An Indifferent Cosmos

Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist—that is, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the resultant of the natural forces surrounding and governing organic life will have any connexion with the wishes or tastes of any part of that organic life-process. Pessimists are just as illogical as optimists; insomuch as both envisage the aims of mankind as unified, and as having a direct relationship (either of frustration or of fulfillment) to the inevitable flow of terrestrial motivation and events. That is—both schools retain in a vestigial way the primitive concept of a conscious teleology—of a cosmos which gives a damn one way or the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitoes, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft describes himself, not as an optimist or a pessimist, but as an “indifferentist,” someone who recognizes that the universe is indifferent to humanity’s welfare.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 30 Oct. 1929. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 39-55.

Intolerable Restraint

A great part of religion is merely a childish and diluted pseudo-gratification of this perpetual gnawing toward the ultimate illimitable void. Superadded to this simple curiosity is the galling sense of intolerable restraint which all sensitive people (except self-blinded earth-gazers like little Augie DerlEth) feel as they survey their natural limitations in time and space as scaled against the freedoms and expansions and comprehensions and adventurous expectancies which the mind can formulate as abstract conceptions. Only a perfect clod can fail to discern these irritant feelings in the greater part of mankind—feelings so potent and imperious that, if denied symbolic outlets in aesthetics or religious fakery, they produce actual hallucinations of the supernatural, and drive half-responsible minds to the concoction of the most absurd hoaxes and the perpetuation of the most absurd specific myth-types.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft argues that many people, when contemplating the inflexibility of natural law, feel a sense of “intolerable restraint,” which often finds expression in either religious or artistic symbolism.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” Feb. 1931. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 257-60.

This New Christian Creed

Olympian Gods! How can I let ye go
And pin my faith to this new Christian creed?
Can I resign the deities I know
For him who on a cross for man did bleed?

How in my weakness can my hopes depend
On one lone God, though mighty be his pow’r?
Why can Jove’s host no more assistance lend,
To soothe my pains, and cheer my troubled hour?

Are there no Dryads on these wooded mounts
O’er which I oft in desolation roam?
Are there no Naiads in these crystal founts?
Nor Nereids upon the Ocean foam?

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “To the Old Pagan Religion,” Lovecraft laments the passing of paganism and the ascension of Christianity.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To the Old Pagan Religion.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 31.

They’d Orter Git Better Gods

“Never was nobody like Cap’n Obed—old limb o’ Satan! Heh, heh! I kin mind him a-tellin’ abaout furren parts, an’ callin’ all the folks stupid fer goin’ to Christian meetin’ an’ bearin’ their burdens meek an’ lowly. Says they’d orter git better gods like some o’ the folks in the Injies—gods as ud bring ’em good fishin’ in return for their sacrifices, an’ ud reely answer folks’s prayers.”

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1931), Zadok Allen describes how Captain Obed Marsh convinced the people of Innsmouth to abandon Christianity and worship alien gods.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 268-335.

Mine Were an Old People

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their heads it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. Mine were an old people, and were old even when this land was settled three hundred years before.

DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Festival” (1923), the narrator describes his return to his birthplace, which is home to an ancient cult.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Festival.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 109-18.

The Blind Idiot God

He thought of the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose centre sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a daemoniac flute held in nameless paws.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935), the narrator describes Azathoth, the chief god in Lovecraft’s mythology.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Haunter of the Dark.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 336-60.

A Cynical Materialist

I am by nature a sceptic and analyst, hence settled early into my present general attitude of cynical materialism, subsequently changing in regard to details and degree rather than to basic ideals. The environment into which I was born was that of the average American Protestant of urban, civilised type—in theory quite orthodox, but in practice very liberal. Morals rather than faith formed the real keynote. I was instructed in the legends of the Bible and of Saint Nicholas at the age of about two, and gave to both a passive acceptance not especially distinguished either for its critical keenness or its enthusiastic comprehension. Within the next few years I added to my supernatural lore the fairy tales of Grimm and the Arabian Nights. At one time I formed a juvenile collection of Oriental pottery and objets d’art, announcing myself as a devout Mussulman and assuming the pseudonym of “Abdul Alhazred”. My first positive utterance of a skeptical nature probably occurred before my fifth birthday, when I was told what I really knew before, that “Santa Claus” is a myth. This admission caused me to ask why “God” is not equally a myth. Not long afterwards I was placed in the “infant class” at the Sunday school of the venerable First Baptist Church, an ecclesiastical landmark dating from 1775; and there resigned all vestiges of Christian belief. The absurdity of the myths I was called upon to accept, and the somber greyness of the whole faith as compared with the Eastern magnificence of Mahometanism, made me definitely an agnostic; and caused me to become so pestiferous a questioner that I was permitted to discontinue attendance. No statement of the kind-hearted and motherly preceptress had seemed to me to answer in any ways doubts I honestly and explicitly expressed, and I was fast becoming a marked “man” through my searching iconoclasm. No doubt I was regarded as a corrupter of the simple faith of the other “infants”.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “A Confession of Unfaith,” Lovecraft describes his initial impressions of Christianity, Islam, and religion in general.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “A Confession of Unfaith.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 145-8.

The Peculiar Fashion Known as Life

I had always been exceptionally tolerant of West’s pursuits, and we frequently discussed his theories, whose ramifications and corollaries were almost infinite. Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth, my friend believed that artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of the tissues; and that unless actual decomposition has set in, a corpse fully equipped with organs may with suitable measures be set going again in the peculiar fashion known as life. That the psychic or intellectual life might be impaired by the slight deterioration of sensitive brain-cells which even a short period of death would be apt to cause, West fully realized. It had at first been his hope to find a reagent which would restore vitality before the actual advent of death, and only repeated failures on animals had shewn him that the natural and artificial life-motions were incompatible. He then sought extreme freshness in his specimens, injecting his solutions into the blood immediately after the extinction of life. It was this circumstance which made the professors so carelessly skeptical, for they felt that true death had not occurred in any case. They did not stop to view the matter closely and reasoningly.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922), the narrator discusses Herbert West’s theory concerning the “artificial reanimation of the dead.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Herbert West—Reanimator.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 50-80.

The Lord of All

Out in the mindless void the daemon bore me,
Past the bright clusters of dimensioned space,
Till neither time nor matter stretched before me,
But only Chaos, without form or place.
Here the vast Lord of All in darkness muttered
Things he had dreamed but could not understand,
While near him shapeless bat-things flopped and fluttered
In idiot vortices that ray-streams fanned.

They danced insanely to the high, thin whining
Of a cracked flute clutched in a monstrous paw,
Whence flow the aimless waves whose chance combining
Gives each frail cosmos its eternal law.
“I am His Messenger,” the daemon said,
As in contempt he struck his Master’s head.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Azathoth,” Lovecraft describes the “Lord of All” as a mindless, demonic idiot, around which strange and bizarre creatures gather.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Azathoth.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 89.

From Inner Egypt Came

And at the last from inner Egypt came
The strange dark One to whom the fellahs bowed;
Silent and lean and cryptically proud,
And wrapped in fabrics red as sunset flame.
Throngs pressed around, frantic for his commands,
But leaving, could not tell what they had heard;
While through the nations spread the awestruck word
That wild beasts followed him and licked his hands.

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Nyarlathotep,” Lovecraft describes the arrival of a strange, enigmatic messiah, whose coming signals the end of the world.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Nyarlathotep.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 88-9.