And then things began to happen… This morning, when I got to work, after driving in a vehicle that inexplicably ran nearly perfect despite all of the things that I know are wrong with it, I opened my email to find the most out-of-the-blue message I could think of.
Last year, while taking paternity leave to help with my new son, I kept myself busy by writing an academic paper on information search and retrieval. I say ‘kept myself busy’ but what I really mean was ‘mentally avoid the stress of having a newborn in the house and a new pile of bills from the hospital in the mailbox’. Long story short (you should know, none of my stories are short) I submitted the paper to the International Federated Library Association conference and it was accepted! This was my second acceptance for that conference, the first being in 2014 while I was still in library school.
This paper, however, was based on my actual work work, the research, the data, all of it came from my job. I was operating under a ‘forgiveness is easier to ask for than permission’ maxim at the time. Well, I mixed up the message and after the paper was accepted and I was asked to speak at the conference I went and asked for permission to do it.
That permission was denied. If there is a dictionary definition of a kerfuffle, that was it. I got my fur up, my work flattened its ears, and I backed down. I sent an email off to the conference organizer that I wouldn’t be able to attend. Man, that really stung, but not as bad as when he fired back that my paper would more-than-likely not be posted because of my absence.
Things turned sour for awhile after that, until this morning.
The conference organizer and I were no longer in contact, but I thought I’d try and work around it, took a long shot, and sent the webmaster an email asking when my paper would be posted. A bit underhanded, but you see, all I’ve ever wanted, since I started purposefully putting words on paper at the age of thirteen, was to be published. The first paper was such an awesome rush, I wanted that rush again, but moreover, I sincerely wanted to contribute to the discipline of library science. I had grown to love thinking of myself as a librarian, even though my work had another fancy corporate name for me, that was my self-identity.
The email went into the void and I never heard anything about it, until this morning, inexplicably, more than a year later. In my inbox was a note from the webmaster, a [third and final notice] in brackets, that I needed to fill out the author permission form in order to have my paper published to the library. This was just so out of a clear blue sky, and my enchantments have been gaining such intensity, I can’t help but connect the two.
I filled out the form, sent an email to the unbelievably astute and forthright webmaster of the IFLA site (a year later, who follows up more than a month later in this day and age, God love librarians, I swear) and quickly received word back that my paper was published.
It’s hard to know, because I don’t have any kind of control and have been taking a fairly broad-spectrum antibiotics approach to enchantment this year, what with sigilmancy, some [ok pretty off book but nonetheless intense] Solomonic ritual, a lot of Hygromanteia and even more Saint work, it’s hard to know what is working or if one can even attempt to isolate it.
I’ve got a suspicion that the reputed most-expedient Santa Muerte has been the final kick-in-the-magic-pants that was required. I’ve been getting these visions, the first that, well, the first I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about. They are wild and completely not in character for me at all, which is a mark of their authenticity. Something or somethings are making contact, are beginning to intercede. If we are here to talk about my theories, than I think that Santa Muerte is a type of bridge through time-depth to the entities that I have been trying to establish contact with all year. Death has always existed and time means very little to her. It is just ‘another tool in the toolkit’, you dig? Her silent owl wings fly through both time and space. I’ve been reaching out to Saint Cyprian, Saint Barbara reached out to me through my dreams but, while closer than others, was still very distant. Bringing Santa Muerte down onto my altar, into my life, has had the effect of changing the waveform of the signals I was sending out. I’m now a HAM radio magical phreaker, hacking the ether and broadcasting prayers straight into the first century Europe.
Yeah, things are beginning to happen…
I always think I’m going to have a hard time with this section. I am into so much stuff, and I get to thinking, what is intersecting? And then I rethink it, and then I overthink it.
The imbrications always come through though. Like last week, let me tell you, El Pinche Maru was *not* on my radar at all. I found him the morning I wrote the post, and he fit so well (and, really, is excellent at what he does) that I had to include him in this section.
That is a similar situation to what we have this week. Let me give you some more context. Next week is National Novel Writers month and this will be the third year in a row that I participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge. This will, however, be the first year that I put out a weekly blog (really two, but the other is for a small cohort of individuals in my industry and is decidedly non-magicy) while writing 1666 words a day towards the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words of fiction in the month of November.
