Concerning the Semblance and Form of Cthulhu

Concerning the Semblance and Form of Cthulhu

(pronounced Kt-hool-hoo), apart from being one of the most widely known "fictional" dieties in the literary genre of modern supernatural horror, may also be considered one of the most influential, speaking not only in academic circles, but Magical ones as well. The overwhelming evidence that this Entity has boldly manifested in the minds, dreams & works of multitudinous writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, gamers and serious occultists alike, attests to this unequivocally. It's been nearly 74 years since H.P. Lovecraft first released "the Thing from the stars" into this World of Horrors (Weird Tales February 1928).

The current examination is not so much concerned with studying theoretical literary sources for the Entity or influences upon Lovecraft himself; these are well covered in existing texts such as the essay by Robert M. Price prefacing the Chaosium/Call of Cthulhu© Fiction publication The Cthulhu Cycle: Thirteen Tentacles of Terror (July 1996). What this composition is concerned with is looking into the more sublimely symbolic & esoteric aspects of this Great Old One as presented in only the original tale and refuting at least one common misconception from the point of view of one Working directly within the greater Lovecraftian Mythos framework generally, and with this Godform specifically, in an intuitively occult context.

Let's first consider the physical characteristics of the entity as related. Far removed from the more speculatively implied, as opposed to actually described, amorphous & puzzlingly chaotic semblances so inherent in other major Mythos Godforms (Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, et al.), the anthropomorphic form of the Being of Cthulhu is described in relatively, if not particularly, clear detail. Cited examples come from descriptions of artistically rendered bas-reliefs, idols & statuary brought to light before investigators within the context of the original tale, not from eyewitness encounters with the actual being (I'll try to recount those later... wink):

"...It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings... Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background..."

"The figure... represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind..."

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

As archaeological/anthropological artifacts attest, the personification of the Divine is nothing new. Several ancient cultures and their homogenous mythologies make use of characteristics of humanoid physiology in a sort-of Divine/Human hybridization or, at the very least, grant their beings with shape-shifting abilities. Some obvious examples are the forms of many ancient Egyptian Gods & Goddesses, the Norse Aesir & Vanir, Hindu dieties, Chinese dieties, even Native American totem/spirit animals so, it's not difficult to ascertain, nor is it of particularly singular consequence, that the entity of Cthulhu should have these same anthropoidal tendencies. The reason for doing so may not appear to be quite as obvious to many however. I submit that this practice is the most psycho-emotionally unobstructed & simplest method to establish an intrinsic connection with the often uncanny & other-worldly Forms of the Divine where humanity is concerned on its most primal (and selfish) level, for it affords the individual human creature of sufficient (or even sufficiently little) insight the ability to see/experience aspects of the God or Goddess within themSelf and vice-versa. Remember, man tends to create his gods in his own image more often than not. The closer the Divine Being is in appearence to those of the human species, the closer humankind may feel to it, thus creating not only a psycho-spiritualogical, but truly magical link between them that otherwise might not be manifested. The more non-human aspects of the character of a Divine Being further depict, accentuate and make accomodation for its godliness; its representation of Form, its supernatural abilities, its immortality, thusly its utter alieness to the greater mass of humanity, whether based upon attributes of some other creature found here on Earth or something found nowhere but in the dreams/nightmares of humankind. These alien aspects are what the Inititated human may discover, aspire to & actualize within themSelf if they are "on congenial terms" with the particular Godform(s).

Moving outward from the center and onto the more non-human characteristics of the Entity, we must take into consideration the "wings" mentioned in the narrative. Any time a creature is depicted as having any kind of wings, this implies some form of "flight", an ability to move freely in 3+ dimensional space. In the case of a Being said to be able to move "between the spaces known to man", this seems to indicate much more. The simple aerial talents of common Earth creatures like birds or bats, or even standard mythological creatures like dragons or faeries pales in comparison. Symbolically speaking, this is also one part of the monster's anatomy which goes a long way to refute perhaps the most widely made mistake about the being, namely, that Great Cthulhu is some kind of Water Elemental. Comparisons oftentimes made between Cthulhu and the legendary Kraken, for each having certain octopoidal characteristics aside, this concept just doesn't quite work when we look at all of the pertinent data before us. Take these parts of the collected information within the context of the tale for instance:

"These Great Old Ones... were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape--for did not this star-fashioned image prove it?--but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R'lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious resurrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them...

