H.P. Lovecraft: The Mystical Ways of a Metaphysical Atheist

This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.

Many deities in the pantheon of speculative fiction owe their lives to Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu, Dagon and Mother Hydra, among others, populate the Lovecraftian Olympus. Other authors, inspired by HPL’s vision, created their own cosmic beings, dispensing with clichéd monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and ghosts.

Lovecraft’s life is solidly documented in his thousands of letters to a circle of aspiring writers, pen pals, editors, and admirers. Lin Carter wrote:

“…after his death at the early age of 47, virtually every word Lovecraft ever set on paper is in print. Whole volumes of his verses, essays, and letters have been published. As for his fiction, everything is in print—his mature work, his juvenilia, unfinished fragments, collaborations, revisions, and even his rough notes and commonplace book. The complete Lovecraft oeuvre is in print…” (1).

His life is also heavily-authenticated by scholars dedicated to achieving an accurate portrait of Lovecraft. Those Lovecraftian Researchers include the eminent S.T. Joshi, the indomitable Dr. Robert M. Price, and others – Dirk W. Mosig, Donald R. Burleson, David E. Schultz, and Richard L. Tierney, to name a few.

Some have searched Lovecraft’s fictions for images that reflected how the weird author viewed himself. Tales such as The Outsider were seen by early biographers, like L. Sprague de Camp, as fictional testaments to Lovecraft’s mindset.

This conclusion is based upon the effect of Susie Lovecraft, HPL’s mother, constant harping on her son’s appearance:

“A neighbor recounted that: ‘Mrs. Lovecraft talked continuously of her son who was so hideous that he hid from everyone and did not like to walk upon the streets where people would gaze at him,’ a statement the neighbor considered ‘exaggerated’” (2).

However, divining Lovecraft fiction for biographical tidbits largely becomes a Rorschach Inkblot Test. The findings often reflect more about the researcher’s own psychological state than a clue to HPL’s uniqueness.

Lovecraft’s Uniqueness. That is what we want to explore in this essay, “What makes Lovecraft’s fiction trail-blazing?” Or specifically, while Lovecraft was a materialist and atheist, “What literary steps did he take to rekindle a myth-hunger in modern humanity?”

The 20th Century Rebrands the World:

First, the intellectual landscape of the 20th Century was deeply furrowed and readied for a return to the mythic pulses that once enlivened our ancestors.

Science, a laudable intellectual discipline, sought explanations for everything. Like Swiss watchmakers, scientists sought to understand the mechanical side of things. While they discovered fingerprints aplenty–for the complex nature of things had all the hallmarks of engineering, hence the name given to the mysterious creative race in the movie Prometheus (2012) –missing was a clear portrait of some intellect behind everything.

Assuming there was an “intellect behind everything”, and that was not just another example of humanity’s attempt to overlay an anthropomorphic skeleton on a chthonic cosmos.

Yet, in applying a microscopic obsession with the minutiae of each snowflake, they missed the divine minuet that played behind each snowfall.

In philosophy, the French Existentialist Albert Camus captured the predicament that gripped the thoughtful, 20th Century mind:

“What…is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity…Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterward. These are games; one must first answer” (3).

1 – Albert Camus by Roobikon

In Camus’s mind, Natural Selection left humanity teetering on the horns of a dilemma. Unlike other animals, there is a fundamental contradiction between what human beings want from the universe (meaning or reasonableness) and what they find in the universe (indifference and chaos). Evolution endowed us with desires for meaning and validation from the universe. But nowhere in the ecosystem from which we arose, is any to be found.

Lovecraft portrayed in fiction Camus’s account of modern humanity’s dilemma:

“Well-meaning philosophers…taught him to look into the logical relations of things, and analyse the processes which shaped his thoughts…[yet] he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is …no cause to value…one above the other. Custom had dinned into his ears a superstitious reverence for that which tangibly and physically exists…then explained the workings of those things till mystery had gone out of the world. When he complained…they turned him…toward the new-found prodigies of science, bidding him find wonder in the atom’s vortex and mystery in the sky’s dimensions. And when he had failed to find these boons in things whose laws are known and measurable, they told him he lacked imagination, and was immature…” (4).

