Shub-Niggurath: biological highway to other dimensions

I am going to temporarily divert the discussion away from “The Ralls in the Walls” to spend some time discussing Shub-Niggurath.  One of the reasons for this is that the Lovecraftian entity of the month on the Lovecraft Eternal Facebook page is Shub-Niggurath .

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Shub-Niggurath by Muzski (www.deivantart.com)

As the great Robert M. Price identifies in his introductory comments in The Shub-Niggurath Cycle: Tales of the Black Goat with a Thousand Young (Chaosium, 1994), Shub-Niggurath is one of HPL’s most interesting trans-dimensional entities.  She (more on that later) first appears in “The Last Test,” co-written with Adolphe de Castro, which is one of HPL’s revision mythos stories.  However, unlike some of the other revision mythos entities Shub-Niggurath freely crossed over into HPL’s main mythos stories.  While she does not make an actual appearance in any of his stories, she is frequently referred to in a number of HPL’s stories such as “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Dreams in the Witch-House.”

So what is Shub-Niggurath?  Based on a letter to Willis Conover dated 1 September 1936 HPL states that she was a “hellish cloud-like entity” (“On the Natures of Nug and Yeb by Robert M. Price, in Dissecting Cthulhu: Essays on the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2011).  Shub-Niggurath is frequently referred to as the Black Goat of the Wood with a Thousand Young.  As with any of the Old One entities, we are limited by our human senses on how to interpret the appearance and motives (if any) of these entities.  For example, Cthulhu is perceived by humans to be a combination of an anthropomorphic octopus with large bat-like wings; as we have previously discussed we can not “see” Cthulhu’s true nature or appearance due to our limited five senses since its a being from another dimension.   In the case of Shub-Niggurath, she is frequently seen as a cloud-like being with the horns and/or hooves of a goat (for examples see below).

Shub_Niggurath_by_verreaux

Shub-Niggurath by Verreaux (www.deviantart.com)

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Shub-Niggurath, Goat with a 1,000 Young by King Ov Rats (www.deviantart.com)

As with Cthulhu, actual encounters with Shub-Niggurath (or her “dark young” – more on that later) are perceived through the limited perceptions of the human senses.  In this case, the prevailing themes with Shub-Niggurath are having a cloud-like body (similar to Cthulhu who was described as being plasma-like in nature) and having horns and/or hooves.  However, while Shub-Niggurath is not as well described as Cthulhu may appear, her worship by human, pre-human, extraterrestrial and extra-dimensional species appears to be far more common.  Reasons for this may be two-fold.  First, Shub-Niggurath is associated with fecundity and birth something that all entities, particularly those species who reproduce sexually (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos by Bobby Derie, 2014) are concerned with.  Second, Shub-Niggurath or her avatars / progeny may have had more direct interactions with the species of our existing space-time and beyond.

I believe the key to understanding Shub-Niggurath can be found in the “Genealogy of the Elder Races” found in Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014), Appendix 4.  This was originally drawn from a letter to James F. Morton dated 1933.  I have cited this chart in pervious articles but for convenience it is provided below:

3559419-3097994455-bmwHo

Looking at the chart above it is interesting to note that Azathoth gave rise to Nyarlathotep, The Nameless Mist and Darkness. This may be the origin of the hypothesis that Azathoth is and was essentially the Big Bang of our universe. As one moves down the chart the majority of the creation of new entities appears to be largely asexual in nature, either as a biological process (fragmentation, budding or spore development) or as a transfer of consciousness from one physical body to another. As described in Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014), such asexual means of reproduction are quite common in HPL’s tales. Thus, it is not surprising to see that the majority of the alien, inter-dimensional modes of reproduction / creation are largely asexual.

However, it should be noted that there are two instances in which some type of sexual reproduction may be identified. Specifically, the fact that Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath “joined” or mated and gave rise to Nug and Yeb, which in turn gave rise to Cthulhu and Tsathoggua, respectively.

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Shub-Niggurath by Mr. Zarono (www.deviantart.com)

From an evolutionary standpoint sex is basically referring to the production of new genomes by the recombination of preexisting genomes (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, 2009). Think of it as having two separate decks of 52 cards, shuffling them together as one large deck and then separating them out as two separate decks (each with a new combination of 52 cards). This biological invention provides an increased amount of variation within a species that provides the raw materials for natural selection (mutations are obviously another source of potential variation). While bacteria and some viruses can conduct a limited amount of sexual reproduction, this evolutionary strategy is largely a function of eukaryotic organisms (animals, plants, fungi, protists). Thus, is sexual reproduction a natural but unintentional outcome of the creation of more complex cells through endosymbiosis or was sexual reproduction “engineered” into Earth life by the Elder Things? Another future topic for discussion.

Getting back Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath, this sexual union may have generated offspring, such as Cthulhu and Tsathoggua that are more conducive to living in our space-time. Evidence of this is provided simply by the general appearance of Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath in comparison to Cthulhu and Tsathoggua. The general physical descriptions of Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath are frequently somewhat nebulous (e.g. cloud-like entity; iridescent collection of spheres or bubbles) when compared to Cthulhu and Tsathoggua (large, sloth-like, bat creature). In addition, this sexual union between Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath and their birth from Azathoth itself may provide valuable information into the structure of our space-time and beyond, which will be the next topic of discussion in the next article. Thank you – Fred.

