These are the prophecies of the Lorwolm, the three angels: Ga-ukogomen, Nihr Avna-attu and Tsitao-utna.
The prophecies in question are the Ecteiroglyphs, seventeen poems cast in a distinctly hieratic tone, which were issued, along with a handful of prose texts that give some background to their reception, on four blogs on various days in April and May 2008. The blogs appear to have been created specifically for the purpose of hosting these writings, and are set up in the persona of the channel, who introduces herself as follows:
In 1953, on March 16, I was born as Irene Felicia Voloshtuk, daughter of Joseph Victor Voloshtuk and Zoe Kuzina Voloshtuk, Catholic immigrants from the Ukraine to Canada. I was born at Wellesley Hospital in Toronto at 6:09 PM, exactly seven years, seven months, seven days, seven hours and seven minutes after the atomic bomb was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. The angel Ga-ukogomen revealed to me that in my previous life I was born on January 2, 1868 as Beatrice Yarbrough, daughter of Elliot Carroll Yarbrough and Ruth Bierly Yarbrough; I was born at 3:55 AM, seventy-seven years, seven months, seven days, seven hours and seven minutes before the Nagasaki explosion. Ga-ukogomen explained that my onaemeid, my true name, my endname, the name of my final incarnation, is and will be Eirene Kuanyin Skadhi.
Some months later, the sequence was made public on a fifth blog, which I take to be that of the real author. Although, as is common on the internet, there was some playful veiling of identity—“I inscribe myself as LCMT, and will answer readily to Lin, if that’s your preference”—the Lorwolm material was presented in a context of ongoing cultural activity there. In spite of their deferred release, the entries had evidently been input back in the spring: the introductory statement given above is dated April 1 2008, the earliest post of all.
When I first encountered these texts, I wondered if their commencement on April Fool’s Day was a signal of the project being nothing more than a hoax: I do not think this is so, but consider it quite possible that the date might have provided a convenient exit if the enterprise had withered. There seems no reason to take the dates on which the texts were first posted as anything other than more or less those of their completion: this in itself indicates composition, however they were achieved, in a peak state, as does the manner in which the entries peter out. A merely episodic publication of previously completed material, even if it had not been more deliberately ordered than seems to be the case here, would surely have been more regularly paced.
There may also be some significance in the point at which the entries stop. A poem dated 8 May 2008 mentions “the last gray hour of Saint Dymphaena’s morning”: May 15, the day after the final poem is posted, is the feast of St. Dymphna, the patron of those who suffer from mental and nervous disorders.
The internet can still provide an unmediated space in which nothing is taught, nothing is set in order, nothing is scheduled: this openness was also very much a virtue of Fluxus and the Mail Art network, but in both cases, the enabling framework itself provided an easy definition for the work produced within it.
There is no reason for some wilfer coming upon one of the four main Lorwolm blogs to do anything other than take it at face value: such a reader is of course entirely likely to interpret the entries as a joke or as the work of a crazy woman, but they are not contextualised in the manner in which texts claiming to be angelic transmissions would be in a collection of poetry, where they would be understood to be a literary artefact, or in a book produced for the New Age market, where they would be received by an audience with some investment in accepting them as genuine.
The status of the Ecteiroglyphs as publications outside the managed flow of information evades the problem of classification by which, to give an obvious but appropriate example, many readers have come to accept Blake’s prophetic books as no more than poetry of a specific genre. In a secular culture, such products of human dealings with the supernatural world are viewed as artefacts to study rather than as instruments to use: this is turned around by the emphasis which contemporary occultists such as Michael Bertiaux, Kenneth Grant and Jan Fries place upon the importance of art of all kinds as a manifestation of magical activity.
As noted above, it is only in the author’s own blog that the Ecteiroglyphs appear in a literary context. There, Irene’s introductory paragraphs are preceded by this note:
Sometimes an act of creativity is a matter of simply getting out of the way and letting another speak.
