And thus continues the haunted corn maze that is the month of October…
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have been enchanting the fuck out of my life this month, trying to break a decades old cycle of bad luck. Things seem to be picking up. My Jeep now only sputters and pops while idling and the battery, which was being inexplicably drained every night, is now running on new Cyprian cells and staying at its normal voltage. I think it needs a new fuel pump regulator, but I don’t know I spell for that. Maybe the Book of Oberon has one, I’ll have to check (and now I'm wondering, will there be a patron saint of self driving cars when the future is upon us?). Still no movement on the job front, and I’m unsure if it is because I am supposed to be where I am at or if my enchantments are not strong enough to bend the Luck Plane in my direction.
As part of my work, I have decided to pull the trigger on the de facto nuclear option of folk saints, Santa Muerte. I have been on the fence about her, simultaneously fascinated and wholly unsure if it was appropriate for me to work with her. More than once I’ve held her candles and statues in my hand at El Rey Mercado, only to put her back on the shelf with a mix of terror and embarrassment. Reading the work of Andrew Chestnut helped a bit, but due to the fact that he is coming at her as a participant observer, from an ‘othered’ anthropological perspective, well, it didn’t get me all the way there. Then came Tracy Rollin, the chaos magician, and her book on the Bony Lady. I devoured it, and while her statements are made without reference to source material (and maybe that is not such a bad thing, she does thank Dr. Chestnut in the dedication so there was research had at one point) all of her logic (magi-logic?) is sound. She makes an excellent case for working with Santa Muerte, regardless of race, culture, creed, or class. So I finally bought the candles. I’ll talk more about her in a bit, there is already a lot to say.
Part of trying to unbind October for me has been studying the act of binding, or, not really studying, but picking out relevant tech when I find it while reading through other source material. Take, for instance, this quote from Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft:
“Supernaturally induced bad luck, whether occasioned by the casual glance of someone’s evil eye or a more potently organized attack, is always the result of an unconscious blind spot in the victim’s deep mind, either created by or played upon by the attacker. The mischief this works is technically known in the craft as binding the victim’s soul or deep mind, thus rendering him considerably more accident-prone than he generally is”
I find this interesting because it helps support a theory I have been toying with, that cursework can be done easily by non-magic folks through sheer force of will. That ‘casual glance’, if it comes from someone with enough emotion about you, or even about their own lives that you just happen to wander through, can, I think, bind a curse to you with ease. Especially if the person is a stranger or a non-magic-y friend or coworker or family member. If a curse is unconsciously flung from someone whom you wouldn’t think to guard yourself against, there goes that blind spot, right?
Similarly, you, yes you there behind the bed stand, are magically active, aren’t you? Do you have complete control over you emotions, like those purple potion drinking battle mages in The Magicians? Probably not. No one does. So what happens when, in the course of your living life as your non-magical secret identity, someone ruins your day, or cuts you off in traffic, or calls you to collect a debt. Are you throwing off spontaneous bindings and curses with every glance? I think it is more common then you might expect.
Every morning this month (except one, which turned into a hellish day), after a cup of coffee (so I don’t yawn during prayers, I can just tell that is pissing someone/thing off when it happens), I have been reading a certain orison from the Leitao’s Book of Saint Cyprian to begin my spell/prayer regimen. The orison is designed to assist a priest in unbinding a poor soul afflicted or cursed by supernaturally induced bad luck. Everyday I read it, the more I’m convinced that this should be at least an annual practice for any magician. Cursework is a constant tap on your energy. Do you know any binding with hard expiration dates? I don’t. Unless you have cause to work on someone for more than a year, I'm thinking that an orison such as the one offered in the BoSC could be used to great effect to, in a way, reset the magical P-RAM.
