"It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind." - HP Lovecraft
You would be forgiven for not thinking that there is a clear vector between HP Lovecraft and the season surrounding the Winter Solstice, more specifically, Christmas. His oeuvre just doesn't scream 'Christmas Spirit!' as much as it just screams, in general, what with all the cosmic horrors. You would be forgiven but you would also be wrong, for there is a Christmas Story embedded among the Gates of Hell and unlit tombs of centuries past.
When I came across the above quote, I got curious about the term 'Yuletide' that Lovecraft's narrator used to describe the season. I knew, generally, what 'Yule' meant, coming to us from Old English, which, as Lovecraft points out, comes from an older place still that described the entire midwinter season between our modern months of December and January.
The 'tide' portion though was new to me, at least, its origins were. Similarly from Old English, 'tid' indicated a portion of time a meaning that can be theoretically mapped back to Proto Indo-European. Middle Low German, spoken between the years 1100 and 1600, is where we pull our modern notion of 'tide' as a time when the water was higher. Old English did not have a word for this phenomenon using the precursors to ebb and flood to describe one or the other. Looking back to Proto-Germanic we find *tidiz, or a 'division of time'. From what I know of pre-historical coastal cultures, the ebb of the sea is a time of great fruitfulness for that is the time that a pre-fishing culture could walk out from the coast and harvest the bounty of edible goodness left by the leaving tide. Knowing when the tide was coming back would be a required survival skill for these people, a people that through their heavy consumption of sea vegetables and shellfish would have had an over abundance of omega complex oils in their system. We now know that these substances not only make us healthier but they also make our brains work much better.
I've been thinking and writing about time for the past few weeks, especially how time connects with sigilmancy. This confluence of the terms for the movements of the ocean or sea and the apportioning of time is extremely interesting in this context, especially when you loop in the fact that tides are caused by the movement of the moon through our sky. I mentioned last week that I have been trying to break my connection with the Roman Calendar months and division of days by linking my practice more closely with the phases of the moon.
The compound notion of 'tide' as a unit of time, tied to how our planet and ostensibly us as we are mostly water as well, physically react to the movements of the moon is an excellent tool. How far could one take this reformatting, to think of one's life in 'tides' as opposed to 'months' or 'years'? And what are the preconfigured logistics of our magical tides? Yuletide was originally a span of two months, so the application of that concept must posses the ability to be extrapolated past the 29 days of the moon's phases into larger units through the socio-religious concept of the festival. Additionally, tides aren't just seasons either. Winter, as a season, lasts much longer than Yuletide. This is clearly a deep well to jump in so for now, let's just the notion of 'tides' as a more natural, an older, division of time that predates 'democracy', 'capitalism', and all those other modern conveniences and inextricable from our seven day weeks and twelve month years.
Tides are how time was conceptualized before the world was disenchanted.
Let's pack up this concept of magical tides and see how it relates to sigilmancy. Last week I put forth a system of lunar day timing that could be applied to sigilmancy that I pulled from the Hygromanteia. I worked with it a bit this week and it seemed clunky, incomplete. I kept moving back to the seven day week and the planetary spirits associated with them. My practice had a hole in it without using them. This week I sat in the armchair and poured over a couple of other texts, namely Lunar Astrology by Alexandre Volguine (which showed up spontaneously in my newsfeeds no less than three times) and the Book of Oberon. Below is a more complete model for Lunar Time magic. From Lunar Astrology I pulled a table that associated twenty-eight of the thirty days from the Hygromanteia with astrological signs and what those days are good for or represent. As an interesting aside, Volguine has some fairly malefic or negative influences assigned to some of the days. This is a divergence from just about any other lunar day table that I’ve found, and I quite like it. I feel it is more relevant to 21st century magic and the perils we face. From there, I was able to extrapolate the planetary spirits associated with each of the twenty-eight days of the lunar cycle. And to round it all off, I found in the Book of Oberon a table that associated the astrological signs with the four directions. The plugging in of the four directions rounds out the model and opens it up to be connected to all manner of different correspondence, if the mood suits you.