In one of the other blogs, LCMT sets aside the persona of Irene to reply to a reader’s enquiry:
The first part is purely automatic: I collect a list of random words and phrases from various sources, by whatever method that occurs to me at the time. My methods are designed to disconnect the process from my own will and allow the influences of my muses, the Lorwolm, to be paramount. It produces a rather incoherent jumble, so then it becomes my job to find the coherence. But it’s not my job to dictate the meaning or purpose. I naturally gather my own impressions about what the ecteiroglyphs illustrate, but it’s not important that I know. Your guess is as good as mine, or maybe even better.
While I am not particularly bothered over the question of whether the Ecteiroglyphs were received, written as a deliberate exercise, or assembled from found sources, I am very much interested in the willed suspension of the author’s internal editor which their production implies: my assumption about the project as a whole is that it was primarily an exercise in defamiliarisation, carried out in order to achieve text that the writer’s established practice would not admit.
Often the removal of self-imposed critical restraint, the habits of practice which have displaced the equally hobbling self-consciousness of the amateur, makes a writer’s most characteristic style more, rather than less, evident. If we think in terms of texts being transmitted, what is shown is the difference between one instrument and another; if we think in more general literary terms, it is apparent that all attempts to suspend conscious intervention in the text push the author back, further from the written surface into the hidden workshops where the real business of creating poetry takes place. The most receptive poets, those who seem to exclude nothing, are also the most distinctive: one could mention Tom Raworth or John M. Bennett (although there is, of course, far more of the demiurge than the channel about either of them).
The benchmark for angelic communication in English is set by the 49 Claves Angelicae (nineteen core texts) received by John Dee and Edward Kelley in Krakow between 13 April and 13 July 1584. These were delivered both in a consistent but otherwise unknown language and in English. Although, unlike Blake’s prophecies, they have never been absorbed into the canon (for whatever that’s worth) they are of high literary quality:
The Midday the first is as the third heaven made of Hiacynth Pillers 26 in whome the Elders are become strong which I have prepared for my own righteousnes sayth the Lord whose long contynuance shall be as bucklers to the stowping Dragons and like unto the Harvest of a wyddow. How many are there which remayn in the glorie of the earth which are and shall not see death untyll this howse fall and the Dragon synck. Come away, for the Thunders have spoken: Come away, for the Crownes of the Temple and the coat of him that is, was, and shall be crowned are divided Come Appeare to the terror of the earth and to our comfort and of such as are prepared.
Geoffrey James, The Enochian Magick of Dr. John Dee, Llewellyn 1994, pp. 79-81.
It is still unclear to what, if any degree, Kelley faked these transmissions. The possibility that he did so is comforting to those who wish to lift Dee’s reputation clear of the occult, though the safeguards put in place before these texts were received would have made deception extraordinarily difficult. Aleister Crowley, whose own Liber AL vel Legis presents a particularly lush and complex example of the kind of literature we are looking at here, remarked of Kelley: “If he invented Enochian and composed this superb prose, he was at worst a Chatterton with fifty times that poet’s ingenuity and five hundred times his poetical genius.” [The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, RKP 1979, p. 612.]
Although the beings who entered into communication with Dee and Kelley seemed far too intent upon pursuing their own programme to give much of a response to the requests for information on mundane matters which their questioners sometimes made, they did unexpectedly provide two very specific prophesies of events due to occur in the near future. On the evening of May 4 1583 Kelley was shaken by visions of the beheading of a woman and of a fleet upon the sea: in dialogue during the following day the angel Uriel unequivocally stated these to be “the death of the Quene of Scotts” and “the prouision of forrayn powres against the Welfare of this land”. [Joseph H. Peterson, John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery, Weiser 2003, p. 404.] While these might be seen as intelligent if pessimistic forecasts made almost four years before the first of these events occurred, they offer a high degree of exposure in comparison to the most celebrated modern examples of literary prophecy, the quatrains of Nostradamus.
His Propheties first appeared in book form in 1555, the same year in which Dee was briefly imprisoned on suspicion of having “endeavoured by enchantments to destroy Queen Mary”, among other accusations. In contrast to the specific terms of the vision received by Kelley, and its subsequent verbal clarification, the matters to which Nostradamus’ quatrains relate can only be identified through a process of retrospective interpretation: that is, events are not foretold in any real sense, but are mapped back onto the texts as they occur—a process known as postdiction, or retroactive clairvoyance.
