I was going to go in a different direction this week. For most of the week I had it in my head that I needed to talk about how to deal with the prevalence of Christian themes in grimoire magic, particularly if you aren’t Christian. I am not, and actually take it one further and believe that I lost my ability to have faith. This happened young, sort of like the whole busting the Easter Bunny in his pajamas hiding eggs in the morning thing and he smells like last night’s beer and looks just like your Dad. I can remember when I used to be able to believe in something, like God or Christ, and I remember when it faded and died.
It didn’t return until just recently, when I started the Rune Soup premium membership classes taught by Gordon White. I started uttering the daily prayers, started sigiling, and started seeing tiny results. I emphasize the word tiny. Nothing big has come through and I think I might have spent too long as a Materialist, nay, worse, an Objectivist (the pre-Republican Ayn Rand co-op kind, let’s not be gross). I keep at it though and my recent work with Saint’s Cyprian, Barbara, and Santa Muerte have produced some really interesting visions. These included (and please remember my above context) being present at the Crucifixion, watching the spear driven into Christ’s side, and covering myself in his blood. Those were some pretty intense days. But then, again, the magic waned and the communication ceased and everything just became words again.
Then I got to thinking about hiearachies, and if working with saints requires a type of faith I just don’t have and am probably incapable of. It is, I believe, a common assumption that you work with saints in order to access the hierarchy of Heaven, so that seems to me that it would be a bottom up grass roots type of magical community organizing. But can you work with saints without a belief in Christ? Is it in the modus operandi of these ancient spiritforms to bring you to their level, to instill faith in you? Presumably that would be in their job description, as they all have the same boss.
I’ve left them alone for a week, I only quietly said the prayer to the Decan this week and for the most part, its been no magic. I think I needed time to regroup. Among my thought-entities, Christ is popping up all over the place. As part of my regrouping I picked up the Book of Oberon and started a preliminary read of it. There he is again, prayer after prayer invoking his name. So then again the question, does one need to believe in Christ in order to work a demonic hierarcy as well? It appears that he is a key talisman of warding when it comes to properly protecting and purifying oneself prior to Grimoire work. Do the wicked need to be righteous?
I’ve seen enough, and believe most of, the evidence from practitioners that this isn’t the case, but have also heard, and believe all of, the opposite argument. On the one hand you have practitioners that eschew all Christianity and report solid magical effects, on the other you have those that say if you misinterpret, misstate, or omit the Christian context from (especially) Grimoire magic that you shouldn’t expect to see any results, especially those predicted by the formula. I guess I’m taking this one further and asking the question, do just saying the right words open the door to the realm of the Goblin King?
There is precedent for theater being the only qualifying factor for Grimoire work, the infamous paper crown for instance. This approach assumes that the demonic hierarchy generally believes what you tell it and buys into play acting as long as the ritual is correct. If this is true, is it true for all elements of Grimoire magic? If you can wear a paper crown, can you substitute the lamb’s blood required to consecrate your knife with cranberry juice? I think the answer I am coming to is a controversial ‘yes’.
My ‘yes’ relies on the following assumption:
Theater is at the core of chaos magic.
I spent some very fun years in the theater industry. I was in the tangental role of a building engineer for the Repertory Theater in Milwaukee, WI. The theater is housed in a lovely old reconditioned steam generation plant and as such, needed a lot of mechanical love. In my work there though I forged friendships with actors and both observed and experienced their work. While I can’t claim to be an actor and never will, I have seen the transformation of some of them into the roles that they were embodying. That magic is real, actors really can become, in both body and soul, the roles that they play. There was this one fella that played Dr. Moriarty for six weeks, normally a really nice dude, but for the run of that show he was a genuine evil genius. One of the components that I think need to be plugged into to be an effective practical magician is this type of method acting applied to the role of the grimoire magician. What it takes is an understanding of the whos that wrote the grimoire and their cultural context. My friend, Dr. Moriarty, like I said, he is a super sweet liberal culture loving man, but he embodied his role completely through an understanding of the character, the character’s cultural context, and his relationship and shared emotions with the audience. It’s that Dinero Taxi Driver mindset that is required for a chaos magician to work magic that is wholly rooted in a early Christian / medieval Catholic context. You are the actor and the spirit ecology is your audience. If you can convince them of the sincerity of your embodiment, you will be showered with applause and gratitude for giving them what they came for. If you are only on the stage, reading from a script words that fall flat because you haven’t transitioned into your role, at best you’ll be rewarded with polite silence. If your audience is made up of powerful normally malignant or trickster spirits, well, I’ve heard you can expect much worse.
I think that’s what I’m getting out of the saints I’m trying to form a relationship with, polite silence. I need to find my internal Taxi Driver, my inner Moriarty, and bring him to the altar. I will need to find him before I attempt grimoire magic, because that is the ostensible Night at the Apollo and any half-ass performance will be called out.
There is one other component to grimoire magic, however. Bringing Raging Bull into circle isn’t enough, there also needs to be a concrete symbol of your authority. That symbol is the grimoire itself.
