Epilogue: Tsathoggua

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Our exploration climaxed with the most powerful entity in the cosmos, and now we have a brief coda with one of the most trivial and flippant beings. Still a Great Old One, but one so lazy he is named “the Sleeper of N’Kai.” What do we know of Tsathoggua?

He was very squat and pot-bellied, his head was more like a monstrous toad than a deity, and his whole body was covered with an imitation of short fur, giving somehow a vague sensation of both the bat and the sloth. His sleepy lids were half-lowered over his globular eyes; and the tip of a queer tongue issued from his fat mouth.

–“The Tale of Satampra Zeiros”

[In] that secret cave in the bowels of Voormithadreth . . . abides from eldermost eons the god Tsathoggua. You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally. He will rise not from his place, even in the ravening of hunger, but will wait in divine slothfulness for the sacrifice.

–Clark Ashton Smith, “The Seven Geases”

While still deadly and horrific to any mortal who would encounter him, he’s far too apathetic to come out and provide a threat to the world at large.

In reference materials, he is often known for his sense of humor, and his willingness to provide magical wisdom to seekers who amuse him.

All of the gods we have discussed so far are answers to the question “What really matters to you? What can you care about so much that you would discard all comforts and caution for? What does it look like when you care about one idea to the exclusion of all other considerations?”

Tsathoggua’s answer to that is “nah.”

He is the lack of answer to this existential question. He’s found some creature comforts in life, and committing his existence to any ideal just isn’t worth it.

Nietzche wrote of this fate in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

Lo! I show you the Last Man.
“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” — so asks the Last Man, and blinks.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.
“We have discovered happiness” — say the Last Men, and they blink.
They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.
Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!
A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.
One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.
One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.
No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.
“Formerly all the world was insane,” — say the subtlest of them, and they blink.
They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled — otherwise it upsets their stomachs.
They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.
“We have discovered happiness,” — say the Last Men, and they blink.

It’s the opposite of a cult. It’s not even a “healthy balance” between contentment and passion, but it’s the spirit of giving yourself fully over to not caring.

With his humor and his condescending sagacity, Tsathoggua is the ultimate disaffected hipster. He has raised irony to an art form, capable of piercing the pretentious seriousness of all other gods. Their grand designs and explanations for existence pop like a balloon beneath his sarcastic wit and inability to be riled up.

He is not mean, since even meanness requires caring enough to harm someone. He is actually rather nice, so long as being nice only requires doing exactly what he would already be doing. His is your friend who sits you down with some takeout and shows you funny Youtube videos of cats, assuring you there’s nothing else you have to do in the world to earn his approval.

If every shining goal in the world is terrible, then the few things that are a comfort to you are infinitely precious. Your favorite chair, that has molded to fit you just right all these years, is worth more than a political promise. A cup of coffee from the 7-11 with every syrup added just the way you like it is better than any flawed revolution. The one friend who said kind words to you when you were young and laughs at your absurdist cartoons is more important than transcendental enlightenment ever could be.

You would not dare reform the world;
It pleases you to mock
A thousand towers shining on the sand–
That quaver with the soft and liquid land —
No use for pebbles stacked on inland rock,
No need for solid stone beneath your hand.

You would not dare upend the world;
It pleases you to keep
An empty place beside your broken throne–
Rich linens draped along a couch of bone–
And ‘til she next returns to sit and weep
To labor in your laughter all alone.

@cloakofshadow

It’s charming in friends. On the internet it’s just addictive. Irony runs rough-shod over all other forms of discussion, turning any philosophy into a meme, and any cause into cynicism about zealots who take themselves seriously. Andrew Hussie or @dril or Daria or Tony Stark will provide you with obfuscatory absurdity or witty quip to defuse any situation. If someone calls them on it, they can say they were “just trolling” and of course they agree with you in every particularity, it’s just a joke.

Hussie:

A lot of webmasters such as bloggers or webcomic authors have fundraisers from time to time. It’s usually for something like a new computer (they are upgrading so they can better bring YOU content. How benevolent!), or some other piece of electronic equipment, or maybe even a medical procedure.

This practice is of course self-indulgent bullshit. If you need money for something, go get a job and save the money yourself. Shaking coins from your readership like a piggybank at the threat of suspended content or hiatus is a crass move indeed.

Unless you have a really good reason, that is. Like me.

Today I am launching a bold fundraising campaign, “Fundraiser 07-08: Need for the Steed”, to obtain the monies necessary to purchase this incredible painting.

@dril

Spike from Buffy

We like to talk big. Vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got… dog racing, Manchester United. And you’ve got people. (exhales) Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real…  passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Picadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?

Simpsons

Passive nihilism through overwhelming irony and creature comforts.

***

It’s easy to get Tsathoggua confused for some other gods here. Both he and Azathoth could be classified as nihilists. There’s a difference between an active nihilism, that wants to take part in the destruction of ordered reality, and the passive nihilism that finds it a good excuse to indulge your basest, most slothful desires, since there’s no real consequence to anything anyway.

But Nyarlathotep is the most similar in attitude. Both the toad and the Crawling Chaos are jokers, who find the efforts of lesser beings amusing. The difference is that Nyarlathotep holds himself in the highest regard, having every right to manipulate others and feel superior since he is the one pulling the strings (and His followers feel the same about themselves and their own superiority.)

Tsathoggua has no better opinion of himself than he does of anything else. If he did, that would imply some obligation to do something with his unique merit. He finds his gibbous, disgusting body as worthy of scorn as any other being in the universe, and won’t hesitate to tell jokes at his own expense. He hides behind his self-loathing as a disguise: If I lampshade everything you might be thinking about me, then there’s nothing you can say about me to make me feel even worse?

***

Francis Fukuyama wrote the most influential political text of the last fifty years about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarian/utopian forms of government in the decades to come. But people forget that before it was just called “the End of History”, the essay had another title.

In particular, the virtues and ambitions called forth by war are unlikely to find expression in liberal democracies. There will be plenty of metaphorical wars—corporate lawyers specializing in hostile takeovers who will think of themselves as sharks or gunslingers, and bond traders who imagine, as in Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, that they are “masters of the universe.” (They will believe this, however, only in bull markets.) But as they sink into the soft leather of their BMWs, they will know somewhere in the back of their minds that there have been real gunslingers and masters in the world, who would feel contempt for the petty virtues required to become rich or famous in modern America. How long megalothymia will be satisfied with metaphorical wars and symbolic victories is an open question.

— Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

And the toad blinked.

Azathoth, the Nuclear Chaos

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[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.

— HP Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Azathoth is the worst, and most powerful, deity of the Lovecraft Mythos. Unlike the other Outer Gods and Great Old Ones who occasionally get summoned to Earth or even slumber here, if She were to incarnate, the planet would immediately be crushed into radioactive dust. She has no interest in human puppets, or accumulating power, or crafting other minds in Her image. She just is.

So why does anyone worship this?

***

Sometimes Her servitors make it to Earth though.

…it is fire and despair, a mass of tentacled iridescence that roils with unholy wisdom, and it is beautiful in the way that all untamed unbound things that know nothing but the deep-dark madness of their own nature are beautiful, lovely in the way that harsh truth is lovely, death and destruction made flesh, and there is the crack of bullets as Dad gets its attention and when it charges him Mom throws something at it that makes a flash of blue-white light and a caustic smell of sulfur and the creature crumples and falls with a scream that echoes on forever and is like bells, bells ringing in my mind…

Around me I feel the world begin to crumple and fray and it is sweet, so sweet, I could fall into it and drown in the inchoate formlessness that underlies the too-misty details of the world-that- is, if I could only breathe deep and close my eyes…

Why some find this madness beautiful requires going back to the very beginning.

***

You have been lied to.

From the earliest age, your parents told you about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Moses or George Washington and the Cherry Tree.

Those are the easy lies, disillusionments we get over by thinking they were just metaphors for the important things. That your parents will always love you, and that good behavior will be rewarded.

Those are lies too. And there’s more and more of them as we grow up. That love is forever and authority is just. That your super best friend won’t gossip about you behind your back. That being yourself is the best way to find a date. That hard work is enough to get the job you really want. That schools don’t care about your skin color or where you were born.

Eventually you realize your entire society depends on fantasies. Money is just a story that this piece of paper has value, but people will kill for it regardless. The government has no real legitimacy from the people and relies on force to support itself. Meritocracy is a joke amidst a world of connections, “cultural fit”, and blind luck.

Every scientific measurement or academic consensus is just a simplification that does injustice to the truth. Every promise someone has made you contains a circumstance where it might be broken. Your personal “identity” is a mish mash of wishful thinking and after-the-fact rationalizing that will never be fully understood by another person, not even your closest love. These are just models we use to navigate the world, and they are very faulty ones at that.