So, beyond the blind habits and coarse instincts that guide the human herd, a desire for meaning gnawed at a few who still entertained such notions.

And H.P. Lovecraft was a thinking man’s mystic.  I use the phrase “mythical ways” to loosely describe Lovecraft’s recasting the ancient darkness that frightened early man in modern terms equally terrifying to empirical man. In turn, that casts Lovecraft in the role of a cutting-edge Shaman to current audiences

He delighted in capturing the unexplained, the unexplored, and the unexpected that escaped the notice of the many.

Lovecraft Recast Other Dimensions:

“There are three classes of people:
Those who see.
Those who see when they are shown.
Those who do not see”

Leonardo da Vinci.

The second step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was Lovecraft’s recasting of the boundaries between the seen and unseen, betwixt the known and unknown.

Lovecraft recognized in fiction the tribalistic tendencies of humanity—chasing material satisfaction to the exclusion of all else and an acceptance, without question, of “reality”:

“It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them, but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism” (5).

As part of the Avant-Garde of Philosophers and Physics, Lovecraft redefined reality.

2- HP Lovecraft by David Levine

He challenged his reader’s definition of their “normal” waking world.

Some might think that Lovecraft simply used hyperbole to introduce his short story, The Tomb.

But the thought behind HPL’s fictional statement was based on his own experience. Lovecraft found that his dreams were so genuine that upon awakening, the impression of their “truth” troubled him:

“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…” (6).

Alienists might classify the trouble distinguishing between a waking reality and dreaming as simply a hallucination:

“Thin-boundary behavior is when a person experiences a dream state or hallucination that seems as real as if the event actually occurred” (7).

Lovecraft does not strike me as a man who believed in hallucinations. For instance, he did not use drugs to intensify the Technicolor-imagery of his dreams or writing:

“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…” (8).

In turn, as part of an Atheist Metaphysical approach to life, Lovecraft conditioned his readers to distrust their senses, the initial impression of things. Where we expect the normal, he trained us to expect the abnormal. He showed us the lines and curves to find the abyss behind every illusion of solidity and safety in the ordinary world.

Pavlov would have fared no better with Lovecraft’s devotees.

And why should we trust our senses, without question, discernment, or discussion?

Lovecraft also pointed out in fiction the illusionary nature of reality, gleaned from our five, primitive senses:

“’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. I have always believed that such strange, inaccessible worlds exist at our very elbows… We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation’” (9).

In addition, Lovecraft’s fiction prefigured a quandary as noted by Quantum Physics. Within Quantum Mechanics, 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.

Inside Quantum circles, the traditional views of many non-scientists about “reality” are considered quaint, naive, old-fashioned, and outmoded (10).

Philosophically, Quantum studies exposed the dual nature of reality. Per Kant, it represents a division between the phenomenal world—which we obtain through our perceptions–and the noumenal world—the universe that exists beyond our perceptions. They argue that there is a limit to what can be known and what remains unknown.

At once, this line of reasoning borders on Eastern traditions. For instance, Buddhism teaches that all reality is an illusion. Another teacher from Hindu traditions, Tilopa, stated:

“Listen with sympathy!
With insight into your sorry worldly predicament,
realizing that nothing can last, that all is as dreamlike illusion,
meaningless illusion provoking frustration and boredom,
turn around and abandon your mundane pursuits” (11).

It is easy to see how certain lines of mysticism lead back to Keziah Mason’s room:

“Possibly Gilman ought not to have studied so hard. Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension” (12).

Lovecraft only hints at such quandaries, allowing the minds of his readers to fill in the speculative gaps. There, they discover their own horrors found upon the revelations garnered therein.

Lovecraft Redefined What is Natural:

3 -Persistence of Time by Salvador Dali

Since our perceptions are flawed, and our ability to see the sandwiched layers of reality are inconsistent, all the dimensions postulated by the String Theory, whether seen or unseen, exist in nature. They are natural features of a multi-tiered reality.

Indeed, what if the dreams we see are not just memories but are incidents from different timelines, parallel dimensions or alternative universes?

Nature.is a closed continuum. There is only creation; nothing stands outside it. All the unseen worlds operate within that same closed system.

The third step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was Lovecraft’s redefining of the natural world. If the unseen worlds also operate within the closed confines of nature, HPL denied the existence of any supernatural, spiritual world.

Lovecraft knew our understanding of the world and the cosmos were incomplete. He wrote his stories against the backdrop of what S.T. Joshi termed a “supranatural” vs. a traditional “supernatural” universe:

“…A late utterance [of Lovecraft] is highly significant in this regard: ‘The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form not overly incompatible with what is known of reality – when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and measurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt – as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity?’ Lovecraft here is actually renouncing the supernatural for what might better be called the ‘supernormal’; that is, the incidents portrayed in his later tales no longer defy natural law, but merely our imperfect conceptions of natural law…” (13).

Supranatural infers that Lovecraft’s “gods” operated within natural laws. And when they did something that appeared outside those natural laws, it’s because our preschool science hadn’t reached their understanding of the mechanics of the cosmos.

Though supranatural is not a term Lovecraft used, it captures HPL’s desire to cloth his fiction in natural terms. He did not want to contradict reality as supernatural tales often did:

“… [I follow] the consciously artificial manipulation of the…myth-maker’s privilege…that is the deliberate exercise of the human instinct for space, reach, adventure, & cosmic identification through the weaving of fantistick aesthtick impressions as such, and not an intellectual denials of objective reality…I like to supplement, rather than contradict reality. I get no kick…from postulating what isn’t so, as religionists and idealists do. That leaves me cold – in fact, I have to stop dreaming about an unknown realm (such as Antarctica…) as soon as the explorers enter it & discover a set of real conditions which dreams would be forced to contradict. My big kick comes from taking reality…as it is – accepting all the limitations of…orthodox science – & then permitting my symbolising faculty to build outward from the existing facts; rearing a structure of indefinite promise & possibility whose topless towers are in no cosmos or dimension penetrable by the contradicting-power of the tyrannous & inexorable intellect. But the…secret of the kick is that I know damn well it isn’t so…” (14).

Lovecraft Rethought the Gods:

The fourth step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was that Lovecraft dethroned the old gods and installed his own alien gods.

Lovecraft redefined the character of gods in a supranatural manner, to use S.T. Joshi’s term.

Lovecraft was a modern-day mythmaker with a twist. Being an atheist with no hint of deism allowed HPL to invent his gods without the metaphysical baggage of traditional deities.

While humanity’s shallows gods populated the heights of Mount Olympus, Lovecraft’s Deep Ones and other gods populated the depths in R’lyeh.

Religionists venture forth with ideas like divine intervention, a caring God who has a beneficial plan for each human being, etc. Such notions expose an ideology that proposes forces outside nature; and glorifies implausible ideas like gods that intervene in nature, especially expressing an interest in a backwater planet like Earth, and insects such as human beings.

As Lovecraft musing noted:

“…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!!…” (15).

The longevity of Lovecraft’s alien gods–sometimes referred to collectively as “The Great Old Ones” –made them appear immortal to mere mortals. And any acts of the indifferent Old Ones that affected humanity for ill or otherwise, were incidental and accidental.

