The Forbidden Vault
Magical practice this week boils down to the potency of returning to forms abandoned and the beauty of a simplified ritual. As mentioned last week I took down my altar, which really wasn’t that complex anyway, in anticipation of hosting some muggles for a child’s birthday party. I took it down and left it down because once I did I recognized that praying without an altar was a much closer match to the Renaissance Venetian magical aesthetic that I am aspiring to. There is no mention of the erecting an altar in the Clavicula entries that can trace their lineage back to Sloane (the closest Skinner’s Veritable Key gets to Venice, according to his own charts). There is only mention of praying in circles and praying while kneeling.
This week I began that practice as well as injecting Saint Francis’ very animist Canticle of the Sun, which almost explicitly calls out each planetary spirit by name. I’ve continued journeying on the tarot, this week the Five of Coins, which will be discussed below. The Sola-Busca, for those of you that own a deck, have got to be the most powerful images I have ever encountered. Even when my journeying with them is pretty much bust (no surprises, no spirit visitations, no insight) the forms on these cards continue to interject themselves into my waking reality, revealing secrets and/or lies not tied to my own internal information repository of magical and mythic knowledge objects. Following prayers this week, I seemed to naturally move into a sort of supplication / saint-spirit form journeying practice. It wasn’t intentional, but it seemed to be the most comfortable and accepting way to close the recitation of the Canticle of the Sun and the Daily Prayers as they are written down in the Clavicula. This feels like I am getting much closer to that 15th century Venetian magical imagination, as the conflation of Saints, Celestial and Planetary Spirits, the joining of these styles of worship, was very much the reality in the time and place I am trying to Dr. Who myself into. This stitching together of Pagan and Catholic magic, however, has certain elements of taboo from both sides. Obviously, a devout Christian would be aghast at the blending of Pagan practices and worship with Saintly devotion, probably much more so than if presented with Pagan practice with a clear demarcation between her own. It is also no secret that the vast majority of Neo-Pagans hold no quarter with any spirit-form related to Christianity, although they might be more tolerant, or rather, less possessive, of their own Gods and spirits being seen at a cocktail mixer with the Virgin Mary and Archangel Gabriel.
I also received / experienced indisputable results from the wealth / productivity sigils I’ve been casting this week. I haven’t shot out too many resumes, as I’ve been settling into my current job and have thus become more selective about the opportunities I pursue, but one of the companies, arguably the most innovative engineering and production firm on the planet, not only reached out to me via a recruiter, but the recruiter call was only a formality as the hiring manager himself wanted to speak with me directly. I’m having that conversation on Monday at 4:30 CST, so if you feel like throwing a bit of Power of Eight
style enchantment my way, that is when I’ll need it. I’ll state again that in my experience, the results gathered from using sigils as a method of coping with anxiety and other strong emotional reactions by pouring that energy into the sigil to charge it, is on all accounts proving to be a most successful and therapeutic exercise.
This week, we are transported ‘across the pond’ to early twentieth century England by one of the few Lovecraft tales that don’t take place or connect to New England. We land in the hamlet of Poole, Dorset, England as we investigate the tale ‘The Rats in the Walls’.
To help set the scene, and because I am always honestly amazed when I can find a ‘talkie’ of the streets that Lovecraft or his characters actually walked on the YouTubes. Below you’ll find a couple of quick movies taken in Poole in the 1930s, just a few years after ‘Rats in the Walls’ is set to take place.
Oh man, let me tell you, I wasn’t exactly a fan of this group during their actual rise and fall but queuing them up again, for this actually hyper-relevant imbrication, brought back all kinds of denim clad mullet-ed memories that were more sweet than bitter, I guess. The hipsters these days really do try to bring back that eighties aesthetic, but they are looking in all the wrong saccharin pop-archon places for their inspiration. The real eighties was hair and mascara and leather pants, and then there were the ladies…
Ooof, need a palate cleanser? Yeah, me too. Let’s wash down that Southern Comfort and Menthol Cigarette past with something a bit more in tune with the angst required in our post-Russia-Totally-Gets-Away-With-Public-Nuclear-Demonstration-Strikes-On-US-Ground reality:
And as a bonus round, because, well, its freaking hilarious, check out this righteous cover of Cannibal Corpse via Sarah Longfield, Ukelelist Extrodinairre:
EN MEMORIAM DE RODENTIA
If this tale were to have a feast day, it would be July 16th, the Feast of Saint Delapore (which, as we’ll find out, doesn’t mean what you think it might). July 16th is the day that all of the events in ‘Rats’ begin, leading up to our Saint’s actual feast. It is stated that Delapore is an anglicization of the original name De la Poer. I tried, but couldn’t find an exact etymological match to Poer, but the next closest - Puer, it turns out, is a much better fit. Puer is used in geomancy and is Latin for ‘boy’. The figure, of five stones, four in a diamond with one above the peak, represents a phallus, aggression, passion, war, and maleness. The figure maps to Aries and Mars, contains an inner element of air and an outer element of fire. I have next to zero geomancy, so don’t take me for an expert at all, but my research shows that this figure also maps to Graphiel, Bartabel, Athena, Sameal and Malchidael. While not immediately relevant to our analysis, these edges could prove quite useful once we are through with the oeuvre and are mapping out our entire grimoiric topology.