So, I’ve been trying, pretty late in the game, to get ahead on some of my research for Gnome School. I’ve got the next five Lovecraft tales picked out and have critically read 2.5 of them and have done some of the required research. With NaNoWriMo coming up though, I have to shift away from the non-fiction research and start reading fiction. If I were to read information theory or radical feminist biology while trying to push through NaNoWriMo the prose would be complete garbage.
So I’m shifting gears, finishing up the last chapters of The Dark Lord and Rollin’s Santa Muerte, and diving into fiction like Starr Creek, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, and An Augmented Fourth by Tony McMillen (thanks again Ghostly Harmless). This will change the flavor of the posts, but it should be a nice change.
This week’s post is centered on the Lovecraft tale ‘The Picture in the House’. If I had been going in a different direction, I might not have identified some of the themes in this tale. The clearest one, the one that brings me to this week’s imbrications, is the familiar theme of the ‘Other’. Will get into it deeper below, but for now, I’d like to offer another relative newcomer to my mixtape, Youth Code.
No doubt I am totally late to this party and there is a group of beanie wearing hipsters smoking cigarettes (because that’s cool again) scoffing at the old guy who is just now digging on this group, but I don’t care, they’re freaking awesome.
Youth Code not only imbricates on the theme of ‘Other’ in this week’s Lovecraft tale by setting themselves way outside their bearded banjo playing neo-bluegrass peers, but they also imbricate on the bands from my industrial music upbringing - even touring with the infamous Skinny Puppy and covering one of their classic songs. For a duo so young to get industrial so right in 2017, well, they’ve got my attention. Check ‘em out below!
THE ABYSS STARES BACK
The title of this week’s post comes from the following quote from the beginning of Lovecraft’s early tale, ‘The Picture in the House’:
“The true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.”
There is this stage in Lovecraft, very early on, where his prose has a certain ambience, a different kind of authenticity than is seen in his later work. While Lovecraft is often described as a recluse, a homebody, I can’t help but see him riding through the country and taking in the verdant Rhode Island woods on his turn-of-the-last-century bicycle, breathing fresh air, getting some sun, a normal young man.
He does see things that most do not, however, and the dark colors begin to leap from his pallets quickly:
“little unpainted wooden houses remote from travelled ways, usually squatted upon some damp, grassy slope or leaning against some gigantic outcropping of rock… vines have crawled and the trees have swelled… they are… hidden now in lawless luxuriances of green and guardian shrouds of shadow…”
Lovecraft places this tale in November of 1896. Having written it a decade later, he might have been aware of the auspiciousness of that month, but then again he might not. November 14th, 1896 is the day the first Tesla alternating current generator came online at the Niagara Falls plant. It is the day that the entire planet changed direction and began its journey into the technotopia we now live in. If you’re reading this on your phone, that day is the reason you can do that. But I digress… We aren’t here (today) to talk about the future, today’s archetype looks in the other direction.
A closet academic, unable to afford a college education, Lovecraft often painted ‘heroes’ that were the type of scholar that he likely would have become had circumstances been different for him. I so deeply emphasize with this facet of Lovecraft. I might have mentioned my own path to scholarship was quite hard-won and the majority of my life , prior to pushing through eight years of night school, was spent performing skilled labor. We are introduced to one of these heroes in the following passage:
“I had been traveling for some time amongst the people of the Miskatonic Valley in quest of certain genealogical data; and from the remote, devious, and problematical nature of my course, had deemed it convenient to employ a bicycle despite the lateness of the season…”
This is also the first time that Lovecraft journeyed to the wooded hills outside of Arkham and named the place, Miskatonic Valley.
The story is short and thus, the exposition quickly gives way to action. A storm captures our Genealogist on the wooded trail with nowhere to turn except the aforementioned forbidding shacks and homes hidden in the green hell to either side of the path he is traveling on. Given no choice, he makes his way to one of the homes and let’s himself inside.
