Sunday, 28 June 2015

Ogham Cthulhu

A while ago, I had an idea for an ogham stone featuring the Mythos. This is the sort of thing that happens in my life.

I sort of left it fallow for months, well over a year probably. I picked up a couple of stones that looked vaguely appropriate just on spec, and kept them in a box. I played around with various ogham permutations of Mythosy phrases, struggling (unsurprisingly) to find a way to express Lovecraftian phrases written down with English spelling using an alphabet designed for the phonetics of Old Irish.

Due to being very unemployed right now, I have time. And it's nice weather for sitting outside with a rock and a file. And I just learned that Paul of Cthulhu has RSI, which is no fun at all. He's an archaeologist Lovecraftiana collector. Hmm...

Having settled on a writing system - not 100% happy with it, but something tolerable - I started carving ogham. I carefully measured out the appropriate spacing, bearing in mind that ogham was mostly used for writing on enormous dock-off stones, where it was quite easy to make five closely-spaced cuts. With a file and a hand-sized rock, not so much...

Thankfully, the stone was relatively soft. I don't actually know what it is - I'm no geologist. It's not native to the area where I collected it, but some of the rubble dropped there to create a path for walkers. There's a serious lack of actual stones to pick up in my suburb. I suspect it may be mudstone, but maybe someone else will know.

I dithered for quite a while over what to do with the stone, but after getting my ogham on and feeling a bit more confident... after all, why not? What's a Mythos artefact without a carving of a certain green squiddy being?

If you have never done this before, let me assure you: it is surprisingly difficult to devise a depiction of a Lovecraftian entity that's culturally appropriate to be carved on an ancient Celtic artefact and feasibly carveable by a first-time stonecarver with a bit of rock and a file. Thankfully I read a book on Celtic art a while ago, so I had some idea what I was doing. In fact, though, the core of the final design is inspired by the artwork for The Secret of Kells (concept art samples). It incorporates a couple of different art styles, which a purist could probably inform me are from different periods and entirely incompatible. Well, that's appropriate for a Mythos artefact, right?

Here we see the artefact alongside some preliminary sketches.

I did my best with the lighting... The array of tiny holes were actually the most time-consuming thing to add, since an awful lot were needed, you need to be very careful with the file, and all that grinding was making my arm sore.

Now any sensible person would have stopped at this point, said "job's a good 'un!" and sent it off all right and proper. Not me, of course. By this point I was very much carried away, and felt the uncontrollable urge to give it a bit of backstory. Cue further thought...

After a while, I came up with a suitably-dotty letter. I flatter myself that the handwriting is suitably illegible, especially after I stuck it out in the rain briefly. Didn't realise the ink would run quite so much, but...

Professors Maclean
Innsmouth House School of Antiquities
University of the Miskatonic in Bradford

Herr Professor & Frau Professorin Maclean,
Forgive my poor hand, I write in haste. The gang are on my trail and my strength failing from this wound. I believe you are among the few capable of understanding the significance of what I enclose. Our party were lately engaged on a dig in Pembrokeshire. The locals were dismissive, but we uncovered an old chapel and burial mound as we predicted. The symbology was highly irregular and brought to mind certain passages you will no doubt recall. All was well until yesterday. Herr Doctor Grüber lunched in town and met a well-dressed individual who engaged him in deep discussion of our findings. Last night he went outside to smoke and did not return. I went in search of him and found his murdered body beside a tree. I returned to find the farmhouse where we lodged aflame and masked figures skulking around it. I ran to the village, but found the gang at watch for me there also and barely escaped with my life. The others are dead or worse. Most of our work is burned or stolen but this I had placed in my overcoat pocket and still have safe. I cannot hope to reach the town now. I will cast the package over the vicarage wall and then make my way to the river to lead them off the trail.

The past is not dead. Beware the man in the Chinese waistcoat.

Gerhardt Ziegler

As I finished it, I realised that really, it rather called for another letter... muggins that I am.

The Professors Maclean
Innsmouth House School of Antiquities
University of the Miskatonic in
Bradford, Yorkshire

My dear Sir,
I enclose the parcel recently found by our gardener, apparently dropt by some errand-boy or careless servant. I apologise for the delay in despatching it. We have been much occupied by recent tragedies, obliging also my professional attentions. I hope that the delay has not too greatly inconvenienced you.


