Category Archives: The Cadaver Synod

The Cadaver Synod: Esoteric Fiction and Fictional Esoterica

The Western Esoteric Tradition has influenced the work of many writers and the work of many writers have influenced the tradition. This section is a place to collect some of those works.

De Profundis

Quite a while ago actually, I wandered into a local game shop and happened to start looking through the small press roleplaying games. There were several that struck me as interesting, but one in particular not only struck me but has stuck in my mind. Thinking over the last month or more about ALA’s National Gaming Day, which was today, I found myself thinking about this game once again.

De Profundis is a game created by a Polish designer Michał Oracz, and has been translated to English in two editions. The first edition was from Hogshead Publishing, and is still available through Chaosium. The second edition is available directly from Cubicle 7, as a PDF and print bundle, or many other outlets, such as in a downloadable PDF via DriveThruRPG.

 

What struck me at first about this game is that it outlines a way to play through correspondence, whether that’s physical snail mail, through email or maybe even in an online forum; and that play progresses not through rolling dice and consulting tables, but rather through the players telling the story of their characters as part of a collective narrative.

“Sometimes when I’m working on the game I enter a strange state of consciousness, as if someone were whispering things in my ear. Have you heard of ‘automatic writing’? You must have. Well, it’s like that. Or almost, because I still need to use my brain. In the next letters, ‘ll describe the game. I wonder what you’ll think. I have this eerie impression that if only I had the right key, and unlocked the right door in my brain, the whole game would just fall out, complete, finished, as though it were already there somewhere, and I just had to peep through the keyhole to see it. I can feel it’s close, but I can’t reach it; I just grab at bits of it and piece them together like parts of a torn photograph. Not everything fits yet, but I know they’re parts of a coherent whole.” — De Profundis

So, the participants in this build a emergent narrative by weaving together their separate personal narratives. The letters develop a story that has a life of its own. And, not only that, but that story then becomes part of the life of the participants.

“So, imagine a tree with many branches, walking on three legs. That’s what De Profundis is like: like a symbol for the three-legged form of Nyarlathotep. It has three parts, rests on three pillars: part one is Letters from the Abyss, part two is Phantasmagoria, and part three is Hermitage. They’re all inextricably interconnected, together forming a whole game.” — De Profundis

These three parts, “Letters from the Abyss”, “Phantasmagoria” and “Hermitage”, are three kinds of psychodrama which are acted out via correspondence, in the field and solo, by the player alone. So, the whole is characterized as different modes of psychodrama. It was when I read the description of the nature of pure psychodrama that this game became stuck in my mind, and if you’ve participated in any group trance work, you’ll recognize this immediately.

“Psychodrama is close to a role-playing game, but without a game master. The players create everything themselves, from their characters to events in the game world. Every participant is a player and a game master at the same time. You don’t need anything to play a psychodrama session: a description of the world, character sheets, rules, a scenario. The players – gathered in a darkened room – simply close their eyes, and one of them describes a place. They all go there in their imagination.” — De Profundis

The primary mode of play is the first, “Letters from the Abyss”, and it is formed by the interwoven letters of those participating. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, just remind yourself by taking a look at the text of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and some of the complete works of Lovecraft.

The other two modes are both more personal and more real than the first, each a kind of escalation of the magical, archetypal and narrative practice, where the game develops a kind of feedback loop into the reality of the participants, and the whole emerges greater than the sum of its parts or the individual participants.

This kind of diceless and personal narrative driven roleplaying reminds me of of many things, but in particular of both Amber and Toon. In Amber, the system developed to roleplay in Roger Zelazney’s stories, dice are not used but rather there is a reliance on narrative. Also, I remember reading the instruction in Toon, a roleplaying game about being cartoon characters, that if a player could explain some way that to do what they want to accomplish, and the more bizarre and convoluted the description, they should be allowed to do so, no matter what the rules might otherwise say.

The creative and narrative nature of this game also suggests to me some of the same foundation as can be found in HipBone Games’ Glass Bead Game which I posted about earlier this week.

A collection of the letters and journals from a complete session might look very much like the text of Dracula or a fully formed Lovecraft tale, but is moreover a kind of magical journal for not just a personal practice but a record of a group trance.

 

I’ve been exploring a bit of the influence of esoterica on fiction, and visa versa, over at the Cadaver Synod: Esoteric Fiction and Fictional Esoterica. What if, instead of setting the game within the Lovecraftian tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, a bunch of people interested in the Western Esoteric Tradition, including gamers, writers, readers, magicians, Jungians, and who ever else might be both creative and crazy enough to want to join, were to tell each other a strange emerging tale, a shared narrative, using this method, using shared, sequential narratives and perhaps, for recording field and solo modes, personal journal entries. Now that would be interesting!

All that would be needed is a venue, such as a dedicated website or a blog, where correspondence and journals could be posted, a framework for the setting of the story, and a bunch of crazy kids interested in forming a secret psychodrama cult club … you know, maybe not something to start up smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo, but what about starting that up in the coming New Year?

Etidorhpa or the End of the Earth

You may be interested in John Uri Lloyd’s Etidorhpa or the End of the Earth recently added to Project Gutenberg.

This is an interesting book. The title is Aphrodite spelled backwards. There’s a lot of speculation about spiritual themes and also themes of drug use in the work. You may be interested in checking out the Wikipedia articles about John Uri Lloyd and Etidorhpa.

The illustrations for this book were done by J. Augustus Knapp, and, while I had previously confused him here with Augustus John, more of his work can be found in Manly P. Hall’s opus The Secret Teachings of All.

Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God

So apparently there’s a new Sherlock Holmes novel out in which Sherlock and Watson consult Aleister Crowley. They also apparently consult with Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence. The first two chapters are up online, so you can check it out. Chapter one is an exclusive over at Fangoria. Chapter two is an exclusive over at IO9.

“Literature’s greatest detective joins forces with history’s greatest occultist in THE BREATH OF GOD, a new novel out today from Titan Books. Written by Guy Adams, it’s set at the close of the 19th century, when Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson team up with Aleister Crowley to solve a series of murders, and we’ve got an exclusive excerpt after the jump.

Following the discovery of a crushed body in the London snow with no footprints nearby, and a subsequent series of equally strange deaths, Holmes and Watson travel to Scotland to enlist Crowley’s help. Other prominent psychics and demonologists join the investigation—but will they be able to stop the gathering dark forces?” [link to Fangoria redacted for safe browsing]

“While you’re waiting raptly for the second installment of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films and the second season of Steven Moffat’s Holmes TV show, you can fill your Holmes cravings with a new novel — in which Holmes teams up with Aleister Crowley.

In The Breath of God by Guy Adams, published by Titan Books, a mysterious force is crushing to people to death — almost as if the very air itself were smushing them. So Holmes and his trusty amanuensis Watson are forced to travel to Scotland to consult the one man who can help them — Aleister Crowley. They also consult Psychic Doctor John Silence and demonologist Julian Karswell.” [via]

 

You may also be interested in checking out The Cadaver Synod: Esoteric Fiction and Fictional Esoterica for more fictional detectives or The Libri of Aleister Crowley for more mysterious forces.

The Slayer of Souls

You may be interested in “The Slayer of Souls” by Robert Chambers, an occult romance which includes, among other things, a fictional reference to the “Yezidee” or Yezidi.

The Yezidi are mentioned in various sources, not the least of which are in the works and life of Sir Richard Francis Burton, including The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî [PDF], and in an unpublished section of Aleister Crowley’s introduction to the New Commentary to Liber Legis:

“Aiwaz is not (as I had supposed) a mere formula, like many angelic names, but is the true most ancient name of the God of the Yezidis, and thus returns to the highest Antiquity. Our work is therefore historically authentic, the rediscovery of the Sumerian Tradition.” [via]

Although it’s not a direct reference, to that passage by Crowley, Hymeneaus Beta notes in the Editor’s Introduction of Magick: Book 4, Liber ABA the connection between this “God of the Yezidis”, as that likely was used to mean at that time, and Melek Ta’us, the peacock angel of the Yezidi. The connection is more certainly what Crowley meant because further on in that unpublished introduction to Liber Legis there is mention of “Aiwaz” meaning “Messenger”, which is one of the characteristics of Melek Ta’us.

One of the places that I’ve encountered the deity Melek Ta’us is as he appears within the Feri Tradition, and discussion can be found about that online of which one example is at Feri Tradition: FAQ. There’s a lot more about the Yezidi and Melek Ta’us (also transliterated variously as Tawûsê Melek, Malak Tawus, or Malik Taws, Melek Taus …) online.

But, after that digression, back the the work of Chambers:

There’s an interesting review The Repairer of Reputations: The Slayer of Souls by Robert Chambers from pornokitch where they’ve been reading through Chambers’ works, trying to decide whether history has been just or unjust to Robert Chambers.

The Thing in the Attic

You may be interested in “Thing in the Attic” by James Blish which was recently added to Project Gutenberg.

“The reputation that they had given him, too, had helped to bring him to the end of the snap-spine tether. They had given weight to his words among others—weight enough to make him, at last, the arch-doubter, the man who leads the young into blasphemy, the man who questions the Book of Laws.

And they had probably helped to win him his passage on the Elevator to Hell.”

A new review of an old book with a character based on interviews with Crowley

A new review of an old book with a character based on interviews with Crowley at “Book Review: The Devil Rides Out

“Here we are in wonderful October Country, so how about a Gothic classic?Dennis Wheatley was once one of England’s most popular writers of adventure and espionage novels. Today, when he’s read at all, his occasional forays into the supernatural are what receive the most attention.”

“The novel begins when De Richleau, who knows pretty much everything as the plot requires it, discovers that his friend Simon Aron has fallen in with a wealthy Satanist society under the auspices of a ‘Mr.’ Mocata. The fleshy Mocata is a thinly veiled version of Aleister Crowley, whom Wheatley actually interviewed for the book.”