Night Train to Arkham
This week we will close our explorations of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Last week’s post gave me a lot of cause for thought, mainly towards how Lovecraftian Magic can be made into a useful system with all of the empirical baggage that it is currently carrying.
Our archetype for this last installment is, of course, the Deep Ones. To lead us into the final sections, I have revisited Donald Burleson’s ‘Lovecraft: Disturbing the Universe’ to use his analysis as a length of strong rope to allow me to descend further into the chasm. He begins his own essay on our tale by stating that:
“A shadow is a problematic entity… Shadows celebrate absence over presence; a shadow has its being in vacuity, in the absence of light… Yet it marks the shape of that which casts it, thus marking a presence with an absence… the term shadow [used] metaphorically [means] something akin to ‘doom’ or ‘menace.’ Thus shadow metamorphoses from an absence into a kind of presence… [examples of which are the] most repulsive Innsmouth denizens [that] are kept out of sight and… the [town’s] rumored secret tunnels… Shadow has the Indo-European root skot-, ‘dark,’ and is associated also with the root ‘skai-,’ ‘dim light,’ ‘gloom.’ In containing suggestions both of (dim) light and of dark, the absence of light, these roots begin to show… antithetical contents… The narrator scarcely seems to know what attitude to take, referring to Innsmouth variously as ‘fear-shadowed,’ ‘blight-shadowed,’ ‘evil-shadowed,’ but later ‘marvel-shadowed.’.. a shadow cast by the unsettled nature of shadows.”
The Deep Ones create a presence with their absence. They are the multiple, unreliable, shifting shadows that begin to take on more of a presence as our narrator attempts to take his leave of the town after his conversation with Zadok Allen. He feels the presence of the Deep Ones without them ever making themselves known. Finding his way back to the hotel and boarding the bus that would deliver him from the morbid hamlet, he encounters a barrier:
“I was, it appeared, in very bad luck. There had been something wrong with the engine, despite the excellent time made from Newburyport, and the bus could not complete the journey to Arkham… [The driver, Sargent] was sorry, but I would have to stop over at the Gilman… Almost dazed by this sudden obstacle, and violently dreading the fall of night in this decaying and alf-unlighted town, I left the bus and reentered the hotel lobby; where the sullen… night clerk told me I could have Room 428 on… the top floor — large, but without running water — for a dollar.”
When Lovecraft offers specifics, I have found that it is a good idea to pay attention. His offering of the specific room number here was too good to pass up. A quick google search for ‘Room 428’ produces multiple results of the most haunted room in the so-called most haunted university in the US — Room 428 at Ohio University’s Wilson Hall in Athens, OH. Wilson Hall is not contemporary of Lovecraft, being built in 1965. Room 428, however, is reportedly closed and permanently sealed. One story for the origin of the haunting of this Room 428 is that a female student died violently while trying to astral project, permanently severing her very conscious spirit from her dead body. Another theory is that it is the epicenter of the ‘Athens Cemetery Pentagram’ or (in a very Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic fashion) is itself built atop a forgotten or former cemetery ground.
Note: Once you have had some fun with the above video and links, be sure and visit this article where an archivist at Ohio University proceeds to debunk some of the claims and adds some much more interesting detail in the process (I love my people).
The Stanley Hotel, famous for inspiring Stephen King’s ‘The Shining,’ is contemporary of Lovecraft, however, being built between the years of 1909 and 1910. While Room 217 is where King stayed and had the experiences that inspired (or inspirited) the novel, among the other rooms known for paranormal activity is another Room 428.
