What Magic Feels Like

“there may very likely be divine spirits here, tutelary heroes, various kinds of nymphs and ancient gods…” - Hypnerotomachia Polifili

I am back at my practice this week. The inspiration, and it always seems to come from a light bulb moment or an event of some king, is a astrological ‘Jackpot’ day on a Wednesday, Hermes’ Day. I have been using this most excellent tool built by my good friend Ghostly Harmless. It is called ‘Luna’ and you can find it here. That is what started it, as is the way of magic.

I started looking through my Betz PGM for spells related to Hermes. The first I found was the fragment at PGM XXX - it is simple and likely hugely incomplete, or maybe not, I liked it, that is what counts. It consists of a series of characters that are to be written ‘on gold with a bronze stele yadda yadda yadda…’ That might be important, again, I don’t know. I wrote them out on the strips of the black oragami paper I use for sigils and wrote the invocation on the back:

THOOUSA! Bring me strength, victory, and influence!

The spells instructions are to wear the strips of ‘papyrus’ in your sandals. I made a pair of them for every pair of regular shoes I wear, placed them beneath the sole insert, and went to bed. The next day was not only going to be astrologically poignant, but it would also be a clear day (Thanks again to Ghostly Harmless for adding this bit of data into his tool), and according to the Clavicula (and by extension, Dr. Stephen Skinner) a cloudless sky with no wind is the best possible weather for spirit-bothering.

The morning was beautiful. I rose before dawn (which was still, ostensibly Tuesday) and had a bit of coffee and grits and set about finding some deeper invocations to Hermes, writing them down in my journal. Working with the PGM has to be one of the most Lovecraftian magical acts I’ve done yet. Like his famed Necronomicon, there are only fragments offered us. Many of the spells aren’t complete. There is also an overwhelming number of instances where the consonants *CHTH- are in direct juxtaposition with one another. It is also somewhat refreshing to work with a seemingly incomplete document. The desire to follow the system exactly is frustrated and the constraints engendered by the fragmentary nature of the text necessitate the type of creativity in magic that really appeals to me.

As the sun rose, I continued to work with the text, another act that aligns well with the Lovecraftian aesthetic. There are more instances of working with a text, or hunting down a text, or discovering a magical text, than there are actual rituals like the one exhibited in the end of the Dunwich Horror. This is the first clear bright morning we’ve had in my corner of the globe so far this year. Looking away from the text I found floating in the air, also for the first time this season, little flecks of white from the cottonwood trees along the river corridor. I thought to myself at that moment:

“This is what magic feels like.”

The actual ritual to Hermes, which is really just a ‘ringing up,’ in effect, a ‘cold call,’ I plan on enacting tomorrow morning before dawn. As both the Clavicula and Dr. Skinner state again, the small hours before dawn, when most of the world is asleep and there is little human activity, is also optimum for spellcraft. I readied myself for the day, and when I pulled on my shoes I said aloud the invocation on the strips I’d placed inside them. The feeling was distinct. I stood and although I couldn’t physically feel the charms, I felt them coming up through the soles of my feet, without question. I don’t know why I didn’t put it together before, but the shoes are a perfect place for a charm for Hermes, he of the winged sandals. There is also something imminently satisfying about enchanting something so mundane and walking among humans with charms to this most ancient god-form between you and the earth. I thought to myself again as I pulled on my shoes and quietly said again to myself:

“This is what magic feels like.”

I found, initially, three spells that included Hermes, two short and one lengthy invocation. The text states they are all intended as ‘love spells,’ but I am taking that with a grain of salt — that is an academician’s interpretation. The context of the spells are requests for power, requests to bring Hermes into your life, repeating his names, what he likes to be offered. They are much more than love spells, although I have no doubt they were used as such. To this magician’s mind it is an easy jump between love and prosperity spellcraft, so I am tuning the spells towards that end. Below you will find the invocation in its art-film spliced entirety:

“THOOUTH, give strength, victory, and influence to me!

