"The Call of Cthulhu is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories ("The Festival" and "Colour Out of Space" probably round out my top three) and is probably one of the richest for symbol mining. It's rife with stock pulp riffs but also displays a familiarity with esoteric literature that belies his self-image as a hard-bitten materialist.
The Wikipedia entry for the story lists some of the influences Lovecraft scholars have cited in the story, including Tennyson's The Kraken, de Maupassant's The Horla, Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana and William Scott-Elliot's The Story of Atlantis and The Lost Lemuria.
One story they overlook- and a story I am cosmically certain he read- is Jack London's The Red One, which deals with (among other things) a crew of sailors who discover a remote Pacific Island tribe who worship an alien probe that landed on Earth. The florid language of the "starry gulfs" and "pitiless rule of natural selection" should ring a familiar note with any serious Lovecraft fan.
Even as he lay here, under the breadfruit tree, an intelligence that stared across the starry gulfs, so must all the universe be exposed to the ceaseless scrutiny of innumerable eyes, like his, though grantedly different, with behind them, by the same token, intelligences that questioned and sought the meaning and the construction of the whole. So reasoning, he felt his soul go forth in kinship with that august company, that multitude whose gaze was forever upon the arras of infinity.
Who were they, what were they, those far distant and superior ones who had bridged the sky with their gigantic, red-iridescent, heaven-singing message? Surely, and long since, had they, too, trod the path on which man had so recently, by the calendar of the cosmos, set his feet. And to be able to send a message across the pit of space, surely they had reached those heights to which man, in tears and travail and bloody sweat, in darkness and confusion of many counsels, was so slowly struggling.
And what were they on their heights? Had they won Brotherhood? Or had they learned that the law of love imposed the penalty of weakness and decay? Was strife, life? Was the rule of all the universe the pitiless rule of natural selection?
Of one thing he was certain: No drop of red dew shaken from the lion-mane of some sun in torment, was the sounding sphere. It was of design, not chance, and it contained the speech and wisdom of the stars.
What engines and elements and mastered forces, what lore and mysteries and destiny-controls, might be there!While I'm certain Lovecraft read The Red One, I'm also certain he read a corpus of literature altogether more esoteric, and he subtly signals to his readers this fact throughout the text. Here's a telling example from "Cthulhu":
Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism.Ah, yes- Theosophy.
While most Lovecraft fans seem to think Helena Blavatsky was the only Theosophist who ever picked up a pen, there's another Theosophist who in her own way was just as influential, and was certainly more influential on the UFO scene and its relations than the old Madam. (Note that Scott-Elliot, cited on Wikipedia, was also a Theosophist)
Alice Bailey was a Theosophist who became a scare figure in Christian conspiracy literature thanks to her
Bailey claimed to telepathically channel an "Ascended Master" known as 'The Tibetan' aka Djwal Khul, who allegedly dictated a virtual library of nearly-impenetrable Theosophist literature. Bailey was a Blavatsky loyalist and pretender to the throne who was kicked out of the Society when Annie Besant took control. Undaunted, she started her own operation, including a publishing arm and branch offices in Europe and North America.
The Lucis Trust's star rose as the Theosophists' star began to fall and although Bailey and the Trust are relatively obscure now they had a huge influence in their time. Many, including the esteemed religious scholar J. Gordon Melton, have credited her as the founder of the New Age movement. As many as one million people had some involvement with her teachings, according to one source on modern religions.
Bailey had some influence on the United Nations as well, much to the horror of said conspiracy theorists. Which makes this story all the weirder...
THE CALL OF KHUL
Beginning in 1922's Initiation, Human and Solar, Bailey- I'm sorry, Djwal Khul- revealed a dense and elaborate cosmology of angelic beings that came to Earth from the Sirius star system (via astral projection), took human form, and through means not entirely made explicit began to evolve primitive apemen into modern homo sapiens.
Mind you, this is 50 years before Zecharia Sitchin or anyone like that. And way, way before Ancient Aliens.
The Tibetan's telepathic transmissions ran the gamut; Lemuria, Atlantis, Shamballa, Masonic lodges on Sirius and the Pleiades, the whole Theosophical kit and kaboodle. As in the Cthulhu mythos many of these beings went into a kind of hibernation, keeping in contact with an appointed priesthood through telepathy and awaiting the dawning of the New Age.
Though Bailey was a Blavatsky apostle by confession, her own books reveal fascinating revisions to Theosophical mythology, revisions that would account for many of the innovations in the Cthulhu Mythos that had been previously credited to Lovecraft alone.
Besides Lucifer's house magazine The Beacon, Bailey would publish two more books predating the debut of "The Call of Cthulhu", Letters on Occult Meditation and A Treatise on Cosmic Fire.
