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Debunking the Lovecraftian Occult


Dear Friendly Residents of the Sol System,

As those currently not preoccupied by the continuous menace of existential risk may have noted, the LNN has been rather quiet lately. However, today we have deactivated the cryogenic suspension of our  maltheistic drones and re-fired the furnaces of our cyclopean engines to swing the bow around and broadside you with the following critically important announcement:

The Lovecraft News Network is extremely proud to present the following treatise entitled "Debunking the Lovecraftian Occult" by Thomas Jude Barclay Morrison.

A resident of the bucolic Pennines in England, Mr.  Morrison is a prolific writer of fiction and essays, a polymathic musician-singer-songwriter, a dedicated botherer of dolphins, an accomplished Godzilla haikuist, a pious chronicler of alchemical legerdemain, and a heterodoxically inclined expert on the history of the arcane and occult.

He is also great friend of the LNN.


Being privy to his formidable intellectual resources and interest in guerrilla academic pursuits, we invited him to pen a few thoughts on a Lovecraftian topic of his choosing.   Mr. Morrison was good enough to submit to us the following article, of which we are simultaneously astounded by and deeply grateful for.  His treatise is a devastating phalanx of logic and reason, yet it is gleeful and neither mean-spirited or overtly hostile. It is a gentleman's argument, though we suspect there may be those who passionately disagree with his findings.  We have found that such is typically the case with all of the best writings of the most interesting and rhetorically dexterous authors. With the article, we also welcome those who would dispute it to the discussion. Our goal by presenting this is not to end the life of the debate through a definitive endorsement, though we admit to finding the piece quite compelling; instead, we wish to facilitate the breeding of this debate's steroid-addled and radiation-filled, mutant progeny by inviting further argument from the community on all sides of the spectrum of belief.

At this time, in recognition of the completion of this most dangerous literary quest, by the considerable power vested in us, we heft our onyx-encrusted battle axe and dub Mr. Thomas Jude Barclay Morrison as "Hewer of the Hebetudinous and Indefatigable Antagonizer of Chaos Magicians" and bestow upon him all the rights, ranks, and privileges requisite of this glorious calling.

Warm regards,

Charles Ward
Senior Phrenologist and Director of Public Relations
The Lovecraft News Network




"Debunking the Lovecraftian Occult"
by Thomas Jude Barclay Morrison


“I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes; with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism—religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality.” (H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, Vol. II, p. 27)

The both delightfully and horrifyingly bizarre spectacle that we laughably refer to as “the modern world” is graced by the presence of a perhaps surprisingly large number of Lovecraftian occult 'orders', and an ever-growing body of writings concerning the practice of Lovecraftian occultism. This literalising of Lovecraft's tales of crazed and diabolical cultists enslaved by monstrous, ancient god-like entities has to qualify as one of the most curious cultural phenomena, even by the standards of the already highly curious subculture of contemporary Lovecraftiana. I would therefore like to take a few moments of your time, dear reader, in which to survey this singular scene, and to challenge, perhaps, some of the presumptions and misconceptions that underlie it—please do not be alarmed, the process will be almost entirely painless, and I can assure you that you will feel much better in the morning.

Besides the great many Lovecraftian occultists who belong to no formal organisation, and who practice their magic in a solitary way, occult orders claiming to work Lovecraftian magic include the Typhonian Order, the Order of the Trapezoid, the Bate Cabal, the Lovecraftian Coven, the Starry Wisdom group, the Miskatonic Alchemical Expedition, a veritable plethora of Esoteric Orders of Dagon, and of course, the Cult of Cthulhu, already very much known and loved by Adepts and Grand Wizards of the Lovecraft News Network. Lovecraftian occult groups and practitioners like to think that they are highly unique and individualistic—and indeed, there are minor differences between them—but broadly speaking, they are united in the following ways: their fondness for hierarchical organisation, which manifests in a variety of deliciously pompous titles like “High Priest” and “Grand Master”; their fondness for Lovecraft; their fondness for the postmodern occultism known as Chaos Magic; their fondness for Satanism. They are also united in that they continue to exist—a fact which might in itself be viewed as an argument against the reality of the magic they practice, given the fate of those who actually succeed in 'invoking' the 'Old Ones', in Lovecraft's stories.

In written form, the most (in)famous manifestations of Lovecraftian occultism are almost certainly the various competing versions (including those by Donald Tyson and Robert Turner) of Lovecraft's pseudo-grimoire, the Necronomicon—the most renowned of which is that which “Simon” (a nom de plume) penned. These Necronomicons are exactly what you'd expect them to be—collections of spells and rituals designed to invoke and summon Lovecraft's “Old Ones”, written in the style of medieval and renaissance grimoires, and in the case of Simon, also that of Sumerian mythology. The number of people who believe these texts to be genuinely archaic is surprisingly high, given the widespread availability of information concerning their spurious nature—although perhaps it should not be surprising, since credulity and wilful myopia have never been in short supply.

Let's take a closer look at the Simon Necronomicon. It's one of the most magnificently unoriginal texts you could hope to encounter. A quarter of it is stolen from Lovecraft, a quarter of it from Aleister Crowley, a quarter from Sumerian mythology, and a quarter from the Key of Solomon and the Lesser Key of Solomon (famous medieval/renaissance grimoires, whose beautiful 'seals' Simon poorly imitates, in the extensive sections of his book taken up with sigils, such as his 'Book of Fifty Names'). Of course, few books are truly original—but Simon fails even to combine his sources in an imaginative, interesting or surprising way. Frankly, if you like books with grimoire-y atmosphere, which is above all what Simon attempts to create, then you're far better off with real grimoires, like the Key of Solomon—and the same is true if you're looking for an authentic book of magic (if there is such a thing). Should you be reckless enough to wish to follow Crowley's Ignis Fatuus, then you'll find his own writings far more interesting than Simon's sycophantic idolisation of him. As for Lovecraft—Simon's Necronomicon completely misrepresents his stories, and in so doing renders him a great disservice.

In the Introduction to Simon's Necronomicon, in the section entitled 'The Mythos and the Magick', Simon states that:


“Lovecraft depicted a kind of Christian Myth of the struggle between opposing forces of Light and Darkness, between God and Satan, in the Cthulhu Mythos.”

This is by no means what Lovecraft depicted. The struggle between the “Elder Gods” and the “Ancient Ones”, to which Simon refers, is to be found in the pages of August Derleth's work, not Lovecraft's. Unlike 'Cthulhu Mythos' authors such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Frank Belknap Long, Derleth wrote his stories after Lovecraft's death, with no guidance from or collaboration with Lovecraft. His work is widely acknowledged—by everyone, it seems, but Simon—to be cliched, simplistic, and in general inferior to the work of both Lovecraft and many of the other Mythos writers. It is only in Derleth's stories that you will find Lovecraftian entities engaged in a war of good versus evil. In Lovecraft's own writings, the situation is far more complex and ambiguous than a childish “goodies vs. baddies” scenario, and in claiming that Lovecraft himself wrote of such a struggle, Simon distorts and diminishes Lovecraft and his work.

