I don’t know if I’m ready to write this week’s post. Do you ever sit down to write with only a shape of an idea and no real plan on how to attack it? I guess what I’m saying is I’m shooting a bit from the hip on this one.
Libra II dropped this week, as did my grandmother’s birthday and my own. I mentioned in a previous post in this series how I was getting a strong indication that my grandmother’s spirit was not at rest, so I went about trying to do something about that on her birthday this year.
I’m actually strongly aligned with a Buddhist view of departing spirits, in as much as some Buddhist traditions feel (at least, I read this somewhere some day past and it stuck with me) that to mourn the dead is to tether them to the earth. As a result, I am fairly unemotional when my friends and family walk-on in an attempt to be more sensitive to the spirit’s needs than my own human need for catharsis. This might or might not be the best approach, but if mine is, then the reaction of many of my family members to my grandmother’s death, fifteen years ago this December, would be the exact wrong thing to do. They mourn her still so strongly that it is if she is still in the room when they speak. I get it, I really do. She was an amazing free-thinking war-effort Rosy the Riveter rural folk medicine herbalist of a farm wife with a depth and breadth of knowledge that rivaled the modern internet.
She used to fall asleep reading the paper, and continue to read the words imprinted on her vision with her eyes closed. That is just one trick I picked up from her.
Anyway, I booted up the Book of Saint Cyprian on her birthday and stood before my altar and ‘Read from the Book of Saint Cyprian’, as it is often described in his legends. The prayers, I don’t know what else to call them so forgive me if the term is a problem, are marathon long in the corporeal Book. I think that is part of their power, magic longer not harder, right?
I’m not sure if it worked. I’ve received no immediate dream contact or visions of Doris surrounded by angelic light with a grateful look on her face. There was some subtle weirdness concerning balloons that wouldn’t not pop at my birthday party a couple of days later, and some real ghost hunter white blobs on the baby monitor events, and there is this vibration in my fingertips... but nothing overt.
One thing that I am sure of, Saint Cyprian will work for you but he is glacially slow and revels in subtlety. You won’t even know it is happening.
But back to this week’s theme. This post I am going to ‘attempt’ to talk about our fourth king from Whisperer in the Darkness, the mechanico-spirit-mind entity referred to as B-67. First though, let’s have some fun and look at a few imbrications.
My philosophy about blogging, and this is thanks to ‘The Big Web Show’ and its host Mr. Jeff Zeldman, my philosophy is that the best blogs are about individual learning journeys. This is octupletely true for a blog about magic. There are so many, so many, magic practitioners out there trying to monetize magic and the way they do that through blogging is by presenting themselves as experts in a subject, with Tarot Course certifications and the like. There are some experts out there, don’t get me wrong, and Gods Bless Them for what they do. These are the Enablers, those next levelers like Sarah Lawless and Gordon White and Austin Coppock. Most of the ‘others’, however, fall into the camp of ‘Cohort’, or worse, non-practicing closet-materialist ‘Charlatans’.
I am happy to post about something I have just ‘discovered’ (discovered in the same sense that the Norse discovered Vinland) the band Witch Mountain and the literary and filmic work of their drummer, Nate Carson.
These cats have been spewing Doom Metal since 19-freaking-97. Holy Crow. Where the hell have I been?
Nate Carson is a Lovecraftian author. Just the description of his novel in that genre, Starr Creek, has me salivating. As a librarian, I like to think I can judge a book by its cover, or at least its entry in an annotated bibliography, and without reading I am judging Starr Creek as (potentially) amazing. I’ve thrown a link to it here, if you beat me to it or have already read it, let me know what you think in the comments.
