The Olive Branch

The Olive Branch

I don’t have any statues in the house, but a recent bit of research I did into the etymology of the word ‘sigil’ has me thinking that some magical statuary might be a good enhancement to my practice.

I’ve been visiting this very large church supply store that is on my way home from work. They have saint cards for .75 cents, so that is the first section I gravitated too. After finding the saints I wanted to take home that day (the Pokemon theme keeps looping in my head when I stand in front of the display, ‘gotta catch ‘em all) I migrated to other areas of the store. They have long rows of vestments and I played out all kinds of scenarios in my head to get me some white linen robes for proper grimoire work; do they ask for priestly credentials? can just any schmo off the street purchase this fancy garb? what would I say if I went to the counter with some vestments and they called me on it?

I abandoned the task, clearly needing more research.

Past the vestments, however, is the statuary section, all kinds of statues, both big and small. From the most adorable little Saint Lucy (complete with adorable little eyes on a platter) to some truly inspiring brass statuettes of Saint’s Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. I much prefer the statues of Saint Raphael as that is the only place I see him depicted with a sword. Like Saints George, Paul and Barbara, I really prefer my saints carry swords. In fact, I haven’t been able to get Saint Raphael out of my head since seeing this fierce red-headed statue. If I were the type of fellow to believe in signs (spoiler: I am, but with a heavy [probably too heavy] dose of skepticism) I would think the angel is reaching out to me, in that odd golden shiny thing way that Dougie Jones was lured to the winning slot machines… you know?

Out of all the saint cards I picked up, Raphael’s prayer is the most appealing to me.

“Glorious Archangel St. Raphael, great prince of the heavenly court, you are illustrious for your gifts of wisdom and grace. You are a guide of those who journey by land or sea or air, consoler of the afflicted, and the refuge of sinners.

I beg you, assist me in all my needs and in all the sufferings of this life, as once you helped the young Tobias on his travels. Because you are the ‘medicine of God,’ I humbly pray you to heal the many infirmities of my soul and the ills that afflict my body. I especially ask of you the favor (name it) and the great grace of purity to prepare me to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Amen”

There are a great number of useful things in this prayer. He is a protector of those that are on journeys. I read this as useful to get me (and my old Jeep) to and from work without mechanical issues or accidents. He is the refuge of sinners, which makes him an optimum comrade for anyone trafficking with demons (or, in the case of Lovecraftian Magic, primeval otherworld entities) and performing grimoire work. As the medicine of God he would be excellent to invoke along with any alternative medicine healing practices (in the Book of Tobit he offers a complex herbal formula to Tobias that could be pulled right out of a grimoire or the greek magical papyri), he assists in healing infirmities of the soul and thus could very well be useful for any of those ’winter blahs’ that I’m sure many of us are experiencing) and finally, the coup de grace, at the end of the prayer Raphael’s all ‘Name it bro, I gotchu.’ You got to admire that. Here’s the laundry list of my regular services but if there isn’t a fit, just name it and I’ll get it for you.

I’ve been contemplating sigils and saints a lot actually, and trying to think on what are the most Lovecraftian saints, right? I think Raphael is a fit as he is the patron of the sea and sailors and invoked for successful journeys. To me, that says he has the power and will to keep Cthulhu dreaming in his underwater city, to protect humans from Dagon and the merrow of Atlantis that would trap their souls.

Back to statuary, as is my way, when I was browsing my local church supply store I overheard a couple of the staff members talking about one of the saints. I didn’t catch who it was they were talking about but I got the sense that it was one of the big statues. What struck me was that they were using personal pronouns for the saint and making statements like ‘Oh, so you didn’t want him up here in the store, eh?’ which received the reply ‘Oh he’s never been up here from all the years I can remember.’

To me, this is a certain degree of unconscious animism in the wild. It wasn’t a philosophical discussion about the nature of the inspirited stature, or a theological one on the individual’s relationship with the saint, no, it was an informal discussion two humans were having about a saint (saint-as-statue) where the saint was linguistically and cognitively treated exactly as if he were another human, with a consciousness and free will. This default embodiedness of the statue as a spiritual form is, I think, a natural next step in my own path when it comes to establishing a more open frequency to those saints and spirits that call.