The fascination which Nostradamus holds for some readers seems to be that of finding half recognised faces in the shapes assumed by clouds or damp marks upon a neglected wall, itself a divinatory state of sorts, combined with the allusive power of the language of the quatrains, which finds its echo in the Lorwolm poems: although it would be possible to approach both of these as abstract texts, the reader’s tendency to find patterns in the writing is guided by the expectations created by their presentation as prophecy.
What is perhaps most salvageable from an examination of Nostradamus is the implicit challenge that his quatrains present to the conception of history dominant in our culture. While this could be described as an extension of self-consciousness backwards through the co-ordinates of time and space which we habitually use to interpret the world, it is entirely possible to imagine a past constructed to match the terms in which Nostradamus or the Lorwolm project the future: all that is involved is a change of filter. In such a reading, the quatrains, rather than yielding a loose poetic account of the French Revolution and First Empire, for instance, might be seen to have defined, if not actually generated, the events themselves, so that any future account of these would necessarily be fed back through the terminology of the prophecies.
In “The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse” Plutarch has the mathematician Boëthus, described as a “man ... already changing his allegiance in the direction of Epicureanism”, say:
... what kind of occurrence can there be that is not a debt owned by Time to Nature? What is there strange and unexpected ... which one might foretell and not find it come to pass? Yet this is not precisely foretelling, but telling; or rather it is a throwing and scattering of words without foundation into the infinite; and oftentimes Chance encounters them in their wanderings and accidentally falls into accord with them. As a matter of fact, the coming to pass of something that has been told is a different matter, I think, from the telling of something that will come to pass. For the pronouncement, telling of things non-existent, contains error in itself, and it is not equitable for it to await the confirmation that comes through accidental circumstances; nor can it use as a true proof of having foretold with knowledge the fact that the thing came about after the telling thereof, since Infinity brings all things to pass....
These prophets of the type of the Sibyl and Bacis toss forth and scatter into the gulf of time, as into the ocean depths with no chart to guide them, words and phrases at haphazard, which deal with events and occurrences of all sorts; and although some come to pass for them as a matter of chance, what is said at the present time is equally a lie, even if later it becomes true in the event that such a thing does happen.
Plutarch’s Moralia V, Loeb Classical Library 1936, pp. 283-285.
A possibility raised by Sarapion in the course of his reply in defence of the oracles cuts away our most basic expectation of the deliberate transmission of information:
If that were so, what is to hinder someone else from declaring that Epicurus did not write his Leading Principles for us ... but that, by chance and accidentally, the letters fell in with one another as they now stand, and the book was completed?
Ibid., p. 289.
Plutarch discusses the relationship between the dead and prophecy under his own persona in “The Obsolescence of Oracles”:
Just as the sun does not become bright when it bursts through the clouds, but is bright always, and yet in a fog appears to us indistinct and dim, even so the soul does not acquire the prophetic power when it goes forth from the body as from a cloud; it possesses that power even now, but is blinded by being combined and commingled with the mortal nature. We ought not to feel surprised or incredulous at this when we see in the soul, though we see naught else, that faculty which is the complement of prophecy, and which we call memory, and how great an achievement is displayed in preserving and guarding the past, or rather what has been the present, since nothing of all that has come to pass has any existence or substantiality ...
Ibid., pp. 430-432.
The prophetic Lorwolm, who are now angels, were once human:
Tsitao-utna can remember the name of her last mortal life: Claudia. Ga-ukogomen and Nihr Avna-attu are much older and say they do not remember their mortal lives. Ga-ukogomen once told me there are tasks angels cannot do if they have not forgotten their mortal lives. Yes, angels have tasks: they are always learning something new. Ga-ukogomen told me that the learning never ends. Tsitao-utna said she thinks the learning will end but it will take a very long time....
