Erebos Chthonicus

Erebos Chthonicus
“The spirit of the depths opened my eyes and I caught a glimpse of the inner things, the world of my soul, the many-formed and changing…” C.G.Jung: The Red Book

Chthonia, the ancient name for Crete, the birthplace of Zeus, the kingdom of Minos, and the home to the Palace of Knossos, the subterranean labyrinth that, at its center, houses the fearsome minotaur. This ancient form of Chthonia is our journeying point this week as we follow the expedition crew of the Mountains of Madness into the mountains themselves, into the cave. 

The focus of our post this week will be the cave-as-spirit, how caves fit into the spirit ecology, the culture and extended world-view of the magically-adjacent.

To begin our back-shed red-yarn map, I’d like to extend the cave-as-environment and the cave-as-spirit to the concept of night. The cave, to me, is a physical embodiment of the night. This is separate, or rather, different from Darkness and Shadow, the sphere’s of Erebos’ influence. While darkness and shadow represent the unknown or the hiding of the known and are more connected to the realm of knowledge, Night, on the other hand, represents threat, risk, and fear. Where Erebos as a landscape-as-spirit connects to the intellect, Night connects to the gut, to instinct, to the primeval brain.

Night, or Nyx, as a spirit, is, historically, also more readily engaged with than her consort Erebos. Take the following example recorded in Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

“The witch Medea went forth in the midnight hour, stretched out her arms, thrice turned about and thrice wet her hair with water, then kneeling on the ground, spoke the following spell:
‘O Nix, Mother of Mysteries, and all of your golden stars, and though, triple-faced, triple-formed Hecate, and thou, kindly Tellus, who dost for magic potent herbs provide, di Omnes Noctis, be with me now! By your enabling power, at my behest, the deep earth groans and ghosts rise from their tombs. I banish you, bright Selene and Helios’ in your chariot, for even Aurora, the spirit of dawn, pales before my poison’s power…’”

The role of the witch in Metamorphoses is tied a second time to Nix, this time, by the powerful Circe:

‘The witch Circe sprinkled round about her evil drugs and poisonous essences and called out to Erebos and Kaos, to Nix and di Omnes Noctis, and poured a prayer in wailing cries to Hecate. The woods leapt away, a groan came from the ground, the bushes blanched, the soil and grass was soaked with gouts of blood, stones bellowed, dogs barked, and black snakes swarmed on the soil as ghostly shapes of silent spirits floated through the air.’”

The first century Roman poet Gaius Valerius Flaccus, likely echoing Ovid, in his Argonautica, gives us a bit more detail into Medea’s working when he states:

“Medea turned her steps to her native stream, the River Phasis, and begins her sacrifice to terror-bringing Nix.”

Publius Papinius Statius, (who appears as one of Dante’s guides in Purgatory) adds some more potency to the invocation of Nyx in his work, the Thebaid

“O Nix, ever shall this house throughout the circling periods of the year, hold thee high in honor and in worship; black bulls of chosen beauty shall pay thee sacrifice, O goddess! And Mars’ fire shall eat the lustral entrails, wheresoever new milk streams.”

Historically, and relevant to the practice of Lovecraftian Magic, rites dedicated to Nyx were performed on the night of May 9th, the festival of Lemuria. Lemuria is a festival dedicated to the exorcism of malevolent spirits from one’s home. The rite includes the head of the household rising at the hour of midnight, circumbulating the home in bare feet, and throwing black beans over their shoulder while repeating:

“Haec ego mitto his redimo meque meosque fabis!’ nine times [I am offering these beans for the redemption of my household!], after which time those inside the house beat on bronze pots and pans shouting ’Malum et noxium spirituum, ab hoc loco!’ [Evil and Noxious spirits, leave this place!’]”

Certain sources trace the festival of Lemuria to the Christianized and ostensibly more familiar All Saints Day. If a Lovecraftian Mage is looking for a Gateway through which one might pull Nyx to herself (or herself to Nyx), the city of Megara, Greece is host to 40,000 hectares that have been declared an archaeological site. The 2nd century geographer, Pausanias stated in his travelogue the following relevant entry:

“When you have ascended the citadel of Megara… you see a temple of Dionysos Nyketlios (Dionysos the Noctural), a sancturay to Aphrodite, and an oracle of Nyx…”

Note: Special credit goes out to The Theoi Project for compiling most of the references above in their raw forms.

I opened this post with a quote from Carl Jung’s, The Red Book, and would like to immerse us again in that primordial goo as a way to congeal what has gone above and what is to come below.