Seeing the statuary ‘in the flesh’ was also a different experience. It was very different than ‘deciding’ I wanted to ‘work with’ a particular spirit form and ordering their statue off of the internet. By browsing, touching, inspecting and (to steal a phrase from Gordon White) in a sense low-attention processing the spirits-as-statues I was able to be ‘found’ by Raphael as much as I found him (also, that super-cute Saint Lucy with her blue eyes staring up at me from their plate was a real temptation, but that might just be some saintly cute factor going on).

Our Lovecraft tale for the week is The Tree, which fades in on a somewhat familiar landscape:

“On the verdant slope of Mount Maenalus, in Arcadia, there stands an olive grove about the ruins of a villa. Close by is a tomb, once beautiful with the sublimest scultpures, but now fallen into as great decay as the house. At one end of that tomb, its curious roots displacing the time-stained blocks of Penetelic marble, grows an unnaturally large olive tree of oddly repellent shape; so like to some some grotesque man, or death-distorted body of a man, that the country folk fear to pass it at night when the moon shines faintly through the crooked boughs.”

In the course of our investigations, you might recall, that we have discussed Mount Maenalus before, specifically as the home to the offspring of the Zeus-cursed King Lycaon - making the aesthetic of this place one of the psuedo-mythical birthplace of the race of Lycanthropes, as the blighted children of Lycaon and all those they have infected since the Wolf-King’s time are known. Lovecraft assists in deepening the complexity of this mythical landscape when we states that:

“Mount Maenalus is the chosen haunt of dreaded Pan, whose queer companions are many, and simple swains believe that the tree must have some hideous kinship to these weird Panisci; but an old bee-keeper who lives in the neighbouring cottage told me a different story.”

If we look at Lovecraft’s work on-the-whole, Pan rivals Cthulhu for primacy by the sheer volume of mention in the mythopoetic structure of the world the author has built for us. We have discussed Pan’s role in the Lovecraft mythos previously here, here, here, here, here, and here. We can now add Pan and his progeny, the Paniscus (think woodsy cherubim with goat-y lower halves), in ‘The Tree,’ to this long list.

We are then introduced to the two main characters in the work:

“Many years ago, when the hillside villa was new and resplendent, there dwelt within it the two sculptors Kalos and Musides. From Lydia to Nepalis the beauty of their work was praised, and none dared say that the one excelled the other in skill. The Hermes of Kalos stood in a marble shrine in Corinth, and the Pallas of Musides surmounted a pillar in Athens, near the Parthenon.”

Kalos means beautiful in Greek, in a typically homoerotic sense, ‘kalos’ inscriptions on Attic vases often are simple descriptions of how beautiful a boy or man depicted on the crockery was. Musides is a compound, the Latin suffix -ides is a masculine patronymic meaning ‘son of,’ giving Kalos’ counterpart the literal meaning of Son of the Muse, in this case, Musides can be inferred from the context of this tale to be descended from Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy, making him the brother of the Sirens. The juxtaposition of the two sculptures referenced, Hermes and Pallas, could be a nod to Evander, the founder of the town Pallantion. His son was named Pallas and his daughter Pallantia and the landscape where he founded his city is now known as Palatine Hill. Evander was the son of Hermes and Carmenta the goddess of childbirth, prophecy and technological innovation. Evander was the founder of the Lupercalia, or the Festival of the Wolf typically hosted on February the 15th, more on which can be found here. This piece of red yarn, along with the home of the sculptors being placed on Mount Maenalus, is another nod to the sub-routine of lycanthropy flowing behind Lovecraft’s mythopoetic structure (only really emerging when Pickman and his ghouls make their appearance).

