This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.
“The Dutch customs once thought my pictures were photos. Where on earth did they think I could have photographed my subjects? In Hell, perhaps?” (1)
“If there not be some virtue in plain TRUTH; then our fair dreams, delusions, & follies are as much esteemed are our sober waking hours & comforts they bring, If TRUTH amounts to nothing, then we must regard the phantasmata of our slumbers just as seriously as the events in our daily lives…” (2)
Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger. In portrait, both men looked quite ordinary. Whether on a busy sidewalk in a European capital like Zurich, Switzerland, or a congested walkway in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn, New York – there was nothing about either man that would make them stand out in a crowd.
At a karaoke night in a local pub, or a poetry reading at a beatnik club, neither man was of imposing stature or possessed of a James Earl Jones-esque voice. And as to fashion, neither man was a trend-setter in his time. Lovecraft appeared threadbare, in the cast-off suits of his father, a straight-laced style from an earlier era. Giger took to wearing iconic black, but so did Yul Brynner and Johnny Cash.
For a world that judges a book by its cover, what was it about these two non-descript men that intoxicated millions? What rendered Giger’s photographic paintings from Hell, and Lovecraft’s somnambulistic phantasms so beguiling? What “truth” in us connected so readily with the “truth” in them? Especially when recent cultural messages state that “truth” lies elsewhere.
In this article, the second in a series about H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger, we will explore this puzzling series of questions. Together, we will examine possible sources for the disturbing images that Lovecraft captured in prose and Giger rendered in paint. Should we trust conventional answers, such as Freud’s dream interpretations, to account for Lovecraft’s visions, and by implication, Giger’s dreamscapes? Or are there other, lesser-known sources that better explain the black phenomena that, like dark matter, filled their universes?
The Pitfalls and Pratfalls of a Psychological Autopsy:
Anytime, someone attempts a psychological autopsy of famous dead people, without the necromantic tools of a modern-day Simon Orne, the results are best tentative and incomplete.
In one sense, performing a “psychological autopsy” is precisely what we are doing – dissecting the psyche of H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger, without exhuming each man’s body. The images associated with the use of that language may raise the level of ravenous delight in some Pickmanish readers.
The only corpses we have access to are Lovecraft’s writings and Giger’s paintings.
Though dead, H.P. Lovecraft is very accessible. He expressed himself in English, not only in his fiction, but in thousands of letters to correspondents nationwide. There is a vivid, snapshot quality to many letters. They capture the moods of the man, the mental pictures of what stirred him, and the cultural milieu in which he lived.
H.R. Giger is another story.
To date, it appears that he was a man of few words. Where Lovecraft’s correspondence gives a day-to-day semblance of the man, a vacuum surrounds Giger. To draw inferences about Lovecraft solely from his fiction, or the public’s reaction to his fiction, would do him a disservice.
Yet, in regards to Giger, his macabre art and occasional interview are largely the only documentation available. With it, others define, deify, or demonize him.
A large portion of the articles available online were posted immediately after his death on May 12, 2014. And many of those retrace the same events, particularly surrounding his defining creation, the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise.
During an interview late in his life, Giger did allude to a body of personal notes:
“’It might sound very strange that an artist can say he’s retired, but just because I’m not doing any more paintings, it doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about things,’ he continues. ‘I still write my diaries and my dream book, where I record my dreams. And drawings too, sometimes. But now I’m mostly concentrating on sculptures and overseeing my bar and museum’” (3).
Because Giger wrote in German, and the legal wranglings over his recent estate, who knows when his diaries will become available in English. And at times, he was reticent in talking about his work:
“’I’m sorry I can’t say much about my work… it’s somehow very simple,’ he apologises endearingly. ‘I can’t invent new stuff. What I’m saying to you I’ve said already, a long time ago. I’m sorry, you’re probably a little bit disappointed…’” (4).
So, there is an imprecision in what we propose to do.
The discipline of psychological autopsy is mostly used to mentally map out the reasons an individual committed suicide.
Though Lovecraft thought of suicide – to the point where he carried a bottle of cyanide on his person – he refrained from the act. He resisted the temptation, not because he believed suicide was a mortal sin which might threaten his chances for a cozy hereafter. Instead, the Lovecraft found a succor against his banal existence in:
“I am perfectly confident that I could never adequately convey to any other human being the precise reasons why I continue to refrain from suicide—the reasons….why I still find existence enough of a compensation to atone for its dominantly burthensome quality. These reasons are strongly linked with architecture, scenery, and lighting and atmospheric effects, and take the form of vague impressions of adventurous expectancy coupled with elusive memory—impressions that certain vistas, particularly those associated with sunsets, are avenues of approach to spheres or conditions of wholly undefined delights and freedoms which I have known in the past and have a slender possibility of knowing again in the future. Just what those delights and freedoms are, or…resemble, I could not concretely imagine to save my life; save that they…concern some ethereal quality of indefinite expansion and mobility…of a heightened perception which…make all forms and combinations of beauty simultaneously visible to me, and realizable…I might add…that they invariably imply a total defeat of the laws of time, space, matter, and energy—or rather, an individual independence of these laws…whereby I can sail through the varied universes of space-time as an invisible vapour might … upsetting none of them, yet superior to their limitations and local forms of material organisation…” (5).
Notwithstanding, while neither Lovecraft nor Giger committed suicide as a result of their art, Li Toler – a live model for Giger’s early studies in fear and one-time stormy life partner – committed suicide. Some believe the bleakness and morbidity of Giger’s work led to her undoing.
Where we cannot ask, we can conjecture from observation.
Some Preliminary Groundwork towards Understanding H.P. Lovecraft:
To begin, any excursion into sourcing Lovecraft’s vivid dreams must, in my mind, respect his beliefs.
Lovecraft was a materialist and skeptical of anything supernatural. Those values included:
“1) …the uniformity of law, which states that the sequence of cause and effect is constant throughout the universe…there may be a complete set of laws to the cosmos but it doesn’t mean we…will ever completely understand them…
2) … the denial of teleology, which is the idea that the cosmos is moving in a specific direction under the direction of a deity… HPL thought of the universe as a giant machine operating but with not goal or purpose…
3) … the denial of any existence beyond that envisioned by physics and chemistry…there was no non-corporal after-life…we may not completely understand or…perceive all of the laws of the cosmos; there may be other dimensions and realities; there may be other forms of life and look nothing like us…but all would be governed by the basic laws of physics and chemistry…” (6).
These rules governed Lovecraft’s waking world. Over and over again, they made up the substance of his various letters, especially challenging those who held traditional viewpoints, such as Maurice W. Moe.
Despite the strict structure of Lovecraft’s rationalism, he possessed a rich dream life, one that he took seriously enough to write down many of his dreams.
Ten Ways H.R. Giger touched Our Instinctual Fears:
At this juncture, we will try to gain in prose a sense of the cosmic grandeur that excites us in Giger’s art.
1) Giger’s art stirs up desire for the forbidden and taboo. In an earlier age, Giger’s paintings would have been declared blasphemous, and would have earned him a burning at the stake as Warlock. As one whom interviewed Giger, surrounding the making of Alien wrote:
“…The hint of witchcraft was surely confirmed when the chief warlock – Giger – ordered crates of freshly boiled animal bones directly from the slaughterhouse. They were used to create molds for the derelict’s cadaverous walls: horizontal ribs crossed with vertical spines cords. If you want an egg to appear fleshy, use real flesh. If you want an alien spaceship to feature a carapace of bones, use real bones. Easy…” (7).
Normally, when one wishes to summons a demon, they inscribe the pentagram, sit in the resulting symbol and protective circle, and recite the necessary invocation. Giger’s art bypassed the Ouija board or the Scything Crystal, to directly contact the darkness in each of us.
It seems, after the death of Wilbur Whateley and his invisible brother in 1928, Yog-Sothoth sought out new gates through which the undimensioned Old Ones could pass from the outer spheres to terrestrial sphere. Officially, the Large Hadron Collider, located near Geneva, Switzerland, hopes to pioneer the physics of opening portals to other dimensions. Unofficially, it may not be a first. Rumor has it that on February 5, 1940, Switzerland experienced a similar inter-dimensional event. In Chur, with the birth of H.R. Giger, Yog-Sothoth saw to it that his designs for this world would not again be thwarted.
2) Giger’s art touches on the things that drive us mad. Art like Giger’s is usually rendered by those confined to straightjackets. You expect to see Giger-equese images on the walls of padded cells, in the Arkham Sanitarium. Not alive, vibrant and violent, on the silver screen.
3) Giger’s art titillates us with Necromantic Puzzles. When one lovingly fondles the bones of another, strange thing happen. Occult visions are invoked.
For instance, in the Bible, a necromantic riddle unfolds. When the dead touch the bones of the prophet Elisha, they were immediately returned to life:
“And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulcher of Elisha. And when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet” (8).
Giger was the artist of the ossuary, mimicking the bone chapels and mausoleums of the world in his cosmic pyramids and cyclopean temples. He took old dead bones from our primeval past, and like a modern Joseph Curwen, revived them into living, breathing, slavering nightmares.
As Giger aficionados tattooed layer-upon-layer of the artist’s otherworldly images upon themselves, they mystically enter one of those off-world temples, and join the pageant of weird adherents in worshiping the Old Ones:
“…The actual tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos, could only be done by priests and was associated with beliefs which were secrets known only to members of the priestly caste…historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.” (9).
4) Giger’s art captivates the morbid curiosity that causes us to slow down and gaze on car wrecks.
Giger’s work imitates descriptions of Pickman’s art:
“God, how that man could paint! There was a study called ‘Subway Accident,’ in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform” (10).
Dark gods, how that Hansreudi could paint!
His was the art of the train wreck, where twisted bodies, fused with metal and glass, recombine in all matter of surrealistic forms – art as mutation, art as mutilation. Giger captured in art, the prose of Clive Barker’s, Midnight Meat Train – with subways cars filled with butchered human bodies, suspended as if in a slaughterhouse, awaiting their consumption by the Old Ones that reside beneath Manhattan Island.
Was it any reason why Clive Barker said of Giger:
“…Like all great visionaries, Giger…plunges his hands into the raw stuff of our subconscious, and using methodologies that are unique to him creates a state that is rigorous, hierarchical and, for all its abysmal depths, inviting. ‘In mapping the tribal lands of our psyches Giger gives us fresh access to them. He frees us, in essence, to wander there, encouraged by the fact that others have gone before. He makes us brave, and I can think of few higher ambitions for any art. Following where he’s gone, we discover that this new country, which we came into fearful of our sanity, about our lives in countless places. We are not, after all, strangers here. It’s the world we must return into the world of the mortgage payment and the tax return; of the domestic tiff and the public slight that seems chilling, repulsive, alien…” (11).
5) Giger’s art allows us to enter psychedelic experiences without fear of a bad trip. Giger’s art triggers the flashbacks of a bad drug trip.
He captures in his canvases the horrific images of a bad trip, only tripping out to his art is safer. His art awaken avenues of terror within us, like the machine in “From Beyond”.
Giger dredged up old fears we thought we’d outgrown as a species and worked through evolutionarily. He gave flesh, bone and breath to the beasts of our deepest nightmares. At the same time, he rendered them incapable of grabbing us, hauling off to a dark cave, to later serve as the beast’s dinner.
6) Giger’s art leave us feeling violated. Giger’s visions leave us feeling trapped and terrified.
Giger’s images bore inside you, like the insidious Brown Jerkins, or Giger’s own immature alien chest-buster. The fear it happens upon eats away at your insides. The raw things of the world that cultivated and civilized Homo sapiens avoid are, with little warning, thrust upon our screaming senses. His Xenomorph mimics the dark that slithers out of our collective darkness.
7) Giger’s art illuminates the primal worlds of the Witchdoctor. Giger traffics in the unwashed, undefined realms of the Shaman.
Where others fled, Giger made his home. What others dread, he made his habitat. What others fight to suppress, he drug back to the surface. Giger brought to a canvas near you the hidden world that ancient shamans saw beyond our own, as they sat in mescaline-induced stupors, with shining streams of drool, driveling down their chins, and onto their heaving chests.
The sum of other worlds remained largely unexplored in either man’s lifetimes. Life beyond the electron microscope, beneath the ocean depths, behind the three dimensions, and beyond the twinkling stars remains unknown and untouched.
Entire libraries of DNA remain unread and untapped.
We sense palpitating entities, some full of rewarding treasures, while other full of ripping terrors, crouching beyond our vision in the existential darkness. Will they enrich or eviscerate us, as we begin to explore their domains?
8) Giger’s art dissects Lovecraft’s living cosmos. He performed an autopsy on the universe, while it still vibrated with life, aware of its violation.
The maniacal chaos of the demon-sultan Azathoth who inspired lines like:
“…Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes…” (12).
lies butchered by Giger’s palette knife like a common lab frog.
The archaeology of the cosmos is a study in anatomy versus a study in architecture: veins and sinews appear instead of electrical conduits. Ligaments and ribs show up where you expect potable water lines and sewers. Bridges and scaffolds have mouths and faces.
Both Giger and Lovecraft turned the cosmos is some kind of an enormous, incomprehensible entity:
“…Lovecraft’s…focus on the cosmic horrific theme of existence-as-nightmare was balanced and complemented by a deep craving for liberation into transcendent realms of beauty and bliss…The stories of H.P. Lovecraft are…about incursions from the cosmic beyond that open up vistas of wonder and awe. They’re…about dislocations in time and space that offer a paradoxically fearsome and exhilarating experience of liberation from natural law. They’re…about the longing for a transcendent experience of absolute beauty. This duality…is a part of the age-old tradition of fantastic storytelling…built right into the very nexus of tales that are generally counted as Lovecraft’s most significant work…Should incursions from beyond the cosmic order, breakdowns in natural law, and the destruction of the physical body be viewed as joyful or terrifying, exhilarating or horrifying, dreadful or liberating? The answer has long emerged from the collective unconscious, often in the form of fantastic stories and religious narratives and doctrines, as an unqualified, ‘Yes…’” (13).
Giger externalized his nightmares, rather than leaving them amorphous, undeveloped, and unbirthed in his psyche. Each painting represent a sensuous invitation to join the entity, to lose oneself in the immense, corporeal conflagration.
9) Giger art embraces the aesthetics of death rather than life. Truly, Giger fell madly in love with death, long before his brief infatuation with life.
His tryst with the Grim Reaper mimics in life, mad Thanos’s worship of Mistress Death in the Marvel Universe. His love affair with the Angel of Death became a driving passion that formed the core of his life.
He did not turn his disturbing visions into some quasi-reality, thus bypassing the aesthetic of serial killers, voiced by the Jack Nicholson’s Joker, in Tim Burton’s Batman:
“…I am the world’s first, fully functional, homicidal artist. I make art until somebody dies…” (14).
