"And so finally here we are, at the beginning of a whole new era." We hit the ground running in the gap to get out from under a few macro scenarios. It's not the weight, it's the turns, but I for one am looking forward to the year of the firebird coming. Finally whistled down Avallaunius 11, the Butterworth fill-in with the Coulthart portfolio, which sends me back on the Savoy trail and the real seeds of "chaos magic." Infinitely obvious now where Universe B was swiped (secret origins of Moorcock's ire) but what's funny is that those guys are maximum rockabilly so the implied soundtrack changes. But we're not here to talk about that today. The imaginary mongoose of the Isle of Man is worrying at the world again.
A piss-poor Fortean, I was ignorant of the creature who haunted Cashen's Gap until a week ago, when I got a minute to pull down The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale and leaf around inside. References to the phantom weasel everywhere. (The casual commentator apparently cannot resist noting that Kneale -- directly responsible for Quatermass, Sex Olympics, Halloween 3 and other works of what Webb calls "rejected knowledge" -- grew up on the Isle of Man and would have been hitting his prime poltergeist years in 1935 or at least impressed by the wave of paranormal carpetbaggers staying in town.)
Then I'm checking the Strange Attractor site as one does to make sure I don't miss anything and they're publishing their own book on the mongoose situation. Naturally I flash back to the shaggy dog story Crowley tells in MTP about the mongoose: was he thinking about the chatty chimera that emerged in the early 1930s? Of course not. Book IV was commissioned by a Turkish phantom bookman in 1911 (the year of Sredni Vashtar) and published two years later, two decades before Gef condenses like dew in Man. As it turns out, the empty mongoose box and the alcoholic brother are already entrenched in American oral culture by 1884, where they first show up in print on a horse-drawn hack. It's a strange beat, nine years before The Jungle Book and on a continent not even remotely known for its indigenous snake-hunting pets. Even at the beginning, the box bearer always needs to explain what exactly a mongoose is to set up the gag, which tells me that even at this point the story is already a transplant, a cuckoo's egg originating in the absolute elsewhere.
But be that as it may! Over the next few decades the buddy act metastasizes, now liberated from geography: here they are on a ferry from Oakland to San Francisco, going to Manhattan from Brooklyn, by 1895 a "Yankee" has carried a perfectly empty box back to Rajasthan. They're rented out as wet fabulism complete with moral ("ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies," or mind your own beeswax), illustrate the Lorentz ether theory (!), round out a Woodrow Wilson punchline. They're always Americans. A generation after Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, they always feel the need to define their terms before launching into their endless routine: where the ineffable is, the mongoose box follows.
Crowley, of course, has met many mongoose in life and in literature. He can't resist a single streamlining flourish, liberating the brother (occasionally "in law" elsewhere) from the alcoholic backstory. There's no explicit organic syndrome here, no grace and no guilt to drive therapeutic narratives: the brother simply has a problem with snakes that aren't real, motherfucking snakes on a different plane as it were. As though accidentally, the details around the container also bulge and thicken in the peripheral vision of the page: usually it's a "basket," but once it's a "bag."
A "bag" of course would presumably hang slack and empty. The contents of a "basket," like some Schrodinger experiment, are harder to determine on the fly. In this version, the bearer does not lift the lid either way. Crowley calls this "a perfect parable of Magick" and it passes in largely this form to Alan Moore's Promethea.
What's in the box, what's the point? Obviously it's in part simply a magician's wink, an appeal to skeptics in the audience to remain complicit for the sake of the trick. We're all in this together, the show must go on. When you punch Harry Houdini in the stomach, you're only acting tough or else the magician dies like buddha on the road. We carry a mongoose box as a gesture to amuse, distract, relieve a sick friend. It's a prop, a bit of the gaffa.
Because there are poisons for which no physical antidotes exist. Any snake we can catch, identify, milk, solve is a "real" snake. Others can still bite unless we bring their natural predators to the table. If God afflicts you with an imaginary cobra, you can buy every mongoose available but the enemy is still going to slither past their perimeter. And if your "cobra" is a disease of mind, a disease of language, a disease of semen . . . you're going to need a talking cure. This too, is astral magick, the box we reach for when we can't find the car keys anywhere else and desire remains unscratched. It's both the last place we look and the first place that works.
Sometimes real snakes are the problem and there's no real mongoose available. Other times you have nothing but imaginary mongoose boxes and everything starts to look like a snake. As usual, execution is where things get interesting. Dreams in themselves are ubiquitous. Development is what makes the muddle. But we digress. And of course any chatter about the "real," the "imaginary" and the bourgeois "symbolic" is only a temporary expedient. That's okay. I prefer expediency to the alternative and it is possible to win in reality & parable alike.
In an environment infested with imaginary snakes, psychic diseases, what the thunder said, cannibal parables, fake news, it is expedient to become a trainer of mongoose. We do not deny the existence of water and wood, but any model for living in which wood will not float in water is not sustainable. You yourself may outlive it. It starts with that "perfectly" empty box, because you need to make sure that's actually an imaginary mongoose in that bag and not some other figment pulled from the monster manual. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi protects the children of the house. So, in his way, does Sredni Vashtar. Gef, the ineffable third, mediates.
You know all this but today it can be new to me. Mongoose? What's that? What's in the box?