Our sculptors, in a way, are embodiments of two methods of thinning the veil between worlds, silent meditation embedded in the landscape or abandonment to the will of inebriation and entheogens:

“Musides reveled by night amidst the urban gaieties of Tegea, Kalos would remain at home; stealing away… into the cool recesses of the olive grove. There he would meditate upon the visions that filled his mind, and there devise the forms of beauty which later became immortal in breathing marble. Idle folk… said that Kalos conversed with the spirits of the grove, and that his statures were but images of the fauns and dryads he met there — for he patterned his work after no living model.”

Kalos might be, possibly, a prototypical Pickman in the cool olive groves in the home of the werewolf. Musides could possibly be connected to the young Galpin of the recently examined tale, ‘Old Bugs,’ as well — adding layers of social commentary on an already thickly painted canvas. Pulling a common thread among protagonists and archetypes in Lovecraft’s oeuvre is a task for another day, however. Returning to our sculptors, we are given a set of details that allows us to place the tale within timedepth:

“So famous were Kalos and Musides, that none wondered when the Tyrant of Syracuse sent to them deputies to speak of the costly statue of Tyche which he had planned for his city… Their brotherly love was well known, and the crafty Tyrant surmised that each, instead of concealing his work from the other, would offer aid and advice; this charity producing two images of unheard-of beauty, the lovelier of which would eclipse even the dreams of the poets.”

We would be remiss if we did not pick up on Lovecraft’s choice of goddess, Tyche, for the subject of the sculptor’s contest. Tyche is the Greek equivalent to Fortuna, whom we have identified previously in our corpus as the Spinning Woman from ‘The Festival.’ Tyche is, in a way, the urban equivalent to the more pelagic Fortuna and is intimately connected with Agathos Daimon, her husband. Agathos Daimon is, among other things, the spirit of the vineyard, grain fields, and by extension, orchards.

We are now living in a very Tychian age, as she is known to cause catastrophic floods, droughts, and shifts of the political winds, especially as these events effect the urban environment. She can be relied on (or prayed to) for unpredictable turns of fortune. If you are in a position in life where there is no clear path of probability enhancement that will get you to the place you need to be, Tyche is the one to call on. As we move closer towards the American and Canadian Thanksgivings, Tyche is also relevant as she is often depicted as carrying the cornucopia. Tyche was also the last goddess standing when, in the late fourth century, paganism finally gave way to the beginnings of the Empire of Christ. She is, in a way, the real ‘Lady of the Underground,’ as depicted in The Magicians. It is her heart that is sought in London as the events of China Mieville’s Kraken unfold (and she is also the sea and the threat to the city as well, she is her own undoing and as such, a very human goddess).

The ‘tyrant’ mentioned in the quote above is more than likely Dionysius the Elder - the government clerk turned supreme military commander (think giving that insufferable little man at the DMV command of the US armed forces) who rose to despotic power through the employ of thousands of ‘Sileraioi,’ a secret order of private mercenaries (think Blackwater or AEGIS). As the short tale and the contest between the two sculptors progresses, however, there begins to be evidence of trouble brewing on Mount Maenalus. Our Bacchanalian, Musides, begins to visibly show less desire and enjoyment in his revelry:

“Then one day Musides spoke of the illness of Kalos… none marveled at his sadness, since the sculptors’ attachment was known to be deep and sacred. Subsequently many went to visit Kalos, and indeed noticed the pallor on his face; but there was about him a happy serenity which made his glance more magical than the glance of Musides — who was clearly distracted with anxiety, and who pushed aside all… in his eagerness to feed and wait upon his friend with his own hands…”

Others have written on this, but I can not look over the given the description of the Son of Muses’ sadness at the sickness of his ‘Beautiful Boy,’ especially where Lovecraft pens how deep and sacred was his attachment to Kalos. It makes this plainly a tale of two men devoted and in love with one another. The scene that does it for me is where Musides is feeding his sick friend, calling up in my memory the intimate scenes between Prior and Louis after Prior begins to exhibit symptoms related to his condition. The Tree’s ailing sculptor comes to a similar end:

“At last the end drew near, and Kalos discoursed of things beyond this life. Musides, weeping, promised him a sepulcher more lovely than the tomb of Mausolus… Only one wish now haunted the mind of the dying man; that twigs from certain olive trees in the grove be buried by his resting place — close to his head. And on night, sitting alone in the darkness of the olive grove, Kalos died.

