‘The Sun And The Moon’

I find Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the meaning of celestial imagery in the Qur’án very illuminating.

“And now, concerning His words—“The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give light, and the stars shall fall from heaven.” By the terms “sun” and “moon,” mentioned in the writings of the Prophets of God, is not meant solely the sun and moon of the visible universe. Nay rather, manifold are the meanings they have intended for these terms”.

“The term “suns” hath many a time been applied in the writings of the “immaculate Souls” unto the Prophets of God, those luminous Emblems of Detachment. Among those writings are the following words recorded in the “Prayer of Nudbih”: “Whither are gone the resplendent Suns? Whereunto have departed those shining Moons and sparkling Stars?” Thus, it hath become evident that the terms “sun,” “moon,” and “stars” primarily signify the Prophets of God, the saints, and their companions, those Luminaries, the light of Whose knowledge hath shed illumination upon the worlds of the visible and the invisible”.

“In another sense, by the terms ‘sun’, ‘moon’, and ‘stars’ are meant such laws and teachings as have been established and proclaimed in every Dispensation, such as the laws of prayer and fasting. These have, according to the law of the Qur’án, been regarded, when the beauty of the Prophet Muḥammad had passed beyond the veil, as the most fundamental and binding laws of His dispensation. To this testify the texts of the traditions and chronicles, which, on account of their being widely known, need not be referred to here. Nay rather, in every Dispensation the law concerning prayer hath been emphasized and universally enforced. To this testify the recorded traditions ascribed to the lights that have emanated from the Day-star of Truth, the essence of the Prophet Muḥammad”.

“Muḥammad, the Seal of the Prophets, and the most distinguished of God’s chosen Ones, hath likened the Dispensation of the Qur’án unto heaven, by reason of its loftiness, its paramount influence, its majesty, and the fact that it comprehendeth all religions. And as the sun and moon constitute the brightest and most prominent luminaries in the heavens, similarly in the heaven of the religion of God two shining orbs have been ordained—fasting and prayer. ‘Islám is heaven; fasting is its sun, prayer, its moon.’”

“This is the purpose underlying the symbolic words of the Manifestations of God. Consequently, the application of the terms “sun” and “moon” to the things already mentioned hath been demonstrated and justified by the text of the sacred verses and the recorded traditions. Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words “the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven” is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God”.

 The Kitáb-i-Íqán

What inspired Cabell to create Poictesme?

Rockbridge Alum Springs

“What inspired Cabell to create Poictesme? The answer is in part an area in Virginia called Rockbridge Alum Springs. Cabell went there throughout the ‘twenties even after its decline. It began as a summer retreat in the 1880s and rivalled America’s leading spas. Dedicated to romance and illusion it was far from the workaday world of Richmond. Towards the end of his life Cabell wrote: “I found nothing that sent my imagination soaring like that little charmed circle of buildings called Rockbridge Alum Springs.”

James Branch Cabell (1879-1958): America’s Greatest Mythmaker  by Desmond Tarrant

‘I Loved Thy Creation, Hence I Created Thee’

There are a number of verses in ‘The Hidden Words’ on the subject of creation which I find particularly inspiring. Amongst other subjects these verses touch on the love between the creator and the created and how the spirit of the creator infuses creation with life.

O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.

O SON OF MAN! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.

O SON OF BEING! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.

O SON OF BOUNTY! Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk, eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee. Out of My loving-kindness, ’neath the shade of My mercy I nurtured thee, and guarded thee by the essence of My grace and favor. And My purpose in all this was that thou mightest attain My everlasting dominion and become worthy of My invisible bestowals. And yet heedless thou didst remain, and when fully grown, thou didst neglect all My bounties and occupied thyself with thine idle imaginings, in such wise that thou didst become wholly forgetful, and, turning away from the portals of the Friend didst abide within the courts of My enemy.

O SON OF MAN! My eternity is My creation, I have created it for thee. Make it the garment of thy temple. My unity is My handiwork; I have wrought it for thee; clothe thyself therewith, that thou mayest be to all eternity the revelation of My everlasting being.

The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh

From Devil-Fish to Demi-God: the Giant Squid in Romance and Fantasy of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century

Nineteenth Century Illustration for 'Toilers of the Sea' by Victor Hugo

‘If terror were the object of its creation, nothing could be imagined more perfect than the devil-fish.’

Victor Hugo ‘Toilers of the Sea’

The kraken and the devil-fish are but two archaic names for the cephalopod we now know as the giant squid. The nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the giant squid emerge from the legends of the Icelandic sagas and Homer’s odyssey into the scientific journals of the day. The natural scientist Carolus Linnaeus had in fact included kraken as cephalopods in the first edition of his taxonomy of the natural world ‘Systema Naturae’ as early as 1735 but had excised the reference from the second edition. It was not until the 1850s that the giant squid re-entered the scientific lexicon when Japetus Steenstrup, Professor of Zoology at the University of Copenhagen wrote a number of papers on the subject. In 1861 the French naval vessel the ‘Alecton’ obtained part of a giant squid and from the 1870s onwards many specimens washed ashore in Canada and New Zealand.  The giant squid also undulated its way into general culture via articles of the time such as this from ‘Popular Science Monthly’

“PERHAPS no better introduction to this chapter can be given than to recall to the minds of our readers the terribly vivid description of the devil-fish by that grand master of romance, Victor Hugo; for, though incorrect in several scientific details, the general description is the best we have had, though Jules Verne’s is almost as dramatic and nearer to Nature. In “Les Travailleurs de la Mer” M. Hugo says: “To believe in the existence of the devil-fish, one must have seen it. Compared to it the ancient hydras were insignificant…” In a letter addressed to me on this subject by Prof. Spencer F. Baird, under date of April 1, 1878, this distinguished naturalist says: “The giant squid in the New York Aquarium can only be designated as an infant or dwarf in comparison with the gigantic species of the Pacific Ocean— those upon which the sperm-whale is known to feed. Chunks of squid-remains are not infrequently found in the throat or stomach of the sperm-whale, apparently indicating specimens from ten to fifty times the size of the Newfoundland variety. I was informed that a considerably larger specimen than that at New York was cast ashore at Newfoundland later in the season. The arms of the latter, if I recollect right, were some ten feet longer than those of the other”.

‘The Devil-Fish and Its Relatives’ By W. E. Damon in Popular Science Monthly Volume 14 January 1879

As is alluded to in this article the giant squid also made notable appearances in Nineteenth Century works of fiction such as ‘Toilers of the Sea’ by Victor Hugo (1866) and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seaby Jules Verne (1870) but there were earlier appearances such as in ‘Moby-Dick;’ or, The Whale’ (1851) by Herman Melville. I would further argue that imagery of the giant squid can also be found in the scientific romance ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1898), by H.G. Wells and is much in evidence in the Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft (1890 –1937).

Melville had direct experience as a mariner having served on two whaling ships including the whaler Acushnet in 1842 and may have been made aware of the existence of the giant squid on these voyages. Melville’s depiction of the creature in ‘Moby Dick’ is prosaic in the extreme – categorised as a mere snack for that mighty symbolic beast the white whale.

“What was it, Sir?” said Flask.

“The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to their ports to tell of it.”

But Ahab said nothing; turning his boat, he sailed back to the vessel; the rest as silently following.

