Kill Your Altars
This week’s post finds us at the border of a vast pre-historical ghost forest, wondering where our baby brother had just disappeared to during our innocent game of peek-a-boo. It has been a tough week, personally, of battling directly with the demiurge’s Orwellian education agents on behalf of my daughter and finding sanctuary in the wizard’s gaze of Rudolf Steiner and the embrace of one of his schools. Essentially, my darling little one has gone full blown Altered Carbon Envoy terror-activist against her public 4K institutional education and I am scrambling to get her enrolled at Hogwort’s, midstream. There have been some honest thoughts about how my own personal magical Renaissance might have been seeded by a future self / retroactive sigil so that I would be in a place where I would easily and intuitively choose this path for my baby girl. Three years ago, I was fairly adamant about her suffering the purgatory of American public education like I did, some archonic nonsense about building character, etc. I am a fundamentally and fairly radically different person today thanks to the decades long prodding of my BFF Ghostly Harmless and the new community that engendered around the Rune Soup Premium Membership.
Work has been difficult, but in a really intensely good way. I have been casting wealth and productivity sigils, charging them with any intense emotions I am subject to, and believe that they are starting to click into place. It is hard to quantify them, to ‘measure their ROI’ blah blah blah, because I cast them specifically into a space of fairly massive timedepth. Without boring you, dear reader (I’ve always wanted to say that, ‘dear reader’) with the minutia of my corporate facade, suffice to say that I have had the confidence to ask for meetings with key members of leadership and have placed myself in a position that could prove crucial to their continued success using skills (like data visualization and semantic analysis) that I love to employ. Three years ago, I was not a person that would have done that. Two years ago, hell, a year ago, I was ready to self-sabotage and move on to something that would have likely proven much worse, fulfilling my life long pattern. In the words of Grant Morrison, sigils work, they work, just fucking do it.
Back to our forest, I’ve begun to read in earnest the Hypnerotomachia de Polifili. I had to buy a second ‘readers’ copy from Thames and Hudson as the only edition I had was the gigantic hardcover fine edition I bought back while studying artists’ books theory and practice in my education degree. I am glad that I went through last month’s exercise of close reading Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Hadath, first. There are so many edges that connect the nodes already in both stories that it has my mind going off in theoretical directions of Lovecraft’s grandfather, a bibliomaniac and Italophile, possibly owning a copy of the book in its original Italian and imparting its phantasmagorical content to Howard as a young boy. Another vector is the universality of journeying, of an actual collective dream land as is detailed in Unknown Kadath that humankind can access together along with their own personal dream land.
Let’s join Polifilo at the beginning of his journey, so that maybe you will see the similarities for yourself, perhaps you have been at the edge of this forest also:
“I had arrived at the vast Hercynian Forest, where there was nothing but the liars of dangerous beasts and caverns full of noxious creatures and fierce monsters. I was defenceless and terribly afraid of suddenly being mauled by a bristly and tusked boar, like Charidemus, or by a furious and hungry wild-ox, or by hissing serpents.”
There are already many instances of me having to stop reading and dive into some quick research surrounding the references made by the narrator. Here, Charidemus, caught my interest, a solider of some repute that was killed, from what I can tell, in a gladiator’s arena, by a bristling and tusked boar. We will return to this reference in the opening lines of the Hypnerotomachia, as I was led by providence in circles, lost in this tactless forest, much like our narrator:
“At last, in this rough and pathless wood I prayed to the blessed Ariadne of Crete, who had given the ingenious thread to deceiving Theseus, so that he could kill her monstrous brother and come forth from the tangled Labyrinth, that she might likewise deliver me from this dark forest.”
This phrase marks the beginning of the Hypnero’s tech share as I found that praying to Ariadne when lost is not an unknown practice among the neo-pagans. My overarching hypothesis for close reading the Hypnerotomachia is that I will find in its pages a type of encoded grimoire that was put to use or at the very least fueled the magical imagination of Renaissance Venice and beyond in the Venetian’s extended cultural sphere of influence. Thus far, I am finding more evidence that supports my theory than does not. For instance, still lost in the primeval forest that frustrated Ceasar and fascinated Aristotle, Polifilo has this to say:
“I prayed within myself: ‘O Jupiter greatest and best, omnipotent and succouring, if mankind can merit diving favor through sincere prayer and deserve a hearing even when suffering a slight trouble, I call on you, supreme Father and eternal ruler of the higher, middle and lower powers, that you may deign in your measureless divinity to save me from these mortal perils and present horrors, and grant another and a better end to my uncertain existence”
Tell me this work doesn’t have the qualities of a grimoire, the last two grimoires I read had prayers to Jupiter in them, indeed, had very definitive sections dedicated to Jupiter.
