I’ve actually had a pretty magical week despite the lack of daily practice and it has really reinforced my belief that sigil magic behaves very much like other languages. When I was learning Ojibwe, it took a full calendar year before things started to bubble back to the surface of my brain and I was able to use them in daily life. Since I was primarily using the written form of the language to learn in the beginning, with spoken reinforcement from my instructor, I think that this behavior might be tied the act of visualizing language. There hasn’t been anything big, but there have been a few instances where some of my work is received much better than it has in the past, a few unexpected dollars cropping up in savings accounts, that sort of thing. They are, however, related to things I sigiled for at the beginning of year.
This behavior of the psuedo-spirits I’ve been anchoring in the ocean of my subconscious along with the themes in this week’s Lovecraft tale, ‘Dreams in the Witch House’, have really started the old steampunk floating armchair a moving about the cavernous library of my memory.
If sigils behave and act in similar patterns as language learned from written resources does, can casting sigils be extrapolated to different, maybe earlier (maybe more potent) forms of symbolic expression?
In keeping with the Lovecraft Magical Aesthetic, let’s travel back to Sumeria, the birthplace of the Necronomicon and the rituals used by humans to summon up denizens of the Cthulhu Mythos. Sumerian, in the real, is also the current front runner for the birthplace of the written word and the alphabets probably all of use today.
I have a number of tomes that mention the spermatogenisis of the word virus.
One of my favorites, ‘Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach’ by Henry Rogers, has this to say about written languages predecessor, three-dimensional word objects:
“From the period 8500-3000 OLD, a large number of artefacts known as tokens have been found. There are small clay objects of simple geometric shapes: spheres, cones, tetrahydra, cylinders, disks, lens-shaped disks, etc. tokens of this period are known as plain tokens. They are associated with the beginnings of agriculture [and] were used for record keeping… some have been found stored inside sealed, hollow clay balls forming envelopes around the tokens… these envelopes represented a way of safegaurding the record of the contract. If there was a disagreement, the envelope could be broken, and the evidence of the tokens would be inside.”
Extrapolating this practice into the context of modern witchcraft, this appears to be a very usable and possibly forgotten magical technology. If the origins of writing are in these three-dimensional object-symbols and the practice of encapsulating them as a form of binding, then it is plausible that the creation of three-dimensional sigils would be a potent practice. Moreover, instead of destroying the sigils, a common practice with paper sigils today, wouldn’t their encapsulation inside of a clay vessel serve a similar purpose? They would then forever be out of sight of the magician, existing only in her subconscious. The correlation with a binding or contract made real in the form of the clay sphere envelope is also especially potent. The magician is, in effect, binding the sigils, the psuedo-spirits, to their task. If the task is not fulfilled then the sigils could be removed from the vessel, and a new contract / ritual engaged until the magic is made manifest. A similar approach to these three-dimensional sigils could be through the use of 3D printing. In fact, as we will see later, this could be a good way to create and use the actual ‘fourth-dimensional’ sigils described by the narrator of ‘Dreams In The Witch House’.
Moving forward slightly forward in time we travel to the city of Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia, near the Euphrates river, Rogers begins the discussion of the genesis of cuneiform from the garden of tetrahedral language-forms. Cuneiform was the invention of scribes [probably early accountants] and, according to 'Writing Systems':
“We presume that the language is Sumerian, but the pictographic nature of the writing does not give any direct evidence for the language of the scribes…”
So it is not out of the question that the scribes were using another language or dialect. This ‘secret language’ that resembles Sumerian, yet with no intelligible correspondence relates directly to Lovecraft’s descriptions of the language and writing of Nahab, the witch in this week’s tale. Rogers continues, describing the work of the Urukian Occultants:
“The symbols were drawn with a pointed stick, or stylus… Numbers were written with a circular stylus: one impression for ‘one’, two impressions for ‘two’, etc… A rectangular slab of clay, known as a tablet, was held in one hand and the stylus in the other. Early symbols show strokes in all directions, but soon only the one which could be made without too much rotation of the the stylus were used.”
There are a number of implications for sigilmancy here. The primary one, which I believe fits right in with a Lovecraftian Magic Aesthetic, is the imbrication of technology and magic. Keeping with our assumptions that the Western Magical Tradition began properly in Sumeria, and that sigilmancy was an evolution of much much older symbolic magic from when mankind was a proto—post-simian glimmer on the landscape, then the clay tablet and stylus were very likely used to create sigils or to otherwise perform magical operations.
