Our Lady of Darkness

Our Lady of Darkness (1977) by Fritz Leiber is a book containing a description of "Megapolisomancy", a fictional occult science. It was written in the United States and is a work of fantasy and science fiction.

Contents

The Occult Science

As featured in Leiber's novella, megapolisomancy is the art of predicting and manipulating the future through the existence of large cities. The primary practitioner of the pseudoscience of megapolisomancy is fictional occultist Thibaut de Castries, whose seminal work, Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities, concerns the physical, psychological and paramental (spiritual) effects of certain substances, including steel, electricity, paper, and so forth as they accumulate in cities. This book was primarily a book of occult theory; De Castries preserved all of his actual methods for practicing megapolisomancy in a second book, which he referred to as his Grand Cipher or Fifty-Book. The latter book contained a series of 50 astrological and astronomical signs and other cryptic sigils.

According to De Castries, excessively large cities pose a clear danger to the people living in and near them by allowing mass quantities of certain substances (city-stuff) to accumulate, which in turn draw the attention of paramental forces. Through the manipulation of the paramental forces, a megapolisomancer could predict and alter the future.

"The electro-mephitic city-stuff whereof I speak has potencies for achieving vast effects at distant times and localities, even in the far future and on other orbs, but of the manipulations required for the production and control of such I do not intend to discourse in these pages." - De Castries

While large cities have always been present, he argued that the future would become vastly more dangerous as the number of megapolitan areas skyrocketed.

"At any particular time of history there have always been one or two cities of the monstrous sort -- viz., Babel or Babylon, Ur-Lhassa, Nineve, Syracuse, Rome, Samarkand, Tenochtitlan, Peking -- but we live in the Megapolitan (or Necropolitan) Age, when such disastrous blights are manifold and threaten to conjoin and enshroud the world with funebral yet multipotent city-stuff. We need a Black Pythagoras to spy out the evil lay of our monstrous cities and their foul shrieking songs, even as the White Pythagoras spied out the lay of the heavenly spheres and their crystalline symphonies, two and a half millennia ago." - De Castries

De Castries even goes so far as to hint that practitioners could extend their own lives by predicting and manipulating the paramental forces present in cities, but only at a significant cost: "Since we modern city-men already dwell in tombs, inured after a fashion to mortality, the possibility arises of the indefinite prolongation of this life-in-death. Yet, although quite practicable, it would be a most morbid and dejected existence, without vitality or even thought, but only paramentation, our chief companions paramental entities of azoic origin more vicious than spiders or weasels."

Neo-Pythagorean Metageometry

The key to Megapolisomancy apparently lies in the construction of the city itself, dependent upon such things as diagonal streets, fulcrums based on the placement of extremely tall buildings, and other geographical calculations, referred to by De Castries as Neo-Pythagorean metageometry, most of which De Castries did not include in Megapolisomancy, but rather in his mysterious Grand Cipher.

Little is known about the actual mathematics involved in megapolisomancy. It is known that part of the science involved calculating the placement of large buildings as weights which could then be used, in combination with placing certain sigils at other locations, as levers to move a fulcrum with which to focus paramental attention.

It may be significant that the number of sigils in the Grand Cipher equals the number of faces of all of the five Pythagorean or Platonic solids, but no direct link is explained. Given his call for a "Black Pythagoras," however, a connection seems likely.

Paramentals

Paramentals are the elemental spirits of inanimate forces. It is unclear whether they are drawn to cities because of the large quantities of "city-stuff" or created by them. When manifesting, they draw their physical substance from the materials nearby. The one example featured in the novel was a brown humanoid, with an eyeless triangular face and long chin that tapered to a snout.

Paramental entities are quite hostile to those unlucky enough to draw their attention, "about midway in nature between the atomic bomb and the archetypes of the collective unconscious."

Protections Against Paramentals

According to Leiber, only three defenses exist versus paramentals:

  • silver
  • abstract designs, and
  • stars, specifically pentagrams.

However, these defenses appear to be only marginally effective.

Fictional History of Thibaut De Castries

"The ancient Egyptians only buried people in their pyramids. We are living in ours." - De Castries

Leiber provides little background about Thibaut De Castries. When De Castries arrived in San Francisco in 1900, he had already written Megapolisomancy. The most commonly accepted rumor about his life prior to 1900 was that he had escaped from the Franco-Prussian War as a teenager, fleeing Paris in a balloon with his dying father, his father's mistress (who allegedly later became his own), and a black panther that his father had tamed. A competing rumor was that his father was a member of the Carbonari and De Castries himself was a boy aide-de-camp to Giuseppe Garibaldi.

While living in San Francisco at 607 Rhodes, he became an associate of authors Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and later Clark Ashton Smith, as well as poet George Sterling. For a while he amassed a minor cult following among the bohemians of the city, including London and Bierce, but his practices apparently were too esoteric to maintain interest for long, and his occult society, the Hermetic Order of the Onyx Dusk, collapsed. From the similarity between the names, it is obvious that Lieber had learned about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and modelled De Castries' society as a darker version of that occult order.

De Castries was often believed to have a mistress, rumored to be the same woman that fled with him from Paris. However, this woman was only observed from a distance, and may in fact have been a paramental companion, as De Castries often described her as his spy on cities.

As De Castries aged, he became increasingly paranoid, and according to Smith's diary, claimed to have used megapolisomancy to destroy his former acolytes. He also sought out as many copies as possible of Megapolisomancy and destroyed them. After his death, he was cremated and his ashes buried on Corona Heights in San Francisco.

Although some believed Thibault De Castries to be H. P. Lovecraft's associate Adolphe De Castro, De Castries died well before De Castro, and there is no evidence other than a nominal similarity in name to connect the two.

Setting in San Francisco

The book is set in San Francisco, California, and the city and some of its buildings are integral to the story-line. In particular, Corona Heights, the Sutro Tower, the Hobart Building, the Trans-America Pyramid and 811 Geary are critical story-elements. Though the book was published in 1978, many of these elements remain.

Reception

Richard A. Lupoff praised Our Lady of Darkness as "one of the scariest, most original, and most damnably convincing fantasy notions I've ever come across."[1]

References

  1. ^ "Lupoff's Book Week", Algol 28, 1977, p.53.

See also


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