The Cacophony of Entropy
When I checked the magical calendar at ghostlyharmless.com last week and saw that October ended with not one, not two, but three magically prime days, I knew that I needed to put my ideas, my reservations, about this month behind me and I needed to jump into practice.
So far, I have launched two relatively gigantic sigil shoals, using the invocations of the spirit of the day from the Book of Oberon to consecrate the act. I have been drawn more and more to angelic magic since having that dream of Saint Michael. There was another dream, more recently, that helped to reinforce the call to me from those angels and spirit-forms and very special dead aligned with the magic of the Catholic Church’s universe. If you are bored with the dreams of others, then skip a paragraph or two. This is, however, a blog about Lovecraftian Magic, and dreams are our primary vehicle of spirit contact, power and if we aren’t careful, madness.
I’ll only tell you the relevant fragment, as it was one of those that were a bit two surreal to hang much symbolism on without making significant jumps in logic. The part that intersects with my dreams of Saint Barbara and Saint Michael is as follows. I was standing in downtown Milwaukee, at night, looking up at a giant building with roman columns. If you’re from here, you know the one. Next to it, however, was another building, also with roman columns but between the last two on my right there was a statue of a woman. It was elongated and not proportional in a surrealist painting sort of way, it was bathed in a rose-colored light, and a bouquet of flowers obscured the statue’s face. I knew in that dream thinking sort of way that her name was the ‘Pink Lady.’
I searched and search the next day and found a number of classical goddess that partially aligned with the description my dream-mind had given me, but none of them, you know, clicked in place. It was only after casting the first shoal and diving into the angelic chop of the Book of Oberon did another image come to my mind. It was a little medallion on a girl’s backpack at my daughter’s school. A full-color medallion of the Virgin de Guadalupe.
I’m not Catholic but we are sending my daughter and son to a Catholic School. My wife went to Catholic School, so there is precedent, but I wanted to send them so they could get exposed to some ‘churching,’ for the sake of laying the foundation for a magical worldview. And let me tell you, my daughter has gravitated very heavily to the virgin. In that dream with Saint Micheal, if you are following along at home, you’ll recall that I found innumerable little shrines inside the building to the Virgin Mary. That morning, while in ‘cool down’ mode from casting the sigil shoal, that little girl’s tiny backpack medallion flooded my mind and the connection was made. By Pink Lady, that entity / symbol in my dream was representative of the Virgin de Guadalupe, the Queen of Roses.
The building as spirit-form is a theme that has come up recently as well, not only in my dreams, but behind the gauzy curtain of the Rune Soup Premium Membership and in this week’s Lovecraft Tale, ‘The Music of Erich Zann.’ The nameless narrator who encounters our archetype, Erich Zann, begins by describing that particular type of urban fairie island — the disappearing street. Like the train station in Harry Potter and that seedy tavern on no map in China Mieville’s Kraken, the journey towards Erich Zann begins by scouring the cartography of Paris and his own memory for the location of the disappearing street, Rue d’Auseil:
“I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil. These maps have not been modern maps… for I know that names change… despite all I have done it remains [a] fact that I cannot find the house, the street, or even the locality, where… I heard the music of Erich Zann.”
The trope of the house that only exists for a certain time, or a hidden street in a vast city such as Paris, is not a new one, and would not have been new to the well read Lovecraft. These types of architectural spirit-forms can be found throughout timedepth and in every part of the globe. One such story, as reported on by mysteriousuniverse.org, mentions a number of the more famous phantom house manifestations. Many of these are explained as ‘time slips,’ or individuals viewing a place, a house, a street, as it was or will be in some point in the future or past. The narrator continues, layering on the details from his screen memory of the place:
“It was a half hour’s walk of the university and was distinguished by peculiarities which could hardly be forgotten… [laying] across a dark river bordered by precipitous brick blear-windowed warehouses and spanned by a ponderous bridge of dark stone… Beyond the bridge were narrow cobbled streets with rails…”
The editors of my collection mention the city in question is likely Paris, which would make the university in question the Sorbonne, it being located very close to the Sienne with its islands and bridges and chthonthic sites such as the Crypte archéologique de l'île de la Cité. This is not the only evidence that we can follow to narrow down the location of our gateway, however:
“I have never seen another street as narrow and steep as the Rue d’Auseil. It was almost a cliff, closed to all vehicles, consisting in several places of flights of steps, and ending at the top in a loft ivied wall… The houses were tall, peaked-roofed, incredibly old, and crazily leaning backward, forward, and sideways. Occasionally an opposite pair, both leaning forward, almost met across the street like an arch… There were a few overhead bridges from house to house across the street.”
