We are close to the end. The end of this particular goal that I set for myself. To map Lovecraft’s oeuvre to the tarot and to pull out from his work using a combination of reader response/wizard eyes to effect what I have been calling in my head, ‘esoteric criticism,’ the ‘true’ Lovecraft Mythos as he wrote it.
I don’t know about you, but when I near the conclusion of a big project, before I am at the finish line I am already struggling with how to continue, with what to do next. It is no different this time around. I know that to really gain value from this past two plus years of research I will need to go back, to redraft, to collect my own thoughts into neat little piles like so many leaves on a midwestern autumn lawn.
There are eight tales left in my anthology, which I plan on working with into February. Where to go to next? What part of this system needs the work. Clearly the prose needs reworking if it is going to be a cohesive, readable document. Perhaps a comprehensive bibliography would be useful to you, dear readers? I am a very visual thinker / tinkerer, so there are probably some sort of horrific occult process maps in your future as well (consider yourself warned). Is it a grimoire? I sort of think so as there are a great many spells attached to the themes and archetypes now. There is also a definite sense of timing and place that goes along with Lovecraft’s body of work. However unrealizable, the grimoire in my head isn’t one that can be ‘worked’ in one’s living room. The places, or the ‘gateways’ (for lack of a better term) are as much a part of Lovecraftian Magic as the words are. A Lovecraftian Road Trip Grimoire? Perhaps… Or maybe it is a grimoire that can only be worked by multiple people, a community of individuals where at least one individual or small group can be physically at a specific ‘gateway’ for a ritual, the rest of the community providing that magical gravity assist from elsewhere across the globe. As with all chaos magic, the proof is in the black pudding. We’ll only know once it is tried and tested and retried if it is a workable system of magic.
I think one of the failings of modern magic is to over-rely on the ‘codification’ of systems. I’ve seen this happen in linguistics, particularly American Indian linguistics. Here is the familiar scenario, sometime back in the 16th c. a few Jesuits suffered through the wilderness of Turtle Island on a mission of conversion. To convert properly, the Jesuit strategy was to learn the language. To learn the language, you need a dictionary. Now, for the most part, these missionaries were excellent linguists and they captured the language in an accurate way, an accurate way that we are able to replicate. Well, following on the heels of those early missionaries came American Exceptionalism and the American Indian Holocaust where all but a slim percentage of individuals speaking those languages survived and survived with their language skills intact. For many, the language did not survive at all. But still, we had the dictionaries and knowledge from sister languages that still had living speakers so the languages are just ‘moribund,’ and not dead. That is, they slept inside the texts that had captured them.
Countless indigenous individuals, children and adults, in the Americas are relearning their ancestral languages from these linguistic texts, from wax cylinder and reel-to-reel recordings of a few ‘informants’ from the 30s, 40s and 50s (the second American Indian language linguistic renaissance, see the work of Benjamin Whorf, Edward Sapir and Morris Swadesh for examples). The languages expand, are taught to others, and those individuals in turn hone their skills using these dictionaries, linguistic texts and audio. The relevant issue here is that, once ‘codified,’ once the languages begin living in an authoritative text, the new speakers really have no choice but to rely on the authority of those texts and once the languages actually begin to thrive ‘in the wild,’ any of the natural processes that languages undergo (truncation of words, the polyglottal synthesis of existing words to explain new concepts, the co-opting of old words to define new things that are somehow related in a speakers mind, and countless others) are often suppressed and the teachers, even elders, refer back to the dictionaries as the authority. Even speakers of a language that learned through natural transmission from their grandparents or other elders, they hold that instantiation as the authority and fight against the growth of the language.
This is what I mean by codification. The reality of codification, in a linguistic sense, is that these authorities are, at best, a small collection of ‘idiolects.’ An idiolect is a dialect (a subset of a language) that is spoken by one person. An idiolect is how one person in particular spoke a language. It is like there is only one person left on earth and that is the genetic code all future peoples have to work with. In the case of language, while the codification of an idiolect from an informant is absolutely invaluable in the face of a systematic effort of cultural and actual extinction, at a certain stage relying on that authority does more harm than good. When an Ojibwe youth refers to their money as ‘zhoon,’ it is a truncation of ‘zhooniya’ or ‘zhooniyawebakoog’ (paper money or coin money). When an elder or a teacher chastises that youth for using the language they were taught in their own way, they are, in a way, keeping it from growing. It is the difference of keeping a bonsai in a pot in the window and planting it outside in a field to finally grow to its full potential.