Whatever superstitions the sperm whalemen in general have connected with the sight of this object, certain it is, that a glimpse of it being so very unusual, that circumstance has gone far to invest it with portentousness. So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all of them declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet very few of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its true nature and form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the sperm whale his only food. For though other species of whales find their food above water, and may be seen by man in the act of feeding, the spermaceti whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones below the surface; and only by inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that food consists. At times, when closely pursued, he will disgorge what are supposed to be the detached arms of the squid; some of them thus exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty feet in length. They fancy that the monster to which these arms belonged ordinarily clings by them to the bed of the ocean; and that the sperm whale, unlike other species, is supplied with teeth in order to attack and tear it.

There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop Pontoppodan may ultimately resolve itself into Squid. The manner in which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking, with some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two correspond. But much abatement is necessary with respect to the incredible bulk he assigns it.

By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish, to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would seem to belong, but only as the Anak of the tribe”.

The white whale is arguably a central character of Moby Dick and described by Captain Ahab as his sworn enemy or nemesis-

 “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him…”

In contrast the squid is a mere footnote, clearing up an ancient mystery related by Bishop Pontoppodan or a curiosity of the naturalists along with the cuttle-fish.

The giant squid makes a more striking appearance in ‘Toilers of the Sea’ by Victor Hugo where it is described as a ‘sea vampire’ as it was believed to suck out the vital fluids of its victims. For Hugo the ‘devil-fish is so otherworldly it is best described in negatives-

“The whale has enormous bulk, the devil-fish is comparatively small; the jararaca makes a hissing noise, the devil-fish is mute; the rhinoceros has a horn, the devil-fish has none; the scorpion has a dart, the devil-fish has no dart; the shark has sharp fins, the devil-fish has no fins; the vespertilio-bat has wings with claws, the devil-fish has no wings; the porcupine has his spines, the devil-fish has no spines; the sword-fish has his sword, the devil-fish has none; the torpedo has its electric spark, the devil-fish has none; the toad has its poison, the devil-fish has none; the viper has its venom, the devil-fish has no venom; the lion has its talons, the devil-fish has no talons; the griffon has its beak, the devil-fish has no beak; the crocodile has its jaws, the devil-fish has no teeth…

What, then, is the devil-fish? It is the sea vampire”.

Hugo describes the giant squid as a creature so hideous its existence casts doubt on the idea of a benign creator. (In this regard the description appears something of a precursor of the tentacled horrors of Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos).

“It is difficult for those who have not seen it to believe in the existence of the devil-fish.

Compared to this creature, the ancient hydras are insignificant.

At times we are tempted to imagine that the vague forms which float in our dreams may encounter in the realm of the Possible attractive forces, having power to fix their lineaments, and shape living beings, out of these creatures of our slumbers. The Unknown has power over these strange visions, and out of them composes monsters. Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod imagined only the Chimera: Providence has created this terrible creature of the sea.

Creation abounds in monstrous forms of life. The wherefore of this perplexes and affrights the religious thinker.

If terror were the object of its creation, nothing could be imagined more perfect than the devil-fish”.

According to Hugo science can classify the giant squid but cannot define its meaning- it is left to philosophy to do this. Hugo even speculates that the existence of the giant squid is an argument for Manichean-style dualism: that is the existence of opposing poles of good and evil in the Universe.

‘These strange animals, Science, in accordance with its habit of excessive caution even in the face of facts, at first rejects as fabulous; then she decides to observe them; then she dissects, classifies, catalogues, and labels; then procures specimens, and exhibits them in glass cases in museums…This done, she leaves them. Where science drops them, philosophy takes them up…

‘…Philosophy in her turn studies these creatures. She goes both less far and further. She does not dissect, but meditate. Where the scalpel has laboured, she plunges the hypothesis. She seeks the final cause. Eternal  perplexity of the thinker. These creatures disturb his ideas of the Creator. They are hideous surprises. They are the death’s-head at the feast of contemplation. The philosopher determines their characteristics in dread. They are the concrete forms of evil. What attitude can he take towards this treason of creation against herself? To whom can he look for the solution of these riddles? The Possible is a terrible matrix. Monsters are mysteries in their concrete form. Portions of shade issue from the mass, and something within detaches itself, rolls, floats, condenses, borrows elements from the ambient darkness, becomes subject to unknown polarisations, assumes a kind of life, furnishes itself with some unimagined form from the obscurity, and with some terrible spirit from the miasma, and wanders ghostlike among living things. It is as if night itself assumed the forms of animals. But for what good?  with what object? Thus we come again to the eternal questioning.

These animals are indeed phantoms as much as monsters. They are proved and yet improbable. Their fate is to exist in spite of à priori reasonings. They are the amphibia of the shore which separates life from death. Their unreality makes their existence puzzling. They touch the frontier of man’s domain and people the region of chimeras. We deny the possibility of the vampire, and the cephaloptera appears. Their swarming is a certainty which disconcerts our confidence. Optimism, which is nevertheless in the right, becomes silenced in their presence. They form the visible extremity of the dark circles. They mark the transition of our reality into another. They seem to belong to that commencement of terrible life which the dreamer sees confusedly through the loophole of the night.

That multiplication of monsters, first in the Invisible, then in the Possible, has been suspected, perhaps perceived by magi and philosophers in their austere ecstasies and profound contemplations. Hence the conjecture of a material hell. The demon is simply the invisible tiger. The wild beast which devours souls has been presented to the eyes of human beings by St. John, and by Dante in his vision of Hell.

If, in truth, the invisible circles of creation continue indefinitely, if after one there is yet another, and so forth in illimitable progression; if that chain, which for our part we are resolved to doubt, really exist, the cephaloptera at one extremity proves Satan at the other. It is certain that the wrongdoer at one end proves the existence of wrong at the other.

Every malignant creature, like every perverted intelligence, is a sphinx. A terrible sphinx propounding a terrible riddle; the riddle of the existence of Evil.

It is this perfection of evil which has sometimes sufficed to incline powerful intellects to a faith in the duality of the Deity, towards that terrible bifrons of the Manichæans”.

(Once again I am struck by the likely influence of these passages on Lovecraft’s dystheistic worldview and the centrality of squid- like horrors in his imagery- a theme I will return to later).

Illustration from first English edition of 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea published 1870

In ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seaby Jules Verne the giant squid that famously attack the ‘Nautilus’ are described in terms which evoke horror- reference is made to the ‘ horned beak’ and ‘several rows of pointed teeth’.

“Nothing, my friends; at least of that which passes the limit of truth to get to fable or legend. Nevertheless, there must be some ground for the imagination of the story-tellers. One cannot deny that poulps and cuttlefish exist of a large species, inferior, however, to the cetaceans. Aristotle has stated the dimensions of a cuttlefish as five cubits, or nine feet two inches. Our fishermen frequently see some that are more than four feet long. Some skeletons of poulps are preserved in the museums of Trieste and Montpelier, that measure two yards in length. Besides, according to the calculations of some naturalists, one of these animals only six feet long would have tentacles twenty-seven feet long. That would suffice to make a formidable monster.

I looked in my turn, and could not repress a gesture of disgust. Before my eyes was a horrible monster worthy to figure in the legends of the marvellous. It was an immense cuttlefish, being eight yards long. It swam crossways in the direction of the Nautilus with great speed, watching us with its enormous staring green eyes. Its eight arms, or rather feet, fixed to its head, that have given the name of cephalopod to these animals, were twice as long as its body, and were twisted like the furies’ hair. One could see the 250 air holes on the inner side of the tentacles. The monster’s mouth, a horned beak like a parrot’s, opened and shut vertically. Its tongue, a horned substance, furnished with several rows of pointed teeth, came out quivering from this veritable pair of shears. What a freak of nature, a bird’s beak on a mollusc! Its spindle-like body formed a fleshy mass that might weigh 4,000 to 5,000 lb.; the, varying colour changing with great rapidity, according to the irritation of the animal, passed successively from livid grey to reddish brown. What irritated this mollusc? No doubt the presence of the Nautilus, more formidable than itself, and on which its suckers or its jaws had no hold”.

