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CALLING CTHULHU: H.P. Lovecraft's Magick Realism

[from ]

   Erik Davis' Figments
Subject: CALLING CTHULHU: H.P. Lovecraft's Magick Realism
     In this book it is spoken of...Spirits and Conjurations; of
     Gods, Spheres, Planes and many other things which may or may
     not exist. It is immaterial whether they exist or not. By
     doing certain things certain results follow. 
     --Aleister Crowley
   Consumed by cancer in 1937 at the age of 46, the last scion of a
   faded aristocratic New England family, the horror writer Howard
   Phillips Lovecraft left one of America's most curious literary
   legacies. The bulk of his short stories appeared in Weird Tales,
   a pulp magazine devoted to the supernatural. But within these
   modest confines, Lovecraft brought dark fantasy screaming into
   the 20th century, taking the genre, almost literally, into a new
   Nowhere is this more evident than in the loosely linked cycle of
   stories known as the Cthulhu Mythos. Named for a tentacled alien
   monster who waits dreaming beneath the sea in the sunken city of
   R'lyeh, the Mythos encompasses the cosmic career of a variety of
   gruesome extraterrestrial entities that include Yog-Sothoth,
   Nyarlathotep, and the blind idiot god Azazoth, who sprawls at the
   center of Ultimate Chaos, "encircled by his flopping horde of
   mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous
   piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws."[1] Lurking on
   the margins of our space-time continuum, this merry crew of Outer
   Gods and Great Old Ones are now attempting to invade our world
   through science and dream and horrid rites.
   As a marginally popular writer working in the literary equivalent
   of the gutter, Lovecraft received no serious attention during his
   lifetime. But while most 1930s pulp fiction is nearly unreadable
   today, Lovecraft continues to attract attention. In France and
   Japan, his tales of cosmic fungi, degenerate cults and seriously
   bad dreams are recognized as works of bent genius, and the
   celebrated French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
   praise his radical embrace of multiplicity in their magnum opus A
   Thousand Plateaus.2 On Anglo-American turf, a passionate cabal of
   critics fill journals like Lovecraft Studies and Crypt of Cthulhu
   with their almost talmudic research. Meanwhile both hacks and
   gifted disciples continue to craft stories that elaborate the
   Cthulhu Mythos. There's even a Lovecraft convention--the
   NecronomiCon, named for the most famous of his forbidden
   grimoires. Like the gnostic science fiction writer Philip K.
   Dick, H.P. Lovecraft is the epitome of a cult author.
   The word "fan" comes from fanaticus, an ancient term for a temple
   devotee, and Lovecraft fans exhibit the unflagging devotion,
   fetishism and sectarian debates that have characterized popular
   religious cults throughout the ages. But Lovecraft's "cult"
   status has a curiously literal dimension. Many magicians and
   occultists have taken up his Mythos as source material for their
   practice. Drawn from the darker regions of the esoteric
   counterculture--Thelema and Satanism and Chaos magic--these
   Lovecraftian mages actively seek to generate the terrifying and
   atavistic encounters that Lovecraft's protagonists stumble into
   compulsively, blindly or against their will.
   Secondary occult sources for Lovecraftian magic include three
   different "fake" editions of the Necronomicon, a few rites
   included in Anton LaVey's The Satanic Rituals, and a number of
   works by the loopy British Thelemite Kenneth Grant. Besides
   Grant's Typhonian O.T.O. and the Temple of Set's Order of the
   Trapezoid, magical sects that tap the Cthulhu current have
   included the Esoteric Order of Dagon, the Bate Cabal, Michael
   Bertiaux's Lovecraftian Coven, and a Starry Wisdom group in
   Florida, named after the nineteenth-century sect featured in
   Lovecraft's "Haunter of the Dark." Solo chaos mages fill out the
   ranks, cobbling together Lovecraftian arcana on the Internet or
   freely sampling the Mythos in their chthonic, open-ended (anti-)
   This phenomenon is made all the more intriguing by the fact that
   Lovecraft himself was a "mechanistic materialist" philosophically
   opposed to spirituality and magic of any kind. Accounting for
   this discrepancy is only one of many curious problems raised by
   the apparent power of Lovecraftian magic. Why and how do these
   pulp visions "work"? What constitutes the "authentic" occult? How
   does magic relate to the tension between fact and fable? As I
   hope to show, Lovecraftian magic is not a pop hallucination but
   an imaginative and coherent "reading" set in motion by the
   dynamics of Lovecraft's own texts, a set of thematic, stylistic,
   and intertextual strategies which constitute what I call
   Lovecraft's Magick Realism.
   Magical realism already denotes a strain of Latin American
   fiction--exemplified by Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and
   Isabel Allende--in which a fantastic dreamlike logic melds
   seamlessly and delightfully with the rhythms of the everyday.
   Lovecraft's Magick Realism is far more dark and convulsive, as
   ancient and amoral forces violently puncture the realistic
   surface of his tales. Lovecraft constructs and then collapses a
   number of intense polarities--between realism and fantasy, book
   and dream, reason and its chaotic Other. By playing out these
   tensions in his writing, Lovecraft also reflects the
   transformations that darkside occultism has undergone as it
   confronts modernity in such forms as psychology, quantum physics,
   and the existential groundlessness of being. And by embedding all
   this in an intertextual Mythos of profound depth, he draws the
   reader into the chaos that lies "between the worlds" of magick
   and reality.
