The Long Con

Why, for so many of us, (I’m talking to y’all on Occult Facebook and on those endless Reddit subs) why is magic so often reactive to new situations in our life? Why is it always ‘My ex is trying to ruin my life, I need a spell to bind her!’ or ‘I’ve lost my job, I need to summon Bune so I can get some money quick!’ This is so (so very) true for myself, otherwise I wouldn’t call it out.

I’ve spoken in the past about challenges in my work life that I’ve wanted to address with magic. Other than a few examples, that we will go into in a minute, most all of those operations have failed. I believe that is because I was reacting to a new situation and was trying to make an operation successful in too short a time. A few examples that have been really undeniably successful are some sigils that I cast when my firm acquired a new office. I enchanted for the individuals running that office to love me and to always want to work with me. More than a year later, leadership at that firm changed hands and I was introduced to the new director. I created some work for her and her liaison and their response was so over-flowingly adoring (and still is, it hasn’t abated) that the extremity of it seems to me only something that can be a result of an enchantment. I mean, I’m good at what I do, but I’m not that good.

Those sigils, however, weren’t a response to a situation but more of wish that I had, an extra, a Plan B, or maybe a Plan C. Magic needs a plan. This is true down through the ages, we see it in the classical grimoires, we see it in the PGM. Magic done right is tied to the stars and how they are aligned. It is difficult (read: probably impossible) to conduct magic properly when trying to fix an instance of your supervisor micromanaging your worklife in such a way that you leave the office wanting a cartoon safe to fall on his head. To address this type of situation by magic requires forethought. It requires thinking (and thinking hard) on what your best life would be, in excruciating detail, and then having the patience to wait, to fast, to prepare the materials and the instruments, and then to wait some more before conducting any operations, even if it is as simple a one as casting a sigil.

Magic is not reactionary, it is preventative. 

If your life is in a shambles, it is very probably your fault and the only thing you can really do magically to fix it, is to enchant for a better life in the future, not tomorrow, but the future. 

Magic is the Long Con against Grandma Probability.

This week’s Lovecraft tale is a dark parable on the virtues of waiting, sometimes, across lifetimes. It is an illustration of how the most potent magic can only result from the most careful planning. Our tale this week is ‘The Thing On The Doorstep,’ and it is quite a lynchpin story, so let’s get started.

It begins with our narrator, one Daniel Upton, describing his relationship with the tale’s protagonist, Edward Derby:

“I say that I have not murdered Edward Derby. Rather I have avenged him, and in so doing purged the earth of a horror whose survival might have loosed untold terrors on all mankind… I have known Edward Pickman Derby all his life. Eight years my junior, he was so precocious that we had much in common from the time he was eight and I sixteen.”

Lovecraft is drawing a familial line between Edward Derby and the Pickman of Pickman’s model by using that as a patronymic middle name. To ignore the significance of the reduplication of the name is to ignore the deep web of human interaction that is present in his work. The description of Edward Derby continues:

“He was never allowed out without his nurse, and seldom had a chance to play unconstrainedly with other children. All this doubtless fostered a strange, secretive inner life in the boy, with imagination as his one avenue of freedom… What lay behind our joint love of shadows and marvels was, no doubt, the ancient, mouldering, and subtly fearsome town in which we lived — witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham… As time went by I turned to architecture and gave up my design of illustrating a book of Edward’s daemoniac poems… Young Derby’s odd genius developed… and in his eighteenth year his collected nightmare-lyrics made a real sensation when issued under the title ‘Azathoth and Other Horrors.’ He was a close correspondent of… the poet Justin Geoffrey, who wrote ‘The People of the Monolith’…”

If we are to view the Necronomicon with such potency as an imaginary book, what of the others, such as Azathoth and Other Horrors be Edward Derby and Robert. E. Howard’s contribution, ‘The People of the Monolith.’ I assert that these tomes hold as much potential power as the corporeal instantiations of the Necronomicon itself, they need only be channeled and made flesh. This is a thread that I want to explore deeper, the role of physical instantiations of imaginal spirit-books in Lovecraftian Magic, but for now let’s continue examining our protagonist:

“Derby’s parents took him abroad every summer, and he was quick to seize on the surface aspects of European thought and expression… We had great discussions in those days. I had been through Harvard, had studied in a Boston architect’s office, had married, and had finally returned to Arkham to practice my profession — settling in the family homestead in Saltonstall St.”

