Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937) is one of the giants of twentieth-century literature, although he wasn’t recognized as such until after his death. And because he wrote horror fiction, he wasn’t the kind of writer who got invited to fancy society parties. Lovecraft and his friends, most of whom he knew through volumes of letters—by one estimate, one hundred thousand of them[i]—that some believe were more influential than his published work, wrote to entertain, usually by crafting terrifying tales and conjuring monstrous images of overpowering, inhuman evil.
P. Lovecraft was a sickly child who missed so much school in his youth that he was basically self-educated. He never completed high school, giving up on his dream of becoming an astronomer, because of what he later called a “nervous breakdown.” It’s possible that whatever intellectual gift Lovecraft was given came at the expense of social skills. It’s also possible that he was tormented by the same demons—psychological or spiritual—that led both of his parents to spend the last years of their lives in an asylum. Lovecraft lived as isolated an existence as he could manage most of his life, and he admitted that “most people only make me nervous” and “that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.”[ii]
As a child, Lovecraft was tormented by night terrors. Beginning at age 6, young Howard was visited by what he called night-gaunts—faceless humanoids with black, rubbery skin, bat-like wings, and barbed tails, who carried off their victims to Dreamland. The nocturnal visitors were so terrifying that Howard remembered trying desperately to stay awake every night during this period of his life. It’s believed that these dreams, which haunted him for more than a year, had a powerful influence on his fiction.[iii]
From a Christian perspective, it’s a shame that Lovecraft’s mother, who raised Howard with his aunts after his father was committed to a psychiatric hospital when Howard was only three, failed to recognize the phenomenon for what it was—demonic oppression of her only child. But by the late nineteenth century, the technologically advanced West didn’t have room in its scientific worldview for such things. In fact, Lovecraft claimed to be a staunch atheist throughout his life.
Ironically, in spite of his disbelief, the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft has been adapted and adopted by occultists around the world after his death. The man who died a pauper not only found an audience over the last eighty years, he inspired an army of authors who have preserved and expanded the nightmarish universe that sprang from Lovecraft’s tortured dreams.[iv]
Although Lovecraft claimed he didn’t believe in the supernatural, he was more than happy to use the spirit realm as grist for his writing mill. Lovecraft apparently saw potential in the doctrines of Blavatsky for stories that would sell. They did, but mostly after his death. During his lifetime, Lovecraft was barely known outside the readership of pulp magazines, the type of publication called a “penny dreadful” a couple of generations earlier in England.
While Lovecraft may have rejected the idea of a lost continent or two as the now-forgotten motherland of humanity, the concept served him well as an author. The notion that certain humans gifted (or cursed) with the ability to see beyond the veil were communicating with intelligences vastly greater than our own also made for compelling horror. Lovecraft viewed the universe as a cold, unfeeling place, so in his fiction those intelligences, unlike the kindly ascended masters of Blavatsky’s world, had no use for humanity—except, perhaps, as slaves or sacrifices. The horror of discovering oneself at the mercy of immense, ancient beings incapable of mercy is a common theme in Lovecraft’s tales, and he gave those ideas flesh and bone with carefully crafted prose that infused them with a sense of dread not easily or often distilled onto the printed page.
It’s fair to say that Lovecraft’s style of gothic horror has had a powerful influence on horror fiction and film over the last seventy-five years. Stephen King, Roger Corman, John Carpenter, and Ridley Scott, among others, drew on his style if not his Cthulhu mythos directly. Maybe that’s not the kind of legacy left by Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but compare the number of people who have seen The Thing, Alien, or any movie based on a King novel (The Shining, The Stand, It, etc.) to the number of people who’ve read Hemingway or Fitzgerald. (Not claimed to read them, but actually sat down and read them.) Even though H. P. Lovecraft was basically unknown during his lifetime, he’s had far greater influence on pop culture than the literary greats who were his contemporaries.
And, as we’ll see, the influence of the staunch atheist Lovecraft has bled over into the metaphysical realm. Maybe it’s fitting that the principalities and powers aligned against their Creator would find an atheist a most useful tool.