Beautiful beyond words was the marble sepulcher which stricken Musides carved for his beloved friend…”

The tomb of Mausolus, known also as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, is extant as ruins and can be visited as a potent Lovecraftian Magical gate. It is also the progenitor of the universal term for above-ground tombs, the mausoleum. But I digress… Our Bacchanalian, now drunk with grief, returns to the arms of his urban-chaos-goddess-as-statue, pouring his energy into her:

“As the first violence of Musides’ grief gave place to resignation, he labored with diligence upon his figure of Tyche. All honor was now his, since the Tyrant of Syracuse would have the work of none save him or Kalos… he toiled more steadily each day… his evenings were spent beside the tomb of his friend, where a young olive tree had sprung up near the sleeper’s head…

Three years after the death of Kalos, Musides despatched a messenger to the Tyrant, and it was whispered in the agora of Tegea that the mighty stature was finished… The sky was dark on the evening that the Tyrant’s emissaries came to Tegea… As the night wore on, a violent storm of wind broke over the crest of Maenalus… The wind shrieked more horribly, and both the Syracuse’s and the Arcadians prayed to Aiolos.”

It is impressive that even here, in a tale placed so far from his haunted New England, that the author embeds key features of the Lovecraftian imaginal landscape, beginning with the ruined house at the start of the tale, to the aesthetic of the inspirited orchard that is most prominent in The Colour Out of Space but is none the less present in this tale’s paniscae-infected olive grove. It is also useful for the Lovecraftian magic-user to take note of the uttered prayers to Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds. His name has a number of cognates, including aiolos, aiolokhros, astraios, and ouranos which mean glittering, spangled, starry, and ‘night-sky’ respectively. Storms are, of course, deeply embedded across Lovecraft’s oeuvre, as is the vault of the night-sky, but so is the dawn where our author often places the revealed evidence of the spirit-world’s interaction with our own:

“In the sunshine of the morning… the night-wind had done strange things… a scene of desolation… upon the sumptuous greater peristyle had fallen squarely the heavy overhanging bough of the strange new tree, reducing [it]… with odd completeness to a mound of unsightly ruins… [the tree] whose roots reached so queerly into the sculptured sepulcher of Kalos… Amidst such stupendous ruin only chaos dwelt… Syracusans… had no stature to bear home…”

Our tarot card match for ‘The Tree’ is the Nine of Coins.

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Our Etteilla deck offers us two keywords for investigation, Deception and Effect. Beginning with the later, effect, we find is to come from the Latin ‘effectus,’ meaning and accomplishment or performance. The story revolves around the creation of the statue of Tyche, which would have been the penultimate accomplishment for either sculptors career. Moving further back we find it to be related to the PIE root *dhe-, which means ‘to set,’ or ‘put.’ *dhe- expands out to artifact, deed, defeat, edifice, malefactor, malfeasance, petrify, and is the hypothetical source for the Old Persian ‘ada,’ meaning ‘he made.’ Deception is from the Latin ‘deceptionem,’ meaning ‘a deceiving,’ which I quite like. It stems from the PIE root *kap-, which means ‘to grasp.’ *kap- is the hypothetical source for the Greek ‘kaptein,’ meaning ‘to swallow.’ It is of note that the never-mentioned vehicle of Kalos death was very likely delivered via his food.

In the end this is a tale of animism, of statues embodying goddesses of chaos and of trees holding the vengeful spirits of lover wronged. The Tree is an archetype for the dead made flesh again, of a self-initiated necromancy, the olive branch buried with Kalos is, in this tale, not being a vehicle for peace or surrender, but for revenge and the long memory the dead have for injustice.