This orison has other details that have started to stick out for me, perhaps due to my repetition of it. Take the below quote where I've woven together two sections of the orision that list all of the different types of bindings that could be worked on a person:
“unbind all that is bound… let it be untied, unbound in any way it may be. I unbind it, unstitch it, tear, trample and scrap it all, dolls that may be hidden in any well… if any sorcery was made unto the hairs on thy head, the clothes on thy body, the linens of thy bed, or on thy shoes, or in cotton, silk, linen, or wool, or the hair of a Christian, or [Moor], or heretic, or in the bones of a human creature, or of a bird or any other animal; or in wood, or in books, or in Christian graves [or the grave of a Moor], or in a fountain or bridge, or altar, or river, or at home, or in a wall of lime, or in a field, or in a solitary place, or in any church, or any river branch, in a house made of wax or marble, or in a cloth doll or in a puddle toad, or in food or drink, or on the dirt of the left or right foot, or on anything one may make a sorcery with…”
The Book of Saint Cyprian isn't big on offering curses as magical tech, it has a different aims. The list in this orison, however, gives us a fairly complete picture of all of the types of cursework that was in use when the Book was written. I'm not contrary to cursework, quite the opposite, I think it is a necessary part of living a magelife. By reverse engineering this list, and by including a regular reset of bindings, I think there might be a formula here for a type of pre-conversion full spectrum Cyprianic system of magic that is in line with the ethics and message of the BoSC, that it does not matter what type of magic you work, that you will find your way back to a place of purity when it is time.
For this week’s imbrication I’ve chosen to fold in some Death Positive / Santa Muerte culture from the Youtubes.
For you consideration *Rod Serling Voice* I present the Mexicano rapper El Pinche Mara, originally from Yucatan, and now a resident of Guadalajara, he is swiftly becoming an incredibly influential force in his genre. In the video below, La Catrina del Barrio, we see the depth and pervasiveness of Santa Muerte. Looking at it with our magic-eyes, especially in the scene that is spliced in around the 4:30 mark that features a young man talking to the saint in what appears to be plain language, like one would speak to a mother or a girlfriend, this is what breaks the Western mind and especially breaks the Western view of death. This close familial relationship with the Holy Lady of Death is a direct threat to normative WASP culture. Remember that the next time you read criticism of Lovecraft that paints him as some kind of New England WASP archetype.
In the second video from El Pinche Mara, ‘I am Asleep’, we find him waking from a deep sleep in a graveyard. You’ll recognize this from a similar scene in The Tomb. Forgive the ridiculous subtitles. I couldn’t find a version of the video without them.
And finally, check out his video ‘Hallucinating’. The surrealism and symbolism in this work completes our imbrication with The Tomb, pulling in the journeying aspect and Jervas’ life among the trees, accompanied by the Fae spirit guides.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN TOMB
Much modern criticism of Lovecraft puts forth the assertion that he was a rational empirically minded individual that did not believe in the supernatural. I contest those assertions. Take, for example, this quote from a story written early in his career, The Tomb:
“Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.”
One could argue that Lovecraft is merely 'writing in character', that it is the main figure in The Tomb, one Jervas Dudley, that thinks this way and not Lovecraft himself. If that is the case, then what does that say about all of the Lovecraftian literalist criticism that make statements to the effect that because he espouses Post-Victorian imperialist racism and classism, that he embodies those traits in the real? I think, and I especially think this because The Tomb was written so early, that Lovecraft was not the avowed atheist and skeptic that he is painted as but was in fact, a real believer in the supernatural and in the world of the spirit, as the above quote states.
Another telling statement, if we are to look at the man through this lens follows:
"This no human creature may do; for lacking the fellowship of the living, he inevitably draws upon the companionship of things that are not, or are no longer, living."
This is not a statement of a man who does not believe in the existence of spirits.
The Tomb is a verdant tale, Lovecraft's description of the woods that are the young Jervas' playground are a precursor of his later tales of the endless and impenetrable New England forests. I especially like the allusions to the Dryad, to tree spirits, and the hints that he was not only in their company but was in contact with them during his forest visits. I've always like the idea of the denizens of the Fae not being tied just to the land of the Celts, or to the Netherlands, etc. But in fact are in possession of a global kingdom. Evan-Wentz' Faerie Faith actually hints at this as well, some stories that he collects, particularly the accounts of the Gentry, make mention of their existence in the Americas.
