On this, the 99th anniversary of the Bartzabel Working, I’m very pleased to recommend an extraordinary new book by Paul Newman (author of The Tregerthen Horror and Aleister Crowley and the Cult of Pan):
THE BARTZABEL AFFAIR
Ancestral Voices Prophesying War
A Tale of Two Suicides
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
In April 1909, a body was washed ashore in Mount’s Bay Cornwall, a body of a young man, dressed in woman’s clothing and manacled at the wrist. The body was that of Douglas Panton, son of the gossip writer and socialite, Jane Panton. This tragic drowning connects with an even more bizarre event over a year later when, in May 1910, the occultist, Aleister Crowley, was entertained at Rempstone, the haunted Dorset manor of Commander Guy Marston. Not only is Marston a high-ranking naval officer and friend of Rupert Brooke, he is also a neophyte in Crowley’s magical order. At Rempstone, in a large room set aside for the purpose, he participates in a ceremony wherein the magician conjures Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, who predicts future conflicts in Turkey and Germany. After joining Crowley’s magical order, Marston was willing to promote the magician’s activities, but secretly he is defensive, nervous of exposure, embarking on a fierce libel case against Jane Panton, who has barely come to terms with the tragic death of her son. Was Marston conniving to ‘warn off’ Jane, lest she come to learn the truth about the frustrated lives, betrayals and weird rituals that simmer behind the walls of the venerable mansion? Or is he being blackmailed? And there are other echoing significances and locations, such as the fact Douglas Panton practised as a solicitor in St John’s Woods, a part of London where “Eddie”, Duke of Clarence, sequestered a mistress, where Algernon Swinburne visited two dominatrixes who regularly birched him, where Katherine Mansfield and Arthur Machen lived, where T. S. Eliot heard Ouspensky lecture and Dennis Wheatley set his shocking black magic thriller The Devil Rides Out.
Other guests at Rempstone include Guy’s beautiful cousin, Daisy Bevan, with whom he has been having a long-standing affair and the ghost-writer, Algernon Blackwood, who portrayed the manor as a setting for his psychic detective story Nemesis of Fire. Daisy is the sister-in-law of the renowned “first lady of conspiracies”, Nesta Webster, who wrote books positing that Jews, Black Magicians, Bolsheviks and Masonic orders were working together to undermine civilization. There is also present, as a guest of the Bevans, the writer and spiritualist, Maud ffoulkes, whose ghosted autobiography of Countess Marie Larisch made a mark in modernist literature by way of its infiltration of The Waste Land.
For those interested in supernatural and literary history, Ancestral Voices Prophesying War is a key document, a fascinating experiment in crossing life-paths, coincidence and conspiracy. It is juxtaposed with an article on the poet, John Davidson, also drowned in Mount’s Bay, plus a compressed commentary on the ‘Tregerthen Horror’ and a study of the provenance of the Great God Pan.
PAUL NEWMAN is an established author and editor who has written biography, literary criticism, topography, folklore, poetry and fiction. Editor of the literary magazine ‘Abraxas Unbound’, his novel ‘Galahad’ (2003) won the Peninsula Prize and his previous occult investigation ‘The Tregerthen Horror’ (2006) aroused a great deal of interest and acclaim. His psychological study ‘A History of Terror’ (2000) has been translated into many languages and he is presently writing his autobiography ‘The Last Musketeer’.