The Blasted Heath
In the following words I am going to wrestle with the ideas of animism, the natural world, and the historically very poorly done correlations or comparisons between Western Magic and living American Indian lifeways.
I want to stress that these comparisons are in no way an endorsement of any Western ‘theories’ of American Indian genesis. When I was studying with the Bad River Ojibwe Elder, Ayabe, whenever this would come up in his classes or his community round tables, the answer was always ‘We have always been here.’ This is something I believe. I believe the Ojibwe have always been on Turtle Island, as the Ojibwe I know refer to North America. This is an alignment with a fundamental aspect of an indigenous worldview. I am in no way attempting to draw direct lines between say, the Greek Magical Papyri and Ojibwe Birch Bark scrolls. I am also not attempting to draw hard edges between Egypt, the Ojibwe, and a common cultural ancestor buried in prehistory. I am not attempting to argue that Lovecraft’s tales and monsters are rooted in indigenous origin stories, either. I am simply attempting to align our growing Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic with the impossibly ancient land, Turtle Island to some, America to others, that it spawned upon in the beginning of the last century.
That said, let’s dive in. It is increasingly obvious that Lovecraftian spirit forms are rooted in the natural world. In fact, the true monsters, the most grotesque, are born of humankind’s attempts to interact with, or worse, ignore the embodied chaos of the spirit ecology. One method of ignoring the spirit world is to look only within ourselves and our own idealized concepts of what nature is. These ideas, inevitably, are colonized thought forms. To view nature as being passive, to allow itself to be subjected to management and, frankly, rape without offering up any type of retaliation is straight out of Empire’s favorite playbook. If we are to view the world through Lovecraftian eyes, we first need to decolonize.
As an example of a decolonized lens into the natural world, I offer the following from ‘Patterns of plant use in the Prehistoric Central and Southern Plains’ in the most excellent anthology, ‘The Subsistence Economies of Indigenous North American Societies’:
“Native American groups who occupied [the North American Great Plains] are historically viewed as bison dependent… The importance of agriculture and wild plants in the economies of Plains groups is therefore often overlooked as a significant contribution to prehistoric Plains subsistence. Cultivation of tropical and native plants became an important aspect of daily life in much of North America during late prehistory… The selection of specific plants may have unintentionally altered the plant’s natural range, while deliberate management activities, such as burning, contributed to an alteration of local environments.” 307
This is an important note and a simple way to assist in combating the predominant view of the ‘historical Indian,’ that persists into the twenty-first century. That view that insists that American Indians lived off the land and at one with nature, without augmenting it or changing it in the way that all other humans have always done. The bit about bringing tropical plants and managing the landscape is also very important when trying to situate ourselves in the landscape as Lovecraftian Magicians. It is not against ‘the rules’ of magic, of being ‘one with’ the natural world. American Indian individuals, especially those living on reservations or adjacent wilderness corridors (but not limited to as these worldviews persist in the urban American Indian community, in my experience) live highly spiritual lives and are much more connected to the natural world than those of us enculturated to a Western suburban imperialist lawn mower psuedo-existence. That said, this connection is not mutually exclusive of changing the natural world to suit their needs, in both a modern context as well as through the lens of pre-history. This is something, I think, that many Western magicians need to think on.
You know what I’m referring to, it’s that ‘one with nature’ type of magic practiced by so many dreadlocked whitefolk where the ‘spirits of the forest’ are revered and respected and placated until they are corpulent with offerings, stinking of incense. This is not the way of Lovecraftian Magic in the natural world. There are two approaches, the way I see it. Sure, there is reverence, but it is a reverence borne on the black wings of the imminent and insignificant demise of mortals that tempt the chaos of the planets and voids of deep space with their very human arrogance. There is also dominion. That is what is being alluded to in the above passage, dominion over the spirits of the natural world. In American Indian traditions, offerings of corn or tobacco are given but these offerings are not without conditions, they are transactions, transactions that the human side are initiating and if the spirit ecology ignores them and just takes what they are given without offering their gifts in return, there are consequences.