Delapore (his first name is never explicitly given) is a natural-born Virginian that, at his own admission, identified more with his Appalachian Civil War era lineage than his English one. Nevertheless, he finds himself in a position of money and mourning as his only son is reportedly killed in the Spanish War, and decides to purchase and restore his ancestral home back in England. The building in question:
“Exham Priory [was] much studied because of its… composite architecture… involving Gothic towers resting on a Saxon or Ramonesque substructure, whose foundation in turn was of a still earlier order or blend of orders — Roman, and even Druidic or native Cymric… the priory overlooked a desolate valley three miles west of the village of Anchester.”
Anchester is a purely fictional town (as far as I can tell) and one might be tempted to look immediately to Manchester for analogues between Rats in the Walls and the real world. I, however, feel that Anchester likely represents the city of Poole. The last phrase in the quote above is the key, I think. Poole is home to The Priory Hotel, a renovated priory, and is about the same distance as indicated from the outskirts of Poole and overlooks the Hartland Moor, which could easily be described as a ‘desolate valley’ through our Lovecraft-colored glasses. Poole has its own share of haunted spaces, in-the-real, is a sea-village, which are much adored and put to use by Lovecraft, and the landscape is of the right flavor. Our narrator continues, describing the Priory:
“Exham Priory stood on the site of a prehistoric temple, a Druidical or ante-Druidical thing which must have been contemporary with Stonehenge… there were unpleasant tales of the transference of [more ancient] rites to Cybele-worship which the Romans had introduced. Inscriptions still visible in the sub-cellar bore [the] letters ‘DIV… OPS… MAGNA.MAT…” sign of the Magna Mater whose dark worship was once vainly forbidden to Roman citizens.”
and in addition to the above archeological lineages there were local myths about the place, such as:
“the belief that a legion of bat-winged devils [see: Night-Gaunts] kept Witches’ Sabbath each night at the priory… And, most vivid of all, there was the dramatic epic of the rats… around that unforgettable rodent army a whole separate cycle of myths revolves…”
For those (like I was immediately prior to researching this post) that are not in possession of much knowledge about Cybele and Attis, I’d like to fill in the gaps here, to improve our context moving forward. Unless otherwise noted, the below information is shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia.
Cybele, as far as anyone can tell, was first on record as an Anatolian mother / earth goddess with dotted lines leading back to neolithic worship and statuary. She was the only known deity of Phrygia and this is likely the vehicle that transported her to Greece and Rome. Attis, her consort, enjoyed the veneration of mystery cults from modern day Turkey, beginning in 1250 BC. The Attis cult were known for emulating their icon, who cut off his own genitals *shudder* in despair when he was spurned by Cybele for probably completely legitimate reasons (he was a dude after all and we are mostly asshats).
Moving out of the realm of publicly edited knowledge, let’s take a look at this new site I discovered, Brickthology, which described and illustrates myths with legos and will henceforth be my only source for mythological info.
“As a goddess of mountains, cities and forts, Cybele’s crown was seen to take the form of a city wall, showing her role as a guardian and protector of Anatolian cities.”
A woman wearing a crown made of a fortress wall? Where have I seen that before?
“There is an inscription of “Matar Kubileya” found at a Phrygian rock shrine dating from the 6th century B.C.E. It is often translated to: “Mother of the Mountain.” It is a name that is consistent with Cybele and a number of other tutelary goddess who are all seen as “mother” and connected to a specific Anatolian mountain or other locations. In this sense, Cybele is seen as a goddess born from stone… Cybele’s connection and association with hawks, lions and the mountainous regions of Anatolia show her role as a mother of the land in its wild, uninhabited state. She holds the power to rule, moderate or soften the unbridled power and ferocity of nature and to reign it in for the use of civilization.”