While Lovecraft was beginning his career as a writer, across the ocean another man fascinated with arcana and the influence of old gods on our world was hearing voices from beyond. Edward Alexander “Aleister” Crowley, born 1875 in Warwickshire, England, traveled to Cairo in 1904 with his new bride, Rose Kelly. While there, Crowley, who’d been a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn about five years earlier, set up a temple room in their apartment and began performing rituals to invoke Egyptian deities. Eventually, something calling itself Aiwass, the messenger of Hoor-Paar-Kraat (known to the Greeks as an aspect of Horus, Harpocrates, the god of silence), answered. Over a period of three days, April 8–10, 1904, Crowley transcribed what he heard from the voice of Aiwass.
The Voice of Aiwass came apparently from over my left shoulder, from the furthest corner of the room.…
I had a strong impression that the speaker was actually in the corner where he seemed to be, in a body of “fine matter,” transparent as a veil of gauze, or a cloud of incense-smoke. He seemed to be a tall, dark man in his thirties, well-knit, active and strong, with the face of a savage king, and eyes veiled lest their gaze should destroy what they saw. The dress was not Arab; it suggested Assyria or Persia, but very vaguely. I took little note of it, for to me at that time Aiwass and an “angel” such as I had often seen in visions, a being purely astral.
I now incline to believe that Aiwass is not only the God or Demon or Devil once held holy in Sumer, and mine own Guardian Angel, but also a man as I am, insofar as He uses a human body to make His magical link with Mankind, whom He loves.[v]
That eventually became the central text for Crowley’s new religion, Thelema,[vi] which in turn is the basis for Ordo Templi Orientis. The OTO is a secret society similar to Freemasonry that, like Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and the Freemasons, believes in universal brotherhood. The primary difference between Thelema and Theosophy is in the nature of the entities sending messages from beyond. Blavatsky claimed to hear from ascended masters who were shepherding humanity’s evolution; Crowley claimed to be guided by gods from the Egyptian pantheon: Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit.[vii]
The irony of all this is that Lovecraft, who denied the existence of Crowley’s gods and Blavatsky’s mahatmas, may have drawn his inspiration from the same well.
A key thread woven through the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft was a fictional grimoire, or book of witchcraft, called the Necronomicon. The book, according to the Lovecraft canon, was written in the eighth century A.D. by the “Mad Arab,” Abdul Alhazred (Lovecraft’s childhood nickname because of his love for the book 1001 Arabian Nights). Perhaps significantly, inspiration for the invented grimoire came to Lovecraft in a dream,[viii] and through his many letters to friends and colleagues, he encouraged others to incorporate the mysterious tome in their works. Over time, references to the Necronomicon by a growing number of authors creating Lovecraftian fiction led to a growing belief that the book was, in fact, real. Significantly, one of those who believed in the book was occultist Kenneth Grant.
Grant was an English ceremonial magician and an acolyte of Crowley, serving as Crowley’s personal secretary toward the end of his life. After Crowley’s death, Grant was named head of the OTO in Britain by Crowley’s successor, Karl Germer. However, Grant’s promotion of an extraterrestrial “Sirius/Set current” in Crowley’s work infuriated Germer, who expelled Grant from the organization for heresy.[ix]
Lovecraft’s fiction inspired some of Grant’s innovations to Thelema. Grant said Lovecraft “snatched from nightmare-space his lurid dream-readings of the Necronomicon.” Instead of attributing the Necronomicon to Lovecraft’s imagination, Grant took it as evidence of the tome’s existence as an astral book.[x] Furthermore, Grant believed others, including Crowley and Blavatsky, had “glimpsed the Akashic Necronomicon”[xi]—a reference to the Akashic records, a Thesophist concept describing a collection of all human thoughts, deeds, and emotions that exists on another plane of reality accessed only through proper spiritual discipline.
Kenneth Grant was perhaps the first to notice the strange parallels between the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley. In The Dark Lord, an extensive analysis of Grant’s magickal system and Lovecraft’s influence on it, researcher and author Peter Levenda documented a number of these similarities.
In 1907, Crowley was writing some of the works that became seminal to the doctrines of Thelema, known as The Holy Books. These include Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente, and other works written between October 30 and November 1 of that year, and Liber Arcanorum and Liber Carcerorum, written between December 5th and 14th that same year. Lovecraft would have had no knowledge of this, as he was only a seventeen-year old recluse living at home on Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island, dreaming of the stars.
