history.
Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.
Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Five, Part Six