Saltonstall Street has been mentioned before as being located in Arkham. In my post that examines ‘Dreams In The Witch House’. I traced this street to the town of Ipswich, which I maintain is the true inspiration for Arkham, not Salem. As an interesting aside, if you are looking for an architect to design a remote lake home complete with psychomantium and ritual room, perhaps Saltonstall Architects might be an appropriate synchronistic choice? Our author continues to describe Edward Derby’s cultivation of the imaginal when he states:

“Always a dweller on the surface of phantasy and strangeness, he now delved deep into the actual runes and riddles left by a fabulous past for the guidance or puzzlement of posterity.”

A sentence that tracks back to the previous week’s discussions on encryption in magical lore. This trait of the grimoires and other magical texts was not lost on Lovecraft. Looping back to my assertion that the protagonist is somehow related to the infamous artist/ghoul leader of the Dream Lands, I offer the following:

“Edward was twenty when my son and only child was born, and seemed pleased when I named the newcomer ‘Edward Derby Upton,’ after him.”

Which I look on as further evidence that Edward Pickman Derby is connected to the Pickman of Pickman’s model, Lovecraft calls out the convention here. We are then introduced to the antagonist of ‘The Thing On The Doorstep.’

“Edward was thirty-eight when he met Asenath Waite… She was one of the Innsmouth Waites, and dark legends have clustered for generations about crumbling, half-deserted Innsmouth and its people… of a strange element ‘not quite human’ in the ancient families of the run down fishing port… Asenath’s case was aggravated by the fact that she was Ephraim Waite’s daughter… Ephraim lived in a half-decayed mansion in Washington Street, Innsmouth…”

In the same Gnome School referenced above I traced the clues left by Lovecraft and pinpointed Innsmouth as the town of Rowley, MA. Continuing the exposition on Ephraim Waite:

“The old man was known to have been a prodigious magical student in his day, and legend averred that he could raise or quell storms at sea according to a whim.”

I offer this quote for those individuals that insist that Lovecraft had only a passing knowledge of the occult. I cut my teeth on those same encyclopedias and have some in my library that are mentioned in S.T. Josh’s catalogue of Lovecraft’s library at his death. Why this quote is significant is because the type of spell described, one that calls up storms and causes them to cease, is very particular of classical grimoires, but not of enough interest to be called out in encyclopedia entries on those same grimoires — they being mostly focused on the demon bothering and pentacles and such. Switching our focus back to Derby’s future wife we find that:

“Asenath Waite… was… a genuine hypnotist. By gazing peculiarly at a fellow-student she would often give the latter a distinct feeling of exchanged personality — as if the subject were placed momentarily in the magician’s body.”

Is this an example of Lovecraft’s misogyny? Even when we aren’t looking at this body of fiction through the lens of Lovecraft as a historical person, it is hard to think otherwise when reading the above sentence. The narrator here states that Asenath feels and open states that with her mind she could only achieve so much and that with a man’s mind she could accomplish much more in the psychic realm. There isn’t much to discuss with such a frank statement by the characters themselves. We will continue, however, and see if there is a way to decolonize the tale. Our narrator begins at this point to describe his role in the story:

“Knowing my usually great influence with his son, the father wondered if I could help to break the ill-advised affair off; but I regretfully expressed my doubts. This time it was not a question of Edward’s weak will but of the woman’s strong will.”

Paradoxically, we have here an admission that the will of the male is weak compared to the female. So what do we make of this? The objective view of Asenath is that she is much stronger than her male counterpart. The subjective view (her own view of herself) is that she is flawed and inferior to men. I’ve stated before the depth that Lovecraft is able to impart in his characters. Is this perhaps a case of that, of Lovecraft tapping into Asenath’s self-loathing and actively juxtapositioning it against how the rest of the world sees her, as dangerous and powerful? Let’s continue looking at the early dynamic between the pair:

“[Edward] was progressing fast in esoteric lore now that he had Asenath’s guidance. Some of the experiments she proposed were very daring and radical — he did not feel at liberty to describe them — but he had confidence in her powers and intentions…”

Here Asenath is painted as the occult master and the teacher of her husband, who’s confidence in her superiority and power grows daily, it seems.

