The INKLINGS - Charles Williams (1886-1945)

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Helpful Notes:


Our goal is to equip you to recognize today's popular forms of spiritual counterfeits, so that you won't be deceived by the flood of occult suggestions flowing into many churches today. But remember, the best defense against deception is love of God's Word. Those who know His Truth and put on His Armor, will share in His victory.  

     1.  C. S. Lewis called Charles Williams, a man whose mind was steeped in occult rituals and demonic forces, "his dearest friend." This close friendship made an impact on Lewis and his writings -- especially on fantasies such as That Hideous Strength

     2.  The second part below, "Excerpts from The Inklings," shows the dark nature of Charles Williams' beliefs and writings. Some of you may prefer to skip it.

     3.  Our comments are bracketed, italicized, and colored green.

     4.  The British spelling used here is slightly different from U.S. spelling.


Home  -  C. S. Lewis Index: How mysticism & the occult are changing the Church


From The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs (HarperCollins, 2005) pages 196-198.

"Perhaps the most interesting person among the Inklings was one of the temporary members of the party: Charles Williams, an odd and charismatic man.... He wrote plays, poems short and long (including a sequence based in Arthurian legend), works of literary criticism, and theological treatises, but Williams was chiefly known for his novels.... Often referred to as 'supernatural thrillers,' they include... Black Masses, magical Tarot Cards, the crown of King Solomon, an Antichrist, and dead people who can speak with the living [i.e. necromancy].

       "A reader of Williams’ biography is likely to come to the conclusion that he was rather creepy. His 'romantic theology'—which understands erotic love not so much as a path or ladder to the love of God but as a form of the love of God—encouraged him to flirtations... (Williams was married).

       "He seems to have had the same sadomasochistic tendencies as the young Jack [C. S.] Lewis, though without ever escaping them. His fascination with the occult exceeded what most Christians think of as appropriate bounds. Yet few who knew him saw him in this light. Lewis adored him, finding him chivalrous, generous, even selfless, as well as a major thinker and a brilliant (though often too obscure) writer. 'I begin to suspect that we are living in the ‘age of Williams' he once wrote in a letter to his friend, and our friendship with you will be our only passport to fame.'

       "The poet W. H. Auden, who worked with Williams on a collection of Poetry he edited for Oxford University Press, had perhaps a stronger response... Many years after first meeting Williams, he would recall that interview in surprising terms and mark it as one of the events that led him to embrace the Christian faith:

'For the first time in my life, [I] felt myself in the presence of personal sanctity.... I had met many good people before who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings but in the presence of this man... I did not feel ashamed. I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving (I later discovered that he had had a similar effect on many other people.)'

"...How could a conversation about 'literary business' generate such an aura of 'personal sanctity'? ... Williams simply made an exceptionally powerful impression on almost all who knew him... though in more variable ways....

       "Williams and Lewis met by exchanging fan letters. In 1936... Lewis had read Williams’ novel The Place of the Lion and was so taken with it that (“for the first time in my life”) he wrote a fan letter to the author; almost immediately he received a reply from Williams explaining that he had been just about to write a similar letter to Lewis after reading the proofs of The Allegory of Love....

        "Williams would remain in Oxford, continuing to work for the press but also giving occasional lecture series for the university, and of course meeting with the Inklings, until his sudden and unexpected death in May 1945.... Lewis was devastated by the loss, more than any of the other Inklings. Williams had... effectively displaced Tolkien from his place in Lewis’s life—indeed, he called Williams, in a letter written soon after the man’s death, 'my dearest friend.'"

Excerpts from The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends by Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1979), pages 80-84.

"...a fundamental element in Charles Williams’s character, the thing that he was trying to express when he told a friend: ‘At bottom a darkness has always haunted me.’ What was this darkness? ...

" the time he was in his late twenties he was making some study of the beliefs and practices of that semi-magical branch of Christianity known as Rosicrucianism. [An occult system using a blend of Egyptian and Christian symbols] During this period he read books by the Rosicrucian writer A. E. Waite; he entered into correspondence with Waite, and at Waite’s invitation was initiated (in 1917) into an organization called the Order of the Golden Dawn....

"Among its first initiates was a coroner who allegedly performed necromantic rites... while another early member was black magician Aleister Crowley, the self styled Great Beast.... But the Order of the Golden Dawn also included persons of less outlandish ways, such as W. B. Yeats, whom Williams met during the period of his membership, one or two clergy with a taste for the mystical, and A. E. Waite himself....  It was this group that Williams joined.

