Evan Morgan was less than a fortnight away from his 24th birthday when he arrived in Rome in July of 1917. His birthday fell on the thirteenth of the month; he shared it with Julius Caesar, but also with one of his personal heroes: the notorious sixteenth-century English alchemist and occultist, John Dee. In the back room of a Glasgow antiquarian book store one year beforehand, Morgan had gotten himself a copy of the extremely rare codex called the Book of Soyga, one of John Dee’s primary resources for his occult work. He had gotten the book from a woman named Myriam MacKellar. Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua met them both. From his interview:
CGB: When I went to Rome, I stayed in a small but elegant hotel in the old Borgo district, on a cobblestone avenue. Did you know, much of the Borgo was torn down a few years later, by Il Duce? The hotel is now gone; a victim of Mussolini. But it was a lovely building: four tall brown-brick stories. The outside was mildewed and dreary, with moss and vines, but inside it was pleasant. High ceilings, marble floors, potted plants, crisp white linens. When I arrived there on my first day, I opened up the windows and breathed in the Roman summer air. It was wonderful. I was a young man in the eternal city, about to undertake a two-week study at the Vatican. The world seemed full of promise.
It was a week or so later when I met the strange guests who were staying on the second floor. It was late afternoon. I had finished up my class with Monsignor Gallo and—oh yes, I almost forgot to mention something. My roommate, Falchi, who was supposed to be taking the class with me: well, he suddenly stopped showing up. He had been there for the first three or four days, and then he just disappeared all of a sudden. It didn’t bother me, though. I had already grown sick of him after a whole year back at the seminary. I thought to myself, “let that devil go and do whatever he wants. The less I see of him, the better.” I assumed he had gone off and lost himself among the lowest of the classes in the most degraded parts of the city, to do some carousing and probably worse. Good riddance! Even if I had wanted to get in contact with him, I had no idea where he was staying. He did not come from a well-off family, I don’t think. He was staying at some cheap place. He’d told me the name, but I’d promptly forgotten it. Why would I want to get in touch with that creep anyway? He was a terrible roommate.
RM: You mentioned some strange guests.
CGB: Yes. As I was saying: this was in the afternoon, after I had finished my studies with Monsignor Gallo. I was hungry, and there was a little café off the hotel lobby. So there I was, you see, having my tea and biscotti, when I noticed someone staring at me from a table nearby. Lo and behold, it was Falchi. He was sitting with five well-dressed people, conversing in English from what I could hear. I gave him the slightest of nods. Just the tiniest acknowledgement of his presence. I did not care to find out what he was up to, or why he was at my hotel with these people. But he smiled at me. He said, “come over here and join us, little man.” I hated that: whenever he called me “little man.” He knew it got on my nerves.
One of Falchi’s companions cut a very imposing figure. He was a tall, skinny, slim-shouldered, and pale man, with bird-like features and icy eyes. I did not care for him—not even to look at him. There was no warmth about him, you see. He seemed like a cruel, cold, and inscrutable personality. But this man asked Falchi, “who is your friend?” And Falchi explained that I was his roommate at seminary. Then a middle-aged woman who was with them spoke up. She was prim and corpse-like: with taut, wrinkled, leathery skin. Her hair was bobbed and dyed. She had a pinched, skeletal face, and wore too much makeup. But her manner was gregarious. She had this high-pitched, keening, sing-song voice. She was full of affectation. The word you Americans would use is “phony.”
RM: I’m Canadian, but I take your meaning.
CGB: You told me you were from Massachusetts.
At this point in the transcript, the interview veers off-topic. Roger Morgan explains his Canadian citizenship, having been born in Toronto, and then his marriage in 1970 to an American woman, and thus his sixteen-year period of current residency in the United States. Gagne-Bevilacqua then recalls his own time spent in America, visiting an aunt and uncle on his mother’s side who had settled in the town of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. I have omitted this material, as it is irrelevant. Finally they returned to the topic of the woman with the “pinched, skeletal face” who wore an excess of makeup:
CGB: I remember she was constantly smoking, waving around this long wand of a cigarette holder while she spoke, making grandiose gestures. She lowered her eyes at me and said, “oh yes, darling, you must come and join us.” Do you know what I mean? How some people talk like this?
RM: I do. It’s common among upper crust matriarchs in New England.
CGB: “Darling.” How I detest such insincerity! I did join them, though. This woman introduced herself as Myriam. I should also mention, there was a beautiful young girl at their table, about the same age as me and Falchi. I learned her name was Lorraine. She was a quarter-caste Afro-Caribbean girl. Her father, I was informed, was the illegitimate son of an English baron and a mother from Saint Vincent. They told me so right in front of her. But this Lorraine never said a word. She was mute the whole time, serene and collected. I could tell she wasn’t deaf, though. She was attentive, following everything with her calm and dispassionate eyes. She seemed to be aloof from it all. She had amazing eyes and thick, jet black hair. She was dressed very conservatively, I noticed. Almost too conservatively. It was the middle of summer, but she wore tweeds and long sleeves. Her collar was high and constrictive; it covered her entire neck. She had gloves on her hands. The whole party was very odd: this beautiful young girl, this haughty affected woman, and the tall, off-putting man.