All three of these books contain cosmological elements that would directly predate Lovecraft-- given the fact that he namechecks Theosophy seven times in "Cthulhu", I would suggest that it's highly probable Lovecraft had access to this literature and it's possible he was keeping it secret from his circle of correspondents (or at least some of them), most likely to safeguard a source for material. As we'll see, his own writings reveal a powerful motive for this. (Note: see postscript)
It's even possible that the Wilcox character in "Cthulhu" was based on an acquaintance of Lovecraft's ("he called himself 'psychically hypersensitive'") who was interested in Theosophy, and was his source for the material that Lovecraft was plundering for his new mythos.
Here's a bullet-point summary of the arguments I'll be making here:
• Alice Bailey was a well-known Theosophist who expanded on Madam Blavatsky's work
• Beginning in 1922, Bailey began preaching a prototype of what is now known as Ancient Astronaut Theory
• Bailey's work contains several unique innovations on Blavatsky's exegesis
• Careful study of Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu shows the distinct influence of Bailey's work on the so-called Chthulu Mythos
• This influence is shown in the names, origins, physical natures, relationship to humanity, past history and other unique details
• Specific clues to Bailey's influence can be found in "Cthulhu" as well as "Shadow Out of Time"
• Bailey's original appeal for Lovecraft may have been that she had written a sequel to the Book of Dzyan, a phatasmagorical Theosophical text that HPL found inspiration in
With that, let's begin with Bailey's origin story...
Bailey and Lovecraft's Alien Hierarchies
From Initiation, here is Bailey's elevator pitch for her millions-years old alien gods:
THE FOUNDING OF THE HIERARCHYIts Appearance on the Planet
Suffice it for our purpose to say that in the middle of the Lemurian epoch, approximately eighteen million years ago, occurred a great event which signified, among other things, the following developments: - The Planetary Logos of our earth scheme, one of the Seven Spirits before the throne, took physical incarnation, and, under the form of Sanat Kumara, the Ancient of Days, and the Lord of the World, came down to this dense physical planet and has remained with us ever since...
With the Ancient of Days came a group of other highly evolved Entities, who represent his own individual karmic group and those Beings who are the outcome of the triple nature of the Planetary Logos.
Those who are now the inner group around the Lord of the World have been primarily recruited from the ranks of those who were initiates on the moon chain (the cycle of evolution preceding ours) or who have come in on certain streams of solar energy, astrologically determined, from other planetary schemes….
Fundamentalists made hay with "Sanat," claiming it was an anagram for Satan, but either way he and his entourage made their way to Earth and took physical form. From "Call of Cthulhu , essentially the same story, less portentously phrased:
They had, indeed, come themselves from the stars, and brought Their images with Them.
These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape - for did not this star-fashioned image prove it? - but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die.
To recap, both impossibly ancient godlike aliens who travel via astral projection. Lovecraft makes a point- exactly as we see in Initiation- that astrology determines the success of their travels. Remember now that Lovecraft claimed not to believe in any of that claptrap. Why would he include that detail? Because he was following someone else's script. It gets better, or worse, depending on your point of view here.
Here's where we get into the nomenclature, the Old Ones and the Deep Ones and the This Ones and the That Ones. From "Chthulu":
My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 1926-27 with the death of my great-uncle, George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Professor Angell was widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions, and had frequently been resorted to by the heads of prominent museums; so that his passing at the age of ninety-two may be recalled by many.The surname "Angell" provides our first clue, because as opposed to Blavatsky's Dzyan verses (cited most often by Lovecraft scholars as his primary Theosophist source), Bailey repeatedly uses the term "Angel" interchangeably with her descriptions of the ascended antediluvian masters.
OK, big deal, right? Perhaps another important clue; Lovecraft undoubtedly knew that in the ancient traditions, angels- or Cherubim- were chimeras, made of many different parts of animals (Just like Cthulhu!). Even in the more modern tradition angels are chimeras of man and bird.
Further, I'm not certain if Lovecraft was aware of this but the surname Gammell means "Old One", but given his track record there's a good chance he did. It seems too much of a coincidence here.
Which brings us to our first exhibit- the naming of these extraterrestrial beings.
Lovecraft uses the "Great Old Ones", Bailey used "Great Ones" and the like throughout Initiation. Lovecraft refers to the Elder Things, Initiation refers to the Ancient One. Two races of impossibly ancient godlike extraterrestrials who travel to Earth via astral projection, two nearly identical names.
Here are some examples from Initiation, Human and Solar:
"He is the greatest of all the Avatars, or Coming Ones"
"To cooperate with the plan of the Great Ones as he sees it and as best he may."
"It is not easy to love as do the Great Ones, with a pure love which requires nothing back"
"They are not very many in number, for the majority of the Great Ones pass on steadily and increasingly to other and higher work, as their places can be taken and their functions carried on by members of our earth evolution, both deva and human."
"Those who do the work of wielding forces, or electrical magnetism for the use of the Great Ones on all the planes, pass to this Path."
