The Seven Hundred Steps

FRONT MATTER

It’s snowing here, after dark, on Saturn’s Day. I am in the living room, the only light coming from the screen of the iMac. I live in a suburb, so there are houses directly outside my window, but there is enough of a urban area artificial ambient light against a sky of solid cloud view to reveal a line of tall trees being quietly enveloped with sticky white percipitation. My kids’ playhouse, that they outgrew a year ago now, sits sadly stuffed with yard toys, silently drowning in the cold. 

This week I focused my practice on journeying. I think a lot of my cohort are able to blend weekly prayers, rituals, timing, etc. all in the same week, but my practice comes hard and slow and often just one approach at a time. So no probability enhancement, just the plubming of the inner worlds, seeking out contact. I have been keeping a focus on Jupiter, however, if only by burning saffron instead of the regular frankencense on his day. The Clavicula explicitly states that any magician that is serious about her practice should at least utter the prayers to the celestial spirits on a daily basis, this is a source of guilt for me. Why does magic contain so much guilt?

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but the cards I draw and map to Lovecraft everyweek are done during personal readings, so they are, in essence, aleatory. I mean, if I get into a story and the archetype screams at me from the first few pages, as has happened the past few weeks, then I will pull the card and work with it that way. In the absence of the deck speaking to me through the text though, I have it speak for itself. If I haven’t mentioned this before, it is because I was hesitant to do so probably because of my materialist / objectivist / neotech past, which sees random or aleatory events as meaningless. I fight those years where I adhered to that philosophical plane, I really must have wired my brain in a specific way because even when conscious of the fallacies, they still manifest. This month, however, is one of those months, where I asked the deck to reveal to me the archetypes in Lovecraft’s novella, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. This week in particular, that bit of faith in the spirit world has really shewn itself to be an effective and accurate method of engaging with reality.

This week’s archetype is the Four of Cups. Now, barring the work of Enrique Enriques and Camelia Elias and Jodorwosky, the pips don’t lend themselves to a rich archetypal interpretation. This is especially so if you have a pension for using decks that predate Rider-Waite, like I do, and only show the suit and in the case of the Ettiella deck that I’ve been using throughout this project, possibly some keywords that can help unlock the card’s meaning with a little research. Since I received my Sola-Busca deck from Scarlet Imprint and the accompanying study, Game of Saturn, I’ve been itching to put them in play. 

Now, the Sola-Busca is not a casual deck, and I don’t care how apt you are at reading the Tarot, if you don’t undertake some serious study of these cards before attempting to use them, they just aren’t going to work for you. They aren’t going to work in the way that they were designed to, anyway. I think by the end of this post, I’ll have proved that point. So here I was, with this essentially nondescript ‘archetype’ of four cups with a filigreed border and a few keywords. I knew that I wasn’t going to get very far in the active imagination practice that I had set out for myself this month with words and a handful of chalices so I turned to the Sola-Busca for a richer well of imagery. I was not disappointed. 

Four of Cups.jpg

Here we have a cherub, a woman, and four, not cups, but wine casks. Three of the casks are up on a shelf and the two figures on the card are holding open a sack and the woman is holding the fourth jug over the mouth of the sack. I let this image sink in and took it with me while going about my daily business. 

Bedtime in my house isn’t as disciplined as it probably should be, and very often I find myself cuddling one or both kids in the living room, with the lights low, waiting for them to run out their inexhaustible stores of energy. This evening was one of those and as I was holding my two year old, as he slumbered in my arms, I had the thought to go ahead and kickstart some Active Imagination, using the Sola-Busca Four of Cups imagery I had looked at that morning. In the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Lovecraft actually reveals some of his own magical practice to us. He recounts on more than one occasion, that the Gate to Light Slumber lies seventy steps down from the Temple of Fire and seven hundred steps down from that plateau is the Gate of Deep Slumber and the enchanted wood. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture Lovecraft in his dressing gown and stiff Victorian sheets, counting the seventy steps to the first plateau and then, when seeking to go deeper into his own dreamworld to find and interact with the entities that he then ‘Red Booked’ for what turned out to be the entire world, he would count the seven hundred steps to that final Gate and the enchanted wood of the Zoogs beyond. I didn’t realize this right away and attempted to place myself at the bottom of the seven hundred stairs, just picturing their vastness behind me. Below are my notes from this first session:

Before me I conjured up the cherub, the woman and the wine casks. The cherub was immediately and terrifyingly hostile, which really surprised and disturbed me. I think it disturbed me more than usual because I was holding my kid at the time and there was this certain feeling that I had made contact with something and that something was not at all that pleased to have had contact made. Is is really difficult to genuinely terrify yourself when you are, essentially, daydreaming. The feeling I had was not internal, that is to say, the fear did not originate from inside me, it was placed there in a response to the experience. The cherub moved quickly and filled my view with a terrible grimace and eyes hard, alive, and angry. There was a feeling of meeting an extremely old entity and one who had grown very used to not being in the minds of humankind. There was a feeling of maliciousness, the inclination towards strife.

The session wasn’t long, I broke it off quickly, genuinely disturbed, and took my kid up to bed.

The next day, I engaged in some further research. I am only three dozen or so pages into the Game of Saturn, so I  don’t know if he mentions the four of cups explicitly, but in the very beginning of his study, Peter Mark Adams does state that only one pip, the Four of Disks, as he calls it, features a woman in it, and only the aces feature cherubs. Maybe he looked past it, maybe he didn’t see the figure as female, I don’t know, but until I prove myself wrong (or right) and finish Game of Saturn I am going to operate under the assumption that the Four of Cups has escaped the scholar’s scrutiny. I’m a librarian, and librarian’s aren’t emberrased to say that they begin their research with Google or Wikipedia, because we know that all research journeys need to begin somewhere and it is your research literacy that dictates where you end up from that starting point. That said, it didn’t take long for me to identify the cherub on the card as not a biblical cherub, but the cherub, Eros, or Cupid, and the woman in the Four of Cups is none other than Venus. 

In his exploration of the Sola-Busca Trumps, Peter Mark Adams calls out two of them as representative of the summer and winter solstice (mapping them to Mithraic archetypes). The image of Eros and Venus surrounded by wine casks, if it holds true that certain cards mark certain days of the year that hold magical importance, can only be a representation of Vinalia urbana, held on April 23rd, a joint festival that celebrates both Venus and Jupiter. Vinalia urbana being the counterpart to Vinalia rustica on August 19th of the Roman calendar, that marks the beginning of the harvest of grapes. Vinalia urbana is a day of testing wine. The finest wines are dedicated to Jupiter and the common everyday wine, the Yellow Tale or or whatever the hell liquid that octogenarian in the line in front of you at Whole Foods is buying by the box is, the profane wine, is dedicated to Venus. 

This is the portion of my research that I learned the most. I did not previously know about all of the different manifestations, the diversity of iterations, that Venus (and presumably all Roman gods) holds. The Venus of Vinalia urbana is Venus the streetwalker, Venus the plebian, Venus the prostitute. This blog, by the self-described ‘unretired call girl’ Maggie McNeil runs through most of the known instantiations of Venus much better than I could, so I’ll defer to her. Suffice to say for our purposes, Eros, instead of being a loving, mischievous godling, is more of an aggressive protector of Venus Volgivava, patron of the streetwalker. Vinalia urbana was a day dedicated to the common, unassuming girl and especially the sex workers of pagan Rome. 

Armed with this research, I returned to the Gate of Deep Slumber the next morning for a proper Active Imagination session on the archetype of the Sola-Busca Four of Cups. Here are the notes from that first proper session: 

