Etymology of the word Ankle: Stemming from the PIE root *ang-/*ank ‘to bend’, related closely in this way to Angle and the source of the Greek anklyos, meaning bent or crooked and the Latin ang(u)ere - ‘to compress in a bend, fold, strangle.
Last week, the focus of this blog really shone through. I started it off as being about the very general ‘books, coffee, and magic.’ I found that I wasn’t really inspired to write about coffee all that much, even though I know a lot about it and am a total coffee snob. I briefly switched the tagline, replacing ‘coffee’ with ‘mushrooms’ to reflect aspirations for a project I’ve been meaning to tackle; taking all of the cultures offered by the site Out-Grow (of which I have a deep familial investment in), research and write about any folk medicine or magical traditions along with modern findings. If aspirations were nickels, I wouldn’t have to change out of my pajamas and go to work in the morning. Last week, however, I wrote a very Lovecraftian blog, breaking convention and focusing entirely on The Dunwich Horror for the whole post (mostly because of how loaded and intense that tale is) and in the process I realized just how many times I’ve used the phrase ‘Lovecraftian Magic,’ not only in last week’s blog, but in many past works. I always had designs on sussing out a unique magical system based on Lovecraft’s oeuvre, but last week it hit me, that I am already pretty far on that journey. Thus I’ve once again changed the tag line for gnome.school to read ‘Lovecraftian Magic’ and will be framing these explorations towards uncovering what that actually is.
I know what it is not, you see. Lovecraftian Magic is not the Simonomicon, although that work certainly influences what it is. Lovecraftian Magic is not a future modern chaos magic-y summoning of Cthulhu that would likely only result in a cease-and-desist letter from Chaosium, an example of which is discussed here and debated in the forums of this excellent site. The Gnome School vision of what Lovecraftian Magic is gets at what magical traditions Lovecraft touched with his fiction and how those data points spread out towards ancient magic and grows towards a future of an enchanted space-faring human race.
In the course of this, thus far, thirty plus week research exercise, I’ve begun to grow accustomed to seeing vectors into and out of Lovecraft in my own fledgling magical practice.
Let us take for example, the standard prayer for Jupiter to be recited on Thursdays from the Hygromanteia:
“Lord our God, the great, praised and incomprehensible, whose height of divinity is immeasurable, unto you I pray. I, the unworthy, beg the height of your compassion, hear me and make this attempt and the work I want to do, to be highly effective. I conjure you, most valorous and most beneficial Jupiter, by the immeasurable ankle of God, do not disobey me. I conjure you, Jupiter, by the grace of all herbs. I conjure you Jupiter, by your valor and justice, by your miraculous virtues and in your following names, Misthan, Mesaou, Alasigno, Pelknaous, Aabio, Kedesod, Olaber, Desdio, Aoloi, Azanor, Merran. In your most great and valorous names, grant your grace and your virtue by the work I am going to do, Amen.”
In the Ioannis Marathakis translation, the footnote on the word ‘ankle’ states
‘The text must be corrupt here, since this peculiar reference to the ‘ankle of God’ cannot be otherwise explained.’
Marathakis’ sentiment, that it is a corruption, is echoed by Gordon White as an aside in the Premium Member inaugural sigils course. The relationship of this classical magic to mathematics is widely known. Coupled with the etymology of the word ankle and the origin language of the Hygromanteia, I do not see why ‘ankle’ in this context is not translated as the Greek ankylos is, the phrase in fact meaning:
“the immeasurable angle of God…”
Not only does this make sense in a traditional reading of the Hygromantiea, it also creates a direct vector (pun intended) into Lovecraftian Magic. The assertion being that there is an angle that is beyond Euclidian geometry, a geometry known only in the world of spirits but immeasurable ‘in the real.’ For examples of this within the Lovecraftian Magic aesthetic, see my examination of his tale, Dreams in the Witch House.
