In honor of Halloween, I decided to present an essay on the Darkhold, the most evil book of black magic in the Marvel Universe. This essay is adapted from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Update ’89, and has been extensively revised and corrected to reflect the research I did untangling the book’s history for my previous Werewolf Chronology. As usual, we here reference only the Darkhold that existed in the Original Marvel Universe. Any subsequent appearances of the tome are considered non-canonical for my purposes. Kudos to Peter Sanderson and the staff of the OHotMU for writing the original version so many years ago. Here, at last, is the Darkhold’s true history.
The Book of the Darkhold is a volume of parchments, transcribed eons ago by the demonic Elder God Chthon, containing all of the arcane knowledge that he had amassed through the millions of years he spent learning to control the dark mystic forces of the cosmos. Chthon was one of the major Elder Gods created by the Demiurge as the first life forms on Earth. When the wars among the Elder Gods threatened the evolution of the world’s organic life, the Elder Goddess Gaea gave birth to the first second-generation god, Atum. In the monstrous form of the Demogorge, Atum destroyed nearly all of the Elder Gods, who had degenerated into demons. To protect himself, Chthon decided to flee into another dimension. Before doing so, he created the Darkhold, transcribing his mystical knowledge onto a parchment scroll, to serve as his touchstone with the earthly plane. Chthon managed to escape into a nether realm before Demogorge could slay him, knowing that, when the Darkhold passed into the hands of intelligent beings at some later date, he would have an indestructible medium through which to manipulate mortal pawns, as well as a talisman that could one day be turned into a dimensional portal for his return to Earth.
Since Chthon wrote the Darkhold long before human beings evolved on Earth, it was not written in any human language. Presumably, Chthon imbued the parchment with magic that would enable any sentient being with mystic potential to see the Darkhold as written in a language he or she could comprehend. However, any mortal who reads the Darkhold risks becoming corrupted by it and even becoming the slave of Chthon himself. Only mystics of great skill and will power, such as Doctor Strange, Earth’s current sorcerer supreme, and men of deep and strong religious faith, such as the members of the Montesi family, have proved to be able to resist being corrupted or mentally dominated by the book.
The Darkhold scroll was first discovered by human sorcerers of pre-cataclysmic Atlantis, who then founded a cult known today as the Darkholders. Seeking vengeance on their enemy, King Kull of Valusia, the Darkholders used the spells contained in the scroll to create the first vampires. A dying cult member, Varnæ, volunteered to be the test subject for this spell and thus became the very first vampire on Earth. However, Varnæ and the other vampires turned against the Darkholders, slaying most of them. The surviving members of the cult eventually pursued their undead creations to the Thurian Continent, the landmass now known as Eurasia, hoping to hunt them down and destroy them. To frustrate Varnæ’s attempts to seize the Darkhold for himself, the cult split the parchment into a number of smaller scrolls.
About five hundred years later, the world was rocked by the Great Cataclysm, during which Atlantis sank beneath the sea and the nations of the Thurian Continent were devastated. Varnæ survived by placing himself in a state of suspended animation within a blood-filled sarcophagus. Most of the rest of the vampires, along with the Darkholders who hunted them, were wiped out, and the Darkhold scrolls were lost. After eight millennia, Varnæ was finally revived and found himself in the Hyborian Age. Through sorcerous means, he learned that one of the Darkhold scrolls had been discovered by some soldiers not far away and arranged to have it brought to him. However, Varnæ was opposed by three wandering mercenaries, Conan the Cimmerian, Red Sonja of the Hyrkanian Steppes, and Zula, last of the Zamballah tribe. They managed to intercept the soldiers and take possession of the scroll. Zula then read one of the spells to drive Varnæ off. For some time afterwards, Zula kept the scroll, occasionally using its power to oppose evil wizards such as Thugra Khotan and Totrasmek, though he imperiled his soul by doing so.
Being indestructible, the Darkhold scrolls survived the cataclysm that ended the Hyborian Age and fell through a succession of hands over the following millennia, including those of Babylonian savants, Egyptian priests, and Hebrew scholars.
In the sixth century AD, the scrolls found their way to Britain, where the sorceress Morgan Le Fay had them bound into book form for the first time. It was at this time that the work was first named the Darkhold. Morgan used the book to summon Chthon back to Earth for the first time, but she quickly discovered that Chthon was too powerful to be compelled to do her bidding. It took the full sorcerous might of the great wizard Merlin, working with Morgan and her new band of Darkholders, to repel Chthon from the mortal plane. A renegade Darkholder named Magnus then stole the Darkhold, placed it in a tower, and wove an intricate spell whereby no one of evil intent could enter. Merlin called upon the early Christian Church to put an end to the menace of the Darkhold. The Church sent St. Brendan, a monk skilled in white magic, to the tower. An apprentice sorcerer named Modred misguidedly entered the tower and had his soul corrupted by Chthon. However, Brendan intervened, using white magic to seal the Darkhold in a mystic globe. He then entombed Modred, who remained in mystical suspended animation until recent years. Brendan tore apart the Darkhold and scattered its indestructible parchments throughout Europe in the hope that no one would ever reassemble them.
