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.
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.
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.