   A Pulp Poe
   Written mostly in the 1920s and '30s, Lovecraft's work builds a
   somewhat rickety bridge between the florid decadence of fin de
   si`ecle fantasy and the more "rational" demands of the new
   century's science fiction. His early writing is gaudy Gothic
   pastiche, but in his mature Chtulhu tales, Lovecraft adopts a
   pseudodocumentary style that utilizes the language of journalism,
   scholarship, and science to construct a realistic and measured
   prose voice which then explodes into feverish, adjectival horror.
   Some find Lovecraft's intensity atrocious--not everyone can enjoy
   a writer capable of comparing a strange light to "a glutted swarm
   of corpse-fed fireflies dancing hellish sarabands over an
   accursed marsh."[3]
   But in terms of horror, Lovecraft delivers. His protagonist is
   usually a reclusive bookish type, a scholar or artist who is or
   is known to the first-person narrator. Stumbling onto odd
   coincidences or beset with strange dreams, his intellectual
   curiosity drives him to pore through forbidden books or local
   folklore, his empirical turn of mind blinding him to the
   nightmarish scenario that the reader can see slowly building up
   around him. When the Mythos finally breaks through, it often
   shatters him, even though the invasion is generally more
   cognitive than physical.
   By endlessly playing out a shared collection of images and
   tropes, genres like weird fiction also generate a collective
   resonance that can seem both "archetypal" and cliched. Though
   Lovecraft broke with classic fantasy, he gave his Mythos density
   and depth by building a shared world to house his disparate
   tales. The Mythos stories all share a liminal map that weaves
   fictional places like Arkham, Dunwich, and Miskatonic University
   into the New England landscape; they also refer to a common body
   of entities and forbidden books. A relatively common feature in
   fantasy fiction, these metafictional techniques create the sense
   that Lovecraft's Mythos lies beyond each individual tales,
   hovering in a dimension halfway between fantasy and the real.
   Lovecraft did not just tell tales--he built a world. It's no
   accident that one of the more successful role-playing games to
   follow in the heels of Dungeons & Dragons takes place in
   "Lovecraft Country." Most role-playing adventure games build
   their worlds inside highly codified "mythic" spaces of the
   collective imagination (heroic fantasy, cyberpunk, vampire Paris,
   Arthur's Britain). The game Call of Cthulhu takes place in
   Lovecraft's 1920s America, where players become "investigators"
   who track down dark rumors or heinous occult crimes that
   gradually open up the reality of the monsters. Call of Cthulhu is
   an unusually dark game; the best investigators can do is to
   retain sanity and stave off the monsters' eventual apocalyptic
   triumph. In many ways Call of Cthulhu "works" because of the
   considerable density of Lovecraft's original Mythos, a density
   which the game itself also contributes to.
   Lovecraft himself "collectivized" and deepened his Mythos by
   encouraging his friends to write stories that take place within
   it. Writers like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Howard, and a young
   Robert Bloch complied. After Lovecraft's death, August Derleth
   carried on this tradition with great devotion, and today, dozens
   continue to write Lovecraftian tales.
   With some notable exceptions, most of these writers mangle the
   Myth, often by detailing horrors the master wisely left shrouded
   in ambiguous gloom.[4] The exact delineations of Lovecraft's
   cosmic cast and timeline remain murky even after a great deal of
   close-reading and cross-referencing. But in the hands of the
   Catholic Derleth, the extraterrestrial Great Old Ones become
   elemental demons defeated by the "good" Elder Gods. Forcing
   Lovecraft's cosmic and fundamentally amoral pantheon into a
   traditional religious framework, Derleth committed an error at
   once imaginative and interpretive. For despite the diabolical
   aura of his creatures, Lovecraft generates much of his power by
   stepping beyond good and evil.
   The Horror of Reason
   For the most part Lovecraft abandoned the supernatural and
   religious underpinnings of the classic supernatural tale, turning
   instead looked towards science to provide frameworks for horror.
   Calling Lovecraft the "Copernicus of the horror tale," the
   fantasy writer Fritz Leiber Jr. wrote that Lovecraft was the
   first fantasist who "firmly attached the emotion of spectral
   dread to such concepts as outer space, the rim of the cosmos,
   alien beings, unsuspected dimensions, and the conceivable
   universes lying outside our own spacetime continuum."[5] As
   Lovecraft himself put it in a letter, "The time has come when the
   normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form
   not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality--when it
   must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than
   contradictions of the visible and measurable universe."[6]
   For Lovecraft, it is not the sleep of reason that breeds
   monsters, but reason with its eyes agog. By fusing cutting-edge
   science with archaic material, Lovecraft creates a twisted
   materialism in which scientific "progress" returns us to the
   atavistic abyss, and hard-nosed research revives the factual
   basis of forgotten and discarded myths. Hence Lovecraft's
   obsession with archeology; the digs which unearth alien artifacts
   and bizarrely angled cities are simultaneously historical and
   imaginal. In 1930 story "The Whisperer in Darkness," Lovecraft
   identifies the planet Yuggoth (from which the fungoid Mi-Go
   launch their clandestine invasions of Earth) with the
   newly-discovered planet called Pluto. To the 1930
   reader--probably the kind of person who would thrill to popular
   accounts of C.W. Thompson's discovery of the ninth planet that
   very year--this factual reference "opens up" Lovecraft's fiction
   into a real world that is itself opening up to the limitless
   Lovecraft's most self-conscious, if somewhat strained, fusion of
   occult folklore and weird science occurs in the 1932 story "The
   Dreams of the Witch-House." The demonic characters that the
   folklorist Walter Gilman first glimpses in his nightmares are
   stock ghoulies: the evil witch crone Keziah Mason, her familiar
   spirit Brown Jenkin, and a "Black Man" who is perhaps Lovecraft's
   most unambiguously Satanic figure. These figures eventually
   invade the real space of Gilman's curiously angled room. But
   Gilman is also a student of quantum physics, Riemann spaces and
   non-Euclidian mathematics, and his dreams are almost psychedelic
   manifestations of his abstract knowledge. Within these "abysses
   whose material and gravitational properties...he could not even
   begin to explain," an "indescribably angled" realm of "titan
   prisms, labyrinths, cube-and-plane clusters and quasi-buildings,"
   Gilman keeps encountering a small polyhedron and a mass of
   "prolately spheroidal bubbles." By the end of the tale that he
   realizes that these are none other than Keziah and her familiar
   spirit, classic demonic cliches translated into the most alien
   dimension of speculative science: hyperspace.