In that same tale there are (and here is a place where I believe the Simonomicon plugs in, although I have suspended investigations into that and other texts until I’ve completed the research into Lovecraft’s oeuvre.) a number of references to the constellation commonly known in the West as The Great Bear, or Ursa Major. It is theorized that The Great Bear is the oldest conceptualization of a constellation known to the human race. An example of this theory can be found on p. 158 of Professor Emeritus at the University of Iowa, Roslyn M. Frank’s ’The Origins of the ‘Western’ Constellations, in the section entitled ‘Hunting the European Sky Bears. Paraphrasing Frank, The stars of The Great Bear have been at the center of the sky of every human culture that arose in the northern hemisphere of the planet. This central placement through oral and written mythopoetic timedepth suggests a much older conceptualization, one that predates agropastoral socioeconomic structures. Lovecraft, being a learned and avid astronomer, would have known this and takes pains to touch the Great Bear, to give it significance, in his oeuvre.
In my personal practice, I’ve begun to look for workable (as in don’t require an eagle’s brain) spells in the Greek Magical Papyri. More and more, I’ve been attempting to align my practice with the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic. When I came across the following spell I found a perfect match between the goals of finding workable, documented, spells from antiquity that also fit with Lovecraft’s work:
Bear, bear, you who rule the heaven, the stars, and the whole world; you who make the axis turn and control the whole cosmic system by force and compulsion; I appeal to you, imploring and supplicating that you may do the NN thing, because I call upon you with your holy names at which your deity rejoices, names which you are not able to ignore, BRIMO, earth-breaker, chief hunters, BAUBO LI AUMOR AMOR AMOR IEA Shooter of deer AMAM AMAR APHROU ME, universal queen, queen of wishes, AMAMA, well-bedded, all-seeing, night-running, man-attacker, man-subduer, man-summoner, man-conqueror, LICHRISS PHASES, O areal one, O strong one, O song and dance, guard, spy, delight, delicate, protector, adamant, adamantine, O Damnameneia, BREXERIKANDARA, most high, Taurian, unutterable, fire-bodied, light-giving, sharply armed. Do such-and-such things.”
Short, potent, and really with phrases like ‘man-attacker, man-subduer, man-conqueror’ quite anti-patriarchy, which is something we can all use. Also, anytime I see the phrase ‘adamantine’ I can’t not think of Wolverine, his claws, and his adamantine skeleton. A proper nudge towards invincibility and alignment with one of the core aesthetic elements of Lovecraft’s universe.
So is this taking things too far ‘off-book’? Are we swapping the metaphorical Superman for Apollo? I don’t think so.
Lovecraft did create his own mythos, and that is what the vast majority of his fans and critics have focused on. What I am looking for and finding in this exercise, however, is all of the other vectors extending in and out of his work, edges that connect to nodes in existing traditions, and if my theory holds any water, give his system a structure and real, workable, magical life. A system that, while not a unified field theory (thank the gods), is quite robust, pulling together relevant elements of Voodoo, Greek and Roman paganism, Islamic mysticism, paleolithic astrology, and very much a version of early Christian necromancy. Keeping with this sentiment, let’s experiment a bit and return to Brown’s Cult of the Saints for a moment, and riff off of the following:
“a ‘privatization of the holy’ by well-to-do Christian families was a very real prospect… at the turn of the third and fourth centuries… A Spanish noblewoman resident in Carthage, Lucilla, was in [possession] of a bone of a martyr, and had been in the habit of kissing it before she took the Eucharist…”
Looking towards the cradle of Christianity, we find the dogma, the rigor of established ritual and what was considered ‘right’ by the church is less well-defined. In my life as a real boy I’ve been doing a lot of research into how organizations scale from a start-up culture to huge organizations. One of the characteristically bad management traits is to add more rigor, more policy, more processes to the movements inside the organization in response to change. From where I sit, it looks like the same poor management was applied to the Catholic church, especially in the veneration of the holy dead. Large organizations can achieve the same engagement and performance that start-ups have, by relinquishing a highly granular scheme of control and allowing individuals more freedom. I see the future of magic and the future of religion tied together in this way. Influential change in organizations almost always starts at the bottom, as a groundswell, that is then recognized and adopted by management. In the case of Lucilla, what if these off-book magically adjacent Christian practices become the norm? The new 21st century dominance of witchcraft will find its way into to church, and the old guard, the dogmatics, will fade as the church achieves a renewed vigor. The holy dead, and necromancy, will be at the epicenter of this eventuality. The warning of the quote above from The Cult of the Saints, is that attaching incentives to this eventuality will frustrate the required innovation that will take magic and religion into the 22nd century. To innovate, to hybridize magico-Christian practice is an ancient tradition, a very old way to be human. The thread I am going to pull on, the Lovecratian thread, is the animation of the common person, a remaking of the holy dead using not Christian criteria, but magical and archetypal data points as the guide. The same strategies can be employed as were in the fourth century, such as:
“resurrectio martyrum: [where] a few graves studiously linked to the… eucharistic liturgy should ‘begin to stand out’ in a graveyard where, previously, holy graves had existed, but had lacked clear focus…”
Bringing new ‘graves into clear focus’ adjacent this growing system of Lovecraftian Magic helps to manifest the system as something ‘more real’, to reinforce the aesthetic of the cemetery as a gateway, a middle point on our Likert scale between life and death. We’ll return to this in a bit, let’s take a quick break.