Thanks to Star Treks prop designers, we now live in a world where the writing with a stylus (or finger) on a tablet is once again the primary method of creating symbols. I assert that using a smart phone or tablet with a stylus to create sigils (that are then, once committed to the subconscious via the appropriate ritual, easily ‘burnt’, their existence, their light, extinguished with the swipe of a hand) is not only a valid and potentially highly effective form of sigilmancy, but a method (as in acting) of performing sigilmancy that is much closer to the origins of the craft then using pen and paper. One could even utilize the ‘low attention processing’ method described by Gordon White in his Rune Soup Premium Member course on sigils by setting the sigils as the tablets desktop for a certain amount of time prior to burning.
There is some precedent for technology-enhanced sigils, take the following quote from Benebell Wen’s ‘Tao of Craft’:
“Traditional Fu are rendered by hand with a calligraphy brush. However, I use a regular ink pen or ultrafine-point marker. *I have also found digitally designed Fu printed with modern technology… to be effective.* After all, block printing of Fu sigils has always been popular in East Asia. In block printing, the negative of a Fu sigil design is carved into wood blacks. Ink is applied to the block and the sigil stamped onto paper, and it is then empowered by a magical practitioner.”
Benebell, at the very least, is stating that sigils created using modern technology can become active spells in her experience. She gets at the heart of the ‘how’ in the next quote:
“The most critical aspect to an effective Fu sigil is the process by which it becomes empowered.”
I read this as saying that the medium of the sigil has less to do with its effectiveness than its message, or the message that the magician, to use her term, ‘empowers’ the sigil with. Wen continues:
“To empower a Fu sigil, it not only needs to be designed with particular symbolic representations… but every step of the process of empowerment must be thought through with care and precision…”
Sigils, as they are commonly understood, come from a culture that was driven by paper as a technology. If we look at the above statement closely, however, it does not relate specifically to paper, it talks about design and precision, and the use of the right symbols. This can be done in clay, 3D printed, or in pixels (you can’t get much more precise than pixels, right?).
Much to my delight, I found one of my all time favorite Christmas shows was available on Amazon Prime this year, the 1985 Rankin and Bass production of L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus’. You can read a synopsis of the story at this truly amazing time capsule of a blog post from 2013 from the ‘Calvacade of Awesome’. The TL;DR version is this, ‘The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus’ is the most pagan Christmas tale you will every experience, this side of Krampusnacht, and was written by the theosophist creator of probably the most beloved fantasy realm in the entire world. I mean, seriously, just check out the primary character and mentor to Santa Claus, The Great Ak.
Click through the image if you have yet to experience this claymation jewel of the Christmas special pantheon.
Our first Imbrication this week is the band Heilung and their song Krigsgaldr. Heilung, according to my research [OK, it was one stray post on Reddit that mentioned it] compose songs in a variety of languages, including Old English and Proto-Germanic. That in itself is a solid layer on my own take on the tarot as well as being a common trope in much of Lovecraft’s work, the dead languages, unintelligible to all but a select few scholars. And yes, I’m aware that the group’s aesthetic is very probably hugely appropriative and based on likely false foundation of Eurocentric paganism, but goddamit, they own it, and that means something.
OK, I’ve been feeling pretty metal this whole week, so our second imbrication is from one of my all-time modern favorites, Mastodon. I chose their video for ‘Black Tongue’ specifically for the connections it makes to my arguments above about three-dimensional sigil objects and it being the actual craft and attention one puts into them that brings the pseudo-spirit to life. Check out this homeboy’s skills:
And for our last imbrication, another favorite of mine, The Sword, and their song ‘Maiden, Mother, and Crone’. The witch trinity is all kinds of important and reverberates strongly in the 21st century magical renaissance. The connection with this week’s Lovecraft tale is strong also, as Nahab, the ancient yet ageless crone, is the portal we must pass through to understand Lovecraft’s message fully. Check out The Sword below, its fantastic:
RIEMANNIAN SPACE TOURISM
‘Dreams in the Witch House’ is narrated (partially) by a university student by the name of Walter Gilman. Due to a strange fascination with the macabre (not really that strange among my cohort, I guess), Gilman follows local folk tales of a witch by the human name of Keziah Mason, also known by her witch name of Nahab. ‘Dreams’, so far, is the best example of Lovecraft’s technology-enhanced magic that I have read. The below quote just lays it all on the table:
“Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.”
After reading that, I immediately thought of the path that Dr. Dean Radin is traveling now, specifically the taking of Magic, which is encoded in folklore, and applying it to theories of quantum physics, entanglement, and the like.
Lovecraft name-drops a few key texts in the beginning of the tale, the ubiquitous Necronomicon, the Book of Eibon, and Unassprechlichen Kulten by von Junzt. The narrator, Gilman, explicitly recounts the folk tales of Nahab using a combination of sigils and special diagrams that opened up paths between this dimension and the next, in effect, quantum sigilmancy.