Another note on the above quote, the mention of ‘experiments’ in the context of magic shows again that Lovecraft had familiarity with classical grimoires, as magical operations in, for example, the Clavicula, are often referred to as ‘experiments.’ The occult education of Edward Pickman Derby, however, soon begins to slide downhill:

“It was in the third year of the marriage that Edward began to hint openly to me of a certain fear… He would let fall remarks about things ‘going too far,’ and would talk darkly about the need of ‘saving his identity.’”

Is there something here about the union of two people, of dominant personalities, and the malefic force of intention? ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’ is a tale relevant to the practice of malefica, specifically. The majority of Lovecraftian Magic is about interaction between the human individual and spirit forms — interaction initiated from both sides. This tale, however, is very pointed in its description of Lovecratian Magic practiced by one human and directed towards another, albiet, one side of the interaction is possibly a percentage of spirit-form herself… another interesting thread explored fully by Levenda in The Dark Lord where he focuses on the patrilineal transmission of magical power in The Dunwich Horror. The next quote takes us a bit deeper in this direction:

“Edward’s calls now grew a trifle more frequent, and his hints occasionally became concrete… He talked about terrible meetings in lonely places, of Cyclopean ruins in the heart of the Maine woods beneath which vast staircases lead down to abysses of nighted secretes, of complex angles that lead through invisible walls to other regions of space and time, and of hideous exchanges of personality that permitted explorations in remote and forbidden places on other worlds, and in different space-time continua.”

A focus on malefica, yes, but not in the traditional defixiones sense, rather, a malefica cultivated through the practice of Journeying. The mention of Maine here is unique, although it is included of course in the larger New England area. Maine still is home to large tracts of undeveloped and unpeopled forests. There are a number of cryptids that are said to reside in this forest, completely independent but by no means incompatible with the Cthulhu Mythos. For instance the Razor-shin, the Will-am-alones, the Windigo (which is also said to inhabit the North Woods of my home state of Wisconsin, and the cat-like Ding-ball. There are also a number of ruins in that area of Maine that, although contemporary, fit well as places where Lovecraftian Magic will be more effective. The above quote also connects the magic practiced by Asenath to the Azathothian Witch from Dreams in the Witch House, in particular the use of three-dimensional architecturally constructed sigils as gates to the planet or dimension (which, it should be mentioned, is not part of the more widespread Journeying location of the Dreamlands). Moving forward through time (Lovecraft does this in short form probably better than anyone before or since), we arrive at a pivotal moment for both the protagonist and his close friend, our narrator, Daniel Upton:

“Derby had been married more than three years on that August Day when I got the telegram from Maine. I had not seen him for two months… the town marshal of Chesuncook had wired of the draggled madman who stumbled out of the woods with delirious ravings and screamed to me for protection. It was Edward… Chesuncook is close to the wildes, deepest, and least explored forest belt in Maine, and it took a whole day of feverish jolting through… forbidding scenery to get there in a car… He knew me at once, and began pouring out a meaningless… torrent of words in my direction…

‘Dan — for God’s sake! The pit of shoggoths! Down the six thousand steps… the abomination of abominations… I never would let her take me, and then I found myself there… Ia! Shub-Niggurath!… The shape rose up from the altar, and there were 500 that howled… The Hooded Thing bleated ‘Kamog! Kamok! — that was old Ephraim’s secret name in the coven… A minute before I was locked in the library, and then I was there where she had gone with my body — in the… unholy pit where the black realm begins… I saw a shoggoth — it changed shape…’”

With the North Maine Woods as a general landscape for encountering Lovecraftian Spirit Forms in hand, we are now given a specific location, a gateway. Chesuncook was first made famous by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is an influence on Lovecraft that I have not read of in any criticism to-date (I am, purposefully unread in his critics for this research, but have been exposed to the surface of it), and I am wholly unread in Thoreau. A very small amount of digging, however, and it is revealed the complex mysticism and magic that Thoreau wove through his writing. For instance, take the below quote from his work Ktaadn and The Maine Woods which appeared in The Union Magazine of Literature and Art in October of 1848:

“I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one . . . but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! - Think of our life in nature, - daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it, - rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?”

