Tag Archives: August Derleth

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…”


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.


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.


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.


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.).


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.


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.


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

Necronomicon Convention talk on the Biology of the Old Ones, Part 3 – Taxonomy of the Old Ones (August Derleth)

Before Robert M. Price worked on his taxonomic nomenclature of the Old Ones, August Derleth proposed a means of classifying these entitles.  In fact, according to Richard L. Tierney’s seminal paper, The Derleth Mythos (Discovering H.P. Lovecraft edited by Darrell Schweitzer – 1995) Derleth was the person who established the concept of the Mythos.

Tierney and others such as Joshi and Murray have clearly identified and separated Derleth’s ideas and concepts from those of Lovecraft, which has been associated with varying degrees of criticism.  I do not want to dwell on this criticism of Derleth, there are three points I want to make in this regard.  First, Derleth took Lovecraft’s idea of a materialistic, uncaring Universe where man is insignificant and modified (or distorted) it into one where good (Elder Gods) battles evil (Old Ones) similar to Christianity, where humanity is the focus or celestial “prize”.  Second, Derleth’s taxonomy of categorizing the Old Ones was based on the classical (Greek) concept of four elements.  Third, Derleth, along with others such as Lin Carter, were accused of explaining too much; the Mythos thrived on mystery and confusion and ironing out all of the details takes away from the Mythos itself.  For the sake of this brief article I will focus only on the second point – that Derleth’s taxonomy was based on the four elements.

Essentially, Derleth said that  Lovecraft’s enitites could be categorized through the “elemental forces”  of fire, water, earth and air.


Reading Tierney’s article you get the impression that the focus of this idea was primarily based on Cthulhu and his spawn being aquatic creatures and thus being water entities.   However, if Cthulhu is a water being, why is he imprisoned in water?  Wouldn’t it be better to hold Cthulhu in, say, the center of a star, fire thus defeating or containing water?  Another point Tierney makes is that Hastur is considered to be an air-based entity yet he is thought to reside in the bottom of the Lake of Hali; is Hastur imprisoned in the bottom of the lake similar to Cthulhu being imprisoned in the Pacific Ocean?  Wouldn’t it be better to hold Hastur in the earth or in a deep cave on some remote world?  Yog Sothoth, Nyarlathotep and Shub-Nigguarth are all squeezed into the earth category.  Finally, since there was no entities within the fire category, Derleth created Cthugha to fill that niche.

While some authors have used this system of taxonomy for the Old Ones, its generally not thought much of now a days.  This is primarily due to the fact that such a classification system tries too hard to explain away what these entities are (evil manifestations of these elemental forces hell-bent on the destruction and/or consumption of humanity).  In addition, if one is going to develop a classification system of the Old Ones, it should be based primarily and foremost on Lovecraft’s writings.  As I attempt to make the case in my presentation, a classification system should be based on what little we know about these entities’ biology and their relation to life on Earth .

In conclusion, while Derleth’s taxonomic system does not seem to be satisfactory, it must be said, which I’m sure everyone recognizes, that Derleth should receive some credit to keeping Lovecraft’s stories in the public eye and being one of the co-founders of Arkham House.  Thank you.

Fred Lubnow

Necronomicon Convention talk on the Biology of the Old Ones, Part 2 – Taxonomy of the Old Ones (Robert M. Price)

As anyone who is familiar with Lovecraft knows, his stories were a loosely connected set of tales that provide glimpses into what lies beyond our five senses and sense of reality.  There are things in and beyond the known Universe that we can not imagine, must less quantify or categorize with science.  However, his concepts and ideas of “what lies beyond” resonated with so many people that some have attempted to provide some clarity or explanation on the subject.

For some, such as Robert M. Price, this was more of a fun academic activity while to others, such as August Derleth, it was suppose to provide critical insight into Lovecraft’s philosophy on his Cthulhu Mythos, which was coined by Derleth and not Lovecraft.

This part of the talk at the convention was very short but I wanted to elaborate a bit here.  Before I get into Derleth’s work, it should be known that Mr. Price provided a proposed taxonomic scheme for the Old Ones that I did not discuss during my presentation.

In Price’s H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos (Starmont House, Inc., 1990) he includes an article called “A Lovecraftian Taxonomy”.  The article focuses and addresses the confusion and inconsistency in names of the Lovecraftian entitles in Cthulhu Mythos fiction.  Thus, the article focuses on the taxonomy of names and not on the biology of the entities.

Price's Book
Price’s Book

Reviewing Lovecraft’s stories, Price came up with a set of recommendations in the development of a classification system of Lovecratian entities for future scholars.  Listed below are his recommendations taken directly from his article:

1.  The Great Old Ones (= the Other Gods): the pantheon of cosmic entities threatening humanity, including Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlathotep.

2.  The Cthulhu-spawn: the cosmic octopi headed by Great Cthulhu, now asleep in R’lyeh.

3.  The Deep Ones: a race of fish-frog men dedicated to Cthulhu’s service.

4.  The Mighty Ones: a race of merfolk led by Nodens, Lord of the great Abyss.

5.  The Elder Ones:  the star-headed aliens of ancient Antarctica.

6.  The Outer Ones: the Mi-Go or fungi from Yuggoth.

7.  The Great Race: the time-travellers of Yith.

8. The Great Ones: the mild gods of earth.

9.  The Ancient Ones: the ascended masters beyond the Gate of the Silver Key.

10.  The People of K’n-yan:  the humanoid aliens living beneath the surface of the Oklahoma wilderness.

You may ask (as I’m sure you are), why bother to do this?  Lovecraft didn’t categorize his entitles.  He worked and created from story to story and was not concerned about consistency between the tales.  Yes, there were connections but he did not see it as a fully developed and integrated Universe.   In fact, including inconsistencies and mixing the real with the imaginary gave his work an air of mystery and realism.

So with this in mind, why did Price propose this classification system?  Well, first and foremost, it was done for academic fun.  When you hear Mr. Price talk, his appreciation for the Mythos really shines through and he readily admits that a lot of his work was simply done for the love of it.

In addition, it makes sense that humans would at least “try” to categorize something they are trying to understand.  We have a compulsion to label, categorize and systematize things (stars, rocks, plants, animals), even when such methodology does not work.  For example, while Linnaeus’s binomial nomenclature for naming organisms (Genus, species) can be easily applied to plants, fungi and animals, this system is difficult to apply to bacteria where horizontal gene transfer is possible.  In other words, the concept of species is sometimes very difficult to apply to bacteria, yet we still use it to label these organisms.  The same could be said about Lovecraftian entities; it’s our attempt in trying to understand them.

Finally, using such a labeling system does not have to be etched in stone and could be great fodder for future stories where humanity is trying to understand exactly what these “things” are.  Next time, I will be talking about the infamous “Derleth” taxonomic system before I move into the meat of the presentation.

Thank you – Fred Lubnow