The date that connects with this story is not an obscure you, but one recognized to have great power, Walpurgisnacht. There is also mention of Hallowmass, but Walpurisnacht is the clear focus.
Gilman secures a room just below the room where Nahab, in the Witch Trial era, was reported to conduct all of her magical congress. The room has odd dormers, that begin to obsess the student:
“As time wore along, his absorption in the irregular wall and ceiling of his room increased; for he began to read into the odd angles a mathematical significance which seemed to offer vague clues regarding their purpose.”
These details, and similar ones in Lovecraft’s work, have always connected this thin silver line between the world of architecture and that of the occult. It brings to mind the Hypnerotomachia Polifili and the author of that masterwork’s obsession with architectural details. I suppose, now that I think on it, this also maps to my theories about three-dimensional sigil objects. But I digress…
Along with the crone, Nahab, there is another entity by the name of Brown Jenkins. Lovecraft describes him as such:
“It had long hair and the shape of a rat, but that its sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands… Its voice was a kind of loathsome twitter, and it could speak all languages.”
I think that, if one is really serious about cultivating a Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic, than Brown Jenkins is a way in, via journeying, an archetype that can be used to communicate with Nahab and her ultimate master, the embodiment of chaos, Azathoth. Gilman, our student, seems to have no problem conjuring up Brown Jenkins in his dreams:
“Of all the bizarre monstrosities in Gilman’s dreams, nothing filled him with greater panic and nausea than this blasphemous and diminutive hybrid, whose image flitted across his vision in a form a thousandfold more hateful than anything his waking mind had deduced from the ancient records and modern whispers.”
The potential journeying component aside, the real tech in this tale is the sigil. Take the next quote, for instance:
“a man might - given mathematical knowledge admittedly beyond all likelihood of human acquirement - step deliberately from the earth to any other celestial body which might lie at one of an infinity of specific points in the cosmic pattern.”
Many grimoire spirits promise knowledge of mathematics and science. I have always taken this as 'known' math and science, but now realize that it is very likely unknown, secrets yet to be revealed. This tale is a very good premise for a witchcraft-dominant future. Perhaps the knowledge of interdimensional / interstellar space travel is locked up with those spirits that can only be contacted via magic. This is taken even further in the next quote:
“Any being from any part of three dimensional space could provably survive in the fourth dimension; and its survival of the second stage would depend upon what alien part of three dimensional space it might select for its re-entry. Denizens of some planets might be able to live on certain others - even planets belonging to other galaxies, or to similar dimensional phases of other space time continue — though of course there must be vast numbers of mutually uninhabitable even though mathematically juxtaposed bodies or zones of space.”
Gilman, as the calendar moves from February towards the fated ‘May Eve’, becomes increasingly better at some very high level, and very new (for Lovecraft’s time) mathematics, presumably due to his nightly dream visits to dimensions of non-Euclidean geometry:
“Professor Upham especially liked [my] demonstrations of the kinship of higher mathematics to certain phases of magical lore transmitted down the ages from an inefable antiquity - human or prehuman - whose knowledge of the cosmos and its laws was greater than ours”
There is also mention of Riemannian equations. This specificity (always a sign of something important and encoded in the author’s stories), sent me down a bit of a wormhole into Differential Geometry and the mathematician Riemann’s contributions in this area.
I believe all of the strange vistas and worlds filled with unusual angles that Lovecraft describes in this tale and many others, are something very real to him, a visualization of what it would be like to be a tourist inside of Riemannian Space. I then got to thinking, could there be a Riemannian 3D printed sigil? And it turns out, that some brains in the Harvard math department have written a paper about just that sort of thing.
When trying to deduce that route to the most perfect Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic, I try to pay very close attention to his landmarks and other details about place. ‘Dreams’ is filled with these breadcrumbs, which have lead me to a new theory about the town of Arkham, where ‘Dreams’ is set. I would like to assert that the town of Arkham is not a representation of Salem, MA. This is the common understanding among Lovecraft theorists. I believe that Arkham is, in fact, Ipswich, MA, and here is why.
First, is the mention by Gilman of Saltonstall Street. There is such a street, in a location that matches the narrators description, in Ipswich. The street does not exist to my knowledge in Salem. On a midnight tour of the dark city, the narrator describes crossing over the ‘Miskatonic’ river, the description matching a bridge over the Ipswich River very closely. In crossing the bridge, Gilman sees the crone Nahab in the real, and it so frightens him that the next time he was out, he avoided that bridge, instead taking an alternate route:
“An hour later darkness found him in the open field beyond Hangman’s Brook, with the glimmering spring stars shining ahead.”