As Hermes turns in his marrow and these strips of papyrus become reality, so turn the brains and hearts of all I seek to influence, search out their minds, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!

Come to me, lord Hermes, as fetuses do the wombs of women. Come to me, lord Hermes, who collects the sustenance of gods and men; come to me, NN, lord Hermes, and give me favor, sustenance, victory, prosperity, elegance, beauty of face, strength of all men and women.

Your names in heaven:


There are the names in the four quarters of Heaven.

I also know what your forms are: in the east you have the form of an Ibis, in the west you have the form of a dog-faced baboon, in the north you have the form of a serpent, and in the south you have the form of a wolf. Your plant is the grape which is the olive. I also know your wood: ebony. I know you, Hermes, who you are and where you come from and what your city is: Hermopolis. Come to me, lord Hermes, many-named one, who knows the things hidden beneath heaven and earth. Come to me, NN, lord Hermes; serve well, benefactor of the world. Here me and make me agreeable to all forms throughout the inhabited world. Open up for me the hands of everyone who dispenses gifts and compel them to give me what they have in their hands. I also know your foreign names:


These are your foreign names.

Whereas Isis, the greatest of all the gods, invoked you in every crisis, in every district, against gods and men and daimons, creatures of water and earth and held your favor, victory against gods and men and among all the creatures beneath the world, so also I, NN, invoke you!

Wherefore, give me favor, form, beauty. Hear me, Hermes, benefactor, inventor of drugs; be easy to talk to and hear me, just as you have done everything in the form of your Ethiopian dog-faced baboon, the lord of the chthonic daimons. Calm them all and give me strength, let them give me gold and silver and every sustenance which will never fail. Preserve me always, through eternity, from drugs and deceits, every slander and evil tongues, from every daemonic possession, from every hatred of both gods and men.

Let them give me favor and victory and business and prosperity. For you are I and I am you; your name is mine and mine is yours. For I am your image. If something should happen to me during this year or this month or this day or this hour, it will happen to the great god:


The one inscribed on the prow of the holy ship. Your true name has been inscribed on the sacred stele in the shrine at Hermopolis where your birth is. Your true name:


This is your name with fifteen letters, a number corresponding to the days of the rising moon; and the second name with the number seven, corresponding to those that rule the world, with the exact number 365, corresponding to the days of the year. Truly


I know you, Hermes, and you know me. I am you and you are I. And so, do everything for me, and may you turn to me with Good Fortune and Good Daimon, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!


Give business, favor, prosperity, elegance to me, NN, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!”

Our tale for this week has me in a classicist mood, and when that happens, I gravitate back to the Hypnerotomachia Polifili for inspiration and synchronicity. Polifilus, the protagonist, is moving from one space, a pitch dark tunnel filled with fear and the promise of dragons, into the air via an opening in a cliff face. He pontificates about the promise of this new space:

“there may very likely be divine spirits here, tutelary heroes, various kinds of nymphs and ancient gods…”

I chose this for my opening quote this week because, as we will see as we move into the tale, we will be presented with a ‘tutelary hero,’ the Bearded Storyteller. He is propelled forward by a feeling, moved out of the darkness and towards the light by a force other than his own will:

“I was like a captive, continually goaded onwards, as my bold heart invited me to follow wherever frivolous Fortune led, even if I should collapse in the attempt.”

As I am propelled forward through this week, with Hermes’ charms burning through into my feet, I can’t help but feel this same force. Magic is a calling, and as such, when one is in its grasp, it never feels like a burden. It always feels like the ‘Flow’ state as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

‘a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation… a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter…’

Poliphilus exits the tunnel (recall, the tunnel as a primary element in the Lovecraftian Aesthetic) through the mouth of what once was a grand structure but no more than Plato’s cave:

“The place served only for exiting, not for returning, though it was easy enough for me to discern it, because it was all surrounded by the thick, dark foliage that would prevent others from knowing it was there. It was inside a dell with crags stretching above, perpetually dimmed by thing fogs that seemed darker to me than the one which concealed the divine birth on Delos. On departing from this leafy, obstructed portal I descended some way down the slope and came to a thick copse of chestnuts at the foot of the mountain, which I suspected to be a dwelling place of Pan or Sylvanus.”

