These will be the final words I have to say on the subject of Mountains of Madness, at least for a bit. It is a huge work and riddled with caves and rifts and crevices that we could repel into for weeks, but I think it would detract from the primary archetype in the work, which is what we are concerned with.
The title of this post is Erebos Cthulicus. A made-up, Latinized suffix intended to accentuate the strangeness, the otherness of our archetype, the Antarctic continent. It is intended to invoke that High Priest of the Lovecraft mythos and his boiling unformed cyclopean manifestation in the Call of Cthulhu. It is meant to invoke the otherness of the landscape-as-spirit.
When I was a young lad of twenty, which was, so very long ago. Myself and Ghostly Harmless lived in Northwestern Illinois together, in one of the poorest counties in that area. I had grown up there, as I have mentioned in the past, on a farm. Everything there is green, if it isn’t green, it is white. Those are the two states. Sure, there is autumn and the wet brown spring, but green and white, those are the states we are concerned with for now. When I say green, I mean it is a prickly nettle mosquito bled green. There is mustard and stink apples and poison ivy and brambles of berries growing wild in dappled woods. It is a green that permeates the night when it is too hot to sleep in the house so you lay flat between two blankets on the cool concrete of the porch, covering yourself so that you aren’t eaten alive by the bugs. In the darkest moonless night, the green is still there. That kind of green. This, for me, is the landscape-as-familiar. The wind through maple and populars is the spiritual dialect I understand the best, in as far as humans can understand the landscape.
Well, some people stay in that green forever, they never get it out of their head, their heart, the black earth out from beneath their fingernails. That wasn’t me, and it wasn’t my friend either. We were young and most certainly others in those green hills. I dreamt of leaving that place, I lived in other landscapes through books. One of particular importance to that young Drew, was The Teaching of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda. I know, I know, but there will always be the tenderest part in my heart for Castaneda, so hater’s back off.
One day, after a particularly brain-damaging party that involved smashing a sixty gallon fish tank all over the kitchen and Captain Jack-ing a couple of tanks of NO2 out of the local hospital’s surgery unit, there was a knock on the door and one of the shadier levels of ‘friends’ was present on the other side with a couple of one-way plane tickets, in his and a coworkers name, to Tucson, AZ. I bought them and we left those green hills at the end of the week. No plans, barely any money, just, off, fleeing the incessant green, fleeing the landscape-as-familiar.
When we arrived, we languished in the airport a bit, my guitar (stuffed with boxer shorts) had been moved to a different office and needed to be signed for. We searched the phone book for hotels, and eventually we made it outside. I will never forget that first breath, that first smell of the desert. The first gigantic alien cactus. Tucson was as far from those green hills as we could have gotten. We had moved from the landscape-as-familiar to the landscape-as-other.
So why have I bored you now with this story that I have bored countless others with. It is essentially a superhero origin story because those years spent in the Sonoran desert were an initiatory period. I know they are initiatory because eventually, we both returned to the sticky, thorny green hills and plains. We returned to the landscape-as-familiar, but we were forever othered. The desert has never left either of us. This is how you know that you have encountered the landscape-as-other. The fear and weirdness it imparts becomes a part of you forever.
Now, I’m not talking about going on a three-week vacation to Gobleki Tepi or Nom Modal, this is only an experience you can achieve by ‘living’ in a place. Yes, I said that I’ll never forget those first breaths of air but the way we got there, we both knew there was no going back, not for a long while. We had set our feet in that landscape with the intent to live with it. To visit the landscape-as-other is not to know it. To know the smell of its creosote in the far off rain being carried on the wind. To know the burn of strange pollen the first year, and to feel it coming the second. This is the feel that is imparted by the Antarctica of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness.
I was gifted by the God of Serendipitous Book-Finding a copy of Peter J. Carroll’s Liber Kaos. One of my first sigils was ‘To find the books I need’ and through this whole experiment the right books always seem to show up to help with the research. In the Principia Magica section of Liber Kaos, Carrol begins to lay out his small taxonomy of magic:
“Two of the three known magical philosophies, Animism and Spiritism, are very ancient, and various admixtures of them make up the Shamanism of pre-pagan cultures. The third philosophy, Chaos Magic Theory… is now embryonic and it is the first real alternative to have developed since shamanic times.”
The Mountains of Madness are an excellent reflection of this delicate structure. Let’s step out of our warm library and back into the bitter wastes of the foothills, when we last left off, we were listening to the description of those strange night-eggs that the Lake expedition had pulled from eternal night of their frozen cave:
“Complete specimens have such an uncanny resemblance to certain creatures of primal myth that suggestion of ancient existence outside antarctic becomes inevitable. Dyer and Pabodie have read Necronomicon and seen Clark Ashton Smith’s nightmare paintings based on text, and will understand when I speak of Elder Things supposed to have created all earth-life as jest or mistake. Students have always thought conception formed from morbid imaginative treatment of very ancient tropical radiata. Also like prehistoric folklore things Wilmarth has spoken of — Cthulhu cult appendages, etc.”
Resemblance to primal myth… prehistoric folklore… What is being said here? The Elder Things are Lovecraft’s embodiment of these myths. Back to Carroll:
“All the magical philosophies which have accreted in the intervening period are merely restatements of, or extrapolations from, the animist or spiritist paradigms… Animism is based on the theory or observation that all phenomena — not just plants and animals — are animate or alive in some sense. The animist magician attempts to work with the vital principle in every phenomenon. This vital principle, or ‘mana’ as it is known in parts of Oceana, represents both the power and the quality of phenomenon, be it a human, animal, plant, stone, or other natural object or event. As mana is directly transferable between phenomena, animist magicians may carry or ingest certain things to add their powers and qualities to their own.”
