Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Aftermath of Magic

A central tenet of Hazyardian magic is this: that Magic is, principally, an exchange between creation, and the un-created matter of the universe beyond its physical and temporal boundaries, which enjoys an insubstantial, yet nonetheless literal existence. Given this definition, it can hardly be expected that the effects of a magical event would be limited to the time and location of its original occurrence. Thus, every intentional outcome of a magical undertaking is accompanied by any number of unintentional side effects.

Scarabus Bibliophagus, from the Liber Parvorum 
Spirituum, c.1613
Perhaps the best known example of this is in Hazyard's 'tiny daemons'. While not all the entities described in his treatise, the Liber Parvorum Spirituum, are of his own discovery (many, such as Avis Ossuorum of ancient Mesapotamia, or Corinibus Parasitus from in the apocryphal writings of Galen, had a long and detailed history of their own) they are nonetheless united by a common origin: they are the aftermath of magic, the by-product of numerous daemonic invocations. In his introduction to his metaphysical bestiary, Hazyard describes how these rituals leave cracks in time and space, through which these tiny creatures are able to manifest, to be witnessed crawling from the edges of magical sigils by bemused sorcerers in the wake of invocations.

Other sources, however, indicate that these creatures are far from the only by-product of these incursions from the world beyond. There are countless incidences of localised phenomena, arising in locations which have known the touch of the immaterial. They may retain an active potency for years, or exist only by the material evidence of what once took place there. And whilst they may be marked by physical effects, they very often take the form of psychic phenomena, ranging from visual and aural hallucinations, to bodily possession.

Over the next few weeks, Praeterlimina will be plundering the archives of Occulted Vectors, and other such publications, in order to gather a short selection of places affected in this manner. We begin with two such locations:

House of the Slime Moulds, Wiltshire

The House of the Slime Moulds is the name given to a structure, allegedly located in Wiltshire near the border with Dorset. It is a large house of probable 15th century construction, standing on the bleak hillside, and obscured on three sides by trees. Reports of its existence appear to originate from an article in the Trowbridge Chronicle, Wiltshire's second least reputable publication. It relates the account of a hiker named Frederick Wilson, published June 12, 1979. Lost, and driven to seek shelter in the house by the freak storms which battered the western counties early that spring, he happened upon the aforementioned house. Hoping to find shelter, a phone, or at the very least directions, the hiker was instead met with an unlocked door, and a total absence of human habitation. Desperate though they were, the hiker was strangely reluctant to enter, and only did so when a strong wind threatened to topple him with its ferocity.

The article describes an entrance hall, bare of all furniture, and covered with a thick grey dust which clung to anything it touched in sticky clumps. The only details, aside from bare walls, was a staircase, and a 'a coat of arms carved above a wide, blank doorway announcing the year of construction as 1579, with a phrase in Latin' which the hiker was unable to discern. Trying the stairs, they found them to be not just unstable, but oozing a viscous, bubbling liquid, and curiously animate: Upon withdrawing my foot, the whole mass of the stairs began to move slowly, as if recoiling, with the same gentle motion as certain plants when disturbed. 

The account then indicates a panicked search for an exit, after the narrator finds his escape cut off by 'a reddish brown lichenous growth, which left much of itself on my hand, and stung bitterly to the touch' which coated the inner door handle, and which 'released a strong, almost meaty stench, as if activated by the warmth of my hand'. The horrors encountered within the house include a pursuit by 'a great mass of yellowish ichor, possessed of hideous life, and advancing down towards me like a wave, gurgling faintly in its inexorable progress' and a panicked flight through a cellar, illuminated by a myriad of tiny mushrooms 'like a sea of gibbous orange stars'. He recounts how he managed an escape through a collapsed wall on the southern wall of the house, but not before finding himself beset by 'thin, green strands, which stuck tenaciously, and bit deeply when tugged.'

Wilson was found at dawn the next day, wandering the grounds of Salisbury cathedral in a stupor. Having apparently divested himself of these biting green strands, he was nonetheless covered with strange lacerations, which medics attributed to stones in his climb from the pit. Likewise, his week of delirium and severe respiratory illness were, so his doctors claimed, the results of hypothermia rather than any vegetable assailant. Yet the tale was not to end here.

Reports emerged, unverified by any newspapers, but taken up fervently on internet forums, of a military cordon around the supposed locality of the accursed house. Subsequently, RAF bases at Lyneham and Tilshead were frequently assailed by amateur investigators, while old maps in record archives were scrutinised for possible candidates for the Mould House. Little came of these endeavours, and the furore soon died down, but a handful of dedicated investigators are still on the trail of the mysterious building, and have pinned down more than one probable location.