 This is a reference to Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis, and the birth of the twins. In reading the myth of Delos, a floating island brought forth from the depths by Zues, I can’t help thinking of the tales of Dagon and The Call of Cthulhu. Here we stumble upon more evidence of the deep classical encoding of Lovecraft’s tales. 
Further, in the description of the story ahead, the protagonist is a seeker of knowledge and he passes through thick copses of wood, up and down an impassable cliff face to reach and return from obtaining his goal.


“Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.” - Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Instead of our normal break this week, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the role of poetry and some interesting connections with the Greek Magical Papyri.

The kernel for this divergence was started in the Hypnerotomachia:

“On the right hand side of my path I saw some noble Egyptian hieroglyphs… I interpreted these hieroglyphs… as follows:


On the other side I saw this elegant carving: a circle, and an anchor around whose shaft a dolphin was entwined. I could be interpret this as:

‘Always hasten slowly’”

This is the printer’s mark of Aldus Manutius, the publisher of the Hypnerotomachia Polifili.

Was this originally in the text? Or an addition by the publisher? The Aldine Press was the de facto publisher of magical and magically adjacent books in 16th century Venice. This inclusion of the printer’s mark in a dream journal / mythopoeic text that is then subsequently published by that printer, is beyond intriguing.

Aldine Printer Mark.jpg

Italo Calvino, known for his work integrating the Tarot and his fiction, in his inestimable work ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium,’ goes into great detail on how the symbolism in the Aldine Press’ printers mark is embedded in all of his fictional work.

Immediately following this descriptive metadata is an example of the typographic brilliance of the Hypnerotomachia, the ending of a significant section of text by narrowing the prose, line by line, into an inverted pyramid. In my explorations of the PGM, I found this exact same convention, only in a talismanic context.

2018-06-17 12.05.11.jpg

These are, as we call it now, examples of ‘concrete poetry,’ or ‘shape poetry.’ Prior to being called anything however, it was just a manner in which poetry was exhibited beginning in 2nd century BCE in Greek Alexandria. That handily explains its inclusion in the PGM and offers us threads to pull on, connecting the practices of experimental fiction (think of the shaping of text in House of Leaves) and concrete poetry or, if one squints, the religious practice of micrography. 

As with all our Imbrications, I’ll just leave this here for others to think on. For now, back to the matter at hand.


The Strange High House in the Mist is our tale for this week. Our protagonist (but not our archetype) is a philosophy professor by the name of Thomas Olney, who moves his family to the town of Kingsport. Kingsport has been previously visited by us, some six months ago, around Yuletide during our examination of ‘The Festival’ . In the light of a brighter season, we see Kingsport a bit differently than we did through the eyes of The Descendent. In ‘House in the Mist,’ we are treated to the view that the inhabitants of Kingsport (of which, if you recall from ‘The Festival,’ have their own parallel spirit forms to engage with) regard the natural world, specifically the ocean cliffs, near their little town:

“The sea-folk in Kingsport look up at that cliff as other sea-folk look up at the pole-star, and time the night’s watches by the way it hides or shews the Great Bear, Cassiopeia, and the Dragon. Among them it is one with the firmament, and truly, it is hidden from them when the mist hides the stars or the sun. Some of the cliffs they love, as that whose grotesque profile they call Father Neptune, or that whose pillared steps they term The Causeway; but this one they fear because it is so near the sky.”

