Beneath a Three-Lobed Eye

Events reminded me of a recent discussion I had on whether Nyarlathotep might really destroy humanity and how he might do it. Unsurprisingly, my thoughts drew upon nuances of meaning: specifically, what one means by “Nyarlathotep” and “destroy”.

Of all the Old Ones and other vast beings of Lovecraft’s stories, Nyarlathotep is one of the few that is both at the scale of a god and seems to act from malice rather than mere indifference so most likely to have the power and will to destroy humanity. Indeed, the story of the same name mentions visions of a post-apocalyptic world triggered by his schemes. But does that mean he would do it in reality?

The most basic argument against is that Nyarlathotep is a character from the stories of H P Lovecraft, so—theories that Lovecraft’s work is a thinly fictionalised retelling of actual occult histories aside—Nyarlathotep can’t do anything.

However, Jungian psychology, chaos magick, and other perspectives on what shapes our experiences submit that:

  1. belief in something not objectively real can sometimes cause it to affect us as if it did exist, and;

  2. fictional images can provide a more accessible picture of truth than statements of fact in some areas (for example, the Good Samaritan doesn’t exist but both strongly shapes Christian behaviour and provides a representation of JHVH’s mercy).

So, “Nyarlathotep” could bring about a result either by being a triggering image or a convenient label for some non-human power.

In addition to the desolation of Earth in the short story, other works by Lovecraft indicate that humanity is gone from Earth at some future date. So, if we take that story as an accurate portrayal of Nyarlathotep’s plan, he wipes out humanity. However, it seems rather convoluted to destroy a race: Nyarlathotep has immense power according to Lovecraft, so why would he use a series of talks and demonstrations rather than just using his techno-magic to cause a species-cide?

A simple answer might be that Nyarlathotep enjoys causing degradation—however, that would move him even further from cosmicism Lovecraft stated he was portraying toward Abrahamic dualism.

Lovecraft’s portrayals of Nyarlathotep are very subjective: we have several different narrators’ descriptions of what is demanded of his cultists and what his followers see, but each of those narrators is unreliable; Lovecraft never shows why Nyarlathotep seeks things. Perhaps the reason Nyarlathotep doesn’t wipe out humanity using his vast abilities is that that isn’t his goal.

Clearly, worship/making deals with Nyarlathotep involves doing things humans consider abhorrent. But that is not unique to interaction with Lovecraft’s “gods”; there are real world religions that perform acts that allegedly lead to a better life but those who are not members consider horrible or misguided: whether ritual cannibalism or slaughter of unbelievers. So, perhaps Nyarlathotep’s requirements are the path to a better life, and we simply don’t perceive them as such in the same way a child who is violently yanked away from a hazard perceives an attack rather than salvation.

In which case, the desolation of the Earth seen in the short story could be the aftermath of a psychic evolution, the structures of our current civilisations shed like a chrysalis.

So, if humanity—whether through natural evolution or technology—transitions to a form fitter for the environments of the time, those humans who experienced the transition could perceive something metaphorically if not directly like Nyarlathotep’s destruction of human civilisation in the short story, and believe that there was a power behind it.

7 thoughts on “Beneath a Three-Lobed Eye

  1. He seems to be different things in different stories. I like the idea that HPL might have been inspired by Nikola Tesla, who used to deliver dramatic lectures and demonstrations of apparatus. As for his possible goals, maybe he’s just laughing as he watches humanity fight itself and trash the earth.

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    1. Given Lovecraft’s frequent use of (then) cutting-edge scientific theories, I’d agree “Nyarlathotep” is almost certainly inspired by Tesla; to a lesser extent, can see Tillinghast being an immoral Tesla too.

      One of the features of Lovecraft’s opus is a rejection of the binary Good/Evil of both classic fantasy and (then) Western moral thought; so, Nyarlathotep as a Satan/Joker/Moustache-twirling Villain seems unlikely to me.

      While Nyarlathotep does appear as many different things (one thousand and one if one believes that description is literal), they do usually have that theme of apparent active malice; so it is part of his core “self”. If we look at Yog-Sothoth (another being Lovecraft provides multiple mentions of) then some stories seem to show him as evil (e.g. Dunwich Horror) and others show him as almost benevolent (on of his manifestations asks Randolph Carter whether he has what he needs to return safely), but all appearances of Yog-Sothoth share a sense of accessing things beyond the standard dimensions and perspectives (fitting his core “self” as Gate and Key).

      Nyarlathotep’s “self” is often described as messenger; so, I wonder if the malevolence is an attempt to communicate something we can’t comprehend in our “sane” state by forcing us to experience inhuman events.

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        1. Is he a Great Old One or an Outer God? Lovecraft describes him as the messenger of Azathoth, who is an Outer God, but I can’t remember whether Lovecraft himself uses the label anywhere or whether he’s only called an Outer God by later writers.

          ‘Umr at-Tawil (an avatar of Yog-Sothoth) is described as having the shape of a man in “Through the Gates of The Silver Key”; Nodens, while an Elder God, is also human seeming in “The Strange High House in the Mist”; so Lovecraftian “gods” might all have the ability to appear mostly human and choose not to in modern times for some reason or other. That would avoid the issue of the only major religion that was actually Mythos-spawned being Egyptian.

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          1. I’d forgotten about Nodens. And “The Strange High House in the Mist” is one of my favourite HPL stories, unlike “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” which I don’t relate to for some reason. Now I’m not sure whether Great Old Ones refers to Cthulhu et al., or some other gods. I do recall the term “the Other Gods” in at least one story that also mentions Azathoth. HPL’s gods seem to be as multi-formed and many-named as the Egyptian ones.

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            1. “The Call of Cthulhu” says that the Great Old Ones came out of the sky, that they were gone now into the earth and sea, that they wait to return, and that their dead bodies send secrets in dreams. While it doesn’t explicitly say Cthulhu is a Great Old One rather than merely the high priest of their followers, he is dead but dreaming beneath the sea waiting to return; so it seems almost certain Cthulhu is a Great Old One. As he’s a priest, that would put the GOO below “god” level.

              As Lovecraft called the Elder Things the “Old Ones” at least once, GOO being a term for pre-human beings of great but finite power would fit the (potentially not consistent) evidence.

              Many people consider the Outer Gods (Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, &c) and the Elder Gods (Nodens, unspecified others [perhaps Bast?]) to be competing pantheons, but I can’t remember whether Lovecraft himself indicated that or if it’s one of the things Derleth or a successor added as part of the re-cataloguing of the Mythos.

              From memory, the “Other Gods” were unnamed deities that pranced and sang around Azathoth, so it’s unclear whether they are smaller/weaker/younger Outer Gods or a level below (i.e. Lovecraftian “seraphim”).

              You’re right that Lovecraft’s beings took many different forms of differing scale and interest though; as Lovecraft (allegedly) had no interest in creating a consistent Mythos, there might be unresolvable conflicts of evidence buried in his works; certainly the Mythos is very different if one assumes Lumley was right and seeks to interpret the rest in line with a Lovecraft-Lumley fusion than if one starts with Lovecraft-Derleth or Lovecraft-Shea.

              I chose to start from the point that Lovecraft described a universe that wasn’t driven by morality or easily conceivable structures, so both Lumley’s “Good Cthulhu vs. Bad Cthulhu” and Derleth’s “Water Hastur vs. Fire Cthugha” aren’t accurate.

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              1. It makes sense that HPL didn’t intend to create a fictional pantheon, even though some writers among his circle may have had that idea. I really need to reread HPL and some of the others. Thanks for this interesting discussion, Dave!

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