Erebos Orbis Tertius

Our subject for the next three weeks will be ‘The Mountains of Madness’ by H.P. Lovecraft. This is, I think, a perfect vehicle to further explore the concepts of animism as they relate to magical thinking and doing in our shared reality.

I’d like to begin the discussion with a quote from Jorges Luis Borges’ work, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’:

 “The book was written in English, and it consisted of 1001 pages. On the leather-bound volume’s yellow spine I read these curious words… ‘A First Encyclopedia of Tlön. Vol. XI… There was no date or place of publication. On the first page and again on the onionskin page that covered one of the color illustrations there was stamped a blue oval with this inscription: Orbis Tertius… I now held in my hands a vast and systematic fragment of the entire history of an unknown planet, with its architectures and its playing cards, the horror of its mythologies and the murmur of its tongues, its emperors and its seas, its minerals and its birds and fishes, its algebra and its fire, its theological and metaphysical controversies — all joined, articulated, coherent, and with no visible doctrinal purpose or hint of parody.”

There are obvious connections with Borges and other explorations we have had, particularly in the case of imaginal grimoires, but for the purposes of our discussion surrounding ‘The Mountains of Madness,’ I’d like to keep with us the last portion of this quote, ‘a vast and systematic fragment… the horror of its mythologies and the murmur of its tongues… its minerals and its birds and fishes… all joined, articulated, coherent, and with no visible doctrinal purpose…’
 
To Borges this is a description of the First Encyclopedia of Tlön. For me (it is also that, and) it is an accurate description of both the Greek Magical Papyri and the experience of communicating with a landscape as a spirit. The PGM is a grimoire that is ‘a vast and systematic fragment’ filled with ‘the horror of… mythologies and… murmur of… tongues,’ is it not? It is a document ‘joined, articulated, [and] coherent,’ yet with ‘no visible doctrinal purpose.’ And yet, like the imaginal First Encyclopedia of Tlön, it is a document with immense potential and power, a power concentrated in this fragmentation. As an example, let’s look at some of the components of the best and most powerful part of the Betz, edition of the PGM the glossary.

I’ve pulled a few of the more interesting bits from the glossary for this examination:

Aberamen Formula:

Aberementhoothlerthexanaxethrelthuoothenemareba

    [Researcher's Note: An example of the context in which the above is associated is as follows: Oh Lord {insert diety’s name}, give answers to my questions, leave {the place where the spirit dwells} wherein my priestly voice speaks…]

Benificent Palindrome Pair:

Ablanathanalba Sesengenbarpharanges

Beneficent Magical Name:

Akrammachamarei

Often appears with the palindrome pair above

Ammon / Parammon:

Epithet added to diety names that indicates ‘Next to Ammon’

    [Researcher's Note: An example of the context in which this epithet is used is as follows: 'Hermes-Parammon!' Further, Amun, for those readers that are unaware, is the self-created creator diety of the Egyptian mythos who supplanted Montu, the God of War, as chief deity in their pantheon.]

Paredos:

Attendant spirit, a name used to refer to a deity that is being summoned for a specific magical task.

Magical formula for calling on a spirit of darkness:

Bainchoooch

Biaiothanatos Daimon:

The biaiothanatoi are spirits of those that died violent deaths. After death these evil spirits are subject to magical compulsion.

Brimo:

The ‘snorting,’ ‘angry,’ and ‘terrible’ incarnation of Artemis who rules over the Netherworld.

Erbeth Formula:

Io erbeth, io pakerbeth, io bolchoseth, io apomps

Erebos:

An old greek expression for the dark underworld, for the impious dead.

Ereschigal:

The Babylonian underworld goddess often invoked in defixiones

Maskelli-Maskello Formula:

Maskeii maskello phənoukentabao oreobazagra rhexichthon hippochthon pyripeganyx.

    [Researcher's Note: In which older greek words are embedded - possibly favorable for invoking archaic gods, such as Khaos, Erebos, or Nyx.]

Neboutosoualeth:

One of a trinity of underworld deities, the other two being Aktiophis and Ereshigal and possibly associated with the Babalonian deity, Nebo.

[Researcher’s Note: this trinity is often invoked in spells with malefic intentions.]

Odd, fragmented, unconnected yet all part of the same cosmogony, or rather, part of an evolution of cosmogonies that are interrelated. We will come back to these fragments in a moment, but for now, let’s dig into the matter at hand.