There is precedent for this type of magic in the oldest of Western Magic, as well. Take, for example, the following from the Greek Magical Papyri. I’ve mentioned it previously, but it is worth reiterating:
“Spell for picking a plant: Use it before sunrise. The spell to be spoken: “I am picking you, such and such a plant, with my five-fingered hand, I, NN, and I am bringing you home so that you may work for me for a certain purpose. I adjure you by the undefiled name of the god: if you pay no heed to me, the earth which produced you will no longer be watered as far as you are concerned — ever in life again, if I fail in this operation, MOUTHABAR NACH BARNACHOCHA BRAEIO MENDA LAUBRAAASSE PHASPHA BENDEO; fulfill for me the perfect charm.“ - Betz PGM IV. 286 - 95
This is pure spirit bullying, the plant spirit equivalent of turning your Saint Muerte candle to the corner and taking away her candy when she doesn’t fulfill your requests. This is the same approach that the inhabitants of the Americas have always taken, respect with a firm magical hand.
On the other hand, making yourself into a pathetic creature, worthy of the pity of the greater spirits, those further up in the hierarchy, is the other most common approach to traditional American Indian Spirit Interaction. There is a hierarchy to the spirit ecology and humankind is not at the bottom, but rather, somewhere in the middle. We are not subservient to all spirit beings, nor are we dominant in a properly haunted natural world.
Let’s explore a spirit hierarchy local to my neck of the woods, in that liminal woodlands between the sub-arctic tribes and their specific lifeways and the great civilizations or chiefdoms of the Mississippi Valley. I offer, as an example, the following from the Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. 1885 - ’86. This excellent and venerable book records, among other things, a great deal of Ojibwe cosmogony and spiritual beliefs. I will preface the below quote (a preface to the previous preface) that I know that the Mide are a living tradition. I know that because I’ve met and have befriended Mide. I also know that what I am to describe from this 1890’s text is as representative of the Mide and the Ojibwe’s interactions with the spirit ecology as it is antiquated.
The beginnings of this tome’s invaluable study of the Ojbiwe Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Society states:
“The Ojibwa believe in a multiplicity of spirits, or manidoos, which inhabit all space and every conspicuous object in nature. These manidoos, in turn, are subservient to superior ones, either of a charitable and benevolent character or those which are malignant and aggressive. The chief or superior manidoo is termed Gichi-manidoo - Great Spirit - approaching to a great extent the idea of the God of the Christian religion; the second in their estimation is [Zhamanidoo (probably Blessing Spirit)]. a benign being upon whom they look as the guardian spirit of the Midewiwim and through whose divine provision the sacred rites of the Midewiwin were granted to man…
There is one other, to whom special reference will be made, who abides in and rules the ‘place of shadows,’ the hereafter; he is known as [Jiibaymanidoo] — Shadow Spirit, or more commonly Ghost Spirit…
The first important event in the life of an Ojibwe youth is his first fast. For this purpose he will leave his home for some secluded spot in the forest where he will continue to fast for an indefinite number of days; when reduced by abstinence from food he enters [an] ecstatic state in which he may have visions and hallucinations. The spirits which the Ojibwe most desire to see in these dreams are those of mammals and birds, though any object, whether animate or inanimate, is considered a good omen.
The object which first appears is adopted as the personal mystery, guardian spirit, or tutelary daimon of the entranced, and is never mentioned by him without first making a sacrifice. A small effigy of this manidoo is made, or its outline drawn upon a small piece of birch bark, which is carried suspended by a string around the neck…” 163
As you can see, there are many parallels with the twenty-first century magical worldview. That spirits are everywhere, that they ‘inhabit all space,’ and are embodied by every ‘conspicuous object’ in nature. If you would like a more elaborate perspective on what ‘objects’ are considered to be a vehicle for denizens of the spirit ecology, I have provided an extensive linguistic investigation here.
We also see here what many paranormal investigators (as well as depth psychologists) spend their lives talking and blogging about, a manifestation of ’The Shadow.’ In the Ojibwe cosmogony, however, there is a top Shadow Person, the Jiibaymanidoo, who rules over all of the spirits in this realm, the ‘Place of Shadows.’ There are many, including practicing magicians, that don’t feel confident that the Shadow People can be classified as a distinct ‘species’ in the spirit ecology. I do, however, and feel that the existence of Jiibaymanidoo is further proof that the Place of Shadows, that realm just outside of and distinct from our own, is very real.