The home is dry and kept, not necessarily well kept, but kept, and its furnishing, it is remarked, all seem to come from a time before the Civil War. It is hard for us now to conceive of just how close in time-depth the Civil War was to Lovecraft. It ended in 1865, just fifty years shy of when this tale was written, give or take a day. To put it in perspective, that is like a millennial writing a story today that sets the scene as a house where all of the furniture and books are from the 1970s. Right, The Picture in the House is Lovecraft’s 70s show…
The Genealogist finds, in the drawing room, a couple of books. I always like to mention the books in these stories because, like dates, he is very specific about them. Here we see mentioned Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana and, one of the featured antagonist of the story, Regnum Congo by Fillipo Pigafetta. It is then, after investigating the contents of this home’s library, the Genealogist is introduced to the non-book antagonist, the owner of the home who discovers the Genealogist in his drawing room, we shall call him the Recluse.
The Recluse talks about the pictures in Pilgrim’s Progress - using the n-word and the abominable reference to half-beast, half-men hybrids. Let’s consider the source of this information and how the Geneologist has described him as a type of less than human creature. This is a commentary on social status, on classism, more than it is racism. Lovecraft is placing the false construct under a microscope and exposing the gaps between the particles here.
As a juxtaposition, take the following excerpt from Matt Ruff’s ‘Lovecraft Country’. Atticus, introduced early in the book, is an African-American living in Jim Crow era America. For context, the encounter below happens in a rural Indiana gas station.
"'Excuse me,' Atticus said. This got the attention o fthe big man. As he straghtened up and turned around, Atticus saw he had a tattoo fo what looked like a wold's head on his forearm…
‘I need to buy a tire.’
The big man glared at him for a moment, then said flatly: 'No.'…
'I don't understand. You don't want my money? You don't have to do anything, just—'
'No' The big man crossed his arms. 'You need me to say it another fifty time? Because I will.'
And Atticus, fuming now, said: 'That's a Wolfhound tattoo, right? Twenty-seventh Infantry regiment?' He fingered the service pin on his own lapel.'I was with the 24th Infantry. We fought alongside the 27th across most of Korea.'
'I wasn't in Korea,' the big man said. 'I was at Guadalcanal, and Luzon. And there weren't any n----- there.'"
I’m not saying there is or is not a difference between the instance where Lovecraft’s character the Recluse uses the word and when Matt Ruff, a white Cornell graduate, raised Lutheran and with predominantly German ancestry, has his character use the same word. I do want to place the two side by side here, in the interest of later conversations and to frame my assertion that this tale is more about ‘Other’ than it is about race, even though it features a man of an age where he would have lived through the Civil War using racial epithets. Thoughts, like skinny jeans, go in and out of fashion, and if we are going to find magical tech inside of Lovecraft’s ouvere, we won’t be able to ignore it as many that have come before us have done. The following quote from ‘The Dark Lord’ summarizes how my thoughts on this intersect:
“Eventually, psychological and anthropological ideas go out of fashion and change with the times. New ideologies, new trends in intellectual pursuits mean that we keep looking at the same material from the point of view of where we are standing at the time… The serious pursuit of magic… requires that your point of view shift to that of the source of the knowledge. It requires that you abandon your safe place. Otherwise you are only standing at the edge of the Abyss and taking quick glances over the side. There is no information in that pose, no initiation possible in a state of suspended animation. You must enter a place where all the cool academic theories no longer obtain, where the comforting ‘it’s all in your head’ platitudes and attitudes have no meaning — because your head, your body, your sol and spirit are all fully engaged in ways they never have been before, and it is not what you expected when you bought the ticket.”
This is true when one reads out Solomonic invocations that use the power of God and the name of Christ as protection against the spirits one is trying to bind and interrogate. It is true for us as well, if we are to conjure and wrestle with the entities that Lovecraft was in contact with, we will have to abandon our pose on the edge of the Abyss.
