I’m going to make a terrible, terrible admission to you all that may ruin my oh-so-high and noble standing in occulture: I don’t like H.P. Lovecraft or his universes, and it’s not for a lack of trying, either. At least half of my friends online and offline love the dude and his works, and all the works and worlds that he’s inspired, many of which actually working with the gods and entities from the Lovecraftian universe in an occult setting or dedicating some of their art and crafts to his world. I’ve even taken a Vacation Necronomicon School a few years ago, a structured introduction to Lovecraft and his universe and how to write Lovecraftian horror and fiction. I see Chthulhu this and Nyarlathotep that and Azazoth that other thing frequently and often. And despite all that, I cannot stand the dude and his works. I’ve known this for years now, but as my own spiritual life and practices have developed, I have a more solid understanding why.
The basic gist of his cosmos, as I understand it, is that the world is full of things. Especially people, and especially white people. And we as the logical, rational, material human race is responsible enough to abandon all but the most scientific of approaches to understanding the cosmos, especially white people. But there are also other things in the cosmos that are bigger, stronger, and older than people, and especially white people. And these things operate in a way that people cannot understand, especially white people. This is obviously grounds for going insane or causing mass chaos and hysteria, because people are supposed to be the best, especially white people.
Please tell me you see where I’m going with this.
Now, I credit the fact to Lovecraft that he grew up in a late Victorian/early modern society and was enamored of what we nowadays call “hard science”, disregarding anything superstitious or religious as BS. His family had a history of mental and psychosomatic illnesses. He was brought up sheltered and lived as a recluse. He held views that we’d consider racist in modern times, holding highest the Anglo-Norman people (from which he was descended), wanting to keep races distinct for the purpose of preserving cultural identity. He was a man of his times, and especially the nighttime, and I understand that.
But the whole premise of his universe and drama just clashes so directly and fundamentally that I derive no enjoyment nor satisfaction from his works. The way I see it, Lovecraft starts with the premise of a material cosmos and throws in the supernatural (magic, deities, etc.) almost as an afterthought, as if the metaphysical came from the physical and not the other way around. In this light, the “gods” of Lovecraft’s universe are no more than beings that have had longer and more resources to evolve than humanity has, with abilities and knowledge that they’ve had more time and practice to develop than we have. This makes them terrible, frightful, and deserving of crude and vulgar cults set up by the superstitious and unrespectable outcasts of the world. Just as the poor become sycophants to the rich to eke out an existence by using some of the rich’s power, these low and vulnerable people turn to entities of cosmic power and fright against the more civilized and structured world of civilization. But, because these mega-entities are so powerful, they stand to destroy all that civilization has made through the progress fueled by scientific advancement and industrialism. We can’t have that, now, can we?
Basically, Lovecraft started with the basic ideas of social Darwinism and human (especially white human) supremacy over the world and showed how vulnerable we are. This I agree with: there are things older than us and bigger than us and stronger than us in the cosmos. I call them theoi, angels, gods, ancestors, totems, whatever; he calls them the Old Ones and Outer Gods and Elder Gods. Where we split ways is that he finds the existence of these mega-entities incompatible with human understanding and outside our capacity to understand, inducing insanity, madness, and destruction. I basically read his works as saying “But we’re humans! We’re supposed to be the best! HOW CAN SOMETHING BE BETTER THAN US I CANNOT HANDLE THIS KNOWLEDGE AAAAAAH.” Note that this is what happens to the more civilized people, often scientists, while the lower classes of people tend to devolve and debase themselves into crude worship of these entities because they just don’t know any better. But then, they not only don’t know better, but if they knew any better they’d go crazy, so they’re surviving where the civilized scientists can’t and becoming more powerful than civilization, which makes them a constant threat to the existence of humanity’s progress and civilized future.
Lovecraft, in spite of the cultural, scientific, philosophical, and spiritual heritage of humanity that actually exists, disregards all that we’ve actually done and posits it all as worthless in the long run. Every story we’ve told, every building we’ve built, every discovery we’ve made, everything we’ve done and everything we’ve become is pointless and worthless in the cosmos, imprisoned as we are to this tiny rock in space, bound by our own limitations both physical and intellectual. This is especially in contrast to beings who transcend spacial limitations (physical or metaphysical), whose power and knowledge vastly exceeds our own, who have their own aims and ends that either don’t take humanity into account at all or uses us for their own ends without regard for our well-being or survival. All this boils down to, when we really think about it, everything we know and do is basically meaningless and there’s no point to anything. The man himself even admits that his works are all about the futility and nihilistic pseudo-existence of humanity in the grand scheme of things:
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 me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. 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.
If your worldview puts the material, physical world first and the spiritual, metaphysical world as second, or that the spiritual developed from the material, then you’re assuming that there’s nothing really distinct from the physical, since all things ultimately come from it, and all spiritual stuff is just a physical process we haven’t understood yet. Everything that lives, going by Darwin’s theory of evolution, is merely accident and happenstance, and nothing is in control of anything except by sheer power alone. One human may control thousands with enough power, but no power of humanity can ever dominate the world we find ourselves locked into and trapped upon, especially the existence of other and more powerful (though by no means “higher”) entities whom we can only cravenly worship in the hope of having other powers not being used over us. The only thing that differentiates humanity from the Old/Outer/Elder Gods is the shitty and inexorable luck that we weren’t here first and weren’t strong enough to evolve fast enough.
