This has been a week of mundane improbabilities. Given how ridiculously tired I’ve been, this post being written is sort of one of them. It started early in the week, what was it, yes, Tuesday. I came home and the night was going pretty darn good, but then came the issue of a missing toy. A tiny little car that I had never laid eyes on because it was new from the store that day. You know the kind, those .99 cent matchbox cars. I love the things to this day, I had so many of them as a kid, they are a real favorite for both the girl and the boy. Anyway, it was missing, and neither I (the most improbably sleuth for anything lost or otherwise in my home due to me working most of the day and not having any real world experience with where things are supposed to be and where they actually are) or my wife were able to find it. There was screaming and crying involved, and I haven’t even gotten to how the kids took the news of it's seemingly permanent absence…
OK, things get lost, not that improbable, especially kids toys, right? Wait, hear me out. That evening, I was sitting on the couch holding the boy until his sniffles about the car subsided and he drifted off to sleep. I was listening to the latest Rune Soup podcast (also, not that improbable) on my AirPods, you know, those tiny wireless brainwashing implants *designed in Cupertino*. I woke around the time the podcast was wrapping up, the boy was asleep, so I willed myself off of the couch and huffed the boy upstairs into his bed. As I was doing so, I noticed one of the implants had fallen out. Returning to the first floor after putting my son down, I looked for the device, and could not find it anywhere. There was more screaming and crying (Gods, I hate losing things) but no celestial spirit was listening and the tiny thing remained lost. Surprisingly (I tell you, I *hate* losing things) I kept me head and after thirty minutes of tearing the living room apart, searching my boy’s person as he thankfully stayed slumbering, and checking places in the house I hadn’t even been that evening, I turned to the ever convenient tracking program ArchonCloud, and pinged the damned things.
Immediately came this tiny meeping, from the track suit jacket I had been wearing and had flung to the wingback chair in my frustration. I searched the pockets, searched them again, the meeping was persistent but I could not find the implant. After much focused manhandling of the fabric I finally located it, *inside the lining of the jacket*. Only the tiniest of holes leading from an inside pocket allowed access to where they had migrated. How they got there, in a place that took me twenty minutes to figure out how to extract them, I cannot guess. It was enough of an improbable event to send me on a cleansing prayer binge, spirit license, appeal to Mars (whom I hadn’t been speaking to), offerings of fresh wine, incense, the whole gambit.
The next day the toy car was found. In the lining of my son’s winter jacket…
Yeah, its those sorts of things that can really kickstart praxis, at least for me. My reaction tells me that I am transitioning well from a materialist mind set to an animist one. My thoughts after experiencing the improbability went immediately to that of a trickster or otherwise mischievous spirit. In hind sight, that thought as a matter-of-course is in itself highly improbable, or at least, it was before re-enchantment began to color my world.
The rest of the week there were other improbabilities, but of a more positive sort. What was it, Friday, we got like nine inches of snow. I went out to shovel and my neighbors two doors down came up the alley and helped me shovel my entire driveway. I’ve lived here for six years and that was the first time that ever happened. When I arrived home that evening after work, another neighbor, one who is historically hostile to me because of my yearly cultivation of long grass and dandelions (suburban passive aggressive mind games are the *most* mundane) had actually taken his snowblower to my driveway and the entire slab where I park my Jeep after we had received another six inches while I was gone. I said these were mundane, everyday type things that are nonetheless, highly improbable on a hyperlocal scale. There was enough of these goings-on (or in the case of the trickster, fucking about) that my thoughts turned to improbability during my continuing Active Imagination practice.
This week my focus was the Ten of Batons. In trying to keep with the small ‘p’ pagan Roman empire historical focus engendered by Peter Mark Adams, I am viewing batons in their original incarnations as either 1) a symbol of imperial authority carried by field officers or 2) an encryption device used in warfare (the baton being of specific width and length and having an exact duplicate elsewhere on the battlefield, encrypted messages were written with these devices by wrapping a strip of paper or cloth around it and then writing out the orders, only the batons duplicate would accurately decrypt the message). My first session, early in the week (prior to the trickster visit) did not reveal any insight into the archetype of the ten of batons. The archetype remained static while my mind reeled with a lot of conscious information. The only slightly surprising shift were that the batons became vacuum tubes briefly. The batons-to-vacuum tubes made a connection in my mind to early computing, but this also connected to a lot of the contemporary thoughts I had been having about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. The vacuum tubes were unique enough, however, a type of deeper thought image, even while being tethered to my present unquiet mind. Active Imagination is often like this, largely fruitless, only offering the most meager genuine glimpse into the subconscious, only the slightest whisper from the spirit world.
