Walking the Labyrinth
“What we want, we may make about us; and what we don’t want, we may sweep away…”
I picked up a copy of Daniel Harm’s translation of ‘The Long Lost Friend’ this week. It has been on my list since I began this research project into Lovecraftian Magic. Not only was the Long Lost Friend the most important and widely distributed grimoire of its time, it is said to have deeply influenced all forms of American Magic, the macro-category of which Lovecraftian Magic is securely nestled within.
According to Harms, ‘The Long Lost Friend’ was made possible by the niche that the Pennsylvania Dutch made in the colonies, and their own legacy of religious tolerance that made it possible for the German Catholic author of the grimoire, one John George Hohman, to live and find space to publish his works. ‘The Long Lost Friend’ was continually published in different editions between the years of 1820 and 1924. For one with Lovecraft’s reading habits, this text would not have escaped his notice. In fact, I would wager that it deeply influenced his characterizations of those ‘backwoods’ individuals and cults that also housed uncatalogued copies of the Necronomicon. ‘The Long Lost Friend’ must have deeply appealed to Lovecraft when he encountered it, it having been designed for individuals just like himself — alone, struggling, and out-of-touch with the wider community. In the case of the original readership, this was due to the remoteness of 19th century farming in the Pennsylvania area. In Lovecraft’s case, his remoteness extended inward, a manifestation of his innate ‘Otherness.’
Our tale this week reflects quite deeply on this sense of otherness our author must have acutely felt. It is quite transparently autobiographical in the beginning, evolving into phantasy and metaphor as the tale progresses. We begin in that most urban of places, New York City.
Because of the blessed age we live in, we even have access to the sounds of New York in the twenties, when Lovecraft lived there and when our tale takes place, perhaps a fitting soundtrack for the first words from our narrator as he reflects on his decision to live in city:
“My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient trees that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and square and waterfronts… and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only… horror and oppression…”
My research last week into The Shadow Over Innsmouth has been haunting me. Particularly the bit at the end, where the maddened Mr. Williamson declares that he will join the Deep Ones and their mission to erect the grandest city on the ‘upper-earth’ with the help of their hybrid children. A city that will finally ‘get the attention’ of Great Cthulhu. Since those words I have not been able to stop thinking of the city as a type of intricate talisman or sigil, built upon the earth with purpose. This tale is all about living inside of that sigil, inside the sphere of magic (either beneficent or malefic) that a city creates.
“there came… a shuddering blankness… and I saw… a fearful truth… the unwhisperable secret of secrets — the fact that this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its sprawling body imfperfectly embalmed and infested with… animate things which have nothing to do with it as it was in life…”
This is a clearly animist world view of the city, and an interesting perspective of the city able to be both alive and dead — or undead in New York’s case, a corpse city animated by a host of other life forms.
“The man came upon me at about two one cloudy August morning, as I was threading a series of detached courtyards; now accessible only through the unlighted hallways of intervening buildings… He spoke to me without invitation, noting my mood and glances as I studied certain knocked doorways above iron-railed steps… His own face was in shadow, and he wore a wide brimmed hat which blended… with the… cloak he affected… His form was very slight… and his voice proved… soft and hollow… I followed him… The things we saw were very old and marvelous… and I shall never forget the tottering Ionic columns and fluted pilasters and urn-headed iron fence-posts and flaring-linteled windows and decorative fanlights that appeared to grow quarter and stranger the deeper we advanced into this inexhaustible maze of unknown antiquity”
What is being described here is the same magical act found in ‘The Silver Key.’ Our narrator, upon meeting ‘He,’ is pulled through the urban cave, the labyrinthine organic structure of the city. This is the same as when Randolph Carter returned to The Snake Den and threaded the passageways until arriving at the Red Center, the source of all of his dreams and memories and the catalyst that makes his retrocausitive enchantments a reality.
“at last, after traversing a horrible unlighted court where my guide had to lead with his gloved hand through total blackness… we came upon a fragment of alley lit only by lanterns… unbelievably colonial tin lanterns with conical tops and holes punches in the sides. This alley led steeply uphill… and the upper end was blocked squarely by the ivy-clad wall of a private estate, beyond which I could see a pale cupola, and the topes of trees waving against a vague lightness in the sky. In this wall was a small, low-arched gate of nail-studded black oak, which the man proceeded to unlock with a ponderous key. Leading me within, he steered a course… over… a gravel path, and finally up a flight of stone steps to the door of [a] house, which he unlocked and opened for me.”
