“Though one may get to fear the sight of it, a properly kept magical record is the surest guarantor of success… it is both a work of reference with which to evaluate progress and, most significantly, a goad to further effort.” Peter J Carroll - Liber Null
I was digging back into Peter Carroll this week for another blog and came across this quote. When I did, it made me realize a few things. I am closing in on a full year of blogging at Gnome School and a full year of mostly regular magical practice, I had a flash of understanding this week that the blog and the practice are one and the same. This is my record, and you all, those that take the time to read and comment, are my goad to further effort. In effect, any success I have as a practitioner is due to all of you.
I sit here this week, it is a late Saturday night, everyone else in the house is in bed, we put the Christmas tree up yesterday and I put the lights on this afternoon with the help of my four year old. Those of you that put up Christmas trees, whether you connect it to family tradition, Christianity, Saturnalia, or is just one of those rituals you don’t even really think about, you’ll know the feeling of being bathed in the colored electric light, possibly the overwhelming smell of pine if you go whole hog like me and get a real tree, there is a special quality to the room then, to the home. It changes the way one thinks, doesn’t it?
I realize that I have been posting a lot more princeps than praxis lately, and that is because my practice was lax. This week you’ll get some practice, I’ve given into the goading, and have been coaxed by this record into practicing more, which I am grateful for. Last week’s post on Sigil Theory made me realize that I needed to pick up the wand again, so to speak. Sigil magic is one of those bits of practice that it is really just dumb not to do as much as possible. I think I had grown a bit bored with it, which is why I left off. I think this means I wasn’t doing it right. I wasn’t thinking about it right.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time travel lately as well. Last weekend I was clicking through the tiles on the old streaming network and came across the Dr. Who Christmas specials. I have been a Dr. Who fan for a long time. My Mom, god bless her, passed on her lineage of science fiction obsessions to all of us very early. So I am a solid Tom Baker Whovian, no doubt about that.
I am super happy that there is a new generation of Whovians, but I can’t count myself among them because I haven’t seen but a handful of the new series, although I’ve loved everything I have watched. There was a moment, sitting on the couch, flanked by the four year old and the two year old, and the 11th Doctor was on the screen in a brilliant Dickens / Barrie Mashup, flying in a rickshaw pulled by a sky shark. I laughed so hard, spirit banishing laughter, my kids laughed, it was sublime ridiculousness. Dr. Who didn’t leave my thoughts all week, however, and I got to thinking about sigils as a type of time travel, a real ‘bigger on the inside’ kind of magic.
In last week’s post, I pulled on the origins of modern writing in Sumeria. There was a bit there that really stuck with me and I this week, based on the sigils-as-time-magic hypothesis, I’ve baked into my practice. My BFF Ghostly Harmless mentioned to me this week that he’s been having great luck with a Jupiter / Cyprian combination. Since I haven’t had many overt results (only suspected, now-that-was-a-little-too-odd to be coincidence results), I thought I’d give it a try this week. My hour or so that I am free to practice is between 4 AM and 6 AM, give or take a teething toddler, so I had to wait all day on Jupiter’s day, wake up before dawn, and then prepare my prayers and spells. Thankfully, there is always a daily hour that matches the planetary day towards the very end of the 24 hour cycle, so I was able to stack Jupiter’s for my ritual.
I began with the Hygromantiea planetary prayer, which is usually where I end, moving on after repeating the same phrases. This time though, I added an appeal directly to Jupiter while facing his direction. I moved on to my Saints and when I hit Cyprian, I repeated the personal appeal. I normally end with Santa Muerte nowadays and have always spoken to her as if she is in the room. The others, I just sort of feel around with mind-tendrils while I repeat the same prayers to see if they are around.
As a little extra insight into my practice, I’d like to share the visualization that I normally end my daily practice with. After completing the planetary and saintly prayers, I grab some candy from the altar, jelly beans this time, stand back from the burning mass of candles, and slowly chew the candy. While I do this I visualize that Santa Muerte is in my place, enjoying the sweets. When I’m done, I launch into a ten count breath, three times. The first time, I visualize Santa Muerte behind me, her hands on my shoulders, her owl wings outstretched. The second round of ten count breath I visualize Cyprian to my right, his grimoire touching my shoulder, his staff leaning in front of me, and normally a mass of burning sigils spinning somewhere nearby. For the last round comes Saint Barbara, her hand touching my shoulder, the white ribbon I have tied around her candle across her chest, and her flaming sword in front of me, crossing Cyprian’s staff. Normally that is it (and really, that is enough, it has a powerful, visceral effect on me) but this week I added in an extra layer. I wanted to walk-the-walk of some of my past blogs and really put some effort into my method acting as magic hypothesis.