Instead, he later would write of an orgiastic ritual taking place that year in the bayous outside New Orleans, Louisiana, and on the very same day that Crowley was writing the books enumerated above. The story Lovecraft wrote is entitled “The Call of Cthulhu” and is arguably his most famous work. He wrote the story in 1926, in late August or early September, but placed the action in New Orleans in 1907 and later in Providence in 1925.
How is this relevant? Lovecraft’s placement of the orgiastic ritual in honor of the high priest of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu, and the discovery of a statue of Cthulhu by the New Orleans police on Halloween, 1907 coincides precisely with Crowley’s fevered writing of his own gothic prose. In the Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, for instance, Crowley writes the word “Tutulu” for the first time. He claims not to know what this word means, or where it came from. As the name of Lovecraft’s fictional alien god can be pronounced “Kutulu,” it seems more than coincidental, as Kenneth Grant himself noted.
However, this is only the tip of an eldritch iceberg. In Crowley’s Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente—or “The Book of the Heart Girt with a Serpent”— there are numerous references to the “Abyss of the Great Deep,” to Typhon, Python, and the appearance of an “old gnarled fish” with tentacles…all descriptions that match Lovecraft’s imagined Cthulhu perfectly. Not approximately, but perfectly. Crowley’s volume was written on November 1, 1907. The ritual for Cthulhu in New Orleans took place on the same day, month and year.[xii]
Now, this could be nothing more than a strange coincidence. Your authors, however, are not coincidence theorists. Levenda, an excellent researcher and a gifted author (and more on just how gifted shortly), and Kenneth Grant before him, also concluded otherwise.
Both men—the American author and the English magician—were dealing with the same subject matter, and indeed Lovecraft had dated the first appearance of the Cthulhu statue to the same year, month and day that Crowley began writing these sections of the Holy Books. There is no hard evidence that either man knew of the other, although the author believes that references to an English satanist in Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” could be an allusion to Crowley. In any event, to suggest that these two men cooperated or collaborated in any deliberate way would be the height (or depth!) of conspiracy theory.
It may actually be more logical to suggest— as an explanation for some of these coincidences— that darker forces were at work. In fact, it is possible that the same forces of which Lovecraft himself writes—the telepathic communication between followers of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones—was what prompted him to write these fictional accounts of real events. Either Lovecraft was in some kind of telepathic communication with Crowley, or both men were in telepathic communication with … Something Else.
As Christians, your authors are inclined to go with the supernatural explanation. If the apostle Paul knew his theology, and he did, then we must consider the influence of principalities and powers on our natural world. And that’s the most likely source of the odd, highly improbable Crowley-Cthulhu connection.
In the early 1970s, Grant would break with the American OTO and form his own Thelemic organization, the Typhonian OTO. The “Sirius/Set current” that Grant identified in the ’50s referred to the Egyptian deity Set, god of the desert, storms, foreigners, violence, and chaos. To grasp the significance of Grant’s innovation to Crowley’s religion, a brief history of Set is in order.
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Set—sometimes called Seth, Sheth, or Sutekh—is one of the oldest gods in the Egyptian pantheon. There is evidence he was worshiped long before the pharaohs, in the pre-dynastic era called Naqada I, which may date as far back as 3750 B.C.[xiii] To put that into context, this author (Derek Gilbert) estimates that the Tower of Babel incident probably occurred between 3500 B.C. and 3100 B.C.[xiv] Writing wasn’t invented in Sumer until about 3000 B.C., around the time of the first pharaoh, Narmer (whom some researchers identify as Nimrod).[xv]
Set was originally one of the good guys. He protected Ra’s solar boat, defending it from the evil chaos serpent Apep (or Apophis), who tried to eat the sun every night as it dropped below the horizon. During the Second Intermediate Period, roughly 1750 B.C. to 1550 B.C., Semitic people called the Hyksos—actually Amorites[xvi]—equated Set with Ba`al, the Canaanite storm-god,[xvii] and scholars have concluded that Ba`al-Set was the lord of Avaris, the Hyksos capital. But the worship of Ba`al-Set continued even after the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt. Two centuries after Moses led the Israelites to Canaan, three hundred years after the Hyksos expulsion, Ramesses the Great erected a memorial called the Year 400 Stela to honor the four hundredth year of Set’s arrival in Egypt. In fact, Ramesses’ father was named Seti, which literally means “man of Set.”
