Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Prophecies of N'Gai

On the bookseller’s stall was a bland grey plastic ring-binder of the reassuring sort that might be carried by a minor civil servant to a meeting on contingency planning. I half expected to find inside the memoranda of committee meetings devoted to each of the Four Horsemen in turn. But instead the transparent sleeves contained a miscellany of diverting ephemera priced at a few pounds each. 

Here was a Dublin wine merchant’s price list; a leaflet about Ratholeme’s Menthol Snuff (‘clears the passages’); an air mail envelope from Constantinople; a football match programme; several railway tickets for obscure journeys on lines that no longer exist; a recipe booklet from a church’s Christmas fair.

And then there was, with a cover of bold black and red letters, The Prophecies of N’Gai: Magic in His Words. It was first published in 1922 by The N’Gai Publishing Company of 36, George Street, Croydon, Surrey, but this is the fourth edition of 1945. 

The Evening Chronicle, Manchester, writes: ‘There is something deeper than a black cloak and compelling voice about N’GAI, and Monday night’s audiences passed through phases of bewilderment, confusion and tenseness before the final climax of astounding war prophecies.’ It sounds as if they might have needed a good dose of that Menthol Snuff by the end of it. 

The cover opens upon a signed photograph of N’Gai, with a firm jaw, far-gazing eyes, a lofty brow and well-furrowed hair. Who he was, what his name was in the mundane world, we are not told. However, ‘My Wish is to Help You’ he proclaims, ‘Have you ever known Disillusion? Above all, Fear, abject Fear—not of the unknown, but of Life itself . . . It is a terrible feeling, as I can testify from personal experience’.

‘I am an old public school boy,’ it continues, ‘and a graduate of a proud college’. That might explain a lot. ‘Seemingly I had everything in Life . . . A family name, money, friends, the smooth confidence born of the old school tie.’ Well, yes, we might murmur at this point, that’s all very well, but had you any books?

In any case, none of this was of any avail, because ‘Then Destiny stacked up all the black cards’. Destiny was in that case no mean prestidigitator, and not necessarily quite so baleful as is implied. For any student of Minetta’s What the Cards Tell (Foulsham, 1920) would have been able to reassure N’gai that some of the black cards can be quite promising, while some of the red cards want watching.

Still, it does rather look as if the cards, of whatever colour, were against him. He ‘went over the top with the old “Diehards”, the Middlesex Regiment’ in March 1916 and was severely wounded. When he recovered, he learnt that his bank had crashed and he had lost all his money. So off he went to Kenya, where he encountered Landi, of the Ngamba tribe, who became his ‘servant, guide and philosopher’, and taught him tribal magic.

He was introduced to the secret of ‘a tiny glass bead, an opaque black orb’ which was sacred to their god, N’Gai. All who had faith in the charm ‘won the God’s favour’. Moreover, he ‘discovered the gift of prophecy’. We might at this point wonder whether he did indeed have certain books and they included quite a few by H. Rider Haggard.

The brief chapters that follow recount the man who styles himself N’Gai’s successful predictions, mostly to provincial newspapers in the places where he was appearing, of the General Strike, the return of Hailie Sellasie as Emperor of Abyssinia, and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. He also describes, in terms, the formation of the United Nations, and the Cold War. There then follow predictions for the decades to come, up to 2000 AD.

Here are those for the period from 1970 to 2000.

‘The end of the Coal Age will be witnessed . . . Coal mining will be extinct as an industry.’

‘A new source of energy will be discovered . . . Locked up in the atoms which constitute a gallon of water . . . The winds and the tides will also be harnessed’.

‘The ten-hour maximum week will be established . . . Two hours a day for five days a week’.

‘Agriculture will be revolutionised . . . A super-efficient manure will be discovered’

‘It will no longer be necessary to rear animals in order to eat them, flesh will be produced chemically’

‘A new alloy will be discovered which will overcome a World shortage of copper and tin’

‘An unbreakable glass will be available . . . Roads and houses will be built of glass’

‘Aeroplanes will be available for all . . . These planes will rise from, and land on one’s own roof’

‘It will be possible for any person sitting at home to be present at no matter what distant event’

‘The political and governing centre of the British Empire will be in Ottawa’

‘The commercial centre of Europe will be in the region of the Himalayas’

‘A permanent state of high wages and low prices will be established’

‘As the year 2000 A.D. approaches, the wealth of the world has been harnessed for the use of all without distinction of race or creed’

‘There is no such thing as inequality of opportunity . . . There is no poverty . . . Perfectly ideal housing conditions exist for all . . . Medical science has destroyed all disease’

‘Man has rocketed to the Moon, and returned again’

‘Maybe the Planets will now go to war . . .Who knows?’

Well, we can certainly give N’Gai credit for not couching his prophecies in the mystic, metaphorical and prismatic language of other visionaries, whose phrases might bear many interpretations. This is, by contrast, quite clear and forthright. Whatever we may think of N’Gai as a prophet, he could have missed his vocation as a Science Fiction writer. It will not have escaped the reader’s attention that there are some definite hits here, but also sadly some misses, particularly on the score of social progress.

However, we might speculate upon another possibility. Maybe there is indeed a world in which all these things have come to pass exactly as foreseen, and the one we are in is a counterfeit, a sleight of time, an illusion, where N’Gai never was and this pamphlet should not exist. After all, there is no copy in the British Library.

It has nevertheless manifested itself in the grey plastic ring-binder on the bookseller’s table as an aberration, a sign we were never meant to see. And because of that the world that N’Gai saw is now leaking into the one we are in: and perhaps soon the prophecies will begin, after all, to be fulfilled.

(Mark Valentine)



  1. Criswell had better hair.

  2. Wow. Your surmise is fascinating :-) [Marion Pitman]

  3. Nothing after 2000 ? The 'hits' are pretty interesting all the same. Reminds me of Rudolf Steiner's foretelling that in time to come the world will be encircled with a kind of electronic web to which everybody shall be connected through machines with a kind of animal intelligence (that in the 1920s)