At the beginning of the week I had a dream. I started (and am subsequently tearing through) Eric Wargo’s book ‘Time Loops: Precognition, Retrocausation, and the Unconscious,’ which I can’t recommend too highly. It is an amazing book and has got me to thinking about the significance of seemingly insignificant or completely non-contextual dreams. As such, I’ve begun to get up and email myself (for the timestamp) descriptions of dreams after I have had them.
This week’s dream began with me on my grandmother’s farm, a landscape I have written about again and again here on the blog. This night, however, the dream was covered with apple trees and the apples were being harvested by burly long-haired men on ladders. They were throwing them back and forth and throwing them at me as I walked past on that oh-so-familiar gravel driveway. By the house, a woman was painting. I knew the woman as ‘Edna.’ She looked at me and said with a knowing nod, ‘You’re home.’ I woke up, emailed myself the above description and went about my week.
On Monday, I smashed my iPhone. First time ever with any computing device actually. I made an appointment at the local Apple store and proceeded to brood about the cost of the repair for the rest of the week. It was a really interesting few days, however, because I couldn’t stand to look at the screen I had broken, I put it down, and in putting it down and not using it I realized just how much I do use it and for what. And then, even though I had plenty of choices of alternate computing devices, tablets and laptops oh my, I didn’t bring any with me to the Apple store when I relinquished my phone for an hour and a half. Heck, I even had to sit in the coffee house nearby in such a way that I could see the tiny clock behind the bar, because I didn’t even have a timepiece… It was a revelatory hour and half, just me and Wargo’s book and a cup of coffee… I mean, I was probably one of the last people on the planet to get a smart phone. I’ve only had one for just over three years. Before that, I had ‘dumb’ phones designed to be dropped off of the rooftops and machinery I was working on, no screen save for the one you view the numbers in. If fact, as I’m writing this, I recall when I went to get my first smart phone (at the same Apple store), after being given my current job at the architecture firm, an old man overheard me say it was my first and literally pleaded with me to walk out of the store and not look back, not unlike the protagonist of our tale this week, ‘Old Bugs.’
We begin sometime in the future, from Lovecraft’s perspective, in the bleaker areas of the City of Chicago, in a place called:
“Sheehan’s Pool Room, which adorns one of the lesser alleys in the heart of Chicago’s stockyard district, is not a nice place.”
The mention of the Sheehan family as it relates to the Chicago underground and billiards has a real world connection. The Sheehan family having moved their wares to Oregon in the interim. From the site, oregonlive.com, comes their story:
“Pool tables have been in the Sheehan family for generations. Their roots stretch to pre-Prohibition Chicago, where the family started in the billiard business under the watchful eye of mobsters before coming west 100 years ago this month… January 1912. William and Howard Sheehan, former barbers, migrate from Chicago to Portland and take over Palace Billiards in downtown. Later in the year they move to Pendleton and open the Sheehan Cozy, a billiard room and cafe. Their brother Joe, the elder Patrick Sheehan's father, also heads west to work for the family business. Back in Chicago, Joe had worked for Brunswick-Balke-Collender (now Brunswick Billiards) setting up one of the largest billiard rooms in downtown Chicago…
Mid-1920s. Joe Sheehan returns to Chicago and goes to work for gangster Bugs Moran at the height of Prohibition. "It was against the law to sell liquor and he (Joe) got caught," the elder Sheehan says. "It was a question of whether he was going to move or go to jail." He ended up enlisting in the Army and serving overseas before returning to the United States, where he traveled between the West Coast and Chicago for several years, according to the younger Sheehan.
June 1944. Joe Sheehan arrives back in Portland for good. A few months later he marries a woman he met on the train coming west and adopts her two children, Patrick, 6, and Henrietta, 14. He and his brothers, who are now back in Portland as well, attempt to open a billiard room. The new venture never takes off because the local billiards market is already saturated. (At the time, according to the younger Sheehan, there were more than 700 pool tables in downtown Portland alone. "All of the big hotels had at least one as did the nicer smoke shops and the barber shops," he says. There were also numerous pool halls with names like the Elite and the Alaskan.)”
