Cthulu Madness

by Phil Hine (1995)

Each god brings its own madness. To know the god - to be accepted by it - to feel its mysteries, well you have to let that madness wash over you, and through you. This isn't in the books of magic, why? For one thing, it's all too easily forgotten, and for another, you have to find it out for yourself And those who would sanitise magic, whitening out the wildness with explanations borrowed from pop psychology or science- well, madness is something that we still fear - the great taboo. So why did I choose Cthulhu? High Priest of the Great Old Ones. Lying dreaming "death's dream" in the sunken city, forgotten through layers of time and water. It sounds so simple to say that I merely heard his 'call' - but I did. Gods do not, generally, have a lot to say, but what they do say, is worth listening to.

I recall one evening staying in a friends' flat. I'd been 'working' with Gaia. No new-age mommy with a channeling about saving whales or picking up litter. I felt a pressure inside my head building up - something huge trying to pour itself into me. Sensations of geological time - layers sleeting through my awareness. The heat of magma; slow grinding of continents shifting; the myriad buzz of insects. Nothing remotely human. This sort of experience helps me to clarify my feelings on Cthulhu. Alien but not alien. A vast bulk stirring somewhere around the pit of my stomach. A slow, very slow heartbeat crashing through waves. Lidded eye peeling back through darkness, back through the world, the cities, the people walking outside, peeling back slowly. Peeling back through my entire life, all memories and hopes crashing into this moment. Waking from the dream of this to feel a stirring - a nagging disquiet; the absolute fragility of myself thrust back at me through crashing waves of silence.

This is the sense of Cthulhu madness.

Cut to walking through a forest. It is pouring with rain. The trees are bare of leaves, slimy, mud churning underfoot. I'm seeing them as clutching fingers attempting to snare the sky; as winding tentacles. Cthulhu is all around us. It is a squid-thing, bestial, dragon-winged - a theriomorphic image, but such things are all around us, as trees, insects, plant life, and within us as bacterium, brooding viruses; born momentarily through the alchemical transformations taking place in my body even as I write. Hidden. Dreaming. Carrying on without our cognisance. Unknown beings, with unknown purposes. This thought builds in intensity and it throws me sideways into realisation. That Nature is alien to us. There's no need to look for hidden dimensions, higher planes of existence or lost worlds of myth. It's here, if we but pause to look and feel.

The old Gods are everywhere. Their features outlined in the rock beneath our feet. Their signatures scrawled in the fractal twisting of coastlines. Their thoughts echoing through time, each lightning storm an eruption of neural flashes. I'm so small, and it (Cthulhu) is so vast. That such an insignificant being becomes of the focus of that lidded eye peeling back across aeons of time - well, it puts me in my place, doesn't it. My carefully-nurtured magician-self ("I can command these beings, I can!") goes into momentary overdrive and then collapses, exhausted by the inrush of eternity. Run away. Hide.

Having tried to break out of the mould I have only succeeded in breaking down. I scream inwardly for my lost innocence. Suddenly the world is a threatening place. The colours are too bright and I can't trust them anyway. Windows are particularly fascinating, yet they too become objects to be suspicious of. You (I) can't trust what comes through windows. We can look out of them, but other things can look in. I press my hand to the glass. What secrets are locked into these thin sheets of matter? I would be like glass if I could, but I'm afraid to.

Sleep brings no respite. The eyelid begins to peel back even before I sleep. I feel as if I'm falling, tipping like a child's top into something ... I don't know what. All pretence at being a magician has failed. This thing is too big. I can't banish it and even if I could, I have a strong sense that I mustn't. I have opened this door and unwittingly stepped through it, like walking deliberately into a puddle only to find that I'm suddenly drowning. Cthulhu's pulse-beat echoes slowly around me. Cthulhu is dreaming me. I was unaware of this, and now I am acutely aware of it, and wish to hell I wasn't. I want to sink back into unconsciousness. I don't want to know this. I find myself developing rituals of habit. Checking plug sockets for stray outpourings of electricity; avoiding particularly dangerous trees, you know the kind of thing.

I thought I was a rising star, yet I'm reduced to the four walls of my room. But even they won't keep these feelings out. Slowly, some self-preservation mechanism kicks into gear. Madness is not an option. I can't stay like this forever - another casualty of what is never mentioned in the books of magic. I begin to pick up the patterns I've let slip - eating regularly (at more or less the right times), having a wash, going out for walks. Talking to people - that kind of thing. I feel the sensation of the lidless eye peering out of abysses of time and memory, and I find I can meet that eye ("I") steadily. The environment ceases to be a threat. The self-protection rituals (obsessions) fall away, and after all, what is there to protect? The dreams change. It is as though I have passed through some kind of membrane. Perhaps I have become glass, after all. The thoughts of Cthulhu stirring down there in the darkness are no longer fearful. I find that I can, after all, ride the dream-pulse. What was that lidless eye but my own "I" mirrored through fear and self-identifications? I'm no longer haunted by strange angles. All resistance has collapsed, and I've found myself a measure of power in it's place.