Giger’s biomechanical orgies also capture the necrophiliac thrills of the tomb given breath in The Loved Dead:
“…I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul athirst for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction…” (15).
Giger brought his homicidal photo-realism to everything he touched. And his disturbing photographic memory – except his was not the banal regurgitation of the idiosyncrasies of a staid life. He emptied the undigested contents of the bowels of the heavens and the earth onto his canvases; the things we could not stomach, were the curtain of daily normalcy to be pulled aside, and we saw the true darkness that lay just beyond the comprehension of our five senses.
10) Giger’s biomechanoid visions of humanity bothers us. Our lives are now governed by machines, from the smartphones we constantly pore over to the computers many of us serve before each day.
The fine line between being served by our machines to having to serve them blurs with each new jump in technology. The borging of humanity will not come at the hands of an all-powerful race that invades out space in enormous technological Rubik’s cubes.
Since most of the enslavement will be done invisibly, by future enhancements of Wi-Fi connections, the horror of assimilation portrayed in Star Trek will become an accepted and desired and natural rite-of-passage.
Giger’s art X-rays the reality of man/machine interface. That art reveals the horrific truth of how far we are separated and alienated from nature, the true environment we were bred for.
Ultimately, Giger’s art threatens to release the dark jinn that resides in each of us, one who is willing to do our darkest bidding – yet we fear the unintended consequences if those primal urges are fulfilled.
Some Differences between Giger and Lovecraft:
Now, let us briefly examine a few distinctions between Lovecraft and Giger.
One, H.R. Giger, in contrast to Lovecraft, was not beholden to an overriding rationalism. As he once said, in comparing himself with the LSD god, Timothy Leary:
“What could I say? He was a very intelligent man with a lot of knowledge and I’m, well, I’m just an artist…” (16).
Two, unlike Lovecraft, Giger also enjoy dabbling in magic, though largely not as a practitioner – he did not perform rituals, engage in invocations or summon spirits (17).
It was the aesthetic visions in art of people like Crowley that motivated his occult studies:
“Well, if you are interested in magick and the occult, then the name Aleister Crowley should…top…your list…I must say that I tried to study his books and his system of magick and I found it quite difficult to understand him. But I was always interested in what kind of paintings he painted, though it took many years before I was actually able to see a few of them. I have a copy…of the catalogue that was produced for the Crowley Art Exhibition that was held in London back in 1998, as well as the catalogue for an exhibition…held in 1932 in Berlin. Most of the works I’ve seen are portraits of his friends and they look to me very evil! The ladies that he painted are terrible looking, which I don’t like too much since all of my ladies in my paintings are beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. To me, anyway!” (18).
Another difference between the two men – their use of mood-altering substances. Lovecraft epitomized the Victorian Teetotaler, even to the point of writing an anti-alcoholic polemic, Old Bugs. He hoped to dissuade, through that fiction, his friend Alfred Galpin from trying alcohol before Prohibition went into effect.
On the other hand, though Giger denied in drug use in his interviews – particularly because drug-use was illegal in his native Switzerland – when the writer Daniel O’Bannon first met Hansreudi, he related in more than one source, the following drug incident over an early dinner get-to-know-you session:
“…Giger remembers that he met them at the Atelier One…the hotel suite where Jodorowksy was staying…There met Hans Rudi Giger who was about Dan’s age, who looked to Dan more or less like Dracula. He was entirely dressed in costume black leather clothing, his hair was black, and he had very pale skin as if he had been avoiding the sun, and Dan likened the expression on his face to being intense maybe like Edgar Allen Poe.
‘Giger came up to Dan holding some tin foil and said to him, ‘would you like some opium?’
Dan asked ‘why do you take that?’
Giger replied ‘I am afraid of my visions’
Dan replied ‘It’s only your mind’
Giger replied ‘That is what I am afraid of’” (19).
In more than one recounting of the event, O’Bannon asserts that Giger used opium, not to increase the horrific images in his dreams, but to help him cope with his nightmares.
As Giger related in another interview, how he felt about his art and nightmares:
“Seconds: When you paint your nightmares, are you doing it to exorcise them or to celebrate them?
Giger: If I have a problem in my life, it’s that my dreams aren’t very good. The stress destroys my dreams. It brings back memories of military service and school. If I have the same disagreeable dream repeatedly, I’ll paint it to liberate myself from it…” (20).
Next, I would like to examine the place dreams held in Lovecraft life through his own words.
Ten Fascinating Aspects of Lovecraft’s Dreams in His Own Words:
Here’s a short list that details ten facets of Lovecraft’s dream life. In no way, would I call this register as all-encompassing:
1) HPL’s writing peaked during his weird dream cycles. Lovecraft saw intensified dream activity as an important indication of future writing episodes, especially affecting his ability to express himself:
“…I hope my increased fantastic dreaming is a prelude to a new writing spell. All my recent attempts have been so unsatisfactory that I have destroyed them after 3 or 4 pages; & I keep asking myself with increasing frequency whether I am not, after all, unequal to the task of expressing myself in words” (21).
2) HPL dreamed more often than his colleagues. Lovecraft was surprised that few of his correspondents dreamt with the same frequency or as vividly as he did:
“…You astonish me when you say you dream but twice a year. I can never drop off for a second—not even in my easy chair or over my desk without having dreams of the most vivid sort; not always bizarre or fantastic, but always clear-cut & life-like…besides…mundane dreams I occasionally have boldly fantastic one which make good weird-fictional material…I may add that all I know of dreams seems to contradict flatly the ‘symbolism’ theories of Freud. It may be that others, with less sheer phantasy filling their minds, having dreams of the Freudian sort; but it is very certain I don’t…” (22).
In that same breath, Lovecraft flatly dismissed Freud’s Dream Interpretations, based on his experiences as a dreamer.
3) HPL experienced normal, explainable dreams. One source of some dreams, in Lovecraft’s mind, came from his waking experiences:
“It was the most vivid dream I have had in a decade, & involved subconscious use of odd scraps of boyhood reading long forgotten by my waking mind. Calagurris & Pompelo are real towns of Roman Spain…” (23).
4) HPL wondered at the source of some dreams. Often Lovecraft’s dreams were so different from his waking existence that he wondered at their source:
“I wonder…if I have a right to claim authorship of things I dream? I hate to take the credit, when I did not really think out the picture with my own conscious wits. Yet, if I do not take credit, who’n Heaven will I give credit tuh?” (24).
5) HPL possessed a lesser-known dream personality. In a few dreams, Lovecraft noticed he took on a dream personality, separate from his waking reality as HP Lovecraft, yet nonetheless, as vividly real:
“Speaking of the ‘Carter’ story, I have lately had another odd dream-especially singular because in it I possess another personality—a personality just as definite & vivid as the Lovecraft personality which characterizes my waking hours. My name is Dr. Eben Spencer…” (25).
It was from that sense of duality in his own person, that Lovecraft may have found partial story materials for his rewrite of E. Hoffman Price’s Lord of Illusion into Through the Gate of the Silver Key – where the consciousness of Randolph Carter on the distant world of Yaddith shares a body with the beetle-like Zkauba the wizard. And one can see HPL finding seminal ingredients for the displacement of the human mind of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, professor of political economy at Miskatonic University, by a member of the Great Race of Yith.
