Much speculation has arisen over the nature of Captain Abner Exekiel Hoag’s connexion to the religious inner life of the South-seas Islands, particularly of the Carolinas. As well, commentators have discussed the captain’s relationship with his “servant” Yogash. Not a lot of discussion has been entered upon concerning his grand-daughter, Beverly Hoag Adams, but perhaps the time has come to open that Pandora’s Box and to see what lies inside.
The spur for such an investigation arises from several discrete collections in the archives of the Miskatonic University English Department and of the Anthropology Faculty which – until recently – have not been placed together and examined in context. These consist, in the main, of several small chapbooks – recipes and collections of home cures for various illnesses – written in manuscript by various New England “cunning folk” who plied their remedies in lieu of a ready availability of medical personnel.
Most of these books date from the mid- to late-1700s onwards, up until the early Twentieth Century. While many of the superstitions and ritual lore contained within their pages is typical of that which proliferated along the Eastern seaboard of the United States at that time, there are undertones of a distinct tradition localised in the New England nexus, which cannot be ignored.
The main focus of this tradition lies in collections of small squares and rectangles of card which have been found throughout the region. These – often re-used – pieces of paper and cardboard are inscribed with certain descriptions and are generally illustrated, mostly in a quite crude fashion. The discovery of 17 of these cards, partially burnt and hidden beneath the floor of the Kester Library in Salem, has linked the phenomena, however tentatively, to Beverly Hoag Adams and her efforts to place the discoveries of her grandfather into the public domain.
With the correlation of these collections and an examination of the iconography and the information contained in the “cunning books”, it has become clear that a tradition of divination using cards – often called “Tarot cards” – proliferated throughout the region, probably in tandem with the surreptitious circulation of Captain Hoag’s manuscript version of The Ponape Scriptures.
Many of the card images are lost to time, as there are gaps in the available evidence. However, the intent of the authors’ can be reconstructed from written descriptions of the cards within the chapbooks and also from a set of well-used cards which were unearthed in Newburyport, where the owner had eschewed artistic depictions for simple written descriptions.
The Miskatonic University Press has proudly championed the investigation of this native folk-art tradition from its home region and, using the skills of the various faculties involved and the talents of various Arkham-based illustrators and artists, has issued its own set of these fascinating cards for the edification of folklorists and local historians. We hope you enjoy that which we have entitled,
The Innsmouth Tarot
The Major Arcana:
Card 0 – The Deep
Within the extant versions of the cards which have been discovered, there are various methods of portraying the nature of this card. The Newburyport Set simply writes the name of the card, along with the Greek symbols for Alpha and Omega; the Kester Library Set uses a fairly specific hieroglyph (see below) while other cards and some of the books use a simple wavy line to indicate the surface of an ocean.
The purpose of this card is to represent the notion of a beginning, or of an emerging force or presence: the depths are unknown and unknowable and are the start of many phenomena or processes. The sense of this card is that of the Questioner being on the edge of something new; at the beginning of a new life phase. Things are uncrystallised and not yet formed, but soon all will be revealed.
Inverted: The inverse meaning of the The Deep, is unpreparedness, or folly; fear of the unknown and an unwillingness to change, or to commit. The depths are hazardous and to brave them without adequate preparation is madness. In this sense, the beginning is also, often, the end.
Card I – The Wizard, or Metaphysician
Having recognised the imminent emergence of a new force or presence, the Questioner becomes prepared. Burdened with knowledge, weapons and arcane skill, the Questioner makes ready to do battle, or to understand. There is a sense of limit to this card: the Wizard may be lord of that which he surveys, but his scope is narrow, restricted to his home ground. His knowledge is highly focussed, not wide-ranging; useful in certain engagements but not all. Good at what he knows, his skill may seem impressive to the novice; but it will not serve in the long term.
Until the connexion was made that these cards were a means of divination, one of them languished in small chapbook held in the Newburyport Historical Society and was long thought to be merely a bookmark. It depicts a man in the clothes of an Eighteenth Century judge of the Puritan type. The image was thought to be a possible likeness of Cotton Mather; however, we now know that it represents a metaphysical practitioner, or wizard, and once was part of a larger set of cards, now lost.
Inverted: When upside-down, the Wizard is a charlatan, one who preys on the innocence of others, an impostor with false knowledge. He represents insecurity and unwise counsel.