Lovecraft Reintroduced Fear into Unexplored Places:

4 – The Abyss by Alexluss

“In dim abysses pulse the shapes of night,
Hungry and hideous, with strange miters crowned;
Black pinions beating in fantastic flight
From orb to orb through soulless voids profound.
None dares to name the cosmos whence they course,
Or guess the look on each amorphous face,
Or speak the words that with resistless force
Would draw them from the halls of outer space.
Yet here upon a page our frightened glance
Finds monstrous forms no human eye should see;
Hints of those blasphemies whose countenance
Spreads death and madness through infinity.
What limner he who braves black gulfs alone
And lives to wake their alien horrors known?” (16).

Lovecraft was an author devoured by the abyss.

The fifth step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was that Lovecraft set known ordinary facts adjacent to unknown, fabulous fictions to boost his story’s credibility and increase the fears each induced.

Lovecraft’s fiction leads his readers from the edge of the known world to the unknown. He likens the process to the wonder aroused in an artist as they seek to put into pigments, uncommon and unknown things:

“The imaginative devotes himself to art in its most essential sense…He is a painter of moods and mind pictures – a capturer and amplifier of elusive dreams and fancies – a voyager into those unheard-of lands which are glimpsed through the veil of actuality but rarely, and only by the most sensitive…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” (17).

Lovecraft set his tales in little-explored areas, where what he described in fiction would not contradict the known facts about a place.

Like Melville, Lovecraft explored the unknown depths of the seven seas. Like Van Gogh, Lovecraft explored the celestial heights and the weirds behind the world.

He was in the depths of space before Giger.

Lovecraft wrote of places seldom, if ever, seen by human eyes. The bottom of the ocean. The bleak Antarctic tundra. The invisible worlds beyond the visible world.

In Lovecraft’s day, the plains of the Antarctic were as unknown and unexplored as the barren surface of the moon.

In turn, HPL probed places, where things have been allowed to fester, unchecked by the meddling of man. The deep forest is not the only locale where, when you turn over a proverbial rock, you find a teeming, alien world.

In Lovecraft’s Universe, such rocks appear everywhere. Beneath them lie teeming, nameless things. ready to overrun us with a primal ferocity, as personified by H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph.

Cosmic dangers lie not only in the void of space light years beyond us. They lie in the dimensions that overlap the reality all around us. Lovecraft, Robert E.Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith, like Curwen, Orne, and Hutchinson before them—resurrected the demons of a thousand lifetimes, from the ashes of bygone epochs and unseen spheres–in the imagination of their readers.

Lovecraft’s elder races are distant and dim in the memory of man. So much so, they lie buried in the unplumbed depths of humanity’s collective unconscious.

In the movie Forbidden Planet (1956), the dark demons and diabolical denizens that inhabit one unbelieving scientist’s unconscious–Dr. Morbius–are magnified in power and given savage life by an alien machine. In turn, the irresistible force unleashed by that synergetic process reduced scientific men to shambling simians. Likewise, advanced disintegration weapons prove no more effective than flint-headed spears against the ID beast.

Lovecraft is a 20th Century version of the 23rd Century Morbius. The teeming demons and demigods that haunted the unbelieving Lovecraft’s unconscious were released in his fiction against an unsuspecting public. His tales were unfettered by religious traditions and amplified by his boundless imagination.

Lovecraft wrote words others feared to write. He related visions others loathed to see. He told us of places and described beings, others were constitutionally inhibited from recognizing or retelling.

What inhabited his inhibitions and idiosyncrasy, his intellect could bare interpret.

Lovecraft’s outlook molded his in-look. He took the equivalent of internal selfies, and Cthulhu is the picture that shows through the background noise of the cosmos.

Lovecraft Rewrote the Beginning:

“Before the beginning. Before aged tongues told of ancient times. Before Bethlehem and Babylon, Memphis and Methuselah, before Genesis and Gilgamesh, Adam and Atlantis, when the Great Old Ones strode the empty corridors of eternity.

In that distant age, the cyclopean spires of Leng and Irem and R’lyeh rose to their spectral heights. Before written language, when hominins pounded drums and chanted around blazing fires to unknown gods…

Before man was man” (18).

The sixth step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was that Lovecraft established a fictional prehistory of the Earth, its inhuman inhabitants, and non-human civilizations.

Rewriting the myths that reflect Earth’s earliest days represents Lovecraft’s attempt to cast his tales in Cosmicistic terms, apart from the anthropomorphic centralism that pervaded run-of-the-mill pulp tales:

“Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large…To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity—and terrestrialism at the threshold” (19).

Lovecraft penned a new Genesis account, a retelling of this world’s “Beginnings” from the perspective of a modern, scientific man.

Lovecraft wrote of the Dawn of Time, long before traditional religions penned the beginning of the world. He sought to displace the notion that man’s dominance of the Earth marked the starting point of real history.

Lovecraft takes us to an Eden without an Adam, to observe the events at the beginning of history. There we behold alien incidents, whose repercussions, we cannot hope to understand due to our narrow anthroponomic vantage point and limited lifespans:

“Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival . . . a survival of a hugely remote period when . . . consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity . . . forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds…” (20).

There is more truth to be found in those first events than later traditions. There is still the primitive in us, that sits around the first campfires. There, we await a Shaman to explain the dark things beyond the fire through the stories of those who have gone before us. Lovecraft discussed the myth-hunger in human beings:

“…There are probably profound & natural reasons behind this desire—reasons based on symbolism & on a frantic desire to escape from the galling limitations of reality. The causes promote the survival of religion–& the writing of weird fiction!” (21).

Lovecraft bypasses or minimally engages our intellect, to touch in us, the caveman that still exists beneath the thin veneer of civilization.

Lovecraft Reassessed Man’s Position:

5 – Dawn of Intelligence by Hal Hefner

The seventh step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was Lovecraft’s reassessing humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Lovecraft recast humanity’s origins. He turned man from the divine object of a loving deity to a mere cosmic joke:

“These vertebrates, as well as an infinity of other life-forms—animal and vegetable, marine, terrestrial, and aerial—were the products of unguided evolution acting on life-cells made by the Old Ones but escaping beyond their radius of attention…Bothersome forms, of course, were mechanically exterminated. It interested us to see in some of the very last and most decadent sculptures a shambling primitive mammal, used sometimes for food and sometimes as an amusing buffoon by the land dwellers, whose vaguely simian and human foreshadowings were unmistakable” (22).

This was a shocking thing in a story. Though Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution were known, it was not the public orthodoxy in Lovecraft’s day. HPL believed Darwin, though not with a zealot’s blindness:

“…Some people seem never able to realise that no great discovery comes forth without attendant clouds of error & half-truths. The biological deductions of Darwin were essentially sound though they included many minor slips & ignored important factors later discovered…” (23).

To Lovecraft, humanity’s birthright was no longer unique. Man was not the pinnacle of a god’s creation, but a hodge-podge of chance chemicals, random mutations, natural disasters, and millions of years.  Human beings were accidents of chance, not acts of creation. People possessed no divine right over the earth or sacred destiny to live out.

Where once, we were cosmic wonders, we are now cosmic blunders.

Lovecraft Warned of Returning Horrors:

“’Nor is it to be thought,’ ran the text as Armitage mentally translated it, ‘that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again’” (24).

The primordial horrors that Lovecraft wrote of were not like dead dinosaurs in a museum. Nor, did they need the help of geneticists, as in Jurassic Park’s many incarnations, to bring monsters from the Past into the present.

They still lived, ready to return when the stars were aright.

“…That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. 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…” (25).

6 – Great Old Ones by Sketcheth

The eighth step towards an Atheistic Mysticism was that Lovecraft warned humanity of the sudden latter-day resurfacing of forgotten elder forces.

Lovecraft’s gods are not dead, living only as memories in dead rituals among their adherents.

