“The fishlike body indicates the hidden nature of fishes. We do not know whence they have their origin, how they develop, or what paths they follow through the waters. In accord with this figure of speech, the Son of God has come into the world along hidden paths and has concealed himself in the dead of night.” - Hildegard de Bingen
I’ve said before that I feel that the Greek Magical Papyri, the feel of it, is the closest to that magic which is obfuscated in Lovecraft’s fiction. If I had to choose a Saint-ly version of this, it would be Hildegarde de Bingen. Here, in her ninth vision, Saint Hildegard actively draws a line between what cannot be known, the hidden nature of the divine, and the metaphor of the fish. This is where all things Cthulhu lead and where all things from the Dreamlands drawn their power… the depths, the hidden paths and nature of the denizens of our planet’s water. According to Saint Hildegard, Christ is the secret that is hidden in the darkest part of the night, his world, as is Cthulhu’s, is the impermeable, liquid Midnight Zone. This is the fluid through which all humans draw off their spiritual sustenance, the imagination.
Let’s begin this week’s exploration by delving into the active imagination / angelic visitation described in Hildegard’s Ninth Vision found in Matthew Foxes ‘Hildegard of Bingen’s Books of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs.’
“I saw a second figure that stood there in an erect posture… On top, where its head was, it shone with a splendor that blinded my eyes. At the center of its stomach one could see a human head with grey hair and a beard. But its feet were like a lion’s clown. The figure had six wings, two of which emerged from its shoulders in such a way that they came together again behind the figure with a flourish and covered up all that splendor. Two other wings extended from the should one the figure’s neck. Finally, the last two wings fell from the figures hips to the soles of its feet. At times these wings were raised as if they were seeking to take flight. But the rest of the body was completely covered with the scales of a fish and not with the pinions of a bird… The… figure… a marvelous spectacle — indicates alright God… On top, where the head is, the figure gleams [and] dazzles your eyes. For no one… can gaze upon the transcendent Godhead that illuminates everything… In the middles of the figure’s stomach, the head of a man with grey hair and a beard… indicates that the primeval decision concerning human redemption was located in the very accomplishment of God’s deeds…. This head has a human shape because God has created humanity… God gave us the ability to be truly creative… The lion’s feet of this figure point to the fact that God conceals the Godhead from mortal human beings… God will raw all these things to the Divine through the Son as if by the feet of a lion…”
Hildegarde’s vision indicates that our creativity, our imagination, our ability to visualize and make real what is not of this world, is a divine gift. Rather, she is indicating that it is *the* divine gift. Our imagination is the power that God gave humans to create and manifest the divine in our reality. Her works are a gift to the twenty-first century magician. This spirit form she describes, the two-headed, six-winged, fish-scaled, lion-pawed angel has the same feel as those forms described as the thirty-six decans. Similarly, this beings physical portmanteau is also the same structure as those descriptions of Lovecraftian spirit forms when they are made available to us. Perhaps this is one of the secrets of Lovecraft’s validity and resonance, his speaking directly from his dreams and visions, his descriptions of spirit forms as they have appeared, cobbled together in a series of religious visual metaphor. His descriptions are of the same (or closely related) magical aesthetic as the decans and of Saint Hildegard’s visitations.
Another vivid edge driving between Hildegard and Lovecraft is the use of language, particularly the focus on the written as a vehicle for transmitting magical secrets, for opening gates in between our world and the spirit ecology.
I recently acquired, via Interlibrary Loan, Hagley’s ‘Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language,’ a translation, transcription, and well-connected discussion of Hildegard’s ‘lingua ignota.’ It is the only full English translation of her thousand plus word lexicon. Coupled with her alphabet, the ‘litterae ignotae,’ this work will help coalesce a complete magical system based on the Lovecraftian Magical acts of glossolia and glossographia. She encrypted her documents, documents that included descriptions of the types of beings we saw above, into this alphabet and invented (divined) language. We see the results of these same acts performed by transcribers of the Necronomicon throughout its history. It is my hope that by exploring her process and the theories behind and adjacent it, we will come to a more coherent understanding of how these acts are perpetrated via Lovecratian Magic.
Sarah Hagley begins her text with the following:
“In a golden reliquary at Rudesheim on the Rhine lie the only remains of the famous German mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): her heart and… her tongue…”
These two items are important to focus on from a journeying-on-Hildegard perspective. One can imagine the relics first, her tongue representing her words, her writing, and her heart representing her compassion for the world as a saint; building the rest of her around the two relics that she chose to leave with the world — her connection to the human. Hildegard, like Lovecraft, was also dedicated to the natural world. Both of them having a particular focus on verdant forest biomes:
“viriditas, ‘greenness’ [is how] she describes not only God’s natural world, but all that is spiritually creative and filled with the sap, the sudor of divine life, as opposed to the aridity of human sin.”
This is the forest as the divine, the desert as the infernal…
When you remove (as many Western occultists do) the morality from white and black magic, angelic and demonic interaction, this metaphor is even more powerful. Further, as is the same in many of Lovecraft’s work, architecture is given a particular role in magic:
“Another motif… is the ‘Edifice of Salvation,’ a metaphor… of… God’s Law, here conceived of as the structure of the universe and the cement that holds human virtue together in the world.”
