A Genuine Pagan

When about seven or eight I was a genuine pagan, so intoxictated with the beauty of Greece that I acquired a half-sincere belief in the old gods and Nature-spirits. I have in literal truth built altars to Pan, Apollo, Diana, and Athena, and have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk. Once I firmly thought I beheld some of these sylvan creatures dancing under autumnal oaks; a kind of “religious experience” as true in its way as the subjective ecstasies of any Christian.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “A Confession of Unfaith,” Lovecraft claims that, when he was a child, he once saw dryads and satyrs in the woods near his home.

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

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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.

The Tyranny of Corporeal Enclosure

The general revolt of the sensitive mind against the tyranny of corporeal enclosure, restricted sense-equipment, and the laws of force, space, and causation, is a far keener and bitterer and better-founded one than any of the silly revolts of long-haired poseurs against isolated and specific instances of cosmic inevitability. But of course it does not take the form of personal petulance, because there is no convenient scape-goat to saddle the impersonal ill upon. Rather does it crop out as a pervasive sadness and unplaceable impatience, manifested in a love of strange dreams and an amusing eagerness to be galled by the quack cosmic pretensions of the various religious circuses. Well—in our day the quack circuses are wearing pretty thin despite the premature senilities of fat Chesterbellocs and affected Waste Land Shantih-dwellers, and the nostalgic and unmotivated “overbeliefs” of elderly and childhood-crippled physicists. The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality—when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and measurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt—as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity?


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft claims that, due to the decline of religious belief, weird fiction is now the only means left for sensitive people to “revolt against time, space, and matter” and satisfy their curiosity about the supernatural.

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.

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.

A Frank and Conscious Unintelligibility

The ultimate position of Dunsany in literature depends largely on the future course of literature itself. Our age is one of curious transition and divergence, with an increasing separation of art from the past and from all common life as well. Modern science has, in the end, proved an enemy to art and pleasure; for by revealing to us the whole sordid and prosaic basis of our thoughts, motives, and acts, it has stripped the world of glamour, wonder, and all those illusions of heroism, nobility, and sacrifice which used to sound so impressive when romantically treated. Indeed, it is not too much to say that psychological discovery, and chemical, physical, and physiological research have largely destroyed the element of emotion among informed and sophisticated people by resolving it into its component parts—intellectual idea and animal impulse. The so-called “soul” with all its hectic and mawkish attributes of sentimentality, veneration, earntestness, devotion, and the like, has perished on analysis. Nietzsche brought a transvaluation of values, but Remy de Gourmont has brought a wholesale destruction of all values. We know now what a futile, aimless, and disconnected welter of mirages and hypocrisies life is; and from the first shock of that knowledge has sprung the bizarre, tasteless, defiant, and chaotic literature of that terrible newer generation which so shocks our grandmothers—the aesthetic generation fo T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ben Hecht, Aldous Huxley, James Branch Cabell, and all the rest. These writers, knowing that life has no real pattern, either rave, or mock, or join in the cosmic chaos by exploiting a frank and conscious unintelligibility and confusion of values. To them it savours of the vulgar to adopt a pattern—for today only servants, churchgoers, and tired business men read things which mean anything or acknowledge any values.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Lord Dunsany and His Work,” Lovecraft speculates that scientific discovery and psychological research altered the way in which intellectuals viewed life and thus engendered Modernism, which rejects traditional art forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Lord Dunsany and His Work.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 56-62.

 

The Puritan Imagination

It is the night-black Massachusetts legendry which packs the really macabre ‘kick’. Here is material for a really profound study in group-neuroticism; for certainly, no one can deny the existence of a profoundly morbid streak in the Puritan imagination.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft claims that Puritan Massachusetts is the ideal setting for a weird tale.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert E. Howard.” 4 Oct. 1930. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 174-84.

Meagre Literary Contents

I had turned to a neighbouring shelf and was examining its meagre literary contents—an eighteenth-century Bible, a Pilgrim’s Progress of like period, illustrated with grotesque woodcuts and printed by the almanack-maker Isaiah Thomas, the rotting bulk of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, and a few other books of evidently equal age—when my attention was aroused by the unmistakable sound of walking in the room overhead.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Picture in the House” (1920), the narrator describes the books he discovers when, during a storm, he takes refuge in a seemingly abandoned house.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Picture in the House.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 34-42.

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.