Bound Beneath The Earth

This Week’s Prompt:59. Man in strange subterranean chamber—seeks to force door of bronze—overwhelmed by influx of waters.
The Resulting Story: The Many Doors of the Dead

We find a man in a room, underground, with only one exit. He may stay in this room. Or he may try and force his way out. When he goes and tries to escape his isolation, the onrush of the outside world, a miasma of chaotic waters, kill him. We do not know if he was pulverized or drowned. But had he not forced open that door of antiquity, he would be alive.

I say antiquity, because that is what the metal bronze conjures. It is a metal deployed in phalanxes or on chariots, not in the knightly arms of medieval warlords or the rifling of a modern man. It is a material of a bygone age. And as such, we might discuss some of the metaphor that seems at play in this story. For, pushing the bounds of the world and meeting catastrophe is a common theme in Mr. Lovecraft’s work.

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We can consider the lightless room or cave to be a maker of the cosmos. Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who put Socrates’s words to writing, used a similar metaphor. In the Americas, a number of South Western people’s describe the emergence of humanity into the world as coming from a series of caves. Both the Navajo and the Hopi include stories of humanity emerging into this world from one’s deep below. In the myths of Maya and Aztec people’s, cave play the special role as connections to the underworld and ancestors. In more modern times, there are of course notions that we are within a hollow shell,the inside of an egg waiting to be born.

So we are within the world. And there is a door, made in ages past of bronze. It is the only way out, it seems, from our comfortable room of known existence. This door of bronze perhaps could be taken as the understanding of the world our ancestors had. It is a limiter, beyond which we cannot see anything—the chamber is after all subeterranean, and who would force open a door that they knew had a vast expanse of water on the other side. By pushing past these ancient limits, we encounter something new, or at least vast. The waters, who’s symbology we have discussed before, are a vast life giving force that overcomes the fool that releases them, creating a minature deluge. The man dies for his curiosity.

The metaphor points generally to a sort of terrified conservatism that defines Lovecraft to a point. We can recall his famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu:


“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. “

That being the case, we must consider how to wring more out of this then mere dread. Watching a man slowly go insensate before making a fatal mistake, unknown and unmourned by the world at large in his tomb is…dull. I am sure there is some way to make such a story intreasting. But on it’s own, existential dread is an easily dismissed horror. No. A better trick, I think, is that of memory. To recollect, as one stumbles through the strange cave, life before this darkness. What it is that lures the fatal, doomed choice of opening that ancient door.

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Places literally underground are not uncommonly full of dangers. We have talked about the threats of some of these creatures before, such as kobolods and grootslangs and Typhon who was buried under a mountain in Sicily. Other stories that are more than relevant here include those things of the deep that hold ancient knowledge. The dead are the most common, but not only example. In Russian Folklore, we have a giant of a man named Svyatogor who is trapped beneath a mountain and yet lends advice where he can to the knights of the Rus. In Arthurian myth and Charlemagne romances, Merlin often ends up beneath a tree or within a tree despite all his wisdom. And of course, there is the King In The Mountain, Barbossa being the most famous literal version. Some of these imprisonments, however, are only that. While a traveler might find such strange nobillity here and there, they aren’t dwelling so much as sleeping.

We can also consider creatures that are more serpentine in nature, as was touched on here. The great naga princes of tibetan folklore often dwelled in dreamworlds of the deep, resembling the fae we’ve come to know in many ways, including their power of many forms and their multiplicity of gifts, and a bit of their penchant for trickery.

In Maori folklore, Maui’s blessings come from his mother and father who live in the depths of the earth. Maui further presents an intreasting example of the sort of hubris Lovecraft would give to the man of science. Maui heads out to earn man’s immortality, by defeating his ancestor. The result is rather predictable, if bizarre. He heads within his ancestress while she sleeps, warning the nearby birds not to laugh. One very young bird does, and his stirring ancestress kills Maui.