The steepest street in Paris is the Rue Gasnier-Guy and is located close to the Père Lachaise cemetery, the largest graveyard in Paris. The Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche is the narrowest street in the city and is close to the Sorbonne, the houses on either side might fit the strange description of those making an arch across our (what is likely a dream landscape) Rue d’Auseil. It appears from the description that the house that our narrator took a room in (a very similar situation that Lovecraft found himself in, broke and living in the cheapest room available in a vast and unknowable city [a curious detail given that he wrote this tale some two to three years prior to living out that experience in New York]) was at the top of the street, pushed up against an ivy covered wall that promised fantastic views of the city:
“My room was on the fifth story; the only inhabited room there, since the house was almost empty. On the night I arrived I heard strange music from the peaked garret overhead, and the next day asked [the landlord] about it. He told me it was an old German viol-player… who signed his name Erich Zann…”
We have a similar aesthetic to Dreams of the Witch House, the room on the top floor with a strangely angled attic room above. Fascinated by the music of the viol player, our narrator seeks him out:
“One night… I intercepted Zann in the hallway and told him that I would like to know him and be with him when he played… His room… was very great, and seemed greater because of its… barreness and neglect… the abundance of dust and cobwebs made the place seem more deserted than inhabited. Evidently Zann’s world of beauty lay in some far cosmos of the imagination… He did not employ the music-rack, but… playing from memory, enchanted me for over an hour with strains I had never heard before… which must have been of his own devising… They were a kind of fugue, with recurrent passages of the most captivating quality, but to me were notable for the absence of any of the weird notes I had overheard from my room below… and even tried to awaken my host’s weirder mood by whistling a few of the strains to which I had listened… his face suddenly distorted with an expression… beyond analysis, and his… cold… right hand reached out to stop my mouth and silence the crude imitation… casting a startled glance toward the lone curtained window, as if fearful of some intruder…”
This is somewhat unique among the author’s oeuvre, the use of musical notes to summon spirit-forms, but it has the same feel as the strange geometry used in Dreams In The Witch House, as both music and geometry are cut from the same mathematical cloth. The only other instance I can recall that talks of a type of magical music is in the very end of the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath right before Randolph Carter escapes his fate and finds himself back on earth. Our narrator, now fixated on the strangeness of the viol-player’s music, seeks it out even though he is clearly unwanted:
“I grew bold enough to climb the last creaking staircase to the peaked garret. There in the narrow hall, outside the bolted door… I often heard sounds which filled me with an indefinable dread — the dread of vague wonder and brooding mystery. It was not that the sounds were hideous… but the held vibrations suggesting nothing on this globe of earth… Then one night as I listened at the door I heard the shrieking viol swell into a chaotic babel of sound… I knocked repeatedly at the door, but received no response… Zann stumbled to the window and close both shutter and sash, then [stumbled] to the door, which he falteringly unfastened to admit me.”
This tale also pulls in and reinforces another convention, that of spirit forms arriving to a home via a portal that would be otherwise inaccessible. We saw this in The Strange High House in the Mist, when ‘Ulysses’ grew apprehensive at a certain knock on the door that faced the edge of the cliff. Both helpful and harmful spirit forms, it seems, can enter this way. This adds to our gateways the most common attic windows, and makes high rise balconies and those peculiar doors that you see on upper stories after half of a building has been knocked away by the wrecking ball certain points of contact for the Lovecraftian Spirit Form. After being allowed in, our narrator finds himself deeper in our growing aesthetic:
“[Zann passed me a note that] implored me in the name of mercy, and for the sake of my own ciriosity, to wait where I was while he prepared a full account in German of all the marvels and terrors which beset him. I waited, and the… man’s pencil flew.”