"As a neophyte aspiring to be initiated into the Golden Dawn he would apparently have had to declare: ‘My soul... seeking for the Light of Occult Knowledge... [I chose not to include this oath].’ He also had to take an oath to keep the rites secret, on penalty of a ‘hostile current’ which would be set against him if he broke faith.... Probably they were harmless enough [they were not harmless], based as they seem to have been on Waite’s enthusiasms for freemasonry, vaguely Christian mysticism, and Rosicrucianism, a system of occult beliefs which combines the symbolism of Christianity with the terminology of alchemy...." [This is a demonic counterfeit of Christianity, yet it seems to be influencing the church through the popularity of mysticism, spiritual experience, and postmodern disinterest in God's unchanging Word]

"Waite’s own explanation of Rosicrucianism comes as near to lucidity as does any account of this opaque subject: ‘The Cross is the sign or symbol... of the Brotherhood in its inward dedication, of pure mystical wisdom. Its red colour represents the mystical and divine blood of Christ.... There is placed in its centre a Rose 'of the colour of Blood' to indicate the work of Sacred and Divine Alchemy...’" (A. E. Waite, The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross (William Rider,1924), pp. 107—8.)...

"Certainly membership of the Golden Dawn involved the performance of rituals, which Williams, with his love of rite and ceremony, entered into wholeheartedly...  he had always taken care to learn by heart the words of any Golden Dawn rite.... There does not seem to have been anything in Waite’s ‘temple’ of the Golden Dawn which was opposed to Christianity. [Everything there opposed Christianity!]  Indeed Waite, who had been brought up a Catholic, believed its practices to be part of what he called the ‘Secret Tradition’ of Christianity, the tradition that besides the overt meaning of Christian doctrine there is also a hidden series of truths revealed only to an elect few. Waite remarked of this gnostic tradition, and apparently of his ‘temple’... ‘It is not in competition with the external Christian Churches....'  Waite also made a special study of talismans and of the Tarot cards.... These and other details of occult knowledge were to play a major part in Williams’s novels."

[The next sentence refers to Kabbalah:] "In one of Waite’s books he also encountered the ‘Sacred Tree of the Sephiroth,’ a symbolic diagram based on the Jewish mystical Zohar....

"Perhaps, too, Williams’s developing notions of human love as a ladder to God owed something to Waite’s account of the concept of marriage in the Zohar, which pictures the nuptial union on earth as a type of, and path or approach to, the mystical union in heaven. And it was maybe also from Waite’s writings that Williams acquired some of his knowledge of black magic.... Whatever the sources, by the late nineteen-twenties Williams was thoroughly acquainted with the terminology and practices of black magic.... To him it was as valid a form of symbolism as the symbols of Christianity....

"‘No one can possibly do more than decide what to believe,’ says a character in one of his novels, and that was exactly what Williams himself thought. He had decided to believe in Christianity, but it was a conscious choice." [The same seems to be true of C. S. Lewis, according to his own autobiography and other writings]

"So, though he [Williams] soon outgrew the Golden Dawn and left the Order (the date of this is not known), the symbolism and the knowledge of the occult that he had acquired during his membership remained valuable to him, not least because in its extreme form black magic was the polar opposite of Christianity; and his mind was always drawn to an awareness of the opposite pole of any argument or belief."  

[This point illustrates Hegel and his dialectic process. Here, the text includes a poem by Williams, which I left out. Titled 'Witchcraft,' this] hymn to Satan... is an investigation of the ‘oppositeness’ of the devil to Christ...."

[After another poem by Williams, the author of "The Inklings" continues:]  "Certainly a reader... might suppose this poem to be the work of someone with a potential for cruelty. And this would be true." [One of his poems follows:]

My mind possessed me with delight

To wrack her lovely head

With slow device of subtle pain.

From Charles Williams: The Last Magician  (to be published in 2008) by Grevel Lindrop

"...Williams, a devout Anglican as well as a former member of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross and a specialist in Tarot and Kabbala, was a close friend of Tolkien during the years of the Second World War, and an even closer friend - almost, indeed, a spiritual adviser - to C. S. Lewis.... He is 'the last magician' both as the last of the magically creative 'Inklings' to receive due attention, and as the last major writer to emerge, as Yeats did before him, from the Western Occult tradition....