   These days, one finds the motif of hyperspace in science fiction,
   pop cosmology, computer interface design, channelled UFO
   prophecies, and the postmodern shamanism of today's high-octane
   psychedelic travellers--all discourses that feed contemporary
   chaos magic. The term itself was probably coined by the science
   fiction writer John W. Campbell 1931, though its origins as
   a concept lie in nineteenth-century mathematical explorations of
   the fourth dimension.
   In many ways, however, Lovecraft was the concept's first
   mythographer. From the perspective of hyperspace, our normal,
   three-dimensional spaces are exhausted and insufficient
   constructs. But our incapacity to vividly imagine this new
   dimension in humanist terms creates a crisis of representation, a
   crisis which for Lovecraft calls up our most ancient fears of the
   unknown. "All the objects...were totally beyond description or
   even comprehension," Lovecraft writes of Gilman's seething
   nightmare before paradoxically proceeding to describe these
   horrible objects. In his descriptions, Lovecraft emphasizes the
   incommensurability of this space through almost non-sensical
   juxtapositions like "obscene angles" or "wrong" geometry, a
   rhetorical technique that one Chaos magician calls "Semiotic
   Lovecraft has a habit of labeling his horrors "indescribable,"
   "nameless, "unseen," "unutterable," "unknown" and "formless."
   Though superficially weak, this move can also be seen a kind of
   macabre via negativa. Like the apophatic oppositions of negative
   theologians like Pseudo-Dionysus or St. John of the Cross,
   Lovecraft marks the limits of language, limits which
   paradoxically point to the Beyond. For the mystics, this ultimate
   is the ineffable One, Pseudo-Dionysus' "superluminous gloom" or
   the Ain Soph of the Kabbalists. But there is no unity in
   Lovecraft's Beyond. It is the omnivorous Outside, the screaming
   multiplicity of cosmic hyperspace opened up by reason.
   For Lovecraft, scientific materialism is the ultimate Faustian
   bargain, not because it hands us Promethean technology (a man for
   the eighteenth century, Lovecraft had no interest in gadgetry),
   but because it leads us beyond the horizon of what our minds can
   withstand. "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the
   inability of the mind to correlate all its contents," goes the
   famous opening line of "Call of Cthulhu." By correlating those
   contexts, empiricism opens up "terrifying vistas of
   reality"--what Lovecraft elsewhere calls "the blind cosmos [that]
   grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something
   back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or
   existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in
   the darkness".
   Lovecraft gave this existentialist dread an imaginative voice,
   what he called "cosmic alienage". For Fritz Leiber, the
   "monstrous nuclear chaos" of Azazoth, Lovecraft's supreme entity,
   symbolizes "the purposeless, mindless, yet all-powerful universe
   of materialistic belief." But this symbolism isn't the whole
   story, for, as DMT voyagers know, hyperspace is haunted. The
   entities that erupt from Lovecraft's inhuman realms seem to
   suggest that in a blind mechanistic cosmos, the most alien thing
   is sentience itself. Peering outward through the cracks of
   domesticated "human" consciousness, a compassionless materialist
   like Lovecraft could only react with horror, for reason must
   cower before the most raw and atavistic dream-dragons of the
   Modern humans usually suppress, ignore or constrain these forces
   lurking in our lizard brain. Mythically, these forces take the
   form of demons imprisoned under the angelic yokes of altruism,
   morality, and intellect. Yet if one does not believe in any
   ultimate universal purpose, then these primal forces are the most
   attuned with the cosmos precisely because they are amoral and
   inhuman. In "The Dunwich Horror", Henry Wheeler overhears a
   monstrous moan from a diabolical rite and asks "from what
   unplumbed gulfs of extra-cosmic consciousness or obscure,
   long-latent heredity, were those half-articular thunder-croakings
   drawn?" The Outside is within.
   Chaos Culture
   Lovecraft's fiction expresses a "future primitivism" that finds
   its most intense esoteric expression in Chaos magic, an eclectic
   contemporary style of darkside occultism that draws from Thelema,
   Satanism, Austin Osman Spare, and Eastern metaphysics to
   construct a thoroughly postmodern magic.
