Friday, April 11, 2014

Chapter Three: Thoth

Jericho shifted in his chair and scowled. “Magic? I know that it makes a lot of kids very happy on their birthday. I know there’s this guy in Los Vegas who tries to mix it with heavy metal performance art and basically sucks at it. I know that it can make the statue of liberty disappear on television. Why?”

Ellen’s smile broadened. “I’m talking about real magick. And whether you believe in it or not, a lot of people have down through the ages. As you can imagine, there are a great number of ‘magick’ artifacts, and they are quite valuable.”

“I’m listening.” Jericho seemed a bit uncomfortable with the topic, but was always interested in a lucrative treasure hunt.

Ellen put her tea down and pulled her cane close. She rubbed the crystal skull and stared into it, gathering her thoughts. “Let’s begin in the present. The modern practice of magick is primarily about summoning and petitioning spirits. Tarot, palm reading, fortune telling – there are carnival tricks, and then there are those who believe they are practicing the “real” thing. The most powerful of these practices is the summoning of spirits. Most of what we know and practice comes from a book called the Lemegeton.”

Jericho shook his head. “I’m not familiar.”

“Sometimes it’s called the Lesser Key of Solomon.”

Jericho squinted. “Yeah, that sounds familiar. Medieval writing, isn’t it?”

“Sort of.” Ellen smiled. “It was compiled sometime around the 1650s, but it came from older material. Of course, it is suspected that the older material came from even older material. Pietro d’Abano, a French monk and scholar wrote a grimoire around 1300 which was the source for much of the demonology in the Lemegeton. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa created a more dashing work around 1500, after the inquisition had subsided and occultism became acceptable in the courts of kings. Of course, the Lesser key claims that this knowledge is actually much older, being passed down from Solomon himself.”

“If you want to sell books, you need good marketing.” Jericho commented wryly.

Ellen laughed. “Indeed. Whatever the source, the Lemegeton is the default source for demonology in the West. There are 72 demons listed, as well as spells for summonings, etc.”

“Yeah, ok.” Jericho interrupted. “But I’m not seeing a treasure hunt here. Is this Lemegeton valuable?”

Ellen laughed again. “You can get a copy online for thirty bucks. I’m sure there is some fantastically valuable original edition out there somewhere, unless it got burned by some zealous priest. No, my story isn’t finished. In the Victorian era, magick became a sort of hobby, especially among the well-heeled in Britain. Probably the most famous of the occultists was Aleister Crowley.”

Jericho nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard of him. Born in 1875, Cambridge educated, a mountaineer. Some say he was a spy.”

“Whatever he was, he is pretty famous now.” Ellen chirped. “Especially among modern fans of magick and the occult. Given his natural penchant for showmanship and marketing, he was able to gather quite the following in his own time which carries over even to the present. Probably his greatest contribution to the occult was his Book of Thoth and the accompanying tarot deck he designed.”

“Wait, he made up his own tarot deck?”

“He did. He had them painted by a lady friend of his, and he took it quite seriously. He dictated what he wanted, and there are several examples of paintings which he rejected. The project ended up lasting five years, and the deck wasn’t even published until after his death.”

Jericho frowned. “Sounds kind of OCD.”

“Maybe. Regardless, it was a great work, and the accompanying book explained that this updated tarot incorporated Egyptian magick. Now as you can imagine, anything having to do with this project is absurdly valuable. The original paintings are property of the Warburg Institute, University of London. Some of the rejected paintings, however, have sold at auctions or to private collectors for millions of dollars.”

Jericho smiled thinly. “Now it gets interesting.”

“Now it gets interesting.” Ellen agreed. “Crowley’s work on the Thoth tarot was highly influenced  by the Lemegeton. Naturally, since it was basically the last word on the subject of demonology, but he also incorporated some Hindu and Buddhist ideas. Anyway, I recently came into possession of one of Crowley’s journals. There is nothing in the journal that names Crowley as the owner or author, but I have it on good authority.”

That was clearly supposed to impress Jericho, but he let it go. He was getting impatient and wanted to know how much money and adventure he could expect in the near future.

“The journal is surprisingly dull, but he does mention something about the Thoth project. It was originally scheduled as a six month project. Instead, it ended up being a five year project. The journal seems to indicate that the reason for this is that the original Thoth tarot deck was simply too dangerous to publish. The journal also mentions some artifact or manuscript that Crowley was working off of. He calls is “the Key”, so it might have something to do with Solomon’s key. I don’t know. Anyway, to make a long story short, I want you to find out what this artifact was, and recover it for me if possible.”

Jericho’s heart sank. Research projects were ok, but tedious, and he had a feeling this was a wild goose chase. “I can certainly look into it for you, but it will be expensive.”

“How expensive is the internet?” Ellen asked pointedly.

“If the internet was any help, I wouldn’t be sitting in million dollar chair in your living room.” Jericho replied, a bit too tersely. “Two million up front, plus expenses. If I recover the artifact to your satisfaction, 3 more million. Regardless, the contract shall be null and void after 24 months. If I haven’t found it by then, our business is concluded.”

Ellen nodded slowly. “One million up front, no expenses. If you recover the artifact I’ll pay you 2 million upon its safe delivery. And you only have 12 months.” She peered at him over the top of her cane. “I know I can trust you. If you run off with my money, I’l publish this far and wide. And I do believe some people in Hong Kong are still looking for you.”

Jericho ignored the threat. There was no contract, no paperwork: no proof. That was how his line of work went. “Wire the money to the same account as last time. As soon as it clears, I’ll begin.”

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