Eric Ericson’s World Of Esoteric Demonology

The occult mysteries of a sleazy pulp paperback – and its elusive author – explored.

When I was a kid, stretching into my mid-teens, paperback novels were sold everywhere – from newsagents to Boots the Chemist and Woolworth – and pulp horror was enjoying a golden age. If you were a kid into such things, then the horror and sci-fi sections of WH Smith positively groaned with the sort of novel that you can’t imagine even being published now, let alone stocked by major booksellers and respectable high street stores. It was the best of times and we had no need for ‘Young Adult Fiction’ back then – you went straight from children’s fiction to James Herbert and Guy N. Smith and were the better for it.

During this time, there were certain books that lodged themselves in the memory – not because you’d read them but because the covers were so lurid and provocative. These are the novels that you knew were strong stuff – too strong for a 13-year-old – and which you would furtively stare at while selecting that week’s purchase. Books like the 1973 printing of the pioneering Naziploitation novel House of Dolls (by ‘Ka-tzetnik 135633’), the 1970s Dennis Wheatley books with their naked cover girls – and the leeringly, unashamedly bluntly titled The Woman Who Slept with Demons. This latter book featured an image of a topless woman writhing in the flames of Hell and seemed particularly sordid. It would wink at me from the bookshelves, taunting me, daring me to pick it up or, better yet, buy it. I never did, of course, and as the pulp novels slowly vanished from the shelves in the mid-1980s the novel had already been long out of print. I soon forgot all about it for years – decades, in fact – until that very same paperback confronted me during a book search for something entirely unrelated. That search first took me to The Sorcerer, another novel by the same author and, well, you know how rabbit holes work. The time had come to fill a hole in my paperback collection that I had, until that point, been unaware even existed.

The Woman Who Slept with Demons is very much in the British pulp horror tradition, albeit with more pages than the standard Guy N. Smith fare of the time. It’s a ferocious read, clearly written to a deadline and awash with terrible dialogue and one-dimensional characters who spew exposition constantly. It’s the epic tale of Andrew Jarvis, a priapic country vet who falls under the spell of a woman who is one of The Apart – a group of people who have communed with The Other Ones across the dimensions and for whom the regular petty rules of humanity no longer apply. Jarvis is slowly drawn into this world and despite being the worst combination of moralising prig and randy sex maniac soon finds himself a member of The Apart.

The novel is both exhaustingly awful and compulsively addictive. Our hero is the sort of manly man who is often found in these books, graphically screwing his way through no end of women before finding himself under the control of Bianca, a snottily posh woman who he had initially rescued after finding her naked and covered in lacerations after a particularly vigorous night of demon-sex on a mysterious countryside hill. Jarvis is, to say the least, sex-mad and seems irresistible to all women. This leads to all sorts of increasingly dubious encounters that seem to be in competition to outdo the last in terms of outrageousness – the most unspeakable sees Jarvis screwing a 15-year-old girl who has been continually raped and impregnated by her own father; he then stabs the father to death in a fight. Lest you think that this is questionable behaviour for a book’s hero character to engage in, Ericson is at pains to reassure us that he only did these things under the malign occult influence of Bianca. So that’s alright then.

There isn’t a chapter that doesn’t feature explicitly described sex scenes and graphic violence and the whole thing has a sense of desperate urgency about it. I rather liked it in the way I like a lot of the British pulps of the period – it’s not, by any conventional standards, good, but does deliver no-nonsense sleaze with no pretence at being proper literature and is all the better for that. It’s a bit over-long – at 240 pages, it’s a good 100 or so pages longer than much of the pulp writing of the era and does rather run out of steam, wandering off on various tangents that don’t really lead anywhere. I can’t really say that the endless sexual interludes with every – and I mean every – female character in the novel are padding because they are probably the whole point of the story, but you do suspect that there is a tighter story buried amongst the endless references to “his standing part” and the reams of dialogue that bear no resemblance to words that any person would ever speak. I have no objection to gratuitous sex, but you have to think that if the hero was not so continually led by his penis, the story might be a little better.

For some odd reason, I’d assumed that Eric Ericson was an American – but the first page of the novel quickly put me right; even without any reference to time or place, this was immediately recognisable as the work of an English writer. You can just tell even before it gets into describing locations and as things develop, the book feels very much of its time and place.

My initial assumption was that The Woman Who Slept with Demons was a knock-off of The Succubus by Kenneth Rayner Johnson (written in 1977, published in the UK in 1980), which itself seemed to be a cash-in on the success of Ray Russell’s The Incubus. There are a lot of similarities between the two books – not narratively but in such superficial but notable aspects as page count and publisher – both were published by New English Library. But both books emerged in the UK around the same time and …Demons author Eric Ericson was already well into his very particular occult series by this time. Perhaps they were both influenced by Russell; perhaps erotic possession was just something in the air at the time. We might note that these books appeared around the same time as the film Dark Eyes/Satan’s Mistress, which has a very similar theme. You can tie yourself in circles trying to connect and disconnect these dots. The Succubus and its author, by the way, are a fascinating tale of cultural connections in itself and worthy of an article of its own.

