122 Davis (1988), p. 284.
- Levenda, Tantric Temples: Eros and Magic in Java, Lake Worth: Ibis Press, 2011.
- David Gordon White, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 36
- In astronomical literature, Aldebaran is identified as the star alpha Taurus. 126 See the author’s Stairway to Heaven for a more detailed defense of this theory. 127 Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, New York: Weiser, 1972. pp. 2-3.
THE NECRONOMICON GNOSIS
Much of the power of Western horror-lore was undoubtedly due to the hidden but often suspected presence of a hideous cult of nocturnal worshippers whose strange customs … were rooted in the most revolting fertility-rites of immemorial antiquity. This secret religion, stealthily handed down amongst peasants for thousands of years despite the outward reign of the Druidic, Graeco-Roman, and Christian faiths in the regions involved, was marked by wild “Witches’ Sabbaths” in lonely woods and atop distant hills or Walpurgis-Night and Hallowe’en …
—H. P. Lovecraft128
The deathless Chinamen said that there were double meanings in the Necronomicon …
—H. P. Lovecraft129
HIDEOUS CULT, NOCTURNAL WORSHIPPERS, revolting fertility rites … double meanings. It is this last that gives us pause because it so eloquently reveals both Lovecraft’s own timidity when it comes to sexuality and religion as well as the basis for the Thelemic, Necro-nomicon and Egyptian currents upon which Grant expounds throughout all nine volumes of his Typhonian Trilogies.
One could make the case that Tantra is essentially the survival of some more ancient fertility cult operative throughout the sub-continent, perhaps before the Aryan invasions, and that our concepts of lingam and yoni, amrita, and Shiva and Shakti all derive from this practice “of immemorial antiquity.” After all, some Tantric practitioners do indeed meet “nocturnally” in remote places to carry out their “fertility rites.”
It is this type of public relations effort, carried out not only by Lovecraft but by the Western media in general, that made Tantra and its associated beliefs and practices seem so exotic and forbidden, pretty much substantiating Edward Said’s insistence that virtually all Western approaches to Asia were racist and condescending.
However, in the case of Tantra in particular it was not only the white colonialist class that was appalled by these practices but members of the established Brahmin classes of India as well. Nothing disturbs a member of the social and religious elite quite so much as discovering groups of men and women, together, at night, in a cremation ground, worshipping the gods and possibly even having sex in a ritual setting. The very concept would make a Vedic (and a Catholic) priest’s head explode. (There is also, of course, the implied threat to the social order and specifically to the orthodox priesthood represented by independent religious practitioners communicating directly with the gods in an unapproved manner.)
Sexuality is such a central feature of human life everywhere on the planet that to describe any social group or organization that is in any way non-traditional or antinomian is to suggest that it’s sexual practices are also bizarre, or strange, or unorthodox. It would be difficult to make the case for an American satanic organization, for instance, that practiced the Black Mass as the core ritual of their faith—and whose members were all celibate (by choice or by doctrine) or scrupulously faithful to their spouses. We associate anti-religions with liberation,130 because we identify religion with restraint, with rules, with doctrines involving the human passions and the attempt to corral them into socially-acceptable channels. Thus any anti- church worth its salt would incorporate sexual liberation or even sexual “depravity” as part of its repertoire.
But Lovecraft went a step further. Since he did not identify any of the existing religions and their gods as the “hideous cults” of which he writes (except from a few choice asides to the Yezidi in the short story “The Horror at Red Hook”), he invented another religious entity entirely. He wanted a cult that was older than anything on earth, older than any historically-verifiable religion, something so old that it would have appeared ancient to the pre-dynastic Egyptians and the Sumerians (arguably the oldest civilization on record). It would be the Ur-cult, the original religion, and its origins would be as mysterious and murky as the origins of the human race itself: the stars.