In which the thread between Thoreau and Lovecraft becomes a thick silver cord. More on Thoreau’s pre-Lovecraftian aesthetic can be read of in the 1988 New York Times article, ‘The Mysterious Thoreau’ by Joyce Carol Oates

Back to our Chesuncook, it was originally people by the Abenaki of which there are a number of extant tribes and bands, such as the Missisquoi, the Koasek, the Nulhegan, the Elnu, and the Odanak. And is an area still fairly rich with 19th c. buildings and modern accommodations for the occult tourist interested in wandering into the woods and calling out to any remaining Shoggoths in the area. At this point the architect Daniel Upton tries to get his childhood friend home to care for him:

“During our sunset dash through Portland [Maine, Edward commenced to muttering] again, more distinctly than before, as I listened I caught a stream of utterly insane drivel about Asenath… She was getting hold of him… She constantly took his body and went to nameless places for nameless rites, leaving him in her body and locking him upstairs… She wanted to be a man — to be fully human — that was why she got hold of him. She had sensed the mixture of fine-wrought brain and weak will in him. Some day she would crowd him out and disappear with his body — disappearing to become a great magician like her father and leave him marooned in that female shell that wasn’t even quite human. Yes, he knew about the Innsmouth blood now. There had been traffick with things from the sea…”

So here it is revealed that it is not so much that Asenath was a woman and that her femaleness was the cause of her not being able to become a fully realized magician, but that she was not wholly human. The barrier between her and her realizations was that she was a half-human hybrid, not that she had been born a girl. The identity of Asenath continues to evolve and change as the narrative reveals to us even more:

“[Edward’s] mind was in a pitiable state; for he was mumbling wild extravagances… about black magic, about old Ephraim… Again and again he would pause, as if to gather courage for some final and terrible disclosure.

‘Dan, Dan, don’t you remember him — the wild eyes and the unkempt beard that never turned white? He glared at me once, and I never forgot it. Now she glares that way. And I know why! He found it in the Necronomicon — the formula… On, on, on on — body to body to body — he means never to die. The life-glow — he knows how to break the link… Listen Dan — do you know why my wife always takes such pains with that silly backhand writing? Have you ever seen a manuscript of old Ephraim’s… Asenath… is there such a person? Why did they half think there was poison in old Ephraim’s stomach? Why do the Gilmans whisper abut the way he shrieked — like a frightend child — when he went mad and Asenath locked him up in the padded attic room where — the other — had been? Was it old Ephraim’s soul that was locked in… Why did he curse that his daughter wasn’t a son? Tell me, Daniel Upton…”

What we have here is not a tale of misogyny. It is not a tale of self-loathing or a tale against marriage. It is a parable of gender dysphoria.

Asenath Waite is a man trapped in a woman’s (ok, half-woman, half-Dagonian fish spirit) body, who is using Lovecratian Magic to find a way, spiritually, to embody his true gender. The power that is being spoken of here is the power of freedom and comfort in being in a body that one is comfortable in, in portraying one’s self in a way that represents fully how one feels inside. It is also a tale of the horror that the materialist, Mr. Daniel Upton, feels when confronted with this gender fluidity. Edward is also horrified when he finds himself face-to-face with the dark cthonic shoggoths in the Maine Woods, lost, in transition… but this is the materialist in him unable to comprehend the spirit-forms, the un-humaness of the spirit world.

Also, the mention of the ‘Gilman’s,’ completely anchors this tale with the other most famous mention of Innsmouth, ‘Dreams in the Witch House,’ whose protagonist is none other than one Walter Gilman, presumably the son of the Gilman’s mentioned here, brought low by the same types of entities that poor Edward found himself in concert with back in Chesuncook. Our early twentieth century midnight road trip concludes with our narrator noting that:

“At the junction where the main highway runs inland and avoids Innsmouth I was half afraid [Edward] would take the bleak shore road that goes through that damnable place. He did not, however, but darted rapidly past Rowley and Ipswich toward our destination. We reached Arkham before midnight, and found the lights still on at the old Crowninshield house.”

