It seems the further I mature into magical praxis, the more difficult it is to talk about it. As I progress, the borders between the real and the enchanted have blurred. There are fewer times of dedicating an hour to a ritual at a specific astrological time and more, pulling over to the side of the road based on a feeling to commune with the natural and spirit worlds.
Daylight Savings Time has finally shifted here in Wisconsin, so that the rhythms of the magical day, dawn to dawn, more closely align with the rhythms of the spiritually oppressed, that is to say, the rhythm of the modern American worker. I found last year, in the beginning of my own re-enchantment, that it was easier and more natural to perform daily prayers and operations dedicated to the celestial spirits when dawn came before the children woke and before the call of the J. O. B. forced my flesh into a hot shower and hair product.
This has been a week of results and a week of facing the true nature of magical results. I mentioned last week that I had a phone interview with arguably one of the most innovative engineering firm’s in the world and even put out a passive shout out to you, my dear readers, for a magical gravity assist at the time. I had sigiled for a position in this company and the phone interview was pretty improbable. The gravity assist and sigil work brought fruit and just days after the phone interview I was told I was the leading candidate and that they wanted to fly me out to California for a face-to-face interview. But that is where sigilmancy showed its true nature. They wanted to meet me but when their coordinator called to arrange the interview, I found out that I was expected to pay for the hotel and the transportation to and from the interview. Woah. So here the result is within my grasp but not without what amounts to a pretty unusual sacrifice for a potential leading candidate. Having never had an interview with a company like this, I did some personal research [read: talked to my Dad who has experience in this area] and found that it was highly unusual and that the norm is to pay for everything up front. Being a low-risk [read: magician] kind of person, this staked a pentacle of red flags around a potential future with this company for me and I, at this point, have informed them that I was no longer interested. We will see how strong the enchantment I cast really is when/if they respond.
Concurrently, another set of sigil goals has been beginning to take root. These, however, are for my daughter and not necessarily for myself. She’s been having (what I should have predicted) a difficult time in the factory-farm public school in our city and we needed to find something more aligned with her growing personality. There is a Waldorf school nearby, which normally has a fairly lengthy process to achieve admission but for us, the road was opened and a potential spot was identified that she might be able to fill in as early as a week after a trial day spent with the teacher and group of kids she will be integrating with.
The goals for my daughter and the goals for my career are in conflict. I sigiled for both, both came true, but the road for one was much rockier than the road for the other. Both require sacrifice. Sure, I could scrape together the money to get out to California for that interview and would very likely win that job, but I would be sacrificing my daughter’s spot at the local Waldorf School (and disrupting everything family, actually, as any huge move does). Or, I could stick with my thanks-but-no-thanks (gut instinct) approach to the job and focus on the road that has opened for my daughter. Magic is about choices, about multiple probabilities.
As for my actual practice this week, every operation both subtle and overt, aligned with progression along each parallel path of probability. I performed a long-form invocation of Jupiter on a major ‘fruit-machine’ day this past Thursday and that day I got a call from the recruiter who was bending over backwards to clear up a misunderstanding the hiring manager had from our initial phone interview, which I found to be highly improbable behavior. The next day, on instinct, I pulled over to the side of the road in front of the local Saint Francis seminary and walked ten minutes down their old growth tree lined lane to recite the Canticle of the Sun in front of a large statue of Saint Francis. What a great decision, the birds are just starting to sing here and the seminary is surrounded by a large preserved old growth forest peppered with shrines and meditation points. The sounds of nature just waking up to a cold Wisconsin March morning was so very Francis, it was hard not to come away from that short meditation and prayer knowing that enchanted places are very real on our planet. That day, I got another call, before I even had time to send out a thank-you email, where the recruiter told me I was the leading candidate and stay tuned for what I thought was going to be a smooth trip out to Silicon Valley for an interview.
Last year at this time I never thought I would reach this magical saturation point where enchantments almost immediately equal results. Now I have a new problem, figuring out what I really want to enchant for.
I’d like to close this week’s Front Matter section with a special note on my experience at the local Waldorf School. My daughter and I attended for an open house kindergarten visit. Knowing what I know now about magic, I just want to say that Waldorf Education is, in fact, a real live Hogworts. There was an hour of free play and socialization while the magician/teachers busied the parents with making rainbow play dough out of flour and water. This evolved into a circle with a blessing and an oration, followed by a ritual candle lighting for a puppet show about Mother Earth. On a tour of the school, an old four story catholic school located directly behind a historic Catholic church, I spotted many saints and each grade actually focuses on a different world mythology. One grade it is the Romans, the next, the Norse. At a certain point they teach them how to freaking knit and sew, which are essential zombie apocalypse skills on top of fully enchanting the kid’s worlds. These are, in my opinion, Full. Blown. Wizards.
