Saints, Simargl and Star-Wind
By my count this is the one hundredth and eighth weekly post for Gnome School. I breezed right past number 100 without even realizing it, being so focused on completing my Jailbreaking Lovecraft project. I am excited to complete it (sometime in February) and to move on to something different, to inject a change. I still fully plan to keep up a weekly schedule, I need schedules and large goals it seems, to achieve anything of substance when it comes to writing. Look for some changes in the new year and some tendrils reaching in new directions of research; mycology, Voodoo/Santeria, a deeper dive into the Tarot, and Mississippian Religious Practices are some of the ideas I am playing with at the moment. My practice has been suffering, however, and that is what is really important.
After viewing the video of Gordon White and Austin Coppock’s incredible ’As Above, So Below’ event in Australia, my drive to practice has really been invigorated. I need to make time for it. My wonderful wife has gone back to work after taking time off for the kids, the kids are now in school, so there has been some adjustments to the schedule of life, the trick is (always is) fitting magic into that schedule, or rather, fitting that schedule into a magical reality.
So Below was all about how timing isn’t just crucial to effective magic, but really how timing ‘is’ magic. Our Lovecraft Tale (really most of our grimoire-as-fiction) is very focused on a timing unique to itself. I hope to explore the dates and gateways in a deeper, more practical enchantment sort of way next year as well. Let’s not hesitate, but jump into the tale entitled ‘The Hound.’
The Hound begins with our nameless narrator’s perspective and his perspective of a lifelong male partner by the name of St. John. St. John, in this context, is very likely a first name and possibly a reference to St. John Rivers (pronounced SIN-JUN) from the novel Jane Eyre, which Lovecraft would of course have been familiar with. St. John Rivers is a cold and calculating priest with ambitions for evangelizing across the world. St. John Rivers is an archetype in Jane Eyre that relates to curbing passions, emotional detachment, and harsh morals. He is a hard and ambitious man. St. John was still a fairly popular first name in Lovecraft’s time. Even if we are to reject the vectors into Jane Eyre, we cannot ignore that the name was almost always given a child in reverence to St. John the Baptist, a representation of Headlessness with vectors into the Orion, Göbekli Tepe, the Greek Magical Papyri, etc.
The narrator expresses the pair’s desires, which are the focus of the tale:
“Down unlit and illimitable corridors… sweeps the black, shapeless Nemesis that drives me to self-annihilation… Wearied with the commonplaces of a prosaic world… St. John and I had followed… every aesthetic and intellectual movement which promised respite from… ennui.”
This is a repetition of archetypal motivation, the need to escape the mundane, the normal reality. It is a drive that many a magic-user knows all too well. Why else do we stand in chalk circles or speak to the blackness at midnight in a prehistorical ghost forest? if not to transcend the material. This motivation to escape the ‘ennui’ of mundane reality, drives the pair inevitably to necromancy.
“It was this frightful emotional need which led us eventually to that detestable course… the abhorred practice of grave-robbing. I cannot reveal the details of our shocking expeditions, or catalogue even partly the worst of the trophies adorning the nameless museum we prepared in the great stone house where we jointly dwelt… a blasphemous, unthinkable place… a secret room, far, far underground; where huge winged daemons carven of basalt and onyx vomited from wide grinning mouths weird green and orange light and hidden pneumatic pipes ruffled into kaleidoscopic dances of death the lines of red charnel things… through these pipes came at will the odours our moods most craved… narcotic incense of… the kingly dead…”
Offering us several more reinforcements of the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic. The cemetery, the almost empty manor house, the underground chamber, and two men living together, isolated, in pursuit of super normal intellectual and physical excess.
We are also given in ‘The Hound,’ an explicit description of a Lovecraftian altar room, at least one devoted to the practice of necromancy:
“Around the walls of this… chamber were cases of antique mummies... headstones snatched from the oldest churchyards… Statues and paintings… of fiendish subjects… executed by St. John and myself. A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held certain unknown… drawings which it was rumoured Goya had perpetrated…”
Goya was a famously morbid painter; depicting Kronos himself, the Fates, and flying hags among other things; and clearly Lovecraft was a fan. Most famous of this type of work from the artist are the fourteen canvases known as the ‘Black Paintings’. It is interesting, this mention of a secret book of his, and there is a possible intersect in the book, Goya, Drawings from his Private Albums. If not an intersect, it adds a degree of prescience to Lovecraft’s tale, precognitive elements in his fiction being a not unheard of occurrence.
