William Seabrook  

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"I have heard certain travellers, both American and French, assert roundly that African cannibal stories of to-day are cock-and-bull stories — that there is no cannibalism any longer in West Africa. It may interest them to know that in the districts of Man, Douekue and Guglio alone, a central forest section of the Cote d'Ivoire, Afrique Occidentale Franchise, there have been twenty-six formal convictions in the past five years (accompanied in most cases by final complete confessions), of which seven occurred in the year of Our Lord 1929."--Jungle Ways (1930) by William Seabrook

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

William Buehler Seabrook (February 22, 1884 – September 20, 1945) was an American Lost Generation occultist, explorer, traveller, and journalist, born in Westminster, Maryland. He began his career as a reporter and City Editor of the Augusta Chronicle in Georgia. He later became a partner in an advertising agency in Atlanta. Through Seabrook, Man Ray met his mistress and muse Alice Prin in 1921.


Early life

In 1915 he joined the French Army and served in World War I. He was gassed at Verdun in 1916, and was later awarded the Croix de Guerre.

The following year he took up the post of reporter for The New York Times, and soon became an itinerant. Besides his books, Seabrook had articles published in popular magazines including Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest and Vanity Fair.


In the 1920s, Seabrook traveled to West Africa and came across a tribe who partook in the eating of human meat. Seabrook writes about his experience of cannibalism in his novel, Jungle Ways (1930); however, later on Seabrook admits the tribe did not allow him to join in on the ritualistic cannibalism. Instead, he obtained samples of human flesh from a hospital and cooked it himself.

As told in Jungle Ways, Seabrook went on a trip to West Africa, to live with a tribe known as the Guere. He asked the chief what human meat tasted like, but the chief couldn't describe it to Seabrook's satisfaction. Later, Seabrook had the opportunity to try it himself, getting a portion of stew with rice as well as a "sizeable rump steak, also a small loin roast to cook or have cooked" however he wanted. The source, Seabrook stated, was a recently killed man, but he was not murdered. He reported that, "It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable."

Later life

Around 1920, English occultist Aleister Crowley spent a week with Seabrook at Seabrook's farm. Seabrook went on to write a story based on the experience, and to recount the experiment in Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today.

In 1924, he travelled to Arabia and sampled the hospitality of various tribes of Bedouin and the Kurdish Yazidi. His account of his travels, Adventures in Arabia: among the Bedouins, Druses, Whirling Dervishes and Yezidee Devil Worshipers was published in 1927; it was sufficiently successful to allow him to travel to Haiti, where he developed an interest in voodoo and the Culte des Mortes which were described at length in his book Magic Island.

Although Seabrook had a lifelong fascination with the occult practices of satanism and voodoo, as he saw firsthand both in third-world countries (documented in his books The Magic Island (1929), and Jungle Ways (1930)) as well as in London, Paris, and New York, he later concluded that he had seen nothing that did not have rational scientific explanation, a theory that he detailed in Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today (1940).

In December 1933, Seabrook was committed at his own request and with the help of some of his friends to Bloomingdale, a mental institution in Westchester County, near New York City for treatment for acute alcoholism. He remained a patient of the institution until the following July and in 1935 published an account of his experience, written as if it were no more than another expedition to a foreign locale. The book, Asylum, became another best-seller. In the preface, he was careful to state that his books were not "fiction or embroidery."

He married Marjorie Muir Worthington in France in 1935, after they had returned from a trip to Africa, in which Seabrook was researching a book. Due to his alcoholism and sadist practices they divorced in 1941. She later wrote a biography, The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, which was published in 1966.


He committed suicide by a drug overdose on September 20, 1945 in Rhinebeck, New York.



Short stories

  • Wow (1921)

See also

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