Such distortions are typical of Lovecraftian occult texts. Other than the various Necronomicons, the most widely-known and influential text of Lovecraftian occultism is probably Satanic Rituals, by Anton LaVey (the founder of the Order of the Trapezoid)—the earliest text in which Lovecraftian occult rituals were published. Whilst LaVey's portrayal of Lovecraft and his work is slightly more sophisticated than that of Simon, Satanic Rituals is crammed with misconception after delightful misconception. LaVey's ideological stance continually impares his ability to read the text for what it is—like all ideologues, he views everything through the distorting prism of his fundamentalist beliefs. For example:


“The concept of worship per se is strikingly absent from the Cthulhu mythos. Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu are all honored through bizarre festivals, but their relationship to their followers is invariably that of teacher to students. Compare the description of a Lovecraftian ceremony to that of a Christian mass or a Voodoo rite, and it is clear that the element of servility is definitely lacking in the first. ”

Let us instead compare the description of a Lovecraftian ceremony with LaVey's description, above, of what happens in such a ceremony:


“In a natural glade of the swamp stood a grassy island of perhaps an acre's extent, clear of trees and tolerably dry. On this now leaped and twisted a more indescribable horde of human abnormality than any but a Sime or an Angarola could paint. Void of clothing, this hybrid spawn were braying, bellowing, and writhing about a monstrous ring-shaped bonfire; in the centre of which, revealed by occasional rifts in the curtain of flame, stood a great granite monolith some eight feet in height; on top of which, incongruous in its diminutiveness, rested the noxious carven statuette. From a wide circle of ten scaffolds set up at regular intervals with the flame-girt monolith as a centre hung, head downward, the oddly marred bodies of the helpless squatters who had disappeared. It was inside this circle that the ring of worshippers jumped and roared, the general direction of the mass motion being from left to right in endless Bacchanal between the ring of bodies and the ring of fire.” (H. P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu)
This is no teacher, handing on wisdom to his pupils, as LaVey states the relationship between Mythos entities and their followers “invariably” is—Lovecraft describes these 'pupils' as “mentally aberrant” and “degraded and ignorant”, within a couple of paragraphs of the above quotation, which is hardly a description of those capable of receiving a teaching. And contrary to what LaVey argues about “the concept of worship” being “strikingly absent” from Lovecraft's ceremonies, this is very much an act of worship, in which Lovecraft's portrayal of the cultists' bestiality (amongst other details, such as the human sacrifices, or the idol that 'lords it over' the cultists, from its throne high on the monolith) is intended to convey a sense of abject, mindless servility to Cthulhu, in which the cultists are diminished, and become less than human. Lovecraft even states that this act of worship is tinged with “a colouring of voodooism”―which LaVey specifically singles out as being unlike Lovecraft's fictional ceremonies. LaVey, with his cult of “the flesh”, celebrates and is a propagandist for Dionysian animalism, and so assumes that Lovecraft also must be, simply because he writes about Bacchanalian ceremonies—even though the text itself veritably screams his contempt (fascist and racist, at root) for the cultists.

Exactly the same misconception is evident in the following passage from Satanic Rituals:


“There is evidence that he [Lovecraft] was acutely aware of civilization's effects upon mankind—both educational and repressive. His tales constantly remind the reader that humanity is but a short step from the most depraved and vicious forms of bestiality. He sensed man's drive toward knowledge, even at the risk of sanity. Intellectual excellence, he seemed to say, is achieved in concert with cataclysmic terror—not in avoidance of it. ”
It's true that Lovecraft's tales constantly warn against the bestiality that lurks in the human heart. But he intends this warning in precisely the opposite way to LaVey's reading of it—Lovecraft is clinging to civilisation, not condemning it. LaVey seems entirely ignorant of one of the most persistent subtexts in Lovecraft's work: his almost Hardyesque lament for the passing away of eighteenth century culture, which he saw as being more civilised than that of the times which followed it.

Consider, for example, The Horror at Red Hook. Lovecraft describes Red Hook as a place in which the veneer of civilisation has fallen away. This is not a place that civilisation has corrupted, as LaVey's argument would lead you to believe, but rather a place which could only benefit from the presence of civilisation. Lovecraft's protagonist is:


“...conscious, as one who united imagination with scientific knowledge, that modern people under lawless conditions tend uncannily to repeat the darkest instinctive patterns of primitive half-ape savagery in their daily life and ritual observances...”
Lovecraft clearly states, here, the exact opposite to LaVey's distortion of his views—he argues that “modern people” are degraded as a consequence of civilisation's lack (ie. “lawless conditions”), not as a consequence of civilisation itself, as LaVey suggests, and also that “primitive” people are less than human precisely because they are not civilised.

Of course, Lovecraft being Lovecraft, there is no optimism in this view. Although he regards lack of civilisation as the least desirable option, neither is he very hopeful about civilisation's prognosis:


“...the wishes, hopes, and values of humanity are matters of total indifference to the blind cosmic mechanism.” (H. P. Lovecraft, A Confession of Unfaith (1922), in H. P. Lovecraft, Miscellaneous Writings
Moreover, his pessimism is by no means limited to the ultimate fate of civilisation. What admiration he had for civilisation was largely rooted in his almost paranoiac fear of its collapse—he fervently believed that what civilisation he saw around him was very much under threat, menaced by exactly the sort of 'barbarian' immigrants (this is definitely not to overstate his xenophobic views, although it should be remembered that such views were typical of his time) that he depicted with such contempt in The Horror at Red Hook, in which he is careful to banish “American and Scandinavian” (ie. Aryan) people from Red Hook, which he populates with “Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and Negro elements impinging upon one another”. His cultists are usually foreigners.

Although Lovecraft's views on civilisation were tainted with fascism, they were also complex, nuanced, and not a little ambiguous. This is a stark contrast to LaVey's straightforward contempt of civilisation, which is a black-and-white, fundamentalist ideology that does no justice to the complexity of the subject at hand—it is not simply in his outright hostility to civilisation (in contrast to Lovecraft's clinging to it), but also in the simplistic nature of his views, that he is utterly at odds with Lovecraft. He reads his own obsessions into Lovecraft's work, simply because Lovecraft happens to be talking about the same general subject matter (ie. civilisation)—it's a bit like arguing that the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum were advocates of witchcraft, on the basis that their book is about witchcraft. LaVey is either wilfully or delusively blind to anything in Lovecraft's writing which doesn't neatly fit into his rigid ideology, and 'cherry-picks' Lovecraft for superficial similarities to his own world view.

Kenneth Grant—the founder of the Typhonian order—is another influential figure in the field of Lovecraftian occultism, where his The Magical Revival casts a long shadow (Simon's Necronomicon, for example, is heavily influenced by it). Grant approaches Lovecraft from a background rooted in Chaos Magic, rather than Satanism. In Chaos Magic, archetypes found in fiction or popular culture are regarded as being as magically potent as those found in the pantheons of the ancient world—Superman, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe are as fitting symbols with which to make magic as Mars, Orpheus or Venus. Grant, in The Magical Revival, treats Lovecraft's 'Old Ones' in this way, arguing that “fiction, as a vehicle, has often been used by occultists”, and that “writers such as Arthur Machen, Brodie Innes, Algernon Blackwood and H.P. Lovecraft are in this category ”.

In stating that Lovecraft's writing 'falls into the category' of fiction used “as a vehicle... by occultists”, Grant is arguing that Lovecraft was an occultist. Yet his argument is less straightforward and more deceptive than that, because he sees Lovecraft as a mage who lived in denial of his status as mage, who failed to pass—as he rather pompously puts it—“the final pylons of Initiation”. This thoroughly condescending view of Lovecraft's achievement is no doubt rooted in Lovecraft's passionate atheism and disbelief in magic—that is, his total rejection of Grant's world-view—and yet this implicit acknowledgement of Lovecraft's disbelief does not stop Grant from arguing that Lovecraft was a subconscious propagandist for magic, writing stories that advocate the occult, without realising that he was doing so.

He contends that Lovecraft's lifelong “night terrors”, which inspired so much of his writing, were in fact occult visions—which is very presumptuous of him, it has to be said, given that Lovecraft himself, who did not believe in occult visions, would have objected in the strongest possible terms to his nightmares being represented as such. Grant 'substantiates' his argument by detailing ways in which he believes Lovecraft's Mythos parallels the ideas and mythology of Aleister Crowley. These largely consist of alleged similarities between names used in Lovecraft's stories and names significant in Crowley's work—Yog Sothoth, for instance, he claims to be related to “Sut-Thoth”, an Egyptian deity important to Crowley, whilst Azathoth he connects with both Azoth, “the alchemical solvent”, and again Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and scribes, beloved by Crowley. He accepts that Lovecraft and Crowley never met, and that Lovecraft never read Crowley's work, but argues that both took their inspiration from the same occult source.