6) HPL recognized some of his dreams would be misconstrued by religious people. Lovecraft knew, as he expressed this facet of his dream life, that certain of his correspondents would interpret his separate somnambulist personality as a reincarnation experience from a past life:
“…I have related this in detail because it impressed me very vividly. This is not a Co [shorthand for Ira A. Cole] romance of reincarnation-you will see that it has no climax or point-but it was very real…At this point you ask me whence these stories! I answer-according to your pragmatism that dream was as real as my presence at this table, pen in hand! If the truth or falsity of our beliefs & impressions be immaterial, then I am, or was, actually & indisputably an unbodied spirit hovering over a very singular, very silent, & very ancient city somewhere between grey, dead hills. I thought I was at the time-so what else matters? Do you think that I was just as truly that spirit as I am now H.P. Lovecraft? I do not…” (26).
Though Lovecraft found the experience as vivid as his waking life, he disputed the idea that the dream was valid evidence of a spiritual experience:
“…Some dream! If that happened to Co, he would be duly seeking a supernatural explanation: but I prefer actual analysis…” (27).
7) HPL denied that his dreams reflected an objective reality. Lovecraft argued against the idea that two dreamers could see the same dreamscape. That dream phenomenon used by some to argue that the dream world was real, having a separate reality apart from those who dreamt it:
“…in analyzing the nature of the dream, I found that the dominate points were a hellish pounding and an encroachment of the sea upon the land…I was amused by her idea [Winifred Virginia Jackson, pseudonym ‘Elizabeth Berkeley’] that I must have seen the same supernal sights that she saw in her dream. Her overpowering imagination, conjoined to very scanty scientific attainments, makes her vaguely credulous of the supernatural; and she cannot get rid of the notion that there may be an actual region of dream and vision which can be independently and objectively seen by different individuals…She does not realise that imagination can seize on new things and subconsciously project them backwards into association with past things – just as all prophecies are written after the occurrence of the things prophesied.
In the case of ‘The Green Meadow’ I related to her a dream of mine, and she claimed to have had exactly the same dream, with a subsequent development which mine lacked. This was certainly her honest belief, yet I…swear that she had no such dream till she had seen my account. Then, doubtless, she did have the dream in its amplified form; automatically putting it backwards in time when later thinking of it and repeating it” (28).
Thus, while Lovecraft was aware of the idea of a separate, objective dream reality, similar to the occult concepts later purposed by Donald Tyson, he rejected such notions (29).
8) HPL did not use drugs like other authors to dream vividly. Lovecraft was proud of his ability to dream more vividly than authors who used drugs to enhance the Technicolor-aspects of their own literary dreams:
“Dequincy is familiar to me, but impressed me more with his language and erudition than with his fancy. I never took opium, but if I can’t beat him for dreams from the age of three or four up, I am a dashed liar! Space, strange cities, weird landscapes, unknown monsters, hideous ceremonies, Oriental and Egyptian gorgeousness and indefinable mysteries of life, death, & torment were daily – or rather nightly – common places to me before I was six years old. Today is the same, save for a slightly increased objectivity…” (30).
And in another instance, he referred to a similar result in his dreams apart from another drug:
“…I am forever dreaming of strange barren landscapes, cliffs, stretches of ocean, & deserted cities with towers & domes…All this dreaming comes without the stimulus of cannabis indica. Should I take that drug, who can say what worlds of unreality I might explore” (31).
Only in deference to another titan of Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith, did Lovecraft observe his dream better:
“…Your unusual dreams are tremendously interesting, & much fuller of genuine, unhackneyed strangeness than any of mine…Of what festering horror in space-time’s makeup have you had a veiled intimation?” (32).
9) HPL infrequently based his stories on his dreams. Contrary to some popular notions, a large percentage of Lovecraft’s stories where not based on his dreams. For instance, while HPL used some of his dreams as inspiration for his weird stories, he also recognized their literary limitations:
“As to dreams – the only trouble with fictionising them is plot-invention. In spite all the value of imagery, the real [crux] of a story is the plot – a connected, climatic unit which must move along with relentless coherence & suspense to a thrill of horror & surprise which shall impress the reader more than all the fine speech and scenery combined. The plot must be stronger than the atmosphere, else the ‘story’ will degenerate into a mere fantasy. It is far easier to write prose-poems than to create real-stories, & I am determined to make my products stories in every sense of the word” (33).
In the same vein, Giger did not feel compelled to use his dreams as his sole artistic inspirations:
“’You’ve said before that much of the inspiration for your art comes from dreams, and more specifically nightmares?’
‘Everyone always wants to know about my dreams. The inspiration is mostly from literature actually. I have read so many things that have inspired me…’” (34).
Giger related elsewhere, some non-cabalistic literary sources of inspiration for his art:
“…I have always read a lot. My love of reading is above inclusions to my passion for the art. I read a lot small crime stories and then I started with Allan Poe. At the end of the sixties, I met the work of Lovecraft, and I loved it… I read everything from Philip K Dick or William Gibson to Stephen King, although I admit I feel fondness for the literature of terror…” (35).
10) HPL’s dreams brought stimulation to his mundane existence. Lovecraft often found his dreams to be one source of true fear and breathless excitement in his life:
“…But it is in dreams that I have known the real clutch of stark, hideous, maddening, paralyzing fear…I have seen…things! Many a time I have awakened in shrieks of panic & and fought desperately to keep from sinking back into sleep & its unutterable horrors!” (36).
Lovecraft saw the ability to capture the fear and breathless excitement of his dreams in his writing to be among his greatest challenges. Upon waking from the dream where the pivotal figure of Nyarlathotep first appeared, HPL wrote:
“As I was drawn into the [dream] abyss I emitted a resounding shriek…& the picture ceased. I was in great pain – forehead pounding & ears ringing – but I had only one automatic impulse – to write, & preserve the atmosphere of unparalled fright; & before I knew it I had pulled on the light & was scribbling desperately. Of what I was writing I had very little idea…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…I wish I could have continued in the same subconscious state, for although I went on immediately, the primal thrill was lost, & the terror had become a matter of conscious artistic creation…” (37).
Why did Lovecraft take his Dreams so Seriously?
As we have seen, Lovecraft did not dismiss his dreams. Why did HPL hold his dreams important, when he intellectually dismissed many of the reasons past dreamers esteemed their night visions?
Perhaps S.T. Joshi’s explanation for Lovecraft’s dreams gives us a hint:
“It need hardly be added that this notion of dreams providing access to a sort of supra-reality was merely a fictive conception, and not the object of actual belief on Lovecraft’s part. He was not mystic; in fact, it was exactly because he wasn’t that he required the imaginative escape of weird fiction” (38).
In another time, given the lesser development of Darwinism, Marxism, Atheism, and Existentialism, would Lovecraft have been a John Dees?
As we saw in a previous article, a combination of Lovecraft’s poverty and his lifestyle preferences mimicked the ascetic choices a shaman might make to experience dreams of other worlds. By chance, HPL’s choices predisposed him to shamanistic visions:
1) Disrupted Circadian rhythm because HPL slept by day and roamed the streets by night.
2) Self-imposed sleep deprivation that often lasted three days at a time.
3) Starvation eating that verged on fasting for mental clarity and dream enhancement.
4) Self-denial in areas – sex, smoking, and strong drink – that focused his energies on creativity.
5) Periods of physical and emotional isolation that fostered his sense of separateness (39).
And as Lovecraft lived out these factors, the left-brained intellectual accidentally stirred up the unconscious grounds from which traditional shamanistic visions arose.