Below you will fine the fine tuned Goblin Space table for lunar timing:
1. Birth | Aries / Mars / East: Good for every attempt, ruin of one’s enemies
2. Light-Bringer | Aries / Mars / East: Bad for everything
3. Rising | Aries / Mars / East: Beneficial for every affair, prosperity, good fortune
4. Increasing | Taurus / Venus / South: A good day for socialization, buying, and selling, enmity, vengeance, deceit
5. Raising Up | Taurus / Venus / South: Attempt nothing
6. Elevating | Gemini / Mercury / North: Love, fortunate marriage, fishing, hunting, traveling, sowing, planting, and buying
7. Bisecting | Gemini / Mercury / North: Good for and action, especially educating children and acquiring wealth
8. Prancing | Cancer / Moon / West: Do not travel, victory in combat
9. Fleeing for Refuge | Cancer / Moon / West: Healing mortal illness, good for merchants, buying, selling, planting, building, lending, and asking favors
10. Gibbous | Leo / Sun / East: Good for everything, luxury, fortunate, breaking confinement,travel, educating children, and buying houses
11. Bulging | Leo / Sun / East: Good for every action, especially buying, sowing, planting, harvesting, building, expressing reverence and fear of death
12. Rotating | Leo / Sun / East: Separation from admiration, good for trading, planting, building, and storing food
13. Nigh at Hand | Virgo / Mercury / South: Peace and conjugal union, dangerous for fighting
14. Full Moon | Virgo / Mercury / South: Good for anything you may attempt, especially socialization, lending, borrowing, or divorce
15. Turning About | Libra / Venus / West: Be careful on this day, do not lie or cut wood, do not sell or buy anything, it is beneficial for the acquisition of friends
16. Elevating | Libra / Venus / West: Good for gain, commerce, education, planting, building, buying, selling, trading, socializing, essentially beneficial for everything
17. Restoring | Scorpio / Mars / North: Good for every attempt, especially engaging with robbery and banditry
18. Uncompounded | Scorpio / Mars / North: Good for engaging with illness, death, buying, selling, trading, sowing, reaping, planting and harvesting
19. Unprofitable | Scorpio / Mars / North: Whatever attempt you start on this day you will finish quickly, especially good for the recovery of health
20. Decreasing | Sagittarius / Jupiter / East: Good for hunting, planting, building, buying, traveling, and trading
21. Bisecting | Sagittarius / Jupiter / East: Do not do anything, this moon represents calamity and affliction
22. Bisecting with Deficient Light | Capricorn / Saturn / South: Every attempt you start will finish quickly, especially good for engaging with flight and exile
23. Alone | Capricorn / Saturn / South: Good for engaging with destruction, ruin, learning, selling, buying, and trading
24. Dark | Capricorn / Saturn / South: Beneficial for military expeditions, trading, and fecundity
25. Grudge | Aquarius / Saturn / West: Not good for merchants or taking oaths, but good for engaging with affluence and prosperity outside of mercantilism
26. Grabbing | Aquarius / Saturn / West: Good for achieving desires that you had doubts about, traveling, and making friends
27. Obscuring | Pisces / Jupiter / North: Good for engaging with illness, mortality, buying and many other things
28. Moonless | Pisces / Jupiter / North: Good for engaging with the suffering followed by death, selling, buying, sowing, reaping, and education
29. Accompanying | No Zodiacal or Planetary Association: Good for merchants and every action, especially family affairs
30. Conjunction or Thirtieth Day | No Zodiacal or Planetary Association: Occurs on the eighth and twelfth hour of the day and is beneficial for many things
This week’s imbrications are, quite frankly, a real gift. When I was researching this post I found, to my delight, that Marblehead, MA, the real live Kingsport of Lovecraft’s tale, The Festival, has a quite famous and quite amazing musical progeny, the one and only Frank Black.
To begin our divergence, here is Mr. Frank Black performing a duet with the Goblin King himself, David Bowie:
Unless you’ve lived in a subterranean cavern beneath an ancient New England town all of your life, you’ll know of Frank Black’s occasional side project, the Pixies. Instead of offering you a live video of that powerhouse of nineties alt-rock, instead I’d like to gift you this cover of one of their very best known songs, Where Is My Mind?, from the enigmatic Puddles Pity Party (you’re welcome):
and finally, returning to our Marblehead anti-star, this time in his incarnation as Black Francis, I humbly present his entirely re-enchanted soundtrack to the iconic German expressionist film, Der Golem:
LOVECRAFT’S YULE BEASTS
‘The Festival’ begins, as so many other Lovecraft tales, with a nameless narrator. It is OK that the protagonist remains anonymous because, as we’ve found, our archetypes often map to some other character in Lovecraft’s tales. ‘The Festival’, as has been mentioned, is Lovecraft’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, but it is more than that. Let’s look at the quote from the beginning of the post in a fuller context:
“It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time… where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.”
We know now that Yuletide is not just Christmas day, or the time leading up to Christmas, but is in fact a season within a season, an imbrication on top of winter that spans roughly between the beginning of December to the end of January. Once you think about this, I am positive that you will recognize the difference of this span of winter than say, winter after February. There is a light and a rhythm to winter in this extended Yuletide period that goes out somewhere between February and March, while we all await Springtide huddled inside our respective warrens. This is a similar concept to the time span of the Aeon, where more than one Aeon can exist at once. The mechanistic clockwork notion of time, merchant time, capitalist time, is wrecked by these older notions that layer on top of each other and work in a synergistic way in our consciousness.
Our narrator finds himself in an aged and ancient version of the town of Kingsport / Marblehead, at a time when he feels everyone should be celebrating in a Christian but is met with only silence, cold, and patches of snow:
“As the road wound down the seaward slope I listened for the merry sounds of a village at evening, but did not hear them. Then I thought of the season, and felt that these old Puritan folk might well have Christmas customs strange to me, full of hearthside prayer… [I] kept on down past the hushed lighted farmhouses and shadowy stone walls to where the signs of ancient shops and sea-taverns creaked in the salt breeze… “I hasted through Back Street to Circle Court, and across the fresh snow on the one full flagstone pavement in town, to where Green Lane leads off behind Market house… the seventh house on the left in Green Lane, with an ancient peaked roof and jutting second story, all built before 1650.”