   For today's Chaos mages, there is no "tradition". The symbols and
   myths of countless sects, orders, and faiths, are constructs,
   useful fictions, "games." That magic works has nothing to do with
   its truth claims and everything to do with the will and
   experience of the magician. Recognizing the distinct possibility
   that we may be adrift in a meaningless mechanical cosmos within
   which human will and imagination are vaguely comic flukes (the
   "cosmic indifferentism" Lovecraft himself professed), the mage
   accepts his groundlessness, embracing the chaotic self-creating
   void that is himself.
   As we find with Lovecraft's fictional cults and grimoires, chaos
   magicians refuse the hierarchical, symbolic and monotheist biases
   of traditional esotericism. Like most Chaos magicians, the
   British occultist Peter Carroll gravitates towards the Black, not
   because he desires a simple Satanic inversion of Christianity but
   becuase he seeks the amoral and shamanic core of magical
   experience--a core that Lovecraft conjures up with his orgies of
   drums, guttural chants, and screeching horns. At the same time,
   Chaos mages like Carroll also plumb the weird science of quantum
   physics, complexity theory and electronic Prometheanism. Some
   darkside magicians become consumed by the atavistic forces they
   unleash or addicted to the dark costume of the Satanic anti-hero.
   But the most sophisticated adopt a balanced mode of gnostic
   existentialism that calls all constructs into question while
   refusing the cold comforts of skeptical reason or suicidal
   nihilism, a pragmatic and empirical shamanism that resonates as
   much with Lovecraft's hard-headed materialism as with his
   The first occultist to really engage these notions is Aleister
   Crowley, who shattered the received vessels of occult tradition
   while creatively extending the dark dream of magic into the
   twentieth century. With his outlandish image, trickster texts,
   and his famous Law of Thelema ("Do what thou wilt shall be the
   whole of the law"), Crowley called into question the esoteric
   certainties of "true" revelation and lineage, and was the first
   magus to give occult antinomionism a decidedly Nietzschean
   Unfettered, this occult will to power can easily degenerate into
   a heartless elitism, and the fascist and racist dimensions of
   both twentieth-century occultism and Lovecraft himself should not
   be forgotten. But this self-engendering will is more exuberantly
   expressed as a will to Art. In many ways, the fin de siecle
   occultism that exploded during Crowley's time was an essentially
   esthetic esotericism. A good number of the nineteenth-century
   magicians who inspire us today are the great poets, painters, and
   writers of Symbolism and decadent Romanticism, many of them
   dabblers or adepts in Satanism, Rosicrucianism, and hermetic
   societies. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was infused with
   artistic pretensions, and Golden Dawn member and fantasy writer
   Arthur Machen was one of Lovecraft's strongest influences.
   But it was Austin Osman Spare who most decisively dissolved the
   boundary between artistic and magical life. Though working
   independently of the Surrealists, Spare also based his art on the
   dark and autonomous eruptions of "subconscious" material, though
   in a more overtly theurgic context.[8] Today's Chaos magicians
   are heavily influenced by Spare, and their Lovecraftian rites
   express this simultaneously creative and nihilistic dissolution.
   And as postmodern spawn of role-playing games, computers, and pop
   culture, they celebrate the fact that Lovecraft's secrets are
   scraped from the barrel of pulp fiction.
   Proof in the Pudding
   In a message cross-posted to the Internet newsgroups
   alt.necromicon [sic] and alt.satanism, Parker Ryan listed a wide
   variety of magical techniques described by Lovecraft, including
   entheogens, glossalalia, and shamanic drumming. Insisting that
   his post was "not a satirical article," Ryan then described
   specific Lovecraftian rites he had developed, including this
   "Rite of Cthulhu":
   A) Chanting. The use of the "Cthulhu chant" to create a
   concentrative or meditative state of consciousness that forms the
   basis of much later magickal work.
   B) Dream work. Specific techniques of controlled dreaming that
   are used to establish contact with Cthulhu.
   C) Abandonment. Specific techniques to free oneself from
   culturally conditioned reality tunnels.
   Ryan goes on to say that he's experimented with most of his rites
   "with fairly good success."
   In coming to terms with the "real magic" embedded in Lovecraft,
   one quickly encounters a fundamental irony: the cold skepticism
   of Lovecraft himself. In his letters, Lovecraft poked fun at his
   own tales, claiming he wrote them for cash and playfully naming
   his friends after his monsters. While such attitudes in no way
   diminish the imaginative power of Lovecraft's tales--which, as
   always, lie outside the control and intention of their
   author--they do pose a problem for the working occultist seeking
   to establish Lovecraft's magical authority.
   The most obvious, and least interesting, answer is to find
   authentic magic in Lovecraft's biography. Lovecraft's father was
   a traveling salesman who died in a madhouse when Lovecraft was
   eight, and vague rumors that he was an initiate in some Masonic
   order or other were exploited in the Necronomicon cobbled
   together by George Hay, Colin Wilson, and Robert Turner. Others
   have tried to track Lovecraft's occult know-how, especially his
   familiarity with Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn. In an
   Internet document relating the history of the "real"
   Necronomicon, Colin Low argues that Crowley befriended Sonia
   Greene in New York a few years before the woman married
   Lovecraft. As proof of Crowley's indirect influence on Lovecraft,
   Low sites this intriguing passage from "The Call of Cthulhu":
   "That cult would never die until the stars came right again and
   the secret priests would
   take Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume
   His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then
   mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and
   wild, and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown
   aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy.
   Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to
   shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all earth
   would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.
   Low claims this passage is a mangled reflection of Crowley's
   teachings on the new Aeon and the The Book of the Law. In an
   article in Societé, Robert North also states that Lovecraft
   referred to "A.C." in a letter, and that Crowley was mentioned in
   Leonard Cline's The Dark Chamber, a novel Lovecraft discussed in
   his Supernatural Horror in Literature.
   But so what? Lovecraft was a fanatical and imaginative reader,
   and many such folks are drawn to the semiotic exotica of esoteric
   lore regardless of any beliefs in or experiences of the
   paranormal. From The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and elsewhere,
   it's clear that Lovecraft knew the basic outlines of the occult.
   But these influences pale next to Vathek, Poe, or Lord Dunsany.
   Desperate to assimilate Lovecraft into a "tradition", some
   occultists enter into dubious explanations of mystical influence
   by disincarnate beings. North gives this Invisible College idea a
   shamanic twist, asserting that prehistoric Atlantian tribes who
   survived the flood exercised telepathic influence on people like
   John Dee, Blavatsky, and Lovecraft. But none of these Lovecraft
   hierophants can match the delirious splendor of Kenneth Grant. In
   The Magical Revival, Grant points out more curious similarities
   between Lovecraft and Crowley: both refer to "Great Old Ones" and
   "Cold Wastes" (of Kadath and Hadith, respectively); the entity
   "Yog-Sothoth" rhymes with "Set-Thoth," and Al Azif: The Book of
   the Arab resembles Crowley's Al vel Legis: The Book of the Law.
   In Nightside of Eden, Grant maps Lovecraft's pantheon onto a
   darkside Tree of Life, comparing the mangled "iridescent globes"
   that occasionally pop up in Lovecraft's tales with the shattered
   sefirot known as the Qlipoth. Grant concludes that Lovecraft had
   "direct and conscious experience of the inner planes,"[9] the
   same zones Crowley prowled, and that Lovecraft "disguised" his
   occult experiences as fiction.
   Like many latter-day Lovecraftians, Grant commits the error of
   literalizing a purposefully nebulous myth. A subtler and more
   satisfying version of this argument is the notion that Lovecraft
   had direct unconscious experiences of the inner planes,
   experiences which his quotidian mind rejected but which found
   their way into his writings nonetheless. For Lovecraft was
   blessed with a vivid and nightmarish dream life, and drew the
   substance of a number of his tales from beyond the wall of sleep.
   In this sense Lovecraft's magickal authority is nothing more or
   less than the authority of dream. But what kind of dream tales
   are these? A Freudian could have a field day with Lovecraft's
   fecund, squishy sea monsters, and a Jungian analyst might
   recognize the liniments of the proverbial shadow. But Lovecraft's
   Shadow is so inky it swallows the standard archetypes of the
   collective unconscious like a black hole. If we see the
   archetypal world not as a static storehouse of timeless godforms
   but as a constantly mutating carnival of figures, then the
   seething extraterrestrial monsters that Lovecraft glimpsed in the
   chaos of hyperspace are not so much archaic figures of heredity
   than the avatars of a new psychological and mythic aeon. At the
   very least, it would seem that things are getting mighty out of
   hand beyond the magic circle of the ordered daylight mind.
   In an intriguing Internet document devoted to the Necronomicon,
   Tyagi Nagasiva places Lovecraft's potent dreamtales within the
   terma tradition found in the Nyingma branch of Tibetan
   Buddhism[10]. Termas were "pre-mature" writings hidden by
   Buddhist sages for centuries until the time was ripe, at which
   point religious visionaries would divine their physical hiding
   places through omens or dreams. But some termas were revealed
   entirely in dreams, often couched in otherworldly Dakini scripts.
   An old Indian revisionary tactic (the second-century Nagarjuna
   was said to have discovered his Mahayana masterpieces in the
   serpent realm of the nagas), the terma game resolves the
   religious problem of how to alter a tradition without disrupting
   traditional authority. The famous Tibetan Book of the Dead is a
   terma, and so, perhaps, is the Necronomicon.
   Of course, for Chaos magicians, reality can coherently present
   itself through any number of self-sustaining but mutually
   contradictory symbolic paradigms (or "reality tunnels," in Robert
   Anton Wilson's memorable phrase). Nothing is true and everything
   is permitted. By emphasizing the self-fulfilling nature of all
   reality claims, this postmodern perspective creatively erodes the
   distinction between legitimate esoteric transmission and total
   This bias toward the experimental is found in Anton LaVey's
   Satanic Rituals, which includes the first overtly Lovecraftian
   rituals to see print. In presenting "Die Elektrischen Vorspiele"
   (which LaVey based on a Lovecraftian tale by Frank Belknap Long),
   the "Ceremony of the Angles," and "The Call to Cthulhu" (the
   latter two penned by Michael Aquino), LaVey does claim that
   Lovecraft "clearly...had been influenced by very real
   sources."[11] But in holding that Satanic magic allows you to
   "objectively enter into a subjective state," LaVey more
   emphatically emphasizes the ritual power of fantasy--a radical
   subjectivity which explains his irreverence towards occult source
   material, whether Lovecraft or Masonry. In naming his Order of
   the Trapezoid after the "Shining Trapezohedron" found in
   Lovecraft's "The Haunter of the Dark"--a black, oddly-angled
   extraterrestrial crystal used to communicate with the Old
   Ones--LaVey emphasized that fictions can channel magical forces
   regardless of their historical authenticity.