Card II – The Witch
The Witch represents a state of acceptance: whilst the Wizard merely manipulates the framework of the cosmos, the Witch realises her place within that scheme and acknowledges her part in it. In this sense, she is a greater – although still a novitiate – part of reality. Her insight is greater and her belief is stronger: she represents not only her own goals and desires, but also those of a wider community.
When upright, this card represents artistic inspiration, a positive feminine influence, or the gaining of spiritual insight. In some instances it can indicate celibacy or a state of impatience.
There are no extant cards which depict or describe the iconography of this card, although several of the grimoires make mention of it. As Cotton Mather and the other puritan judges of the Salem witch trials seem to have been an inspiration for the Wizard card, it has made sense to have this card portray one of the victims of that series of legal aberrations.
Inverted: The inverted meaning of this card is passivity; egoism, ignorance and incomprehension; an erroneous judgement. It can also indicate a change of profession or of falling under a negative feminine influence.
Card III – Mother Hydra
In the mythology of the Innsmouth tarot, Mother Hydra is represented as the unseen presence behind Father Dagon, the yin to his yang. The inspiration for this card and its partner (Father Dagon) comes directly from the Kester Library Set which shows the pair as unambiguously alien, although pelagic, beings. This image heralds the beginning of the more bizarre, alien and monstrous beings which comprise this cycle of lore.
Fundamentally, the meaning associated with this card is intelligence. In some readings it may indicate the presence of a mother, sister, or some other female figure of influence, but the association is always that of an advisor, or source of knowledge. The intention of the card is not a passive one: this is sagacity put to some purpose; an ideal, or course of action; it also suggests fecundity, or the realisation of a goal.
Inverted: Upside-down, this card represents poverty in all senses – material, emotional, spiritual and intellectual. Its presence signals anxiety and hesitation, the inability to make a decision or to take a course of action. It can also indicate a coquette, or false flatterer.
Card IV – Father Dagon
The twin card to Mother Hydra is her mate, Father Dagon. Dagon is best known to the wider world from John Milton’s Paradise Lost:
“Dagon his name, sea-monster, upward man
And downward fish; yet had his temple high
Reared in Azotus, dreaded through the coast
Of Palestine, in Gath and Ascalon,
And Accaron and Gaza's frontier bounds...”
The image of Dagon in the Kester Library Set accords strongly with this description and indicates the degree of antiquity which is associated with this lore.
Father Dagon primarily symbolises energy, or power. Mother Hydra represents the ability to channel, or direct, energy; Father Dagon embodies the power itself. Paradoxically, while this card represents earthly power and a combative force, it also stands for security and protection, the maintenance of stability. Depending upon where the card appears in a reading, it can represent the presence of a father, son, or some other masculine influence.
Inverted: When inverted within a spread, Father Dagon stands primarily for a lack of strength. However, it can also symbolise power used immaturely, or with a lack of conscience and consideration. In some instances, it represents a malicious, or cruel, man.
Card V – The High Priest
The High Priest is the flip-side of the Witch. While the Witch is intrinsically involved in the true nature of the world, the High Priest actively engages with it in an exoteric sense. Put simply, the Witch is being while the High Priest is doing.
The Kester Library Set has an image of a kneeling figure in the midst of some ritual event which provides the basis for this card’s iconography. The Newburyport Set contains a short written script, a familiar piece of doggerel found in the Invocations to Dagon and other similar sources:
“O Great Kutulu, Dreamer in Rillye
I am Thy priest and adore Thee.
This card represents the adoption of a disciplined lifestyle either religious or possibly scientific; it may represent counsel, assistance of information received from such a quarter. Either way, it betokens wise and sound advice and, above all, mercy. The High Priest also symbolises strong emotions, free of sentimentality. It can foreshadow a ritual observance or a secret revealed. It indicates that the Questioner has or is about to gain an insight into Destiny.
Inverted: When placed upside-down, the High Priest symbolises a digression from the true path, either through a sudden loss of faith or an inability to clearly see the way forward. It speaks of unwise counsel and decisions made without a full weighing of the circumstances. It reveals powerlessness and a loss of forward impetus, causing weakness and a slide into decadence. A loss of faith or vocation.
To Be Continued...