I tried to triangulate the area that Lovecraft was talking about in Marblehead, and located a number of the streets, or versions of them. Either Lovecraft had it in his head to jumble the landmarks for this story, sort of like scrambling a spirit list, or the streets had changed since his time. The quality of the wharf area of Marblehead looks very similar to what is described in The Festival. It is here at last we are introduced to our archetype, when the narrator finds the ‘House of his Ancestors’:
“When I sounded the archaic iron knocker I was half afraid… and when my knock was answered I was fully afraid… but I was not afraid long, for the gowned, slippered old man in the doorway had a bland race that reassured me… He beckoned me into a low, candle-lit room… There was a cavernous fireplace and a spinning wheel at which a bent old woman in loose wrapper and deep poke-bonnet sat back toward me, silently spinning despite the festive season… No one spoke to me, but I could hear the creaking of signs in the wind outside, and the whir of the wheel as the bonneted old woman continued her silent spinning, spinning.”
The archetype in Lovecraft’s ‘The Festival’ is the mysterious spinner by the cold hearth, for she is a direct vector to the Tarot’s Wheel of Fortune. Our narrator is sat for a time at a table in which several tomes are piled. I like to call these out because Lovecraft uses books in a similar way as other grimoirist use spirit lists:
“Pointing to a chair, table, and pile of books, the old man now left the room; and when I sat down to read I saw that the books were hairy and moldy, and the they included old Morryster’s wild Marvells of Science, the terrible Saducismus Triumphatus of Joseph Glanvill, published in 1681, the shocking Daemonolatreia of Remigius, printed in 1595 at Lyons, and worst of all, the unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, in Olaus Worms’ forbidden Latin translation.”
Marvells of Science maps to Ambrose Bierce and his story, ‘The Man and the Snake’, Saducismus Triumphatus exists in the real, as does Daemonolatreia, and of course we are all well acquainted with the Necronomicon. It is such a curious trope Lovecraft employs when it comes to books, this mixing of the fictional and the real. It is as if, on his fictional bookshelf the worlds of dream and the real coexist side by side as parts of a divided whole.
Our hero is lead out of the home of his ancestors by the spinner and her husband, which at this point we have found to be somewhat unreliably human. They join a throng of black cloaked, hooded figures that converge upon a church. If we are going to map The Festival to an actual place for our metaphorical (or actual, depending on your travel budget) walking of Lovecraft’s oeuvre, I am going to operate on the assumption that the church, which it is remarked is placed atop a high hill, is in fact Our Lady, Star of the Sea, built on Prospect Hill in 1875.
Once in the church, we follow our hero being led by Fortuna, who is deeply associated with the sea and often symbolized by a ships rudder, and her cohort, the primordial and fatherless son of Gaia, Pontus, down into the depths of the earth where he witnesses the most ancient Yule-rite:
“Fainting and gasping, I looked at that unhallowed Erebus of titan toadstools, leprous fire, and slimy water, and saw the cloaked throngs forming a semicircle around the blazing pillar. It was the Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the solstice and of spring’s promise beyond the snows; the rite of fire and evergreen, light and music. And in the Stygian grotto I saw them do the rite, and adore the sick pillar of flame, and throw into the water handfuls gouged out of the viscous vegetation which glittered green in the chlorotic glare.”
and where we are introduced to a new spirit in our pantheon, Lovecraft’s Yule Beasts:
“Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the Tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged thought… not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats…”
In the end, Lovecraft gives us a rare treat, and one I cannot help but quote verbatim here, a long paragraph memorized by our narrator from his reading of the Necronomicon:
“‘The nethermost caverns,’ wrote the mad Arab, ‘are not for the fathoming of eye that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thought s live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumor that the should of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instruct the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are rigged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”
As we have seen, Fortuna is deeply embedded in this tale and her representation in the tarot is the Wheel of Fortune. ‘La Roue De Fortune’ in our Etteilla deck is graced with two keywords, fortune for the upright position, and augmentation for the reverse. Fortune, mapping back to the 13th c., primarily means ‘luck as a force in human affairs’, which to me brings to mind the work practitioners do when engaging with sigilmancy. It is also probably related to proto-indo-European *bher-, which means to ‘carry’ or ‘to bear children’ and offers an overall sense of ‘that which is brought’. Augmentation, in turn, maps back to Old French, and generally means to ‘increase’. The Holistic Tarot has this to say about our card:
“Movement is coming… Forces are in motion… matter(s) beyond the Seeker’s control may happen and affect the outcome of events…. a foreshadowing that history will repeat itself.”
The Wheel of Fortune is a representation of how the seeker is engaging with the powers of fate. Is she, like our narrator in The Festival, being led by fate into a throng of black cloaked cosmic death cultists? Or is she flinging herself into the oily depths of an underground river, to evade the gloaming Yule Beasts clamoring past Pontus to tear her to pieces? In The Festival we engage with the different vectors our fate can take while we walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, does history repeat itself or do we forge a new road?