Kenneth Rayner Johnson and Eric Ericson have something else in common. As well as writing lusty demonic novels, they also both authored non-fiction occult/paranormal books and had some claim to be experts in the field. Ericson’s book The World, The Flesh, The Devil: a Biographical Dictionary of Witches, published in 1981, pronounces him to be “an authority on the history and practice of witchcraft”. I don’t doubt it. There is enough in The Woman Who Slept with Demons to suggest a more than a passing knowledge of the occult (and of H.P. Lovecraft, for that matter).

The Woman Who Slept with Demons was compulsively awful enough for me to seek out more Ericson, and so I found myself ordering a copy of Ericson’s subsequent book The Master of the Temple, which would seem to have eschewed the sexual come-on of the earlier book’s cover and title, and instead came with the intriguingly bold claim that “a novel is not necessarily a work of fiction”, suggesting that some deeper occult knowledge would be found within its pages – all 422 of them. Would it, I wondered, be more of the same? I had certain suspicions about Ericson from the earlier book, suspicions that could only be confirmed or denied by reading a second novel. However, the forces of The Apart were clearly at work. My copy of the book vanished into a postal abyss, never to be seen again. Other available copies were a tad overpriced and so I decided again a second try. Similarly, attempts to buy his non-fiction book The World, The Flesh, The Devil: a Biographical Dictionary of Witches were scuppered by the vagaries of eBay bidding. I’m still in the market for these books and, should I ever obtain them, will report back accordingly.

Of course, the big question is: just who is Eric Ericson? Google is no help here. We can safely assume that he is not the actor of that name (born 1974), the ‘neo-Freudian psychologist’ Erik Erikson, the filmmaker Erik Paul Erikson, the Swedish choral teacher Eric Ericson or the Eric E. Ericson who authored A History of Tuberculosis From the Time of Sylvius to the Present Day. In fact, the only references you’ll find to Ericson will be in connection to the novels themselves – people selling them, people rating them on Goodreads or people posting aghast reviews on pulp sites like Vault of Evil. The author seems to have arrived out of nowhere and headed back there very quickly. Given that his books are published by New English Library – very much a guarantee of quality at the time – there is a fair chance that ‘Eric Ericson’ is a pseudonym. But for who exactly remains a mystery. His books feel too chunky for some of the usual British suspects – over 400 pages and copious notes! – and there’s a certain obsessive similarity in the three that suggests a very singular mind at work. Perhaps that really was his name and he burned out his need to write sex-obsessed occult horror stories. Perhaps his books really were based on real-life incidents and he came to a sticky end in the murky Satanic circles that he describes so vividly. Who – apart from ‘Eric Ericson’ – knows? I very much hope that if he’s still alive, he reads this and gets in touch.

Pulp fiction publishing is awash with writers who came, ground out a handful of novels and then went without making much of an impact. Pinning them down is almost impossible, as records vanish, people die and no one recalls who anyone was. Ericson’s books have not, to the best of my knowledge, been reprinted since their initial appearance and exactly who owns them may well be a puzzle that will never be solved (again: prove me wrong, internet). These works are now as mysterious as the secret occult tomes referenced in them. Perhaps that is for the best – who wants the truth to be revealed when the truth might not be what you want to believe? I remember the skinheads on a BBC documentary talking about how Richard Allen must have been one of them, thanks to his insider knowledge; in reality, he was middle-aged Canadian writer James Moffat, who ground out hundreds of pulps on every imaginable subject using a variety of pseudonyms. Were they impressed or disappointed to discover this, I often wondered. Ericson’s knowledge of the occult suggests a practitioner with a taste for lurid fiction, but might just as easily be someone who read a few witchcraft books – not exactly rare in the 1970s – and cribbed ideas from them.

Would I recommend The Woman Who Slept with Demons? Well… that depends on your taste for pulp writing and, just as importantly, your tolerance for outrageous porn writing. If you enjoy the early works of Guy N. Smith or James Herbert, you might find amusing – though even those writers might have thought that Ericson was going a bit too far at times. Still, it depresses me that books like this no longer exist – or if they do, are now so niche as to be almost invisible. The Woman Who Slept with Demons was a mainstay of the horror sections of popular bookshops and that seems impossible now. While the grindhouse movies of the 1970s have been regularly re-released in fancy special editions, many of their literary equivalents have effectively vanished. Regardless of their individual qualities, that’s something we should all be sorry about.


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  1. Ericson was I believe a pseudonym used by Eric Towers, author of a 1986 biography of Francis Dashwood. He was something in advertising, if I remember correctly, and was an early participant in ‘The Society’, an esoteric discussion group that met upstairs at the Plough near the British Museum in the ’80s. He’s mentioned in this context in an obituary of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke here:

    ‘Master of the Temple’ is not a bad read, notable for the improbable collision of the worlds of biscuit manufacture and international sex-magick societies. It’s worth seeking out.

    1. Confirmation and some supplementary information. Eric Priestley Towers (1925–2006) wrote novels under the pseudonyms Roderick Milton, Eric Ericson and Tony Caxton, according to a biographical file deposited at Leicestershire Record Office in 2007 with his Dashwood research material.

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