Alchemy and the Aleph

FRONT MATTER

Practice takes a number of forms. If I’ve learned anything the past year and a half of consistent engagement with the world of magic, it is that.

I was given a primary lesson in this fact by, those greatest of teachers, children. If you follow along week to week, you will know that I’ve been engaging in some heavy, consistent productivity and wealth magic in an attempt to bend the probability spectrum towards an even better job. If we are to discount all first-world problems, I have a great job currently, but it isn’t ‘the’ job by a number of factors, money, location, and enrichment. Last week I cast some short-term sigils and one of them came to pass, the phone interview went well and I’ve been invited to a second phone interview with the hiring manager. To recap, I cast the sigil last Thursday after extended invocations to Jupiter and my growing team of saints. I charged them (casting and charging are proving to be two distinct activities [the first is tied to ritual, the second is tied to emotional output] in my practice) right before the call and, feeling not terrified by the spirits of the waterways in my area after some communication attempts, I released the sigils (is this a third stage?) into the Milwaukee River - and proceeded with the first call.

Now, I am pretty darn good at what I do, but to recap the context of this job, I asked for a fairly large salary (even for the city it is located in) and my cover letter was perfunctory and very upfront about some of the things that bother me about the modern business place that I should have really left out or lied about. They called anyway. Twice. I’m counting that as a sigilmancy success and, as is the way of Chaos, documenting the procedure.

In fact, I had every intention of repeating the procedure this past Thursday, an excellent day astrologically on top of being related to who I am swiftly beginning to think is my primary celestial patron, Jupiter, in an effort to influence this second call scheduled for next week. That’s where the micro-embodiment-of-a-Zen-crack-to-the-bowed-head-with-a-bamboo-rod that is my two-year old stepped in. I was beginning my ten-count breath meditation, you know, getting in the mood, when I heard a cry. I opened my eyes with a start to find my groggy wife holding our LO, whom she swiftly deposited in my much-more awake lap, and stumbled back to bed.

Praxis Interruptus

Now, I’d much rather spend time with our LO than anything else, so I wasn’t miffed, but I still felt some allegiance and communication was due. So, holding the now slumbering child, I embarked on some journeying. Departing from ritual has always caused me anxiety because it feels so very new-agey, so very ‘my spirit animal told me to invest in a new tarot deck over brunch’ kind of new-agey when I (or anyone) takes the rigor out of magic. This morning though, I learned, or rather, I leaned in the opposite direction. My kid always falls into a deep sleep when I’m holding him if I start meditative breathing, so I doubled-down on the ten count breath and moved directly into visualizing my patron and my team of saints. Without ritual to, well, hide behind is a close keyphrase, without ritual I was forced to speak to the spirits, or my Redbook-y mental incarnations of them, in a more direct way.

And that is the breakthrough.

You see, a long time ago, and I’ve written about this in the past, I lost the ability to have faith in the spirit world. Tainted by a Lutheran upbringing, devoid of ritual, and a focus on a creator deity with no interest in my young-self, my mind turned outward and began to explain the world to itself in materialist terms. One of the features of animism that has escaped me up to this point, has been that faith component required to speak to the spirit world in the same way that I speak to my neighbor (well, not my neighbor, I hate him, someone I like). Is magical ritual the gateway drug into developing a more direct connection to the spirit world? It seems so, because it didn’t feel false. I spoke to everyone in turn; Jupiter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saints Cyprian, Barbara, Philomena, Francis, and I even threw in Saint Roch, because my daughter desperately wants a dog.

Saint Roch was interesting, actually, because adding him in revealed a bit of tech to me. I was able to immediately call him up, after only a cursory glance at images depicting him a week or more ago, by first envisioning the wound on his thigh. I think that the stigmata and the wounds that saints bear are, among other things, very effective at conjuring? invoking? opening up communication with the saint. This is a theory I’ll have to test out, and in a way, add some new hypothetical rigor to the journeying process.

The barrier to practice, just good old fashioned life getting in the way, opened up an old barrier that I had encountered decades ago. Peering through the crack left by the oaken portal, I can see into a life where the communication between myself and the spirit world is as natural as walking down a forest path and listening to spring-drunk birds sing.