The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh likewise ventures underground, following the flames of the sun in order to reach the place where immortality might be found. He also fails, although he survives the encounter. His test is rather wakefulness, and in another time we will discuss the motif of death and slumber. 

To return to how this might shape our narrative, the cavern is as much a character as our prisoner. It is a character in shapes and form, eliciting memories and moods. I think a landscape like those the dragons once dwelt in will work well. An abandoned faerie castle, the ruins of a great dragon’s kingdom, a landscape that is more than darkness and shadows wandered through forever and ever. It also might give the bronze door some more menace, if it is the only worked metal in the cavern of wonders. The only plain, unadorned thing, in a forgotten land.

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A good reference for this material would be the story “City of Brass” from the 1001 Arabian Nights. The story follows travelers through a series of barren wastelands and tombs, full of strange sights, desiccated corpses, imprisoned demons, and odd devices. It has a rather clear moral to it about attachment to material goods, but at the same time there are undercurrents of cosmic horror as the will of God so portrayed is not always knowable. The story also features several instances of characters dooming themselves by ignoring clear warnings, which falls neatly into what might be waiting for our prisoner. The city itself is slightly off from the prompt, sadly, being of brass instead of bronze. But the visual cue is close enough I believe.

Bibliography:

Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the Maori. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1974.

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Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

This Week’s Research:56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.
The Resulting Story: Saint Silvanus, Part 1 ,St. Silvanus, Pt 2

At long last the short prompts have given way to something more substantive! We even have a particular place to begin our examination from, and I suspect a potential narrative of Lovecraft’s to examine in the wider mythos. Always delightful to dig into particulars and details, isn’t it?

To begin with, the “Haverhill Incident”. There are a handful of notable facts about Haverhill, Massachusets. It was the home of a key judge who recused himself from the witchcraft trials of Salem, as well as the potential witch John Godfrey. Mr. Godfrey has a more interesting history, but we will save both of them for a bit on witch craft later.

During it’s early days, it was home to a still controversial figure, Hannah Duston who killed a number of natives that she claims kidnapped her. Haverhill was also home to the abolitionist movement in the 18th and 19th century, early in the nations history. It suffered a severe winter fire, that was too large to be contained and striking when the wells had dried. For those interested in politics, Haverhill also boasts the first socialist mayor.

This is a long way of saying, I have no clue what the “Haverhill” Incident is. 1919 puts it before the outbreak of the Haverhill diesease, which involved bacteria commonly found in rats. It could have, knowing Lovecraft’s fascinations, referred to any number of the above. Or it could have referred to some of the stranger things. In order to avoid delving into too many topics, we will table witchcraft for now. Looking at the prompts, we will return to witches broadly on 99 and 110.

The Wild Man of Haverhill is an individual reported by authorities in the early 1900s and the 1800s. In 1826, a local man was struck mad with fever and fled into the woods. Authorities later had reports of a man causing a disturbance in the area. Believing this to be the unfortunate man, a Mr. Fink, the authorities were shocked to find an unrelated individual described as a wild man. Another report of a wild man comes in 1909, although much briefer and only from a small newspaper clipping. The Wild man was again approached by authorities, but nothing came of it that is recorded. And wild men are…interesting.

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The wild man dates back, arguably, all the way to the Epic of Gilgamesh, with Enkidu. Medieval European takes on this archetype include both those cursed to the wilderness by God and those who retreat into the wilderness for ascetic reasons. Thus both Nebachanezzer and a saint are wildmen like. One might even argue that John the Baptist, who lived off honey and curds in the wilds, was one of these wildmen. A more modern wild man of the saintly mold would be the folk hero Johnny Appleseed, who was both missionary and spreader of the apple crop throughout the United States.

More benign wildmen, at least as understood by modern audiences, include satyrs and fauns. To put it lightly, satyrs are much more the wild man cursed then the wild man who is a saint. Despite what perhaps has been presented, the average satyr was a rather unpleasant and often extremely sexual creature that was not well liked. Fauns on the other hand were more like shepherds as we imagine now, less crazed but more decent.

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It is sadly accurate for a Satyr to look at you like that.

