I’ll be honest, I was operating on mostly faith when it came to magic and its effectiveness in manipulating the real world, until just recently.
Sure, there were a couple of things that happened, a publication offer out of a clear blue sky, an offer of more responsibility that (40%) matched a sigil I had launched a year ago. There were the dreams (Oh, I have to tell you about this one, it was a mind-bender) that came from so far afield that it was difficult to reconcile them with the perceived contents of my own mind. But until my very recent participation in a MMPPOEI (Massive Multi-player Powers of Eight Intending) that drenched an island state in rain on the very bottom of the world, in its dry season, in direct response to the MMPPOEI’s scope and target; until that event, I didn’t really capital-B Believe that magic worked. I do now, and the way I look at the world has deeply and fundamentally changed.
It’s scary, a bit anyway. The filter has been permanently adjusted and I am having difficulty believing in the mundane, in the non-eventful, in the insignificant. I know this is the way of madness, to forget that there is a mundane layer to the world and to see patterns where they don’t exist, to see magic where it isn’t. I think this is a symptom of regular practice. In addition to the MMPPOEI, I have been seeing sigils manifest and have been performing daily planetary prayers every day, sometimes multiple times a day (for no reason other than this amazing app I have is really good at reminding me). When one is practicing and practicing and practicing, it is nearly impossible to not see the world as a shimmering psilocybin micro-dose summer tree in a warm breeze.
I can think back to when I first started regular practice, it coincided with joining the Rune Soup Premium Member community. There were a few small wins as I tried my hand at sigilmancy. I was, however, pretty discouraged after a few months of daily prayers with what I saw as an ever-diminishing rate of return. I stopped practicing and I turned instead to theory, to armchairing.
The conclusion of our two part examination intersects with this shift in a number of ways. We pick up our story as Charles Dexter Ward makes a life-altering decision:
“the Wards were… lenient… when during the following June the youth made positive his refusal to attend college. He had, he declared, studies of much more vital importance to pursue… The senior Ward… acquiesced regarding the university; so that after a none too brilliant graduation from the Moses Brown School there ensued for Charles a three-year period of intensive occult study and graveyard searching. He became recognized as an eccentric, and even dropped even more completely from the sight of his family’s friends… keeping close to his work…”
This is a familiar trait of Lovecraftian protagonists, the eschewing of university studies for the independent armchairing of occult studies. This coupled with the mentions last week of the particular library collections in the area, lends strength to the idea that this was, in fact, an autobiographical experience. Rather than not being able to afford college, perhaps it was a conscious choice of the author’s to not attend, seeking to focus on his own in depth occult studies.
The Pop Lovecraft critics, following the work of S.T. Joshi in a very uncritical matter, often repeat the former reason for someone as bright as Lovecraft not attending university, typically following with the Joshian assertion that Lovecraft was a lifelong atheist and had gained all of his occult knowledge from an encyclopedia. There is often more truth in an author’s fiction than in their life. Having exhausted his local resources, Ward makes another decision:
“Coming of age in April, 1923, and having previously inherited a small competence from his maternal grandfather, Ward determined at last to take [to Europe]… in June the young man sailed for Liverpool… Letters soon told of his safe arrival, and of securing good quarters in Great Russel Street, London; where he proposed to stay… till he had exhausted the resources of the British Museum in a certain direction… Study and experiment consumed all his time, and he mentioned a laboratory which he had established in one of his rooms. That he said nothing of antiquarian rambles in the glamorous old city with it’s luring skyline of ancient domes and steeples and its tangles of roads and alleys whose mystic convolutions and sudden vistas alternately beckon and surprise, was taken by his parents as a good index of the degree to which his new interests had engrossed his mind.”
Despite my previous statement regarding the truth of an author’s life being found in his work, sometimes Lovecraft does delve into pure fiction. I mean, a young man living in London specifically so he can exhaust the British Museum’s resources in occult knowledge in a years long effort to improve his own magic… who does that?
