Pilgrimages

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Resulting Story: The Demon Throne

A traveler’s corpse has been found on the road, heading to some distant holy sight ruled by a demon king. We’ll be digging up a number of corpses for this one. Because, as shocking as it might be, diabolic creatures as sources of heavenly insight are not as uncommon as you might believe!

Azathoth we’ve talked about at length here, so we won’t repeat much of mythos lore here. We do have stories of individuals going to Azathoth’s black throne, to sign in a dread book for knowledge and witch craft. But for the most part, the court of Azathoth is referred to only obliquely and in reference to the dance and music of various gods. That done, there is a precedent of demon kings having a good deal of heavenly knowledge. We discussed one such being last time we did research: Asmodeus.

Asmodeus.png

Asmodeus is a demon of some note, who has an odd reputation in the midrash and talmud around holy texts. He has done dreadful things, such as slaying seven successive husbands of a woman in the Book of Tobit, but has also aided in things such as building the temple itself. He gave knowledge of the future to Solomon and provided, by a trickster curse, an education on reality with the ring.

The capacity to grant knowledge is associated with a number of demons in the Ars Goteia. The play Faust also includes the conjuring of a demon for the knowledge such a fallen angel possesses. The logic is rather clear here: An angel has a view of all the cosmos, but is in alignment with God. Distracting an angel from it’s divine task is, of course, sinful. But a demon has nothing better to do and may possesses some of the knowledge of their deeds before the fall. The binding of demons into objects, either for wonderous working or in order to compel knowledge from them, was a tradition of sorts in the early church. The dangers of this hubris are rather obvious, and the practice was mostly suppressed.

It should be noted that such knowledge bearing principle is no doubt tied to the association of demons with the dead, who we discussed consulting here. As many demon lords have no knowledge, and in fact are deceivers as much as any. Not far from Asmodeus, we find Ahriman, who is the literal lie to Ahura Mazda’s truth in Zorastrianism.

Shukra.png

Wise demons, to stretch the term somewhat, is found more prominently in the Asura of India. Mahabali was an asura king, celebrated by his subjects, who regularly preformed penance in order to return to the world of the living. Shukra serves as the guru of the asura, as knowledgeable as the guru to the more heroic devas. Sunda and Upasunda were asura brothers who’s asectisim grew dangerous and frightening to the gods, to the point were the god Brahman was compelled to grant them a boon. The Tripasura, who we discussed here, gained their dominion over the world and their near invulnerable cities by mediation and religious practice.

A demon as the goal of a pilgrimage is rather unusual, however. The typical pilgrimage goal is to some holy site. In Europe, the locations of miraculous items, either the bodies or images of saints. Copies of these images are often sent back as markers of their successful pilgrimage. These tokens typically contained some miraculous power of their own, refracted from the original.

The power of these sacred places is best known to me regarding icons. Images of saints and holy figures, the miraculous icon often has healing power attributed to it. The image’s attributites can be more extreme however. When a bishop unveiled an icon despite tradition, the image of the virgin Mary underneath drove him to suicide. Other instances are recorded of the image’s mere gaze driving out demons from the bodies of the possessed. The end of the road of a pilgrimage is a sacred work, but the sacred is dangerous and powerful.

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The most famous pilgrimage, of course, is the pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims, carried out once in a life time. The Hajj has its specified time, the eighth to twelfth month of the Muslim calendar, and attracts millions every year to Saudi Arabia. The Hajj, as one of the five pillars of Islam, is necessary barring financial or health concerns. The site itself contains what, according to the Koran, is the first place of worship constructed by Ishamael and Abraham. The sites holiness cannot be overstated in this case.

Other faiths maintain their own pilgrimage sites: Zorastrians to fire temples that have survived, Hindus to the sites of major moments of divine action, Buddhists to sites of the life of Buddha. I know less regarding these, however, and didn’t have the time to delve into any of them deeply as I would have liked.

Journey to the West.png

In addition to these, there are stories of pilgrimages. One that sticks out to me, with talk of demons and such, is the Journey to the West. Here, while demons are not the goal of the pilgrimage, they are assisting in the travel—admittedly for their own benefit, but still. The pilgrimage in that case is of a Buddhist monk retrieving a set of scriptures from India to be brought to China, for the betterment of all. Here we have demonic aid for the completion of the pilgrimage, and demonic challengers to the progress of our pilgrim.  There is more to go into on the Journey to the West, but as it is a classic work I encourage my fellow scholars of the deceased to pursue it on their own. 

There is also the collection of stories known as the Cantebury tales. While a bawdy and comedic affair, and ranging in quality and incomplete, the story does center around the people who travel on this pilgrimage, their reasons and their means, and how they entertain themselves along the way. This format was taken up later, in a science fiction context, in the novel Hyperion to good effect as well.

