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2019-04-23 10:59 pm

Let The Games Begin!

gladiatorI'm delighted to announce that the rulebook for Weird of Hali: Roleplaying the Other Side of the Cthulhu Mythos is now finished in working draft. It's kind of chunky -- 107,000 words, 500 pages in double spaced manuscript format -- but then that's what you get when a rulebook has to include three different systems of magic, not to mention rules for mad scientists, car chases, nervous breakdowns, and what happens when your character starts turning into something other than human. A first pass by the publisher, and by an old friend of mine who's played RPGs since D&D was this neat set of additions to Chainmail, turned up a few problems that were readily fixed, and now it's ready for the next stage of the process: playtesting. 

I have three Games Masters lined up to do the initial playtesting, but I'd be willing to see several more give it a spin, I want to make sure all the remaining bugs in the rules are caught in advance of publication, and playtesting to destruction is the best way to see to that. Interested? Let's talk. 

A couple of points: 

First, some things are fixed. The rulebook uses the Mythras system, and the license that allows me to use that system permits things to be added to the simplified Mythras Imperative rules but does not permit anything in those rules to be removed or changed. If you don't like d100 games, or some other aspect of Mythras aka RuneQuest 6 irritates you, that's unfortunate but it's not going to change. Similarly, the revaluation of all values central to the game (and the novels) -- the idea that the Great Old Ones are the old gods of nature and it's the people who are trying to destroy or banish them who are the real threat to all life on earth -- and a good deal of the setting details are also not going to change. 

Second, no, you don't have to have read any of the novels in my tentacular fantasy series The Weird of Hali in order to play, or playtest, this game. It's the same fictive world and the same broad situation, but the goal is to make the game an independent entrance to that fictive world, not just a derivative of the books. 

Third, I'm working on a mini-adventure module, The Tablet from Sarkomand, that I hope to include in the rulebook, and that will also need to be playtested, but it's got some weeks of hard work ahead before it's complete. I'd like to have the rules tested by Games Masters who can improvise or draw up their own adventures for Weird of Hali. One potential incentive is that the publisher has told me he's very interested in publishing adventure modules and supplements for Weird of Hali and other games of the Mythras family; if you're interested in turning your passion for roleplaying games into a source of pizza and beer money, this may be your entry...

So let the games begin. Ave, Cthulhu! Ludituri te salutant! 
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2019-04-21 11:55 pm

Magic Monday

Johannes BureusIt's almost midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of Johannes Bureus (1568-1652), the Swedish scholar and Rosicrucian occultist who reintroduced the runes to the Western esoteric tradition. As far as I know, his major book on runic occultism, Adal-Runa, has not yet appeared in English translation; I'm working on it. (I do Latin translation the way some people do crosswords, for relaxation, and Bureus' Latin is nice and crisp and elegant, not the early medieval slop I had to wade through to translate Picatrix.)

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 145,397th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar.

With that said, have at it! 

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***
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2019-04-19 10:49 pm

The Weird of Hali: Dreamlands

Weird of Hali: Dreamlands...and the fourth volume of The Weird of Hali is now in print, in paperback and e-book editions. Three more to go! Here's the cover blurb for this volume: 
*********************

To a Country of Dreams...
 
For five and a half years, since the mysterious disappearance of two of her graduate students, Professor Miriam Akeley of Miskatonic University has pursued her own covert researches into the forbidden lore underlying the seemingly fantastic tales of H.P. Lovecraft. The clues she has gathered all point to the shocking reality behind those tales, but it takes an unexpected encounter with a creature out of ancient legend and the discovery of a cryptic letter by Lovecraft’s cousin and fellow author Randolph Carter to lead her to the answers she hoped and feared to find—and thrust her out of the reality she knows into the impossible world that Lovecraft and Carter called the Dreamlands.
 
She is not the only one to pass through that forgotten portal, however.  The ancient war between the Great Old Ones and their enemies has spilled over into the lands of Dream, and an agent of the Radiance now seeks the Temple of the Singing Flame in the far west. Guided by the oracle of Nodens, Lord of the Great Deep, Miriam and Randolph Carter must stop him—for he carries the Blade of Uoht, one of the three sorcerous treasures of drowned Poseidonis, and if he reaches the Temple and extinguishes the Flame, the Dreamlands and all within them will cease to exist forever...
 
