— VOTF08 Angel Language

General Remarks


  • The  narrator is Judge Augustus Nicholls. Historically, he was considered an incorruptible judge, and an ardent anti-Papist. A posthumous monument to him was erected.

    Nicholls monument
    Nicholls monument
  • The date given is “AD 1618”, a mere 11 years after the previous chapter.
    • The significance of this date is that it is the final year of Nicholls’s life. The real Nicholls, however, died in 1616.
  • The indicated map location is to the north of Northampton. In fact, Kendal is almost 200 miles to the north!


  • “snuff-box” – Snuff is a form of powdered tobacco, applied by inhalation. At this time, it was a luxry commodity in Europe, and finely-made small boxes to carry it in were a status symbol.
  • quim” – Archaic slang for vagina.
  • “occult hinges” – In addition to its meaning of “mystical”, occult can mean simply “hidden”.
  • “shrew-skin purses” – Shrews are both small, mouse-like animals, and also slang for ill-tempered women. Hence, this phrase (which seems to be Moore’s invention) is another way of referring to vaginas.
  • “bitter gold” – Urine.
  • “elbow-cramping” – That is, “inducing excessive masturbation”.
  • “succubi” – A succubus is a demon in female form that seduces men at night.
  • “foam-splashed shorelines … snail cartographies” – Poetic images for seminal discharge.
  • “cot-bug’s measured tick” – I could find no references to a “cot-bug”, so presume it is another name for a bedbug. However, as best as I can determine, bedbugs make no noise. (I am not including a link because I just spent half an hour reading about bedbugs, and I want to spare you that pain. As a long-time fan of Alan Moore’s horror, I don’t scare or gross out easily, but sheesh…)
  • satyriasis” – Uncontrollable male sexual desire.
  • John Thomas” – Slang for penis.
  • “with snow upon the thatch there is yet wildfire in the cellar” – Variant of a popular saying, meaning that being old (having white hair) doesn’t mean a lack of sexual energy in the loins.
  • “willow limbs and jutting trunks” – Continuing the fire/lust metaphor, he imagines his lust is “stoked” by these wood images, which are also be read as willow(y) legs and jutting bosoms.
  • “the Kendal road” – Kendal is a town within the South Lakeland district of Cumbria, about 200 miles north of Northampton.
  • “frog-spawn pupils” – Frog eggs appear somewhat like eyes.
  • “Lakeland Hills” – Lakeland is a mountainous region in northwest England.
  • Jacob’s Ladder” – In the bible, a ladder seen by Jacob in a dream, reaching from Earth to Heaven. The term has been applied metaphorically to a wide variety of contexts.
  • Faxton” – A now-abandoned village in Northamptonshire, and Nicholls’s home.
  • judicial circuit” – A custom started in 12th century England, whereby judges would travel a circuit around part of the country to hear cases, as opposed to forcing all cases to be heard in London. While this system has fallen into decline as courthouses have spread, it is still practiced in some rural areas.
  • “the heads of Catholic plotters hung here many years ago” – See previous chapter.
  • “saltpetre” – Potassium Nitrate. Meant primarily here as one of the principal ingredients of gunpowder, and thus a metaphor for rebellious violence. However, given Nicholls’s ambivalence towards his own sexual appetite, one should not overlook its traditional medical use to dampen male sexual urges.
  • “may yet result in blood” – 1) Blisters may burst, yielding blood. 2) Violent rebellion may result from these red-faced men.
  • assizes” – Periodic courts held around England by circuit judges.
  • “from Nottingham to Crewe” – These are both within the Midland Circuit, as is Northampton. Kendal, however, is within the Northern Circuit, suggesting that Judge Nicholls has been reassigned at some point.
    • Nottingham and Crewe are a mere 55 miles apart, suggesting that Nicholls is not trying to describe the physical breadth of the country. Instead, “from” may be meant to indicate different types of settlements, from the relatively small town of Crewe to the sizable city of Nottingham.
  • “Empires” – John Dee, who will be prominent later in this chapter, is credited by some (among many other accomplishments) with inventing the idea of a British Empire.
  • rut” – In addition to its surface meaning here of “a groove worn in a road”, this is also a verb meaning “be in sexual heat”, or (as slang) “have sex”.
  • spend” – In this usage, archaic slang for orgasm or ejaculate.
  • clout” – Archaic word meaning “a hit” or “a blow”.
  • “pigeon-murmur” – Pigeons were significant in the immediately previous chapter, and are also of some importance in Jerusalem.
  • bodkins” – In this usage, long hairpins.
  • “further North, near by Dundee” – Dundee is a major city in Scotland,  about 150 miles from Kendal.
    • This is the first of many “dee” words that will be associated with these women.
  • “Widow Deene” – I have been unable to locate any information about this person.
  • “only heard of, years before” – It is established below that this event took place around 1592, though it seems that Nicholls only heard fragmentary accounts in 1594, 22 years ago.
  • “Francis, the sole fruit of my union with Lady Nicholls” – This appears to be an error. Augustine Nicholls had no children, though he did leave his estate to a nephew named Francis. (See Closing Remarks for much more discussion.) Augustine Nicholls was married to one Mary Hemings.
  • John Dee, the famous charlatan” –
    John Dee
    John Dee