At the same time, Lovecraft understood that the occult rituals of the West and the East—in particular ceremonial magic for the former and shamanism for the latter—could be employed as means of making contact with these forces: forces that he claimed were still interested in returning to the earth, but who had been prevented from doing so because of certain spells that had been cast that closed the Gate between this world and theirs, and which kept their chief priest—the dread Cthulhu—”dead but
dreaming” in his sunken city of R’lyeh … waiting for the moment when “the stars are right” and his devotees on earth chant the right chants and raise him from his grave to invoke the Old Ones once more. The satanic cults of the world—the devil-worshipping, secretive, murderous, or otherwise unorthodox and antinomian—were survivals of this original cult and were keeping its blasphemous memory alive.
Lovecraft’s theme is not as internally consistent as the above paragraph would suggest. Lovecraft himself tinkered with it in his stories, and other contributors added to the legends in their own tales, creating what has been called the Cthulhu Mythos. We will not attempt to delineate all the moving parts of the Mythos here, but only focus on those elements that concern what Grant calls the Necronomicon Mythos, which he sees as one manifestation of the underground current that supplies the fuel for Thelema. This is the most contentious aspect of the Thelema gestalt—for many members of the OTO and allied groups are vehemently opposed to Grant’s concept of Thelema, and especially to any addition of elements from the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, which they feel are “fictional” and “imaginary” and thus have no place in their religion. (Atheists will find this attitude rather ironic, no doubt.)
Grant’s response to this has been to emphasize the importance of the artistic in religion, and especially in Thelema. There were artists, writers, musicians, dancers, and actors surrounding Crowley for most of his life, becoming involved in Thelema to greater or lesser degrees and contributing to the culture of his movement. Imagination, creativity, and vision are essential aspects of the artistic arsenal, which are elements of the magical environment as well. Inasmuch as Thelema’s origins are patently magical, the close association of art and Thelema cannot be denied. Crowley considered himself to be the greatest living poet in the world, among other things. He also painted, organized theatrical troupes such as the Ragged Ragtime Girls, and conducted the Rites of Eleusis as public performance in a theater, the last an indication that he understood the role of ritual as drama and of drama as ritual. He also wrote short stories and novels, such as the revealing Moonchild, which incorporates elements of the Golden Dawn, the A A , ceremonial magic in general, Asian religions, etc. all wrapped up in a Thelemic context but with allusions to world events (thus embroidering upon the paranoid fantasy that all world events are orchestrated by a secret society of satanic magicians).
Moonchild is a roman-a-clef, with many of Crowley’s friends and enemies portrayed in ways that would amuse only Crowley and anyone else in on the joke. But the occult and magical aspects of Moonchild are the most valuable aspect of the novel. Crowley used the novel as a medium for transmitting occult information. Why, then, would we deny Lovecraft the same capability if not the intention?
Lovecraft’s understanding was quite similar. His most influential work, the short story “The Call of Cthulhu,” is specific in its depiction of artists as the first people on the planet to become aware that something cosmic was taking place involving the race from the stars and the sinister, slumbering high priest, Cthulhu. Some of this awareness is communicated through dreams, and dream control is a key element of the Grant technique.
Take for example these quotes first from Lovecraft and then from Grant:
It was from the artists and poets that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes…. These responses from esthetes told a disturbing tale. From February 28 to April 2 a large proportion of them had dreamed very bizarre things, the intensity of the dreams being immeasurably the stronger during the period of the sculptor’s delirium…. and some of the dreamers confessed acute fear of the gigantic nameless thing visible towards the last.131
Certain fugitive elements appear occasionally in the works of poets, painters, mystics, and occultists which may be regarded as genuine magical manifestations in that they demonstrate the power and ability of the artist to evoke elements of an extradimensional and alien universe that may be captured only by the most sensitive and delicately adjusted antennae of human consciousness.132
The sculptor referred to in the first quotation is young Wilcox, who has been having strange dreams and visions the result of which is art that seems to suggest the existence of alien beings. It is the sculpture left behind by Wilcox that instigates the investigation of the Cthulhu Cult, a search that ranges from Providence, Rhode Island to New Orleans, Louisiana to the South Pacific—with side trips to parts of Asia. At the same time that Wilcox is having his unearthly experience artists from
around the world are reporting the same type of experience, sometimes with deadly results as some go insane, or kill themselves.