Linguistic and etymological sophistries of the sort outlined by Grant are a common tool of occult mountebanks, and the fact that phonetic resemblances are undeniably present between certain words has surprising potency, when it comes to blinding intelligent people to the true causes of such similarities. And yet the fact remains that the human tongue can only utter a limited number of sounds, which means that there are bound to be phonetic parallels between any two groups of otherwise entirely unconnected words. To put it bluntly—the alleged linguistic connections between Lovecraft's writing and Crowley's ideas, which Grant outlines, are the result of blind chance, anatomical necessity, and Grant's obsession with the occult, and are flimsy foundations indeed on which to base an argument that Crowley and Lovecraft were inspired by the same occult vision. Grant's writings on the subject of Lovecraft are (like LaVey's) an abundantly excellent example of the following truth: if you are obsessed with something in a big enough way, then you will interpret everything you encounter as being connected with the object of your obsession. If you go looking for them, then you will find names from Lovecraft, Crowley, Solomonic Magic, Ancient Babylon, and Disney® (or any other flavour of pantheon that takes your fancy) everywhere, including in the registration plates of passing cars.

None of this is to deny that there are occult elements in Lovecraft's work. It's well known that he was aware of various occult texts, and that he drew on these texts in his writing:


“Lovecraft was at least somewhat familiar with the literature of occultism, especially in his later years. At the time of his death, his library contained such works as Lewis Spence’s Encyclopæia of Occultism, Sir Walter Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, Camille Flammarion's Haunted Houses, and a variety of works on ghosts, folklore, and mythology. This was not the end of the matter, as Lovecraft also borrowed a number of occult works—as well as Charles Fort's Book of the Damned and New Lands—from libraries and his friends, most notably Herman C. Koenig of New York City... Lovecraft, then, was hardly an authority on matters esoteric and uncanny, but he had some basic knowledge that he incorporated into his tales.” (Daniel Harms, H.P. Lovecraft, in Fortean Times, June 2004)
Yet pointing out the existence of such influences is not enough, if one intends to argue that Lovecraft held occult beliefs, that he would have approved of his stories being used as the basis of a practice of magic, or that his writings should be read as occult texts. These arguments are largely refuted in his letters, which reveal him as a passionate and outspoken opponent of superstition who regarded magic in all its forms as nothing but superstition. If his works are to be read as occult texts, then one might as well read the telephone directory in search of occult wisdom, because he wrote them with the same lack of intent to create an occult text as the authors of the telephone directory. To argue that he wrote occult texts without realising it is to both ignore the sense of disgust with which he writes his cultists, and which give his stories a significant undercurrent of anti-occult propaganda, and to patronise him, by implying that the poor dear wasn't self-aware enough to understand the true significance of his work (which of course can only be glimpsed by occultists—so much of the occult is about elitism). Lovecraft's writings draw on occult texts, yes—but that by no means makes them occult texts in themselves.

I'd like to round off our stroll through the murky underworld of Lovecraftian occultism, dear reader, by stating—for the record, and so it's out in the open—my views on Satanism and Chaos Magic, since these belief systems are so significant to the theory and practice of Lovecraftian occultism. In a nutshell, and as you've probably already guessed, I believe both Satanism and Chaos Magic to be deeply flawed. In the case of Satanism, I simply can't get away from the fact that the Christians invented the Devil. Satanism, therefore, is forever chained to the very ideology it has made its enemy. By defining itself solely in relation to Christianity, it remains fundamentally Christian in perspective—Satanists completely fail to escape the Christian metaphor. A Satanist is just a Christian standing on their head. I'm reminded of LaVey's observation that:


“Lovecraft recorded his aversion to conventional religious dogma in The Silver Key, and he regarded with a similar scorn those who, rejecting religion, succumbed to a controversial substitute, i.e. the popular notion of witchcraft.” (from Satanic Rituals)

LaVey, for once, is exactly right—although he doesn't realise that Satanism is precisely the sort of deliberately controversial and populist substitute for the dogmas of religion that Lovecraft despised.

In the case of Chaos Magic, although I have more respect for it than I do for Satanism, I find its defining characteristic of 'paradigm shifts' to be shallow and self-defeating. Chaos Magic advocates taking up and discarding world views and belief systems as they serve the magician's purpose—a Chaos magician works with Lovecraft's deities one week, the pantheon of ancient Egypt the week after that, and the cast of Star Trek the week after that, and regards all such belief systems as fundamentally untrue (“nothing is true, everything is permitted”, the Chaos magicians cry, seemingly unaware of the rather ambiguous context in which Nietzsche first framed their one-liner). This attempt to manipulate the power of belief must ultimately fail because anyone who can throw away a belief system and adopt a different one overnight, and without a second thought, simply because it's useful to do so, and who moreover overtly states that they hold no belief system to be true, doesn't really believe in the first place. Chaos magicians are the antithesis of medieval and renaissance mages, to whom belief was not a clever game, but the literal and unchangeable truth—and yet Chaos magicians argue that it is in precisely that kind of rock-solid, unshakable belief that magical power lies. There is no illuminating paradox here—just a straightforward contradiction, born of flawed logic.

As for occult tradition in general—it's true to say that I have a lot more respect for the occultism of renaissance and medieval times than I do for postmodern forms of magic. Yes, pre-modern occultism is steeped in dogma and superstition, but there's a depth to it that I find lacking in postmodern occultism—and even a humility in the face of mystery that feels like a breath of fresh air, after reading the writings of know-it-alls like LaVey or Crowley. It also has an atmosphere, an aesthetic, and a poetry that is all of its own, and which I find far more unique, imaginative and downright bizarre than that of, say, Satanism or Chaos Magic. On the wider matter of magic itself—above all, I recognise that “there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy”. For this reason, I'm not going to expound my views on magic here, because that would be to either deny that there is mystery or imply that I could confidently explain the mysterious, and fall into precisely the kind of arrogance that I abhor in the writings of Crowley and LaVey. Suffice it to say that my views are ambiguous, evolving, and sceptical—but that although I am dismissive of postmodern occultism, I am by no means entirely dismissive of either occultism or magic itself.

Last of all, now that I have completed my attempt to tear the Lovecraftian occult to shreds before your very eyes, let me take a moment to celebrate it—for make no mistake, I have genuine affection for it. I wholeheartedly believe that we would all be impoverished, if delusions like those of the Lovecraftian occultist were to ever go out of fashion. Life can only be enriched by the existence of harmless and entertaining insanities like the literalising of works of fiction, or the adopting of splendidly pompous titles like “Intergalactic Grand Potentate of the Thirteen Sacred Dishes of Ishra”, or “Seven Hundred and Thirty Fourth Heresiarch of the Thrice Reviled Ixplatagm”, or whatever. In short, it's hokum, but it's dashed good hokum, and for this reason, Lovecraftian occultists—I salute you! May your grandiloquent delusions remain unconquerable, and bring you nothing but satisfaction and joy! May drab and mediocre reality never sully you!


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Lovecraft and National Geographic

We received the following interesting tidbit from Will Hart, noted Providence photographer and Lovecraft enthusiast, and we are pleased to pass it along.

To All Lovecraftians,

   Lovecraft and National Geographic; I think the old gentleman would have loved this!

   If you head over to the National Geographic "Nat Geo Adventure" website, and look into the "Travel Guides" section, you find a guide to Lovecraft Country, under the title "The Call of Cthulhu."   http://natgeoadventure.tv/uk/TravelGuide.aspx?id=68

  This piece was written by Edoardo Molinelli, an editor for the PlacesOnline.com website; and includes three photographs from my "Lovecraft's Providence" collection on Flickr.
  
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cthulhuwho1/collections/72157621860080185/

The article, its pictures, and more basic info are currently viewable online.

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House of Black Wings to be released on DVD on May 31st

HOUSE OF BLACK WINGS to be released on DVD on May 31st 2010

Chicago, Illinois –May 4th, 2010 – Sword & Cloak Productions is proud to announce the official release of its second feature-length movie, HOUSE OF BLACK WINGS on DVD on May 31st, 2010. The movie will initially be available from Amazon.com and through swordandcloak.com. The DVD will contain the 101 minutes feature, as well as a “Making of” Featurette, Wrap Reel, Trailer, Photo Gallery, and Crew Commentary.


About the Movie:

After a tragic act of violence cuts short her music career, Kate Stone is returning to a city full of ex-fans and ex-friends. Taking shelter with her last friend, a struggling artist named Robyn Huck, the two women work to restore the aging courtyard apartment building Robyn has inherited. But a terrible secret infests the venerable structure, and soon Kate will be haunted by horrific dreams, sinister apparitions, and the sounds of something moving in the walls. She will be dragged into a confrontation not only with her own dark past, but the unspeakable nightmare that lurks beyond the walls!

