I’ve talked about the mythology behind The Corridors of the Dead in a few offsite interviews, but I’ve never given the whole story behind the mythology. Buckle in, kids, it’s a long and twisted road to pull all of these influences together.
The story begins back in 1992…or maybe 1993. I’m a little fuzzy on the exact date, but I surely couldn’t have been older than 16. I was an impressionable kid who still hadn’t quite figured out his identity (I think that’s normal for that age). I started talking more to a certain neighbor, who will remain unnamed for his sake. He once told me that he saw something of himself in me, so he took me under his wing, teaching me different ways to think about the world. Through him I learned more about the Socratic Method, Existentialism, Descartes, and comparative religion. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that he had a guiding hand in my development during that time. I know that I wouldn’t be pursuing these ideas in my fiction without his influence. After a time of knowing him, about a year, he revealed to me that he practiced magick.
Yes, that’s magick with a “k”. Many people try to correct that, but it’s not the same, and I expand on that in the book a little. Magic, without the “k”, is associated with stage illusions and/or the overt displays of quasi-godhood that you see in fantasy – throwing flame from your fingers, etc. While my story is fantasy, I try to operate in something that resembles our world in a lot of respects, and that includes limiting the supernatural powers of humanity; therefore, while stage magic exists, there is no fantasy-superman-style magic. There is, however, Magick. This began with the practice of alchemy, though some people date it back to ancient Egypt – this is a contentious claim that I may explore in a future novel. For this book, however, Magick begins with alchemy.
For those who aren’t aware of the nature of alchemy, it was ostensibly an attempt to transmute lead into gold. That was the story that everyone was told, anyway. That wasn’t actually the goal of alchemy. Oh, sure, on some symbolic level, it was about turning lead into gold, but it was more about turning the lead of the human spirit into something more. Simply put, the magician (and alchemist) in this system uses a series of rituals and incantations to gain greater control over their subconscious. I’ve seen it likened to hacking the firmware of the mind. All this is about trying to attain mastery over your life, and your destiny. This is why I made that such a central theme to The Corridors of the Dead.
My friend practiced Enochian Magick, created in the late 16th century by John Dee and his seer Edward Kelley. They purported to receive wisdom from the angels, learning their language and drawing out four tablets, which would become known as The Watchtowers. They placed the letters of that language, now known as Enochian, into those tables. These were intended to only be transcribed by those who understood the system and could decode it. In the center of these Watchtowers, splitting the tables into their four respective places, was a negative space known as the Black Cross. The Black Cross would take on significance much later, but early on, it was simply a blank space. This system was also supposed to teach the ancient wisdom that was put forward during the Book of Enoch.
The Book of Enoch is about the classic tale of angels coming down to earth to marry women and have half-human children known as the Nephilim. These angels were known as the Watchers, and together with the Nephilim, they were a huge factor in driving the world today God’s Flood.
By now, I’m sure you’ve recognized many of the terms in the mythos from my character descriptions. Many years later, the Golden Dawn visualized the Watchtowers as a spiritual concept, sort of a multi-layered view of the universe and reality. These were manifested in what are known as Aethyrs, with each Aethyr representing a level of consciousness (or reality, depending upon how the magician views this). Certain rituals give a magician insight into certain Aethyrs. As the magician progresses through the system, they slowly climb the Aethyrs. The higher you get, the closer you get to God’s realm, or that version of God within your own consciousness. This is a traditional map of the Aethyrs, with the magician beginning in the center and working outward:
Many years after I left his tutelage, I continued to think about what a cool concept the whole thing was, even if I believed it was pretty much a con put on by Kelley to draw money out of Dee. Side note here, this is a common theme in my writing – I’m actually a pretty rational, skeptical guy, but there’s something inside me that finds all these concepts very fascinating. I thought, though, what would it be like to write about someone who had to cross over these Aethyrs? To watch them traverse these and learn more about the nature of the Watchtowers? It’s an idea that’s at least 10 years old.
The problem was, Magick, when viewed from the outside, is rather boring. It has more in common with Sunday Mass (though this probably sounds blasphemous to some people – apologies in advance, but they’re both rituals) and monastic practices of Buddhism than a fantasy world-hopper. I struggled with how to depict this in an engaging fashion.
Thus, eventually, was born the concept of a Tunneler: someone who, by their nature, could bypass these rituals and jump from Aethyr to Aethyr. That was the kernel of the idea for Matty. We’ll talk some more about what all this means tomorrow.