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THE CTHULHU MYTHOS
"All my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the universe-at-large." Lovecraft, 1927
"Man's relations to man do not captivate my fancy. It is man's relation to the cosmos--to the unknown--which alone arouses in me the spark of creative imagination." Lovecraft, 1921
THE SUPREME GODS
At the top of the Mythos is AZATHOTH. A scientific description is given of him as the "monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space." But in more spiritual and natural terms he is said to be the mindless entity, demon-sultan, lord of all things, who gnaws hungrily as he rules all time and space from a black throne in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time at the center of the Ultimate Chaos amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers. His godhood is recognized in both our world and in Dreamworld. To mortals, his is the name no lips dare speak aloud. This is all we know of this most high of the Mythos. It is perhaps the "mindless" aspect of Azathoth that moves him to the uppermost position of the universe. His indifference to all but the swirl of chaos directly around him holds him above all other gods. Unseen, removed, unspeakable, he is beyond all time and space. His appearance, purpose and, motives are unknown and may never be revealed to us.
From a literary aspect, the most intriguing of his five appearances in Lovecraft's work is the 1922 fragment entitled 'Azathoth." In it there is the slight hint that possibly this being is a man taken away in his dreams to become the center of chaos or that Azathoth is a being which can take a man away in his dreams. One of the great problems of envisioning or discussing the gods greater than Cthulhu is that they are beyond human means of understanding. Words fail the seeker. Yet, there are some earthly gods who may bear some relationship to Azathoth, or be pale earthly attempts at comprehending him.
Breaking the name into its parts may reveal literary origins. 'AZA' could be Assur (or Ashur) of Assyrian mythology, their principal deity and god of war and empire or from Asa, the king of Judah who repelled the Egyptians and defeated the Isrealites. The second part THOTH may be from Thoth, in Egyptian mythology, who was god of the moon and Hermopolis in Middle Egypt. Shown as either an ibis with a pointed beak or as a dog-faced baboon, Thoth was the scribe of the gods and inventor of writing. To mankind he was the patron of writing, learning, and sciences. In his youth, Lovecraft had studied and written on the subject of Egyptian mythology. To equate the Egyptian god-patron of writing and the sciences with the ultimate being of the universe seems quite within Lovecraft's sly and scholarly sense of humor.
Great YOG-SOTHOTH is almost the equal of Azathoth. The Yuggothians call him "The Beyond One" and Old Whateley of Dunwich calls him "the key to the gate whereby the spheres meet." He is described by Randolph Carter who meets him in Dreamworld as the All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless being and self--not merely a thing of one space-time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence's unbounding sweep--the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike. He sits alone on a "throne more hexagonal than otherwise..." The Salem witch Joseph Curwen raised him and saw "the face spoken of by Ibn Schacabao." Yog-Sothoth is believed to have sired Wilbur Whateley and the Dunwich monster. Like Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth is recognized in both our world and Dreamworld.
Yog-Sothoth's contact with humanity seemingly brings him below Azathoth's indifference. Yog-Sothoth, like so many of the gods of our world's religions, makes contact with humanity to guide its subjects, demand devotion, or interact with its women to create demi-gods.
A greater insight into Yog-Sothoth can be found, not in Lovecraft's fiction, but in his correspondence and conversations with Willis Conover recorded in Conover's "Lovecraft at Last." Lovecraft is said to have described Yog-Sothoth as having pseudopodic tentacles "(which can pass through the most solid walls)." "Yog doesn't always have long, ropy arms, since he assumes a variety of shapes-solid, liquid, and gaseous-at will. Possibly, though, he's fondest of the form which does have 'em." Yog-Sothoth has no parents, "he always existed." And "those whom Yog-Sothoth touches are never seen again... at least, in any recognizable shape. It is not even safe to speak the name of Yog-Sothoth aloud. If we seem to have done so, and yet remain alive, it is merely because our merciful ignorance has caused us to mispronounce it." This is much like the name of Azathoth yet there is a leeway, perhaps an element of mercy shown. Most interesting is the fact that "Yog-Sothoth's wife is the hellish cloud-like entity Shub-Niggurath, in whose honor nameless cults hold the rite of the Goat with a Thousand Young. By her he has two monstrous offspring, the evil twins Nug and Yeb. He has also begotten hellish hybrids upon the females of various organic species throughout the universes of space-time (cf. "'The Dunwich Horror')."