When the Lorwolm use the term “leave this planet”, I think they are talking about death, but I am not sure. They might be referring to a journey. To the Lorwolm, death and life are part of the same journey. They do not think of death as an absence of life, since they have died and lived many times. They regard death as a process of life, and fear it no more than we fear things like sleeping and digestion....
Ga-ukogomen, Nihr Avna-attu and Tsitao-utna have lived and died untold number of times, and have never encountered God. All three angels are convinced atheists.
The poet James Merrill and his partner David Jackson began to communicate with spirits through a homemade planchette in 1955. The Changing Light at Sandover, the long poem which Merrill constructed around this experiment, was published in its final form in 1982. This is his description of their set-up:
Properties: A milk glass tabletop. A blue-and-white cup from the Five & Ten. Pencil, paper. Heavy cardboard sheet Over which the letters A to Z Spread in an arc, our covenant With whom it would concern; also The Arabic numerals, and YES and NO. What more could a familiar spirit want? Well, when he knew us better, he’d suggest We prop a mirror in the facing chair. Erect and gleaming, silver-hearted guest, We saw each other in it. He saw us.
The Changing Light at Sandover, Knopf 1992, pp. 5-6.
Alison Lurie, who maintained a friendship with both men over a period of four decades, described their practice in her memoir, Familiar Spirits:
Watching David and Jimmy at the board, I noticed that David’s right hand was on the teacup; he was referred to by the spirits as HAND. Jimmy’s left hand was on the cup, and he recorded its messages with his right; he was referred to as SCRIBE.
Alison Lurie, Familiar Spirits, Viking 2001, pp. 90-91.
This is the classic arrangement of medium and recorder, exemplified by Kelley and Dee. Lurie identifies Jackson, who was “born with a caul”, as the “essential sitter” out of the pair: he was also far more ambivalent about the planchette sessions than Merrill, perhaps because he was more directly exposed to their effects. As was the case with Kelley, the good faith of the medium inevitably comes up for question, and Lurie suggests that Jackson may well have produced “the occasionally contradictory, shocking, or even silly messages” that emerged from the board during the closing years of a practice that he had grown to dislike.
In Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board [Feral House 2005] J. Edward Cornelius details Crowley and Frater Achad’s [Charles Stansfeld Jones’] use of the planchette as a serious magical tool. He explicitly outlines the connection between Dee and Kelley’s experiments and the Ouija board in the following passage:
[Grady McMurtry] obliged me with a lengthy discourse, the gist of which was that a talking board utilizes the same angelic principles practiced by the Elizabethan magician John Dee ... Grady further pointed out that John Dee looked into the invisible realms, known as Aethyrs, through the use of a crystal ball. Here the angels appeared and communicated their messages by pointing to one letter at a time on huge boards of letters.
The same principle, he said, holds true for the talking board, but, instead of going within the realm of the angels, we bring the entities out into our world to communicate in the same fashion, allowing them to move the triangle from one letter to another to spell out messages.
Op. cit., p. 3.
In keeping with the hermetic axiom of “as above, so below” Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) also sees both actions as variants of the same process:
Some scholars insist on drawing a sharp distinction between mediumism, which involves a descent of the spirits as possession, and shamanism, which is characterized by an ascent to the spirits in trance. I believe that we can overcome Structuralist dualism here and discover a tertium quid in the image of “Jacob’s Ladder,” a single axis by which both ascents and descents may take place.
Shower of Stars, Autonomedia 1996, p. 80.
While Merrill and Jackson used a cup for their planchette, Cornelius identifies the pointer issued with commercial Ouija sets with the triangle into which entities are summoned in western ceremonial magic. He also denies the possibility of any messages received by means of the board being produced by the actual spirits of the dead. His explanation of their source has significant implications for some of the other texts we are examining here:
First of all, what most people call a ghost is what magicians like Crowley refer to as the “Shells of the Dead.” The Shell itself is just what the name implies: hollow and without direction ... [it] is merely a concept that encases a certain type of energy (Knowledge). To understand the concept of the Shell better, consider it like a record being played on a phonograph. The person who has done the recording has gone on to do other things, as in the case of a spirit incarnating ... yet his record, or Shell, can be played over and over again.