The Mountains of Madness begin with Lovecraft describing, nearly one hundred years ago, a view of science that we are just now beginning to realize when the narrator of the tale offers us some slim context for the adventure we are about to embark on:

“In the end I must rely on the judgement and standing of the few scientific leaders who have, on the one hand, sufficient independence of thought to weigh my data on its own hideously convincing merits or in the light of certain primordial and highly baffling myth-cycles…”

As alluded to, the narrator here is calling for what we now recognize as the new scientist, one that recognizes that materialism as a methodological guide is a dead end and that to understand the mysteries of the universe further, animism must be taken into account and given the same authority as the scientific method. The adventure that is the focus of The Mountains of Madness is an early twentieth century embarkment to the Antarctic Continent:

“As a geologist my object in leading the Miskatonic University Expedition was wholly that of securing deep-level specimens of rock and soil from various parts of the Antarctic continent… operating mostly in the mountain-ranges and on the plateau south of Ross Sea; regions explored in varying degree by Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, and Byrd.”

These expeditions, which happened a mere decade in timedepth from the time when Lovecraft would have likely first heard of them, would have been widely known and would be the History Channel (the new History Channel with its programming focused on ancient aliens and conspiracies, not the old boring factual version I grew up with) of its day. The following video of Shackleton’s expedition offers us some very vivid context of what Lovecraft’s expedition would have also looked like, and can be put to good use when journeying on this particular bit of the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic:

If we are to designate a gateway for this tale, it would likely be McMurdo Station or the other handful of outposts on the Ross Sea. There are frequent tourist expeditions to the Ross Sea for those that want to make the trip, so conducting Lovecraftian Magic in this location is not wholly out of the question. Recently, the enigmatic Werner Herzog paid a visit to McMurdo Station when filming his documentary. For a more modern glimpse of our Lovecraftian Gateway, I’d like to offer this fantastic snippet, Herzog’s interview with the heavy equipment operator Stefan Pashov:

The Mountains of Madness also picks up some threads that were laid down in our recent exploration of ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, when the narrator offers:

“The Nathaniel Derby Pickman Foundation, aided by a few special contributions, financed the expedition; hence our preparations were extremely thorough despite the absence of great publicity.”

As we know, the Derby and Pickman name come up now and again in Lovecraft’s tales, to two together appearing in The beginning of the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and as mentioned, in The Thing on the Doorstep. Derby being related to the Salem class of Witch Hunters and the Pickman line ending in the Chief of Ghouls whom Carter befriended in his quest. The name given to the foundation, one Nathanial Derby Pickman, is further evidence of the intermarrying of the Witch Hunter class and the Witches of Main, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The association with the Crowninshield family in The Thing on the Doorstep places these two families on the margins of, or perhaps fully behind, global weapon sales and war mongering still ongoing today. It is no doubt that the money from the foundation came from this antiquated and ever flowing well of profiteering on human suffering. Before arriving at McMurdo Station, however, there are some other, more accessible touch points that our narrative reality intersects with:

“We sailed from Boston Harbor on September 2, 1930… through the Panama Canal, and stopping at Samoa and Hobart, Tasmania, at which place we took on final supplies.”

More touch points, if not gateways, than places of residual power for the Lovecraftian Mage. One suggested method of utilizing these stepping stones would be, for instance, journeying while in the port area of Hobart, Tasmania with the intention of remote viewing or otherwise exploring McMurdo Station on the Antarctic continent, taking an ‘astral’ path that mirrors the route of the expedition. The following can also help us to frame that journeying destination well as it was seen through Lovecraft’s imaginal eye:

“At last we… encountered an outpost of the great unknown continent and its cryptic world of frozen death… the Admiralty Range… our task to round Cape Adare and sail down the east coast of Victoria Land to our contemplated base on the shore of McMurdo Sound at the foot of the volcano Erebus…”

Let’s pause here, because Erebos is of particular interest and will be throughout this discussion. Erebos is, at one time, an Antarctic Volcano, a type of crystal, a moth, a ship, a crater on Mars, and the Greek God of darkness and shadow one that is syncretically associated with a place (the underworld as well as being an archaic deified anthropomorphism.

As a deity, his alternate name is Skotos, he is the consort of Nyx (Night), the child of Kronos and Anake, father of the deities Aither, Hermera, and Eros, and father of the daimons, Apate, Phobos, Ponos, Nemisis, Moros, Geras, Thanatos, Keres, Oizys, Momos, Philters, the Moirai, and the Oneiroi. Erebus, as a landscape, is the favorite prison of Zeus, and according to Hesiod’s Theogony did consume the Titan Menoitios, son of Iapetus and Clymene and the brother of Prometheus and Atlas, as a punishment for his rashness and excessive manliness. It is Erebos that holds back the Tritones, the daimons of the sea, until said time when Zeus, or for that matter Lovecraft himself, does call them forth into our reality.