The novel as grimoire, or rather, in the case of this work, the proto-artists’ book as grimoire, has already had a profound effect on my as a reader. The juxtaposition of a detailed description of the scene, the prayer, and then, turning the page and seeing that scene spread out before me in a beautifully detailed woodcut now laden with all of the global correspondence made by the narrator, was a truly amazing textual experience. Just viewing the woodcut is not the same, the whole experience is the reading, the turning of the page, and then the viewing of the woodcut. These woodcuts and their placement in the text, or rather, in the sequence of action that a reader follows, were the reason the Hypnerotomachia is significant to artists’ books. I had read about it, looked at the woodcuts, studied them independent of the text, but can say now I didn’t understand their power until I immersed myself in the same experience a Renaissance reader would have when engaging with the original 1490 run of books from the Aldine Press. A glut of initially unprofitable books that nonetheless became one of the most widely read texts of the Renaissance after being distributed through a network of political and magico-philohophicially aligned allied in the wider Venetian network of influence.
This week has been a tough one and ultimately the first week of no overt magical practice of any kind in over a year, since I started Gnome School. The magic internalized even more than it had last week, had become ever more normative. One event in particular marked this transition. My daughter had a birthday and as these things go, a birthday party. She has a number of muggle friends so I busied myself with turning some of the more malefic titles in my first floor library to face the other way and actually deconstructed my living room altar. I have, in public and private, professed that keeping these items in full view of the muggle-sphere should be part of making magic a normative part of society but, well, I hadn’t figured in a five-year old’s birthday party when I was formulating those statements.
I fully expected to feel a great deal of guilt at the very least and full-on negative effects engendered from a miffed spirit population after taking the altar down, but that didn’t happen. Not only did it not happen, but, in doing so, a thought cascade was started that has led me to a place where not only is the altar not necessary but I’ve realized that if I am to align my practice with the 16th century Venetian magical, an altar just places me further from that goal. Take, for example, the beginning of Polifilo’s prayer above; ‘I prayed within myself…’ I suspect that the original Roman pagans did not do this, that they had temples and home altars and street altars where they openly prayed, but how was this practice renewed in a Inquisition happy Europe, even in magic friendly Venice? I think that phrase, ‘I prayed within myself…’, marks for us what was normative then. There were no altars, the magic was kept inside oneself. If it weren’t for me engaging in this act of killing my altar as to not make the Normals uncomfortable, I’m not sure I would have recognized the relative importance (or implications, rather) of this phrase.
So I can’t remember if this group is reviled among ‘real’ metalhead or if they are celebrated as the second coming. I think I remember hearing both about Killswitch Engage. Regardless, for our first imbrication, I offer their cover of the Dio song, Holy Diver, which will pair well to our meal of metaphor in this week’s Lovecraft tale, Dagon:
Dagon makes mention of a race of suboceanic aquatic men and gives a nod to the myth of Atlantis. I, personally, can’t think of Atlantis or mermen without thinking of my all-time favorite comic book character, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. I don’t what it is about dude, but he has always appealed to me. I offer below a horrendous eighties era cartoon featuring my Marvel favorite, Atlantis Under Attack:
And finally, in keeping with our webbed digit theme, let’s end on a high note with Govt. Mule covering Hendrix’s ‘A Merman I Should Turn to Be:
DREAMS WITHIN DREAMS
Dagon starts out with the now infamous nameless Lovecraftian narrator recounting how he had been captured as a WWI prisoner of war during a naval battle and his subsequent escape in a lifeboat, which results in being lost at sea. Our narrator professes that:
“I began to despair in my solitude upon the heaving vastness of unbroken blue…”
He very swiftly begins to die of thirst on top of that ocean and, dehydrated, passes out in the noon day heat beneath a cloudless sky, only to awaken in his boat which had found itself moored in mud on an island that had not been anywhere on the horizon prior to his fainting. Likewise, having somewhat of an idea of where he was in the ocean, the narrator states that the island was not charted and was a peculiar quality, covered as it was with endless mud and legions of dead fish. After some thought and investigation from his boat, the narrator surmises:
“a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface, exposing regions which for innumerable millions of years had lain hidden under unfathomable watery depths.”