*********************
Interested? Copies can be ordered direct from the publisher here
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2019-04-16 11:24 pm

A Certain Tentacled One Must Be Stirring...

manga coverOkay, this is starting to get genuinely weird. 

A friend who keeps track of all kinds of oddities in Asian culture forwarded me a link to a popular manga series by artist Iida Pochi. It's titled Ane Naru Mono, The Elder Sister-Like One in English; the main character is an orphan named Yuu who lost his parents in a car crash, has no siblings or close friends, and has been shuffled around from one foster home to another. Then one day -- I'm not sure if there's an eldritch tome involved or not -- he encounters the Great Old One Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. She grants him one wish, and -- this is manga, you know what's coming -- he wishes that she was his big sister. 

So the Black Goat of the Woods becomes his big sister. I gather the result is more or less what happens when you mash up "The Dunwich Horror" with Oh My Goddess, or something not too far from that. 

This has me scratching my head because the main character in my fantasy series The Weird of Hali is also an orphan with no siblings, who lost his parents in a car crash, and who ends up in an (admittedly more adult) relationship with a daughter of the Black Goat of the Woods. What's more, the first volume of The Weird of Hali -- in which all this is laid out -- basically downloaded itself into my head in the autumn of 2014 and got written in eight frenzied weeks of typing. Ane Naru Mono first appeared in print in March 2016. 

It's rather uncannily reminiscent of Lovecraft's story "The Call of Cthulhu," in which the emergence of the drowned corpse-city of R'lyeh and its most famous and tentacular resident is heralded by strange dreams that haunt artists, writers, and poets, and give rise to all kinds of strange paintings and the like. Somehow the idea of standing Lovecraft on his head and presenting his eldritch horrors in a sympathetic light -- as in, your big sister or your well-disposed mother-in-law -- seems to be surfacing in a lot of heads just now. It makes me wonder what's stirring in the deep places of the collective unconscious...
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2019-04-14 11:46 pm

Magic Monday

ParacelsusIt's almost midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus von Hohenheim -- a name that just begs to be declaimed aloud in a stentorian voice with melodramatic gestures. (Most people these days just call him Paracelsus; he was Theo von Hohenheim as a small boy, padding around in the wake of his father the doctor in a Swiss mine town.  The great reformer of 16th century European alchemy, he was a very heavy drinker even by the standards of his time, but the people who knew him insisted that he was more cogent when dead drunk than most people are when they're sober. 

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 145,397th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar.

With that said, have at it! 

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***

***Yes, I really do mean that this Magic Monday is closed. I just had someone try to post a new question at 12:03 am. Please save new questions for next week!***
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2019-04-07 11:49 pm

Magic Monday

Oom the OmnipotentIt's midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of Oom the Omnipotent aka Pierre Bernard: sex guru, successful businessman, genuine scholar of Sanskrit teachings, shameless con artist, and also the man who introduced yoga to the American public. It's a sign of how little most Americans know of their own country's occult history that he's forgotten and E.A. "Aleister" Crowley, who was very much a third-rate figure by comparison, is famous. 

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 542,396th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar.

With that said, have at it! 

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
2019-04-03 11:35 pm

Eldritch Worlds

Cthulhu in SpaceWell, the manuscript for Weird of Hali: The Roleplaying Game is in the publisher's hands as I write this. I had enormous fun with the project, since the hard work of developing game mechanics was already taken care of -- it uses the Mythras Imperative rules as its basis, via a license from the developers -- and so it was just a matter of figuring out how to make sorcery work more or less the way it does in the novels, working up stats blocks for a lot of eldritch critters, fitting in rules for mad scientists, and tinkering with such other details as will make for more entertaining play. 

I'll be putting out a call for GMs willing to playtest the draft system as soon as the publisher has the chance to go over the rules and make sure there are no obvious howlers, and once it's been playtested to destruction and all the problems fixed, it's back to the publisher and on its way into print. I'll keep everyone informed. 

In the meantime, though...