Op. cit., pp. 49-51.
If a Shell is just a record of events, then with whom do people communicate when using a Ouija board? The Shell of a deceased person, or their energy discarded at death, is what other invisible beings animate and use as a magical link to cross over into our world. These beings are far older than our human race.... They are all around us and certain areas, like sacred spots and even some homes, act as a thinly veiled doorway whereby they can traverse between the planes. These entities are called elementals. The ancient Greeks called them Dactyls. In Arabic they are known as the genii that ... ruled the earth before the creation of Adam. Others ... call them familiars....
These entities are truly shape-shifters.... It is relatively safe and fairly easy to allow them to animate a Shell. This literally means that they become that which you’re seeking. Crowley further elaborated by calling them “... tricksters, of the lowest elemental orders” who “come and vitalize odds and ends of the Ruach of people recently deceased, and perform astonishing impersonations.”
Ibid., p. 54.
In the course of their experiments with the planchette, Merrill and Jackson did indeed consider themselves to be in communication with dead family and friends, as well as receiving instruction from more powerful spirits:
Much of The Changing Light at Sandover consists of the secret doctrine that was gradually revealed to David and Jimmy.... In part 1 their teacher is Ephraim, a former human being. Their next is a fallen angel known variously and ambiguously as “741,” “Bezelbob,” and “Mirabell,” who takes the form first of a bat and then of a peacock. In part 3 ... [they] are instructed by the four archangels, and finally by God himself.
Lurie, Op. cit., pp. 77 & 79.
Whatever, if anything, the spirits they communicated with were, the planchette certainly seemed to offer Merrill and Jackson the opportunity to continue some rather difficult relationships on more satisfactory terms: there are points in the narrative at which one cannot but be reminded of the protagonist of Henry James’ “The Altar of the Dead,” for whom “there were hours at which he almost caught himself wishing that certain of his friends would now die, that he might establish with them in this manner a connexion more charming than, as it happened, it was possible to enjoy with them in life”.
Similarly, the planchette enabled the two men to enjoy a significant imaginary friendship with the dead W. H. Auden, “though David and Jimmy had not known him well in this world”. [Lurie, Op. cit., p. 71.] Auden indeed is presented as a major source of chanelled text in Sandover, “putting it”, as Joscelyn Godwin notes, “in a category well known to students of Spiritualism: that of literary and musical works dictated by dead poets and composers”. [Atlantis and the Cycles of Time, p. 291.]
Each of the Ecteiroglyphs has a regular form of three stanzas (perhaps in reference to the three Lorwolm, or the three supernatural beings invoked by their scribe’s “true name”): these are of five, four and three lines respectively—
From a summer’s marriage-feast despoiled in reel and rout, The knight stands aloof; he wears upon his shield the puppet crown And slays with his sword fifteen long-suffering captives. In thirty long years he will defeat twelve generals, Burn ten churches, demolish ten temples, and build ten cities. His denatured bride, widely praised and most closely guarded, Arises with his silver-bedecked allies to supplant him. The perfect cavalier cannot comprehend this opportunity for ambush; In the absence of the sun, fountains spring like a cloud of fire. In a great arc she brings down the cursed hilt of his saber, Forged in witch’s oils burnt green, blue and white, Which fractures his unwary skull but does not kill him.
This confers a welcome degree of control and definition: one is reminded of Jack Spicer’s “dictated” poems, apparently unmediated work which is precise and closely ordered.
In contrast to the “grand vatic lyrics” (to quote a comment which quite understandably appears to have pleased the blogger) the prose sections, which offer some commentary, in Irene’s voice, upon their genesis, are related in a naïve, personal tone: with their references to household objects and old TV adverts, they perform the valuable function of setting the baffling richness of the Ecteiroglyphs in the context of the everyday. In an entry posted on the last day of April, LCMT herself is introduced as “the Friendly Skeptic” who “is helping me put the ecteiroglyphs on the computer and on the internet”. I find myself thinking that she comes altogether too close to jumping the shark at this point, and it is perhaps a token of the author’s diffidence about this text that it only appears in two of the blogs.
