Dark Entries: An Introduction to the magick of the Cthulhu Mythos

The Esoteric Order of Dagon is an international network of magicians, artists and other visionaries who are exploring the occult mysteries inherent in the horror and fantasy writings of the New England writer Howard Philips Lovecraft (1890 – 1937). The ‘Cthulhu Mythos‘ (as it is generally known) depends from a number of Lovecraft’s tales, plus those of other writers who employ similar fictional devices. The basic premise of the Cthulhu Mythos is that there is a group of trans-dimensional entities – known as the Great Old Ones who, “when the stars are right” can enter into our world via psychic or physical gateways. The Great Old Ones represent an ‘Elder Lore’ which antedates human civilisation and, to human perception, are both immensely powerful and alien. In the tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, there is a worldwide network (or conspiracy) of cults who worship the Great Old Ones and seek to speed their return to the Earth.

Lovecraft’s inspiration for his writings came from his dreams, and his letters (he carried on a voluminous correspondence with fellow writers) show that he had a nightmare every other night of his life. In the following letter extract, he describes a nightmare concerning Nyarlathotep, one of the Great Old Ones:

“As I was drawn into the abyss I emitted a resounding shriek, and the picture ceased. I was in great pain – forehead pounding and ears ringing – but I had only one automatic impulse – to write and preserve the atmosphere of unparalelled fright; and before I knew it, I had pulled on the light and was scribbling desperately. …When fully awake I remembered all the incidents but had lost the exquisite thrill of fear – the actual sensation of the presence of the hideous unknown.”

Although Lovecraft wrote numerous horror stories, he had no belief or particular fascination with the actual occurence of the fantastic. While he vehemently denied the existence of occult phenomena, his dreams gave him access to a wide variety of occult experiences and concepts, which he was unable to accept, and so branded the Great Old Ones as evil, and their cultist’s practices as ‘blasphemous’. Occultists however, recognise the power of dream-borne images. The capacity to experience lucid dreams that are internally consistent and contigious to each other is a primary element of shamanism, indeed in some cultures, potential shamans are recognised by the characteristics of their dreams. The dream as a psychic gateway for the ‘vibrations’ of the Great Old Ones to enter human consciousness is a concept that recurrs many times in Lovecraft’s tales. His protagonists sometimes attend ‘astral sabbats’ in which they are initiated into secret cults, are shown sanity-shaking mysteries, and recieve the dubious benefits of the Elder Lore. Such experiences are fairly common amongst magicians working in any system, as both spontaneous events and the result of ‘willed dreaming’ (using sigils for example) and experimentation with psychoactive agents. Several of the Great Old Ones appear to those who seek the Elder Lore through dreams (or who’s search into ‘the unknown’ attunes them to the transmissions of the Old Ones), and the most prominent Old One is Cthulhu, a winged, cephaloid star-being who lies ‘in death’s dream’ inside a crypt within the elder city of R’Lyeh, beneath the Pacific Ocean. Lovecraft’s story ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ relates the events surrounding the brief appearence of R’Lyeh, which is heralded by a worldwide wave of insanity, as certain ‘senstive’ individuals pick up on the dream-transmissions of great Cthulhu. In the Mythos, he is the lord of dreams, and acts as a kind of intermediary between human consciousness and the truly alien nature of the Old Ones such as Azathoth or Yog-Sothoth. His city, R’Lyeh, has recently been identified with Nan-Madol, a ruined stone city consisting of artificial islets on the Pacific island of Ponape. In the Mythos, R’Lyeh is constructed along the lines of a weird, non-Eclucidean geometry, with strange angles and perspectives, in which the unwary can be swallowed up. The entire city is a series of gateways to other dimensions, and can be seen as a form of Kenneth Grant’s Tunnels of Set. Weird angles and mathematics were also an interest of Austin Osman Spare, who percieved such things in dreams, but could not set them down on paper. R’Lyeh is a psychic gateway to the deeper strata of consciousness and dreams form the interface whereby there is two-way traffic of images from the waking awareness to the Deep Mind.

In Lovecraft’s stories, much of the Elder Lore is preserved in a collection of grimoires, of which the most infamous is the Necronomicon (book of dead names), which over the years, has appeared in various forms. The Necronomicon is recognised as the archetype of ‘Astral Books’ – primal keys of discourse which are ‘secreted’ in the dreamworld and which may be ‘earthed’ in fragmentary form by artists, magicians and other visionaries. Again, this is a recurrent occult experience, there existing a wide variety of works which have been clairvoyantly recieved or channeled via various entities. Within the E.O.D there exists a ‘Dream School’ (contacted through dreaming) which consists of a variety of locations, some of which are drawn from Cthulhu Mythos tales, and in which initiates may gain access to remarkable artefacts and books. A few years ago, for example, in a cyclopean monastery atop the Plateau of Leng, I was shown a series of tarot images of such intricate detail and vivid colour that although it was (and remains) quite impossible for me to set them down, it is quite easy for me to call them to mind even as I write this article. The ‘keeper’ of the images was quite willing to display them, but as he cynically commented at the time, knew that I would not be able to translate them from the dreamworld to the physical world. The Lovecraftian Dreamworld has its own topology – having links with both terrestrial sites, and places which are only accessible to skilled and intrepid dreamers. By exploring it, it is possible to converse with its inhabitants concerning Elder Lore, visit sites of reknown and travel through both time and space, using a form of astral exploration that again, is primarily shamanic – that of shape-shifting. Images relating to shape-shifting occur throughout the Cthulhu Mythos, such as the transition from human to that of ‘Deep One’ – a batrachian sea-dwelling race that are the servants of Cthulhu, related to the god Dagon; or the transition from human to Ghoul. The magical concept related to such transformations is that of Atavistic Resurgence -the reification of earlier ‘incarnations’ of human consciousness, from the depths of the mind, into the waking awareness. Lovecraft pointed the way towards accessing specific states of awareness which relate to our reptilian ancestry and the so-called ‘dragon brain’ – the primitive limbic system which is the seat of our primal consciousness.