House of Black Wings is a character-driven Lovecraftian ghost story. Inspired by the character-driven thrillers of the 70’s like Polanski's The Tenant, Don’t Look Now, or The Shining. It is a nightmare of urban paranoia, loss of identity, and the blurred line between creativity and madness.

"Equally as creepy as any Roman Polanski vision...a unique effort full of dark flavor. ...this one has something great to offer."
- Horror News

“As poignant as it is oddly paranoiac and featuring fearlessly passionate performances.”
- Horror Society

"something unique and special...we were quite impressed with this film."
- Kitley's Krypt

"Takes the time to build a story around our main characters...so when the horror becomes unleashed further we actually care about what happens"
- Horror Yearbook

Learn More:

http://www.swordandcloak.com/blackwings/hobw-main.htm

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Ruminations on Resurrection and our New Ribbon Campaign

As usual, this post will begin with an apology for the dearth of coverage here at the LNN as of late.  Bear with us and fear not: we currently have several exciting projects we hope to soon deliver.  These tentatively include a detailed report of Charles Ward's semi-lucid forays into the making of the world's first Lovecraft-inspired Wormwood Mead, a wholly unique interview with one of our personal favorite literary champions, author and illustrator Mark E. Rogers, the legendary creator of The Adventures of Samurai Cat series, and also a  new entry into our popular Illustrated Guide series by British author and skeptical flâneur of the arcane Thomas Jude Barclay Morrison on "Debunking the Lovecraftian Occult." Considering the controversial rise of figures like Venger Satanis and others, we look forward to the fireworks and rousing debate this will surely bring.

For today, we would like to briefly discuss a few issues.  Our previous article, "Lovecraftian Maltheism for the Pragmatic Individual," has generated some interesting responses ranging from the academically intrigued, the poetically bemused, and the curiously distressing concern of the humble believer.


This is wonderful.

Nothing irks a mad scientist more than having everyone suddenly accept and acknowledge his work, and the same goes double for the mad rhetorician. Take this fine fellow, for example: Mr. Jim Newbold describes himself as a widower from North Carolina, and he wrote to us the following in response to the article in question:

Charles - The Bible is not scary to believers. True believers look forward to the coming of Christ for His church. It's not that we want to die, we just are not afraid of it because we know what life after death we have. We will be with Christ for eternity, with no sickness, no pain, no sorrow.

The Bible would certainly be scary if I didn't have the assurance of being saved, and would be facing eternal torment in hell after death.

First off, Mr. Newbold, we respect your thoughts and thank you for your willingness to make this attempt at entering into a discussion.  This is an interesting statement on numerous levels, though I don't think we will parse its portent much further today, aside from briefly raising the suggestion that your comment might be, just perhaps, exactly the sort of the thing the article was getting at. But we'll leave that to Charles.  He can defend himself if he feels so inclined.  Anyways, to those who sent us your thoughts, thank you.

On this note, though, it seems inescapable to briefly comment on the recent celebration of Easter, which is certainly a veritable treasure trove of intriguing cultural baggage.  This last weekend, over a billion people celebrated the resurrection of a notable Nazarene to facilitate the fulfillment of his upcoming grand plan for the earth.  As Mr. Ward and now Mr. Newbold have so recently pointed out to us, this is a mixed bag at best, and perhaps something quite "scary" at its worst.

In light of these events, lest we feel too guilty for plunging our readers down the slippery slope of disillusionment into a gaping abyss of continual despair from our ideologically harrowing subject matter, we would like to offer for your personal palliation the following token of our support. We hope this serves as a constant reminder of a critically important message: The cosmos may not care, but we do.

Presenting the LNN's new Cosmic Horror ribbon campaign! 


Do with this what you will.  We hope it will help raise awareness for the very real dangers of cultists and Cosmic Horror, and that it will serve as a memorial to the countless people who have already succumbed to the void. Even though it may be hopeless, we're on your side.

Think about it this way: it is not so much whether the cup is half full or half empty, what you need to remember is that. . ."Radiant with beauty, the Cup of the Ptolemies was carven of onyx."

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Lovecraftian Maltheism for the Pragmatic Individual: An Illustrated Guide

Last month’s “Illustrated Guide to Cthulhu Cakes” proved to be our most popular article ever, and thus our Board of Trustees have decided to try and make this a more regular feature. The purpose of this is twofold: to generate new and interesting insight into the strange world of contemporary Lovecraftian culture, and to get more people and personalities involved in this most noble pursuit by offering them a voice, location, and audience.

For this week’s guide we bring back our venerable Director of Public Relations, Mr. Charles Ward, for an unusual and perhaps slightly disturbing foray into the genre of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Feel free to leave comments, arguments, or rants here or on Charles’ Facebook page.

We hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: The LNN does not necessarily endorse or support the following opinions. Neither do we guarantee the reliability or sanity of any of the content below. In fact, we will just go ahead and wash our hands of it altogether in advance, just in case it doesn't make any sense, you don't like it, or it makes you want to sue/maim/kill us. Unless, of course, you do like it, at which time we take full credit for its presentation.

[Edit: This article covers some of the same ground as our previous entry with Matt Cardin, but just to be fair, it should be noted that this post was written a little before we heard back from Mr. Cardin; we are just lazy sloths and haven't posted it until now. Also, Mr. Cardin had nothing to do with and is in no way responsible or liable for this article]


Charles Ward is the LNN's Director of Public Relations and senior phrenological correspondent. He enjoys rhetorical altercations and leverpostej. He currently lives in a state of denial but sometimes wonders if he should stockpile emotional weaponry and secede like every single one of the unquestioningly god-fearing, American Founding Fathers wanted him to. 




Don't hate me. . . I'm not the one trying to destroy the earth:

Lovecraftian Maltheism for the Pragmatic Individual
by Charles Ward


During times of crisis, the people crave a hero: a leader who can take control and bring order to the chaos. The hero often strives to not only give meaning and purpose to one's actions and unite the group, but also attempts to interpret history and provide a means of enunciation so that one's current plight is placed within some sort of context.

The desire for a suitable vocabulary with which to process one's position in the cosmos has historically been a nearly unstoppable sociological force often surpassing even the fundamental biological mechanisms of hunger, aversion to pain, and basic sexuality. Hence, many people will often choose to follow a leader who purports to offer them an answer to “why,” even if this comes at an excruciating cost.

Beyond the mere Skinnerian dynamics of Terran religiosity, which are still vehemently denied by billions of 21st century homo sapiens, the ubiquity and popularity of religious belief is not in question. For better and for worse, the contemporary heroes of religion are extremely successful in their ideological conquests.

Pat Robertson is one such hero, offering relief from the burdens of coming to terms with one's existential demons. Of course, the acceptance of his ideology comes at a steep price: one must abandon reason in favor of dogma and all the sundry implications this brings to every aspect of one's life. His dogma is notoriously gruesome, and it is why he is the perfect example for a short exercise I will now suggest.

What I propose is a nomenclatural shift of a species of thought: that the broad concept of Lovecraftian cosmic horror might be considered to be more than a literary genre or philosophical device, but as something that might be part of a pragmatic approach to contemporary life.

Maltheism, of course, has a long and rich history through dystheism, misotheism, theodicy, dualism, and fideism, due largely to the fact that religious authors through the ages have taken great pains to unapologetically anthropomorphize their gods in all the worst ways possible. Now, don't get me wrong here: we can be more nuanced than just gleefully celebrating the concept of a malevolent god like freshman in a philosophy class, though the standard exercise does prove useful to provide a starting point for my proposition. The basic tenets of maltheism might be presented the following way according to the deus deceptor analogy:

What if a malevolent space demon manifested itself to earth and demanded worship and slavery for its own selfish purposes? To string its slaves along, the demon makes two claims:

  • It is omnibenevolent
  • It is omnipotent

Whether or not these premises are true--or even possible to measure--is, of course, the whole point. With our limited resources of five highly subjective senses and less than a century of time to gather information before we die, all claims of verifiability or veracity of the demon’s claims are completely absurd.