So we have three layers of transmission: LCMT editing the raw texts and putting them online; Irene both as the channel and as historian of the reception of the Ecteiroglyphs; and the three Lorwolm, angels who take shape as a kinglet or miniature crow, “a warm, white mist” and a disembodied voice above a small blue bowl. The poems they deliver are a set of prophecies that, by their nature, cannot be of any relevance to ourselves: they are to be left to be recovered, as terma, by “the true prophets of the Lorwolm” in a presumably distant future, adding a fourth layer to the process.
Unlike Dee and Kelley’s angels, the Lorwolm have no language of their own, but intersperse the Ecteiroglyphs with words from “Bruyeil-Pacifican” and “Uru-nauwi” that will be spoken by their future readers. When this essay was first published, I remarked that the question of why the transmissions do not take the form of some impenetrable Voynich ms. or Liber Loagaeth was addressed, but resoundingly left unanswered, in one of the prose sections. LCMT was to give this matter some further attention when the series recommenced.
I touched upon the world of the Lorwolm when Adam Burbage contacted me in October 2008 to ask if I would care to contribute a profile of a poet to the online magazine Geometer. This was in the context of an ongoing series in which the subject of one article would then become the author of the next, creating what the editor described as “a Markov chain”. This proposal presented me with a problem, as, while I do not consider it useful to define writing in terms of authorship, and suspect that anonymity and collaboration would produce a more robust and generous literary culture than the one I skirt around at present, it seemed ungracious to refuse his invitation, all the more so as my own entry into the chain had been brought about by a generous critique of my own work, such as it is, by Peter Philpott.
So I suggested that I write about the Lorwolm, which had interested me as a phenomenon ever since I had stumbled across them in LCMT’s LiveJournal, feeling that they provided a commendable example of work that bypassed the expected model of authorship: it also seemed appropriate to cover material that was only published on the internet in an online magazine, and so hope to contribute to the visible existence of the text itself on search engines. My writing about the texts online represented a method to extend them, and the absence of any printed reference to the subject matter of the article left the genuineness of the project in doubt. And I was, of course, not discouraged by the possibility that some readers might assume that the whole thing was a hoax, or that I was the author of, or a contributor to, the texts I was writing about.
The editor’s acceptance of this project led me, as a matter of good manners, to enter into communication with LCMT, which proved quite straightforward, unless I was being teased myself. In doing so, I was careful to make it clear that I did not wish to receive any inside information on the texts, as I was more interested in logging my own reaction to them as a completely unknown quantity than to report an authorial point of view, which could only undo the point of the exercise by feeding the project back into the loop of authorship.
It is a commonplace that no text is complete without a reader: although I would not presume to claim that my article led the Lorwolm to reestablish communication with their sibyl, I think it possible that all those concerned in the creation of the blog entries may have felt encouraged by the evidence that someone, at least, was taking notice of them. In any case, I am happy to report that online publication of the transmissions from the Lorwolm were resumed in a blog entry dated the 31st of March 2009, just before the anniversary of their first publication, and continued intermittently until 12 May 2011, once again with St. Dymphna’s day looming in the near future. I hope that more will follow over the course of time.
The series recommenced with Ecteiroglyph XIX on March 31 2009 (XVIII seems to have been swallowed up in the intervening period), and largely consisted of further poems through to the publication of XXXVIII on June 26 of the following year. Although I personally happen to like the poems, I think that the existence of the series as a phenomenon is more important than its existence as literature, and don’t feel that its mere extension calls for the modification of anything I might wish to say about it: it was, as ever, the gesture, rather than the text, that mattered.
What seems most significant about this run of poems is the degree to which they underline the nature of serial publication. They are intended to be read as received, as blog entries that accrue over time, and lose a certain amount of their power when removed from that context.
The only evolution which the series underwent during this period was the introduction of the concept of Irene as Tsitao-utna’s “stenographer”, producing eleven mysterious “doodles” in “a Turquoise drawing pencil with a soft dark lead, 6B.” Although it is suggested that three of these represent the Lorwolm, it is left unclear whether they are glyphs that make up their names or more abstract narrative symbols. Despite their rather tentative quality, such emblems prove to be an important element later on, when they become more fully integrated into the series.