At this point the tale, Lovecraft offers a description that intersects with what I feel is going to be the key theme for magic in 2019, timing:
“We were no vulgar ghouls, but worked only under certain conditions of mood, landscape, environment, weather, season, and moonlight. These pastimes to us were the most exquisite form of aesthetic expression, and we gave their details a fastidious technical care. An inappropriate hour, a jarring lighting effect, or a clumsy manipulation of the damp sod, would almost totally destroy for us that ecstatic titillation…”
Is this not an exacting description of the best methods in which magic is conducted? The elements of timing, performance and aesthetic insure magical success. Necromancy, in particular, requiring the utmost attention to these details within the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic. Our pair of Taphophiliaists also bring us along with them to a new country that we can add to our atlas of Lovecraftian gateways:
“By what malign fatality were we lured to that terrible Holland churchyard? I think it was the dark rumour and legendry, the tales of one buried for five centuries, who had himself been a ghoul in his time and had stolen a potent thing from a might sepulchre. I can recall the scene… the pale autumnal moon over the graves, casting long horrible shadows, the grotesque trees… the vast legions of strangely colossal bats… [and] the faint deep-toned baying of some gigantic hound…”
Holland between the 12th and 15th centuries is an excellent point within timespace for a powerful necromancer. The Netherlands of that time was still ripe with magical practices among the Flemish. Amulets and phylacteries in the shape of books being worn in the open on the head or arms, the practice being immortalized by Hieronymous Bosch in his painting, The Cure of Folly.
It is here, within the earth of this Netherlands church yard, the pair find the artifact that sets in motion the remainder of the tale:
“The skeleton, though crushed in places by the jaws of the thing that had killed it, held together with surprising firmness… In the coffin lay an amulet of curious and exotic design… It was the oddly conventionalized figure of a crouching winged hound, or sphinx with a semi-canine face… exquisitely carved… from a small piece of green jade… Around the base was an inscription in characters which neither St. John nor I could identify; and on the bottom, like a maker’s seal, was graven a grotesque and formidable skull.”
The winged hound has one primary figure in world mythology, that of Simargl. He is the husband of the Eastern Slavic goddess of night, Kupalnitsa and as such is a type of match for Erebos. He is said to be chained to the star Polaris, which keeps him from devouring the rest of the deities in that constellation, bringing about the apocalypse. Further in timedepth, Simargl is a possible match for the Persian Simurgh, a dog-faced griffin who enjoyed feasting on elephants and whales, lives where there is plenty of water, and hates snakes. Simargl was worshiped by Vladimir the Great, the 10th century prince of Novgorod and Kiev. Vladimir is known for being a strong advocate and devotee to paganism in the face of viral spread of Christianity, but who finally did convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in 988 and who is now revered as a saint.
My edition also states that this is the first tale in which the Necronomicon is cited and its author, Abdul Alhazred, is mentioned by name:
“we recognized it as the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred; the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia.”
Linking Simargl to Lovecraftian ghouls, and in turn, link’s Pickman and the ghouls to a cult of once-humans, forever changed by the consumption of corpses. Simargl, as the consort of night, can be viewed as in incarnation of death and Lovecraftian ghouls worship death by consuming the dead and, like the once-human Pickman, are transmutated into dog-like creatures, made in Simargl’s image.
The timing gets more explicit and interesting following their discovery of the Amulet of Simargl in the grave of the Dutch necromancer:
“Less than a week after our return to England, strange things began to happen [in our] ancient manor-house on a bleak and unfrequented moor… The jade amulet now reposed in a niche in our museum, and sometimes we burned… candles before it. We read much in [the] Necronomicon about its properties, and about the relation of ghouls’ souls to the objects it symbolized… Then the terror came.
