Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Guest Post: John L. Steadman

The author of H.P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition (2015) offers his unique perspective on Lovecraft’s mythos, in particular, a Yuletide reflection on The Dunwich Horror.


H. P. Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothoth: Christian Parody or Looking-Glass God?

H. P. Lovecraft’s Great Old One Yog-Sothoth takes many different forms in Mythos fiction; he can appear solid, liquid, or even kaleidoscopic, but his usual form is as a congeries of iridescent globes, and when he manifests, these globes function as portals to alternate dimensions, to different worlds, and to the great diversity of galaxies beyond the parameters of our own time/space continuum. 

As such, Yog-Sothoth is often designated as the key and guardian of the gates whereby the spheres meet.  But, of course, titles such as these are nothing more than attempts on the part of human beings to understand Yog-Sothoth in terms of his noumenal existence, and, since humans can’t really understand anything noumenal, all linguistic efforts end up as merely a futile grasping, a clutching, as it were, at something cosmic and beyond the phenomenal.  [Noumenal pertains to objects or events as they appear in themselves, apart from human sensory perception; the ‘thing-in-itself’.]

The Christian mythographers, for various reasons, have shown interest in Yog-Sothoth.   The most prominent of these myth makers and the most representative, Robert M. Price, in Biblical Bits in Lovecraft (2013), imposes a Christian interpretation on Lovecraft’s great tale, The Dunwich Horror (1928). This tale develops the interesting idea of sexual congress between the Great Old Ones and human consorts.  In the story, Wilbur Whateley’s grandfather evokes Yog-Sothoth on the top of Sentinel Hill on Candlemas evening, 1913, and afterwards, Yog-Sothoth couples with Lavinia Whateley, a deformed albino woman.  In due course, Lavinia gives birth to Wilbur and his twin brother, a monstrous, invisible, protoplasmic entity that the family decides to keep hidden in the upper part of their house. 

This charming, rather homey tale, in Price’s estimation, is a parody of the Christian myth of the birth of Christ; Lavinia, thus, represents the Virgin Mary, Yog-Sothoth represents the Holy Spirit, and Wilbur and his twin are pagan versions of the Christ-child. Price goes on to argue that Wilbur experiences a symbolic death and resurrection when he is attacked by the watch dog at the Miskatonic University Library during his unsuccessful attempt to steal the library’s copy of the Necronomicon.  Finally, in the climax of the tale, the death of Wilbur’s brother on Sentinel Hill parodies the Crucifixion of Christ on Golgotha.

This is interesting and Lovecraft’s story undoubtedly can be read in this fashion.  But if Christianity must be brought into this tale, then a Gnostic interpretation makes more sense. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE), an early Christian writer, seeing the rise of the Gnostic cults in his day, studied the doctrine of these cults in order to intellectually refute their beliefs and practices.  Peter Levenda, in The Dark Lord: H. P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic (2013) makes this interesting point, an observation that is relevant here:

“According to Clement, human sexual intercourse that was not directed towards the divine—sexual relations that were the result of the lustful feelings of the partners—produced ‘defective’ offspring.  Lovecraft would take this idea much further, for he raises the possibility of sexual relations between humans and non-human creatures that result in defective offspring, to say the least.” [1] 

Surely, the Gnostic approach to divine interactions, the merging of Gods with men, reflects more accurately Lovecraft’s subject matter and his themes in this tale.

If I were a mythographer, and sympathetic to the Mythos scholars who can’t help but categorize and transcribe noumenal concepts into pseudo-phenomenal realities, then I would find the dual myth of Narcissus to be much more instructive as having special significance to Yog-Sothoth; I would “go Greek” rather than Hebrew, so to speak.  Here, I refer to the Narcissus myth as dual, because there are two mutually exclusive versions of it. 

In the first one, Narcissus isn’t a beautiful young man at all, as one might expect; rather, he is merely a white-petaled flower. Persephone is gathering flowers in the Vale of Enna along with companions and she sees the flower, but when she reaches to pick it, a chasm opens up in the earth and the Greek God Hades rises out of it, the Dark Lord in all of his splendor, riding in a chariot drawn by coal-black horses, and Hades carries Persephone to Hell to be his Queen. 

In the second myth, we do finally have a beautiful young man. Narcissus, a Greek youth, who is so beautiful that all the girls and women who see him want him to be their lover.  But Narcissus doesn’t want any of them; he feels that if he falls in love, then a woman would have power over him and so he keeps himself aloof.  Finally, one heartbroken girl, hurt when Narcissus rejects her, prays to the Gods and Goddesses to punish him.  Nemesis (a name which means “righteous anger”), hears the prayer and makes it so that Narcissus falls in love with his own image.  And Narcissus, in love with himself but unable to satisfy that love, eventually dies.

Now, it must be understood that Yog-Sothoth, in his noumenal state invariably manifests along the lines indicated above. But what is generally not understood is that Yog-Sothoth’s wondrous globes are much more than simply portals; they are mirrors as well, translucent mirrors superimposed on the portals.  Consequently, Yog-Sothoth sees himself mirrored in his own globes each time that he manifests.  And more importantly, at least by human standards, Yog-Sothoth sees himself in terms of the dimensions, worlds and galaxies in which he could potentially manifest.  Yog-Sothoth, therefore, is very much what contemporary physicists refer to as a Quantum Effect, but of course, a Quantum Effect writ large.

And so, Persephone woolgathering in the spring signifies the human being; the white flower is the portal and the sudden infusion of Hades in his dark, demonic glory, is the Quantum Effect, the apotheosis of the human desire for knowledge and power, though this desire is harbored deep inside Persephone and unperceived until she becomes the Queen of Hell and finds all secrets revealed to her at last.  In this version of the myth, the presence of Yog-Sothoth is implied only by the white flower, and this emblem is, of course, one of the Great Old One’s globes, cunningly placed in the natural world  to draw Persephone out of the darkness into the light and then, into a greater darkness.
In the second version of the myth, Narcissus as an actual human being has taken center stage.  But here, he represents Yog-Sothoth himself, staring at his image reflected and transmuted in his globes.  Yog-Sothoth sees himself in a human setting; yet, he sees himself in his noumenal state as well.  He is, thus, enamored by what he sees.  He is hypnotized by his visions; he is lulled into a sweet state of stasis and dream, much like his brother Great Cthulhu, asleep and dreaming in sunken R’lyeh.  And Yog-Sothoth remains in this state, granting access to those who seek him out—always intrepid, magickal practitioners, who access the diversity of dimensions, worlds and galaxies, as the cycles of night, time and space expand endlessly.

[For more discussion of Lovecraftian magick, myths and metaphysics,  along with discussion of Lovecraft’s relationship to the Vodou cults, the Wiccan religion, the Typhonian order, the Church of Satan and the Chaos Magick Pacts, see H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, released by Weiser Books on September 1, 2015]


[1] Levenda, Peter. The Dark Lord: H. P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic. Ibis Press, 2013, 219-20.

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