Did Lovecraft just grab the name Sheehan out of a hat? Or did his tentacled reach of correspondents and cutting service stories alert him of the Chicago Sheehan clan? Regardless, it is a powerful sync and Sheehan Billiards should be the only ones you allow to outfit your Cthulhu Shrine/Subterranean Game Room in the future.
Lovecraft continues, painting for us a highly accurate picture of a back alley mobster-run Chicago pool hall:
“Over and above the fumes and sickening closeness rises an aroma once familiar throughout the land, but now happily banished to the back streets of life by the edict of a benevolent government — the aroma of strong, wicked whiskey — a precious kind of forbidden fruit indeed in this year of grace 1950.”
Lovecraft is, in this tale, crafting a definite spell, a hypersigil intended to extend prohibition well into his own future, having written it in 1919. He also holds little idea of the growth Chicago would see in the intervening time for his near future tale. In 1920 it was a city of two million, and in 1950, scant thirty years later, the city added another million people. Think of that, one million people in thirty years. I bet you know a small town near you that hasn’t changed at all in that amount of time.
As we have already learned in the Oregon Live article quoted above, Lovecraft pinpoints Sheehan’s as the epicenter of the Chicago underground:
“Sheehan’s is the acknowledged centre to Chicago’s subterranean traffic in liquor and narcotics, and as such has a certain dignity which extends even to the unkempt attaches of the place; but there was until lately one who lay outside the pale of that dignity — one who shared the squalor and filth, but not the importance, of Sheehan’s. He was called ‘Old Bugs,’ and was the most disreputable object in [the] environment.”
While Old Bugs is the focus of our tale, it should be noted here that he is not our archetype. She will be revealed later in our examination:
“Whence he had come, no one could tell. One night he had burst wildly into Sheehan’s, foaming at the mouth and screaming for whiskey and hasheesh; and having been supplied in exchange for a promise to perform odd jobs, had hung about ever since, mopping floors, cleaning cuspidors and glasses…”
In a lot of ways, Rustin Cohle, from True Detective, is an echo of Lovecraft’s character, Old Bugs. When we are introduced to his present self we find that he is a derelict drunk, living behind the bar he is working in lieu of being in law enforcement. Another vector is that Rust’s past is completely shrouded in mystery and the language he uses is far and above in sophistication and eccentricities than all of those he interacts with.
“He talked but little, and usually in the common jargon of the underworld; but occasionally, when inflamed by an unusually generous dose of crude whisky, would burst forth into strings of incomprehensible polysyllables and snatches of sonorous prose and verse which led certain habitues to conjecture that he had seen better days.”
“I do not think that many of Sheehan’s regular patrons will ever forget the day that young Alfred Trever came. He was rather a ‘find’ — a rich and high-spirited youth who would ‘go the limit’ in anything he undertook, who had come across the boy at Lawrence College, in the small town of Appleton, WI. Trever was the son of prominent parents in Appleton… his mother had made an enviable reputation as a poetess under her maiden name of Eleanor Wing…”
There is currently, but not at the time of this tale’s writing, a Trever Hall on the campus of Lawrence University. It was named after Albert Augustus Trever, a professor of history and Greek at Lawrence between 1905 and 1940, so his tenure matches the writing of the tale. He has written two tomes, a History of Greek Economic Thought in 1916 and the History of Ancient Civilization in 1936 in Lovecraft’s lifetime that were likely of interest to HPL as a reader. This adds two more tangential texts to our virtual bookshelf as well as a possible gateway for Lovecraftian Magic on the campus of Lawrence University.
And here is where my dream loops back and feeds into my reality again. Recall the woman whom I knew was called ‘Edna’ that was painting the apple orchard in front of the farm house. I asked my Mom if I had an Aunt Edna and she sent back word that was the name of my Grandfather’s favorite sister, and in her penultimate New Age way went on to inform me that her spirit was guiding me somewhere, maybe… But get this, a really good match for Eleanor Wing in Lovecraft’s story is the novelist and playwright, Edna Ferber, a Pulitzer Prize winner who lived in Appleton as a child, attended high school there, and attended Lawrence University for a time. While written well after this tale, Ferber published in 1931 a novel by the name of ‘American Beauty’ that chronicles the decline of a Connecticut family in the Housatonic region between the years of 1700 and 1930. Among its themes are a millionaire mentally destabilized by the stock market crash of 1929 is advised to return to the farm he spent his youth on. Old houses, rural east coast locale, tension set up by the juxtaposition of society city folk and rustics… altogether, very Lovecraftian. The Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature goes so far to list Ferber’s novel ‘Cimarron’ within the same breath as many of Lovecraft’s tales. If one is looking for a gothic feminist foil to the Lovecraft’s aesthetic, Ferber is a good choice.
