This week was pretty good for probability enhancement and practice. As my regular readers will know, I’ve been concentrating on wealth and productivity magic since the beginning of 2018. This has taken the form of regular petitions to Jupiter and sigil magic, arguably the two most accessible forms of wealth magic to a beginning practitioner like myself. I spoke previously about how I thought I had lost some opportunities I had specifically sigiled for that had manifested, but in weird, barely accessible ways. I think that is how pie-in-the-sky sigils do take form, as the fruit hanging from the tree that gently nudges it out of reach when we grab for it. I also think that, like thoughts or memories enacted through say, the study of academic material, or trying to learn a language, sigils manifest at the speed in which your brain typically remanifests these learned facts, structures and behaviors. For me, without fail, it is almost a perfect calendar year after studying something that it bubbles independently to the surface of my brain. I am able to take tests and to perform using studied materials immediately after learning them, but then it fades away and out of my consciousness until a year later.
I’d be interested in tracking this metric somehow, finding magicians and witches with different proven timeframes of this type of recall and mapping their sigil work to this calendar. Are individuals with perfect recall more adept at sigil magic? Are they worse?
This week more opportunities opened up for me. It seems that now, after some time of focused work in this area, I can’t put out a bad resume. I have been selective of the companies I have submitted to, trying to match to the Chaos Protocols recommendations of finding work in areas that pay the most in order to fast-track sovereignty. It isn’t the easiest, as my profession is a weird one (knowledge management) at least in the states. There are more and more companies bringing on knowledge managers but there isn’t a canonized form of the job, so the offers are weird and all over the place, mostly on the low and unattractive end. That wasn’t the case this week. I received a call back after just a few days and, I tell you what, I sent in a brutally honest no-sugar cover letter to this organization. I talked about how working more than 40 hours a week is the result of poor time management and how I deconstruct business jargon when I hear it, because I find it meaningless… and they still bit on my hook. That is when you know that magic has a hand in your fortune, when you free to be pretty-much an ass and prospective employers still fall at your feet to talk to you.
I scheduled the phone interview for a Friday, which gave me the opportunity to make some appeals immediately before, in Thursday’s 23rd hour, a recommended time for magic in the Clavicula. The day prior to this, mid week, was what we’ll call Wisconsin Warm (45 F), so I was able to get my bike out for a morning ride for the first time in what seems like 16 zombie apocalypse winters. I have been thinking a whole lot about the Rune Soup episode with Matawhero Lloyd and how he opened communication to spirits of place and in particular, rivers-as-persons. I have a small but vigorous , they call it a creek but it is bigger than that, right next to my home, and this morning, around 4:45, I took my bike out on the trail that shadows its course. A 40 minute ride took me to a foot bridge over the body of water. I stopped and said some unscripted prayers to the spirit of the day, to the river-as-person, and to the BVM (whom I am working hard on establishing a relationship with). It was during the ten-count breaths that followed that I got the distinct impression that there was a threat behind me and had those corner of the eye globule shadow movements, similar to what I experienced last May after shoving a Lucifer square into the mouth of one of the lions guarding San Francisco China Town’s Dragon Gate, clapping at the intersection and walking away without looking back. Similar, but MUCH less threatening, I thought I was going to be consumed by fire and had shadows following me for my entire stay in SF last year. I was, at the time, looking for a degree of invincibility, however. This was the same and I realized that it was some spirit entity that I had attracted. The Clavicula also states that outside under a clear sky is a much better place for spirits. I believe I am moving towards proving this as a fact for myself.
