Dream-Haunted Skies

A short but potent post this week, working with one of the primary deities of the Lovecraftian mythos. Through the course of this research, Lovecraft’s ‘monsters’ have begun to find a coherent place in context of the other mythologies he works with and expands into his world-building.

The Lovecraftian monsters, while they might seem completely alien or otherworldly, are intimately connected with the activity and experience of humankind on earth. We will begin this sub-line of inquiry by examining the fragment entitled ‘Azathoth.’ Lovecraft begins this instance by painting a bleak picture of post-Victorian life:

“When… wonder went out of the minds of men; when grey cities reared to smoky skies tall towers grim and ugly… when learning stripped earth of her mantle of beauty… when these things had come to pass… there was a man who travelled out of life on a quest into the spaces whither the world’s dreams had fled.”

When wonder went out of the minds of men…

This marks the beginning of the empire of materialism as Lovecraft indulges in his brand of hypernostalgia. Looking back not too many years to the 1830s when the Industrial Revolution in American matured. In fact, Lovecraft’s city of Providence was ‘ground zero’ for the American Industrial Revolution. It was in 1790 that Samuel Slater founded the first textile mill in the United States in the town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which borders Providence. Slater Mill is widely cited as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America. A century of timedepth passes and Lovecraft puts pen to paper to write the fragment known as Azathoth. In the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Azathoth gains the description of being an:

“amorphous blight… which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity… the daemon… Azathoth… who gnaws hungrily… beyond time… amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums…”

The Pop Lovecraftian body of criticism is so focused on the physicality, the material, of his monsters that they very often miss what the monsters represent. By placing the above quote in the context of the original fragment it seems clear to this researcher that Azathoth is the daemon, the spirit born along with the Industrial Revolution. Azathoth is all around us, eyes everywhere, mouths everywhere, and the drums are (or were) the sounds of factories. For those of us old enough and unlucky enough to have worked in manufacturing or lived next to foundries or factories that ‘muffled, maddening beat…’ will be a familiar sensation. It is impossible for an era as powerful as the Industrial Revolution to come to pass without taking on its own spirit, its own animacy. Azathoth is the personhood of the Industrial Wasteland we find ourselves in or on the margins of.

“when these things had come to pass… there was a man who travelled out of life…”

Azathoth, the fragment, is the beginning of an emotion, an expression that for all the wonders and convenience of the modern world, we have lost something nearly irreplaceable. The prime Lovecraftian deity is our archetype, but we can only experience it through our own context:

“It is enough to know that he dwelt in a city of high walls where sterile twilight reigned, and that he toiled all day among shadow and turmoil…”

The subject of the fragment is bent to the will of Azathoth. It is clear that Lovecraft’s vision is of a man in a type of hell-on-earth, that the price paid for progress was tantamount to selling ones soul to the devil.

“because mere walls and windows must soon drive to madness a man who dreams and reads much, the [man] used night after night to lean out and peer aloft to glimpse some fragment of things beyond…”

A perfect picture of modern man, having known that he as lost something in the chaos of progress, in the wake of Azathoth’s co-opting of the planet, he leans far out of his window, out of his cell, in a literal and metaphorical attempt to spot the stars in the sky. Trapped in his cell and a life obscured by the mad consuming tendrils of Azathoth, the man yearns to invoke the campfires of his ancestors.

“After years he began to call the slow sailing stars by name, and to follow them in fancy when they glided regretfully out of sight…”

There is a bit of a biographical portrait here of Lovecraft the avid amateur astronomer, and an answer to a question I have had open in my head for some time. Did Lovecraft’s astronomy hide an affinity for the stories behind the stars, the primeval religion, the first religion of mankind? If we are to transpose the above phrase on top of Lovecraft the Astronomer we begin to see a picture of a man who not only seeks to know the stars in the skies but also a man who follows their transits and seeks to know their paths; in other words, an astrological magician.

“one night a… gulf was bridged, and the dream-haunted skies swelled down to… merge with the close air of his room…”

This phrase helps to anchor the above thesis. Through years of study of the night skies through the tiny slit in the canopy of urbanity he is positioned in, through the committing of memory of the timing and the mechanisms of the night sky, the man succeeds in invoking the ‘dream-haunted skies,’ bringing him the dreams that he seeks to find escape.

How different is this from the scores of spells and spell fragments in the Greek Magical Papyri that call on deities, of whom all had their own asterisms, to bring to the magician dreams filled with spirit contact and divinatory revelations?

“violet midnight glittering with dust of gold; vortices of dust and fire, swirling out of… spaces… heavy with perfumes from beyond the worlds… Opiate oceans… having in their whirlpools strange dolphins and sea-nymphs… Noiseless infinity eddied around the dreamer… for days not counted in men’s calendars the tides of far spheres bare him gently to join the dreams for which he longed; the dreams that men have lost…”

The dreams that men have lost…

Azathoth, as an archetype, is the daemon of the industrial revolution, and he is also an endless city of lost dreams. Azathoth, the ‘chaos beyond space,’ is the force of entropy that consumes our primeval dreams, those dreams of the stars, of spirits, and of our place in the universe. the ‘Idiot God Azathoth, Lord of All Things’ is a representation of what we lose when we are enveloped in a world structured around consumerism, around production, around money and avarice and the smoke and fire and floods of boiling mud that it calls forth.

Our tarot match for Azathoth is the Etteilla card known as ‘Le Ceil,’ or The Sky. The Sky is the equivalent to The Star card.

air.jpg

Our Etteilla card offers us two keywords, ‘Air’ and ‘Counting.’ Air is from the 13th c. Old French and can mean ‘atmosphere,’ ‘breeze,’ or ‘weather.’ It is related to the Latin ‘aer’ and the Greek ‘aēr,’ which means ‘mist,’ ‘haze,’ or ‘clouds.’ It is most likely expanded from the PIE root *awer-, which means ‘to raise up.’ Compare this to *wer-, which means ‘to cover’ and PIE *ne- (which is also expressed as ‘a-‘), a common negative prefix, in other words, ‘to uncover.’ In the context of our interpretation of the Azathoth Daemon, humankind is uncovering the earth to find the raw materials that it consumes.

Depouillement, of ‘counting’ is the verbal noun for the word ‘count.’ A world from the late 14th c. meaning ‘to enumerate’ and also to ‘reckon.’ It is from the Old French ‘conter,’ which means both to ‘add up’ and to ‘tell a story,’ which is super-interesting. It stems from the PIE root *pau-, which means ‘to prune,’ ‘strike,’ or ‘stamp.’ *pau- expands out into amputate, berate, compute, pavement, pit and reputation. Counting is the language of the industrial revolution, a phenomenogical entity whose end goal has proven to be in the pursuit of creating computing devices. We cut our selves off from nature, we amputate forests from the rest of the ecosystem, we pave over vast tracks of land and dig vast wastelands of open pits to feed the creation of these devices that count, these computers, that in turn, draw our value from us so that we can afford to posses them.

One last thought on how the blind idiot god beyond space is related to the very terrestrial daemon of the Industrial Revolution. What lies beyond space? The answer is not nothing, it is entropy. The end of the universe is the end of order, the end of predictable physical laws and measurable orbits. It is the degradation of order into disorder. Azathoth lies beyond space but it is represented here on earth by our devouring of the planet to create fuel for our vehicles and raw materials for our phones. Both the fuel and the phones, once spent, are without purpose, without use. They become one with entropy. The Daemon of the Industrial Revolution is a reflection of the entropy at the end of the universe.