The beginnings of the ‘Vision Quest’ are detailed here and this is where we find humankind’s place in the Ojbiwe Spirit Hierarchy. From my mentor’s lessons, I know that the purpose of fasting in the wilderness is not psychopharmacological, but is undertaken to bring yourself to a low place, to specifically bring yourself to a ‘pitiable state,’ where the greater spirits, those above us in the hierarchy of a natural world that contains both humans and spirit forms, are moved by our pathetic humanness and grant our requests.
I’d also like to bring attention to the last part of that quote, pointed, specific attention. There is much distress caused by Western Magicians who insist that they are ‘eligible’ to have their own spirit animals. The question is not about eligibility. The question is 1) about process and 2) about discretion. When some white-as-a-winter-night-is-long occultist claims that such-and-such is their spirit animal and are then called to the mat by indigenous persons they pain point (and it is a specific spiritual / psycho-emotional pain) is that the occultist has likely not gone through a process that brought them to a state near death in the wilderness. Further, I have never ever known an Ojibwe or Pima, or Papago, or Navajo, or Menominee, or Stockbridge-Munsee, or Potowatomi or Sioux or Dakota that has ever mentioned their guardian spirit in causal conversation. The bit about ’never [mentioning] without first making a sacrifice’ would preclude dropping in on Twitter and declaring the Badger is one’s spirit animal.
Let’s take a quick break before we switch gears and shift our discussion to our Lovecraft tale for the week. For reasons that will soon become evident, our first imbrication is probably the most apt, as well as being some hyper-nostalgia-like awesomeness. I am grateful for my chaotic, highly improbable research process that led me to the first track, ‘Escape the Fate’ by Meteor.
Next up is one of my favorite groups and are second only to our last featured artist when it comes to mastering the embodiment of the science fiction motif in music. This track also aligns quite well with the fate of all those touched by this week’s Lovecraftian spirit form:
And finally, I humbly present the undisputed master of extraterrestrial themed hip hop, Kool Keith, in his most inscrutable incarnation, Dr. Octagon:
TONGUES OF FIRE
In the oft-quoted words of William S. Burroughs:
“America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.”
At the risk of beating a dead hippogriff, I feel this phrase perfectly sums up the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic. Our author echoes this thought with one of the opening passages from his work ‘The Colour Out of Space’:
“When I went into the hills and vales to survey for the new reservoir they told me the place was evil. They told me this in Arkham, and because that is a very old town full of witch legends I thought the evil must be something which grandams had whispered to children through centuries.”
The author is pointing again to an evil older than man, placing witchcraft and witches either above or below it it in the spirit taxonomy. For Lovecraft, the further one moves towards prehistory the darker and more evil the unknown quantities become. This is almost an admission of a type of morality centered on humanness. The reservoir is important here, when we pull back and look at Lovecraft’s entire oeuvre with our magician-colored steampunk goggles:
“some of [the residents of the valley] will doubtless linger even when half the hollows are flooded for the new reservoir. Then the dark woods will be cut down and the blasted heath will slumber far below blue waters whose surface will mirror the sky and ripple in the sun. And the secrets of the strange days will be one with the deep’s secrets; one with the hidden lore of the old ocean, and all the mystery of primal earth”
Here Lovecraft connects all bodies of water with the ocean, the ocean as the Mother of All Waters. And by extension, all water is associated with those elements of his cosmogony that live or lie undying beneath its waves, reside on the shore, or sail its surface.
The ‘Blasted Heath’ is a metaphor that is used quite a bit in this story, identifying the spot of a contact event. It was mentioned in the above quote and again when the author writes:
“[The blasted heath] was too much like a landscape of Salvator Rosa; too muck like some forbidden woodcut in a tale of terror.”
While many of the painters referenced by Lovecraft are fiction-forms, Salvator Rosa was a real artist. It is helpful for us, when HPL drops these visual references into our aesthetic, as they help greatly to round it out, to make it magical worldview ‘more real.’