"Great waves of ideas and surging currents of public opinion on astral levels, as well as on the higher levels where the Great Ones work, are manipulated by them."
"These mighty Four, Action and Love, in wise cooperation work with their Brothers of a lesser grade, the three Great Lords we know."
"He with the Name we mention not, save in utter adoration; the Youth of Endless Summers, the Light of Life itself, the Wondrous One, the Ancient One, Lord of Venusian Love, the great Kumara with the Flaming Sword, the Peace of all the Earth."There's more in her other books, but you get the idea. And this quote from Initiation feels especially Lovecraftian:
"To the greatest Lord of all, before whom e'en that Ancient One bends in obeisance low; before whose throne of effulgent light Angels of highest rank, Masters and Lords of uttermost compassion, prostrate themselves and humbly bend, waiting the Word to rise."Identical beings, identical names. But what about the exact nature of these beings? First Lovecraft:
These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape - for did not this star-fashioned image prove it? - but that shape was not made of matter.Bailey:
(The Ancient of Days) came down to this dense physical planet and has remained with us ever since. Owing to the extreme purity of his nature…he was unable to take a dense physical body such as ours, and has to function in his etheric body. He is the greatest of all the Avatars, or Coming Ones.Identical origins, identical names, identical natures. What do did these beings do here on Earth, respectively? Lovecraft, you're up:
It was then that he began that rambling tale which suddenly played upon a sleeping memory and won the fevered interest of my uncle. There had been a slight earthquake tremor the night before, the most considerable felt in New England for some years; and Wilcox's imagination had been keenly affected. Upon retiring, he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.
Then, whispered Castro, those first men formed the cult around tall idols which the Great Ones shewed them; idols brought in dim eras from dark stars.
1. . . . Listen, ye sons of the earth, to your instructors -- the sons of the fire. learn, there is neither first nor last, for all is one: number issued from no number.
2. Learn what we who descend from the primordial seven, we who are born from the primordial flame, have learnt from our fathers. . . .
43. They built huge cities, of rare earths and metals they built, and out of the fires vomited, out of the white stone of the mountains and of the black stone, they cut their own images in their size and likeness, and worshipped them.OK, gods descending from the stars, building huge stone cities, building idols of themselves and making them objects of worship.
All published FORTY years before "The Call of Cthulhu."
But what happened to this giant stone city of the space gods? Howard?
The great stone city R'lyeh, with its monoliths and sepulchres, had sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters, full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the spectral intercourse.Dzyan:
44. They built great images nine yatis high, the size of their bodies. inner fires had destroyed the land of their fathers. The water threatened the fourth.
45. The first great waters came. They swallowed the seven great islands.The Dzyan texts are key to this mystery. We'll return to them shortly.
MYSTERY OF THE BAYOU
Here's a giveaway; a detail that Lovecraft threw in, tipping his hat to his source material by adding in a scene meant as an editorial comment on the potential moral hazards that this Theosophic hoodoo posed to polite society, one I'm sure most readers missed.
Let's get some background first...
In Initiation, Human and Solar makes it clear that the new religion is a revival of the ancient Mystery cults:
THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE MYSTERIES
The participants in the mysteries are generally known, and no secret has been made of the general personnel and procedure. It is only sought here to impart a greater sense of reality to the data already given by a fuller exposition and a more pointed reference to the parts played by such during the ceremony.Picking up on the Mystery cult angle, Lovecraft shows just well-read he is when he takes us to the swamps of Louisiana. I'll tell you why shortly.
Animal fury and orgiastic license here whipped themselves to daemoniac heights by howls and squawking ecstacies that tore and reverberated through those nighted woods like pestilential tempests from the gulfs of hell.
From a wide circle of ten scaffolds set up at regular intervals with the flame-girt monolith as a centre hung, head downward, the oddly marred bodies of the helpless squatters who had disappeared. It was inside this circle that the ring of worshippers jumped and roared, the general direction of the mass motion being from left to right in endless Bacchanal between the ring of bodies and the ring of fire.
Only two of the prisoners were found sane enough to be hanged, and the rest were committed to various institutions. All denied a part in the ritual murders, and averred that the killing had been done by Black Winged Ones which had come to them from their immemorial meeting-place in the haunted wood.
Ever since the rites involved the admission of men among the women, and with the added liberation of darkness, absolutely every crime and vice was performed there. The men had more sex with each other than with the women. Anyone who was less prepared for disgrace and slow to commit crimes was offered up as a sacrifice. To consider nothing wrong was the principal tenet of their religio.
Men, as if insane, prophesied with wild convulsions of their bodies, married women in the dress of the Bacchants with streaming hair ran down to the Tiber carrying burning torches, which they dipped into the water and brought out still alight . People were said to have been carried off by gods; they had been strapped to a machine and snatched from sight to hidden caves. Those seized were people who had refused to join in conspiracy or participate in crimes or engage in sex.
