This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.
“…The more mystical phases of the letter, which he took to be some extravagant kind of symbolism, frankly baffled him; though he noted with a thrill of curiousity that the Biblical passage referred to – Job 14,14 – was the familiar verse, ‘If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, until my change come…” (1).
To many, the certainty of classic cosmologies – a promised hereafter, life beyond death – has lost its lulling luster. The once soothing opiate that gave purpose to the powerless proletariat has lost its satiating potency.
H.P. Lovecraft, the consummate atheist and materialist, portrayed the cosmos as a multi-planed, series-of infinite dimensions populated by near ageless entities whose towering intellects dwarf humanity’s comprehension. Mankind, plagued by ancestral superstitions, crude five-senses, a primitive hemispherical brain, and a limited lifespan remains an insect in comparison to the least of “The Old Ones.”
As a species, we have few options that help level the inter-galactic playing field.
In the old west, the Colt single-action six-shooter was known as the “Equalizer”. No matter how big or small a person was, no matter how smart or dumb, no matter whether you were male or female, the Colt revolver made you the “Equal” of anyone else in a fight.
Given time, we terrestrial caterpillars may emerge from our ignorant slumber and blossom into some type of extraterrestrial butterflies, as the machinations of evolution forever grind forward.
Never mind that the timeline of most species ends in extinction. But, as a member of the present evolutionary jumble collectively-known as Homo sapiens, the search for a technological or biogenetic “Equalizer” has come up short.
Homo Magus and the Promise of Prolonged Life:
In Lovecraft’s body of fiction, one of the few “equalizers” is prolonged life. For example, the three “wizards” in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward – Joseph Curwen, Edward Hutchinson, and Simon Orne – have found an unspecified, perhaps Faustian means to prolong their lives:
“That at least two living men—and one other of whom they dared not think—were in absolute possession of minds or personalities which had functioned as early as 1690 or before was likewise almost unassailably proved even in the face of all known natural laws…They had found unholy ways to keep their brains alive, either in the same body or different bodies…” (2).
With that extended life, if not eternal life, this small group in the next evolutionary step of humankind – Homo Magus – search for the long-lost body of knowledge or “equalizer”, that might give the magi equal footing with “The Old Ones”:
“…Could it be possible that here lay the mortal relics of half the titan thinkers of all the ages; snatched by supreme ghouls from crypts where the world thought them safe, and subject to the beck and call of madmen who sought to drain their knowledge for some still wilder end whose ultimate effect would concern, as poor Charles had hinted in his frantic note, ‘all civilisation, all natural law, perhaps even the fate of the solar system and the universe’?” (3).
That Curwen, Hutchinson, and Orne represented a higher evolutionary step is reflected in how they treated the herd of Homo sapiens, from which they once emerged. It was noted that (italics supplied by author):
“What these horrible creatures—and Charles Ward as well—were doing or trying to do seemed fairly clear from their letters and from every bit of light both old and new which had filtered in upon the case. They were robbing the tombs of all the ages, including those of the world’s wisest and greatest men, in the hope of recovering from the bygone ashes some vestige of the consciousness and lore which had once animated and informed them.
A hideous traffick was going on among these nightmare ghouls, whereby illustrious bones were bartered with the calm calculativeness of schoolboys swapping books; and from what was extorted from this centuried dust there was anticipated a power and a wisdom beyond anything which the cosmos had ever seen concentrated in one man or group” (4).
In one sense, prolonged life is a type of time travel. You travel into the future, with little to none of the effects of aging.
In Search of a Living Necronomicon?
So why seek such a knowledge, if Curwen possessed a copy of the Necronomicon in his library?
They were seeking a living Necronomicon, one that possessed all the knowledge that could only be partially inferred by reading between the lines of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred’s Tome. No longer would they have to guess at what a text meant; they could ask the author.
As in the late Paul Harvey’s, The Rest of the Story, the banal renditions of history seldom mine all the vein of rich truths that stand behind the written text. Also, where is the exactness of what a person is trying to convey in the normal communication process? According to modern communication theories, words comprise only 7% of the message a person tries to convey. A full 55% of the communique is encoded in the sender’s body language – facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, physical touch and the use of space. Still another 38% of a person’s message is encrypted in verbal gestures – the tone of a person’s voice, modulation, pauses, etc.