On the night of September 24th… I heard a knock… Fancying it St. John’s, I bade the knocker enter, but was answered only by a shrill laugh… It was that night that the faint, distant baying over the moor became to us… a dreaded reality.”
Giving us Simargl’s Eve, September 24th, squarely in the midst of the Days of Saint Cyprian and a location (and aesthetic) for the beast’s worship. One of the more remote moors in England is the North York Moors. The town of Castleton is an excellent candidate for Simargl’s gate as it is rumored that an ancient castle used to sit upon their ‘Castle Hill,’ that is said to have been abandoned when the newer Danby Castle. In their vast and vacuous manor house, the mated pair of necromancers while busying themselves with their materia in their chthonic chamber, begin to experience some very ‘A Dark Song’ aural hallucinations:
“Four days later, whilst we were both in the hidden museum, there came a low, cautious scratching at the single door which led to the secret library staircase… we proceeded to the door and threw it… open whereupon we… heard… a queer combination of… tittering… and… disembodied chatter… in the Dutch language…”
And in the days approaching Halloween, the entity finally makes contact:
“On October 29th we found in the soft earth underneath the library window a series of footprints… The horror reached a culmination on November 18th, when St. John, walking home after dark… was seized by some frightful carnivorous thing and torn to ribbons…”
The demise of Saint John in our tale is as grizzly as John the Baptist’s, who’s beheading is marked on modern calendars as September 11th. The timeline of the tale above, while not explicit, can certainly mark the day of the grave robbing that produced the Amulet of Simargl as being in that ballpark and as such, the beginning of the events that ended in St. John’s being torn to ribbons on the moor on November 18th. Having lost his life partner, our narrator retires from their remote location to the gaslit streets of The Big Smoke:
“Being now afraid to live alone in the ancient house on the moor, I departed on the following day for London, taking with me the amulet after destroying by fire and burial the rest of the impious collection in the museum. But after three nights I heard the baying again… One evening as I strolled on Victoria Embankment for some needed air, I saw a black shape obscure one of the reflections of the lamps in the water… and I knew that what had befallen St. John must soon befall me.”
Victoria’s Embankment is home of Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian Obelisk gifted to the city of London by Sudan Muhammad Ali in 1801. It is guarded by two sphinx, which make this particular point on the embankment a particularly good match for a Lovecraftian Magic Gateway. It would have only been erected a few decades earlier , in 1877, from the point in the early 20th c. when our narrator mentions his haunted evening stroll.
Our narrator’s relocation does nothing to distance him from the enchantment he and his partner awakened, however, bringing it instead to the already blood drenched streets of city.
“The baying was loud that evening, and in the morning I read of a nameless deed in the vilest quarter of the city. The rabble were in terror, for upon an evil tenement had fallen a red death… In a squalid thieves’ den an entire family had been torn to shreds by an unknown thing which left no trace…”
The end of the tale ends with an invocation of sorts, a proper closing for this fiction-as-spell:
“Madness rides the star-wind… dripping death astride a Bacchanale of bats from night-black ruins of buried temples of Belial…”
Our tarot match for The Hound is the Three of Swords.
Our Etteilla deck offers us two keywords for this card, which translate into ‘Bewilderment’ and ‘Remoteness.’
Bewilder is from the 1680’s and it means to ‘confuse direction.’ Breaking it down further, the prefix ‘be-‘ means ‘thoroughly’ and ‘wilder’ means ‘to lead and astray.’ The pair in our tale, at the narrator’s own insistence, could not have been lead further astray from society or reality due to their endeavors. The core of this word is the term ‘wild,’ which in its Old English instantiation, ‘wilde,’ means ‘untamed,’ or ‘uncontrolled.’ A perfect description of the monster Simargl, which they unleashed when they parted the Dutch necromancer with his amulet.
The second term, ‘remoteness,’ can be further understood by breaking it down into its components. The prefix ‘re-,’ is a word forming element meaning ‘back to the original place,’ and ’remote’ is from the Latin ‘remotus,’ meaning ‘distant in place.’ The tale ends as our narrator, haunted by the frigid star-wind of the winged hound, returns to the distant churchyard to return the Amulet of Simargl to it’s resting place.