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Mythos Lore

This portion of the alt.horror.cthulhu FAQ was brought to you by Donovan K. Loucks (webmaster@hplovecraft.com).

The following information was culled from Lovecraftian tales. It includes references to Lovecraft’s fictional towns, entities, and tomes, as well as a timeline of events in Lovecraft’s fictional universe.

  • Q: What actual locations did Lovecraft base his fictional ones on?

    A: Four major towns and suggested real-life equivalents are:

    Arkham: Salem (with a pinch of Providence, RI)
    Dunwich: Wilbraham, Monson, and Hampden
    Innsmouth: Gloucester and Newburyport
    Kingsport: Marblehead

    It is probably wrong to take these equivalents too literally, since Lovecraft was never averse to using real-life locations in his tales (e.g. “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is set mainly in Providence, RI), and would have had good reason for making his fictional towns significantly different from real locations.

    • Arkham (Salem)

    • Dunwich (Wilbraham, Monson, and Hampden)

      A 2nd opinion:
      On the other hand, I always thought that Dunwich was based on Plasitow, Mass/NH, a few miles North of where Dunwich was supposed to be located. I visited there once or twice, and it looked pretty inbred to me.

      A 3rd opinion:
      Well, i always thought it was based on dunstable, mass. dunstable is in north-central massachusetts (actually a little east of central), is at least 50 years older than all the towns around it (dunstable founded in ~1650, most of the others around it ~1700), and there are lots of atmospheric areas in the town—old houses in various states of disrepair, huge gnarly (dude!) trees overhanging the roads, hilly old graveyards, swamps, that kind of stuff. finally, there’s the name: DUNstable <–> DUNwich?

    • Innsmouth (Gloucester and Newburyport)

    • Kingsport (Marblehead)

  • Q: Where is the Plateau of Leng?

    A: There are three suggested locations:

    • The first, described extensively in Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” is in the far north of the Dreamlands and inhabited by unpleasant, cloven-hooved, horned men, and by an ancient monastery which contains “the high priest not to be described, which wears a yellow silken mask over its face” (“Celephais,” Lovecraft).

    • The second, described in Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” is in Antarctica near the South Geomagnetic Pole, once inhabited by the Elder Things but now reserved for giant penguins and the occasional shoggoth.

    • The third location, referred to in Lovecraft’s “The Hound” and seemingly the most popular location with other authors, is in the Himalayas and inhabited by a cult of cannibals. The three locations could be related through some quirk of space-time.

    According to Tierney’s “House of the Toad,” the Plateau may be found in China’s Xinjiang (perhaps Xizang) Province. This is notable, because in Discovery magazine, there was an article about some Caucasian mummies bearing items like those found in the Ukraine found here. I seem to recall the Necronomicon saying something like “Leng is connected with many different times and places” (that quote’s Lin Carter’s invention, and I don’t have it right here). Interesting stuff, though.

    According to Jack Chalker’s “River of the Dancing Gods,” the Plateau of Leng is in the upper Northwest of the world of the Dancing Gods.

  • Q: Where is Irem?

    A: Lovecraft mentions an “Irem, City of Pillars” in some stories. This probably has a Koranic source, as suggested by the following magazine item about an archeological discovery:

    “The Koran describes how the earth swallowed up a sumptuous but decadent ‘city of towers’ called Iram....diggers can already see that the city center collapsed—as told in the Koran—because it was built over a limestone cavern used to store water.” Identified with Ubar, frankincense-trading city in the Arabian Nights. (Jeanne Gordon & Fiona Gleizes, “The ‘Atlantis of the Sands’,” Newsweek, 119:7, Feb. 17, 1992, p. 38.) - Donald Davis

    Also, an article in the October 1995 issue of Reader’s Digest (“Search for the Lost City”) describes how documentary film-maker Nick Clapp organized several expeditions to Oman to look for the lost city of Ubar. Ubar is believed by some to be “Irem, the many-towered city” mentioned in the Koran. Ubar, like the Biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, was a town of great wickedness that Allah destroyed. Under the sands at the oasis of Shis’r, the researchers not only found pottery and glass artifacts, but the ruins of “eight towers, each perhaps 30 feet high...a lofty citadel...an octagonal fort..a wide court with a well in the center...”