Unlike the ‘Devil-fish’ of Victor Hugo, although terrifying these giant squid are acknowledged as creations of God admired for their natural vigour and objects of interest to the amateur naturalist.

“Yet, what monsters these poulps are! what vitality the Creator has given them! what vigour in their movements! and they possess three hearts! Chance had brought us in presence of this cuttlefish, and I did not wish to lose the opportunity of carefully studying this specimen of cephalopods. I overcame the horror that inspired me, and, taking a pencil, began to draw it”.

Martian tripod illustration from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds".

The Martian invaders and their tripods in ‘The War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells are described in very squid-like terms as ‘a sort of metallic spider’ with ‘clutching tentacles’ and having a kind of ‘fleshy beak.’

 “The mechanism it certainly was that held my attention first. It was one of those complicated fabrics that have since been called handling-machines, and the study of which has already given such an enormous impetus to terrestrial invention. As it dawned upon me first, it presented a sort of metallic spider with five jointed, agile legs, and with an extraordinary number of jointed levers, bars, and reaching and clutching tentacles about its body. Most of its arms were retracted, but with three long tentacles it was fishing out a number of rods, plates, and bars which lined the covering and apparently strengthened the walls of the cylinder. These, as it extracted them, were lifted out and deposited upon a level surface of earth behind it.

They were huge round bodies–or, rather, heads–about four feet in diameter, each body having in front of it a face. This face had no nostrils–indeed, the Martians do not seem to have had any sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large dark-coloured eyes, and just beneath this a kind of fleshy beak. In the back of this head or body–I scarcely know how to speak of it–was the single tight tympanic surface, since known to be anatomically an ear, though it must have been almost useless in our dense air. In a group round the mouth were sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two bunches of eight each. These bunches have since been named rather aptly, by that distinguished anatomist Professor Howes, the hands”.

Perhaps the unease that H.G. Wells vision provokes is that earthly squid may be a type of ‘sea vampire’ but they are clearly some way down the food chain from human beings.  On the other hand extra-terrestrial squid have superior technology and drink human blood on an industrial scale…

“Strange as it may seem to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians. They were heads–merely heads. Entrails they had none. They did not eat, much less digest. Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other creatures, and injected it into their own veins. I have myself seen this being done, as I shall mention in its place. But, squeamish as I may seem, I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood obtained from a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal. . . “.

Cthulu

In the works of H.P. Lovecraft the giant squid achieves its (possibly) final apotheosis into the gods and demi-gods of the Cthulu mythos. Note the squid imagery from the following passages where references are made to ‘The awful squid-head with writhing feelers’  ‘a huge, formless white polypous thing with luminous eyes’ and ‘cuttlefish head’.

“Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue with vast wave-raising strokes of cosmic potency. Briden looked back and went mad, laughing shrilly as he kept on laughing at intervals till death found him one night in the cabin whilst Johansen was wandering deliriously.

But Johansen had not given out yet. Knowing that the Thing could surely overtake the Alert until steam was fully up, he resolved on a desperate chance; and, setting the engine for full speed, ran lightning-like on deck and reversed the wheel. There was a mighty eddying and foaming in the noisome brine, and as the steam mounted higher and higher the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a daemon galleon. The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly. There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler could not put on paper. For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething” astern; where–God in heaven!–the scattered plasticity of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original form, whilst its distance widened every second as the Alert gained impetus from its mounting steam.

“the region now entered by the police was one of traditionally evil repute, substantially unknown and untraversed by white men. There were legends of a hidden lake unglimpsed by mortal sight, in which dwelt a huge, formless white polypous thing with luminous eyes; and squatters whispered that bat-winged devils flew up out of caverns in inner earth to worship it at midnight”.

“The crouching image with its cuttlefish head, dragon body, scaly wings, and hieroglyphed pedestal, was preserved in the Museum at Hyde Park; and I studied it long and well, finding it a thing of balefully exquisite workmanship, and with the same utter mystery, terrible antiquity, and unearthly strangeness of material which I had noted in Legrasse’s smaller specimen”.

‘The Call Of Cthulhu’

Unlike the ‘devil-fish’ of ‘Toilers of the Sea’ or even the Martians of ‘The War of the Worlds’ whose simple aim is to digest their victims ‘great Cthulu’ has no such dietary requirements. It simply exists as a kind of metaphysical threat to the sanity of humankind, bringing to mind Victor Hugo’s description of the ‘devil-fish’

“These animals are indeed phantoms as much as monsters. They are proved and yet improbable. Their fate is to exist in spite of à priori reasonings. They are the amphibia of the shore which separates life from death. Their unreality makes their existence puzzling. They touch the frontier of man’s domain and people the region of chimeras”.

Lovecraft acknowledges his debt to Victor Hugo, writing in ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’

“Victor Hugo, in such tales as Hans of Iceland, and Balzac, in The Wild Ass’s Skin, Seraphita, and Louis Lambert, both employ supernaturalism to a greater or less extent; though generally only as a means to some more human end, and without the sincere and dæmonic intensity which characterizes the born artist in shadows”.

Squid imagery is also apparent in Lovecraft’s ’Old Ones’ a race of sentient extraterrestrial demi-gods who are credited with creating the human race (by accident). Note the references to ‘five main head tentacles’ and ‘The many slender tentacles into which the crinoid arms branched’

“Of the life of the Old Ones, both under the sea and after part of them migrated to land, volumes could be written. Those in shallow water had continued the fullest use of the eyes at the ends of their five main head tentacles, and had practiced the arts of sculpture and of writing in quite the usual way–the writing accomplished with a stylus on waterproof waxen surfaces. Those lower down in the ocean depths, though they used a curious phosphorescent organism to furnish light, pieced out their vision with obscure special senses operating through the prismatic cilia on their heads–senses which rendered all the Old Ones partly independent of light in emergencies. Their forms of sculpture and writing had changed curiously during the descent, embodying certain apparently chemical coating processes–probably to secure phosphorescence–which the bas-reliefs could not make clear to us. The beings moved in the sea partly by swimming–using the lateral crinoid arms–and partly by wriggling with the lower tier of tentacles containing the pseudofeet. Occasionally they accomplished long swoops with the auxiliary use of two or more sets of their fanlike folding wings. On land they locally used the pseudofeet, but now and then flew to great heights or over long distances with their wings. The many slender tentacles into which the crinoid arms branched were infinitely delicate, flexible, strong, and accurate in muscular-nervous coordination–ensuring the utmost skill and dexterity in all artistic and other manual operations.

At the Mountains of Madness’

According to these scraps of information, the basis of the fear was a horrible elder race of half-polypous, utterly alien entities which had come through space from immeasurably distant universes and had dominated the earth and three other solar planets about 600 million years ago. They were only partly material–as we understand matter–and their type of consciousness and media of perception differed widely from those of terrestrial organisms. For example, their senses did not include that of sight; their mental world being a strange, non-visual pattern of impressions”.

‘The Shadow Out of Time’

All in all quite an evolution for a cephalopod, from whale-bait in ‘Moby Dick’ through sinister ‘Devil-Fish’ and Martian invader to star-borne demi-god in less than one-hundred years of fiction.