Through Lovecraft’s fiction, we are able to ingest a piece of the landscape-as-other. We are able to tap into its power. He has always laid out for us the most exquisite grotesque imagery, especially in the trailing labyrinth that is Mountains of Madness. It is a worthwhile exercise to try, to try and focus on these specimens in an effort to get to the heart of what the landscape-as-other means, and what it can do for us as Lovecraftian mages. The more detail he offers us, the more insights we can uncover:
“How it could have undergone it tremendously complex evolution on a new-born earth in time to leave prints in Archaen rocks was so far beyond conception as to make Lake whimsically recall the primal myths about Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars and concocted earth-life as a joke or mistake; and the wild tales of cosmic hill things from Outside told by a folklorist colleague in Miskatonic’s English department.”
What I see in this quote are a type of Edwardian materialist ode to chaos magic’s tenants as described by Gordon White in his work, ‘Pieces of Eight’ Especially the bit about literature holding more truth than fact or science. It also almost sounds as if the myths of the Old Ones are being refuted, but refuted in a way that suggests something *even stranger* than the myth of the Great Old Ones is the reality. It is as if Lovecraft is folding in on himself and pulling away from the Cthulhu mythos as they have been adopted by his network of epistolers, putting something else in its place after they have adopted it as gospel. This too, is a very chaos magic thing to do, to believe something wholeheartedly until it ceases to become useful, at which point another system is adopted and *believed* to be true in its fullest extent. This is also a refutation of Darwin and the timedepth that Darwin places on the system of evolution, an insight that we are finding to be true, today. The author continues, chipping away at the rock, like a paleontologist with the tiniest of fossil:
“Lake fell back on mythology for a provisional name — jocosely dubbing his finds ‘The Elder Ones’”
The Elder Ones are born here, in The Mountains of Madness, as is all of the disruption that implies. Those Lovecraftian Mages, and those Pop Lovecraft fans that hold the Cthulhu Mythos to be a type of Gospel, wherin even new creations, new monsters, must fall within a codified bounds, are disrupted here, not by The Elder Ones, but by what The Elder Ones imply, that discovery and change is the norm, that everything we know is wrong. The Elder Ones are the others to the Cthulhu Mythos.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted. This is the feeling when I entered the desert. These are the words firing in my brain. Everything I knew, those green hills, they were no longer true and now, in the landscape-as-other, literally and figuratively, everything was permitted.
With the night closing her black wings over the Lake expedition, we find them preparing for her coming:
“Lake… [moved] all of the undissected specimens closer together and [threw] a spare tent over them… to keep their possible scent away from the dogs, whose hostile unrest was… becoming a problem.”
The consistent mention of the dogs brings to mind the goddess whose dominion specifically includes the wild dog, Hekate. It brings to mind the Giagantomachy and the slaying of the giant Clytius, son of Gaia, by her in that battle. Hekate was also a dear friend to Persephone and as her myths allude, this friendship was born of the rape of Persephone by Hades, Hades, who is synthesized with Erebos. The dogs wanting to tear The Elder Ones, the Nyxian eggs from inside Erebos’ womb, apart begins to track well with our ‘primal myths’.
It is at this point that Lake leaves us and we go in search for him, flying from our previous journeying point, Murdoch Station, into the heart of otherness:
“The sailor Larsen was first to spy the jagged line of witch-like cones and pinnacles… Little by little… they rose grimly into the western sky; allowing us to distinguish various bare, bleak, blackish sumits, and to catch the curious sense of phantasy which they inspired as seen in the reddish antarctic light… In the whole spectacle there was a persistent, pervasive hint of stupendous secrecy and potential revelation; as if these stark, nightmare spires marked the pylons of a frightful gateway into forbidden spheres of dream, and complex gulfs of remote time, space, and ultra-dimensionality. I could not help feeling that they were evil things — mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss. That seething, half-luminous cloud-background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial; and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed austral world… “There was indeed something hauntingly Roerich-like about this whole unearthly continent… I felt, too, another wave of uneasy consciousness of Archaen mythical resemblances; of how disturbingly this lethal realm corresponded to the evilly famed plateau of Leng in the primal writings. Mythologists have placed Leng in Central Asia; but the… memory of man — or of his predecessors — is long, and it may well be that certain tales have come down from lands and mountains and temples of horror earlier than Asia and earlier than any human world we know.”
And this is what I think the landscape-as-other has to teach us, right. It still sits in me in its desert incarnation, an egg deposited in a wasteland, fertilized by a merciless sun. This is the wisdom that it gives magicians when they seek out, either physically or through journeying, the most alien landscapes. It is that primeval thoughtform, that Bad Agent Cooper, that nagging lizard brain part of us that folds all the way back to the original act of magic, deep in that cave, where no light could reach us, and we were one with Mother Night.
Our tarot card match for Erebos, our wasteland, our landscape god before gods, born of chaos, is the Four of Coins.
Our keywords are Un Present and Cloture, a gift and a fence, or rather, some place that is fenced. The present is a thing that is offered us but it is also the Latin Praesens, or the act of ‘being there.’ Our second keyword has a similar double meaning. It is a barrier, or more relevant for us, a hedge. It is the Late Latin clausura, a fortress. It is also the act of stopping debate upon reaching a psychological whole. Erebos offers us a gift, but there is a barrier to obtaining it. In Lovecraft’s fiction, once a barrier is crossed, the seeker is forever changed. The landscape-as-spirit can offer us a larger version of ourselves, it is a promise, but it is a promise for wholeness that is beyond the hedge, in a world so strange and weird, that if obtained, why, we might not even know ourselves.