THE OTHER GODS
THE OTHER GODS are creatures of time and space beyond our world who oversee the earth and/or Dreamworld who are subservient to Azathoth. They watch over and protect the earth gods who dance and play in their temple at the top of the Hatheg-Kla.
Two of the Other Gods are recognized in both our world and Dreamworld. They are NODENS and TSATHOGGUA. Nodens is the great, hoary Lord of the Great Abyss with his mindless guardians, the nightgaunts. Tsathoggua is the amorphous, toad-like god-creature from the black, lightless N'Kai. Tsathoggua first appeared in the Clark Ashton Smith short story "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" (where he said the god came from Cykranosh, or Saturn). He is mainly worshipped by the furry, prehuman Hyperboreans.
SHUB-NIGGURATH is recognized around the world and almost always invoked as "Ia! Shub-Niggurath." She is a hellish cloud-like entity, in whose honor nameless cults hold the rite of the Goat with a Thousand Young (sometimes "Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young"). The wife of Yog-Sothoth, she bore him two monstrous offspring, the evil twins Nug and Yeb (neither of whom appear in the tales of Lovecraft).
UMR AT-TAWIL, the Other God of Dreamworld is the eternal Guide of Dreamworld, "the Most Ancient One and The Prolonged of Life" as he is called in the Necronomicon. He guided Randolph Carter into Dreamworld after his disappearance from Arkham.
THE MESSENGER OF THE GODS
While he is one of the Other Gods, NYARLATHOTEP holds a special place between his companions and our world. He is described as the messenger from the Other Gods to the world of men. Nyarlathotep appears among mankind in a number of guises. The oldest recorded appearance is in Egypt where he came guised as an Egyptian, with the features and bearing of a Pharaoh, claiming he'd risen out of the blackness of 27 centuries and heard messages from places not of this earth. He has appeared repeatedly since in the guise of the Black Man of the witches (see THE BLACK MAN below). In his account of the Haunter of the Dark, Robert Blake wrote in his diary, "...Nyarlathotep, who in antique and shadowy Shem even took the form of a man."
Certainly the bridge between the Other Gods and the Earth Gods is CTHULHU (sometimes called the "Great Priest Cthulhu.") It is said the proper pronunciation is "Koo-Too-Loo." Of all the gods of Lovecraft's mythology, Cthulhu is the most dangerous to mankind. Whether a god, demi-god, or alien life-form, he came to earth aeons before mankind. His world or civilization rose from the South Pacific ocean only to submerge again about the time man appeared on earth. While most have forgotten him, he waits in his submerged Pacific city of R'lyeh for the day when the stars are right and he will rise to take command of the world. If he was once a mere mortal creature, his natural longevity and the prophesy of the stars have turned him into a god. Unlike the Other Gods above him, though his return to reign over our world is certain, we may be able to defeat him, even destroy him. He and his spawn fought the pre-human, alien civilizations of earth. Worldwide, there appears to be a human and creature cult dedicated to Cthulhu and his return to power. In Australia, the aborigine tribes speak of him as Buddai, the "gigantic old man who lies asleep for ages underground with his head on his arm, and who will someday awake and eat up the world."
In appearance, Cthulhu is described in "The Call of Cthulhu" as "The Thing can not be described--there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awakened to claim his own." Despite this, Cthulhu is depicted in a pagan sculpture which was described as "a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence."
Cthulhu has a particular ability to reshape himself. When Johansen and Briden tried to escape Cthulhu in the South Pacific by ramming their ship into the swimming god: "...the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of daemon galleon. The awful squid-head wraith writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.