Another key to unlocking the secrets of the Elder Lore is the technique of scrying – in a glass or crystal ball. Both scrying glass and crystals which are attuned to transmit certain vibrations crop up in Cthulhu Mythos tales, often as a two-way process. The person who uses these devices glimpses other dimensions, but at the same time, the inhabitants of those dimensions become aware of, and eventually menace, the seer. This was the only way in which Lovecraft could accept the process of becoming receptive to images and ‘transmissions’ from the deep mind, as being charged with menace, insanity, and eventually, doom.

All the techniques thus far describe tend to be that of the solo practitioner, and are introspectively oriented. But Lovecraft also made extensive use of ‘frienzied rites’, which are again reminiscient of shamanism, Voudou, or even Witchcraft. Such physical sorceries are related to physical power spots – typically stone circles, specially constructed buildings or strange landmarks. They often involve animal or human sacrifice, incestuous interbreeding, and in ‘The Dunwich Horror’, a ‘sacred marriage’ between the entity known as Yog-Sothoth and a female cultist. Lovecraft continually allude to the ‘degenerate’ nature of Cthulhu cultists, probably reflecting his attitudes to race and intellectual attainment. But there is also an awareness of the degeneration of cult practices as the influence of the Old Ones dwindles in the world, due to the spread of materialism and the decay of rural communities. The entity Nyarlathotep occasionally appears as the mythical ‘black man’ or leader of the cultist’s sabbat gathering – suggesting a human avatar as a base for cult worship, using the more physical gnoses such as dancing, flagellation, sex, chanting, drumming, overbreathing and bloodletting. Modern commentators on Cthulhu Mythos magick have mistakenly assumed that Terror is the main emotional gnosis, because this was the feeling often experienced by Lovecraft’s protagonists (and indeed, Lovecraft himself). Although fear may be initially employed, it soon palls as an effective lever for gnosis, however. The deployment of physical sorceries has led to a wide variety of experiments by E.O.D initiates worldwide, such as the use of Serpent Mound earthworks in Voudou-Gnostic workings by the Cincinnati-based Yig Lodge (Yig is a Serpent deity in the Mythos). Evocations of ‘the Deep Ones’ have also been carried out at a lake in Wisconsin. Some order initiates are currently interested in the use of mantras and ‘primal speech’, as well as off-key sound patterns used as an aural backdrop for the evocation of mythos entities.

Western magicians seem to have a tendency to try and ‘fit’ the Cthulhu Mythos into ordered systems of logic or correspondences. Lovecraft’s executor, August Derleth, also tried to place the Great Old Ones into some kind of structure – giving them elemental associations and linking them to particular sites and forms. This can only be done to a limited extent, before one loses the ‘flavour’ of the Old Ones, which resides in their highly protean nature. Lovecraft makes it quite clear that humans cannot clearly percieve the Great Old Ones, and the entities are rarely described in clear or coherent terms. Rather, they are hinted at, or alluded to. Their very nature is that they are “primal and undimensioned” – they can barely be perceived, and forever ‘lurk’ at the edge of awareness.

The most powerful energies are those which cannot be named -that is, they cannot be clearly apprehended or conceived of. They remain intangible and tenuous. Very like the feeling of awakening from a nightmare terrified, but unable to remember why. Lovecraft understood this very well, probably because most of his writing was evolved from his dreams.

The Great Old Ones gain their power from their elusiveness and intangibility. Once they are formalised into symbol systems and related to intellectual metasystems, some of their primal intensity is lost. William Burroughs puts it this way:

“As soon as you name something you remove its power … If you could look Death in the face he would lose his power to kill you. When you ask Death for his credentials, his passport is indefinite.”

dead-wildlifeThe Place of Dead Roads.

It is the very intangibility of the Old Ones that gives them their power, and allows the magician much scope for personal exploration of their natures.

It is generally agreed that the most ‘powerful’ magicks are to be found in the primal shamanic cults and survivals. The E.O.D is concerned with garnering the lore and techniques of what can be seen as primal, ‘dark’ shamanic magick, with a very wide scope for future development and expansion. It hints of the survival of a stellar (‘when the stars are right’) based wisdom, and of roots which extend worldwide; and an elder lore which lies buried within our minds, yet may be tapped, both consciously, and in the the case of Lovecraft, unconsciously.

*Note: This essay originally appeared in “Starry Wisdom” a collection of essays by members of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, Pagan News Publications 1990. Since then, the E.O.D. has stirred into wakefulness yet again, and even now, it’s tentacles may be creeping towards you

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