Set didn’t acquire his evil reputation until the Third Intermediate Period, during which Egypt was overrun by successive waves of foreign invaders. After being conquered by Nubia, Assyria, and Persia, one after another between 728 B.C. and 525 B.C., the god of foreigners ’was no longer welcome around the pyramids.[xviii] No longer was Set the dangerous rabble-rouser whose appetite for destruction kept Apophis from eating the sun; now Set was the evil god who murdered his brother, Osiris, and the sworn enemy of Osiris’ son, Horus.
By the time of Persia’s rise, Greek civilization was beginning to flower, and they identified Set with Typhon, their terrifying, powerful serpentine god of chaos. There’s the link between Set and Typhon, and this is the entity Kenneth Grant believed was the true source of power in Thelemic magick. That’s why the “Sirius/Set current” led to the Typhonian OTO, and that’s the destructive, chaos-monster aspect of Set-Typhon we need to keep in view when analyzing the magickal system Grant created by filtering Crowley through Lovecraft.
Grant’s anxiety—as expressed in Nightside of Eden and in his other works—is that the Earth is being infiltrated by a race of extraterrestrial beings who will cause tremendous changes to take place in our world. This statement is not to be taken quite as literally as it appears, for the “Earth” can be taken to mean our current level of conscious awareness, and extraterrestrial would mean simply “not of this current level of conscious awareness.” But the potential for danger is there, and Grant’s work—like Lovecraft’s—is an attempt to warn us of the impending (potentially dramatic) alterations in our physical, mental and emotional states due to powerful influences from “outside.”[xix]
By the 1970s, Lovecraft’s work had found a new audience, and his stories were being mined by Hollywood (for example The Dunwich Horror, starring Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee, and several episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery). Then in 1977, a hardback edition of the Necronomicon suddenly appeared (published in a limited run of 666 copies!),[xx] edited by a mysterious figure known only as “Simon,” purportedly a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church. According to Simon, two monks from his denomination had stolen a copy of the actual Necronomicon in one of the most daring and dangerous book thefts in history.
Apparently, the good bishop wasn’t above earning a few bucks by publishing a stolen heretical text.
A mass market paperback edition followed a few years later. That version has reportedly sold more than a million copies over the last four decades.[xxi] Kenneth Grant validated the text, going so far as to offer explanations for apparent discrepancies between Crowley and the Necronomicon.
Crowley admitted to not having heard correctly certain words during the transmission of Liber L, and it is probable that he misheard the word Tutulu. It may have been Kutulu, in which case it would be identical phonetically, but not qabalistically, with Cthulhu. The [Simon] Necronomicon (Introduction, p.xix) suggests a relationship between Kutulu and Cutha.[xxii]
Simon’s Necronomicon was just one of several grimoires published in the ’70s that claimed to be the nefarious book. The others were either obvious fakes published for entertainment purposes, or hoaxes that their authors admitted to soon after publication. Simon, on the other hand, appeared to be serious.
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But here’s the thing: People involved with producing the “Simonomicon” have admitted to making it up, and the central figure behind the book’s publication was Peter Levenda.
The text itself was Levenda’s creation, a synthesis of Sumerian and later Babylonian myths and texts peppered with names of entities from H. P. Lovecraft’s notorious and enormously popular Cthulhu stories. Levenda seems to have drawn heavily on the works of Samuel Noah Kramer for the Sumerian, and almost certainly spent a great deal of time at the University of Pennsylvania library researching the thing. Structurally, the text was modeled on the wiccan Book of Shadows and the Goetia, a grimoire of doubtful authenticity itself dating from the late Middle Ages.
“Simon” was also Levenda’s creation. He cultivated an elusive, secretive persona, giving him a fantastic and blatantly implausible line of [BS] to cover the book’s origins. He had no telephone. He always wore business suits, in stark contrast to the flamboyant Renaissance fair, proto-goth costuming that dominated the scene.[xxiii]
In The Dark Lord, Levenda not only analyzed Kenneth Grant’s magickal system and documented the synchronicities between Crowley and Lovecraft, he validated the supernatural authenticity of the fake Necronomicon he created! But make no mistake—this doesn’t mean the Necronomicon is fake in the supernatural sense.