A danger to said pilgrims, found in the Christian tradition, has some odd horror aspects as well. As holy figures, the remains of pilgrims were sought for as relics. While some villages and towns were content to merely find those who died of exhaustion or exposure, at least one went beyond. One Saint Gerald of Cologne–who’s documentation I can only find below–was killed by bandits near Cremona, and then had his relics stored their for future reverence. This sounds to me similar in principle to the demons of Journey to the West who seek to set upon the monk for his immortality-granting-flesh.

There was a recent murder in Spain of a pilgrim from the United States. While the motives are unknown, the murderer did intentionally mislead and disorient the woman in question, before murdering her and mutilating her body. The pilgrims road is thus perhaps still dangerous in the modern era.

The pilgrimage then can serve both as a source of danger and a way to unite a diverse number of characters. The motive in this case, to behold the court of the ultimate creator (As Azazoth is to a point), and the ultimate source of knowledge can include any number of beings as well as professions. And a winnowing of visitors—akin to the one at the frozen mountain with a garden atop—would also be a start.

The story should certainly establish the reasons or motives for the traveling—even if only in a line or two, or perhaps by implication—and what the expected difficulties are, how they’ve prepared, and then get into how thing begin to go wrong. It could end with the death or dissertion of all pilgrims before reaching the fabled throne, or we might glimpse that ultimate mystery ourselves. The history of searching for the holy is fraught with challenges. The Grail Quest removes nearly a third of all the knights of the Round Table and leads eventually—in some versions—to the downfall of the entire court. The dangers along the roadside are numerous.

I have a few ideas of horrific or horror tinged pilgrimages to strange and dark locations. The throne of Azazthoth, and the holds of demon princes and kings in general, are well guarded, far way, and deserted places. Our pilgrims will be risking mind, body, and soul for a glimpse at that ultimate font of reality.

There is a story of what happens when one glimpses the ultimate paradise. Four rabbis entered. One went mad, one became a heretic, and one died. Only the fourth entered and left in peace. To look upon the holy is to risk everything. The horror. The horror.

Biblography:

Garnett, Jane, and Gervase Rosser. Spectacular Miracles: Transforming Images in Italy, from the Renaissance to the Present. Reaktion, 2013.

Geary, Patrick. 1986. “Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics” in Arjun Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.169-91.

Vauchez, AndreÌ. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2005.


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The City In Silver Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.

The Research: Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

 

I recently came in the possession of a curiosity that has defied expectation. A set of papers, written in a slow long hand, coated in silver sand. The box of them was sold to me by an antiquarian by the docks, and the shopkeeper there informed me that he had purchased them from an Arab traveller, who had found them among the sands of Arabia. It records…well, I have reproduced the legible portions here. Needless to say, I belive it is of the upmost intreast to our society, and the common brotherhood of mankind, that this knowledge be considered and carefully revealed at the appropriate time.

I have long searched for Irem, City of Pillars, Atlantis of the Sands. A city of the primeval age, if the Mohammedan is to be believed, and thus host to secrets beyond imaging. The wonders of Alexandria, the prosperity of ancient kings of Egypt, the wonders that were ascribed to Daedulus and Zoaraster, the majesty of Ethiopia and the rest of the East African coast, all this can be traced to Irem. It sits at the center, like the nucleus of a great pulsing cell of life. From it emanates wisidom and prestige, the first birth place of mankind.

Recently, my search has come to an end. I have tracked down a guide to the deserts, who several trusted sources have verified can lead me to Irem. I made sure to consult sources that are beyond mortal keen, my crystal nearly cracking from over consultation and interrogation. The trusted guide has hence lead me out near the volcanic fields of the south, and told me that there, when the moon is full and the wind rides over the bubbling fields and makes a howling flute sound,the city of Irem appears for any to enter.

Overjoyed, I offered him the opportunity to join me, but he said it was not the place of living men to disturb Irem. Perhaps the superstitious fear to venture into the unknown, but I had already seen the terrible ruins of Sarnath in far Mnar, had often read of the dread plateau of Leng, and seen the distant black stars of Hali. I fear no place haunted by strange sounds and the flickering ghosts of the past. So I waited in the desert by a burning fire, with the gathered herbs to help see beyond the veil of the mortal world.

As the night went on, and the moon grew bright, I started to lose faith. The worm doubt was wrapped around my heart. But at last, I saw them. Men and women walking, as if fighting some great unseen wind, their bodies bright but without distinction. Like figures of smoke or made of cracked glass, they tumbled forward along desert slopes. I raced towards them, and saw rising behind them the lost mountains and towers of Irem.

IREMTITLE.png

The text here becomes somewhat illegible. However, it is clear that our traveler, by some means, managed to enter Irem, and records some of the wonders he saw as such.