A phrase that connects our tale directly with the PGM on two counts, the first the mention of the Great Bear. There are a number of charms and spells in the PGM that engage directly with this asterism and as we know from our reading of ‘Dreams in the Witch House’ is a primary gate for Lovecraftian Spirit Forms. Further, the first line; ‘The sea-folk in Kingsport look up at that cliff as other sea-folk look up at the pole-star…’ brings to mind this curious chart from the PGM, that allows the magician to calculate which astrological house the pole-star is in from PGM XIII 1-343, otherwise known as the ‘Eight Book of Moses’:

“PGM XIII 213-224: The technique of determining which god is ruler of the celestial pole [at a give time] goes as follows: Find out, child, to which god the day is subject in the Greek reckoning [counting from the top down], and then coming to The Seven Zoned count [the same number] from the bottom up, and you will find the answer. For if the day be subject to Helious in the Greek reckoning, Selene rules the pole, and thus the rest, as follows:

| The Greek | The Seven-Zoned |
|:-- |:-- |
| Helios | Kronos |
| Selene | Zues |
| Ares | Ares |
| Hermes | Helios |
| Zeus | Aphrodite |
| Aphrodite | Hermes |
| Kronos | Selene |”

The focus of our tale is given in the title:

“there is an ancient house on that cliff, and at evening men see lights in the small-paned windows…”

So what does it mean that our storyteller has placed a house on the cliff that correlates so directly with the stars and causes such fear in humans? The house is often thought of as a symbol representing one’s mind in dreams and it is also used as a memory device. The cliff is placed in direct juxtaposition with the ocean where:

“solemn buoys toll free in the white aether of faery…”

This phrase, coupled with mention of the ‘leviathan’ and the ‘grottoes of titans’ call to my mind Thoosa, mother of monsters connected with the sea. She is indirectly channeled in The Call of Cthulhu and may well be the inspiration for those Lovecraftian Spirits connected to the Mother of Abominations.

and of the house, it is said that:

“the same One has lived in the ancient house for hundreds of years… Even the Terrible Old Man who talks to leaden pendulums in bottles, buys groceries with centuried Spanish gold, and keeps stone idols in the yard of his antediluvian cottage in Water Street can only say these things were the same when his grandfather was a boy… when Belcher or Shirly or Pownall or Bernard was Governor of His Majesty’s Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.”

Through the mention of the house and the proximity to the ocean and further in the tale, the protagonist’s walk between Kingsport and Arkham (Providence), this writer has identified the location of Kingsport to be Narragansett, Rhode Island. There are two great houses in that area, Druidsdream  and Dunmere with the later being the older and more likely location for The Strange High House in the Mist due to its position on the ocean. While Druidsdream seems a very natural assumption, with its pagan-y name and all, Dunmere is a more direct connection. Dunmere means ‘water of the hills,’ which could be correlated with the mists that cover the cliffs over Kingsport. Dunmere is now, also, a ruin, which dovetails directly into our twenty-first century framing of the Lovecraftian Magical Aesthetic.

Our author also connects another tale directly with this one, that of ‘The Terrible Old Man’:

“The Terrible Old Man wheezed a tale [to the philosophy professor, Thomas Olney] that his fatehr had told him, of lightning that shot one night up from that peaked cottage to the clouds of higher heave; and Granny Orne, whose tiny gambrel-roofed abode in Ship Street is all covered with moss and ivy, croaked over something her grandmother had heard at second-hand (nested narratives within nested narratives), about shapes that flapped out of the eastern mists straight into the narrow single door of that unreachable place — for the door is set close to the edge of the crag toward the ocean, and glimpsed only from ships at sea.”

The house, it seems, is a liminal space, unreachable by humans, and in fact, not built for them to even enter, the door facing the sea at the edge of the cliff.

Let’s move on to the meat of the tale, the philosopher’s ascent of the nameless cliff that blots out the Great Bear. Walking in his footsteps, we find another spot on our map of Lovecraftian Gates, called ‘Hooper’s Pond,’ in the tale. This is likely Mashapaug Pond . In my research, I also uncovered this amazing historical document on ‘Kingston,’ that can be used as an excellent source for journeying into Lovecraftian hypernostalgia of the one New England town that arguably is more sinister on our map than Arkham/Providence itself.