This passage reinforces the ‘textual’ nature of Lovecraftian Magic. I have written in numerous places how the author describes magical acts in terms of writing down dreams, deciphering codes and otherwise recording the human perspective of the unreal. Zann, a Lovecraftain Magic-User, follows this model, insisting on recording his experiences immediately (giving them the same quality as a dream) and, although begrudgingly, sharing them with the interlocuting narrator. Lovecraftian Magic does not happen in private, in fact, it is made more real, more potent, when the experience is shared via a textual medium. It is a writer’s magic. And as many writers know, it is easy for those words, for that magic, to slip away:
“It was perhaps an hour after, while I still waited and… the old musician’s feverishly written sheets still continued to pile up, that I saw Zann start as from the hint of a horrible shock… I half fancied I heard a sound myself… an exquisitely low and infinitely distant musical note… Zann… dropping his pencil suddenly rose, seized his viol, and commenced to rend the night with the wildest playing I had ever heard from his bow…”
This description sparks in me my own love for avant-garde music. One musician that is certainly following in the footsteps of Erich Zann is John Zorn. Even contributing to the instantiations of the Necronomicon with his albums, Magick and At the Mountains of Madness.
Here is the Masada String Trio performing one of Zorn’s compositions in what I think, is a tone similar to what our narrator might have heard in that room that night:
Stretching our metaphor a bit, some other ‘Zannian’ musico-magic-users are the Korekyo Jinn:
or Trey Spruance with his Secret Chiefs 3:
Our narrator himself states that he, nor any of us, his audience, will be able to fully comprehend the music that was played during the approach of the primeval spirit-form to that cobwebbed antique portal:
“It would be useless to describe the playing of Erich Zann on that dreadful night. It was more horrible than anything I had ever overheard… He was trying to make a noise; to ward something off or drown something out… The playing grew fantastic… I recognized the air — it was a wild Hungarian dance popular in the theatres… Louder and louder, wilder and wilder… In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning… “It would be useless to describe the playing of Erich Zann on that dreadful night. It was more horrible than anything I had ever overheard… He was trying to make a noise; to ward something off or drown something out… The playing grew fantastic… I recognized the air — it was a wild Hungarian dance popular in the theatres… Louder and louder, wilder and wilder… In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning.”
Erich Zann gives us the musical aesthetic of Lovecraftian Magic, and that aesthetic is of avant-garde, experimental strings, wild, untamed, radical string compositions. These were largely unheard of in HPLs time, but today, these type of compositions fill the shadowy stages of concert halls. The use of strings in unconventional ways (from HPLs place in timedepth) could also be extrapolated to art grind like Pig Destroyer or the black metal of Dodheimsgard (pulling from my own current rotation). Pulling on the Hungarian thread, we can throw Tormentor on the hifi — a metal band from Hungry that recorded their first album, Anno Domini, behind the iron curtain in 1985, only releasing it in 1988 after the end of communism. Here they are in 2018, performing their song, Elizabeth Bathory, live in Budapest.
We end our tale as we began it, on the night-wet streets of that fairie island street:
“Leaping, floating, flying down those endless stairs through the dark house; racing mindlessly out into the narrow, steep, and ancient street of steps and tottering houses… I recall that there was no wind, and that the moon was out, and that all the lights of the city twinkled…”
The musical aesthetic of Lovecraftian Magic is an urban one, it screams of the city and of high windows in ancient houses and of music that is so new that we have difficulty imagining it existing even as we hear it. We have all of these things at our fingertips today and can use the lessons of Erich Zann to call upon the void of illimitable space, to listen, and to hear the cacophony of entropy inherent in the universe.
Our tarot card match for this week’s archetype, the aged avant-garde viol-player, Erich Zann, it the Four of Wands.
We are given two keywords for our archetype, Prosperity and Society. Prosperity comes from the Old French Prosprete and directly from the Latin prosperitatem, meaning ‘good fortune.’ Moving further back we have Old Latin’s pro spere, meaning ‘according to expectation, or one’s hope. Hope being the oldest bit, stemming from the PIE root *spes-, Spes being a well-worshiped goddess of hope. The dark side of Spes, however, is that she was a persona in the so-called ‘Imperial Cult’ of Virtues. Hope, in this context, could only come from the gods and those gods could only be accessed via the imperialist forces, the politicians, of Rome.
Society, another term from the Old French, that means ‘company,’ ‘fellowship,’ and ‘companion.’ It comes from the PIE root *sekw-, which means ‘to follow.’ *sekw- expands out into dissociate, persecute, scarlet, sect, and, get this, sigil. Sigil being related to society etymologically is extremely interesting. Etymonline defines it as a ’statuette, little image, or seal.’ Pulling those proto-spirits in the shoals I launched in the past few days back out into the third-dimension — meaning that both their future and their past lay somewhere closer to the ebony carving found in the penultimate tale in our cosmogony, The Call of Cthulhu.