To which he has found his way back to the Red Center, which in this tale takes the form of a hyper-nostalgic house hidden deep inside of New York City. If we follow this narrative to a magical powerspot, we can look to the center of New York City, which is reported to be on Stockholm Street between Wyckoff and Saint Nicholas Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The actual property for the Red Center of New York City is 365 Stockholm Street, Brooklyn, NY.
One can imagine a purposeful wander (a relevant starting point would be the local pub, Left Hand Path) in this area of Bushwhick that ends up at this point, a type of urban labyrinth meditation that can be used to activate retrocausitive sigils or otherwise phreaking past hypernostalgic frequencies through other types of enchantments.
And just like in The Silver Key, our narrator follows his guide inside the home at the center of the past. Inside the home, up the stairs, was a very common gateway to the past that is open to us all, magically-adjacent and muggle alike — a library. ‘He’ removes his costume to reveal Georgian attire.
The pair sit, and ‘He’ begins to speak:
“You behold, Sir… a man of very eccentrically habits… Reflecting upon better times, I have not scrupled to ascertain their ways and adopt their dress and manners; an indulgence which offends none if practiced without ostentation. It hath been my good-fortune to retain the rural seat of my ancestors… There were many reasons for the close keeping of this place in my family, and I have not been remiss in discharging such obligations. The squire who succeeded to it in 1768 studied sartain arts and made sartain discoveries, all connected with influences residing in this particular plot of ground…”
He,’ of our tale, is very concerned with keeping the obligations of his ancestors, and as such, is an excellent archetype for the practice of venerating one’s ancestors. At this point, the narration, folded once upon itself as the narrator is relating the narration of ‘He,’ folds in on itself again, focusing on ‘His’ ancestor, the ‘Squire.’
“To — my ancestor — there appeared to reside some very remarkable qualities in the will of mankind; qualities having… dominance… over the acts of one’s self… of others [and] over every… force and substance in Nature… Indians showed choler when [this house] was built, and [visited] the grounds at the full of the moon… Then, in ’68, the new squire watched them at their doings, and stood still at what he saw. Thereafter he bargained with them and exchanged the free access of his ground for the exact inwardness of what they did; earning that their grandfathers got part of their custom from [their] ancestors and part from an old Dutchman in the time of the States-General.”
The mention of the Dutchman here, only serves to increase my curiosity regarding Lovecraft’s exposure to the Long Lost Friend, which would have had a good century to cement itself in the consciousness of New England as being the pre-eminent American grimoire. ‘He’ continues, using terms of Native Americans that are clearly racist. This figure, however, is removed from the narrator — as almost all colonized narratives in Lovecraft’s corpus are — and very clearly represents a voice from that colonial past:
“But you must know, Sire, that what — the squire — got [from them] was but a small part of the warning he came to have. He had not been at Oxford for nothing, nor talked to no account with an ancient chemist and astrologer in Paris…”
This is likely a reference to Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin who was of the highest degree in the Elus-Cohens and later, a follower of Jakob Böhme. He was a prolific pseudonymous writer of occult philosophy and, curiously, was born of nobility but lost everything (except his life) in the French Revolution. A similar backstory to another Saint-Martin whom most of my readers will be familiar with.
“‘[The squire] made sensible that all the world is but the smoke of our intellects; past the bidding of the vulgar… What we want, we may make about us; and what we don’t want, we may sweep away…’
My host now took my hand to draw me to one of the two windows… Once at the window, the mad drew apart the yellow silk curtains and directed my stare into the blackness outside… a flash of heat-lightning played over the scene, and I looked out upon a sea of luxuriant foliage… and not the sea of roofs to be expected… On my right the Hudson glittered wickedly, and in the distance ahead I saw the unhealthy shimmer of a vast salt march constellated with nervous fireflies. The flash died, and an evil smile illumined the waxy face of the aged necromancer.