The Fae are not the focus of the Tomb, but they do make the magical reality of Jervas Dudley that much richer. The description of the forest surrounding the Tomb are some of the best Lovecraft has to offer:
“when the senses are well-nigh intoxicated with the surging seas of moist verdure and the subtly indefinable odors of the soil and the vegetation. In such surroundings the mind loses its perspective; time and space become trivial and unreal, and echoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the enthralled consciousness.”
A pre-historical ghost forest, if ever there was one.
Jervas' parents represent a modern (read: archaic) Western view of death, in that it should be hidden away. Jervas Dudley represents a much older (and much younger) death positive outlook. We did not used to shun our dead, but lived with them, communicating with the regularly. This examination of The Tomb is timely as it coincides with multiple death positivity nodes, such as The Order of the Good Death and its ostensible founder, Caitlin Doughty with her new book From Here to Eternity, and the previously mentioned 13+ million strong followers of the Lady of Holy Death, Santa Muerte.
It is said in the tale that, due to his eccentricities as a youth, Jervas’ willful parents had ensured that he stayed away from cemeteries and places of death growing up. This helps to explain the fascination that he has with the Tomb when he finds it embedded in that hill in the moss and fern covered moraine. The Tomb represents one of Lovecraft’s most familiar tropes. The locked door or gate or impassable barrier that if opened, reveals a world populated with spirits, demons, devils, or cosmic horrors.
It isn’t long before Jervas’ vigils before this barrier pay off and a sign is given him from inside the space. Jervas’, through what is revealed later to be an unconscious form of journeying, has begun a rich adventure into the realm of the necromancy and ancestor work.
Quoting again from, ‘Mastering Witchcraft’, Huson has the following to say about necromancy:
“Necromancy… can be an extremely taxing operation to perform… if a physical manifestation is required, as is always required when the shade is conjured to physical appearance… complications aside, necromancy is one of the more spectacular of magical operations when successful”
What Jervas ‘almost’ describes (Lovecraft at his vague horror best here) truly spectacular revelry once he gains entry (is allowed to enter) the Tomb.
It is closing in on Hallows Eve and Dia de los Muertos here in Wisconsin. Every yard I look at as I sputter down the road in the mornings has a Grim Reaper in it. It is an excellent month, I think, to begin working with the Bony Lady, Santa Muerte. The Lady of Holy Death also fits perfectly with the primary thesis of this post. That Jervas’ even though he is the explicit ‘hero’ of the tale, is not the primary character. No, the primary archetype is The Tomb itself. Jervas is but a cog, a widget, that is used to emphasize the multifaceted archetype made of earth and stone and bone.
In Tracy Rollin’s book on Santa Muerte, she is explicit in describing Santa Muerte as not (only) an embodiment of death, but also the embodiment of the feminine. Let’s look at her description of the black manifestation of the folk saint, Nina Negra:
“Nina Negra is the black aspect of Santa Muerte, and the one most sensationalized and feared. Her reputation as the bringer of ruin and death is appropriate, since that capacity falls well within Nina Negra’s purview. This is a woefully limited scope of view of Nina Negra, however, because her maternal and protective impulses are just as strong as any other aspect of Santa Muerte’s.”
Jervas' journeying descent into the Tomb can be considered a type of time travel, and a re-embracing of the womb. Death and birth are just two sides of the same coin. The quote from Rollin emphasizes this, as even in her darkest manifestation, the one closest to death, destruction, and the dead - Santa Muerte is still seen as a type of mother. Jervas descent into the Tomb is his embrace of the maternal aspect of Santa Muerte. Rollin continues:
“As the gatekeeper between life and death, Nina Negra can also open the doorway to the spirit realms, allowing both astral travel and communication with spirits”
Once these two nodes are connected, we see that Nina Negra is the protagonist of the story, and that Jervas is the antagonist that enters her, that supplicates himself before her, that enjoys her fruits. And once we view Lovecraft’s story through this (skeletal) frame, we see this as one of the few stories that connects with a female archetype in the tarot. In this instance, the Empress.