We have the forest as the divine, the natural divinity or spirit in the world but God’s Law as a form of the built environment, a structure and foundation. Lovecraft’s ‘cyclopean towers,’ and weird angles are only an extension of this theme, the primal creative (or chaotic) force in the universe expressed through the hands of the builders of humankind.
Hagley is as familiar with Hildegard’s spirit-forms as any, and this is evident when she states:
“we have the crimson head of a jealous God, His wings formed from the crenellated walls of a fortress, and the Tower of Church, flames of virtue streaming from her ramparts…”
describing the prototypical Tower card of the tarot. Enmeshing this with, what I feel, are the true origins of this archetype, that of Cybele and moving through time, Saint Barbara as a manifestation of Cybele, the depth of meaning in this card and by extension Lovecraft’s primary built environment, becomes that much richer.
Hildegard reflects, or emulates, the physical edifices of the unknown by building upon other, less tangible structures, that of words, grammar, and alphabets. Again from Hagley:
“The [Lingua Ignota finds] new, verdant words within a hierarchical and artificial structure meant to redeem speech that has fallen from another tower. This new verbal edivice assigns… names not only to the offices and architecture of Holy Church and to the herbs and trees of her monastery garden, but also to the crypt and the winding staircase, the fornicator and the prostitute, the giant and dwarf, and scalp and the pudendum, the king, the servant, the cake, and the cricket… Hildegard is best known as one gifted with mystical vision that transcended her humble abilities: so the common nature of most of her invented words belies the cherished portrait we have of her in the Rupertssburg manuscript, the flames of the Living Light streaming down upon her head as she writes on her wax tablet for her astonished scribe.”
This brings to mind one of the final scenes in The Colour Out of Space, where Lovecraft deliberately places the indescribable coloured flames pulling on the limbs of the trees in the orchard with a reference to Pentecost, the primary event of glossolia in the bible. Hildegard is a skilled taxonomist, a seeker of order in the world. This is reflected by Hagley’s claim that:
“the taxonomy [of the Lingua Ignota] repeats a tendency toward order, explication, and list-making that we find in her three important prophetic works…”
This idea, taxonomy of a divine practice, is a very effective framing when Hagley points out where Hildegard places herself in the hierarchy of spirit:
“Hildegarde speaks of herself as *homo*: God addresses her thus in her *Scivias* — O Human! and so does she also refer to herself in the Riesencodex rubric.”
She places God and presumably angels and demons outside of the human, but not with a supernatural flavor but rather, an alien one, a different, but no less real, species in a universal taxonomy. We will return to Hildegard’s Lingua Ignota again in the coming weeks, as I devour Hagley’s book and report back with the insights into our own mission that it provides. For now, however, let’s allow the Saint of the Imaginal to open the gate between us and our Lovecraft Tale of the week, The Quest of Iranon.
‘Iranon’ is a picturesque, poetic tale that invokes Lovecraft’s strong ties to classical literature. While most critiques state that it is the influence of Lord Dunsany, I argue that the themes of these types of offerings from Lovecraft go much deeper, to his youth spent in the woods hunting for signs of Pan and respites among his Grandfather Whipple’s books. We see that classical pagan aesthetic in the opening lines:
“Into the Granite City of Teloth wandered the youth, vine-crowned, his yellow hair glistening with myrrh and his purple robe torn with briers of the mountain Sidrak… The men of Teloth are dark and stern, and dwell in square houses, and with frowns they asked the stranger whence he had come…”
Out of the realm of Cyble comes the youth, a possible echo of the lovely Attis, lovely, blonde (even more so in juxtaposition against the men of Teloth) and asexual. ‘Iranon’ is set up as a allegory of otherness. We are offered, almost immediately, the familiar landmark in most Lovecraft tales:
“The [men of Teloth] bade the stranger to stay and sing in the square before the Tower of Mlin…”
Another Tower to add to our Dreamland City of Towers. Iranon sings but is not appreciated in Teloth, given only straw to sleep in as an award:
“That night the men of Teloth lodged the stranger in a stable, and in the morning an archon came to him and told him to go to the shop of Athok the cobbler, and be apprenticed to him.”
An interesting word choice, that of ‘Archon’, to insert into this sentence. Archon is originally a rarified position of authority in Athens. in the seventeenth century the term was generalized to mean ruler or commander. The prefix -arch stemming from arkhe, which is related to origin or first place. In Gnosticism, the archon are servants of a creator. Authority placed in a hierarchy directly below the leader, this places the archon in the role of demon or angel. The archon delivers the news that in order to live among the men of Teloth, the artistic (and imperial) youth must apprentice as a skilled laborer. It is also worth mentioning that in some gnostic lines the archons are correlated with the seven celestial spirits, the planets, which gives this phrase a more potent meaning - the archon is delivering the youth into a predetermined fate if he is to stay in Teloth. Upon rejecting the offer, the archon delivers in final tones:
“All in Teloth must toil,” replied the archon, “for that is the law…” Then said Iranon… “Toil without song is like a weary journey without an end.”