But if your worldview puts the spiritual, metaphysical world first and the material, physical world second, or that the material developed from the spiritual, everything changes. Instead of humanity happening at the same time or by the same processes of other mega-entities, we developed after them or by their involvement. If the spiritual comes before the material, then no material process can begin to describe how the spiritual works, since it cannot apply; science is useless there, but only because science (as Lovecraft would have thought of it) operates only on the physical. In that case, we need other tools of humanity: religion, superstition, spirituality, the occult. These things, reserved for the poor and uncivilized in Lovecraft’s works, become the true tools of power and knowledge that can not only preserve our minds but expand them. Yes, we can go crazy, too (too much knowledge does that to anyone in any field), but it’s not because we’re incapable of knowing these things, only because we get too used to operating on a spiritual level and not on a material one. Insanity caused by knowledge isn’t a fundamental breaking down of comprehension, it’s expansion in a way that doesn’t mesh well with human custom and civilization. Even if there are other and bigger entities in the cosmos, and even if humanity is stuck on this little blue speck in the infinite black, we still hold the keys to our own gates to infinity and aether and power that can put us on the level of any Old One, if not far higher. Am I saying that spiritual entities always love and care for us? Nope; demons, angry spirits, hell-beings, and the like from any number of cultures would love nothing more than to see us burn. Am I saying that happenstance and accident didn’t create the cosmos, both spiritual and material? It’s impossible to know without being God, and even then, when you’re God, there’s really nothing you can do that can be completely understood by a lower being because of God’s infinite nature. And even if everything were an accident of creation, this doesn’t mean that a purely Epicurean, atomic-materialist cosmos is the only possible result where everything is random and nothing is ordered. The possibility of order, however temporary, and to reflect on the nature of order and chaos is an indication that, if the universe isn’t strictly ordered, then order (and, therefore, meaning) is an essential component of it.
Humans, even in my worldview and spiritual learning, are not the top of the foodchain. We may be powerful, but of course there are more powerful entities than us. We may be smart, but of course there are smarter entities than us. We don’t know everything, nor can we do everything. The only course of action we have available to us is to learn and do as much as we can and then more, growing in our own power and wisdom. We don’t need to get off this rock for that, nor do we need to understand the entirety of the physical cosmos, especially when power and origins lie in the metaphysical that physical laws cannot begin to describe. Not all spiritual entities may care for us, but we must have come from some of them, and some of them are by no means indifferent to us. Everything I describe is what Lovecraft refuted, and everything I believe is what Lovecraft denied. While I won’t go so far as to say he’s wrong in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter to him either way if I did; his universe and worldview is less than helpful and more of an impediment to anything I do and study.
Nihilism and meaninglessness may make for an entertaining read, but it’s no more than the flip side of the “catch-penny romanticism” Lovecraft himself decries.
Nowadays all fiction seems like that to me, and a lot of my friends assume that I’m just not reading the right stuff, otherwise I would clearly have to appreciate their favorite novelists.
I even have the complete works of HPL in my stacks. I bought it near the beginning of my fiction famine, thinking it might be an anodyne for my feeling of overload, but I have barely touched it.
On the other hand, I am quite fond of my Miskatonic University paraphernalia 🔮
“Humans, even in my worldview and spiritual learning, are not the top of the foodchain. We may be powerful, but of course there are more powerful entities than us.”
This, and so much of it. I use this as my argument in favor of the gaseous invertebrates out there. The idea that spirits and Gods have a real existence but exist only at the behest of and by the creation of human beings strikes me as ridiculously egocentric. Even if spiritual entities only came about as the constructs of conscious, aware beings (which I contend as well), with our understanding of the material universe do we seriously think that nothing has achieved a human level of intelligence or consciousness before? I imagine it’s probably happened on this planet in the past (there’s been complex life for at least 300 million years, at least 300 chances for beings to evolve to our level of being and disappear without a trace). I don’t buy that the spiritual arises from the material, but even if I did I wouldn’t be able to credit the idea that all the spiritual entities in all of reality came from the noggins of our species in the last half a million years.
I’m not a Lovecraft fan because his work beats the reader about the head with a baseball bat before leaping out from behind the door and screaming ‘boo!’ Uhh, I saw the big scare twenty pages before. This isn’t scary, it’s tedious. I don’t like tedious unless I’m getting paid for it.
I’m inclined to agree with him on the nihilism bit, though. The older I get, the more I see a lot of lives are simply ‘Be born, consume resources, die. Everything else is mere window-dressing.’ Eventually we all will die, the sun will turn the earth into a cinder, and nothing we built, thought, or did will survive in any form. So in the grand scheme of things there really *is* no point. It’s all fine and good while we’re here, but someday we won’t be and it’s not wise to dwell on this from what I’ve seen.
As for spiritual entities, I’m inclined to believe they have an objective existence of their own. Some are human constructs. Others aren’t. It’s usually the ones that aren’t that want to kill us. We’re not and never have been the neatest things since sliced bread. I’ve found occultists who think that way usually get their asses kicked in short order by something bigger and more badass than they are. Many times those people will also drop the occult for good. Good riddance, I say.
Spiritual vs material? We’ve got to navigate the physical world. We inhabit physical bodies, after all, and live in three dimensional space. Spiritual existence is a bit tougher, but it’s there. I’d argue that the two fuse and blend in with one another on a continuum, but that’s just me. They’re parts of the same thing, not mutually exclusive modes of existence.
My $3 anyway.