On the horizon of this dark Pacific fae island, the narrator sees a rise, a hill jutting out of the muck. Drawn to this feature, our narrator makes the trip from the safety of his boat across a plain of dried sea mud and dead fish, reaching the hill by the next nightfall:
“I slept in the shadow of the hill… I know not why my dreams were so wild that night; but ere the waning and fantastically gibbous moon had risen far above the eastern plain… in the glow of the moon… I now felt… able to perform the ascent… when I gained the summit of the mound and looked down the other side into an immeasurable pit… the moon had not yet soared high enough to illumine… All at once my attention was captured by a vast and singular object… an object that gleamed whitely… a gigantic piece of stone… a well-shaped monolith whose massive bulk had known the workmanship... and worship of living and thinking creatures… I could… trace inscriptions and crude sculptures. The writing was in a system of hieroglyphics… consisting… of conventionalised aquatic symbols such as fishes, eels, octopi, crustaceans, molluscs, whales, and the like… the pictorial carving [held] me spellbound… an array of bas-reliefs… that… were supposed to depict men… shewn disporting like fishes in the waters of some marine grotto… paying homage at some monolithic shrine… human in general outline despite webbed hands and feet… flabby lips, glassy, bulging eyes, and other features unpleasant to recall… I decided that they were merely the imaginary gods of some primitive fishing or seafaring tribe… whose last descendant had perished eras before the first ancestor of Piltdown or Neanderthal Man was born…”
The obelisk as an object of worship is important here, but the reason why won’t be fully revealed until we take a step back and revisit Donald Bureleson and his critical essays on Lovecraft in ‘Disturbing the Universe.’ According to Burleson, one particularly effective approach in the deconstruction of textual data is etymology, where:
“One traces words in the text back, often all the way to Indo-European roots, finding that roots and derivatives entangle themselves in patterns of mutual suggestion, bifurcating and dispersing in ways that produce deep internal differences where there appeared to be unity, or similarity where there appeared to be only difference.”
I’ve admitted my general ignorance of deconstruction as an analytic technique, but it turns out I’ve been applying a subset of the approach throughout the entire history of this blog, deconstructing the keywords left for us by Etteilla on his deck, quite often, ‘all the way to Indo-European roots.’ Burelson continues:
“Themes may function as points of departure… Likewise, symbolism in a literary text is problematic in a way, because… metaphor, metonymy, symbol, and allegory [are] everywhere… both themes and symbols may readily… posit binary oppositions… stories do not have boundaries or edges that separate them from each other or from other texts… they may even be spliced or woven together…”
And in that spirit, of stories having no borders to separate them from one another, let’s visit Polifilo in his dream world, having emerged from the wilderness to a area still vastly wild but graced with a river. Dying of thirst, Polifilo goes to drink, is distracted by some beautiful singing, and looks back to find the river gone. Here, as in Dagon, we have our narrator surrounded by the vastness of the natural world and unable to sustain even his basest bodily needs:
“As I lay there in... agony, my mind ran over the intricate weaving of infernal Fortune and the incantations of malefic Circe, in case she might have enchanted against me with her verses or used her magic square against me.”
There is more magical tech here, specifically the magic square of Circe, which might be of interest to readers. I find it significant that the working of a magic square is acknowledged as a malefic practice in the Hypnerotomachia. Every bit of pagan magic that is referenced in this work is another piece of the puzzle when rebuilding a Venetian magical system and getting into the heads of the Renaissance magician. Poliphili dies of thirst after exiting the tangled wood and in death enters another dream, dreams within dreams, and in this new death-dream:
“Lifting my eyes to the place where the wooded hills seemed to meet, I saw far off an incredibly tall structure in the form of a tower... a high watch-tower next to a great building... The more closely I approached it... the greater was my desire to admire it; for now it did not look like a [tower] but rather a tall obelisk resting on a vast mass of stone.”
The first architectural structure mentioned in the Hypnerotomachia, a work renowned for its deep and mysterious architectural objects, is a tower, but this tower is in fact an obelisk, like the one encountered by the narrator of Dagon. Regular readers will know that I have identified the tower as a liminal space, a window space like the crossroads, and one of the most used structures in Lovecraft’s tales. In reading this passage of the Hyper I realized that the tower and the obelisk are connected as a larger archetype, both imbued with power and animacy. Polifilo continues:
“This tall obelisk left me in no doubt that there was none other resembling or comparable to it, not even that of the Vatican, nor the Alexandrian, nor the Babylonian...”
calling out the Vatican, or Vatican City, Alexandria, and Babylon as definite places in the Venetian magical imagination.