As in many other instances of the American occult and paranormal, Lovecraft proves to be quite prescient. In fact, our nameless narrator spends the next few hours in the hotel room plagued by the creaks, moans, and unintelligible mutterings of the hotel and its occupants. The sounds grew louder until is was evident that something corporeal was trying to enter his room to do him harm, so our narrator formulated an escape plan and mused on the aesthetic of Innsmouth:
“As I thought of these things I looked out over the squalid sea of decaying roofs below me, now brightened by the beams of a moon not much past full. On the right the black gash of the river-gorge clove the panorama; abandoned factories and railway station clinging barnacle-like to its sides. Beyond it the rusted railway and the Rowley road led off through a flat, march terrain dotted with islets of higher and dryer scrub-grown land. On the left the creek-threaded countryside was nearer, the narrow road to Ipswich gleaming white in the moonlight. I could not see from my side of the hotel the southward route toward Arkham which I had determined to take.”
A moon ‘not much past full’ would be the fifteenth lunar day, or the ‘Turning Moon’ as is indicated from the Hygromanteia:
“At the fifteenth day: It turns about. One must be careful at this day. The perjurer will be hurt and the woodcutter will be in danger. Do not lay foundations of a house. Children born on this day will be stingy and miserly. Do not sell, nor buy, because you will regret it.”
I think, for our purposes, we can rename the fifteenth lunar day, the day following the full moon, as an Innsmouth Moon, and take the advice of the Hygromanteia to be very careful, to not begin any plans, and to neither buy nor sell anything. In general, this is a very bad day for magic or for confrontations of any kind.
Further, the description of the placement of Innsmouth is so specific here that, if we are to forgo the use of Rowley as our magical surrogate, than placing it somewhere near the Parker River National Refuge along Stackyard Road, would be quite appropriate. Photography of the area shows that it possesses the appropriate amount of desolation and ruin. It isn’t difficult to imagine how this landscape likely inspired our author.
Returning to our tale, our narrator, succeeding in escaping the unknown crowd of assailants forcing their way into Room 428 via an adjoining rooms fourth story window, finds himself at ground level in one of the nearby abandoned warehouses:
“I… stopped short when close to the doorway [that led outside]. For out of an opened door in the Gilman House a large crowd of doubtful shapes was pouring — lanterns bobbing in the darkness, and horrible croaking voices exchanging low cries in what was certainly not English… Their features were indistinguishable, but their crouching, shambling gait was abominably repellent. And worst of all, I perceived that one figure was strangely roved, and unmistakably surmounted by a tall tiara of a design altogether too familiar… I found I could open the shutters [of a nearby window] and in another moment had climbed outside and was carefully closing the aperture in its original manner… I walked rapidly, softly, and close to the ruined houses… I saw… intermittent flashes of light on the distant reef… And to make matters worse, there now flashed forth from the lofty cupola of the Gilman House… a series of analogous though differently spaced gleams which could be nothing less than an answering signal…”
Instances like these in Lovecraft’s corpus are important as they show literally the figurative connection and communication with the spirits of the water, more specifically, the ocean, that the Lovecraftian Magic-User should have to have a full understanding of the aesthetic. Don’t fret, however, if you are primarily landlocked (like myself) without ready access to salt water. I have visited the ocean only once a year for the past few years and that pilgrimage has been enough, so powerful is its influence. Moreover, all waterways connect to the Mother of Abominations either directly, through the air or through the earth.
Our hero (a very questionable term when it comes to Lovecraftian protagonists) does finally make his way out of town via an old railway. This is symbolic in that the railway is a symbol of the industrial revolution and Innsmouth, in a way, is a symbol of Azathoth daemon’s relentless impartial unfeeling march towards more and greater resources. Innsmouth was built up by empire, was abandoned by empire, and then reacted by taking on its nome-god Dagon and aligning with the Deep Ones. The narration shifts back from a present view to a retrospective view and our protagonist begins to muse further on the nature of Innsmouth:
“I am not even yet willing to say whether what followed was a hideous actuality or only a nightmare hallucination. The later action of the government, after my frantic appeals, would tend to confirm it as a monstrous truth… Such places have strange properties, and the legacy of insane legend might well have acted on more than one human imagination… Is it not possible that the germ of an actual contagious madness lurks in the depths of that shadow over Innsmouth? Who can be sure of reality after hearing things like the tale of old Zadok Allen? The government men never found poor Zadok, and have no conjectures to make as to what became of him. Where does madness leave off and reality begin?”