I’ve mentioned that I have little love for the church and lost my faith in God and Jesus at a very young age. I really believe that this lack of faith has been a hinderance in my work with Saint Cyprian. Barbara reached out to me in a dream and I am confident of that connection. Santa Muerte, allegedly, doesn’t require much of her followers and does not judge their faith as a result. Cyprian, however, comes across as a real Christian dude, and I’m not 100% convinced that just calling him up on a regular basis is that effective. I think he needs an expression of faith, a sign that you are also on his wavelength when it comes to Christ. Acting on that hunch, I called up in front of myself and my trio of saints a vision of the crucifixion and did my best to embody how I think a devout Christian would feel if they were presented with the same. The results was tangible, painful even, it was a strange physical kind of sadness that I immediately wanted to stop, but kept at it through the ten count breath, which was suddenly very long. If I was able to convince myself of a ‘love of Christ’ that I felt it on a physical level, I’m hoping that was enough for Cyprian. When I was done, the feeling didn’t linger, I wasn’t converted or born again, but the feeling was nonetheless real at the time.
Moving onto to sigils and into the hour of Mars I set about the ritual outlined in the Rune Soup Premium Members course for charging them. I had made them in the way outlined in that course, sketching them in one notebook, copying them to the next, and then using that one to create the actual sigil. This time though I added in the time traveling component to each of. Building on my theory that sigils move into your subconscious and then back out of it into the real in a similar way as the brain processes learning a new language and layering on top of that the Sumerian practice of dating their symbol-vessel proto word contracts with dots that represent the time the vessel was bound, I added a series of dots, one for one, nine for a nine, that projected the sigil into a date around a year or so in the future. This time around I picked random dates that fit the target but I think next time it could be planned out further so that the sigil manifests or is at least triggered on a day that is auspicious or beneficial to the type of work that I am doing.
I also changed the way that I dealt with a sigil following the ritual charge. Normally I pin them up for awhile to engender the ‘low attention processing’ explained by Mr. Gordon White in his course, but this time, Pete Carroll has inspired me again to get at them in a different way. From his work Psychonaut:
“The sigil is charged in moments when the mind has achieved quiescence… At these times the sigil is concentrated upon… Some of the times when sigils may be charged are… at times of great fear, anger, or embarrassment; or at times when intense frustration or disappointment arises… when… strong desire aries… this desire is sacrificed (forgotten) and the sigil is concentrated on instead… it is wise to banish (the sigil) by evoking laughter. A record should be kept of all work with sigils but not in such a way as to cause conscious deliberation over the sigilized desire.”
The bit in the middle is the one that I am trying to get at, charging a sigil in times of great fear, anger, embarrassment, frustration or disappointment. I don’t know about you, but my daily life is filled to the brim with frustration and disappointment. In response to this, I packed my sigils away, folding them into my journal, with the intent of pulling one out when I once again find myself in the throws of some intense emotion. The plan is, at that time, to concentrate onto sigil instead, or until, the emotion passes. My hypothesis is the sigil work will not only help me cope with these emotional periods that we all experience, but they will in turn receive a power-up and be that much more effective when they come due.
Phew, OK, that’s enough practice sharing I think. This week’s imbrications hit pretty hard, I hope you enjoy them.
The first is a deliriously vintage video of Clint Ruin, aka Jim Thirwell, performing his song ‘Descent Into the Inferno’. Mr. Thirwell is one of the most original songwriters and composers walking the earth today. This tune, I think, folds into our Lovecraft tale, ‘The Book’, really nicely. Check it out and let me know what you think:
Our second imbrication comes to us via the Secret Chiefs 3 and their tune, Vajra. I picked this one because 1) SC3 are amazing and if you haven’t heard of them yet you’re welcome and 2) a Vajra, among other things, is a diamond like object or weapon of power. SC3 weild their instruments like weapons masters and this tune makes an excellent soundtrack for ‘The Book’ and our discussions on it below.
The last imbrication is from the band Marijuna Deathsquads. These guys are some hard hitting MF’s, let me tell you. The first video is from a tune a hadn’t heard until just before writing this. The video is great and has clear Jack Parsons evoking Babylon overtones. The second video is a song I’m familiar with and I’m sharing it here because it shows these crazies playing a live set. The lyrics are also apocalyptical so they, of course, fall right in line with Lovecraft.