This week’s first imbrication is one I completely forgot about. I was searching for connections to Lucifuge, which will make sense later, and came across this stellar video from an early 90s Danzig. Maybe it is a sign of getting old but they had the best freaking music when I was young.
Our Lovecraft story for this week is ‘The Unnameable,’ which unbeknownst to me is also a title of a Samuel Becket novel. I’ve been in literary love with Samuel Beckett for some time now, so this was an easy choice. If you listen closely to the excerpt read in the clip below, however, and juxtapose that against the Lovecraft tale published decades before, there are some fairly disturbing correlations between the two. As I was listening I couldn’t help but superimpose the words onto the actual ‘Unnameable’ creature of Lovecraft’s tale, almost as if they were the actual frenetic thought process of an ancient and malefic spirit form.
In the wikipedia entry on Beckett’s novel I found that the composer, Luciano Berio, has a work by the name ‘Sinfonia,’ that has spoken parts that are pulled directly from Beckett’s novel, blending it with music from another favorite composer of mine, Gustav Mahler. I have a real soft spot for challenging classical compositions, give the below a soft listen as you finish reading the post, I found inspiration in its dissonance.
The Unnameable is a short but impactful story. According to the editors of my volume it is the first tale where Arkham is called out by name. The characters are Randolph Carter, here just referred to as ‘Carter,’ and a close friend of his, one Joel Manton:
“We were sitting on a dilapidated seventeenth century tomb in the late afternoon of an autumn day at the old burying-ground in Arkham, speculating about the unnamable… I had made a fantastic remark… when my friend chided me for such nonsense… he added, my constant talk about ‘unnameable’ and ‘unmentionable’ things was a very puerile device… With this friend, Joel Manton, I had often languidly disputed.”
Joel Manton, our archetype, appears to be a materialist foil, whereas the narrator, Randolph Carter, is likely the literary incarnation of Lovecraft himself. The two continue their philosophical conversation while seated on large tomb in Arkham Cemetery, Carter recounts his friend’s thoughts:
“It was his view that only our normal, objective experiences possess any aesthetic significance… Especially did he object to my preoccupation with the mystical and the unexplained; for although believing in the supernatural much more fully than I, he would not admit that it is sufficiently commonplace for literary treatment.”
Let’s say that Joel Manton is also an incarnation of the author and not a literary foil. The above phrase paints the materialist as a believer in the supernatural, but one that would never admit it in open conversation. This is telling, for I believe that Lovecraft’s reputation as a materialist is being self-impuned, he’s calling himself out here as a believer, as an other. Lovecraft’s actual views on the spirit world become more transparent in the following passage:
“if a dead man can transmit his visible or tangible image half across the world, or down the stretch of the centuries, how can it be absurd to suppose that deserted houses are full of queer sentient things, or that old graveyards teem with the terrible, unbodied intelligence of generations? And since spirit, in order to cause all the manifestations attributed to it, cannot be limited by any of the laws of matter; why is it extravagant to imagine psychically living dead things in shapes — or absence of shapes — which must for human spectators be utterly and appallingly ‘unnameable’?”
A solid argument, if there is the smallest chink in the dragon scales of a materialist, a superstition, a paranormal or heretofore unexplained experience, if that thing be true, how can the rest be untrue?
It is at this point that we get a glimpse of The Unnameable itself, in the following description from Carter:
“Something had caught my ancestor on a dark valley road, leaving him with marks of horns on his chest and of ape-like claws on his back; and when they looked for prints in the trampled dust they found the mixed marks of split hooves and vaguely anthropoid paws.”
A faun, perhaps? More like a Minotaur or a half-gorilla / half goat polysemy. Following this glimpse at our story’s resident spirit form, we are treated to a fair counterpoint from our archetype, Manton:
“[Manton] reminded me that even the most morbid perversion of Nature need not be unnamable or scientifically indescribable. I admired his clearness and persistence, and added some further revelations I had collected among the old people… Whether or not such apparitions had ever gored or smothered people to death… they had produced a strong and consistent impression; and were yet darkly feared by very aged natives, though largely forgotten by the last two generations — perhaps dying for lack of being thought about… if the psychic emanations of human creatures be grotesque distortions, what coherent representation could express or portray so gibbous and infamous a nebulosity as the specter of a malign, chaotic perversion, itself a blasphemy against Nature?”