The next morning, or rather, the 23rd hour of Thursday, it was too cold to go outside again so I recited my litany of supplicatory statements, Hildegard van Birgen’s song to Mary, Saint Francis’ Canticle of the Sun, and a steampunk hybrid weaponized version of multiple Jupiter invocations. I also cast three sigils. Now these sigils were intended for immediate enactment, and I haven’t had much luck with those at all, but I didn’t have a year to influence my probability with the company I was interviewing with that afternoon. I ditched out of work around 1 and headed over to the Milwaukee River front, an isolated spot behind the art school, and focused on two sigils and a robofish. I don’t know if it was my experience the previous day while biking the length of the creek (a cousin to the Milwaukee River) but the presence of the water was very reassuring. I had a fleeting thought about casting the sigils into the river, but was hesitant, mostly due to Gordon White’s very sound advice, I think in a Q and A last year, where he warned against just impinging on a river for magical use, without getting to know it first. It was then, watching the water, I witnessed a seagull dash from the sky and catch a rather large fish at the surface. The bird then brought it up to the riverwalk and proceeded to bloody the boards with its meal. I watched the carnage and immediately thought of a blood sacrifice. I stood and speaking to the river as I would any other person, I asked if it would accept my little sigil pseudo-spirits as a replacement for the fish-citizen it had just lost. I sat, the recruiter called, and I interviewed. I’ll keep you posted on the result, because Chaos Magicians, we like our metrics.
For our first imbrication, we will pay a visit to one of the primary scenes in this week’s Lovecraft Tale. This is an art piece developed by Strange Loop, an organization that offers (or did, their blog posts ended about five years ago) walking tours of the North Burial Ground of Providence, RI. It is appropriately spooky, enjoy:
Our second offering is from the long lamented speed metal group, Rigor Mortis. These cats were so hugely influential and their members, especially the late Mike Scaccia, went on to be instrumental in some off my all-time favorite groups like GWAR, Ministry, and Revolting Cocks. I’ve found a pretty good (audio-wise) rendition of their song, Re-animator, which I submit for your enjoyment:
and then finally, since I’m feeling particularly Chaos Magic-y today, check out the divine Ragnorok knitted together in the below video mashup, Ash v Herbert West:
FROM POTTER’S FIELD TO KING’S CHAPEL
“Virtually every magical technique one encounters appears so deeply rooted in tradition that magical practice seems essentially timeless and perennial.”
- Forbidden Rites: Richard Kieckhefer
This week we will be discussing Herbert West - Reanimator, and the above phrase is important to that discussion and the wider Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic. It is also a clue into how re-animation relates to necromancy, as re-animation is rooted in the future, timeless as in not having existed yet. Herbert West was a futurist trying to discover the secrets of God. Necromancer’s recognize God’s sovereignty over life and seek his assistance in raising the dead. Herbert West is a denier of the divine in more ways than one. Keickhefer goes on to state that:
“the fear of clerical necromancy was a major source of pre-Reformation anti-clericalism… the realization that certain clerics were dabbling in conjuration could hardly have made a positive contribution to the image of the clergy at a time when for other reasons there was increasing distrust of priests and priestcraft.”
We live in a exaggerated version of the age that Herbert West futures to, where religion is declining, priests can’t be trusted and are, in fact, accused of the worst kinds of evils, all while physician-scientists actively and aggressively tinker with genetic code in an attempt to cheat death. Reanimator is told from the perspective of a nameless narrator, a close consul of Herbert West. In our narrators word’s:
“I had always been… tolerant of West’s pursuits, and we frequently discussed his theories… Holding… that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called ‘soul’ is a myth, [West] believed that artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of the tissues; and that unless actual decomposition has set in, a corpse fully equipped with organs may with suitable measures be set going again in the peculiar fashion known as life.”
West is an archetype of the materialist worldview and his attempts at re-animation are to prove the hypothesis that there is no soul, and by extension, no afterlife, no ghosts, no spirits, etc.
When I think of Herbert West, as is the case with most of us, I think of this guy…
but according to Lovecraft’s description:
“West was small, slender, spectacled youth with delicate features, yellow hair, pale blue eyes, and a soft voice…”
This is a closer match:
Let’s just (try and) work with that for awhile and see how it fits. After a close reading of this tale it is apparent to me that the 80’s adaptation of the work is woefully shallow. We will need a new archetypal image as we move through West’s world. Some things still hold, like the ever-present need for cadavers to test West’s work. Our narrator recounts one of the first instances of resurrectionism:
“luck favored us; for one day we heard of an almost ideal [accident] case in the potter’s field; a brawny young workman drowned only the morning before in Sumner’s Pond, and buried at the town’s expense without delay or embalming. That afternoon we found the new grave, and determined to begin work soon after midnight.”
If this tale had a saint, it would connect with Saint Roch, who is the patron saint of dogs and of gravediggers. This also makes an interesting connection between Lovecraft’s ghouls (from Pickman and Unknown Kadath) who are at once dogs and gravediggers.