Innsmouth is an in-between place. Not on any current map yet with its own map made up of very specific streets and cross streets and landmarks, it is so well positioned in the landscape of the Parker River National Refuge that one could imagine stumbling across the place when the moon was ‘just past full’ on a day very bad for magic. The Deep Ones, our archetype, have made it their place. Is that because Innsmouth was already in the In-between or is it their presence that gave it that quality? Where does madness leave off and reality begin? Well, that is the constant mind-state of any regular user of magic. We conduct our rituals and communicate with the spirit world specifically because we seek to blur where madness leaves off and reality begins.
The sight of the hordes of Deep Ones, described as anthropoid fish-frogs, some in human dress, caused our protagonist to faint in the night, there, on the abandoned railroad tracks. He awoke the next morning, made his way to town, cleaned himself up, ate, and purchased new clothes before taking the night train to Arkham.
Trains are significant in our final section, especially the last one. Once in Arkham he seeks out the authorities and then continues his tour, albeit in a less adventurous way, with a stay at the archives at Miskatonic University where it is revealed that he, the son of one James Williamson — a native of Ohio (which makes the seeming randomness of Room 428 at Ohio University [founded Febuary 18th, 1804] that much more foreboding) — was a descendent of Barnabas Marsh’s daughter, the one whom he had been able to marry off to an individual (poor Mr. Williamson) with no foreknowledge of the people of Innsmouth.
That makes Mr. Williamson, our narrator, a direct descendent of the Deep Ones and that strange feeling that made him tarry and talk to our high priest Zadok Cthulhicus (who did mention that he had a bit of the Marsh look about his eyes) was an instinctual call back to the Black Reef and the sea.
Burleson, in ‘Disturbing the Universe,’ speaks directly to the Deep Ones when he states:
“One notices that while humans are theorized to have come from the aquatic Deep Ones, no theory is offered of the Deep Ones’ own provenance. Or if Mother Hydra and Father Dagon are the origin of the Deep Ones, then one may still of course question the origin of Mother Hydra and Father Dagon. The text covertly admits the dubiousness of any ultimate acquaintance with origins. It is significant in this regard that we are told that the semihuman offspring on unions between islanders and Deep Ones were in touch with their comparatively immediate ancestors…”
Burleson, was not, however, a Chaos Magician. If he were he might have had an understanding of the Mother Hydra as Tiamat as Chaos, the beginning and end of all order. He does accurately capture the confusion that our narrator devolves into following his escape and being delivered back to civilization by that fated night train. After arriving in Arkham, Mr. Williamson continues his quest, and finds his own origin:
“the etymology of ‘origin’ is redolent of antithesis. The Indo-European root is ergh-, ‘to flow,’ whence derives also ‘river,’ suggesting not only aquatic concerns again but also, with regard to flowing, the unsettled, unfixed nature of aspirations to determine origins. The root also yields ‘rival’ — a person sharing a stream, both a colleague and, antithetically, a competitor. Another derivative of the root is the Latin ‘rare,’ whence of course come ‘error’ and ‘aberrant,’ suggesting aberrancy of reading, all reading being misreading. The narrator comes to grapple with the problem of origins through his interest in genealogy… “Innsmouth in the tale represents the whole problem of origins, the text admits here an unsettled logic about facing that problem. An injunction not to visit Innsmouth ‘any oftener than possible’ is an injunction against doing the impossible, and the impossible, as we have seen in the text’s waffling back and forth on the matter, is the securing of origins, which the text then ‘knows’ to be impossible.”
