THE CTHULHU MYTHOS
Though the Cthulhu Mythos, as Derleth called it, was never intended
to be an organized cosmology, the gods and monsters who appear in Lovecraft's
work do manage to fit into a pattern, however loose. Reading the breadth
of Lovecraft's work, it is possible to build a limited framework, a cosmology
or pantheon if you will, of the gods, both fictitious and historical. The
following hierarchical sketch of the gods and demons mentioned in the principle
tales of H. P. Lovecraft gives an idea of the placement. The following
sketch does not include the creatures of the stories such as the Elder
Ones, the Fungi from Yuggoth, or the myriad spawn of Cthulhu. The parenthetical
"E" is for earthly gods and the "D" for the gods of the Dreamworld stories.
"All my tales are based on the fundamental premise
that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance
in the universe-at-large." Lovecraft, 1927
"Man's relations to man do not captivate my fancy.
It is man's relation to the cosmos--to the unknown--which alone arouses
in me the spark of creative imagination." Lovecraft, 1921
Before starting this article, look over the chart laying out the
of the Gods
THE SUPREME GODS
At the top of the Mythos is AZATHOTH. A scientific description
is given of him as the "monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space." But
in more spiritual and natural terms he is said to be the mindless entity,
demon-sultan, lord of all things, who gnaws hungrily as he rules all time
and space from a black throne in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond
time at the center of the Ultimate Chaos amidst the muffled, maddening
beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes,
encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers. His
godhood is recognized in both our world and in Dreamworld. To mortals,
his is the name no lips dare speak aloud. This is all we know of this most
high of the Mythos. It is perhaps the "mindless" aspect of Azathoth that
moves him to the uppermost position of the universe. His indifference to
all but the swirl of chaos directly around him holds him above all other
gods. Unseen, removed, unspeakable, he is beyond all time and space. His
appearance, purpose and, motives are unknown and may never be revealed
From a literary aspect, the most intriguing of his five appearances
in Lovecraft's work is the 1922 fragment entitled 'Azathoth." In it there
is the slight hint that possibly this being is a man taken away in his
dreams to become the center of chaos or that Azathoth is a being which
can take a man away in his dreams. One of the great problems of envisioning
or discussing the gods greater than Cthulhu is that they are beyond human
means of understanding. Words fail the seeker. Yet, there are some earthly
gods who may bear some relationship to Azathoth, or be pale earthly attempts
at comprehending him.
Breaking the name into its parts may reveal literary origins. 'AZA'
could be Assur (or Ashur) of Assyrian mythology, their principal deity
and god of war and empire or from Asa, the king of Judah who repelled the
Egyptians and defeated the Isrealites. The second part THOTH may be from
Thoth, in Egyptian mythology, who was god of the moon and Hermopolis in
Middle Egypt. Shown as either an ibis with a pointed beak or as a dog-faced
baboon, Thoth was the scribe of the gods and inventor of writing. To mankind
he was the patron of writing, learning, and sciences. In his youth, Lovecraft
had studied and written on the subject of Egyptian mythology. To equate
the Egyptian god-patron of writing and the sciences with the ultimate being
of the universe seems quite within Lovecraft's sly and scholarly sense
Great YOG-SOTHOTH is almost the equal of Azathoth. The Yuggothians
call him "The Beyond One" and Old Whateley of Dunwich calls him "the key
to the gate whereby the spheres meet." He is described by Randolph Carter
who meets him in Dreamworld as the All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless
being and self--not merely a thing of one space-time continuum, but allied
to the ultimate animating essence of existence's unbounding sweep--the
last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and
mathematics alike. He sits alone on a "throne more hexagonal than otherwise..."
The Salem witch Joseph Curwen raised him and saw "the face spoken of by
Ibn Schacabao." Yog-Sothoth is believed to have sired Wilbur Whateley and
the Dunwich monster. Like Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth is recognized in both our
world and Dreamworld.
Yog-Sothoth's contact with humanity seemingly brings him below Azathoth's
indifference. Yog-Sothoth, like so many of the gods of our world's religions,
makes contact with humanity to guide its subjects, demand devotion, or
interact with its women to create demi-gods.