What we are left with, as beings with a least some time and hopefully a bit of reason available, is to--for lack of a better vocabulary--test this hypothesis by means of the fruits of the tree a la Matthew 7:16 (Too see a concise depiction of this argument, watch this internet pundit’s take on the deus deceptor)

This proposition is not even that controversial in religious circles outside of modern Western culture. Remember Zeus? While an inscrutable and unquenchable lust for human worship is a nearly universal trope of the divine amongst all religions, at least some imagine this to be a rather mundane and mostly nonthreatening process.

This is not the case with Christianity and Islam, the two most dominant religions in the Western world, whose beliefs derive from some of the most violent and terrifying texts ever written. Weird fiction author Matt Cardin wrote an interesting piece for TheoFantatique recently that discusses how “the biblical God is often portrayed as a source of horror.”


In particular, the diplomatic Cardin is intrigued by Isaiah:

Isaiah can be understood as a cosmic horror story, a la Lovecraft etc., in its entirety. All that’s required is a shifting of one’s surface focus and underlying assumptions. It’s not that some parts are horrific and others aren’t, but that the whole thing can be read and — importantly — emotionally experienced that way, while remaining entirely true to its concrete content.

This seems hard for any even slightly reasonable person to argue with. But quite frankly, I don’t think this train of though goes nearly far enough. Let’s cut the diplomacy and jump down the rabbit hole in a way only a pseudonymous avatar like Charles Ward can.

Let’s talk about the practical implications of acknowledging the monstrosity of a god whose track record includes murder, advocating rape and incest, torture, genital mutilation, mass drownings, and whose “big plan” for the earth’s near future consists of global immolation.

Consider the following passage by Lovecraft in "The Call of Cthulhu":

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 reveling in joy.

Quite frankly, to its credit, the entity known as Cthulhu is not nearly as big of an ass as the god of the Old Testament, and evil is not a term that would even really apply. However, what we are after here is a means of enunciation to attempt to contextualize our position in the cosmos and cope with the calamity we see around us.

This brings us back to Pat Robertson, our previously mentioned hero of linguistic law and order. He serves the important position of being a messenger of the god of the Bible, and he provides a vocabulary and precedent for the visible horrors of existence. In all seriousness, taking it at face value, I think he must be right: it is quite logical that, according to his system of beliefs, his god would curse the people of Haiti for their sins. In fact, it is exactly the sort of thing the god of the Bible would do. Robertson just happens be brave enough to eschew the bounds of civilization and political correctness while others cower in its confines. And by brave, I mean stark raving mad.


Thus, to complete my circuitous train of thought, Pat Robertson is a hero in precisely the same way that Wilbur Whateley is a hero for the cult of Yog-Sothoth, or that Trap Jaw was a champion for Skeletor: he is a harbinger of doom and the servant of a malevolent space demon.


I'm not claiming this kind of paranoia to world events is what Lovecraft was trying to elicit with his fiction, but I am claiming that his fiction has great utility in providing a pragmatic means of enunciation for the current state of Terran life. And I propose that we can adopt this vocabulary with sacrificing our reason; to be totally honest, we can even do it without hyperbole.

The fact that the latter is true is not very good news.

If one can step aside from millennia of cultural conditioning that makes one feel inclined to exhibit a maniacal sensitivity towards other people’s dangerous superstitions, a simple analysis of Robertson and his religious colleagues’ beliefs suggests that the case for maltheism is more than strong. It is, as Cardin says about the horror of the Bible, entirely “self-evident.” The point here is not to advocate some kind of bitter anti-religious sentiment or even to advocate atheism at all. For the sake of this argument, whether or not these space beings are real is irrelevant. Quite the contrary, in fact: for the sake of our basic survival, we have to take this seriously either way--at least in a somewhat lugubrious fashion. I don’t claim to have all the answers; I merely wish to point out that, as usual, Lovecraft was right all along. To be more concise, if my sentiment was tritely condensed to a bumper sticker, it might look something like this:

Maltheism: . . . because dangerous cultists really are trying to bring about the bloody apocalypse of their malevolent, space alien gods.


You can call Lovecraft's stories of cosmic horror mere fiction if you want, but only in the same sense something like Miller’s The Crucible is mere fiction. One only has to summon the temerity to crack open a newspaper to find that the allegories are so thinly veiled as to be nearly biographical; in other words, the names have been changed to protect the author from being burnt at the stake by the guilty. Lovecraftian cosmic horror is not just a metaphor for life on earth, it provides a pragmatic political vocabulary we would do well to adopt. Let's not forget that the stakes are extremely high. It might seem reasonable to strive for a live and let live policy, but keep in mind that this is a luxury that has not, is not currently, and will not likely ever be afforded to you by any race bloodthirsty space tyrants. History is nothing but a testament, if I might borrow the phrase, of how literally and how easily people are willing to spill blood and worse for their non-Terran overlords. As the Philistines, the citizens of Dunwich, or any of He-Man's allies might tell you--those that are still alive, at least--these monstrosities cannot be reasoned with, their beliefs are not open for debate, they are impervious to science, and they are plotting right now to establish a brutal theocracy in your home city at the expense of your flesh.



Think I'm exaggerating? How is the threat of global immolation at the hands of a purported prophet an exaggeration? (See 2 Kings 1:10, and don't give me this "it's figurative" nonsense--they've already burnt scores of people in recent history!)   In other words, in every case I can think of, eschatology is synonymous with war crimes and should be looked upon in the same light.


So what does one do with maltheism? Does one go mad with the realization when your mind finally begins to correlate its contents and you depart from the placid island of ignorance to view not only the black seas of infinity, but the fact that there are violent, highly aggressive, politically powerful, and terrifying mainstream forces literally preparing to bring about the end of the world. . .

I don’t think one has to. Would it be too trendy to call for a sense of Post-Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror in which one faces the blind, idiot god Azathoth or Michele Bachmann and then says,

“To hell with it. I’m not going to let that bitch ruin my day.”

Is it denial?  Maybe.  Considering the low percent of neural matter we humans have available to process information, I am not totally sure we can get around it.  But that's okay, too.  Remember, from a biological perspective, we are just trying to avoid the death our species by religious genocide.

At the very least, as I suggested earlier, we can shift the terminology we use. If a group believes in a superstition that involves one or more malevolent entities of an extraterrestrial or multidimensional origin, and their beliefs or "holy" texts overtly call for the destruction of the earth and/or violent subjugation and torture of non-believers, let's quit coddling them by pandering to "faith" and "religion." These people are doomsday cultists who worship evil space monsters. This change in terminology is not intended to be hostile or vengeful, though such reactions would not seem unwarranted at this point, but it would serve two clear purposes:
  1. From a linguistic perspective, it would be a more precise demarcation of the group.
  2. It would help slowly shape public opinion. Just think: currently, though there are many exceptions, it is generally socially unacceptable to make racist comments without being rejected by mainstream society. This has not stopped racism, but it has helped deal it a powerful blow. Racism is now, at least in many areas, generally frowned upon in public. Let's make doomsday cults uncool as well by implementing the negative connotation to the language we use to describe them that their blood-stained history deserves. Lovecraftian fiction provides the terminology we need to implement this.


This is not a polished argument, and it is certainly not a definitive one. It is merely a collection of thoughts and reactions to recent world events I have been processing for the last month of so. Putting them down in writing helps me to think things through more clearly, which hopefully leads to the successful reevaluation and refinement of my ideas so I can better deal with the temporality of my existence—whether it is enforced by malevolent forces or those of a more benign variety. If this exercise turns out to be for no other reason than for my own selfish, intellectual pleasures, then so be it.


In the meantime, while I sort this all out, this I know: cultists really are trying to enslave me and destroy the world.

And so I say to them--with a gleam in my eye--what I imagine the professorial staff of Miskatonic University might have said to Wilbur Whateley,

Viva la Résistance.

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Interview with Matt Cardin: Dark Awakenings and Cosmic Horror

Between devastating earthquakes rattling people's faith in god, Glenn Beck's maniacal fundamentalism rattling people's faith in democracy, and Kevin Smith's dual inability to direct a film or fit in an airplane seat rattling people's faith in cinema, this is a pretty rough time to be an earthling.