Iranon did not, however, go to the cobbler as directed by the archon. Instead, he encountered a dark haired youth and together they left the city of toil and continued Iranon’s quest together. On reading this, it seems possible that the youth, Romnod, sitting on the banks of a sluggish river in a city of toil, could be the young Lovecraft as he watched Providence grow into an industrial powerhouse around him. Iranon is unmistakably an archetype for the pagan Greek and Roman influences pulled from the classical stories he read. Romnod follows the songs out of the city of toil and into the hills and mountains. As mentioned, Lovecraft did so throughout his life, leaving the city for walks and bike rides in the country that inspired most of his stories. The pair of youths leave the City of Toil, looking for Oonai, a city of Lutes of Laughter:
“It is not known how long Iranon tarried in Oonai.. day by day that Romnod who had been a small boy in granite Teloth grew coarser and redder with wine, till he dreamed less and less… one night the red and fattened Romnod snorted heavily amidst the poppied silks of his… couch and died, whilst Iranon, pale and slender, sang to himself in a far corner. And when Iranon had wept over the grave… he… went forgotten out of Oonai the city of lutes… and garlanded with fresh vines from the mountains…”
There is a great deal of commentary here, the dialog against alcohol and revelry is common, as is the thread of the freshness of the mountains and the forests being superior to any city. It is the voice of Pan and Sylvanus speaking through Lovecraft in this tale. A celebration of the quiet magic of the wild and a denouncement of the excesses capable of humans. Romnod dying in the city of music is also poignant, as he came from the city of toil. When taken out of that environment he grew fat and died. Iranon was not against toil, only against toil without the appreciation of beauty. The tale, like so many of Lovecraft’s, is short, and so after a small amount of textual time, we arrive at the final scene:
“Iranon stayed ever young… So came he one night to the squalid cot of an antique shepherd, bent and dirty, who kept lean flocks on a stony slope above a quicksand marsh. To this man Iranon spoke…”
In the end Iranon meets himself. He, as an old man. In his youth, this old man says to have played and listened to the imaginative Iranon who dreamed of cities and made them real in song. The old man announces that this child, his youth, is long forgotten and eclipsed by the ravages of time. In the end, the old man walks into the quicksand after meeting himself, his lost youth, in the flesh. This is a cautionary tale, a tale that warns of the death of the imaginal, eclipsed by materialism, by capitalism, by toil without song. In our Lovecraftian Magical work, this tale is also a warning not to discount the dreamwork for the practical, to not dismiss the mystical or the poetic or the visual culture of magic to solely focus on the circle, the materia, and the astrological charts. That is not where the true magic lies and, in fact, the imaginal is where one should look for the most significant contact events, the queues, the bent trees pointing the way through the prehistoric ghost forest.
Our tarot card match to the Tale of Iranon is the Seven of Coins. Etteilla offers us two keywords to associate with this archetype, argent and inquietude.
Argent is the french word for money and inquietude is the word for worry. On the surface this card is likely interpreted as the querant being, well, worried about money. Let’s dig a bit deeper, deconstructing its definition.
Money is from the Latin Moneta, the surname of Juno. Moneta is also related to monere, which mean advice or a warning. Cyble is the ‘thirteenth’ deity of the zodiac. Her ancient presence has the effect of destroying symmetry, of deconstructing order. She rules Leo along with Jupiter and is in direct opposition to Juno. Juno is the daughter of Saturn, or Kronos, the child-eater, the jealous destroyer. She is Jupiter’s wife and as such, directly opposite the ancient Cybele in another way. In her incarnation as Juno Moneta, she is a goddess of war, or rather, the herald of a war to come. This can mean one of two things, that she is the archetype for strategy (preparation of war) or patterns (the signs of war, which repeat throughout history).
The other side of our coin is ‘Worry.’ In Old English it is related to ‘wyrgan,’ which means ’to strangle’ and Old Norse, ‘virgill,’ the word for rope. Going further in timedepth, we find the PIE root *wer-, which means ‘to turn,’ or ‘bend,’ effectively the description of a trope. *wer- expands forward through time to connect with ‘divergence,’ ‘introversion,’ ‘rhapsody,’ ‘verse,’ ‘vortex’ and ‘weird.’
In our deconstruction of the Seven of Coins we find the important threads in ‘Iranon.’ Cybele as the destabilizer is reflected in Iranon, who exists inside of different societies represented as city-states, much as Italo Calvino expresses the city-as-metaphor in his Invisible Cities. If Iranon’s presence is opposite that of the toil in Teloth (the making of value) and the revelry of Oonia (the squandering of value), he can be read as the shift of what is valued in the Lovecraftian Magical aesthetic. Wealth is not an amount of coins. Looking at the other face, we see Romnod, writing and strangled by excess in his bed, strangled in his youth by the oppression of toil and then done in by its squandering, a life of futility. We also see clearly how to walk the other path. Through divergence, through otherness, through looking inside, introversion, interiority, through verse and through the expression of the weird. This is the secret of our card. Embrace your weird, your lost dreamer, use magic to bring dreaming back into life, become soldiers in the war against the archon, join the ranks of the Saints of the Imaginal.