The Nome-God of Innsmouth
Christmas and the New Year are upon us. I’m writing this on the first day of the ostensible pagan new year, December 22nd 2018, the day after the winter solstice. It is a time for plenty and family and indulgence. I was able to get back to the bookstore after a long dry spell of feeding the bottomless maw of the empire as it begged for so many interest payments and spontaneous car repairs like so many cacophonous demonic baby birds in a thorn and brimstone nest.
Among a nativity scene my daughter wanted and a couple of anthropoid shark warriors for my son, I found both volumes of ‘The Gods of the Egyptians’ by E.A. Wallis Budge. It was in the first volume that I found my introduction to what Wallis Budge calls Nome-Gods. From the text:
“During the predynastic period in Egypt every village and town or settlement possessed its god, whose worship and the glory of whose shrine increased or declined according to the increase or decrease of the prosperity of the community in which [it] lived. When the country was divided into section… a certain god, or group of allied gods, became the representative(s)… of each nome, and so obtained the pre-eminence over all the other gods of the nome…”
This idea of a town or a city possessing its own god has been discussed, albeit in a macro-sense, when we have discussed Fortuna. Our first introduction to her in the Lovecraftian mythos was written exactly one year ago in our exploration of ‘The Festival.’ Fortuna is the goddess of cities, of their prosperity and their demise. The Nome-Gods are, in a way, her precursor and an altogether more authentic model as Fortuna was co-opted by empire and used as a tool to further those ends. Returning to the Nome-God model, Wallis Budge states that:
“In this way the whole country of Egypt… was divided among the gods, and it became customary in each nome to regard the god of that nome as the ‘Great God,’ or ‘God,’ and to endow her with all the powers and attributes possible. We have… no means of knowing when the country was first split up into nomes, but the division must have taken place at a very early period, and the gods who were chosen to represent the nomes were undoubtedly those who had been worshiped… during the predynastic period… The Egyptian lists give the number of nomes as forty-two…”
The text continues, stating that:
“The worship of each nome-god contained elements peculiar to itself, and the beliefs which centered in him represented all the ancient and indigenous views of the inhabitants of the nome, and these were carefully observed and cultivated from the earliest to the latest times.”
I fell that we can still see this practice today, as all cities have their own ‘character’ and their own traditions that those that have lived there for any amount of time inevitably follow. Think on it a bit and you will find that I’m right. Certainly those individuals
from Los Angeles:
take on certain views that can very likely be traced back to the founding of that city and the cultural niche it creates as it continues to expand its influence.
The Catholic Church plays this game as well, assigning a patron saint to each city, from Saint Patrick in Hobart, Tasmania to Saint John the Evangelist for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact, without a Nome-God of some sort, perhaps a city cannot thrive on its own — forever being subject to the influence of the nearest Nome-God and its worshipers (both implicit and explicit).
Nome-gods are very likely composite in nature, perhaps represented by a final archetype but built on the local spirit-forms of the indigenous communities that made their homes (however transitory) within its future borders as well as the spirit-forms brought to the city after it was established and found itself with enough magics-spiritual initiative to grow into a non-human entity itself. The nome-god is the soul of the city as a non-human person.
To carry through into 2019, I have chosen a tale from Lovecraft’s oeuvre that is singularly obsessed with a particular town, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth.’ I will allow the author to set the scene:
“During the Winter of 1927-28 officials of the federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth.”
There are two items of note in this introductory paragraph. ‘Firstly,’ I have contested the popular assertion that Innsmouth is based on the town of Newburyport, MA in favor of what I feel is the more accurate geographic and aesthetic match of Rowley, MA. I maintain that stance here. Also of mention here is the ‘officials of the federal government.’ In ‘The Dunwich Horror,’ similar agents are called upon in the narrative, which took place in or around 1923. In 1927, these agents from a proto-FBI, make another appearance. There is a missing sub-narrative here to Lovecraft’s works, a 1920’s instantiation of the X-Files that is worthy of future investigation. The squarespace site, ‘Historical G-Men,’ offers a window into what these agents might have looked like. The below picture is described as the 1935 FBI training class.
If I were to view this as a hint into the practice of Lovecraftian magic, I would view the 1920s - 1930s fashions of these gentleman as an equivalent of the ‘white linen robes’ and ‘paper crown’ mentioned in the Key of Solomon as the appropriate outfit a magician must wear when calling on and bending demons to their will. A woman who is interested in calling on the aesthetic of the 1920s FBI agent is not left out, as the first female agent was hired in 1922. Alaska P. Davidson was an agent combatting interstate sex trafficking.
As an added bit of fodder for conspiracy, the ‘P’ in Alaska’s name stands for Packard and her brothers, James and William, were the founders of the Packard Motor Car Company, James is picture below in a very Lovecraftian Materialist protagonist pose.