Following this (wholly implausible) armchairing across Europe, Young Charles, now world-weary, makes his way back to the womb:
“[Ward returned home in] May, 1926, when after a few heralding cards the young wanderer quietly slipped into New York on the Homeric and traversed the long miles to Providence by motor-coach, eagerly drinking in the green rolling hills, the fragrant, blossoming orchards, and the white steepled towns of vernal Connecticut…”
Lovecraft’s knowledge of the sea and, specifically, sea vessels, is profound. The RMS Homeric was built in Danzig, Germany and originally christened the ‘Columbus’ but was ceded to Great Britain from the German’s as a part of war reparations. It was then sold to the White Star Line (of Titanic’s administrative-cost-cutting-of-lifeboats fame)
One can easily imagine the young mage, Charles Dexter Ward, wandering the hallways of the luxury ship, deeply entrenched in forbidden thoughts. A curious intersection here to the growing decolonization threads in this research is that the Homeric was primarily retrofitted by the White Star Line to accommodate immigrants on their way to United States. The renaming of the Columbus to the Homeric is also ripe for future investigation. Charles Ward, returning on this ship that had began its life christened under the most famous colonizer and murderer in the Americas and had transitioned, due to a global war, to a ship named after a writer of antiquity whose work largely informs giant works of magic like the PGM — the ship’s journey echoes Ward’s as he transitioned from a young man born of a colonized culture to a young mage, learned in the dark arts of antiquity.
Now back in his family home in Providence, the young mage sets up a laboratory and library on the top floor of his parent’s home (another strong theme, the practicing of magic beneath a dormered ceiling at the highest point of the house):
“In January, 1927… One night about midnight, as Charles was chanting a ritual whose weird cadence echoed unpleasantly through the house below, there came a sudden gust of chill wind… a faint, obscure trembling of the earth which everyone in the neighborhood noted. At the same time the cat exhibited phenomenal traces of fright, while dogs bayed for as much as a mile around. This was the prelude to a sharp thunderstorms, anomalous for the season, which brought with it such a crash that Mr. and Mrs. Ward believed the house had been struck. They rushed upstairs to see what damage had been done, but Charles met them at the door to the attic; pale, resolute, and portentous… He assured them that the house had not really been struck, and that the storm would soon be over… looking through the window [they] saw that he was indeed right… The thunder sank to a sort of dull mumbling chuckle and finally died away…”
The thunderstorm is not only a key aesthetic to the performance of Lovecraftian magic, but it is also a type of gateway. It is a marker of spirit contact and Lovecraftian spirit-forms walking the earth. Charles Ward continues his daily practice, building on the research and learning he undertook while overseas, until he reached a pinnacle, a breaking point, an initiatory experience:
“Then on the fifteenth of April a strange development occurred. While nothing appeared to grow different in kind, there was certainly a very terrible difference in degree… The day was Good Friday, a circumstance of which the servants made much… Late in the afternoon young Ward began repeating a certain formula in a singularly loud voice, at the same time burning some substance so pungent that its fumes escaped over the entire house. The formula was so plainly audible in the hall outside the locked door that Mrs. Ward could not help memorizing it as she waited and listened anxiously… experts have told Dr. Willett that its very close analogue can be found in the mystic writings of Eliphas Levi, that cryptic soul who crept through a crack in the forbidden door and glimpsed the frightful vistas of the void beyond:
‘Per Adonai Eloim, Adonai Jehova,
Adonai Sabbath, Metraton On Agla Mathon,
Verbum Pythonicum, mysterium Salamandrae,
Convents Sylvorum, Antra Gnomorum,
Daemonic Coeli Gad, Almousin, Gibor, Jehosua,
Evan, Zariatnatmik, Veni, Veni, Veni’”
This is, surprisingly, the first mention of Éliphas Lévi in Lovecraft’s entire corpus. A son of a cobbler, he studied to be a Roman Catholic priest for six years and then fell in love and decided against becoming ordained. His first publication, The Bible of Liberty, earned him jail time. This quote from that work is quite in keeping with the texts we have examined:
‘Many of these servants of God were mad in the eyes of the world, because God's wisdom, overwhelming them with too much vehemence, had shattered their reason.’
Another interesting note about Levi is his deep connections and influence on Socialism. According to the 2016 article, ‘Socialist religion and the emergence of occultism’ in the journal ‘Religion’:
‘the emergence of occultism as the result of a rejected esoteric tradition perpetuates an implicit dichotomy… the ‘founder’ or supposed rénovateur of occultism, the socialist author Alphonse-Louis Constant (1810-1875), who adopted the pen-name of Eliphas Lévi, developed his ideas not in an esoteric, but rather in a socialist context.’
