The Reluctant Prophet by Stephen Sennitt

H.P. Lovecraft may have had access to supra-mundane dream-levels that enabled him to prophecy the nuclear destruction of our world. The question of whether he foresaw a coming age of cosmic terror and chaos has been knotted up in controversy since his death in 1937. Two major schools of “Lovecraftian” philosophy have since developed: the first, a large body of adherents who prefer to see Lovecraft as a talented creator of weird fiction, supernatural horror yarns (meant primarily as entertainment); the second, a small body of adherents who prefer to see Lovecraft as a channeler of cosmic-occult truths, disturbed but clueless as to his real role of receptor/translator.

Strangely enough, there is good evidence for both views. Lovecraft states clearly and often that unearthly, disturbing dreams were the source of his fictional output. Lovecraft scholar Dirk W. Mosig has compared Lovecraft’s weird dreaming states to the type of condition Jungian psychologist Leon Festinger calls “cognitive dissonance” To quote Mosig:

“…weird fiction, such as that written by H.P. Lovecraft, depends for its effect on dissonance resulting from …a contravention of fairly universal expectations concerning natural law.”

attempt to reduce the dissonance by transforming his dreams into art … denying them objective significance.” Lovecraft’s denial of the objective significance of dreams, including his own, has suggested to the first group of thinkers that there is no foundation in the exotic claims made by the second school of thinkers – and to be fair, Lovecraft positively denied belief in the irrationalist doctrines with which he associated occultists and mystics. However, as Mosig has pointed out, the degree of dissonance between Lovecraft’s nightmarish dream experiences and the experiences in his waking life, was such that he needed to develop a method of controlling the dream-world in order to maintain the ultra-rationalist attitude he subscribed to during waking hours. This method of control became his fictional oeuvre: The Cthulhu Mythos. This extraordinary body of work will probably need no introduction here. Lovecraft’s bizarre literary creations, the primal monstrous gods, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath and others are amongst the most staggering symbols of the age – or more specifically, the age to come. As Lovecraft points out in his most famous story central to the mythos, The Call of Cthulhu:

“The Sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little: but someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our rightful position therein, that we will either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

This paragraph states perfectly Lovecraft’s literary standpoint; one which in his conscious, waking attitude he could refute as a mere fictional device. But as Mosig suggests, which would we say was the real Lovecraft? Lovecraft seems to have clung with no little desperation to his rationalistic convictions. If we were to examine his nightside consciousness for a time, the reason for this may be revealed. As Lovecraft critic Thomas Quayle points out in his article “The Blind Idiot God” (Crypt of Cthulhu #49), the type of supernatural fiction Lovecraft wrote was not based on the traditional claustrophobic fears of death and decay, ghostly hauntings, etc.; but rather on the agaraphobic fear of immeasurable gulfs of space; the infinite abysses of the dark cosmos where the human mind, suddenly perceiving too much space, is stretched to such a limit that it snaps. Perhaps this expresses Lovecraft’s own inherent agaraphobia and unwillingness to develop in a rapidly changing century. Mosig likens Lovecraft’s dilemma to what futurologist Alvin Toffler calls “Future Shock”; the alienated feeling of being completely out of touch with the socio-scientific whirl of events. The difficulty with this interpretation is that (certainly on the surface) Lovecraft seemed more than capable of dealing with the exhilarating thrust of Einsteinian physics, which portrayed a cold, unemotional universe of cause and effect. However, he revealed his true feelings in the information he tried to dismiss or present as trivial entertainment – his ‘creation’ of the Cthulhu Mythos and its terrifying entities and semi-entities.

London-based occultist Kenneth Grant has suggested a possible source of Lovecraft’s ideas. He likens Lovecraft’s perception to a faulty lens receiving distorted images; in this case, distorted by Lovecraft’s personal fears and conscious rejection of the information which was transmitted to him in dreams. Grant likens Lovecraft to the notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley, and makes explicit connections between the entities Crowley claimed to have contacted using his own methods of dream control and the entities of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Whilst concrete evidence for this assumption is negligible, interesting comparisons can be drawn from examination of Crowley’s and Lovecraft’s personal attitudes, and it is possible to conclude that had Lovecraft possessed Crowley’s aptitude for magick, he may have presented us with a similar picture to that of Crowley’s New Aeon, or Age of Horus; the age of Force and Fire, in other words, the Nuclear Age. Taking the previously-quoted passage from “The Call of Cthulhu” into consideration, we can see that the “entities” of the Cthulhu Cults are perhaps no more than Lovecraft’s fearful approximations of the types of energy the Nuclear Age will release. As we teeter on the edge of the brink, within full face of destruction, it is not surprising Lovecraft’s sensitive lens, as Gr ant would have it, should become so distorted.

Images of dead cities erupting from the sea releasing pre-Atlantean horrors (“The Call of Cthulhu”); strange mutations – half-breeds between man and monster (“The Dunwich Horror”); radiation which blights the landscape and drives men insane (“The Colour out of Space”); Yog-Sothoth “…who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos…” – these images all suggest an Age of Destruction where the New Gods are yet the Primal, Ancient Ones; as if to suggest, as Grant does in his “Outside the Circles of Time”; that “the Old Ones will return…” those forces of space-rending nuclear power which created our world can be resummoned to destroy it. Lovecraft speaks of such forces in many of his tales as coming from “Outside”, suggesting a way of ingress by a fusion, creating entrances or ‘windows’ into this, ‘our’ dimension, possibly via the atomic explosions of the 1940s when “the seal was dissolved”. Also significantly, these forces from the nightside are now shadowing-forth, invading the Astral Plane as though rooting themselves in the collective subconsciousness which allows them insidious access to the human life-wave.

Whether such sinister ideas can be taken seriously is beyond the guessing of the present writer. I present the information as an example of the eerie foreshadowing future events tend to take in the light of the present. What there is no doubt about is the increasingly uncertain future of mankind. Faulty lens or not, I think H.P. Lovecraft had a pretty good idea of what was to come. His actual mode of expression, bizarre, quirky as it might have been, suggests a man deeply disturbed by visions of a bleak, ruinous future. That he tried to dismiss the objective significance of such visions and deny the dream-world is more revealing than the uncomfortable idea that Cthulhu and his minions might actually exist … We should be satisfied to admit that H.P. Lovecraft’s prophetic ability created a more interesting man than mythos. He was the world’s first Cosmic Agaraphobic.


2 Responses to “The Reluctant Prophet by Stephen Sennitt”

  1. Chris Wrote:

    Amazing, this really hits the nail on the head. I hadn’t made the connection between lovecraft’s vision and the nuclear age, but it’s an important connection, I think. Personally, I see the mythos entities (particulary cthulhu) in terms of Timothy Leary’s 8 circit model of conciousness. The key word running through all of Lovecrafts fiction is awakening, and Cthulhu may well represent the awakening of Human conciousness – that 80% of our brains that we are ignorant to, and what knowledge that may bring about our origins. Azathoth might be the realisation of that which postmodernism is only able to suggest. Can mankind really cope with freedom in the abscence of God or an ultimate morality? Now that’s a horror story!

  2. Off-Panel: The Best Horror Comics of the 1970s? | The Panelists Wrote:

    […] Stephen Sennitt, writing about the Skywald black-and-white magazines of the early 1970s, in Ghastly Terror! The Horrible Story of the Horror Comics (Headpress, 1999), page 130. A complete checklist of the Skywald “Horror-Mood” comics is here. See other posts about: Ghastly Terror!, Herschel Waldman, Nightmare, Psycho, Skywald, Sol Brodsky, Stephen Sennitt. Share:TwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle Bookmarksemail […]

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