There were other female agents in the twenties, such as Jessie Duckstein and Lenore Houston.
Lenore was committed to a mental institution in 1930 for declaring that she was intent on shooting and killing J. Edgar Hoover, who replaced William Burns following his role in the ‘Teapot Dome Scandal’. The scandal involved a behind-closed-doors leasing of federal oil reserves to the private ‘Mammoth Oil Company,’ essentially a shell company created by Sinclair to take advantage of the secret deal. Following his assumption of the role, Hoover fired all active female agents and there were no other female agents until 1972. In Lovecraft’s time, however, the female FBI agent was a certain reality. One can easily imagine an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ situation where:
” a vast series of raids and arrests occured [in Innsmouth], followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting… of [a] number of crumbling, worm-eaten… empty houses along the… waterfront…”
That included among the crowds of agents swarming the small Massachusetts town a well dressed Alaska Davidson and a rougher Lenore Houston with a firearm openly displayed in a shoulder holster…
The author goes on to relate how the town was nearly wiped out by the raid:
“There were vague statements about disease and concentration camps, and later about dispersal in various naval and military prisons… Innsmouth itself was left almost depopulated, and is even now only beginning to shew signs of a sluggishly revived existence…”
and that a number of organizations and newspapers were silenced in the wake of the FBI raid, a theme we also find in The Dunwich Horror. Only one paper, a tabloid, makes mention of a connected nautical event when it states:
“Only one paper… mentioned [a] submarine that discharged torpedoes downward in the marine abyss just beyond Devil Reef.”
The closest match for this marine abyss is the Sable Gully. The gully contains the largest underwater canyon of Eastern North America and is filled with dolphins, whales, deep-water fish and colonies of deep-sea cold water coral that are centuries old. As recently as 2011, scientific expeditions into the Sable Gully have revealed new discoveries, a prime area for Lovecraftian spirit-forms or other cosmic horrors to dwell.
Following the prologue, we are introduced to our narrator:
“I never heard of Innsmouth till the day before I saw it for the first… time. I was celebrating my coming of age by a tour of New England — sightseeing, antiquarian, and genealogical — and had planned to go directly from… Newburyport to Arkham… I had no car, but was traveling by train, trolley, and motor-coach, always seeking the cheapest possible route… In Newburyport… The stout, shrewd-faced agents [at the train station ticket-office] seemed sympathetic toward my efforts at economy, and made a suggestion that none of my other informants had offered.
‘You could take that old bus… It goes through Innsmouth… Run by… Joe Sargent… [it] never gets any custom from here, or Arkham either… I never see more’n two or three people in it — nobody but those Innsmouth folks. Leaves the square — front of Hammond’s Drug Store — at 10 AM and 7 PM…”
‘The Square’ is the Market Square Historic District of Newburyport, which is still extant today and as Lovecraft would have seen it.
The drug store in the picture, ‘Eaton’s Drug Store,’ gives us a picture of a corner similar to the one our narrator would have waited on when seeking a ride from Joe Sargent’s Innsmouth Bus. According to this article in the Newburyport News, however, the drugstore on the square at the time of our tale was the Central Pharmacy on the corner of Market Square and State Street. This is more useful for the Lovecraftian Magician, as it give us another physical gate from which we can launch our enchantments appropriately (the Starbucks at 2 Market Square would be an appropriately evil alternative location, I think).
When our narrator pressed his new informant on the town of Innsmouth, some interesting information begins to leak out:
“More empty houses than there are people… Once they had quite a few mills, but nothing’s left now except one gold refinery… That refinery… used to be a big thing, and Old Man March, who owns it, must be richer’n Croesus… Grandson of Captain Obed Marsh, who founded the business. His mother seems to’ve been some kind of… South Sea islander — so everybody raised Cain when he married an Ipswich girl fifty years ago…”
There is one refinery still extant that traces its history back to the Providence area of the nineteen teens, Pease & Curren. In reading the small bit of history on the refinery I found out that Providence used to be the epicenter of jewelry production and with Pease & Curren still active, an interesting line of experimentation might be the use of some of its metals in the creation of Lovecraftian talismans. The narrator’s informant continues, deepening connections with the trench far off the coast and the associated reef of black coral.