My mind turns to New York boroughs such as Brooklyn, which is the epicenter of the 21st century movement towards New Wave Witchery, and the Bronx, which is the district that elected democratic socialist (who is also an undisputed Twitter Empress and total in-a-good-way geek bad-ass) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. One does not have to look very hard in the 21st century to find that witchcraft and socialism are growing out of the same pot. So even though Lévi’s occultism is in that same ‘scrambled’ Victorian era occultism that Blavatsky and her cohort are in, Lévi has some extra credibility when it comes to relevance in the 21st century. He was a friend to the French-Peruvian socialist Flora Tristan, whose work laid the foundations for feminist theory and, as an aside, was also the painter Paul Gauguin’s grandmother.
Some of Lévi’s works were actually published in Lovecraft’s lifetime (if only just), such as the Magical Rituals of the Sanctum Regnum in 1892 and those that preceded it were published only fifty years prior to Lovecraft’s birth, beginning in 1841. His books were still certainly still in the popular memory and were likely easy for Lovecraft to acquire or at least view during his trips to the university libraries in his area. While Lovecraft did not speak or read French, but he was highly accomplished in Latin, which would have opened some doors into Lévi’s untranslated work.
The hint dropped by the author regarding the date of the initiatory experience also has significance for another nineteenth century occultist, Rudolph Steiner. In his essay, ‘Easter as a Chapter in the Mystery Wisdom of Man’, Steiner has this to say about Good Friday:
“As a Christian festival, Easter commemorates a resurrection. The corresponding pagan festival that occurred at about the same season was, in a sense, the celebration of the resurrection of Nature, of the re-awakening of what, as Nature, had been asleep throughout the winter time. But here we must emphasize the fact that with regard to its inner meaning and essence the Christian Easter in no sense corresponds to the pagan equinox festivals. On the contrary: comparing it with those of ancient pagan times, Easter, as a Christian festival, would correspond to old festivals that grew out of the Mysteries; and these were celebrated in the autumn. And the most interesting feature connected with determining the date of Easter, which is quite obviously related to certain old Mystery customs, is this: we are reminded precisely by this Easter Festival of the radical, far-reaching misapprehensions that have crept into the philosophic conceptions of the most vital problems during the course of human evolution. Nothing less occurred, in the early Christian centuries, than the confusion of the Easter Festival with quite a different one, with the result that it was changed from an autumn festival to a spring festival.
This points to something of enormous importance in human evolution. Let us examine the substance of the Easter Festival — what is its essence? It is this: the central figure in Christian consciousness, Christ Jesus, experiences death, as commemorated by Good Friday. He remains in the grave for the period of three days, this representing His coalescence with earthly existence. This period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is celebrated in Christendom as a festival of mourning. Finally, Easter Sunday is the day on which the central being of Christianity arises from the grave. It is the memorial day of this event. That is the essential substance of Easter: the death, the interval in the grave, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.”
In essence, what Lovecraft is doing here, is correlating the death and resurrection of Christ with the same events as they happened to his archmage, Joseph Curwen. Now, some might interpret this as a slight to Christianity, or maybe even go to the extreme of corresponding the archetype of Joseph Curwen with the antichrist. The way this researcher sees it, in the context of what has bubbled to the top of the cauldron elsewhere in Lovecraft’s corpus, the author is highlighting the importance and potency of the temporal span between Good Friday and Easter for the successful practice of necromancy. Indeed, only a few days after the initiatory experience, the following scene unfolds in the Ward household:
“This had been going on for two hours without change or intermission when over all the neighborhood a pandaemoniac howling of dogs set in… there came a very perceptible flash like that of lightning, which would have been blinding and impressive but for the daylight around; and then was heard the voice that no listener can ever forget because of its thunderous remoteness, its incredible depth, and its eldritch dissimilarity to Charles Ward’s voice. It shook the house and was clearly heard by at least two neighbours above the howling dogs. Mrs. Ward… shivered as she recognised its hellish import; for Charles had told her of its evil fame in dark books, and of the manner in which it had thundered… above the doomed Pawtuxet farmhouse on the night of Joseph Curwen’s annihilation. There was no mistaking that nightmare phrase… ‘DIES MIES JESCHET BOENE DOESEF DOUVEMA ENITEMAUS.’ Close upon this thundering there came… a puff of added odour [and from Charles, the chanting of] syllables that sounded like ‘Yi-nash-Yog-Sothoth-he-lgeb-fi-throdog’ — ending in a ‘Yah!’”
