Wednesday, 10 February 2016
Born of Flame: A Rosicrucian Story by Margaret Bloodgood Peeke (1892)
The legacy of Margaret Bloodgood Peeke (1838-1908), if it survives at all, is through her contribution to Hermetic philosophy. She appears to have been quite active in the field, and even taught courses with titles like "Breath-Prana and Kingdoms of Consciousness" and "Eight lectures on the Yod, He Vau He, the Secret of the Kabalah". There is precious little I could find regarding her personal life, apart from being married to Rev. George Hewson Peeke and that she left all her real estate property not to her husband, but to her son E Cornelius Peeke, while her husband only received 100 $ to, quoting her will "to show my good intention toward him".
Of her sons the only one on whom some information exists is Hewson L. Peek, a lawyer in Sandusky, Ohio, who wrote two historical accounts of Erie County and also penned the 1917 history of American drunkenness in "Americana Ebrietatis: The Favorite Tipple of Our Forefathers and the Laws and Customs Relating Thereto".
As to the fiction work of Miss Peeke, she appears to have penned two fiction titles, today's subject and her Zenia the Vestal. The novel, Born of Flame, first came to my attention in the early months of 2014 when I found it listed on L.W.Currey's website. The description intrigued me and I went to seek it out but alas it was not yet digitised. It was one of the works which drove me to create this project in the first place, in fact to start compiling my list long before I decided to set it up as a blog. Now recently I have found that Born of Flame had been made available online and so with amazing eagerness I raced to acquire it and start reading it as soon as possible.
Unfortunately I was found rather disappointed. In fact this case shows many similarities with that of Charles W. Leadbeater's Perfume of Egypt, the first proper review on this website in that people of spiritualist leanings will often produce the most inefective works of supernatural fiction, a statement I have heard before from another author whom I cannot identify at present but I assume it may have been Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
The sadder part is while Leadbeater's work was flawed it was at least presented as a series of stories, with varying degrees of competence and racism. But Mrs. Peeke's book is barely a novel at all. There is some plot but a majority of the book is taken up with characters having lengthy discussions on spiritualism, hermeticism, and trying to link these together with Biblical dogma and geological evidence. And then the author will practically drop all pretenses at narrative fiction and sometimes will fill up three quarters of a page with extensive notes and quotations from spiritualist texts, sometimes seemingly with little or no segue between what is being (volumniously) explained on the page and the word or phrase of the novel which lead to said diatribe via an asterisk. In an amusing gaf, the author forgets the novel is supposed to take place in 1857 and has characters quote Hargrave Jennings's "The Rosicrucians" which was first published in 1870, and even have it reffered to as an old book ! Incidentally, those who unjustly rag on Bulwer-Lytton for supposedly writing incredibly bad prose (see "It was a dark and stormy night" etc.) never read Jenning's line "Note the goings of the Fire, as he creepeth, serpentineth, riseth, slinketh, broadeneth.", a line which Peeke actually quotes in the novel !
If it seems like I'm stalling that's because I am. There is almost nothing here. A doctor by the name of Grotius at an asylum falls in love with one of his patients who becomes violent whenever he's not near her. She dies and leaves him a bundle of papers inscribed by her father. Now after reading this Dr. Grotius becomes melancholy and gives it to his friend, the skeptic mineralogist Dana to read over.
The inscribed tree bark details the life story of the father of Dr. Grotius's great love, a certain Van Guilder. He relates how he met a woman from far India during a shipwreck and how they married and then travelled to a rough, untamed part of America to build a house in the hills. But Van Guilder's house becomes a store house for smugglers who bribe him with precious minerals. Then after some time his wife, who constantly talks about some grand mystical enterprise she's been chosen to conduct, passes away and he is stricken with grief but is consoled by her spirit. Dr, Grotius decides to find the House, along with Dana, to take a load off his mind and there runs into a group of people lead, as it turns out, by Elfreeda, the cousin of Grotius' Clothilde, who is a great female mystic and constantly talks about concluding her aunt's work. Dana falls for her and nearly gets himself killed because Mrs. Van Guilder's ghost takes umbridge at people touching the books in her old room, even if it's just regular volumes of verse, to the point of routinely killing people who do so.
The rest of the novel describes how Elfreeda, her brother, friend (the latter two of whom pair off in a sort of blink-and-you-miss-it way which never really comes much into play) and Dana travel to a town of Black people where Peeke can wax lyrical about Southern hospitality, have a white lawyer be sort of racist towards black people by implying slavery made them lazy, and falling for Elfreeda as well....and this also literally leads to nothing except him and his senator friend going on about what an absolutely flawless Goddess she is. I would almost think this was a self-insert of the writer, given her deep and lengthy musings on Rosicrucianism and Hermeticism. While in the town they find bones of pygmy people who are said to be the first human species to have possessed a spirit, as opposed to the so called Mound Builders who didn't because something about them being brainless, and who chased and hunted the pygmies violently.
Then after they find a tomb with a bunch of pygmies and a sacred inscribed moon rock to match one they found at the house and one Elfreeda saw in India, they return back to the Van Guilder house where, out of nowhere, Grotius decides to take some of the preserved Pygmy brains and have it inserted into the neck of an infant so that....it will regress in evolution and or develop regressive degenerations or defects to.....prove something about evolution.....I guess ? This is such an out-of-nowhere moment and it's over in a sentence or two so you have no idea what just happened.
The Novel ends with a fire Tree planted by a mystic in the back of the house exploding, Dr. Grotius willingly dying to join his beloved Clothilde and the entire house sinking into a sink hole in the ground. Mixed between all of this are statements about how humanity was basically designed to evolve into modern man by some type of Moon spirits called Pitris, how Darwin is a stupid-face because he believes we evolved from Apes as opposed from Pygmies, or how the Seven Planets of our solar system and seven sections of a human heart are all connected to the mystical number seven because mystical mysticism. Well Mrs. Peeke that last point was much more hilarious until 2005 but may yet prove to be just as hilarious in time. Oh and there's a psychic Black girl who can summon birds but she's in the story for like three pages and ends up as the house maid in Elfreeda and Dana's house.
And if it seems like that was actually a decent length of plot, boiled down it's a bunch of people going to a house, finding a ghost and scroll there, going to a place to dig up bones and then coming back, all while never shutting up about moon spirits and soul transference and the sanctity of fire. Which is really a shame.