To help us out in understanding what a celebration of the cemetery looks like, let’s visit the ‘gypsy-swing’ quartet from Connecticut (from our New England unholy land), Caravan of Thieves. Their song, Raise the Dead, is a perfect, if not insufferably hipster, version of what the ‘West’ looks like when it celebrates death and recognizes the existence and importance of the spirit world.
Moving towards our Lovecraft tale for the week, and keeping within an Americana (as in American continents, these cats are Canadian) set list, let’s take a spin through the reality of The Dead South with their joint, ‘In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company’.
And finally, to round out this set, I’ll drop an old-timey classic, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, played by those long time Revelators of the Strange, Primus.
THE GEORGE BIRCH SOCIETY
Our Lovecraft tale this week is ‘In The Vault.’ Let’s dive right in and meet our archetype:
“[George] Birch acquired a limitation and changed his business in 1881, yet never discussed the case when he could avoid it… It was generally stated that the affliction and shock were results of an unlucky slip whereby Birch had locked himself for nine hours in the receiving tomb of Peck Valley Cemetery… Peck had been the village undertaker of Peck Valley… Birch was lax, insensitive, and professionally undesirable; yet I still think he was not an evil man.”
Birch, an unloveable ‘rustic’ is painted as careless and lazy by the author. His only fits of discretion coming from past moments when his carelessness had been revealed by a family exhuming their daughter to transport to a different cemetery, finding the body of an aged male judge, instead. His incarceration in the tomb happened during a thunderstorm, a stable part of our magical aesthetic. The fit of lightning and Tesla-ian atmosphere being one of our authors most favored. After being trapped in the ‘receiving tomb,’ a place of staging the dead before burial, when the ground was too cold and frozen to excavate, Birch attempts an via a slit-like transom in the facade using all he had at his disposal.
“Only the coffins themselves remained as potential stepping-stones… three coffin-hieghts, he reckoned, would permit him to reach the transom, but he could do better with four…”
Here we have an explicit use of the tower as a metaphor, the author even writes:
“And so the prisoner toiled in the twilight, heaving the unresponsive remnants of mortality with little ceremony as his miniature Tower of Babel rose course by course…”
Offering us an insight into the origins of Lovecraft’s obsession with towers in his literature. The use of the reference is vague and a bit out of context, the context of the story of Babel that is, and seems shoehorned into the story. I’ve used metaphors in this way, square pegs in round holes, chiefly because I was in love with the metaphor, not because it was the best use of it.