But have no fear. It's nothing a strong, cool draught of the Lovecraft News Network can't cure.

Author, scholar, musician, and guerrilla theologian Matt Cardin stopped by a while back to talk about his new collection, Dark Awakenings, which will soon be released by Mythos Books. Cardin is a rising star in the world of Weird Fiction, and he has been lauded for his ability to bring both literary and intellectual context to his horror fiction in unique, often surprising ways. Thomas Ligotti had this to say of the current project: "In Dark Awakenings, Cardin proves himself to be an adept in the fullest sense of the word."

Matt's interest in religion parallels his study of horror, which we enjoy tremendously.  This heterodoxy recently culminated in a wonderful discussion with the fine folks at TheoFantastique, in which Cardin discusses his article "Gods and Monsters, Worms and Fire: A Horrific Reading of Isaiah," which of course makes us want to go track down a copy of Ken Russell's 1988 religious masterpiece featuring Hugh Grant's superlative performance.

Following the press release, we have included our intriguing discussion with Cardin regarding his book, Lovecraft, and reconciling cosmic horror with humanism.


PRESS RELEASE

From its earliest origins, the human religious impulse has been fundamentally bound up with an experience of primal horror. The German theologian Rudolf Otto located the origin of human religiosity in an ancient experience of "daemonic dread." American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft asserted that weird supernatural horror fiction arose from a fundamental human psychological pattern that is "coeval with the religious feeling and closely related to many aspects of it." The American psychologist William James wrote in his classic study The Varieties of Religious Experience that the "real core of the religious problem" lies in an overwhelming experience of cosmic horror born out of abject despair at life's incontrovertible hideousness.

In Dark Awakenings, author and scholar Matt Cardin explores this primal intersection between religion and horror in seven stories and three academic papers that pose a series of disturbing questions: What if the spiritual awakening coveted by so many religious seekers is in fact the ultimate doom? What if the object of religious longing might prove to be the very heart of horror? Could salvation, liberation, enlightenment then be achieved only by identifying with that apotheosis of metaphysical loathing?

This volume collects nearly all of Cardin's uncollected fiction, including his 2004 novella "The God of Foulness." It contains extensive revisions and expansions of his popular stories "Teeth" and "The Devil and One Lump," and features one previously unpublished story and two unpublished papers, the first exploring a possible spiritual use of George Romero's Living Dead films and the second offering a horrific reading of the biblical Book of Isaiah. At over 300 pages and nearly 120,000 words, Dark Awakenings offers a substantial exploration of the religious implications of horror and the horrific implications of religion.

LNN: Your new collection, Dark Awakenings, raises the following questions:

What if the spiritual awakening coveted by so many religious seekers is in fact the ultimate doom? What if the object of religious longing might prove to be the very heart of horror? Could salvation, liberation, enlightenment then be achieved only by identifying with that apotheosis of metaphysical loathing?

Disregarding the knee jerk emotional reactions these questions might elicit from those whose concept of cosmology is based on bumper stickers and slogans, is it really that farfetched? The god of the Old Testament, for example, is unquestionably more malevolent than the apathetic entities of Lovecraft. You discussed this a bit in your interview with Stuart Young in Terror Tales when you asked, "Why does the New Testament author of Hebrews assert, 'It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God?'" I mean, is not conventional Christian teleology dolefully misanthropic by definition? Is Pat Robertson and his worldview not proof enough that your premise is beyond the realm of speculation? I suppose what I am really getting at is this: since cosmic horror does seem so readily apparent, why is it not more openly acknowledged by more people? Of course this sort of thinking is unpleasant, but pollution, climate change, and child slavery are also unpleasant, and we still talk about these things at least somewhat openly in society. Whence the difference?


Matt Cardin: Of course you're correct that the dark and horrific side of Christian theology and teleology, and also, I think, of world religion in general, is central to the whole thing. But as you also point out, it's not openly acknowledged by a lot of people. How come? I think it has something to do with the softening and sanitizing of the human race that has occurred during the past few centuries. The post-Enlightenment attitude and worldview based on universal rights and dignity and so on represents a brand new meme in human history. By the antiseptic standards of our current Western and Westernized nations, every civilization in history has been inconceivably violent, not just in act but in attitude, and this includes their religious conceptions. Today we denizens of Western consumer society have largely cut ourselves off from such things, although the worldwide resurgence of fundamentalism, and also the increasingly bloody and trippy nature of our mass entertainments, shows the same impulses reentering through the back door. As you point out, you can watch Robertson on The 700 Club or listen to any number of old-style fundamentalist Protestant preachers to get some of this classic vibe of divine terribleness.

But the cosmic horror I'm getting at in Dark Awakenings is something besides that. I'm interested in the idea of a cosmic horror that's absolute, that nobody could find comfort in or fit into a remotely palatable theological framework. The traditional bloody Judeo-Christian cosmology and anthropology have rested on the idea that somehow things are being "set right" on the planet and in the universe through all of this horror. Even the terror of the deity, which is so expertly evoked in a lot of biblical apocalypticism, is supposed to apply only, ultimately, to those who oppose him. The "winners," Yahweh's chosen ones, get to enjoy his everlasting beneficence in the end. That's where the whole idea of the felix culpa, the "happy fall" from divine grace, comes in. The bloody drama of human history is justified by the fact that it's somehow necessary to achieve God's blissfully perfect result. By contrast, what has long interested me is the speculation that maybe there's something fundamentally horrific about God or the Ground of Being from the human perspective, that cosmic horror is final and absolute, not provisional. Just this morning I finished reading John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies, which Keel concludes with a quote (incorrectly attributed to Charles Fort; it was actually penned by Damon Knight in his Fort bio) that gets at a major aspect of this idea with marvelous clarity: "If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?" I would add: or good or wholesome or reassuring? Could ultimate reality in its categorical essence be something noxious, toxic, nightmarish? Not even Pat Robertson wants to go there, voodoo quips notwithstanding.

LNN: What does this (cosmic horror) mean for us as a species from a biological/Darwinian perspective?

MC: I suppose it could mean we're the unluckiest beings on the planet, since our particular set of biological adaptations has resulted in the developmental of a nervous system capable of self-aware thought, which is now able to recognize with full, stark, staring horror the awfulness of our situation, cosmically and ontologically speaking. "Consciousness is a disease" and all that.

Note that whenever I talk about these things, I do so hypothetically, in a kind of philosophical hyperspace. I'm not saying I actually believe in this type of cosmic-horrific situation. But I'm not saying I don't, either. Just two days ago my nine-year-old niece asked me if I believe in ghosts. I tried to turn the question back at her, but she really wanted to hear my answer. If it's possible for a person to hem and haw in deeply philosophical language while trying to talk in terms that a nine year old can understand, then that's what I did. Do I believe in ghosts? How the hell do you even answer such a question when "I", "believe in," and "ghosts" are all terms that beg a thousand questions? The same kneejerk tendency to poke through spiritual claims in search of the assumptions behind them keeps my thoughts about cosmic horror floating in a safely hypothetical space. That said, the very idea of this kind of horror still feels connected to me in a deeply personal and existential fashion.

LNN: How do you feel about the transition of Lovecraft and his work from obscurity to a more mainstream, or at least more populous, status? And what does this say about contemporary culture?


MC: I'm still really pleased about Lovecraft's canonization. I have that dumb thing in me that feels disappointed whenever some obscure love of mine becomes widely popular, but Lovecraft's rising reputation hasn't managed to trip that alarm yet, since I still find that in my daily life nobody has heard of him. This is true even at the community college where I teach. Ask any ten faculty members in the English department about Lovecraft, and you might get one or two hits, if that. The rest are blank stares. Tom Ligotti is fond of saying, "There is no obscurity like minor renown." Lovecraft enjoyed this kind of renown for decades as a cult author. I've got to wonder how long it's going to take for him to break out of it, if indeed he ever will. I do think his movement into widespread mainstream consciousness may simply happen as a result of generational passings, since a lot of young fantasy and horror fans are hearing more about him all the time. The announced Lovecraft movie to be directed by Ron Howard will also probably make a considerable splash. How ironic it will be if Richie Cunningham does for Lovecraft what Peter Jackson did for Tolkien.