…of marble, and towering edifices of basalt. I wondered the wide avenues for a brief time, and saw great giants, robed and with faces covered by veils. From each a singluar silver light shown through the veil. Some it seemed from an eye, others from their mouths, or perhaps they were built strangely. The whole place was covered in dark fog, and lighting crackled in the strange, dark sky. It was of every hue and, despite the apparent closeness of the arcs, there was no sound. The light was brilliant but faded fast. In an effort to avoid the gaze of the giants, for I could not discern their motives as they shuffled among their mountain dwellings, I hid by the wall of a great stone hall.

And there, as I got my bearings, I beheld a sight both wondrous and terrible. What I had thought were men and women fleeing the city were in fact the city’s outer wall. A mass, rising higher then I could see, of silver statues. Each was interlocked carefully, arranged to be impenetrable but striving forever away from the giant’s keep. A monument to those who it seemed had failed in their efforts to leave the city of pillars.

And I saw, in the dimly lit room I as in, that a multitude of others hid in carvings and outcoves along the great doors, like rats in the halls of terrible kings. Here I spent sometime, as I found a few who knew my languages. They were a frightful of the giants, and said that strange birds would drag them away in the night if caught on the street. At day, however, all was safe. The presence of the birds was their only means of discerning time, however, and it was by their terrible -illegible- where they detected before hand.

The people here are aware of the wall. If one tries to scale it or flee out the gate, at the wrong time, then they are trapped as ardent statues. However, the giants have some means of moving through the gate. They have seen strange figures coming through or venturing out the gate, and some believe that if one is cautious and quick they can sneak out with the procession. Such have never returned, but to those born in these warrens, wearing the scraps of silk left by great giants, why would they?

They have given my shelter and offered to show me the ways to find the giants hidden lore among their places of worship and laboratories in the depths of the city, where….lies sl….in abundance and ….

At this point the entire text again becomes illegible. By the various diagrams that were found amongst the texts, it appears that our entrepreneurial traveler had some skill as an artist. He has diagrammed and noted that the people had the features of many tribes of the earth, but their skin tone possessed an ashen, silver coloration. A few fragmentary pieces remain. I have arranged them in chronological order, roughly.

…within which a body might be preserved without regard for its…,something that even the best botanist might find astounding, especially with how functional the survivors told me their senses were. The sensation was akin to joy, pleasurable but now repulsive to the…. Who found it difficult to discuss. The production of such boxes and glass however is…..

…. expedition, I located a large, dark obelisk carved with ….like the skull of some lost bovine. The eyes appeared to have some awareness, and flashed various colors in response to lighting over head. I suspect it provides the dregs and…. with directions of some sort. Why such a monument would be necessary, I can’t say.

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The silver gaze …incredibly painful. Needles through out the ligaments and bones, freezing in pain, matched only by….Hideous disposition. Luckily the creature did not notice me, distracted by Fernda’s more obvious form. She whimpered as it reached down and scooped her up with barely a worry in a single hand. Like an insect.

I know the face of one of the silver filled ones. …. her blood with …., replaced her mind …. sand, but I know her face. I saw her in a portrait in…. How long has he been here? And why is the sand so vibrant. I must…

…reflects some of their devices, making lines and patterns when near them. Enough of it, and one could move objects remotely by adjusting the machines nearby. They could even…. or perhaps communicate distant messages. What effects on the body must such irritations have? The impulses must be minute, if they are undetected…

And so ends the majority of the fragments. I have removed any of the small, one sentence or garbled letters that have no clear meaning. Sadly, either the shopkeeper or the Arabic tradesmen, failed to preserved the middle text. However, to what I am sure is our benefit, the ending of the story is preserved.

…the entrance to the great laboratories. I have bought myself time, after seeing the engines of the lords of this city. I have bought time with blood of others, and now, if my calculations are right, the moon shines again over the Arabian desert. I’ll send everything I’ve written out into the world, out where it can perhaps serve as a warning.

The mechanisms beneath the city are horrors of horrors. They are in possession of more than I dreamed of. Great crackling engines are down in that darkness, and I saw the bodies of even vaster titans. From these they directed dregs under the every watchful Anzu birds to carve more silver and iron. I have learned, that the engines send messages to others. Sleeping near them, I feel them shifting my dreams as I hid. I shudder at what they do when turned, focused onto the enemies of Irem. What power they hold over the mind, even here in their hidden city.

They speak in a buzzing tongue in their laboratories, and walk without veils. They speak with invisible whistling wind spirits, and strange demons, and send them out into the world to find precious…. That they might persist in their experiments. What ever work they do, it bodes poorly for the world, and that it is hidden makes their …like the roots of a twisted tree.