It is at this point in our journey that I would like to return to the fragments pulled from the PGM glossary above. We can see here that Erebos, the hellscape-as-spirit, is also a father, a husband, a mountain, a crater on an alien planet, a ship, a crystal, and a moth. To understand and communicate with the landscape fully, all of these fragments need to be placed in a larger context. We can emulate the same type of red-yarn connections needed to piece together an understanding of landscapes-as-spirits through the piecing together of the modular parts of the PGM into a working spell that fits perfectly within that grimoire’s aesthetic.

Taking all of the above fragments in our hands, let’s throw them into the cauldron with the following context for other invocations already extant within the PGM.

Typically, when invoking a deity, be it Helios, or Kronos, or Hermes, the Greco-Egyptian mage will repeat elements of the deity’s story and ancestry, showing she is familiar with it. This typically begins with ‘You who [insert story element], who [insert next story element]. 

Further, other syncretic deities are invoked, typically by saying, “You are NN,’ or “You whose name is NN.” showing the magician’s familiarity with the wider cosmogony and how spirits are interrelated. And finally, if the deity loves another or was persecuted or tortured in some way as part of their story, the magician assumes the role of the persecutor in order to threaten the deity with this familiar punishment once again.

Now, let’s stir our cauldron and see how this looks in practice:

Come, come to me from the greatest depths, you who are darkness and shadow, Lord Erebos. Come to me for I know your other name, Skotos!

Aberamenthoothlerthezanaxethrelthuoothenemareba!

You, consort of the night, child of Kronos, father of Eros, leave the depths and come to me so that you may do my will, parades, Erebos-Parammon.

Maskelli maskello phanoukentabao oreobazagra rhexichthon hippochthon pyripeganyx!

You who are Neboutosoualeth, who are Ereschigal and the snorting terrible Brimo.

Bainchoooch!

Summon forth your legions of biaiothanatoi who dwell within you for eternity, summon for me your children; Apate, Phobos, Ponos, Nemisis, Moros, Geras, Thanatos, Keres, Oizys, Momos, Philters, the Moirai and the Oneiroi, so that I may compels them to do my will in your glorious name.

Ablanathanalba Sesengenbarpharanges Akrammachamarei!

You, jailer of Menoitios, you who hold back the Tritones, daimons of the sea, you whose names are Neboutosoualeth, Aktiophis and Ereschigal, you whose forms are the mountain and the moth, the volcano and the crater upon the red face of Mars, I compel you, come to me darkness, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!

It is this piecing together of fragments that makes the above spell so powerful. This same act can be done when attempting to communicate with the landscape. It is the taking the pieces of it, those pieces that we can recognize or that resonate with us while we exist within the landscape, and knitting them together that allow us to approach the invocation of a landscape-as-spirit. This approach is exemplified in the next excerpt from our story:

“The last lap of the voyage was vivid and fancy-stirring, great barren peaks of mystery looming up constantly against the west as the low northern sun of noon or the still lower horizon-grazing southern sun of midnight poured its hazy reddish rays over the white snow, bluish ice and water lanes, and black bits of exposed granite slopes. Through the desolate summits swept raging intermittent gusts of the terrible antarctic wind; whose cadences sometimes held vague suggestions of a wild and half-sentient musical piping… disquieting and… dimly terrible. Something about the scene reminded me of the strange… paintings of Nicholas Roerich… of the evilly fabled plateau of Leng which occur in the dreaded Necronomicon…”

for perspective, let’s look at a similar quote, but this one from Barry Lopez’s work, ‘Arctic Dreams’:

“In Davis Strait, off the northern west coast of Greenland, an odd whistling sound was sometimes heard by whalers in calm weather… a high note that eventually faded away to a very low note. It was the sign of a gale coming… The louder the whistle, the harder the winds would blow… Far to the northeast of Pond’s Bay, west of Cape York on the Greenland coast, was a remarkable phenomenon whalers at the time called the Crimson Cliffs, red-tinged snow they variously explained as due to fungal growth or to the red mute of guillemots feeding on shrimp. At an unknown spot to the east of those cliffs, a place the local [Inuit] called Savissivik, was a collection of meteorites that the British heard about for the first time in 1818. (The Polar [Inuit] chipped bits of iron-nickel from them for harpoon tips and knife blades, and for use in trade with other [Inuit]. Among them savik meant both ‘knife’ and ‘iron’.)… In 1823 the North American Arctic was still as distant as fable, inhabited by remarkable animals and uncontacted peoples… A landscape of numinous events, of a forgiving benediction of light, and darkness so dunning it precipitated madness; of a cold that froze vinegar, that fractured whatever it penetrated, including the stones.”