They live in various stages of consciousness and access to the earthly sphere, entry to the here-and-now. Even death cannot hold them. As Lovecraft wrote:

“That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons, even death may die” (26).

Lovecraft wrote of the importance of such features—the possibility of 2nd Advents–in his fictions to increase their terror, foreboding, and lack of a future favorable to man [italicized by the author]:

“…In my own efforts to crystallise [a] spaceward outreaching, I…utilise as many…elements which have…given man a symbolic feeling of the unreal, the ethereal, & the mystical — choosing those least attacked by the realistic mental and emotional conditions of the present. Darkness — sunset — dreams — mists — fever — madness — the tomb — the hills — the sea — the sky — the wind — all these, and…other things have seemed…to retain a certain imaginative potency despite our actual scientific analyses of them. Accordingly I…tried to weave them into a…shadowy phantasmagoria which…have the same…vague coherence as a cycle of traditional myth or legend — with nebulous backgrounds of Elder Forces & transgalactic entities which lurk about this infinitesimal planet…establishing outposts thereon, & occasionally brushing aside other accidental forces of life (like human beings) in order to take up full habitation…Having formed a cosmic pantheon, it remains for the fantaisiste to link this ‘outside’ element to the earth in a suitably dramatic & convincing fashion. This…is best done through glancing allusions to immemorially ancient cults & idols & documents attesting the recognition of the ‘outside’ forces by men — or by those terrestrial entities which preceded man. The actual climaxes of tales…have to do with sudden latter-day intrusions of forgotten elder forces on the placid surface of the known — either active intrusions or revelations caused by the feverish & presumptuous probing of men into the unknown…” (27).

Conclusion:

Lovecraft words provoked a return to primitive campfires. His supranatural tales inspired a vicarious reliving of a tale’s wonder without a return to the dubious supernatural fictions of old.

He rewrote the rules that governed the retelling of ancient tales for modern minds. Yet, within the framework of a cosmicistic universe, Lovecraft’s imagination wove numerous threads that today’s horror writers have yet to unravel. He broke the ground from which sprung numerous mythologies for the likes of Stephen King or Clive Barker. For example, a shoggoth-like beast appears in the climax of Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train:

“…It shifted a little in the dark. The sound of its movement was awesome. Like a mountain sitting up. Kaufman’s face was raised to it, and without thinking about what he was doing or why, he fell to his knees in the shit in front of the Father of Fathers. Every day of his life had been leading to this day, every moment quickening to this incalculable moment of holy terror. Had there been sufficient light in that pit to see the whole, perhaps his tepid heart would have burst. As it was he felt it flutter in his chest as he saw what he saw. It was a giant. Without head or limb. Without a feature that was analogous to human, without an organ that made sense, or senses. If it was like anything, it was like a shoal of fish. A thousand snouts all moving in unison, budding, blossoming and withering rhythmically. It was iridescent, like mother of pearl, but it was sometimes deeper than any color Kaufman knew, or could put a name to…” (28).

Ironically, as science allowed man to find his path in the universe, he lost his way, his sense of self, and the mysteries that once gave life meaning. Lovecraft filled the mythic gapes in modern humanity’s longings with a scientific precision. HPL refilled our empty lives, once deserted by the old gods, with his new alien deities.

Lovecraft continues to thrive, as long as the darkness–whether it lies in this world, off-world, or in other dimensions–still teems with the cosmic wonders that stir the deep, timeless symbols in us:

“…Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimaeras—dire stories of Celaeno and the Harpies—may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition—but they were there before. They are transcripts, types—the archetypes are in us, and eternal…” (29).

———

End Notes:

(1) “The Shadow Over Providence”, by Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Mythos Curtain, 1972, p. xii.

(2) “Correspondence with Clara Hess, a Lovecraft Neighbor”, by August Derleth, The Providence Journal, September 19, 1948.

(3) The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus, 1942.

(4) The Silver Key, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1926.

(5) The Tomb, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1917.