“You ought to hear… what some of the old-timers tell about the black reef off the coast — Devil’s Reef, they call it… The story is that there’s a whole legion of devils seen sometimes on that reef — sprawled about, or darting in and out of some kind of caves near the top… old Captain Marsh… was supposed to land on it sometimes at night when the tide was right…”
An interesting premise, a type of nautical cross-roads, thinking of the reef as a type of in-between place. The informant continues, getting to the heart of issues the local population had with Innsmouth:
“the real thing behind the way folks feel is simply race prejudice — what a lot our New England ships used to have to do with… in Africa, Asia, theSouth Seas… and what… people… they… brought back with ‘em… Well, there must be something like that back of the Innsmouth people… cut off from the rest of the country by marshes and creeks… its pretty clear that old Captain Marsh must have brought home some [of those people] back in the [eighteen] twenties and thirties… Nobody around here or in Arkham or Ipswich will have anything to do with ‘em, and they act kind of offish themselves…”
Lovecraft is laying bare the racism of the area that he grew up in in this passage. Through the listening of the narrator to the story of this informant, he is placing an authorial distance between himself and these feelings but is, in effect, reporting on a racism and xenophobia that is still extant in the area (as is recently reported in Fortune magazine and by NPR). Lovecraft’s work is an anthropological lens into the deep history of racism in New England. If you pay close attention to his writing, and the different distances and voices that he uses, you can see this same vehicle, this same message, throughout his work. The message isn’t, as the Pop Lovecraftian critics assert, that Lovecraft himself was a racist and celebrating racism with his writing, is not what is being said. Lovecraft is offering us an anthropologist’s perspective early 20 c. New England. The informant continues, relating the local perspective of the Innsmouth folk:
“That plague of ’46 must have taken off the best blood in the place. Anyway, they’re a doubtful lot now, and the Marshes and the other rich folks are as bad as any. As I told you, there probably ain’t more’n 400 people in the whole town in spite of all the streets they say there are. I guess they’re what they call ‘white trash’ down South — lawless and sly, and full of secret doings…”
Lovecraft was supremely aware of the nuances of racism. He had clearly given the subject a great deal of thought to be able to weave it in and out of his character studies and narrations in this way. It is rare today, and even more so in Lovecraft’s time, for an individual to be so self-aware of racism and xenophobia. The typical racist is normally unconscious of their behavior, it having been a culturally learned behavior of social survival in the communities in which they are raised.
Taking his leave of the ticket-clerk, our narrator retires to the Newburyport Public Library housed in the Tracy Mansion since 1866, to continue his research. Research and libraries are such a primal part of Lovecraftian Magic that I would say fully half of one’s practice should be from the armchair if it is to be done correctly:
“I spent part of that evening at the Newburyport Public Library looking up data about Innsmouth… The Essex County histories on the library shelves had very little to say, except that the town was founded in 1643, noted for shipbulding [and] a seat of great marine prosperity in the early nineteenth century… Most interesting of all was a glancing reference to the strange jewellery vaguely associated with Innsmouth. It had… impressed the whole countryside more than a little, for mention was made of specimens in the museum of Miskatonic University at Arkham and in the display room of the Newburyport Historical Society. The fragmentary descriptions of these things… hinted to me an undercurrent of persistent strangeness…”
The Museum of Old Newbury is the contemporary instantiation of the Newbury Historical Society. Our narrator, pressing the librarian for more details, was given an introduction to the curator, one Anna Tilton. The surname Tilton has a long history in the New England area. The Tilton family in Newburyport began with the ninth child of Caleb Tilton and Ruth Cooper, Cephas Tilton. Cephas married one Harriet Nichols, they had two daughters who both married and had children. A brother of Cephas, John Cooper Tilton, lived in nearby Haverhill and had a son by the name of John Wilson Tilton in 1844. John Wilson was a graduate of Harvard, a Unitarian, a member of the Free Masons, the Odd Fellows, and the Elks. One can easily imagine that Miss Anna Tilton was an aged gentlewoman of this same lineage. Our narrator, upon meeting Miss Tilton, is escorted into the building housing the private collection of the society:
“The collection was a notable one indeed, but in my present mood I had eyes for nothing but the bizarre object which glistened in a corner cupboard under the electric lights.
It took no excessive sensitiveness to beauty to make me literally gasp at the strange… spleandor of the alien… phantasy that rested there on a purple velvet cushion… it was… a sort of tierra… designed for a head of almost freakishly elliptical outline. The material seemed to be predominantly gold, though a weird lighter lustrousness hinted at some strange alloy with an equally beautiful and scarcely indentifiable metal [with] untraditional designs — some simply geometrical, and some plainly marine — chased or moulded in high relief on its surface… the… other-wordly quality of the art… made me uneasy… It… belonged to some settled technique of infinite maturity… remote from any — Eastern or Western, ancient or modern… It was as if the workmanship were that of another planet… Miss Tilton… was incline to believe that it formed part of some… pirate hoard discovered by old Captain Obed Marsh… Her own attitude toward shadowed Innsmouth — which she had never seen — was one of disgust… she assured me that the rumours of devil-worship were… justified by a… secret cult which had gained force there… called… The Esoteric Order of Dagon… replacing Freemasonry altogether and taking up headquarters in the old Masonic Hall on New Church Green.”