In the second quotation, Grant shows that he is agreeing with Lovecraft’s analysis and explains the phenomenon as representing “genuine magical manifestations.” This is a key statement, one that Grant uses to justify his use of the Lovecraft material in his Typhonian mythos. One either agrees at this point, or does not. If one disagrees with Grant, then the rest of the Typhonian material makes no sense at all, and can be considered the ramblings of a paranoid schizophrenic or a visionary artist fallen on hard times … or hard drugs. But then, if one disagrees with Grant, one is tempted to review all of the Thelemic material in the same light, for Crowley received the Book of the Law under very arcane (if not actually suspicious) circumstances. Crowley insisted that his revelations were true, and so his followers take them as truth while the rest of the world dismisses them as fiction. Lovecraft insisted that his stories were fiction, and so his fans take them as fiction … even as Grant and his followers believe that the Lovecraft short stories are genuine transmissions of Thelemic knowledge.
It is important to understand that Grant places a great deal of importance on what he calls “dream control” and devotes a chapter to it in his Outer Gateways:
Dream actions are a clue to the magical condition of the subliminal self. … The dream is all we may know, normally, of the fourth dimension while we are embodied three-dimensionally. But we are not so embodied while dreaming. We are then already a step ahead, even although we are still viewing the scene from another dimension, an inner dimension, which differs from dreamless sleep in that it is not totally formless and void. This extra dimension is the Mauve Zone. Surrealists, futurists, cubists, abstractionists, were groping towards its expression.133
Here we have the connection between dream control, the Mauve Zone (the name Grant gives for the Abyss or for a belt of dark power encircling the Abyss), and the artist, which is basically a description of what was taking place in Lovecraft’s story. By “artist” here Grant is not indicating the painter of still-lifes or portraits, of course, but the avant-garde practitioner of Surrealism and the other movements that came out of the
first World War. Surrealism in particular is important to the study of magic and esotericism because it used psychology, automatic writing, the Tarot and other forms of “discarded religion” in an effort to create works of art that would act as initiatory powers in their own right, through shocking an audience or causing them to view the world in a way that was not comfortable or “normal.” By juxtaposing unrelated elements in a poem, a drawing, or other artform, a dream-like state was experienced in our dimension as if an urgent message was being received from Grant’s Mauve Zone.
Thus Grant was able to see in Lovecraft’s stories—particularly those of the Cthulhu Mythos—a message from the stars as important (or, at least, as relevant) as that received by Crowley. Possibly Lovecraft resisted the message because he loathed the messenger: the creepy, hideous beings that Grant calls “Typhonian Teratomas”134: monstrous offspring created by the intercourse between humans and alien forms of life and the source of Lovecraft’s vision of “revolting fertility rites of immemorial antiquity.” In stories like “The Dunwich Horror,” Lovecraft suggests the possibility that humans and alien beings could mate and produce children who would then be hideously ugly and possessed of strange abilities. The idea that humans could somehow mate with gods, demons, and other beings is a staple of much European and Middle Eastern religion and legend. The Greek and Roman myths are full of such tales, and in the Babylonian Talmud and in various Kabbalistic and other texts we have references to Lilith, the Queen of the Night, sometimes as the first spouse of Adam and the demons as her children with the evil spirit Samael.135 Most famously in the West, the story of the sons of God and the “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:4) seems to tell a similar story of unholy intercourse between two different beings, one human and one not-quite-human.
Lovecraft was a lover of science and an atheist; he claimed more than once in his voluminous correspondence that his stories were pure fantasy, with no relationship to anything real, but perhaps motivated by his intellectual horror of the vast expanses of space that seem to dwarf all human aspiration and potential. He also had a definite fear and loathing of other races, races he saw as degenerate forms of human life, monstrous throwbacks or deviations along the evolutionary path. While we can regard his native racism with pity or contempt, we can also see beyond it to realize that it is consistent with his fiction. In Lovecraft’s tales nothing
good can come of the mating of humans with the Old Ones. The genetic anomalies that result would throw the world open to the ravages of these uncaring, oblivious, and insane beings from planets so far from ours that they would be invisible to even the strongest of telescopes.