Tag Archives: Cthulhu

CUTHBERT: How should we live our lives?

FORDHAM: You are living your lives as you should, as matter energized in one way. Eventually, you will die and be matter energized in a slightly different way.

Alan Ryker, When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha

Hermetic quote Ryker Cthulhu energized

The House of the Octopus

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The House of the Octopus: Essays on the Real-Life ‘Cthulhu Cult’ of the Pacific edited by Jason Colavito.

Jason Colavito The House of the Octopus

Well, who knew? Jason Colavito has unearthed some late-19th-century accounts of cults involving an actual octopus god in the South Pacific. The sources are proto-anthropologists and scholar-missionaries, whose accounts often acquire the tone of a travelogue, and come close to the narrative tone used by some of Lovecraft’s scholarly protagonists. There is nothing here to contradict “The Call of Cthulhu,” and the notion of a sleeping-not-slain cephalopod deity is practically confirmed by these pages.

Of particular note is the Samoan temple ruin referenced in the title of the volume. The “House of the Octopus” (O le Fale o le Fe’e) was evidently distinctive for its stone vertical supports, a design otherwise absent in the island environment where plenty of trees were to hand for building pillars. Although the cuttlefish god continued to be reverenced, this site was already in long disuse by the 19th century, and the writers represented here had the opportunity of discovering it as a “lost” site (with the aid of knowledgeable locals).

Colavito has provided a rather minimal editorial service here, pulling the five source essays together into a single, brief volume that he has issued through lulu.com. His foreword provides little more than a reassurance that the materials are in factual earnest. He seems sure that Lovecraft didn’t know about the Samoan cuttlefish cult, but I have to wonder. See, for example, the reference to the Australian Buddai in “The Shadow Out of Time” for evidence of HPL’s study in this sort of material.

At some point, optical character recognition (OCR) was used to gather these texts, and they have suffered for it. Insufficient care was taken to eliminate artifacts like “rougli” for “rough,” and “cither” for “either” (both on p. 5, with many more to come). The cover design is attractive and appropriate, featuring a detail from an Enoch Arden engraving of 1869, and the book is a slim, convenient digest for the use of latter-day Miskatonic University students. [via]

Verve post about Simon’s Necronomicon mentions Aleister Crowley and more

Recent The Verge post by Joseph L Flatley about Simon’s The Necronomicon (which I tend to call The Simonomicon) at The cult of Cthulhu: real prayer for a fake tentacle mentions Aleister Crowley. There’s also mentions of The Magickal Childe bookshop, Kenneth Grant, Austin Osman Spare and more.

“In 1945, a 20 year old Kenneth Grant spent several months working as the secretary for Aleister Crowley, a ceremonial magician, author, mountain climber, and possibly even spy for British intelligence during World War I. Crowley’s books are key texts of modern occultism, and his reputation as “The Wickedest Man In The World” or simply ‘The Beast’ has given him pride of place in any number of heavy metal songs — not to mention a choice spot on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album (the top left, chilling with Mae West and Lenny Bruce). At the end of his life, Crowley was unable to afford a secretary, so he let Grant fill that role in exchange for magical instruction. For a short while at least, Grant was The Intern of The Beast. By the time he passed away in 2011 at the age of 86, Grant had produced nine volumes that constitute what he called ‘The Typhonian Trilogies,’ which explored the connections between all manner of occult systems — incorporating voodoo and tantra and elements from the work of 20th century magician and the artist Austin Osman Spare.”

Events at Treadwell’s Books for September, 2013

Here is a selection from the upcoming events at Treadwell’s Books in London for September, 2013, which may be of interest.

Treadwell's Books in London

Tarot Foundation Course
3 September 2013 (Tuesday)
Sue Merlyn

Treadwell's Books in London - Tarot Foundation Course

Learn to read Tarot with a gifted experienced teacher. In an active class, you learn the mystical symbolism of the cards, the visual language of their codes and archetypes. By the end of the eight weeks course, students can do basic readings and use tarot in mediations. Includes practice sessions, homework, backup support and exclusive handouts. Tutor Sue Merlyn has been reading Tarot for over thirty years and her teaching gets rave reviews. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Treadwell’s certificate and can attend follow-on sessions. Max 14 students per class.

Price: £200 (£100 deposit, balance due on first night)
Time: 7pm – 9:30pm

 

Tarot Intermediate Course
4 September 2013 (Wednesday)
Diana Taylor

Treadwell's Books in London - Intermediate Tarot Course

This eight-week course is for people who have a working familiarity with the Tarot. It is dedicated in full to an in depth analysis and exploration of the 22 trumps of the major arcana — from the Fool to the Star to the World, and all in between. Each is covered in turn, with discussion on the multifaceted ways of understanding it, including Kabbalah, depth psychology and Western classical magical tradition. Students receive a large body of handouts, exclusive to those on the course. Diana Taylor is a knowledgeable and gifted teacher with 20 years experience in the subject. Class size is limited to 14 students, and those who successfully complete the course will receive a Treadwell’s certificate.

Price: £200 (£100 deposit, balance paid on the first night)
Time: 7:00pm-9:45pm

 

Abraxas 4 – Launch
20 September 2013 (Friday)
Treadwells and Fulgur invite you

Treadwell's Books in London - Abraxas 4 launch

This night launches Abraxas Issue Four, with a night of partying, 40 minute session of speeches, short presentations and a few words from each of the contributors who can join us. When you’ve finished looking at the art on the walls we will serenade you with three short readings. Think of it as a salon for magic and the imagination. Join us, meet the contributors, and revel in the delight of magic and the imagination. Brought to you by Christina, Livia, Robert, Merlin — all of whom work behind the scenes to bring Abraxas to life. Let us meet you, the community we celebrate.

Price: free but please RSVP to Treadwells
Time: 7pm to 10 pm

 

The Lairs of Cthulhu II: The Hollywood Years
30 September 2013 (Monday)
Dr James Holloway

Treadwell's Books in London - The Lairs of Cthulhu II

Tonight archaeologist and Cthulhu buff James Holloway explores archaeological concepts found in Lovecraft’s mythos, turning to look at how these concepts of land, history and the past are reformulated in Lovecraftian-based films which have come out in the decades after the author’s death. A riveting and intelligent speaker whose ideas always invite new questioning, this lecture is a sequel to his now-famed 2009 Treadwell’s Lecture. Dr James Holloway studied archaeology at Cambridge University, where he received his doctorate, and returns to Treadwell’s with a warm welcome.

Price: £7
Time: 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start

Ghouls of the Miskatonic

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ghouls of the Miskatonic: Book One of The Dark Waters Trilogy by Graham McNeill, from Fantasy Flight Games:

Graham McNeill's Ghouls of the Miskatonic from Fantasy Flight Games

 

McNeill’s Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in a trilogy premised on the “Arkham Horror” Lovecraftian gaming franchise. Derlethian might be a better adjective, in that both the typical gaming dynamic and the flavor of this book are closer to a Derleth pastiche like The Trail of Cthulhu than they are to HPL’s own Yog-Sothothery.

I haven’t played Arkham Horror itself, but I have played the lighter-weight spinoff Elder Sign, which I find quite enjoyable. Two of the characters available to players in Elder Sign are featured in Ghouls of the Miskatonic (Amanda Sharpe and Kate Winthrop), and these two—and probably others—are also Arkham Horror characters. I was a little surprised at the extent to which my interest in these characters was enhanced by prior game play. The novel also makes reference to Miskatonic University personalities established in the literary originals of the “Mythos”: Henry Armitage, Laban Shrewsbury, and others.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is set in Arkham, Massachusetts, in 1926. That places it in the year following the main events described in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (but before the narrator’s discovery of them). McNeill puts a lot of emphasis on Prohibition and other features of 1920s America that aren’t as evident in the “native” accounts of Lovecraft and his peers. Some of this works well. There is an occasional clinker in diction or dialect, and although anachronisms are mostly kept at bay, the assumed co-ed character of Miskatonic is a little off-kilter, as other reviewers have noted.

The story starts off from every which way; at least half a dozen seemingly independent plot strands are brought together over the course of twenty chapters. In the process, the extremely diverse cast of heroes are brought into social relation with each other as well, so that by the book’s conclusion there is a little band of defenders: three students, an anthropologist, a scholar of ancient religion, a journalist, a photographer, a Pinkerton, and a hoodlum. As the first volume of the “Dark Waters Trilogy,” I actually had to wonder if this wasn’t programmed by McNeill on the model of The Fellowship of the Ring!

The narrative is all provided in a pulpy third-person omniscient style, and while the characters’ feelings are described extensively enough, there’s not much to draw the reader in to share those feelings. A good helping of graphic violence is available, for the benefit of those who are drawn to the combat element in the games, I suppose. The cover of the book is both attractive and a clinically accurate depiction of the scene described on page 200. The volume does provide a plot resolution, while leaving a few key questions unanswered, allowing the demand for a sequel to be posed in the epilogue. It was a fast read, and I’ve already acquired the second book—though I’m not too proud to admit that a contributing motive for the latter was to secure the proof of purchase that will entitle me to a promotional component to be added to my copy of the Elder Sign game. [via]

 

 

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Miskatonic School for Girls

Miskatonic School for Girls caught my eye as interesting (Amirite?), but when I got to the image of the player’s board … yeah. Oh, my … This project is fully funded, and how; but, there’s still time to participate if you like the idea.

 

 

“The Miskatonic School for Girls is the first deck building game where you get to build your opponents deck. This unique feature creates a totally different play dynamic from other deck building games.

If you haven’t already guessed, Miskatonic School for Girl’s setting and themes are rooted in the Cthulhu Mythos. While H.P. Lovecraft may have written his stories with a far more sinister tone, our game is lighthearted and cheery, because we’re twisted like that. Play as a house of students at Miskatonic as they try to survive with their sanity intact. This is going to be a challenge as the entire faculty consists of mind-rending creatures and insane cultists! Gather friends to help stave off these wretches, and while you’re at it, why not send a few of those wretches to the other houses… Hey, nobody likes a tattletale, but when you’re sanity is on the line, you’d start snitching, too! If you can manage to be the last house with any amount of sanity left, you win!”

 

 

“During your turn, you’ll buy your new friends with friendship points and use nightmare points to send faculty after the rival houses. Eventually, those Faculty will end up in a players hand, where they will hold class, teaching your innocent students about the horrors around them. This has a detrimental effect on your house’s sanity.

Due to the overwhelming power of the dark truth, it’s just a matter of time before your house goes completely bonkers. The last house left with any sanity is the winner!”

 

Oh, and that image of the player’s board?


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?