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Melville, Herman, Moby Dick; Or the Whale. Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/2701-h/2701-h.htm [Accessed January 16, 2012].

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Unitarians

During his visit to the United States in 1912 `Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a number of Unitarian congregations on spiritual subjects. These teachings are as profound today as they were one hundred years ago when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá expressed them. On 24th May 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed an audience at the Free Religious Association, or Unitarian Conference in Boston, Massachusetts on the subject of the nature of creation and spiritual progress.

Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness.Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non progressive, it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore, the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous. All things are subject to reformation. This is a century of life and renewal…

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

This was followed on the 9th June 1912 by a talk at the Unitarian Church on Fifteenth Street and Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented was that that of the ‘Marriage of East and West.’

I have come from distant countries of the Orient where the lights of heaven have ever shone forth, from regions where the Manifestations of God have appeared and the radiance and power of God have been revealed to mankind. The purpose and intention of my visit is that, perchance, a bond of unity and agreement may be established between the East and West, that divine love may encompass all nations, divine radiance enlighten both continents and the bounties of the Holy Spirit revivify the body of the world. Therefore, I supplicate the threshold of God that the Orient and Occident may become as one, that the various peoples and religions be unified and souls be blended as the waves of one sea. May they become as trees, flowers and roses which adorn and beautify the same garden.

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

On 16th June 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá  addressed a meeting at Fourth Unitarian Church Beverly Road, Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York on the subject of the physical and spiritual oneness of humankind and the limitation of adhering to national, sectarian or political identities.

This is a Unitarian church, and in the Arabic tongue this day may well be called Yawm-al’Ittihád (“the Unitarian Day”). Therefore, I consider it appropriate to speak to you upon the subject of unity. What is real unity? When we observe the human world, we find various collective expressions of unity therein. For instance, man is distinguished from the animal by his degree, or kingdom. This comprehensive distinction includes all the posterity of Adam and constitutes one great household or human family, which may be 191 considered the fundamental or physical unity of mankind…The unity which is productive of unlimited results is first a unity of mankind which recognizes that all are sheltered beneath the overshadowing glory of the All-Glorious, that all are servants of one God; for all breathe the same atmosphere, live upon the same earth, move beneath the same heavens, receive effulgence from the same sun and are under the protection of one God. This is the most great unity, and its results are lasting if humanity adheres to it; but mankind has hitherto violated it, adhering to sectarian or other limited unities such as racial, patriotic or unity of self-interests; therefore, no great results have been forthcoming…

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

This theme of the oneness of humanity was further elaborated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on 14th July 1912 at All Souls Unitarian Church Fourth Avenue and Twentieth Street, New York.

Today I wish to speak to you upon the subject of the oneness of humanity, for in this great century the most important accomplishment is the unity of mankind. Although in former centuries and times this subject received some measure of mention and consideration, it has now become the paramount issue and question in the religious and political conditions of the world. History shows that throughout the past there has been continual warfare and strife among the various nations, peoples and sects; but now—praise be to God!—in this century of illumination, hearts are inclined toward agreement and fellowship, and minds are thoughtful upon the question of the unification of mankind. There is an emanation of the universal consciousness today which clearly indicates the dawn of a great unity.

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

H.P. Lovecraft: An Atheist and his Gods

H.P. Lovecraft is in my opinion one of the great mythopoeic fantasy writers of the last one hundred years. In his dark universe sanity is but a candle guttering in an encroaching gust of madness. Add to this existential horror a pantheon of dark gods so vividly pictured as to rival any fantasy mythos and it is not surprising that the writings of Lovecraft have such a devoted readership (myself included). In recent years critics such as S.T. Joshi et al have made much of the fiction of Lovecraft as a kind of scripture or mythology of atheism. Whereas the writer himself clearly professes this philosophy in his personal correspondence it is my contention that these ideas are not so apparent in the fictional works themselves and in fact on closer examination a somewhat different worldview emerges.

Lovecraft writes in a letter quoted in ‘Against religion: the atheist writings of H. P. Lovecraft’ that

“The word “Christianity” becomes noble when applied to the veneration of a wonderfully good man and moral teacher, but it grows undignified when applied to a system of white magic based on the supernatural.”

If this form of polemical engagement with Christianity was an important theme in Lovecraft’s’ fictional works one might expect to find significant direct references to God and Christianity: the supernatural genre in which he wrote would give ample opportunity to do this. In fact a textual analysis of Lovecraft’s ‘Collected Works’ shows only a handful of occurrences of the words ‘God’ and ‘Christ*- mostly incidental. On the other hand there are overwhelmingly higher significant occurrences of words such as ‘gods’ and ‘cults.’ (It could be argued there are in fact more significant references to Theosophy than Christianity a theme which I will explore later). Although the odd significant direct reference to sceptical themes can be found even these references are ambiguous. In the context of the narrative they can be just as easily read as evidence of the wickedness of the characters concerned as authorial scepticism about the existence of a Christian God. One example of this can be found in ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ which could be read as either Obed making a theological point about the non-existence of God or an example of his blasphemy in equating a race of fish people with the Deity.

“Then’s the time Obed he begun a-cursin’ at the folks fer bein’ dull sheep an’ prayin’ to a Christian heaven as didn’t help ’em none. He told ’em he’d knowed o’ folks as prayed to gods that give somethin’ ye reely need, an’ says ef a good bunch o’ men ud stand by him, he cud mebbe get a holt o’ sarten paowers as ud bring plenty o’ fish an’ quite a bit of gold”.

A concern for the well-being of orthodox religion also emerges in another passage from the same story.

“Her own attitude toward shadowed Innsmouth–which she never seen–was one of disgust at a community slipping far down the cultural scale, and she assured me that the rumours of devil-worship were partly justified by a peculiar secret cult which had gained force there and engulfed all the orthodox churches.

It was called, she said, “The Esoteric Order of Dagon,” and was undoubtedly a debased, quasi-pagan thing imported from the East a century before, at a time when the Innsmouth fisheries seemed to be going barren. Its persistence among a simple people was quite natural in view of the sudden and permanent return of abundantly fine fishing, and it soon came to be the greatest influence in the town, replacing Freemasonry altogether and taking up headquarters in the old Masonic Hall on New Church Green”.

The idea of blasphemy as a sinister activity is also near the surface of a lot of Lovecraft’s stories- a strange choice of theme if the works were polemically engaged with Christianity or even deism in general.

“Gay blasphemy poured in torrents from my lips, and in my shocking sallies I heeded no law of God, Man, or Nature. Suddenly a peal of thunder, resonant even above the din of the swinish revelry, clave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the boisterous company”.

‘The Tomb’

On the contrary I think what largely emerges for the casual reader of Lovecraft’s weird tales is the need to keep within conventional boundaries and the danger of entertaining occult ideas. (This might be particularly true of the original pulp readership Lovecraft wrote for).

“One case, which the note describes with emphasis, was very sad. The subject, a widely known architect with leanings toward theosophy and occultism, went violently insane on the date of young Wilcox’s seizure, and expired several months later after incessant screamings to be saved from some escaped denizen of hell”.

‘The Call of Cthulu’

 “He would often regard it as merciful that most persons of high intelligence jeer at the inmost mysteries; for, he argued, if superior minds were ever placed in fullest contact with the secrets preserved by ancient and lowly cults, the resultant abnormalities would soon not only wreck the world, but threaten the very integrity of the universe..”