Thomas Olney, through a great physical initiation, claws his way up the cliff on the Arkham side, and finds himself looking at the windows of the house, when:

“there was a heavy, deliberate tramping in the cottage… It was plain the owner had come home; but he had not come form the land, nor from any balloon or airship that could be imagined… he knew he must confront his host… Stuck out of the west window was a great black-bearded face whose eyes shone phosphorescently with the imprint of unheard-of sights. But the voice was gentle, and of a quant olden kind… Only did not shudder when a brown hand reached out to help him over the sill… The man was clad in very ancient garments [and] an unplaceable nimbus of sea-lore…”

Here we are presented with a new spirit form to consider, especially when journeying inside our aesthetic. A ready teller of tales:

“Only listened to rumours of old times and far places and heard how the Kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wrigled out of rifts in ocean’s floor, and how the pillared and weedy temple of Poseidonis is still glimpsed at midnight by lost ships… Years of the Titans were recalled, but the host frew timid when he spoke of the dim first age of chaos before the gods or even the Elder Ones were born, and when only ‘the other gods,’ came to dance on the peak of Hatheg-Kla…”

The Lovecraft cosmogony is put into a coherent timeline, placing his spirit forms ahead of the pagan gods, marking them as primeval, Laurasian, pre-Atlantean, before man, sentient reptilian and aquatic monsters from a time before mammals padded upon the earth. When the Bearded Storyteller (whom I think, although it might take a bit more work to prove, is actually Odysseus) reveals his role in the cosmogony:

“Then the shadows began to gather; first little furtive ones under the table, and then bolder ones in the dark panelled corners. And the bearded man made enigmatic gestures of prayer… at length his [glances at the door] were answered by a singular rapping which must have followed some very ancient and secret code. This time he did not even glance through the peephole, but swing the great bar and shot the bolt… to the sound of obscure harmonies there floated into that room… all the dreams and memories of earth’s sunken Mighty Ones. And golden flames played about the weedy locks… Neptune was there… primal Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss…”

This places the bearded man, the storyteller, in a type of hierarchy as well, as he is a spirit form that prays to invoke other spirit forms, such as Neptune and his progenitor, the more ancient (yet not so ancient as those that the Bearded One will not speak of) Nodens. A spirit hierarchy based on timedepth, on age, and levels of the unknowable. This is tech that we can use and is, in fact, used in Goetia, where intermediaries are quiet often employed to move the magician’s requests for knowledge up the chain of command.
The tale ends with our philosopher coming back down from the cliff forever changed, a light seeming have gone out of him, after his visit with the gods in the Strange High House in the Mist with what appears to be a warning from the (subterranean demon-worshiping) citizens of Kingsport:

“[Now there] is the shrivelling of old fears in the hearts of Kingsport’s young men, who grow prone to listen at night to the north wind’s faint distant sounds. They swear no harm or pain can inhabit the high peaked cottage… they long to extract some hint of the wonders that knock at the cliff yawning door… They do not wish the souls of their young men to leave the pleasant hearths and gambrel-roofed taverns…”

The archetype of the tale is the Bearded Seaman, the teller of tales and the first spirit form that can be reached by dreams. And from his dream house, the wisdom of Neptune and Nodens is released, and from there, the entire Dream Lands and all that lay between chaos and Thomas Olney’s quaint suburban existence are offered. The warning of the tale is that once this magic is invited in, it is easy to allow it to consume, to only be in a space of magical thinking, and once there, the will, the drive to succeed and live and love as a human is lost. The Black-Bearded Storyteller is afraid of something, a shadow at the window that he will not let into his house. The shadow, or rather, the fear of the shadow, must be embraced to gain balance. The Fear of the Shadow is necessary to keep us human.