Of course this theme is familiar to one and all - the initiatory journey into and out of darkness. Familiar because of the thousand and one books that chart it, analyse it, and, in some cases, offer signposts along the way. Which brings me back to why I chose Cthulhu, or rather, why we chose each other. There's something very romantic about H.P Lovecraft. The same romance which brings people towards magic by reading Dennis Wheatley. As Lionel Snell once wrote "When occultism dissociated itself from the worst excesses of Dennis Wheatley, it castrated itself for the worst excesses of Dennis Wheatky are where it's at." There's something gut-wrenching, exciting, awe-ful - romantic - about Lovecraftian magic. Contrast it with the plephora of books available on different magical 'systems' which abound in modem bookshops. Symbols everywhere - everything has become a symbol, and somehow, (to my mind at least), less real. Awesome experiences have had all the feeling boiled out of them, into short descriptions and lists - always more lists, charts, and attempts to banish the unknown with explanations, equations, abstract structures for other people to play in.

Lovecraftian magic is elemental, it has an immediate presence, and resonates with buried fears, longings, aspirations and dreams. The Great Old Ones and their kin can only ever be fragments of the mysterious, never to be codified or dried out for scholars to pick over. Yes, you can bounce gematria around until you've equated this god with that concept, and I do feel that gematria, if used appropriately, can become a thread with which you can begin to weave your own Cthulhu madness, tipping yourself into sub-schizoid significances. There are no Necronomicons - okay, I'll amend that, there are several published necronomicons, but none of them for me do justice to that sense of an "utterly blasphemous tome" which sends you insane after a thorough reading. If it does exist, it's in a library somewhere where you will have to go through madness to get the key, only to find that what works for you, probably won't make much sense to everyone else. After all, to some people, Fanny Hill was blasphemous. The whole point of the necronomicon is that it is a cipher for that kind of experience which twists your whole world-view and, whilst the insights of that illumination are dancing around your head, impels you to act upon it - to do what "must" be done in the fire of gnosis - whether it be Dr. Henry Armitage setting forth to Dunwich or Saul's conversion of the Greeks, the flames of his vision on the road to Damascus dancing in his heart. This experience, this core, out of which magis - power - bursts forth, for me is the core of magic - the central mystery, if you like. Gnosis of the presence of a god rips away the veils and leaves you gasping, breathless. Character armour is blown away (until it slowly accrues into a shell once more) and briefly, you touch the heart of that unknowable mystery, coming away with a shard embedded. It drops away, it works its way in, it becomes a dull ache, so we have to go back for more. Most of the "set" magical rituals that I've done or participated in don't even come close to this. Yet all the magical acts which I have done, responding to external circumstance, the crash of events or some burdening inner need have thrust me into the foreground of the mystery. I can still remember seeing a witch priestess "possessed" by Hecate. The eyes... weren't human. This year, in answer To my plea out of confusion and torment, the wild god Pasupati stooped down low and peered down at me, a vision of blazing whiteness, the after-burn of which is still glowing at the edges.

Real magic is wild. I can feel the near-presence of the Great Old Ones at night. When the wind rattles the window-panes. When I hear the growl of thunder. When I walk up a hillside and ponder on the age of that place. To feel them near me, all I would have to do is stay there until night fell. Stay away from the habitations of men. Away from our fragile order and rationality and into the wildness of nature, where even the eyes of a sheep can look weird in the moonlight. Outside, you don't need to "call things up" - they're only a breath away. And you are nearer to Cthulhu than you might otherwise think. Again, it's a small thing, and rarely mentioned, but there's a difference between a "magician" thinking he has a right to "summon the Great Old Ones", and a magician who feels a sense of kinship with them, and so doesn't have to call. Anyone can call them, but few can do so out of a nodding acquaintance born of kinship. There's a great difference between doing a rite, and having the right. But once you've faced a god, letting it's madness wash through you, and change you, then there is a bond which is true, beyond all human explanation or rationalisation. We forge bonds with the gods we choose and with the gods which choose us. It's a two-way exchange, the consequences of which might take years to be manifest in your life. But then, gods tend to be patient. Cthulhu dreams.

This essay appears in "The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H.P Lovecraft" edited by D.M Mitchell, Creation Books, 2nd (Revised) Edn, ISBN 1-871592-32-1. Main contributors include: William S, Burroughs, J.G Ballard, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, James Havoc, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Don Webb and others.