Lovecraft and I Don’t Get Along

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.

Fictional Magic

I’ve sometimes remarked on this blog that I feel like I live in a video game or role playing game of some sort, what with my magic rings and enchanted swords and whatnot.  Largely, this is due to my having been exposed to a lot more gaming than I have magic, and it’s no secret that lots of games like Dungeons and Dragons or other RPGs borrow liberally from occulture and magic literature, though it may not be by the book or realistic in any sense I’m aware of (though if anyone has a fireball spell they’d be willing to share, hit me up).  That said, magic is also guilty of borrowing from literature and gaming as well.  For instance, take the infamous Necronomicon from the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft; although this was just a fictional book from a fictional story, many authors have taken it upon themselves to write their own kind of Necronomicon that fits in with the Cthulhu mythos and related entities.  This kind of magic, fictional though it may be, works all the same, to the point where it even begins to freak me out.

Consider it this way: the more people that believe in a certain idea, the more “real” that idea becomes.  Many people across history have heard of and believe in Christ as the Son of God; as such, the idea of Christ is immensely powerful.  A smaller version of this includes any story, myth, fable, or creature whose tale is told time and time again.  If some number of people have read a particular book, have thought about its characters, spoken their names aloud, dreamed or daydreamed about the things those characters did, then all that happens in that book becomes real to an extent.  The more exposure an idea gains, the more powerful that idea becomes; hell, the more belief an idea gains, the more powerful it becomes.  If even one person believes in an idea, that suffices to accomplish work.  Thus, it follows that stories that are popular can be used, and since magic often makes use of “real” entities such as spirits, angels, gods, and goddesses with their own myths, the characters, magic, and the like from within those stories can be used in magic.  After all, I’ve often heard that the Bible is the greatest story ever told [citation needed], and what’s to distinguish the storiness of the Bible from any other book, or for that matter a game, movie, or anime?

One of my friends is familiar with the SNES game Chrono Trigger to no small degree, to the point of being able to recite all of the game’s lines, whether in the Japanese or English versions.  However, being a magic user himself, he’s also adept at working with the entities and magic system from the game.  He’s mentioned astrally travelling some of the halls of Zeal and the other castles from the game, as well as spiritually hanging out from the realms depicted, learning and gaining much from those places.  In addition, he’s also good with working with the spirits, entities, and magic from the anime series Slayers, to the point where I’ve been able to witness some of the neat effects from his working with fire and water.  Being a chef, he makes use of this magic to no small degree in the kitchen, and his food readily attests to that.  (He still owes me a guest post here eventually on the unique elemental system of Chrono Trigger, which I would greatly appreciate before the next apocalypse deadline.)

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is increasingly working with the magic and spirits of the PS2 game Final Fantasy X.  In that game, there are a group of specially-gifted people known as summoners who are able to work with an ambient magico-spiritual force that appear as floating balls of light, called “pyreflies”.  These pyreflies can coalesce into entities, such as physical apparitions of the dead known as “unsent” or as fiendish monsters.  However, certain holy shrines contain ensouled statues called fayth, and if the fayth deem a summoner worthy of working with them, the summoner can call upon the fayth to summon an aeon.  These aeons are used to protect the people in the world of Spira from a titanic, evil mega-aeon known as Sin.  Leaving much of the plot aside, my boyfriend is beginning to astrally travel to the world of Spira, talk with one of the protagonists of the game (High Summoner Yuna herself), and work with the fayth themselves.  It’s interesting work, especially since the mythology of Spira and Final Fantasy X is rich as far as video games go, but still incomplete enough to leave theory and philosophy wanting.  Seeing how much of the in-game Yevonese religion is based on Shintoism, Buddhism, and Catholic Christianity, it’s not terribly hard to see how much of this can work or put into practice.

As for myself?  Beyond being peripherally involved with my friends’ ventures above, I’ve been dabbling in some fictional magic myself.  Specifically, I’m getting started with the magic from the Wraeththu series of books, also called dehara (literally meaning or homonomous with the word for “gods”).  To briefly review the background, Wraeththu is a race of “mutant humans” who are both androgynous and hermaphroditic, able to reproduce among themselves as well as “incept” young human males (transform via ritual blood infusion).  In addition to being uniformly beautiful, lean, and fit, Wraeththu also possess strong innate magical, psychokinetic, and telepathic powers.  The dehara system of magic utilizes an ambient life force called agmara, out of which the deities and thoughtforms as well as magical actions are created.  There are to be a total of three books total on dehara magic (right now, only Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana is released), each associated with one of the three castes of Wraeththu society.  The dehara magic system is a kind of blend between chaos magic principles, Wraeththu mythology, and neopagan rituals (complete with a Wraeththu variation on the Wheel of the Year).  Refreshingly, it requires very little in the way of physical tools and supplies, with much of the magic done through meditation and projection into an astral temple called a nayati.

Admittedly, working with these kinds of magics can be awkward with my other magical projects, but it does offer interesting modes of working that still augment each other nicely.  It’s a lot like learning different languages: two languages can still arguably say the same thing, but how they say it can be radically different.  The theory behind each system of magic can offer new ideas for exploration when compared against other theories, or help provide explanations and approaches to solving a problem when other theories may fail.  As a result, it’s hard for me to seriously claim that any one system of magic is innately “better” than any other, though I may be biased towards more devotional and Hermetic ceremonial stuff all the same.  Fictional or not, may as well explore magic like any other adventurer.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about using magic known explicitly to be fictional, or have you tried it?  Are there any games, movies, anime, or books you find interesting enough with enough magical content to make use of?  For more talk on this topic, Jason Miller just wrote a post about it yesterday.