The main problem posed by investigators, on the hunt for the mould house, is that a structure, of the size and apparent age of that described by Wilson, is not something it is really possible to keep secret, even under military cordon. Yet the present theory, whose originator and primary exponent is a Ms. Helen Beaconsfield of Wilton, identifies a house whose existence officially ended in 1590 as the fabled House of the Slime Moulds.

The house in question is Gisham Manor, home of Robert Gisham, a petty nobleman whose line came to prominence with his father, Thomas Gisham under Henry VIII. All records of the house end in 1590, where one account describes how the it was 'enveloped in a blazing light, like a starre'. This has been interpreted as an unusually flowery description of the house having burned down. Its remains were then supposedly plundered for building materials, explaining the total lack of archaeological evidence to indicate its location. Yet here is where Beaconfield's theory takes a curious turn.

Her interpretation of events is based solely on a letter, currently in her possession, which hints at a very different explanation for the disappearance of the Gisham House. Gisham is most notable for his part in the naval reforms prior to 1588, but is also known as a minor associate of the court magician, Dr John Dee.

Beaconfield's theory centres on a letter, dismissed my many as an obvious forgery, written by Dee to Gisham, and concerning the fate of a number of books. Gisham had been in possession of a large number of immensely valuable volumes, which had been gathered by Gisham at the behest of Dee, and destined for his great library at Mortlake. Following the mob attack in 1590, which claimed the library and much of the house at Mortlake, and fearing a conspiracy, Gisham had panicked, and wrote to Dee with a plan to spirit the books to safety. Gisham's letter, and all explicit details about his plan remain lost, but Dee's reply seems to give a clear impression of what it entailed. Dee's letter would seem to indicate that the plan involved moving not just the collection, but the house itself, by means which remain unclear. The letter goes on to advise against such a plan of action, and gives the curious warning: There are dangers on the shores of Gahl greater than any earthly fire. The letter is dated the 3rd of September, just days before the apparent fire. Evidently the warning was never heeded.

The historic location of the Gisham house itself has been the site a military installation since the late 1960s, and neither Beaconsfield, nor her adherents have yet been permitted access to investigate the area, cutting short any further investigation. Nevertheless, in the days before Wilson's harrowing account came to light, a number of UFO enthusiasts reported a bright light being seen on a hillside close to where the military facility is sited. At the time, this was dismissed as part of the mass of similar reports made daily, but has also since taken a place in the legend of the mould house, whose interest endures to this day.

The UFO, as witnessed by Teagan Philpott, from  
The Wiltshire Gazette, June 3rd 1979

The Elspeth Anomaly, London

The front entrance to The Elspeth Library,
designed by Albert Eshermond, c.1770
The Elspeth Library, so names after its founder, Dr Philip Elspeth, is a small private library in Bloomsbury, founded for use by a select circle of Elspeth's affiliates in 1772. Despite its size, it nonetheless boasts of a impressive library of historical books, dating back to the thirteenth century. In more recent years, its access has widened, and it now serves as a reference library for students and private researchers, keen to examine its unique collections. The oldest of its volumes is is De Temporibus Contra Isidori, a 13th Century treatise on the measurement of time by an unknown Danish scholar, notable for presenting a view on time wholly at odds with that of their contemporaries.

Yet it is with a from more modern addition to the library that this present mystery arises. In the wake of the discovery of a natural spring (uncovered during the investigation of a Roman structure in the basement of the building in April of 1990), there was concern expressed by the Elspeth's conservation team, that high concentrations of water vapour released by the excavation works may prove damaging to the library collections. In response, a number of its patrons sponsored the creation of an integrated monitoring system, to track the levels of heat and moisture in the library building throughout the day. After a month in operation, it was resolved that no such threat existed, but so impressive was the system that its sponsors were satisfied nonetheless. Library business would continue as normal until November of that year, when the monitoring system would reveal the existence of something wholly unexpected.

The Excavation beneath the library, 1991

At 11:47 PM on the 17th of December, the average temperature would rise from a stable 12oc (the library was never a warm place, at the best of times), to an alarming 500oc, before dropping off once more. That following morning, the staff would attribute the anomaly to a malfunction: a random scrap of code somewhere in the system, which caused the sensors to leap to what was their pre-set maximum reading (it being understood that should temperatures exceed this level, then there would be precious little worth saving, the monitoring system not excepted). With no evidence of physical burning, and with a fully integrated fire alarm system found to be functioning normally, it was easy to dismiss the data out of hand. When a similarly abnormal reading was made at the same time a week later, computing experts were called in from outside, with the task of breaking down the data so as to determine the apparent source of the anomalies. It was quickly pinned down to a single sensor in the easternmost corner of the building. The sensor, deemed to be malfunctioning was replaced. No further unusual thermal anomalies were to take place until the following year, when the same thing happened.