A greater insight into Yog-Sothoth can be found, not in Lovecraft's
fiction, but in his correspondence and conversations with Willis Conover
recorded in Conover's "Lovecraft at Last." Lovecraft is said to have described
Yog-Sothoth as having pseudopodic tentacles "(which can pass through the
most solid walls)." "Yog doesn't always have long, ropy arms, since he
assumes a variety of shapes-solid, liquid, and gaseous-at will. Possibly,
though, he's fondest of the form which does have 'em." Yog-Sothoth has
no parents, "he always existed." And "those whom Yog-Sothoth touches are
never seen again... at least, in any recognizable shape. It is not even
safe to speak the name of Yog-Sothoth aloud. If we seem to have done so,
and yet remain alive, it is merely because our merciful ignorance has caused
us to mispronounce it." This is much like the name of Azathoth yet there
is a leeway, perhaps an element of mercy shown. Most interesting is the
fact that "Yog-Sothoth's wife is the hellish cloud-like entity Shub-Niggurath,
in whose honor nameless cults hold the rite of the Goat with a Thousand
Young. By her he has two monstrous offspring, the evil twins Nug and Yeb.
He has also begotten hellish hybrids upon the females of various organic
species throughout the universes of space-time (cf. "'The Dunwich Horror')."
THE OTHER GODS
THE OTHER GODS are creatures of time and space beyond our
world who oversee the earth and/or Dreamworld who are subservient to Azathoth.
They watch over and protect the earth gods who dance and play in their
temple at the top of the Hatheg-Kla.
Two of the Other Gods are recognized in both our world and Dreamworld.
They are NODENS and TSATHOGGUA. Nodens is the great, hoary Lord of the
Great Abyss with his mindless guardians, the nightgaunts. Tsathoggua is
the amorphous, toad-like god-creature from the black, lightless N'Kai.
Tsathoggua first appeared in the Clark Ashton Smith short story "The Tale
of Satampra Zeiros" (where he said the god came from Cykranosh, or Saturn).
He is mainly worshipped by the furry, prehuman Hyperboreans.
SHUB-NIGGURATH is recognized around the world and almost always invoked
as "Ia! Shub-Niggurath." She is a hellish cloud-like entity, in whose honor
nameless cults hold the rite of the Goat with a Thousand Young (sometimes
"Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young"). The wife of Yog-Sothoth, she
bore him two monstrous offspring, the evil twins Nug and Yeb (neither of
whom appear in the tales of Lovecraft).
UMR AT-TAWIL, the Other God of Dreamworld is the eternal Guide of
Dreamworld, "the Most Ancient One and The Prolonged of Life" as he is called
in the Necronomicon. He guided Randolph Carter into Dreamworld after his
disappearance from Arkham.
THE MESSENGER OF THE GODS
While he is one of the Other Gods, NYARLATHOTEP holds a
special place between his companions and our world. He is described as
the messenger from the Other Gods to the world of men. Nyarlathotep appears
among mankind in a number of guises. The oldest recorded appearance is
in Egypt where he came guised as an Egyptian, with the features and bearing
of a Pharaoh, claiming he'd risen out of the blackness of 27 centuries
and heard messages from places not of this earth. He has appeared repeatedly
since in the guise of the Black Man of the witches (see THE BLACK MAN below).
In his account of the Haunter of the Dark, Robert Blake wrote in his diary,
"...Nyarlathotep, who in antique and shadowy Shem even took the form of
Certainly the bridge between the Other Gods and the Earth
Gods is CTHULHU (sometimes called the "Great Priest Cthulhu.") It is said
the proper pronunciation is "Koo-Too-Loo." Of all the gods of Lovecraft's
mythology, Cthulhu is the most dangerous to mankind. Whether a god, demi-god,
or alien life-form, he came to earth aeons before mankind. His world or
civilization rose from the South Pacific ocean only to submerge again about
the time man appeared on earth. While most have forgotten him, he waits
in his submerged Pacific city of R'lyeh for the day when the stars are
right and he will rise to take command of the world. If he was once a mere
mortal creature, his natural longevity and the prophesy of the stars have
turned him into a god. Unlike the Other Gods above him, though his return
to reign over our world is certain, we may be able to defeat him, even
destroy him. He and his spawn fought the pre-human, alien civilizations
of earth. Worldwide, there appears to be a human and creature cult dedicated
to Cthulhu and his return to power. In Australia, the aborigine tribes
speak of him as Buddai, the "gigantic old man who lies asleep for ages
underground with his head on his arm, and who will someday awake and eat
up the world."
