Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lovecraft Revisited: Cthulhu, Crowley and Cosmic Fire

Peter Levenda has two new books out. One is a nonfiction work ( Sekret Machines: Gods ) attached to Tom DeLonge's Sekret Machines project. 

Gods attempts to put the ancient astronaut corpus of the past 50 years into an entirely new context, one explicitly connected to the mysterious cabal of high-ranking government, intelligence and military figures DeLonge claims to be working with. 

To what end exactly is still a very open question at this point.*  

I haven't finished Gods so I can't comment on it yet but what I've read feels more like The Secret Doctrine or the The Secret Teachings of All Ages than The 12th Planet or Passport to Magonia. 

Which is to say that so far it's more a primer on esoteric history with some UFOlogy sprinkled here and there for seasoning than a UFO book per se. So it would probably make a worthwhile addition to your library as a reference text, if nothing elseI'm not exactly sure how it all plays into the Sekret Machines concept per se but I suppose we'll find out soon enough; there are two more volumes planned in the series. 

Concurrently, Levenda released a fiction work called The Lovecraft Code (a reference to The DaVinci Code, I'm assuming) in which he posits a link between Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and the ritual magic of Aleister Crowley, among others. 

The rough concept here is that there is a real-world connection between the Cthulhu Mythos and The Book of the Law et al, an argument buttressed by synchronistic dates, names, etc, a connection inspired or driven by supernatural forces linking Crowley to Lovecraft.

It's a novel premise for, um, a novel. (I've not read the book so I can't comment on it past what I've heard Levenda discuss on podcasts).

It should be noted, however, that these parallels may not be entirely coincidental. Believe it or not, there's a common denominator between Lovecraft and Crowley and that's the always-looming spectre of British Intelligence.

Crowley is widely believed to have been working for the Crown during World War I at the very least (some claim he was recruited straight out of Cambridge) and for some time thereafter.  How extensive his involvement with spycraft was exactly is a favorite parlor game for occultists. 

Some argue he was a spy along and others say he was typically overstating his involvement to bolster his cyclopean ego. It's a toss-up, the way I see it.

Meanwhile,  back in the States...

Lovecraft was recruited by British Intelligence agent Harry Houdini to cowrite a story for Weird Tales two full years before "The Call of Cthulhu." They later collaborated on other projects as well. From the Wiki:

"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" became a popular story and was received favorably by Houdini. The escape artist was so impressed that, until his death, he continued offering the writer jobs and ghostwriting opportunities. Among them was an article criticizing astrology (for which he was paid $75 – approximately $1048 in present-day terms) and a book entitled The Cancer of Superstition, of which Lovecraft had completed an outline and some introductory pages prior to Houdini's 1926 death.


To thank the author for his work, Houdini gave Lovecraft a signed copy of his 1924 book A Magician Among the Spirits. 
I doubt that this led to Lovecraft himself working as a spy (though there's reason to believe he may have worked as a courier, given his travels) but it's entirely possible that Houdini could have also hooked him up with some occult literature (like Book of the Law) as research for The Cancer of Superstition.

It's also certainly possible that one of the occultists Houdini could have introduced Lovecraft to was the Theosophical fruitcake Alice Bailey, founder of the Lucis Trust and widely seen as the godmother of the modern New Age movement.

A good argument could be made that Bailey was providing weekend seekers with a more acceptable variant on Crowleyism, a Crowley safe for suburban consumption. Both were well-born Britons who were drawn to the excitement of the occult renaissance, both claimed to be co-authors with supernatural beings, both were prolific writers (and publishers) of work many reasonable people find absolutely impenetrable, and both jumbled a whole mess of traditions and teachings from East and West and put their own unique spin on them.

And, of course, both have been fertile targets for conspiracy theorizing, especially in the past 40 years or so.

In one of the most-read posts on this site I proposed that H.P. Lovecraft drew heavily on the works of Theosophist Alice Bailey, particularly her 1922 book Initiation, Human and Solar, for his signature Cthulhu mythos.

I didn't expect this to be overly controversial- Lovecraft actually refers to Theosophy several times in the 'The Call of Cthulhu' and was known to have read Theosophical literature (specifically that of William Scott-Elliot). 

I laid out several points of similarity between Bailey's metaphysical meanderings and Lovecraft's fiction, including the names (Bailey is overly fond of this "One"and that "One" while naming her superbeings) natures and backstories of their respective star gods. They're all over the place if you only take the time to look:

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. 
Lovecraft - like many other important artists - was a unapologetic collagist and proudly wore his influences on his sleeves. Most of them, at least.

Claiming Lovecraft was pillaging from Poe or Dunsany isn't remotely controversial but I guess suggesting that the hallowed Cthulhu mythos might have lifted ideas from the febrile hothouses of Theosophy is taking it a step too far. 

Never mind that Theosophy and other esoteric systems were constantly being ransacked by Lovecraft's pulp contemporaries for story ideas at the time.