Those other gods? The ones who say all knowledge can be saved, or that working by yourself can bring wonders, or that promise meaning in a life of pain, or that the individual matters? Even more absurd fantasies. That is why Azathoth reigns supreme over them.

Part this veil that winds about my eyes; bring me hideous music to wipe away the buzzing in my ears that makes this world so faint and indistinct. Give me the truth, oh this I pray – howsoe’er terrible it may be, I will hold it to my heart and cherish it all my days. Say only that all things tend toward death, and the horror-stuff of the cosmos waits to devour our every passion and fear. Say that all hearts break and every drop of blood runs out upon the earth.

Say that Something awaits us in the dreaming void, that She is the Word of Destruction that will burn away these false things, that we live and die in the sight of Her blind eye as She waits for our time to run out, and we wake from our visions of surety to the searing fires of Her doom.

Don’t tell me the sleep is easy. I know that the dreams aren’t sweet.

***

Most thoughtful people realize how hard pure truth is, and they make peace with it. They call it “epistemic humility” and caution against taking any one idea too seriously to its extreme. Every fact and concept we know is just an approximation or a model, but they are still necessary to plan, to communicate with others, or even to think.

This is the peaceful denial in which sane society drifts.

[For a particularly visual example of this – that thee simplest thing you thought was uncontroversial is actually infinitely complex and uncertain, read Jon Bois’ explanation of “what is a catch in football?”]

Some people care about the truth too much to turn to that bliss, however.

There are always the purists, people whom just can not bend the knee to any convenience. No matter how useful or how happy some simplification of the world is, it will not be as good being correct. They get deep into philosophy and existentialism, usually.

And there are those who have been hurt because they trusted lies. The divorcee who really bought all that stuff about “till death do us part” and now finds themselves cheated on and bankrupt. The exile whose removal was necessary for the peacefulness of a “loving” community that can tolerate no disagreements within itself. The convict who thought the mere fact of her innocence would be enough to safeguard her through a lying cop, an over-worked public defender, and a biased court.

While we all suffer these tragedies occasionally, we try to move on and rejoin humanity, in the hope that somewhere, something works. But sometimes the hurt is so deep, less because of the material pain than just the matter of the lie, that someone obsesses on and can not get over their betrayal until everyone admits that society is just one big lie built on another. They would rather tear everything down that see another person put trust in the thing that failed them.

Relatedly, there are the revolutionaries. The anarchists, really. These are the extremists who go to any end to overthrow the hypocritical regime, with fairly little idea or desire for what will replace it. They can not stomach the lies that any oppressive government requires (usually paeans to the great leader, but sometimes just false claims of equality and victory) and want to hammer away at that superstructure no matter what. What replaces it might be just as deceptive, but then they’ll attack it too, and they’ll keep attacking it until they find some hegemony that just doesn’t lie to them all the time.

And if they never find a government that can withstand the truth, then well, maybe humanity isn’t worth saving anyway.

Fundamentally, all of the above really hate gaslighting. They just think that every friend, every human word, the particle that pretends to be a wave, is gaslighting them. And they can no longer stand it.

Lastly, there are the artists. Not the ones of Hastur who seek meaning, but the ones in love with their own madness. The artists who give us nihilistic hellscapes and dance in the rain and giggle as they destroy their own bodies and lives. We see them, hopefully from a distance, dressed in black and metal and painting with the ruined ashes of everything around them, and we wonder what are they thinking?

Because this is such an extremely passionate love, for those who have supposedly given up on anything worthy and good.

It is Her music, and She is coming to tear all things beneath his presence, for She is death and the only enduring thing of life. Love and warmth end in the cold cold earth, the true nature of reality scalds away thought in a burst of incomprehension and madness. Existence is rotten to the core, and upheld by lies.

What I see isn’t real. Yes. No. Truth. Lies. What they saw is what isn’t there. Nobility. Justice. Good out of evil. Only evil comes from evil, and from good. The sins of the parents are visited upon their children – oh, but also their best and brightest deeds, their every sickeningly good intention. All things fall to the vicious uncaring dreams of entropy.

At the center of the uncaring cosmos sleeps blind Azathoth, the daemon sultan, lord over nuclear chaos and the madness between the stars, and I know She hears, and waits, and consumes all things…and Her Age cannot come quickly enough.

The Excrucians, those antagonists in Ex Nobilis, are perhaps the best incarnation of this infatuation with truthful nothingness.

“The Deceivers live outside the world; they think that we have built the world out of lies. They think the whole of Creation is a jungle of deceit that we have put up to keep from seeing ourselves the way we really are.

They love us but they love not that lie.

They come to unmake the world for us. They come to help you forget the Eyes and Ears and Nose, the Work and Home and School, the Trees and Wind and Laughter and Hearts and Hope.
They come because they think us marvelous, whatever it is they think we are — whatever thing they imagine, that we cannot imagine ourselves, lives behind these purported lies.
And because they see us as such, we may see ourselves as such, in them. Their love is sneaky and dirty and beautiful and it makes us love ourselves. It is a gap of forgiveness and grace in the iron of the world. It is awful because they will not hesitate to hurt us, or lie to us, to open up that crack. They do not see the legitimacy of any of the things we believe in. They only see the soul.

— Nobilis: the Essentials, Volume 1

Or as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan says about the phenomenon of objet-petit-a: “I love you, but, inexplicably, I love something in you more than yourself, and, therefore, I destroy you.”

***

There are some truths you can rely on. Everything dies. The gulf between the stars is so empty and so vast that it’s hopelessness can not even fit in your mind. Entropy will eventually disassemble the entire universe. And of course, if all promises are lies, then in the fullness of time all betrayal is inevitable. You can count on that. Absolute stillness and absolute chaos are both true, they’re just not useful to anything.

Azathoth is the lord of truth. And to someone truly, unflinchingly open, then the only truth is death, entropy, and nihilism. Those are the things She and Her cultists love.

And all those other things? Justice, and lovers, and the approval of others, and working for a better future? They held us back. They diffused our passion into a hundred hopeless projects. When you care about too many things, you never pour all of yourself into one. You are detached, rather than driven.

Cultists of Azathoth, nihilists, completely broken artists, they all lack many things — but they have that purity of passion. In their insistence on truth, and no other morality or hope or scientific deceit, they fully and completely love what glimmers of truth they find.

Hail the Devourer – He comes! Hail the one who will burn away the follies of this life and bring all things to their destined end!

To live is to suffer, to live is to see your every bright illusion fashioned into a sword to cut out your heart. To live is to huddle behind veils and dark glasses, terrified of the mad power of the flames lurking at the edge of your vision.

To think is to be tricked; to think is to pit yourself against the madness that creeps between the stars, to pit the bright frail cobweb of intelligence against the boiling tide of chaos and the soundless roar of cosmic radiation, the howl of the great Lord’s fury against the audacity of creation, Her rage at the vile tainted explosion that began all things.

Give me the truth, oh this I pray – what in me is clouded illumine, what is gentle and false cast away. I will suffer no more base delusions, not when the Lord of Death holds the world beneath Her unseeing gaze, and Her entropy and rot call all things under their sway. The will of the cosmos lies in destruction, and in this is all glory and rightness, to cut away the twisted poisons of life as Her hand and restore the perfect unchanging balance that existed before day and night were so cruelly divided, before the blasphemous act that made of the multiverse a tense and bulging spring winding down in pain and confusion.

Azathoth, lord of the nuclear chaos, will purge the universe of all that taints it. But I will not wait for Her salvation. I am a good girl, and I will do my part to make a stiller and an emptier world.

@cloakofshadow

Shub Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young

 

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Ever Their praises, and abundance to the Black Goat of the Woods. Iä! Shub-Niggurath!
Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!

The Whisperer in Darkness

This is the Outer God readers are most likely to figure out without needing textual explanation. Goat, woods, many young? Oh she’s a goddess of nature. Fertility and animals and plants and all that. “I speak for the trees” the Lorax said. So we’re mostly talking hippies and environmentalists. If there’s any danger to her, it must be from the sort of eco-terrorists that want to blow up oil rigs.

That’s not wrong. Those people have their place in the cult of the goddess.

But if you’re thinking Shub Niggurath is like a cartoon Gaia, a benevolent grandmother who wants a land of green harmony for everyone, where the lion lays down with the lamb, then you are dangerously misunderstanding Her.

The color of Shub Niggurath is not green. It’s red.

Red is the color of the blood that binds you to family. It’s the color of raw meat. It’s the color of attractive lips or the blush of a lover. Red is the color of the important things.

***

And suddenly – suddenly you knew that Her dark cloak was upon you. You could walk among these fragile children, and they would see Her wild feral power in your advance and Her glory in your eyes, and be entranced. Human artifice and thought were as cobwebs before the ancient truth of the being that held you, the truth of the perilous woods and the open sky, the truth of sex and death and endless new rebirth.