The world of the Lorwolm became notably more complex, and took on an intimidating quality it had not possessed before, with the appearance of four prose entries, dense with graphic elements, dated from August 12-18 2010: in the first of these, Eirene receives three interlocking sets of glyphs, delivered with considerable urgency over three days, which together form a name which “will be a key to a locked book and a doom to a continent”; in the second entry she draws a further symbol of unspecified relevance on the day after the name is apparently completed; in the third she produces an abstract, textured monochrome drawing which proves to be an image of the three familiar Lorwolm, along with a fourth angel encountered on just one occasion, three months earlier; and in the fourth she inscribes what she describes as the name of God although, as Ga-ukogomen comments, “all names are the names of God”.
These texts also foreground a possibility that had hovered about the series from its outset: that of it being cast in the Language of the Birds, which cannot be understood without initiation. While the original series of the Ecteiroglyphs made reference to eight kinds of bird, in addition to the various smallforms of Ga-ukogomen, and one of the later poems concerns “the books of a feather-robed sage”, the transference of information in the entries of 12-18 August 2010 moves in and out of the green language itself: Tsitao-utna’s phrase, “siksga kelzwun rahben” becomes “six gackles, one robin”; the ominous name of the fourth Lorwolm, who announces himself as “your death beyond hell” to Eirene in the pasta aisle of a grocery store is rendered back as Yohrdith Eondhel. A better educated ear than mine (and, perhaps, LCMT’s) might well find messages in the names of the other Lorwolm and the puzzling phrases that occur throughout the Ecteiroglyphs.
Each of the Ecteiroglyphs published from 29 August 2010 onwards has contained some kind of symbol in addition to its three stanzas: this is symptomatic of a shift from three to four as a defining measure within the series, a tendency also evidenced by the reception of the unexplained set of glyphs upon the fourth day and the manifestation of the fourth angel. It should be noted that this fourth element tends to be mysterious and unreadable: even Yohrdith Eondhel, who is the “biggest, most solid, most human-looking” of the Lorwolm is rendered only as “a faint presence” in Eirene’s picture of them. It seems inevitable that when she draws the name of God, it should be composed of four clusters of glyphs (and, no, they bear no evident resemblance to the Tetragrammaton).
I find myself struggling to make much of Eirene’s picture of the Lorwolm. The most immediately striking thing about it is its grain: it might have been built up in pencil with the paper resting upon a rough wooden surface, or output from a barely working printer, or photocopied to the point of decay before being scanned. The four figures portrayed are blurred and indistinct: three of them are somewhat mushroom shaped, and could be heads upon straining necks. I rather too readily saw the fourth as birdlike, but the accompanying text identifies it as Nihr Avna-attu, who manifests as a mist. The image does not, in any case, appear to be intended as a representation of their “smallforms”, although the ominous, featureless depiction of the Lorwolm here scarcely accords with the promise of their genuine appearance either: “Ga-ukogomen, who sometimes shows signs of vanity, says if he showed me his true form and then left me, I would kill myself with longing and loneliness”.
Both the complex frame and much of the equipment of the poems brings us to the author’s evident debt to classic fantasy. The carefully stacked manner in which the main texts are presented is reminiscent of, for instance, M. P. Shiel’s trilogy of future histories delivered through a subject in hypnotic trance, or of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, which relays its vision of the Last Redoubt of humanity through the device of a 17th Century narrator.
The Ecteiroglyphs, assuming that their terminology is not entirely symbolic, imply a distinctly retrograde future: earlier in the poem given above, a “transport vessel cross[es] the waves of the air realm”, but there is no indication whether this occurs by means of science or sorcery—the craft is, after all, attacked by a “fire griffin”. The prospect of a more ancient culture, not dead while it is still dreamed of, rising to supplant our own, was elegantly formulated by Clark Ashton Smith:
The peoples of Zothique, one might say, have rounded the circle and have returned to the conditions of what we of the present era might regard as antiquity. The idea of this last continent was suggested by the “occult” traditions regarding Pushkara, which will allegedly become the home of the 7th root race, the last race of mankind.