In this passage, Lovecraft is giving weight to the concept that humans can create their own demons through the power of the collective unconscious, but he does so in such a way that he does not state that this is the only manner in which demons or monstrosities can come about. I see this as just another method of adding sentient creatures to the spirit ecosystem. Carter, playing a bit of a trick on his materialist friend, continues to tell ghost tales as the sun sets on the Arkham Cemetery and the two are left in a darksome place, shadowed by a fallen house leaning in its dilapidation in such a way that it steals a black shadow from the streetlights the tomb they are sitting on. Carter refers to an old house in his tales, to which, now his inevitable curiosity roused, his friend questions him more about:
“I’d like to see that house, Carter, [stated Manton]. Where is it?… I must explore it a little. And the tomb where you put those bones, and the other grave without an inscription — the whole thing must be a bit terrible.”
What drives a materialist to investigate the unnameable? I don’t think it is a drive to unprove the fiction, but rather, a glimmer of belief that it might be true, that there might be something that can shake, indeed, break the materialist worldview. At the end of the tale, Carter reveals that the house of terrors, where the Unnameable spirit thing was often sighted, is none other than the wreck at the edge of the cemetery. The two are attacked by the creature and they had the same physical marks as described in the folktales, yet when Carter asked Manton about the creature, because his friends constitution was greater and he had stayed conscious during the attack, the exchange goes like this:
“[C:] Good God, Manton, but what was it? Those scars — was it like that?
[M:] No — it wasn’t that way at all. It was everywhere — a gelatin — a slime — yet it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were eyes — and a blemish. It was the pit — the maelstrom — the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the Unnamable!”
I think the above connects with how spirits only show us what they want us to see, or in the case of a grimoire magician, how the magician wants them to appear, and that their true forms are largely inconceivable and as un-anthropomorphic as possible.
I dug a bit further into Burleson’s ‘Lovecraft: Disturbing the Universe’ this week also and found a really nice deconstruction of Randolph Carter himself:
“We note that Randolph derives from the Old English Randwulf, where rand is ‘edge’, ‘border’, or ‘margin’ (e.g., an unplowed strip of land bordering a field) and wulf is of course, ‘wolf’. Randolph is the wolf on the border, not so much the wolf prowling on the border as the wolf-as-predator (and considering the text’s self-preceding aspirations, the wolf as pre-dater) of the border, the eater of borders, the gnawer of edges… In being a border-predator or chewer of margins, Randolph Carter is already, even in his name, behaving like a text. As a carter he is a drawer of carts. As Rand-Wolf Carter he is one who carts, transports, provides a textual vehicle (when we identify him with the text) for the power of the border-wolf, that is, for the capacity of the text to frazzle out its would be margins, to spill over and outrun the deliminiations of its conventional edges. Cart derives from the Indo-European root ger-, ‘crooked’ or ‘curving’, whence also derives the English word crop, suggesting fertility, fecundity of semantic potential - albeit ‘crooked’.”
Carter, as the wolf on the border, the predator in the liminal space between spirit and man.
Carter, as we have now experienced him in a number of texts, is a vehicle that carries the power of the other archetypes throughout the whole of the Lovecraftian grimoire.
The Unnamable can only be presented to us through the vehicle of the Border-Wolf. Carter is the kit of parts, the grimoiric implements that lead to invincibility.
Similarly, our archetype, Joel Manton, can only be understood as the antithesis of Rand-Wulf Carter. Joel maps to Iud (chief or lord) and Hael (generous) in Old Breton, a post-Roman Celtic dialect. The Generous Lord paints for us a picture of a stereotypical Imperialist, bringing enlightenment and science to the planet. Breaking out the surname we have Man and Ton. Man, in an Old English Context, can mean hero among other definitions. Ton, interestingly enough, when it wasn’t being used as a measurement of weight, is related to tone, or a fashionable mode or style. Joel Manton then, is the Generous and Fashionable Hero (where generous can be further extrapolated to mean ‘of noble birth). Juxtaposed against Carter, the wild predator-steed of the world’s liminal space, we have in our story a ‘modern’ man who believes in science and rationality (what we know now to be styles of belief swiftly falling out of fashion) and his counterpart that not only walks the edge between spirit and real, but acts as a guide. Carter is the mortal haunter of the cemetery, the human ghost in the house of the dead.
And when we speak of cemeteries, Peter Brown’s excellent thesis, The Cult of the Saints, dovetails nicely into the notches we have made. For example, when Brown states that:
“The joining of Heaven and Earth was made plain even by the manner in which contemporaries designed and described the shrines of the saints. Filled with great candelabra, their dense clusters of light mirrored in shimmering mosaic and caught in the gilded roof, late Roman memoriea brought the still light of the Milky Way to within a few feet of the grave.”