I think I've mentioned here more than once that I'm fond of old-fashioned science fiction, the sort of thing that populates the solar system with intelligent beings and provides ample opportunity for adventure on the grand scale -- swordplay along the Grand Canal of Mars, monstrous critters in the jungles of Venus, derring-do on the moons of Jupiter, and more. That's something that would make a very fun setting for roleplaying games, and indeed something that could be added onto a game of Weird of Hali or Mythras itself.

So, having discussed the idea with the same game publishing company that's bringing out Weird of Hali and gotten an enthusiastic response, I have a new project. The working title is Eldritch Worlds, and the goal is to catch the spirit of the spookier end of interplanetary science fiction -- not horror, which doesn't interest me, but weird fantasy, which does. Imagine for a moment that C.S. Lewis, Clark Ashton Smith, and C.L. Moore -- all of whom wrote excellent stories of the kind I have in mind -- got mildly drunk together at a science fiction convention in 1952 and decided to create a shared solar system; that's kind of what I'm thinking. 

In the same spirit as my previous requests for help, though, I'd like to ask any of my readers who are minded to assist to search their own memories of classic science fiction and help me fill out some of the details. The first question to settle is...

In classic science fiction, how many ways are there to get to another world? 

I've thought of the following so far: 
  • Spacecraft using currently available technology
  • Spacecraft using technology from a lost civilization of the past
  • Spacecraft using extraterrestrial technology (and possibly crewed by aliens)
  • Teleportation device or spell
  • Trans-dimensional gateway or portal
  • Device or spell for transferring consciousness to a body on another world
  • Intervention by a deity, Great Old One, or other superhuman being
...but there are doubtless others, and I want to give GMs and characters as many options as possible. How do you want to go to Mars? 
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2019-03-31 11:47 pm

Magic Monday

Aleister CrowleyIt's almost midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture, appropriately enough given tomorrow's date, is of Edward A. ("Aleister") Crowley, who proclaimed himself the Wickedest Man in the World and published a lot of books on magic, some of which he even wrote himself. (No, I'm not a fan -- how did you guess? -- but since I've been posting photos of famous occultists, well, he was certainly famous.) 

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 542,396th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar. 

With that said, have at it! 

**This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***

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2019-03-29 12:51 pm

How Not To Do Magic: The Saga Continues

Magic FailIt's been a while since we've checked in on the efforts of the soi-disant "Magical Resistance" -- that is to say, the people who still haven't gotten over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, and are expressing their rage and hatred by way of magical rituals rather than public tantrums of some other kind.  Partly, I'm glad to say, that's because they seem to have learned one of the basic lessons of magical practice, which is that being public about your workings is a great way to let other operative mages know how to mess with you. Since the spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to use magic to keep Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, the Magical Resistance has been much quieter about its intentions and ritual texts. I'm pleased to see this; any indication that the very low standard of magical competence in modern American society has risen a bit is worth celebrating. 

That said, the efforts of the Magical Resistance to hinder the Trump administration don't seem to have been favored with any greater level of success than before. The latest and most obvious example of this, of course, is the end of the Mueller investigation. For more than two years now, a great many of the people who hate Donald Trump have been insisting at the top of their lungs that Mueller would inevitably find some suitably gaudy collection of impeachable offenses in Trump's conduct in office. At least some of the people who were busy casting spells to bring Trump down, to judge from their comments on various online forums, loaded a great many of their hopes on Mueller -- and, to judge by the rituals they were using back when they were being public about it, an equally large share of their magical efforts. Those clearly didn't do much, and there's a useful lesson in operative magic to be drawn from their failure. 

The core of that failure comes from their choice of intention. Those of the Mueller-centric spells I encountered, back when such things were being made public, focused nearly all their rhetoric on the ideal of justice. That's a perfectly valid magical intention, but like most other perfectly valid magical intentions, it has a catch:  you really do need to be sure that justice is on your side. 