The primary narrator, the first of many, finds the spot that he is warned by those in Arkham to avoid. The place has the same effect on him that it does on the others. The surveyor continues on with his task and upon his return to the road out of the area:
“at twilight, dreading to repass that ominous spot, I walked circuitously back to the town by the curving road to the South. I vaguely wished some clouds would gather… In the evening I asked old people in Arkham about the blasted heath…”
As we will see later, Donald Burleson places the location in Massachusetts, the surveyor, walking from the (third mention of the) ‘blasted heath’ back to Arkham. It is fairly obvious to me that The Colour Out of Space was dreamt into being as Lovecraft read about and watched the Scituate Reservoir take shape at the same time the tale was written. Dams and reservoirs were in the news at the time, and The Colour Out of Space could also be referring to plans for a second reservoir and dam on the Big River , the plans of which would have begun circulating around 1926. This one was even more contentious as the local ‘rustics,’ who were by no means silent in their protest, had their land taken from them. This line from a bit later in the text:
“nothing could bribe me to drink the new city water of Arkham…”
brings more strength to this hypothesis and casts allusions to the to the Colour spreading in the water of the reservoir and into every citizen of Arkham hence, into the modern day. Lovecraft has, in a way, haunted every kitchen tap in Providence.
The surveyor approaches the second layer in our narrative:
“because they all told me to pay no attention to old Ammi Pierce’s crazy tales, I sought him out the next morning…”
An excellent nod to the importance of madness, of the ageing, of the elders whose ways do not resonate with the modern world. There is much of an admission in this phrase, that ‘hypernostaligia’ mentioned last week as a priceless piece of engaging with Lovecraftian Magic.
Since my explorations in The Call of Cthulhu, I cannot help but notice the nesting of narratives, stories within stories, that Lovecraft weaves, and The Colour Out Of Space is no different. Lovecraft connects us with a present where the horror is taking place through the surveyor’s narration of the narration of Ammi Pierce, who was there to experience it. This is, very much, like the modern practice of magic. We hear through our podcasts and our seminars and our magical orders, the words and events of magic narrated through academics and collectors, and that magic, from the grimoires and the fragments of papyrus, is itself nested over oral histories and experience buried in timedepth. Reading Lovecraft’s oeuvre is the experience of the twenty-first century magician, reaching back, pulling on unreliable threads until one snags, and a spirit form is drug forth from the water into the present.
In the introduction to this story in the anthology I am using it is mentioned that most critics feel that this story is based on the work of Charles Fort. I feed that it is much more obvious, along with the reservoir just outside of his hometown, I am confident that the work of a local Bostonian astronomer, one Edwin Sawyer, is probably the progenitor of the tale. Lovecraft, being an avid amateur astronomer, could not have escaped his work. He was active during Lovecraft’s life and likely helped to kindle his enthusiasm for the cosmic and informed him, in particular, of the qualities of meteors. For instance, from amsmeteors.org:
“1872: When the Andromedid meteor storm occurred on November 27, Edwin Sawyer and a friend made detailed counts. They also kept a magnitude distribution of the Andromedids they saw. They were familiar with this reporting style because they had used it many times before for other watches. It was so natural to them that they used it spontaneously to record a meteor storm they had not anticipated.
1877: Sawyer began to write in Science Observer, the Boston Scientific Society’s journal. His articles alerted readers to watch for annual showers and he published his and other’s data in the Observer. At age 28, he volunteered to mentor new observers so they could acquire necessary observation skills. Sawyer’s efforts were rewarded, because by the early 1880s, his contributors were distributed throughout most of the U.S.
1879: Sawyer published a catalog of radiants he had discovered during 1877 and 1878.
1881: Sawyer published a second catalog in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He had an active correspondence with W.F. Denning who included some of Sawyer’s radiants in his extensive radiant listings.
1882: Sawyer contributed two articles to Sidereal Messenger in which he taught U.S. observers about meteors and how LMC methodology could be used to study them.
1885: The Andromedids stormed again. H.A. Newton described readers’ results in AJS.”
The reports of Edwin Sawyer and his contemporaries would have been regular reading for Lovecraft as astronomy was one of his great passions.
As seekers of the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic, an exercise in hypernostalgia could include familiarizing ourselves with end-of-the-nineteenth century astronomy reports. For something more readily available, Barbara L. Narendra of Yale has compiled a very readable document dedicated to New England meteor strikes in recorded history.
And then begins Ammi’s narrative, nested inside of the surveyors:
“It all began, old Ammi said, with the meteorite. Before that time there had been no wild legends at all since the witch trials, and even then these western woods were not feared half so much as the small island in the Miskatonic where the devil held court beside a curious stone altar older than the Indians.”