ROMAN PERCEPTIONS OF THE BACCHIC CULT
Livy, History of Rome 39.8-13 (abridged)
Note the precisely parallel citations of A., furious rites, B., human sacrifice, C., the machines of death and D., people killed by gods who emerge from their ancient hiding places.
Lovecraft knew his Livy.
This is just an excerpt- you can find all sorts of descriptions of Bacchanals where women rip animals apart with their bare hands and eat them raw, all sorts of yelling and screaming and self-mutilation; these rituals got pretty hairy (though not all Mysteries were as crazy as the Bacchic, certainly).
For a buttoned-up conservative like Lovecraft to see a crazy woman like Alice Bailey desiring to resurrect the ancient Mysteries? Well, you can imagine the horror.
This is a major clue. You can imagine your stock voodoo cult in a horror story, but for Lovecraft to cite an ancient Mystery cult so specifically- and within the context of all the other parallels- suggests to us he was reading Bailey.
Lovecraft speaks of an ancient calamity in which the city of the Old Ones sunk beneath the waves. But this was just a temporary inconvenience- the Old Ones are just biding their time until they rise again. The "spectral intercourse" between god and man goes on.
In the elder time chosen men had talked with the entombed Old Ones in dreams, but then something happened. The great stone city R'lyeh, with its monoliths and sepulchres, had sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters, full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the spectral intercourse. But memory never died, and the high-priests said that the city would rise again when the stars were right.Bailey speaks of the same ancient deluge, only in Atlantis, and the same continuing relationship between the gods and humanity, referring to the First World War which had ended only five years earlier. We will soon see that Bailey's "forces of light" and "forces of darkness"also battled in space, or in "the stars."
The Hierarchy thus took advantage of the discriminative faculty of mind, which is the distinctive quality of humanity, to enable him, through the balancing of the pairs of opposites, to reach his goal, and to find his way back to the source from whence he came.
This decision led to that great struggle which distinguished the Atlantean civilization, and which culminated in the destruction called the flood, referred to in all the Scriptures of the world. The forces of light, and the forces of darkness, were arrayed against each other, and this for the helping of humanity. The struggle still persists, and the World War through which we have just passed was a recrudescence of it.Lovecraft too has Cthulhu and his host of chimeras waiting in the watery wastes of R'lyeh after the ancient deluge, looking to the stars for a signal.
Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R'lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.Both Lovecraft and Bailey are following in previous Theosophical footsteps, but we are seeing fresh impetus from texts that were now contemporary with Lovecraft. Which brings us to a new Book of Dzyan...
Bailey, a Blavatskyian to the core, published a new series of "Stanzas of Dzyan" in A Treatise on Cosmic Fire in 1925. These would be just as florid and Lovecraft-ready as the first batch. Perhaps more so, as we shall see.
Now read this excerpt from Bailey's Dzyan and compare to Lovecraft's quote from "Call":
The waters arose. All sank and was submerged. The sacred remnant, in the place appointed, emerged at later date from out the zone of safety.
The waters dissipated. The solid ground emerged in certain destined places....When the lesser Fifth had midway passed and all the lesser four were peopling the land, the Lords of Dark Intent arose...They constructed other forms. They called for cosmic fire. The seven deep pits of hell belched forth the animating shades.
The period of destruction extended far on either hand. The work was sadly marred. The Chohans of the highest plane gazed in silence on the work. The Asuras and the Chaitans, the Sons of Cosmic Evil, and the Rishis of the darkest constellations, gathered their lesser hosts, the darkest spawn of hell. They darkened all the space. The early Third produced the monsters, great beasts and evil forms. They prowled upon the surface of the sphere.
The watery Fourth produced within the watery sphere, reptiles and spawn of evil fame, the product of their karma. The waters came and swept away the progenitors of the fluidic spawn.
Stunning. There's your Mythos right there, evil beasts in the ocean in communion with evil spirits in outer space. Note the florid prose and emphasis on astrology.
Bailey is obviously riffing on Blavatsky here but doing so in a more sci-fi adjacent manner, offering an exegesis ready made for pulp exploitation. And remember again this is all being credited to a "spirit being" named Khul.
Bailey is obviously riffing on Blavatsky here but doing so in a more sci-fi adjacent manner, offering an exegesis ready made for pulp exploitation. And remember again this is all being credited to a "spirit being" named Khul.
With this, we have the exact allure of Bailey's work for Lovecraft; he was besotted with the Dzyan verses, and to get a whole new source, ripe for pulp exploitation, must have been a godsend. As he wrote in 1933: "I'm quite on edge about that Dzyan-Shamballah stuff. The cosmic scope of it --- Lords of Venus, and all that --- sounds so especially and emphatically in my line!" (Selected Letters, vol. IV, p. 153).
