The Pseudo-Science of Astrology

To the Editor of the Evening News:

It is an unfortunate fact that every man who seeks to disseminate knowledge must contend not only against ignorance itself, but against false instruction as well. No sooner do we deem ourselves free from a particularly gross superstition, than we are confronted by some enemy to learning who would set aside all the intellectual progress of years, and plunge us back into the darkness of mediaeval disbelief.

As a lover of Astronomy, and a writer on that subject, I was the other day very much pained and shocked to see in the Evening News an article on the pseudo-science of Astrology, which has ever been the bane of the seeker after truth. While I entertain no doubt as to the sincerity of the author, a Mr. Hartmann, [it is impossible] for me to comprehend how any person of judgment and education can now give credence to the doctrines of a false and ridiculous system completely exploded over 200 years ago. In this age of enlightenment it ought not be necessary to shew the utter absurdity of the idea that our daily affairs can be governed by the mere apparent motions of infinitely distant bodies whose seeming arrangements and configurations, on which the calculations of judicial astrology are based, arise only from perspective as seen from our particular place in the universe. It seems very provoking that astronomers and other men of sense should be obliged to waste their time and energy in proving Astrology to be false, when there exists not the slightest reason to believe any part of it true; yet the perverse sophistry of certain misguided individuals still raises up such a body of specious evidence in favour of it, that we must needs attack again what we had thought finally conquered. The fallacies of Astrology are like the many heads of the Lernean Hydra; chop off one, and two grow in its place.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Science versus Charlatanry,” which was engendered by the appearance of J. F. Hartmann’s article “Astrology and the European War” in the Providence Evening News, Lovecraft dismisses astrology as an ignorant and ridiculous superstition.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Science versus Charlatanry.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 3, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 260-1.

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This Refuge for the Demented

In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Tomb” (1917), Jervas Dudley claims that his story, which is so incredible that many believe him to be insane, involved supernatural phenomenon. 

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Tomb.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 1-10.

 

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.

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.