I apply this same perspective to magic. We hear on many a podcast about what an amazing time it is to be alive due to the flood of classical grimoires that have been surfacing and have been made so widely available. We are given new authorities to work with, we are told by many that the only way it can work is to ‘work the book,’ or ‘work the system’ as it has been written (‘ethically harvested’ black cat skulls and all). While I see value in this, just as I see value in that 16th century Ojibwe dictionary, I can also see the same process of codification happening here. It is, I know, a reaction to the ‘do anything you want’ magicians that don’t pay attention to timing or history or lineage or appropriation… These individuals have essentially not read the ‘dictionary’ and deserve to be called out. Once a linguistic system is understood and internalized and used it begins to grow under its own power. I am arguing here that magical systems are the same way. The ‘codification’ of grimoires, of magical systems, can only hurt a re-enchantment of the world, it perpetuates the same agenda as those that sought to burn the grimoires and witches and break the line of tradition. Living traditions are not static, they are a thing that grows. Living traditions cannot be kept in pots in windows.
Moving forward I think that is what you, dear readers, will see in this space after the initial body of research is completed. You will see a deepening of the original work as I attempt to put together a system that is both built from the traditional elements we have successfully mapped to the esoteric elements present in Lovecraft’s work. You will also see these elements put into practice and a system, hopefully, evolving from that practice.
I will also, very probably, go into a number of completely different directions from what is described above.
Our Lovecraft for this week is a short one but it adds much richness to the principle method of praxis when it comes to Lovecraftian Magic, dreams and the dreamworld. In fact, the title of the tale, Hypnos, tells us that this fiction-as-spell is an invocation of the Greek God of Sleep, known as Somnus by the Romans. He is the child of Nyx and Erebos, and as such, a core part of our system. Another familiar element here is that Hypnos makes his home in a giant cave found on the island of Lemnos. If you are seeking his home, you will know the cave by the opium poppies and other somniferous entheogens growing at its mouth. He is the father of Fear, of the Imagination (interesting that these two, Phobetor and Phantasos are siblings), and of the Oneiroi who bring us dreams and nightmares. One third of our lives we exist in Hypnos realm, and yet, how many of us appeal to this gentle god for assistance, for knowledge and health? His power was recognized by Hera and he was able to bring Zeus under his spell as is spoken of in the Illiad XIV:
“There [in Lemnos] she [Hera] encountered Hypnos (Sleep), the brother of Thanatos (Death). She clung fast to his hand and spoke a word and called him by name : ‘Hypnos, lord over all mortal men and all gods, if ever before now you listened to word of mine, so now also do as I ask; and all my days I shall know gratitude. Put to sleep the shining eyes of Zeus under his brows as soon as I have lain beside him in love. I will give you gifts; a lovely throne, imperishable forever, of gold. My own son, he of the strong arms, Hephaistos, shall make it with careful skill and make for your feet a footstool on which you can rest your shining feet when you take your pleasure… Hypnos, why do you ponder this in your heart, and hesitate? Or do you think that Zeus of the wide brows, aiding the Trojans, will be angry as he was angry for his son, Herakles? Come now, do it, and I will give you one of the younger Kharites (Charites, Graces) for you to marry, and she shall be called you lady; Pasithea, since all your days you have loved her forever.’
So she spoke, and Hypnos was pleased and spoke to her in answer : ‘Come then! Swear it to me on Styx' ineluctable water. With one hand take hold of the prospering earth, with the other take hold of the shining salt sea, so that all the undergods who gather about Kronos (Cronus) may be witnesses to us. Swear that you will give me one of the younger Kharites, Pasithea, the one whom all my days I have longed for.’
He spoke, nor failed to persuade the goddess Hera of the white arms, and she swore as he commanded, and called by their names on all those gods who live beneath Tartaros (the Pit), and who are called Titanes (Titans). Then when she had sworn this, and made her oath a complete thing, the two went away from Lemnos, and the city of Imbros, and mantled themselves in mist, and made their way very lightly till they came to Ida with all her springs, the mother of wild beasts, to Lekton, where first they left the water, and went on over dry land, and with their feet the top of the forest was shaken. There Hypnos stayed, before the eyes of Zeus could light on him, and went up aloft a towering pine tree, the one that grew tallest at that time on Ida, and broke through the close air to the aither. In this he sat, covered over and hidden by the pine branches, in the likeness of a singing bird whom in the mountains the immortal gods call khalkis, but men call him kymindis." - Thanks to Theoi.com for pulling together the classical quotes.
Offering us some clues as to how us mere humans may speak aloud and of what we may offer this most powerful of Gods that rules over most of our lives.
Our tale begins with another invocation:
“May the merciful gods, if indeed there be such, guard those hours when no power of the will, or drug that the cunning of man devises, can keep me from the chasm of sleep… [he] who has come back out of the nethermost chambers of night, haggard and knowing, peace rests nevermore.”