In The Red Book, Jung relates a chthonic journey he himself took during his sojorn’s into the interiorem mundi:

“I see a gray rock face along which I sink into great depths. I stand in black dirt up to my ankles in a dark cave. Shadows sweep over me. I am seized by fear, but I know I must go in. I crawl through a narrow crack in the rock and reach an inner cave whose bottom is covered with black water. But beyond this I catch a glimpse of a luminous red stone which I must reach. I wade through the muddy water. The cave is full of the frightful noise of shrieking voices. I take the stone, it covers a dark opening in the rock. I hold the stone in my hand, peering around inquiringly. I do not want to listen to the voices, they keep me away. But I want to know. Here something wants to be uttered. I place my ear to the opening. I hear the flow of underground waters. I see the bloody head of a man on the dark stream. Someone wounded, someone slain floats there. I take in this image for a long time, shuddering. I see a large black scarab floating past on the dark stream.”

Already in this quote we see what Ovid described as Circe’s invocation of Hekate, wherein ‘the soil and grass was soaked with gouts of blood, stones bellowed, dogs barked, and black snakes swarmed on the soil as ghostly shapes of silent spirits floated through the air.’ I also see here the head of Osiris and the symbol of the archaic Kephri, known to the Greeks as Aurora.

With these ideas and symbols in tow, let’s begin our descent into Erebos Chthonicus itself. When last we left our expedition crew, they had found that:

“A good-sized blast had laid open the subterrene secret; and now, through a jagged aperture perhaps five feet across and three feet thick, there yawned before the avid searchers a section of shallow limestone hollowing warm more than fifty million years ago by the trickling ground waters of a bygone tropic world.”

The cave is not only a separate spirit in the landscape but it is also a spirit separate from our current present. The cave-as-spirit is both corporeal and temporal, reality and unreality at once. If humans have succeeded in approaching a representation of the cave-as-spirit, it is in our construction and use of labyrinths. Paul Weston speaks on the characteristics of labyrinths in his work, Mysterium Artorius:

“Mazes are most famously associated with Crete and the tale of the Minotaur. A particular maze pattern, known as ‘Cretan’ and septenary in form… can be found in many places around the world… The [Glastonbury] Tor terracing is a unique three-dimensional form of the Cretan septenary maze… Jung had made much of the spontaneous production of sacred circle mandala-type designs by people undergoing transformational processes. He believed them to be symbols and expressions of the self in its deeper sense. The maze pattern was possibly an example of a similar manifestation.”

Weston then asks the question:

“Are the widely separated mazes a spontaneous production of the human psyche, an archetype of Jung’s collective unconscious, or can a physical cultural connection of some kind be discovered?”

I believe he is right, that they are, that the labyrinth is a manifestation of the cave, which is embedded even deeper in timedepth. And the cave was to our ancestors, as is manifested by Nyx’ station as the second born of primordial Kaos, an embodiment in the landscape of that thing which they likely feared the most, the night. Let’s continue into the spirit-of-the-depths with our expedition crew:

“Fowler makes discovery of highest importance in sandstone and limestone fragments from blasts. Several distinct triangular striated prints like those in the Archaen slate, proving that source survived from over 600 million years ago to Comanchian times without more than moderate morphological changes and decrease in average size. Comanchian prints apparently more primitive or decadent, if anything, than older ones…”

Stepping aside of our exploration of the cave-as-spirit, we find some insight into the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic in the use of the word ‘decadent.’ In this context opens up a thread to all of the other references of ‘degenerate,’ or ‘decadent’ that Lovecraft makes. In essence, there was a point in time depth that Lovecraft considers contextually superior, a time prior to humankind, and it is from this singularity of unknown non-anthropoid magico-technical superiority that Lovecraft begins his count-down into degeneracy, the closer we move towards the present. The cave-as-spirit, we know, is a living breathing entity, but it is also a way that we, as humans, can fully immerse ourselves in a timedepth that approaches this singularity.

Sliding the scale on our magico-theoretical modular synthesizer, we find Weston hitting many of the same points in his explorations of the Cretan Labyrinth that we have in our examination of Nyx and in the previous week, her consort Erebos, when he states that:

“The modern revival of occultism received its most powerful impetus from the Theosophical Society, found in 1875 by the extraordinary Madame Blavatsky. Her major work, ‘The Secret Doctrine’, placed great significance on the number seven as a cosmic coding that pervades all of creation, revealing the pattern of the work of the divine… in… The Book of Revelation… a septenary feast features fifty-four groupings of seven… Blavatsky [states] that the first form of the sacred seven is visible in heaven as Ursa Major. She, in turn, derived this from the work of Gerald Massey who had said precisely that in his work, The Natural Genesis… The other associations he links to it are… Ursa Major being a visible symbol of a goddess. Artemis was born in the celestial circle that its movements traced around the polar axis. He also links the constellation with the world mountain and even the spiral labyrinth, specifically the… ‘Cretan’ form, which he claims, ‘represents… the seven encirclers of the Great Bear.’… the proto-myth behind this material is of a primal mythic mountain, ‘the Mount of the Seven Stars… which represented the celestial north as the birthplace of the initial motion and the beginning of time.”