   In his two rituals, Michael Aquino expresses the subjective power
   of "meaningless" language by creating a "Yuggothic" tongue
   similar to that heard in Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" and
   "The Whisperer in the Dark." Such guttural utterances help to
   shut down the rational mind (try chanting "P'garn'h v'glyzz" for
   a couple of hours), a notion elaborated by Kenneth Grant in his
   notion of the Cult of Barbarous Names. After leaving the Church
   of Satan to form the more serious Temple of Set in 1975, Aquino
   eventually reformed the Order of the Trapezoid into the practical
   magic wing of the Setian philosophy. For Stephen R. Flowers,
   current Grand Master of the order, the substance of Lovecraftian
   magic is precisely an overwhelming subjectivity that flies in the
   face of objective law. "The Old Ones are the objective
   manifestations...of the subjective universe which is what is
   trying to 'break through' the merely rational mind-set of modern
   humanity."[12] For Flowers, such invocations are ultimately
   apocalyptic, hastening a transition into a chaotic aeon in which
   the Old Ones reveal themselves as future reflections of the Black
   Magician ("There are no more Nightmares for us," he wrote me).
   This desire to rebel against the tyranny of reason and its
   ordered objective universe is one of the underlying goals of
   Chaos magic. Many would applaud the sentiment expressed by Albert
   Wilmarth in Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness": "To shake
   off the maddening and wearying limitations of time and space and
   natural law--to be linked with the vast outside--to come close to
   the nighted and abysmal secrets of the infinite and
   ultimate--surely such a things was worth the risk of one's life,
   soul, and sanity!"[13]
   In his electronically circulated text "Kathulu Majik: Luvkrafting
   the Roles of Modern Uccultizm," Tyagi Nagasiva writes that most
   Western magic is ossified and dualistic, heavily weighted towards
   the forces of order, hierarchy, moralizing, and structured
   language. "Without the destabilizing force of Kaos, we would
   stagnate intellectually, psychologically and otherwise...Kathulu
   provides a necessary instability to combat the stolid and fixed
   methods of the structured 'Ordurs'...One may become balanced
   through exposure to Kathulu" (Tyagi's "mis-spellings" show the
   influence of Genesis P. Orridge's Temple of Psychick Youth).
   Haramullah criticizes black magicians who simply reverse "Ordur"
   with "Kaos," rather than bringing this underlying polarity into
   balance (a dualistic error he also finds in Lovecraft). Showing
   strong Taoist and Buddhist influences, Haramullah calls instead
   for a "Midul Path" that magically navigates between structure and
   disintegration, will and void. "The idea that one may progress
   linearly along the MP [Midul Path] is mistaken. One becomes, one
   does not progress. One attunes, one does not forge. One allows,
   one does not make."
   In the Cincinatti Journal of Ceremonial Magic, the anonymous
   author of "Return of the Elder Gods" presents an evolutionary
   reason for Mythos magic. The author accepts the scenario of an
   approaching world crisis brought on by the invasion of the Elder
   Gods, Qlipothic transdimensional entities who ruled protohumanity
   until they were banished by "the agent of the Intelligence," a
   Promethean figure who set humanity on its current course of
   evolution. We remain connected to these Elder Gods through the
   "Forgotten Ones," the atavistic forces of hunger, sex ,and
   violence that linger in the subterranean levels of our being.
   Only by magically "reabsorbing" the Forgotten Ones and using the
   subsequent energy to bootstrap higher consciousness can we keep
   the portal sealed against the return of the Elder Gods. Though
   Lovecraft's name is never mentioned in the article, he is ever
   present, a skeptical materialist dreaming the dragons awake.
   Writing the Dream...
   Within the Mythos tales, one finds two dimensions--the normal
   human world and the infested Outside--and it's the ontological
   tension between them that powers Lovecraft's magick realism.
   Though Cthulhu and friends have material aspects, their reality
   is most horrible for what it says about the way the universe is.