HPL craved an artistic euphoria, one only the avenue imagination could fuel. He sought a creative high “which groups isolated impressions into gorgeous patterns and finds strange relations and associations among the objects of visible and invisible Nature. Imaginative fiction…allows the author full creativity, license to pursue art in its most essential sense” (40).
Through his dreams, Lovecraft satiated a hunger that his materialistic bent towards life did not fulfill.
Developing a Fancy for Fictions:
Lovecraft’s dreams and writings allowed him to play with, to interact with mystical notions that he otherwise rejected intellectually. HPL did not have to believe in a process, an idea, a myth. In fact, he could outright reject intellectually a notion, while benefiting from the mystical experience, from its aesthetic content.
Because such subject matters were “fiction”, Lovecraft could drain each notion dry of its aesthetical ecstasy, while not violating his intellectual qualms on a given topic. Some subjects that were forbidden by the intellectual. In a common sense manner, he summarily denied them.
The creative flow of a writer is often a right-brain, intuitive process. The fuel for that process comes from the unconscious mind. Ideas that surface from the unconscious associate themselves randomly with what a person consciously encounters.
Lovecraft coveted the anti-intellectual rush of the “ah-ha” moment. Such “Eureka” experiences often bypasses our intellectual understanding.
Lovecraft sought out such cosmic epiphanies, he yearned for déjà vu experiences. He craved to be lost in the moment, in the exhilaration of the now.
Lovecraft pursued an aesthetic oblivion through his dreams, the sense of losing or submerging oneself in a sea of sense impacts, as the lines between fear, fact, and fiction were blurred:
“…the atmosphere of unparalleled fright…the incidents [of] the exquisite thrill of fear – the actual sensation of the presence of the hideous unknown…the…subconscious state [of] primal thrill & the terror…” (41).
And HPL found in his dreams, such profound extremes and experiences – he felt a sense of wonder and revelation that strikes our inner caveman.
The caveman operated not on the intellectual, but on an intuitive basis. In the world of our inner caveman resides our instincts.
Is Truth a Proposition or a Phenomenon?
Is truth an experience? Is it a phenomenon we briefly undergo through our primitive five senses?
Or is truth a series of intellectual propositions? Lovecraft wrote of the limitations of our cerebral propositions:
“…The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein…” (42).
Given Lovecraft’s statement, is truth less a left-brain proposition and more a right-brain experience?
Often, what we perceive as “truth” has been pared down by censors who remove any disturbing, contradictory evidence. Our thoughts consist largely of “iconic images” carefully crafted to confuse, to prevent clarity.
The clouded mind sees nothing beyond what is deemed “ordinary”. After all, the eyes are useless, when the mind is blind.
And our world takes on all the reality of The Matrix.
Occasionally someone awakens from the stupefying slumber, in an “ah-ha” moment, we previously described.
People react differently to those realizations, when the curtain of illusion created by their senses briefly falls away, like a blind person suddenly gaining their sight. A shattering white light experience, perhaps known only to those near death.
Forces that work to preserve the status quo label the experience so as to diminish its effect and dismiss its source.
Or damn its beholder.
Yet, what the omnipresent “they” try to bash, banish, or bury, often becomes the seeds of their undoing.
Few are strong enough to resist “normalization”. Few are strident enough to repel the strangulation of their ideas and individuality.
Almost none dare to live a life outside the lines.
But buried behind the static that clouds the Universe lie the secrets of the Big Bang and startling mysteries beyond.
Among those unique, extraordinary individuals stand artists and authors. They saw the world, not as they were told it was, but in bits and pieces, how it truly was.
And they gazed upon the unconscious below and the cosmos beyond.
Out of those moments of clarity, one man – H.P. Lovecraft wrote – and another man – H.R. Giger wrought – works that touch our dreads and trouble our dreams.
The Art of the Unconscious:
Fiction should capture the quality of a nightmare’s realism. Art should not solely express what one sees. It should also give equal weight to what one feels.
When the wounded psyche convulses in a dream, it bleeds under the curtain that separates our waking world from our dream world, between the real and the surreal. One spills over into the other and vice-versa.
There is often a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde quality in the relationship of the mundane, waking world, and the marvelous world of our nightmares. They are bound together in the same person, but yet, they are somehow separate.
Maurice Levy wrote, concerning that division noted by the art movement known as Surrealism and its relationship to Lovecraft:
“This leads us to the central teaching of…Surrealists concerning the real and the surreal: artists should not confine themselves to the familiar (as seen in daytime surroundings and in a waking state), but should reach out for dreams. This statement…might have been acceptable to Lovecraft. Or when the surrealist…Joan Miro defined his art as an attempt ‘to escape from present reality which to-day is particularly ignoble, and to seek out new realities, offering other men a possibility of elevation,’ he… voic[ed] a feeling which Lovecraft shared…The Surrealists’ insistence that facts should be transcended to reach new horizons would certainly have been approved of by one who, all his life, was obsessed by the quest of the unknown, and whose major preoccupation…was to render as best he could the intrusion of the Invisible, of the Inconceivable, into our familiar world. Antonin Artaud’s definition of Surrealism as ‘an insidious extension of the Invisible; the unconscious close at hand,’ Lovecraft would…have…accept[ed] as a definition of his…literary endeavors…
He would also have accepted…Breton’s and Eluard’s statement, in Notes sur la poesie…that ‘It is intelligence, waking, that kills. It is sleep that dreams and see clearly.’ Breton, in Les vases communicants, claims that Surrealism has placed a ‘conductor between those all too dissociated worlds of waking and dreaming, of external and internal reality, of reason and madness.’ What has Lovecraft done, if not precisely tried to reconcile the waking world with the world of visions and dreams? About the same time, the Surrealists were experimenting with dreams in their effort to…’investigate the immense undetermined region over which reasons does not extend it protectorate…’” (43).
Thus Lovecraft’s pioneering dream work paralleled similar developments in Surrealism. Both sought to make art apart from conscious-constraints and ego-dominance.
In turn, Giger identified himself with Surrealism and was enamored with its notable artists like Salvador Dali. He adopted the techniques of Surrealism, to bypass his conscious mind in search of objects for his art:
“Giger says that he does not understand the processes which underlie his painting but that he makes use, essentially, of the mediumistic or ‘automatic’ style adopted by several surrealists – including Max Ernst, Oscar Dominguez and Wolfgang Paalen. Giger maintains that he opens the door to his unconscious mind by confronting his blank canvas and suspending conscious thought. Then, as the spontaneous images…build before his eyes, he adds details and texture with him airbrush. He says he likes the airbrush because of its ‘tremendous directness’. ‘It enables me…to project my visions directly onto the pictorial surface, freezing them immediately…’” (44).
Thus, Giger employed several avenues, besides dreaming, to access the unconscious tar pits from which his nightmarish creations slithered and clawed.
Towards a Vivid, Visceral Aesthetic that Eviscerates Our Own:
As Lovecraft’s tales strip us of our egotism; we return to the primal slime from which we emerged.
In Lovecraft view, one myth is as valid as another. An ecstatic produced in an individual by reading Lovecraft’s stories was as real as those produced by religious myths.
Lovecraft’s stories disturb us on the visceral or gut level, because they came from his own unconscious terrors. His is a primal aesthetic, an artistic vision seen through the primordial soup from which life sprang:
“’…Pleasure to me is wonder ‘the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty…” (45).
Giger’s art is also the art of the cave – the dark, the cold, the dank, the endless corridors, where skeletons are left behind by lopping, lurking carnivores, the horrors that fill the teeming darkness. Like Lovecraft, he touches the Cro-Magnon in us, bypassing the sanctimonious intellectual trappings of modern man.