And so the connections between Lovecraft’s fiction-as-grimoire and the Theosophical Society’s Victorian brand of occultism, the Great Bear (a string of red yarn between the Simonomicon and the Greek Magical Papyri), our dart-shooting Artemis (who is in turn linked with Selene and Hecate), and the word mountain (whom I would put forth is a manifestation of Erebos himself). He is showing us that Ursa Major is an astral Cretan Labyrinth. A cave through which we can pass through Erebos-as-the-mountain into a different state. Where Erebos is knowledge, Nyx is more raw, Nyx is pure electric current, pure information. It is this part of her nature that makes her so terrifying and so powerful.

Returning to Jung’s vision we find that:

“In the deepest reach of the stream shines a red sun, radiating through the dark water. There I see — and a terror seizes me — small serpents on the dark rock walls, striving toward the depths, where the sun shines. A thousand serpents crowd around, veiling the sun. Deep night falls. A red stream of blood, thick red blood springs up, surging for a long time, then ebbing. I am seized by fear.”

and then Jung asks the question:

“What did I see?”

The serpents that Ovid saw covering the blood clotted dirt in Circe’s spell to Hekate were brought to the surface from these depths. In Jung’s journey, he sees Helios, occluded within Nyx’ womb, once again, for through her and Erebos’ union all things, the Titans, the Gods, the nymphs, all things were born. In the Lovecraftian universe, they are what came before the gods, they are the Lovecraftian Other, born of Azathoth. In his journey Jung comes upon the same source of information that Lovecraft tapped into, those entities that are the terrifying creation of all that is human and inhuman.

Our expedition, in their exploration of the cave, find something as well:

“10:15 PM. Important discovery. Orrendorf and Watkins, working underground at 9:45 with light, found monstrous barrel-shaped fossil of wholly unknown nature… Tissue evidently preserved by mineral salts. Touch as leather, but astonshing flexibility retained in places… Combs or wings that fold up and spread out like fans… Arrangement reminds one of certain monsters of primal myth, especially fabled Elder Things in Necronomicon…”
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This is a different treatment of the Necronomicon and the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ than we have previously seen. Here, we have it not only relayed to us by an academic, which is common, but being integrated into what amounts to the pinnacle of materialist / imperialist pursuits - a scientific journey to the South Pole, the last (obtainable) unknown of a Victorian-by-fell / Edwardian-by-timestamp era, the last great attempt for man largely unassisted by technology to overcome the barriers, to traverse the gates of the natural world. Here, the Necronomicon is being treated, now this is important, it is being treated as common place as Greek and Roman myths. It is a mythological reference spoken of by scientists, not an occult secret gibbered about in remote forest shacks. What the expedition pulls out of the eternal archaic night of that cave is, and this is at the core of Lovecraftian Magic, a physical embodiment of primal human fear. 

When I have spoken before about Nyx being related to information and her consort Erebos being related to knowledge, I am pulling on threads left by Aiden Watcher in his fantastic book, Six Ways. In relation to fear, Watcher has this to say:

“There is a type of fear that is holy. 
Holy terror or sacred fear comes to some… at moments in the practice of sorcery… a meeting with a power that is so… present, and so much Other that the senses rebel and recoil at the presence. The main thing to understand is that this kind of fear is information. It is related to the fear when the rattlesnake rattles nearby… This kind of fear is a natural response to particular kinds of power… not… a response to an actual threat”

So much Other, the senses recoiling at the presence, that is the best, most concise, description of what Lovecraftian Magic actively seeks to wrestle with. This is a very human need that has been occluded by modern magical practices that eschew malefica and seek only safe and helpful ‘love and light’ spirits, or take great pains to ensure that demons, daimons, and spirits have only the most limited amount of room to move when we imbricate our niche upon theirs. Lovecraftian Magic is after the primal, the first spark, the first magic. The first magic, the first witch, was Nyx.

Yet again, Werner Herzog touches on the subject at hand in his documentary the Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The paintings in the Chauvet Caves, the sympathetic magic, was conducted as far into the caves as the artists could go. Instead of filling the well lit entrance to the cave, instead of conducting their ritual in a safe place, they instead went further, past their fear, embracing it, they walked and crawled into the mountain where night always reigns, and it is from that place, from that core of informational fear, that they invoked the other spirits of the landscape, it is from deep within the labyrinth that they understood the landscape and its spirits the best.