In appearance, Cthulhu is described in "The Call of Cthulhu" as "The
Thing can not be described--there is no language for such abysms of shrieking
and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force,
and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that
across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with
fever in that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky
spawn of the stars, had awakened to claim his own." Despite this, Cthulhu
is depicted in a pagan sculpture which was described as "a monster of vaguely
anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass
of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and
fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct
with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence."
Cthulhu has a particular ability to reshape himself. When Johansen
and Briden tried to escape Cthulhu in the South Pacific by ramming their
ship into the swimming god: "...the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head
on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the
stern of daemon galleon. The awful squid-head wraith writhing feelers came
nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.
"There was a bursting as of an exploded bladder, a slushy nastiness
as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a
sound that the chronicler would not put on paper. For an instant the ship
was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only
a venomous seething astern; where--God in heaven!--the scattered plasticity
of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original
form, whilst its distance widened every second as the Alert gained impetus
from its mounting steam."
Of Cthulhu's origin we know little except that he came from the stars,
most likely by way of Yuggoth, the ninth planet of our solar system. But
it is chronicled in the history of the Old Ones and recorded in "At the
Mountains of Madness" that "Another race--a land race of beings shaped
like octopi and probably corresponding to fabulous prehuman spawn of Cthulhu--soon
began filtering down from cosmic infinity and precipitated a monstrous
war which for a time drove the Old Ones wholly back to the sea--a colossal
blow in view of the increasing land settlements. Later peace was made,
and the new lands were given to the Cthulhu spawn whilst the Old Ones held
the sea and the older lands." Then in a great natural upheaval, "the lands
of the Pacific sank again, taking with them the frightful stone city of
R'lyeh and all the cosmic octopi, so that the Old Ones were again supreme
on the planet except for one shadowy fear about which they did not like
Unfortunately, we know little of the gods of that mysterious parallel
world which can only be entered in the dreams of those who have the Silver
Key. But principle among their gods is OUKRANOS. NATH-HORTHAN is worshipped
by the high priests in the temple of Celephais. The city of Sarnath is
ruled by a triumvirate of gods: LOBON, TAMASH, and ZO-KALAR. Sarnath was
laid to waste by the curse of BOKRUG, the great water-lizard god worshipped
by the people/creatures of Ib (who may or may not have been the Moon-beasts).
Of all the strange tales of Dreamworld, the CHILDREN OF THE FIRE
MIST is certainly the most mysterious. It is said that these beings came
to earth to teach the Elder lore to man.
The most intriguing of the EARTH GODS is DAGON, the sea-bound
god monster who rules over the Deep Ones. His Pacific abode was discovered
by the sailor from a freighter sunk in World War I who escaped his captors
only to find himself on the suddenly risen land once ruled by Dagon. It
is possible that Dagon is either an earthbound spawn of Cthulhu or may
be Cthulhu himself filtered through human mythology. The land which rose
under the sailor's boat may be the city of R'lyeh, seen in the same cataclysmic
rise and fall seen in "The Call of Cthulhu." But Dagon, in non-Lovecraftian
mythology, was the chief god of the ancient Philistines and later the Phoenicians,
represented as half-man and half-fish. Oddly, Dagon is mentioned as "Father
Dagon" to "Mother Hydra." HYDRA, whose name means "water serpent," was
the many-headed daughter of Echidna and Typhon. She was reared by Hera
herself and lived in the swamps of Lerna. Hercules killed her by cutting
her heads off and having his nephew immediately cauterize the necks before
new heads could grow. It is sometimes said she had one head that was eternal
which Hercules buried.
Another pairing of mythical gods happens in "The Rats in the Walls."
The narrator of the tale discovers a subterranean altar to ATYS, a Phrygian
god secretly worshipped by heretical Romans. In actual fact, this is Attis
who, in Phrygian mythology, is the god of fertility and the consort of
Cybele, who was also worshipped by the Romans. CYBELE, in Phrygian mythology,
is the goddess of nature. In Greek mythology she is believed to have purified
Dionysus after he had found the meaning of the vine and Hera sent him mad.
She is often called "Rhea" by the Greeks and "the mother of the gods."