Since our overarching theme this week is the universal probability matrix that we all cling to, the obvious first choice for an imbrication is the below offering adapted from his eternal grace, Saint Douglas Adams:
“Any virtual impossibility must also be a finite improbability…” Douglas Adams just had that way of slipping eternal truths in between his humor that was so deeply impactful. The improbability drive, and the space it creates, layers on top of our next imbrication, from that master of Active Imagination, Mr. David Lynch:
“I did not say this… I am not here…” I tried to find a decent bootleg of Agent Cooper floating in his own Mauve Zone glass box in Twin Peaks: The Return, but didn’t have much luck. I hadn’t connected Dune and TP:TR until this evening after rematching the above traveling through via Lynch’s own brand of Improbability Space in Dune. That rabbit-hole is too deep to traverse here and I’d probably just end up locked in an abandoned rail car in the middle of a birchwood anyway, so let’s move on.
For our final imbrication, I must offer a deep respectful bow to Ghostly Harmless for dropping this illuminating animation in our shared cryptfomessaging app.
“Who are you?” calls out our traveller. “I am a spirit…” comes the reply:
As we continue along with Randolph Carter, the improbable Anglophilic journeyer in the Dreamlands, we catch up with him as he nears the destination of his latest sea journey:
“Toward noon a dark coast-line appeared, and before three o’clock there stood out against the North the bulbous domes and fantastic spires of the onyx city… On a hill in the centre rose a sixteen-angled tower greater than all the rest and bearing a high pinnacled belfry resting on a flattened dome. This, the seamen [told Carter] was the Temple of the Elder Ones, and was ruled by an old high priest sad with inner secrets.”
This portion of the Dream Quest has a strong vein of secrets, codes, and the networks that support them. The system that has brings Carter face-to-face with the archetype that represents the Ten of Batons in our tale sends its first root above the ground in the following passage:
“Far in the shadows of that tavern Carter saw a squat form he did not like, for it was unmistakably that of the… merchant he had seen so long ago in the tavern of Dylath-Leen, who was reputed to trade with the horrible stone villages of Leng… and even to have dealt with that high-priest… which wears a yellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery… On the third night he spent in a camp of quarry men whose flivering fires cast weird reflections on the polished cliffs... In the morning he bade them adieu and rode on into the darkening north… But he did not like it when, turning back to wave a last farewell, he thought he saw approaching the camp that squat and evasive old merchant… whose conjectured traffick with Leng was the gossip of distant Dylath-Leen…”
While the Merchant of Leng is not the ultimate archetype, his presence is strong and connects with this section of the Dreamlands sister city on Earth, Venice, through his profession. The Dream Quest of Unknown Hadath should, I think, be the first tale that anyone who is delving into Lovecraft should read. It lays clear so much of the core mythos, that mythos that is distinct from the Cthulhu Mythos engendered by Lovecraft’s progeny.
I am beginning the Saints Course over in the Rune Soup Premium Members area, and one of the reccomended readings is the Cult of Saints from Peter Brown. I wasn’t looking for any tie-ins to my work on Gnome School this week, but as has been established, my travels are bordering on the spice-filled Mauve Zone of improbability. Check out this gem from the beginning of Cult of Saints:
“One thing can be said with certainty about the religion of the late-antique Mediterranean: while it may not have become markedly more ‘otherworldly’, it was most emphatically ‘upperworldly.’ Its starting point was belief in a fault that ran across the face o the universe. Above the moon, the diving quality of the universe was shown in the untarnished stability of the stars. The earth lay beneath the moon, in sentina mundi — so many dregs at the bottom of a clear glass. Death could mean the crossing of that fault. At death, the soul would separate from a body compounded of earthly dregs, and would gain, or regain, a place… that hung… close above earth in the heavy clusters of the Milky Way… the dead body joined in the instability and opacity of the world beneath the moon, while the soul enjoyed the unmovable clarity of the remainder of the universe.”
To me, and maybe I am just saturated in the Spice at this point, but to me this is very close to Lovecraft’s cosmogony. Especially the bit about the soul roaming free, for what is Randolph Carter, what is Harley Warren, what is Pickman, what is Kuranes or the other dreamers now dead in-the-real but kings in the dreamland? Additionally, and maybe a bit to the side, the statement Brown makes about the Milky Way is extremely interesting because it connects, in my mind, with the Mississippian cultures and their great roads that mirrored the Milky Way in the American Middlewest, which is another strong passion of mine.