"In the elder time chosen men had talked with the entombed Old Ones in dreams, but then something happened. The great stone city R'lyeh, with its monoliths and sepulchres, had sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters, full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the spectral intercourse..."

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Taking into consideration the details provided in this testimony, one may no longer write off Great Cthulhu as any simple "elemental" diety much less that of water specifically. I venture to say that instead of having a connection with any single element-type, the Being may partake of and utilize the strengths of all elements at Will, much the same way that we, as Black Magicians, do when necessary in our own Work. Furthermore, the preceeding statements elude to some sort of cataclysmic event which caused the sending of the city R'lyeh to the black depths of the sea from its original locale, one presumebly situated upon the land or in a dimension of space-time defined as having no commonly recognized material form or placement within our own. The Great Old Ones exist in a Space beyond what we perceive as Time & in a Time not bounded by what we call Space.

The most striking feature of Cthulhu's physiological structure is that of the entity's head & the particular elements which make up its specialized form carry their own symbolic nuances. Whether determined to be characterized as that of an octopus, squid, cuttlefish, or even the most ancient nautilus, there are certain similarities all Cephalopods share & which make for some interesting esoteric conjectures. Firstly there is the centralized head having a comparitively enormous brain case; most often somewhere between one third & one half of any of these creatures' total physical volume & making them exceptionally intelligent. Secondly are the highly advanced eyes which, because of their relative positioning, general shape of their pupils/irises & the presence of orbital muscles necessary for allowing them to pivot freely (like our own), provide a much wider field of vision, an extremely keen sense of depth/spacial awareness along with the ability not only to see well in the dark depths of their natural environment but, make out the finest details of the subject(s)/object(s) being viewed. Thirdly are the numerous tentacles reaching out from the center of each creature's body & which provide much more than a complex ensnarement for capturing food or mode of mobility; these are also highly functional, independent aparatus for tactile sensory input.

I was fortunate recently to come across this description of the inherant symbolic value attributed to such creatures printed on the display card for a piece of jewelry I purchased:

"Octopus: Its eight spiral-like tentacles associate it with the unfolding of creation from the cosmic center. As an aquatic creature, it assumes the symbolism of water and moon and can also signify thunder and rain. It is equated with the zodiacal sign of Cancer and the summer solstice."

Source Unknown

In summary, taking into account all of the pertinent data, what we find looking at the Being of Great Cthulhu is an amalgamation of Forms and Functions. Here is an entity who exists outside our "normal" realms of perception & experience but who can travel between these voids, providing a certain channel of connection & communication with them for us. Often named as the High Priest of the Old Ones, Father of Magic who speaks to men & inspires them through dreams, one might even go so far as to equate Cthulhu, at least in some respects, with the Norse Godform of Odhinn. One might also consider the symbolism of the "many arms" in one variation of the Magus (Atu I) from the Crowley/Thoth tarot deck with regard to some of the functional possibilities for Cthulhu's tentacles.

To me personally Cthulhu is, like Set, a great benefactor to the Elect & yet another powerful symbol for the sentient source of the Black Flame; providing the Gift of Inspiration and the possibility for further Initiation to those who have the eyes to see, the sensitivity to dream. Furthermore, similar to the myth of Odhinn hanging on the World-Tree Yggdrasil and acquiring knowledge of the Runes through his own shamanistic death-rite, Cthulhu Dead but Dreaming in His House at R'lyeh awaiting the stars to come aright, bespeaks of the very same kind of Process, as well as the Gift itself. This may be evidenced by the ease with which the following expanded variation on the Hávamál (stanzas 138-139) was rendered Mythos-style:

I know that I laid
Dead but Dreaming
in the Barnacled Tower
beneath the briny wake
all the nighted Æons Nine,
tortured in Sleep
and sacrificed to Cthulhu;
myself to mySelf,
in that House,
which no man knows,
from what Angle it rises.
They dealt me no flesh
nor pod of draft,
I peered out
through the Abyss,
seized by Naagh-R'unai
I engaged them screaming,
I spiraled forth from there.

Even among non-Initiates, the Godform of Cthulhu remains the most steadfast and enduring connection, both symbolically & literally, toward Knowledge & Experience of the Forms of the Great Old Ones and the mysteries of the spaces beyond & between. However, the words of Cthulhu in the fragmented R'lyeh Text also contain this important qualification:

"I dream not of those who dream not of me..."