As for Witch Mountain, they really do it right, check out the couple of live sets below (they have no video yet, Carson explains why in his interview with the Lovecraft e-Zine hosts). Doom is ultimately the soundtrack that Lovecraft was writing too, I think. Jesus Wept, what the soundtrack to his dreams must have been like. I really doubt that is was anything like the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
THE STEAMPUNK MAGICAL AESTHETIC
How can a steampunk aesthetic help bring magic into world? Moreover, how can it help with Gnome School’s stated mission of creating a future of a witchcraft-dominant interstellar human species? And, really blowing the whole thing up, how do either of these plug into the Tarot and the mapping of Lovecraft’s archetypes onto the cards?
This week’s discussion hovers are B-67. A bodiless creature, of unknown but stated human origins, that exists as a brain in a silver canister outfitted with just slightly post Victorian technology that take place of some of the brain’s sensory organs, a lens to see through, a speaker to converse with the world, and microphones so that it can hear.
B-67 is meant to impress Wilmarth when he finally arrives at Akeley’s farm. In many ways, the cyborg (can we call it that? It is a bio-mechanical hybrid, but is not ambulatory) is more agile than ‘Akeley’ sitting in his chair in the corner of the study, whispering directly into Wilmarth’s brain.
B-67 claims that he was a researcher and that the Winged Ones, the Pinking Things, reached out to him and gave him this gift of life with no body, or a mechanical pseudo existence, so that he could travel with them to places where humans cannot exist. B-67 is a representation of an unchecked obsession for new occult knowledge.
The description of B-67 given in Whisperer is very very Steampunk. Lovecraft, of course, was influenced by HG Wells and Jules Verne, the grandfathers of the Steampunk literary movement - but his work isn’t steampunk, or is it? Let’s look a bit closer.
In the New Directions in Folklore paper from 2013 entitled ‘Airship Captains, Pith Helmets, and other Assorted Brassy Bits’, we are given a definition of Steampunk that opens the door for viewing it not as a genre of literature but as an aesthetic:
"Steampunk is an aesthetic and ideological system that revolves around the appropriation, (re)creation, and (re)design of select aspects of the documented past. Steampunk is a generic complex. It is a form of literature and thus narrative, a design aesthetic, and a mode of material production and consumption."" (Hale, 2013, Abstract)
The author, a folklorist, the same profession as our Professor Wilmarth, introduces us to a new concept to describe this aesthetic, hylomorphism.
“A majority of folkloristic studies of material culture employ what [is described] as a hylomorphic model of making. This perspective conceives of substance as the sum of matter (hyle) and form (morphe) in which “making begins with a form in mind and a formless lump of ‘raw material,’ and ends when form and matter are united in the complete artifact” (Hale, 2013, p. 3)
When I read this, hylomorphesis, or a thing beginning in mind and coming into being through the marriage of raw material and action by a human to create an artifact, translated in my brain as the Solomonic ritual act of creating new tool, new ritual artifacts. A thin but certain connection to a Steampunk Magic aesthetic.
Let’s keep digging. The author of the paper goes on to deepen our understanding of steampunk as an aesthetic:
"As a generic form, steampunk is an aesthetic and ideological system that revolves around the (re)creation and (re)design of select aspects of the past. Those artifacts and mentifacts perceived vis-à-vis the present as obsolescent, passé, or anachronistic are salvaged and repurposed. Steampunk costumers, artisans, craftspersons, and authors therefore produce material and semiotic wholes by curating, maintaining, modifying, and assembling various components into novel material-semiotic forms. Pieces of old texts, a character, a theme, etc., become the raw materials from which new stories are fabricated, just as old vacuum tubes, gears, and cogs are recombined into new objects." (Hale, 2013, p. 11)
While the practice of magic is so much more 'real' than the performance of steampunk (or is it? Maybe they are more of the same thing than I think), a magical aesthetic can align itself with steampunk through its strong performative aspects and through its alternative historical metanarratives.
Moving away from Hale’s paper, and these admittedly thin tendrils of co-occurrence with a life of magical practice, let’s look at on the same level of academigibberspeak (valuable, but how many three dollar words can you throw at a blank sheet of paper? The answer is, a lot).