It is not too difficult for us to see the scene as the sun goes down on Arkham cemetery, the pitch blackness lent to the area by the accursed house, brings Lovecraft’s last cold terrifying nothing of outerspace to the grave of the Unnamable. Brown introduces us to the dawn of the Christian Necromantic tradition:
“The rise of the Christian cult of saints took place in the great cemeteries that lay outside the cities of the Roman world [and] rapidly came to involve the digging up, the moving, the dismemberment… of the bones of the dead… An element of paradox always surrounded the Christian breaching of the established map of the universe… the immemorial boundary between the city of the living and the dead came to be breached by the entry of relics and their housing within the walls of many late-antique towns…”
Lovecraft, whom popular critics state, was a devout atheist (ignorning evidence in his own letters where he states he will ‘always be pagan’), paints a different picture for us in The Unnameable, and indeed, every story thus far that Randolph Carter has been a figure in. Carter is a devout taphophile, and taphophilia is a very Christian tradition in the Western world. Brown continues:
“Pagan parallels and antecedents can only take us so far in understanding the Christian cult of saints, very largely because the pagan found himself in a world where his familiar map of the relations between the human and the divine, the dead and the living, had been subtly redrawn.”
I see this as Lovecraft continuing this work, and in a way, continuing traditions set by those very early Christians that existed in a hybrid space between the eclipse of paganism and the conjunction of Christianity where:
“the progress of [the Cult of the Saints] spelled out for the pagans a slow and horrid crumbling of ancient barriers which presaged the final spreading again over the earth of that ‘darkness spoken of in the old myths’ in which all ancient landmarks would be blotted out.”
The Unnameable is this ancient darkness of old myths’, what a Lovecraftian phrase, right? The Cult of the Saints are, in effect, that cult in the Louisiana swamps, that we have not yet visited, but beat drums to their own saint, Cthulhu, who made the conscious choice to stay in his city beneath the sea, close to humankind, instead of joining his masters in the dark void of space and dream, a void alluded to in the passage from the Hypnerotomachia where Polifilo, another wolf-of-the-border figure, confronts his own Unnameable spirit beast:
“In this way I came to the end of the hallway… beyond that there was such dense darkness that i did not dare to proceed. I was turning to go back when suddenly I heard a sound in the ruins like the breaking of bones and the cracking of branches… As it grew ever louder and nearer to the doorway, I heard the deafening hiss of a giant serpent… Suddenly there appeared on the threshold of the portal, not the lion that came limping to Androcle’s cave, but a frightful and horrific dragon! Its triple tongue trembled in its jaws, which were full as a comb with sharp serrated teeth… its wings slapped its furrowed back, while a long tail wound itself in… tight unstable knots… Without a moment’s delay, I turned my back and entered in full flight into the darkness, forcing my feet to go ever faster as I swiftly penetrated the unknown interior of the darksome place…”
Our tarot trump for the story of the Unnameable, as it was pulled from my Etteilla deck, is The African Despot. A curious, non-standard card, that is popularly mapped to The Chariot.
I pulled The Chariot from my Visconti-Sforza deck, to establish a baseline for the imagery contained on the card at its inception.
Benebell Wen, in her Holistic Tarot, defines this card as a symbol of conquest, of triumph over obstacles, mastery over self and a degree of self-assertion. This is our foundation.
In Etteilla’s Book of Thoth, The African Despot represent dissent in its upright form and arrogance when reversed.
Instead of the traditional number seven, this card is number twenty-one in his deck. In the most useful blogspot site, Etteilla’s Trumps, the following is said:
“Number 21 is "The African Despot" and "Rehoboam." Rehoboam was the king of Israel after Solomon; his refusal to stop taxing the people so heavily led to a successful rebellion and a splitting of the kingdom; Rehoboam's part was then invaded by Egypt and made its vassal state.
The c. 1865 says that there are two interpretations: either the consultant will attain a high position, or he will have to submit to a foreigner's domination or suffer other difficulties. If it is for a man, the woman he will marry will dominate him in everything. But if for a young woman, her husband will be superior in fortune.
c. 1910/1826 says that upright, the card predicts that in a country near to your heart, there will be a sedition [uprising, adds the 1969 English translation] that will be crushed by an act of tyranny. Reversed, it means the fall of tyranny (this part omitted from the translation, which gives no Reversed meaning).
The modern Grimaud says that this card is one that "encourages pride, revenge, and ostentation." Upright, take legal counsel before filing your lawsuit. Reversed, you risk having a lawsuit with someone in a higher position.”