This is another clue that Arkham is Ipswich, the location of the brook, and the road he takes to cross it, which the narrator calls ‘Peabody Avenue’, match Kimball Brook off of the Ipswich River, which is crossed by Peabody Street. At this point in the story, Gilman is being drawn north:
“After about an hour he got himself under better control, ans saw that he was far from the city. All around him stretched the bleak emptiness of salt marshes, while the narrow road ahead led to Innsmouth, that ancient, half-deserted town which Arkham people were so curiously unwilling to visit.”
If Arkham is, in fact, Ipswich, then Innsmouth can only be the town of Rowley, North of Ipswich and bordering on vast salt marshes. I mean, check out the images of Rowley over at ‘Historic Ipswich’ and you tell me that this village does not fit the degraded and foreboding descriptions of Innsmouth that Lovecraft offers us in other tales.
Further, towards the climax of the story, it is stated that:
“people at the mill were whispering that the Walpurgis-revels would be held in the dark ravine beyond Meadow hill where the old white stone stands in a place queerly void of all plant-life.“
I believe that ‘Meadow Hill’ is most likely ‘Castle Hill’. The great house, which incidentally is where ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ was filmed, was not built until 1928. If Lovecraft had visited Ipswich prior to ’28, and the pastoral area around the hill on which the house was built, it fits his description of ‘Meadow Hill’ above quite well.
Both place and timing is important when trying to get the best results from our magic. Not just accepting that Arkham is Salem because that is what the critics (read: not magicians) say, is a necessary step towards getting this right.
Something else that needs to be added to the work, comes from this description:
“They represented some ridged, barrel shaped object with thin horizontal arms radiating spoke like from a central ring, and with vertical knobs was the bug of a system of five long, flat traingularly tapering arms arranged around it like the arms of a starfish, nearly horizontal, but curving slightly away from the central barrel.”
This is a description of a sigil, which in turn is a symbolic representation of extra-dimensional spirit entities:
“living entities about eight feet high, shaped precisely like the spiky images on the balustrade, and propelling themselves by a spider-like wriggling of their lower set of starfish arms”
The last mention of place, Walnut Street, is likely a reference to Providence, as Walnut Street is directly adjacent the Providence Public Library, the building established in 1900.
Since this is the street that Joe Mazurewicz, the embattled Catholic on the ground floor of the witch house, below Gilman, whose incessant prayers had plagued Waler Gilman, retired to in an effort to find peace, its mention could be interpreted as a coming home for Lovecraft. This would place Providence in the role of a safe haven against the terrors of Arkham and Innsmouth, which would be in line with what is commonly understood about Lovecraft and his psyche.
The primary archetype of ‘Dreams in the Witch House’, the one that we can map back to the tarot, is not Brown Jenkins or Nahab, but the top of the tale’s demonic hierarchy:
“In the lighter preliminary phase the evil old woman was now of fiendish distinctness, and Gilman knew she wsa the one who had frightened him in the slums. Her bent back, long now, and shrivelled chin were unmistakable, and her shapeless brown garments were like those he remembered. The expression on her face was one of hideous malevolence and exultation, and when he awakened he could recall a croaking voice that presuaded and threatened. He must meet the Black Man, and go with them all to the throne of Azathoth and the centre of ultimate Chaos.”
In our Etteilla deck, Le Chaos, is card number one, replacing the Magician in a traditional deck. Chaos, or Azathoth, maps to the Pope or the Hierophant in classical tarot. For Etteilla, the definition of Chaos would likely be much closer to the Old French understanding of the word as meaning ‘a gaping void’ or ‘immeasurable space’. In Greek, ‘khaos’ represents ‘the abyss, that which gapes wide open, that which is vast and empty’. Our modern understanding of the word, ‘utter confusion’, didn’t take hold until the 17th c. Azathoth, in this mapping, can be connected to the gods Erebus or Nyx. We all love a good correspondence table.
According to Holistic Tarot, The Hierophant represents conformity, being consumed by impulses, repressing aspects of yourself (in our narrator’s case, most of his humanity), and concealment. It is subterfuge, concealed truths, and negative results from good intentions. Gilman’s intentions were innocent at first, but his connection to Azathoth through the conduit of Nahab and her familiar, Brown Jenkins, forced him to conform to Chaos’ will. Wen also maps the Hierophant card to Pope Clement V, the persecutor of the Knights Templar, which is an interesting wrinkle.
In closing, ‘Dreams In The Witch House’ offers us some of the clearest indications of place and how the ancient (arguably the most ancient) practice of sigilmancy has the potential to gain a significant power-up when connected with our modern technology, which in turn connects back to the origin of modern sigils. It also gives us a different lens through which to view chaos and, by extension, Chaos Magic. No longer a description of an ‘do anything you want’ type of magical aesthetic but one that draws its powers from the void that encompasses the majority of our universe.