The Esoteric Order of Dagon has a contemporary incarnation that may or may not have a surviving lineage (depending on how one defines living traditions) to that mentioned by the antiquarian Anna Tilton. According to their still extant website, the membership of the 21st century E.O.D. includes Peter Smith, Kenneth Grant, Michael Staley, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Paul Rydeen, Stephen Sennitt, Stephen Dziklewicz, Ian Blake, Phil Hine, John Beal, Linda Falorio, Mishlen Linden, Jhonn Balance, Nema, Dan Clore, Michael Aquino and Bill Siebert.
Our narrator, true to his obsessions, decides to make the trip to Innsmouth via the method described by the ticket taker, by taking the bus from Market Square:
“Shortly before ten the next morning I stood with one small valise in front of Hammond’s Drug Store in old Market Square waiting for the Innsmouth bus… a small motor-coach of [a] dirty grey colour rattled down State Street, made a turn, and drew up at the curb beside me… The driver… went into the drug store to make some purchase. This, I reflected, must be… Joe Sargent… He was thin, stoop-shouldered… not much under six feet tall, dressed in shabby blue civilian clothes and wearing a frayed grey golf cap… the odd, deep creases in the sides of his neck made him seem older… He had a narrow head, bulging, watery blue eyes… and singularly undeveloped ears. His long, thick lip and coarse-pored, greyish cheeks seems almost beardless… His hands were large… and had a very unusual greyish-blue tinge… as leaving time… approached I… followed the man aboard… murmuring the single word ‘Innsmouth’…”
The tale progresses with a fine and detailed description of Innsmouth, unlike any that I have encountered yet during this project. The narrator exits the bus, checks into the hotel, and goes for a daylight hour walk, happening by another informant in a local First National Grocery store.
His new informant, a young boy who bussed in from Arkham to work at the store, was relieved to speak to him and offered many details:
“As for the Innsmouth people — the youth hardly knew what to make of them. They were as furtive and seldom seen as animals that live in burrows… They seemed sullenly banded together in some sort of fellowship and understanding — despising the world as if they had access to other and preferable spheres of entity… It was awful to hear them chanting in their churches at night, and especially during their main festivals or revivals, which fell twice a year on April 30th and October 31st.”
The two holidays are, of course, All Hallows Eve and Saint Walpurgis Night. The alignment of what are clearly a species of xeno-amphibian-human hybrid’s religion with these two most famous of pagan festivals is an interesting data point. It nudges us closer to the theory that the Greco-Egyptian mythos are extensions of older forms of worship that extend back to the beginnings of humankind and beyond (in Lovecraft’s reality, a metaphorical anthropoid-amphibian species — in our reality the cousins of Homo sapiens sapiens).
Our narrator goes on to commit to what I have always called a ‘wander,’ or one of those aimless walks that one takes in a city that is new. A walk with the sole purpose of exploring, to look at the graffiti, to make wrong turns only to find oneself in hostile or unfamiliar neighborhoods. The conclusion of the second section of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ makes it clear that one of the primary archetypes for this tale is Innsmouth, Massachusetts itself. Even though the city is clearly in a state of urban ruin according to the descriptions of the narrator, it possesses that one characteristic that marks it as a city-as-non-human entity, a Nome-God. The Nome-God of Innsmouth is Dagon, that most primal of terrestrial Lovecraftian spirit-forms. Dagon can be seen in every corner of Innsmouth and the narrator’s description of the place during his wander is a perfect window into how a modern city expresses its own Nome-god, how it expresses its soul. The archetype of this tale is not Dagon, but how Innsmouth expresses Dagon as a part of its own non-human personality.
Our first tarot card match for the Town of Innsmouth is the Ten of Cups.
Our Ettellia deck offers us two keywords, ‘La Ville,’ and ‘Courroux,’ or ’Town’ and ‘Wrath.’ La Ville is Old French for town, is the source of the colloquial word formation of many US cities, and stems from the Latin ‘villa.’ The villa was a country house or a mansion for the ancient romans and is related to ‘vicus,’ which is a village or group of houses. The villa or vicus are very often the primary atomic element of a city — it is those first few individuals that made a success of life and, as such, attracted other individuals to them. The vicus is the catalyst that transforms the characteristics of the local indigenous spirits into a composite proto-nome-god that is the seed for the spirit of the city to come. ‘Ville’ is drawn from the PIE root *weik-, which means ‘clan’ or a ‘social unit above the household,’ linguistically it is a match for the above-described process. *weik- also expands out into diocese, ecology and economy. Wrath is from the Old English word ‘wræððu,’ which means anger. It is related to ‘wroth,’ which means ‘angry,’ ‘tormented,’ or ’twisted.’ Wroth stems from the Proto-Germanic *wraith- and is related to the Old Frisian term ‘wrath,’ meaning evil. Thusly, the Ten of Cups represents an evil. twisted village, of which there is no better representation in literature than our archetype, the Town of Innsmouth.