Oh boy, I’m sorry, it’s been too long since my last post. Really, the last post was the beginning of last week and now it is the end of, um, this week, but it seems long. I guess that means it has become a habit, eh?
I’ve been on vacation from my Normal secret identity since last Thursday. I haven’t done anything spectacular like traveled to Machu Pichu or conducted a midnight sabbath in a long forgotten stone circle in the peat bogs of Ireland. Nope, I stayed home. My four year old started 4K (which went swimmingly, thanks for the inquiry), and I paid attention to my family and myself. It was needed.
If you read the Gnome School blog then you’ll know that a few weeks back I hit a magical nadir that coincided with the ‘Great American Eclipse’. So, while most of my witchy internet cohort was busy charging devices with eclipse energy and singing orphic hymns to Luna, I was hiding. I hid in books so that I could remain magically adjacent while my cohort practiced.
Last night and this morning, I felt Luna’s call again. Actually, I’ve been feeling it for a few days, calling me back to prayer, back to practice. I’ll begin again tomorrow morning.
While I was busying myself with magically adjacent and, well, non-magical activities like cleaning my garage (how would one make that a magical experience, I ask you? Did Alexandrian magicians have to clean their houses? Probably not…) I updated the site a bit. Just a few tweaks to the design, added a front page and a shop featuring some occult fashions from Ghostly Harmless, and I innovated a slightly new format for the blog.
Instead of one long James Joycean diatribe, the blog will be broken up into at least three sections now. The section you are reading now is called ‘Front Matter’ and will contain some the more connected, grounded material Gnome School offers. You know, life stuff, so that I appear as human as possible. The second section I am calling ‘Imbrications’. An imbrication is a layering of material, most commonly described as how fish scales lay on top of one another. The intention of this second section is to offer found things, people, ideas that layer in some way on top of the Gnome School vision and our magical performative aesthetic. The third section will by the post itself where we dig into theory, practice, and analysis of twenty-first century magic.
The first imbrication I’d like to offer is the work of the band ‘Fungoid Stream’. They are listed as a ‘Funeral Doom’ group (I mean, the deep rabbit hole of metal and experi-metal music taxonomies. If only I could base my librarian career on untangling that Gordian knot.) hailing from Argentina. I really dig their slow grind and think it fits the pace at which one contacts the world of spirits and demons in the beginning of one’s practice, that is slow, plodding, with brief moments of exhilaration and danger.
Check them out...
The Bridge Between the Mundane and the Magical
The title of the series I’m beginning this week is a reference to a short quote I found in Donna J. Haraway’s ‘Staying with the Trouble’. It is brief and potent:
"Cthulhu and Medusa ('the only mortal Gorgon') are similar shapes…"
It is difficult to take things out of context from Haraway, because it is hard to nail down exactly what her context is to begin with, which is what makes her theory beautiful, if you ask me. To me, this quote helps connect the larger-than-death spirit entity, the High Priest Cthulhu in his dreaming under-ocean city (an ocean that has crawled too far inland too many times in the past few weeks) with the human. Medusa, a terrifying and powerful magical being, is the bridge. She bridges the gap between us and the undying and madness-inducing spirit world through her connection to death. The next four weeks I will explore this dance, Cthulhu and Medusa, slow-dancing on an empty dance floor encircled by black cloaked acolytes that are too afraid to look, their hoods pulled low over their eyes, their ears interpreting the shuffling of tentacles and snake coils the best they are able. Haraway has a word for these adepts, she calls them ‘Guman’s’. Again from ‘Staying with the Trouble’:
"Guman are full of indeterminate genders… full of significant others… human is adama/Adam, composted from all available genders and genres… [their world] has kin-making… and SF writer's practices of wordling…"
This dance unfolding in front of us, yes, if you are tuned into Gnome School you are defiantly part of this group listening for voices in the tentacular shuffle on the gym floor in front of you, this dance represents our kin-making with the animal and spirit realms and our connection to those spheres through the very guman act of worldling, of mythopoeia, of journeying through the vehicle of fiction. What are those murmuring pseudo-spirit voices, the product of Cthulhu and Medusa’s awkward fumbling dance, saying (Keep those tentacles above the waist, Cthulhu)? As I stand in this stone-petrified crowd of initiates they intimate the existence of edges between the human and the animal. Again from Haraway:
"In human-animal worlds, companion species are ordinary beings-in-encounter in the house, lab, field, zoo, park, truck, office, prison, ranch, arena, village, human hospital, forest, slaughterhouse, estuary, vet clinic, lake, stadium, barn, wildlife preserve, farm, ocean canyon, city streets, factory, and more…"
I came across the idea of niche construction during my undergraduate education. I was capital B I G big into linguistics and in particular American Indian languages at the time (still am, I’m working my way back there, stay tuned). In the book ‘Adam’s Tongue’ by Derek Bickerton, the evolutionary theory of ecological niche construction is taken slightly off-book and applied to the author's argument on how language must have evolved. It is a materialist view, obviously, but I found a lot of useful ideas in Adam’s Tongue, so much so that I sought out his source text, ‘Niche Construction; The Neglected Process In Evolution’ and proceeded to take it even further off-book and see if the theories therein could be used to explain, not the existence of the spirit world, but rather the existence of contact and congress between the human and spirit worlds. Let’s augment my last quote from Haraway a bit to fit this experiment:
"In human-[spirit] worlds, companion [spirits] are [extra-ordinary] beings-in-encounter in the house, lab, field, zoo, park, truck, office, prison, ranch, arena, village, human hospital, forest, slaughterhouse, estuary, vet clinic, lake, stadium, barn, wildlife preserve, farm, ocean canyon, city streets, factory, and more…"
There, that’s better.