    “Here’s some information I remember from the last time I looked up Iram. There were once two brothers, Shaddid and Shaddad, who ruled a city somewhere in Arabia. Shaddid died, and Shaddad became arrogant and cruel. He decided that he would build a garden on Earth imitating the celestial paradise. When the garden was completed, Shaddad and all his retainers rode out in a procession to visit it. Before they could reach it, however, a great ‘noise from heaven’ destroyed all of them, and the location of Iram has never been discovered. I wasn’t familiar with that Arabian Nights reference; I’ll have to look that up.” - Daniel Harms (harmsdm@ctrvax.vanderbilt.edu)

  • Q: Who are the ‘Great Old Ones’?

    A: The Great Old Ones are unique entities, alien to the Earth. Although each entity is unique, some (like Cthulhu) are actually a ‘leader’ (or high priest? interpretations vary) of a race (i.e. Cthulhu is a “Great Old One” but he is of a race called, for lack of a better name, the “Spawn of Cthulhu”). The individual Great Old Ones, however, do not (necessarily) belong to the same race. However, Hastur has been referred to as the “half-brother” of Cthulhu. (No doubt this notion was started by August Derleth, and what may be the original reference to this appears in his “The Return of Hastur.”)

    If a Great Old One is worshipped on Earth, it is generally by insane human cultists (as well as other races). Their worship likens them to gods, but they should not be confused with another Lovecraftian category, the Outer (sometimes called “Other”) Gods. Nor with the Elder Gods. The Great Old Ones, while much more powerful than humankind, still seem to be ‘outranked’(?) by the more powerful ‘Outer Gods’.

    Along the same lines of name confusion comes the “Great Ones.” These are a race of giant human-shaped creatures who rule the dreamlands. Not to be confused with “Great Old Ones.”

    Lastly, “Old Ones” is a term used to refer (at various times) to either the “Great Old Ones” or to the ancient crinoid race found in The Mountains of Madness, in Antarctica. For future clarification, the crinoid race will be referred to as the “Elder Things” (another name that they are called.) The actual name of the race is a mystery. (They are called, also, the “Primordial Ones,” but I digress.)

    A list of the Great Old Ones, and their respective homes and current locales follows (there are a lot for ?’s here, since I’m doing much of this from memory, just to get the ball rolling. This info will be checked for later editions of the FAQ)

    Name         Origin        Locale
    Atlach-Nacha Saturn        Dreamlands
    Cthugha      Fomalhaut     Fomalhaut
    Cthulhu      Vhoorl        R’lyeh
    Ghatanothoa  Mu?           Mu
    Hastur       Lake of Hali? Aldebaran
    Ithaqua      ?             Arctic Earth/Outer space
    Shudde-M’ell G’harne?      Deep under the Earth?
    Tsathogghua  Saturn        N’kai
    Yibb-Tstll   ?             Dreamlands?
    Yig          Zandanua      Pit of Ngoth

  • Q: What various manifestations has Nyarlathotep taken?

    A: An exhaustive list in the making, full of spoilers if you haven’t read the stories, here is the foundation:

    • AHTU (worshiped in Congo) In this form, Nyarlathotep appears as a huge mound of viscous material, with several golden tentacles sprouting from its central mass. Ahtu’s worshipers are usually deformed or mutilated natives. He is called by using a golden bracelet usually separated innto two parts, to prevent Ahtu from being summoned by accident. (“Than Curse the Darkness,” Drake; “Dead of Night,” Herber (C).)

    • THE BEAST (Egypt) This form manifests itself only at one particular place in Egypt. It was the focus of a revolutionary cult in the Fourteenth Dynasty. (Fungi from Yuggoth, Herber (C).)

    • THE BLACK DEMON (Nowhere?) This is a black-furred, snouted monster which is destroyed by light. The being may be controlled by a summoner using certain talismans, though the user runs the risk of being attacked herself. (“One in Darkness,” Isinwyll and Lyons (C).)

    • BLACK PHARAOH, (Egypt) A hairless man with dead black skin and hooves for feet. He is connected with the witch-cults of Western Europe. (“The Dreams in the Witch-House,” Lovecraft.)

    • BLACK WIND (Africa?) At times, Nyarlathotep takes the form of the Black Wind, a great storm that can destroy crops, forest, and houses for miles around when he manifests. (“Kenya,” DiTillio and Willis (C).)

    • BLOATED WOMAN (China) In this form, N. appears as a huge, obese woman with five mouths and many tentacles. It carries the mystical Black Fan, with which it hides its unseemly bulk from humans until it has ensnared them. (“Shanghai,” DiTillio and Willis (C).)

    • BRINGER OF PESTS (Egypt) Worshiped in Egypt’s Twelfth Dynasty, this manifestation can only be described as a horde of huge spitting supernatural locusts. It is worshiped today by a group known as the Knights of the Silver Twilight. (“The Ten Commandments of Cthulhu Hunting,” Monroe and Petersen (C). )

    • DARK DEMON (??) A form of Nyarlathotep that occasionally manifests itself through a contactee. It appears much as the Black Demon, but is larger and more cunning. It sometimes calls to those steeped in studies of black magic, promising them glory if they will allow him to enter their bodies. Of course, no reward comes to those possessed by this form of Nyarlathotep. (“The Dark Demon,” Bloch.)

    • EFFIGY OF HATE (Africa) The Mighty Messenger was worshiped by one African tribe, to which he manifested himself through their war totems. This form is known to have some control over time. (“Regiment of Dread,” Gillan. (C).)

    • THE FACELESS GOD (Egypt) In the elder days of the Egyptian civilization, Nyarlathotep was worshiped in the form of a winged sphinx with a featureless head which bore the triple crown of a god. The Faceless God was known to manifest itself through its idols. This cult was later suppressed by the other priesthoods, becoming nearly forgotten in the millennia following its dissolution. (“The Faceless God,” Bloch.)

    • THE FLOATING HORROR (Haiti) This form of N. must manifest itself through the body of a specially prepared host. It appears as a red veined jellyfish-like floating organism of a bluish color. This avatar is connected with certain fringe voodoo cults. (“The Star-Pools,” Attansio.)

    • HAUNTER OF THE DARK. See Lovecraft’s story of the same name. (ed. note: wasn’t Nyarlathotep also depicted in human form in the follow up story “The Shadow from the Steeple,” by Bloch?)

    • MR. SKIN (Los Angeles): An immaculately dressed pimp. Unlike some other “Black Man” forms, this is wholly and unmistakably human, and appears to be a perfectly normal “person of color” (insert your favourite PC euphemism). He is closely associated with a cult of Shub-Niggurath.

    • NARLA (Near future, anywhere): An extremely sophisticated and detailed virtual reality simulation of a very beautiful white woman, this form invades VR systems. Her appearance is designed to distract the (typically male) sysadmin long enough for her to wrest total control of the system from him. Anyone using such a VR system when Narla invades is in very serious trouble. (“Star Bright, Star Byte,” Sands)

    • SHUGORON (Malaysia) A black humanoid figure represented as playing a sort of horn. This being is revered by the Tcho-tcho people of Malaysia. (“Black Man with a Horn,” Klein; Escape from Innsmouth, Ross (C).)

    • SKINLESS ONE (Mesoamerica) In the guise of a flayed, skinless corpse, Nyarlathotep was worshiped among the Aztecs, to whom he was known as Xipe Totec. (?)

    • SMALL CRAWLER (India) A dwarfed human figure, with four arms and three tentacles for legs. Little else is known of him, except that he is mentioned in the Cthaat Aquadingen. (“Kenya,” DiTillio and Willis (C).)

    • TALL, SWARTHY EGYPTIAN MYSTIC (USA) Spreads madness and chaos. (“Nyarlathotep,” Lovecraft)

    • THING IN THE YELLOW MASK (Dreamlands) An entity draped in yellow silk, its only known manifestation occurred within the abandoned city of ’Ygiroth on Mount Lerion. (Possible link to the King in Yellow?) (“In ’Ygiroth,” DeBill.)

    • WAILING WRITHER, a column of whirling black tentacles and screaming mouths, it is alluded to in some Hindu tales. (Escape from Innsmouth, Ross (C).)

  • Q: Where can I get a copy of the Necronomicon?

    A: “The” Necronomicon, i.e. the book written about by Lovecraft, cannot be found anywhere because it was never written - anyone who disagrees with this statement is invited to produce a copy. Several commercial Necronomicons have been published. The easiest to find is the Avon paperback by Simon, which is mainly a re-hash of Sumerian mythology with a few Mythos names dropped in; some practitioners of magick consider it useful, but it has very little to do with Lovecraft’s creation.