   As the Lovecraft scholar Joshi notes, Lovecraft's narrators
   frequently go mad "not through any physical violence at the hands
   of supernatural entities but through the mere realization of the
   the existence of such a race of gods and beings." Faced with
   "realms whose mere existence stuns the brain," they experience
   severe cognitive dissonance--precisely the sorts of disorienting
   rupture sought by Chaos magicians.[14]
   The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu wonderfully expresses the
   violence of this Lovecraftian paradigm shift. In adventure games
   like Dungeons & Dragons, one of your character's most significant
   measures is its hit points--a number which determines the amount
   of physical punishment your character can take before it gets
   injured or dies. Call of Cthulhu replaces this physical
   characteristic with the psychic category of Sanity. Face-to-face
   encounters with Yog-Sothoth or the insects from Shaggai knock
   points off your Sanity, but so does your discovery of more
   information about the Mythos--the more you find out from books or
   starcharts, the more likely you are to wind up in the Arkham
   Asylum. Magic also comes with an ironic price, one that
   Lovecraftian magicians might well pay heed to. If you use any of
   the binding spells from De Vermis Mysteriis or the Pnakotic
   Manuscripts, you necessarily learn more about the Mythos and
   thereby lose more sanity.[15]
   Lovecraft's scholarly heros also investigate the Mythos as much
   through reading and thinking as through movements through
   physical space, and this psychological exploration draws the mind
   of the reader directly into the loop. Usually, readers suspect
   the dark truth of the Mythos while the narrator still clings to a
   quotidian attitude--a technique that subtly forces the reader to
   identify with the Outside rather than with the conventional
   worldview of the protagonist. Magically, the blindness of
   Lovecraft's heroes corresponds to a crucial element of occult
   theory developed by Austin Osman Spare: that magic occurs over
   and against the conscious mind, that ordinary thinking must be
   silenced, distracted, or thoroughly deranged for the chthonic
   will to express itself.[16]
   In order to invade our plane, Lovecraft's entities need a portal,
   an interface between the worlds, and Lovecraft emphasizes two:
   books and dreams. In "Dreams of the Witch-House," "The Shadow out
   of Time" and "The Shadow over Innsmouth," dreams infect their
   hosts with a virulence that resembles the more overt psychic
   possessions that occur in "The Haunter in the Dark" and The Case
   of Charles Dexter Ward. Like the monsters themselves, Lovecraft's
   dreams are autonomous forces breaking through from Outside and
   engendering their own reality.
   But these dreams also conjure up a more literal "outside": the
   strange dream life of Lovecraft himself, a life that (as the
   informed fan knows) directly inspired some of the tales[17]. By
   seeding his texts with his own nightmares, Lovecraft creates a
   autobiographical homology between himself and his protagonists.
   The stories themselves start to dream, which means that the
   reader too lies right in the path of the infection.
   Lovecraft reproduces himself in his tales in a number of
   ways--the first-person protagonists reflect aspects of his own
   reclusive and bookish lifestyle; the epistolary form of the "The
   Whisperer in Darkness" echoes his own commitment to regular
   correspondence; character names are lifted from friends; and the
   New England landscape is his own. This psychic self-reflection
   partially explains why Lovecraft fans usually become fascinated
   with the man himself, a gaunt and solitary recluse who socialized
   through the mail, yearned for the eighteenth century, and adopted
   the crabby outlook and mannerisms of an old man. Lovecraft's
   life, and certainly his voluminous personal correspondence, form
   part of his myth.
   Lovecraft thus solidifies his virtual reality by adding
   autobiographical elements to his shared world of creatures, books
   and maps. He also constructs a documentary texture by thickening
   his tales with manuscripts, newspaper clippings, scholarly
   citations, diary entries, letters, and bibliographies that list
   fake books alongside real classics. All this produces the sense
   that "outside" each individual tale lies a meta-fictional world
   that hovers on the edge of our own, a world that, like the
   monsters themselves, is constantly trying to break through and
   actualize itself. And thanks to Mythos storytellers, role-playing
   games, and dark-side magicians, it has.
   ...and Dreaming the Book
   In "The Shadow out of Time," Lovecraft makes explicit one of the
   fantastic equations that drives his Magick Realism: the
   equivalence of dreams and books. For five years, the narrator, an
   economics professor named Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, is taken
   over by a mysterious "secondary personality." After recovering
   his original identity, Peaslee is beset by powerful dreams in
   which he finds himself in a strange city, inhabiting a huge
   tentacle-sprouting conical body, writing down the history of
   modern Western world in a book. In the climax of the tale,
   Peaslee journeys to the Australian desert to explore ancient
   ruins buried beneath the sands. There he discovers a book written
   in English, in his own handwriting: the very same volume he had
   produced inside his monstrous dream body.
   Though we learn very little of their contents, Lovecraft's
   diabolical grimoires are so infectious that even glancing at
   their ominous sigils proves dangerous. As with their dreams,
   these texts obssess Lovecraft's bookish protagonists to the point
   that the volumes, in Christopher Frayling's phrase, "vampirize
   the reader." Their titles alone are magic spells, the
   hallucinatory incantations of an eccentric antiquarian: the
   Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Ilarnet Papyri, the R'lyeh Text, the
   Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan. Lovecraft's friends contributed De
   Vermis Mysteriis and von Junzt's Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and
   Lovecraft named the author of his Cultes Des Goules, the Comte
   d'Erlette, after his young fan August Derleth. Hovering over all
   these grim tomes is the "dreaded" and "forbidden" Necronomicon, a
   book of blasphemous invocations to speed the return of the Old
   Ones. Lovecraft's supreme intertextual fetish, the Necronomicon
   stands as one of the few mythical books in literature that have
   absorbed so much imaginative attention that they've entered
   published reality.
   If books owe their life not to their individual contents but to
   the larger intertextual webwork of reference and citation within
   which they are woven, than the dread Necronomicon clearly has a
   life of its own. Besides literary studies, the Necronomicon has
   generated numerous pseudo-scholarly analyses, including
   significant appendixes in the Encyclopedia Cthulhiana and
   Lovecraft's own "History of the Necronomicon." A number of FAQs
   can be found on the Internet, where a mild flame war periodically
   erupts between magicians, horror fans, and mythology experts over
   the reality of the book. The undead entity referred to in the
   Necronomicon's famous couplet--"That is not dead which can
   eternal lie,/And with strange eons even death may die"--may be
   nothing more or less than the the text itself, always lurking in
   the margins as we read the real.
   Lovecraft's brief "History" was apparently inspired by the first
   Necronomicon hoax: a review of an edition of the dreaded tome
   submitted to Massachusetts' Branford Review in 1934.[18] Decades
   later, index cards for the book started popping up in university
   library catalogs.
   It's perhaps the principle expression of Lovecraft's Magick
   Realism that all these ghostly references would finally manifest
   the book itself. In 1973, a small-press edition of Al Azif (the
   Necronomicon's Arabic name) appeared, consisting of eight pages
   of simulated Syrian script repeated 24 times. Four years later,
   the Satanists at New York's Magickal Childe published a
   Necronomicon by Simon, a grab bag that contains far more Sumerian
   myth than Lovecraft (though portions were "purposely left out"
   for the "safety of the reader"). George Hay's Necronomicon: The
   Book of Dead Names, also a child of the '70s, is the most
   complex, intriguing, and Lovecraftian of the lot. In the spirit
   of the master's pseudoscholarship, Hay nests the fabulated
   invocations of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu amongst a set of analytic,
   literary and historical essays.
   Though magicians with strong imaginations have claimed that even
   the Simon book works wonders, the pseudohistories of the various
   Necronomicons are far more compelling than the texts themselves.
   Lovecraft himself provided the bare bones: the text was penned in
   730 A.D by a poet, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and named after
   the nocturnal sounds of insects. It was subsequently translated
   by Theodorus Philetas into Greek, by Olaus Wormius into Latin,
   and by John Dee into English. Lovecraft lists various libraries
   and private collections where fragments of the volume reside, and
   gives us a knowing wink by noting that the fantasy writer R.W.
   Chambers is said to have derived the monstrous and suppressed
   book found in his novel The King in Yellow from rumors of the
   Necronomicon (Lovecraft himself claimed to have gotten his
   inspiration from Chambers).
   All of the Necronomicon's subsequent pseudohistories weave the
   book in and out of actual occult history, with John Dee playing a
   particularly conspicuous role. According to Colin Wilson, the
   version of the text published in the Hay Necronomicon was
   encrypted in Dee's Enochian cipher-text Liber Logoaeth . Colin
   Low's Necronomicon FAQ claims that Dee discovered the book at the
   court of King Rudolph II's court in Prague, and that is was under
   its influence that Dee and his scryer Edward Kelly achieved their
   most powerful astral encounters. Never published, Dee's
   translation became part of celebrated collection of Elias Ashmole
   housed at the British Library. Here Crowley read it, freely
   cobbling passages for The Book of the Law, and ultimately passing
   on some of its contents indirectly to Lovecraft through Sophia
   Greene. Crowley's role in Low's tale is appropriate, for Crowley
   certainly knew the magical power of hoax and history.
   For the history of the occult is a confabulation, its lies wedded
   to its genealogies, its "timeless" truths fabricated by
   revisionists, madmen, and geniuses, its esoteric traditions a
   constantly shifting conspiracy of influences. The Necronomicon is
   not the first fiction to generate real magical activity within
   this potent twilight zone between philology and fantasy.
   To take an example from an earlier era, the anonymous Rosicrucian
   manifestos that first appeared in the early 1600s claimed to
   issue from a secret brotherhood of Christian Hermeticists who
   finally deemed it time to come above ground. Many readers
   immediately wanted to join up, though it is unlikely that such a
   group existed at the time. But this hoax focused esoteric desire
   and inspired an explosion of "real" Rosicrucian groups. Though
   one of the two suspected authors of the manifestos, Johann
   Valentin Andreae, never came clean, he made veiled references to
   Rosicrucianism as an "ingenius game which a masked person might
   like to play upon the literary scene, especially in an age
   infatuated with everything unusual."[19] Like the Rosicrucian
   manifestos or Blavatsky's Book of Dzyan, Lovecraft's Necronomicon
   is the occult equivalent of Orson Welles' radio broadcast of the
   "War of the Worlds." As Lovecraft himself wrote, "No weird story
   can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care
   and verisimilitude of an actual hoax."[20]
   In Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco suggests that esoteric truth
   is perhaps nothing more than a semiotic conspiracy theory born of
   an endlessly rehashed and self-referential literature--the
   intertextual fabric Lovecraft understood so well. For those who
   need to ground their profound states of consciousness in
   objective correlatives, this is a damning indictment of
   "tradition." But as Chaos magicians remind us, magic is nothing
   more than subjective experience interacting with an internally
   consistent matrix of signs and affects. In the absence of
   orthodoxy, all we have is the dynamic tantra of text and
   perception, of reading and dream. These days the Great Work may
   be nothing more or less than this "ingenius game," fabricating
   itself without closure or rest, weaving itself out of the
   resplendent void where Azazoth writhes on his Mandelbrot throne.
   (First appeared in a condensed form in Gnosis, no. 37, Fall 1995)

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Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
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Herb Magic: illustrated descriptions of magic herbs with free spells, recipes, and an ordering option
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: ethical diviners and hoodoo spell-casters
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
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Satan Service Org: an archive presenting the theory, practice, and history of Satanism and Satanists
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Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century ceremonial occultist
Spiritual Spells: lessons in folk magic and spell casting from an eclectic Wiccan perspective
The Mystic Tea Room: divination by reading tea-leaves, with a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
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