“My endless descent and swinging flight through goblin space…”
This phrase from Lovecraft’s ‘Under the Pyramids’, a ghost written story for his friend Harry Houdini, is one of those that remind me why I want to be a writer.
We all know that Lovecraft is known for ‘purple prose’ or excess embellishment, at least, that is what his critics say, but sometimes…
Now, I don’t know if you’re a writer, or if you create anything on a semi-regular basis, but if you do then you’ll understand the feeling I’m about to describe. Last month I participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge, and as such, I did a lot of writing. There are these moments when you are creating that the creation seems to take over. You normally never recognize that it is happening, right, until it actually has. The above fragment speaks to me with that same quality. There is a freshness, a quickness to it that tells me that Lovecraft was in the throws of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as a ‘Flow State’ in his book 'Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience'.
I’ve written lines like this, sometimes, if I’m lucky, a few lines, where the ideas get out ahead of me and come at me from some future state, or are given to me from something not myself. If we need evidence that Lovecraft was inspired from beyond, this and other prose of this ineffable quality are as good as any evidence that I’ve seen.
I’m going to pick up on his phrase, ‘Goblin Space’, and start to use it to describe the place that I go when I am praying, invoking, divining, and especially when applying magical timing. It reminds me of the inbetween space that the goblin’s are packed into to while waiting for Sarah to banish her baby brother to the land of the Goblin King, and as we magical practitioner’s know, the inbetween spaces are where the best magic is done.
Speaking of magical timing, I wanted to talk a bit about some progress I’ve made in the area of sigilmancy. As I mentioned last week, I planned on riding on my friend Ghostly Harmless’ success with timing, using Jupiter’s day to appeal to Saint Cyprian. I followed suit last week, and also created my first six sigils and a robofish in many months. It was a good morning, starting in Jupiter’s hour and completing the sigil’s in Mars’ hour. I added in a Babylonian time stamp and then packed them away into my journal following the Cyprianic ritual given to Rune Soup premium members in the Sigils course at the beginning of the year.
That day was good, I had that ‘I’ve done magic, you Normals’ buzz all the way into the evening. The next morning I practiced no magic and, as is the way of things, my anxiety grew. This usually affects me the most during my commute to the office. There is something about being inside the cave-space of the car, following along with all the other humans, that environment always exacerbates any type of bad mood that might have taken root. It wasn’t overwhelming but I did not feel good by the time I pulled into my spot in the parking garage.
Taking one of the sigils out of my bag, I reminded myself of Pete Carroll’s outlines for how to charge a sigil, intense emotion being one successful way. Instead of heading straight inside I turned off the Skinny Puppy cassette that I had put on to distract me, structured my breath, and re-focused on the sigil I held in my hands. It was certainly still active, buzzing with life from what I see now is a birthing ritual from when it was first created. After about twenty breaths the sigil’s life dimmed and my anxiety noticeably dissolved.
Now that day was filled with magic.
I received a message completely out of the blue on LinkedIn from a recruiter that wanted to talk to me about a position in New York. Remembering Gordon White’s words, ‘do it all’, when it comes to odd opportunities when performing sigil magic, I agreed to a phone call over lunch. At lunch, there were a couple of cell phone drop outs in the place where I was eating, so I decided to move outside. As I was walking out, there on the ground was a ten dollar bill. I felt very much like Cap’n Jack Sparrow spinning to grab the bill, placing it in my pocket, and heading outside to complete the call. The discussion with the recruiter went well, laughter, understanding, and in the end he gave me a ballpark figure for the position, which was a ludicrous six figures. When I got back to the office, there were free pies on every floor.
Now, a recruiter saying they are going to call you back after the initial phone call is about as believable as using a My Little Pony to summon Hecate, but I recognize that probability was absolutely starting to bend. The streak continued through the week when a job I applied AND sigiled for contacted me to set up a phone interview next week, this after nearly a year of nothing but form emails thanking me for my time. Last night, since I was up binging on the second season of The Magicians, I paused around 11:45 PM, shut everything down, lit candles, offered up some new black rum, and gave thanks to all my saints, timing it so that I was addressing Santa Muerte in her hour of midnight. Let’s see how those to probability enhancements progress next week.
TUNING INTO GOBLIN SPACE
This week I am going to replace the Imbrications section with some Tech Share. Now this, like my Babylonian Time Stamps and the Carrollian sigils-as-coping-mechanisms secondary emotional charging ritual, will be a magical hypothesis. That means, I have not tested this method out yet but I’m sharing it here in the interest of keeping an accurate and useful magical record.