For this week’s imbrications we are going to gather a few opinions on the ‘what’ of an artists’ book, which will lead us into the next part of our argument. First up is a video from Des Cowley, the Rare Printed Collections manager at the State Library of Victoria and co-author of ‘The World of Books’. This is a great quick video that offers a glimpse at some of the most infamous artists’ books created in the last century.
Next is another quick video featuring the Colorado book artist Alica Bailey. I especially like her description of object, of binding, and of being an event in time. Her description of the artists’ book as an extension of history reminds me of what we all, the Western Magical Diaspora, are doing with our practical enchantments in the 21st century.
and finally, check out these surreal and visceral artists’ book experience from Marina Abramovic. They are meant to be commentaries on war and genocide but I can’t help seeing correlations to Solomonic magic in their representation.
AUTHORITY AND THE GRIMOIRE
This week’s Lovecraft tale is ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’. Randolph Carter, however, isn’t the main actor in the story, he is only the narrator. The piece takes place in Florida, which as an aside I found interesting because of the commentary I’ve heard around ‘Herbert West, Re-Animator’, a later work, and Lovecraft’s visit to Florida late in his life. In Peter Levenda’s interview with Gordon White.
During the interview, Levenda seems perplexed or astonished by Lovecraft’s presence in Flordia, thinking him quite out of place there. Randolph Carter, written in 1919, shows us that Lovecraft had an interest in the ‘Florida Gothic’ for most of his life.
Carter describes himself as a friend of an explorer and student of the weird by the name of Harley Warren. Carter describes the vast library of Warren in the below passage:
“Of his vast collection of strange, rare books on forbidden subjects I have read all that are written in the languages of which I am a master, but these are few compared with those in languages I cannot understand. Most, I believe, are in Arabic; and the fiend-inspired book which brought on the end — the book which he carried in his pocket out of the world, was written in characters whose like I never saw elsewhere.”
Just as our story last week, The Doom That Came to Sarnath, connects with the Gibbous Moon, ‘Randolph Carter’ has its own specific phase, the waning crescent moon. I think these observations will be important later, when we attempt to map Lovecraft’s archetypes to a workable system of magic.
On a night lit by just such a moon, Carter and Warren pay a visit to a cemetery off of the ‘Gainseville Pike’. They are carrying, among other things, early communication equipment, lights, prybars, and in particular the above mentioned ‘fiend-inspired book which brought on the end’. The book here is more important than the rest of the tale. It is the first story that Lovecraft imbues a book, a grimoire, with authority. While the book is not named, its description paints a picture of a type of proto-Necronomicon.
The description of the cemetery is curious:
“The place was an ancient cemetery; so ancient that I trembled at the manifold signs of immemorial years. It was in a deep damp hollow, overgrown with rank grass, moss, and cuirous creeping weeds… On every had were the signs of neglect and decriptitude, and I seemed haunted by the notion that Warren and I were the first living creatures to invade a lethal silence of centuries… by [the moons] feeble, wavering beams I could distinguish a repellent array of antique slabs, urns, cenotaphs, and mausolean faceds; all crumbling, moss-grown, and moisture stained, and partly concealed by the gross luxuriance of the unhealthy vegetation”
While Florida might seem ‘newer’ than Lovecraft’s New England and not able to convincingly imbricate with gothic horror, the peninsula has been continuously occupied by marked by human activity for likely longer than any other place in the United States. Mound building cultures, such as those that built ‘Poverty Point’ in nearby Louisiana also occupied the Florida area. While there isn’t much archaeological evidence to support this, I’ve always theorized that the ‘Olmecs’, the culture that preceded the Aztecs and the Mayans and whose legends state that they disappeared to the North, are the progenitors of the Mound Building cultures found by Spanish colonizers when they ventured along the Gulf Coast. If we think of the area described in this way by Lovecraft, the connections become much deeper.
Warren, throughout the story, is described as lording his ‘mental constitution’ and greater intellect over Carter. Their visit to the cemetery is no different, it is Warren’s intent to take the Book Which Brought On The End down into a particularly deep crypt in this Florida cemetery and it is Carter’s job to maintain the communication equipment and stay topside. This trope, of Warren holding himself physically and mentally above Carter, is repeated to the extent that we would be forgiven for thinking that this might be a story of exclusion, of using information to the advantage. This correlates to the world of magic, where only some have the information needed to advance to new levels. It also correlates to a dominant / subordinate dichotomy, male / female, gay / straight, white / black, etc. Where one figure holds him or herself above the other as stronger. This can extended to colonialism in general, the colonists using theories like Manifest Destiny or 19th c. anthropology to place one race above the other due to falsehoods about mental faculties.
Randolph Carter as the marginalized archetype and Harley Warren as the colonizer. It is important here that Lovecraft is using the voice of the marginalized to tell this story.