Following this second occurrence, the technicians were called in once more. Jealous of their engineering prowess, and fearing a flaw, they set to work analysing the data. It was suspected that the sequence 11471712 and 11472412 (the date and time of the two events), was somehow recognised somewhere within the programme, disrupting the system and causing these exaggerated readings. Such problems were not unheard of, and this explanation satisfied the staff and directors, yet theirs was not the only investigation taking place. Retired academic Dr Megan Thorpe, a patron, and prolific reader at the Elspeth library began from that same numerical sequence, but to very different ends.

Her searches would take her back through to the earliest records of the Elspeth library. While it is reasonable to assume that if an unusual phenomenon could take place twice in as many years then it is logical to assume that these were not the first such instances, yet it is unclear what Dr Thorpe expected to find. In her career as a doctor of languages, she had shown few leanings toward the paranormal, but this seemed to define that which she sought from the records. And whilst her records turned up a slew of unexplained occurrences throughout the library's long history, she was hard pressed to find anything corresponding to those two dates. Eventually, a mention of the exact sequence appeared in the minutes of a meeting from 1826, held in the private vaults (whose contents had, until only recently, been held in secret).

The content of the document itself seems almost wholly ambiguous. Nevertheless, the language differs noticeably from other such meetings of that same year. In contrast, language is not just ambiguous, but extremely vague. Names of places and individuals have been reduced to letters or simply titles. Even in the businesslike brevity of the secretarial note-taking, a tone of distinct unease seems to permeate throughout the proceedings.

The central subject seems to be an affair with an individual, known only by the uncommon initials 'A'ZXT'. There was apparently a meeting held with A'ZXT on the 17th, at which were present ATL (Adam Thomas Lyndhurst, Treasurer) PSK (Peter Sybil Kent, Secretary), RHM (Robert Helwyn Mandeville, Head Librarian), AWM (a patron, unnamed), and a visiting academic, known simply as Oxfordiensis (shortened to OXON). During the meeting, some sort of arrangement had been made, and a debt was created between the staff and A'ZXT, for which the latter would 'return from their place of origin' at the same time one week hence, in order to claim.

The meeting appeared have taken place on the instigation of OXON, for the purpose of 'benefit to all parties, and greater freedoms granted to A'ZXT'. Something appears to have gone wrong, earning the displeasure of A'ZXT: 'over the excess of witnesses and inadequacy of recompense, threatening safety of future operations and privileges of immunity to all present and involved' for which they demanded 'suitable recompense.'

No word is given as to what any of this entailed beyond the present details, but the decision seems to have been made that OXON, as instigator of the original meeting, play a central role in the appeasement of A'ZXT. Given their role in the proceedings, it's worrying to note that they are in fact absent from the debate, and apparently ignorant of its taking place.
The East Room of the Elspeth Library, c.1913
The discussion begins with the drafting of a letter of Oxfordiensis, inviting them to dinner at the apartments of RHM, and informing them that PSK has been selected as the candidate for the role which OXON themselves will apparently be fulfilling. It continues:

...whereat AWM & ATL with RHM will convey OXON to the library, where PSK will be present in the East Room, having made necessary preparations.

The meeting then shifts to more mundane library affairs, but the matter appears to be taken up again towards the end, giving a few of the more explicit hints towards the nature of the undertaking. It tells of a forged letter in the hand of Oxfordiensis to his relatives, explaining his sudden absence on the grounds of an impromptu trip to the continent. A further query is raised concerning the necessary preparations described earlier, and directed to PSK, but is answered by AWM with the following:

The apparatus must be arranged no earlier than the hour of eleven and forty, lest exposure to the air threaten the purity of the materials. No naked flame, not even a candle, is to be present in the room for this same reason. The procedure is to be undertaken blind, as practised by both PSK and myself. This, too, will be beneficial to the ensured secrecy of the operation, and the identity of PSK prior to its undertaking.

A final entry raises the possibility of failure, and A'ZXT's further displeasure. It suggests an abandonment of all such undertakings, but no further actions are suggested, and the meeting is adjourned.


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