Other famed examples of men from the wilds, often extremely strong ones, include the likes of Grendel who at least partly resembles a fierce man stalking in the mire. In Ireland, there are records of a cryptozoological creature that resembles a large hairy man outside of social bonds, the Grey Man. The creature’s height varies, sometimes up to ten feet tall.

The creature does resemble another breed of wildmen, more in Grendels lineage then satyrs: the great apes. Sasquatch for instance falls into this category. The sasquatch or bigfoot has some precedent in the stories of First Nations, including the skookum, a group of cannibalistic wild men. The idea of great apes lurking in the wilderness can be found elsewhere however. In Nepal, the equally famous yeti exists. The Yeti, a large furred creature in the mountains, has unclear origins. At least one author suggests it is a creature that was once revered as a lord of the hunt. Others have posited that it, along with sasquatch, is really a form of bear that has been misidentified.

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Quite a photophobic family.

The Almas, a group reportedly not that far from the Yeti, bears a more human resemblance. Interestingly, it is only 6 feet tall, well within human heights. Further, it is rather sophisticated. While it lives in “squalor”, it seems to possess habitations more advanced then most supposed wild men. Also, its mute. A strange trait to give a great ape. Details like this help separate the variations.

Orang Pendak is another wild race, this time from Indonesia. The Orang Pendak, depending on describer, is a large ape that has lived in the jungle for large amounts of time. The Orang Pendak often has reversed feet, and is a herbivore that raids farms frequently. Resembling more an ape than a wildman, the Orang Pendak almost resembles a large orangutan, with long arms and short legs.

In Pakistan, there is the Barmanou, a creature that resembles a great ape and sits between the Yeti and the Almas. Unlike the other creatures described, however, the Barmanou has a desire to mate with human women or at least abduct them, a trait that has…strange implications that Lovecraft would approve of. But we will get to Lovecraft’s assorted takes on this in time. There is more to unearth.

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Looks Lovecraftian, don’t he? (Image from:http://www.freaklore.com/legends-of-the-mapinguari)

In Brazil there is what might be the strangest of these creatures. The mapinguari is silent, has the hide of a crocodile, emits a terrible noise when startled and smells horrible. Its feet are backwards and it has a lizards long claws, and maybe strangest of all, it has a mouth on it’s belly. The creature cannot cross water, and while carnivorous does not eat humans.

It is interesting to note, as a brief aside, that there was once a group of hominids that matched these massive heights, and at least one species of great ape that grew truly large. Densiovians were, by some estimates, eight feet tall and in the Himalayas region. Not much is known, but at least some mention of scientific grounding might be nice. We also know of prehistoric apes that grew to insane sizes.

Lovecraft himself features these sorts of creatures in many distinct forms. The first is the white apes, a species of ape in the Congo that can interbreed with humans. The questionable facts arising from this are…well, need less to say we will not pursue Mr. Lovecraft’s taste in this direction. Its…less than appealing. The mythos does have three more distinct and stranger connections.

The Gof’nn Hupadgh Shub-niggurath, creatures of Mr. Campbell’s creation, are describe as worshipers of the Black Goat of a Thousand Young who she swallows and then spits out, rendering them immortal and bestial like the satyrs and nymphs. They thus resemble wild men the most closely, without being…disturbed. The capacity for horror with these creatures needs only a return to form, of wildness, barbarity, chaos, and lack of control in an environment. The horrifying wild man is the wild and part of a man, and in such interactions are dangerous. If we take away the racist fear of miscegenation, we can still produce a horror of giving into baser instincts or the animal within –werewolves do this to, by the way.

In some cases, the yeti in particular resembles the Wendigo. The wendigo, in real life, is a creature of folklore that is cannibalisitic. The details of the Wendigo varies from story to story. Often, they are floating, but sometimes they are possessing spirits like we discussed here. The wendigo in mythos is known as Ithaqua. Ithqua is a creation of Dereleth, a creature of the far north that often steals his victims away into far off worlds for his amusement, siring children with mortals, and generally being a terror where he can be. But Lovecraft himself has the strangest addition.

