Cults of an Unwitting Oracle: The (Unintended) Religious Legacy of H. P. Lovecraft

Cults of an Unwitting Oracle: The (Unintended) Religious Legacy of H. P. Lovecraft

Legacies are a bit like children. We wish them well, but have very little control over them.  And although we are most of the time happy to even have one, a few wind up becoming an embarrassment. Take, for example, the strange case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), who, if he were still alive, would be celebrating his 120th birthday on August 20, 2010. Of the various legacies to which H.P. Lovecraft lays claim, one turned out to be a set of fascinating individuals and subcultures that find religious inspiration in this most creative, though irreligious parent.

A man of Providence, Rhode Island, horror writer, self-proclaimed atheist, and “mechanical materialist” who spent most of his life ridiculing religion in his many extant letters, Lovecraft invented one of the most absurd and terrifying pseudomythologies (often called “The Cthulhu Mythos”) in the history of modern literature. The “gods” of that invented mythology, sometimes called the Old Ones, with names such as Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, and Shub-Niggurath, were created, according to Lovecraft himself, as parodies of gods from ancient myth, often “uncovered” in his fictional book the Necronomicon, which appears often in his work as the sacred text of secret teachings.

In later works, Lovecraft makes his gods into aliens who arrived on earth millions of years ago. These beings see us as little more than a nuisance, and those of us who have even the faintest understanding of the power of these creatures—one of which, Cthulhu, is waiting until the “stars are right” to call these aliens back and take over the world—worship them as gods mainly because, as Lovecraft would have it, that is how foolish humanity has always approached what they don’t understand: prostrated reverence. A recent book by famed Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi collecting the author’s writings on religion, aptly titled Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H. P. Lovecraft, with a Foreword by the incomparable Christopher Hitchens (New York, NY: Sporting Gentlemen, 2010), further punctuates Lovecraft’s anti-religious views. Although Lovecraft’s literary legacy can bee seen far and wide, with some critics hailing him as second only to Poe in his influence on the genre, a strange fascination by those seeking something “spiritual” in his work was evident from the very beginning.

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Tags: Lovecraft, atheism, fiction, horror, mythology, religion, sci-fi, short stories

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