Our nameless narrator, who might or might not be Lovecraft, continues to muse on the subject of materialism, which I find quite interesting, as if the following passages are a meditation on the failings and strengths of that world view:
“we were apprehensive concerning the mind and impulses of the creature, since in the space following death some of the more delicate cerebral cells might well have suffered deterioration. I, myself, still held some curious notions about the traditional ‘soul’ of man, and felt an awe at the secrets that might be told by one returning from the dead… what sights this… youth might have seen in inaccessible spheres… but my wonder was not overwhelming, since for the most part I shared the materialism of my friend…”
a meditation that is punctuated with the first macabre instance of pseudo-re-animation:
“The awful event was very sudden… when from the pitch-black room [housing the corpse] there burst the most appalling and daemonic succession of cries that either of us had ever heard… without a thought… West and I leaped to the nearest window… vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night… [The next evening] two items in the paper… made it impossible for us to sleep. The old deserted Chapman house had… burned to [a] heap of ashes [and] an attempt had been made to disturb a new grave in the potter’s field, as if by futile and spadeless clawing at the earth… for seventeen years after that West would look frequently over his shoulder, and complain of… footsteps behind him. Now he has disappeared.”
and then picked back up when the narrator turns his weaponized wit against academics, a known pressure point for Lovecraft as he could never afford to attend Brown University, despite his intellect and appetite for learning:
“Only greater maturity could help [West] understand the chronic mental limitations of the ‘professor-doctor’ type — the product of generations of pathetic Puritanism; kindly, conscientious, and sometimes gentle and amiable, yet always narrow, intolerant, custom-ridden, and lacking in perspective. Age has more charity for these incomplete yet high-souled characters, whose worst real vice is timidity, and who are ultimately punished by general ridicule for their intellectual sins — sins like Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzsheism, and every sort of Sabbatariamism…”
What is important here is that Lovecraft is placing materialists and academics in a place outside of his own. There is no way that one can read these lines and not see a genuineness to the sentiment here. Lovecraft was not a materialist, he was not an ‘armchair’ pagan, but one fully engaged in the life, if only emotional or mental, the life of the Other.
Up to now the story it seems to match the general narrative of the classic 80’s adaptation. Beginning with the below quote, however, the story shifts and takes on a depth I was heretofore unaware of:
“West and I had graduated about the time of [the plague’s] beginning… Though not yet licensed physicians, we now had our degrees, and were pressed frantically into public service as the numbers of the stricken grew…”
This is an interesting trope that I haven’t seen before in this research project, that of mortal disease of typhoid filling a town with the dead. This would place the story around 1906-1907, although that isn’t explicitly stated, when over 10,000 people died each year from Typhoid Fever. Lovecraft would have lived through this, having been the age of 17 when it began. Herbert West - Re-animator dregs up some painful memories for HPL and places them on display. The fear of the fever must have been terrifying for everyone in that area. Let’s continue, knitting together some important scenes in this section:
“Taking advantage of the disorganization… [West] managed to get a recently deceased body smuggled into the university dissecting-room one night, and in my presence injected a new modification of his solution. The thing actually opened its eyes, but only stared at the ceiling with a look of soul-petrifying horror before collapsing into an inertness from which nothing could rouse it. West said it was not fresh enough… The peak of the epidemic was reached in August… Dr. Halsey [the dean of the medical school] died [and all] the students… attended the hasty funeral… West persuaded me to make a night of it. West’s landlady saw us arrive at his room about two in the morning, with a third man between us… about 3AM the whole house was aroused by cries coming from West’s room, where when they broke down the door they found the two of us unconscious on the blood-stained carpet, beaten, scratched, and mauled… Only an open window told what had become of our assailant…”
Had Lovecraft lost loved ones during the Typhoid Fever? Had this been a period where some of his thoughts and emotions are doctors and death were formed?