‘The Horror at Red Hook’

A casual reader ignorant of Lovecraft’s scepticism in his personal correspondence would more likely conclude that at least some of the stories are morality tales showing the dangers of irreligion and new-fangled philosophy rather than sceptical attacks on Christianity). A good example of this kind of story is ‘Herbert West: Reanimator’ where the Promethean protagonist is punished for tampering with the natural order and bringing the dead back to life. Note in this passage West’s contemptuous references to ‘Puritanism’ (for which read ‘Christianity’) revealing an arrogance which turns out to be his later undoing.

“That the tradition-bound elders should ignore his singular results on animals, and persist in their denial of the possibility of reanimation, was inexpressibly disgusting and almost incomprehensible to a youth of West’s logical temperament. Only greater maturity could help him understand the chronic mental limitations of the “professor-doctor” type–the product of generations of pathetic Puritanism; kindly, conscientious, and sometimes gentle and amiable, yet always narrow, intolerant, custom-ridden, and lacking in perspective. Age has more charity for these incomplete yet high–souled characters, whose worst real vice is timidity, and who are ultimately punished by general ridicule for their intellectual sins–sins like Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzscheism, and every sort of Sabbatarianism and sumptuary legislation….”

‘Herbert West: Reanimator’

Of course what is missing from the surface reading of the casual reader is a closer examination of Lovecraft’s fictional mythos and some of the deeper themes of his works which I would argue include polytheistic dystheism, a very singular kind of dualism and oddly a greater engagement with the ideas of Theosophy than Christianity.

(Just to clarify at this point I am not suggesting that Lovecraft necessarily believed in his mythos merely that his fictional works seem more influenced by consistency with the created mythos than the personal scepticism of the author. Having said this I personally suspect that at times Lovecraft genuinely entertained the theological position of his works given his somewhat tragic life).

Polytheistic dystheism can be defined as the theological position that god/s exist but they are either indifferent to the fate of mankind or actively malevolent. This idea seems closer to the mythos underlying Lovecraft’s tales than that of atheism which implies disbelief or scepticism about the existence of any gods at all.

“It was an All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless being and self—not merely a thing of one Space-Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep—the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike. It was perhaps that which certain secret cults of earth have whispered of as YOG-SOTHOTH, and which has been a deity under other names; that which the crustaceans of Yuggoth worship as the Beyond-One, and which the vaporous brains of the spiral nebulae know by an untranslatable Sign…”

‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’

“There were, in such voyages, incalculable local dangers; as well as that shocking final peril which gibbers unmentionably outside the ordered universe, where no dreams reach; that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity–the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic Ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless Other gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep”.

‘The Haunter of the Dark’

Note the references to ‘limitless being and self’ and ‘outside the ordered universe.’ The beings described are not merely demi-gods or higher beings (like Lovecraft’s ‘Old Ones’) but are described in terms commonly used of transcendent gods. Azahoth has prophet called Nyarlathotep but his message is ‘crawling chaos.’  Azahoth may be ‘blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless’ but via Nyarlathotep he has agency if not purpose. Interestingly Lovecraft’s transcendent gods are not creators or even destroyers but agents of disorder and chaos-

“The legend of Yig, Father of Serpents, remained figurative no longer, and I started with loathing when told of the monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space which the Necronomicon had mercifully cloaked under the name of Azathoth…”

‘The Whisperer in Darkness’

Another significant aspect to the dystheism of Lovecraft’s tales is that although composed of seething chaos the realm of the gods is ‘reality’ and it is the mundane world which appears unreal by comparison.

“Memory and imagination shaped dim half-pictures with uncertain outlines amidst the seething chaos, but Carter knew that they were of memory and imagination only. Yet he felt that it was not chance which built these things in his consciousness, but rather some vast reality, ineffable and undimensioned, which surrounded him and strove to translate itself into the only symbols he was capable of grasping. For no mind of Earth may grasp the extensions of shape which interweave in the oblique gulfs outside time and the dimensions we know”.

‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’

The ‘Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines dualism as

“…the idea is that, for some particular domain, there are two fundamental kinds or categories of things or principles. In theology, for example a ‘dualist’ is someone who believes that Good and Evil—or God and the Devil—are independent and more or less equal forces in the world. Dualism contrasts with monism, which is the theory that there is only one fundamental kind, category of thing or principle; and, rather less commonly, with pluralism, which is the view that there are many kinds or categories”.

I would argue the dualism that emerges from the fictional work of Lovecraft is a form of matter/spirit dualism as expressed in the following passages-

“I now insisted, argued a faith in the existence of spectral substances on the earth apart from and subsequent to their material counterparts. It argued a capability of believing in phenomena beyond all normal notions; for if a dead man can transmit his visible or tangible image half across the world, or down the stretch of the centuries, how can it be absurd to suppose that deserted houses are full of queer sentient things, or that old graveyards teem with the terrible, unbodied intelligence of generations? And since spirit, in order to cause all the manifestations attributed to it, cannot be limited by any of the laws of matter, why is it extravagant to imagine psychically living dead things in shapes–or absences of shapes–which must for human spectators be utterly and appallingly “unnamable”? “Common sense” in reflecting on these subjects, I assured my friend with some warmth, is merely a stupid absence of imagination and mental flexibility”.

‘The Unamable’

“From those blurred and fragmentary memories we may infer much, yet prove little. We may guess that in dreams life, matter, and vitality, as the earth knows such things, are not necessarily constant; and that time and space do not exist as our waking selves comprehend them. Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon”.

‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’

“My friend was vastly in advance as we plunged into this awesome ocean of virgin aether, and I could see the sinister exultation on his floating, luminous, too-youthful memory-face. Suddenly that face became dim and quickly disappeared, and in a brief space I found myself projected against an obstacle which I could not penetrate. It was like the others, yet incalculably denser; a sticky clammy mass, if such terms can be applied to analogous qualities in a non-material sphere”.

‘The Unnamable’

“A gate had been unlocked–not, indeed, the Ultimate Gate, but one leading from Earth and time to that extension of Earth which is outside time, and from which in turn the Ultimate Gate leads fearsomely and perilously to the last Void which is outside all earths, all universes, and all matter”.

‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’

“These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape–for did not this star-fashioned image prove it?–but that shape was not made of matter”

‘The Call of Cthulu’

“The thing has gone for ever,’ Armitage said. ‘It has been split up into what it was originally made of, and can never exist again. It was an impossibility in a normal world. Only the least fraction was really matter in any sense we know. It was like its father–and most of it has gone back to him in some vague realm or dimension outside our material universe; some vague abyss out of which only the most accursed rites of human blasphemy could ever have called him for a moment on the hills”

‘The Dunwich Horror’

“These adumbrations were never specific, but seemed to revolve around some especially horrible doubt as to whether the old wizard were really dead–in a spiritual as well as corporeal sense”.

‘The Thing on the Doorstep’

In classical religious dualism ‘matter’ is generally seen as ‘evil’ and ‘spirit’ as good- as for example in the case of Catharism-

“The radical Cathars-and also the moderate Cathars-in contrast, teach a ‘vertical dualism’: what is above is good, what is below is bad. The light has fallen into the darkness (the physical world) and must be liberated from it. The creation has been made by a creatormalus. The Cathar perfecti in particular have a horror of the creation and the body (van Schaik, pp. 79-86)”.