"There was a bursting as of an exploded bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper. For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething astern; where--God in heaven!--the scattered plasticity of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original form, whilst its distance widened every second as the Alert gained impetus from its mounting steam."
Of Cthulhu's origin we know little except that he came from the stars, most likely by way of Yuggoth, the ninth planet of our solar system. But it is chronicled in the history of the Old Ones and recorded in "At the Mountains of Madness" that "Another race--a land race of beings shaped like octopi and probably corresponding to fabulous prehuman spawn of Cthulhu--soon began filtering down from cosmic infinity and precipitated a monstrous war which for a time drove the Old Ones wholly back to the sea--a colossal blow in view of the increasing land settlements. Later peace was made, and the new lands were given to the Cthulhu spawn whilst the Old Ones held the sea and the older lands." Then in a great natural upheaval, "the lands of the Pacific sank again, taking with them the frightful stone city of R'lyeh and all the cosmic octopi, so that the Old Ones were again supreme on the planet except for one shadowy fear about which they did not like to speak."
Unfortunately, we know little of the gods of that mysterious parallel world which can only be entered in the dreams of those who have the Silver Key. But principle among their gods is OUKRANOS. NATH-HORTHAN is worshipped by the high priests in the temple of Celephais. The city of Sarnath is ruled by a triumvirate of gods: LOBON, TAMASH, and ZO-KALAR. Sarnath was laid to waste by the curse of BOKRUG, the great water-lizard god worshipped by the people/creatures of Ib (who may or may not have been the Moon-beasts).
Of all the strange tales of Dreamworld, the CHILDREN OF THE FIRE MIST is certainly the most mysterious. It is said that these beings came to earth to teach the Elder lore to man.
The most intriguing of the EARTH GODS is DAGON, the sea-bound god monster who rules over the Deep Ones. His Pacific abode was discovered by the sailor from a freighter sunk in World War I who escaped his captors only to find himself on the suddenly risen land once ruled by Dagon. It is possible that Dagon is either an earthbound spawn of Cthulhu or may be Cthulhu himself filtered through human mythology. The land which rose under the sailor's boat may be the city of R'lyeh, seen in the same cataclysmic rise and fall seen in "The Call of Cthulhu." But Dagon, in non-Lovecraftian mythology, was the chief god of the ancient Philistines and later the Phoenicians, represented as half-man and half-fish. Oddly, Dagon is mentioned as "Father Dagon" to "Mother Hydra." HYDRA, whose name means "water serpent," was the many-headed daughter of Echidna and Typhon. She was reared by Hera herself and lived in the swamps of Lerna. Hercules killed her by cutting her heads off and having his nephew immediately cauterize the necks before new heads could grow. It is sometimes said she had one head that was eternal which Hercules buried.
Another pairing of mythical gods happens in "The Rats in the Walls." The narrator of the tale discovers a subterranean altar to ATYS, a Phrygian god secretly worshipped by heretical Romans. In actual fact, this is Attis who, in Phrygian mythology, is the god of fertility and the consort of Cybele, who was also worshipped by the Romans. CYBELE, in Phrygian mythology, is the goddess of nature. In Greek mythology she is believed to have purified Dionysus after he had found the meaning of the vine and Hera sent him mad. She is often called "Rhea" by the Greeks and "the mother of the gods." Her cult was orgiastic, finding expression in violence, and was therefore vaguely connected with the cult of Dionysus. She is also identified with the worship of the MAGNA MATER, the mother of the gods, the female fertility goddess worshipped by European pagans and early Romans.
Of the ancient pagan gods, SAMAEL and SEPHIROTH are mentioned passingly in "The Horror at Red Hook." Prominent in the story is ASHTORETH who, in ancient Syrian and Phoenician mythologies, is the goddess of love and fertility (identified with Astarte).