He was also the greatest twentieth-century poet to take the Arthurian legends for his theme. C. S. Lewis wrote of his poems, 'They seem to me... for their profound wisdom, to be among the two or three most valuable books of verse produced in the century.'...

"Williams was an occultist trained in A.E. Waite's 'Fellowship of the Rosy Cross', an organisation descended from Yeats's 'Order of the Golden Dawn'. A lifelong Christian, he challenged the Church's traditional asceticism with a 'theology of romantic love' urging a positive reassessment of sexuality, and emphasising 'Co-inherence'...

"Alongside his marriage he maintained an agonisingly unconsummated eighteen-year love affair with Phyllis Jones... and acquired a host of disciples - young women in particular - who depended on him for spiritual advice.... He continued (sometimes with their co-operation) to practice magical rituals which he believed were essential to sustain his creativity.

"Potential audiences [of the upcoming book] include... enthusiasts for the Arthurian legends; those with an interest in spiritual matters and the occult; and Christians, especially in the USA, where Williams's theology is on college reading-lists and his novels have a cult following.....

"A brilliant Anglican theologian and interpreter of Christian doctrine, he was a trained occultist who continued to practise what can only be called magical rituals with a sexual and even sadistic tinge to them...."

From a review of Charles Williams' book, "All Hallows Eve," published by Regent College. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, taught at this college. Notice how the book turns God's truth upside down:

"Regent College has done us all a service by reprinting Charles Williams' best novel.... This is thinking man's (or woman's) Goth; there are more ideas in one chapter than in an entire Stephen King novel. Another difference is it's the Good and not evil that is truly terrifying (evil is a shade or shadow of the Good).

      "The occultic plots are somewhat drawn from Williams' involvement in The Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society headed by A.E.Waite, best known for the Waite Tarot Deck. Its members variously included poet W.B. Yeats (known for his poem, "The Second Coming") and Evelyn Underhill, author of Mysticism. At one point, Aleister Crowley, the self-styled "Great Beast," attempted to wrestle control of The Golden Dawn, and one can only speculate what the outcome would have been had the many converts to Crowley's "Magick" have stumbled on Williams' books instead....  But this reader joins the many who, having encountered Charles Williams, will never be the same."  Sent by Gord Wilson. Scroll down to his name at

Here is an excerpt from a review of the book "Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration" by Gavin Ashenden, the chaplain and a lecturer at the University of Sussex, England:


Charles Williams Alchemy and Integration: "The questions that arose from his immersion in Rosicrucian and hermetic culture and ideology—central to understanding Williams’s thought and art—remain provocatively unexplored. For a decade of his early adulthood, Williams was a member of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, a form of neo-Rosicrucianism. There is widespread confusion about its nature, which is to be expected given that this was a semisecret society. Though Williams left his formal association with it behind, it enriched and informed his imaginative world with a hermetic myth that expressed itself in an underlying ideology and metaphysics.....Since one of the foremost ideas in Williams’s work is the interdependence or coinherence of both our humanity and the creation, understanding the extent to which he lived and achieved this in his own life is important."


The link below is now broken. I have not replaced it, since the new link leads to an occult website that I prefer not to make available.


Hermetic Imagination: The effect of the Golden Dawn on Fantasy Literature: At the Tolkien Centennial Conference, 1992: "CHARLES WILLIAMS. Charles Williams stands out... because of both his overtly theological oeuvre, and because of his close connection with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He joined the Golden Dawn in 1917, and was active for at least five years thereafter. He too was attached to Waite's group....

      "There can be no doubt that Williams' novels owed their themes to areas studied by the Golden Dawn. Shadows of Ecstasy pulsates with the Hermetic dictum, 'as above, so below.' War in Heaven concerns the Grail, Many Dimensions... and The Place of the Lion the Platonic archetypes. We are confronted with the Tarot deck in The Greater Trumps, necromancy in All Hallow's Eve, and ghosts, witchcraft, and damnation in Descent into Hell....

      "One may legitimately wonder what influence the Golden Dawn had on Lewis and Tolkien via Williams. Certainly That Hideous Strength is universally acknowledged to have been greatly affected by Lewis' acquaintance with Williams. Its description of the Company of St. Anne's is certainly evocative of Williams' Companions of the Co-inherence; from afar off it carries therefore also the mark of the Golden Dawn.

