Are the Winged Things in Lovecraft’s “The Festival” the Byakhee?

“A horde of tame, trained hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, not ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membranous wings…”

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A Byakhee by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

This is a description of the strange winged beasts that the entities in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Festival” rode at the end of that tale, deep into some underground caverns beneath Kingsport. Some call these beasts byakhee however, it should be noted that Lovecraft never used this word in describing these creatures. August Derleth used the word byakhee to describe similar creatures in several of the chapter-stories in The Trail of Cthulhu. According to The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, 2nd Edition by Daniel Harms (1998) the byakhee were first described in Derleth’s tale “The House on Curwen Street;” however, the word byakhee is first used in the chapter-story “The Watcher From the Sky.”

There has been no definitive confirmation that Derleth’s byakhees are the same strange, winged steeds from Lovecraft’s “The Festival.” In Derleth’s stories the byakhees are described as “…a great bat-like bird…” and “…monstrous black-winged bat-like creature…” Thus, while Derleth’s byakhees are morphologically similar to Lovecraft’s winged beasts in the “The Festival,” the descriptions are not exact and thus they may be two distinctly different organisms. At a minimum they may be two distinct species within the same genus.

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Byakhee by King Ovrats (www.deviantart.com)

In Lovecraft’s “The Festival” it has been hypothesized that the strange winged beasts would transport the inhabitants of Kingsport to a parallel universe, possibly the Dreamlands. Evidence for this was presented in the previous article. The winged beasts may have carried the strange inhabitants into an alternative Kingsport through some underground caverns underneath the city; in fact, the protagonist of the tale may have visited this alternative Kingsport.

In Derleth’s stories individuals drink a golden liquid called “space mead” and go to sleep. In their dreams the byakhees are called with a whistle and a chant. The summoned byakhee can then transport the individual to another time or place, which may also include a parallel universe. According to S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters (Sandy Petersen, Tom Sullivan and Lynn Willis, with Peter Dannseys, E.C. Fallworth, L.N. Isinwyll and Ivan Mustoil; Chaosium Inc., 1988), the byakhee have an organ called a hune that is “attuned to the galactic magnetic field.” In interstellar space the hune can generate a space-time pattern called a keim. Within this keim field the byakhee can supposedly travel up to 400 times faster than that of light. Beyond this very little else is known about the keim field and how it is generated by the byakhee’s hune.

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Byakhee by Tom Sullivan (from S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters)

It is unlikely that anything in our universe can travel faster than the speed of light much less 400 times faster than light. Even if Derleth’s winged beasts are from another universe with alternative natural laws, it is still highly unlikely that they travel 400 times the speed of light. Assuming this 400 times faster than light is based on the collection of actual empirical data, an alternative hypothesis would be that the winged beast can travel through higher dimensions outside of our space-time and then re-enter in a different time or place. Such interstellar travel in the blink of an eye would appear to be faster than light, similar to Keziah Mason or Walter Gilman’s ability to travel within and between universes with the aid of higher forms of inter-dimensional mathematics. Thus, the hune organ within the byakhee may naturally preform the same function and through the generation of the keim field. A clue to how the hune accomplishes this task may be in the phrase that this organ is “attuned to the galactic magnetic field.”

It is interesting to note that while the galactic magnetic field is mentioned in Peterson’s Guide (1988), actual confirmation of a galaxy-sized magnetic field was only recently discovered in June of 2015. An optical / radio telescope study of the galaxy IC 342 (approximately 10 million light years away from Earth), identified a magnetic field coiled around the galaxy’s main spiral arm. These observations help to explain how galactic spiral arms are formed and also how gases can be funneled toward the center of the galaxy, which possibly contains a black hole that uses this steady flow of gases to generate new stars. The study also helps to support the idea that gravity alone could not create the spiral arms of a galaxy; thus, magnetic fields must also play an important part in the creation of spiral arms. This work was conducted by the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array Telescope and the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany. The first image below is a combined optic and radio image of Galaxy IC 342, while the second image below is radio wave image of Galaxy IC 342.

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Combined radio/optical image of galaxy IC 342, using data from both the VLA and the Effelsberg telescope. Lines indicate the orientation of magnetic fields in the galaxy (from http://www.public.nrao.edu; CREDIT: R. Beck, MPIfR; NRAO/AUI/NSF; graphics: U. Klein, AIfA; Background image: T.A. Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage and H. Schweiker, WIYN; NOAO/AURA/NSF.).

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Large-scale Effelsberg radio image of IC 342. Lines indicate orientation of magnetic fields (from http://www.public.nrao.edu; CREDIT: R. Beck, MPIfR).

Astronomers estimate that there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. If each one is generating a galactic magnetic field, with the definition of a field being a physical quantify in space and time that has energy, that is an incredible amount of energy generated in the cosmos. Maybe the byakhee take advantage of these magnetic fields, lining up (or attuning?) with the flow of the field, receiving a sufficient amount of energy to “unfold” the higher dimensions of space. The use of the galactic magnetic field, by a biological entity to travel faster than the speed of light is interesting hypothesis that should be tested.

Finally, a brief mention of the strange space mead; based on the Derleth stories, an individual needs to drink the mead before traveling on a byakhee. In the first story (The House on Curwen Street) the space mead appears to put the individual into a particularly unique state of slumber that allows one to travel inter-dimensionally. However, in the second story (The Watcher From the Sky) the space mead was still required but it was not explicitly associated with sleep. However the space mead works, maybe it makes the individual more resilient to the stresses of inter-dimensional travel. Thus, if Walter Gilman drank some of the mead before his inter-dimensional travels maybe he would not have experience alien sunburns and punctured eardrums. It would be interesting to conduct a chemical analysis of the space mead.

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Byakhee by Imerlo72 (www.deivantart.com).

Next time a discussion will begin on Lovecraftian scientists and their varying roles in Lovecraft’s tales. Also, as a side note I am teaching a class for the spring of 2016 on Watershed Management so the articles may not be posted as frequently and/or they may be shorter in length over the next few months. Thank you – Fred.

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Byakhee, version VII by King Ovrats (www.deviantart.com)

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