There was no strife or danger posed by Eros in this session. This time I was wholly ignored and only watched. Eros held open the bag while Venus placed the four wine casks inside it, but that was the limit of his assistance. I followed behind them on a forest path in Lovecraft’s bioluminescent Enchanted Wood, watching Eros walk silently beside the struggline Venus. Eros not helping his mother shoulder the burden in the sack, I felt, was unusual and it triggered a series of deep memories for me. When I was fifteen, I was thrown out of the house by my mother, and went to stay with a friend in the trailer that he and his father shared. In lighter days, my friend and I had borrowed a television from my mother to use in the trailer. She arrived, piling insult on injury, to repossess her television from my friend, knowning that I was staying there after she had thrown me out. Venus struggling under the burden of that sack brought to the front of my mind an image of my mother struggling to move that giant 1980s television into her van. Following this memory, I felt the presence of Jupiter, I felt him but I didn’t see him. For me, this brought up an all to familiar archetype of a father who chose moeny over family, out of the picture but still on the periphery. I followed the pair until they arrived at a columned marble temple in the woods. I followed them in, but my memory of the events afterward are a bit fuzzy. I do remember encountering a strange creature, a sphere made out of ivy with giant cartoonish eyes. Meeting this strange creature marked the end of the session.

IMBRICATIONS

It is bad enough having to read an account of someone else’s dreams. Dreams are often fantastic or phantasmagorical, and can be somewhat entertaining. Having to read someone’s active imagination sessions, where the feeling of random surprising sureallism is ostensibly muted and the credibility of the narrator, or of the related experiences being ‘geniune’, lacks the phantasmagory and can quickly become excruciating. I have two more sessions to rely, in the context of our deeper explorations of Randolph Carter’s dream quest, but I’ll give both of us a break by offering a few imbrications before continuing.

Well start with something new to me, a pretty decent metal band by the name of MONKEY3, who popped up in my search for imbrications with their song ‘Birth of Venus’. There are some hints in the video that strengthen this group’s effort with our explorations this week if you look closely. Those masks though, I would hate to play an entire set in those things, I hope they only wore them for the video and give up the trope when they hit the stage. A decent track, check it out:

Our second imbrication will become clearer once we work our way through my fourth Active Imagination session on the Sola-Busca Four of Cups. For now, just revel and bow in supplication in the presence of the demigods of nineties power rock, Monster Magnet, and their song, Space Lord. This joint is a particularly good fit, given the location of their video is in Vegas, a city where Vinalia urbana is everyday and Venus Volgivava walks the streets and watches over the city’s sex workers.

If you are really fatigued by my description of my Active Imagination sessions or just prone to serious internet rabbit holes, I offer the following gaping hole in the base of the Wonderland tree by Terrance McKenna, Eros and Psyche in the Light of Psilocybin. I don’t have the time or space to explore all of the mycelial tendrils that McKenna shoots out in this recording, or map them to my archetypal exploration of Eros. That makes the imbrication section a perfect spot for the Lord of Inner Space’s musings on the more universal force of Eros. Maybe we will pick it back up in future posts. I have a feeling Eros is going to stick around for awhile:

FLIGHT OF THE NIGHT GAUNTS

We pick up our hero’s story just as he had discovered the face of the God that he sought on the peak of of Ngranek, so that he might recognize their offspring and get closer to their hidden city. Having lingered to long on the face of the mountain, darkness took him so that he was no longer able to climb up or down, and only cling to his spot and hope to stay awake the entire night.

“Suddenly, without a warning sound in the dark, Carter felt his curved scimitar drawn stealthily out of his belt by some unseen hand. Then he heard it clatter down over the rocks below. And between him and the Milky Way he thought he saw a very terrible outline of something noxiously thin and horned and tailed and bat-winged… a flock of vague entities… flapping thickly and silently out of that inaccessible cave in the face of the precipice… Then a sort of cold rubbery arm seized his neck and something else seized his feet, and he was lifted inconsiderately up and swung about in space… Carter knew that the night-gaunts had got him.”

The Night-Gaunts, described by Lovecraft below, are easily mapped to our archetype, the Four of Cups, when we insert the Sola-Busca instantiation of the card into the formula. Carter, as narrator, describes them in greater detail below:

“his captors [were] uncouth black beings with smooth, oily, whale-like surfaces, unpleasant horns that curved inward toward each other, bat-wings whose beating made no sound, ugly prehensile paws, and barbed tails that lashed needlessly and disquietingly… they never spoke or laughed, and never smiled because they had no faces at all to smile with, but only a suggestive blankness where a face out to be…”

The facelessness in intriguing and ties into the journeying experience, I think. I’ve always found it difficult to get spirits to show their faces, especially when I want to see them, during active imagination. Daniel Harms gives us a deeper look at the Night Guant in his Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia.