The next quote helps us pick out the ever present spirit of place for our growing Lovecraftian grimoire:
“When [Herbert West] and I obtained our degrees at the medical school of Miskatonic University and sought to relieve our poverty by setting up as general practitioners, we took great care not to say that we chose our house because it was fairly well isolated, and as near as possible to the potter’s field… It was not easy to find a good opening for two doctors in company, but finally the influence of the university secured us a practice in Bolton — a factory town near Arkham… The Bolton Worsted Mills are the largest in the Miskatonic Valley…”
This is another nail in the coffin of those that would argue that Arkham was based on Salem, MA. The Rising Sun Mill, previously known as the National and Providence Worsted Mills, is still the largest Worsted Mill in the area. This places the Potter’s Field in Herbert West, Reanimator as the North Burial Ground in Providence.
At this point in the story there is a boxing scene that features what really is the first instance that I’ve encountered during this exercise of overt 19th c. Great White Hope anthropology driven racism from Lovecraft, where he as narrator describes a recently deceased African-American in the most horrible of ways. Once is enough though to change my thesis that he was not a racist. It is important to point out for modern audiences, however, that he has given the exact same adjectival treatment to the Dutch and other European nationalities in a larger them of devolution from a so-called heightened state of humanity. It is one of his most common tropes. The scene continues to a ghastly end where the reanimated corpse of the African-American boxer has his second life terminated after crawling from a shallow grave and devouring a tiny Italian child. There is also an element of sensationalism here, which is in itself not a crime, and Lovecraft could have been using the juxtaposition of races and the deep archetype of Kronos devouring his children, to enhance his audience’s revulsion as well. There is another complication in assigning the role of the narrator in Reanimator to Lovecraft, when it is written that:
“It was in July, 1910, that the bad luck regarding specimens began to turn. I had been on a long visit to my parents in Illinois, and upon my return found west in a state of singular elation…”
This is the first instance where Lovecraft as the narrator is questioned, for we know that his parents were not living at the time of the writing of Reanimator. The nameless narrator must be another card from his deck, which, if my thesis that Lovecraft was sophisticated enough of a writer to ‘write in character’, would cast a different light on the observations immediately above. I will reassert that the descriptive phrase that is used in the description of the boxer does, in my view, disqualify Lovecraft as the figure used in the World Fantasy Award. This article from The Verge describes the controversy, although in an extreme way that makes it transparent that the author is just piling on top of popular opinion and has not undertaken a critical reading of Lovecraft’s oeuvre.
As a humorous aside, take a look at the video I found populated below The Verge article when I accessed it:
The hood the young lady is wearing is very reminiscent of technology that Lovecraft futured in his tale, Beyond the Wall of Sleep. You can find my analysis of that tale here.
Lovecraft's influence on our current and future states cannot be denied, despite his failings.
Our tale continues to deepen as it progresses through its serialized format. Take, for instance, the next quote:
“So on the night of July 18, 1910, Herbert West and I stood in the cellar laboratory and gazed at a white, silent figure beneath the dazzling arc-light…”
where July 18th is marked as an important date in our Lovecraftian Magical Calendar. The next bit goes into the narrator’s questioning of materialism even more when it is written:
“I whispered questions to the reddening ears [of the reanimated corpse]… I think the last one… was: ‘Where have you been?’ I do not yet know whether I was answered or not, for no sound came from the well-shaped mouth; but I do know that at that moment I firmly thought the thin lips moved silently, forming syllables I would have vocalized as ‘only now’…”
This is a haunting passage, had Lovecraft heard these last words from the mouth of a loved one some time in his past? Where would this phrase had come from. It isn’t in his stylistic tool kit to voice such encrypted poetry, so it seems to me that this is another lived experience, possibly again from his eighteenth and nineteenth year surrounded by a biblical plague of Typhoid Fever.
Our story now shifts, and our narrator is no longer a civilian but conscripted into the armed forces to fight in the ‘Great War’:
“In 1915 I was a physician with the rank of First Lieutenant in a Canadian regiment in Flanders, one of many Americans to precede the government itself into the gigantic struggle… Dr. West had been avid for a chance to serve as surgeon in a great war, and when the chance had come he carried me with him almost against my will.”
I will state again that I am quite amazed at the depth that this tale has. The film, like so many of Lovecraft’s adaptations, does not approach the complexity of his plots or the sophistication of his references to pagan Rome:
“Gradually I came to find Herbert West himself more horrible than anything he did… His interest became a hellish and perverse addiction to the repellently and fiendishly abnormal; he gloated calmly over artificial monstrosities which would make most healthy men drop dead from fright and disgust; he became, behind his pallid intellectuality, a fastidious Baudelaire of Physical experiment — a languid Elagabalus of the tombs.”