Further, Brown has this to say about the Saints and their choice to remain in contact with their mortal coil post-sloughing:
“If the fathers of the world (the patriarchs) had wished that their resting place should be in the Above, they would have been able to have it there: but it is when they died and the rock closed on their tombs here below that they deserved to be called ‘saints’.”
Lovecraft admits in private correspondence that he was and remained a pagan in his heart into adulthood (no, not a Materialist, that is an assumption that needs to die if we are to truly understand his work). What implications does the above statement, which references a window space between the pagan and the Catholic, have on Lovecraft’s magical universe? One that has thus far, and especially in Carter’s travels with the ghouls in the ‘inner Earth’, centers so plainly on the tomb? Brown continues:
“[The occupants of tombs in the Holy Land] were ‘holy’ because they made available to the faithful around their tombs on earth a measure of the power… in which they might have taken their rest in the Above.”
So possibly, those Lovecraftian entities that choose to reside in-the-real and not in the Dreamlands, are ostensibly more powerful and, in a way, more compassionate or ‘in-touch’ with those that seek them out. The madness and death that they impart is indeed a gift, and not a curse. Throughout the Dream-Quest we meet or hear whispers of those Gods that reside in a space adjacent to in-the-real. There is a quality of Dream-Quest that lends itself to this theory, that the creatures that stay among men are somehow more powerful and terrifying than these all consuming cosmic entities that reside only in the land of dreams and touch man through them.
Let’s check in with the window space between the in-the-real and dream, the landscape of Active Imagination. For my second session, I was more successful than the first, but was still plagued with too much conscious thought. There is a sweet spot for me between initial waking and being fully awake that I think is the most conducive for this practice. A half-way point between the coffee coating my mouth and fully metabolizing and starting the avalanche of ahdulting-related anxiety that fills my day. This session was started late, a little too close to the end of that liminal space, but less so than the first account.
In my initial Active Imagination session, I realized later, that I had had conflated the more popular Eight of Batons image, of the man hefting batons on his back, with the Ten of Batons. After refreshing my memory, I tried again. While there is more to work with in the Sola-Busca image then the Etteilla, to be sure, there still isn’t much on the surface. The Ten of Batons in the Sola-Busca is Eight Batons in a basket, with two more crossing over a laurel wreathed bust of what I interpret to be a Roman emperor. It is impossible now for me to divorce the historical context of a baton from my active imagination session, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Going into the session, the baton as a symbol of imperial authority kept at the front of my mind. There were no movements or surprising entities that manifested in this session, which was pretty short, to be honest. I did, however, get the feeling that the batons represented a network of authority beneath the emperor. Networks, or systems, is what I came away with from this session, and really, how would a Renaissance artist represent this concept differently?
While Dream-Quest is unbelievably rich with symbolism and clues to elsewhere in Lovecraft’s magical landscape, we will jump ahead a bit to where the Merchant of Leng apprehends Carter in a wasteland beyond the Quarry of the Giants. The merchant capture Carter with the help of Horse-Headed, Scaled and Winged Elephants known as Shantak Birds, and transports him to the plateau of Leng. Approaching their destination, Carter witnesses villages of stone, burning fires, the sound of pipes and flutes, and dancing figures:
“Around the feeble fires dark forms were dancing, and Carter was curious as to what manner of beings they might be… Very slowly and awkwardly did those forms leap, and with an insane twisting and bending not good to behold… As the shantak flew lower, the repulsiveness of the dancers became tinged with a certain hellish familiarity… They leaped as though they had hooves instead of feet, and seemed to wear a sort of wig or headpiece with small horns. Of other clothing they had none, but most of them were quite furry. Behind they had dwarfish tails, and when they glanced upward he saw the excessive width of their mouths…”
The description is of a very close to that of a satyr, which makes Leng populated with a type of desert faun. At the end of this description Leng, and its inhabitants, are connected with the moon. Carter is taken to the empty monastery where the High-Priest of Leng, Who Wears a Silken Yellow Mask, dwells. As he is being marched through the monastery, he is treated to vast frescoes of days past and places forgotten:
“And in those frescoes was shewn the great seaport and capital of the almost-humans… Great gardens and columned streets led from the cliffs and from each of the six sphinx-crowned gates to the vast central plaza, and in that plaza was a pair of winged colossal lions guarding the top of a subterranean staircase. Again and again were those huge winged lions shewn, their mighty flanks of diorite glistening in the grey twilight of the day… And as Carter stumbled past their frequent and repeated pictures… Indubitably that primal city was no less a place than storied Sarkomand, whose ruins had bleached for a million years before the first true human saw the light, and whose twin titan lions guard eternally the steps that lead down from dreamland to the Great Abyss…”
Gardens and columned streets, a great seaport, a capital, where winged lions are shown on every corner. Can Lovecraft’s Sarkomand be any place on earth other than Venice?
