Category Archives: Call of Cthulhu

Lovecraft’s “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” – Part 1, the Horrors of Evolution

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One of my presentations at the NecronomiCon in August 2017 was on H.P. Lovecraft’s use and misunderstanding of evolution in his tales. One of the tales cited in the presentation was “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (for the rest of this and subsequent articles to be referred to as “Arthur Jermyn”). Written in 1920 and first published in 1921, the opening paragraph can be thought of as a precursor to one of Lovecraft’s most famous fiction-based quotes on science from “The Call of Cthulhu” written in 1926 and published in 1928.  The opening paragraph in “The Call of Cthulhu” states:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

The opening paragraph of “Arthur Jermyn” states:

“Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night.”

The structure and themes of these opening paragraphs are very similar.  I am certainly not the first to notice this; S.T. Joshi notes the similarity between these two passages in his article “What Happens in Arthur Jermyn,” which can be found in Joshi’s Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (2014).

51ikHdWNCFL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_                                                                                     Essentially both paragraphs cited above state that science will reveal things about the Universe or ourselves that will result in humanity going mad, falling into a new dark age or killing ourselves.  However, in the paragraph from “Arthur Jermyn” the phrase “-if separate species we be-“ is supposed to invoke a feeling of horror and dread since it is presenting the fear and anxiety associated with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Even though Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was first published over 60 years prior to Lovecraft’s “Arthur Jermyn”, Lovecraft understood the fear and concern over Darwin’s Theory in his day and age. This was not based on scientific skepticism associated the theory. Instead, for the layperson questions over the validity of evolution were associated with two main issues. First, how can evolution be correct in the light of the biblical stories of creation? Second, species were thought to be distinctly separate populations, discrete categories of life. A wombat is very different than a scorpion or a pine tree, just like a hammer is very different than a screwdriver or wrench. Darwin’s theory revealed that such categorization of life is convenient for the taxonomist but it does not provide a complete and holistic view of how natural selection operates.

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Back in Lovecraft’s day, and still for many people today, Darwin’s idea muddied our position on the Earth and in the Cosmos. Humans were no longer the divine product of an omnipotent deity. Instead, we were relinquished to the role of just another by-product of the forces of natural selection. Yes, humans had culture, technology, society and sentient understanding; however, we were produced by the same biological forces and produced sand fleas and slime molds. To many people this upsets their religious and philosophical view of the Cosmos and our position in it. Lovecraft was tapping into this fear in “Arthur Jermyn” the way many body horror movies / books tap into our fear of cancer.

While Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection does not state that humans directly came from apes (as many people today think), it does state that humans and apes share a common ancestor. For example, recent studies indicate that the last common ancestor of all living apes and humans might have been a fruit-eating, slow-climbing primate that was similar in appearance to a baby gibbon. A 13-million-year-old infant skull of an extinct ape named Nyanzapithecus alesi (nicknamed Alesi) was found in Kenya in 2014 and is thought to be this common ancestor between apes and humans (www.livescience.com; contributor Charles Q. Choi; 10 August 2017). Indeed, the diversification or increased speciation of the hominoids (gibbons, great apes and humans) occurred during the Miocene Epoch approximately 23 to 5 million years ago and the last common ancestor that humans had with chimpanzees existed between 7 and 6 million years ago (www.livescience.com).

skull_livescience This skull belongs to a 16-month-old ape, now called Nyanzapithecus alesi, that died about 13 million years ago (photo credit: Fred Spoor; http://www.livescience.com)

Essentially, Lovecraft was tapping into this fear and resentment associated with the Theory of Evolution.  Such fear and skepticism was quite common in the early 20th century, particularly in the United States, which led it culminating in the initiation of the Scopes Trial on the 21st of July 1925. Indeed, ever they atheist, Lovecraft would frequently use Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as his augment for refuting that humans have souls.  “…if human beings have a soul and animals do not, exactly where along the course of our evolution from apes to human beings did we acquire this mysterious element?” from S.T. Joshi’s Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (2014). Lovecraft saw how people reacted to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and used it as an effective means of tapping to the fear they have that we may simply be bags of meat, produced through the materialistic and mechanical laws of physics and chemistry, which in turn gave rise to the natural selection.