Warren is using the book, and his understanding of it, as his model for authority. If Warren were to descend into the crypt armed only with a radio, would he have met the same end? Would Carter have the same story to tell? Would the stage have been set in the same way? No, the grimoire, the Book Which Brought On The End, is the authority in the story and the thing that brings about the change in state at the end. Once Warren assumes the role of the magician and descends into the crypt, the mood of the tale shifts:
“In the lone silence of that hoary and deserted city of the dead, my mind conceived the most ghastly phantasies and illusions; and the grotesque shrines and monoliths seemed to assume a hideous personality - a half-sentience. Amorphous shadows seemed to lurk in the darker recesses of the weed-choked hollow and to flit as in some blasphemous ceremonial procession pst the portals of the mouldering tombs in the hillside; shadows which could not have been cast by that pallid, peering crescent moon.”
The spirits come to call, they gather as an audience, to watch the magician’s performance.
Through the phone line (a brilliant vehicle to deliver horror btw and way ahead of its time) not only to we receive Lovecraft’s brand of nameless psychological terror but in his ministrations and raving, Warren never ceases to marginalize his friend, warning him that his faculties are too weak to witness what he is witnessing, that Carter would surely be driven mad.
In the end, this could be a tale of initiation. Of the inability to comprehend the other side before you are initiated. To the fear and trepidation that those that travel on the edge of the abyss constantly feel. This is true in magic and in life. Without attempting to grab life, pushing forward past fear and convention, we are doomed to a life of nothing memorable and constant fear. That is what we get if we only scratch the surface. If we take our white-handled blade and cut the circle deeper, we see that this is a tale of authority, both real and manufactured. Warren, the colonizer, manufactures his authority over Carter using the real authority and power of the grimoire he holds, the Book Which Brought On The End.
Lovecraft offers us one of his first immaterial books in this tale, but he goes one further and creates for us, or allows us to create for ourselves, an Auratic Grimoire. I am layering the idea of an auratic book, which is a part of artists’ books theory, against the concept as the grimoire being the necessary symbol of authority for the chaos magician. Johanna Drucker, another book artist and the author of ‘A Century of Artists’ Books’ gives us an idea of how a book or other object can be ‘auratic’:
“An artists’ book can be a unique work, a highly limited edition, or an inconsistent edition, and still be a work which is a direct expression of aesthetic ideas in book form… Many of these books have an auratic quality, an often inexplicable air of power, attraction, or uniqueness. Some are unique objects, one-of-a-kind works which emanate a precious or mystical or intriguing quality… some are fetish objects which make use of the book in an erotically charged way or to exhibit and/or demonstrate sexually charged behavior. Transformed books use an existing work as their base, and then make a palimpsest which is a combination of textual, visual, and material manipulations of the original.”
Therein lies the authority of the Book Which Brought On The End, its ‘air of power, attraction, or uniqueness’. We live in the 21st century and that has a benefit of unlimited democratic multiples of ancient grimoires like the Hygromantaiea, but no matter how many copies of classical grimoires are made (and gods bless those doing the good work of translating and printing these works) I would argue that they still maintain their uniqueness. Drucker continues, speaking to a book’s ability to project a presence:
“Books which have an aura about them generate a mystique, a sense of charged presence. They seem to bear meaning just in their being, their appearance, and their form through their iconography and materials… as though they have been imbued with a power which animates them beyond their material limits generating a metaphysically charged atmosphere which surrounds the work.”
Modern grimoires ‘bear meaning just in their being’, and that meaning connects directly to the 21st century resurgence of witchcraft and magic. The above also gets directly to the need for the grimoire in magic, when she says ‘through their iconography and materials [they generate] a metaphysically charged atmosphere’, that is what I’m getting at when I state that the grimoire establishes the authority of the magician in her dealings with the spirit ecology. Printed grimoires and those we write and illustrate ourselves like the classical grimoists, have this auratic quality, and it is this quality that imbues them as objects of authority in magical congress. Pulling from Drucker one last time:
“the identifiable characteristics of [auratic books] are qualities which produce a fascination which can’t be easily explained… It has to do with tapping into a certain level of fantasmatic — a level of psychological engagement in which emotinoal energy attaches to an object for reasons which cannot be explained through reason or conscious analysis.”
When mapping ‘The Tale of Randolph Carter’ to the Tarot, we need to use his rather poor and abusive friend, Harley Warren as our archetype, for that is where the lesson lies for the magically adjacent. The Six of Coins is the best match for Harley Warren. Etteilla’s keyword for the reversed form of the card is ‘Ambition’. This word, derived from the original Latin ‘ambitionem’ means ‘a going around, desire for honor, thirst for popularity’. Also, in English, it almost always used as a pejorative. The traditional meaning of the card itself is that the querent does not see the gifts she is being given and is blind to help. Warren has a gift in Randolph Carter. Despite his abuses, Carter is dedicated to his friend and seeks to lift him up. Warren is more interested in imbuing himself with authority and placing himself above Carter. It is revealed in the end that his authority is false and the authority of the grimoire is all that remains.
Magic is the great leveler, it is designed to bring the marginalized up and usurp false authority. The Six of Coins tells the story of Harley Warren and the fate of the oppressors when exposed to the blinding light of the auratic grimoire.