Our tarot card for this week, the one that we are pairing with Lovecraft’s tale ‘Dagon,’ is the Ace of Cups. Dagon’s ‘hill,’ which is really a type of suboceanic crater risen to the surface, is described in such a way that it can be easily physically related to the interior of a cup, goblet, or cask.
The Etteilla keywords associated with this card are interesting, upright the card is associated with the word ‘table’, from the late 12th c., meaning a slab, and from the mid 15th c., the time period we are most interested in, table comes to mean the act of entering in a list or ledger. The reverse term is Changement, Change, again from the 12th c., means an exchange, recompense, exchange or reciprocation. The unusual (to English speakers) addition to the suffix -ment to the word creates a noun out of the verb, essentially a reification of the act of exchange, and embodiment, like a ledger. If we are to only rely on Etteilla for our interpretation we have a relevant one, mapping to the merchant-class driven society of Venice, the institution of credit and debt, which placed the modern world and all of its citizens (on both sides of the 99%) on the road we find ourselves on today.
Let us, however, repeat our experiments from the last few weeks, and pull the same card from the Sola-Busca deck and investigate its symbolism.
The first and most prominent feature of the Sola-Busca Ace of Cups is the text engraved across the goblet:
The first and most prominent feature of the Sola-Busca Ace of Cups is the text engraved across the goblet:
“[Trump] XIII (13) Catone could be a reference to Cato the Elder or his great grandson, Cato the Younger… The figure [in Trump 13] is holding a scroll which reads trahor fatis - ‘I am driven by fate.’ This motto also appears, together with a star shedding a… malign influence [similar to Trump 13] on the Ace of Discs. The motto appears alone on the Ace of Cups. It also appears in an abbreviated form on the shield of II Posthumio. The repetition of the phrase is clearly significant and we will need to return and account for it.”
Again, I have no Latin, but I have linguistics to spare, and also, well, eyes in my head. I don’t know why PMA ignores the preceding ‘A’ in each of the appearances of the phrase he mentions, perhaps out of a superior understanding of Latin or perhaps out of convenience. In my blissful ignorance I either read the phrase as Atrahor Fatis or deconstruct the phrase based on possibly arbitrary separation of word chunks.
Let’s press on. Atra- is Latin for the word black or blackened. Take for example, the word atrabilious:
“atrabilious (adj.): affected by melancholy," 1650s, from Latin atra bilis, translating Greek melankholia "black bile" (see melancholy; also compare bile). Atra is fem. of ater "black, dark, gloomy," and is perhaps "blackened by fire," from PIE root *ater- "fire." Related: Atrabiliousness.”
following this model, let’s look at the word chunk -hor and follow the example of the word abhor for its proper use in the polysynthetic term, atrahor:
“abhor (v.): rom Latin abhorrere "shrink back from, have an aversion for, shudder at," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + horrere "tremble at, shudder," literally "to bristle, be shaggy," from PIE *ghers- "start out, stand out, rise to a point, bristle" (see horror).
The notion is "shrink back" with horror or dread, hence "regard with repugnance, loathe." Formerly also "fill (someone) with horror or loathing" (16c.). In Latin it was less intense: "be remote from, vary from, differ from, be out of harmony with." Related: Abhorred; abhorring.”
So, in effect, atrahor literally means a blackening and a bristling.
Fatis, the last part of the phrase, is a variation of fatum, which means ‘an utterance, prophetic declaration, oracle, prediction.’
I promised we would loop back around to the very beginning of the post, so now, consider the opening of the Hypnerotomachia and the reference to Charidemus, the mercenary gored to death by a bristling black boar. While really this can only be chalked up to synchronicity, when shifting to an animist mindset from a materialist one, these syncs, these completely unintentional mappings between stories (remember stories have no borders) read independent of one another and yet deeply connected in some way, these syncs are only ignored at the magician’s peril.
The suit of cups, for me, represents in its entirety, alchemical processes. If we are to take our definition of the phrase emblazoned across our Sola-Busca version, and apply it to the first stage of Alchemical Transformation found in this document by one Nigel Hamilton, a UK based Sufi teacher and the author of ‘Awakening Through Dreams’, we find that Blackening to be described as such:
“In the first stage the fire is "slow and mild" as of the flesh or "embryo," gradually helping to bring about the first stage of the work, culminating in the earthly nigredo or "blackening." This stage involves a purification of the earthly nature in us.
The work begins with a seeking for the "Prima Materia," a condition the alchemists coined to represent that original, pure, uncorrupted state of the matter that is the basis of nature, i.e. out of the Prima Materia the elements emerged. They also recognised that all nature is renewed after dying away and that in order to grow, an organism must first die.”