One could say that the written word misses out on 93% of the facts that an actual eye witness to an event or experience could convey. So, as in any good research paper, why depend on the secondary opinions of others, if you could interview the primary source?
If a bygone mage employed a cipher, as did Wizard Whateley, to protect his cabalistic secrets from the prying eyes of a rival or interloper, direct examination of the author would bypass all the mummery used to cloak their dearest trade secrets.
In one sense, if Curwen sought the wisdom of the ages today, where would he turn to ferret out the pages of his living Necronomicon? The salts of bygone blasphemers were often imperfect. There was no FDA to ensure that the labeling on gravestones accurately details its contents. As Simon Orne reminded Curwen:
“…Stones are all chang’d now in Nine groundes out of 10. You are never sure till you question…” (5).
Would Curwen use DNA and the science of genetics of today rather than the essential salts and necromancy of yesterday? Present DNA research does not allow questioning the shade, to discover its hidden secrets. The consciousness that composes the entirety of a person’s life lies outside conventional genetics.
However, if one of Curwen’s original objectives was to find a necromantic means to prolonged or eternal life, are not modern-day Curwens searching for a similar path to extended l life in the endless library found in DNA strands? Perhaps, after Curwen’s bygone mind became acclimated to the science and facts of today, he would undertake a two-fold approach to his creating a living Necronomicon, one from long-dead wizards and their essential salts, and the other, from DNA researches into the secrets of life.
The nature of a necromantic interrogation was not a doctor’s consultation among friendly peers. It would be as if a modern Information Technologies practitioner employed all the forensic methods at his or her disposal to exact all the information possible off a disk drive that had been erased, or suffered another catastrophic event such as a fire. That person, as did the necromancers, used any means or tools at their disposal to extract information, so they could reconstruct a cyber-crime scene.
Or in the case of Curwen and his cohorts, should the shade of a bygone magus prove unwilling to share its deepest, darkest secrets, the Saxon wizards had recourse to the ancient art of torture, to extract the diabolical truths.
Once a “truth” was extracted to its fullest extent, the ring of Saxon magi would have to test its veracity.
Were some of the extracted “facts” actual disguised traps, wherein the tortured shade could unleash its vengeance on Curwen and his cohorts? Was Curwen tipped off to a potential wealth of wizardry truths, focused in the occupant of Phaleron jug number 118, by such a tormented reanimate bent on retaliation? Did the Curwen circle’s brash sense of their own superiority spell their downfall and doom?
Phaleron Jug Number 118:
Some fancy that the denizen of Phaleron 118 was none other than Merlin the Great, based on its instructions on how to destroy Curwen:
“The letters were indeed no fantastic invention, the normal script of a very dark period. They were the pointed Saxon minuscules of the eighth or ninth century A.D., and brought with them memories of an uncouth time when under a fresh Christian veneer ancient faiths and ancient rites stirred stealthily, and the pale moon of Britain looked sometimes on strange deeds in the Roman ruins of Caerleon and Hexham, and by the towers along Hadrian’s crumbling wall” (6).
And listen to Marinus Bicknell Willett, the hero of Lovecraft’s longest tale, recites his brief impression of Phaleron No. 118’s reanimated occupant, upon waking from the destruction of Curwen’s extensive Dungeons by that entity (italics supplied by author):
“Did not he himself see the noisome aperture in the bungalow cellar? Did not Willett send him home overcome and ill at eleven o’clock that portentous morning? Did he not telephone the doctor in vain that evening, and again the next day, and had he not driven to the bungalow itself on that following noon, finding his friend unconscious but unharmed on one of the beds upstairs? Willett had been breathing stertorously, and opened his eyes slowly when Mr. Ward gave him some brandy fetched from the car. Then he shuddered and screamed, crying out, ‘That beard . . . those eyes. . . . God, who are you?’ A very strange thing to say to a trim, blue-eyed, clean-shaven gentleman whom he had known from the latter’s boyhood” (7).
If so, then Merlinus Ambrosius (or Welsh: Myrddin Emrys) – best known through the Historia Regum Britanniae (circa 1136 AD, by Geoffrey of Monmouth) – still treads the Earth, after the episodes retold in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (8). The superior knowledge of wanton wizardry – the living Necronomicon – sought by Curwen, Hutchinson, and Orne, this Myrddin Emrys already possessed, or even surpassed.
Where did the Consciousness of the Bygone Shades Dwell?
Where did Myrddin’s consciousness reside or, for that matter, the consciousness elements of the long-dead wise men and wizards exist apart from their essential salts?
Obviously, the occupant of Phaleron Jug Number 118 did not awake from a dreamless sleep. As Dr. Willett intoned the final phrase in the ascending node of the “Dragon’s Head,” Myrddin sprung to life with a plan of destruction already in mind, to exterminate Curwen’s Circle of Necromancers.
So where did the consciousness of a shade dwell? Beyond the grave? In the fabled “Outer Spheres?” In his 1927 novel, Lovecraft remains moot on that point.
However, in what some consider HPL’s Magnus Opus – The Shadow Out of Time – Lovecraft reasoned out a logical place where the memories of long dead humans or other sentient entities might dwell, outside the shell or dusty remains of their own bodies.
A supernatural resting place – even for the purpose of his fiction – was out of the question for the materialistic Lovecraft.
His fascination with the idea of displaced personalities caused him to watch the early film, Berkeley Square (1933) at least four times. The film portrayed a young American, whose fascination with his family’s past somehow leads his mind to possess the body of an 18th Century ancestor. The film offered little explanation of what became of the 20th Century man’s body, while he lived in the body of his past ancestor, nor what happened to the 18th Century man’s consciousness during that displacement. The ever-logical Lovecraft, had already worked out the rudimentary idea of mind-exchange over time before he saw the film, mentioned in a March 1932 letter to Clark Ashton Smith – nicknamed “Klarkash-Ton” by HPL (9).
On a simultaneous timeline, two personalities, one past, the other present existed at the same time. In the macro of an Einsteinium Universe, where Quantum Physics governed the micro events – no spiritual hereafter was needed for The Shadow Out of Time to work.
Perhaps, Great Myrddin, along with the other great wise men – and those wise entities that were therein inhuman – dwelt alive in the past, while they were dead in the future. Curwen and his cohorts simply brought the conscious parts of those great thinkers forward in time. The fact that Myrddin came alive with a formulated plan for the destruction of Curwen’s Circle not only supports an existing and aware consciousness apart from the grave. The fact also presupposes Great Myrddin’s ability to peer into the future, as the Great Race did, and to formulate the obliteration of Orne and Company.
Or maybe the mind of Myrddin was displaced by a member of the Great Race, and the entity that arose from Phaleron Jug Number 118, possessed a mind of the Yith, who strove with Curwen and his ilk to preserve the timeline, where the hardy coleopterous species of the Earth’s latter days continued to ascend the evolutionary food-chain after man. Otherwise, where would the keenest minds of the Great Race migrate to when the peril in the prehistoric past asserted itself?
And where did the reanimates from the ashes come from? It could be that the Ascending Node of the Dragon’s Tail – courtesy of Lord Yog-Sothoth – brought forward from deep time or deep space, the bodily form of one of the many facets of a shade’s incarnations, as shown in Through the Gate of the Silver Key. Indeed, the reason some interrogations occurred with shades, where the essential salts appeared incomplete, was because Curwen called forth a scion of that personality from deep space versus from the Earth’s dim past.
Or could it be that Curwen chanced on a refined formula first used by the Elder Things to assemble our earliest ancestors from the available molecules in the Earth’s primordial ooze. Possibly that is why what Curwen raised up sometimes resembled a Soggoth – hence the illusion that the salts where imperfect – more than it did a man. Consider the gelatinous Thing on the Doorstep, that represented the earthly remains of Edward Pickman Derby and Asenath Waite Derby, after Ephraim Waite was finished with them. We also know some wizards – the unnamed Evil Clergyman and the aforementioned Ephraim Waite – had the ability to recreate a personality – most often his own – in the body of another – over vast distances and times.
It might be that Curwen simply reversed that process, calling forth the personality of another, while invoking the formula of the Elder Things, with the ultimate recombining residing in the reanimates the dark Wizard interrogated.