There were also two other men. Nondescript men; perhaps they were in their thirties or forties. One of them had a mustache. They didn’t say much at all, these men, but they would laugh at things the middle-aged woman said, and mutter flatteries at her. For some reason they seemed to find her intelligent and witty. I don’t remember the names of these two. But the girl was called Lorraine; the woman was named Myriam MacKellar; and the younger man was named Evan Morgan. I did not sit with them for long—just long enough to make our introductions and some pointless chit-chat. They were staying on the second floor of the hotel; my own room was on the fourth. As I was excusing myself, Myriam pointed out that Evan had a birthday coming up in a few days. I bowed politely and I told him: “happy birthday to you in advance.” He thanked me in a cold tone. And then I headed back to my room.
But Falchi followed after me. He was very pleased to have made these new friends. He was elated, I could tell. I suppose he wanted to contain himself in their presence, but now that he was with me, he wanted to gush out all his excitement. I allowed him to sit with me in my lodgings for a short time. I hoped he wouldn’t stay long. I asked him what he was doing with the group down in the café. He told me these were the most religious people he’d ever met. “Falchi,” I said, “you have been at seminary for almost the past whole year, and yet this odd group of Britons are suddenly the most religious people you’ve ever met?” He said yes. He said they were members of a religion that went deeper than he could ever have possibly imagined.
RM: Which religion was this?
Prompted to answer, Gagne-Bevilacqua found himself unable to say, precisely. Eventually he hazarded his best guess: “I suppose it does not have a formal name. But it was clearly that same religion of darkness which has sprouted up in different forms over the centuries like persistent weeds: the Gnostics, the Bogomils, the Manicheans—and all of those other strange religions that ooze out of the miasma of the east. It takes on different names and assumes different forms, but it all originates from the same diabolical source. It does not surprise me that Islam spread like a virus across Persia and India. Mohammedans worship a demon called Mahound, you see, and those people of Central Asia had been worshiping various devils since almost the earliest days after Noah. Falchi and his friends seemed to have borrowed from all of these eastern cults: they were practicing some sort of demonic syncretism. I suppose that’s what the occult is, is it not? The most nefarious aspects of all the false cults, cobbled together into one.”
He then related how Falchi informed him of Morgan’s prowess as an occult magician, and his association with Aleister Crowley. He also told of how Morgan had met Myriam MacKellar. Apparently she had placed a cipher puzzle in the classified section of The Times (of London), containing clues requiring an adept’s knowledge of the Zohar, the Rig Veda, the Corpus Hermeticum, and various other books of iniquity. Her idea was that if anyone was able to correctly decode the cipher, they must surely be a person accomplished enough to borrow or buy her cherished copy of the Book of Soyga, one of the rarest and most sought-after occult manuscripts.
Mere approximations: “a beautiful quarter-caste Afro-Caribbean girl named Lorraine,” and an esoteric cryptograph published in the back of a newspaper.
Morgan solved the cipher: it promised him the long-lost manuscript, and it offered the contact information for its owner. He traveled to Glasgow to meet her; their friendship blossomed instantly. Myriam MacKellar saw in him a genuine prodigy, and he considered her a mentor even greater than Crowley. She especially impressed him by telling a story which revealed who Jack the Ripper was. Together they decided to undertake a long-term project known as an “Aldaraian spiritual operation.” Morgan told her he had received “supernatural messages” from “a great deity.” They decided to use a series of rites from the Book of Soyga to contact this deity. From the transcript:
CGB: It was the twelfth of July, I remember, a Thursday, our last day of classes with Msgr. Gallo. Falchi had completely dropped out, as I told you. He never returned after those first few days. So anyway, our seminar was over, and we said our good-byes thanked the monsignor. Afterwards a few of us seminarians went out to dinner. It was one of those long endless conversational dinners—you know how it is, I’m sure, Mr. Morgan, when you’re young and you think you have all these great ideas worth debating for hours and hours, but in truth you’re full of nonsense, and only age and experience can give you wisdom. Well, we were young. We debated our philosophies all evening. We ate our meal, and then we ordered some more wine, and then we had dessert, and then coffee, and then we ordered cognac, and all the while we kept on debating. I, of course, was arguing for Stoicism. Most of the others were Thomists. There was one fellow who was unabashedly liberal and progressive. He was a modernist, but I don’t think he even realized it. We all asked him, “how are you going to swear the Oath Against Modernism at your ordination?” He took offense to that. He was convinced he was orthodox.