However, in the middle of the 12th century, a corrupt Spanish monk named Ælfric gathered together most of the scattered pages of the Darkhold. Ælfric was burned at the stake for heresy, and the Church took possession of the Darkhold parchments he had collected. They were given into the keeping of Paolo Montesi, a young priest appointed by Pope Eugene III to be curator of the Church’s library of the occult in Rome. To prevent anyone from falling under Chthon’s power, Pope Eugene decreed that Montesi, who had proved able to resist the Darkhold’s evil influence, would be the only priest authorized to handle the Darkhold parchments. Furthermore, the Pope gave Montesi a special dispensation permitting him to marry and sire children, whom he would train to eventually take over his work as custodian of the Darkhold. Pope Eugene also had the parchments re-bound into a single volume, which was officially named the Book of Sins.
Varnæ, still the leader of Earth’s vampires, knew that the Church sought a means of exterminating the undead and that the Darkhold would provide the means to accomplish this task. Hence, Varnæ and a host of vampires invaded Rome, seeking to kill Paolo Montesi and steal the Darkhold. The vampires were driven off, but Varnæ succeeded in murdering Montesi. By this time, though, Montesi’s infant son, Giacomo, had been born, and years later he took over his father’s work as custodian of the Darkhold. It was Giacomo who translated most of the Darkhold into Latin. Most sorcerers since then who have used spells from the Darkhold have derived them from this Latin translation. Also, Giacomo discovered that the spell to destroy vampires was contained in one of the Darkhold parchments missing from the Church’s collection.
In the mid-15th century, Varnæ perished and Dracula became ruler of Earth’s vampires. Shortly afterwards, Dracula learned of the Darkhold and that it threatened the existence of all vampires. He forced the gypsy thief Murgo to steal the Darkhold from the Vatican Library in Rome. Murgo obtained the volume containing the original parchments but the Latin translation was left behind. However, the sorcerer Cagliostro, king of the gypsies, murdered Murgo and took the Darkhold for himself.
For over four hundred years, neither Dracula nor the Montesis could locate the Darkhold. There was a rumor that in the mid-19th century it was in the possession of the British vampire Lord Ruthven, who spent much of his time in the Greek Isles. At some point, it then came into the possession of the Indian sorcerer Taboo, who managed to procure the last remaining pages and finally reassemble the complete text. In the process, he had to have the volume disbound and put back into scroll form.
In Constantinople shortly after World War I, Taboo sold the Darkhold scrolls to the occult scholar Baron Gregor Russoff of Transylvania, who had them once again bound into book form. Russoff copied most of the Darkhold’s text into the diary in which he recorded his mystical experiences. However, possession of the Darkhold triggered Russoff’s hereditary curse of lycanthropy and turned him into a werewolf.
Leaving the original Darkhold in his ancestral castle, Russoff brought the copy in his diary close to where the earthly essence of its demonic author had been imprisoned, Wundagore Mountain in Transia, when he and his wife took up residence there. After the High Evolutionary’s Citadel of Science was constructed on the site, Russoff agreed to live there in hopes that a cure for lycanthropy could be found.
About a decade afterwards, the sorcerer Taboo planned to change his son Algon into a superhuman warrior using the Spell of Changes contained in the Darkhold. Thus, the pair journeyed to Castle Russoff in Transylvania to make use of the book. Through means of black magic, Taboo drove from the castle its occupant, Baron Gregory Russoff, the son of Gregor. After locating the original Darkhold in the castle’s library, Taboo prepared Algon for his transformation and began to recite the spell. However, Gregory Russoff had rounded up a mob of villagers to retake the castle. They succeeded in smashing down the door and storming the chamber where Taboo was at work. Encumbered by Algon’s now-comatose body, Taboo barely managed to escape capture. Picking through the ransacked room, Gregory Russoff found the Darkhold and became intrigued by it. He began to study the ancient tome, and soon succumbed to its evil power. Like his father before him, Gregory’s reading of the text triggered his familial curse and transformed him into a werewolf. A few years later, Gregory was shot by a mob of villagers using silver bullets and killed. The Darkhold was then shipped to his widow, Laura, who had moved to the United States, and put into storage along with most of his other possessions.
Meanwhile, on Wundagore Mountain, Gregor Russoff came to believe that Chthon would free him from the curse of being a werewolf, and so he used the Darkhold spells in his diary to try to bring Chthon back to Earth. However, the High Evolutionary, his Knights of Wundagore, and the ghost of Magnus fought Chthon. When Magnus forced Russoff to use the Darkhold spells to banish Chthon back to his nether realm, Chthon struck Russoff dead. Dracula, who had suspected Russoff owned the Darkhold and had observed these events, planned to seize the book himself. However, unbeknownst to him, the diary was returned to Russoff’s widow Maria, who carried it back with her to Transylvania, where it was shelved in the library at Russoff Manor.