Now, let’s connect this improved statement with a quote from “Niche Construction” by Olding-Smee, Laland, and Feldman:
"A focus on niche construction has important implications for the relationship between genetic evolution and cultural processes. One implication is that niche-constructing organisms [in our context that is Haraway's gumans] can no longer be treated as merely 'vehicles' for their genes because they also modify selection pressures in their own and in other [entity's] environments, an in the process they can introduce feedback… [Gumans] can and do modify their environments mainly through cultural processes…"
For our purposes, the most significant cultural process is, of course, magic. Moving a little further down this wormhole:
"The assumption that human cultural inheritance can directly bias human genetic inheritance may also be reasonable even when the source of the natural selection pressure that is modified by cultural activities is no longer human, provided the relationship between whatever cultural information is being expressed and whatever natural selection pressure it is modifying is sufficiently direct."
There is no more direct and impactful cultural information available to us than spirit contact.
The Loneliness of the Long-Winded Writer
If one were to brave the basilisk gaze of Medusa in her fuschia and teal prom dress, or Cthulhu’s madness-inducing a-bit-too-tight-around-the-middle rented tuxedo and look up towards the gymnasium’s stage, there you would see an even more perplexing sight. Instead of a king and queen, this particular dark prom has four kings standing there, unafraid of the two dancing in the greenish-hued spotlight and acrid mist of stage smoke. The presence of four kings means what it implies but we will table that subcurrent for now and concentrate on the manifestation of these four kings at our ‘Enchantment Under The Sea’ dance.
Since I was off all week, I decided to tackle an analysis of one of Lovecraft’s longer tales, ‘The Whisperer in the Dark’. The four kings on our stage are the four archetypes from that tale that map back to the four kings of the tarot. On stage there is a stoic professor replete with corduroy jacket and arm patches, a grizzled but highly intelligent farmer from high in the near-impassable hills of Vermont, a refined and probably bespectacled trench-coat wearing turn-of-the-century Boston elite, and a steam-punk apparatus of gleaming cylinders, vacuum tubes, primitive electronics, speakers, lenses and dials. Our kings are Professor Albert Wilmarth, Henry Wentworth Akeley, the shadowy Mr. Noyes, and the mysterious B-67.
The Whisperer in Darkness begins in November with the Vermont Flood of 1927. With the current score of man vs nature being a solid 0 to 3 this year, two of those points coming from massive flooding, wind damage, and real human suffering as a result of Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, I thought it was right off the block the most relevant Lovecraft tale for us to deconstruct.
One of the things that I love the most about Lovecraft is is precision with dates and places and that the majority of these nodes can be visualized in great detail. For reference to the scene he paints in the beginning of Whisperer, we can for example turn to the Vermont Historical Society’s entry on ‘The Flood of ’27’ or amazingly enough, the below YouTube video
in order to see for ourselves the environment where
“huge, light-red [crabs] with many pairs of legs and two great bat-like wings…”
were witnessed by townsfolk floating like bloated corpses in the floodwaters.
Our first of the four kings, and the first to be introduced in ‘Whisperer’ is Dr. Albert Wilmarth, a professor of literature at Miskatonic University. I’ve read that Lovecraft wanted to go on to university but lacked the funds in order to do so. This instance of Albert Wilmarth, among the other archetypal doppleganger’s of Lovecraft himself, I think embodies his regret and angst at never having achieved this goal. I personally emphasize with him in this regard as I felt that way for a very long time before life presented the door that allowed me access to a college education, for what that’s worth.
Wilmarth, within the context of his fictional world and in relation to the other three kings on the stage, maps to the King of Cups, which in turn resides within the sphere of alchemy as a magical path. The keyword for the King of Cups on the reverse of the Etallia deck is ‘Homme en Place’, or Man in Place. Throughout the majority of ‘Whisperer’, Wilmarth remains in place, interacting with the primary action in the story only through letters. The word ‘place’, can be traced etymologically back to the 12 century, in which it meant ‘space’, or ‘dimensional extent’. We will find out later that this aligns with the professor quite well towards the end of the tale.
Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot assigns the keyword of ‘Distraction’ to the King of Cups. A word from the mid 15th century that means ‘the drawing away of the mind’. An action that progresses steadily for Albert throughout the tale. Wen also defines the King of Cups as a professional strong in the arts and letters (as a literature professor at Miskatonic University should be) but one often overwhelmed by loneliness. This loneliness manifests in ‘Whisperer’ (and also in Lovecraft’s life) through voluminous letter writing. The prime mover of the plot in the early sections of ‘Whisperer’ describe what is essentially a early twentieth-century Twitter fight with Mr. Wilmarth alleviating his internal solitude through regular arguments in a rural Vermont newspaper about those, as described in the tale:
“pinking things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membraneous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with [an] ellipsoid, covered with… very short antennae, where a head would ordinarily be…”
with the concerned citizens of that area and in particular, our second king whom we will investigate in part two of this series, Henry Wentworth Akeley.