An excerpt from Wallis Budge: Mummies and Magic in London and Cairo, Chapter 25, “Budge and the Brother Ghosts, 1899-1911.”
See original for sources:
In the notes to Alex Owen’s book on the occult world of the late 19th century, The Place of Enchantment, the author comments, without citing any source, that the author Edith Nesbit Bland dedicated her book The Amulet to “E.A. Wallis Budge, Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum, a man who was rumoured to be more than sympathetic to the Golden Dawn.” Though there is no evidence that Budge was a member of the Golden Dawn, it is hardly surprising that he was associated with the Golden Dawn in people’s minds. It is obvious that Budge was not only interested in the occult himself, but his works on Egyptology were also a very important source of information for many English people who were engaged either in escaping or reforming their relation to the Christian past or constructing their pagan present.
Furthermore, Budge’s views concerning things such as curses, amulets, and other occult phenomena were far from sceptical. H. Rider Haggard reported that when he asked Budge if he believed in the efficacy of curses, “He hesitated to answer. At length he said that in the East men believed that curses took effect, and that he had always avoided driving a native to curse him. A curse launched into the air was bound to have an effect if coupled with the name of God, either on the person cursed or on the curser. Budge mentioned the case of Palmer, who cursed an Arab of Sinai, and the natives turned the curse on him by throwing him and his companions down a precipice, and they were dashed to pieces. Budge added, ‘I have cursed the fathers and female ancestors of many a man, but I have always feared to curse a man himself.’” As for amulets, Budge wrote to Lady Stanhope describing the magical qualities of the amulet he had given to one of her military sons with every appearance of sincerity.
Indeed, it seems quite apparent that one reason Budge got on so well with the Brother Ghosts was that he was in some sympathy with them and their view of the world. Budge’s friend Violet Markham said that Budge’s “really blood-curdling ghost stories” were in great demand “for he spoke from personal experience and with personal conviction that was impressive.” Budge may have had his conventional scholarly side, she said, and it “was difficult to associate psychic gifts with that robust frame, but Budge had undoubtedly that sixth sense which reaches out to the fringes of consciousness and touches phenomena beyond the normal range. He was a truthful man and some of his experiences were certainly very strange.”
Violet Markham related one of Budge’s ghost stories to give a flavour of his style. She said that Budge was once trying to convince a “wealthy lady” (probably Lady Meux)to buy an Ethiopic version of the Gospels to present to the British Museum. On a winter day he set out for the lady’s distant country house in the West Country, and when he arrived he discovered “a large and riotous company of guests already assembled at dinner.” The company was more inclined to the pleasures of the table than they were to discussions of manuscripts, so Budge entered into the spirit of things. The evening grew wilder and wilder after dinner, and at 2:00 AM the hostess finally called out, “’Ring the bell, Budgie, and tell the butler we want ham fried in champagne.’” Budge was tired by this time, so rang the bell and made his escape. Having left the assembled company in the dining room, Budge discovered that the rest of the house was dark and he had to grope his way upstairs in the pitch black:
“The staircase was built round the well of a large hall and halfway up he became conscious of a chase on the upper landing: the footsteps of a flying woman followed by the heavier tread of a no less swift pursuer. Hunter and hunted seemed to pass him as he shrank in terror against the wall of the broad staircase. Then came a desperate cry, a crash as of a body falling into the hall below followed by utter silence. Budgie in telling the tale never minimised his own demoralisation at this experience. ‘I was covered with sweat. My manhood had been drained out of me and I crawled up those stairs on all fours to my room like a beast.’ He fled from the house early the following morning but back in London informed himself about its history. Enquiry revealed that the house was originally monastic property. The story attached to it was that on one occasion a priest who had gone mad had attacked a nun with a large knife. She fled from him down the staircase and as he overtook her she threw herself over the balustrade into the hall below.”
Such experiences, Budge believed, were the result of his particular nature. “’Some things that happen,’ he said, ‘stamp themselves on their surroundings like an invisible gramophone record. A few people for some unknown reason act like needles and set the record going. I am a needle.” Given his belief that he was somehow a conduit to the supernatural, it is not surprising that Budge regarded supernatural phenomena as able to be explained rationally. Ms. Markham thought it odd to associate “spooks and fantasies and fraud with this bulky and down-right man whose hatred of humbug was proverbial. He would describe his experiences in matter-of-fact terms as though there was nothing surprising about them . . . His experience and knowledge were both unusual and clearly there are many phenomena in the Universe which lie beyond the interpretation of our five senses.”
Violet Markham’s memories would confirm that Budge was a believer in the reality of occult phenomena and was involved in the occult world of his day. We can see that his works on Egyptology were read avidly by some sections of the public because they were believed to expose the “bright centre of spiritual truth” which was at the core of all of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Whether the reading public was Theosophical, mystical, magical or Broad Church in orientation, it was evident that Budge’s works appealed to them because they were speaking, at least in part, in a shared language. The fact that Budge published popular English editions of the religious texts of ancient Egypt, or large extracts of them along with commentaries, meant that he was providing for those who did not read the languages of the texts themselves the raw material for their studies. These religious folk among Budge’s readers probably also had translations of the Bhagavad Gita on their shelves, collections of world mythology, editions of Gnostic and mystical texts, collections of Renaissance magic, and discussions of the true spiritual nature of Christianity; but they may also have had collections of ghost stories, Theosophical tracts, or a book by Aleister Crowley. It was a time of experiment and spiritual seeking, and Budge’s works were very important for many people in their various quests.