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Montague Summers (1880-1948)

 

Written and compiled by George Knowles.  

Montague Summers was not a witch, far from it, he was a Catholic Priest and devoutly against witchcraft, however one feels that his contribution to the literature of witchcraft deservedly earns him a mention in any roll call of witches.  He was an eminent scholar and author who wrote extensively about the darker sides of witchcraft, demonology, vampirism and lycanthropy.  He believed adamantly that witches were evil servants of the devil 'Satan' who throughout history deserved all the punishments they received.  

Summers was born Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers in Clifton near Bristol, England on the 10th of April 1880.  The youngest of seven children, his father was a prominent banker and justice of the peace.  He was raised as an Anglican but later converted to Catholicism.  Educated at Trinity College Oxford, he also studied at Litchfield Theological College and by the time he was 26 had earned both Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. 

Summers entered the Roman Catholic Church and became a priest in 1909, but his standing and position within the church has never really been made clear.  He was commonly known as the “Reverend Montague Summers”, but lived much of his time as a private civilian and was never attached to any particular church or religious foundation.   Some reports have hinted that he had a special brief from high up in the Catholic hierarchy to write about and denounce witchcraft and the occult.  He taught at various schools and wrote books on literature and drama, but much of his time seems to have been devoted to academic studies on the darker side of witchcraft and demonology.   

He was a strange and mysterious man, who when dressed in his clerical garb looked a distinguished and striking figure.  He had long silvery hair and fine soft hands that sparkled with jeweled rings.  Although he wasn’t tall in stature, he had a strong and powerful presence and people stood in awe of him.  The author Dennis Wheatley in his book “Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts”, in his chapter on black magic states quite frankly that “Summers inspired him with fear”.  Wheatley also used his physical appearance as a model for his sinister character Canon Copely-Syle in his black magic story “To the Devil-a Daughter”. 

One story about Summers claims that he had an unnatural interest in small boys.  Allegedly during the early stages of his priesthood and while working as a curate in Bath, he and another clergyman were charged with pederasty (one who practices anal intercourse with a boy).  However Summers was acquitted and all charges were dropped. 

Through his researches into witchcraft and the occult, Summers naturally came into contact with some of the leading occultists of his day.  This lead to a curious friendship with the notorious Aleister Crowley, as described by the author Charles Richard Cammell in his book “Aleister Crowley”.  In it he reveals that Crowley and Summers not only knew each other but also shared a mutual admiration.  At one time both Crowley and Summers lived in Richmond, Surrey, as did Mr. Cammell, who tells us that they used to meet in his flat and discuss their many interests in an atmosphere of friendship and wit.  Strange indeed as they both advocated extreme opposite practices, although both had singularly brilliant minds in their knowledge of the occult.  

Summers devoted more than 30 years to an intense academic study of witchcraft and demonology, subjects he felt many serious historians had neglected.  As well as writing his own books on witchcraft, he studied and wrote a whole series of translations and editing’s on the subject.  He reviewed the works of some of the pasts leading demonologists, men such as Jean Bodin, Nicholas Rémy and Francesco-Maria Guazzo.  He also translated and edited into English other demonologists works, including the works of Henri Boguet, Reginald Scott, Richard Bovet and Ludovico Sinistrari. 

His most famous piece of work was the English translation of the “Malleus Maleficarum”, written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, first published in 1486.  Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and the entire time that witchcraft hysteria reigned, “Malleus Maleficarum” was the most influential guide for the persecution, torture and execution of witches.  Summers called it:  “One of the most important, wisest and weightiest books in the world”.  During its time it was second only to the Bible in sales, until John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was published in 1678 and exceeded it.  

A meticulous scholar and researcher, Summers disagreed with and ridiculed the theories of anthropologist Margaret A Murray, in that witchcraft was an organized religion in the Middle Ages.  He is reported to have said:  “That is a most ingenious suggestion, but a wholly untenable hypothesis”.  In his own book “The History of Witchcraft and Demonology” (1926), he maintains that witchcraft, while not necessarily a product of the Middle Ages; it did raise up at that time with sufficient force to threaten the very peace and salvation of mankind. 