    Whether Dee was a charlatan is a matter of debate. He was certainly famous as a mathematician, astrologer, royal advisor, and occultist.

    • There was a Francis Nicholls who was “involved” with John Dee; see Closing Remarks for more discussion of this.
  • “Mortlake, near to Richmond” – Mortlake is a village within what is now the Richmond borough of London.
  • “Dee’s full-grown daughter” – Probably Katherine. Dee had three other daughters, but they are believed to have all died of the plague in 1604.
  • “bewitching” – Nicholls no doubt means this in the metaphorical sense of “beautiful”, but the literal sense applies as well. This word will recur, though Nicholls will continue not to notice the double meaning.
  • “on the shoulders of Saint Christopher himself” –
    Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, by Hieronymus Bosch
    Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, by Hieronymus Bosch

    Saint Christopher’s legend claims that he carried a child across a river, only to discover afterwards that the child was Christ. He is considered the patron saint of travelers.

  • glamour” – Like “bewitching”, above, Nicholls would do better to remember the original meaning of this word, a literal enchantment.
  • “If he is guilty […] and I have no doubt that such he be” – It is unclear whether Presumption of Innocence was a guiding principle in England at this time, but clearly Judge Nicholls doesn’t follow it.
  • “dance a Tyburn jig” – Tyburn is a village in Middlsex County, London. It is famed as a place of execution, usually by hanging. Hanging victims would thrash about as they asphyxiated, the movements appearing somewhat similar to dancing a jig.
  • “a friend to swing upon his legs” – Death by asphyxiation from hanging can take a significant time. A sudden yank upon the legs could break the victim’s neck, ending their suffering. (Later forms of hanging, seeking to be less brutal, would drop the victim from a greater height, thus usually ensuring a broken neck and a quick death.)
  • martinet” – A strict disciplinarian. (The word is a bit anachronistic here, as it was not coined (in French) until decades after this chapter, and not attested in English until a century after that.)
  • “Augustus Nicholls” – Most sources give his first name as “Augustine“, like the saint; Moore prefers to call him Augustus, like the emperor.
  • arietta” – A short aria.
  • “French fiddles” – There is a tradition of fiddle-playing in western France.
  • drab” – Prostitute.
  • “mountains steeped in cloud, or clouds that look alike to mountains” – This confusion of appearances harks back to Boy’s perspective from chapter one.
  • “great black farm dog” – As will gradually become clear (to the reader, if not Nicholls), this is a shagfoal.
  • Atlas” – A figure of Greek legend, who literally bore the world on his shoulders. (Or, in other variants, the sky.)
  • “pointed fox-cub face” – While Nicholls intends merely a comment on her appearance, it is worth noting that foxes are traditionally associated with cunning and deceit.
  • rose bay willow herb” – A flowering plant, known in North America as fireweed.
  • “while father is away from us in . . .” – Nicholls, 0f c0urse, is mistaken in how he thinks that sentence was going to end.
  • “cut as good a leg” – “Cut“, in this sense, is a dance move, primarily performed with the legs. A straightforward reading is, as Nicholls elaborates, to entertain the family. Nicholls also intends a sexual reading, which the mother, but not the daughter, understands. By the end of the chapter, the phrase will take on yet a third meaning…
  • gravid” – Literally “pregnant”, another example of how Nicholls’s speech is suffused with sexual metaphors.
  • “I fancy we’re each speculating heatedly as to the nature of the other’s heated speculations.” – Nicholls is technically correct, but the heat which fills the woman’s expectations is not of the sexual nature he anticipates.
  • “more plan than relief” – In this context, “plan” means a two-dimensional drawing, as opposed to “relief”, a three-dimensional sculpture. (For once, a metaphor which is not particularly sexual.)
  • “narrow, twisting jetties” – Alleyways.
  • “that uneasy sense of having seen before” – Deja vu, once again.
  • “close to fifty” – See Closing Remarks.
  • “his sweet daughter Mary” – See Closing Remarks.
  • “else I am not a judge” – A play on the popular saying “or I’m no judge”, implying that the speaker is a good judge of whatever is being discussed. Nicholls expresses even more certainty, due to his being a literal Judge.
  • “some five and twenty years” – Details further on make it clear that this actually happened 23 years earlier, in 1593. See Closing Remarks for more discussion.
  • “tine the moon – As a verb, “tine” can have a few meanings. “Enclose” fits the immediate context, though “set on fire” might be intended.
    • It’s unclear why Francis should particularly want to do any of these things to the moon…
  • “Queen Bess” – An overly-familiar way of referring to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee was an advisor of hers.
  • “Almost a year from his first visit” – As stated below, March of 1594.
  • “Edward Kelly” – Edward Kelley was an assistant of Dee’s from 1582 to 1589.