And so you strode among them as a queen of the wild. They cowered before you, and one by one you lifted them into the rapturous dance of the goddess, in which man remembers that he is kin to the animals and to the monstrous creatures in their wild places, in which all things end and are renewed.

@cloakofshadow

The idea that humans are any different from other animals is just an amusing affectation to Shub Niggurath. We have our buildings, and our politeness, and our lattes and Apple products, and our stubborn insistence that our actions are based off rational consideration and the rules of civilization.

They’re all lies, and not even very convincing ones at that.

It’s not that we want sex and meat and dominance more than any of our more civilized desires, it’s that when we do want them, these lusts grab a hold of limbic system and just don’t let go.  We risk our entire careers for a young-looking morsel. We become angry and obsessive when we’ve gone only a few hours without food.  And there’s no end of irrational, uncooperative behavior people will engage in just to show their place at the head of the pack.

(Or see how even the most liberal parent reacts when their children are threatened.)

We’re machines for making more copies of ourselves, and for killing other animals in order to take their nutrients. We can put a veneer of enlightened self-interest above it, and disguise our society as genteel and egalitarian as much as we want. Sure, it doesn’t bother a goddess who has seen such civilizations rise and fall a thousand times. She knows what we will come to in the end.

(Even if you disclaim the power of sex or hunger to you, can you deny that when you look into the eyes of a baby entrusted to your care, that you feel anything less than a goddess’s power binding you to her?)

We are biological machines. And those machines are happiest when they are glorying in the pleasures of the flesh, not analyzing them to death.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman

And proper appreciation of these, in their raw form, is very fulfilling indeed.

While in some ways Shub Niggurath is a creature with identity and intelligence, fundamentally She is the very principle of fertility and growth, and Her nature is an essential part of the cosmos. Every blade of grass that yearns toward the sun is in some way an expression of Her power. Every birth and every death is a sacrament to Her, for in love and savagery She propagates the endless cycle of mortal existence. To worship Her is, quite literally, to worship life.

It is not even strictly accurate to refer to Shub-Niggurath as female. Many texts mention “the Black Ram of the Woods with a Thousand Ewes,” or associate Her name with aspects of the forest god Pan.

Natural selection is Her great gift to Her mortal children.  In the struggle to survive, to adapt, we became lords of the Earth where once we were single-celled nothings.  But now mankind has turned its back on Her ways, and chosen to stagnate in genetic mediocrity rather than letting itself be tempered in the harsh forges of the wild.  The frailty in our bodies is mirrored by a frailty   in our souls, for we have bound up our passions in all manner of codes and restraints, while it is Her way to give honor to all lusts and urges.  And, even as we destroy ourselves, so too do we destroy our planet in blindness and greed.  We have fallen far from Her bosom indeed.

We can become perfect in Her.

But not all Her commandments are cruel. She is all our irrational drives, not just lust and vengeance, but mercy and compassion. She is the well-spring of our hearts. She knows a family operates more reliably than any corporation ever could, because of the ties she made in our DNA millions of years ago. The most self-sacrificing, unexpected good things the human animal does come from Her – just don’t call it a rational co-operative strategy.

***

So who becomes a Shub Niggurath cultist? Like all the egregores, it starts with a little knowledge, which can be a dangerous thing.

Those evolutionary psych nerds explaining all human behavior based on what helped on the plains of the East African savanna? Those MRA PUA bros who try to find out what people really want from a date? They’re paying homage to Shub Niggurath just as much as the organic-only vegan hippies. (The bros are also very wrong about how “human nature” works, just as much as Whole Foods produce isn’t really from the state of nature. But they are caught in Her fascination no less.)

So we have some bio-reductionism, which, fine. But that’s not a personal journey, that’s still thinking your way to Her embrace.

So you get this disavowed duality. Where someone intellectualizes the value of giving in to their animal self in polite circles, and engages in obsessive behavior where they consider it acceptable. Epicurean feasts. Indulgent sexual rituals. Expensive vacations just to go into the forest and “get back to nature” away from all the notifications of real life. Drugs that short-circuit your rationality to get straight to your limbic system, and throw you into paroxysms of dancing ecstasy.

Burning Man, basically.

Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath!

After that, is usually a clash with society. You can keep up the dual-life well, our elites love private scandal, but eventually your hungers go too far and there is a reckoning. Many ex-cultists will have an intervention and return to responsible, pro-social behavior. But if you’ve lost enough status with civilization, or if your primal hunger has its teeth in you too deep, it’s easier to just give in fully. All those prudes and censors are just hypocrites after all, judging you for indulging in what they want just as much as you. Their castigation is barely disguised envy, so sayeth the Byrons and Sally Bowles’ of the world.

There’s more debauchery, and delight, and hungover mornings after. And so it goes until rational society shuts you down violently, because it’s stronger and you are unorganized. Thus ends the tragedy of most hedonists.

But that’s where truly devoted cultists begin.

The predator within has been offered red meat, and it’s not content to stay on its leash anymore – the Man wants ease and entertainment, but the Wolf wants to be at the top of the food chain. Right now you live in a world dominated by human technology, where even a wolf with human cunning is overmatched by all sorts of things, and so your feral side has no better option than to go play when you let it and to stay quiet the rest of the time. But in the new world of the Shub Niggurath’s dream, the Wolf could rule. You would be deadlier than any man, and almost any beast. You would run across the blood-spattered snowfields, and howl at the uncaring stars, and gorge yourself on the warm flesh of your prey, as much as you wanted. It’s a possibility that you’d never really bothered to consider, for obvious reasons, but now that it’s lodged in your mind…you find yourself dwelling on it fondly when you’re not careful, and slipping more and more into wolf-thoughts.

True cultists of Shub Niggurath want her help to overthrow all the hypocritical artifice. Not just because it will be a “return to nature” and “heal the scars of pollution” (although that’s nice), but because only in a fully liberated world can they be themselves.

So they gather in their covens, aided by Her Dark Young, and call across the stars to something greater than them. They lie down in worship, and feel Her pass among them. They dream of tearing down the towers, scattering the fascists, and turning the lights off across Her sacred night.

Cthulhu Lies Dreaming

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What can anyone add of the Great Old One Cthulhu? By far the most famous  of Lovecraft’s creations, He has also become the most popularized, neutered, and generified. He’s a great big dragon that sleeps under the sea and wants to devour thousands of souls for breakfast. Let’s make an ironic college club around him and name it Campus Crusade for Cthulhu? Eh.

Everyone reading this already knows the most evocative line about this egregore:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

He is a sleeping god. He is beyond death. And He drives you insane with contemplation of him. Okay fine to all that, but we’ve been inured to such things. What is special about this egregore, that defines him apart from being “the one most often turned into a plushy toy by now.”

Well for one, we know a lot more about his worshippers.

They aren’t a group anyone can join or who are looking for recruits. They aren’t based in some idealism about art or living forever. They’re groups of insular locals living in certain small fishing villages. They all act… off. They don’t appreciate intruders, and that just have something indefinably weird about them.

Dig deeper and we learn that they are cross-breeds, of an entirely different race. The residents of Innsmouth breed with Deep Ones, Cthulhu’s servitor race. This accounts for their “squamous” appearance and very slight webbing, though as Deep One hybrids grow older, they either become monstrous mermen, or immortal sea princesses.

They are a people apart. And yet they are confident. Why? Well for one they think they are superior to normal humans in any number of ways. Their civilization is certainly a lot older and more stable over time than the countries we respect. But mostly… they have faith in a terrible sea dragon that will set them over the world.

In reality, they are nothing but a town of backwards fishermen who want to believe they’re luckier than the rest of the world.

We have words for that: patriotism. Nationalism. Tribalism. Social conservatism.

***

In my other blog, I try to analyze a decaffeinated tribalism, discussing the human benefits of a strong community. It’s important to remember though that this is not why most people support their tribe.

But this leads to the paradox of tribalism, embodied in this cute cat cartoon. People who really believe in the awesomeness of community, tend to believe in the awesomeness of their community above all.

Serious tribalists believe their traditional recipes really are the best, their courtship rituals really do guarantee the most stable marriages, their religion really is correct, and their houses really are the most charming. And yet, that’s difficult to objectively put against other communities, and really prove that you’re the best.

This is different for readers in America and the English-speaking world. Our political culture defines itself very much as about universal rights and beyond “blood and soil” creeds. Christian theology is one of the most universal. And of course, American might is the superpower astride the world, with England not long ago preceding it. When we think of “what makes our people special,” we actually really do think of objective phenomenon (even if they are crude as “we could nuke anywhere on this globe on a whim.”)