RM: Pardon me, Signore. But you were saying about Falchi and Morgan and the Book of Soyga …
CGB: Yes, well. Okay: it was past eleven o’clock by the time we finally wrapped it up. I went back to my hotel. As I was ascending the stairs from the lobby, I saw a bizarre group of people coming down. It was the English group, and with them was Falchi. But they were dressed like Benedectine monks: with long black robes, and hoods pulled over their heads. They were silent and solemn. I let them pass without a word. There was something unsettling about their procession. I noticed the two men with them; they had instrument cases strapped to their backs. Then I saw Falchi bringing up the rear, and I put my arm on his to stop him. “Falchi,” I whispered, “what’s going on?” He looked at me intently. He said, “this is the concluding rite of the Aldaraian spiritual operation I told you about. The thirteenth commences at midnight. It’ll be Evan’s birthday, and the anniversary of the birthday of John Dee, the magician who discovered this secret rite in the Book of Soyga.” Falchi was holding the book in his hands. It was a thick, dusty, worm-eaten, leather-bound thing. It really did look about a thousand years old.
His companions were waiting for him at the bottom of the steps. Myriam, the woman, looked up at us. Her taut face looked repulsive beneath the cover of her hood. In her affected tone of voice she asked, “will your friend be joining us, Alessandro?” Falchi looked at me. Unfortunately, I was still a small bit tipsy from the drinks I’d had at dinner. And I confess, I was inquisitive as to what these people were up to. It’s true, they were off-putting and strange, but at the same time I couldn’t help my curiosity. I was like a kitten confronting a crab. I couldn’t help myself; I had to stick my nose in closer to investigate. I was young, remember. And also there was the captivating girl, Lorraine. Unlike Myriam, she looked beautiful beneath her hood. Her face, half-shrouded in shadow, was full of mystery and the unknown. So I followed Falchi as he continued down the stairs. It was the gravest mistake of my life.
RM: What happened next?
CGB: I followed them down a hallway which was off-limits to guests. But no one spied us. We arrived at a door to the basement. It was padlocked, but one of the two nameless men picked the lock with a skewer. And we went down among the dust and the cobwebs. Our way was lit by a lantern Evan Morgan was carrying. We went through the hotel’s cellar, past their broken furniture and racks of wine, and came to a square wooden door, also padlocked.
At this point, Gagne-Bevilacqua relates (with some tedium) a labyrinthine journey through underground Rome. The group eventually arrived in a large, cavernous room of ancient clay bricks with a vaulted ceiling. In the center of this room stood a monolithic rectangular structure, about eight feet high and two feet wide. It was draped in a crimson sheet. Some of the clay bricks which had fallen from the walls had been used to erect four short pillars around the monolith, each one about three fee high. Atop each pillar sat a dozen or so white votive candles, which Evan Morgan and Alessandro Falchi proceeded to light. Meanwhile the two “nondescript men” removed their instruments from their backpacks: one had a small hand-pumped harmonium; the other one had, according to Gagne-Bevilacqua, “the peculiar Indian lute that plays only a drone, which I think is called a sitar.” (Research indicates that this may actually have been a tampoura).
When the candles were lit and the musicians were seated, the other four members of the party removed their black robes. Morgan and Falchi were wearing finely-tailored double-breasted dark suits beneath theirs. The women, Myriam and Lorraine, were wearing short, coarse, crudely-woven gray tunics. Gagne-Bevilacqua describes the spindly wrinkled legs and arms of Myriam MacKellar as rendering her “resembling nothing so much as a plucked chicken,” whereas Lorraine’s shapely limbs, he noticed, were covered in an elaborate network of tattoos of a runic and hieroglyphic nature. These tattoos, he reckoned, were the reason for her conservative mode of dress when he first met her in the café—even her neck, hands, and feet were covered in the intricate scripts and designs. And then the odd ceremony commenced.
The musicians began playing a mournful drone. And Lorraine began singing: an unearthly, wordless, monosyllabic moan that filled the whole cavern. There was something almost trance-like and haunting in Lorraine’s resonant thrum, according to Gagne-Bevilacqua, but then Myriam MacKellar began accompanying her with occasional high-pitched shrieks, which the observer described as “abrasive and hellish.” Meanwhile Morgan and Falchi began making a series of versicle-and-response chants which they read out of the Book of Soyga, in a language which sounded as if it should never be uttered aloud. “It all amounted to a terrible cacophony,” said Gagne-Bevilacqua, “but nevertheless I could tell what was being done. It was obvious what all of this was. All of these sounds and words were being addressed to someone, or something. The whole ceremony was an orison—a prayer, a summons, an invocation. I shuddered to think of whatever entity would be pleased with this awful sort of praise. It went on for what seemed like an eternity, but I was frozen in place. I began to wonder to myself, ‘am I in hell?’ Finally, the whole cavern reverberated with the ringing of church bells from a tower somewhere above. It was midnight.”