Summers sincerely believed that witches deserved all the punishments they received, he also believed that the confessions of many witches tortured and persecuted, were not the products of hysteria and hallucinations as many would advocate, but to be in the main:  "hideous and horrible fact”.  He embraced every belief about the evils and vileness of witches, and in the introduction of his book “The History of Witchcraft and Demonology” he tells his readers: 

“In the following pages I have endeavored to show the witch as she really was – an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes: a member of a powerful secret organization inimical to Church and State: a blasphemer in word and deed, swaying the villagers by terror and superstition: a charlatan and a quack sometimes: a bawd: an abortionist: the dark counselor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants:  a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age". 

Aside from writing about witchcraft, Summers also had a deal of knowledge and interest in the theatre, and the dramatists of his day.  On one occasion in 1921, he combined his two interests and directed a revival of the seventeenth century play “The Witch of Edmonton”.  It was staged at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith with the great Sybil Thorndike playing the part of the witch. 

As a devout Roman Catholic, Summers completely accepted the proposition that the devil 'Satan' was a real and fearfully dangerous entity, and that witches were his servitors.  All his books about witchcraft, while brilliantly written and readable, reflect this viewpoint.  Perhaps the most outstanding of his books are:  The History of Witchcraft and Demonology” (first published in 1926, reprinted by Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1969, and again by Bristol Park Books (New York) in 2010), “The Geography of Witchcraft” (London, 1927), “A Popular History of Witchcraft” (Kegan Paul, London, 1937), and “Witchcraft and Black Magic” (Riders, London, 1946). 

Summers also wrote with equal verve, colour and total belief about vampires and werewolves, a phenomenon that he regarded as being allied to witchcraft, or at least associated with the activities of witches.  His books on vampires and werewolves are say some critics filled with unsubstantiated old wives tales, they include: “The Vampire.  His Kith and Kin” (1928), “The Vampire in Europe” (1929) and “The Werewolf” (1933). 

Montague Summers died on the 10th of August 1948.  That same year a new edition of his most notable work, the translation of “Malleus Maleficarum” was issued.  His contribution to the literature of witchcraft has been a most valuable one and while many today might decry his views, none can doubt the meticulous scholarship that he brought to bare on the subject.

His biographer is the late Carmelite (a member of the Roman Catholic mendicant Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, founded in the 12th century) Father Brocard Sewell.

 

Sources

 

  The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

 

An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present  - by Doreen Valiente.

 

  His own books  -  Malleus Maleficarum - By Jacobus Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer (A Translation)  -  The Geography of Witchcraft  The History of Witchcraft and Demonology  Witchcraft and Black Magic.

 

 

Postscript:

 

I  have recently receive a correction via my 'Guest Book', which I am happy to append here having verified it's veracity.  My many thanks to whoever posted it  :-)

 

Comment:

Your website entry for Montague Summers is incorrect where you claim him to have been ordained a Roman Catholic priest.  Though briefly a Roman Catholic deacon, he was only ever a priest (and later a bishop) in the Old Catholic Church of the Utrecht Succession (Mathew line). 

Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers, in whose memory Bishop Seán Manchester dedicated his 1991 Gothic Press edition of 'The Highgate Vampire', entered the Old Catholic priesthood (having been diaconated in 1908 in the Church of England, and joining the diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church which he entered a year later).  Montague Summers was consecrated for the Order of Corporate Reunion on 21 June 1927 by Dominic Albert Godwin.  He was later consecrated sub conditione on 21 March 1946 by Roger Stephen Matthews and appointed Nuncio for Great Britain ("Edit" - Nuncio, a papal ambassador to a civil government).  Like Seán Manchester he wrote books about vampirology, diabolism and the occult whilst placing emphasis on the ministry of exorcism. 

See paragraph at the foot of:  
http://www.holygrail-church.fsnet.co.uk/Apostolic%20Succession%20(Old%20Catholic).htm

 

 

First published on the 23rd June 2001, 17:09:38 © George Knowles

 

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In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow /  Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

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Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

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