‘That was before my time — before the squire’s time. Pray let us try again…’
I whispered, ‘can you do that for any time?’ and as he nodded, and bared the black stumps of what had once been yellow fangs, I clutched at the curtains to prevent myself from falling…”
A very curious magic, and another stone in the foundation of Lovecraftian Magic — hypernostalgia, retrocausitive enchantment and the remote viewing of past states on the timeline. This is an animistic extension of Wargo’s thesis where it touches on the nature of time travel being possible within one’s own future and past self’s experience. Here, we have a house, or rather, a hill, a piece of the landscape, that is capable of remote-viewing its own past — a quality that is lent to the home that is built atop it. This is another Lovecraftian Magical quality — that of structures taking on the magical quality of the places they are built upon. Also of interest here is the use of the term, Necromancer, for ‘He’ is not raising an individual dead person, but is instead resurrecting dead moments in time. Our temporal necromancer does not only busy himself with the past, however, and also offers a proper remote viewing experience of the distant future as well:
“bringing to the sky a flash more blinding than either which had come before… for a full three seconds I could glimpse that pandemoniac sight, and in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterwards torment me in dreams. I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows… I saw this vista, I saw, and heard as with the mind’s ear the blasphemous… cacophony which companied it. It was the shrieking fulfillment of all the horror which that corpse-city had ever stirred in my soul, and forgetting every injection to silence I screamed… as my nerves gave way…”
In the end, ‘He,’ the temporal necromancer, realizes that by shewing the past and future to our protagonist, he has broken the pact that his ancestor had struck with the indigenous group that it was learned from. There is the sound of ‘moccasined feet’ outside the door of the library. Lovecraft is being unintentionally accurate with this detail.
I have mentioned before my years of being mentored by the Bad River Ojibwe Elder, Ayabe. He was very old and near his time when I met him, and he would often relate the traditional story of the moments after an Indian dies. He would always say that when an Indian dies in this day and age, he awakes in a forest at a point where two trails diverge. Down one trail there are tracks left by a modern shoe or boot, and down the other, there are tracks left by moccasins (or ‘makazinag’ in Ojibwe). The recently deceased is presented with a choice of heavens. The white man heaven, or the Indian heaven.
The moccasined feet outside the door of the necromancer’s library are spirits from the Indian heaven, come to claim him for breaking his bargain. This is also very accurate when it comes to revealing the secrets of ‘medicine,’ such as that still taught by the Mide. While many of the rituals are a matter of record, the society has operated continuously for hundreds, possible tens of hundreds of years. Indigenous cultures and spirituality is some of the most adaptive and open to evolution in the world, refusing to become stuck in time like many Western religions. It is beyond doubt that there are more rituals and wisdom than will ever be revealed to the uninitiated. The price for breaking this trust is normally quite severe.
The tarot match for our archetype, ‘He,’ is the Page of Cups. A squire, like his ancestor, and innately connected with the path of alchemy due to his suit in the tarot deck.
Etteilla (a contemporary of Saint-Martin) offers us only one keyword for this card, penchant, which is used in English in its original form. Penchant comes from the Old French ‘pencher,’ meaning ‘to incline.’ In the story of ‘He,’ the house is reached via a steep incline unusual for the area. You will recall, in our examination of Lovecraft’s ‘The Music of Erich Zann,’ the street leading to the house where Zann kept a room was similarly hidden and quite steep. Zann’s rooming house was in Paris as well, making it a possible match or vector for this hidden street in New York. Penchant, further back in the timeline, is pulled from the PIE root *(s)pen-, which means ‘to draw,’ ’stretch,’ or ‘spin.’ It is expanded out into pendant, ponderous, prepend (to add to the beginning of something) and append (to add to the end of something), as well as ’spin,’ ’spider,’ ’spindle,’ and ‘suspend.’
It is related to the Old English ‘spinnan,’ which means to ‘draw out and twist fibers into thread.’ In our context, the word is invoking the Greek Fates, Clotho, who spins the thread, Lachesis, who delivers specific threads to humans at their birth, and Atropos, who cuts the thread when a human dies. Our yellow curtained scrying glass, the window in the library of ‘His’ house at the center of the labyrinth of New York, is a method of viewing all of the threads that converge outside of the house in that specific place.
What we want, we may make about us; and what we don’t want, we may sweep away. The message here is that our fate is not unknowable nor is it immutable. Through the methods of journeying, remote viewing, and internal alchemy, we can become the spinners, pulling on our own threads of probability, magically living our best life.