Jodorwosky begins by describing the Empress as a type of:
“bursting without experience…”
Jervas, after his revels in The Tomb, is exhibited as bursting into creative sea shanties and generally having more energy and engagement than normal, all without any experience ‘in the real’ of the Tomb. He is being ridden by the Empress, or is embodying the playful energy of Santa Muerte. The Way of the Tarot continues, stating that the Empress archetype teaches that:
“we are not the original source of our sexual and creative power but that is a divine or cosmic energy that travels through us”
This refers to both the act of communing with death, the Death Positive attitude, and the act of journeying (and as Jervas shows us, sometimes both at the same time).
Being Jodorwosky, he of course takes his definitions of the cards (maybe) too far, picking up on the minutest details of the Marseille Tarot when he remarks:
“Her green eyes are the eyes of eternal Nature in relation with the celestial forces”
In his fits of intuition, Jordorowsky picks up on the verdant landscape in which the Tomb is discovered and continually accessed.
In closing his exploration of the Empress, he offers us probably the best insight, strengthening the weight of the edges connecting our nodes:
“The Empress carries an element of masculinity within… at the heart of greatest femininity is a male core. This is the Yang point inside the Tao yin, just like the female core can be found at the center of the strongest masculinity… if we can penetrate the intelligent light of The Empress’s heart, we will be able to exercise our creative power… The Empress… is burning on the inside and dresses in coldness on the outside. To enter her, it is necessary to seduce her… but once you are past her defenses, you are welcomed into her creative fire.”
Cold on the outside, Santa Muerte is a warm caring mother and lover on the inside. The Tomb is also cold, as Jervas waits, sleeping and sending his consciousness towards her until he is given the key in a dream (a dream that he believes is his reality). Once inside, he is comforted by his place in the casket marked just for him and alludes to all manner of revelry and fire with his ancestors beneath the haunted hill.
“She is the soul of adolescence with its joyous fanaticism, its inability to recognize the consequences of its actions, its faith in action for the sake of action… The Empress is also a woman of power, warm hearted but capable of dominating impulses. She loves to conceive and to rule… when she is enthroned at the peak of her nurturing power, we learn that everything living can be seen in her beauty… [she teaches] that all your ideas are beautiful. You may consider even your most atrocious, most criminal, and vilest thoughts in all their splendor.”
Everything living can be seen in the picture of death, Santa Muerte holds a globe in her hand in nearly every manifestation. She is all powerful, possessing warmth and tenderness but capable of wiping out entire generations or nations of people, of causing the mass extinction of animals, of decimating entire species of trees, thus changing the fundamental laws of nature.
Rounding out our thesis with Wen’s notes on the Empress, the Holistic Tarot states (in a much briefer fashion than Jodorwosky) that:
“There is speculation that The Empress is inspired by the historic figure Saint Adelaide of Italy… St. Adelaide is considered the patron saint of empresses… brides… widows… abuse victims, prisoners, and exiles.”
Santa Muerte shares these same attributes. She is herself a Holy Queen, a bride, and the patron of widows and those abused and imprisoned by our social constructs.
In the end, Jervas is imprisoned as well, after speaking openly of his journeying and his necromancy, he is seen as mad and a danger to himself. I see this as a choice we all of us in the West need to make (if you already are part of a culture that possesses a degree of death positivity, this doesn’t apply), in the 21st c. Do we embrace Death Positivity, or do we choose a different type of tomb?
If anyone truly needs the wonders and magic of The Tomb, it is Jervas, the antagonist, the interloper, that tiny speck of masculinity cowering from the mundane in his cold tiled sanitarium cell, a poor Western imitation of the warmth and mystery offered by the much older method of embracing death and all of her charms.
Credit: This week's cover photo, 'The Tomb', from the hugely talented Greg McDade.