Terrestrial Magics and Extra-Terrestrial Machinations:
At this juncture, let us return to our original premise – human beings who seek a means to gain equal-footing with the Old Ones.
As mighty as Myrddin was – he was still a terrestrial-born entity, schooled in this Earth’s darkest secrets. Eternal or not, was he on equal footing with the least of the Old Ones? He who fought the wily magics of Queen Mab, Morgan Le Fay, and Arthur’s bastard son, Morded – what if Myrddin faced Lord Cthulhu?
Consider the sources of an earthly wizard’s knowledge, such as the dreaded Necronomicon? At best, such books – as the product of fallible human beings, perhaps touched with the delusions of madness and megalomania– contain truth, wrapped in large doses of myth, superstition, the limitations of humanity’s five-senses, and the non-scientific worldview of primitives.
How much did Abdul Alhazred miss because his senses could not see, how much did he misinterpret, because he did not understand the micro or macro-implications of the cabalistic machinations he observed? How much did the Old Ones or their lessor minions – like stray Cthuloids or Deep Ones – feign or falsify to mislead primitive ilk like Curwen from the real substance of their alien technologies? And what if the aboriginal outlook of human beings, bound by the cultural understanding of his or her era, lacks any frame of reference to accurately interpret the magic?
And what of the unintended results of the use of a particular cabalistic device of the Old Ones by a human being, with our limited perspectives? So much unforeseen destruction is released – the virtual devil in the details – when human beings tinker with normal chemical, physics, or biogenic processes. When wizards test the cabalistic hypotheses they deduce from the Necronomicon, are they not children playing with fire at least, or children playing with dynamite in the worse-case scenario? As Lovecraft stated:
“Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world” (10).
One of Lovecraft’s recurring themes reasserts itself: the wizard/scientist is undone by his or her thirst for more-than-human wisdom.
Insects among the Old Ones?
Now, consider the domicile or focal point of so many Lovecraftian entities – the Earth – and how they reflect on the stature in the cosmos of those aliens. Why was Yog-Sothoth so concerned about the Earth? Why was Cthulhu consigned to imprisonment under the seas of this tiny watery world? What was it about the Earth that made it the focal point of so much alien interest and struggle between the varied tribes of the Old Ones?
Does that mean that the Earth was important, in some way unforeseen by human philosophers? Earth exists in the backwash of millions of stars that form the Milky Way Galaxy, which stands as one speck among untold numbers of other galaxies that populate the limitless universe. Does the Earth hold some vast unknown, pivotal importance to the greater denizens of the cosmos?
Or are the Old Ones – the players in the Lovecraftian revealed pantheon of ancient god-like aliens – actually themselves insects to even greater entities that swarm, fill, and dominate the greater cosmos? That is similar to the argument used by Lovecraft to intellectually dismiss the existence of any of humanity’s long-line of deities, thought to care intimately in the matters of humanity:
“…I have seen nothing which could…give me the notion that cosmic force is the manifestation of a mind…like my own infinitely magnified; a potent and purposeful consciousness which deals individually and directly with the: miserable denizens of a wretched little fly speck on the back door of a microscopic universe, and which singles this putrid excrescence out as the one spot whereto to send an only-begotten Son, whose mission is to redeem those accursed fly speck-inhabiting lice which we call human beings—bah!!…” (11).
When science illuminates the darkness in Lovecraft’s works, instead finding a comforting, confused, or crazy god, there is only emptiness and aliens.
Also, against the backdrop of Cosmicism, why would the Old Ones be interested in terminating the investigations of an insect like Joseph Curwen? Let us assume that the avenger in Phaleron Jug 118 acted as an agent of those in the outer spheres – between the spaces we know, where the Old Ones walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. How could such inquiries, made by the lowest of the low on the cosmic food chain, threaten the Old Ones? Do they feel endangered, because they are not as high in the cosmic hierarchy, as we have been led to believe?
Lovecraft does not have to be consistent in his fiction, as he was in his factual prose. After all, cosmicism grew as a philosophical basis for his stories, as his fiction matured. Using the Earth as a cosmic focus for the Old Ones’ interest gives his readers a point of reference they could understand.