In which we encounter that familiar phrase again, older than the Indians. Looping back to the aforementioned Seventh Annual Report from the Bureau of Ethnology, we find this short bit from the Ojibwe Creation Tale:
“The place where Minabozho (Great Rabbit) descended was an island in the middle of a large body of water, and the Mide who is feared by all the others is called Minisinoshkwe (He Who Lives On The Island).” 166
The translation here is flawed, Minis does mean ‘island’ but the suffix -kwe only ever indicates a woman (or possibly, a Two Spirit, which would explain an added spiritual potency). The Mide priests were of both sexes and Minisinoshkwe, the first that is feared by all others, is very likely ‘Woman of the Island,’ a figure that we catch a glimpse of in Dreams in the Witch House. This fragment (the full origin tale is contained in the report) is referencing spirit forms that ostensibly existed ‘before the Indians,’ as they are the core of the tribes origin myth, all in all, an interesting parallel.
It is then that we move on to what, I feel, is one of the core messages ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ was meant to convey. It begins with the following:
“Ammi… and his wife had gone with the three professors from Miskatonic University… It had shrunk… but the wise men answered that stones do not shrink… The professors tried it [the meteorite] with a geologist’s hammer and found it was oddly soft. It was, in truth, so soft as to be almost plastic; and they gouged rather than chipped a specimen to take back to the college… They took it in an old pail… for even the smallest piece refused to grow cold.”
This passage is telling me that the Blasted Heath Meteorite is not, in fact, a cosmic piece of iron, but in fact an organic being of a type unrecognizable to humans, our perceptions always being colored with different hues of anthropomorphism. Ammi’s narrative continues:
“the wise men talked of the strange stone’s affinity for silicon… It had acted quite unbelievably in [the] laboratory… being wholly negative in the borax bead…”
The Borax Bead test indicates the presence of metals, lending further weight to the hypothesis that this is organic material, a type of lifeform. The narrator asserts, however, that it must be metal because it was magnetic, later in the text. The paradoxical material excited the professors:
“there was much breathless talk of new elements, bizarre optical properties, and other things which puzzled men of science are wont to say when faced by the unknown.”
Setting aside for a moment the allusions to the meteor being a form of life outside of our conception, the real reasons behind this narrative within a narrative within a narrative is to drive home Lovecraft’s view of the materialist worldview. He could do no further damage to its validity unless he cried outright that ‘Materialism is False.’ Being a writer, however, his tools include metaphor and satire. Returning to the sight, the materialist foils take it a bit further:
“They had uncovered what seemed to be the side of a large coloured globule… One of the professors gave it a smart blow with a hammer, and it burst with a nervous little pop… It left behind a hollow spherical space…”
The materialist approach at grasping the unknowable is shown here to provide them with ultimately nothing. Following the bursting of the bubble, the life form is dissolved in the midst of a thunderstorm, a common aesthetic for Lovecraftian Magic, being struck by lightning several times. It is at this point that the natural world began to shift in the area, growing larger, first the fruit, then the animals. The natural world grew larger but also unpalatable, bitter, rejecting the human and humankind’s impositions upon it through the vehicle of mutation. The materialist triad of professors are called back, but offer no curiosity this time, only derision:
“There was really nothing for serious men to do in cases of wild gossip, for superstitious rustics will say and believe anything. And so all through the strange days the professors stayed away in contempt.”
The family whose farm has been ostensibly occupied go by the surname of Gardner, a name that takes on more significance as we move through the tale, as small-g gardner’s role is to bring life from the soil. In our universe, however, the tables are turned:
“The Gardners took to watching at night — watching in all directions at random for something… they could not tell what. It was then that they all owned that [their son Thaddeus] had been right [to be frightened of] the trees. Mrs. Gardner was the next to see it from the window as she watched the swollen boughs of a maple against a moonlit sky. The boughs surely moved, and there was no wind…”
Like the Ojibwe worldview, where spirits inhabit every space, Nature, in this story, has become very specifically animate. This has the effect of beginning the disintegration of the humans cohabiting with it:
“It happened in June, about the anniversary of the meteor’s fall, and the poor woman screamed about things in the air which she could not describe. In her raving there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns. Things moved and changed and fluttered, and ears tingled to impulses which were not wholly sounds. Something was taken away — she was being drained of something — something was fastening itself on her that ought not to be… nothing was ever still in the night — the walls and windows shifted.”