As for what his rising awareness says about contemporary culture, I think it just underscores the increasing tendency of marginal obsessions to go mainstream in our brave new world of 24/7 digital connectedness. I never thought the doomer meme -- peak oil, apocalyptic climate change, total economic collapse, etc. -- would move to the mainstream like it has, but now you can look anywhere and find Joe Sixpack, John Lawyer, and half a dozen network talking heads going on about it. Just in the past week I've been astonished to read about the inroads being made into popular mainstream awareness by the general idea of a 9/11 conspiracy. It's enough to make a person wonder just what's going to be left in the way of pleasantly private obsessions aren't defiled by the light of mass popular attention.

LNN: Depending on how pretentious we want to be, we could make the claim that life in a (post) post-modern world allows for one to embrace both cosmic horror and humanism simultaneously. This is something I believe is not discussed often enough when it comes to Lovecraft. I think our recent articles on Cthulhu Cakes and Plush Cthulhu are great examples. Beyond the simple pleasures of irony and the moral paradox of these items, could these not also be signifiers of an ability to produce a gleeful acceptance of one's lugubrious plight in a terrifying universe?

MC: Oh, certainly. But we could also argue that the act of portraying the high priest of the Old Ones in such cutesy-kitschy form represents an attempt to tame, defang, and neuter the shrieking horror of our plight instead of gleefully accepting it.

I'm personally fascinated by the whole idea of "quaffing the brew of nothingness," as somebody, I forget who, once said, and finding it invigorating instead of devastating, or maybe invigorating because devastating. Maybe in the current context that should be amended to read "quaffing the brew of horror." It would be great if glee, or at least equanimity, could coexist and maybe even be symbiotic with cosmic nightmarishness. But in my own experience, which has included recurrent bouts with successive explosions of existential horror, such a position isn't actually achievable. The horror really is unsupportable and absolutely corrosive. It eats right through all attempts to box it up in any sort of category that would make it manageable.

LNN: Robert Bloch thought that Lovecraft wrote about Supernatural Horror as a means to an end. He said,

Consider the phenomenon of exorcism, this time from the view-point of the artist rather than the audience. Most writers who chose to work within the horror genre do so to exorcise their own fears by exposing and expressing them to an audience. [. . .] Drawing upon a common heritage of myth, legend, and fairy tales, they employ a technique of conveying their visions in terms of convincing reality. [. . .] Lovecraft intended to present an explanation of why horror fiction appealed to certain types of readers. And in so doing he unconsciously revealed his own reasons for writing—as attempts to come to grips with a lifelong fear of the unknown.

Without worrying too much about the fallacy of authorial intent, do you agree with this, and would it be a stretch to say that you too are involved in a similar sort of process as you write?

MC: I think Bloch pegged Lovecraft, and I think you've pegged me. Bloch's idea of authorial self-exorcism seems well conceived. It's also splendidly absorbing. But in my own case it's not so much fear of the unknown that drives me as it is a sense of numinous uncanniness, verging into Rudolf Otto's "daemonic dread," at the very fact of existence itself -- which, crucially, includes not just the disenchanted world of physical nature that's visible to empirical science but the world of immediate, first-person experience with all of its daimonic psychological oddities.

A procedural note about Bloch's diagnosis of Lovecraft: It wasn't just fear of the unknown that drove Lovecraft's authorial attempts. As Lovecraft made starkly and resonantly clear in his personal correspondence, and also in his "Notes on the Writing of Weird Fiction," he wrote horror fiction as a means of capturing and crystallizing his lifelong impressions of an infinite, transcendent reality that seemed to peer through the cracks of the world, which for him included skyscapes and vistas of architectural beauty. And his response to these transcendent intimations was deliciously paradoxical, for he was both enchanted and terrified by them. He passionately longed for an experience of boundlessness, of freedom from the restraints of physical reality, which he of course knew all too well, both materially, due to his increasing monetary poverty over time, and intellectually, with his vast knowledge of natural science as underwritten by a 19th-century mechanistic-materialistic viewpoint. He said over and over that his most powerful emotional experiences were explosions of infinite longing whenever he observed sunsets or contemplated scenic New England streets and buildings. But as everybody knows, he also experienced those same perceived gaps and that same perceived reality as horrifying, something he probably said most directly and powerfully in the introduction to Supernatural Horror in Literature. So his career as a horror writer wasn't motivated just by fear of the unknown but by a two-sided emotional coin that was fear on one side and exhilarated longing on the other.

And again, I find myself in kinship with him, because in my focus on religious, philosophical, and spiritual horror, I'm walking an analogous line between the paradisiacal potentials of these things and the nightmarish ones.


LNN: Along these lines, the French Lovecraft scholar Maurice Lévy echoed this sentiment when he wrote,

Lovecraft was, as we have seen, a man without hope. Unstable, sick, unhappy, obstinately rejecting what he considered the delusions of faith, fed on nihilistic philosophies, he had frequently thought of suicide. Only his dreams—his correspondence testifies to it—permitted him to overcome each crisis and to try once again to live. Did he not in dream find, in the blackest moments, the unexpected help of secret and vitalizing forces? We are then tempted to regard the Cthulhu Mythos, whose elaboration was slow, progressive, and continuous, as the adequate receptacle for the author’s anguish, where, in the waters of dream, it could ”precipitate,” form deposits in precise, horrible, monstrous shapes at the bottom of a structure ready to receive them and give them meaning. Driven by myth [. . .] horror can only be expressed by and in sacrilege: the impious cults, hideous ceremonies, blasphemous rites elsewhere mentioned, which tell a reverse history of salvation. It is at this deep level that the cure operates: because the sick man recognizes these images of horror as his own, he is in a position to assume them fully and thereby overcome them. To give a material representation to anguish is in itself to be freed from it. [. . . ] For we can never totally invent our monsters; they express our inner selves too much for that.

This quote reminds me of one of my favorite moments in your short story "Teeth" in which the protagonist starts to reevaluate the world after his own encounter with cosmic horror.

"The once-familiar moon was now the dead, decaying fetal carcass of some unimaginably monstrous creature, and as I looked on I saw it beginning to mutate into something more monstrous still."

Might Lévy and Bloch then be an answer to the question you once posed to Stuart Young: "Why should [horror] happen to engage my intellect and emotions with such intensity is anyone's guess. I've never been able to figure it out myself."

MC: Indeed, I think whenever one experiences this kind of electric-magnetic attraction to any subject matter in the way that you and I -- not to mention Lovecraft, Bloch, and Lévy -- are attracted to horror, there's a deep psychological reason, and it has to do with the drive built into every organism to achieve comfort and equilibrium. As I mentioned above, with our exquisitely developed hyper-self-awareness -- not just vegetable or animal consciousness but the added faculty of self-consciousness -- we're constantly engaged in an astoundingly complex act of inner housekeeping, usually on a preconscious or unconscious level, and this surely relates to why Lovecraft wrote what he did, and why I write what I do, and why every other author and artist feels magically and helplessly bound to a specific subject or theme. Victoria Nelson argued in The Secret Life of Puppets that genre stories stoke or play on a type of compulsion neurosis among readers who don't want to confront a psychological reality directly but want to flirt with it again and again in formulaic stories that always bring them right up the point of confrontation and then shy away. She identified Lovecraft's work as being a veritably archetypal example. She also engaged in some subtle psychological analysis of the old gent. She may well be right.

On the other hand, in the past few years I've also grown increasingly attached to the daimonic theory of consciousness, which invokes in quasi-metaphorical fashion the ancient idea of the daimon or personal genius, the accompanying spirit that houses a person's deep character, life, pattern, and destiny. I'm inclined to refer to it in explanation of the overtly mythic cast which Lévy attributes -- correctly, I think -- to Lovecraft's and everybody else's deep psychic life, and also to our tendency to circle back to the same themes over and over.