I got so much out of the Rune Soup Sigils Course, not the least of which was a solid introduction to magical timing. Like many other premium members, I dove into it whole hog, filling my calendar with corresponding astrological houses, zodiacal days and hours. It was, after awhile, a bit difficult for me to keep up with and after so much planning and daily rituals with no break, I got the feeling that my efforts weren’t having much effect. I did, however, really enjoy tracking the moon’s phases. This didn’t have too much to do with the magical timing outlined in the course, but I got the feeling that paying such close attention to the moon was creating cracks in the manufactured reality of my Monday through Friday 9 to 5 existence. After a few months, I let my sigilmancy lapse, however, and didn’t pick it up again until recently.
While studying the Hygromanteia these past couple of weeks, I came across a list of the 29 lunar days and what they are good for. This is the exact same tech I had been applying to the days of the week, but for some reason this felt more comfortable to me. My idea is to begin mapping my magical rituals and sigil casting to the 29 lunar days in the hopes that I can not just crack, but break, the hold the Gregorian calendar has on my life. I consider this a ‘Tuning into Goblin Space’.
Here is an abridged version of the tech straight out of the Hygromanteia:
“1. Birth: Good for every attempt
2. Light-Bringer: Bad for everything
3. Rising: Beneficial for every affair
4. Increasing: A good day for Socialization, Buying, and Selling
5. Raising Up: Attempt Nothing
6. Elevating: Good for Fishing, Hunting, Traveling, Sowing, Planting, and Buying
7. Bisecting: Good for any action, especially educating children
8. Prancing: Do not travel
9. Fleeing for Refuge: Good for merchants, buying, selling, planting, building, lending, and asking favors of powerful friends
10. Gibbous: Good for everything, especially travel, educating children, and buying houses
11. Bulging: Good for every action, especially buying, sowing, planting, harvesting, and building
12. Rotating: Good for trading, planting, building, and storing food
13. Nigh at Hand: Dangerous for fighting
14. Full Moon: Good for anything you may attempt, especially socialization, lending or borrowing.
15. Turning About: Be Careful on this day, do not lie or cut wood, do not sell or buy.
16. Elevating: Good for education, planting, building, buying, selling, trading, and socializing, beneficial for everything.
17. Restoring: Good for every attempt.
18. Uncompounded: Good for buying, selling, trading, sowing, reaping, planting, and harvesting.
19. Unprofitable: Whatever attempt you start on this day you will finish quickly.
20. Decreasing: Good for planting, building, buying, traveling, and trading.
21. Bisecting: Do not do anything.
22. Bisecting with Deficient Light: Every attempt you start will finish quickly.
23. Alone: Good for being taught, for selling and buying and trading.
24. Dark: Beneficial for military expeditions and trading.
25. Grudge: Not good for merchants or taking oaths.
26. Grabbing: Good for traveling and making friends
27. Obscuring: Good for buying and many other things.
28. Moonless: Good for selling, buying, sowing, reaping, and educating.
29. Accompanying: Good for merchants and every action, especially family affairs.
30. Conjunction or Thirtieth Day: Occurs on the eighth and twelfth hour of the day, beneficial for many things”
p. 142-145 of the Marathakis edition
This cycle begins counting on the day after the New Moon, for example, Dec. 19th. The New Moon (Dec. 18th) is referred to as the Accompanying Moon (No. 29 in our list) through this system and, contrary to what I had always believed, is beneficial for every action, especially the family. I had always understood the New Moon as a day to do no magic, but according to the Hygromantiea, the Lunar days that you should attempt no magic are the second, fifth, fifteenth, and the twenty-first.
Two days of particular interest to me are the 19th and 22nd lunar day, which states that anything begun on those days shall be completed quickly. Those sound like great days for emergency sigils and appeals to quick working saints like Santa Muerte and Saint Expedite.
Taking this one step further one can keep track of the Moon Rise over your specific location counting moon rise to moon rise as one lunar day. Calculating the exact lunar days should further help to break my consciousness from the tempore mercatori (merchant time) or homo fastis (human calendar) and align my magical rhythms with luna diebus, tuning me into a vast and ancient form of Goblin Space.
This week’s Lovecraft tale is called ‘Under the Pyramids’ in my collection and was ghostwritten by Lovecraft for the one and only Harry Houdini. With Mr. Houdini heavily involved with his friend Lovecraft’s creation of this tale, which is partially based on Houdini’s actual experiences in Cairo, I didn’t have to lay down a spread for the Tarot archetype to jump out at me as I usually do.