[W]e can conclude that the hoax Necronomicons—at least the Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner and Simon versions—falsely claim to be the work of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, but in so falsely attributing themselves, they signal their genuine inclusion in the grimoire genre. The misattribution is the mark of their genre, and their very falsity is the condition of their genuineness. The hoax Necronomicons are every bit as “authentic” as the Lesser Key of Solomon or the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.[xxiv]
In other words, while the published editions of the Necronomicon were obviously invented long after the deaths of H. P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, they are still genuine tools for the practice of sorcery. And, as Grant and Levenda suggest, they share a common origin point somewhere in the spirit realm.
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[i] Cain, Sian. “Ten Things You Should Know About HP Lovecraft,” The Guardian, August 20, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/20/ten-things-you-should-know-about-hp-lovecraft, retrieved 8/3/17.
[iii] Harms, Daniel, and John Wisdom Gonce. The Necronomicon files: the truth behind Lovecraft’s legend. Boston, MA: Weiser Books, 2003, p. 5.
[iv] One of the most well-known pop-culture references to Lovecraft is the Arkham Asylum, which has been featured since the mid-1970s in the Batman comics, cartoons, movies, and video games. Arkham was named for a fictional town in Massachusetts created by Lovecraft, the home of Miskatonic University, which features prominently in many of Lovecraft’s stories.
[v] Crowley, Aleister. The Equinox of the Gods, chapter 7. https://hermetic.com/crowley/equinox-of-the-gods/remarks-on-the-method-of-receiving-liber-legis?redirect=1, retrieved 8/5/17.
[vi] Thelemapedia.org. http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/The_Book_of_the_Law, retrieved 8/5/17.
[vii] Hutton, Ronald. The triumph of the moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 178.
[viii] Colavito, Jason. “Inside the Necronomicon,” 2002. http://jcolavito.tripod.com/lostcivilizations/id25.html, retrieved 8/6/17.
[ix] ONeill, Declan (4 March 2011). “Kenneth Grant: Writer and occultist who championed Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare”. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/kenneth-grant-writer-and-occultist-who-championed-aleister-crowley-and-austin-osman-spare-2231570.html, retrieved 8/5/17.
[x] Harms and Gonce, op. cit., pp. 109–110.
[xii] Levenda, Peter. The Dark Lord: H. P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic (pp. 97-98). Nicolas-Hays, Inc. Kindle Edition.
[xiii] te Velde, Herman (1967). Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of His Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion. Probleme der Ägyptologie 6. Translated by van Baaren-Pape, G. E. (2nd ed.). Leiden: E. J. Brill, p. 7.
[xiv] See chapter 3 of Derek Gilbert’s book The Great Inception.
[xv] That’s in chapter 4 of The Great Inception.
[xvi] Ryholt, Kim. The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period c.1800–1550 B.C., Museum Tuscalanum Press, (1997), p. 128.
[xvii] Allon, Niv. “Seth is Baal—Evidence from the Egyptian Script.” Egypt and the Levant XVII, 2007, pp. 15–22.
[xviii] te Velde. Op. cit., pp. 139–140.
[xix] Levenda, op. cit. (p. 75). Nicolas-Hays, Inc. Kindle Edition.
[xx] Colavito 2002, op. cit.
[xxi] Levenda, op. cit., p. 8.
[xxii] “Remembering Kenneth Grant’s Understanding of The Necronomicon Tradition,” https://warlockasyluminternationalnews.com/2011/02/18/remembering-kenneth-grants-understanding-of-the-necronomicon-tradition/, retrieved 8/7/17.
[xxiii] Cabal, Alan. “The Doom That Came to Chelsea,” Chelsea News, June 10, 2003. http://www.nypress.com/the-doom-that-came-to-chelsea/, retrieved 8/7/17.
[xxiv] Clore, Dan. “The Lurker on the Threshold of Interpretation: Hoax Necronomicons and Paratextual Noise.” Lovecraft Studies, No. 42–43 (Autumn 2001). http://www.geocities.ws/clorebeast/lurker.htm, retrieved 8/7/17.