Those of us familiar with consistently practicing magic, especially in the beginning, can attest to many of these same feelings, the auditory fluttering and tingling, of being fed on, or feeding, unseen beings, of the night growing animate in its darkness, and of the walls of the home breaking down, or moving, shifting like a dream. We then return to the primal element of Lovecraftian Magic, water:
“it was Ammi… who first realized that the well water was no longer good… Nahum… ignored the warning, for he had by that time become calloused to strange and unpleasant things. He and the boys continued to use the tainted supply, drinking it as listlessly and mechanically as they ate their meagre and ill-cooked meals and did their thankless and monotonous chores through the aimless days. There was something of stolid resignation about them all, as if they walked half in another world between lines of nameless guards to a certain and familiar doom.”
Here we can hear Lovecraft sound a warning, a warning to not ignore the magic in the world, for to do so is death. To ignore the movements of the Wild Adversary as it churns and spits and comes back to the front of our minds. To ignore it only invites a denial of what the world really is as we move through ‘modern’ lives that are crumbling from a lack of foundation.
One of the fundamental differences of this story from those earlier in HPL’s career is that it It is openly sympathetic to the ‘rustic,” for instance, when it is stated that it is ostensibly:
“No use, either, in telling the city people at Arkham who laughed at everything.”
This is a true master of narrative here, the nested tale is being expertly told from the perspective, that is, Lovecraft is perfectly speaking in the voice of Ammi Pierce, one of those ‘from the edge of town,’ and is being told about his once good friend Nahum Gardner. There are, it seems, two poles now forming in the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic, the city as the archetype of materialism and the rural as the archetype of animism. ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ offers us a glimpse of one of the primary dichotomies in Lovecraft’s oeuvre. His mastery of narrative and character study continues in the next sentence:
“Anyone but a stolid farmer would have fainted or gone mad, but Ammi walked conscious through that low doorway and locked the accursed secret behind him.”
Not everyone might catch or appreciate this snippet, but to me, this phrase is so apt, so perfectively descriptive. I come from farmers. In fact, I am the first generation to have not farmed past the age of eighteen. This phrase reminds me of my grandfathers, whom I often think about nowadays. They were like this and had both seen horrors in the war, from what I gather from my own ancestral nested testimony, for neither would speak of it. They had this quality though, a quality that would allow them to look at the greatest cosmic horror, assess it, and put it out of this world with no more than a word. There is a part of me that wishes I was like that, but the city alters a ‘rustic’ forever and I’ll likely never have that kind of steel. I can only emulate what I saw, I can only pretend to be Ammi. Curiously, neither man was religious either, from what I observed. Their steel and moral came from somewhere entirely different, an ocean of experience that turned hearts and bodies to a type of pliable stone.
Remembering one’s ancestors is the best kind of magic. It is one of the most ‘animist’ things one can do, in fact.
The quality of this tale is an extension of (the yet to be examined) parallel mytho-scientific vein started with Lovecraft’s tale ‘From Beyond,’ seven years earlier:
“What had been disputed in country gossip was disputable no longer, and it is because of the thing which every man of that party agreed in whispering later on that the strange days are never talked about in Arkham… Not a man breathed for several seconds. Then a cloud of darker depth passed over the moon, and the silhouette of clutching branches faded out… an din a fearsome instant of deeper darkness the watchers saw wriggling at that treetop height a thousand tiny points of… radiance… like the fire of Saint Elmo of the flames that came down on the apostles’ heads at Pentecost.”
This one is for those among the Pop Lovecraftian Traditionalist that adhere staunchly to the view that Lovecraft was an atheist. Pay close attention to where, in his fiction, Lovecraft refers to another, quite biblical visitation from a cosmic entity, when during Pentecost ’tongues of fire’ licked the heads of the apostles and they all spoke in tongues:
“Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Par'thians and Medes and E'lamites and residents of Mesopota'mia, Judea and Cappado'cia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrg'ia and Pamphyl'ia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyre'ne, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our tongues the mighty works of God.” Acts: 2:7-11
Glossolalia has already been described by Phil Hine in his Psuedonomicon as a method of calling on the power of Lovecraftian Magic. This biblical metaphor in The Colour Out of Space wedges this aleatory trance-inducing magical process solidly into our toolkit.