After stacking the coffins he got at the transom with makeshift tools left in the tomb. I quite like this phrase:
“the unexpected tenacity of the [tomb’s] easy-looking brickwork was surely a sardonic commentary on the vanity of mortal hopes…”
While the context of this phrase is in reference to Birch’s attempts to remove the bricks away from the transom so he might pass through to safety, there is a deeper meaning here for us. The solidness of tombs are a physical manifestation of the finality and inevitability of death, the end of all that is human. The hammer is also an easy metaphor for how mankind attacks the spectre of death, that is, with brute force, even though it is an immaterial thing that no hammer can touch. You see how we are returning to that early Christian necromancy? Lovecraft continues:
“It must have been midnight when Birch decided he could get through the transom… He… almost dreaded the exertion, for his form had the indolent stoutness of early middle age… He had… planned in vain when choosing the stoutest coffin for the platform; for no sooner was his full bulk again upon it that the rotting lid gave way, jouncing him… on a surface which… he did not care to imagine…”
Here we have a metaphorical touching of a relic, Lucilla kissing the femur of Saint Max, although a mundane or unholy (which is metaphorically worse?) one rather than a holy saint. The touch of this relic, however has a different result. Birch is attacked and experiences great pains about his calves and ankles before wrestling himself free and out of the enlarged portal that he made for himself above the locked tomb door. Crawling to safety, because he could not walk, he is taken in and seen to by a local physician. Without spoiling the hook, we’ll wrap the investigation of the text up with a final quote:
“[Birch] always remained lame, for the great tendons had been severed; but I think the greatest lameness was in his soul. His thinking processes, once so phlegmatic and logical, had become ineffaceably scarred…”
George Birch, the former undertaker, as our metaphor, is a bridging of the gulf between the living and the dead. He is also, in a way, a symbol of how we treat the dead now, in the West. He was callous, rude, and unrepentant in his abuses of the bodies that he cared for, until the dead reached out and touched him. While this might be looked at as a mere horror tale, done for gruesome effect, if we distill it down into its component forms - Birch and the Corpse, we can see a bit more. Lovecraft is avenging the dead, placing them above the baseness of Birch’s humanity. He is giving the dead an animate form and empowering them to act on the world of the living. The dead in question was in fact a vengeful being in life, which also speaks to the power of vengeance and anger, how this type of darkness infects and destroys across generations. Crossing from the past into the future.
Our tarot match for this week is the Six of Cups.
The upright keyword for this pip is Le Passe, while the reversed shows L’avenir. Le Passe in English means ‘The Past.’ ‘Past’ is derived from the past participle of ‘passen’ or ‘to go by’. Tracking ‘pass’ we find the Vulgar Latin meaning of ‘to step’ or ‘to walk’, and threads to the PIE root pf *pete-, meaning ‘to spread’. Fragmenting back out from this data point, we find that past is related to compass, expansion, fathom, patina, petal, passenger, and spawn. L’avenir, conversely, means ‘The Future’ (and how curious this is the reversed meaning for the card), ‘Future’ has all of the meanings expected by a modern speaker, ‘going to be’, or ‘yet to be’, but if we trace it back to a similar PIE root, we find *bheue-, which not means ’to be’, but also ‘exist’ and ‘grow’. As *bheue- aged it became bondage, forebear, neighbor, neophyte, phylon (tribe, class, or clan), and physics.
The past spreads out behind us and is no more linear than our possible futures. It expands as our memories filter and warp it, acts as our behavioral compass, colors us with a patina of experience. Unless we’ve been practicing buddhist monks for forty or more years, we are bound to our hopes and fears of the future. We are the acolytes, the neophytes, sitting at its knee, ready for its wisdom.
The card itself, as it can fall either upright or reversed, is a type of Schroedinger in-between space, a moment that is neither the past or the future, a place that touches both the living and the dead. George Birch, in the vault, is in such a place. He is living, and rather full of life as he tries to escape his premature entombment. His attacker, the animated corpse of a wronged and vengeful spirit form, is the veritable Living Dead, another being existing in the in-between space of the Six of Cups as it exists in the deck at the moment before it is drawn. It is George Birch, wounded, crawling through the transom at the top of vault, half in the world of the dead and half in the real.
George Birch and the Six of Cups are a perfect archetype for where we are at in the rise and fall and rise again of an animist perspective of the universe in the West. The wounds on his ankles came from beyond the grave and gave him a knowledge of the universe normally reserved for angels, demons, and gods. I’d venture to say that none of us as elements within that set data set are in a place where we fully understand animism, fully embrace the dead and other spirit forms as actors in our universe. We are also crawling through the transom, but in the other direction.