German author, explorer, and occultist (1795-1840). The son of a minor city bureaucrat, he was born in Cologne, Germany. He was considered a troublemaker in his youth, but his mother's death prompted him to settle down considerably by the time he was 17. He'd always had a great love of stories of the supernatural and studied theology and history at the university. After graduating, he taught for a few years at the University of Wurttemberg.
After hearing a lecturer speak on strange religions in foreign lands, von Junzt was hit by a bout of wanderlust. He set off to make his own study of the world's religions, making stops on six continents, as far east as Japan and China, as far west as the Mississippi River, as far north as the Yukon Territory, and as far south as Argentina. After tramping around some old castles and ruins in Germany, Austria, and Hungary, he made very brief visits to Australia and North America before making extensive travels throughout Central and South America, where he made detailed maps and sketches of Mayan and Incan ruins. When he journeyed to Africa and Asia, he began investigating and sometimes even joining cults and secret societies--usually just to research those groups in more depth, though there is some suggestion that he joined some of them out of true religious fervor. He is, for example, known to have joined up with India's thugee cults, with the Order of the Bloated Woman in China, and with one of the so-called "leopard societies" in Africa.
Von Junzt also researched some of the cults of the tcho-tcho people in central Asia, the presumably-legendary People of the Black Stone, and a cult worshiping something called Ghatanothoa -- many of those cults pressured von Junzt to join, often under pain of torture, but he steadfastly refused, later writing that he "could not countenance such unions. Though they may have had true facts on their side, they were still blasphemies, and I despise all blasphemy." Despite his stated dislike of blasphemy, however, it is believed that von Junzt was one of the few people to read the notorious Greek translation of the Necronomicon. It's also rumored that he eventually published a German translation of the Necronomicon, Das Verichteraraberbuch (sometimes translated as Das Verrückteraraberbuch), which was said to have been published in 1848, several years after his death.
After von Junzt finally got home from all that traveling, he put all of his research together into a book he called Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which was published in Dusseldorf in 1839. The title is usually translated as "Nameless Cults", "Unspeakable Cults", or "Unpronounceable Cults", depending on how feeble the translator's German is. Many in-the-know occultists prefer to just call it "the Black Book."
In Unaussprechlichen Kulten, von Junzt begins with a fairly scholarly discussion of worldwide worship patterns, including his own and other researchers' conclusions on everything from why people worship to how different cultural values will influence how identical deities are worshipped across large geographic areas. He also presented short essays on all of the cults, sub-cults, and religions he had studied. Though primarily factual, this section of the book suffers from von Junzt's religious chauvinism and from a tendency to ramble. The largest part of the book opens with a long essay called "Narrative of the Elder World" and includes a wealth of information about the worldwide cults of ancient monster-gods, with names like Ktoolu, Narlet Hotep, A'Zatho, Black Shub, and the aforementioned Ghatanothoa. The book ended with a series of appendices excerpting various horrific religious texts and ceremonies, including a section on "How to Summon Daemons" with very specific descriptions of chants, precautions, and how many sacrifices are required. His work quickly acquired an unsavory reputation, buoyed by reports connecting some high-profile and gruesome murders in Vienna to the Black Book. A few cities banned the book, and von Junzt was denounced from pulpits all over Germany.
There have been two known English translations made of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. The first one, put out by the Bridewall publishing house in 1845, is considered a pretty awful piece of work. It's plagued by multiple mistakes, omissions, and misspellings, not to mention really cheap, ugly woodcuts. Much better regarded is the translation published by Golden Goblin Press of New York in 1909. It was much more accurately translated, and it featured some disturbing but unquestionably beautiful color plates by noted Spanish artist Diego Velasquez. However, the Golden Goblin translation suffers because about a quarter of the book was censored by the translators, and it was way too expensive, even when it was originally published. So you're probably better off tracking down one of the very, very rare German copies and reading that.
Copies of the book are available at the Miskatonic University Library in Arkham, Massachusetts, the Sanbourne Institute of Pacific Studies in Santiago, California, the Philipps Rare Book Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. There are no known copies in European libraries, though it is suspected that there are many private copies that the owners would prefer to keep quiet about.
After the publication of the Black Book, von Junzt continued his travels, visiting Russia to study the Skoptsi sect and Mexico City to help explore some recently unearthed Aztec ruins. He was also said to be the only human to read the Ghorl Nigral, a mostly-mythological book believed to have been written by a race of fly-like demons in the lost city of Yian-ho in northeastern China. Gottfried Mulder, an estranged friend of von Junzt's, said that the inhuman keepers of Yian-ho only allowed von Junzt to read the book after forcing him to undergo a ritual that cost him his left eye and ear. Mulder also claimed that he used the explorer's own notes as the basis for his book, "The Secret Mysteries of Asia, with a Commentary on the Ghorl Nigral."
Von Junzt's last trip out of Germany was to Mongolia. Lasting less than a month, it appeared to have a major effect on him, as he cancelled the rest of his travel itinerary (he'd planned to explore Alaska, the Bering Sea, and a chunk of Siberia that included the region that would be devastated approximately 80 years later by the Tunguska Fireball) to return to his Dusseldorf home, where he locked himself in his library and began writing almost 15 hours a day. Six months later, his housekeeper found him dead. He'd been strangled, and marks which were described by a judge as being "like the talons of a beast" were found on his throat. The locks on the library's door and windows were unbroken, and an odor of apples and rotten meat hung in the air for months. Von Junzt's manuscript had been torn apart and scattered around his body. Believing that von Junzt's last work should be preserved, his friend and fellow explorer Alexis Ladeau volunteered to put the remnants of his last book into proper order. However, after he put the manuscript together and read it, Ladeau burned the book and von Junzt's notes, then slashed his own throat with a razor. As news of the deaths of von Junzt and Ladeau spread throughout Europe, many owners of Unaussprechlichen Kulten set their own copies of the book on fire, fearful that the book was cursed.
Von Junzt was buried in Dusseldorf. Someone unearthed his coffin less than two months after the burial and removed his right eye and right ear. The perpetrators were never caught.
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