In a criminal investigation, justice includes such basic elements as fairness, impartiality, and a willingness to suspend judgment until all the facts have come to light. The goal of a just investigation is to punish those who are actually guilty of the charges made against them and to vindicate those who are innocent. If you say instead, "I hate the defendant, therefore he must be guilty of the accusations," that's unjust; if, more cynically, you say, "I hate the defendant, therefore I don't care what the facts say, I'm going to insist that he's guilty of the accusations," that's also unjust. The attitude of the Trump-haters toward the Mueller investigation was one of these two -- I'll let my readers make their own speculations as to which one -- and I can promise you that if you perform a magical working for justice motivated by one or the other of these deeply unjust attitudes, you are not going to like the results. 

And of course that's what happened. As far as I can tell, the outcome of the Mueller investigation was, technically speaking, a success for the Magical Resistance, in that justice did in fact happen. That is to say, an innocent man was cleared of false accusations made against him by his political enemies, and some of the people who helped to spread those accusations have suffered a great deal of public embarrassment. That's entirely just. If that wasn't what the Magical Resistance had in mind, why, that's what happens when you're insufficiently careful about the intentions you choose for your working. 

The moral to this story? Justice isn't whatever you want it to be, neither is magic -- and if you're not sufficiently careful with either one, you can very efficiently kick yourself in the backside. 
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2019-03-24 11:39 pm

Magic Monday

R.A. Schwaller de LubiczIt's almost midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, French alchemist and occultist, whose work on the temple geometries of ancient Egypt played a crucial role in launching the modern revival of sacred geometry.  

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 542,396th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar.

With that said, have at it! 

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***
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2019-03-22 10:05 pm

"An Educated Mind Illuminated By Revelation"

DruidsChasing down leads on the origins of the material that went into The Druid Magic Handbook and The Dolmen Arch, and finding something unexpected...

Here's a quote from Letters on Tellurism by Gioacchino de Prati, which was published in an English magazine in 1834 and 1835, and which talks at great length about the solar and telluric currents: 

"The intelligence of individuals is, in regard to the absolute divine intelligence, nothing but the organs by which and through which the great act of revelation is performed."

Here's a quote from The View Over Atlantis by John Michell, which was published in 1968, and which also talks at great length about the solar and telluric currents: 

"The instrument of all human enlightenment is an educated mind illuminated by revelation. [..] Those...by whom the great discoveries in every age are made, are always those who have prepared themselves for revelation by the cultivation of such interests as characterize the natural philosopher."

It's quite possible that Michell read de Prati -- he was ferociously erudite and knew a great many obscure byways of occultism -- but there's more going on here than the possible continuity of a tradition. 

Down through the years there's been a lot of sloppy talk about the purpose of occult training. What makes it sloppy is the rather too common assumption that there's just one purpose, and all the different systems out there are better or worse methods for reaching the same ends. Not so; different systems presuppose different goals. These days, even though quite a few of the old occult schools have gone extinct, you can find various schools with their own goals -- those in the Rudolf Steiner tradition, which focus on developing seership; those pursuing various forms of Christian mysticism, which focus on seeking union with God through love; those in the broad Golden Dawn tradition, which use the methods of ritual magic to open up contact between the lower self and the higher self; and so on. 

What de Prati and Michell are talking about is something else again: a system of training that starts with "such interests as characterize the natural philosopher" and proceed from there to develop the capacity for revelation, which in the sense these authors have in mind means intuitive insight -- "the order of art and science seen in a flash" -- guided by an awakening sense of the whole cosmos and the place of each individual phenomenon in it. 

Two reflections come to mind: 

First, I'd wondered for quite some time why the Druid Revival didn't get into operative magic until quite late in its history -- as far as I can tell, not until the implosion of the Golden Dawn in 1903 sent a lot of well-trained Hermetic magicians into the Druid scene. This may be why. The goals outlined in de Prati and Michell fit very well with the image of the Druid in 18th and 19th century culture, and it may be that a careful study of old Druid writings will show other traces of the training meant to prepare the mind for revelation. 

Second, it seems to me that the particular skill set I've sketched out here is not something that existing occult schools teach, and it's something that the world could really, seriously use right now. Educated minds illuminated by revelation could accomplish much. 

Now to figure out more about the methods...
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2019-03-20 11:20 pm

The Weird of Hali: Dreamlands

DreamlandsThe fourth volume in The Weird of Hali, my epic fantasy with tentacles, is now available for preorder! Here's the back cover blurb: 

To a Country of Dreams...
 