The possibility of such influence, unseen, among the people of our guarded nation must be investigated, I am sure you will agree. The nature of the influence itself would be of utmost interest of the society, I am sure. In these waning days of the world, we should be certain that no unseen hand pulls at our hearts or minds, nor any unguided or foreign pulse beat in our countryman’s minds.

 


 

This story I believe holds not only some promise for future visitations, but some genuine unnerving ideas with the interrupted narrative that is recovered. Next week, we again visit calamitous cities, but these now in their prime.

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Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.


The Resulting Story: The City in Silver Sands

After a dirth of short, brief prompts, Mr. Lovecraft has graced us with a longer and more elaborate notion! Excellent. And one with a good deal of information as well! Let us begin then with the nature of the tribes and the city they supposedly hail from, according ot the texts at hand.

Thamud dwelling

A cliff dwelling attributed to the Thamud

Thamud, Jadis, Tasm, and Ad are all members of the a group of tribes referred to as ‘Perishing Arabs’. All four are extinct populations according to the Koran: Jadis and Tasm by genocide, Ad and Thamud were destroyed for their lack of faith. Iram of the Pillars is a city of Ad, and was destroyed in some versions by a storm, in others by volcanic activity. Iram was sent a prophet, to bring monotheism to the region, but did not listen. Likewise, Thamud was sent a prophet and by accounts from the Koran shared some relation to Ad. Thamud was destroyed by earthquake after rejecting the prophet. Thamud seems to have constructed homes from within mountains, or inside of them, an architectural feature I suggest we continue in our own story.

Now, of course, civilizations that have fallen from hubris are not new. We’ve covered some before, but we might call to mind Atlantis and Babel, also punished for their arrogance. Sodom and Gomorrah likewise for their crime of inhospitably were laid low by YHWH. However, what is notable about Irem is not only it’s location (a desert, as opposed to at sea), but also it’s nature as still existent. Sodom and Gomorrah are traditionally not available for human eyes to behold, and Atlantis is buried in the sea. No, Irem is still in the desert, where some occasionally find it.

Iram of the Pillars

Artist Interpertation found on Wikipedia

The invisibility of Irem to all but holy eyes also bears resemblance to hidden kingdoms of djinn, which occupy a different spatial relation then those of mortal men. We might also consider hidden kingdoms and cities such as beyuls of Tibetian mysticism or the fairie lands of Celtic myth.

Celtic myth, particularly Irish, adds an interesting element: the phantom Island. Brasil (not the nation) is and island that emerges and disappears at certain times throughout the year. In Slavic myth, there is Buyan, the island that holds the immortal Korschie’s heart. Both islands are near impossible to reach, but not as otherworldly as lost Atlantis is. Our story, from these traditions, should probably be about the cross over into such an otherworldly place, which is more than mortal but less than magical entirely.

BrasilIsland

The mythical island of Brasil

An odd, if depressing, version also found in Russia is the Kingdom of Opona. Opona is an earthly paradise for serfs, that lies on the edge of the world. There are no nobles, no gentry at all here. Only peasents and their ruler, the wise and just White Tsar. It is an odd place, that many peasants wandered forever searching for. I don’t know exactly what to make of it, except as a note of interest.

I would even suggest borrowing some of the most common themes of those strange places that are just out of sight, namely the warping of time upon entrance. We might find in our mysterious city a plethora of lost souls, still wandering from eras long past or only just recently present. This could perhaps create a colorful visual, if not cast to draw from. The associations with these hidden locals and the dead should also, in all likliehood, be preserved in our text.

Before continuing, I will pause here to note that Mr. Lovecraft does appear to have used this prompt for his own work, The Nameless City. The work in that case focuses on an archaelogical expedition, and in some ways is similar to At the Mountains of Madness which also featured archaelogical uncovering of an alien city, filled with hieroglyphs and markings.

For our own story, I would begin with the city alive instead of dead. A city that is only briefly and occasionally aligned with our own, allowing travel only at very specific intervals of time and space. Partially because this will be an easy seperation from Lovecraft’s own work, but partly because it also allows us to play with the notions of apparent destruction. It would also allow us to include other characters who are perhaps a tad more otherworldly then our lead.

As to their own identity, I would shy away from an actual man of science or a professional in matters of reality. We won’t be using our belabored Ottoman bureaucrat or a census man. No, I think a better character might be one who is interested in such ruins, who has sought them out at the time they appear, and made the journey at no small expense out of an obsession. I think it will be an obsession on matters occult more than scientific, determined to plunge the depths of reality for some lost secret or another, or believing that the hidden city of Irem actually contains. I imagine then our narrator is an eccentric of some sort at the least. I have an idea for his means of communication, but that would perhaps be giving too much away.

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