The mention of Rowley and Ipswich here can be taken in two ways. I have stated that Rowley is the real-life Innsmouth and Ipswich is the real-life version of Arkham. Here they are, however, mentioned in the text and in juxtaposition against their Lovecraftian dimensional counterparts. 

One approach is that we could go back to our map and search for other areas that might have served as a ’true’ location. We could also see the mention of the two towns in direct relationship to Innsmouth and Arkham as full admission by the author that Rowley and Ipswich are the real Innsmouth and Arkham. I, of course, choose the latter as this is the method of encryption and game playing that I have come to expect out of old HPL.

Pulling on the thread of the name of the home that the Derby’s collectively inhabit. Crowninshield is the name of a politically influential family with tendrils in seafaring, the military, and the literary world. They helped to settle nearby Salem and helped make it a profitable port. One Benjamin Crowninshield is recorded as a privateer on a ship called the Black Prince, a vessel particularly adept at disrupting British merchants. Another Crowninshield built a yacht, christened it ‘Cleopatra’s Barge,’ after the famous Egyptian’s ship, and was the first vessel of its type to pilot across the Atlantic. 

Politically, Crowninshields have served under the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Herbert Hoover, another was appointed the United States Secretary of War under Grover Clevland.

In the world of letters, the Crowninshield family is responsible for creating Vanity Fair magazine and Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was an executive editor positions at The Washington Post, playing a strong role in breaking the news around the Watergate scandal.

The Cronwinshield family also brought the first elephant to the United States, have founded the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and helming the presidency of the Raytheon Company, one of the most powerful defense contractors today and the world’s largest manufacturers of guided missiles and missile systems from their Tucson, AZ location and in 2005 one of the first companies to adopt strong equal employment opportunity policies for transgender and transsexual employees.

Layering this information back onto our discussion of Lovecraftian Magic, we have a cork-board-red-yarn-map connecting a powerful and ancient family from Innsmouth, traffickers with oceanic spirit forms, owners and masters of the Necronomicon, and an overt metaphor for activism around gender with what is likely a centuries old family whose deep state meddling and control of political, military, and propaganda campaigns have shaped our modern world. 

The Crowninshield House, home of Edward and Asenath Derby in the early twentieth century, is shaping up to be a nexus from which global occult and deep state activity is still resonating.

(Side Note: Yes, there is a famous Crowninshield House in Salem, but this home had always enjoyed continuous habitation of some form or another. This home, however, was not in its present location until 1960, and as such could not have served as a model for this tale. Further, there is another Crowninshield House located in Boston, setting precedent that there are multiple instantiations of homes belonging to this family line.)

And then, the real grenade is dropped by this simple sentence:

“In mid-September Derby was away for a week, and some of the decadent college set talked knowingly of the matter — hinting at a meeting with a notorious cult-leader, lately expelled from England, who had established headquarters in New York…”

I’ve spoken before about my incredulity at Peter Levenda’s statements in his Rune Soup interview that allude to his theory that Lovecraft had no knowledge whatsoever of Aleister Crowley. When I first heard Gordon White’s interview with Tobias Churton, the seeds of doubt were placed. Lovecraft was extremely connected to world affairs, probably employing a ‘cutting service’ to feed him information on the subjects he was interested in. After hearing of Crowley’s shenanigans in New York and the surrounding area, I couldn’t believe that Lovecraft would have missed it. Here, however, is the proof. Not only was Lovecraft familiar with Crowley, but Edward Derby / Asenath Waite / Ephraim Waite - the antagonist of ‘The Thing On The Doorstep,’ is revealed here to have gone to meet The Beast himself while he resided in New York. 