Where HPL is acknowledging the existence of the gods, but that they may or may not contain within their ranks, those that are capable of mercy for the human. In Lovecraft’s cosmogony, human’s aren’t even a thought to the gods, any of them, classical or otherwise. Hypnos, however, is classically attributed to have a heart filled with compassion for humankind.
Hypnos, the tale, begins with our narrator coming across a young man, unconscious and surrounded by a crowd in a subterranean train station:
“fool or god that he was — my only friend, who led me and went before me, and who in the end passed into terrors which may yet be mine. We met… in a railway station… He was unconscious… wan and hollow cheeked, but oval and actually beautiful…”
Offering us another nod to the homoeroticism in the early Lovecraft tales, like in The Tree, a deeper appreciation for the beauty and emotional connection of two men is evident. As a further example, let’s follow this passage to its conclusion:
“His brow was white as the marble of Pentelicus, and of a height and breadth almost godlike, I said to myself, with all the ardour of a sculptor, that this man was a faun’s statue out of antique Hellas, dug from a temple’s ruins and brought somehow to life in our stifling age…”
Lovecraft is certainly indulging in an appreciation of the male form here, in the guise of his ever-present unnamed narrator. He references the finest marble when speaking of the ‘marble of Pentelicus.’ Mount Pentelicus is the highest point in Greece and can be seen from Athens. It has been famous for its marble, as one would guess from this passage. The quarry is still used, but only for marble required for the Acropolis Restoration Project. Hellas, in this context, is an ancient name for Greece. Note the mention of the faun again, making it the clear winner in the race for most prominent spirit/godform in the Lovecraftian Cosmogony as well as a symbol of uninhibited male on male sexual energy. His prosodic adoration continues:
“When he opened his immense, sunken, and wildly luminous black eyes… I drove the crowd away [from where he lay and] told him he must come home with me and be my teacher and leader in unfathomed mysteries, and he assented without speaking a word. Afterward I found that his voice was music — the music of deep viols and of crystalline spheres. We talked often in the night, and in the day, when I chiseled busts of him and carved miniature heads in ivory to immortalise his different expressions.”
I think the above point has been clearly established that Lovecraft was no stranger to the adoration of his fellow men. Other points of interest here are the extrapolations into two of his other tales, ‘The Music of Erich Zann’ with the mention of the viol and the role of the sculptor pulling on the threads left open in ‘The Tree.’ I would say that if one is to add a musical element to the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic that including the viol and viol music would be appropriate. Below is the appropriately named viol consort ‘Phantasm,’ discussing the oddities of the instrument.
and here they are in action playing compositions from William Byrd and Bach, respectively:
The swells and melancholy tones of Byrd’s dances or his Fantasies are especially suited to establishing the right atmosphere for Lovecraftian Magic, in my view. Further, the mention of the small carvings pull Hypnos into the same universe as ‘The Temple’ and offer another nudge to our own argument for the three-dimensional ancestry of sigils as is pointed to by the terms linguistic heritage.
Once the adoration of his friend is complete, the narrator then delves into the matter at hand, a joint experimentation in the world of dreams:
“Of our studies it is impossible to speak, since they held so slight a connexion with anything of the world as living men conceive it. They were of that vaster and more appalling universe of dim entity and consciousness which lies deeper than matter, time, and space and whose existence we suspect only in… those rare dreams beyond dreams… Wise men have interpreted dreams, and the gods have laughed… we both tried [to understand] together… with exotic drugs [and] courted terrible and forbidden dreams in the tower studio chamber of the old manor-house in hoary Kent.”
Giving us another gateway on our map, somewhere in the County of Kent, and our old friend the tower (and the act of accessing dreams through the use of Lovecraftian Magic inside of a tower) surfaces again. The narration continues, offering what may well be evidence from Lovecraft’s own life and an admission of the author’s role in a form of self-initiatory dream magic:
“What I learned and saw in those… [explorations] can never be told — for want of symbols or suggestions in any language. I say this because from first to last our discoveries partook only of the nature of sensations… within [which] lay unbelievable elements of time and space — Human utterances can best convey the general character of our experiences by calling them plungings and soarings; for in every period of revelation some part of our minds broke boldly away from all that is real and present, rushing aerially along shocking, unlighted, and fear-haunted abysses, and occasionally tearing through certain well-marked and typical obstacles describable only as viscous, uncouth clouds or vapours…”
Lovecraft is providing us with actual tech in this passage:
are the sensations one needs to cultivate while dreamscaping assisted or augmented with Lovecraftian Magic. These are goals that one can set for oneself, beginning with active imagination sessions and then transitioning into lucid dreamstates. From what I gather from the context of the tale, the plunging or soaring is a method of gaining the correct velocity within an active imagination or dream state in order to, once found, tear apart the barriers between layers or levels of the dream that present themselves as unexpected anomalous dust clouds in the environment. By describing and naming these sensations, Lovecraft is offering us his own dream magic tech to work with. The next quote has a similar feel:
“no god or daimon could have aspired to discoveries and conquests like those which we planned in whispers… my friend once wrote on paper a wish which he dared not utter with his tongue, and which made me burn the paper and look afrightedly out of window at the spangled night sky. I will hint… that he had designs which involved the rulership of the visible universe… whereby the earth and the stars would move at his command, and the destinies of all living things he his.”