CATHARS, ALBIGENSIANS, and BOGOMILS http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cathars-albigensians-and-bogomils

The unique nature of the dualism that emerges from the fictional works of Lovecraft is that unlike classical religious dualism it appears to view ‘matter’ as ‘good’ and ‘spirit’ (or that which is beyond the material world) as ‘evil’ (or at least ‘not good’). It is the mundane material world which is safe and wholesome and what lies beyond is threatening and harmful-

“I walked aimlessly south past College Hill and the Athenaeum, down Hopkins Street, and over the bridge to the business section where tall buildings seemed to guard me as modern material things guard the world from ancient and unwholesome wonder”.

‘The Shunned House’

“Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimaeras–dire stories of Celaeno and the Harpies–may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition–but they were there before. They are transcripts, types–the archetypes are in us, and eternal. How else should the recital of that which we know in a waking sense to be false come to affect us all? Is it that we naturally conceive terror from such objects, considered in their capacity of being able to inflict upon us bodily injury? O, least of all! These terrors are of older standing. They date beyond body–or without the body, they would have been the same…That the kind of fear here treated is purely spiritual–that it is strong in proportion as it is objectless on earth, that it predominates in the period of our sinless infancy–are difficulties the solution of which might afford some probable insight into our ante-mundane condition, and a peep at least into the shadowland of pre-existence”.

–Charles Lamb: Witches and Other Night-Fears

‘The Dunwich Horror’

If it is agreed that Lovecraft’s fiction seems unengaged with Christianity this is not the case with Theosophy. Robert M. Price argues convincingly in his essay ‘HPL and HPB: Lovecraft’s Use of Theosophy’ that despite the writer’s limited direct knowledge of the subject his mythos was greatly influenced by Theosophical imagery.

“From the Theosophists, too, Lovecraft seems to have derived his ubiquitous references to “cyclopean” ruins, denoting the past dominance of gigantic alien races, such as those just described. In “Out of the Eons”, a “gigantic fortress of Cyclopean stone” is attributed to “the alien spawn of the dark planet Yuggoth, which had colonized the earth before the birth of terrestrial life.” In “The Call of Cthulhu”, Wilcox dreams of “the damp Cyclopean city of slimy green stone. . . . The size of the Old Ones [who built the city of R’lyeh], he curiously declined to mention.” In The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Randolph Carter wonders at “the vast clay-brick ruins of a primal city whose name is not remembered.” He “did not like the size and shape of the ruins. . . . And what the structure and proportions of the olden worshippers could have been, Carter steadily refused to conjecture.”

Price goes on to argue that in the addition to the use of Theosophical imagery Lovecraft’s fiction shows a polemical engagement with Theosophy (or perhaps with ‘Occultist Optimism’ in general) –

“In all these instances, the implications contain a dim hint of an archaic truth terrible in its reality. It is as if to say that the Theosophists have only a small part of the truth, and that their little knowledge is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. In fact, HPL’s narrator says as much in our fourth quote (again, from “The Call of Cthulhu”): “Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism.” There is, so to speak, indeed something at the end of the rainbow, only instead of a pot of gold, it is a bottomless pit. In their occultist optimism, Theosophists had postulated the ancient origin of humanity amid alien super-intelligences. So glorious an origin seemed to imply a bright destiny for the race. But Lovecraft’s “cosmic futilitarianism” led him to repaint the picture in darker, pessimistic hues. As depicted in At the Mountains of Madness, the genesis of the human race was a breeding accident in the laboratories of the star-headed Old Ones. The resultant vision is one of absurdity. Lovecraft has represented precisely what fundamentalist “creationists” see as being at stake in their quixotic crusade against Darwinism: if man’s origin was random, so is his meaning, and so will be his destiny”.

(Where I take issue with Price is the suggestion that Theosophy can be viewed as a kind of proxy for creationist Christianity in Lovecraft’s fiction- I think given it’s inferior relation as a ‘cult’ as compared to orthodox Christianity in the narrative I find this unconvincing).

Yeats famously wrote of the necessity for the reader to distinguish between the works of an author and the personal opinions of ‘the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast.’ I think that the difference between the worldview of Lovecraft the creator and the mythos he created are very much a case in point.

Bibliography

Anon,  A Lovecraftian Bestiary. Available at: http://www.hplovecraft.com/creation/bestiary.asp [Accessed January 2, 2012a].

Anon, Articles. Available at: http://www.hplovecraft.com/study/articles/ [Accessed January 2, 2012b].

Anon,  Cosmicism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmicism [Accessed January 2, 2012d].

Anon, Crypt of Cthulhu Index Page. Available at: http://crypt-of-cthulhu.com/ [Accessed January 7, 2012e].

Anon,  Dualism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/ [Accessed January 13, 2012f].

Anon,  Encyclopædia Iranica | Articles. Available at: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cathars-albigensians-and-bogomils [Accessed January 11, 2012g].

Anon, H P Lovecraft – Research and Read Books, Journals, Articles at Questia Online Library. Available at: http://www.questia.com/library/literature/literature-of-specific-countries/american-literature/20th-and-21st-centuries/h-p-lovecraft.jsp [Accessed January 2, 2012h].

Anon,  H. P. Lovecraft – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H_P_Lovecraft#Religion [Accessed January 2, 2012i].

Anon,  Helena Blavatsky – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helena_Blavatsky#Theosophy [Accessed January 8, 2012j].

Anon, Root race – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_Race [Accessed January 2, 2012l].

Anon, The Dream World of H. P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe: Amazon.co.uk: Donald Tyson: 9780738722849: Books. Available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dream-World-H-P-Lovecraft/dp/0738722847 [Accessed January 2, 2012m].

Anon, The Lost Lemuria Index. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/atl/tll/index.htm [Accessed January 2, 2012n].

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Anon, The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, vol 2, pt 1, stanza 5. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/the/sd/sd2-1-06.htm [Accessed January 2, 2012q].

Anon, The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, vol 2, pt 1, stanza 6. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/the/sd/sd2-1-07.htm [Accessed January 2, 2012r].

Anon, The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, vol 2, pt 1, stanza 7. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/the/sd/sd2-1-08.htm [Accessed January 2, 2012s].

Anon, The Story of Atlantis Index. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/atl/soa/index.htm [Accessed January 2, 2012t].

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Lovecraft, H., 2010. Against religion : [the atheist writings of H. P. Lovecraft], New York: Sporting Gentlemen Publishers.

Lovecraft H.P. Collected Stories–. Available at: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600031h.html [Accessed January 2, 2012c].

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Van Schaik, CATHARS, ALBIGENSIANS, and BOGOMILS. Available at: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cathars-albigensians-and-bogomils [Accessed January 13, 2012].

‘Invisible Kingdoms’

Since childhood I have been an avid reader of mythopoeic fantasy literature. I was eleven or twelve years old when I first read the Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Worm Oouroboros’ by E.R.R Eddison and I found myself transported to a world of vivid archetypal imagery. At a later age I plunged headlong into the writings of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock. My love of reading this genre continued unbroken but it has been some twenty five years since I last wrote any extended literary criticism (since my undergraduate days in fact). Nonetheless as I feel the literary critical nerdiness rise in me once more I have launched my new blog Invisible Kingdoms

Material And Spiritual Progress

It seems to me that humanity’s development is out of kilter. We have made many impressive advances in science and technology in the last one hundred and fifty years yet our spiritual development lags far behind. Sometimes our use of technology brings to mind the image of a loaded gun in the hands of a toddler. `Abdu’l-Bahá writes eloquently about the need for spiritual and material progress to be harmonised.