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Next time we will go into more detail on the exact definition of a species and how this relates to Lovecraft’s “white apes.” Thank you – Fred.

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H.P. Lovecraft and Atlantis, Part 2

tdbgzhoafpyztufm4nv3 Sunken Atlantis by Paul Alexander

I would like to start this article with a correction to the first article on H.P. Lovecraft’s thoughts on the legend of Atlantis. In the first article, I stated that Lovecraft cited both Ignatius Donnelly’s account of Atlantis (Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, 1882) as well as W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria (1925) in “The Temple.” This is incorrect. Lovecraft mentioned Donnelly’s book in “The Descendent” and Scott-Elliot’s book was mentioned in “The Call of Cthulhu.” While neither book was cited in “The Temple,” Joshi refers to both of them in his explanatory notes for “The Temple” in the Penguin Classics edition of The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (2001). I apologize for the error.

In “The Call of Cthulhu” Professor George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages from Brown University was compiling information on the Cthulhu Cult and among the manuscript papers were some citations from W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria. As mentioned in Leslie S. Klinger’s The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) Lovecraft had a 1925 combined edition of these books. The Story of Atlantis was first published in 1896, while The Lost Lemuria was first published in 1904.

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It is interesting to note that Atlantis was supposed to represent a high point of human (or related species) civilization. While the destruction of Atlantis is frequently associated with the Atlanteans meddling with science and / or the power the gods, there are a variety of hypotheses attempting to link some real-life catastrophe to the legend of Atlantis. For example, the land of Thera, now known as the Greek island of Santorini, was partly destroyed by a volcanic eruption about 3,600 years ago. The destruction of Thera is thought to be basis for the idea of Atlantis (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160118-the-atlantis-style-myths-of-sunken-lands-that-are-really-true). However, is the extremely unlikely the Atlantis will actually be directly linked to a real location on Earth.

There have been attempts to link Cthulhu’s sunken City of R’lyeh to Atlantis but as Jason Colavito has stated:

“The imagined “fall” of Cthulhu, however, bears only a superficial resemblance to Atlantis, and even that was intentional. Lovecraft tried to create a (fictional) analogue to Plato’s Atlantis narrative as an answer to the Theosophists and their silly claims about Venusians running occult schools on Lemuria. Plato’s Atlantis sinks because of the Atlanteans’ sins… Cthulhu and R’lyeh sink beneath the waves—just because. Geology happens. There is no moral good or evil implied. It just happened.” – from http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/was-cthulhu-a-king-of-atlantis.  While in “The Strange High House in the Mist” Lovecraft mentions “…how the kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rift’s in ocean’s floor…” there is no evidence to indicate that these blasphemies were the spawn of Cthulhu.

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R’lyeh Rising by Welsh Pixie (www.deviantart.com)

Coavito’s statement agrees with Joshi’s statement that Lovecraft saw Atlantis as a myth and liked to incorporate it into his tales.  Additionally, and more to the point, Atlantis was supposed to sink somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, while R’lyeh is located somewhere deep in the Pacific Ocean. Thus, even if there was some sort of correlation between R’lyeh and some mythic sunken land it would have a slightly better chance of it being Lemuria.

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In a few of Lovecraft’s revision tales such as “The Last Test” co-written with Adolphe de Castro and “Medusa’s Coil” co-written with Zealia Bishop there are several references to individuals being descended from the primal race of lost Atlantis and how the Atlantean civilization delved into evil and forbidden knowledge. For example, in “The Last Test” Atlantis was apparently a “hotbed” of evil cult activity and it is hoped that “…no one will ever drag up that horror from the deep.” This may be a possible reference to the Atlantean’s attempting to contact the Old Ones from outside of our Universe. There is a reference to this in “Medusa’s Coil” where “…the frightful secret that has come down from the days of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones – the secret that was nearly wiped out when Atlantis sank…”

medusa_s_coil_by_mrsfish-da4hgua Medusa’s Coil by Mrs. Fish (www.deviantart.com)

In the tale “The Mound” written by Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop, the underground civilization discovered by the Spaniard Zamacona was said to occasionally receive visitors from the upper world. According to the individuals who Zamacona met, the last time they encountered someone from the outer world was when “…refugees straggled back from Atlantis and Lemuria aeons before.” If these refugees straggled back from these sunken kingdoms, is it possible that the Atlanteans and Lemurians were of the same decent as those who live under the mound? If this is the case, the various technologies that the mound civilization possess (e.g. dematerialization and dream-projection) may has also been possessed by Atlanteans.

In Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness the Elder Thing’s Antarctic Palaeogaean megalopolis was compared to both Atlantis and Lemuria, as well as other ancient civilizations. Additionally, in Out of the Aeons, co-written with Hazel Heald, Lovecraft mentions that cults of the Old One Ghatanothoa were established in Atlantis. Finally, as previously mentioned, the Shining Trapezohedron sunk with Atlantis, only later to be found by a Minoan fisherman in his nets.

64-ghatanothoa                               Ghatanothoa by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

In conclusion, it is extremely unlikely the Cthulhu’s R’lyeh and Atlantis were the same place, simply based on the fact that one is located in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Atlantic Ocean.  Additionally, there is no evidence to support that R’lyeh was Lemuria. However, the people of Atlantis may have been related to the people who live under the Earth as documented in “The Mound.” Also, the Atlanteans may have been attempting to contact the Old Ones or harness their powers in the manipulation of matter, energy, time and space. These attempts of communication (e.g. the Shining Trapezohedron) may have failed miserably and resulted in the downfall of the civilization and the destruction of their Island paradise.

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Next time we will discuss how the concept of what a galaxy is changed over the course of Lovecraft’s lifetime. Thank you – Fred.

Additional Information on the Spawn of Cthulhu and their Existence in Our Space-Time

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Cthulhu and his Children by Liquid Nerve (www.deviantart.com)

As previously mentioned, Lovecraft cites that Cthulhu produced one offspring named Shaurash-ho (see below). I can find very little (almost no) information on this entity but based on its relationship with Cthulhu, it more than likely is one of the members of it’s “Spawn” and was produced asexually.

According to the  Ponape Scriptures Cthulhu had three sons and one daughter with an entity called Idh-yaa; the sons are  Ghatanothoa, Ythogtha and Zoth-Ommgg and the daughter is Cthylla.  I have already discussed in detail Ghatanothoa in previous articles and I will cover the others separately in future articles. However, for now I want to review this “family” dynamic of Cthulhu.

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First, it must be emphasized that the terms father, mother, sons and daughter are highly anthropomorphic and not applicable to Cthulhu and it’s Spawn. However, it is hypothesized that these terms can be useful in distinguishing sexual reproduction from asexual reproduction such as the budding or fragmentation of Cthulhu to produce Shaurash-ho. While it is highly unlikely that sexual reproduction among these entities functions in a similar capacity as it does in Terran life, a distinction can be made between a mixing or fusion of two entities (such as Cthulhu and Idh-yaa) and the “budding” or production of a new entity from another (such as Shaurash-ho being the asexual progeny of Cthulhu).

Second, as was previously proposed, it is hypothesized that Cthulhu and its Spawn may be composed of an extra-dimensional form of plasma (a form of ionized gas).  In our universe plasma is very common but typically found in stars where temperatures reach 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degree Celsius).  So why didn’t Cthulhu or its spawn boil away the Pacific Ocean when it emerged from R’lyeh?

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The Cthylla Supplication by Hawanja (www.deviantart.com)

Based on the latest iterations of string theory, there are 10 spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension. Of the 10 spatial dimensions, there are the 3 we are familiar with and 6 that are unknown to our senses.  These ideas lead to a family of different theories called M-theory, which predicts a large number of universes (the multiverse).  How many universes?  According to the mathematics of M-theory 10500 different universes may exist (The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, 2010), each with a different set of natural laws; some may be similar to ours and some may be very different. Some of these other universes may be entirely devoid of matter but comprised of energy (dark energy or otherwise).  In contrast, some universes may contain no matter or energy.  In order to exist in our space-time Cthulhu and its Spawn may draw energy from one of the matterless universes and then dump the generated heat into a cold, void-like universe that has no matter or energy.

As shown in the figure below, we exist in a 3 spatial / 1 temporal universe or membrane (also known as a brane).  Most of the material that makes up our matter (electrons, quarks, photons, etc.) are made of open strings which are attached to our brane and can not leave. However, gravity (in the form of gravitons) are closed strings (loops) that can pass from one brane to another through the bulk or material between the two branes; all of this is based on the mathematical predictions of String Theory.

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Theoretical illustration of two universes as predicted by M-theory (www.abyss.uoregon.edu)

Based on the theoretical arrangement described above, two hypotheses can be proposed in describing the fundamental nature of Cthulhu and its Spawn.  The first hypothesis is that Cthulhu and its Spawn enter our universe through the “curled up” higher dimensions, tapping into other branes for the extremely large amounts of energy needed for hyperspace travel (more on that below).  An alternate hypothesis is that they enter our universe through points of intense gravity (in the heart of stars or even black holes). As previously mentioned gravitons can travel from one brane to another so maybe Cthulhu and its Spawn utilize these “gravity strings” as carrier waves to travel from one universe to another.

While theoretically it is possible to travel through hyperspace, the amount of energy needed to accomplish this is beyond our technology at this time.  For example to simply probe into hyperspace, at least 1019 billion electron volts of energy is required.  The Large Hadron Collider, which is the worlds largest and most powerful particle collider, can only generate 103 billion electron volts of energy.  Thus, it will be sometime before humanity and generate the amount of energy needed to seriously investigate hyperspace.  However, for Cthulhu and its Spawn, the generation of such large amounts of energy may be possible.

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Cthulhu Spawn by Ian Llanas (www.deviantart.com)

Finally, I want to provide this quote from the physicist Paul Davies, which I found in Michio Kaku’s book Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps and the 10th Dimension, on what we could do if we manged to unify the known forces (electromagnetic, gravity, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force) into one “superforce” :

“…we could change the structure of space and time, tie our own knots in nothingness, and build matter to order. Controlling the superforce would enable us to construct and transmute particles at will, thus generating exotic forms of matter. We might even be able to manipulate the dimensionality of space itself, creating bizarre artificial worlds with unimaginable properties. Truly we should be lords of the universe.”

Such a passage certainly reminds one of Cthulhu and its Spawn or of Yog-Sothoth.

Next time I will be initiating a discussion on the tale “In the Walls of Eryx” written by H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling. Thank you – Fred.

cthulhu_spawn___workup_ii_by_chillier17-d32bey7 Cthulhu Spawn by Chillier 17 (www.deviantart.com)

 

 

More on the Nature of Cthulhu and its Spawn

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Cthulhu by Calavera (www.deviantart.com)

This short article will briefly discuss the expanded relationship between Cthulhu and Ghatanothoa and a little more on the origins of Cthulhu and its Spawn. Similar to Cthulhu, Ghatanothoa is trapped in a sunken island at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. While the legend of Ghatanothoa in von Junzt’s Black Book and the associated events in the Cabot Museum of Archaeology in Boston as outlined in “Out of the Aeons” are very similar to those documented in “The Call of Cthulhu,” there is no direct mention or identified connection between Ghatanothoa and Cthulhu in either tale. However, later text identified by Lin Carter has cited in a number of instances that Ghatanothoa is one of the three “sons” of Cthulhu, the other two being Ythogtha and Zoth-Ommgg.

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Ythogtha (by Grumble Putty)

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Zoth Ommgg (by Zach Geller)

In Lovecraft’s original “family tree of the Old Ones” the only cited offspring of Cthulhu is Shaurash-ho and based on the lineage, this offspring was created through asexual reproduction. However, according to Carter’s research into the Ponape Scriptures there was a sexual union, genetic or otherwise, between Cthulhu and an entity named Idh-Yaa. This sexual union occurred on, in or around Xoth, a green star located in the constellation of Taurus. In fact Cthulhu and its Spawn are said to have originated from Xoth. Again, this information is provided in the Ponape Scriptures as cited by Carter and not in the Black Book, which was cited by Lovecraft.