There's another crucial clue: it would be Bailey's work- and not Blavatsky's- where Shamballah would be fully explored. Initation, Human and Solar is rife with references to the mythical city and obviously fresher in the public's mind. Blavatsky's work was 50 years old at this point and includes only two passing references to Shamballah.
As in Secret Doctrine, Bailey's Treatise on Cosmic Fire would also contain these new, sci-fi Stanzas of Dzyan as well as references to the "Lord of Venus" and Shamballah, where like the Great Old Ones, Bailey's "Great Ones" dwell in etheric bodies. All in a more recent and easier-to-digest package.
Alien Overlords? Lucifer? What could be the problem?
Lovecraft keeps hitting the same notes as Bailey. Here we have an old pulp standby but old pulp standbys didn't appear out of the ether, they were lifted from Theosophy and other occult traditions. "Cthulhu":
What the police did extract, came mainly from the immensely aged mestizo named Castro, who claimed to have sailed to strange ports and talked with undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China.Bailey too has the priests of her space gods in China as well, the Gobi desert to be precise, operating in etheric (or undying) form:
This Hierarchy of Brothers of Light still exists, and the work goes steadily on. They are all in physical existence, either in dense physical bodies, such as many of the Masters employ, or in etheric bodies, such as the more exalted helpers and the Lord of the World occupy.
The central home of this Hierarchy is at Shamballa, a center in the Gobi desert, called in the ancient books the "White Island." It exists in etheric matter, and when the race of men on earth have developed etheric vision its location will be recognized and its reality admitted.Amazing. Lovecraft must have been confident his audience- young, male, nerdy- would never go near Theosophist literature, which was written for a largely older, mostly female audience. How else can you explain such brazen appropriation?
But Bailey goes Lovecraft one better- the ancient space gods didn't just come here and do their funky mojo- they came here to make "animal man" a fit receptacle for their consciousness, thereby giving us a pretty clear - or as clear as we're going to get in a Theosophical text- example of Intervention Theory.
So they didn't come here just to build giant stone cities and make themselves gods, they came here to speed up human evolution (see postscript):
The decision of the Planetary Logos to take a physical vehicle produced an extraordinary stimulation in the evolutionary process, and by his incarnation, and the methods of force distribution he employed, he brought about in a brief cycle of time what would otherwise have been inconceivably slow. The germ of mind in animal man was stimulated.
The fourfold lower man, was coordinated and stimulated, and became a fit receptacle for the coming in of the self- conscious entities, those spiritual triads (the reflection of spiritual will, intuition, or wisdom, and higher mind) who had for long ages been waiting for just such a fitting. The fourth, or human kingdom, came thus into being, and the self-conscious, or rational unit, man, began his career.(Note: Bailey is expanding here on Scott-Elliot by adding an evolutionary sheen to the Theosophical Walk-In hoodoo. Curiously, Lovecraft didn't seem to cotton to this, perhaps betraying his own Darwinist impulses).
Lovecraft writes of his Old Ones in their watery tombs, dead but not dead, waiting for for the time when they could burst forth from their prisons.
They could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R'lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious surrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them. But at that time some force from outside must serve to liberate Their bodies. The spells that preserved them intact likewise prevented Them from making an initial move, and They could only lie awake in the dark and think whilst uncounted millions of years rolled by.This too reads like an excerpt from the Book of Dzyan. Here is the same lament, dead but not dead, in a gloomy ocean, waiting for an inevitable resurrection:
Nor Aught nor Nought existed; yon bright sky . Was not, nor heaven's broad roof outstretched above. What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed? Was it the water's fathomless abyss There was not death -- yet there was nought immortal, There was no confine betwixt day and night; The only One breathed breathless by itself, Other than It there nothing since has been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled . In gloom profound -- an ocean without light -- The germ that still lay covered in the husk
Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
Thou wert. And when the subterranean flame Shall burst its prison and devour the frame. Thou shalt be still as Thou wert before And knew no change, when time shall be no more. Oh! endless thought, divine ETERNITY."And as with so much of this material, note how closely Lovecraft aped the portentous syntax of the Dzyan material, whether Blavatsky's or Bailey's. It's uncanny.
Finally, Lovecraft has his Great Old Ones telepathically speaking to the living from their watery tombs, to the "sensitive," through their dreams.
They knew all that was occurring in the universe, for Their mode of speech was transmitted thought. Even now They talked in Their tombs. When, after infinities of chaos, the first men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among them by moulding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach the fleshly minds of mammals.
Here is where I finally begin to conclude that "The Call of Cthulhu began life as a Theosophist, in particular an Alice Bailey, parody.
Bailey claimed that not only was she in contact with a Secret Chief, she claimed she was in telepathic contact with one. The possibilities must have been too rich for Lovecraft to resist. Not only is she in telepathic contact with one of these characters- named Khul, remember- but she claims he's the avatar of a multimillion-year-old alien god who astral projected from a Masonic lodge in the Sirius star system.
I mean, the stories write themselves, don't they?
And so one of the central features is that Cthulhu and his Great Old Ones- as opposed to Khul and his Great Ones- also communicate telepathically with their future cultists, who just like Bailey claimed for the Theosophists, are based on the ancient Mystery cults.
After all, there is a huge precedent for a major pop culture mythos (immensely more popular in its heyday than Lovecraft) being drawn from Theosophical speculation- Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars series.
Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price cited Ascended Master/Secret Chief Khoot Humi (aka "Kuthumi" aka Koothoomi) as a source for Chthulu's name, but like most academics he tends towards the misconception that media-appointed figureheads represent the totality of heretical movements (Von Daniken equals all Ancient Astronaut Theorists, Blavatsky equals all Theosophists, Alex Jones equals all Truthers) and so his work on the Lovecraft-Theosophy connection completely overlooked contemporary Theosophists to HPL such as Bailey.
The final giveaway that Lovecraft was reading Bailey is Djwal Khul- he provides the "hul" in Cthulhu.
Kuthumi and Djwal Khul--
So now we can shovel dirt on the idea that "Lovecraft created Ancient Astronaut Theory." The true fact of the matter is that Lovecraft ripped off Ancient Astronaut Theory from Alice Bailey, straight up, no chaser.
Of course, this only makes the Mythos all the weirder and more resonant, taking it out of the dry, dead world of neckbeardery and Academia and plugging it into the world of the Occult and parapolitics, where it belongs.
This proves yet again that our most resonant myths come only from the world of the irrational and the truly weird, and that without movements like Theosophy and the Golden Dawn there'd be no science fiction or horror or superhero fiction.
What is most important to remember is that the devils here are in the details. The influence of Theosophy on pulp fiction is not a news flash. I wrote about it in Our Gods Wear Spandex. Lovecraft's interest in the proto-ancient astronauts of Madame Blavatsky was explored by Price over thirty years ago.
What is striking here is how close and how specific Lovecraft's appropriations of Bailey's "new revelations" are, how detailed they are. Lovecraft was thrilled by Blavatsky's Dzyan pseudo-history, and was almost certainly equally thrilled to find a fresh wellspring of Theosophical hoodoo to exploit- his livelihood depended on it.
Lovecraft was not a creative person as the term is commonly understood- he was a master synthesist of other people's material (Dunsany, Poe, etc). And that would provide a very clear motive for keeping his discovery of books such as Initiation, Human and Solar secret from his circle of fellow pulp fictioneers.
Note: This is a blog in progress (blogress?). Your contributions are most welcome.
POSTSCRIPT: Like this- Bruce Rux notes that the god-channeling Peaslee character in Lovecraft's 1936 story 'Shadow Out of Time' is remarkably like Alice Bailey, and his "Great Race" bear a striking resemblance to Bailey's "Great Ones", who also sought hosts for their consciousness.
Bailey, Initiation, Human and Solar: The fourfold lower man, was coordinated and stimulated, and became a fit receptacle for the coming in of the self- conscious entities, those spiritual triads.
Lovecraft: Now and then certain captives were permitted to meet other captive minds seized from the future - to exchange thoughts with consciousnesses living a hundred or a thousand or a million years before or after their own ages.
Note also the Bailey/Peaslee surnames, one meaning "berry wood", the other meaning "bent grass wood" (Peaslee is a variant of Beasley, tantalizingly close to "Bailey").
Lovecraft seems to tip his hand to Bailey when he writes in 'Shadow': "A few of the myths had significant connections with other cloudy legends of the prehuman world, especially those Hindu tales involving stupefying gulfs of time and forming part of the lore of modern theosophists." (italics mind)
This is a direct parallelism to Chapter IV of Initiation, Human and Solar, from which we see "Sanat Kumara" and his "Avatars" coming to Earth some 18 million years ago. At time Lovecraft wrote that story- almost 50 years after Blavatsky's death- Bailey was certainly a "modern Theosophist" of some reputation.
Again, 'Shadow Out of Time' provides us with more compelling evidence that Lovecraft was indeed studying Bailey's work. With this and the Dzyan reference in the previously cited letter it would seem he wasn't exactly hiding his sources from his friends (or readers, for that matter), he just wasn't naming them specifically. Which may be splitting hairs, but pulp writing was a tough racket.
Why do you think Hubbard decided to start a religion?
To reiterate, while I can't find any evidence that Lovecraft referred specifically to Bailey, there certainly is overwhelming evidence that he was reading her and putting references to her in his work, and in at least one letter he seems to have been referring to her Dzyan work, as opposed to Blavatsky's.
I don't have any evidence (at the moment -this is a work in blogress) of him referring to Blavatsky by name either- yet no Lovecraft scholars deny he was reading her. In fact, Blavatsky's name only appears on one page in Joshi's two-volume biography of Lovecraft and it's in reference to HPL referring to her by name.
Again, there are two possibilities. First, Lovecraft may have been guarding a source for material, something authors do every single day as part of their jobs. Given the weight of the evidence here, that would be my guess.
But there's also the possibility that he simply may not have always distinguished the Theosophists from each other, seeing them all as the same breed of fantasy-prone hysterics. Given what we know about HPL, that can't be ruled out either.
UPDATE: Amateur gadfly/debunker Jason Colavito is on the case! Besides repeatedly confusing Alice Bailey with Annie Besant (I took screenshots and printed a PDF, Jason), he also says that Lovecraft's 1933 letter referring to Price and the Dzyan material proves it impossible that Lovecraft read any Theosophical material prior to writing Cthulhu.
Now we have a problem. Lovecraft claims in 1933 not to have known about Theosophy and its myths, yet he wrote “Cthulhu” in 1926. Thus he could not have explicitly based “Cthulhu” on Annie Besant’s work, except for the parts that filtered to him (largely unknowingly) through Scott-Elliot. Only later did he learn more from Price. That later influence is especially strong in Price’s contributions to the joint collaboration “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” which is markedly more Theosophical than “Cthulhu,” describing chains of beings and other supernatural claptrap familiar from Theosophy. (Price’s role vis-à-vis Theosophy can be seen by comparing the published story to Price’s original draft, later published as “The Lord of Illusion.” The Theosophical material is all his.)Let's take this apart, piece by piece. First, Lovecraft repeatedly refers to Theosophy in "Call of Cthulhu." He didn't know about its myths? He refers to them in 1928. This is not true- he absolutely knew about Theosophy.
Second, Lovecraft is proven to have read Scott-Elliot's Atlantis and Lemuria books, which are so friggin' Theosophical they were published by the Theosophical Publishing House! No, Jason, you are so very wrong here.
Third, IT'S ALICE BAILEY, NOT ANNIE BESANT!
Fourth, there were two Dzyan texts- a Stanzas of Dzyan (Bailey's) and a Book of Dzyan (Blavatsky's). I'll let the evidence speak for itself, especially Bailey's. They were published well before "Cthulhu", that's all I have to prove.
I hate to break the news, kiddies, but Lovecraft may indeed have been disingenuous here, talking about material to friends once he had already raided it for ideas. He may have done what writers do and kept a source secret from his friends. There are writers who won't tell their friends what their books are about until they're published. It's been well-documented that Chris Carter wouldn't tell the people working on The X-Files movies what they were about. If Jason wants to believe that Lovecraft would never do such a thing, that's his prerogative.
Oh, and by the way, Jason- The Sky People was published the same year as Morning of the Magicians. And there's also Jessup's book on UFOs and the Bible. Just because Von Daniken caught the wave doesn't mean he got the ball rolling. The Beatles didn't invent rock 'n' roll either.
The proof in the pudding is in the eating. I don't have to prove what Lovecraft was saying in 1933 was true or not. What I have to prove is in the texts themselves. Remember that his correspondent here- Clark Ashton Smith- was a competitor. A friend but also a rival. We're talking struggling freelance writers, working for a penny a word.
It's funny, I was leaning away from Lovecraft keeping this material secret, but Colavito has now convinced me that's exactly what he was doing.
UPDATE: And here's exactly why. Colavito includes the full Lovecraft quote to Smith:
Price has dug up another cycle of actual folklore involving an allegedly primordial thing called The Book of Dzyan, which is supposed to contain all sorts of secrets of the Elder World before the sinking of Kusha (Atlantis) and Shalmali (Lemuria). It is kept at the Holy City of Shamballah, and is regarded as the oldest book in the world—its language being Senzar (ancestor of Sanscrit), which was brought to earth 18,000,000 years ago by the Lords of Venus. I don’t know where E. Hoffmann got hold of this stuff, but it sounds damn good…Wait- he doesn't know where Price got hold of it? Come on, Howard. At the time there were only two sources for Dzyan texts; Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine or Bailey's Treatise on Cosmic Fire. Did Price tattoo the material on his chest? And everything Price gave Lovecraft would have "Theosophy" stamped all over it (well, except for Bailey's, that is-- her's would be from 'Lucifer Publishing'-- talk about ready-made for Weird Tales).
This exactly proves my point- Lovecraft is hiding the source for this material from Smith!
It couldn't have been one of the separate Dzyan booklets (which I can't find in print prior to 1941) since they don't mention any of the mythical material Lovecraft cites. The books do.
That's the key here- the combination of the Stanzas and the additional material that Lovecraft cites. And judging from the citations it sounds like he had access to both Doctrine and Treatise. And it doesn't sound- contra Colavaito- that he's referring to a jumble of clippings from Theosophical newspapers (Lucifer again). And "actual folklore" sounds like another red herring to throw Smith off the scent; Lovecraft knew full well it was nonsense.
