Monday, February 6, 2012

The White Powder (Wermspittle)

The White Powder
An essential ingredient, if not in fact the very key ingredient of the notorious Witches' Flying Ointment, Salve of Transformation, and a number of other substances connected to the causation of transmutation or atavistic degeneration, the 'white powder,' is also known as 'Vinum Sabbati,' for its alleged use in the preparation the so-called 'wine' of the Witches Sabbat. The White Powder may or may not have a powerful anticholinergic effect, in addition to its powerful hallucinogenic and deeply destructive teratogenic properties. Some scholars also theorize that the white powder may well have been the secret underlying Circe's legendary ability to transform her victims into various sorts of animals. Jacques Roulet and other infamous (supposed) lycanthropes claimed to be able to effect their terrible transformation into ravening, murderous beasts with the aid of a magical salve or ointment. Chuang Tzu's Mental Ointment or Salve of Transformation might also be connected to the White Powder, but that is questionable. The white powder may also be intrinsically involved in the verminomorphosis that produces Ungeziefer, however this last item has yet to be conclusively proven.

In Wermspittle, the White Powder is entirely too common and extremely cheap to acquire thanks to the work of the Corruption Trade, a cabal of ruthless and ambitious sorcerers and others who have grown rich by exploiting the effects of the white powder upon the bodies of refugees and other marginalized and vulnerable people such as the ever-growing throngs of Plague-victims and Patients coming to Wermspittle to seek help from one of the alms-houses, charities, hospitals or surgical theaters. Instead of finding help or relief, many of these unfortunates are instead relegated to the make-shift shanty-camps or are allowed to join the ranks of squatters turned-out into the Abandoned Districts outside the protected and patrolled sections of the city. As times grow bleak and their respective situations increasingly desperate, there are those who move among these downtrodden masses dispensing quack pallatives, spurious patent-medicines and the White Powder, which they have the unmitigated gall to pretend to make available as an act of mercy, when in fact these people are directly profiting off of the horrid after-products of this soul-killing and ultra-destructive illicit substance.

Those who use the White Powder have only a short span left to them, before they collapse into seething, amorphous Loathsome Masses, devoid of all humanity and left to die in whatever nook, cranny or attic to which they can crawl away, leaving behind only a lingering Wet Spot that in time dries-out to form a Sallow Stain...all of which are valuable commodities to the foragers sent out into the burned over areas of the Lower Town to hunt for these things. In Wermspittle, the White Powder is an important part of the over-all economy. But at a terrible, all too horrible a cost in terms of shattered, broken and lost human lives.

But the Corruption Trade is a lucrative one, and their profits have made them powerful...

Who would ever attempt to stand up to these insidious poison-peddlers and their monstrous machinery of mass exploitation that literally runs on human suffering?

Who indeed...

SourceThe Novel of the White Powder (1895) by Arthur Machen, is part of the episodic novel The Three Impostors, which also includes The Adventure of the Gold Tiberius, The Novel of the Black Seal, and others. To quote Mr. Machen himself, he set about to create The Three Impostors as "...A book which testifies to the vast respect I entertained for the fantastic, 'New Arabian Nights' manner of R. L. Stevenson, to those curious researches in the byways of London which I have described already, and also, I hope, to a certain originality of experiment in the tale of terror." It remains a classic of both fantasy and horror and we highly recommend it. You can download a copy of The Three Impostors via Project GutenbergArthur's Classic NovelsHorror Masters, Many Books, or any number of other sites.

Apuleius' The Golden Ass is the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety and remains an entertaining and intriguing tale that has inspired Saint Augustine (who absolutely HATED the book), C. S. Lewis (who wrote Til We Have Faces based in part on Apuleius' original story of Psyche & Cupid), and Franz Kafka whose Metamorphosis was in many respects a re-invention and re-telling of Lucian's journey, but from a more modern and much more pessimistic angle. Despite what you might have thought, it is not the title to an unauthorized biography of Jennifer Lopez. So sorry. You can find a plethora of translations and revised editions of Apuleius' Metamorphosis (Augustine is the guy who re-titled it 'The Golden Ass') all over the place, but one handy version is available for free via Project Gutenberg, and there is a free audio-book version available via LibriVox as well. A de-raunchified and sanitized version, with illustrations, suitable for 'Librarians, scholars and extremely intelligent children,' is available from the David R. Godine Press.

Circe, of course, was first mentioned in The Odyssey and has since become synonymous with any hyper-intoxicating poison likely to tempt one to excess. It is rather interesting that Circe bore Odysseus three sons, according to the Theogony, but that's something for another day, another post...

As for Jacques Roulet, and all those infamous lycanthropes who claimed to owe their transformations to the agency of some strange ointment, liniment, salve, poultice or other questionable patent-medicine body-care product, you could start with Sabine Baring-Gold's Book of Werewolves, which you can find, for free, at the Sacred Texts Online Library. The non-lycanthropic variety of magical ointment, green salve, etc. was first described in 1456 by Johannes Hatlieb, an author who wrote a good deal about herbs, forbidden arts, and superstitions. The Hartlieb Annex at the Academy in Wermspittle is named for him.


  1. Hereticwerks: Fun and educational. :)

    I'll second your Three Imposters recommendation.

  2. All part of the service sir!
    This just seemed like a more entertaining way to do our version of an 'Appendix N.'

    Machen's Three Imposters is a great read...and it really just seemed to 'fit' really well into what we're doing with Wermspittle.


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