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.
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?