For five and a half years, since the mysterious disappearance of two of her graduate students, Professor Miriam Akeley of Miskatonic University has pursued her own covert researches into the forbidden lore underlying the seemingly fantastic tales of H.P. Lovecraft. The clues she has gathered all point to the shocking reality behind those tales, but it takes an unexpected encounter with a creature out of ancient legend and the discovery of a cryptic letter by Lovecraft’s cousin and fellow author Randolph Carter to lead her to the answers she hoped and feared to find—and thrust her out of the reality she knows into the impossible world that Lovecraft and Carter called the Dreamlands.
 
She is not the only one to pass through that forgotten portal, however.  The ancient war between the Great Old Ones and their enemies has spilled over into the lands of Dream, and an agent of the Radiance now seeks the Temple of the Singing Flame in the far west. Guided by the oracle of Nodens, Lord of the Great Deep, Miriam and Randolph Carter must stop him—for he carries the Blade of Uoht, one of the three sorcerous treasures of drowned Poseidonis, and if he reaches the Temple and extinguishes the Flame, the Dreamlands and all within them will cease to exist forever...

Interested? Copies can be preordered directly from the publisher here
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
2019-03-17 11:54 pm

Magic Monday

MesmerIt's midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of Franz Anton Mesmer, Austrian physician, occultist and Rosicrucian initiate, who publicized "animal magnetism" in late 18th-century France -- yes, that's pronounced "ki" in Japanese and "nwyfre" in old-fashioned literary Welsh. After his death, his system of energy work was stripped of its occult dimensions and of every reference to the life force to produce the first draft of what we now call "hypnotism." 

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 712,874th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar.

With that said, have at it!

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***
 
 
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2019-03-16 11:09 pm

Traces of a Lost Tradition

dolmen archI field questions now and again about the origins of the material I put into my book The Druid Magic Handbook and my forthcoming two-volume set The Dolmen Arch, and they're questions I have a hard time answering in any satisfactory manner. The very short form is that after I became head of a nearly defunct Druid order in 2003, I got handed various documents, some of which had to do with the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), some of which had to do with AODA sister orders such as the Order of Spiritual Alchemy and the Modern Essene Fellowship, and some of which had nothing to do with any of these but got sent to me anyway. 

It was a real gallimaufry, and one of the projects I've had in mind for a while now is getting more of it in order and in the hands of people who might be interested in it. The relaunching of the Order of Essenes correspondence course, a fine presentation of the best of the New Thought system, was part of that, and I'm delighted to report that that's been well received -- there's been a steady stream of students for the lessons, and some have already finished the first course with flying colors and qualified for the more challenging second course. 

The things that fascinated me most, though, were scraps of teaching that had to do with a system of Druid Revival philosophy and practice I'd seen referenced here and there. There's a system of correspondences that assigns things to seven symbolic Cantrefs, which I'd seen referenced but never described in a classic occult work by David Conway; there's an odd series of hints about Rosicrucian connections -- "the mistletoe on the oak is also the rose on the cross," and the like; there were portions of two lessons of an old mimeographed correspondence course, which I expanded into the Dolmen Arch course, soon to be published in book form; and running through the whole thing, there's a distinctive take on magical energies, which focuses on the interplay between the solar or cosmic current descending from the heavens and the telluric current rising from the earth. 

I'd also encountered that before, in hints and scraps. The late John Michell, who knew an extraordinary amount about occult tradition and wove any number of hints into The View Over Atlantis and his other books, talked learnedly about the two currents here and there, and explored their symbolic numbers. Some years back, my fellow archdruid Gordon Cooper succeeded in tracking down an odd series of essays from the early 19th century, "Letters on Tellurism, Commonly Called Animal Magnetism," which were written by Swiss mesmerist Gioacchino de Prati and talk about the two currents in some detail; and there are also things in Dion Fortune that suggest a knowledge of it -- when we get to the relationship between the Solar Logos and the Planetary Spirit in my monthly commentary on The Cosmic Doctrine, we'll get into that. 

Now I have another few scraps. 