The tale concludes with the disintegration of Mr. Williamson’s materialist paradigm. The Night Train to Arkham is significant because even though it carried him away from what amounts to an initiatory experience in witnessing the masses of the Deep Ones as they searched for him (who it turns out, is their long lost son and not an enemy who might pick up the rock of mystery and expose their nest to the light of day), but that train did deliver him to where he was presented with the indisputable facts of the realness of the spirit-forms that he had witnessed. Many of us also require this, the facts (or the illusion of facts) that support the initiatory experience. And even in the face of these facts, Mr. Williamson denied his origins and it wasn’t until information was presented him in a dream was he finally convinced:
“One night I had a frightful dream in which I met my grandmother under the sea… I met also that which had been her grandmother. For eight thousand years Pth’thya-l’yi had lived in Y’ha-nthlei, and thither she had gone back after Obed Marsh was dead. Y’ha-nthei was not destroyed when the upper-earth men shot death into the sea. It was hurt, but not destroyed. The Deep Ones could never be destroyed, even though the palaeogean magic of the forgotten Old Ones might sometimes check them. For the present they would rest; but some day, if they remembered, they would rise again for the tribute Great Cthulhu craved. It would be a city greater than Innsmouth next time…”
In the end, the Deep Ones are spirit-forms that also seek to establish empire, to build a city on ‘upper-earth’ with the hands of their young human hybrids, and this city is a tribute to Cthulhu. Think on that, a great city, a grandiose city on the coast is what will ‘get the attention’ of Great Cthulhu, high priest of the Elder Gods. And the purpose to awaken Cthulhu with this tribute can only be to contact those that dwell outside of time and space. They are a race oppressed by the ‘Old Ones,’ the ostensible Promethean giants of the Theosophists and Ridley Scott who build their perfect city above the Arctic circle and proceed to devolve as time and distance pull them to their final destination, another city, in the Mountains of Madness of the Antarctic. The Deep Ones, if we are to follow the narrative, predate them and are very likely (again, a magician’s advantage over Burleson reveals what he missed) Atlantaen, those that existed before the Deluge and followed yet another city down into the depths as it was consumed. The Atlantaens were the empire that existed here on earth prior to our being colonized by ancient aliens. They are closer to the Elder Gods and in opposition to the empire of the Old Ones but are nonetheless in pursuit of empire themselves.
Our tarot card match for the final member of the Innsmouth Trinity, the Deep Ones, is the Three of Batons. Etteilla offers us a keyphrase, ‘Peines à Leur Fin’ or ‘Penalties at their end’ and a keyword, ‘Entreprises,’ or ‘Companies.’
Penalty comes from the mid 15th c. Middle French and is directly related to the Latin Poenalis, or ‘penal.’ Penal, in turn, is related to the PIE root *kwei-, meaning to pay, atone, or compensate. ‘Fin’ in the French version of this keyphrase is more interesting. It means, of course, ‘to come to an end,’ and is related to ‘finis,’ which means ‘that which divides,’ a ‘boundary,’ or a ‘border.’ In essence, a boundary area or an inbetween space where one atones, or suffers the pains of whatever sacrifice necessary to bring about reconciliation. In our tale, the atonement is the taking of Innsmouth by the Deep Ones, their congress with humankind as a plot to raise the city that will be the fitting offering for Cthulhu.
Company, in our context, is related to the late 14th century sense of ‘a number of persons united to perform or carry out a common goal,’ which evolved into the sense of a ‘business’ by the mid 16th century. It is formed from the Latin ‘com’ and ‘panis’, meaning ‘together with bread.’ The PIE root *pa- has the sense of ‘protect,’ and ‘feed.’ ‘Company’ is a theme throughout The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The East India Company, the gold refinery, and the company of Deep Ones that drive the late burst of prosperity shown by Innsmouth after empire abandons the area.
The night train to Arkham takes Williamson to a place where he learns of his own origins. It transports us also, to a place where maybe we can understand our own role and our own ancient origins in an enchanted universe. An inbetween place where we can atone for our own role in empire and feed off of the palaeogean magic of our own ancestors, who are themselves from beyond the stars.