Addiction and Psychedelic Dreams:
The aesthetic ecstasies Lovecraft craved, when transmuted into his tales, left his readers gasping for more, as addicts might crave their next fix.
Some contend that Lovecraft clung to his raving intellectualism as a means to fend off madness, the unwashed, unconscious morass that swept away his Father and Mother to the Asylum.
Lovecraft’s dream experiences matched the psychedelic experiences that addicted others to the drugs that generated them.
The sense of wonder generated by his dreams saved Lovecraft from the devastating ennui of his mundane life – and perhaps from suicide, given the dismal prospects his pointless existence promised him.
Whole-Brain Truth as Experience, Quantum Physics, and the Question of Reality:
In a sense, Lovecraft savored the unknown worlds that exist beyond the perceptions of our five-waking senses. He fictionalized that sense of wonder in the words of Dr. Crawford Tillinghast:
“’What do we know,’ he had said, ‘of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with a wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have…’” (46).
Tristan Eldritch, in reflecting on Lovecraft’s incredible dream life, and the suffocating limitations of our five senses, observed:
“It is Lovecraft’s attempts to imaginatively break through the barriers of the five senses, aided by his intuitive use of materials culled from his hyper-vivid dream-life, which makes his work weirdly – at times even startlingly – prescient of the psychedelic experience” (47).
In an incredible coincidence, Lovecraft’s fiction prefigured a quandary alluded to by Quantum Physics.
Within Quantum Mechanics, there is a great imprecision to the words used to describe the fact that there are no sharp boundaries between the subject and the object. The distinctions presented by our five senses are largely negated, blurred, rendered obsolete, and dismissed.
Vague word pairs such as micro and macro, reversible processes and irreversible processes, animate and inanimate systems, declare our nostalgia for the days before Quantum Physics. Then, the old scientific paradigm that a factual, realistic representation of what the world was doing could be derived and explained from our experience and observation.
For those inside scientific circles, who understand the mathematics, the traditional views many non-scientists still hold are fundamentally quaint, naive, old fashioned and outmoded.
For example, when energy is not observed, it acts as a wave. When it’s observed, energy acts as a particle (48).
Intuitively this says that for everything in motion in the whole Universe, for every subatomic particle, there are as many universes as there are subsequent probabilities. Once a particle fires out of sight, beyond our observation, there’s no telling how many layers of other laws – beyond our present four dimensions, three spatial, one temporal – could have intercepted it. Because space is infinite, everything that could occur by random chance should happen.
The result: Quantum entanglements as intricate and widespread as the multiplied webs of Shelob in Tolkien’s, Return of the King.
Past and future consequences are not uniform and predictable.
The reason for the discrepancy: anytime you observe reality, you alter it. Both the measuring device and the observer, inadvertently influence the research, because both are made of particles that interact with those that compose the experience. There are no entirely satisfactory means to measure the ancillary impact of those factors. And those remedies that are cooked up to fix the issue, only explain experiments already performed.
That doesn’t mean that in some philosophical fatalism, you throw out what has been explained, because of what has not been explained. Since quantum mechanics is based on probabilities, a probability function can’t tell you anything about the “nature” of an event. It can only say something about the outcome. Neither does it prove idealism and debunk materialism in toto.
But one should have reservation, when someone begins a statement with the phrase, “…the assured results of…” in connection with what is, at best, a scientific finding that is subject to change. Because few absolute truths exist, scientific inquiry cannot establish a ‘sciences of facts’; we can only establish a ‘knowledge of essences’.
What pool did Lovecraft and Giger dip into when each man dreamed so vividly?
In the final lines of this discussion, we will widen our understanding of Lovecraft and Giger’s dreams. In that endeavor, we will suggest possible sources of each man’s dreams.
While the shamanic and religious lore about dreams date back to the dawn of man’s history, the scientific study of dreams is still in its infancy.
Both men had a complex relationship with their dreams. For instance, some people are addicted to their rational, conscious lives. Some are addicted to their irrational, unconscious existence. Lovecraft was addicted to both sides, the day and the night, the light and the dark.
I hope you gain a semblance of that intricacy in the following paragraphs.
Do Bad Childhoods begat Bleak Dreams?
For many, bad childhoods can lead to troubled adults. Families where the primary caregiver is unavailable, unstable, or ill-equipped to care for a child’s needs may produce adults who seek out attachment to others in any way – appropriate or inappropriate.
Unconsciously, adults chose life partners with the same emotional deficiencies as their parents. The same emotional drama that traumatized them in childhood is replayed in adulthood. There is little chance for resolving the issues and heal the wounds. Each person largely plays out their roles on an unconscious level.
While H.P. Lovecraft did experience an early life of privilege, the absence of his father, the death of his beloved Grandfather, and the doting yet detached relationship with his deranged mother led HPL to numerous nervous breakdowns and youthful thoughts of suicide.
An arm-chair psychologist might pin Lovecraft’s terrifying dreams to his childhood traumas.
You would expect that, based on his terrifying paintings, Giger grew up under the iron-rule of Teutonic parents. Did he work through the traumas of childhood by later traumatizing strangers with his canvases?
No. In fact, Giger stated more than once: “’…My childhood was very happy’ he says almost apologetically, ‘and my parents have been very nice to me’…” (49).
Dark Artists and Their Dreams:
One stereotype of dark artists is that he or she derives inspiration from their disturbing nightmares.
At noted earlier, while Giger did draw some inspiration for his art from his dreams, he also drew stimulus from other sources. Yet, Hanreudi’s relationship to his dreams was markedly different than Lovecraft’s was.
Giger seemed to have a love/hate relationship with his dreams. Though he drew his inspiration from several springs, his dreams played a pivotal part in his art. For instance, Giger once said:
“…In a lot of cases, recurring dreams eventually led to the creation of some of my most poignant works. I frequently wrote about this in my books, such as the Necronomicon. An example of this is the ‘Passagen’ series of painting of the late 1960s and early 1970s…” (50).
In other situations, as noted earlier, some of Giger’s nightmares actually squelched his creativity and led to unproductive periods in his artistic enterprise. For example, here Hansreudi speaks of a series of dreams that hindered him:
“…not often, but I did the right thing because at the time these passage dreams were ruining my work. It was the right thing to make me feel better…” (51).
So H.R. Giger – the epitome of a dark visionary – did not always relish his nightmares. Lovecraft, as noted earlier, saw a new cycle of fantastic dreams as a pick-me-up for his creative writing.
Art as Therapy for H.R. Giger:
Many Lovecraft essayists have portrayed the energy HPL put into writing out his dreams, as his way of mastering the night-terrors that he had suffered from the age of five.
That point is debatable, since there is scant evidence that Lovecraft himself, an erudite man of above-average intelligent and introspection, ever assented to that dictum.
H.R. Giger, on the other hand, often spoke of keeping a “Dream Book” and using his art as therapy:
“’About fifteen years ago,’ Giger explained in 1978, I had a diary, ‘a dream book. I had been having the same dreams again and again, and they were nightmares. They were horrifying. But I found that when I made drawings about them, the dreams went away. I felt much better. It was sort of self-psychiatry…’” (52).
One of his interviewers more fully sketched out what Giger did with his “Dream Book” in greater detail:
“Born in Switzerland during World War II, he grew up with severe night terrors. Instead of running from them, he learned to convert them into art, sleeping with a sketch pad and pencils at his bedside. Drawing the terrifying creatures of his mind is a complex conversation with his subconscious, a tenuous collaboration that draws a livelihood from something which disturbs rest and health. He…described it as exorcism. Resolution of his fearful dreams might mean an end to creativity” (53).