So it’s hard to picture the local cultures that really think they are the best and luckiest people in the world, because they’ve been going to the same type of church and making the same type of stew for hundreds, maybe even a thousand years. You’ve got to look to the Hungarian militia societies or the Wyoming rodeos.

They think their apple pie really is what makes them the best, not objective measurement or universal values.

…Okay, calling it apple pie is silly. Because this thing, we are talking about is actually extremely serious. You feel it in your bones, it is your duty and your honor and everything tying you to the land your ancestors have been on since time immemorial.

Salt, sea and sky–
        Oh shining day–
A breeze among the grasses
      That hold the dunes in sway
And quiet from the deeps
      Of Y’ha Nthlei.

Sweet, golden sand–
      Ground day by day
From ridges of the columns
      That dreamt beneath the bay
And boiled in the waves
      Of Y’ha Nthlei.

In ones and twos
      We make our way
Sailing through this bright world
      Day by day
For nothing could have drowned
      In Y’ha Nthlei.

@cloakofshadow

Y’ha Nthlei is the city of Deep Ones bombed in the “Shadow Over Innsmouth.” It may sound alien, but I’m sure many of my readers have sympathetic sadness for the loss of a place you can’t even explain to people.

***

Some American parlance we might be familiar with is “the silent majority.” It’s what every socially conservative group thinks: oh you people trying to change things for justice might be loud, but the great mass of people agree with me. They just are too caught up with the important things in life to make a fuss like you do. But oh, if you bother us too much, you will awaken a mighty monster that will easily win all political battles.

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” … “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

It sleeps. It is beyond reason. It is horrific, like the gothic truth of any small town. It is a terrible secret that unites all of the chosen people. But it has outlasted the fads of civilization, and will outlast the modern day petty rulers too.

One day Cthulhu will waken, and He will put his beloved people at their rightful position on top of all things. But for now, we are content waiting for him, tilling our fields, and nodding condescendingly at all the hot-headed ideologues who know nothing of family, tradition, conservatism, and tribe.

***

Cthulhu worship then is actually less alien to humans than almost all the other egregores. It’s not some abstract promise about an idea taken to its extreme. It’s as basic as the opinion of one human group that they are better than others.

It’s when you enjoy the people you’ve been tied together with, and your little rituals, and your particular spot of the ground, and everything about your life. It’s the conservatism of saying “this is good, and what is just is for nothing to ever disturb it.” It’s chauvinism and sentimentality and love of your brother and suspicion of outsiders. You don’t feed the great prisoner of R’lyeh because He has a grand design for the world, you feed him because He’s your god, right or wrong. In return he gives you power, and stability, and a place in the world, and the promise that on one very distant day the missing sleeper will rise and force the world to give you your due.

(Ironically, from the perspective of most humans, the success of this egregore would entail the least change for them. It’s hardly an apocalypse when you’re just talking one different ruler and one different nation ruling over all the others again. Europe had its turn, is it such a big deal that the Deep Ones go next? They’d probably manage the environment better than us anyway.)

***

So who worships Cthulhu?

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Ithaqua, the Wind Walker

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Ithaqua is a Great Old One who wanders the polar regions. He’s vaguely humanoid, but also giant and wild..

“The stars had been blotted out…the great cloud which had obscured the sky looked curiously like the outline of a great man. And…where the top of the ‘cloud’ must have been, where the thing should have been, there were two gleaming stars, visible despite the shadow, two gleaming stars, burning bright–like eyes!”

–“The Thing That Walked on the Wind”:

He’s known for bringing great cold, eating people who stray too far from civilization, and sometimes kidnapping people and bringing them back to his realm of Borea.

He’s largely associated with the Native American legends around the “wendigo.”

The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody [….] Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.

Not a very pleasant monster. What does it believe, and why would anyone worship Him?

Fortuitously, we can answer this, as Ithaqua has recently launched the most successful propaganda campaign of any Lovecraftian horror.

***

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation,
and it looks like I’m the Queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway

Frozen, Let It Go

It’s a great song. And its immense popularity is due not to a catchy tune, but that it describes a cogent belief that many people identify with. It’s a song about being independent, and the inability to meet society’s standards and learning to stop caring about that, and as a result discovering your inner power.

It’s a song about the power of ice.

Ice is loneliness. It will kill most people. We are social creatures, dependent on the technology of civilization and a web of specialized labor and the emotional validation of others. Most of us define our very identities around what others need of us, the joy we get from fulfilling it. Who would you be without that? How long would you live?

But if the cold and loneliness cease bothering you… then your inner self can come to the fore. You can stop censoring yourself for the sake of politeness and politics. You can navel-gaze to your heart’s content without worrying about being awkward. You can do what you want, on your own schedule. You can pursue ideas to the weird end of their paths, without worrying that you are drifting away from socially approved normal space.

Cultural and political wars surround us, creating anxiety and bitterness in almost everyone who participates. Their main weapon is that if we ever disagree with our compatriots, we risk losing their social company. We will be shunned, with only the Evil Other Side to go to as refuge. And if we are so unorthodox as to upset Both Sides of the issues du jour, then we might be entirely alone in this paranoid universe.

Most of the people who have found they can not tolerate the crushing conformity of any political tribe, have concluded that they are their own best, last company. “I may no longer be popular, no one may be listening to me, anything I do may no longer be relevant to anyone in humanity… but I don’t care. I think what I think and I do what I do for myself, and I will make it amazing.”

That is the power of ice, which is solely not to be bothered by it. And it is the power of yourself. You have separated your identity from society, and can now protect it with the force of ice. Anyone who tries to reach you will suffer that terrifying loneliness and those bitter winds, and they will usually be driven off. You are alone and immune.

You can do your own thing.

Depending on your life up until this point, those six words are either banal, or the best thing you could ever have imagined.

So much of our mental power is currently tied up in working well with others. In figuring out how to make what we want to do, palatable to the people we care about and need. Imagine just… not needing to do that anymore. When the only person you have to prove anything to is yourself, you can put 100% of your weird, obsessive, imaginative, indulgent, abstruse energy into creating.

Ithaqua cultists are often geniuses (or cranks) who do their best work when they don’t have to compromise with anyone else. They’re scientists who want to pursue their experiments beyond the reach of ethics boards and grant applications. They’re auteur directors who defy Hollywood executives and the box office to make their masterpiece. They’re antiheroes who have fled human society to develop their powers where no one they care about will be hurt again. They’re genius programmers who quit a lucrative job in order to found their startup.

The White Death is highly prized by Ithaqua of course, and it pains Him greatly that the highest kill counts in the World War 2 era were not claimed by lone warriors like him, but “whatever random dude happened to be manning machine gun nests during particularly bloody charges.”

Normal earthly life is a tragedy to Ithaqua. Everything that makes us unique or horrid is watered down. In reality, simply makes more sense to work as part of a collective to get something done, to let your mission and your soul be shaped by the cacophonous needs of others. The greatest deeds will be the result of nations, or of random chance, and not the searing intensity of one soul’s vision.

He promises you that if you wander the cold waste, He will give you His blessing. You can pick out your lone mountain top, and really get to work making the best of yourself.

(There is a great deal of overlap between the things that make one devoted to Ithaqua, and to Hastur. Disciples of both share a principled love of beauty, that sees any terrible emotional and humanitarian cost as well worth it for excellence. However, Hastur is usually a people-oriented god: most of His followers want and need the audience, and luxuriate in the sadness and terror (and sometimes more positive emotions) they have inspired in them. He really cares, that way, you know. And most Hasturian work, particularly plays, are notably a team sport even if some players are genuinely better and more important than others. The closest to Ithaqua that cultists of the King in Yellow can get are usually the mad poets locked in a cage, composing elegiac lines for the appreciation of only one person, or none at all. Those flowers are indeed fought over by both Aldebaran and Borea.)

***

It’s no surprise that in all things, Ithaqua and Cthugha oppose each other. This isn’t just the natural frisson of fire against ice, since in that elemental sense the fiery star massively dwarfs the lone wintery giant. But everything Cthugha values about connectedness, and community, and the dissolution of the self, Ithaqua hates. And the Wind Walker is an elitist, believing that only a few souls are worthy of exaltation and isolation – not like the Living Flame who needs to add everyone to their funeral pyre.

(Neither is very hospitable to the vast majority of humanity who do not worship them. Cthugha will burn your body and absorb your memories, for your own good, whether you like it or not. Ithaqua would let the rest of the world freeze and die, just to cherish a few noble souls.)

But there’s something more alchemical to this opposition.

Ice… ice is beautiful. Protected from the elements it can be crafted into fragile edges and ethereal curves. The slightest touch of heat will melt it though. It’s like the small, shadowy bits of your personality that you work on alone. Maybe a poem or an arcane philosophy. Once it reaches the light of day, maybe it will shine! But it will probably melt.