If Lovecraft would be disingenuous about his source here, why would we possibly then believe his claims to having just stumbled over this material in 1933, when all evidence points to the contrary? Remember, this is pre-Internet. Smith couldn't exactly do a Google search. It's absurd.
So, here were are: Lovecraft was reading Theosophical material well in advance of the writing of "The Call of Cthulhu." The unmistakeable influence of both Blavatsky's and Bailey's Dzyan texts are all over it. He cites Theosophy within the story itself. By name. Case closed.
UPDATE: A friend sent me a reply to a "rebuttal" in which he agreed that I needed to provide more evidence that Lovecraft would have access to the Bailey material as opposed to the Blavatsky. To which I respond that by the 1920s, the Theosophical Society had not only split into several factions, the main organization had radically changed its entire emphasis, with Besant pushing Krishamurti as the new "Lord Maitreya" (or"World Teacher") at the same time Lovecraft was working on 'Cthulhu'.
Theosophy had been already been moving away from Blavatsky's more esoteric teachings several years prior to that when the focus of the organization moved to India, which is precisely why the Baileys began printing up their "back to Blavatsky" works in the early 1920s.
Proof? No. But certainly evidence that the Bailey material would be more current and "trendy" than the old Blavatsky stuff, which was being downplayed at the time by the Theosophists themselves.
Remember again- this is pre-Internet and most public libraries wouldn't be caught dead carrying this stuff. If the Theosophists were hawking a watered-down version of their spiel - without the Dzyan hoodoo-mambo- in order to not scare the rubes off Krishnamurti, it makes perfect sense that Lovecraft (or Price, perhaps more accurately) would have stumbled on it in the fresh off the presses Bailey books.
UPDATE: I should add that a source involved with HPL fandom suggests that some of the hostility towards this thesis might be driven by, oh, just a tad of sexism. I've seen this for myself; there's been a desperate attempt to deny any connection to Blavatsky and lay any connection to Theosophy at the feet of Scott-Elliott, which only goes to show no one's actually read him. But it makes sense in that there's apparently a certain emotional investment in keeping Lovecraft free of the stain of Eve.
I certainly didn't realize at the time I posted, but there's a movement underway to replace Lovecraft with Octavia Butler as the figurehead of the World Fantasy Awards. I can't help but think some Jungian weirdo muscling in with this Alice Bailey business was just rubbing salt in the wounds. It would certainly explain some of the behavior I've been witnessing in response to this piece out there.
UPDATE: On a more general note, it's really a shame some of people who've thrown such fits over this piece can't see that what I'm trying to do is expand their Lovecraft experience, not diminish it. It's the old fanboy impulse to want these universes to be hermetically sealed, to exist in a never-never world, unstained by the world outside.
A lot of comics visionaries have lamented this impulse, people like Frank Miller, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. I'm afraid there's really nothing to be done for it. I've been involved in fandom in one way or another since the 1970s and I know that some things just never change. I saw the same impulse in some of the reaction to Our Gods Wear Spandex.
But by now I know to speak to people outside the rapidly-contracting closed circle. Spandex opened up a whole new world for me, and opened up a new world for a lot of readers as well. The brickbats are just an occupational hazard.
UPDATE: A very important fact to remember is that Lovecraft is in New York during the genesis of "Cthulhu." Who else is in New York? The "Back to Blavatsky" Baileys and their Lucifer Publishing Company. As we would see with Jack Parsons and the LASFS or with Philip K Dick and his crowd of hippies and mystics (including Bishop James Pike, aka 'Timothy Archer'), pulp fiction writers, Bohemians and occultists often traveled in the same circles or could found rubbing elbows at social gatherings.
But all that aside, at the very least what we have here is Lovecraft in the city where Alice Bailey was headquartered, at the very same time she was putting her books out on the streets. At the very same time the Theosophical Society were trying to lock away texts like The Secret Doctrine so as to clear the path for their messiah Krishnamurti.
Lovecraft wouldn't even need a Price to stumble across this material- he could have found it himself from some street vendor on the way home from the Weird Tales office. Anyone who's worked in New York- especially before Giuliani- will know exactly what I'm talking about. His own words put him on Broadway- and judging from his description lower Broadway where Bailey was located- around this time. I don't know how much closer you can get here.
And let's also remember that Bailey's Dzyan hits the streets (1925) in the midst of a major crisis in Lovecraft's life- Sophia's business fails requiring her to leave the city, Weird Tales is financially shaky, he doesn't get on with his new editor, and he's forced to move to Red Hook (which he despises). All these stresses take a toll on his health. In general, this is a major low point in a generally unhappy life.
So, remind me again why he wouldn't keep a promising new source for material secret?
©2014 Christopher Loring Knowles. All Rights Reserved.