And could the subterranean stairs lead anywhere to a Mithraic temple, whose association with the void of the ocean and its deep abysses dovetail so nicely with Cthulhu, beneath the waves, undead and dreaming, and in possession of a greater degree of power through his sacrifice of his celestial home to reside on the planet of man.
I was only able to fit in three Active Imagination sessions this week, what with the fitful sleep of toddlers and snowstorms that forced me out-of-doors to shovel through a desert of precipitation whilst rabbit-holing through cryptocurrency podcasts. The last one, however, I hit squarely on that liminal consciousness after just waking. I think the primary reason I did was due to magical timing, as I rose towards the end of the 22nd hour of Thursday, before dawn, the hour called out in the Clavicula as the most probable to engender communication with the spirit world. I said my celestial prayers, nearly dropped a candle behind my bookshelf (my altarspace needs some significant changes), and got right to the Active Imagination session recounted below:
Walking down Lovecraft’s seventy steps, the basket of batons is there as well as my saint candles lit from my altar and my incense to Jupiter. The emperor’s cameo on the basket represents the top of a hierarchy and the two batons out of the basket the second tier. There is a scene where Gordon White visits my home in June and catches Ghostly Harmless and I by surprise. This may or may not be significant but it was certainly out of the blue.
The trinity of the Emperor and the two batons laying outside of the basket reminds me of the LBS trinity, the story I am reading blends in with it, the High Priest of Leng as the Emperor, the Merchant of Leng and Baphomet or Pan as the second tier. There is fire behind the batons and Pan/Baphomet walks out of it. There is carnal supplication on my part, like the witches of the witch trials, those depicted in the film, Haxan,
and I pray to Pan/Baphomet to give me all I desire. The fire subsides, is replaced by a windswept plateaus and at the very end the hierarchy of imperial authority, the batons in the basket, become the trees of a forest. Sylvanus and summer and a hierarchy that starts with a Roman emperor are defining themes of this last session.
All of my Active Imagination sessions seemed to me to be pushing me in research directions that nudged the direction of the next session. In a week of improbable phenomena, trickster and celestially inspired alike, this has me thinking…
Is Active Imagination a method of Improbability Informatics?
Each session nudged me, not through direct insight, but through vague symbols that I subsequently fleshed out with research. Those research rabbit-holes would not have been the same, or meant the same things, if they were decoupled from the Active Imagination sessions.
Do the spirit entities we touch during Active Imagination communicate in this way? By altering our thoughts through surprising, improbable symbolism and through this manipulation, sending us on paths of information search and retrieval that reveal their deeper understanding of our nature or our place in spacetime?
Returning to the Dreamlands, after escaping his captors, the Lovecraftian Infernal Trinity, and flailing down pitch black damp passages, Carter finds himself in the open again:
“with the phosphorescent clouds of a northern night shining sickly above him. All around were crumbling walls and broken columns, and the pavement on which he lay was pierced by straggling grass and wrenched asunder by frequent shrubs and roots… Ahead stretched double rows of pillars, and the fragments of pedestals and pillars, that spoke of a broad and bygone street; and from the urns and basins along the way he knew it had been a great street of gardens. Far off at its end the pillars spread to mark a vast round plaza, and in that open circle there loomed gigantic under the lurid night clouds a pair of monstrous things. Huge winged lions of diorite they were, with blackness and shadow between them… And Carter knew right well what they must be, for legend tells of only one such twain. They were the changeless guardians of the Great Abyss, and these dark ruins were in truth primordial Sarkomand.”
In closing this third section of Dream-Quest, Carter travels from a desert anti-Venice to a Dreamland Babylon. The High Priest of Leng, in his Silken Yellow Mask, is the archetype that matches the Ten of Batons, specifically because of how he acts upon the world by sending out influence among a vast network of beings. An imperial authority alone in his monastery that nonetheless has great influence on the living and on the dreamer.