I’m Glendenning Cram, and I have always been interested in the history of religion and mythology. When I became aware of Simon many years ago, I thought his life would make a great novel, so I started writing it. The Acts of Simon Magus in the First Century AD is the autobiography of this fascinating character, told at the end of a long and eventful life, describing his many adventures in the time of Christ and Nero. From Palestine to Egypt to Albion to Rome; from cave to temple to whorehouse to palace, Simon’s seen it all and done it all and now he’s sharing it all with you, the modern reader. It’s been quite an adventure channelling his memoirs!
So who was Simon?
In Simon’s first and only appearance in the Bible (Acts 8:9-25), he was a Samarian wizard who offered to buy the Holy Spirit from the apostles in order to use it for his own magical purposes, and was firmly scolded for it by St. Peter. In later legends he became an antiChrist figure, doing magical battle with the early Church all over the Roman Empire, before being cast down to ignominious death by the saints in Rome.
The same legends also identified Simon as the founder of Gnosticism, a strange, wonderful and very real rival to Christianity, which also combined Hebrew religion, Greek philosophy and mythologies from all over, and identified the Judaeo-Christian God with the Devil. The Gnosis enjoyed some popularity in the Roman world, but collapsed when its ever more fantastic and contradictory mythologies came up against the much simpler message of Christ Risen.
So Simon became a symbol for everything evil. Whenever Gnostic cults arose in the ensuing centuries, the Catholic Church mercilessly crushed them. When the Protestants denounced the sins of that same Church, the worst of those sins, selling salvation for money, was called Simony–the only sin named after a person. He played the Devil in the original Faust story, got roasted upside-down in Dante’s Inferno, and has featured more recently as villain of film and comic book. And now he’s the hero, in The Acts of Simon Magus in the First Century AD. For the first time, the Magus has a chance to tell his own story. It’s time for the truth, from the Father of Lies!
What’s the story?
At the start of the tale, young Shim of Gitta in Samaria is riding an oxcart to catch a ship to Egypt. His whole village has pooled their resources to send him to the Academy in Alexandria, hoping he will return with the knowledge and connections to rise in the Roman administration. Shim has other plans, involving the mysteries buried in the arcane texts and lost tombs of that ancient land. Suddenly he spies a man, beaten and bloody, almost dead by the side of the road…
Thus begins A Search in Secret Egypt, the first volume of The Acts of Simon Magus. In it we learn of Shim’s early life: his roving father, his dead brother (who won’t leave him alone) and the village wise-woman who has doomed him to a mysterious, inconvenient quest. In Alexandria he moves into a tomb, studies under protoChristian philosopher Philo, is inspired by the rise and fall of Apseth the Bird God and, with the sorceress Selene, reaches for the ultimate power in a Lovecraftian climax.
In future volumes, Shim’s story will see him
- lead his own charismatic cult to become Simon Magus, Great Power of God
- find Holy Wisdom in a brothel
- participate in the odd events surrounding an execution in Jerusalem
- enjoy a hot night with a future saint
- clash with the devotees of a strange new sect
- travel to the ends of Earth and beyond
climaxing in an epic magical contest before the Emperor Nero.
Who’s in it?
I’m glad you asked. A story is only as good as its characters, and The Acts of Simon Magus has some of the best. You may even have heard of a few of them, though they appear through Simon’s eyes in a rather new light. Here are some of the major players:
- Simon: He wants to fly; can he pay the price?
- Helena/Sophia: Goddess, whore and more, she just wants to go home.
- Gorgio: A werewolf can be handy in a tight spot.
- Jesous: Pigboy turned preacher, his sticky end is only the beginning.
- Selene: Lovely witch on a deadly quest.
- The Rock: The fisher’s net is aimed right at Simon.
- Saul: To atone for his secret sin, he must change the world.
- Luni: The littlest spook is more than he seems.
along with assorted kings & beggars, deities & demons, saints & sinners… Someone for everyone! I love them all, and I think you will too. Help me bring them back to life!
What’s it really about?
As I said, I have always been fascinated in the origins and (can I say it?) evolution of religion, and the time in which Simon lived was a time of great spiritual turmoil and change. The Roman Empire forced together people of every religious background and leaning: mystery cultists, emperor worshippers, monotheists, philosophical atheists and pragmatic pagans, and the story of Christianity’s rise from backwater sect to world-class faith (in which Simon plays no small part) from the midst of it all is the backdrop to the story.
As a student of anthropology, I would also like to portray a mentality very different from the modern, one in which everything is alive, gods and demons are everywhere, and every mythos from Christ to Cthulhu is true, even when it contradicts all the others. The people of Simon’s world approach life in ways that are often incomprehensible to the 21st century mind; on the other hand, as someone once said, “Times change, people don’t,” and though the characters are most certainly of their time, they are still just like us in all the ways that really matter.
To bring this out, the language of my story combines ancient and modern forms, idioms and ideas, sometimes poetically, sometimes humourously, sometimes bawdily. See excerpts here: I’d love to know if you think it works.