    The 1973 Owlswick Press edition, prefaced by L. Sprague de Camp, is reputedly a facsimile of an old manuscript but actually contains only 8 pages of Arabic text repeated over and over again.

    H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon is a collection of that gentleman’s art; if you are not familiar with his work, watch the “Alien” movie.

    The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names by Colin Wilson et al claims to be the rediscovered work.

    There are many known library references to the Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred, Michael Tice’s entry at UCLA being perhaps the most notorious; these are pranks engineered by students or librarians. The newsgroups alt.necromicon and alt.necronomicon are suggested for those who wish to discuss the historical authenticity, translations and publications of this tome.

  • Q: What is the etymology of the word “Necronomicon”?

    A: Lovecraft himself provides us a translation in a letter to Harry O. Fischer dated late February, 1937: “The name Necronomicon (necros, corpse; nomos, law; eikon, image = An Image [or Picture] of the Law of the Dead) occurred to me in the course of a dream, although the etymology is perfectly sound.”

    Some will argue that this etymology is not perfectly sound, but since Lovecraft invented the book, I feel his etymology is the correct one. However, for those interested in a more correct translation, the following was provided by S.A.T. Haldane (sah@dl.ac.uk):

    Nekros/nekr-o- (noun) ‘dead (person)’
    nomos/nom-o- (noun) ‘law’, ‘custom’
    -ikos/-ike/-ikon (adjectival suffix) ‘to do with’, ‘concerning’,

    hence nekr-o- + nom-o- + -ikos > nekronomikos (adjective) concerning the customs of the dead’. Functioning as a noun in the neutral gender, to Nekronomikon ‘(The Thing) Concerning the Customs of the Dead’.

  • Q: How about the Unaussprechlichen Kulten?

    A: First of all, the German title of this book is incorrect. “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” is simply wrong - it must be “Unaussprechliche Kulte.”

    An earlier edition of the book carried the title:

    “Chains of Worship: how forged and broken; being a complete, graphic, and comparative history of the many strange beliefs, superstitious practices, domestic peculiarities, sacred writings, systems of philosophy, legends and traditions, customs and habits of men of the Unspeakable Cults throughout the ancient world.”

    And from this it is clear that the original had the words, “unspeakable cults” appearing in the dative form: von den unaussprechlichen Kulten; wherupon later years saw the title shortened simply to, “Unaussprechlichen Kulten.”

  • Q: What events occurred in the Mythos universe?

    A: Please note that this timeline has been modified extensively from the original FAQ timeline. Events that are not mentioned specifically in Lovecraft’s works or that are the subject of scientific debate have been removed.

    • 2 billion BC: Elder Things arrive (crinoid Old Ones from AtMoM) (“At the Mountains of Madness”)
      Possibly the Antarctic was already inhabited by something nasty (?) at the time, but the record is unclear. (“At the Mountains of Madness”)
      Editor’s note: This ‘something nasty’ smacks of Urm-At-Tawil (sp?). Anyone who has more information on this shall be blessed ‘pi’ times by Nyarlathotep.

    • ?: The people of K’n-yan, who reputedly brought “Tulu” who migrated to the surface when the land was fit to live on. (“The Mound,” by Lovecraft and Bishop)

    • 600 million BC: Flying Polyps arrive, and build basalt cities with windowless towers (in Australia) (“The Shadow Out of Time”)
      Archaean slate preserves striated triangular footprints of Elder Things (“At the Mountains of Madness”)

    • 200 million BC: Pangea broke up (real)
      R’lyeh is built (“At the Mountains of Madness”)
      Spawn of Cthulhu arrive, and war with the Elder Things and drive them into the sea (“At the Mountains of Madness”)

    • 150 million BC: Permian age (real)
      Marine Elder Things re-subjugate Shoggoths (“At the Mountains of Madness”)
      Elder Things war with Great Race (“At the Mountains of Madness”)

    • ?: Great Race of Yith (minds only) came forward and inhabited the bodies of the indiginous Australian conical entities. (“The Shadow Out of Time”)

    • ?: Jurassic (real)
      Mi-go arrive from Yuggoth (Pluto) and drive Elder Things from Northern Hemisphere (“At the Mountains of Madness”)

    • 100 million BC: Rifts seperate Africa from Europe/Valusia and Asia (No Ref)