The hawk is important, as we will see later when we dive into the imagery of the tarot card that maps best to ‘Rats in the Walls,’ the Five of Coins, as well as the imagery described below:
“As Magna Mātēr, Cybele was symbolized by a throne and lions. She held a frame drum. A bowl used for scrying. A burning torch was also used to symbolize her bull-god husband Attis in his resurrection. For some like Lucretius, Magna Mater represented the world order. Her imagery hold overhead represented the Earth, thought to “hang in the air.” As the mother of all, the lions pulling her chariot represent the offspring’s duty of parental obedience. Magna Mater is seen as un-created and separate from and independent of all of her creations… While there are not a lot of documents or myths that survive regarding Cybele, it has been suggested that her Phrygian name of Mātēr indicated a role as a mediator between the boundaries of the known and the unknown, the civilized world and the untamed wilds, the living and the dead…”
Saint Delapore, let’s just roll with that, it sounds so much more confident than ‘the narrator’, after completing his renovation of the Priory, retires to his bedroom, which he had situated in what should be by now a familiar liminal space:
“That night, dispensing as usual with a valet, I retired in the west tower chamber which I had chosen as my own, reached from the study by a stone staircase and short gallery, the former partly ancient, the latter entirely restored. This room was circular, very high, and without wainscoting, being hung with arras which I had myself chosen in London… I retired early, being very sleepy, but was harassed by dreams of the most horrible sort. I seemed to be looking down from an immense height upon a twilit grotto, knee-deep with filth, where a white-bearded daemon swineherd drove about with his flock of fungous, flabby beasts… Then, as the swineherd paused and nodded over his task, a mighty swarm of rats rained down on the stinking abyss and fell to devouring beasts and man alike.”
Dreams of horrible creatures whilst encased in the not-on-earth yet not-in-sky architectural anomaly of a tower, these continuities while perhaps taken by literary critics of Lovecraft to show a lack of craft, are actually quite useful and potent when viewing his oeuvre as a grimoire, the tower gives us a definite place, a place where Lovecraftian magic will always be at its strongest and contact events the most likely. Saint Delapore, being awakened from his night terrors by the howlings and carrying-ons by his cats (more on the cats below, they are significant and very important but a focus on them here will problematize our exploration), which lead him to find a hidden sub-cellar that was here-to-fore unknown by any living man at the time. Delapore, a curious and industrious American, pushed further:
“I telephoned [my acquaintance] Capt. Norrys, who came over and helped me explore the sub-cellar… Every low arch and massive pillar was Roman… the severe and harmonious classicism of the age of the Ceasars; indeed, the walls abounded with inscriptions familiar to the antiquarians who had repeatedly explored the place — things like ‘P.GETAE.PROP… TEMP… DONA…” and “L.PRAEC… VS… PONTIFI… ATYS…’ The reference to Atys made me shiver, for I had read Catallus and knew something of the hideous rites of the Eastern god, whose worship was so mixed with that of Cybele… one pattern, a sort of rayed sun [implied] a non-Roman origin, suggesting that these altars had merely been adopted by the Roman priests from some older and perhaps aboriginal temple…”
It was this altar and its pre-historical implications that spurred Delapore and his Watson, Capt. Norrys, to enlist expert help:
“During many days in London Capt. Norrys and I presented our facts [about the secret crypt found beneath the Priory] to five eminent authorities… It is hardly necessary to name them all, but I may say that they included Sir William Brinton, whose excavations in the Troad excited most of the world in their day. As we all took the train for Anchester I felt myself poised on the brink of frightful revelations, a sesation symbolized by the air of mourning among the many Americans at the unexpected death of the President on the other side of the world.”
An interesting aside, and part of Lovecraft’s power of rooting his fiction in reality, is the mention of the death of the US President, William G. Harding. It might be hard for any of us with no living memory of a head of state passing away while in office, but there is likely a great deal of emotional impact that this small detail had on Lovecraft’s contemporary readers.
Saint Delapore returned to his Priory flanked by his BFF Capt. Norrys, a materialist Star Trek Away Mission team of anthropologist and other imperialist tools from London. The aforementioned altar is investigated and its secrets conveniently unlocked, revealing a staircase leading further down into the rock of the cliff the Priory sat on, deep into a forbidden vault unused to human eyes. Upon descending, our team of Lovecraftian Red Shirts is confronted with the following sight:
“It was a twilit grotto of enormous height, stretching away farther than any eye could see; a subterraneous world of limitless mystery… There were buildings and other architectural remains… I saw a weird pattern of tumuli, a savage circle of monoliths, a low-domed Roman ruin, a sprawling Saxon pile, and an early English edifice of wood… for yards about the steps extended an insane tangle of human bones… mostly lower than Piltdown man in the scale of evolution…”
Further exploration into the grotto proves to be our saint’s doom, as the remnants and evidence of the primary activity performed in the space awakens in him a hereditary predisposition revealed in the following incantation:
“Magna Mater! Magna Mater!… Atys… Dia ad aghaidh’s ad aodann… agus bas dunach ort! Dhonas’s dholas ort, agus leat-sa!… Ungl… ungl… rrrlh… chchch…”
aint Delapore’s Feast, you see, was one of cannibalism and his portly friend Capt. Norrys, his first and last meal of its kind. Thank goodness for the rest of the Away Team, after realizing that they weren’t the engineers who had lost this particular coin toss, they pulled Saint Delapore away from his meal to be locked away for further, more fruitful study as a psychological specimen for the rest of his days.
As has been mentioned, the best match for ‘Rats in the Walls’ is the Five of Coins, sometimes called ‘Discs’ or ‘Pentacles’, but Coins are the suit from the first tarrochi decks and the one I am sticking with. I make a more substantial argument for this here. Peter Mark Adams uses Discs as his descriptor, and has a great deal to say about our card in his Game of Saturn:
“‘There is an old tradition, that when the land was called Saturnia the oracle of Zues commanded: ‘Drown two people in the river as a sacrifice to the Ancient god who bears the sickle’
’The ancient god who bears the sickle’ is, of course, Kronos-Saturn. We find the oracle of Dodona somewhat mysteriously depicted on one of the suit cards, the Five of Discs. A figure, dressed like a shaman in a bird costume, appears to listen intently to the sound produced by a copper vessel when it is struck by a figure bearing a stick. The scene on the card accords well with the 1st century BCE geographer Strabo’s description of the operation of the oracle,
‘The phrase, ‘the copper vessel in Dodona,’ originate in this way: In the temple there was a copper vessel with a stature of a man above it holding a copper whip which struck the vessel continuously when swung by the winds.
The deck’s designer has multiplied the cymbals and refigured the operator to condense the information available from classical sources. The figure’s feathered dress possibly reflects a confusion concerning the name associated with the oracle’s priestesses, the Pleiades. Robert Graves avers that they would have been ‘dove priestesses.’ The figure is depicted barefoot, one foot dangling over a flame. This detail highlights the fact that the oracle’s seers were said to go barefoot - a fact attested as early as the 7th to 8th century BCE… The card’s imagery is redolent of those rites of passage involving tests of physical endurance. Even more strangely, the shield appears to be decorated with a large, though flaccid, phallus.”
I was able to find the time (and frankly, the energy, because this activity is exhausting) to journey on the Sola-Busca Five of Coins just once this past week. There was nothing surprising in the visualization, in fact, it was pretty static and I was left only with a feeling that the coins and the knotted cord they were strung on meant more as a detail than some of the others in the image. The hawk man, as PMA points out, is pointing to one of the coins. While PMA sees it as a cymbal and a stick, I came away from my journeying with the feeling that it was a Clavicular-Style wand pointing to money that is off of the cord, and therefore outside of the normal system of taxation and records. I don’t know, maybe I’ve listened to too many cryptocurrency podcasts…
I’ll admit, I was a bit adrift at this point. Every week since I began this exercise the tarot card pulled out of the deck that week following an invocation of Saint Zacharias and a more than throughout shuffling just fit the Lovecraft story like to paired pieces to a puzzle. This week, I though, maybe, the streak was broken. I turned to the Hypnerotomachia, with no particular intent, just to read and to explore that (really quite Lovecraftian, I mean, onyx obelisks and giant sculptures abound) Dream Land and in following Poliphilo through a series of chthonic explorations into a number of structures, I came across the following:
“Having thus arrived at this place, my eyes were ravished and filled by the sight of a mighty and rare work… a beautiful portal that was as stupendous and incredible… in its lineaments as ever could have been fashioned… Without a double, I lack the knowledge that would allow me to describe it perfectly, especially since in our time the proper vernacular and native terms peculiar to the art of architecture are buried and extinct, along with the true men… I then looked with amazement at an eagle, sculpted… from a dense black stone, with its wings spread: it had… seized a… boy by his garments, taking care that is sharp and recurved talons did not injure the soft flesh… This… boy… showed by his expression that he was afraid of falling… I stood stupefied by this exquisite creation…”
This passage is very purposefully edited as to not be frankly terrible for a non-Rennaissance audience. It is relevant, however, to point out the correspondances between this description in the Hypneromotachia and the knitted-together image on the Five of Coins. The edited bits in the passage above are pregnant with particularly taboo and horrific innuendo, and our Five of Coins speaks the same sexually symbolic language. The image as described in the Hypnerotomachia is the abduction of Ganymede by Zeus or by a summoned minion of Zeus. If, in fact, the Five of Coins is associated with Ganymede than the overall symbolism of this card in the Sola-Busca is that of paiderastia. The coins on a cord, in this frame, lead me to think of the slave trade between Mongolia and China and the Venetian empire, as Chinese coins were minted with holes in the middle and often carried on cords. Ganymede is also the cup-bearer in Olympus, delivering Ambrosia to the gods, so this card could, in fact, signify psychotropic pagan rituals among the elite. In any case, the card has a very Naked Lunch feel to it for me now that this connection has been made.