For quite a few years now I've practiced a system of acupressure self-treatment called Do-In -- that's pronounced "dough-inn," and it's the Japanese version of the Chinese term Daoyin. Most of the books I have on it were published in America, and when they get into philosophy at all they mostly talk about the macrobiotic diet. There are a few books by French authors, though -- Jacques de Langre and Jean Rofidal -- that head off in their own direction. Both of them drop plenty of references to the Druids...and both of them talk at some length about the cosmic and telluric currents. 

The connection's not hard to trace. There's been a very large Druid Revival scene in France since the late 19th century at least, and it linked up in various ways with Asian and especially Japanese spiritual traditions when those reached Western Europe -- the macrobiotic teacher George Ohsawa and the controversial Breton nationalist Druid Neven Henaff even co-wrote a book on the health benefits of vitamin C, which was published in 1977. French Druid traditions adopted a version of East Asian yin-yang theory, using the Gaulish words samos and giamos ("summer" and "winter" respectively) for yang and yin. Thus de Langre and Rofidal had plenty of chances to learn a Druidized version of Do-In, and that's apparently what they did. 

So clearly whatever teaching de Prati knew in the 1830s was still known in France in the 1930s, in the US somewhere around that time (the mimeographed pages I got didn't have dates on them but I'm guessing from context), wherever John Michell got his knowledge in the 1950s and 1960s, and in French macrobiotic circles in the 1970s and 1980s. (I've also got a lead on some kind of neo-Templar tradition along the same lines, which identifies the solar and telluric currents with Sophia and Baphomet respectively, but that's a whole 'nother story.) 

Piecing things together, bit by bit...

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2019-03-12 10:03 pm

The Tentacle Corps Needs Mad Scientists!

Herbert WestGot another favor to ask of my readers. I'm closing in on the completion of the first draft of Weird of Hali: The Roleplaying Game; I've finished the rules for character generation, combat, all three kinds of sorcery, greater and lesser tomes, moon paths and standing stones, sanity, the lack thereof, and what happens when you spend too much time hobnobbing with ghouls; the Creatures section at the back is crawling (not to mention oozing, leaping, flapping, swimming, and lurking) with a world-class collection of eldritch critters -- and yes, fans of Yag-Kotha from "The Tower of the Elephant" will find other members of his species present and accounted for; I've got a few other details to plug in, but there's one serious gap remaining...

Mad scientists. 

Lovecraft made ample use of them in his fiction, and I've examined the research programs of his fine contributions to the field -- Herbert West, Dr. Munoz, Crawford Tillinghast, Charles Dexter Ward, and the nameless orderly whose telepathy machine had such unexpected results in "Beyond the Walls of Sleep;" I've taken similar notice of Jean Averaud, whose intriguing sonic device features in Clark Ashton Smith's "The Devotee of Evil': I've pored over the journals of Dr. Raymond and Dr. Steven Black, who feature in Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" and "The Inmost Light" respectively; and of course studied the grand old man of them all, Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Any self-respecting game based on the weird-tale genre, even if it's turning that genre on its head, has to have ample scope for eccentric researchers in isolated country houses or concealed laboratories in urban basements, hard at work on some project that will shake the world if it doesn't blow them to smithereens first. 

to the laboratoryGetting the concept is easy enough; getting the details, a little less so. As with other items in the game, I need a good 1d100 table with plenty of options -- if at all possible, 100 of them -- to serve as a random mad scientist research projects generator, for those GMs who want to go that route, and a source of inspiration for those GMs who want to stock an adventure with a mad scientist or two and can simply glance down the chart to see what crazed scientific venture sounds like a good addition to the game. The examples cited above give the following projects:
  • reviving the recently dead
  • maintaining life in a corpse
  • perceiving the unseen realities that surround us all (via radiation)
  • reviving the long dead
  • making telepathic contact with another mind
  • tuning in to the vibrations of pure evil
  • perceiving the unseen realities that surround us all (via surgery)
  • extracting the human soul
  • manufacturing life from not quite raw materials
Commando CodyTo that I would certainly add:
  • traveling to other planets
(Space travel just hasn't been fun since it got co-opted by huge government programs, you know.) 