The implication that human societies do not follow some teleological progression toward a goal in history, but loop through time, is underlined by the chronology of the Ecteiroglyphs being measured by “gyre”, with its echo of Yeats’ system.
A more significant fantasy source than those given above, which did not come to my attention until after I had completed the first version of this text, is E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros: I happened to read this for quite different reasons, while following up references to the harpsichord ordres of François Couperin. Here, a curious Induction (itself a hub for Mistress of Mistresses and subsequent novels) provides the point of access to a perfectly circular narrative—the book quite literally is its title: it really does what it says on the label. As I had established contact with LCMT by then, I was in a position to ask her directly about the perceived influence, and received the following reply:
The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison? Funny thing about that... A couple of months ago, I was re-reading the first chapter and was struck by the similarity between the appearance of Lessingham’s little black martlet and the smallforms of Irene’s angels, Ga-ukogomen:
“His most common smallform is a little gray bird, smaller than a sparrow, a kinglet. Other times he is a crow, but in miniature, no bigger than a finch. His vanity shows itself in the brilliant black perfection of his feathers; his claws, beak and eyes shine like onyx jewels.”
Eddison’s description of the martlet: “The silver beams shone through the open window on a form perched at the foot of the bed: a little bird, black, round-headed, short-beaked, with long sharp wings, and eyes like two stars shining.”
I did not know I was making that parallel at the time I wrote Ga-ukogomen. I wonder if it is just a co-incidence, or what? I should probably re-read The Worm Ouroboros, which I have not read—not the whole thing—for many years.
In The Changing Light at Sandover, Merrill compares himself and Jackson to the heroes of The Lord of the Rings, who “come through” their quest
But at the cost of being set apart, Emptied, diminished.
Op. cit., p. 218
This is picked up on by Andrew Seal at blographia-literaria.com, who follows its implications through to a suggested reclamation of Merrill and Jackson’s project:
Sandover is a very interesting poem on its own terms, but it also would become a much livelier one if we were to compare it to some more contemporary occultists or world-builders—to works like Lovecraft or Tolkien or Le Guin or Ishmael Reed, even to Neil Gaiman or Philip Pullman or Grant Morrison....
What is impeded by the “major poets” business but gained by [such a comparison] is not just the easier recognition that the poem looks ridiculous coming down from a mountainside on tablets but quite intriguing as a mass market paperback, but also that it belongs to a time when much of the world, and even much of the elite to whom Merrill was still addressing his poem, seems to have accepted wholeheartedly the idea that myths no longer come on tablets but are very glad to get them in pulp....
By reading it out of the “major poets” tradition and into a loose confederation (not a tradition) of occultists or world-builders like those mentioned above, we not only free the text of Sandover up to be used and interpreted in new and original ways, but we also place it within a context within which we can more easily and perhaps more casually talk about the relation between belief and practice without the pressure of the work’s canonicity or “greatness.”
When elements of fantasy are utilised in writing that would otherwise fall outside the genre, the result often does little justice to what is invoked: the alien is admitted merely to illuminate the values of the everyday. The Ecteiroglyphs avoid such a trap: they are texts in which the relationship between things is evident, but the things themselves are inexpressible because they are not (yet) in our culture. There is no real difficulty in following the sense of any of the poems, but it is impossible to understand the significance of what they describe: the texts are in plain view, but sealed to us. The problem, which I find more interesting than mere surface disruption, is that we can have no idea of what the poems actually refer to beyond the very general explanation provided by their supposed channel, which we are at liberty to find bizarre and untenable.
The Ecteiroglyphs deal in concepts which may not be transferred: they offer no comfort to a reader who wishes to look at anything other than the poems themselves. Their only gloss is provided by the prose texts that accompany them: these explain nothing, but locate the poems within the game of the Lorwolm, in which even the possibility of revelation is made the subject of prophecy.