LNN: The scholar and linguist Bradley Will claimed Lovecraft's depictions of cosmic horror could be called a “semiotic crisis.” Denying his characters an adequate system of signification suggests something “so far beyond the edges of our language, so far removed from our frame of reference, that it defeats the system. [. . .] Its only designation can be its lack of designation. It is, if you will, a blank spot. This ‘blank spot’—a signified with no signifier or a signifier with no signified—is a failure of the system of language.”

From the perspective of an author, how does this notion of the "semiotic crisis" fit into the writing process as you perceive and practice it?

MC: No amount of authorial work, no experience of blissful creative flow, and no inherent quality of intellectual or artistic genius will ever allow an author to really, truly capture the essence of the inspiration that drove him or her to write something. Language is necessarily a reduction. I forget which modern poet said "The poem is always perfect in the mind," but he was speaking truth. The very fact that actually committing words to paper will inevitably result in some quality of diminishment in the idea itself is probably what led Cioran to say, I think it was in The Trouble with Being Born, that as he grew older it became progressively more difficult for him to summon the motivation to blacken a page.

But fantasy fiction and, especially, horror fiction stand in an interesting relationship with this point, since they often deal in their direct subject matter with the idea of inexpressible truth. This makes horror fiction a choice literary vehicle for exploring the concept itself. Although all authorship is ultimately failure, as judged by its categorical inability to express the pure essence of an inspiration or idea, writing can sidestep and even subvert this inbuilt inability after a fashion by deliberately generating a sense that the words are reductions of awesome truths that loom behind them. Blackwood's success in achieving this feat in "The Willows" is legendary, and is what led Lovecraft to praise that story so highly. Lovecraft's success in achieving this in "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Music of Erich Zann," and several others is equally legendary, and largely accounts for his enduring audience. Ditto for the successes of -- to name two more authors in my personal pantheon -- Ted Klein and Tom Ligotti. Tom's direct dealing with this whole idea in, for instance, "Nethescurial" and "Vastarien" is maybe the quintessential example. The inherent artistic-ontological limitations of language and art can become a positive strength when they're incorporated into works that directly reference the inherent artistic-ontological limitations of language and art.

As for my own work, I've given up on far more stories than I've completed, often because of what we're talking about. William Stafford said in "A Way of Writing" that one of the tricks he employed to keep himself productive was to deliberately lower his standards during composition to the point where he could consider himself successful if he simply got something down on paper. I'm still learning the wisdom of that. When actually sitting down to write, forget all about the inherent semiotic crisis. Just cough up whatever wants to lodge on the page or screen.

LNN:  Thank you, Matt.  It has been an absolute pleasure, and we wish you the best with your book's release.

Learn more about Matt Cardin's Dark Awakenings here:
http://www.mattcardin.com/darkawakenings.html

Cardin's Official Website:
http://www.mattcardin.com/index.html

Cardin's blog about artistic creativity:
http://www.demonmuse.com/

http://djyano.blogspot.com
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Intel and Nokia spawn MeeGo mobile OS

Suomi mobile giant Nokia and American tech behemoth Intel have come up with a brilliant idea.  It has something to do with a bunch of gibberish about building a, "Linux-based software platform designed to work across a range of hardware architectures and devices including mobile computers, netbooks, tablets, mediaphones, connected TVs and in-vehicle infotainment systems" ...Blah blah blah.

But Xenu knows we don't care about any of that nonsense.

What tickles our starboard synapses, of course, is what these madmen have decided to call their little project: MeeGo.



Lest one think our nerdery has gone beyond the limits of salubrity in celebrating this unlikely nomenclatural coincidence, rest assured that we were not the first to take notice or rejoice in this obscure triumph for Lovecraft fans everywhere.


Just yesterday, Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe wrote the following for ZDNET UK in their article entitled, "When product naming clashes with H.P. Lovecraft":

H.P Lovecraft's dark, weird fantastic fiction has become the first open source literature, where other writers have taken his mythos and his nihilistic view of human life in a dark and hostile universe and run with it.

Perhaps it is a vision of a dark and hostile mobile future, dominated by uncaring monstrosities that has driven Intel and Nokia to give their new mobile OS joint venture a name that comes straight from the pages of Lovecraft (or near enough for most purposes). It's just that the name they've chosen, MeeGo, is far too close to that of an animated, intelligent, malevolent fungus, the Mi-Go. It's not quite the image we'd associate with a powerful high-tech operating system, designed to power Moorestown devices.
The same day another techie blogger asked the one question we all knew was coming: "Could Mi-go be the the MeeGo mascot?!"

Our answer?  Only if they make it in plush, as the hideous likenesses of all good interplanetary space beings ought to be.

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Lovecraftian artist Paul Carrick offers unique fundraising event

One of the premier Weird artists of our time, Paul Carrick, has recently announced his desire to participate in a unique fund raising event. Using Ebay, he is offering a painting based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft up for bid--the proceeds of which will go to help the Global Giving Emergency Earthquake Relief for Haiti. The winner of the bid will get to design the image from scratch, which Mr. Carrick will then create as an original painting.

Surely helping Haitians has never been this Lovecraftian.

However, this does present a peculiar moral quandary, which we presented to Mr. Carrick:

LNN: What are the ethics of using the likeness of fictional apocalyptic monstrosities to raise funds to support recovery from a calamity which, according to some contemporary cultists, was the direct result of a "real" apocalyptic monstrosity?


Carrick:To answer your question, the connection between the fantasy and reality didn't escape me. These things cross my mind often when destructive things like this happen in the world. But, when I thought about what would give me the best chance for a fund raising contribution, doing what I do best simply made the most sense... it is what will ultimately be the most help for those in need. Do people read less Lovecraft during trying times? I wonder if it is quite the opposite, as there seems to be more disaster films recently, despite the wars in the Middle East and threats of global warming. I think, for some, it serves a purpose (a catharsis, perhaps?) as long as it is not making light of the misfortune. It will ultimately be up to the winning bidder... be it Azathoth or a fuzzy and less apocalyptic Zoog from the dreamlands.


About the artist: 

Paul Carrick has created imaginative illustrations for publishers since 1993, they have appeared in role playing games, collectible card games, children's books, t-shirts, tattoos, limited resin statues, CD and LP artwork, posters… you name it, even funerary items (yes, you read that correctly!). Paul earned his BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. The universe of H.P. Lovecraft has continued to be a favorite and enormous source of inspiration as the years go by. In 2007, Paul's work was hung next to the work of H.R. Giger at the Maison D'Ailleurs in Yverdon-Les'Bains, Switzerland for a museum exhibition on Lovecraft inspired artwork. Online gallery/site: nightserpent.com Blog: blog.nightserpent.com, resume http://www.nightserpent.com/resume.html

Official Press Release:

I would like to help out the victims of the Haiti earthquake, as an artist this seemed to be my best option…

This auction is for a yet-to-be original painting, and the subject matter is your choice from Lovecraft's universe! You can pick a character, scene, monster, god or location from one of his stories, and I will create you a painting based on your preference. 100% of the highest bid will be donated to Globalgiving's Haiti earthquake relief fund: http://www.globalgiving.org/haiti-earthquake/ The image may later be used for an art print or poster, if it is, the winning bidder will also receive a signed & personalized copy.

Need suggestions? Cthulhu, Deep One, Elder Things, Ghouls, Great Race, Hastur, Mi-Go, Night-Gaunts, Nyarlathotep, Shoggoths, Shub Niggurath, Great race of Yith, Flying Polyp, Cthonian, Dholes, Gug, The Thing on the Doorstep… or a location in the Dreamlands? I'm happy to discuss the possibilities! I have seven pages of my gallery dedicated to Lovecraft, it might help spark your imagination:
http://www.nightserpent.com/lovecraft.html

The size of the painting will start at 8x10" and will be greyscale (black and white with shades of grey, much like many of my illustrations), it would include the subject and a background. The size and complexity of the image will be proportionate to the winning bid, in a similar fashion to a private or publisher's commission. As the price increases so will the level of detail, size, addition of color, more figures, etc. I don't want to limit your imagination with too many constraints, so if you wanted more size and less color, or less size and more detail, etc., I am happy to accommodate.



See the auction site here:
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=190372901797

Learn more about Paul Carrick at his site here:
http://www.nightserpent.com/
http://blog.nightserpent.com/

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