IMBRICATIONS

Our first imbrication is really quite nice, I’ve never heard of Karyn Crisis before, it appears that she is a metal artist and working medium that is, in her own words, ‘Working… towards reclamation of pre-pagan feminine shamanism of Italy and Old Europe’s ancient past.’ and goes further to call out her own personal X-(wo)man team; ‘My partnership with this Goddess team of Cibele, Iside, Diana, and Aradia, focuses on: anthropological documentation of living women in Italy who are part of Lineage practices, from a spiritual  insider perspective’. She paints tarot cards, fronts a metal group, preserves feminine shaman life ways in an authentic and non-appropriative manner, shit, yeah, I’ll sign up for that newsletter.

 

This week’s Lovecraft tale features what amounts to a Boogie Man that shadows the steps of the protagonist and his family throughout the centuries. Let’s dial up the hellbilly with The Hellfreaks and their track about this shadowy figure.

 

Looks like we have a theme here, celebrating the women of metal along with connecting to our tale for the week’s threads. Let’s round it out with this frankly amazing offering from the immortal Wendy O Williams and The Plasmatics;/ The Damned. They don’t make punks like this anymore.

 

ON THE ALCHEMY OF THE SAINTS

Coming down off of the Rune Soup Saints course, I find that I can no longer disconnect the Saints as spirit entities from my worldview or my interior space for that matter. This week’s Lovecraft tale is one of his earliest, The Alchemist, and to help put it into a more robust context, I cracked opened Aaron Cheak’s Alchemical Traditions again, but this time around, the Saints bled into the essays and the wider explanation of the tale.

Beginning with Cheak’s essay, INTERZONE, we find a text and an archetype of the Alchemist that would have been the first encountered by budding European Alche-mites:

“the text that describes the introduction of alchemy to pre-Islamic Arabia is also the same text that was translated into Latin centuries later in order to introduce alchemy to the European West… The Epistle of Maryanus, Hermit and Philosopher, to Prince Khalid ibn Yazid…”

The alchemist as a hermit fits easily with Lovecraft’s tale. In his essay, Cheak offers us the origin of the term alchemy in Europe as well, as mansplained by some cat named Robert of Chester:

“Robert of Chester explicitly introduces the term alchymia…
‘Hermes the philosopher and others who came after him, defined the word in such a way: alchymia is a corporeal substance composed from the One and through the One… joining the most precious things together through relationship and effect, and naturally converting the same things by a natural comixture and by the best artifices.’
alchemy refers to a catalytic substance… capable of effecting the transmutation of bodies (whether metalurgical, biological, or spiritual)… alchemy is not concerned with random mutation, but with a transmutation that brings about… harmonic relations…”

I interpret this placing those that are in opposition to alchemy, the Comte as protagonist in our tale for instance, on the side of entropy, a degradation of harmony, a separation of wholes into fragmented parts. Alchemy, in a way, is the opposite of a post-modern materialist aesthetic. Cheak’s Interzone then moves into a space that finds cohabitation with the very special dead:

“Shaik Ahmad Ahsai… highlights the face that the physical body has a ‘hidden, invisible element,’ or ‘innerness’ that survives the death of the perishable corpse:
‘this is the spiritual body […], which is not formed of the sublunar Elements, but from the four Elements of the world… which are seventy times nobler and more precious than the Elements of the terrestrial world.’
This higher elemental or spiritual body may be understood as the form that determines the different states of ordinary bodies… the transmutation of material bodies is effectively an initiation into the laws or principles by which the mortal human body may be resolved into its primordial, immortal form; the resurrection body…
‘it is the configuration of the thing ‘which returns,’ it is not the thing itself… the matter is the same, but the form is different…”

The matter is the same, but the form is different. Let’s try and deconstruct this phrase, the meaning of ‘matter’ as a physical substance began in the early 14c., and thus, very likely, post dates the usage in this quote. A closer hit would be *dmateria from the proto Indo European root *dem, which means something closer to the source, the mother, or if we are to view it through a Borgesian lens, the Aleph. Form is a cognate with the Greek morphe, and is thus related to Morpheus, it means beauty and could be further qualified as the beauty of a dream. The matter is the same for the alchemist’s spiritual body, but the form is different. The source, the Aleph, is unchanging, but its manifestations follow the logic and aesthetic of dreams. The Saints, as I have begun to understand them through the static-y HAM Radio signal I’ve been able to tune in, communicate from this source but also have form, a beauty or aesthetic that touches us in this world.

