Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cthulhu Occultism, Pt 6 – Bad Advice; Three Steps to a Cultist Future.

Let me be frank. I don’t think it’s worth doing to try to make occult systems out of fictional paradigms. Lovecraft, Tolkein, Pratchett, Rice, whoever; no single author or even group of authors can construct stories with the depth and resonance of mythic tales that have been signaled down the line through thousands of human nervous systems. Thus I find the notion of creating seriously-intended occult systems from those authors essentially ludicrous, in the original sense. It is a game, a joke, an amusement – not to be done (or taken) seriously.

That being said, I do love games. In fact I enjoy Lovecraft games, including table-top role-play, board and card games. I’ve already turned my hand to producing a fake Lovecraftian grimoire. Called the “Dwale of Afagddu”, it purports to be a conflation of medieval Welsh lore with mythos sorcery, and it was a fun project. Designing a grimoire is easy when it doesn't have to mean anything.

Buy me!
In the experiments given therein I employ dream-induction, fear-stimulus and outdoor environments to seek the atmosphere of Lovecraftian magic. At the time that I wrote the material (late 90s, as I recall) I approached it piecemeal, with little effort at theory or internal consistency. To continue that sort of fun a little, I’ll try to distill what I see as core ideas in a career in Lovecraftian occultism. If you want to become one of the Hopefully Uneaten Elite, it’s as easy as one-two-three.

1: The Preparation of the Operator
The Lovecraftian sorcerer is often born into the cult, but equally often must discover their connection, behind the mask of the ‘normal’ family and life. By whatever means, the protagonist… er, magician must discover that there is a Secret Truth behind the veil of common opinion and industrial science.

That truth is frightening. Or is it? HPL lived at the end of the end of the age of consensual mythic faith in the Biblical narratives. Science and archeology were battering away at the older models, and even more modern science was battering away at 19th century scientism and the doctrine of material progress. It is in the cracks in the belief system of the magician that the Great Old Ones make their presence felt.

There are two classic approaches to this problem in spirituality. The more common assumes that the human is basically living an animal life, following greed and lust and sloth as they please. It attempts to break through habits of daily survival by opening the mind and heart to empathy, widening he perspective from the personal to the communal, and opening to some symbol of ‘the Light’, usually understood as doctrinally-correct moral goodness.

The second method assumes that the adult human is a programmed social robot It sees us proceeding through our days with a set of ideas and opinions that provide acceptable ‘truth’ without being at all the whole truth, and often being simply false. It presents the Secret Wisdom to the common mind, and expects the containment jug of our inner certainty to break, spilling us out into unknown potentials.

It is the latter that Lovecraft exploits for his horror. His protagonists are usually either academics or artists. In artists we see a natural tendency to see past the norm, to allow imagination to be influenced by the thought-currents of the GOO. Academics usually find their way through discovery of facts, and the fitting of those facts together into a true picture of frightening reality.

So the Mythos wizard candidate is in a process of disintegration and reintegration (hopefully) from the outset. There’s plenty of occult mechanism out there for this process. Most commonly used by modern attempts at  occult Yog-Sothothery is antinomianism. The laws and moral strictures of society are thrown off, and the mind made soft and easily constrained through shock and horror. We see this in the great swampland sabbat in Call of Cthulhu. Old Castro recites the cult’s particular flavor of pie-in-the-sky:

That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great 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 the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return.”

In a society such as HPL’s, where a woman’s insistence on personal liberty could result in shock treatment or hysterectomy; where homosexuals were imprisoned and inter-racial sexuality resulted in sanctioned murder such teachings were, quite literally, madness.

Step One – Go A Little Mad.

2: Study and Conjuration
The usual response of a Lovecraftian acolyte to their sudden understanding that the world is not what it seems is to proceed right down the metaphorical stairs into the demon-haunted crypt in their psychological bathrobe. The unshakable aesthetic and intellectual pull of the new knowledge leads our student to plow through the material at hand. In the stories this phase may involve association with an existing cult group, or may happen purely by research in books and manuscripts.

This often allows some agent or presence of the GOO to get a hook into the target’s – er, student’s psyche. This usually results in either an obsessive pursuit of ritual actions - assembling the right stuff and finding the right words, etc – or a round of dreaming and dissociative psychological incidents. The would-be magician ought to aim or hope for the former – those led by the latter seldom end up in charge of their fates.

This phase is marked by withdrawal and hermitage. The student’s conversational habits may become unusual, their public interactions unpredictable. Common life may be neglected for hours of study of strange tomes, and construction of unusual implements and structures. Associations and friendships may alter - especially helpful is to discover a sexual partner who can further initiate one into the cult. While it is best if this is a human partner (survivability rate-wise) occasionally non-human lovers may be available. Dietary restrictions may apply.

This phase may result in a special moment of contact between the magician’s self-up-until-then and the object of the work.  Again in some cases the contact is with non-human races, but Yog Sothoth is the being most commonly conjured by Mythos witches and wizards, with Nyarlathotep his messenger and Azathoth the incomprehensible sovereign behind them. Those were the Gods of whom Great Cthulhu was priest, but perhaps I say too much… Once again those who actually become mythos mages achieve this phase consciously – many achieve it involuntarily, in the tales.

Step Two – Make a Deal with Alien Powers

3: Machinations
The scale of this varies in the tale, depending on the type of madness that afflicts the protagonist, and the ambition of the particular Alien Demon-God involved. Some tales reveal large-scale, world-remaking plans, while other cultists seem to desire only to rule their own little slice of the world, or become lunchroom attendants for their patrons.

In “The Terrible Old Man”, a small story in the Mythos scale, we might see what a 'successful’ Lovecraftian mage looks like.

“He is, in truth, a very strange person, believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his day; so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few know his real name. Among the gnarled trees in the front yard of his aged and neglected place he maintains a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern temple.”
This local wizard has collected spirits (dodging spoilers for once) with whom he could speak, “addressing them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis”. He has a reliable supply of gold, a sea-port house, and ample means of self-defense.

­We see that some Mythos wizards do achieve a sort of success. Obed Marsh establishes his cult in Innsmouth and lives to a very ripe old age among his cultists. Ephraim Waite (if that is the original entity involved) successfully passes on from body to body. Randolph Carter becomes a king in the Dreamlands. Keziah Mason achieves interdimensional immortality. Even old Wizard Whateley lived until his end with his family around him. If one is willing to take the first two steps, there can be a variety of third options open. Lovecraft relied on an element of moral horror, since all these feats were accomplished through murder, violation of corpses, unusual sexuality and breeding, and with the aid of monsters.

Really the rest is just rinse and repeat. Mythos Wizards bring various intentions to their work – extended lifespans, wealth, and personal influence are shown in the tales. Some cultists seem to have joined the efforts by the GOO to unlock Those Old Locks, and restore earth to the Old Ones. One cannot tell, in the stories, whether these cultists have merely been coerced by contact with alien minds, or have personally become convinced that the return of the GOO would be some kind of good or benefit to them.

Step 3: Try to Take Over the World.

The astute occultist reader will notice a certain resemblance of this three-fold plot-sequence to the real psychological stages of the student of  magic. In our materialist culture to develop an ear for the spirits is to go a little mad, and immersion in unusual projects and parent-puzzling activities is as common  now as it was for Charles Dexter Ward. While few real-world occultists attempt to allow their patrons to rule the world, many attempt to gain personal rulership of their lives, and extension of consciousness into strange and challenging worlds.

Perhaps this is why Lovecraft remains so interesting and inciting to experimental occultists. Not only does he grasp the aesthetic feel of medieval sorcery and ancient demon-cults (in fact he helped to invent it in modern horror) but he seems to grasp with an artist’s feel the process of learning occult skills. Perhaps it was his life-long fascination with the ever-more-wondrous apocalypses of the science of his day.  Lovecraft himself seems to have longed to peer behind the veil of common reality, seemed to realize that the common conceptual position of the people of his time was ripe to be broken like an egg. The secret knowledge that Lovecraft sought was scientific, but he knew that even that had been ‘forbidden’ not too many centuries before. The unveiling of the hidden – of the occult – part of the world was Lovecraft’s delight, and the delight of the Mythos sorcerers of his tales, if not of their hapless descendents.

This brings my theoretical examination of occult themes in Lovecraft’s writing to a close. I hope these reflections (which have been great fun to write), will be of some use to occultists drawn to HPL’s themes and characters. Going forward I may take a look at the premise that HPL’s monsters and fictional deities might have some legitimate correspondence with world mythic systems, and attempt to deconstruct Lovecraft  Qabala. However next I will list and review what I know of the modern literature of Lovecraftian occultism. There are a number of texts, of various qualities. We’ll see how long it takes.

I assume that my personal opinion on the value of attempting a Lovecraftian occult practice is clear. In general I see little value in attempts to build practices on *any* fictional symbol-system. Lovecraft’s system has no more connection to traditional magic and occultism than does the Buffyverse or Middle Earth. If I were choosing a fictional paradigm for my magic, and despite my life-long love for horror and dark-sorcery literature, I would not choose a Lovecraftian one, nor advise anyone whose goal is wholeness and happiness to do so.

Fun stuff, though.

Next time I launch, at last, a review of modern occult literature that attempts to use Lovecraft's material. It's not all bad ; ).

No comments: