THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” – William Butler Yeats

“History is direction- but Nature is extension- ergo, everyone gets eaten by a bear.” – Oswald Spengler

“Now by virtue of this Sigil you are able to send your desire into the subconsciousness (which contains all strength); that having happened, it is the desire’s realization by the manifestation of the knowledge or power necessary.” – Austin Osman Spare

The Order of the Violet Lodge was intended to be my magnum opus. Though my work as professor of comparative theology was fulfilling, I tired of dry academic discussion and intended to create a sort of passion project, an elaborate theological farce, a literary satire which would perhaps infiltrate the inner workings of genuine modern occultism. More than anything, it would be a piece of fiction to put to paper all the ridiculous works that perpetrated the wide rivers between genuine esoteric insight, which haunted my mind as nothing more than farces of their own.

I must admit that I was not sure of the realization of my idea when I began to flesh it out. I had established the order as a semi-secretive occult group which dwelled within England, adorned with images of the cockatrice, rosy cross and templaric iconography, indicating a supposed and potentially falsified medieval background. Their philosophies were varied and generally entrenched in new age occultism such as tarot cards, chaos magic and vaguely-Eastern inspired tantra. However, the center of my literary project was the influence of the incomparable Irish poet W.B. Yeats. The order would focus on the images of the gyre proposed by Yeats. To them, history was not only a series of intersecting gyres, but two worlds- one of abundance and one of shadows, which would briefly cross and replace each other every few thousand years. In this sense, the order would be vaguely apocalyptic, anticipating and accelerating this crossing through unknown rituals which would replace our world of abundance with one of shadows in the tradition of the left-hand path.

It was a day when I was languishing in the library, surrounded by the gaudy breath of colored glass, when things began to take a turn for the peculiar. Of course, I had thought nothing of it then, but I had been lying back in thought when a vague recollection of an idea I had entertained began to regrow. I had written, somewhere in the elaborate stack of draft pages, about a creature which dwelled in the second gyre. Not just the symbolic cockatrice, but some tangible idol of worship. Vaguely serpentine with a hideous beastly maw. Again, I had merely passed by it and transitioned into establishing their own bastardized form of Hindu rituals to ingrain in their ritualistic accelerationism which would bring about the changes of ages. Precisely how it would do so, I was still working through.

However, upon reconsidering that idea, I was seized suddenly by something indescribable. Without thought or hesitation, I produced my notebook and began to scribble, as though drawing automatically. I crossed the thick, harshly pressed lines of graphite repeatedly, weaving a pencil canvas. What resulted was a shoddy image of that creature, that deity which I had only momentarily described in the text. It was uncanny, as though I had produced something not of my own. I chalked it up to an artistic epiphany however, and decided I might expand on the notion of the order worshiping something specific. It would help create a deliberate actor in the moving of worlds, not just chance and blind ritual.

And yet, I continued unfazed. I focused on the concept of the intersecting gyres, the world of light and shadow, each destined to overtake the other in a cyclical changing of good and evil. Swedenborg and Dante tinged the pages, mystic influences conjured up from the various disjointed sections of texts that had become lodged in my mind through my studies and professorial endeavors. I wrote mercilessly, filling pages with my musings on a therefore nonexistent group which came about only in the confines of my minds and literary escapades. I found myself vacantly staring out yet again, still in the library as hours passed and I grew hungry. The numinous visions of the rough beast beyond and my subsequent sketching had put me into a sort of literary monomania, which allowed for my undivided focus at the expense of my other senses and basic machinations of my anatomy. Only the demure sputter of a languid breeze could be heard in the desolate halls.

I left there with an imperceptible difference in my understanding of reality, one which even I could not identify. It all seemed greyer, those I encountered appearing to me as a pessimistic vision of brazen intensity misplaced in the most repugnant vessels. The world took on a darker tone, though I was far too preoccupied with crafting my new narrative to notice the sudden differences which rose subtly but quickly from within. Large birds sailed overhead, perhaps vultures, certainly searching aimlessly for a morsel of prey in the morose skies, choked with cinereous clouds. I sought to return home, to compile the scrawling of my notebook in yet a larger document. Establishing a grander, more coherent narrative of the order. I felt as though I had to put the pages together, to outline what, in the mind of the fictitious lodge, was to come as the centuries were broken by a hideous roar.

I noticed, on a vacant building, the image of a cockatrice, man-like in the same sense of my illustrations. It was being hosed away by a nondescript county worker, white graffiti marking an image strikingly similar to that which permeated the common motifs of the order’s iconography. I was sure it was a coincidence, but I began to wonder what these peculiar events truly meant. I had lost myself in my work, could my work lose itself in me? I knew I had to continue the document, to prove to myself that I was focusing on unrelated instances and there was no danger to the words I wrote. After all, plenty of fictional narratives and literary creations had used religious themes, both real and fictional as metatexts and inspirations. I worried I was simply suffering from hunger and the unrelated lack of sleep which had been plaguing me for at least several days. I yearned to eat and rest.

At home, there seemed to be an atmosphere of both urgency and hopelessness about the place, sour and stale air filling a motionless domain. The furniture, which was aged and dusty from my years of solitary living, became a vulgar visage of something imperceptible. The whole home seemed to snarl at me from beyond the well-stuffed bookshelves of my sacred tomes. And yet, even as I fried and cooked Sichuan pepper-cured pork belly, I could not take my mind off of the project I had thrown myself into the order itself, the image becoming clearer and clearer as I lost focus of the other.

I sat down to write and found my fingers working almost automatically, drawing parallels to the lamassu of ancient Mesopotamia and the agents of this other world, man-faced with the body of a lion, soaring from that place of darkness, falling faster towards our world. The order would be instrumental in resurrecting these lamassu, these beasts, to complete the transformation from one to another. Though their bodies were merely stone, their spirits rested for centuries beneath the clay, awaiting a return to the Near East, entombed in an illusory sarcophagus that bound them. Like the cockatrice, I conjured great images of these beasts, crawling through desert sands, assisted by the Templars through an era of disturbed rest. My fingers moved rapidly, faster than my mind, I was in disarray, yet my mind ordered itself perfectly upon the pages.  A gelid presence slithered around me, raising hairs and biting my skin with frigid playfulness. And still, I wrote.

My eyes began to strain while my head pounded, the brackish light of the screen forcing itself behind my optic nerves. There was no longer a possession of joy in the project, any excited mirth was gone. That was abundantly clear. Instead, I wrote with intense necessity, transcribing the fiction of my mind as though it were a matter of life and death. The writing had also become more apocalyptic, swaying away from tantra and eastern philosophy towards a focus on the changing of eras and crossing of gyres and the acceleration of such through the help of still unnamed rituals and invocations of Dee’s Cacodemons. And though this left-hand apocalyptic order yearned to accelerate the arrival of this crossing, it was clear through cryptic medieval references, allusions to the Comedia, and harrowing hymns that the change would be inevitable. Many centuries this “second coming” lay asleep, blind to its own prophesied rebirth. But soon it would awake.

Eventually, still hungry but overwhelmingly fatigued, I slept. In my dreams, I was not left to relax in a placid state, but rather tormented by peculiar visions, words and drawings weaving themselves upon the psyche, all somehow connected to the order. Strange beasts roamed the vague fog within my mind. I would awake violently only to fall into a trancelike state of pure sleep, a cataleptic patient upon a hospital bed. I could not be free so long as this manuscript bound me, and when I awoke, I began to feel as though I had lost my mind.

It was the next morning that I discovered the building. I was walking peacefully, attempting to put away the peculiar events of the entire previous day. The streets remained unpleasant in their nature, and the few people around somehow repulsed me, but I attempted to make the best of it. The same birds were circling overhead, though now took on a less horrid meaning as I gazed at the bluish sky. Small wisps of white clouds allowed an aureate sun to pierce the veil. I wondered if I might finally free myself from the curse that my once-innocent literary pursuit had placed upon me.

I was strolling carelessly through the streets of my little town when I suddenly came upon a brick alleyway that I had never noticed. It seemed older than the homes it split, and led to an unnamed street just beyond. Both out of curiosity and an entirely involuntary propulsion, I followed the damp cobblestone towards a small association of houses, the largest being almost Victorian and overgrown with trailing vines and oppressive weeds. No car remained in the driveway, and I saw only glimpses as I drew closer beneath the stagnant, fungal darkness of the covered alleyway. Soon it was entirely in my view, and though initially unexceptional, I, at last, saw the first inkling of my horror- and my intrigue.

The doorway was flanked by two stone statues, both imitating the Mesopotamian tradition of the lamassu as protectors of doorways that I had written about just the day before. They seemed ancient, crumbling stone warriors from a world I hoped would not arrive. In the wretched garden, filled with the stringy corpses of desiccated crops, was a statue of a cockatrice, that man with the serpent legs and cockerel’s head that I had lifted from the occult imagery of the secretive Knights Templar. It appeared to me that a coincidence was impossible, the heavy, broad door inscribed with familiar yet impenetrable patterning, the knocking instrument of a curling serpent whose tail rested firmly in its mouth.

I knocked several times but received no response, unsurprising from a domain whose clouded windows were overtaken by various kudzu stolons. I pressed against the door firmly and, to my surprise, it was open. From the unlit halls wafted a putrid scent, like standing water, but still, I entered, unable to prevent my actions. The sights were obscured by the pervasive darkness, accentuated by the utter silence within. I fumbled for a light switch blindly and found that electric lights still lit the inner workings of the home, almost as though they were freshly installed. A sinister atmosphere began to fall upon me.

The area was largely unexceptional, a typical living room somewhat resembling my own, but it was the mad scrawling on the wall which disturbed me. There, in charcoal, were strange figures pressed against the yellow wallpaper, black outlines of man-faced beasts, and several more elaborate imitations of the serpentine creature which I had sketched in my crazed state within the library. Other symbols, patterns, and lettering from vaguely Rosicrucian iconography to the cross of the templar decorated the ancient place, unfaded, new. I began to find myself utterly nauseous as I roamed. Books were scattered upon the floor, and a loose page of printer paper portrayed the words of Yeats. “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”

The horror dawned on me, as though someone had been playing an impossible prank, implicating me in my own theological farce. The place grew cold, several unused beds languishing in carpets of dust, frequented only by spiders which pried away the filth to capture unsuspecting prey. On these walls, too, grew the net of illustrations, illegible words smeared as though they had just been touched. The newness of the writing and charcoal drawings contrasted heavily with the antiquarian appearance of the vacant home, further adding to my sickness and disorientation. A nightmare crept through the halls; I could feel it on my skin. I heard the sickened coughing and muffled screeches of something across the way, though no presence accompanied it. It seemed doubtless that by some inconceivable manner, I had come across the lodge of a theosophical creation that existed only within my mind, somehow externalized entirely within the physical space I now inhabited. The idea nearly drove me to unconsciousness. Something had seemed to work through me.

I had come to some distant room where the temperature had receded to something so frigid I had wished I brought a winter coat. Mildew grew upon the walls, eating away the wallpaper where the charcoal streaks did not travel. The floor was wet and spongy, and the room was shrouded in blackness, unlit where others shone with vicious hospital lighting. I could feel the tendril of viscous shadow worm out from behind the door, slithering close in the form of a sourceless breeze. I found a source of independent light and flipped the switch, illuminating a central chamber whose contents would have been comedic had the situation not been so repulsive.

A stone lectern and calcite figurines of semi-human beasts met my gaze in the room, notes on the same subjects I had written, some the same quotations directly from Swedenborg and Conan Doyle, had been bound in a leather notebook and placed upon said lectern. The room was cold and silent, decorated with gaudy velvet and piles of nameless tomes. Upon the grime-ridden floor was a series of fresh footprints. They were, however, not my own. I began to tremble, utterly confused, and I checked several more times if there was anyone following me. There wasn’t. Whoever had been there, if someone had been there, he was long gone, and I was alone in the central chamber of The Order of The Violet Lodge. “The center cannot hold,” I muttered to myself. “The center cannot hold.”

Suddenly, as I began to walk away from the room, a gelid darkness surrounded me, shimmering black walls of ribbed, wet material replacing the hallway I had known. I was moving, turning in cycles, though standing still in an impossible feat of unknown figures. There was nothing there, though it was as broad as I could conceive, the spinning ribs of fleshlike wall reaching tall into the darkness above. Something moved slowly in the blackness beyond, like a long trail of thuds creeping from the unseen blackness of this apparitional world. I attempted to cry out but was suddenly returned to the room.

Then, as I was compelled to read from the lectern, a great thunder came about, rocking the house entirely, as though an earthquake. A physical force, though invisible, had overtaken the building, and I stood directly in the middle of it as pages containing quotes from Francis Bacon and passages of nonsensical scribbling fluttered around me. I was in the presence of something astounding, so overwhelming, which entered the very center of my being. But it was not a positive experience with the numinous, what entered me was such a profound evil that words fail to properly outline the complexly pessimistic waves which shattered my inner psyche. I did not see, or hear, but the feeling was so intense I felt as though I might collapse in agony. Perhaps the commonplace of the order was physically empty, but a force much more horrible than any theosophist quack inhabited the grimy walls.

I left the house as quickly as I could, nearly tripping over the raucous weeds which concealed the ancient footpath from the place. The mundane appearance of the area now took on a horrible form as I recalled that horrible, inexplicable experience. Everything seemed to relate to the order, to fill a role which had otherwise been unknown. Still, I sought to free myself from it, cursing the vicious birds overhead, the faces of the stone lamassu. No occultism could overtake me, and I felt grateful to be free as I recalled my sudden movements sprinting from the rumbling room and through the charcoal-stained hallways. The house was silent again as I left, and I had no interest in exploring its other horrors or rekindling that event of divine horror which had left me so shaken.

I do not believe I’ll ever go back, and I am certainly convinced there was some reality to the work I had evidently manifested. A memetic poison had trailed from my fingers, though I am not so sure I wrote it, rather than it writing through me. It is a shame my first truly religious experience had come from a higher power which I am certain is malevolent, something so beyond conception yet filled with evil. I will not return, I am sure, but I will always know the horror of the intangible places beyond the veil of our benevolent spirituality.

And in an addendum to this piece, I shall seemingly never be free despite my destruction of the notes which serve to create the order itself. For each night as I close my eyes to sleep, I am immediately transported back into that whirling blackness, the approaching gyre. No sound can be heard, static horror overtaking the ears. But as I look into the distance of a whirling cone, I can see that serpentine thing slithering closer. Its fierce white teeth and hollow eyes shine even in the blackness. That shadow world, its prophet, approaches us even still. Slowly that thing draws nearer, freshly awoken from twenty centuries of unbroken sleep. Even as I write this I can hear its slow movement, quiet upon the gyre’s twilight sand. The second coming, ex spiritus mundi. What shall save us from this new age?

— Dylan Joaquin is a horror author from Northern California. He can be found on Twitter @insectbrah

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