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