Offering us an action very similar to modern sigilmancy, where the loftiest of magical goals are not uttered but written, word magic as it were, and then burned after the thought-form had found its root-hold in the mind of the magic-user. Our narrator continues, moving us deeper into hallmarks of the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic:
“There was a night when winds from unknown spaces whirled us irresistibly into limitless vacua… Viscous obstacles were clawed through in rapid succession, and at length I felt that we had been borne to realms of greater remoteness… My friend… vastly in advance [until his] face became dim and quickly disappeared, and in a brief space I found myself projected against an obstacle which I could not penetrate… a sticky, clammy mass… I had… been halted by a barrier which my friend and leader had successfully passed… Struggling anew, I came to the end of the drug-dream and opened my physical eyes to the tower studio in whose opposite corner reclined… my fellow-dreamer… that was the end of our voluntary searchings in the caverns of dream.”
Bringing back the concept of the barrier that, in innumerable forms, is found throughout our author’s grimoire-as-fiction. We have real experiences and tactile feelings to guide us for our own dream work within the system. Also of note is the metaphor of the world of dreams being contained inside a vast cavern (or system of caverns, perhaps) lending depth to that element of the aesthetic.
Our twin dreamers, now terrified by what must have been an encounter with the Oneiroi themselves, spend the rest of their lives in pursuit of wakefulness, terrified of falling asleep lest Fear and Imagination consume them.
And in the explanation of their self-induced insomnolence, we are given an asterism to add to our growing magical system:
“Our mode of life was now totally altered… my friend became frantic in his fear of solitude… Especially was he afraid to be out of doors alone when the stars were shining, and if forced to this condition he would often glance furtively at the sky as if hunted by some monstrous thing therein… I began to see that he must be looking at a… spot on the celestial vault… roughly marked by the constellation Corona Borealis.”
The Corona Borealis is attributed to Ariadne, the Cretan princess who is known as the Goddess of Labyrinths. The Corona Borealis is Ariadne’s crown, given to her by Dionysus and as some versions of the tale state, is given in turn to Theseus who uses the crown’s light to escape the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur.
Our tale ends with the two ending a long life in each other’s constant company, only to be separated by an act of a God:
“We now had a studio in London, never separating, but never discussing the days when we had sought to plumb the mysteries of the unreal world… the thinning hair and beard of my friend had become snow-white… We suffered terribly and on a certain night my friend sank into a deep-breathing sleep from which I could not awaken him… I can recall the scene now — the desolate, pitch-black garret studio… the rain beating down; the ticking of the lone clock… distant city noises muffled by fog and space… Corona Borealis rising in the northeast… from the black northeast corner [of the studio appeared] a shaft of horrible red-gold light… which streamed only upon the… head of the troubled sleeper… I… saw for an instant… and fell with ringing ears in that fit of shrieking… which brought the… police. Never could I tell… what it… was that I saw… But always I shall guard against… Hypnos, lord of sleep… all that remains of my friend [was] a god-like head of such marble as only old Hellas could yield, young with the youth that is outside time… Olympian brow, and dense locks waving and poppy-crowned…”
Our archetype, the Poppy-Crowned Hypnos, is represented in the tarot by the Page of Swords.
Etteilla give us two keywords for our archetype; Epsion and Imprevoyance, or Spy and Improvidence respectfully. ‘Espiier’ from the 13th c. Old French means to watch closely and is likely related to the Proto-Germanic *spehon-, meaning ‘scout.’ This in turn is related to *spek-, the PIE root meaning ‘to observe.’ *spek- expands out into words like horoscope, introspection, respite, speculation and telescope. Improvidence is from the 15th c. and means ‘a lack of foresight.’ It is a combination of the Latin prefix ‘in-‘ denoting ‘not’ and ‘providence,’ meaning foresight (which in turn is derived from the prefix ‘pro-‘ meaning ‘to see’).
The Page of Swords reflects our tale well, with our two oneironauts at first observing and scouting out paths through the labyrinths of the cavern of dreams and then speculating on those experiences, expanding their own experiential based theories. But then, after breaking through the final barrier and viewing the beauty of Hypnos himself, turning tail and seeking to deliberately not see the visions that had already permanently altered their minds.