But, if we are to be consistent, then many of Lovecraft’s horrid hall-of-fame monsters and cosmic entities – in their focus on the backwater planet known as the Earth – reveal their identities are lesser powers in the universe, not to be numbered among the greater powers and potentates that eternally traverse the channels of the space/time continuum.
Means to Prolong One’s Life According to Lovecraft:
Next, I would like to briefly outline twelve ways in Lovecraftian fiction, whereby a human being might prolong their lives, the first step to equality with the Old Ones.
Paths to Extended Life in the Cosmos according to Lovecraft include:
1) Find yourself the hybrid by-product of an extra-species union – The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
2) Have a weak-willed descendant look up your cursed ashes, gain a working knowledge of Necromancy, and recall you to the earthly sphere – The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
3) Tread the outer spheres through wizardry – The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
4) Tread the Earth longer than a normal person through a type of vampirism – The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
5) Lie in suspended animation like Cthulhu – The Call of Cthulhu. There is no mystery as to how Cthulhu lives forever, even though he is dead. He is simply an alien in temporary stasis.
6) Become a dispossessed personality from your mortal body through alien technologies to another immortal being – The Shadow Out of Time.
7) Become a dispossessed personality from your mortal body through mystical means to a younger mortal body – The Thing on the Doorstep.
8) Become a dispossessed brain through alien surgical techniques, interchangeable into several alien designer bodies – The Whisper in Darkness.
9) Continue your existence through another facet of your personality that exists elsewhere – Through the Gate of the Silver Key.
10) Steal a cursed object – The Hound.
11) Have a mad-scientist do a code blue on your fresh corpse – Herbert West – Reanimator.
12) Preserve yourself through medical and cryogenic means. – Cool Air.
Will Human Beings soon Live Forever?
Is humanity destined for eternal life in the “here and now” rather than in a once promised hereafter?
There are many scenarios where mankind either eradicates death or extends life into the hundreds of years versus the less than one hundred years we know of today.
Science fiction will soon become science fact.
Our consciousness may get uploaded into android bodies – that will not experience death. Or will our essences be transferred to new, younger bodies bred for that purpose? Or will we live on and on in a body that is continually renewed by replacement parts – a pieced-together paradise, so to speak?
The countless variations of immortality are only limited by the combination of imagination and engineering marvels humanity hopes to devise.
One source noted recently, that immortality was not a matter of time, but a matter of money. Only those who could afford the tricky technologies necessary to live forever will do so. In that version of the future, the differences between the haves and the have-nots, the 1% and the 99% will multiply exponentially. The fictional vision Lovecraft portrayed in the ghost-written tale The Mound – synchronizes with the facts of that probable future:
“The K’nyanians had attained immortality and subjugated other races before them, had the technology to biologically modify vanquished races and other life-forms and reanimate the dead for use as slaves, [food, etc.] The underground people also engaged in sadism, depraved practices, ritualistic orgies and unspeakable horrors such as random body modifications and mutilations of other slave species as entertainment, in order to gratify their time-dulled senses” (12).
Would such longevity help, should humanity ever encounter a real cosmic relative of Great Cthulhu? Perhaps, instead of a “High-Noon at the OK Corral” confrontation, the newly immortal humanity would join with Cthulhu:
“The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom” (13).
After all, a change in the longevity of our species does not guarantee a change in our core, savage nature. As one writer put it:
“We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments?” (14).
What future awaits mankind, a trail of atrocities or a track of achievements?
Again, to many, the certainty of classic cosmologies – a promised hereafter, life beyond death – has lost its lulling luster. The once soothing opiate that gave purpose to the powerless proletariat has lost its satiating potency.
The new alternative – life without death – may lead to its own set of unexpected problems.
(1) The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.
(8) Merlin, Wikipedia.
(9) “In My Own Handwriting”, A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in His Time, S.T. Joshi, 2001, pp. 344-345.
(10) Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1921.
(11) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Maurice W. Moe, 15 May 1918.
(12) The Mound: (short story), Wikipedia.
(13) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(14) African Genesis, by Robert Ardrey, 1968.
John DeLaughter MS is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft Essayist who lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi, daughter Kirsten and granddaughter Riley, two dogs, two cats, and a chicken coop. He devoured Lovecraft, beginning with At the Mountains of Madness, in high school.