The Beast creeps again into another passage a bit further into the tale:

“One evening in mid-October I heard the familiar three-and-two ring at the front door. Answering it myself, I found Edward on the steps, and saw in a moment that his personality was tho old one which I had not encountered since the day of his ravings on that terrible ride from Chesuncook… Following me clumsily to the study, he asked for some whiskey to steady his nerves…

‘Asenath has gone, Dan. We had a long talk last night while the servants were out, and I mader her promise to stop preying on me. Of course I had certain — certain occult defences I never told you about. She had to give in, but got frigthfully angry… I laid low and pretended to let her [steal my body], but I had to be on the watch. I could plain if I was careful, for she can’t read my mind literally, or in detail… she always thought I was helpless. Never thought I could get the best of her… but I had a spell or two that worked.’”

So it was Edward Derby himself that met The Beast in New York and was able to procure Crowley’s services in binding Asenath / Ephraim and forcing them out of the Crowninshield Home. This is, very possibly, an admission of deep knowledge of Crowley’s power and occult influence and that The Beast’s magic can go toe-to-toe with Lovecraftian Spirit Forms gone rogue.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this brief passage is a hint of a trip that Lovecraft took to New York to meet Aleister Crowley, himself.

The result of Edward’s visit to his friend is a moment of growth for our architect:

“As for me, I now believe all that Edward Derby ever told me. There are horrors beyond life’s edge that we do not suspect, and once in a while man’s evil prying calls them just within our range. Ephraim — Asenath — that devil called them in, and they engulfed Edward, as they are engulfing me.”

A trope we should be used to by now at this stage in our research,  the materialist in Lovecraft’s tales always comes to the realization that materialism is wrong. If Lovecraft were a materialist, why would this message, this truly animist message, be so prevalent in so much of his fiction?

Our tarot card match this week is The Star card, which aligns with our antagonist, Asenath Waite, as it’s archetype.

The Star.jpg

The word ‘Star’ had the primary meaning of the influence of planets on human affairs and is first recorded in the mid 13th century. It comes from the PIE root, *ster-. This PIE root has two separate meanings, the first essentially means ‘stiff,’ and is hypothetically connected to the Greek word ‘sterphos,’ meaning ‘hide’ [as in animal] or ‘skin. It also expands into Old English as ’steorfan,’ which literally means ‘become stiff,’ but is translated as ‘to die.’ The second expands directly into various words for star in other languages. When this happens, when one finds a word so simple and concise across many disparate cultures, it means that it has been this word probably since the dawn of language. An American version of this phenomenon is the word ‘makwa,’ which means bear in many different languages indigenous to Turtle Island (America) that cannot be easily connected without theoretical models. ‘Makwa’ is the word for bear, just as Star is the word for Star.

Our card has two fairly obvious keywords, ‘Le Jour,’ meaning ‘The Day,’ and ‘La Nuit,’ meaning ‘The Night.’ 

Day is as predictable across Indo-European languages as you would expect, with little variation. It is from the PIE root *agh— which is hypothesized as being the source for the Sanskrit word ‘dah,’ which means ‘to burn.’

Night comes from the PIE root *nekwt-, which according to ‘The Morphology of Proto-Indo-European’ from Lundquist and Yates is quite unique and most linguists argue against its reconstruction, emphasizing its uniqueness. Night is possibly one of the oldest words still in use today by speakers of languages that expand from Proto-Indo-European. Nuit is a Thelemic goddess first referred to in The Book of the Law:

“This Book explains the Universe... Nuit — Space — that is, the total of possibilities of every kind… Nuit, a woman bending over like the Arch of the Night Sky…”

Reconnecting Asenath Waite to The Beast and his appearance in ‘The Thing On The Doorstep.’

This, of course, comes originally from the Egyptian Sky Goddess Nut.

Throughout ‘The Thing On The Doorstep’ we are moving between night and day, between materialism and animism, between good and evil. We see these manifested in the same person and in relationships with this person. This is a card about fate, which is manifested in Asenath’s choice of the Crowninshield home, a family fated for power and influence throughout time, so much time, in fact, that we are reminded of Nuit, stretching across the sky. The Star, as it is manifested in the Etteilla deck, is a card representing the binary world of the materialist and the non-binary realm of the spirit as it is governed by celestial and chthonic spirit forms. It is a card of transitions, between night and day and, in Asenath, between gender. It is a card that represents the immortal, unending things in life, which is ultimately the goal of the primary antagonist, as embodied in Asenath, her father the Necronomicon Mage, Ephraim Waite.