Some fifteen years later, Laura Russoff’s second husband sold the Russoff estate, including the original Darkhold, to an American named Miles Blackgar. Gregory’s son Jacob, known in America as Jack Russell, had inherited his father’s lycanthropic curse and stole the Darkhold back, believing it contained a spell for curing him. Jack Russell then lent the Darkhold to Father Ramon Joquez, a Catholic priest, in the hope that he could find and decipher this spell. But due to weaknesses in Joquez’s religious faith, he became possessed by the spirit of Ælfric, which had been trapped within the Darkhold. Ælfric was defeated by the Jack Russell werewolf, and Joquez, mortally wounded in the battle, died. Afterwards, Russell was unable to find the Darkhold and assumed it had been destroyed.
Some months after, Jack Russell and his girlfriend Topaz traveled to Transylvania, where they discovered the Russoff Diary. However, Dracula stole the diary from them, only to have it taken from him in turn by the vampire hunter Rachel van Helsing. Dracula recovered the book, which he called the Second Book of Sins, but threw it into the snows of a remote peak in the Alps, believing no one would ever find it.
However, the voluminous notes that Joquez had made while working with the original Darkhold were sent to Monsignor Giuseppe Montesi at the Vatican. Joquez’s notes included a transcription of the long-sought spell for the destruction of vampires, which has since become known as the Montesi Formula. Dracula learned of Montesi’s discovery, however, and slew him. Giuseppe was succeeded by his brother, Vittorio, who remains curator of the Vatican’s occult library to this day.
The original Darkhold had not been destroyed but was instead brought to Wundagore Mountain by unknown means, where it fell into the hands of Modred the Mystic, who had recently been released from suspended animation. Modred then captured the mutant superhero known as the Scarlet Witch, who had been born there in the Citadel of Science during the battle between Chthon and the Knights of Wundagore. Chthon then took demonic possession of the Scarlet Witch, but her teammates in the Avengers managed to free her and re-imprison Chthon’s earthly essence in Wundagore Mountain. The Avengers took the Darkhold with them back to Avengers Mansion in New York City.
Later, a modern cult of Darkholders used their magic to increase Dracula’s powers. Dracula attempted to steal the Darkhold from Avengers Mansion, but Doctor Strange teleported it to Castle Mordo in Transylvania. There, Strange and his allies—Blade, Frank Drake, and the vampire Hannibal King—used the Darkhold’s Montesi Formula to finally destroy Dracula and all other vampires on Earth (save for King, who was returned to normal human life) and to create a spell by which vampires could no longer exist in Earth’s dimension. Due to his vast power and mastery of the occult, Stephen Strange is the only person ever to use the Darkhold physically in casting spells without forfeiting his soul to Chthon.
Doctor Strange then kept the Darkhold in his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village. At one point, the entire house was stolen and removed to the planet Gevaltu by the alien sorcerer Urthona. Following a battle with Strange, Urthona used the Darkhold to teleport himself magically to a place of safety, taking the book with him. However, several months later, Strange discovered the Darkhold among other mystical talismans that Agamotto had collected in his own realm to prevent them from being destroyed during the fight against Urthona. Agamotto permitted Strange to take the books and other talismans back to the Sanctum Sanctorum, as long as he promised to take better care of them in the future.
First Appearance: Marvel Spotlight #4
Final Appearance: Doctor Strange v.3 #8
When Dracula killed Giuseppe Montesi in the Vatican Library, he also destroyed the copy of the Montesi Formula that had been transcribed by Father Joquez. However, Montesi had already made photocopies of all Joquez’s notes, put them into an elaborate binder, and shipped them to Quincy Harker in England. Realizing the danger of possessing a copy of the Darkhold’s spells, Harker’s associate Rachel van Helsing placed it in a high-security vault within Pendrammon Castle in Cornwall, a site that was anathema to vampires. Some years later, Dracula’s daughter Lilith used the X-Men in a scheme to seize the binder and use the Montesi Formula to destroy her father. Her gambit was unsuccessful, and the photocopies were destroyed when Pendrammon Castle crumbled into the sea.
The Montesi Formula would not automatically destroy every vampire on Earth, or Lilith would have been committing suicide by reading it. Rather, as Giuseppe Montesi realized, the “short form” of the spell could be used to destroy a single vampire, whereas the “long form” of the spell cast by Doctor Strange annihilated all vampires. Only a sorcerer with the requisite skill could successfully cast the “long form” of the spell, and even then, anyone less than the Sorcerer Supreme would in so doing sacrifice his or her soul to Chthon.
Chthon was one of the Elder Gods of Earth and as such was very much bound to this planet, despite his immeasurable occult knowledge. By the same token, Earth was the focal point of Chthon’s mystical sphere of influence. When the Darkhold was taken to the far-distant planet of Gevaltu, it was so far beyond Chthon’s sphere of influence that the power of its spells would have been reduced to negligible levels. Much to Urthona’s disappointment, he would have found the infamous Darkhold had become just another book of spells. Presumably, the frustrated Urthona then tried to use magic to incinerate the Darkhold, causing it to be caught up in Agamotto’s spell of vanishment. Thinking the book destroyed, Urthona remained unaware that Doctor Strange had retrieved it from Agamotto’s dimension along with the other talismans.
It is worth noting that, from the outside, the Darkhold would not appear to be particularly ancient, since its current binding (cover) dates back only to the early 20th century.
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