[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 Her 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.