Burleson, in ‘Disturbing the Universe’ also wrestles with this tale, and I would be remiss to not present some of his insights here, although much of the linguistic reconstruction in this particular essay seems less than relevant in this case. He does begin by identifying the place of the house in the tale:

“[The] textual movement [in the tale] argues developmentally for a certain primacy of the notion of outsideness and throws… doubt on the status of the centrality afforded to the house by the title… While a house is an outside structure surrounding an inside space, it is also… the inside space itself… in book 11 of the Tao Te Ching [it states] that in a clay vessel it is the space inside that matters, and that the usefulness of windows and doors resides in their being empty space, or a lack of something, so that importance attaches more to nonbeing than to being… the house, in spatial terms, is discussed only within… [where] the narration opens and closes.”

and then, in juxtapositioning his criticism of the house and the protagonist, he comes up with a couple of wonderful insights:

“in the text’s exploration of the idea that Thomas Olney climbs the mist-shrouded crag only to lose his sense of wonder, one finds a curious reversal. If the sense of wonder is indeed something to be lost — as will be the case, the townsfolk fear, with their young people — then it amounts to an aggrandizement of the people of Kingsport, placing them higher than that which brings them low — the wonder-stealing powers around the house on the crag. By placing the ancient house above and the town below and by suggesting that one may be brought low by climbing, the text subverts its own spatial imagery… House is… thought to be related to the root kel- ‘hollow,’ ‘to hide,’… This root is responsible for numerous derivative forms, including the name Calypso (imprisoner of Odysseus for seven years, presider over absence)… we return to Lao-Tzu’s idea of the predominance of emptiness over fullness… the story is thematically a vampire tale, since the townspeople fear that their youngsters will suffer Thomas Olney’s fate and ‘do not wish quaint Kingsport with its climbing lans and archaic gables to drag listless down the years while voice by voice the laughing chorus grows stronger and wilder in that unknown and terrible eyrie where mists and the dreams of mists stop to rest on their way from the sea to the skies. Yet this this vampire/victim relation is… one involving strange inversions. Here the victim (symbolically, in climbing the cliff) is elevated by becoming a victim… The text itself insists that the strange powers residing within the mist thrive upon the wonder that they drain away, like a vampire at his feast, from the townspeople.”

Pulling Calypso out of his deconstruction as well as the metaphor of the house-as-vampire, certainly enriches our esoteric criticism. The connection of Calypso and the Bearded Seaman does not lend strength to my argument that he is, in fact, Odysseus, but it doesn’t hurt the argument either. If we are to imbricate the PGM over this tale, however, we see that there are a number of exercises where the Odyssey is used in bibliomantic divination in that document. Layering Odysseus over the Bearded Seaman seems more and more natural. Further, while vampirism is rare in Lovecraft, it is a welcome and unique metaphor that Burleson offers us, one that does not take much imagination to build into our growing aesthetic.

Our tarot card for this week is, The Fool.

So, I would not blame you for being skeptical, but this is the card that dropped when I asked my deck which archetype was the best match for ‘The Strange High House in the Mist.’ Before looking down at that most auspicious of trumps, I didn’t make the connection of the cliff and the Fool.


The Fool is so well known, I won’t attempt to define the connections between our Bearded Seaman (who walks into the house [and presumably out of the house] into the air off of the dreaded cliff), our Odysseus, and the Fool of the tarot. I will offer, in closing, a few insights from ‘Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey’ from Sallie Nichols

In the chapter on The Fool, she indirectly makes another connection to our PGM, when she states:

“In Greece it was believed that keeping a fool about the premises warded off the evil eye. Retaining the Joker in [a normal deck of cards] may serve a similar function, since playing cards are reportedly ‘the devil’s pictures’… The Joker connects two worlds — the everyday, contemporary world where most of live most of the time and the nonverbal land of imagination inhabited by Tarot characters… Like Puck, King Oberon’s jester, our Joker moves freely between these worlds; and like Puck, he sometimes mixes them up a bit…”

While the Bearded Seaman is our archetype, the contemplation of the Fool as a trump syncretizes both he and our protagonist, the philosopher. For it was he that we witness making the initiatory journey to the House of Odysseus. He was the curious one, the ‘Fool of a Took,’ as decried by Gandalf when presented with the chaotic fallout of Pippin’s nature, that illustrates how our archetype found himself at the edge of the cliff to begin with. What we don’t see in our card, but we do see in our collective journey’s towards re-enchantment, is that living in that liminal space, the space between the everyday and the imagination, is the perfect and final description of ‘what magic feels like.’