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Shub-Niggurath: biological highway to other dimensions

  1. It’s also worth referring to the other famous family tree based on this mythos: the Family Tree of the Gods by Clark Ashton Smith. Although of course the two documents are in some particulars contradictory, the same general thrust from Azathoth to other entities to Cthulhu, Tsathoggua et al is represented.

    I think the descent from Azathoth to Cthulhu and his cousins, from asexual to sexual reproduction, also represents a drive towards complexity. The first-generation descendants of Azathoth are particularly interesting. Nyarlathotep aside, we have ‘Darkness’ and the ‘Nameless Mist’. Neither receives much of an airing in HPL’s work (references to the Magnum Innominandum aside). They may be entities, but they could just be conditions in which entities are able to occur. In this case, ‘give rise’ need not actually mean ‘give birth’.

    Perhaps this nameless mist (so called because it had no mind, no will, not even a name?) that pervaded the Lovecraftian universe eventually resolved itself into space-time continua, becoming Yog-Sothoth.

    As for ‘Darkness’ — a thing differentiated from that which gave rise to spacetime, well, I have a suspicion on that front too. The Mi-Go are said to come from outside the space-time continuum we know, from a place where there is no light — rather similar, in fact, to the home of the Haunter of the Dark.

    “The long, winging flight through the void… cannot cross the universe of light …”

    Excellent article as always, Fred!

    1. And that quick digression quickly made me forget my point. Sorry about that.

      Still, we go from phenomenon mercifully cloaked under the name ‘Azathoth’ to potential entities, to actual entities whose being is incalculably vast (the ‘Outer Gods’ term that the game gave us and we can’t escape now, I’m afraid…) to the deities whose existence is manifestly within the universe, or at least extends more significantly into the universe but whose scope is limited, with motives that might be divined with careful thought.

    2. Hey Phil – thank you for your comments! Excellent insight. I will be proposing some of my own hypotheses on this subject, many which overlap with your comments. Thanks again! Fred.

  2. I absolutely agree with Phil’s comments, and given the fact that HPL wanted to create a literary universe inspired by the basic structures of various ancient myths, he might have thought that no pantheon is complete without at least a goddess.
    Considering his temper, however, he might (just might) have retained a special liking for asexual reproduction…

    1. I’m not sure if he’d committed to a cosmology as far as his setting goes, but I think that in his later works he was certainly edging into that territory. He was certainly sketching out a broad prehistory, what with the Old Ones, the Shoggoths, the Cthulhu spawn, the Mi-Go and the Yithians. Einstein’s work also loomed fairly large — and why not, after all — it fundamentally changed our understanding of the universe — and HPL liked to keep his science as current and solid as he could. While as a fantasist he could just have said ‘this bit here is another place and it’s magic’ I get the impression that he’d never have been wholly satisfied with such a handwave.

      1. Good points Phil – I do love the way HPL would revise his stories based on the latest scientific revelations of the day. Even his attitude toward Einstein evolved through his stories from skepticism to cautious acceptance. One wonders if he was alive to read some of Steve Jay Gould’s work on evolution and humans if he would have changed his attitude toward race. Thanks again! Fred

    2. I think HPL did think that a “civilized” society or species would not bother with sex if they could simply reproduce asexually. However, I need to read some more of Bobby Derie’s book to speak a little more on that! Thank you. Fred

  3. I think a large part of Shub-Niggurath’s appeal is how little is known about her in the Mythos – and that, mostly from Lovecraft’s collaborations, particularly “The Mound.” I don’t even know if it’s so much that Shub-Niggurath is a definitively female character either (remember Clark Ashton Smith’s “Ram of a Thousand Ewes”?) as much as one of the few definitively sexual Mythos entities, associated with procreation. Of course, some of that is also dependent on what later authors have made of Shubby.

    1. Yes Bobby – I think the ambiguous nature of Shub-Niggurath and the fact that she is perceived as a female made her very attractive to the imagination of mythos writers. Thank you for the comment! Fred

  4. Let me be clear. I always got the feeling that he wanted to be a myth creator “in his literary approach”. This doesn’t mean he based his work on actual old mythologies as, for example, Howard did with norse and celtic mythology.
    He was impressed by the work of Dunsany and if I remember well appreciated Machen’s manipulation of Pan’s figure, used to show a terrible something “beyond the Veil”.
    If I’m a character in one of his tales,the majority of what I know of HPL’s creatures is what I learn reading writings that hand down to us the knowledge of men who created (in their simple, limited and superficial vision) what is actually humanity’s first religion. So he tried to step into those men’s shoes, and I think no prehistoric – paleolithic – Sumerian guy can create a pantheon leaving out a Female principle.
    Given this literary device, he tries to let us know that there’s something more behind (science) than just Abra – Cadabra.
    I’m sure there’s a great, shorter and more simple way to explain my point in English… I wish I knew it. 🙂

    1. See what I mean? In the sentence above, “proper”, “accurate” or “appropriate way” is better than “simple”. It just takes some time to realize it. 🙂

    2. Some excellent points Roberto. I like to compare Lovecraft to Tolkien relative to myth-building. Tolkien comes off as a classical composer – making sure everything works in agreement with one another in a well-constructed symphony. In contrast, I see Lovecraft as a jazz musician – taking well thought out pieces and parts and putting them together, improvising where needed, to create something unique at that particular time and place (or for that particular story). I think this is why there are some many inconsistencies in HPL’s tales but that adds to the mystery of his ancient myth and religions. Also, can you tell I’m a fan of John Coltrane? Thanks again.
      Fred

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