Looking at the Etteilla, the first (upright) key phrase is ‘Amant ou Amante.’ Amant is usually employed for extra-conjugal relationships and the context of the key phrase indicates a choice between a male or female lover. The reversed key phrase on the Etteilla Five of Coins is ‘Manque D’ordre’, which means ‘a lack of order.’
Now, as promised, let’s talk about Saint Delapore’s cats. This story, in particular, is likely one of the markers for Lovecraft’s critics that insist on emphasizing the racism in his stories, much like The Horror at Red Hook. The protagonist has a cat that has a racist name that won’t be repeated here. With the disclaimer that I am not an apologist for racism in any form I would like to point out that the cat is, in effect, a minor hero in the story, that the protagonist is from the American South, and the term used in Rats in the Walls is used with a much greater propensity by other American authors of much reknown, such as Mark Twain. With that out of the way, the absence of commentary on what I see a very minor item in the critique of this work shall be left to stand on that foundation. Replacing the racist term for another to describe the cat in question, as some editions of this story have in fact done, does nothing to alter the plot or the impact of the tale, whatsoever. In addition to the above, Lovecraft was known by all to be the greatest friend of cats and as we have seen in tales like the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, considers them to be an almost ancestral ally to himself and his literary incarnations. Rats in the Walls is no different and the cats in the tale are true friends of the protagonist, Mr. Delapore. This is more than a subconscious alliance with the historical and ethnographical other as they are represented in all of Lovecraft’s stories.
The above view of Delapore’s prize kitty notwithstanding, this story, as read by my middle-aged white-as-the-Wisconsin-winter-is-long self is an exercise in facing taboos. Lovecraft’s use of what is now a definitive and hideous slur in the wrong mouth (and his frequency of its use in the middle of the text) filled me with a visceral dread. I remembered the first time reading this story as I was going back over it. I live in Milwaukee and for a long time lived on Milwaukee’s North Side. This city has the distinction of being the most segregated city in the country. The North and South Sides are African-American and Latino/a, Hispanic, Mexicano/a respectively, the East and West sides are White. When I offer these categories I’m not exaggerating when I say they are 90% correct. Traveling through this city might as well be like traveling between dimensions, the differences between one area and the next are that stark. I lived in that 10% non-African American space on the North side and rode public transit almost exclusively. That was the environment I first read this tale in and let me tell you, just having that slur, the cat’s name, *in my eyes* was enough to get me to feel like I was on the wrong side of a taboo. Now this wasn’t a titilating feeling, it was a feeling of dread, deep dread that I was doing something universally wrong. I had that same feeling this week reading the same story, the feeling of breaking a taboo. That word belongs to someone other than me and I had no business saying it or even reading it.
The Rats in the Walls and it’s accompanying card in the tarot, the Five of Coins boil down to one thing, the breaking of taboos.
In our story we have the most terrible and horrific examples; cannibalism, pederasty, and racism.
In my magical practice we have sincere prayers to Jupiter being spoken in the same breath as a heartfelt appeal to the Virgin Mary. This might not seem as terrifying as the taboos mentioned above, but don't be fooled, to a huge proportion of the world's population, it is probably worse.
The warning here is that some practices, some secrets, are better of left in their forbidden vault. If we seek to open Poliphilo’s exquisite portal, our world and the world of everyone we encounter from that point on will be forever changed.