animî nostrî dêbent interdum âlûcinâri
Fresh from the Amazon delivery, the next few full length items slated for All Hallows Read: Lindsey Fitzharris’ The Butchering Art and Caitlin Doughty’s two titles, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to find the Good Death and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory.
Admittedly not in the same vein as the rest, but today’s All Hallows Read took the form of Paul Hoffman’s biography of Paul Erdős / Erdős Pál (26 March 1913–20 September 1996), The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (Hyperion, 1998), a frequently cantankerous but fascinating character.
“Possessions meant little to Erdős; most of his belongings would fit in a suitcase, as dictated by his itinerant lifestyle. Awards and other earnings were generally donated to people in need and various worthy causes. He spent most of his life traveling between scientific conferences, universities and the homes of colleagues all over the world. He earned enough in stipends from universities as a guest lecturer, and from various mathematical awards, to fund his travels and basic needs; money left over he used to fund cash prizes for proofs of “Erdős problems”. He would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later.” (Source)
Personally, I intend to steal his epitaph, “Végre nem butulok tovább”—“Finally, I’ve stopped getting dumber”.
I’ve missed a few days, but to continue my All Hallows Read sojourn, a bit of tonight’s selection. Listening earlier to Current 93′s song “Niemandswasser” (from 2000′s Sleep Has His House) prompted me to reread the story from which it has its name, found in Robert Aickman’s Cold Hand in Mine collection, pictured here in the 1975 Scribner & Sons’ edition with the Edward Gorey cover; before leaving it, I also reread its opening story, “The Swords”. Talking of Ligotti recently, I decided to reread a bit of him, as well. First up, from The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein & Other Gothic Tales (Silver Salamander Press, 1994; limited to 1000 copies, signed by Ligotti and Michael Shea, who wrote the intro), “The Premature Death of H.P. Lovecraft, Oldest Man in New England”, “The Perilous Legacy of Emily St. Aubert, Inheritress of Udolpho” and “The Insufferable Salvation of Lawrence Talbot the Wolfman”. Given its brevity, I decided to reread the whole of Sideshow and Other Stories (Subterranean Press, 2003; limited to 350 copies, of which this is #31 and signed by Ligotti). Obscured mostly under those last two titles is Ligotti’s first mixed media collaboration with Current 93, In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land (Durtro, 1997), containing the four pieces, “His shadow shall rise to a higher house”, “The bells will sound forever”, “A soft voice whispers nothing”, and “When you hear the singing, you will know it is time”, for each of which the included CD contains an audio track accompaniment composed and performed by Current 93 and Nurse with Wound; tonight, I reread “A soft voice whispers nothing”.
—or, “Fun with Coincidence”. (All Hallows Read, pt. 6.)
Occasionally, my various interest areas overlap in unexpected ways; last night was one such time. Researching earlier in the evening in Greek Horoscopes (an academic survey of surviving astrological charts from the first five centuries of the current era; ed. Otto Neugebauer & H.B. van Hoesen, vol. 48 of the Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 1959), I was still thinking of my Lovecraft reading from the previous evening and earlier yesterday as part of my All Hallows Read, where among others I’d reread “The Call of Cthulhu”. In that story, HPL gives latitude and longitude for locations around and of R’lyeh, and he gives the date for its rising (1 March), sinking (2 April), and the crew’s landing and Cthulhu’s awakening (23 March), all 1925. While, true, he doesn’t give explicit times of day, which we’d ordinarily need for reliable chart calculation, in this instance we’re looking more at a period of time—the month of March—than a single specific instance, so we can still calculate the pertinent positions: we can find out, in other words, just which “stars were right”.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, since Lovecraft wasn’t, after all, thinking of astrology when he wrote those dates and locations (at least, I assume he wasn’t), on its surface the chart revealed didn’t seem so special. The bits that might be symbolically significant, in relation to the story—using the more negative traditional meanings of the signs, the malefics, etc.—would be the “great malefic” Saturn, retrograde, in Scorpio, ruled by the other malefic Mars, and both malefics in opposition. Using the “modern” planets, Neptune, governing dreams and hallucinations, obsessions and madness (a Cthulhian planet if ever there were one) was also retrograde and in Leo, adding intensity, visibility: compare the remarks in the story on how people around the world were suddenly having dreams, visions, and so forth, in that period: “March 1st [… f]rom Dunedin the Alert and her noisome crew had darted eagerly forth as if imperiously summoned, and on the other side of the earth poets and artists had begun to dream of a strange, dank Cyclopean city whilst a young sculptor had moulded in his sleep the form of the dreaded Cthulhu. March 23rd […] the dreams of sensitive men assumed a heightened vividness and darkened with dread of a giant monster’s malign pursuit, whilst an architect had gone mad and a sculptor had lapsed suddenly into delirium! […] April 2nd—the date on which all dreams of the dank city ceased”. Further, the modern great malefic, Pluto (Yuggoth on the rim?) stands out even more. That is, while Pluto was retrograde when R’lyeh rose, it had just gone back to direct/normal/non-retrograde motion as R’lyeh sank again. What makes it stand out more, though, is related to a planet’s retrograde cycle. Briefly, planets are considered astrologically to have three basic states of relative motion: direct, or normal motion; retrograde, or reverse direction; and a station, or stationary position where it’s transitioning between the two. While most who have read or heard much of astrology are familiar with at least the term “retrograde”, fewer are familiar with stations, though astrologically they are significant events, times when a planet appears to “stand still” in the sky. While they couldn’t see these outer planets, the ancients ascribed a great deal of significance to planetary stations and read them as omens. The reason I digress on the topic here is that Pluto went stationary above R’lyeh on the day the crew landed and Cthulhu awoke. When it began moving again, R’lyeh returned to the depths.
If we inspect the “quality” or condition of the planets, we find a few additional surprises. When R’lyeh rose, we find that Mercury was in its worst possible condition, being both in its detriment and fall simultaneously, suggesting a time when reason, rational/critical thinking would be significantly hindered in some way, making it all the easier for those earlier cited Neptunian influences to take and hold sway. Likewise, the malefic Mars was in detriment, “increasing its power for evil” as the ancients would say. We find Jupiter, the great benefic, was fallen, decreasing or impeding the presence/action of “good”/happiness/joy. Seems dreadfully apt. We also find that around noon of that day, Mercury, already in such poor condition, was conjunct the Arabic part of Suicide. Perhaps just as interesting or suitable are the changed qualities in action when R’lyeh sank again: there we find the Sun had come into its exaltation, a position of great strength, a return of light to the world; at the same time, the Moon reached its strongest position, being in domicile (its own sign), which by sign also meant it had become the ruler of newly direct Pluto to which it was also then conjunct, astrologically suggesting the reflected light of the sun dominating or overcoming Pluto’s influence. Before this change, consider the remarks in the story about the Sun: “The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarizing miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion”; “That tenebrousness was indeed a positive quality; for it obscured such parts of the inner walls as ought to have been revealed, and actually burst forth like smoke from its aeon-long imprisonment, visibly darkening the sun”. When the sun reappeared, R’lyeh sank. Maybe Lovecraft considered astrology after all.
Considering the emphasis on the times when the stars are right, I decided to bring in another of my subject areas, and wrote a bit of code to search for these same positions in other times. Employing the Swiss ephemeris, based on NASA’s JPL’s ephemerides, offering accurate planetary positional data spanning some 30,000 years, I wrote a program that would search from 13000 bce to 17000 ce, looking for any time where the same planetary positions held or shall hold sway. In those thirty thousand years, that same combination of stellar influences occurs only the once, in March of 1925. Considering Lovecraft remarked that R’lyeh had been there since the sun was young, and our sun’s been around roughly 5 billion years and our planet around 4.6 billion, and HPL wrote that after “vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again” (no, he doesn’t bother to say how Cthulhu was trapped there for 999 undevigintillion years or so longer than the earth and sun had existed) maybe that’s not so surprising, but unfortunately we have no reliable way of calculating or even estimating planetary positions at such remote times, so we can’t tell if the same planetary conditions obtained then. On the positive side (well, at least for us, if not for poor Cthulhu), if those are the necessary conditions for the stars to be right, the planet should be safe from Cthulhu’s wake-up call for at least another fifteen thousand years!
Something slightly different; tonight I’ve been reading Giordano Bruno. Specifically, his De magia and De uinculis (both in genere and spirituum), from the third volume of Opera Latine conscripta, 1891 (translations may be found in Blackwell and de Lucca’s edition of Cause, Principle and Unity and Essays on Magic in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy series from C. University Press, 1998), while rewatching The Haunted Palace. (Reading “on the binding of spirits” while they resurrect Hester on screen made for amusing timing.)
I’ll get back to the previously scheduled readings soon.
This morning, in a mood for Lovecraft, I reread “The Dunwich Horror”, inspired by seeing the post of the Dean-Stockwell-as-Wilbur film version of the story a bit ago. Running across the many and various grimoire and other esoteric text references in that work, I had a passing idea to add a new twist to my All Hallows Read experience by thinking I might do a reading list of “Grimoires (which I own) mentioned in Lovecraft” or something like that. Going over the list in my head, I thought it might be doable, and rereading most of them would do no harm (what sanity’s left to lose at this point, right?), so it was (nearly) decided.
Luckily, I browsed my Tumblr feed before committing myself to such a course! Seeing Ms Jonusas‘s reference to Charles Dexter Ward, I realized I hadn’t nearly enough time left to do the whole list. Why? Dear old HPL in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” had to go and mention the Zohar! Ach. It’s not that I don’t have the Zohar, but rather that I’ve an overabundance of it. In the photo above, just a bit of the kabbalah section of my library, you’ll see the 12 volumes of Matt’s recently completed English translation, the “Pritzker Zohar” put out by Stanford University Press from 2003 to this year; that’s about 7,800 pages of nearly fine print. Next to it, the Hebrew edition with commentary spans 24 volumes—I don’t recall the page count on that one offhand, but it’s… substantial (I’d estimate between 8,500 and 9k pages). While not visible on the shelf, I’ve also the Aramaic critical edition, but it’s just a bound print-out of the PDF release by Stanford to accompany the Pritzker; even so, it’s 2,478 pages of difficult Aramaic. I’ve read the three editions, but to reread them all before the end of All Hallows Read? Not going to happen. Or, to put that in a more contextually appropriate way: לא היום, שטן
(Just for reference, the rest of that shelf, between the end of the Hebrew edition and the violin: Rabbi Kaplan’s Meditation and the Kabbalah and his editions of the books Yetzirah and Bahir; Idel and Dan’s collection The Early Kabbalah; Rabbi Cordovero’s ‘Or Ne`erav; a bilingual Latin and English edition of Reuchlin’s de Arte Cabalistica; Rabbi Gikatilla’s Sha`are ‘Orah; one of Idel’s studies on Abulafia, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah; and Matt’s collection of short form kabbalistic works, The Essential Kabbalah.)
So, for now, it’s back to the horror stories.
Continuing on from #1 & #2. Today began with E.F. Benson’s “Negotium Perambulans…” (1923), Algernon Blackwood’s “The Listener” (1907) (bonus De Quincey reference), and Arthur Machen’s “The Inmost Light” and “The Great God Pan” (both, 1894). With the Blackwood & Machen combo, I’m tempted to slip into a Golden Dawn members tangent; maybe I should add one of Crowley’s tales, perhaps from his mythology inspired Golden Twigs collection? So far, the selections have all been short stories; I may give a longer work a go for the next installment.
Continuing on from earlier. Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s “A Torture by Hope” (1891) and the Erckmann-Chatrian piece “L’Oreille de la chouette”/”The Owl’s Ear” (1860) down, along with Charlotte Perkins Stetson (later Gilman)’s peculiar The Yellow Wall Paper (1892) (for the curious, see also her “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wall-Paper”: “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.”) this morning. This afternoon, Prosper Mérimée’s “The Venus of Ille” (1887) and Walter de la Mare’s “All Hallows” (1926). What next?
As an aside, I learned something while reading “The Venus of Ille”: “[…] you are a thinker and no longer notice women.”—If that’s a requirement, I’m apparently not a very good thinker!
Inspired by Ms Jonusas, I think I’ll try All Hallows Read. For inspiration, I intend to work my way through Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature and read a selection of works mentioned there. Short and familiar, and more essay than tale, I’ve begun tonight with Thomas de Quincey’s “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow” from his Suspiria de Profundis (1845). Next up: M.P. Shiel’s translation of Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s “La torture par l’espérance”, as “A Torture by Hope”.
(Update: Okay, maybe not next up, as I’ve instead just read M.R. James’ “Lost Hearts” from his Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), and Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852), originally published in Dickens’ magazine, Household Words.)