“Nightgaunts. Species found in both the Dreamlands and the waking world. Anatomically, they are much like humans, save for their whale-like skin, huge bat-wings, horns, and a blankness where there faces should be… most are black in color, though one rare white one was reported. Sometimes they carry tridents… Nightgaunts are usually found in desolate places, as far from humanity as possible… Nightgaunts are said to follow Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss, but are allied to some degree with the ghouls, Yibb-Tstll, Yegg-ha, and the Lords of Luz, a realm beneath the mountains sepeartiong Inganok from Leng. It has been suggested that the nightgaunts are native to the Dreamlands’ Great Abyss… The summoning of a nightgaunt requires the use of a stone bearing the Elder Sign at night, but nothing else is known of this procedure.”

The Night-Gaunts deposit Carter in another part of the land and that is the end of their role. This tracks with how I think communication with such old spirits as Cupid or the Cherubim would go. No explanation, movement, but no communication, as they do not normally traffic with man, or care to. Carter finds his way out of the black gulf he was placed in, a literal void filled with the markers of death, by communicating with the Ghouls of Pickman’s Model, the dog-headed, corpse eating race that can enter the Dreamlands through their burrowing beneath graveyards. This, essentially, allows Lovecraftian Magical physics to connect the acts of dreaming and death. After some investigatory meeping (you’ll just have to read the story), Carter finds himself in audience with ‘The Ghoul That Was Pickman’, himself:

“the ghoul that was Pickman advised Carter either to leave the abyss at Sarkomand, that deserted city in the valley below Leng where black nitrous stairways gaurded by winged diorite lions lead down from dreamland to the lower guls, or to return through a churchyard to the waking world and begin the quest anew down the seventy steps of light slumber to the cavern of flame and the seven hundred steps to the Gate of Deep Slumber and the enchanted wood…”

As an aside, the above quote connects Sarkomand and Leng with Saint Mark, Babylonia, and Venice. This is important, we will put a pin on our corkboard and wait to see what strings of yarn we can attach to it in the future.

Carter, when given the choice of paths, ultimately chooses a path through a city of towers to gain access to the one primary tower that will take him back to the Enchanted Wood where he began his journeying. He is given three ghouls as guides and told to disguise himself as a dog man as well. In their journey, there is mention of Col. Nehemiah Derby, who’s gravestone they use to help dig their way to the city of towers. There is a Richard Derby buried in Burying Point, another name for Charter Street Burial Ground, and the cemetery is the final resting place of many Witch Hunters. Since that stone is in the possession of the ghouls, is that not a symbolic desecration of the Witch Hunters laying there and a commentary on what side Lovecraft is ultimately on? Not on the side of the atheist, not one that eschews the occult and witchcraft, but an ally of the other whose heros dig up the graves of witch hunters and scatter their bones into the void.

Now seems like a good time to insert my third Active Imagination session, as an intermission on our way through the ghoul’s gravelit tunnels to the City of Towers. The notes from that session are below:

Nothing of note happened this session, which often is the case when performing Active Imagination. I mention that here for those that might be new to the practice and frustrated by those days when nothing truly surprising happens, when no authentic contact is made. I woke up that morning at 3:30 AM, very awake, and that might have something to do with it. There is something about the hypnagogic state after just waking, while the coffee is taking effect. This morning was one of those when I was rested and woke up right away. During the session, I just sort of shuffled around the details I already had about the archetype I was envisioning. There were no surprises and the visuals were clearly my own. There was a visit to Jupiter’s temple and a slight insight into the nature of storms and Jupiter, and the statements in the Clavicula that the sky needs to be clear for operations, but nothing surprising. Such is the life of magic, it is more than often as mundane as that of the normals.

Let’s see where Carter has gotten to on the cthonic portion of his quest. It looks like they are through with the tunnels and have found their way to the city of towers:

“On the right of the hole out of which they wriggled, and seen through aisles of monoliths, was a stupendous vista of Cyclopean round towers mounting up illimitable into the grey air of inner earth. This was the great city of the gugs… At last they came to a somewhat open space before a tower even vaster than the rest, above whose colossal doorway was fixed a monstrous symbol in bas-relief which made one shudder without knowing its meaning. This was the central tower with the sign of Koth, and those huge stone steps just visible through the dusk within were the beginning of the great flight leading to upper dreamland and the enchanted wood.”

Towers, for Lovecraft (and for us, if we are to adopt his magical aesthetic), are liminal spaces, window spaces, like crossroads, which is why we have an entire city of towers in Dreamland and a primary tower that connects to a different part of the world. We think (or I think, or I used to think) of towers as purposeful parts of the built environment, but what is their purpose really, and what does that small interior space removed from the rest of the built environment and ostensibly suspended in space mean? Where does it connect? I think Lovecraft is on to something here. Through this liminal space, Carter is returned to the enchanted wood and after cleansing himself in a pool, washing out the dirt of the underworld, he puts his clothes back on and resumes his course as a man. Carter, being ferried through the underworld via the ghouls, Lovecraft’s resident cyncocephali, becomes in essence, Eros himself, through the vehicle of Saint Christopher. This connection is strengthened when we view the entry for Saint Christopher in Beidermann’s Dictionary of Symbolism:

“Christopher was portrayed as a giant with a leafy staff or stake in his hand (symbolizing justification through divine grace) and on his shoulder the Christ child, who is holding the imperial apple, symbol of the world. Frescoes depicting St. Christopher are common inside churches, which is explained by the popular belief that anyone seeing Christopher’s image would not die on that day; this encouraged frequent visits to churches. Christopher thus came to be seen as offering protection against sudden death; hence his modern status as a patron saint of travelers. Iconographic prototypes may include late Egytian portrayals of the dog-headed Anubis with the child Horus, or images of Hercules with the child Eros (Cupid) on his shoulder. The legendary saint is an image of the witnessing believer who bears Christ through the world and thus attains salvation.  The Golden Legend… gives the following account of him: ‘He carried Christ in four ways: on his shoulders, when he transported him over the water, in his body, through the mortification to which he submitted himself; in his spirit, through his fervent prayers, in his mouth, through his witness and his sermons.’ In the Jewish and Islamic faiths the ancestral father Abraham, who will serve only the greatest master and thus comes to know God, in this respect plays a role analogous to that of Christopher.”

Carter’s Dream Quest is fueled by a desire to enter the ‘Sunset City’ whose entry is barred by the gods he seeks. Carter has, in this section of Dream-Quest, became a type of Lovecraftian Christ, seeking to know the Great Ones and thus, enter a veritable kingdom of Heaven, a city so delightful, so architecturally and social pleasing to the eye, that he can think of no other goal. Carter as Eros, or Cupid, has other through-lines that we will explore in a bit, particularly his near constant state of journeying by sea, a key theme in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili as Eros ferries Polifilo across the water to his final destination, the island of Cytherea. But before we get there, let’s see where Carter roamed after making his way out of the Enchanted Wood, once again:

“Down through this verdant land Carter walked at evening, and saw twilight float up from the river to the marvellous golden spires of Thran. And just at the hour of dusk he came to the southern gate, and was stopped by a red-robed sentry till he had told three dreams beyond belief, and proved himself a dreamer worthy to walk up Thran’s steep mysterious streets and linger in bazaars where the wares of the ornate galleons were sold.”

Another intriguing note that has Lovecraft supporting the ‘redbooking’ of one’s dreams. When Carter reached the city of Thran, he had to prove that not only was he a vetran dreamer, but he was a dreamer with intention and a dreamer that took his dreams for meaning and magic, and not just for a biological process. The red-robed sentry, could in fact, be seen by modern readers, as a manifestation of the Red Book and the processes of redbooking… You need to tell the Red Book three of your most fantastic dreams before new levels of journeying and dreaming, and thus new knowledge, may be acheived. 