Giger goes on to explain how some of his art – that which elicits the greatest audience responses – grew out of his worse dreams:
“’…The strongest thing in my work, I think, is the claustrophobic stuff. I still sometimes have shitty dreams with that in… being inside rooms that are like graves, a stone grave, a tomb. And I always think in the dream, ‘Oh my god, why am I here?’ He laughs…’” (54).
Giger likens the loosening of images from his dreams to various art mediums as an exorcism:
“’I try to come close to my imagination. I have something in my head and I try to work it out — like a kind of exorcism… I think most of the images in my paintings are evil, but you can’t say that I’m evil. It’s just that evil is much, much more interesting than paradise’” (55).
From what I have gathered from reading several Giger interviews, I get a sense that the Artist grew tired of inquiries about his dream life. Though Hansreudi drew some artistic inspiration from his night terrors, he was equally interested in sharing the other sources for work, such as Egyptian mysteries.
What was the Source of Giger’s Night Terrors?
Was Giger like Lovecraft, a man with an analytical mind who thought outside the conventional boxes society defined as “normal”?
In a word, no.
Giger sprayed his canvases, sculptured his gargoyles, and lost himself in the artistic process. He did so without giving much thought from where his dreams/unconscious images arose:
“You know I was curious – I was interested in all kinds of mystery or deeper meanings in the paintings because I myself have not analyzed why they have turned out like this or like that…” (56).
By and large, others have tried to explain the tributaries of Giger’s nightmares.
Giger’s premiere academic interpreter is Stanislav Grof. Best known for his efforts to explore non-ordinary states of consciousness, Dr. Grof saw a traumatic birth as the genesis for Giger’s genius. Boiled down to its simplest components, Grof finds:
“…in essence the individual was traumatized from birth and the absence of integration of these traumas has led to cultural pathology. The various phases of the birth process lead traumas related to that phase of birth and each phase is related to visions, sensations, and behavioral patterns of a certain character. The visions related to this traumatic material in the psyche, sensations and behavior patterns described in transpersonal psychological literature are coincidentally depicted by H.R. Giger visually…” (57).
Coinciding with Dr. Grof’s analysis, Giger did relate that his birth was particularly difficult:
“A long time ago I used to have nightmares…I was stuck in a kind of oven with my hands drawn up and I couldn’t get any air, and that was probably a dream…my mother… [said] mine was a difficult birth…I didn’t want to come out and of course I couldn’t get any air…that happened again and again, and then from far away, I would see a light and then it would become dark again, couldn’t get any air…and these unpleasant dreams stopped when I began to paint those passages which actually represent that condition. At the time, I didn’t notice that at all, but well it’s turned out to be true because I haven’t had any of those dreams since then…” (58).
Though the traumatic birth hypothesis might be too Freudian for Lovecraft’s taste, think about what is being said.
As living beings, what are the first sights we see? What are the first sounds our minds record?
What are the first sensations? Inside the womb, the placenta wall, the dark tunnel. We record these sensory impacts unconsciously, unfiltered, unadulterated – as undefined images.
In that sense, each person gains in the first nine months of life, a hereditary memory. A brief, instinctual, flash memory represented by primordial images, generated during each stage of embryonic development.
Although not a perfect match to Dr. Grof’s pre-birth trauma scenario, you gain an appreciation for the pain a human being experiences in the prenatal cosmos.
What if Lovecraft were to fictionally redefine that prenatal existence in mythos terms and Darwinian definitions?
Human embryos pass through stages of development that roughly mirror the Steps of Evolution. That view, popular during Lovecraft’s day, is now considered archaic and antiquated.
First, we experience life as a single-cell organism; second, as a multi-celled animal, such as a protoplasmic Shoggoth; third, as a fish, such as a Deep One; fourth, as an amphibian, such as Tsathoggua; fourth, as a turtle; fifth as a bird, such as a Shantak; and sixth as a mammal, such as the shambling Antarctica simians, revered in outline as our erstwhile ancestors.
Were those mythos meanderings in some measure valid, it would partially explain why some human beings so readily identify with the Lovecraftian pantheon on a visceral level.
And Whence came Lovecraft’s Dreams?
While Lovecraft worked hard to convince his readers of the reality of the unseen worlds he penned, he never declared in print that he had seen Cthulhu.
On one level, we should view Lovecraft’s dream consciousness in terms of the science of stratification.
The science of stratification describes how successive layers of sediments are uniformly deposited over time. Each level of sediment contains archaic relics, some organic or inorganic, that helps identify the geologic age(s) in which the original tier of residue was deposited.
As noted earlier, Lovecraft readily identified that many of his dreams were drawn from the pooling of his combined experiences and exposures. In relating why he experienced his separate dream personality alluded to before, Dr. Eben Spencer, Lovecraft proposed a logical, non-reincarnation-centered explanation:
“…I never heard the name Eben Spencer before…The cause of the whole is clear – I had a few days before laid out Mrs. Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ for re-reading. As to details – Ambrose Bierce supplied the Civil War atmosphere, no doubt; whilst it is easy to trace in Dr. Chester and his brother – facially I mean – the likeness of mu boyhood friends Chester and Harold Munroe…” (59).
In other instances, Lovecraft could not trace some of his dreams to an experience he could remember, or the subject of a book he had read. There are probably instances where Lovecraft might have read some books or lived experiences, which he could not consciously remember.
However apart from that unconscious residual, HPL dreamt of things, places, entities and situations that were outside the realm of his personal history.
In those situations, the science of stratification enters the picture. If one were to examine the elements of Lovecraft’s dreams as separate layers of psychic sediment, in what age were some sediment levels of his nightmares laid down?
At some level, those beyond layer of Lovecraft’s life experiences and comprehensive readings exist successive, more ancient levels. The dream strata consists of the collective, racial, or herd unconsciousness of Homo sapiens and perhaps earlier species.
When Lovecraft was puzzled over some dreams, due to their antiquity or otherworldliness, he may have dipped into the collective unconscious.
That unconsciousness, as defined by Carl Jung, includes:
“Archetypes constitute the structure of the collective unconscious – they are psychic innate dispositions to experience and represent basic human behavior and situations” (60).
For instance, there are common myths that appear in related-forms across the cultural spectrum. This concept becomes more viable, as recent research has shown that some form of memories are passed from one generation to next through DNA (61).
In that sense, one summary statement made by Donald Tyson concerning HPL’s dreams rings true:
“…the mythos has continued to haunt the consciousness of humanity because its essential components were drawn from the deepest recesses of Lovecraft’s dreaming mind, which lay in contact with the racial consciousness of our species. His Old Ones are archetypical in their potency…” (62).
Lovecraft fictionally played with the idea of racial memories in The Rats in the Wall. There, the last descendant of the decadent Delapores, though separated by hundreds of years from his progenitors’ cannibalistic practices, nevertheless finds himself feeding on a hapless friend given the right triggering circumstances.
Lovecraft might not believe in the continuity of individuals, whose logical conclusion is reincarnation. But he might go for the continuity of a species, as in a collective or evolutionary memory. Instinct is part of each animal’s makeup, from the lowest animal to man’s shambling simian ancestors.
At best, using the Jungian concepts to explain Lovecraft’s elder dreamscapes may or may not have met with HPL’s approval.
At worst Lovecraft, according to Tyson’s own admission, would never ascertain to the source that author applied to HPL’s dream-based mythos:
“Serious modern magicians have taken the step that Lovecraft could never have taken – they have chosen to treat the mythos as magical reality…” (63).
Such a view, in my opinion, places Lovecraft in a more passive role, such as a stenographer who simply recorded the words and images projected into his simian brain, from the eternal beings who peopled the astral planes. The absurdity of that notion is best summed up by Dr. Morbius in Forbidden Planet:
“The fool, the meddling idiot! As though his ape’s brain could contain the secrets of the Krell!” (64).
To me, Tyson’s interpretation misses out on the role of Lovecraft’s rich imagination in creating his cosmic pantheon.
Few authors and artists have touched the raw fear of the public like H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger.
Lovecraft produced impressionistic tales that burned the reader’s mind with cosmic grandeur. Giger’s Alien still haunts our collective nightmares decades after it inception. Both men introduced us to a Universe teeming with life antithetical to our own.
They introduced us to the “truth” that was out there.
Egotism clouds the minds of the herd known as Homo sapiens. As we prepare to find our “destiny” as a race out “there,” among the stars, evolution has done little to lessen that hereditary blindness. While the voyage of the fictional Nostromo is still a few years off, it unclear whether we will be prepared to cope with the shadows of Lovecraft’s or Giger’s dark dreams anymore than its crew was.
(1) H.R. Giger Quotes, http://www.GoodRead.com.
(2) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Maurice W. Moe, May 15, 1918.
(3) “Presenting the Sci-Fi Art Masters: H.R. Giger”, Rob Carney, Editor, Imagine FX, July 2008, p. 5.
(4) Ibid, p. 9.
(5) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to August Derleth, December 25, 1930.
(6) “Materialism and Scientific Philosophy in a Lovecraftian Universe”, by Fred Ludnow, Ph.D., http://www.LovecraftianScience.wordpress.com, August 10, 2014.
(7) “How H.R. Giger’s Brilliant Madness Helped Make Alien ‘Erotic'”, by Charlie Jane Anders, IO9, October 20, 2011.
(8) II Kings 13:21 King James Bible, 1611.
(9) Tattoo History: A Source Book, by Steve Gilbert, December 1, 2000, p. 158.
(10) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(11) “Introduction,” by Clive Barker, Giger’s Necronomicon 2, English Edition, 1992.
(12) The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.
(13) “Lovecraft’s Longing,” by Matt Cardin, http://www.teemingbrain.com, November 1, 2009.
(14) Batman, directed by Tim Burton, Warner Brothers Distribution, 1989.
(15) The Loved Dead, by H.P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr., 1919.
(16) “H.R. Giger works Weekends,” vice.com, May 13, 2014.
(17) “Three Magical Artists: Austin Spare, Rosaleen Norton & H. R. Giger,” by Nevill Drury,
(18) “Baphomet’s lament: An interview with H.R. Giger,” by R.F. Paul, Esoterra #9, 2000.
(19) “Dune and the gathering” http://www.alienexplorations.blogspot.com
(20) “H.R. Giger: Alienated,” by Steve Cerio, Seconds_25.
(21) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, November 29, 1933.
(22) __________________ to Robert Bloch, August 19-20, 1933.
(23) __________________ to Bernard Austin Dwyer, November 4, 1927.
(24) H.P. Lovecraft’s Chain Letter to the Gallomo, (Alfred Galpin, Samuel Loveman, and Maurice W. Moe), December 11, 1919.
(25) __________________ to the Gallomo, (Alfred Galpin, Samuel Loveman, and Maurice W. Moe), January 1920.
(26) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Maurice W. Moe, May 15, 1918.
(27) H.P. Lovecraft’s Chain Letter to the Gallomo, (Alfred Galpin, Samuel Loveman, and Maurice W. Moe), January 1920.
(28) __________________ to the Gallomo, (Alfred Galpin, Samuel Loveman, and Maurice W. Moe), August, 31, 1921.
(29) “Dream Traveler,” by Donald Tyson, The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe, p. 96.
(30) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, June 6, 1920.
(31) __________________ to Rheinhart Kleiner, September 27, 1919.
(32) __________________ to Clark Ashton Smith, October 22, 1933.
(33) __________________ to Rheinhart Kleiner, June 6, 1920.
(34) “H.R. Giger works Weekends,” http://www.Vice.com, May 13, 2014.
(35) La Estadea, translated, No. 3, August 1, 2006.
(36) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Harry O. Fischer, February 1937.
(37) __________________ to Rheinhart Kleiner, December 14, 1920.
(38) “Introduction”, The H.P. Lovecraft Dreambook, editors: S.T. Joshi, Will Murray, & David E.
Schultz, 1994, p. 6.
(39) “H.P. Lovecraft: Dreams of an Accidental Shaman”, by John A. DeLaughter, Lovecraft eZine, April 3, 2014.
(40) “The Defense Remains Open!” by H.P. Lovecraft, 1921.
(41) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, December 14, 1920.
(42) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(43) “H.P. Lovecraft and Surrealism,” Maurice Levy, Books at Brown, Volumes XXXVIII–XXXIX, August 17–19, 1990.
(44) “At Home with Giger,” by Nevill Drury, http://www.Shadowplayzine.com #5, 1985.
(45) “In Defense of Dagon,” by H.P. Lovecraft, 1921.
(46) From Beyond, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1920.
(47) “Towards the Visionary Antipodes of the Human Psyche Part 2: H.P. Lovecraft and the Door in
the Wall,” by Tristan Eldritch, August 4, 2013.
(48) “World Science Festival, Measure for Measure: Quantum Physics and Reality, Panel Discussion,”
David Z. Albert, Sean Carroll, Sheldon Goldstein, Ruediger Schack, and moderator Brian Greene,
World Science Festival, May 29, 2014.
(49) “At Home with Giger,” by Nevill Drury, http://www.Shadowplayzine.com #5, 1985.
(50) “HR Giger’s Passages I-IX,” by wmmvrrvrrmm, http://www.alienexplorations.blogspot.com.
(52) “HR Giger and the making of Alien,” by Ryan Lambie, http://www.denofgeek.us, May 15, 2014.
(53) “Creating from Nightmare: H.R. Giger’s Biomechanics and Alien,” by Kate McDaniel,
http://www.synkroniciti.com, January 5, 2014.
(54) “Presenting the Sci-Fi Art Masters: H.R. Giger”, Rob Carney, Editor, Imagine FX, July 2008, p. 8.
(55) “At Home with Giger,” by Nevill Drury, Shadowplay #5, 1985.
(56) “H.R. Giger Quotes,” http://www.brainyquote.com.
(57) “Visionary Art: H.R. Giger,” by Stanley Krippner, Transpersonal Spirit, November 30, 2012.
(58)“HR Giger’s Passages I-IX,” by wmmvrrvrrmm, alienexplorations.blogspot.com.
(59) H.P. Lovecraft’s Chain Letter to the Gallomo, (Alfred Galpin, Samuel Loveman, and Maurice W. Moe), January 1920.
(60) “Concept of Collective Unconscious at Jung,” http://www.carl-jung.net.
(61) “’Memories’ pass between generations,” by James Gallagher, BBC News, December 1, 2013.
(62) “That is not Dead,” by Donald Tyson, The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons,
His Universe, p. 214.
(63) Ibid., p. 218.
(64) Forbidden Planet, directed by Fred M. Wilcox,
John DeLaughter M.S., 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.