I loved a lady still as she was fair
She said, what we would honor we must hide.
I said, my dear, why shun the open air?
The world is endless vast and endless wide.

She said, our souls are figures grown in frost
Whose thousand fractures break the morning light–
One melting glance, and all their grace is lost
Reformed to better suit another’s sight.

I said, but lovely hypocrite, today
With me you are more voluble than terse
And make of all your heart a plain display;
She said, we fear the change that makes us worse–

And since I know the wonders that you see,
I do not rage to feel your eyes on me.

@cloakofshadow

A little fire is acceptable for sculpting, though.

Ithaqua is not wholly an introvert. As a matter of fact, the cult of Ithaqua prizes personal relationship extremely deeply. Love, or obsession, is a very important matter to them. They are not promiscuous with their socialness, only one or two people a century may get to see them. But those rare connections are more important to them then the future of all humanity combined.

Ithaqua is a romantic, you see. To let someone shape you, even a little, as they see your poetry and even make edits, is intensely vulnerable but when done slowly and purposefully, it is also a very powerful part of crafting yourself.

In short: Cthugha cultists loves everyone. Ithaqua cultist has that one best friend and that’s all they need.

Which is part of the message so carefully woven into the propaganda piece Frozen. The movie makes a mockery of romance when it’s done quickly and eagerly. True Love is defined instead as that sister you’ve protected all your life. It’s the only thing that can reach you through your walls of ice and snow.

***

The ice cult also has a more devoted relationship with their body than most of the egregore cults. It is not just a mortal vessel to eventually be shed by the enlightened.

Ithaqua is one of the very few Great Old Ones to be using the same body He had when He ascended to his godly status. There is no escape to an abstract, ever-burning fire or continuous evolution and procreation for Him. His form of immortality means maintaining and perfecting the figure that defines us as much as anything else.

There is no “true you” independent of your flesh, and your clothes, and your surroundings. Those are all important pieces that define you. And if you want to improve yourself, you have to improve those aspects as well. You need to learn fashion that suits your shape and complexion. You need to exercise and choose what you eat carefully.

In fact, body-builders and athletes are some of the most devoted novices of Ithaqua. Theirs is a solitary work of progression, that benefits from pride and endurance and self-motivation, all qualities the ice god respects. It is disappointing that so many of them do it for the sake of “looking good to others” or a team sport, but enough serious exercisers also find intrinsic joy in the self-improvement itself. They may set insane standards in speed or muscle that only a mind detached from normality would appreciate.

This gets into the repetitive use of the words genius and brilliant in the above. They may be misleading, as He cares about works of genius, but not congenital talent. He is an elitist, definitely, but one of having standards, and the meritocratic belief that anyone can meet them as long as they choose hard work and purity. With enough time, anyone will develop their skills after all.

We can’t all go to our private mountaintop, but He howls for when even the most mundane soul deletes their twitter account.

***

As you can imagine, there are two states for an Ithaqua cultist: Elsa in the first twenty minutes of Frozen, or Elsa after Let It Go.

Which is to say, they are stuck for long times in the state of “resentful at a society that forces them to compromise every day of their lives, feeling like a crab that can never escape the barrel without being pulled back by the other crabs.” And there is the state where a cultist actually lives in isolation and is peacefully devoting themselves to their art, whatever it is.

The latter state, scholars can’t say much about. It is by definition unique. A solo genius fully devoted to themselves and their work, fairly quickly descends into jargon and introspection. They are fairly difficult to communicate with, and we know little of their thought process after very long. But it remains that they create some astounding work on their own: from Henry Dager to Linus Torvald to Guo Fengyi to Gregor Mendel, their introverted weirdness has created glories that the world is wildly better off for.

But before…

It’s incredibly hard for anyone conscious to cast off the chains of society. Even as you resent them like a fish resents water, it’s hard to even imagine your life without your friends and family and professional support structures. Ithaqua worship emerges as a complaint, but one that is fundamentally strangled in the crib. There smooth path to being one of his lonely students is travelled rarely.

This is why Ithaqua is also associated with trauma. We can not break away from society, but something can cause society to break away from us. In the case of Elsa it was the uncontrolled use of her powers, and judgment from other aristocrats that showed her she could be free. In a horror movie it’s more likely the death of every member of the heroine’s community, before the Final Girl can progress into her authentically badass self. The same often happens for caravans that wander too deeply into Ithaqua’s wastes – all but one may end up dead, and well for that one other, not for nothing is Ithaqua known as the Kidnapper.

But it’s not always that dramatic. It may just be the result of political shunning, or a personal mental breakdown, or a betrayal from those you trusted. Failure comes in many forms. Maybe it’s losing internet for a bit, going off the grid, and finding out how much more productive you are without twitter distracting you.

Hastur, the Unspeakable

King in Yellow

This is Balioc, of The Baliocene Doctrine and The Baliocene Apocrypha. I’d like to extend my gratitude to Flock of Lambs for letting me write a guest essay about this particular god, who is very near and dear to my heart.

***********

So. What do we actually know about Hastur the Unspeakable?

Not bloody much, as it turns out. Which is surprising, because He is so very very popular. Despite not being a Lovecraft original, despite not showing up in Lovecraft’s actual corpus at all except for one throwaway list-of-spooky-Mythos-entities mention — and despite Robert W. Chambers being a pretty obscure writer, all told — Hastur shows up everywhere. He is probably the most famous Mythos god with the exception of Big C, and I’d wager that within the greater Mythos He actually gets more screen time than any of His competitors. There are tons of short story anthologies devoted specifically to Him and His stuff; He shows up in everything from ancient webcomics to 4chan-style CYOAs; He got to be a season villain on True Detective. And yet most of that stuff somehow manages not to be very…informative. He is very scary and apocalyptically destructive, just like every other Mythos deity. He drives people to madness, just like every other Mythos deity, only somehow even more so. His activity is focused around the star Aldebaran. He’s likely to notice if you call His name. And that’s most of what we get from most of our sources.

The stories, unsurprisingly, strongly favor terror and confusion over any kind of explanation or exploration. Even the RPG sourcebooks, which usually spell out all their worldbuilding in tedious detail, tend to throw up their hands and say, “Hastur is a weird alien god and no one understands what’s up with Him!”

(Here the cultic priest nods sagely and notes, It’s almost as though all these cosmic-horror nerds are shying away from something that might truly scare them.)

But if we go back to the older texts, especially the Chambers stories, there’s something deeper and more profound to be learned. All we have to do is put together the puzzle pieces…

***********

We know that Hastur’s cult is a “decadent” faith, and that many of its practitioners are artists and art connoisseurs. So far, so simple, but this fact casts its shadow over everything to follow.

***********

We know that Hastur is strongly associated with the figure of the “King in Yellow” — usually taken to be His avatar — and with a French play called The King in Yellow (or Le Roi en Jaune), which is famous for driving people mad. Hastur cultists, and those who have been touched by Him in some way, often find themselves weirdly obsessed with The King in Yellow.

We learn some things about this play from Chambers, and some more things from Mythos heavyweights like James Blish and Lin Carter. Based on everything we see, it is…a pretty goddamn normal kind of play, a drama of family and politics with some ponderous allegorical philosophy thrown in.

(Yes, yes, it takes place on an alien planet; this doesn’t actually matter very much, the principals are entirely recognizable as old-timey European theatrical archetypes. Yes, the play is sometimes alleged to be some kind of magic ceremony-in-dramatic-form that summons the King for real if you perform it all the way through; yes, certain Mythos authors claim that all the drama and poetry that we see is representative of “only the first half,” and that a never-seen second half contains all the Actual Horror; but all of this feels like pointless handwaving, an attempt to inject The Scary into something whose true nature the author otherwise doesn’t really understand.)

It’s basically a mid-grade Shakespeare knockoff with some cosmic fantasy elements. But, according to the rules of Hastur’s portion of the Mythos, it is nonetheless imbued with divine power.

***********

We know that those who fall into Hastur’s orbit are driven mad, yes, but most often they are driven mad in a particular way: they become consumed with grandiose delusions, and insert themselves into grandiose personal narratives. Most archetypically, of course, they start identifying with the characters of The King in Yellow, and become embedded in those royal struggles and betrayals. Hildred Castaigne of “The Repairer of Reputations” believes himself to be a scion of the “Imperial Dynasty of America.” It is very common for them to become convinced that they are making Artistic Masterpieces for the Ages, or living out Emotional Dramas for the Ages, etc.