Migo

Yeah, I can totally see the Yeti connection…

The Migo are not what one thinks of when one thinks of abominable snow men or wild men. They are crustacean like creatures, that also resemble insects and fungus. They fly through the space on wings, they have claws like crabs, the have a colony on Yuggoth, the 9th planet of the solar system(Pluto was discovered after Lovecraft wrote the first story. He wrote that maybe Yuggoth was found after all). The Migo have some startling qualities, however, that might be interesting. They are devotees of Shub-Niggurath at times, and thus have some commonality with the wildness earlier described. One of their better known traits is the capacity of mimicking voices to lure others towards them. And Lovecraftian authors have advanced the Migo as a number of folkloric creatures origin point. These include not only the yeti above, but also the Greek goblin kallikantzaros, a creature who’s resemblance to a corpse crab insect I do not see. Another wonderful blog, Lovecraftian Science, has spent a good deal of time with these creatures, their biology, and their customs.

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But there is another Lovecraft mythos connection, returning to the prompt. The book that must not be read is a trope in Lovecraft that becomes manifest in a number of ways. Most comparable to this one is the King in Yellow, a dramatic play tied to the horror of ambiguous nature that is Hastur. The King in Yellow is a play and the character of the play and the name for an anthology which the play is found in, by Robert Chambers. The themes of the stories are various, but the mythos has taken the King in Yellow as a dreadful, decadent, nihilist, and decaying force in the world. And, as frequently known, to read the play is to invite misfortune at large. Hastur’s name was made ineffable via the Dungeons and Dragons book Deities and Demigods, who asserted that to repeat it three times was to conjure the mysterious old one and doom us all. This attribute has appeared since in various stories. There are also dangerous texts such as the Necronomicon, who’s knowledge cost it’s author his life(but more on that when it arises), and various records of the Cthulhu cult, which invite death from it’s members.

All in all, a lot to work with. And we are out of space to discuss the many story possibillities! But do not worry. The wild woods will beckon soon. Oh! And before carrying on, to my amusement, there is a local to Haverhill story about Mr. Lovecraft’s “youthful escapades”, and how he bribed a young woman he was dating to visit him with promises of the dread Necronomicon. The layers of impossible that are at play there are hilarious.

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A Loss of Idenitity

This Weeks Prompt:54. Transposition of identity
The Resulting Story:Dr. Klien’s Little Book

The loss or shifting of identity is a recurring fear, such that I do not terribly begrudge Mr. Lovecraft for giving us a three word prompt. A discussion of identity loss, however, must focus on two changes to identity that could be called transpositions. One is to lose identity to another, to have it stolen. Dopplegangers, changelings, pod people, and other such notions where someone pretends for a time to be the unfortunate victim. The other mode is to have more bodily seizure of identity. To suddenly be someone else, to be possessed or altered and granted a new identity.

The first variation has, as mentioned, something of a folkloric and popular culture history. The idea of creatures that take on the appearance of a living being, as a sort of apparition, appears in Irish folklore as a Fetch, an ominous shade that warns of death. Etiäinen are a Finnish manifestation of a guardian spirit that appears to be a person doing the actions they will do in the future. But these are not quite what we are looking for as a transposition of identity.

Zeus-Uther

Zeus and Uther, both kinda creepy.

A more accurate idea of this sort of double might be in an old story(That was apparently written by Mark Twain, huh), the Prince and the Pauper. Here we have two individuals who look identical, and thus are able to (with some planning) take the place of each other. While that particular tale is lacking the sort of malice that switched identities often carry. We might consider the work of Merlin, who enchanted Uther Pendragon to assume the likeness of his enemy to lay with his Igraine, and thus conceive Arthur. Or the similar story of Zeus taking on the form of Alcemene’s husband in order to conceive of Heracles. More extended instances of taking on the form of others in order to spell misfortune are noted. A changeling, for instance, is a deception of a family with the intent of making off with a child. 