Our psuedo-Ferber has her story deepened by the narrator:
“Alfred [Trever’s] tendency toward wildness had been stimulated somewhat by the repression to which he had been subjected at home; for Mrs. Trever had particular reason for training her only child with rigid severity. She had, in her own youth, been deeply and permanently impressed with the horror of dissipation by the case of one to whom she had for a time been engaged.
Young Galpin, the fiance in question, had been one of Appleton’s most remarkable sons… at the age of twenty-three… [taking up] a professorship at Lawrence and [slipping] a diamond upon the finger of Appleton’s fairest… daughter [Eleanor Wing].”
Alfred Galpin was a resident of Appleton and a close friend of Lovecraft. It is said that Galpin introduced Lovecraft to Nietzsche and Clark Ashton Smith. Upon his mentor’s death, Galpin wrote a piece for piano entitled ‘Lament for HPL.’ One of Galpin’s publications is a particularly good fit for fine tuning one’s Lovecraftian aesthetic, De Sanctis on Dante, an examination of the 19th c. literary critic, Francesco De Sanctis’ body of work on Dante. I don’t know, it is said he was a dedicated protege of HPL, it might be worth a look… but I digress, back to the tale:
“Evil habits, dating from a first drink taken years before in woodland seclusion, made themselves manifest in the young professor; and only by a hurried resignation did he escape a nasty prosecution… His engagement broken, Galpin moved east… but before long, Appletonians heard of his dismissal in disgrace from New York University, where he had obtained an instructorship in English… always shewing a genius so remarkable that it seemed as if the public must sometime pardon him for his past mistakes… But then the blow fell. A final disgrace… the young man abandoned his name and disappeared from public view… [Alfred Trevor’s] eyes glistened and his nostrils curled at the fumes of the brownish fluid which an attendant was pouring out for him. It repelled him horribly, and revolted all his inherited delicacy; but his determination to taste life to the full remained with him, and he maintained a bold front. But before his resolution was put to the test, the unexpected intervened. Old Bugs, springing up from a crouching position… leaped at the youth and dashed from his hands the uplifted glass… simultaneously attacking the tray of bottles and glasses with his mop… scattering the contents on the floor… Old Bugs straightened up before the astonished Trever, and in a mild and cultivated voice said, ‘Do not do this thing. I was like you once, and I did it. Now I am like — this.’”
Here we have Lovecraft taking a clear philosophical and political stance, using the vehicle of his writing to make an argument for prohibition and a general abstaining from intoxicants. If Lovecraft is capable of using his fiction as a political and philosophical tool, then where are the other arguments for the life of mind that he supposedly (according to the Pop Lovecraftian critics) chose - atheism, racism, misogyny, and the like? Those critics will often site his letters to his literary circle and friends and things stated in the letters as the truth. I have been thinking deeply on this. Letters are an exchange between two people and the relationship between those people will dictate the contents and tone of those letters. Fiction is an author speaking to an unknown audience and, probably more likely, speaking to herself. Fiction also allows for filtering hard truths that you cannot express publicly through metaphor, character and plot. If Lovecraft chose to make his philosophy as a Teetotaler flesh via the tale of Old Bugs, where are the parables of overt racism, atheism, and nihilism? Why don’t we see these among his oeuvre?
Our protagonist, being set upon by the gangster-affiliated Sheehan for his intervention, takes up a defensive stance:
“Old Bugs, obtaining a firmer hold on his mop, began to wield it like the javelin of a Macedonian hoplite, and soon cleared a considerable space around himself, meanwhile shouting various disconnected bits of quotation, among which was prominently repeated, ‘… the sons of Belial, blown with insolence and wine.’”