The traditional, modern meaning is close, but it has lost some of the nuance, hasn’t it. It has the bit about power and overcoming obstacles, but it has lost the part about the fall from the arrogance brought about by that success. It dispenses with the warning.
Looking at our Sola-Busca deck, we find that trump seven, the traditional mapping for The Chariot, exhibits the figure of Deo Taro, the Celtic Kind of Galatia. From Game of Saturn:
“The name Deo Tauro literally means ‘god bull’ and therefore serves as an oblique reference to the constellation Taurus - a constellation that lies at the heart of the Mithraic mystery cult.”
The Sola-Busca Chariot leans more mercenary tactics and political savvy, fighting for both sides in a battle. It also symbolizes the colonized becoming the colonizers, to some degree, as even though at one point in history Galatia was ruled by Rome, as is indicated by the inclusion of the Galatian governor in the deck, the Galatians were always the clear rulers of their own land, overcoming all obstacles that history threw at them. PMA continues his analysis of Deo Tauro, but that is enough for our purposes.
Looking at the Sola-Busca trump twenty-one, we see some interesting parallells to Etteilla’s African Despot.
The Sola-Busca maps this trump to Nebuchadnezzar, again from the Game of Saturn:
“We should take note that in XXI Nebuchadnezzar the solistial gate appears to be guarded by a large dragon that stands out from the stellar background. This is highly unusual… The connection between the domain of souls in the Milky Way and incarnated life on Earth was thought to be mediated via a series of celestial or planetary spheres through which the soul must pass in its descent into and ascent from each of its earthly incarnations… Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, represented the archetypal tyrannical ruler… Like Satan… Nebuchadnezzar is… ‘fallen’. The Book of Daniel relates how Nebuchadnezzar… was brought down because of his pride… Nebuchadnezzar is depicted against the background of a quartered, celestial orb within which a dragon is poised directly over his head, though actually floating in the quartered globe [which is a] symbol of the gates of the sun and the portals of in- and excarnation…”
Nebuchadnezzar II, who is recognized as the most powerful and accomplished ruler of Babylon, was brought down by his own arrogance. The majority of the book of Daniel is dedicated to telling this story. This is a much better match to actual keywords that Etteilla’s used on his own trump twenty-one. The African Despot is an 18th century survival of the Sola-Busca’s treatment of trump twenty-one, and in reality maps to The World, the modern day trump twenty-one. In doing so, it not-so-subtly changes the definition of this trump from one of love and light and the unification of duality to one of world domination through power and the loss of that power through the fallacy of man.
We now come to the Unnameable among the Sola-Busca, again from PMA, in reference to the dragon and the celestial sphere depicted behind Nebuchadnezzar:
“One of the largest constellations in the skies is the circumpolar constellation Draco… the constellation is considered to be malefic. Ptolemy characterizes it as being of the nature of Saturn, Mars and Jupiter combined. He alludes to the constellation’s association with poison through his comment that Saturn, in aspect with Mercury… makes men die from the bites of poisonous creatures… [The] Picatrix… adopts a more nuanced approach, ‘The head of the dragon causes increase… if it aspects favorable planets, their positive qualities will be enhanced, and if it aspects unfavorable planets, their negative qualities will be enhanced… the tail causes diminution… The quartering of the stellar globe to represent the gates of the sun implies hat the points of ingress and egress of souls are covered, and therefore, in a sense, controlled by the dragon… The dragon, Lucifugous, ‘he who flees from light,’ can be interpreted as the dark twin of Lucifer (he who brings light).”
The Unnameable, Lovecraft’s spirit beast who appears to Carter as a horrific Minotaur skulking about an abandoned house (read: House of Leaves) and to Manton as something outside the comprehension of the materialist, is a Lucifuge. Again from Game of Saturn:
“Michael Psellus, whose commentary on the Chaldean Oracles Plethora used to formulate his own, compiled a detailed catalogue… in which Lucifugous is treated as a category of demon…‘Lucifugous are eminently malicious… for these, said he, not merely impair men’s intellects, by phantasies and illusions, but destroy them with the same alacrity as we would the most savage wild beast… The connection between Lucifer and [Nebudchadnezzer] arose from a passage in the Bible in which the prophet Isaiah taunts the king of Babylon ‘how you have fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning! How you, who weakened the nations, have been cut down to the ground!”
Joel Manton, our archetype, is a ruler in the same category as Nebuchadnezzar, only the materialist feels they have conquered the world through their self-perceived inestimable grasp of the laws of the natural world, but just as our fallen Babylonian king brought low by his arrogance, the materialists are swiftly being brought low by the reality of magic, the laws and the denizens of the spirit world, whose nature they will never understand from their own darksome place.