Moving on to another essay in Alchemical Traditions; The Alchemical Khiasmos, we encounter a new concept that helps clarify our occult ‘What If’ comic:

 

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“The word Khiasmos (chiasmus) comes from the Greek word chiazo, ‘to shape like the letter x’… At the heart of the chiasmus is thus a paradox — two opposite conditions are placed in seeming contradiction — yet both are integral to each other’s truth…
Mortals are         Immortals are
immortals           mortals
                   \ /
                   / \
Living in             Dying the
mortal’s              immortal’s
death                  life
the chiasmus must be perceived as a continuous process”]

The chiasmus can be used to understand the cycle of form and matter, the movement between the source, or the Aleph, and manifestations of form within the language and aesthetics of the dream. ‘Mortals are immortals’ means that ourselves, as it is understood that our form exists within a dream, will return from the dream to the source. ‘Immortals are mortals’ points to the consistency of form when within the source. The Aleph is made of all things, all experiences, but those forms do not become formless when they join the source. ‘Living in a mortal’s death’ is embodied by Lovecraft’s tale, The Alchemist. The source choosing to live within the form - this is an embodiment of free will and the magician’s power over probability. And finally, ’Dying the immortal’s life’ is the suffering of existence, unable to escape form even when at one with the source (which cannot exist without all composite forms) is a form of endless and perpetual death. This spiritual alchemy, and Lovecraft’s archetypal alchemist, Charles le Sorcier, can easily be overlaid as a magical Augmented Reality screen over the lives and manifestations of the saints.

We begin our exploration of this short tale in familiar territory:

“High up, crowing the grassy summit of a swelling mound whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest, stands the old chateau of my ancestors… These ancient turrets, stained by the storms of generations… formed in the ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in all France”

The archetype of the fading ancestral home and a lineage once wealthy and now poor began early (1908) for Lovecraft and, like the Tower, is seen throughout his later work. France, however, is a location for Lovecraftian magic that I have not yet encountered in this exercise, and a somewhat welcome respite from New England.

Lovecraft wrote this tale prior to withdrawing from high school, around the age of seventeen. We can catch a glimpse of his youthful self projecting forward in time in the guise of The Alchemist’s protagonist:

“Upon my twenty-first birthday [my guardian] gave to me a family document which he said had for many generations been handed down from father to son… The paper carried me back to the days of the thirteenth century… It told of a certain ancient man who had once dwelt on our estates… Michel… Mauvais, the Evil… He had studied beyond the custom of his kind, seeking such things as the Philosopher’s Stone… and was reputed wise in the terrible secrets of Black Magic and Alchemy.”

He had yet to see the medieval-like plague of Typhoid Fever hit his corner of the Americas and was, as much as he ever could be, an innocent. His grasp at the age of seventeen in the year of 1908 of the largely accurate particulars of Renaissance magic are pretty astounding to my modern perception. Perhaps these things, the aesthetic of Renaissance magic, was more commonly distributed than it was when I was a young man. Where, at this age, was his source for research materials? His grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, would have passed away four years prior, and with his demise, his library would have passed out of Lovecraft’s grasp.

The antagonist of The Alchemist is one Charles Le Sorcier - A magician bent on the revenge of the murder of his father by the narrator’s ancestral line. This is a tale of the persecution of magic and magicians, the wrongly accused, the stigma attached to this most ancient form of spirituality by elites. The last in the line of C., finally turns to the Dominant of Witchcraft as a last resort, in order to defend himself from the family curse that kills all of his forebears at the age of thirty-two. We find the Comte wandering about his faded lineage’s home:

“Isolated as I was, modern science had produced no impression upon me, and I laboured as in the Middle Ages, as wrapt as had been old Michel and young Charles themselves in the acquisition of daemonological and alchemical learning… I had spent the better part of the morning in climbing up and down half-ruined staircases in one of the most dilapidated of the ancient turrets… I sought the lower levels… As I slowly traversed the nirtre-encrusted passageway at the foot of the last staircase, the paving became very damp… my eye fell upon a small trap-door with a ring, which lay directly beneath my feet…”