This quote is from what is probably one of the most (although his critics always point to Machen, Dunsany and Poe) influential authors on Lovecraft, John Milton and his epic poem, Paradise Lost. In the majority of Lovecraft’s fiction there is a good and evil dichotomy, with the ‘good’ being the scientific materialist and the ‘evil’ being the ‘degenerate’ witches and wizards — but as we have found in our investigation, these poles are actually reversed — the materialist always being converted to belief or driven mad in the process. The keyphrase, ‘sons of Belial’ appears 15 times in the Bible and always indicates idolators or men of the lowest sort. In the Dead Sea Scrolls Belial is referred to as a being cursed by God, but whose existence proves the existence and mystery of God. Milton and his works are a masterpieces of both literary and theological weight. Lovecraft is using this weight, to make his final wild swings at lifeways that include intoxication, and then, at once, the swinging stops:
“Then suddenly Old Bugs ceased to wield his javelin and stopped still — drawing himself up more erectly than any denizen of the place had ever seen him before. ‘Ave, Caesar, Moriturus te saluto!” he shouted, and dropped to the whiskey-reeking floor, never to rise again.”
In his death throes, a curious quote escapes from the protagonists’ lips, ‘Caeser, those who are about to die, salute you.’ While using a variant of the phrase that references Caeser, the phrase in particular represents a historical event in which Emperor Claudius staged a sea-battle for the benefit of spectators, an aquatic variant of the Roman Games in which the gladiators were all condemned criminals. It is recorded that the phrase that Old Bugs uttered was the same that the gladiators cried in unison before being forced to destroy each other. It is a deep admission of guilt on the protagonist’s part, an admission that he himself was the condemned and that his part in the game had come to a close:
“An officer bent reluctantly over the loathsome glassy-eyed form and found [a] tissue-wrapped [photograph], which he passed around among the others. ‘Some chicken!’ leered a drunken man as he viewed the beautiful face [in the photograph]… Then the picture was passed to Trever, and a change came over the youth. After the first start, he replaced the tissue wrapping around the portrait, as if to shield it from the sordidness of the place. Then he gazed long and searchingly at the figure on the floor… Alfred Trever [then] offered to take charge of the body and secure its interment in Appleton [for] over the library mantel in his home hung the exact replica of that picture, and all his life he had known and loved the original. For the gentle and noble features were those of his own mother.”
Which brings us to the true archetype of the tale, Eleanor Wing, the matron, the moralist, and in our context, the tarot trump, Temperance.
Our Etteilla deck offers two keywords, Temperance and ‘Le Pretre,’ or ‘The Priest.’ Temperance is from the latin word ‘temperantia,’ and has the predictable meanings of ‘moderation,’ ‘sobriety,’ and ‘self-control.’ It’s root, temper, means much the same thing but can be related to ‘temporal,’ a term quite at the front of my mind as I read through Wargo’s Time Loops. Temper, as a noun, holds dual meanings of a ‘calm disposition’ and an ‘angry state of mind.’ Characteristics we see in our protagonist. Priest is an interesting choice for a reversal by Etteilla. If we follow it back through to its cognate, the Old High German ‘prest,’ which in turn is from the Vulgar Latin ‘prevost,’ and the Latin ‘praepositus,’ we come upon the meaning ‘person placed in charge,’ which is the counterpart of the tale, young Trever, as he takes charge of his long lost father’s remains.
But where, if anywhere, is the magic in this tale? What have we learned? What do we apply to our growing system? I am drawn back to that strange, non-contextual dream at the beginning of the week though, if I hadn’t have written it down, would it have been such a match for my week? Wargo argues that precognition is in a way, its own cause (hence the Time Loop, I’m not doing it justice, you need to read the book). I have thought much deeper though on my own Apple-jack flavor of digital whiskey going through this tale with that dream floating in my pneumonic slipstream. It does paint Lovecraftian Magic as a sober one, does it not? For how can we fully understand the aesthetic if we are conducting ritual in the throes of whatever our personal version of Trever’s vices are? When we have seen ecstatics, such as the circle of worshipers in the New Orleans swamp, it is a frenzy of a sober variety, driven by worship and dancing and mantras and, most of all, by fear.