Over the weekend, I re-encountered the theory that Lovecraft’s fiction is a thin veil of fantasy over occult secrets shared with him by Aleister Crowley. While I am greatly fond of the mythos surrounding both men, so would feel joyous if this were true, I find it sadly implausible.
Lovecraft’s letters, the primary source for most of his biographical data, contain no mention of him meeting Crowley. Given the detail in which he lists other inspirations and meetings in his correspondence, and the focus Lovecraft scholars have turned on the extant writings of those who knew Lovecraft without uncovering mention of a connection, this makes it all but certain Lovecraft himself never claimed to have met Crowley.
The first reference to the theory seems to be Colin Low’s statement in the Necronomicon Anti-FAQ that Sonia Greene (Lovecraft’s wife) met Crowley in 1918 and that the two of them met several times over the following months. He goes on to say that Greene shared some of the secrets Crowley told her with Lovecraft, including the contents of the Necronomicon. This theory is not inconsistent with Lovecraft first writing of the Necronomicon by name in October 1921 in “The Hound”, several months after he met Greene.
However, anecdotal accounts from Lovecraft’s childhood mention him creating the character of Abdul Alhazred (the author of the Necronomicon) and some of his history. Even if one dismisses these as fabulation (whether accidental or part of some conspiracy) Lovecraft first mentions Alhazred in “The Nameless City”, which was completed in January 1921, many months before he met Greene.
Perhaps more damning for the theory that Lovecraft was connected to Crowley via Sonia Green is that Low has openly admitted he invented the story of Greene meeting Crowley. So, for it to be true, one would have to posit that Low had discovered evidence that they had met that no-one else has uncovered (a triumph that could make his name in both academic and popular Lovecraft studies), then chosen to falsely claim it was all a hoax.
The pseudonymous author of the Simon Necronomicon alleges that Lovecraft’s stories are drawn from Sumerian mythology, which—if true—would not place them a vast distance in occult terms from the esoteric Egyptian threads in Crowley’s magical theories. Unfortunately for this theory, neither the magical actions nor the mythology in Lovecraft’s work display any positive evidence of Sumerian roots; thus, the Simon Necronomicon is, at best, evidence that Lovecraft’s work is not utterly incompatible with an interpretation of Sumerian metaphysics.
One could of course argue that Lovecraft deliberately omitted his meetings with Crowley from all his correspondence as part of a conspiracy to hide the truth of his writings. However, as Crowley’s occult writings were not publicly inaccessible, this would create the somewhat absurd situation of Lovecraft, for most of his life not well-known, attempting to conceal truths that the much more famous Crowley was spreading.
3 thoughts on “Alchemical Divorce”
I don’t know much about Crowley, but my vague impressions of him indicate he and HPL wouldn’t have had much in common. Also, HPL’s stories weren’t really about magic, black or otherwise.
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Crowley was a skilled mountaineer with a character extroverted enough to style himself the Great Beast, so certainly wasn’t similar to Lovecraft.
Certainly Lovecraft’s fiction isn’t overtly about high ritual magic—although ritual magic is a key setting feature in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Most of the “actually true” theories are centred around there being hints and covert insights beneath the overt appearance of the stories though.
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