Her cult was orgiastic, finding expression in violence, and was therefore
vaguely connected with the cult of Dionysus. She is also identified with
the worship of the MAGNA MATER, the mother of the gods, the female fertility
goddess worshipped by European pagans and early Romans.
Of the ancient pagan gods, SAMAEL and SEPHIROTH are mentioned passingly
in "The Horror at Red Hook." Prominent in the story is ASHTORETH who, in
ancient Syrian and Phoenician mythologies, is the goddess of love and fertility
(identified with Astarte).
Three other Greek gods appear in various stories: the title character,
HYPNOS, the god of sleep from Greek mythology, who is the son of Night
and Aiolos and Tyche in "The Tree." Hypnos's illicit love for Endymion
caused him to sleep with his eyes always open AIOLOS was a god worshipped
by both the Arcadians and the Syracusans. In Greek Mythology, Aeolus was
the son of Hellen (founder of the Hellenic world) who was the son of Deucalion
(son of Prometheus) and Pyrrha (red-haired daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora).
Aeolus, with brothers Dorus and Xuthux, founded the three branches of Hellenic
culture. Aeolians are the descendants of this third son and the island
named after him refused Odysseus landing. TYCHE is one of the Okeanid,
the daughters of Okeanos and Tethys, revered by the people of Syracuse.
The Tyrant of Syracuse had sculptors bid for the commission of creating
a statue to her.
Still from European roots, BRAN who appears in "The Whisperer in
Darkness" might be a reference to Bran Mak Morn, the king of the Caledonean
Picts in Robert E. Howard's stories. Or both Lovecraft and Howard may have
referred back to the three Brans of Celtic mythology: 1.) Bran, who with
Sceolan, was the favorite hound of Finn Mac Cumhal who was father of Oisin
and the head of the Fianna of Ireland (who holds many parallels to King
Arthur of Britain); 2.) Bran son of Febal, whose story is similar to that
of Oisin (son of Finn). He was summoned by Manannan son of Lir to visit
Emhain, the Isle of Women, from which return is impossible; or 3.) Bran
the Blessed, the giant brother of Manawyddan and Branwen and the son of
Llyr (or Ler), the god of the sea. His story is told in the Mabinogion.
Bran the Blessed is one of the oldest gods of pre-Celtic tradition, Goidelic
or even, according to Professor John Rhys, pre-Goidelic tradition. After
the insult of his sister by her British husband, King Matholwch, Bran waded
across the Irish Sea to defeat the king and his host. Lying down he formed
a bridge for his army. He possesses a magic cauldron in which the dead
are brought back to life. He was a musician and protector of bards. He
is king of the infernal regions. Beheaded after poisoned by an arrow, his
head protected (buried with his body in London's Tower Hill) protected
England until Arthur unwisely exhumed it thus allowing the Saxon invasion.
The god HUITZILOPOTCHLI comes from Aztec legend. His name is repeatedly
invoked in "The Transition of Juan Romero." He is the son of Coalticue,
a goddess who lived on the "serpent mountain." Her name means "serpent-petticoated."
Before his birth his 400 brothers and sister conspired to kill Coalticue
but Huitzilopotchli was born fully armored and slaughtered his siblings.
He is the young sun god of the Aztecs, their war god and chief god, who
guided the Aztecs in their wanderings. He was, like many Aztec gods, a
magician ("necromanticos y hechiceros") and the missionary of the 'Aztec
vocation.' His symbol is the serpent.
There are three earth gods who are mentioned who have no foundation
in historical mythology but are the creations of modern authors. HASTUR,
mentioned in the same tale, was the god of shepherds created by Ambrose
Bierce and previously reused by Robert Chambers in "The King in Yellow."
The Lovecraftian creations are BUDDAI and YIG. Buddai, mentioned
in "The Shadow Out of Time," was believed by Australian aborigines to be
a "gigantic old man who lies asleep for ages underground with his head
on his arm, and who will someday awake to eat up the world." Like Dagon,
this might be a variation of the Cthulhu myth of "in his house in R'lyeh,
dead Cthulhu lies dreaming." Yig mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness,"
is the father of serpents. He was created, most likely, by Lovecraft when
revising and retitling a Zelia Bishop Reed story.