In Polifilo’s first transition between dreams, he in fact dies of thirst in the forest prior to entering the new dream state in the hilled land of the giant obelisk.
Hamilton also states that:
“this "putrefaction" applies not only to the material but also to the spiritual world. Just as material death is necessary for the material rebirth of things, so spiritual death is necessary for the spiritual rebirth of man. Thus the much sought-after act of rebirth is always preceded by a return to the source of life - regeneration depends on a "reduction to the primal matter," and fire is a most important element needed to achieve this.”
Blackening is then the physical phenomenon of rot, or fermentation. When we apply ‘bristling’ to this my mind turns to the structures of so many molds associated with rotting fruit and other organic matter, which grow as so many black or white bristles on the organic substrate.
Fermentation also connects with one of the other prominent features of the Sola-Busca Ace of Cups, the three Putti crowning the goblet. These are clearly Putti and not, as I described in my investigation of the Four of Cups, Eros himself. According to Putti in Renaissance Art:
“Whether they are carved in wood, cast in bronze, sculpted from stone, or painted on canvas or plaster, putti are endearing symbols that suggest love and romance. But what exactly are putti? The word putti is used by art historians to describe the engaging and angelic creatures of which artists are so fond of including in their works. Putti (singular - putto) usually resemble adorable chubby children or babies, and they are often depicted with tiny wings that allude to their celestial origin.
In Italian Renaissance art, putti are famous for stealing adoring glances at the Virgin Mary in Raphael's Sistine Madonna. However, putti were also quite popular with artists during many other artistic periods. These childish cherubs frolic in the romantic Rococo paintings of François Boucher, for example, and additionally adorn a myriad of other magnificent pieces throughout the history of art.
Since these winged creatures are found in many works of art - both fine and decorative - they naturally acquired a mythology of sorts. For putti are used to allude to the presence of love, or even used to represent love itself. They are derived from artistic depictions of Eros (who was known to the Romans as Cupid), the Greek god of love and desire. Indeed, one famous representation of Eros is the Hellenistic work of sculpture known as the Sleeping Eros. So the next time you see an angelic little creature smiling from one of your favorite works of art, you can be sure that love is in the air.”
The Putti on the Ace of Cups are engaged in revelry, which, according to ‘The Putto - Angels in Art’ places them in the category of Bacchanalia Putti:
“Another popular application of the putto was in the bacchanal. In Donatello's Judith and Holofernes (left), putti cavort and act out the effects of inebriation - loss of judgment and narcotic sleep… Putti celebrating revelry in honor of Dionysus reinforced the dangers of such excesses. Larvate putti and satyrisci (small satyrs) were the spirit of wild abandon (orgy) and (larval) hallucinations. Bacchanal scenes celebrated fertility and abundance and hard working putti tended the vine representing the natural spiriti that give us sustenance. Today we still refer to alcohol as "spirits."
In Christian art the bacchanal had quite a different meaning. Wine became the symbol of God's blood and sacrifice. In a parable Christ said,"I am the Vine" and early church fathers referred to "the grape trampled for our salvation. The putto was the natural spirit (pneuma) animating from the vine as a nourishing substance. Putti tending the vine were nurturing our faith. Sometimes bacchanals depicted infant putti attacking or riding a goat. This theme came from Virgil's reference to new shoots and leaves as "the tender child" who must be protected from the sharp-toothed goat.
The Bacchanal painting by Luca Giordano in Gallery 8 is a wonderful example of Bacchanal putti. Visitors often misinterpret the wine for blood in this orgy. This is certainly not a representation of Christ's blood.“
The phrase Atrahor Fatis, or as I interpret it, a prophecy of alchemical fermentation, maps well to our prior explanation of the Four of Cups and its connection to the Vinalia Urbana festival. Bacchanalia Putti representing the Blood of Christ changes our goblet into none other than the Holy Grail.
The crater in Dagon, that houses the secret obelisk, represents worship, prayer, and magic in the natural world, and not in an enclosed space, a tiny altar littered with candles and incense in a private office hidden from our muggle friends. Dagon, the fish god, rises quickly from the depth of our fermentation chamber and kills his own altar, dragging it down to unknown depths, setting the narrator of the tale free to wander the world in madness, which is often how the Normals view an over magical worldview. The Ace of Cups is an alchemical cauldron where the first stage of transformation, the blackening, begins the process of purifying the soul. Dagon and the Ace of Cups are metaphors for decoupling from the artifice of magic, internalizing the ritual, and becoming a part of the animist universe.