This next work is entitled, “Retrofuturist Visions of London’s Alternative Past” and it comes to us from the London Literary Journal. This author offers us a more concise definition of Steampunk:
“Steampunk is a popular, retro-speculative aesthetic which transforms a variety of multi-genre narratives, combining Victorian ideals with a post-modern zeitgeist.” (Esser, 2014, Abstract)
This, I think, is a bit more helpful, although we shouldn’t forget the musing from the first paper, because they deepen here.
‘A retro-speculative aesthetic’
What does that mean to you?
Modern grimoire magic is very close to this. The works of Peter Mark Adams, Al Cummins, Aaron Cheak - the are historicists but they are also theorists (historitheorists?), and to exist as a magical practitioner today you do one of two things, believe everything you read, or think critically about your practice and question everything you read. You weigh evidence of your experiences with those of others and those experiences related to you in the grimoires - retro-speculation, a practice and a lifestyle built on a critical examination of the magical practices of old as they relate to Haraway’s post-knowledge economy Chthulucene Epoch.
The author of ‘Retrofuturist...’ continues, discussing how place (in this case, ‘London’, in our case, anywhere in the Cthulhucene’s Spirit Ecology) is transformed by this aesthetic:
"As a creative synthesis of Victorian and anachronistic elements, the London transformed by the steampunk aesthetic is tangible because it is familiar as a material setting, yet intriguingly strange because it is defamiliarised. Re-imagining alternative pathways instead of rewriting the present, steampunk creates artificial collisions between established notions of the Victorian age with a postmodern zeitgeist and transgresses the laws of history, physics and society. This allows for the creation of settings offering social, political or economic freedom to its inhabitants that were historically impossible or taboo, thus providing opportunities to speculate on socio-economic or cultural developments with utopian or dystopian impulses." (Esser, 2014, p 19)
A synthesis of Victorian and anachronistic elements... let’s unpack that last bit, the prefix ana- can mean a few things, such as up or backwards, so it is a type of encapsulated contradiction depending on the context. Kronos, the magical audience will know, is Saturn, so above Saturn, or Saturn-Backwise? Saturn in retrograde? That sounds right, a synthesis of the Chthonic Saturn and the Victorian-esque, That is an amazing encapsulation of Lovecraft’s universe.
What about the bit where the author says ‘re-imagining alternative pathways instead of rewriting the present’? Throughout this exercise I am taken back to this one small piece of the Rune Soup course on sigilmancy, where the technique of sending sigils back into the past to fix wrongs that have occurred or to take paths that, in retrospect, would have gained us better insights sooner, is covered.
Steampunk, Lovecraft’s fiction, and the grimoire revival all have this same shape. Creating for ourselves a place where ‘settings offering social, political or economic freedom... where historically impossible or taboo opportunities to speculate on socio-economic or cultural developments with utopian or dystopian impulses” can be explored. Can retrofuturism be turned onto the historical encrypting of grimoires in the centuries preceding the Victorian era and then, through a rather more unconscious effort, in the Victorian era? What does a retro-future Victorian era America with pure, magically-enabled grimoire's and occultists look like?
This is what the appearance of our fourth King, B-67, represents. He is so jarring, and still, is not the prime focus of the tale. He is somehow outside of the tale and, in the scene in which Wilmarth is in his bedroom listening to the goings on beneath his room in Akeley’s house on Dark Mountain, B-67 is then revealed to be a highly unreliable narrator. His disembodiment means, to Wilmarth, that he could be anyone, he could be any bodiless pseudo-spirit, a human at one time, or one of the Winged Ones. He could be one and then the other, the lack of a face or body language, the same inflections to his mechanical voice regardless of who is speaking, B-67 is our most terrifying king.
Steampunk also brings with it a better way to understand Lovecraft’s fiction by pulling on the thick silver cord of imperialism that connects them both. The metacommentary on imperialism is, I think the most important part of a Steampunk Magic Aesthetic, as it brings to the fore magical practice as a valid and powerful political weapon. We are seeing more of this now in our post-Trump America then has been evident in the recent past. We are seeing the beginnings of this in twenty-first century Lovecraftian fiction, where the lens of an anti-racist, anti-misogynist society is turned onto the retrofuturistic Neo-Victorian veil that Lovecraft pulls over his 'red-booked' dream journeys.