(6) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Maurice W. Moe, May 15, 1918.

(7) “H.P. Lovecraft and His Legacy Lovecraft’s Dreaming Part V: Lucid Dreaming?” By Chris Perridas, December 17, 2006.

(8) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, June 6, 1920.

(9) From Beyond, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1920.

(10) “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.

(11) “Tilopa,” ramdass.org, March 3, 2015.

(12) The Dreams in the Witch House, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1932.

(13) “Introduction”, H.P. Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, Ed.
S.T. Joshi quoting and commenting on Lovecraft, Penguin Classics, 1999, p. xvi.

(14) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, April 1, 1930.

(15) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Maurice W. Moe, May 15, 1918.

(16) “To Virgil Finlay Upon his Drawing of Robert Bloch’s Tale ‘The Faceless God’”,
by H.P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1 July 1937, p. 17.

(17) In Defense of Dagon, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1921.

(18) “Lovecraft and the Primal Roots of Late-Night Radio: Fire, Myths, and Monsters”
by John A. DeLaughter, Turn to Ash, Volume 2: Open Lines, Benjamin
Holesapple, Editor, 2017.

(19) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Farnsworth Wright, July 5, 1927.

(20) The Call of Cthulhu, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1926.

(21) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Donald A. Wollheim, July 9, 1935.

(22) At the Mountains of Madness, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1931.

(23) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Kenneth Sterling, September 16, 1936.

(24) The Dunwich Horror, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.

(25) The Call of Cthulhu, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.

(26) _______________, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.

(27) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Harold Farnese, September 22, 1932.

(28) “The Midnight Meat Train”, by Clive Barker, The Books of Blood – Volume 1
Crossroads Press, Kindle Edition, October 1, 1998.

(29) The Dunwich Horror, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.

© 2018 John A. DeLaughter

John A. DeLaughter, M. Div., M.S. is a Data Security Analyst. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash horror zine, The Atlantean Supplement, The Eldritch Literary Review, The Chamber, and Horizontum (Mexico City). John’s first novel in the Dark Union saga, NIGHT OF THE KWATEE is now available (on Amazon), published by Night Horse Publishing House. His horror short, “The Thing Beneath the Tree,” also appears in the PROTECTORS OF THE VEIL anthology from the Lovecraft Lunatic Society (on Amazon). His horror short, “The Horror in the Heights,” also appears in the THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE OLD ONES anthology from the Lovecraft Lunatic Society (on Amazon). Follow John’s latest publication news on Twitter @HPL_JDeLaughter, Facebook @HPLJDeLaughter, Lovecraft essays @lovecraftzine.com/author/johndelaughter/ or Facebook @HPLJDeLaughter. John lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi.

6 responses to “H.P. Lovecraft: The Mystical Ways of a Metaphysical Atheist

    • Hector, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the essay, muchas gracias!

  1. Thank you for a terrific article!! I’ve been reading HPL since I discovered “The Haunter of the Dark”, in BORIS KARLOFF’S FAVORITE HORROR STORIES, in the summer of 1966. It’s great to know that he is being taken seriously!! Best Wishes from NW Pennsylvania.

    • Tim: Thank you so much for leaving a note. I’m happy that the essay about Lovecraft resonated with you. You go back farther than I, I first became aware of Lovecraft in the mid-70s, with The Lurking Fear and At the Mountains of Madness! Keep it Live with Lovecraft here at the eZine, reporting from South East PA!

  2. Great article, thank you!
    It continues to impress me that so many people remember precisely where and when they found HPL. I was a precocious 13-year old in 1960 when I found The Thing On the Doorstep in a great old collection by Donald A. Wollheim, The Macabre Reader.

    • Gene, thank you for leaving a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay! Yes, it is very interesting how different people in the Lovecraft community remember their first encounter with Lovecraft! What a landmark he made on our collective psyches! Again, I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts about the essay and HPL!

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