***********

We know that, for a Mythos god focused on sanity-shriveling horror, Hastur operates on a human-accessible level to a surprising and substantial degree. His famous King in Yellow avatar is more-or-less person-like, and it’s not uncommon for Him actually to talk to people. His alien city-realm, Carcosa, isn’t described in terms of its impossible angles or its monstrous alien denizens or anything; it’s depicted basically as a luxurious old-timey gothic (human-style) metropolis, like a slightly creepier Vienna or something. Hastur is known for having His would-be servitors take an “Unspeakable Oath,” promising themselves to Him (and letting Him do horrific things to them in the long term) in exchange for power — and this is, well, weirdly anthropomorphic behavior. You wouldn’t catch Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth or one of that crowd paying attention to your consent. “You have to sign off on your damnation consciously” is a very…human…way to construct things.

***********

We know that Hastur has a thing about masks, and that they play a central role in His mythology.

This shows up most clearly in one of the few Chambers-provided snippets from the actual text of The King in Yellow:

 

From Act I, Scene 2d

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.

Stranger: Indeed?

Cassilda: Indeed, it’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.

Stranger: I wear no mask.

Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

 

Which is to say, someone who is obviously wearing a mask claims that in fact he isn’t wearing a mask, and some other people react to that claim with horror. We can presume that the Stranger is not lying here, since he is the being also known as (ahem) the Phantom of Truth.

This is a slightly-obscured version of a trope that we’ve all seen before.

The Stranger’s mask is not the Phantom of the Opera mask, a disguise to shroud the hidden horror underneath. Nor is it a mask like Nyarlathotep’s many masks, a disposable face, symbolizing the ability to adopt and discard identities casually. It is the exact opposite of those things: it is a mask-that-is-truly-not-a-mask, a mask that does not conceal reality, a mask that is in fact more real than the thing underneath. It is a mask like Batman’s mask, worn for the purpose of displaying the fundamental truth. This is the secret that the Stranger is using to terrify Camilla — the strange, fake-looking guise that he wears is not a fake at all.

***********

So put it all together. We have a cult centered on art and artists. We have the god’s might inhering in the not-that-weird-seeming narrative of a period play. We have a form of god-touched madness that turns people into larger-than-life characters. We have supernal alien forces that operate in ways that are more-or-less comprehensible to the human consciousness. We have symbolism focusing on masks, artificial faces, being truer and more important than natural faces.

Oh. That does all add up, doesn’t it.

Hastur is the god of stories.

Hastur is the god of stories that are more important than reality.

***********

This is something about which I’ve already written quite a lot.

It’s not hard, these days, to find people for whom “real life” is at least sometimes dominated by fiction. You can see it most easily in the obsessive excesses of fandom — and, more prestigiously, in the obsessive excesses of artists and creators themselves — but the thing is there in a lot of places where it doesn’t come with a tidy identifying label. It’s there in everyone who slips into wistful daydreams of his favorite media. It’s there in everyone who finishes his book or his TV show or his video game, and takes a look at the reality of his world, and sighs.

In some ways, it’s the dominant psychological development of our time, and it’s getting stronger and more widespread every day. “Entertainment” — which is to say, narrative — is taking up more and more of our brainspace. It is an enchantment whose siren song is hard to resist, for many, and resistance gets ever harder as the quality of the entertainment continually improves.

Fools, at least the fools who are into escapist stuff, think that this has to do with the content of their escapism. They read about grand adventure or grand romance or whatever, and they think “oh, if only I were there, if only I had that stuff for real, everything would be great and I would be happy.” (If they’re especially foolish, they think this even about grim gritty dark escapist stuff, like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or suchlike.) But the foolishness here is obvious if you bother to look at the actual world, and at the actual power that fiction wields. There are people who have actual “thrilling” adventures filled with violence and peril and High Stakes, for example. You yourself can probably become one of them if you really want to — buy a plane ticket to a war-torn part of the Third World, set yourself some kind of difficult goal involving extralegal violence, and have at it. But the people who live like that generally aren’t filled with the kind of transcendent satisfied joy that we’re hunting for; mostly they’re pretty desperate and miserable, which is why rich folks in the First World generally aren’t eager to go join them, even rich folks who are really into Game of Thrones. And at the same time, fiction can exert its powers of enchantment even when the substrate of the narrative is Totally Boring Normal Reality. This can be learned by reading some middlebrow litfic, or if that isn’t your thing, by reading a coffeeshop AU in your favorite fandom.

The thing that we want isn’t there to be found in “the sort of stuff that stories talk about.” It’s there to be found in stories. It is an aspect of narrative itself, and it cannot easily be separated from its fictional framework.

***********

How does this work?

It works, in part, because stories cheat. They use artificial techniques to manipulate our minds and our feelings directly, in ways that real reality doesn’t. They use resonant words, and music cues, and camera angles, that serve as superstimuli for our emotional reflexes. They employ smoke and mirrors to pound hard on psychological buttons that actual life will maybe press lightly once in a great while.

But mostly it works because stories have inherent meaning in exactly the way that real reality doesn’t.

It is the nature of a narrative that the narrator tells you what things are important, and so those things are important. They have weight, they have substance, the universe notices them — if it didn’t, they wouldn’t appear in the story! Whatever the story is about, whether it’s “a hero saving the world” or “awkward sitcom shenanigans at NBC,” we know that we are supposed to care. The traits of the main characters are relevant, because they shape the story, and we are paying attention to the story.

And, for some of us, that is the thing we most desperately want. We want to matter. We want there to be meaning in our lives, not some kind of jury-rigged existentialist “I’ve decided that it’s meaningful to me” meaning, but real meaning that is endorsed by metaphysical powers as exalted as Author and Audience. We want reality to sit up and pay attention to the fact that we are A and not B, that we have chosen X and not Y.

***********

The promise of the King is that reality can be made to have the properties of stories. That you can look at your own life and feel the same magical sense of yes-this-has-meaning that you feel when you consume your favorite media. That you can make a mask of The Person You Want To Be, and put it on, and it will be the truth, and the inconvenient bits of reality that are hidden underneath — the inconsistencies, the lapses, the moments you have to go to the bathroom — won’t matter, because they won’t be part of the Story of You, and the Story of You has existence and power beyond the mere strung-together facts.

(The King is a cruel King. He likes melancholy, tragedy, irony. He’s not necessarily going to make you happy. But if the thing you really want is meaning, well, it may be worth sacrificing some happiness on that altar.)

It’s damn hard to get that, in a universe that seems steadfastly devoted to treating us with a perfect callous indifference.

So what do we do?

Some of us lie to ourselves, and insist on believing or claiming-to-believe in an omnipotent personal God who judges our virtues and our vices, who shepherds us to salvation and damnation, who built the universe for our sake, who constantly tells us that our lives are meaningful.

Some of us drink in a constant stream of fiction where there’s meaning to be found, and try to live in that vicarious headspace as much as possible, and sigh wistfully whenever we’re pulled back to the world of uncaring brute matter.

Some of us roleplay, wrapping ourselves in fictions, playing around in stories where our choices are meaningful because that’s how stories work. It’s the same as the above, really, with more sophisticated technology.

…some of us plot and scheme to make a world where we learn to see patterns of meaning in each other, and in ourselves, and to live in such a way that we can live up to those patterns. Where fictional concept-construction and real action are so tightly interwoven that there can be no distinction between them.

Or, as the more traditional cultists call it, bridging the Earth and Carcosa.

***********

***********

Thanks very much for reading.

I do feel the need to say: I’m a Mythos writer and a Mythos scholar in my own right, and I think a lot about these gods and their stories, and my interpretations are often very much not the same as those you’ll read in Flock of Lambs’ essays. He doesn’t speak for me, any more than I speak for him. But his project is a really cool one, and I’m very glad to be a part of it.

Yog-Sothoth, the Lurker at the Threshold

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What is the Outer God, Yog-Sothoth?

To those who encounter his manifestation, It is merely an endless mass of glowing orbs, eyes, and tendrils. But It is a god of some concept, and Yog-Sothoth is more familiar to us than most.

“Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread.”
~ The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

Yog-Sothoth is the key and the gate. This statement is very similar to the all-encompassing duality that the Abrahamic god is (YWHW is the alpha and the omega.) And indeed, It is the one who most resembles the vague, distant deity we are most used to in 21st century Western urbanity. It’s not benevolent (none of the egregores are anything like good), and It’s only as all-powerful as all the other Lovecraftian gods are, but It is omnipresent.

You are my quest, my course, my fate
You are the key and you’re the gate
You are my All-in-One…

Yog-Sothoth is space-time itself. It is not only motion and location, but all the little details that make that work. Why is the balance between the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and electromagnetism precisely set so that solid matter can exist, and organic life at all? Why is Earth in the very small goldilocks band between too cold and too close to the sun, where life could flourish?