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 Idh-Yaa (from http://www.lovecraft.wiki.com)

It is particularly interesting that the binary star system of Xoth is described as a green star since humans have never documented a truly green star. Any star that appears to be green is a result of an optical illusion.  For example, the multiple star system of the Antares has a particularly bright red star that makes some of other stars look green. While a truly green star is not impossible it is highly improbable in our universe. Thus, this provides evidence that Cthulhu and related entities are not residents of our space-time.  While Xoth may be in the Taurus constellation, this section of space-time may be an access point to another multiverse.

Another interesting point is that as mentioned in a previous article Cthulhu and its Spawn are composed of matter different than  what is found in our space-time and I hypothesize their matter may be somewhat plasma based (composed of ionized gas). While rare on Earth, plasma is the most common form of matter in our space-time with most of it found within stars. Thus, it may be that Cthulhu and its related spawn enter our space-time through the stars themselves and to remain in some stable, yet plastic, form draw energy from stars. However, as I previously mentioned, if Cthulhu and its Spawn are plasma-based and can exist in stars then they must be millions of degrees in temperature.  For example, the core of our sun can reach more than 27 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is 15 million degree Celsius, (www.space.com). Thus, how can Cthulhu and its Spawn exist on or in Earth, or at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, without burning it up? More on that in a future article.

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Rays of Xoth by Astra888leddher (www.deviantart.com)

In addition to providing more information on the plasma-based nature of Cthulhu, next time I will also present evidence that many of the entities cited as being associated or related to Cthulhu, such Idh-Yaa and their associated offspring, are in fact members of the Spawn of Cthulhu.  However, this next article may not be posted until sometime toward the end of the month.

Next week I will be attending the NecronomiCon in Providence Rhode Island. I will be giving a talk on the “Lovecraftian Cosmos.” In addition I will be on a panel discussing Lovecraft and Science. If you are attending, I would love to meet you. If you cannot attend I place on posting short articles and photos while at the convention on both this WordPress page and the Facebook page “Lovecraftian Science.” Thank you – Fred.

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The “Nature” of Ghatanothoa and Similarities with Cthulhu

Beyond the ability to petrify people but leaving their brains alive within their paralyzed bodies (which I hypothesize is due to a biologically produced air-borne toxin) very little is known about the biology of Ghatanothoa. One of the reasons for this is the fact that getting too close to the entity results in paralysis. Whether it’s due to merely observed Ghatanothoa or a result of an air-borne toxin it generates, getting actual information on this entity is extremely difficult and hazardous. However, H.P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald do provide some small scrapes of information on this lesser known Old One.

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Ghatanothoa by Jagoba Lekuona Huegun

Specifically, the most recent description of Ghatanothoa is “…gigantic – tentacled – proboscidian – octopus-eyed – semi-amorphous – plastic – partly squamous and partly rugose – ugh!” Other descriptors include loathsome, non-human and extra-galactic. Even in von Junzt’s Black Book very little information is provided on Ghatanothoa.  We do know the Spawn of Yuggoth deposited Ghatanothoa on ancient Earth deep in the caverns of a fortress on the mountain Yaddith-Go. Here it is said that Ghatanothoa would brood eternally and wallowed, waddled and burrowed deep in the Earth.

Based on the ancient text, Ghatanothoa must have wreaked havoc on Yuggoth since the Spawn imprisoned it on Earth. While Ghatanothoa was placed on Earth, the Spawn did not intentionally want to use this entity as a means of cleansing the planet of humans. Thus, the thing was imprisoned and a select portion of humanity, who ended up being the priests of Ghatanothoa were provided with a means of keeping it imprisoned.

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So what is Ghatanothoa? Based on some interpretations made Kenneth Hite, Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer on the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, “Out of the Aeons” can be thought of as a re-interpretation of “The Call of Cthulhu.”  I agree with this and I hypothesize that Ghatanothoa and Cthulhu are similar entities. While Tsathoggua and Shub-Niggurath are mentioned in “Out of Aeons” and Cthulhu is not, the description of Ghatanothoa is somewhat similar to that of Cthulhu. Compare the description of Ghatanothoa described above to those of Cthulhu such as “lumbered slobberingly,” “gelatinous green immensity,” and “eldritch contradictions of all matter, force and cosmic order.”

The morphology of both of these entities is “in-flux” in our universe. That is, they can change size and shape at will, which makes observing them very disorienting, even dangerous for your mind and body.  For example, Ghatanothoa is described as plastic, while Cthulhu is described as gelatinous. It is clear based on Lovecraft’s writings that Cthulhu, and more than likely Ghatanothoa, are not made of matter from our space-time and originate from outside of our universe. Their “matter” appears to be a combination of gaseous, solid and liquid material and in fact maybe composed of plasma.

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Cthulhu by Fiend Upon My Back (www.deviantart.com)

Plasma is a state of matter where both electrons and protons are freely moving and no longer bound in the formal atomic state that we are familiar with. While extremely rare in on Earth, plasma is the most common state of matter in the universe (Kaku; Hyperspace, 1994). A sentient, ionized gas with a very fluid-like state could explain the strange inconsistency and movement of Cthulhu and Ghatanothoa. However, in our universe plasma is typically found in stars, where the temperatures are so high that electrons and protons are freely moving. Thus, if these are plasma-based entities, wouldn’t they be thousands of degrees hot and immediately burn anything near them? Does this mean Cthulhu and Ghatanothoa can only exist in our universe within a star?  Also, there is so much energy in intensely hot plasma, that the very geometry of space-time will distort and the dimensionality of space-time could actually change (Kaku, 1994). Are Cthulhu and Ghatanothoa possibly channeling their intense heat and energy into another dimension to keep their relatively plasma-like properties while existing in our space-time and without burning it up?

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Ghatanothoa by Jack Rezz (www.deviantart.com)

Next time I will attempt to explain these strange properties of Cthulhu and Ghatanothoa by discussing their possible origins. Also, I just wanted to let everyone know that Steve Maschuck and I will be attending the NecronomiCon later this month in Providence Rhode Island. I will be giving a presentation on “The Lovecraftian Cosmos” and I will be on a panel about Lovecraft and Science. If you are attending, I would love to meet and chat! Also, I will try to post some material on the WordPress page during the convention. Thank you – Fred.

Lovecraftian Solar System, Part II: Comets in Lovecraft’s Tales

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Comet of 1811 (www.gutenberg.org)

In his astronomical writings, H.P. Lovecraft cited a number of instances where he observed comets.  For example, the first comet Lovecraft observed was Borelli’s Comet in August 1903.  However, beyond is articles on astronomy, Lovecraft mentions comets a number of times in his tales.  The first time was, appropriately enough, in “The Call of Cthulhu.”

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Cthulhu recombining at the end of “The Call of Cthulhu (for beginning readers) by Dr. Fraustusau (www.deviantart.com)

It was toward the end of the tale after Johansen’s confrontation with Cthulhu itself.  After Johansen intentionally hits Cthulhu with the bowsprit of the vessel the Alert, causing the thing to explode, recombine and sink back down into R’lyeh, he experiences a cloudy consciousness during a subsequent storm.  At that time Johansen had a “…sense of spectral whirling through liquid gulfs of infinity, of dizzying rides through reeling universes on a comets tale, and of hysterical plunges from the pit of the moon and from the moon back again to the pit, all livened by a cachinnating chorus of the distorted, hilarious elder gods and the green, bat-winged mocking imps of Tartarus.”  That’s quite a statement!  However, Lovecraft’s point was that one way of traveling into the unknown void of the universes is on a comet’s tail.  This makes sense since in Lovecraft’s astronomical writings on comets he mentions a class of comets called solitary comets that appear from deep space and return back into the void never to be seen again.  I think this traveling on a comet’s tail is to convey this sense of experiencing something truly strange and unique in our universe, never to be seen by that individual ever again.

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A bat-winged imp from Tartarus by Les Edwards(www.lesedwards.com)

The next time a comet is mentioned is in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.  In it Randolph Carter enters an alternative reality or parallel universe through his dreams.  While the “dreamlands” are very similar to Earth in general appearance, there are some substantial differences relative to physical laws.  For example, the dreamlands are a flat world and not a sphere like Earth.  Also, galley ships can travel to the edge of the dreamlands and float to the moon, which can sustain life.  In the tale Carter watches in horror as the ship he is on heads toward the edge of the world ready to plunge into the dark depths of the universe.  However, with a “queer whistle” the ship “shot silent and comet-like into planetary space.”  Here the reference to a comet may represent something unexpected and surprising, as many comets were before they were known what they were.

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Sail to the Moon by Sycen (www.deviantart.com)

Toward the end of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath comets are once again cited.  Here is was when Carter realizes that his quest for Kadath was his attempt to find the city he always loved and missed, particularly in the days of his youth – Boston.  Here, by the orders of Nyarlathotep a Shantak carries Carter through time, space and outside until, “Matter and light were born anew as space once had known them; and comets, suns and worlds sprang flaming into life, though nothing survived to tell that they had been gone, been and gone, always and always, back to no first beginning.”  This may indicate that Carter was transported to other dimensions, realities or branes, where time has no meaning.  Thus, Carter experiences the beginning and end of those universes.  Once again, comets are specifically cited as a component of universes, familiar or strange, that would be clearly recognizable by humans.  Additionally, this may be an indirect reference to the importance of comets as a means of transporting important organic molecules or water to worlds throughout the universe to provide the “seeds” of life.

In an even more incredible adventure, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (co-written with E. Hoffmann Price), Randolph Carter experiences at one point of the tale “phasing” into and out of the bodies of various entities both within and out of our space-time.  At one point, one of these entities was described as “…a vegetable brain of the future on a dark radio-active comet of inconceivable orbit…” Again, the inconceivable orbit expresses the fact that even periodic comets have orbits of such incredibly long distances that they may seem to be solitary in nature, particularly to a culture where the majority of the people are not familiar with the documentation of comets that pass by their world once ever tens or hundreds of years. In addition, the “vegetable brain” may be yet another reference to the fact that comets may have brought the simple organic compounds (or organic life?), the basic building blocks of life, to Earth. Indeed, many scientists hypothesize that radioactive heating within a comet may allow water to exist in a liquid state and thus harbor the organic molecules needed to seed new worlds for the eventual development of prokaryotic life.

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Through the Gates of the Silver Key by Orbituated (www.deviantart.com)

On 13 June 2015 Philae, a robotic lab from Europe that was transported to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta probe, woke up and made contact with Earth.  Since then it has contacted Earth two more times and just started to transmit data back to Earth. Eventually the robot will drill into the comet itself and collect samples for analysis.  One of the main goals of this mission is to determine if liquid water can be found inside of the comet along with organic molecules.  The next few weeks to months should provide some tantalizing data on the comet’s role in the origins of our Solar System.  However, it is interesting to note that Randolph Carter’s journey through the Gates of Silver Key may have been the first documentation that comets provide a safe habitat for the molecules of life from the cold vastness of interstellar space through radioactive heating.

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Rosetta mission poster showing the deployment of the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov – Gerasimenko (supplied by ESA/Rosetta/Navcam)

Next time we will discuss meteors and meteorites in the Lovecraftian Solar System.  Thank you – Fred.

The Call of Cthulhu – Perchance to Dream

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Bas-relief of Cthulhu by Jason McKittrick (deviantart.org)

How would two completely alien civilizations communicate if they have never had any pervious contact?  Frequently mathematics is one of the more common answers.  This makes sense since mathematics is a form of deductive reasoning, which is arriving at a conclusion based on a set of facts.  In mathematics this means that a conclusion can be reached thorough a series of   steps that give rise to a “proof.”  The net result is that the conclusions arrived at in mathematics is the same everywhere in the known universe.

In the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a combination of musical tones and hand signs were used to communicate with an alien civilization.  Music can be understood in the language of mathematics so using music as a form of communication makes sense.  However, this assumes that both species can process and understand sound waves in a somewhat similar manner.

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Commination with extraterrestrial life through musical tones in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

On a side note, in some ways, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is very similar to “The Call of Cthulhu.”  In both stories, a sub-set of the global population is experiencing something beyond our normal daily lives.  In the case of HPL’s story the experience is primarily through dreams with some small sets of humanity actually worshipping this “other.”  In the case of Close Encounters of the Third Kind the experiences are more complex – visions, artist inspirations, experiences involving lights or music from the sky and even abductions.  In both cases, these experiences impact a sub-set of the global population and are leading to a specific event, at a specific location and time, which involves direct contact with something completely alien.  The outcomes are obviously different but idea of using a non-language based means to communicate resonates in both stories.

Back to the subject at hand, what if two distinctly species did not even have a means of communicating such basic concepts such as 1 + 1 = 2 or the difference between a high and low pitch?  What if the two species did not just evolve on separate planets but what if they evolved in separate corners of the universe, in separate dimensions or even in separate universes?  How do they communicate?  Possibly the easiest means of overcoming these barriers is to communicate through a basic process or action conducted by all members of a particular species.  For humanity, such day-to-day actions involve perceiving and interacting with the world around us with our five senses and include rudimentary processes such as breathing, eating, drinking, mating, physical movement and sleep.  Of these basic evolutionary actions sleep has a possible mode communication and that is through dreams.

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Henry Anthony Wilcox describing one of his disturbing dreams in the 2005 film The Call of Cthulhu (The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society)

The science associated with dreams is in its infancy, yet some major strives have been made in recent years.  Within the last decade, scientists have been making progress on actually photographing and videotaping dreams with MRI machines.  For the first time in 2011 scientists have used MRI and EEG sensors to actually measure dream content and may even one day make direct contact with a dreaming person (The Future of the Mind:  The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku, 2014).  Imagine if we could have recorded  Henry Anthony Wilcox’s dreams while he was being contacted by Cthulhu.

Additional research into dreams have revealed that they are important for the health of humans as well as many other animals.  On average we spend 5 to 20 minutes a night dreaming and about 6 years dreaming over a lifetime.  Dreams are universal across race, cultures, civilizations and religions.  People dream essentially the same things – personal experiences from the pervious day or week are frequently incorporated into our dreams. The dream state appears to function as a means of digesting or processing “new” information in the brain’s neural network; organizing memories in a more coherent and orderly way and consolidating useful information (Kaku, 2014).  More than likely Cthulhu takes advantage of this neural network in contacting the human race as well as others.

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A view of the neural network in the human brain (www.willamette.edu)

While we are awake EEG scans indicate that the brain is emitting a steady stream of electromagnetic waves. However, the frequency of the EEG signals changes as we fall asleep. When we dream, waves of electrical energy move from the brain stem and surge up into the cortical areas of the brain, particularly the visual cortex. This is one of the reasons why visual images are an important part of dream. In turn, the senses of smell, taste and touch are largely shut down (Kaku, 2014).

The hippocampus is active when we dream, suggesting that dreams draw on memories. Dreams are directly linked to high levels of emotion, often involving fear. Other sections of the brain – those that involve fact-checking, spatial awareness / coordination and logic – are shut down. Thus, emotional levels are up and rational control is reduced (Kaku, 2014).  Thus, the predominance of visual stimulation over the other senses, coupled with the high levels of emotion, primarily fear, and low capacity for rational thought, at least partially explains our reactions to Cthulhu.  Since Cthulhu communicates through dreams, we respond in our dream-like state.
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Cthulhu Idol by Jason McKittrick (www.deviantart.org) 

As has been identified by both S.T. Joshi (The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, 1999) and Leslie S. Klinger (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, 2014), the name” Cthulhu” itself is a feeble attempt for human vocal cords and language to pronounce the actual name of the entity.  As HPL himself states “the word is suppose to represent a fumbling human attempt to catch the phonetics of an absolutely non-human word.”  Thus, if we do not even have the physiology and anatomical organs to properly commutate with Cthulhu, direct communication through dreams – where sights and shapes can be processed into  images that we can somewhat understand – makes sense.  Of course the “baggage” associated with this innovative means of communication, results in an interpretation of this incoming information with a high level of fear and low level of rational thought.  From an evolutionary response this makes complete sense!

Next time we will talk about the entities associated with Cthulhu but reside within the wooded swamplands of southern New Orleans.  Thank you – Fred.

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Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming by Greg Stevens (www.deivantart.org)