At the chiming of the hour, the hideous liturgy drew to a close. A heavy silence lay like a fog in the vaulted chamber. Morgan then spoke something aloud in the ancient language he had been chanting in; Falchi stepped forward and pulled the crimson sheet from the tall structure they were gathered around. Beneath it was an old and crumbling stone sarcophagus with runes carved into it, stood up on its feet. According to Gagne-Bevilacqua, there were three different scripts represented. The first was Hebrew, which he recognized immediately. Years later, he would come across Sanskrit, and be reminded that it had been the second text on the sarcophagus. The third, he said, he was “unable to identify, even to this day.” Morgan and Falchi then began to push the lid aside. “I knew I had to leave,” Gagne-Bevilacqua recalled. From the transcript:
CGB: I had seen and heard enough already. Whatever lay behind that stone slab, I knew it was something I did not want to see. I knew it was something no human should ever behold. But still I remained frozen, anchored in place. And then the slab was removed, and I saw it.
RM: What was it?
CGB: The most awful thing. You would not believe me.
RM: At least give me the chance.
CGB: Very well. This is what it was: it was the head of a monkey on the torso of a man. With six arms. And then the legs of a monkey. The skin of the human torso was covered with a chalky, pale-green, glowing substance, like phosphorescence. It was the most sickening and unnatural thing I have ever looked upon.
The creature was Hanuman, a god from the pantheon of the Hindus. This was the “great deity” from whom Evan Morgan had been receiving “supernatural messages.” (Later in the course of their interviews, Gagne-Bevilacqua would tell of Alessandro Falchi’s continued devotion to Hanuman—a devotion which persisted all the way to his death). Gagne-Bevilacqua did not stay in the underground chamber much longer. He told of how he watched as Lorraine, in her bare feet, gingerly approached the monkey-human chimera, and how it reached out one of its lower arms and slowly anointed her forehead with its thumb, leaving a mark of greenish paste. The demon then climbed, like a spider with its eight limbs, to the top of the sarcophagus, and from its perch surveyed its small crowd of adorers. It noticed Gagne-Bevilacqua standing off from afar, and it fixed its piercing gaze upon him. Gagne-Bevilacqua looked into its eyes: “it was like I was looking,” he said, “into the apertures of hell.” And that, finally, was enough to make him leave. He turned around and groped his way through the maze of darkness in desperation, until he clambered up the basement steps into the hotel. He stuffed his things into his trunk in haste and left the hotel, camping out on a bench at the train station until he could get the next train—any train—heading north.
Returning to the seminary the following afternoon, he cleaned out his side of his dormitory room. He had already realized the priesthood was not his vocation, but that day he decided to make his break immediately. He cabled his family to send a car and packed up his books and belongings. “I noticed,” he said, “that Falchi’s tarantula had died. I suppose he neglected to ask anyone to feed it while he was away in Rome. I felt a small tinge of pity for the ugly thing. It was turned over on its back with its legs curled up into its belly. And I did a strange thing then. I suppose I wanted to occupy myself with anything I could, rather than having my mind remember the awful sights of the night before. So I took the dead tarantula outside and dug a little hole in the ground and buried it, like a child giving a funeral for a pet. That is how I spent my afternoon of the thirteenth of July in 1917. It was not until a few years later that I came to realize a certain coincidence: it was the very same day on which the children at Fatima were given a vision of hell. I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania, a very pious couple as I already told you, and the only things they had for reading were pieces of religious literature. I was casually reading a pamphlet on Fatima when I came to Sister Lucia’s description of the vision of hell—and it contained a line that made me sit up and take notice. ‘The demons were distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals.’ I shuddered at reading this. My recollections of that horrible night flooded back to me. I do not think it was mere chance that on the same day Evan Morgan summoned up a demon with an animal likeness, Our Lady made her visionaries aware of the corporeal forms of demons. My faith had grown lukewarm after I left the seminary, but when I read about Fatima that day, it was rekindled. That very same evening, I went down to the nearest church and sought out the priest there and made a confession. I had seen first-hand the forces of darkness at work in the world—I had witnessed it that night beneath Rome. But that Fatima pamphlet, you see, it reminded me of the forces of light. After my confession, I knelt in the church beneath the statue of Our Lady, and I prayed the Hail Mary and I prayed the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. I remembered a passage from Ephesians, the one about putting on the armor of god and taking up the shield of faith, for the devil comes with fiery arrows. When I walked out of the church that evening, I was a changed man.”
The child seers of Fatima, 1917: Lucia Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto. “Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”