    Edward Kelly
  • “died in gaol” – “gaol” is an archaic form of “jail”. Kelley did die while imprisoned by Emperor Rudolf II, in 1597 or 1598.
  • hag-ridden” – Worried or tormented, though with the subtext that the sufferer may be literally afflicted by a “hag”, or witch.
  • “to transcribe their stark yet puzzling announcements” – Dee and Kelly claimed that the angels spoke to them in a language they called. Enochian.
    • This is also a callback to chapter one, where Hob transcribed the “words” that Boy “uttered” as he was consumed by the flames.
  • aetheric” – Concerning the heavens.
  • “fifteen ninety-four” – So, about 22 years before this chapter.
  • “the doctor and his servant Kelly should both keep their wives in common” – This event is documented in Dee’s diary. The ‘swapping’ appears to have been a one-time event, on May 22, 1587.
  • bate” – In this context, rage.
  • “a foreign tongue, all aspirated vowels … heathen nonsense” – Curiously, the sounds uttered do not appear to be Enochian.
  • myrrh” – A tree resin used since ancient times as a perfume, incense, and medicine. It appears several times in the Bible, perhaps most notably as one of the three gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Christ.
    • In The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, myrrh is associated with the deity Glycon.
    • In “The Great Old Ones” Moore associated myrrh with the semi-Lovecraftian entity Yig.
    • Moore’s character Promethea was frequently associated with the scent of myrrh. In Promethea #32, myrrh is associated with:
      • Sephira 3: Binah or Understanding.
      • Path 23: The Hanged Man; the path descending from Geburah to Hod.
    • Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier associates myrrh with the realm of faerie.
  • “the next six years” – This is somewhat ambiguous, but seems most likely to cover 1594-1600.
  • “Bartholomew Hickman” – Hickman first met Dee in 1579, but doesn’t seem to have started working with him until 1591.
  • “came to an end around the turning of the century” – There are records of Dee working with Hickman in 1607, so the break (if, indeed, there was one, see below) was not permanent.
  • “discovered as a fraud” – Maybe, maybe not, see below.
  • “ceremonies […] where the documents accrued from Hickman’s traffic with the spirit world were ignominiously rendered down to ash” – This is Moore’s extrapolation from a brief entry in Dee’s diary for 1600: “Sept. 29th, I burned before Mr. Nicols, his brother, and Mr. Wortley, all Bartholomew Hikman his untrue actions.”
    • Dee scholar Christopher Whitby has a different interpretation:

      In contrast to the relationship between Dee and his other scryers, Saul and Kelly, there is no indication that Dee and Hickman ever fell out with one another. Even the reference to ‘untrue actions’ does not necessarily imply that Dee thought Hickman acted fraudulently. The burning of the papers in front of witnesses suggests that Dee was in part recanting his spiritual dealings

  • King James” – James ascended the throne in 1603.
  • “soon after, passed away” – Dee’s exact death date is unknown, but it was in 1608 or 1609.
  • “a grid of […] at least a thousand squares” – Dee’s “tables” were 49 x 49 grids of Enochian characters, thus comprising 2401 squares each.
  • “tattooed upon a substance very much like human skin” – Recalling the ‘map’ tattooed upon Olun in chapter two.
  • “scaith” – Unknown. Possibly a type of fish (perhaps a variant spelling of skate; some sources near this time period did spell it “scaite”).
  • “chief bailliff […] named Callow” – As an adjective, “callow” means “naive”. In a legal (and early 17th century) context, the name is reminiscent of Justice Shallow, a Shakespearean character known for his association with Falstaff, another aged lecher like Augustus.
  • ossuary” – A place for storing bones. Usually in reference to human bones, but here, fishbones.
  • “Deery” – I have been able to find no information about this person.
  • bugger” – Someone who engages in anal sex.
  • hawser-knot” – A particular kind of sailor’s knot (used here metaphorically).
  • “conversation is impossible between the two of us” – This recalls Celine’s Second Law (formulated by Robert Anton Wilson, a major influence on Moore): “Accurate communication is possible only in a non-punishing situation.”
  • bantams” – Small chickens.
  • swede” – Rutabaga.
  • “mollusc-skated path” – Unclear, but perhaps means “covered in mollusc shells” (as a kind of gravel).
    • lancashirearab@ntlworld.com suggests plausibly that this “refers to snail trails on the paving slabs.”
  • “A Pater Noster-while” – That is, long enough to say the Lord’s Prayer. Not terribly long, probably under a minute.
  • tripes” – Either “entrails” (used as food), or “junk”.
  • goitrous” – Having an enlarged thyroid gland.
  • hotpot” – A baked stew of meat and potatoes.
  • “Highly spiced and peppered” – Perhaps to conceal other, less healthy tastes.
  • “a man who must endure a long excrutiating wait [for execution]” – This is a mood which Nicholls will have more insight into soon.
  • Leviathan” – A huge, Biblical sea serpent. Used metaphorically (as here), it can indicate anything unusually large and threatening.
  • yellowheads” – Acne-like symptoms of a staph infection.
  • “a saliva thread there at its gallows tip” – As a judge, Nicholls has gallows-metaphors easily to hand; here the dripping saliva reminds him of a dangling rope.
  • “you’re a Deery” – The “widow Deene” is revealed to actually be Mrs. Deery. Mr. Deery, you may recall, was to be tried (and almost certainly sentenced to death) by Judge Nicholls tomorrow morning. By entrapping him, Mary hopes to avoid becoming a widow.
  • “empty streets that wind past pitiable ruins before even these are gone” –
    Faxton’s font

    Faxton has been reduced to this state. The village has been abandoned since the 1930s, and the church was demolished in 1958. Now only the church’s font remains.