This is a match for the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, a trap door with a ring, the protagonist moving up and down the stairs of yet another tower… and a chthonic quest… This image of the trapdoor with a ring in connection with the tower appearing so early in Lovecraft’s oeuvre marks it as a sort of primal image for the mythos and Lovecraftian magic, as well as the stone steps descending into blackness beyond the trap door:

“disclosing in the unsteady glare the top of a flight of stone steps… I commenced my descent. The steps were many, and led to a narrow stone-flagged passage which I knew must be far underground. The passage proved of great length, and terminated in a massive oaken door…”

The Oak Door as a barrier is another trope that we see in Lovecraft often, beyond the door is always a world where, once crossed, the hero is forever changed by madness, evil, and chaos. The Alchemist is no different, as we see what lies beyond the door:

“There in the ancient Gothic doorway stood a human figure… a man in a skull-cap and long medieval tunic… His long hair and flowing beard were of a terrible and intense black hue… strangest of all were his eyes; twin caves of abysmal blackness… inhuman in degree of wickedness.”

And it is here that we re-encounter the chiasmus:

Mortals are         Immortals are
immortals           mortals
                   \ /
                   / \
Living in             Dying the
mortal’s              immortal’s
death                  life

On one side of the door we have the Comte, a mortal most concerned with his lineage and mortality. On the other side we have Charles le Sorcier, The Alchemist, a living corpse, six hundred years old, forever dying. The final scene is pregnant with symbolism. The witch, the magician, exists in the underground and society will burn it away when it is found, but magic continues to prosper, like The Alchemist, through the years, in its underground state, untouched by those that would burn it from the earth. As magicians and witches, we are all Charles Le Sorcier, continuations of traditions that extend back to the beginning of the human race. We also see the le sorcier as the living relic, grasping at the all to human Comte, identifying himself at last.

Inside his chamber, before the final sentences, the Comte briefly explores the Alchemist’s laboratory, briefly taking not of a shining pile of gold. Lovecraft is so clever here, as he is showing us both the spiritual alchemy of le Sorcier in his state of living death, or dying immortality, as well as showing us the other side, that of physical alchemy. Lead into gold as well as eternal life, both gifts of the Philosopher’s Stone and reflections, or metaphors, of each other.

Now watch closely, for this next bit is no less than pure magic. It is no secret now that I divine for the matching archetype in the tarot for these tales. I don’t possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the tarot and the multitudinous esoteric meanings applied to each card through the centuries. I invoke Saint Zachariah, I ask the deck to produce the right archetype, and once it does I set it aside, so that my choices are ever dwindling as I move through Lovecraft’s oeuvre. I look at it as a type of ‘walking the tarot’. This week, I divined for the right archetype for the story, The Alchemist, and was rewarded with the Five of Wands.

five e.jpg

Ettiella’s number for this card is 31, the last full year of life for anyone in the protagonist’s line. The key words are Process and Ore. The primary occupation of physical alchemy and the metaphor for refining one’s spiritual self, distilling it down to the source, while maintaining its unique characteristics. Deconstructing the keywords, we find that proces, in Old French, means ‘a journey’ and is pulled from the Latin processus, ‘a going forward’. Ore is a cognate for many types of metal, but its oldest (and Frenchiest) form comes from Proto-Indo-European *aus-, which means gold. Moving forward on an alternate timeline, we can connect ore to aureate, which has a figurative meaning of being splendid or brilliant.

A journey towards a splendid goal, towards the brilliance of the Aleph.

When we look at the Sola-Busca version of the card, we see a man burdened with five staves, carrying a gourd.

 

sola five.jpg

and here is where you lose track of my hands as I produce out of thin air…

The gourd is the taoist symbol for alchemy.

The ‘elixir of immortality’ can be produced through the distillation of red cinnabar through the upper chamber of the gourd, and placing mercury beneath.

The Dragon above, and Hermes below, the marriage of wealth and wisdom.

Looping back to the original goal of my practice this year, a layering of Jupiterean invocations and sigils for wealth on top of the wisdom and peace provided by the saints, the result, this hopeful Alchemical Aleph, shall work as a Philosopher's Stone providing the dual probability augment needed for a comfortable and happy life.