THE UNCERTAIN GODS
Within the works of Lovecraft a great number of names are
dropped without explanation. The one easiest to decipher is L'MUR-KATHULOS,
mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness." This is most likely the Lemurian
form of Cthulhu or, like the Australian aboriginal 'Buddai,' a primitive
view of the god.
But there is a long list of names which probably refer to gods, but
without extensive research into the world's religions and mythology, may
never be known to us. These names are: DAIKOS ("Polaris"), AIDENN and DZANNIN
("Nathicana"), ALMONSIN, METRATON, and SABAOTH ("The Case of Charles Dexter
Ward"), GORGO and MORMO ("The Horror at Red Hook"), and N'GAH-KTHUM ("The
Whisperer in Darkness)
A demon is a spirit, a supernatural being less than a god
but greater than mankind. Most people think of demons as evil (though this
is not necessarily the case). The Mythos seems to recognize two forms of
demons. First is the Judeo-Christian demons of the Bible. Reverend Hoadley
in a sermon in Dunwich shortly before his disappearance talked about the
close presence of SATAN while Zadok Allen described Obed Marsh as an "old
limb of Satan." The root word "satan" meant "to be adverse, persecute."
In its earliest sense this word referred only to a human adversary. Satan
first appeared as the name of a distinct personality in the Bible (I Chronicles).
According to the Talmud, he was an archangel and was cast out of heaven
for disobedience. Milton continues this in "Paradise Lost." He has come
to be synonymous with Lucifer and alternately titled the Devil or the Prince
Reverend Hoadley also mentioned other "demons": Azazal, Buzazel,
Belial, and Beelzebub. AZAZAL is the legendary leader of those sons of
God who took human wives (Genesis, vi, 2-4). His name comes from the Hebrew
'azazel,' meaning "removal," hence scapegoat. In Milton's Paradise Lost,
he becomes an associate of Satan. Of BUZAZEL, he seems to be another of
the fallen angels in league with Satan.
BELIAL was originally a word in the Scriptures and in rabbinical
and apocryphal literature commonly meaning "worthless." [Hebrew beliyya'al
"uselessness" : beliy, without + ya'al, use.] In later Hebrew literature
and alluded to in the New Testament (II Corinthians 6:15) it became identified
with "Satan" as a personification of wickedness and ungodliness. In Milton's
Paradise Lost, he became one of the fallen angels who rebelled against
BEELZEBUB, whose name means "lord of the flies," was a the god of
the Philistines who could summon or send away the hordes of flies that
brought pestilence and plague mentioned in the Bible (II Kings 1:2). In
Hebrew mythology, he became the Devil; in Milton's Paradise Lost, he was
chief of the fallen angels, next to Satan in power.
In "The Horror at Red Hook," the pagan god ASHMODAI is invoked. This
is Asmodeus who, in Jewish demonology, is an evil spirit or "spirit of
anger," and, later, the king of the demons.
LILITH was originally a female demon worshiped by the Hebrews during
the Babylonian captivity. Later, she was represented as a demon or vampire
in the form of a seductive woman, in the Torah and Teutrarch, the first
wife of Adam, or, in medieval demonology, a witch.
The second group of demons are those who are inventions
of the writer. Though THE BLACK MAN is a traditional witchcraft figure,
Lovecraft puts a spin on him, making him an incarnation of Nyarlathotep.
In traditional witchcraft, the Black Man sealed the pacts between the Devil
and the witch. He is not racially black but a man whose whole appearance
is the absence of color. The Black Man is mentioned in connection with
Keziah Mason. The Black Man of the Haute Vienne Coven is mentioned in Joseph
Curwen's correspondence. Two 'demons' appear in the short story 'Memory":
THE DAEMON OF THE VALLEY and THE GENIE. The Genie asked the Daemon of the
Valley who erected the ruins in the Valley of Nis and the Daemon of the
Valley answered that, though he was old, he was "memory" and could barely
remember that man had once built the city but knew not what became of man
or why the river Than runs red.
THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK is the title monster from the dark gulf of
Chaos which could be summoned by the angular stone forged in Yuggoth called
the Shining Trapezohedron. The stone was discovered in Egypt by Professor
Enoch Bowen in the 1840's and used by the Starry Wisdom cult.
THE HOODED THING is a creature who appears during a horrid ritual
in a cave in the Maine woods in "The Thing on the Doorstep."
This article first appeared in The
Arkham Advertiser, volume 1, issue 2
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