Steampunk is also a gateway into Gnome School’s primary goal, creating a world where magic and technology co-exist and influence one another.
Although post-dating the Steampunk aesthetic, Jack Parsons is an excellent extension of this archetype (B-67 is contained in a cylinder that travels through space, you see).
Before continuing, I will lay myself on the stone table of magico-internet-trolldom and admit that I only just became cognizant of Jack Parsons the occultist. I read the following passages from the Dark Lord:
“Jack Parsons... was a rocket scientist who made an important contribution to the war effort in the 1940s, and was a founding member of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Most famously, he has a crater on the Moon named after him... Parsons was also a magician and a follower of Aleister Crowley... [after losing his security clearance due to his occult activity] In June of 1952, at the age of thirty-eight, Parsons blew himself up in a garage outside his home. Opinions differ as to whether it was an accident, a suicide, or a murder... “In 1946... Parsons... met... L Ron Hubbard... from January to March, 1946, Parsons enlisted the assistance of Hubbard in a series of ambitious magical rituals known as the Babalon Working... to summon or incarnate the Scarlet Woman herself... the inspiration for this... was... Crowley’s novel, Moonchild... The common analysis has it that the ritual ‘blew a hole in the space-time continuum’ through which... something... came in... Parsons wrote the text that he claimed was the ‘fourth chapter’ of the Book of the Law, The Book of Babalon. By June, 1947, the UFO phenomenon had begun... The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered... and the CIA was founded.”
And I was all ‘Why have I never heard of this guy?’, to which my close friend Ghostly Harmless pointed out that I HAD heard of him, at the very least on the TANIS podcast. It was just one of those things, right, where you hear something over and over until it finally sinks in. Parsons dug into me for permanent that night when I opened up the Gnome School instagram feed and found no less than half a dozen homages to the late Dr. Parsons, you see, I had read that passage on my grandmother’s birthday, October 2nd, a day she shared with the infamous doctor. I’ll not forget him again.
Parsons and B-67 are the bridge that allows for retro-futurist Steampunk tech, space travel, and the shadowy world of occultists, spirits, and extra-dimensional ancient aliens to co-exist. B-67 corresponds to the King of Coins, mapping to the keyword stoicism, not a hard jump to make being that he doesn’t have a face with which to express emotion with. He also is connected to the overall path of Divination that Coins represent in the Tarot. B-67, through his extra-stellar knowledge, while not divinatory himself, represents our relationship with the spirit world when we perform divination. They can see things we cannot, which is why we ask them for advice. B-67 has seen the ends of the solar system and beyond. According to Holistic Tarot, the King of Coins is also an amicable entrepreneur, well disposed to the querent, a practical and experienced leader of men. This is the exact relationship we see between Wilmarth and B-67 as the mechanico-pseudo-spirit attempts to woo the professor with promises of knowledge beyond his imagining. Reversed, the King of Coins is old and depraved, a sign of risk that threatens the querent. What is more depraved than a man that gives up his body in order to live as a disembodied brain in a jar, in order to commune and live among (if you call that life) a natively hostile extra-dimensional alien species.
As this series comes to a close, let’s look one more time out on the dance floor of Miskatonic University High School, where is our couple? The dance is winding down, the punch gone, the dance floor now filled with sporadic pockets of black robed acolytes discussing their experience, their fictional journey. These are the armchair magicians, engaged in deep discussion. The practitioners are in the parking lot, drinking out of covert bottles, maybe sharing a weak joint between a dozen friends.
Cthulhu and Medusa, the real king and queen by popular vote, are nowhere to be seen. No doubt in the back of Cthulhu’s GTO, parked out on Lover’s Lane, creating a new Messiah for the Cthulhucene.