The Tarot card associated with our protagonist, Mr. Houdini, can only be that of the Hanged Man.
More on that later.
In ‘Under the Pyramids’, Houdini embarks from Marseilles, France to Cairo, Egypt by way of Alexandria in the year 1910, just six years after Crowley had visited (which, to me, is more evidence to refute Peter Levenda’s claim that Lovecraft could not have known or been aware of any of Crowley’s work — if he was acquainted with Houdini, who was traversing the the Beast’s footsteps and was a magician himself, how could he not?). He mentions staying at the Shepheard’s Hotel, which if anyone is in Cairo and has the mind to associate our Lovecraftian Magical aesthetic with another landmark, the hotel Houdini stayed in is still there.
Lovecraft packs so much tech into this tale, it was hard to keep up. Take the following quote:
“There are unpleasant tales of the Sphinx before Khephren, but whatever its elder features were, the monarch replaced them with his own that men might look at the colossus without fear.”
and foreshadowing of a link between his Elder Gods and the Sphinx. Lovecraft continues in his description of the mythical beast:
“It was then that the smile of the Sphinx vaguely displeased us, and made us wonder about the legends of subterranean passages beneath the monstrous creature, leading down, down, to depths none might dare hint at — depths connected with mysteries older than the dynastic Egypt we excavate, and having a sinister relation to the persistence of abnormal, animal-headed gods in the ancient Nilotic pantheon.”
“I recalled that the Arabs whisper things about Nitokris, and shun the Third Pyramid at certain phases of the moon. It must have been over her that Thomas Moore was brooding when he wrote a thing muttered about by Memphian boatmen —
‘The subterranean nymph that dwells
Mid sunless gems and glories hid —
The lady of the Pyramid’”
and love the quote from Thomas More, which shows Lovecraft pulling tech from other literati, much like I am doing with him today.
Houdini, after going through the regular 1910 tourist areas of turn-of-the-century Cairo decides that he has not had enough intrigue to satisfy his adrenalin addiction. He proceeds to get himself involved in a ritualized fist fight on the top of the great Pyramid at midnight by way of the worst neighborhoods in Cairo. This doesn’t turn out well for him and, in fact, appears to be a kind of set up, the indigenous Cairoans having already decided that they are going to test the foreign magician’s mettle:
“It gradually dawned on me that the elder magic of Egypt did not depart without leaving traces, and that fragments of a strange secret lore and priestly cult-practices have survived… to such an extent that the prowess of a strange ‘hahwi’ or magician is resented and disputed… Suddenly something happened which in a flash proved the correctness of my reflections and made me curse the denseness whereby I had accepted this night’s events as other than the empty and malicious ‘frameup’ they now shewed themselves to be. Without warning… the entire band of Bedouins precipitated itself upon me; and having produced heavy ropes, soon had me bound as securely as I was ever bound in the course of my life…”
Enter the Hanged Man.
At this point, Houdini is lowered down into a pit, which is where Lovecraft invokes the description of Goblin Space, a pitch black void, neither up or down, neither conscious or unconscious, in which our hero swings by an impossible long hempen rope. ‘Under the Pyramids’ contains some excellent exposition detailing sensory deprevation journeying informed by ‘too much’ (according to the narrator, not me) armchair research in Egyptology. There is a fogged up window pane view of how materialism can frustrate the mystical that I can frankly identify with though. Houdini, once conscious (a fact he tries to convince himself is false throughout) eventually stumbles into a vast, seemingly limitless, underground chamber, in which he experiences the following issues from some place even more chthonic:
“From some still lower chasm in earth’s bowels were proceeding certain sounds, measured and definite… the flute, the sambuke, the sistrum, and the tympanum. In their rhythmic piping, droning, rattling, and beating I felt an element of terror beyond all the known terrors of earth — a terror peculiarly dissociated from personal fear, and taking the form of a sort of objective pity for our planet…”
I really like this and think it belongs in visualization work or as a seed for journeying. It reminds me of the orchestras and musician that precede the four Goetic spirit kings. The terror component connects well with the initiatory qualities of extreme fear in the face of spirit contact. Houdini’s witnessing in the lower chamber also intersects with my current visualizations while performing Decan invocations:
“I would not look at the marching things. That I desperately resolved as I heard their creaking joints and nitrous wheezing above the dead music and the dead tramping. It was merciful that they did not speak… but God! their crazy torches began to cast shadows on the surface of those stupendous columns. Heaven take it away! Hippopotami should not have human hands and carry torches… men should not have the heads of crocodiles…”
The degraded and mismatched combinations of animal and man are very similar to the descriptions of the 36 Decans.