Donald Burleson, in Disturbing the Universe, has investigated this tale before me and has some very wonderful insight that need to be shared, to paint the full picture. He begins by diving into the definition and the etymology of the word ‘Colour’ from the title:
“What does one make of a color that does not belong to the spectrum, the continuum of possibilities, yet can be seen?”
‘The Color out of Space’ is a hypersigil, it is a representation of the moving of probabilities outside of what is known or foretold. Burleson continues:
“The same Indo-European root yielding color also yields cell, that which conceals and covers and is hollow, as well as cilium, eyelid, which, when closed prevents seeing… The ‘color’ from the meteor is that element of indeterminacy in any linguistic system, that element that makes writing writing… there is a textual effort here to characterize the color as nothing — as spacing, silence, absence, that nonbeing that enables being and instigates writing in the broadest and most primordial sense… in [Mrs. Gardner’s] ravings there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns. Pronouns, of course, are classic signifiers, pointing always away from themselves to other signifiers.”
I wonder if this is true of the other ravings in other tales. It is worthy to investigate. Is the madness that infects those that are exposed to Lovecraftian Magic a type of blinding to the world of objects, a degeneration of the mind so that it can only conceptualize actions and naming, categorizing, a taxonomic madness where every instantiation has with it a series of movements and a unique identifier, the rejection of the material and mundane.
After his deconstruction of the ‘Colour’ in our tale, our critic turns his pen to the meteorite:
“A meteorite fallen to earth is of course an aerolite… a highness brought low… The same Indo-European root also gives us the Greek arsis, ‘a lifting up.’.. Clearly antipodal extremes collapse together here; binary oppositions come undone.”
Can we read the presence of the non-anthropomorphic life form (or is it a type of metallic silicon vessel that houses a traveller ‘from beyond’) as an appeal to areal spirits, an ode to panspermia, an allegorical infection of magic, turning the material into ash? Burleson reads it as a type of toxin:
“In contemplaing the ‘poison’ that the meteor visits upon the… soil, we recall Derrida’s argument tha tthe Greek pharmakon means both ‘poison’ and ‘cure,’… an extrahuman point of view… the soil is… ‘cured’ of human presence.”
The meteorite, much as it did for the ‘wise men’ from Miskatonic University, provides fertile ground for investigation by our critic, as does the oft repeated phrase that lends its name to this entry:
“the fact that Shakespeare uses the term ‘blasted heath’ in act 1, scene 3 of Macbeth… Macbeth, who is in company with Banquo says to the witches: “Say from whence / You owe this strange intelligence? Or why / Upon this blasted heath you stop our way.” The imagery that follows has a ring that suggests parallels with the Lovecraft text. After the witches vanish, Banquo says: “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them. Whither are they vanish’ed?” Macbeth replies: “Into the air; and what seemed corporeal melted / As breath into the wind… “Milton [also] uses the expression ‘blasted heath’ in Book 1 of Paradise Lost, in speaking of the creatures flung from heaven: ‘Yet faithful how they stood, / Their glory withered; as, when Heaven’s fire / Hath scathed the forest oaks or mountain pines, / With singed top their stately growth, though bare, / Stands on the blasted heath.”
At first reading I was leaning towards Milton as being the source, as Milton has been specifically name checked thus far in Lovecraft’s tales, specifically in Dagon (and by an extension of imagery and aesthetic [the Fairie Island of R’leyh], The Call of Cthulhu) - but after reading a bit further and encountering the juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, I am seeing a syncretism of fallen angels, the Nephelim, the Three Fates, and those that practice hedgewitchery. Lovecraft’s namedrop of Salvator Rosa pushes the needle further towards Shakespeare as the source, with his reference of Pentecost and the ‘Tongues of Fire’ moving it back towards Milton. An expert melange of classical themes pulled from a single, simple phrase. Burleson echoes this hybridization when he states:
“the text (interwoven as intertext with Shakespeare and Milton) postures with us by pretending to believe in, and pretending to expect us to believe in, the retrievability of an origin, while secretly undermining the notion of such retrievability… what is called into question is the notion of origins… the transparency of language once set adrift.”
