Nyarlathotep – the Black Man (by Jens Heimdahl)
In HPL’s short story “Nyarlathotep, ” Nyarlathotep is seen as a harbinger of doom presenting scientific knowledge to humanity, which will result in their extinction and the end of the world. However, Nyarlathotep’s role in “The Dreams in the Witch House” was substantially different. In contrast to the charismatic showman in “Nyarlathotep” in “Dreams in the Witch House” Nyarlathotep is presented as the “Black Man.”
From the Middle Ages all the way up to the Salem Witch Trails (late 17th-century) Satan was said to appear to people in a variety of appearances with one of his most frequently forms being that of a tall black man, often handsome and dressed in black (The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca by Rosemary Guiley; 2008). Thus, any reference to Nyarlathotep as the “Black Man” in “The Dreams in the Witch House” is making this connection, which in turn links 17th-century witchcraft with early 20th-century dealings with quantum mechanics.
Nyarlathotep by Agent Jericho (www.deviantart.org)
The first time the name Nyarlathotep is mentioned in “The Dreams in the Witch House” was Brown Jenkin whispering it and Azathoth into Gilman’s ear at night. The only other time Nyarlathotep is mentioned is in reference to being a “deputy or messenger of hidden and terrible powers – the “Black Man” of the witch-cult, and the “Nyarlathotep” of the Necronomicon.” Any other reference of this entity in the tale was as the black man. However, the connection is certainly made – Nyarlathotep is the black man and thus has been associated with idea or concept of Satan.
Similar to Satan, Nyarlathotep is known to take on a variety of forms or disguises. In the case of Satan, he is known to take the form of the Virgin Mary, a young woman, a preacher, a variety of animals (e.g. dog, snake, goat) or even appear as a satyr. Indeed, a number times HPL specifically mentions that the Black Man’s feet could not be seen or were indistinguishable; is it possible that the Black Man has cloven hooves like a satyr?
The Black Man or Satan appearing as a satyr to a traveler. Is it possible that all of these manifestations are really Nyarlathotep? (from http://www.gutenberg.org)
From the middle ages to the early 18th-century Nyarlathotep frequently took the form of a black man and thus was frequently associated with Satan. In the early 20th-century Nyarlathotep took the form a showman or scientist, giving wondrous yet terrifying exhibits of electromagnetism. If Nyarlathotep appeared now or sometime in the future what would he appear as? A politician? A rock star? A scientist heralding a new paradigm shift in thought and philosophy? Or would he appear as an actual visitor from another planet. Maybe as God. There are other forms that Nyarlathotep is known to take but these will be discussed in future articles.
What is interesting about Nyarlathotep is that unlike other entities from beyond our planet or outside of our universe, he adapts to and directly interacts with humanity in varying capacities. So why does Nyarlathotep appear periodically on Earth and seem to be interested in some of the affairs of humans? We know from “The Dreams in the Witch House” that Nyarlathotep, recognized as the “Black Man” of ancient witch-cults represents “the immemorial figure of the deputy or messenger of hidden and terrible powers.” Again, the role of messenger can be thought of as a providing forbidden knowledge to humanity, as cited in the previous article on the short story “Nyarlathotep.” However, in “The Dreams in the Witch House” as well as other tales this role of messenger also includes serving as an avatar to many of the other inter-dimensional beings.
The Black Man (www.balo42.com)
Throughout “The Dreams in the Witch House” individuals in Arkham spot the tall Dark Man, the small old hag and the tittering rat thing sometimes in their dreams, sometimes when they are drunk but always at night. It is apparent from the story that these beings do not merely populate our dreams. They can manifest in our reality. However, when interacting with Gilman they exclusively enter his dreams, whether it is to be inter-dimensional guides or to take some of Gilman’s blood in the “writing in the book” episode. I hypothesize that the blood, perhaps the DNA in the blood, is needed for some reason by Nyarlathotep and/or the other inter-dimensional beings he represents. This theme of needing some biological connection with humans or other residents in our universe, such as the Elder Things, seems to be an important component in many of HPL’s tales. Other examples of similar sitautions arise in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Shadow Out of Innsmouth.” So why the ritual of writing the name in the book? It may be Nyarlathotep’s way or making this more understandable to the residents of this universe – in this case a woman who thinks herself a witch and that she is dealing with the devil.
As has been described in pervious articles voyages to other worlds / universes may be possible through inter-dimensional travel via hyperspace. However, two main issues impede such travel. First, can we survive the trip and if we do is the other place habitable? Second, it would take an incredible amount of energy to conduct such travels. Maybe Nyarlathotep offers Gilman, just as he offered to Keziah Mason, these traveling abilities in exchange for some DNA. The DNA may be used by the Old Ones to establish stable and more permanent forms in our universe. Obviously, such dealings are not limited to humans as the appearance of the Elder Things in the tale indicates. In fact, the Elder Thing’s ability to reach Earth in the first place millions of years ago may have been thanks to a mutual agreement or understanding between them and Nyarlathotep.
Elder City by Peter von Sholly (www.keziahmason.blogspot.com)
Finally, a word of warning. Please note that Gilman is recognized early on in the story as being an extremely sensitive individual, particularly in regard to his hearing. However, after one of his inter-dimensional journeys both of his ear-drums were ruptured, “as if by the impact of some stupendous sound intense beyond all human conception or endurance.” It also sounds like he had a moderate to severe case of sunburn as well. Just because a world, universe or dimension is habitable doesn’t mean it won’t negatively impact your physical or mental health.
Next time I will begin a discussion of “The Rats in the Walls,” another HPL story that features Nyarlathotep. Thank you – Fred.