        "Tolkien was a cultural Catholic, deeply read in both folk-lore and in pre-Reformation literature. These were themselves suffused, albeit more or less unconsciously, with the magical or Hermetic world-view, of which, after all, the Golden Dawn was only one exponent.

        "... the Hermetic/Neoplatonic worldview has come be to commonplace throughout fantasy literature.... But developments in such areas as Depth Psychology and the New Physics suggest that it may indeed have a validity beyond the pages of fiction."

Charles Williams: " Williams gathered many followers and disciples during his lifetime. He was for a period a member of the Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross (Fellowship of the Rosy Cross: the fellowship of the rosy cross was a christian mystical organization established... , an offshoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.... He met fellow Anglican Evelyn Underhill ... an anglican writer on mysticism, a novelist... (who was also affiliated with the Golden Dawn) in 1937 and was later to write the introduction to her published Letters in 1943.

        "Beyond these fields and this borderland there lies the legendary wonder-world of theurgy, so called, of Magic and Sorcery, a world of fascination or terror.... There all paradoxes seem to obtain actually, contradictions coexist logically, the effect is greater than the cause and the shadow more than the substance. Therein the visible melts into the unseen, the invisible is manifested openly, motion from place to place is accomplished without traversing the intervening distance, matter passes through matter. has a fourth dimension, and untrodden fields beyond it; without metaphor and without evasion, the circle is mathematically squared.

       "There life is prolonged, youth renewed, physical immortality secured. There earth becomes gold, and gold earth. There words and wishes possess creative power, thoughts are things, desire realises its object. There, also, the dead live and the hierarchies of extra-mundane intelligence are within easy communication, and become ministers or tormentors, guides or destroyers of man. There the Law of Continuity is suspended by the interference of the higher Law of Fantasia. (A.E. Waite, The Book of Ceremonial Magic, University Books, NY 1961, pp. 3-4)"

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: "Influences on Golden Dawn concepts and work include freemasonry (freemasonry: Freemasons collectively), theosophy (Belief based on mystical insight into the nature of God and the soul), Eliphas Levi.... Enochian Magic ( elaborate system of ceremonial magic) and medieval grimoire (a manual of black magic ...for invoking spirits and demons). It has long been thought that the synthetization of these influences into a new school of thought is largely the merit of Mathers.... Mathers was responsible for the Rosicrucian inner order of the Golden Dawn being established where practical magic was taught.... While it existed, it was the focal point of the development and redevelopment of magical thinking in Europe."


From Tolkien Centennial Conference, 1992: HERMETIC IMAGINATION: The effect of the Golden Dawn on Fantasy Literature
"Charles Williams.... joined the Golden Dawn in 1917, and was active for at least five years thereafter. He too was attached to Waite's group, and as we shall see, some major themes in his work may be derived from that source....
       "Shadows of Ecstasy pulsates with the Hermetic dictum, 'as above, so below.' War in Heaven concerns the Grail, Many Dimensions the Philosopher's Stone, and The Place of the Lion the Platonic archetypes. We are confronted with the Tarot deck in The Greater Trumps, necromancy in All Hallow's Eve, and ghosts, witchcraft, and damnation in Descent into Hell....

       "Referring long afterwards to the making of a magical circle against the dangers of the Dark, he wrote that he still felt the darkness, though it is "known to be merely untrue." (Charles Williams, p. 31)...
       "It is doubtless true that Williams came to the Golden Dawn with a fully formed world-view; so too did Machen and Yeats, for only such would be interested in joining this kind of a group anyway. What the Golden Dawn offered to these men and their colleagues was a) a coherent philosophy of the esoteric; and b) some type of actual experience which they, at any rate, accepted as objective factual confirmation of this philosophy...
       "Charles Williams... is a thoroughgoing supernaturalist.... There are many specific instances one could cite of particular traces of the Golden Dawn in Williams' work. For example, his conception in Taliessin through Logres of the Map of Europe corresponding to the human body is obviously connected with the sephiroth of the Qabalistic tree of life. But it is Williams' central doctrines of co-inherence, exchange, and substitution which figure in and inform all his prose fiction which most point up his Hermetic legacy.... Williams also saw these three principles as
operating not only between the living in space and time, but also between the living and the dead---or the unborn."