Three other Greek gods appear in various stories: the title character, HYPNOS, the god of sleep from Greek mythology, who is the son of Night and Aiolos and Tyche in "The Tree." Hypnos's illicit love for Endymion caused him to sleep with his eyes always open AIOLOS was a god worshipped by both the Arcadians and the Syracusans. In Greek Mythology, Aeolus was the son of Hellen (founder of the Hellenic world) who was the son of Deucalion (son of Prometheus) and Pyrrha (red-haired daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora). Aeolus, with brothers Dorus and Xuthux, founded the three branches of Hellenic culture. Aeolians are the descendants of this third son and the island named after him refused Odysseus landing. TYCHE is one of the Okeanid, the daughters of Okeanos and Tethys, revered by the people of Syracuse. The Tyrant of Syracuse had sculptors bid for the commission of creating a statue to her.
Still from European roots, BRAN who appears in "The Whisperer in Darkness" might be a reference to Bran Mak Morn, the king of the Caledonean Picts in Robert E. Howard's stories. Or both Lovecraft and Howard may have referred back to the three Brans of Celtic mythology: 1.) Bran, who with Sceolan, was the favorite hound of Finn Mac Cumhal who was father of Oisin and the head of the Fianna of Ireland (who holds many parallels to King Arthur of Britain); 2.) Bran son of Febal, whose story is similar to that of Oisin (son of Finn). He was summoned by Manannan son of Lir to visit Emhain, the Isle of Women, from which return is impossible; or 3.) Bran the Blessed, the giant brother of Manawyddan and Branwen and the son of Llyr (or Ler), the god of the sea. His story is told in the Mabinogion. Bran the Blessed is one of the oldest gods of pre-Celtic tradition, Goidelic or even, according to Professor John Rhys, pre-Goidelic tradition. After the insult of his sister by her British husband, King Matholwch, Bran waded across the Irish Sea to defeat the king and his host. Lying down he formed a bridge for his army. He possesses a magic cauldron in which the dead are brought back to life. He was a musician and protector of bards. He is king of the infernal regions. Beheaded after poisoned by an arrow, his head protected (buried with his body in London's Tower Hill) protected England until Arthur unwisely exhumed it thus allowing the Saxon invasion.
The god HUITZILOPOTCHLI comes from Aztec legend. His name is repeatedly invoked in "The Transition of Juan Romero." He is the son of Coalticue, a goddess who lived on the "serpent mountain." Her name means "serpent-petticoated." Before his birth his 400 brothers and sister conspired to kill Coalticue but Huitzilopotchli was born fully armored and slaughtered his siblings. He is the young sun god of the Aztecs, their war god and chief god, who guided the Aztecs in their wanderings. He was, like many Aztec gods, a magician ("necromanticos y hechiceros") and the missionary of the 'Aztec vocation.' His symbol is the serpent.
There are three earth gods who are mentioned who have no foundation in historical mythology but are the creations of modern authors. HASTUR, mentioned in the same tale, was the god of shepherds created by Ambrose Bierce and previously reused by Robert Chambers in "The King in Yellow."
The Lovecraftian creations are BUDDAI and YIG. Buddai, mentioned in "The Shadow Out of Time," was believed by Australian aborigines to be a "gigantic old man who lies asleep for ages underground with his head on his arm, and who will someday awake to eat up the world." Like Dagon, this might be a variation of the Cthulhu myth of "in his house in R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming." Yig mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness," is the father of serpents. He was created, most likely, by Lovecraft when revising and retitling a Zelia Bishop Reed story.
THE UNCERTAIN GODS
Within the works of Lovecraft a great number of names are dropped without explanation. The one easiest to decipher is L'MUR-KATHULOS, mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness." This is most likely the Lemurian form of Cthulhu or, like the Australian aboriginal 'Buddai,' a primitive view of the god.
But there is a long list of names which probably refer to gods, but without extensive research into the world's religions and mythology, may never be known to us. These names are: DAIKOS ("Polaris"), AIDENN and DZANNIN ("Nathicana"), ALMONSIN, METRATON, and SABAOTH ("The Case of Charles Dexter Ward"), GORGO and MORMO ("The Horror at Red Hook"), and N'GAH-KTHUM ("The Whisperer in Darkness)
A demon is a spirit, a supernatural being less than a god but greater than mankind. Most people think of demons as evil (though this is not necessarily the case). The Mythos seems to recognize two forms of demons. First is the Judeo-Christian demons of the Bible. Reverend Hoadley in a sermon in Dunwich shortly before his disappearance talked about the close presence of SATAN while Zadok Allen described Obed Marsh as an "old limb of Satan." The root word "satan" meant "to be adverse, persecute." In its earliest sense this word referred only to a human adversary. Satan first appeared as the name of a distinct personality in the Bible (I Chronicles). According to the Talmud, he was an archangel and was cast out of heaven for disobedience. Milton continues this in "Paradise Lost." He has come to be synonymous with Lucifer and alternately titled the Devil or the Prince of Darkness.
Reverend Hoadley also mentioned other "demons": Azazal, Buzazel, Belial, and Beelzebub. AZAZAL is the legendary leader of those sons of God who took human wives (Genesis, vi, 2-4). His name comes from the Hebrew 'azazel,' meaning "removal," hence scapegoat. In Milton's Paradise Lost, he becomes an associate of Satan. Of BUZAZEL, he seems to be another of the fallen angels in league with Satan.
BELIAL was originally a word in the Scriptures and in rabbinical and apocryphal literature commonly meaning "worthless." [Hebrew beliyya'al "uselessness" : beliy, without + ya'al, use.] In later Hebrew literature and alluded to in the New Testament (II Corinthians 6:15) it became identified with "Satan" as a personification of wickedness and ungodliness. In Milton's Paradise Lost, he became one of the fallen angels who rebelled against God.
BEELZEBUB, whose name means "lord of the flies," was a the god of the Philistines who could summon or send away the hordes of flies that brought pestilence and plague mentioned in the Bible (II Kings 1:2). In Hebrew mythology, he became the Devil; in Milton's Paradise Lost, he was chief of the fallen angels, next to Satan in power.
In "The Horror at Red Hook," the pagan god ASHMODAI is invoked. This is Asmodeus who, in Jewish demonology, is an evil spirit or "spirit of anger," and, later, the king of the demons.
LILITH was originally a female demon worshiped by the Hebrews during the Babylonian captivity. Later, she was represented as a demon or vampire in the form of a seductive woman, in the Torah and Teutrarch, the first wife of Adam, or, in medieval demonology, a witch.
The second group of demons are those who are inventions of the writer. Though THE BLACK MAN is a traditional witchcraft figure, Lovecraft puts a spin on him, making him an incarnation of Nyarlathotep. In traditional witchcraft, the Black Man sealed the pacts between the Devil and the witch. He is not racially black but a man whose whole appearance is the absence of color. The Black Man is mentioned in connection with Keziah Mason. The Black Man of the Haute Vienne Coven is mentioned in Joseph Curwen's correspondence. Two 'demons' appear in the short story 'Memory": THE DAEMON OF THE VALLEY and THE GENIE. The Genie asked the Daemon of the Valley who erected the ruins in the Valley of Nis and the Daemon of the Valley answered that, though he was old, he was "memory" and could barely remember that man had once built the city but knew not what became of man or why the river Than runs red.
THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK is the title monster from the dark gulf of Chaos which could be summoned by the angular stone forged in Yuggoth called the Shining Trapezohedron. The stone was discovered in Egypt by Professor Enoch Bowen in the 1840's and used by the Starry Wisdom cult.
THE HOODED THING is a creature who appears during a horrid ritual in a cave in the Maine woods in "The Thing on the Doorstep."
This article first appeared in The Arkham Advertiser, volume 1, issue 2
Copyright © 1993, Miskatonic University Press, all rights reserved
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