But there are plenty of other options, enshrined in old movies, pulp stories, and other suitable pop-culture sources. For copyright reasons, anything first published within the last couple of decades probably won't work unless it's riffing off something well established in the weird-tales genre. On the other hand, anything that dates from the days of black and white movies, pulp magazines, or the like will be particularly welcome. 

So, tentacle fans -- what do you want to see the mad scientists of WoH: the RPG busy cooking up in their laboratories to the discomfiture of player characters and the Radiance alike? Enquiring (if decidedly crazed) minds want to know...

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2019-03-10 11:37 pm

Magic Monday

John Winthrop Jr.It's getting on for midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of  John Winthrop Jr. (1606-1676), one of the first alchemists of colonial America, member of the Royal Society, and important figure in the founding of the Connecticut colony. The next time someone acts as though occultism consists solely of what was created in England between the founding of the Golden Dawn in 1887 and whenever Gerald Gardner finished penning his first Book of Shadows, I want you to think of this gentleman bending over an alchemical athanor and then checking a few lines in the writings of Hermes Trismegistus. 

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 354,219th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar. 

With that said, have at it! 

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
2019-03-10 12:00 am

An Oldie but a Goodie

FDR poster


Something to keep in mind when extremists of any camp insist that this or that book should never be read because the author was a (insert ideologically based insult here)...
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2019-03-08 06:47 pm

Tentative Tentacular Release Dates

InnsmouthI'm very pleased to report that Founders House Publishing now has a tentative release calendar for the rest of my epic fantasy with tentacles, The Weird of Hali. Here's when to expect the next squamous, rugose volume: 

The Weird of Hali: Dreamlands - April 2019
 
The Weird of Hali: Providence - June 2019
 
The Weird of Hali: Red Hook - August 2019
 
The Weird of Hali: Arkham - October 2019

They're all written at this point, and the only remaining revisions needed are extremely minor, so any of my readers who've been spending years now waiting for George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss to get off their duffs and finish the last volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire and The Kingkiller Chronicle respectively need not worry about having a repeat of that experience!

I'll post more details, including advance ordering data, as those come in. Meanwhile, we can all listen for those low eerie noises out there in the night, as of strange shapes moving closer...

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2019-03-05 07:50 pm

Dinosaurs and Mammals in Publishing

Dinosaurs and MammalsYeah, it's an overused metaphor, but it's still a good one. The publishing industry is in the middle of an immense change just now, and the similarities to the last years of the Cretaceous era are hard to miss. I had a reminder of that -- more precisely, two very neatly juxtaposed reminders -- this afternoon. 

Reminder #1 came from Tor Books, a sub-subset of the vast Macmillan publishing combine and one of the very few big-name science fiction and fantasy presses that will bother to look at a writer's work if said writer doesn't have an agent. (I don't; I've worked with agents twice, and in both cases it was a complete waste of my time.) Just over a year ago, I submitted my novel The Shoggoth Concerto to them. I never heard back. After a while, I went digging through their website and found the place where they cheerfully admit that they lose manuscripts all the time, and that you should mail the thing in again if you don't hear back after so many months. So I did up the cover letter and outline and sample chapters and self-addressed stamped envelope, and sent it in again.

That was last fall. Today, as I'd more than half expected, the self-addressed stamped envelope came back with the rejection slip headed "Dear Author." Someone took the trouble to scrawl Re: Shoggoth Concerto across the top, which I thought was a pleasant courtesy; it's certainly closer to a personal response than you can expect to get from the average huge corporate press. 

Again, I'd more than half expected that. The Shoggoth Concerto is an odd novel, a good 90 degrees off the lines of standard modern fantasy fiction; it's set in the fictive universe of The Weird of Hali but isn't part of that series' story arc; it's a story about love, death, classical music, and shoggoths, without even a nod of acknowledgment to whatever the latest fashions in the fantasy mainstream might happen to be. I'm quite prepared to believe that, as the rejection slip indicated, it didn't meet Tor's needs at that time; I'm quite prepared to believe that they didn't think it was any good  What's more, I've received scores of nearly identical rejection slips in the past -- I got my first one in 1979. If you're an author, you get those, and if you're a big corporate publisher, you send them out by the bushel basket every single day. 