Let’s step off the edge and fall back into our story, for a moment, and listen to the Recluse talk about the picture in Regnum Congo with which he is obsessed:
“What d’ye think o’ this — ain’t never see the like hereabouts, eh? When I see this I telled Eb Holt, ‘Thar’s suthin’ ta stir ye up an’ make yer blood tickle!’ When I read in Scriptur about slayin’ — like them Midianites was slew — I kinder think things, but I ain’t got no picter of it. Here a body kin see all they is to it — I s’pose ’tis sinful, but ain’t we all born an’ livin’ in sin?”
The mention of ‘Midianites’ make me think of the work of my first true dear love in the horror genre, Mr. Clive Barker, and his book Cabal. Sitting here in our wingback chair in the library of the ragged and frightening recluse, let’s peer out the dirty quarter pane window into Barker’s story, to see what we can find:
“No,” Lori replied, “I don’t… want anything… from you.” She felt the urge to express her revulsion, but the scene of reunion before her — the child reaching up to touch her mother’s chin, her sobs passing — were so tender…”
“Let me help you,” the woman said, “I know why you came here.”
“I doubt it,” Lori said.
“Don’t waste your time here,” the woman replied. “There’s nothing for you here. Midian’s a home for the Nightbreed. Only the Nightbreed… I shouldn’t be telling you this. But I owe you this much at least.”
A voice rose from the door that led down into the earth. A man’s voice.
“Come away,” it demanded, “you’ve nothing to tell.”
Lori thought. How many other were there below ground, how many more of the Nightbreed?”
How many more of the Nightbreed, how many more Midianites, how many more Others...
The Recluse, the Cannibal, is an archetype of craving, of addiction, but he is also, and really more so, and archetype of a man out-of-time in his pre Civil War home. A human obsessed with cravings he doesn’t understand, someone so remote from society that there are no consequences for him, for there is no one around to play the judge. It is only him and his desires, whatever they may be.
The story ends with another repeated trope, the striking down of the wicked in their home by a bolt of lightning:
“A moment later came the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts; blasting that accursed house of unutterable secrets and bringing the oblivion which alone save my mind.”
Maybe this is me and the number 38, I can’t not see that number and it has obsessed me since I heard the Ministry song of that name on their live album ‘You God Damned Son of a Bitch’, but I see here Saint Barbara again, saved from the pagans by lightning and thunder… Another tower burning…
Like it is described in Starr Creek:
“The situation was not going well in those burning digital woodlands.”
Mapping the Recluse, or may we call him the Cannibal, to the Tarot, we find the Seven of Swords to be an excellent match. The Etteilla deck has the keyword Esperance for the upright version of this card. This is tranlated into Hope, which might not seem a fit for this tale, there is no hope in the Cannibals house. We need to, again, step off of the edge and embody the time when the deck was created. Hope was much closer in meaning then as a ‘wishful desire’ (which in turn maps this card to Sigilmancy). The Holistic Tarot states that this card represents a fleeing from the norms of your time, an impulsive personality, the aforementioned disregard for consequences, seeking only one’s own way and desires, and generally not fitting into the crowd.
The Cannibal embodies these characteristics, and is a manifestation of Set. Again from The Dark Lord:
“Set is the Opponent, the Adversary… It is the role of Set to set himself up in opposition to the status quo, to the consensus viewpoint, to traditional beliefs and practices. He is the Other, and as such represents alien concepts and methods… Set is the polarity required by Horus to balance the new religion and bring it into greater recognition… and to contribute to the birth of new — non-human — offspring… Set… represents all that humanity has suppressed, repressed, and oppressed since time immemorial.”
Nothing is more actively suppressed than cannibalism, the ultimate taboo, except, perhaps, for the darker corners of necromancy.
The entire internet is jabbering about that new show, Mindhunter. I haven’t seen a frame, but I can tell the premise. Levenda predicts its popularity when in the final chapter of the Dark Lord when he says:
“We are entranced by tales of serial killers and we have romanticized them to the point that we have made of them the new Dracula: urbane, intelligent, sophisticated, like Hannibal Lecter. But the reality of serial killers is quite different, just as the original vampires were believed to be little more than animated corpses… the Dark [Lord’s] power rests in the things we have hidden from ourselves.”
The Cannibal as the Seven of Swords, holds this type of power. It is Lovecraft peering deeply into the abyss of the collective human psyche.