At which point the pure archetype of Charles Dexter Ward is lost, replaced by a hybridization of the original archetype for our tale, Joseph Curwen. We are only able to discern further points of description for Charles Ward in the passages that describe Curwen-as-Ward’s dissimilarities to Charles. For instance, following the cataclysmic moment of possession, Mr. Ward proceeds to lecture his son (or what he imagined was his son), which is followed by the following scene:
“At the end of the lecture [Charles] agreed that his father was right, and that his… incantations… were indeed inexcusable nuisances. He agreed to a policy of greater quiet, though insisting on a prolongation of his extreme privacy. Much of his future work, he said, was in any case purely book research; and he could obtain quarters elsewhere for any such vocal rituals as might be necessary… His use of abstruse technical terms somewhat bewildered Mr. Ward, but the parting impression was one of undeniable sanity and poise despite a mysterious tension of the utmost gravity…”
As Ezra Weeden is the universal antagonist to the magician, Ward and Curwen represent two different aspects of the magician. Magic, Lovecraftian Magic in particular, has two distinct phases — armchair and practice. ‘Armchairing’ is pretty much universally maligned in our twenty-first century baby step stage of re-enchantment, with practice being total mine-field of prescriptionist Facebook-shaming. Lovecraftian magic is, at its core, only a subset of chaos magic. Chaos magic has one ring to rule them all and the inscription on the inside of that ring says ‘If the magic is producing results, that is all that counts.’
Ward is Praxis, while Curwen is Princeps — it is the inextricably joint nature of these two archetypes that illustrates a synergistic truth — praxis cannot exist without the dedicated study of princeps and vice versa. The powerful modern magician is a combination of the two and neither stage should be derided or made lesser than the other — for they are two sides to the same magic coin.
Our tarot card match for Charles Dexter Ward is the Trump card, The Sun.
Our Etteilla deck offers us two keywords for this trump. ‘Éclaircissement’ and ‘Feu.’
Éclaircissement, or Clarification, is first recorded in the 1610s and means an ‘act of clearing or refining.’ This appeals to the deep alchemical nature of Ward’s necromancy. ‘Clarify’ is older, from the 14th century, and means to ‘make illustrious, glorify,’ or ‘make known.’ Ward, through his alchemical praxis, is venerating his ancestor and brining him to his (Ward’s) own present, making him known to the modern world. Further back, we have the term ‘clear,’ which means ‘giving light, shining,’ or ‘luminous.’ With each manifestation of Curwen there is an accompanying burst of blinding light. Clear is related to the PIE root *kele-, which means ‘to shout’ and is expanded out into words such as calendar, clairvoyance and exclaim. Ward is granted contact with the spirit-form Curwen (in the beginning) by keeping time with the temporal rhythms of magic and through the strong exclamations of his learned formulas.
Feu, or Fire, is (of course) a very old word. It comes to us from the Old English ‘fyr,’ which in turn come from the PEI root *paewr-. The PEI root has the same meaning as our modern word (which is in itself a type of powerful magic), and expands out into the term pyrrhic. Pyrrhic is a word that means a type of ‘dance in armor,’ which is directly related to the Kuretes, the dancing soldiers that guarded the baby Zeus at the behest of Idea. The Kuretes guarded the infant Zeus from his father, Kronos. Kronos is either directly related to or an instantiation of the planetary spirit Saturn.
You will recall the governing phrase for our investigation into Charles Dexter Ward as an archetype:
‘With Sunne in V House, Saturne in Trine, drawn ye Pentagram of Fire, and says ye ninth Verse thrice.’
Modern day archetypes that fit the Sun Trine Saturn pattern are Gustave Flaubert and Aleister Crowley. When the Sun is Trine to Saturn it is an optimum time to pass on knowledge to the younger generation. We see this in action when, during the transition, after his parents overhear him talking to the manifested Curwen, Ward whispers:
At which point the refined alchemical praxis of Charles Dexter Ward converts once again to the princeps of his ancestor Joseph Curwen, an archmage destroyed by guns and flame centuries before.