Now this luminous age has come, bringing with it wonderful civilization and material progress. Men’s intellects have widened, their perceptions grown, but alas, in spite of all this, fresh blood is being spilt day by day. Look at the present Turco-Italian war; consider for a moment the fate of these unhappy people! How many have been killed during this sad time? How many homes are ruined, wives desolate, and children orphans! And what is to be gained in exchange for all this anguish and heartache? Only a corner of the earth! This all shows that material progress alone does not tend to uplift man. On the contrary, the more he becomes immersed in material progress, the more does his spirituality become obscured. In times gone by progress on the material plane was not so rapid, neither was there bloodshed in such profusion. In ancient warfare there were no cannons, no guns, no dynamite, no shells, no torpedo boats, no battleships, no submarines. Now, owing to material civilization, we have all these inventions, and war goes from bad to worse! Europe itself has become like one immense arsenal, full of explosives, and may God prevent its ignition—for, should this happen, the whole world would be involved. I want to make you understand that material progress and spiritual progress are two very different things, and that only if material progress goes hand in hand with spirituality can any real progress come about

This passage seems especially relevant today. Despite our scientific prowess we appear to be engaged in a growing number of futile military interventions- serving only to increase the sum of human suffering. Why not put that energy to more positive use?

‘The Perspective Glass and the Palantir’

The dislike of allegory stated by J.R.R. Tolkien in his forward to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ contrasts greatly with the views of John Bunyan expressed in the beginning of  ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’.

Tolkien writes in his forward

‘I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence’

On the contrary Bunyan, although apologetic, states clearly that allegory is the style most suited to express the message he is trying to convey.

‘And thus it was: I, writing of the way

And race of saints, in this our gospel day,

Fell suddenly into an allegory

About their journey, and the way to glory,

In more than twenty things which I set down.

This done, I twenty more had in my crown;

And they again began to multiply,

Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 1

Given Tolkien’s fundamental difference of opinion with Bunyan one might expect to see little relationship between ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. Curiously this does not seem to be the case as the topography imagery and narrative of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ appears in part to both parallel ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and also to significantly invert them in places.

There are certain parallels between the two central characters of these works. Christian is on a journey to the ‘Celestial City’ to relieve himself of a burden of sin without which he would sink into ‘Tophet’ or hell.

‘Because I fear that this burden is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into Tophet’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 15

Frodo must bear the ring to Mordor and the ring is also referred to as a burden-

‘In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards’.

‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 616

Both Frodo and Christian are guided by characters with greater wisdom than themselves- Gandalf and Evangelist.

‘Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf. ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’ 

‘But I have so little of any of these things! You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?’

 ‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 60

‘CHR. I am directed by a man, whose name is Evangelist, to speed me to a little gate that is before us, where we shall receive instructions about the way’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 24

(Of course there are major differences between these two characters Gandalf appears as a mentor whereas Evangelist is a wayfarer’s guide. This could be a function of literary style where ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ is a pure allegory and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has more narrative depth).

In addition the interaction of Boromir with Frodo has strong echoes of that of Worldly Wise with Christian in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ where both play the role of tempter.

‘I think I already know what counsel you would give,” said Frodo, “and it would seem like wisdom but for the warning of my heart.”

“Warning? Warning against what?” said Boromir sharply.

“Against delay. Against the way that seems easier. Against refusal of the burden that is laid on me. Against— well, if it must be said, against trust in the strength and truth of Men.”

‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 388

 ‘WORLD. How now, good fellow, whither away after this burdened manner’?

CHR. A burdened manner, indeed, as ever, I think, poor creature had! And whereas you ask me, Whither away? I tell you, Sir, I am going to yonder wicket-gate before me; for there, as I am informed, I shall be put into a way to be rid of my heavy burden.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 38

In the battle between Théoden and the Nazgul Théoden is pierced by dart in a similar way to Christian being struck by the darts of Apollyon.

‘To me! To me!’ cried Théoden. `Up Eorlingas ! Fear no darkness!’ But Snowmane wild with terror stood up on high, fighting with the air, and then with a great scream he crashed upon his side: a black dart had pierced him. The king fell beneath him. The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature…

The Lord of the Rings’ pg.  822

‘And with that he threw a flaming dart at his breast; but Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it, and so prevented the danger of that.

Then did Christian draw, for he saw it was time to bestir him; and Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 150

There are interesting parallels between the episode of Frodo’s imprisonment in Cirith Ungol and the jailing of Christian by Giant Despair in Doubting Castle where both characters are imprisoned starved and abused. Both characters use an ‘artefact’ to escape. In the case of Frodo and Sam it is the ‘Phial of Galadrial’ and Christian uses ‘a Key in my bosom called Promise’.

‘Sam drew out the elven-glass of Galadriel again. As if to honor to his hardihood, and to grace with splendor his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth suddenly, so that all the shadowy court was lit with a dazzling radiance like lightning; but it remained steady and did not pass.

‘Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!’ Sam cried. For, why he did not know, his thought sprang back suddenly to the Elves in the Shire, and the song that drove away the Black Rider in the Trees.

‘Aiya elenion ancalima!’ cried Frodo once again behind him.

The will of the Watchers was broken with a suddenness like the snapping of a cord, and Frodo and Sam stumbled forward. Then they ran. Through the gate and past the great seated figures with their glittering eyes. There was a crack. The keystone of the arch crashed almost on their heels, and the wall above crumbled, and fell in ruin. Only by a hair did they escape. A bell clanged, and from the Watchers there went up a high and dreadful wail. Far up above in the darkness it was answered. Out of the black sky there came dropping like a bolt a winged shape, rending the clouds with a ghastly shriek.’

  ‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 894

‘Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the Castle-yard, and with his Key opened that door also. After he went to the iron Gate, for that must be opened too, but that Lock went damnable hard, yet the Key did open it. Then they thrust open the Gate to make their escape with speed; but that Gate as it opened made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his Fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s High-way again, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 292

(Of course these are stylistically two very different approaches. Bunyan labours his allegory by having Christian pull the key out of his bosom whereas the Phial of Galadrial reads as both spiritual symbol and an artefact within the narrative).

Whilst on the subject of artefacts another curious inversion is the way both stories include ‘all-seeing eyes’ but the Palantir of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ gives Pippin (and the reader) hints of what is happening whereas the shepherds ‘perspective glass’ in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ appears to reveal the end of the story.

‘Let us here show to the Pilgrims the gates of the Celestial City, if they have skill to look through our perspective glass. The Pilgrims then lovingly accepted the motion; so they had them to the top of a high hill, called Clear, and gave them their glass to look.

 Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the Shepherds had shown them, made their hands shake; by means of which impediment, they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. Then they went away, and sang this song–

Thus, by the Shepherds, secrets are reveal’d,

Which from all other men are kept conceal’d.

Come to the Shepherds, then, if you would see

Things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 304-305

‘I, I took the ball and looked at it,’ stammered Pippin; ‘and I saw things that frightened me. and I wanted to go away, but I couldn’t. and then he came and questioned me and he looked at me, and that is all I remember…In a low hesitating voice Pippin began again, and slowly his words grew stronger and clearer. “I saw a dark sky, and tall battlements,” he said. “And tiny stars. It seemed very far away and long ago, yet hard and clear. Then the stars went in and out — they were cut off by things with wings. Very big, I thing, really; but in the glass they looked like bats wheeling round the tower. I thought there were nine of them. One began to fly straight towards me, getting bigger and bigger….’

 ‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 579

Perhaps the contrast between these two visions is a reflection of authorial intent.  Bunyan makes it clear in the poem that begins the work what the end of the story is

‘This book it chalketh out before thine eyes

The man that seeks the everlasting prize;

It shews you whence he comes, whither he goes;

What he leaves undone, also what he does;

It also shows you how he runs and runs,

Till he unto the gate of glory comes’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 8

Tolkien’s’ Palantir vision hints at the plot but does not give away the ending and ultimately leaves the reader draw his own meaning from the work. As the author writes in his forward to ‘The Lord of the Rings’

‘I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

There are some interesting correspondences between the topography of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’.(Probably because in some cases they are drawing on the same Biblical imagery). The description of the Morgul Vale and the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ has certain echoes.

‘A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley’s arms, high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light.’

‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 688

Now, at the end of this valley was another, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Christian must needs go through it, because the way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it. Now, this valley is a very solitary place. The prophet Jeremiah thus describes it: “A wilderness, a land of deserts and of pits, a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, a land that no man” (but a Christian) “passed through, and where no man dwelt.” [Jer. 2:6]

 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4.)

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 155

See also the ‘Dead Marshes’ and the ‘Slough Of Despond. Another comparison can be made between the House of Elrond and the House of the Interpreter particularly in the description of the graceful inhabitants of these locations.

‘I saw also, that the Interpreter took him again by the hand, and led him into a pleasant place, where was built a stately palace, beautiful to behold; at the sight of which Christian was greatly delighted. He saw also upon the top thereof certain persons walking, who were clothed all in gold’.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 82

“Glorfindel was tall and straight; his hair was of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music; on his brow sat wisdom, and in his hand was strength.”

The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 220

Despite these similarities there are significant instances where the narrative of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ seems to be an inversion of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. The most major example is that Christian is leaving the ‘City of Destruction’ on top of Mt. Zion to be ‘delivered from the wrath to come’ whereas on the contrary Frodo is leaving the peaceful Shire towards Mount Doom warlike Mordor and an uncertain fate.

“What is to be my quest? Bilbo went to find a treasure, there and back again; but I go to lose one, and not return, as far as I can see.”

“But you cannot see very far,” said Gandalf. “Neither can I. It may be your task to find the Cracks of Doom; but that quest may be for others: I do not know. At any rate you are not ready for that long road yet.”

“No indeed!” said Frodo. “But in the meantime what course am I to take?”

“Towards danger; but not too rashly, nor too straight,” answered the wizard.

‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 64

CHR. Here is a poor burdened sinner. I come from the City of Destruction, but am going to Mount Zion, that I may be delivered from the wrath to come. I would therefore, Sir, since I am informed that by this gate is the way thither, know if you are willing to let me in?

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 61

(Is this indicative of a difference of theological metaphors? Perhaps ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is pre-Fall with the Shire as it’s Eden whereas the narrative of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ takes place post-Fall where the whole world is a ‘City Of Destruction’).

Both stories involve a journey towards a mountain but in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ it is the infernal Mount Doom whereas in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ it is the heavenly Mount Zion.

“The Mountain standing ominous and alone had looked taller than it was. Sam saw now that it was less lofty than the high passes of the Ephel Dúath which he and Frodo had scaled. The confused and tumbled shoulders of its great base rose for maybe three thousand feet above the plain, and above them was reared half as high again its tall central cone, like a vast oast or chimney capped with a jagged crater.”

 ‘The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 920

There, said they, is the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. [Heb. 12:22-24] You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ section 395

Another contrast is in the way both works describe the itinerary journey undertaken by the protagonists and the significance of the route taken. Christian is directed to the ‘wicket-gate’ of heaven by the straightest route. Conversely Frodo and Sam enter Mordor by an indirect route via the stairs of Cirith Ungol avoiding the infernal ‘Black Gate’.

CHR. But thou camest not in at the wicket-gate that is at the head of this way; thou camest in hither through that same crooked lane, and therefore, I fear, however thou mayest think of thyself, when the reckoning day shall come, thou wilt have laid to thy charge that thou art a thief and a robber, instead of getting admittance into the city.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ 309

Incidentally there are some odd echoes of Christian’s references to thieves and robbers in the words of the ‘Mouth of Sauron’ addressed to Gandalf and his party before the Black Gate of Mordor.

‘Dwarf-coat, elf-cloak, blade of the downfallen West, and spy from the little rat-land of the Shire… here are the marks of a conspiracy….

The Lord of the Rings’ pg. 871

Whether these comparisons and contrasts with ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ were deliberate on Tolkien’s part is unclear perhaps it is simply that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ draws on similar Biblical imagery and Christian themes. After all Tolkien says as much in one of his letters.

“The Lord of the Rings’ is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and symbolism.”

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1981

Bibliography

Anon, Bilbo’s Mithril Coat – Things – Resources – Henneth Annûn. Available at: http://www.henneth-annun.net/resources/things_view.cfm?thid=221 [Accessed December 31, 2011a].

Anon, Celestial City Illustration. Available at: http://twilightswarden.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/296789.jpg [Accessed January 1, 2012b].

Anon, Contradictory Descriptions of the Black Gate. [Archive] – The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum. Available at: http://forum.barrowdowns.com/archive/index.php?t-15535.html [Accessed December 31, 2011c].

Anon, LOTR Scenery building: Hobbiton, Orthanc, etc. Available at: http://www.lotrscenerybuilder.org/minasmorgul.php [Accessed December 31, 2011d].

Anon, Mordor. Available at: http://www.tuckborough.net/mordor.html [Accessed December 31, 2011e].

Anon, Morgul Vale – Tolkien Gateway. Available at: http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Morgul_Vale [Accessed December 31, 2011f].

Anon, Mount Doom – Lord of the Rings Wiki. Available at: http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Mount_Doom [Accessed January 1, 2012g].

Anon, North Western Winds: Frodo’s burden. Available at: http://northwesternwinds.blogspot.com/2004/10/frodos-burden.html [Accessed December 31, 2011h].

Anon, Rhetorics of fantasy – Farah Mendlesohn – Google Books. Available at: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RZgIkR_0Q54C&pg=PA18&dq=tolkien+bunyan&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8uwAT6aFA8-JhQfI8t3GAQ&ved=0CFgQ6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=tolkien%20bunyan&f=false [Accessed January 1, 2012i].

Anon, Taylor & Francis Online :: The Lord of the rings: A re-assessment – Religion in Education – Volume 26, Issue 2. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/5908555830 [Accessed January 3, 2012j].

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Bunyan, J., The Project Gutenberg E-text of The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/131/131-h/131-h.htm [Accessed December 29, 2011].

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Tolkien, J., 1991. The lord of the rings, London: HarperCollins.

 

Spiritual Awakening

As one who occasionally finds himself spiritually asleep I always find reading the following verses from the Hidden Words something of a wake-up call.

O ESSENCE OF DESIRE! At many a dawn have I turned from the realms of the Placeless unto thine abode, and found thee on the bed of ease busied with others than Myself. Thereupon, even as the flash of the spirit, I returned to the realms of celestial glory and breathed it not in My retreats above unto the hosts of holiness.

http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/HW/hw-101.html

This verse is particularly poignant with it’s depiction of a heartbroken lover returning home after finding their beloved ‘on the bed of ease busied with others’.

O SON OF MAN! Many a day hath passed over thee whilst thou hast busied thyself with thy fancies and idle imaginings. How long art thou to slumber on thy bed? Lift up thy head from slumber, for the Sun hath risen to the zenith, haply it may shine upon thee with the light of beauty.

http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/HW/hw-63.html

I particularly like the image of the sun having risen to the zenith i.e. midday and the sleeper is still in bed…