Elgan Roberts Pugh (Rvd.)

The Vicarage

The binding

Naturally, the stone and note had to be wrapped in something appropriate for a chap to have tucked in a pocket. Brown paper and string it is! I'm not sure why poor Ziegler had brown paper - perhaps he'd bought a sandwich in the village that fateful morning.

Everything was carefully grubbied, since poor Ziegler was running for his life. I refrained from adding blood, but reluctantly. Perhaps next time.

Suitably grubby string. Hard as you may find it to believe, this was individually hand-badgered by a qualified professional. Not, admittedly, qualified in string-badgering, but I am both qualified and a professional, technically.

I realised that an old box used to deliver contact lenses would be the perfect size, and easily stripped of modern symbols.

Things almost fell at the last hurdle, as I only realised at the last moment that the YSDC PO Box had been moved! I also didn't realise that the post had to be collected via a secret agent, so I was starting to worry about whether it had been nicked by a passing cultist. Thankfully, it did eventually arrive.

The message

Perhaps you're curious about the message? Well, assuming I didn't make any errors I completely missed, it reads as follows...

᚛ᚃᚍᚂᚗ ᚋᚌᚂᚒᚚᚅᚐᚎ ᚊᚈᚒᚂᚒᚏᚂᚔᚊ ᚒᚌᚐᚆᚅᚐᚌᚂ ᚎᚈᚐᚌᚍ᚜

A brief break follows for those wishing to work this out for themselves...

This is a piece of bracket fungus I found on a walk. Great, right?

The Ogham can be transcribed (I hope!) as follows:

fnglui mglupnaz ctulu rleq ugahnagl ztagng

I'm pretty sure most of you can work this one out, but just in case, let me refer you to The Call of Cthulhu for that classic pithy comeback: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Linguistic nerding

So obviously, what you're all wondering is, "where did the Z come from? What's with that P?"

Basically, I had to find a way to convert a Roman transcription of a Mythos phrase from a non-human tongue into something meaningful in a different alphabet, with its own assumptions about pronunciation. Look at the original. It's likely (though not definite) that the apostrophes and Hs are intended to mean something, and to mean something to a speaker of English. The phrase was, after all, transcribed by John Raymond Legrasse, who certainly seems to be a native speaker of English, though his surname suggests French ancestry.

Taking English as the basis for the transcription, then, how do we pronounce Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn?

The PH seems likely to be a F; it could be a highly aspirated P, of course, especially given that an F appears later, but note that the F is also used only in conjunction with an H. Intriguing. I assigned it a value of [f] for now.

The W is, I would argue, best considered as a [w], or possibly the Japanese [ɯ]. However, neither is available in Ogham, so I substituted U.

I chose, somewhat high-handedly, to assign the FH to the Ogham value Z. It's not particularly clear how this was actually used, nor is it clear what the FH is supposed to sound like so it seemed as good as anything. I'm mentally treating FH as a kind of [ɕ] (voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant).

I also chose to use the Ogham NG to represent both NG and GN in the Legrasse transcription. This was a stylistic move; scripts don't always mark things in the same way, nor is writing usually very precise. A speaker of Irish who used Ogham might perfectly well use the same character for both, while understanding they are pronounced differently.

The H was a curious one, as it's not clear what it might be doing, and it could well be used for several things. I chose to assume it was either an actual [h], or possibly a [x]. In either case, I thought the little-used Q might be a suitable Ogham symbol. There is an H as well, of course, but I chose to assume this had a different phonetic value.

Finally, I assumed that the apostrophes mark a glottal stop, as it's commonly used for that. There's no symbol for that in Ogham, so I appropriated the unused P. In the first instance only, I omitted it because I just felt like it wasn't appropriate. It's the kind of thing you would easily miss out, a glottal stop between a sibilant and a nasal. Maybe I shouldn't have, but hey.

So there you are. Hope you had fun.

1 comment:

  1. That's a really fantastic prop! Man, I want one now. :)