It is interesting to me that Houdini and Lovecraft were friends. As we have seen in past close readings, the trope of an impassable barrier being smashed is seen again and again in Lovecraft. For him to ghostwrite and befriend a magician, one who is arguably the most famous for his own subverting of barriers and restraints, is quite telling. It offers insight into Lovecraft the man and how chaos magic can approach his tales, building a grimoire out of his body of work.
Which brings us to the final relevant aspect of ‘Under the Pyramids’, the appearance of a new Lovecraftian spirit:
“The monstrosities were hailing something which had poked itself out of the nauseous aperture to seize the hellish fare proffered it. It was something quite ponderous, even as seen from my height; something yellowish and hairy, and endowed with a sort of nervous motion. It was as large, perhaps, as a good-sized hippopotamus… It seemed to have no neck, but five separate shaggy heads… in a row… Out of these heads darted curious rigid tentacles… Its locomotion was so inexplicable that I stared in fascination, wishing it would emerge further… Then it did emerge… and at the sight I turned and fled… The Great Sphinx!… what huge and loathsome abnormality was the Sphinx originally carven to represent?… the Unknown God of the Dead… The five-headed monster that emerged… that five-headed monster as large as a hippopotamus… and that of which it is the merest fore paw…”
Lovecraft’s Sphinx, is a colossal creature, with a lion’s body, five eating tentacle tongued faces on every paw, and not the face of a man, as is seen now, but something else indescribable, which man cannot gaze upon. This is the oldest God of the Dead, a cosmic horror unknown, unnamed, older than the Dinka, older than time…
As was mentioned in the beginning of this section, our Tarot archetype for ‘Under the Pyramids’ is The Hanged Man. If we are to use our Etteilla deck, however, there is an added complication, for there is no Hanged Man in our deck, but his precursor, Prudence.
Prudence, from what I can tell, is a trump that Etteilla likely borrowed from the Minchiate Fiorentine deck. From the 18th c., somewhere in the neighborhood of 1725, the Minchiate Fiorentine deck had 41 trumps. The extended trumps for this deck included all twelve zodiac signs, the four virtues (of which Prudence is one of them) and the four elements. Etteilla also includes the element Air as one of the replacements for the traditional trumps.
Prudence holds a book and a mirror with a serpent coiled on it. She represents silence, caution, and a solitary search for wisdom. She represents knowledge, the danger of vanity, and how vanity can lead to boredom. Houdini, in ‘Under the Pyramids’, feels that he was not challenged enough by Egypt and is vain about his own prowess, which is how he allows himself to be trapped and bound.
The mirror and the serpent are important here and are a vector into Houdini’s chthonic experience. I will reference James Hillman again and his work, ‘The Dream and the Underworld’:
“‘Entering the underworld’ refers to a transition from the material to the psychical point of view. Three dimensions become two as the perspective of nature, flesh, and matter fall away, leaving an existence of immaterial, mirrorlike images, eidola… [The] eidola… are not substantial… We may not just say they are this or that, or say that existence in the underworld is so and so. We may speak of eidola only as they ‘seem,’ ‘appear to be,’ or what they ‘liken unto’… Eidola may be distinguished from ikons, which are better compared with pictorial copies, visible things out-there that we can touch, even make. The word eidolon relates with Hades himself (aidoneus) and with edits, ideational forms and shapes, the ideas that form and shape life, but are so buried in it that we only ‘see’ them when pulled out in abstractions.”
In our tale, I think that Queen Nitokris is the representation of Prudence, the eidola, and Houdini is the representation of The Hanged Man, our ikon.
Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot describes the Hanged Man as an icon of self-sacrifice, Wen states that:
“The mob has metaphorically hung the Seeker because they do not approve of the Seeker’s beliefs or what the Seeker has done.”
The Hanged Man is a card that represents the need for self-trust, for confidence, for prophecy. He is the precusor of Death and represents the initiation or painful transition into the underworld. All of which are made manifest by Lovecraft in his treatment of his friend Houdini’s tale of his descent into the goblin space where he comes face to rotted half-eaten face with his own eidola, the ephemeral Queen Nitokris.
It wouldn't be a Gnome School post without a little metal, and we can't talk about Egypt without referencing the below classic from fellow Lovecraft fan, James Hetfield: