Chaos Magick – Iconography

December 14, 2009 by  
Filed under chaos, experimental, magick, sigils

Chaos Magick - Iconography

Every witch is familiar with intention-based magickal workings — Know Thy Will, focus intention through a process or on an object, direct the focused energy, then expect manifestation. For simple example, my Will is “I will be healthy and fit.” I then focus my intention of health onto an apple, directing that intention by eating an apple several times per day. Finally, I expect my body to manifest itself as healthy and fit. (Yes, sometimes magick is really that simple.)

I prefer intention-based magick when performing Elemental workings. But when Chaos is my ritual’s force majeure, nonintention seems to be most effective. After all, as powerful as consciousness is, it is also exactly what can screw up a spell. Self-sabotage is often subconscious, and quickly and cleanly effective. Working with Chaos through nonintent ritual eliminates the consciousness variable by allowing the unmanifest to randomly express exactly what you didn’t know you had Willed in an act of pure epigenius. Wild Chaos. Wise Discord.

Nonintention-based magical workings vary slightly from the intention-based sort: Know Thy Will, erase intentions from the conscious mind through an automatic perfection task, imprint task’s perfected symbol of forgotten intention onto the unconscious, live your life and forget about all of it.

Austin Osman Spare’s sigil magick is a beautiful system of nonintent. Even the simplest sigil spell is extremely effective. An outline for creating a basic sigil is: I write out my Will in capitol letters; “I WILL BE COVETED”. Then I begin the process of erasing my intention by crossing out any letter that appears twice, leaving me with; “IWBCOVTD.” I write the remaining letters directly on top of one another, noticing what new shapes are being made. Sketching and resketching my way into artistic trance where I am essentially performing automatic drawing, I define a new story from the previously overlapped shapes. My goal is perfection of the sigil, not artistic merit (necessarily). The task is perfect when I am done. I then imprint the new sigil deeply into the unconscious through orgasm, entheogen or physical exhaustion. Finally, I forget about forgetting about it and live my life.

The challenge and opportunity in this style of Chaos Magick lies in the honest erasing of intent. If I am thinking about “being coveted,” or thinking about “forgetting the desire to be coveted” while drawing, I am performing an intention-based working rather than a nonintent working. Success in sigil magick in this case, would be defined by becoming completely unable to recall one’s original intent. The honest erasing is the key.

Recently, a fellow Chaote partnered with me on an advanced sigil working that assures I have no idea what I’m working towards. Hail, Discord! Here is how we, together, achieved a powerful symbol of Forgotten Intention:

Advanced Sigil Working: Partner Iconography

  1. Know Thy Will and from it, locate your intent. I honestly cannot remember what my intent was upon start of this sigil working. Well done.

  3. Convey that intention to your magical partner. In this case, Chaote and professional magickal artist, Nemo, was my partner. In an email I suggested my now forgotten intention to Nemo, blurring the original intent already. The process of forgetting began with the first communication.

  5. Your magical partner now creates the sigil through automatic drawing. Nemo, in this case tells me that he held space for my original intent, and then concentrated so deeply that he tranced out, surrendering all my (and his) intention to the spirit that wished to be drawn. Again, we stepped even further away from my original intent.
  6. On this, Nemo adds, “My own form of ‘forgetting’ is done by trance. . . akin to making the outline of a form with intention and then filling in the details by intuition/ deep-mind/ trance/ universal-will. . .” and, “The key to making this kind of painting is to focus on your intent so deeply, you forget it at the moment of manifestation.”

  7. You receive the finished artwork, then imprint the entirely new symbol of forgotten intent onto the unconscious. In this case, Nemo created a vibrant piece of art in the center of which is my glowing image. We’ve coined this artistic sigil style Iconography. I imprinted my Icon into the unconscious by dancing about it, around it, in front of it until I was flat with exhaustion. I then meditated on its visual for three days more.

  9. Finally, appreciate the artwork and live your life. All of this comprises a forgetting technique. I appreciated Nemo’s art as a magnificent masterpiece and displayed it on my hearth. Friends commented on it, it brightened my Beltane eventing. By trusting a magical partner with my intention, allowing him to transform intention into an original piece of art, and relating to the artwork as nothing more than beautiful artwork, I have honestly forgotten my original intent. And don’t you know, without me knowing, this new symbol presents itself to me throughout my daily life in different forms — I see a cactus in a Hollywood garden, I dream of candy cane octopi, I enjoy the sight of the art on my mantle.

Together, Nemo and I have created a path for random genius to emerge — in a form of its own unexpected choosing, and without the chance for my conscious mind to interfere. I am working with the unmanifest here. My Will is done without me even knowing it.

So mote it be.

©2009 by Tonya Kay.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Tonya Kay is an actress, pro dancer, danger artist and raw vegan renegade appearing this year on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, CBS’s Criminal Minds, Comedy Central’s Secret Girlfriend, Showtime’s Live Nude Comedy and the History Channel’s More Extreme Marksmen. Look for Tonya Kay, starring in Jim Balent’s comic book series Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, the pagan-centric 9-years-running comic (released Nov 25). For a complete nutritional analysis of Tonya Kay’s athletic raw vegan diet, visit

The Magical Choice: One Witch’s Musings upon Existentialism

July 19, 2009 by  
Filed under chaos, magick, mysticism, philosophy, witchcraft

The Magical Choice: One Witch's Musings upon Existentialism

The study of magic is, by and large, the study of paradigms. The Witch — by whatever title she or he may adopt — steps beyond the default worldview presupposed by the surrounding society, and instead cultivates a unique paradigm which resonates with her or his deepest intuitions. This line of inquiry constitutes an ever present challenge for the practicing Witch. Our sisters and brothers who practice Chaos Magic may well find this interpretation of magic resonates with their approaches. For the Chaos Magician, paradigms are tools which the enlightened soul can adopt and abandon at will. Dancing from one worldview into the next, ever light of step, the Chaos Magician draws from some particular paradigm what she or he requires before moving on. Key to this approach is the conviction that all paradigms are merely artificial constructs by which we organize and render intelligible an essentially ineffable cosmos, yet herein we discover the key dilemma of Chaos Magic: If all paradigms are ultimately expendable, then where can we hope to ground the very conviction all paradigms are expendable interpretations? Thus presented, the argument becomes paradoxical, which may prove no obstacle for the practicing Chaos Magician — or for the Mystic, should we care to explore beyond the boundaries of the purely rational.

Still, the rationalist inside me, who has yet to surrender all hope for an intelligible universe, questions whether Chaos Magic simply sets up one meta-paradigm that encompasses all other possible paradigms. My concern here is simple: If the meta-paradigm thus proposed resolves into an essentially existentialist position, and I fear Chaos Magic indeed reverts back into existentialism, then how do we overcome or sidestep — or even incorporate — existential angst into our magical paradigms?

Allow me one step back. For those less versed in postmodern philosophy, existentialism proposes that existence precedes essence. That is, there is the world, eternally cold and mechanical in its manifold operations. These operations are pure existence, subsisting without reference to meaning or essence. Essence is what we add, the significance which conscious thought projects into the mechanical process. This essence can be thoroughly uplifting and optimistic — witness Soren Kirkegaard’s essentially Christian answer to the existentialist question! — yet whenever one takes up the mantle of existentialism, there lurks the spectre of nihilism. If all the universe is cold, mechanical process, devoid of any meaning apart from what we decide, then there can be no intrinsic meaning subsisting within anything. The universe simply grinds along, oblivious towards even the possibility of some deeper meaning. This scenario, as presented by existentialist philosophers like Sartre and Camus, becomes the source of existential angst, the pervasive and disquieting suspicion that any significance or teleology to things remains, at bottom, false.

It may remain possible that the Chaos Magician can refer all lesser paradigms back towards one primary reality which has meaning, transcending the merely mechanical. Certainly the irrepressible ebullience of Discordian thought suggests the possibility of one such meta-paradigm. Still, the question of whether reality is truly devoid of meaning — apart from what we add — remains.

This question turns especially vexing if we regard magic as something essential — that is, an essence — as opposed to something purely mechanical. If magic consists of the meaning we add into otherwise purely mechanical motions, then magic seemingly has no truck with reality at its most really real. (I recognize that if you do not perceive magic as the art of paradigm bending, I may have long since lost your attention, and if you regard magic as straightforwardly mechanical process, then existential angst constitutes no threat towards your magical paradigm. For those few readers as crazy as me, or for the morbidly curious, I shall continue this line of inquiry just a little further.)

While I am not deeply opposed to the existentialist project, I do regard their central proposition as essentially misleading. To assume that existence precedes essence means to assume an unobservable existence, for all observation imparts some meaning or essence, however slight and however poorly articulated. We simply cannot observe without becoming drawn into the connection between observer and observed. We are inexplicably entangled with the things we observe, and from this entanglement we derive the essence of the observed. Indeed, we might just as well say this entanglement — the way we think and feel about the observed — actually constitutes the essence in question. And there can be no unobserved existence.

Let me reiterate this point: There can be no unobserved existence. To say an existence is unobserved constitutes a manifest contradiction, since the supposition of the existence in question is itself an observation. Moreover, everything exists precisely by the virtue of being observed, by itself in the barest sense if nothing else. (For those familiar with my metaphysical views, my pantheism does allow for other forms and degrees of perception, but these I shall pass over presently in the interests of constructing the simplest argument possible.) Within everything there is essence, both the essence from self-perception and the essence from an outside observer. Existence and essence are forever and inescapably entwined, just as every being has both material and spiritual aspects. (Indeed, existence and essence are respectively much the same things!)

If spiritual essence always and everywhere coexists with perceived existence, then our next set of questions must revolve around what kind of essence we will or should intermingle with matter. Essence, consisting of a qualitative connection between observer and observed, depends in large part upon the choices we make when interpreting our world. Kirkegaard makes this very point in Works of Love when he suggests we are forever confronted with the choice between belief and mistrust. Love, argues Kirkegaard, is unique among the virtues in this: Love can only thrive within us when we believe in — indeed, unconditionally presuppose — the presence of love within others, from the first moment clear unto the last. Forever the mistrust endemic to nihilism raises the terrible possibility that there is no love within others, and whenever we choose this mistrust, we remove from ourselves the very possibility of finding love. Believe, and we find love, perhaps within others, yet more crucially — more gracefully — within ourselves. The tension between these two possibilities, between which we are eternally poised, lies at the root of existential angst.

Something of this same dilemma confronts the practicing Witch, I should think, for the quality of being magical, much like the quality of being loving, turns precisely upon finding without that which we seek within. To be magical means finding the magic inside those things around us, discovering the connections of meaning and correspondence which empower our spells. I’m not unaware that this position seemingly inverts the traditional formulation of the “Charge of the Goddess” — though in seeming only! Near the end of the Charge, the Goddess observes, “If that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.” These are powerful words, words which counsel the Witch to look inward for genuine power and wisdom. To suggest we should seek the magical in the world around us, should we hope to discover the magic within, seems at odds with this Wiccan saying. Still, the choice to discover the magical inside things is itself a choice which dwells within the Witch, the same choice between belief and mistrust which Kirkegaard proposed nearly two hundred years ago. Magic is an essence, and essence depends upon the relationship between observer and observed that we ourselves choose. “Seek and ye shall find,” says the Christian. “As above, so below,” answers the occultist. And so our world takes shape. Seek love, and you will find love within. Seek magic, and magic you will surely possess. Seek the coldly mechanical universe, of course, and this you’ll find, as well.

Kirkegaard suggests we have no more reason to doubt the goodness within the world than we have to believe in things life-affirming, and I see no reason to doubt this essentially hopeful position. Indeed, the Chaos Magician can happily accept this argument, and then skip between the two positions as she or he desires, perhaps a little more mindfully than most everyone else who blend belief and mistrust in daily life. Still, this paradigm bending fails to escape the spectre of angst that existentialism suggests, and while I’m hesitant to jettison this pervasive sense of angst entirely, I am eager to arrive at workable terms with this metaphysical uneasiness. My solution returns to the central issue of ontological primacy. Simply stated, does existence precede essence? As an idealist, I simply don’t grant matter any existence independent of our ideas of matter. (Taking a page from George Berkeley, “To be is to be perceived.”) Furthermore, I believe every perception includes some qualification, some interpretation — in sum, some essence. Therefore, I cannot grant that existence precedes essence in any meaningful sense. This break from existentialism, however, becomes perhaps the greatest boon for the Witch, because every last sensible thing thus becomes pregnant with the possibility of magic. With every interaction, indeed with every bare perception, there arises the question of essence, whether this especial thing is something magical. And to this question, we Witches can answer with a resounding YES!

The nihilist will suggest we are simply fooling ourselves, choosing to make meaningless qualifications of an impersonal and mechanical universe. They will argue the underlying angst of existentialism points towards the one great truth, that everyone ultimately suffers alone within the cold void of reality. I don’t suggest we should remove all doubt about the nature of things, for such not only blinds us against genuine interaction with the world, but also removes the very emotional urgency which gives our Craft its power. In truth, the nihilist perceives reality through filters just as obscuring as those adopted by their magical brethren; the nihilist cannot cheat around our fundamental inability to grasp directly the ineffable nature of reality. All reality — everything that is — constantly forces us to choose between belief and mistrust, between the magical and the mundane, and this choice speaks most of all towards what we seek within ourselves. I choose to walk with belief, to walk with the magic around and within me. Such is the choice — and the power — of the Witch. And so with this choice I leave you, my dear readers.

Blessed Be!

©2009 Grey Glamer
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Avete #4 – Experimental Magic

Avete #4 - Experimental Magic

I am not very experimental in my magic. At least, I don’t tend to come up with any interesting new ideas myself. I love trying out other people’s ideas, though, and am highly encouraged to find that so many other magicians are willing to put themselves and their reputations on the line to try new things and then write about them.

I’m proud to say that we have a few such magicians right here on Rending the Veil. Taylor Ellwood has just finished up a book that sounds amazing, entitled Inner Alchemy (Megalithica Books). Curious about the spiritual lives and magical functions of your own neurotransmitters and hormones? So is Taylor, but instead of just wondering about it, he studied long and hard and threw himself into the Work like a true Inner Planes explorer.

Lupa, also, is certainly active in the field and always open for a new idea. She developed an entire system all her own using snippets of various totemic paradigms and shamanic methods gleaned from anthropology and New Age materials, all mixed with her own ingenuity and quickly broadening range of experiences. Her first book, Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone (Megalithica Books) is not only a manual of real animal and totemic magic, but also a lasting testament to her efforts. I believe that FFBB will eventually be looked upon as a classic by totemic Western magicians just as Condensed Chaos is viewed by pragmatic magicians of all backgrounds and traditions.

Donald Tyson was one of the first occult authors that I myself encountered in my local bookstore. While Mr. Tyson and I may not agree on a number of points of approach to magic, that is irrelevant when considering the depth of his influence on my point of view on experimentalism and taking a new approach to an old subject. His books Enochian Magic for Beginners and Tetragrammaton (both from Llewellyn Publications) are excellent examples of Tyson’s willingness to reevaluate a case long since thought to be closed by the majority of seekers.

My own High Priest, Frater Barrabbas Tiresius, is in the process of editing a book (also from Megalithica Books) entitled Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick. My Coven brother Frater Griff and I have been privileged to be asked to experiment with and test out many of the rituals presented in that book. Any beginner to Western ceremonial magic could have no better textbook than The Disciple’s Guide. The ritual methods are demanding and challenging, but definitely beautiful and effective. I look forward also to the publication of Frater Barrabbas’s magnum opus, written many years ago as a textbook for “intermediate”1 magicians, The Pyramid of Powers. Frater Barrabbas is also notable for his acknowledgment of the importance of an energy structure which he calls “The Rose Ankh Vortex.”2

It would be close to sinful if I did not acknowledge some of the unsung experimental magicians of the past. Franz Bardon immediately springs to mind. He likely did not invent many of the exercises given in his most important book, Initiation into Hermetics, but he almost certainly put them together in their currently known forms and structures and perfected them through decades of training and teaching. It is my opinion that no magician, regardless of their tradition, can be without IIH.3

William G. Gray simply does not receive enough attention. The techniques and ideas described in Inner Traditions of Magic and Magical Ritual Methods are splendid! A thorough study of these two books, along with personal work with Gray’s concepts, will open up many new avenues for group and solitary ritual structures.

Dr. Israel Regardie is best known for his publications and explanations of the system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. While that is his major contribution, he also made some fascinating attempts in alchemy (though only late in life did he realize what he had been doing wrong) and came up with some unique perspectives on the psychological and healing uses for Golden Dawn magic.

Dr. Georg Lomer is a name that very few people know, and that’s a real shame. His methods, described fully in his book Seven Hermetic Letters, are a bit ascetic for most people but serve as a beautiful method of spiritual development along Hermetic lines. Franz Bardon himself used to hand out copies of the Hermetic letters to his own students. That’s some pretty high praise!

Let me stretch back a bit further. Ficino, Mirandola, and Paracelsus may be historically important figures, but modern occultists hardly pay any attention to them. Ficino and Mirandola both practiced a kind of Orphic Tantra. The symbols of various spiritual agencies (mostly angels) were used as meditative foci, along with music and poetry, to bring the practitioner’s spirit in line with the higher spheres. A magician of this method would try to find illumination through meditation and intense prayer, the ultimate goal of which was to internalize the powers of those angels. While these ideas may seem old hat to us, it is only because such men as Ficino and Mirandola kept them alive. Paracelsus is best known as an alchemist and healer. He was controversial in his day for, among other things, recommending the use of methods similar to Ficino’s along with more “traditional” forms of medicine (tinctures, poltices, and the other standards).

There are many more to be explored and rediscovered, if we only think to look! I will close by encouraging all of my fellow magicians, whether Neophyte or Adept, to let your imaginations soar. Often some of the greatest ideas come from just saying, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if . . .”


  1. I use quotations because Barrabbas’s ideas of intermediate magic are very similar to everybody else’s ideas of extremely advanced magic!
  2. I have become quite enamored of this structure, and will soon be writing an article for Rending the Veil on the Vortex and some of its uses.
  3. Initiation into Hermetics, The Practice of Magical Evocation, and The Key to the True Kabbalah, in addition to some supplementary material, are all available in new translations from Merkur Publications. Many thanks to Taylor Ellwood and Frater Griff for pointing me toward Bardon in the first place!

©2007 Nicholas Graham. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Nicholas Graham is the author of The Four Powers. You can read his blog here.

Necronomicon Magic

Necronomicon Magic

Modern occultists are working practical magic based on the fictional characters of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). This would have amused to no end the Old Man of Providence, as he preferred to be known among his circle of literary friends. He was always tickled when a reader asked him where he could buy a copy of the Necronomicon, a book originated by Lovecraft as background for his stories of cosmic horror. Lovecraft wrote primarily for the genre magazines known as the pulps between the years 1917 and 1937. Most notable among these publications was Weird Tales, which hosted the writings of many popular authors of the period working in horror, adventure, suspense and science fiction.

The stories of Lovecraft are loosely connected by certain themes and common elements that create a fictional world all their own. Central to this world is the Necronomicon, a dread book of black magic that is mentioned in many of the tales. Those who read the Necronomicon usually wish they had not done so, and often come to a horrifying end. Lovecraft created an entire history for this imaginary book. It was supposed by him to have been written by Abdul Alhazred, a mad poet of the Arabian kingdom of Yemen, during the early part of the 8th century. How Alhazred lost his reason was never revealed by Lovecraft, but he became privy while wandering the desert wastes to certain secrets concerning forbidden subjects such as the processes of necromancy and the ways of the dead, and also to a history of this world that long predates human history, and even the human species.

When Aliens Ruled the Earth

The Necronomicon describes the colonization of the Earth in its primordial beginning by a series of alien species. The first arrived before life had even appeared on land on in the seas. According to Lovecraft, we are the descendants of life forms created by that first race, which is called the Old Ones, or more commonly among students of Lovecraft, the Elder Things, to distinguish it from another race of aliens that came to this planet somewhat later, which were also known as the Old Ones. Lovecraft used the term “Old Ones” to describe several alien species inhabited this planet before the evolution of mankind.

Chief among the species mentioned by Alhazred in the Necronomicon, or described by Lovecraft elsewhere in his stories, were the already named race of crinoids known as the Elder Things or Elder Race; a race of creatures with heads somewhat resembling octopuses known as the spawn of Cthulhu; a blind race of gigantic invisible monsters larger than elephants to which the name Old Ones is usually applied; the Great Race of time travelers from the planet Yith which inhabits our past and our future but not our present; a race of highly intelligent fungous crustaceans from the planet Pluto, who came to our world to mine it for metals; and a race of immortal humanoids dwelling in the vast subterranean cavern of K’n-yan, deep below the plains of Oklahoma, who were carried to our world across the gulf of space by the spawn of Cthulhu.

According to the Necronomicon, these colonizing races have not so much disappeared from our world, but have simply withdrawn temporarily. In the case of the Old Ones and creatures of a related kind, they wait patiently in deep places beneath the earth or in the oceans, or in alien dimensions parallel to our own, until conditions in the heavens are more conducive to their nature, which is utterly unlike anything that has evolved on the surface of this planet. They wait for the stars to “come right” once again, as they were in primordial times. The patterns of the stars and planets are constantly changing. At present they are baneful to many of these unimaginably alien beings, whose bodies are not even composed of matter as we know it.

Lords of the Old Ones

The Old Ones have certain leaders or lords who are mentioned by name in the Necronomicon or in other ancient texts that are less well known. Azathoth, the blind idiot god of chaos, has only an indirect link with our world. He sits on his black throne at the center of chaos and pipes a music composed of the proportions and harmonies that sustain the universe, while great blind gods dance around him, mesmerized and compelled by the sounds. He is awkward, misshapen, covered in his own filth, yet he holds the power of creation and destruction in the form of the musical notes he pipes. As he plays, the elder gods who dance weave the fabric of the universe or unravel it. In them may be seen mythic echoes of Shiva, the dancing Hindu god whose dance creates or destroys the world, and also of the three Greek Fates who control the spun threads of life for all human beings.

The soul and messenger of the blinds gods who dance to the music of Azathoth is known as Nyarlathotep. He despises Azathoth, but he is bound by his nature to serve him, for Azathoth is merely a personification of the central vortex of chaos itself, and Nyarlathotep is a servant of chaos. Alone among the Old Ones he enjoys walking the surface of our world in the shape of a human being. He has many avatars or vessels that serve him as bodies, some not even remotely humanoid, but he prefers that of a deathless Egyptian pharaoh who is dark, tall, gaunt, with bony hands and eyes that gleam like stars. Sometimes he wears the face of a human being in this desert-robed form, but other times he goes faceless. He has a sardonic sense of humor. Our race, with its petty wars and desires, gives him amusement. He diverts himself by controlling, tormenting and killing men. Even so, he is the most human of all the Old Ones, the only one among them that it is even possible to communicate with in any familiar way. Nyarlathotep enjoys the company of humans in much the same way a malicious child enjoys tormenting a nest of ants.

The blind and invisible Old Ones, whose substance is so alien that we cannot even see it with our unaided eyes, move between worlds, and even between galaxies, by means of dimensional gateways. These are controlled by the sky dweller, Yog-Sothoth, who sometimes appears to human beings in the form of interlocking iridescent spheres when he opens one of his gates. In one of the longer passages from the Necronomicon quoted by Lovecraft in his story “The Dunwich Horror,” the relationship between Yog-Sothoth and the Old Ones is described:

The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They had trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones whereon Their seal is engraver, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.

As the Necronomicon makes very clear, it would be wrong to think of Yog-Sothoth as a gatekeeper. He is not only the keeper of the gates, but the key that opens them, and indeed, he is the very gates themselves, or rather the very gate, since all gates are one in Yog-Sothoth – a single gate that he may open anywhere in any dimension of time or space. The Old Ones ruled by Yog-Sothoth dwell hidden in dimensions of the upper air, yet there are other invisible Old Ones who dwell in vast tombs deep beneath the sands of the Arabian desert, where they were banished in a great war with the time traveling race from Yith in our distant past.

Mighty Cthulhu

Cthulhu and his spawn lie sleeping in stone houses on the sunken island of R’lyeh, on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The spawn are smaller creatures similar in form to their great lord and high priest, mighty Cthulhu. They came to the Earth to conquer it, and for long millennia waged a series of wars against the first occupiers of the sea and land, the crinoid Elder Things. They were defeated by the Elder Things, and a truce was arranged wherein Cthulhu and his spawn were given certain newly-risen volcanic land masses in the Pacific Ocean. When the stars went wrong, Cthulhu and his people withdrew into stone crypts on their main island of R’lyeh. Cthulhu used his science, which to humanity has the appearance of a form of magic, to place himself and his people into a deep sleep that resembled death.

Cthulhu is said to be like a walking mountain. This is an exaggeration, but his body is more vast than any terrestrial organism, larger even than the blue whale, which is the largest creature of flesh and blood on this planet — the largest of which science is aware, at any rate. His body has two arms and two legs, but his hands and feet are clawed, and his great, soft mass of a head is covered over its lower face with tentacles or feelers that somewhat resemble the tentacles of an octopus or squid. He has six eyes, three on each side of his head arranged in a triangular pattern, and from his back spread membranous wings similar to those of a bat, that he uses to fly not only through the air but through airless space itself. In some manner that cannot be fathomed, he is able to use them to push against the very substance of space. His innumerable spawn, like smaller versions of himself, are similarly equipped.

For eons Cthulhu continued to control many of the creatures that remained free to wander the surface of our world by using his power of mental telepathy, in which he and his spawn excelled. Cthulhu lay sleeping in a death-like slumber, but in his dreams he ruled and instructed his worshippers, by communicating with them in their dreams. He projected into their minds strange and beautiful images of alien landscapes and architecture, and whispered commands below their conscious awareness that compelled them to actions he desired them to perform.

Then an unexpected disaster struck, and R’lyeh sank beneath the waves of the Pacific. This event Cthulhu had not foreseen. The vast body of water cut off his telepathic link with his servants on the surface, including the primitive tribes of human beings that had heard his siren call in their dreams, and had begun to worship him in Cthulhu cults around the world. So the situation remains today, according to Lovecraft. The human cults of Cthulhu sustain their faith, even though they have been cut off from mental communication with him for long ages. Cthulhu continues to dream on sunken R’lyeh, and bides his time until the stars come right, and R’lyeh rises.

Goat with a Thousand Young

Another of the named lords of the Old Ones is Shub-Niggurath, the Goat With a Thousand Young. She is said to resemble somewhat the occultist Eliphas Levi’s concept of Baphomet — a creature with the head of a goat, the torso and arms of a woman, and the hairy legs and cloven hooves of a goat. Her function is mother of monsters. It may be that Azathoth is her husband — this is an uncertain point, and various lords of the Old Ones have been named as her spouse. She is by nature promiscuous and has coupled with many to produce many strange and horrifying beings, some of whom continue to dwell deep in the intestines of this planet in dark and secret caverns. Shub-Niggurath may be hermaphroditic. She may even be capable of engendering children on herself. At times she is referred to as if she were male in Lovecraft’s works, and it is significant that the sexual parts are concealed by Levi in his illustration of Baphomet.

Distant Relations

There are other great lords in Lovecraft’s mythology who are not so closely tied to the Old Ones, and whose origins are not even know with certainty. They may be aliens to this planet and related in some way to the Old Ones, or they may have arisen after the crinoid race of Elder Things arrived in our sterile oceans and began their experiments in genetic manipulation. Humanity was one of their creations, brought forth as a kind of joke to amuse themselves. Who knows what else they created, and what evolutions took place in the darkness of lost ages among their more misshapen experiments?

Yig is known as the father of all serpents. It is my belief that he is of an alien race, but this is not stated by Lovecraft. He is worshipped as a god by many primitive cults in Lovecraft’s world, and has the power to curse with misfortune those who harm his sinuous children. As it true of the Old Ones, Yig has the ability to breed with mortal women, and to engender in their wombs monsters that are half human and half serpent. He sometimes comes with the body of a man and the head of a snake. The Plains Indians of North America propitiated his wrath by drumming and dancing for part of the year, and took great care never to harm a snake. His power was greatly feared. Yig is worshipped in the vast subterranean cavern of K’n-yan, along with Cthulhu, who carried the race dwelling in K’n-yan across space to the Earth.

Another ancient lord worshipped as a god is Dagon, whose size is almost as vast as that of mighty Cthulhu. He dwells deep in a rift in the Pacific Ocean. In overall shape he resembles the body of a man, but his fingers and toes are webbed for swimming, and his head is like that of a fish, and sits directly on his shoulders without a neck. His eyes are large and fish-like. Gills for breathing underwater open and shut on the sides of his head. Dagon is sometimes depicted with only a single eye, but this appears to be an error caused by Lovecraft’s use of the term “cyclopean” to describe him. By this term Lovecraft meant that Dagon is very large, but some artists have interpreted it to mean that Dagon, like the Cyclops, had only a single eye in his forehead. He appears in this striking manner in the trumps of my own Necronomicon Tarot (Llewellyn, 2007).

Just as Cthulhu has his spawn to serve him, Dagon has the race known as the Deep Ones, an amphibious race of humanoids with froglike heads and lungs for breathing the air of the surface world, along with gill slits for breathing the water of the deeps of the ocean. The Deep Ones intermarry and interbreed with human beings, to produce a race of hybrids who are human when they are born, but who gradually assume the aspect of the Deep Ones as they age. These hybrids are deathless unless killed by accident, disease, poison or some other mishap. They live their early lives among mankind, but around the age of seventy years they take to the water permanently, and seldom return to the surface world. According to Lovecraft, the Deep Ones are highly intelligent and are skilled artisans and engineers who could destroy the human race anytime they choose. They live in their millions in stone cities in deep fissures on the sea floor of the world’s oceans.

The Cthulhu Mythos

These are only some of the alien races and ruling lords who make up the mythology created by Lovecraft over the course of his writing career. It has come to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a somewhat misleading title since Cthulhu, although important in the mythology, is not the god nor leader of all the other races, but merely one among many. Perhaps it would have been better to call it the Elder Mythos, but Lovecraft’s close friend near the end of Lovecraft’s life, the writer August Derleth, came up with the name Cthulhu Mythos and it was adopted by general consent.

Lovecraft himself never tried to put a name on his evolving mythology during his lifetime. Other writers who were his friends added to his mythological structure, and allowed Lovecraft to borrow the occasional piece from their stories. For example, the toad-god called Tsathoggua became a part of the mythos when Lovecraft incorporated this strange deity into his work from the stories of his friend Clark Ashton Smith. Similarly, the book known as the Black Book, or more commonly as Nameless Cults, was borrowed by Lovecraft from the writing of his friend Robert E. Howard, who created Conan the Barbarian. Lovecraft used it in much the same way as he used the Necronomicon, as a source that described forgotten or forbidden secrets.

In the decades after Lovecraft’s death in 1937, other writers continued to set their stories in the mythological world he created, until it grew into a universe of bewildering complexity. I make no attempt to examine the entire range of the mythos, but limit myself to investigating it as it existed when its creator died. It is not that I regard later evolutions of the mythos as illegitimate, but merely that it took off in so many different directions after Lovecraft’s death that it is almost impossible to reconcile all its offshoots. The Cthulhu Mythos continues to live today. New stories are constantly being written that are set within its framework. Like the Necronomicon itself, the mythos refuses to die.

Reading over this summary of some of the key players in the Cthulhu Mythos, it would be easy for a modern magician to dismiss it all as silly fantasy. There are several factors to consider before doing so. One is the sheer persistence of the Necronomicon and of the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole. Why would something of no practical value be cherished and sustained and replenished with such devotion by so many writers and their fans? Clearly there are aspects of both the book and the mythos that resonate deep in the human psyche, an innate recognition of significant meaning below the level of articulation. The power of the Necronomicon and of the Old Ones is in part confirmed by their very continued existence.

Themes of the Mythos

A central theme of Lovecraft’s mythology is that the universe is inhabited and ruled by races of great beings who are largely indifferent to humanity. They are not malevolent in any human sense, but neither are they benevolent. They simply do not notice or care about us in any serious way. If, at times, our actions attracted their notice, they might kill us with the same casual ease with which we would swat a fly, but there would be no malice in the act. Humanity is not important enough to hate. None the less, it is possible to communicate with some of these lofty and indifferent beings, and through the use of magic alluded to in Lovecraft’s quotes from the Necronomicon, to manipulate their power for human ends.

Another theme that has a profound resonance for practitioners of Necronomicon magic is the assertion by Lovecraft that these beings are not on distant planets, but still walk among us under the cloak of darkness, or invisible to our sight. They dwell concealed in deep places beneath the ground, on under the water of wells, lakes and oceans, or in parallel dimensions just slightly out of phase with our own. Lovecraft’s world is filled with alien creatures who possess ancient wisdom that they can, if they wish, pass on to human beings. They are dangerous to deal with, but the potential rewards justify the risks in the minds of many magicians.

You may be saying to yourself, Lovecraft’s creations are only fictional characters, they have no reality. Well, maybe. Reality is a slippery concept for those of us who deal with ritual occultism. There is a form of reality that is not composed of material substance, yet it is no less potent for its lack of a body. It is known as the astral. Astral things are shaped in the mind from mind-stuff and have no tangible base, yet they sometimes exhibit a potency that extends beyond the imagination to resonate in the physical world. Many magicians regard astral beings and astral landscapes as real on a higher level of reality than the physical.

Lovecraft’s Strange Nightmares

Lovecraft was a very strange man. I do not mean merely that his personality was odd. This has been established by numerous aspects in his life, such as his love for sitting in old graveyards late at night, his obsession with anything English, his inability to part with the furniture or objects of his youth, his complete nervous breakdown in childhood, his determination to write in the style of two centuries before his birth, his determination not to earn a living because he considered it beneath the dignity of a gentleman, his precocious intellect, his conviction that he was so ugly as to be deformed, his period in early life of shunning the daylight and only venturing out at night.

All these things and countless more verify that Lovecraft was eccentric, but that was not the height of his strangeness. What made him weird, in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the word, were his dreams. From very early childhood to the day of his death, he was plagued or gifted by nightmares of uncommon force and clarity. Many of these nightmares repeated over and over for years. During his early life, Lovecraft lived in his dreams more than he lived in the waking world. He was fortunate enough to have a pair of aunts who indulged him. They took care of the running of the house, and cooked the meals, leaving him free to wake or sleep when he chose. He was not troubled by school, after withdrawing at a fairly early age. He was not troubled by work. He had no woman friend with whom to plan a future family, and few male friends. He lived in a waking dream, and when he slept his dreams were more real than waking reality.

Lovecraft began to write these dreams down. This is seldom adequately stressed by his biographers. He did not merely draw on the occasional dream for inspiration — much of his fiction is directly based on his repeating nightmares. Indeed, some of it is no more than a direct transcription of his nightmares. This is true of the early tale “Nyarlathotep” in which this great figure of the mythos is first described. It is important to understand this point, which is why I stress it — Lovecraft did not invent Nyarlathotep. The story was a verbatim copy of his repeating nightmare.

Similarly, Lovecraft did not invent the Necronomicon. He saw the book repeatedly in his dreams. One night in sleep, the name was given to him. He heard it in his dream, and knew it was the name of the book, but he had no idea what the name meant. Lovecraft’s use of the title Necronomicon marks its first appearance — it is totally original. Later he did some research and concluded from its Greek roots that it must mean “an image (or picture) of the law of the dead.” Others have questioned this translation, and the exact meaning of the name is open to debate, but not the name itself, which was delivered to Lovecraft’s sleeping mind from a higher source. Lovecraft’s most respected biographer, S. T. Josi, translated the title as “Book Concerning the Dead.” Assuming Josi’s interpretation to be valid, perhaps the simplest rendering would be “Book of the Dead.”

Astral Portals

Lovecraft’s fictional characters often undergo transitions from one world to another through the portal of dreams or daydreams. For example, in “Dreams In the Witch House,” the protagonist of the tale is taken to various alien settings when he falls asleep in a particular room that has strangely angled walls. He at first believes himself to have seen these places only in dreams, until physical evidence forces him to confront the fact that somehow he has actually gone to them bodily while still asleep.

This curious blurring of the boundary between waking and sleeping occurs in the practice known as astral projection. Those who project the astral body usually do so while lying with their eyes closed. The experience of astral projection is in many ways very similar to dreams. Indeed, it may be asserted that dreams are a form of spontaneous astral projection. Deliberate astral projection differs from dreams in that the traveler on the astral plane is conscious of what he does and can control his own actions, whereas in dreams the dreamer is usually unaware that he is dreaming. Yet there is a well-known phenomenon called lucid dreaming in which the dreamer is aware that he dreams. Lucid dreams differ in no significant way from astral projection.

It is my contention that Lovecraft was engaged in a form of astral projection when he experienced his vivid, repeating nightmares. A large portion of his mythology, perhaps the major part of it, was based on astral visions that he had himself experienced firsthand while asleep. This explains their uncommon clarity and intensity. Lovecraft did not merely make them up, but recorded what he experienced.

How much reality is granted to Lovecraft’s mythology depends in large part upon how seriously we take the astral realm. Even if the early history of the Earth as recorded in his short stories is not factually true, in a material sense, it may still be true on the astral level. The Old Ones may have inhabited, not the physical surface of the Earth itself, but its astral reflection. This would have allowed them to interact at times with human beings, when the barrier between the physical world and the astral world was thin. This sort of interaction takes place between fairies and humans in certain favorable locations at favorable times, such as early morning or twilight, or on certain days such as the equinoxes.

From a human viewpoint, the most important portal controlled by Yog-Sothoth is the portal between the ordinary waking world of human consciousness, and the astral world experienced during dreams. By passing through this portal, the Old Ones and their great lords can be confronted and perhaps bargained with. In the traditional Christian sense, such dealings would be considered black magic. It is no accident that in Lovecraft’s stories Shub-Niggurath is the same as the Black Goat of the sabbat, or that Nyarlathotep is the same as the Black Man who presided over the secret festivals of witches.

Necronomicon Is Chaos Magic

However, from a modern perspective the Old Ones should not be regarded as evil, but rather should be treated as agents of chaos. Necronomicon magic is chaos magic. We know that it must be, because mindless Azathoth who rules cunning Nyarlathotep has his throne at the center of the great central vortex of chaos, and indeed is himself that vortex. In Lovecraft’s mythology, Azathoth is at the center of all. Everything spirals out from him and eventually spirals back into him. The structure of the universe is composed of the music of his flute, as expressed through the dance of the blind gods. But it is not the music that is the foundation of creation, but the mathematical intervals and interrelations between the sounds and the silence. Creation is a mathematical formula that Azathoth ceaselessly works out on his flute.

Of all the lords of the Old Ones, the easiest to reach is probably Nyarlathotep. He is frequently to be found moving among men — or rather, moving through their dreams. He will heed a summons, but he is utterly lacking in human compassion and will destroy the person who summons him if it offers him a moment of amusement. To travel into the astral in a conscious way, it is necessary to make use of the gateway of Yog-Sothoth. All astral travelers do so, even though they never realize it. By summoning Yog-Sothoth and offering sacrifices of various kinds to his honor, the gateway may be approached more easily. Sacrifices to the Old Ones transfer esoteric energy to them, and for this reason are welcomed. They need not be sacrifices of blood, but may involve devotions in the form of chants and prayers, or offerings of various substances such as food, drink, incense, music, precious objects, or money. They may take the form of pledges of service, or physical austerities. All these activities can, if done well, transfer esoteric energy that astral beings are able to use as a kind of nourishment.

Cthulhu will be difficult to reach. He dreams at the bottom of the ocean, a way of symbolizing that he exists on a very deep astral level. An astral traveler venturing through the gate of Yog-Sothoth will have to dive very deeply indeed to reach Cthulhu. The same is true of Dagon, but Dagon is free to surface when he chooses, although he does this seldom. Dagon can come to the dreamer, but the dreamer must descend to Cthulhu.

Shub-Niggurath is much easier to reach, almost too easy. She is connected with Lilith worship, and all worship linked to great mother goddesses, particularly to their darker and wilder aspects. The way to Shub-Niggurath is through sex magic and sexual energies, which serve her for nourishment. By contrast, the way to Yig is through ritual austerities of the kind practiced by the shamans of the Indian tribes of North America. To contact Shub-Niggurath controlled indulgence under will is required, but to contact Yig, one must abandon the self to denial and endurance.

Power of the Old Ones

Even though the Old Ones have their existence on the astral levels, there is reason to believe that they can work physical effects when they wish to do so. The astral world and the physical world are so close together, they almost touch. At twilight in some locations on the Earth, and at other opportune moments under favorable circumstances, the separation drops to almost nothing, and it becomes possible to walk from one world to the other, and back again. The gate of Yog-Sothoth may be more easily opened at these times. It allows passage through in either direction. The Old Ones may be petitioned to act, and they may project their will on the Earth.

The greatest effects of the Old Ones are worked indirectly, through physical agents such as other human beings, which the Old Ones influence on the astral level, particularly during dreams. Even though the action may be indirect, it can be potent and achieve results that seem miraculous. When every person and condition is made to favor a certain outcome, that outcome becomes almost inevitable, even though the exact manner of its achievement remains undecided until the very last moment of realization.

Necronomicon magic is a dark form of occultism not to be engaged in without serious consideration. It remains largely unwritten. The book by Simon titled the Necronomicon that has been so popular contains little or nothing of practical value, in my opinion. It remains for a serious ritual magician, working in the Western tradition and familiar with its history and various currents, to compose a serious set of rituals upon which a viable cult of the Old Ones may be based and sustained. Such a cult is possible, and indeed inevitable, given the continuing popularity of the Necronomicon and of Lovecraft’s fiction.

©2007 Donald Tyson. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches & Magicians, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

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