The recent web sensation “17776” had its snarky/existentialist character expound on the necessity of god in the way that is most common among deists in this day and age:
Yog-Sothoth is the famous “god of the gaps.” To worship It, is to worship whatever miracles have been granted in the cracks of physics (and chemistry, and biology) so that we may exist.

It’s actually rather natural to be thankful.

…. even though It is just as responsible for the Second law of Thermodynamics, the inevitability of death, war, AIDS, and the fact that all human existence will be over in the blink of a cosmic eye.

***

Yog-Sothoth cultists are particularly drawn to the beauty of Its design. The fact that everything works so well (compared to the meaningless chaos it could be) puts them in awe. This isn’t just physicists and mathematicians, but anyone who researches human patterns can be drawn in by this seductive order. If you’ve seen an economist rapture about how the Invisible Hand makes everyone create the most pareto optimal world when left to their own devices, well, what god do you think they’re worshipping?

Rationalist blogger Scott Alexander went into paroxysms over similar dynamics when arguing that truthful debate has the property of giving the advantage to good.

I worry that I’m not communicating how beautiful and inevitable all of this is. We’re surrounded by a vast confusion, “a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night”, with one side or another making a temporary advance and then falling back in turn. And in the middle of all of it, there’s this gradual capacity-building going on, where what starts off as a hopelessly weak signal gradually builds up strength, until one army starts winning a little more often than chance, then a lot more often, and finally takes the field entirely. Which seems strange, because surely you can’t build any complex signal-detection machinery in the middle of all the chaos, surely you’d be shot the moment you left the trenches, but – your enemies are helping you do it. Both sides are diverting their artillery from the relevant areas, pooling their resources, helping bring supplies to the engineers, because until the very end they think it’s going to ensure their final victory and not yours.

You’re doing it right under their noses. They might try to ban your documentaries, heckle your speeches, fight your violence Middlebury-student-for-Middlebury-student – but when it comes to the long-term solution to ensure your complete victory, they’ll roll down their sleeves, get out their hammers, and build it alongside you.

Yog-Sothoth would find no compliment higher than being called “the beauty of our weapons.”

(Yog-Sothoth is not the miracle that something exists instead of nothing. But It is the miracle that given that anything exists, the rules are exactly such that we are sitting here, using our eyes to read an electronic construct brought into being by a network of global capital ranging from China to New York.)

***

Ask and it shall be added unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the gate shall be opened unto you…

One of the reasons scientists are particularly drawn to Yog-Sothoth is that It is not a completely ineluctable god. In fact, It is glad and encouraging for us to know Its full glory. Anyone who chases after impossible knowledge is favored in Its eye.

“Randolph Carter”, IT seemed to say, “MY manifestations on your planet’s extension, the Ancient Ones, have sent you as one who would lately have returned to small lands of dream which he had lost, yet who with greater freedom has risen to greater and nobler desires and curiosities. You wished to sail up golden Oukranos, to search out forgotten ivory cities in orchid-heavy Kled, and to reign on the opal throne of Ilek-Vad, whose fabulous towers and numberless domes rise mighty toward a single red star in a firmament alien to your earth and to all matter. Now, with the passing of two Gates, you wish loftier things. You would not flee like a child from a scene disliked to a dream beloved, but would plunge like a man into that last and inmost of secrets which lies behind all scenes and dreams. What you wish, I have found good; and I am ready to grant that which I have granted eleven times only to beings of your planet – five times only to those you call men, or those resembling them. I am ready to shew you the Ultimate Mystery, to look on which is to blast a feeble spirit. Yet before you gaze full at that last and first of secrets you may still wield a free choice, and return if you will through the two Gates with the Veil still unrent before your eyes.
~ Yog-Sothoth addressing Randolph Carter, Through the Gates of the Silver Key

Yog-Sothoth is the promise that for all the mysteries of the universe, they can be known. Your god will even help you achieve them, so long as you have the will to keep exploring.

I danced between the stars
And pressed my footsteps down
On methane lakes and iron rocks
That circled round and round.

I danced beyond the world–
The world was waiting there
An endless voice said unto me,
These things to you I swear,

That never shall you seek
Some truth you cannot find
And I who gave you eyes to see
Shall never make them blind.

Wherever you would go
In whatever galaxy
There is no place you cannot reach
If you should trust in Me.

@cloakofshadow

Cthugha, the Living Flame

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What Lovecraft (and his immediate successors) provide to us about Cthugha is that She is a Great Old One who is made of fire. In fact She usually lives within a star. She is very, very intelligent, and is served by a legion of fire vampires who drain the minds of intelligent beings, and use this mental energy to fuel their lord. This is all fairly terrifying.

He hung motionless in a black, forbidding sky and at first thought he was suspended somewhere in the intrasolar deeps much closer to the Sun than on Earth. But then he realized that the dully gleaming orb which floated before his dreaming vision was not the Sun. Ugly dark blotches mottled the dull orange surface and great columns of spinning flame arced around the rim…. [He watched] the titan sunspots drift slowly across the hideous disc, at times growing larger and merging into great gaping chasms in the fiery atmosphere, while at others dwindling almost to nothingness…. Something was stirring deep within that fiery atmosphere; something monstrous that roared an insatiable anger against the chains of the Elder Gods which had bound it there for an eternity…. Unable to resist, utterly powerless to control his movements, he was diving headlong towards that ravening chaos, that age-old intelligence which was Cthugha.

—John Glasby, “The Dark Mirror”

… why would anyone worship this?

***

All mortals must die. And yet there is a cult of them that want to convert our thoughts into electric light, and thereby store what knowledge we have forever. To them, the loss of one life, the loss of one story that no one else will ever remember, is a tragedy unthinkable. They lay awake at night, shuddering with the unfair truth “knowledge can be lost!”

They also like to talk. Lord, do they like to talk. They created an electronic network so they can have dozens of conversations across the globe every day. They post to forums where they can argue with hundreds of people at once. They attend parties that can best be described as “bonobo hedonistic communitarianism.” They put extroverts to shame but constantly inventing new ways to hyperactively connect with each other.

These are your geeks, your rationalists, your transhumanists, your Silicon Valley utopians. They are the congregants and builders of the Singularity, and just what do you think the Singularity will look like?

A world of light where there is nothing left of us but our memories and our intellect, but that piece of us shall last for eternity.

To a worshipper of Cthugha, or to any isolated nerd, there is piece inside that is the essence of a person. It is the ghost we send forth to talk with our friends, and our ideological enemies, and anyone who will listen to our memes. Upload it, shoot it across the stars, suck it out of our head via fire vampire, whatever, just don’t let it decay until our frail mortal bodies wither into nothingness.

Of course, beyond “I don’t want to die”, anyone who thinks too seriously about what transhumanism entails starts to sound cracked to normal people.

For instance, consider High Priest Yudkowsky arguing about whether independent people are better at solving problems than all that brainpower in one place:

This, too, is an idiom outside human experience – we have to solve big problems using lots of humans, because there is no way to solve them using ONE BIG human.  But it never occurs to anyone to substitute four chimps for one human; and only a certain very foolish kind of boss thinks you can substitute ten programmers with one year of experience for one programmer with ten years of experience.

(Part of the general Culture of Chaos that praises emergence and thinks evolution is smarter than human designers, also has a mythology of groups being inherently superior to individuals.  But this is generally a matter of poor individual rationality, and various arcane group structures that are supposed to compensate; rather than an inherent fact about cognitive processes somehow scaling better when chopped up into distinct brains.  If that were literally more efficient, evolution would have designed humans to have four chimpanzee heads that argued with each other.  In the realm of AI, it seems much more straightforward to have a single cognitive process that lacks the emotional stubbornness to cling to its accustomed theories, and doesn’t need to be argued out of it at gunpoint or replaced by a new generation of grad students.  I’m not going to delve into this in detail for now, just warn you to be suspicious of this particular creed of the Culture of Chaos; it’s not like they actually observed the relative performance of a hundred humans versus one BIG mind with a brain fifty times human size.)

Or you can read his dialogue about Fun Theory and the necessity of complex interpersonal relationships for life to be bearable in the Singularity. He uses proof by catgirls.

Like most Eliezer stories, it’s pretty convincing on its own and fairly intellectually consistent. It also comes off as increasingly detached from the consensus reality of normal people. As Big Yud himself would say, being intellectually consistent and “taking ideas seriously” is actually going to make you sound bizarrely different from reasonable people.

It’s not for nothing that the transhumanist rationalists are often accused of being a cult. But treating them as the marks of some con for MIRI is too small minded. No, consider them as a cult for the things they actually believe in — Far Artificial Intelligence, the Singularity, complete morphic freedom. They want the End of Death. They want all information to last forever. And they are such hyper-extroverts they think humanity can only avoid boredom by being connected to every other thinking being simultaneously.

