written by The Hon. Hugo C StJ l’Estrange. Edited by Ramsey Dukes, with an appendix by Lionel Snell
It could be argued that, this year, I’ve been breaking promises, but I feel that such moral turpitude puts me in good company as I write this blog post. For my new year’s resolution, I promised you all that I would write more blogs. My target was one post a month and since then I’ve managed just two posts. Keeping, or rather breaking, promises would seem to be the sort of thing one might expect of the author of the book I’m reviewing, The Hon. Hugo C StJ l’Estrange, or old Huge as I like to think of him. Of course, the theme of breaking promises is even more apt in that I promised him I would review his collected diaries way back in February. Since then, the world has gone to Hell in a handcart, literally burned, and immorality surrounds us. Being the world’s most notorious black magician, and devourer of the innocent, old Huge must be jumping for joy.
The Hellgate Chronicles, being the complete unexpurgated diaries of the Honourable Hugo C StJ I’Estrange rendered fragrant with illustrations by DadaMax, is nothing less than a sumptuous volume. It is presented in large coffee table format, landscape, three-column layout complete with colour inserts, sidebars and human skin binding. Okay, the human skin binding might not be true of the edition I have, but I find myself wondering if there is such out there. The lavish hard cover does have that strangely erotic, velvety finish that you just can’t identify.
The Diaries of Hugo I’Estrange were largely presented in Aquarian Arrow magazine between 1978 and 1992 as a quarterly column called “A Satanist’s Diary” and they have been collected here, along with some later additions including a Millennial Edition and final editions between 2017 and 2021.
I first met old Huge in the early eighties when we were both involved in a magical group in Hertfordshire. Huge would show up intermittently, ignoring the appeals of the leader and Guru of our order that he should attend every week. Years later, over a glass of claret or six, I managed to get it out of him that he had such disdain for the piffling acts of magic that we were attempting to perform that he didn’t think it worth the journey. I think, at the time, he was living some ten miles away and the journey would have been nothing for a man of his means, but that’s just what one has to accept about him. For most of us, life does not revolve around us, but in his case, it quite possibly does.
It was during that time, around 1986, that our small magical order travelled to a friend’s compact country house on the Welsh borders for a weekend of magical practice, enlightenment, and indulgence. Old Huge turned up for this one, I guess, as it would have involved a free dinner and chance to push his ideas on the group while our Guru was off his home turf and, consequently, weakened in authority. The working we performed that Saturday night was in recognition of the OTTO, Over The Top Occultists, the manifesto of which can be found in the “Satanist Diary” entry of Summer 1986.
My memory of the ritual is somewhat hazy but I seem to remember the bloated form of old Huge beginning the ritual with an impressive leap into the air wearing an unconventional robe that, anywhere else, would have been described as a mini dress, complete with tassels. (The image is imprinted on my consciousness to this very day.) The manifesto of the OTTO (Over The Top Occultists), printed in full in the Hellgate Chronicles, describes a type of magic that is a reaction to the psychologised, neo-Jungian, occult theory and the Tupperware covens of suburbia.
Another entry, for summer 1988 describes the development of the OTTO New Age chapter announcing a series of OTTO courses, consciousness exercises and paraphernalia including Money Equals Crystallised Love, the Count Yermoni Auric Cleansing Wallet, and the Personalised Love Vibrator or Dr Galgenspiel’s Inner Seed Love Tapes. The entry in the Hellgate Chronicles describes how all these and more were available in return for large cheques while making promises of spiritual grace bestowed upon the senders.
I also recognised in The Hellgate Chronicles the description of the “Alton Towers working.” I distinctly remember old Huge turning up one Tuesday evening to much appreciation of our Guru, only for I’Estrange to push him aside while he regaled us with the story of his recent trip to Alton Towers. The book gives more detail than I recall from that conversation nearly forty years ago, where he describes how he and his butler, along with the rest of his retinue, went on a day out to the amusement park.
On discovery of the recently installed Corkscrew, old Huge realised it might be used to drive thoughts deep into the unconscious in that moment when the mind of the passenger is full of terror and the unconscious mind comes to the surface. Stealing ideas from the famous Victorian magician Austin Spare, I’Estrange constructed what he called the Sigil of Abomination, intending to bring about the downfall of all morality. One aspect of his description that Tuesday evening in 1983 (for how could I forget?) was his description that, at the end of the ride, his mind had become so disconnected from his body that he found the Sigil of Abomination, and his lap in which he had placed it, was covered in vomit. The entry from 1983 declares that he was unsure if the working had been a success, but judging by the way the world has developed since, I would be inclined to describe it as a slow burn that succeeded in its intention.
No doubt those of you who have not been blessed, or cursed, with the experience of having known old Huge will not have these memories in common. However, for anyone who lived through the eighties and that which has happened in the years that followed will find references to shared experiences such as “Hackerphobia” of 1984, “Boom with Maggie” of 1988 and others. Readers born since may not share these memories, but there is still entertainment to be had between these pages and, no doubt, something to offend everyone.
As an extra clue of what you can expect from this voluptuous tome, I am struck by some similarity to one of my favourite books, also from that era, The Henry Root Letters.