Here we have the same elements, the grasping of points in the landscape coupled with myth and experience and stories. In Lovecraft’s version we have the added benefit of his providing a deep and multi-layered visual aesthetic in the reference to the painting of Nicholas Roerich, a fine artist, the husband of Madam Blavatsky, the council fo world leaders, Nobel Prize winner, theosophist, occultist, Egyptologist, and overall turn-of-the-century everyman and genius. The amount of his work that is available for the Lovecraftian Mage to use as the jumping off point for journeying is staggering. His imagery is as close as we will get to actual photographs of the Lovecraftian Dreamlands.

Roerich Tower.jpg

We continue deeper into our sentient hellscape, using Mount Erebos as our gateway:

“In the afternoon we entered McMurdo Sound and stood off the coast in the lee of smoking Mt. Erebus. The scoriac peak towered up some 12,700 feet against the eastern sky, like a Japanese print of the sacred Fujiyama; while beyond it rose the while, ghost-like height of Mt. Terror…”

A quick aside, it is at this point that Arthur Gordon Pym from Poe is called out. This work was obviously a huge influence and, if we are to use the snowy wastes of the poles as a plateau on which to stage our magical journeying in a Lovecraftian context, this is clearly required reading. At this point, the author continues, relating how one intrepid member of his group moves past the barrier and into the interior of the landscape, beginning to unlock its secrets:

“Popular imagination, I judge, responded actively to our wireless bulletins of [our expedition’s biologist] Lake’s start northwestward into regions never trodden by human foot or penetrated by human imagination… Lake’s sub-expedition into the unknown, as everyone will recall, sent out its own reports from the short-wave transmitters on the planes; these being simultaneously picked up by our apparatus at the Southern base… whence they were relayed to the outside world on wave-lengths up to fifty meters. The start was made January 22 at 4 AM; and the first wireless message we received came only two hours later… Six hours after that a second and very excited message told of the frantic… work whereby a shallow shaft had been sunk and blasted; culminating in the discovery of slate fragments with several [intriguing] markings… Then, in about an hour and a half more, came that doubly excited message from Lake’s moving plane which… made me wish I had accompanied the party.
’10:05 PM. On the wing. After snowstorm, have spied mountain-range ahead higher than any hitherto seen… Probable Latitude 76°15’, Longitude 113°10’E. Reaches far as can see to right and left. Suspicion of two smoking cones. All peaks black and bare of snow…’
Thoughts of this titanic mountain rampart 700 miles away inflamed our deepest sense of adventure… In half an hour Lake called us again.
‘Moulton’s plane forced down on plateau in foothills, but nobody hurt… Mountains surpass anything in imagination… Highest peaks must go over 35,000 feet… Queer skyline effects — regular sections of cubes clinging to highest peaks. Whole thing marvellous in red-gold light of low sun. Like land of mystery in a dream or gateway to forbidden world…’ 
Pabodie and I prepared to close our base for a short or long period… Our labours, however, were not very steady after 4 PM… [Lake] had resolved… to do some local boring… It was about three hours afterward, following the first really heavy blast of the operation, that… the acting foreman… rushed into the camp with the startling news. They had struck a cave…”

The mythic conjunction with Erebus, at this point, becomes literal as the party descends into the landscape. This scene, and my attempt to stay with an animist perspective of this tale, have brought me to an interesting cascade of thoughts. In an animist perspective, are caves a way in which the landscape-as-spirit is penetrated? Or are they a new class of spirit? I think the latter, which is an interesting layering of spirits within spirits. There is no precedent for this type of thought, that I have encountered, in other avenues of magical thinking. The chthonic descent is not only a transition from one world to another, as it is popularly understood, but a way of reaching one spirit through the penetration of another. Once in the cave, are we still in contact with the larger landscape-as-spirit? No, we are now in communication with the cave, a TARDIS-like entity - sentient, potentially infinite, and playing by rules completely different than the spirit which hosts it does, yet connected through fluid and air and veins of earth and mineral and sometimes even, fire. What is the human, what is the Lovecraftian Mage, in the face of this type of complex spirit-ecology?

We will need to take this slow if we are to unpack the secrets here fully. In next week’s post we will move deeper into the underworld in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of this landscape that is Erebos.