Now here I have to pause, because the story of Elagabalus is too fascinating to me now to recall for you, dear readers. A Syrian deity synthesized with Sol Invictus (The Sun God, or the Sun King), a singular temple was built to him on a place called Palatine Hill in Rome, arguably the oldest part of the city. Inside this ‘Elagabalium’ was a black conical meteorite, worshiped as a gift or manifestation of this God. The emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, otherwise known as Heliogabulus, had all of the greatest theological treasures to the Elagabalium and declared Elagabalus as the highest deity, installing Astarte as his wife. The worship of a cosmic star god whose manifestation on earth is an black alien rock of unusual geometry has to be the most Lovecraftian of pagan practices I have ever heard. This stone, or Baetylus, also maps back to our necro-Kronos archetype in the middle of Reanimator, as Kronos was said to have swallowed a similar object known as the Omphalos, which was installed and worshipped at the Temple of Delphi.
It is at this point, that Reanimator takes an even more ancient turn into the depths of human magical practice:
“Besides human tissue, West employed much of the reptile embryo tissue which he had cultivated… It was better than human material for maintaining life in organ less fragments, and that was now my friend’s chief activity. In a dark corner of the laboratory, over a queer incubating burner, he kept a large covered vat full of this reptilian cell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily and hideously. On the night of which I speak we had a splendid new specimen — a man at once physically powerful and of… high mentality… He had come in an aeroplane… only to be shot down when directly over his destination. The fall had been… awful… and the wreck yielded up the [officer] in a nearly decapitated but otherwise intact condition… I shuddered when [West] finished severing the head, [placing] it in his hellish vat… and proceeded to treat the decapitated body… [closing] the ghastly aperture with engrafted skin… I knew what he wanted — to see if this highly organized body could exhibit, without its head, any of the signs of mental life…”
Herbert West, at the beginning of his career, manifested as a materialist anti-necromancer, a gravedigger that Saint Roch might even turn his divine gaze and protection from, is now creating the Headless One as flesh on earth. The ‘other place’ where West literally and metaphorically places the head of the man is a bubbling amorphous sea of reptile flesh, from which the man calls out his last words as West and our nameless narrator from Illinois watch the Headless One writhe and grope from the operating table. A self-made god resurrecting his own personal chaos magic Jesus.
Our tarot match for Herbert West, Reanimator is the Nine of Swords. In fact, remember back when I asked you to re-envision Herbert West as Lovecraft’s slim blonde eternal Roman youth? Check out his cameo on the Sola-Busca version of the card:
Let’s deconstruct our card using Etteilla’s keywords, Ecclesiastique in the upright position and Juste Defiance for the reversed.
Ekklesiastikos, from the Greek, means ‘of the church’, going back further to Proto-Indo European ‘ek’ meaning ‘out’ and kele, meaning ‘to shout’ we can knit together the oldest meaning of the term as ‘to cry out’. Juste means ‘morally upright’ and Defiance threads back to Vulgar Latin *disfidare, to ‘renounce one’s faith’. Therefore, what we have in the Nine of Swords is a perfect map of the territory traversed philosophically by Herbert West and his nameless friend, our narrator. At True North we have the soul, religion, and a divine truth, while at the South Pole we have a Renouncing of this faith and at the same time an adherence to different but no less high set of morals, i.e. materialism.
Where did West end up, in the end of his story? According to our narrator:
“West’s last quarters were in a venerable house of much elegance, overlooking one of the oldest burying-grounds in Boston. He had chosen the place for purely symbolic and fantastically aesthetic reasons, since most of the interments were of the colonial period and therefore of little use…”
So in his old age, West had come through Materialism to a type of necromantic aesthetic, surrounding himself with the dead for more spiritual than practical reasons. The likely location of West’s final domicile would be somewhere near the King’s Chapel Burying Ground on Boston’s Tremont Street. The trip from Potter’s Field to King’s Chapel can reveal to those who look closely, the grave secrets of literature’s second greatest ressurectionist.