More than the various parallels is the gestalt- Lovecraft seemed impressed by Bailey's swing- for-the-fences cosmology and may have figured it had potential for strip-mining for the mythos he was slowly fermenting in order to pull all the various horrors he'd been throwing at readers under one big umbrella.

It's hard to read Bailey's swivel-eyed cosmogonies and not see the lines of continuity with Lovecraft (it's hard to read Bailey, period). In spite of their obvious differences, both were creatures of the late Victorian Era, would-be aristocrats straining back towards mythical lost eras. Both were found of stilted, archaic language and both were fond of calling down impossibly ancient and powerful forces in their writing.

Initiation, Human and Solar is one interesting source for Lovecraft's pillaging but there's another Bailey word-salad that was released closer to the writing of The Call of Cthulhu that gives us more grist for the mythos mill.

A Treatise on Cosmic Fire is just as impenetrable and florid as Bailey's other works but it also contains her spin on 'The Book of Dzyan', a Theosophical concoction that posed as a kind of ersatz-Hindu creation myth.

I touched upon Bailey's Dzyan updates in the original Lovecraft post:

They constructed other forms. They called for cosmic fire. The seven deep pits of hell belched forth the animating shades. The incoming seventh reduced to order all the forms,—the white, the dark, the red, and shaded brown. 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.
This all sounds very Lovecraftian, doesn't it? Dark forces from the stars raising up demons who they then are unable to control?

Very florid, very purple, very portentous. Compare that last sentence to this, from "Cthulhu": 
Void as they are of lordship over ghouls and night-gaunts, the mindless, shapeless blasphemies of outer space can yet control them when they must...
Compare "ghouls and night-gaunts" to "animating shades," and "gazing in silence on the work" with "void as they of lordship." Two different ways of telling the same essential story. 

Amazingly, Bailey outshines even Lovecraft when it comes to the purple.

However there was a mention of Dzyan (most likely the Blavatsky material) in a letter Lovecraft wrote several years after the publication of 'Cthulhu' that seemed to complicate the issue of his sourcing ideas for his mythos from Bailey. 

I initially chalked this up to a writer withholding information to protect a source but there's a much more convincing explanation for the omission: the word "Dzyan" is apparently only mentioned twice in A Treatise on Cosmic Fire. 

And given the fact that Bailey hammers even the most attentive reader over the head with a blizzard of garbled terms and made-up names, Lovecraft can very easily be forgiven for overlooking it. At worst we're looking at a case of cryptomnesia.

Note also these parallels between Dzyan and "Cthulhu":

"AUM," said the Mighty One, "let the waters too bring forth." The builders of the watery sphere, the denizens of moisture, produced the forms that move within the kingdom of Varuna. 
"AUM," said the Mighty One, and gathered in His Breath. The spark within the peopling third impelled to further growth. The builders of the lowest forms, manipulating densest maya, merged their production with the forms built by the watery ones.
Note Bailey's use of "Mighty One" and "watery ones." Now read Lovecraft telling a similar story of ancient cities below the farthest ocean depths:
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.
In the elder time chosen men had talked with the entombed Old Ones in dreams, but then something had 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. 
And then there is the transformative dreaming associated with these beings. First Bailey:
One group is called the "Lotus Lords of deep unseeing sleep." They dream, and as Their dreams take form, the worlds speed on. The great and cruel maya of the planes of sweet illusion comes into being...
Then Lovecraft:
 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
Then there is the impossible antiquity of these beings. Note again Bailey's use of "Timeless Ones."
The hour of sacrifice, the sacrifice of Flame, arrived, and for aeons hath endured. The timeless Ones entered into time.  
Then Lovecraft, picking up the baton:
They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. 
 Then Bailey on the imprisonment in the deepest reaches of the earth:
Within the cavern dark the fourfold one groped for expansion and for further light. No light above, and all around the gloom enveloped. Pitchy the darkness that surrounded it.
Then in "Cthulhu": 
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.
Again Bailey- note "fourfold one": 
Around the fourfold one lieth the vault of stone; beneath him menaceth the root of blackness, of utter denseness; beside him and above, naught but the same is seen.
Lovecraft- note "Old Ones":
 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....
He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy...
Remember that Bailey predates Lovecraft here. And that Treatise on Cosmic Fire would be relatively fresh when Lovecraft was working on "Cthulhu", so the timeline most certainly jibes. I sincerely doubt that Lovecraft would have ever confessed to reading someone as disreputable as Bailey to one of his correspondents but the parallels most certainly speak for themselves. 

If someone can find a more compelling precedent for the mythos, I'm all ears.

As to Bailey's involvement with the Cryptocracy, well, that's a whole post in and of itself.

* It is worth noting that UFOs, ancient astronauts and all points in between are now classified under the umbrella term "the Phenomenon" in Sekret-speak. I've noticed the term is starting to bleed out in the community at large. Is this seeding the fields for some revelation to come?