From Thran, Carter finds himself in the city of Celephais, another place we have visited in a past Gnome School post, which curiously maps to the Three of Cups, our current archetype’s neighbor. From Celephais, he finds passage to the city of Inganok on a ship manned by people with faces like he saw hewn from the rock of Mt. Ngranek. On that voyage, Carter recalls the sailors speaking of the great onyx quarries surround the city:

“far to the north, amlost in the cold desert whose existence the men of Inganok did not care to admit, there was an unused quarry greater than all the rest; from which had been hewn in forgotten times such podigious lumps and blocks that the sight of their chiselled vacancies struck terrot to all who beheld. WHo had mined those incredible blocks, and whither they had been transported, no man might say; but it was thought best not to trouble that quarry, around which such inhuman memories might conveiably cling. So it was left all alone in the twilight, with only the raven… to brood on its immensities…”

This is yet another nod to Gordon White’s Star.Ships and the great quarries of basalt from Nam-Modal and Easter Island, where even in the 21st c., humankind has no idea how the rock was mined and transported. These passages connect Lovecraft’s Dreamland and Lovecraftian Magic directly with the Prehistory of Spirits, the nature of deep time, and primeaval latent knowledge stored in the collective unconscious.

This is as far as we will follow Carter this week and is the half-way point of his quest. To fully map the archetype to this portion of the tale, to the dual manifestations of Eros, the Night Gaunts and Carter as the cthonic Christ child born on the back of corpse eating dog-headed ghouls, we will look at one final Active Imagination session where I attempt to finalize contact with the entities represented on the Sola-Busca version of the card.

In this final session, realizing that I needed to adhere to Lovecraft’s praxis closer, I walke the seventy steps down to the first plateau, where I find I Eros and Venus with their sack and wine casks. At first, the only surprise, the only insight, is the way her arm is shaped. I realize that she is pulling the jubs out of the sack, not putting them in. Following this, a profile of a man came through, he had a thick bushy goatee a mustache and a hooked nose. I had the feeling he was the vitner but could this have been Jupiter? He was not a face I expected or have ever seen before, at least not consciously. I focus on the man with the aquiline nose and goatee, his clothes mix from ancient Roman to Renaissance to a plain tunic which seems to fit. He points toward a combined temple, Venus and Eros taking the wine out of the sack, four jugs. I catch a glimpse of a young man’s face, he is wearing an aviators cap and as I focus on him I see he is in a hot air balloon. Since this is highly unusual And not what I can where to see, I climb on board and am lifted into the atmosphere, watching Venus and Eros recede. Into space and quickly across the gulf of blackness and into the atmosphere of Jupiter, we descend and I am on a new plateau in front of an identical temple. I walk through the orange dust cloud and enter the temple.

The temple is filled with pink orchids, which I believe is an image from Lovecraft, and there is Eros and a statue of Venus in her sex worker manifestation, gaunt, pale, sad. Eros has batwings, which might come from what I’ve learned above about Lovecraft’s night gaunts. He is looking down. A table appears, a white table cloth. A pale tan river rock is on the table. I sit at the table and concentrate on the river rock. As I do I feel that Eros is up and close and looking at me and he is terrifying with his bat wings and a mouth full of bat teeth. Venus is now flesh but dripping with blood. I am meant to focus only on the rock, which i do, I only feel the terrible visages of the gods standing above me. The rock is there to protect me as i concentrate on its spirit instead of the terrors standing above me. My thoughts and my vision of Venus turn to my own mother again. The association with my mother is the lesson. I physically get chills as I realize that Venus the sex worker is also a mother and Eros the bat wing bastard child of a random John is also a child that is loved by his mother. Learning this, I find myself back in the balloon and am transported back to the gate of light slumber, which is the end of my journey.

I won't belabor the Four of Cups’ traditional definition too much, it is suffice to say that it maps to internal reflection and a sense of disappointment with society and how things are ‘normally done’, or the ‘status quo. It suggests an attempt to understand oneself, which with the very personal meaning that was given me through my Active Imagination sessions, I can’t disagree at all. This card also maps directly to the Hermit, The Priest in Ettellia’s deck, which was our first archetype, the first manifestation of Randolph Carter, and thus, the Four of Cups is a natural evolutionary form for our guide to Lovecraft’s dreamlands.