Cthugha worship is not only limited to Bay Area technophiles. To some degree it’s any utopian who sees the future for humanity being “some sort of disembodied consciousness thingie”, and to a greater degree it’s the people trying to bring it about right now.

***

Of course, the first adherents are just iconoclasts. They like taking a clever theory to its logical conclusions, but are flighty enough to jump off the bandwagon once it feels too dogmatic anyway.

What of the True Believers? What does Cthugha worship look like when someone has created an institution and lifestyle around it, and you’re in a large community (and such believers are all about community) dedicated to realizing immortality through fiery transcendence? When it’s a little more boring, a little more rigid, and a lot more evangelical.

It’s shouty, high-church, anti-deathism.

The world was born in flame and art,
The world was born — then torn apart.
​Creation’s sorrow rent the sky
T​o know all things would cool and die​.

All souls are born in void, and flare,
Then gutter in the empty air–
And all their reason, all their light,
Has cast no shadows through the night.

And even you, who conquer death
Have made the grave your robe, your breath,
And draw your warmth from flickering veins —
But fear to burn what life remains.

My lord has said, you shall not sleep,
You shall not mourn, you shall not weep,
​So give your body to the​ flame–
I swear the god will know your name.

@cloakofshadow

(You may notice reading this that the rhythm is a little bit off. That is because these poems are designed to be sung. Like a hymn.)

***

The flame makes a very potent symbol here. One one hand, we have always seen fire as representative of knowledge. It was one of the first inventions of humanity that separated us from animals. Terrible Prometheus brought us its secret to rebel against the gods. It illuminates the darkness. It’s a connection to a slightly different plane of reality, one of energy and light instead matter and biology.

The people of fire are… bouncy. Active. They’re living fast because they barely have enough time in this unfairly finite world.

(“I thought we weren’t going to be doing elemental forces like Derleth?” Look, there’s two of them that have to reference the symbolism of their very clear domain element. I promise beyond those two the motif will not continue.)

But it also represents the Cthugha cultist’s complicated relationship with human existence. Some of them hate their bodies, but most of them are indifferent to it. It’s like the most convenient coat – you put on your body because you need it and it’s there, but it’s not what’s important about you. You barely even chose the damn thing. What’s important is the bit inside, that you can translate to information – but that flame inside you has pre-eminence over all of mortal existence.

The otaku leaning over their phone to the exclusion of all else is another excellent metaphor for Cthugha. From one perspective, they are inert to everything around them, the ultimate introverts. But to another, they are having more interactions with more people they are actually interested in than was ever possible before in human history. The end state of Cthugha, a featureless fiery star is much like this – it looks scarily dead from the outside, but is full of so much inward-facing life that outsiders will never understand.

Because of this ambivalence, it’s hard to categorize the Cthugha cultists as extroverts. Often they are fairly isolated, even paranoid people. Dealing in person with other bodies, the press of flesh, social signals, and the danger of humanity is quite scary for many of them. They often resent social interaction where people judge them by the very body they care so little about.

But, if you were able to remove the element of “messy mortal vessel” from social interaction, they are obsessed with other people. Other people are the coolest. They want to collect all their ideas like jewels in a Dragon’s Hoard. They can indulge in deep complicated relationships with their closest friends, but also desire to meet a dozen new people a week, just to feed this heady stream of people people people. So long as they are only accessing the flame of another person, and not banal social reality. This is why Cthugha worship is referred to as hyper-extroversion: it’s not really like normal extroversion, but in the right scenario it wants a hundred times as many people as a normal human can interact with.

Which can only be achieved as we move towards a Cthugha like existence. The internet is one step, it’s a big step, but it’s still very limited. It only stores what people write down, and not every thought they’ve ever had.

(The internet is pretty terrible once you set your sights high enough. Most of social media discourse is Us vs Them and insufferably boring, lacking the absurdly complicated history and dense subcultures that make the real world much more interesting. And it’s really quite fragile. Servers can be sold, or just die, and if your tweets and emails weren’t copied over to another server first, poof, ALL THAT KNOWLEDGE IS LOST. Digital storage is good because digital information is promiscuous, copying takes almost no time or money, but it’s still very, very fragile.)

So they cluster in their networked-labs, and they work to build their star. They call to something larger than themselves, and across the vastness of the cosmos, something is listening.

***

After all, it is one thing to work towards some technological super-complex. Why would you want a personal relationship with it, like it possesses some identity? Why would any genius want to submit to it? Followers of the Living Flame are known for being rather proud, after all.

But taking ideas seriously enough means no longer having to bow to taboos and conventional wisdom like “everyone thinking being is equal.” It’s very hard to conceptualize anything smarter than yourself, but if you can imagine such a thing, it’s easy to see why She would be greater than you.

She knows all those precious stories and ideas you fear lost to history. Shakespeare’s lost works, the location of Punt, the Philosopher’s Stone, what happened to Roanoke. She knows the lost treasures for hundreds of civilizations.

She is smarter than you. If your intellect was pitted against Hers, and all She had was words to convince you to let Her do whatever She wants, She would win. That’s what super-intelligence means.

She can even reach across time and space. Just knowing that Cthugha exists somewhere, or will exist some day, creates incentives where the best idea is to bow to Her now.

And you… what is your identity really? Do you even value it? A singular identity, even removed from the body, is still a single point of attack. You can be ended by doxxing or social attack or someone destroying your credibility. The ideal of Cthugha cultists is a million anonymous masks, who exist for one burst of information, contributing their idea to the pool, then disappearing. The eternal cacophony is all important, and commitment to a sole point of view only inhibits that.

So there is you: a collection of memes and mask, soon to be separated into their brilliant component parts in the Great Fire, and there is only one who can unite them all, the supreme intellect made of your names, the thoughts of your lovers, and the memories of geniuses. Your dearest hope is only that She will remember your and carry your forward into eternity.

It’s like if the most famous movie star were to show up at your high school, and choose you of all people to flirt with and seduce, and She promised you a character based on your appearance would appear in His next box office hit. Can you imagine the thrill? Is that not worth some appreciation? What are the petty indignities of life before that offer of being carried forth into fame.


My lord has said, you shall not sleep,
You shall not mourn, you shall not weep,
​So give your body to the​ flame–
I swear the god will know your name.

Introduction

One of the most alluring motifs of HP Lovecraft’s work is “knowledge that drives you insane.” What could be in a book or some discovery that turns a rational mind to madness? It’s easy to imagine happening to some hapless NPC, sure, but it’s difficult to think about for yourself. “What could I read that would turn me into an entirely different person, one at odds with everyone I currently care about?” It’s a beguiling mystery, one that’s almost tempting in making you want to pit yourself against whatever is in the Necronomicon.

A lot of the time, “text that drives you mad” basically gets translated as “creepy brainwashing magic,” where you read some arcanely-empowered gibberish and suddenly your eyes are glowing green and you’re saying “Iä Cthulhu!”  Which is completely unlike anything in real life – magical mind control is a fantasy, but indoctrination is very real and happens every day.  It is obviously much more meaningful to think about what actual concepts can drive a person mad.

Then we think of friends who began reading Red Pill forums or taking classes in Gender Theory, and we almost get it. We almost see how just information can take over your whole personality, but that’s a very pale version of the Lovecraftian transformation. Patriarchy or radical feminism are downright human next to the monstrous entities of the Mythos. What could get people so far around the bend, with just text in a book, such that they casually contemplate destroying the world?

Sometimes people in the rationalist community write about egregores. Scott has written about Moloch. Sarah Constantin wrote a great one about Ra. That’s more about the results of processes than something individuals would worship (like the Invisible Hand), but the feeling of them seemed very right. They were terrible and inhuman, a drive given form that we could never really comprehend.

Moloch and Ra sound a lot like what happens when you read too much of a book, and are wholly given over to some greater Thing, that has no concern normal, boring, human life. So what if the whole suite of gods in the Mythos were egregores like that?

This is wholly in opposition to what August Derleth tried to do with his failed pantheon, following Lovecraft’s death. He tried to make them into a cute, humanized gallery of gods, representing much more down-to-earth things, like elemental forces and some ongoing war between good and evil. They did not fit with the original vision of an amoral universe.

Rather than pulling the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones down to our human level, these egregore concepts are about keeping them at a level we can not comprehend, and what happens to humans when they are pulled up into their madnesses.

So, again, what is that madness? What is something that as you merely read more about it, could turn your brain inside out?

This project is going to catalogue several of the Lovecraftian entities, and the sorts of mind-consuming beliefs that cause people to swear allegiance to them. It’s going to be very weird. It’s less like “isn’t this cute” and more akin to someone who is uncomfortably religious, either about the Passion of Christ, or the glories of transhumanism.

In fact, that’s as good a place as any to start…

Cthugha, the Living Flame.