  • “reminds me […] of something” – The image on his snuff-box which opened the chapter. The fact that he cannot quite recall it now is a sign of his mental degeneration.
  • “slinth” – Not an English word, just a phonetic representation of the sound (much like a comic book “sound effect”).
    • The name “Slinth” does appear in a 1980 comic book written by Moore’s best friend, Steve “no relation” Moore.
  • “John” – The previously-unnamed Mr. Deery.
  • weird sisters” – Fates (see below); “weird” here is not used in its modern meaning, but closer to the Anglo-Saxon “wyrd”, meaning fate or destiny. The term is also strongly associated with witches, due to being used in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”.
  • Fates” – A group (usually, but not always, three) of mythological women who control the destiny of men.
  • Gorgons” – Three women from Greek mythology who had snakes for hair, and whose gaze could turn people to stone.
    • Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: The Kindly Ones also associated the Fates and the Gorgons with each 0ther. Both books were written at about the same time, however, so there is probably no direct influence.
  • “The smallest gesture leaves its traces in the air behind, with a descending arm become instead like shimmering pinions, fanned and splendid.” – This imagery will become important in Jerusalem, even featuring on Moore’s cover art.
  • “beyond the scrying-glass” – John Dee’s scryers used a variety of glass objects to facilitate their visions.
    • The phrase also recalls Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Both Alice books feature topsy-turvy worlds, where the normal way of doing things is upended. The first one, notably, climaxes with a trial scene featuring the notion “Sentence first – verdict afterward.” Here, Moore presents us with a Judge who is put to death by (relatives of) the prisoner, a similar upending.

Closing Remarks

  • This chapter contains many callbacks to chapter one, and turns out to have a similar plot structure: the narrator engages in mild deceits in order to involve himself with what seems to be a sexually available woman; the woman, however, is engaging in greater deceits, leading to the narrator’s grisly death.
  • History records Nicholls as having died of the “new ague” (some variety of influenza), in Kendal, on August 3, 1616, not during “November” of 1618, as claimed in this chapter.
  • There was at one point an unsourced claim on Wikipedia that: “Judge Nichols was poisoned in 1616 by four women. They were related to a man who was to appear before Judge Nichols for murder. They thought that by killing the judge they could spare their relation from execution.” I have been unable to find any other source for this claim, however.
  • There is considerable confusion about the identity and age of “Francis” as portrayed in this chapter:
    • Augustine Nicholls had no children. His estate was left to a nephew named Francis Nicholls. This Francis was later knighted, so will be referred to here as Sir Francis Nicholls.
    • The Dictionary of National Biography says Sir Francis Nicholls was born in 1585; Parliamentary records claim he was baptized in 1586. Sir Francis did have a daughter, named Mary.
    • Given Augustus’s lecherous character as portrayed in this chapter, it seems worth entertaining the possibility that the “Lady Nicholls” he refers to is his brother‘s wife, Anne, making Sir Francis actually Augustus’s (illegitimate) son.  Augustus would have been about 26 when Sir Francis was conceived.
    • Moore says that Francis is “close to fifty” in 1616, which would seem to yield a birthdate no earlier than about 1570. Given that Augustine’s birthdate is 1559, he would have to have fathered Francis at the precocious age of 11! Not impossible, but doubtful, to say the least. Alternatively, the fictional Augustus may have been born earlier than the historical one.
    • Moore says that Francis first sought out Dee in 1593. Going by Sir Francis Nicholl’s official birthdate, this would make Francis 8 years old!
    • Dee’s diary entries for September of 1600 include the following: “Sept. 29th, I burned before Mr. Nicols, his brother, and Mr. Wortley, all Bartholomew Hikman his untrue actions. Sept. 30th, after the departing of Mr. Francis Nicolls, his dowghter Mistres Mary, his brother Mr. William, Mr. Wortley…” (Thanks to Ross Byrne for alerting me to this.)
      • Again, according to his official biography, Sir Francis would only have been 15 years old at this point! Did he bring an infant daughter with him? This, again, seems to strain credulity.
    • I conclude that Moore has conflated two separate individuals named Francis Nicholls. The Francis who was involved with Dee was the father of the Sir Francis Nicholls who succeeded Augustine (and Augustine’s elder brother). Francis Nicholls Senior was born in 1557, so his first visit to Dee would have been around the age of 36, and the visit recorded in Dee’s diary would have been around age 45.
      • Francis Sr.’s eldest daughter was named Mary (an admittedly extremely common name) and was born in 1583; the Dee diary visit would therefore have been when she was about 17, a plausible age for an unmarried daughter to be out visiting with a parent.
      • Francis Sr. did have a brother named William, as mentioned in the Dee diary. Sir Francis, by contrast, did not have any brothers at all.
      • At the time of this chapter, Francis Sr. would be about 59, which isn’t terribly “close to fifty” as Moore describes him, but isn’t hugely inaccurate, either.
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