Questioning the notion of origins drives an edge straight into a type of Dominion of Witchcraft brought to Earth through the vehicle of Panspermia.
Moving from the meteorite to its origin, our critic pulls apart the word ‘Space,’ from the title:
“The word space… has associations with another Indo-European root, pet-, also meaning ‘to spread,’ ‘to open out,’ suggesting sexuality, dissemination in the procreative sense. The root is responsible for the words pass and passenger, entailing both synthesis and antithesis with the [meteor].”
So the mention of ‘Space’ in the title ‘Colour Out of Space’ points towards a panspermic event, and the metaphor of the ‘blasted heath’ expands (or implodes) in timedepth to refer to the Nephelim, the fallen angels, the giants that live outside of the Men of God, as the progenitors (or possibly the children of) a panspermic event. Syncretised with the Weird Sisters, the purpose of this panspermia is solely to bring witchcraft, to bring magic, to humans. The result of the spreading of magic among us is illustrated in the destruction, or rather, the distingration of the material world into grey dust and ash. And finally, the critic’s lens is turned onto Nahum’s family, and, as promised, the Gardner surname:
“Fundamentally one thinks of the Gardners as people who, prior to the arrival of the meteor, enjoyed a simple, unreflective, fertile, healthy life. One thinks of the presence in the meteor as alien, strange, unhealthy, and complex. Yet in some ways each pole of this opposition necessarily contains the supposedly definitive properties of the other. The meteoric ‘color,’ supposedly complex, has essentially a simple character and mission. It simply spreads itself, infiltrating everything living… It proves itself, thereby, fertile and persistently alive, presumably even beyond the ‘end’… appropriating to itself the character of fertility… [The Gardner’s] undergo complex changes, they lose fertility, and they acquire a more complex spectrum of [probability]…”
The name of the family, the ‘Gardners,’ calls to mind the inhabitants of the first Garden, the Garden of Eden. It is as if the narrator of the tale is investigating, much as the nameless narrator of the Bible did for us, a type of Anti-Eden, or the transfiguration of Eden from the mother of Western Civilization into a New Eden, unseen when viewed through a materialist lens, A Witches’ Eden.
For our tarot match to ’The Colour Out of Space,’ our Etteilla deck has offered up the Six of Batons. The keywords for this card are ‘domestique’ and ‘attente,’ or ‘domesticated’ and ‘waiting.’
Domesticated can be traced to the Latin ‘domesticus,’ or ‘belonging to the household. Further, it is related to the PEI root *dem-, dominion and danger. Waiting, or more simply, ‘to wait,’ in the early 13th c. meant ‘a watcher,’ or ‘to watch’ specifically with hostile intent. It can be traced back to the PIE root *weg-, which imparts a sense of ‘insuring that an event occurs. Further, *weg- expands into awake, bewitch, vegetable, Wicca, and wicked. The hypothetical source for *weg- is the Sanskrit ‘vajah,’ or a ‘strong force.’
The Sola-Busca card is a bit harder to parse out and I’ll admit I am relying on a bit more intuition here than is normal for me. It exhibits an androgynous individual carrying a burden of six batons in one arm, a lantern in the free hand, and torn breeches falling beneath a blue tunic.
I went round and round with this, looking for symbolism in the era that might fit. I kept coming back to this though, the Sola-Busca Six of Wands essentially syncretizes the baseline imagery of The Fool (torn undergarments) and The Hermit (the lantern). The lantern, in The Hermit card, is agreed upon by most taroists to symbolize a type of wisdom.
In the context of our tale, the embodiment of wisdom were the professors from Miskatonic University, which are further conflated with all ‘city folk’ in Arkham. Those that chose to laugh at the stories of the ‘rustics.’ If we are to interpret the Sola-Busca imagery in the context of our Lovecraft tale it is a symbol of the foolishness of those that adhere to a scientific, colonized, materialist worldview when presented with the unknown. Coupling this with the keywords on our Etteilla card, we find a focus on the household but also on the concept of dominion. The Gardners are the archetype of humankind’s ‘dominion’ over the natural world. They are opposed by a strong force that manifests through their vehicle of dominion (the vegetables and fruit that they grow). This force, the Colour Out Of Space, is a metaphor for Dominion of Witchcraft, our New World Order.