Mythic 9Reminder #2, though, came from Founders House Publishing, the firm that's bringing out The Weird of Hali series. Founders House isn't a huge corporate press; it's a small firm, a little family-run business taking advantage of print-on-demand technology to carve out a niche market under the feet of the huge corporate presses. Yes, that's when I thought of the metaphor of dinosaurs and mammals. 

The message from Founders House's publisher and general jack of all trades, Shaun Kilgore, was twofold. The first was a friendly note to let me know that the latest issue of MYTHIC Magazine, his fantasy and science fiction quarterly, has just been released; that note was partly because I've been a fan and supporter of MYTHIC since Shaun first mentioned he wanted to publish an equivalent of the pulp magazines where fantasy and science fiction first stretched their wings and rocket nozzles respectively, and partly because one of my Owen and Jenny Lovecraftian-mystery stories, "The Mummy of R'lyeh," appears in it. (It looks like a really good issue, btw -- you can get e-book copies here, and print copies will be forthcoming shortly.)

The second half of the message was a note about some of the steps Shaun's making to grow MYTHIC into the kind of community of readers and authors that Weird Tales was back in the day. He's offering deals for subscribers, of course, but he's also got a Patreon page set up here, with various tiers of support -- one of which gets you personal feedback on short stories, by the way.

The contrast between the two reminders was, shall we say, striking. What's more, it reminded me of a detail of history, which is that science fiction and fantasy had their golden ages when they were mostly being published by little firms who could afford the time to deal directly with their authors as people. The first golden age of science fiction and fantasy was the era of the pulps, when the big pulp chains filled roughly the same role that the big print-on-demand presses fill now, and little editorial offices with half a dozen people in them put together the monthly issues of the magazines that reshaped the modern imagination. The second golden age of science fiction and fantasy followed the paperback revolution of the late 1950s, when scores of small presses flooded the market with cheap first editions of the books that now count as the hoary classics of both fields. In both cases, countless writers flocked to the new venues because the established firms of the day weren't interested. (Ironically, Macmillan, the parent company of Tor, was one of those established firms in both those previous eras. I guess third time isn't the charm...)

C.L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith (among others) made a beeline for the pulps, and Roger Zelazny and Ursula Le Guin (among others) made a comparable beeline for the paperback presses, instead of trying to write for the big established publishers of their day. It's ironic that those few of the old paperback firms that survive are now wholly owned subsidiaries of big established publishers, but it's a kind of irony with which history is well supplied. Still, this last turn of events has finished the process of helping me make a decision I've been pondering for some time now. Since that first submission to Doubleday back in 1979, I'd always had the idea that eventually I'd get my fiction placed with one of the big presses. As a writer, though, it simply isn't worth my time to try that at this point. The contracts offered by the big presses are increasingly predatory, the level of support for backlist titles embarrassingly low, and based on what I'm hearing from other writers, the level of personal attention to the needs of authors you can expect from the big boys, even if they publish your work, is right around the level of personal attention you can expect for your manuscripts. ("Dear author..."). 

So I'll be placing The Shoggoth Concerto with a smaller press. You can find me scampering off underfoot with the mammals, as the dinosaurs lumber off to their place in the fossil record. 
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2019-03-04 12:05 am

Magic Monday

Geoffrey HodsonIt's a little past midnight, so here we go with a new Magic Monday. The picture is of Geoffrey Hodson, one of the leading lights of the Theosophical Society in its post-Blavatsky era. Born in 1886 in England, he served in the First World War as a tank officer, and thereafter became a pacifist, vegetarian, mystic, and clairvoyant. He and his wife used to drive around the English countryside in a motorcycle and sidecar, taking notes on the local nature spirits. They later moved to Australia and then to New Zealand, where he finally died in 1983. 

Ask me anything about occultism and I'll do my best to answer it. Any question received by midnight Monday Eastern time will get an answer, though it may be Tuesday sometime before I get to them all. If you're in a hurry, or suspect you may be the 712,254th person to ask a question, please check out the very rough version 1.0 of The Magic Monday FAQ here.

I've had several people ask about tipping me for answers here, and though I certainly don't require that I won't turn it down. You can use the button below to access my online tip jar.

With that said, have at it!

***This Magic Monday is now closed to new questions. See you next week!***