To touch briefly on a scientific note, there is a mental disorder where one is obsessed with the notion that a friend or loved one has been replaced with a look alike. This Capgras delusion may be a good reminder that many of the accusations of individuals being replaced by some other, alien thing are not…not taken well, and may in fact be used by confused individuals to justify harming others.

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Man, the human version of hairballs is awful

Moving to the idea of transposition not away from the individual but onto the individual, the very first notion that springs to mind is demonic possession. I specify demonic to indicate an uninvited and unsought possession. There are a number of examples of this in popular culture, specific the Exorcist film that convinced many that Ouija boards are the devil.

Catholic possessions often culminate in destructive and suicidal behaviors. Early symptoms include speaking in tongues, exhibiting secret knowledge, blasphemous rage, and incredible strength. Possession need not be of individuals, but may be of animals or places.

An interesting potential character here is a number of demons in the Ars Goetia, who impose afflictions of the mind onto others. Twelve of the 72 reconcile friends, 11 make others fall in love, and at least one renders other men the subjects of the summoner. While this is less a transposition as the other stories, the altering of consciousness radically is as terrifying even if direct possession is not at the root.

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However, exorcists date back at least to ancient Sumer, where we have assorted inscriptions for invoking the might of the sun god Shamash in order to combat possession. Possession in the sense of Sumer is not terribly developed. Ghost possession is a second possibility, more common perhaps. A ghost may end up possessing a living person of it’s own power, or be conjured for that purpose and inflicted on someone.

Some Hindu theories of possession do not treat it as a seizure of the body, but rather the cause of illness. There are a number of charms and wards against these included in one of the Vedas, linked to here.

Demonic or ghostly forces –and we would do well to remember that hell and the underworld are often very deeply related—can thus rewrite or transpose a new identity onto an individual, compelling them to be someone they normally are not.

But this is…perhaps not what Howard Phillip Lovecraft intended. He was always, at least in nomine, a man of science. The best analysis of this notion are tales like The Thing on the Doorstep. Here, the alluring power of the Waites family is described as hypnotic. Lovecraft was writing when hypnotism was gaining steam, although he personally might not have indulged much on the matter. Still, it was a new science that, while now discredited, promised access to the deepest portions of the human pysche.

It has yet to deliver, but the idea of brainwashing to create a new identity is common enough. For instance, we may observe a modern depiction of mass technological (in name) possession in Doctor Who. The Master, a master hypnotist, use medical machinery to convert all of earth’s populace into himself in a rather disturbing sequence in the episode End of Time.

The Manchurian Candidate and Jason Borne are other famous examples of new personalities onto people. The often horrifying to discuss brainwashing techniques, while how possibly nonexistent, have a place in the mind of genre writers at least as tools of recruitment and shifting of beliefs and even entire modes of thought for nefarious purposes. And this line of thinking lead me to a novel idea.

We have examples of these powers or tactics used to shape followers. But what of leaders? What if a cult tried to create it’s own chosen one, it’s own ideal leader, using these methods? Philosophers including Plato have discussed the idea of molding leaders through subversive means. The idea of a cult working to make someone, unwittingly and unknowingly, into their ideal leader may be an intreasting one to explore.

Real life examples of large scale magic might be found in the Bablaon Working or tulpa creation (although neither of these are actually, exactly, what we are looking for). There are number of tricks to be considered before carrying on. We should discuss of course whether to view this change from within the mind of the narrator or without. Within is more intimate, more horrifying maybe. But without gives us a fuller understanding of what has occurred. If looking from the outside, we can see the changes wrought and how different things have become with much, much more certainty.

If we were to start from within, it would most likely manifest in breaks in narration. Start with the character in one location, and then inexcpilcably time and space have passed without the audience or the narrator aware. Of course, having laid out this gimick in such detail, I am now inclined not to use it. Especially since, while mysterious, it relies a bit to much on the twist. Still, I have an idea in mind that will at the least be entertaining. Come next week to see what poor soul is lost!

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