THE BOOK AND THE BOOKSELLER
“We find ourselves in a universe that is at least four dimensional. To be sensible to us an event must have a displacement in both space and time… We often forget to include time in our conceptions because we take simultaneity for granted; we assume that things exist in the same time frame and that they will persist… A fifth dimension to which the psyche had some limited access could explain all magical and occult phenomena without exception. Information moved through a fifth dimension could manifest at any point in ordinary time or space.” - Peter Carroll; Psychonaut
A lot of old Pete this week, but that is the way of it, the good ones get quoted for a reason. The above quote is an echoing of the type of spacetime magic that Lovecraft dreamt of, Carroll's fifth dimension is the place where all of the Cthulhu Mythos was born. This week’s tale, as has been mentioned, is entitled ‘The Book’. It is really just a fragment, written at towards the end of Lovecraft’s life during a period of intense writer’s block. The historical introduction to the tale in my copy offers a quote from one of his letters from around the same time:
“I am at a sort of standstill in writing — disgusted at much of my older work, and uncertain as to avenues of improvement…”
It was published by his executor Barlow, who also gave it its super-imaginative title. ‘The Book’ is a continuation of some very familiar tropes, but it also shows some nuance that is not seen in other tales, making it significant. The first trope is that of the forbidden book, which the narrator recalls finding below:
“I found it — in a dimly lighted place near the black oily river where the mists always swirl. That place was very old, and the ceiling high shelves full of rotting volumes reached back endlessly through windowless inner rooms and alcoves. There were, besides, great formless heaps of books on the floor and in crude bins; and it was in one of these heaps that I found the thing. I never learned its title, for the early pages were missing; but it fell open toward the end and gave me a glimpse of something which sent my senses reeling… There was a formula — a sort of list of things to say and do — which I recognized as something black and forbidden…”
I went on a search looking for bookstores that Lovecraft might have visited at the time that fit the description above. The only one that came close and was operating at the time is The Old Corner Bookstore in nearby Boston. I think, I intuit, that Lovecraft was much more travelled than the critics and historians would have you believe. I’ve been building this hunch by trying to connect his descriptions of place with the places he could have easily reached by train or walking. The Old Corner Bookstore falls into the ‘maybe’ category.
The narrator continues describing the namesake of the tale:
“It was a key — a guide — to certain gateways and transitions… which lead to freedoms and discoveries beyond the three dimensions and realms of life… No printing-press, but the hand of some half-crazed monk, had traced these ominous Latin phrases… I remembered how the old man leered and tittered, and made a curious sign with his hand when I bore it away. he had refused to take pay for it, and only long afterward did I guess why.”
Which brings us to the archetype for the tale, the Bookseller. Unlike others I have written about, the book itself isn’t the archetype here even though it is a clear antagonist and moves the narrator about the board as it sees fit. No, I am pulling on the Bookseller for this one because we see him in other stories and he is always of a very similar character. The Bookseller, possibly, is one of those hidden patterns in Lovecraft’s writing. An anti-character who moves through time and through his stories committing the same action, placing the wrong book in the wrong persons hands at the wrong time.
The Book which was coerced into the narrator’s hand is filled with spells and rituals that allow the perpetrator to transcend time and space. Lovecraft has hit on this before in ‘Dream in the Witch House’, but the character of his musing has matured in this fragment. For one, he is no longer spending time breaking through barriers, which is one of his most familiar tropes, instead, the narrator passes through them, passes into Carroll's fifth dimension, now with ease:
“That night I passed the gateway to a vortex of twisted time… when morning found me… I [could never see] the world as I had known it. Mixed with the present scene was always a little of the past and a little of the future, and every once-familiar object loomed alien in the new perspective brought by my widened sight… But still I read more — in hidden, forgotten books and scrolls to which my new vision led me…”
The last portion above really has me thinking that, despite the absence of any classical grimoires in Lovecraft’s personal library at his death, according to S.T. Joshi’s incredible bibliography, he must have had a very close understanding of these types of books. The bit about his visions leading him to new books and scrolls, that is a very common ability or gift that the grimoire spirits give, magic to improve magic through more magic books. These new books, at the end of the fragment, which by now you really want him to complete, Lovecraft pulls in something entirely new:
“I remember the night I made the five concentric circles of fire on the floor, and stood in the innermost one chanting that monstrous litany the messenger from Tartary had brought.”
'The Book' really shows how Lovecraft’s reading and research was still active and powerful. It paints a interesting picture of how impactful his fiction could have been if he would have not sloughed off the mortal coil so soon.
The Bookseller, our archetype, maps to one of the most infamous cards in the tarot deck, Le Diable, the Devil. Etteilla’s deck places the keywords ‘Force Majeure’ and ‘Force Mineure’ on the upright and reversed versions of this card. Etteilla would have been closer to an understanding of this word from the Old French, which among others lends it the definition of ‘compulsion’ or ‘power exerted against will or consent’. I think we can agree that the narrator of ‘The Book’ is a victim of such a crime, willed into taking the grimoire by The Bookseller. According to Benebell Wen, The Devil card suggests addiction, the worship of false idols (her words), being subjected to evil influence and temptation. In reverse, the Devil removes our bonds and suggests detachment from earth and reality. When we encounter The Bookseller in Lovecraft’s work, he invariably has this knowing look, that crickets-in-my-beard-Lermarchand-cube merchant look.
His wares always lead those that encounter him into madness or worse, but through that madness they find freedom from the world, a world that Lovecraft desperately sought to transcend as well, I think. When the Bookseller presses his copy of the Necronomicon into your hand, it is a one way ticket. You either become the magician you are meant to be or are forever lost, finding yourself in a personal House of Leaves, a place much bigger on the inside.