This is the place where Jung seeks to stay, regardless of the wailing spirits screaming at him to leave. Jung, by seeking to stay, says as much as the leaders of our expedition when they pull forth the ‘strange barrel growths’ from the chthonic depths:

“Must dissect when we get back to camp…”

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Watcher calls for the same action when he states that:

“fear… In most cases… is information. Listen… to what the information is telling you. It may be a transmission of power, and it may be a warning. Some people should not enter some places. Just as there are healing, helpful places of power, so are there hurtful ones.
Sometimes the fear is telling you ‘get ready, get into your power, this is a rough space and you need to be AWAKE’ and something it is telling you that you don’t belong…”

Jung sought the information embodied in the cave, where Nyx can always exist unabated by her children, by Helios. It is here that he finds the essence of what an encounter with Erebos Chthonicus, with that which lies beneath and behind the underworld itself, which moves through it and covers it, reveals to those that listen to and embody the information that Nyx brings with her on her fearsome black wings:

“Heal the wounds that doubt inflicts on me, my soul. That too is to be overcome, so that I can recognize your supreme meaning. How far away everything is, and how I have turned my back! My spirit is a spirit of torment, it tears asunder my contemplation, it would dismantle everything and rip is apart. I am still a victim of my thinking. When can I order my thinking to be quiet, so that my thoughts, those unruly hounds, will crawl to my feet? How can I ever hope to hear your voice louder, to see your face clearer, when all my thoughts howl?
I am stunned, but I want to be stunned, since I have sworn to you, my soul, to trust you even if you lead me through madness. How shall I ever walk under your sun if I do not drink the bitter draught of slumber to the lees? Help me so that I do not choke on my own knowledge. The fullness of my knowledge threatens to fall in on me. My knowledge has a thousand voices, an army roaring like lions; the air trembles when they speak, and I am their defenseless sacrifice. Keep it far from me, science that clever knower, that bad prison master who binds the soul and imprisons it in a lightless cell. But above all protect me from the serpent of judgement, which only appears to be a healing serpent, yet in your depths is infernal poison and agonizing death. I want to go down cleansed into your depths with white garments and not rush in like some thief, seizing whatever I can and fleeing breathlessly. Let me persist in diving astonishment, so that I am ready to behold your wonders. Let me lay my head on a stone before your door, so that I am prepared to receive your light.”

We will end this second installment of our exploration of the landscape-as-spirit with an invocation to Night herself, that all powerful being that is the mother of all magic in the world and whom all of the most powerful spirits react with the same emotions that humans do, with the fear of the night:

Oh great one, you who are the daughter of chaos, black-winged Nyx, who gave your egg to Erebos and from which all of our fears and the movers of heaven were born. 

O Nix, Mother of Mysteries, and all of your golden stars, and through, triple-faced, triple-formed Hecate, and thou, kindly Tellus, who dost for magic potent herbs provide, di Omnes Noctis, be with me now! By your enabling power, at my behest, the deep earth groans and ghosts rise from their tombs. I banish you, bright Selene and Helios’ in your chariot, for even Aurora, the spirit of dawn, pales before my poison’s power.

O Nix, ever shall my house throughout the circling periods of the year, hold thee high in honor and in worship; black bulls of chosen beauty shall pay thee sacrifice, O goddess! And Mars’ fire shall eat the lustral entrails, wheresoever new milk streams.

You blackgirdled mother of Sleep, of Dreams, O Blackwing! When Hypnos laid to sleep the brain of Zeus at the urging of Hera, he sought to destroy your son in his anger, but turned back at the sight of you as Hypnos fled, you who hold power of all gods and men, mother of Hekate, mother of fear, mother of curses whom make their homes in caves beneath the earth, mater melaina, hear my pleas, mother Nyx, for the gods hold me in their disfavor and you hold the power to subdue them all. 

Mother of Eros, Dolus, Apate, Metus, Phobos, Ponos, Nemesis, Moros, Geras, Thanatos, Keres, Oizys, Momos, Philotes, Pertinacia, the Moirai, the Hesperides, and the Oneiroi, see to it that I am favored by your children and that my life is filled with your power, implacable, doom-laden, black-winged Nyx, Nyx Philia, find kindness in your heart when you look upon me, poikileimon, holy gloom who lives beyond the farthest Ethiopian hills, throw your shadows to the ends of the world, claim me now as your own child and see that all of my operations and ventures are successful and free from the influence of demons, spirits, or gods.

Nyx, parent goddess, source of sweet repose from whom at first both Gods and men arose. Hear, blessed Aphrodite, decked with starry light, in sleep’s deep silence dwelling in ebony night! The Oneiroi attend thy dusky train with soft ease, pleased with the lengthened gloom and fearful strain, dissolving anxious care, the friend of mirth, with darkling coursers riding round the earth. Goddess of phantoms and of shadowy play, whose drowsy power divides the natural day; by fate’s decree you constantly send the light to deepest hell, remote from mortal sight; for dire necessity, which nought withstands, invests the world with adamantine bands. Be present, Goddess, to my prayers, I desire you, whom all revere, blessed, benevolent, with friendly aid dispel the fears of twilight’s dreadful shade.