    • 50 million BC: City founded in Mts of Madness to replace older city on site of first arrival, by Elder Things (“At the Mountains of Madness”)

    • 30-25 million BC: Development of CircumAntarctic current, essentially isolating Antarctica from the rest of the continents, and beginning the establishment of the Antarctic Ice Sheet (Real)
      Pliocene map (Real)
      No sea cities of Elder Things north of 50deg S; no land cities outside of Antarctica and tip of South America (“At the Mountains of Madness”)

    • 50,000 BC: Civilization of great-headed brown people of South Africa (No Ref)

    • 24,000 BC: Hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoe and slay all the heros of the land of Lomar (inside 80 deg N). (“Polaris,” by Lovecraft)
      Pnakotic Manuscripts taken to Ulthar in the Dreamlands (No Ref)
      Hyperborean copy of PM preserved by same cult which wrote the Book of Eibon (Letter #826 of “Selected Letters”)

    • 30 BC: Ubar/Irem “a many-columned city...whose like has never been built in the whole land” [Koran] vanishes in sandstorm. [1984 Challenger mission spots buried roadway stretching for 60 miles in desert north of Oman’s Dhofar province] [Mankato Free Press, 7/16/1990] [Hitti, HIST.ARABS: “A recently discovered Nabataean site, ’RM, 25 miles east of al-Aqabah, is Kornaic Iram (sur. 89:6)”][2/5/92 NYT “Archeologists and explorers in Oman have uncovered the ruins of eight towers and adjoining walls and deposits of pottery dating to Roman times and as far back as 2,000 BC. The explorers are virtually sure it is UBAR, the fabled entrepot of the rich frankincense trade thousands of years ago.”]

    • c. 730: Al Azif written at Damascus by Abdul Alhazred, who claimed to have visited Irem and an even older city; worshipped Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.

    • 738: Alhazred dies or disappears under terrible circumstances. Said by Ebn Khiallikan to have been seized in broad daylight and devoured by an invisible monster before a horrified crowd.

    • 950: Al Azif translated into Greek as Necronomicon by Theodorus Philetas

    • 1050: Greek text of Necronomicon burnt by Michael, Patriarch of Constantinople (Arabic text lost at this point)

    • 1228: Olaus translates Necronomicon into Latin.

    • 1232: Pope Gregory IX places Necronomicon on Index Expurgatorius

    • 15th century: Black letter edition of Latin Necronomicon printed in Germany. Copy rumored to exist in the British Museum.

    • 1500 - 1550: Greek text of Necronomicon printed in Italy. Last known copy vanished in burning of a certain Salem man’s library in 1692. Copy kept by Pickman family of Salem? If so, vanished with R. U. Pickman in 1926.

    • 17th cent: Spanish printing (in Latin?) of Necronomicon (copies at Bibliotheque National in Paris, Widener Library at Harvard, Miskatonic U. library at Arkham, library of Buenos Aires).

    • 1760’s AD: The four Brown brothers, Reverend Manning and the Governor of Rhode Island (Lippincott?) go on a witchhunt for Joseph Curwen (“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Lovecraft)

    • 1839: Unaussprechlichen Kulten published in Dusseldorf. Written by Friedrich von Junzt (1795-1840) [read Necronomicon in Greek translation]. Von Junzt dies six months after returning from trip to Mongolia while working on second book. Less than a dozen copies exist of this edition. [“Von Junzt relates many stories of the survivals of cults worshipping pre-human entities or prehistoric gods, such as Ghatanothoa, Bran, and others. The principle obscurity of the book is in Von Junzt’s use of the term ‘keys’ – phrase used many times by him, in various relations, such as descriptions of the infamous Black Stone in Hungary and the legendary Temple of the Toad in Honduras.”]

    • 1845: Bridewell, London publisher, does a pirated translation of Unauss. Kulten. “...full of grotesque woodcuts, and riddled with misspellings, faulty translations, and the usual errors of a cheap and unscholarly printing....”

    • 1865: E. A. Hitchcock, Remarks on Alchemy “...the now unattainable secrets of the Aklo tablets.”

    • 1882, June: meteorite lands west of Arkham “The Colour Out of Space”

    • 1892: Body exhumed, heart burned in Exeter, RI (mentioned “The Shunned House”)

    • 1901, February 22: Climax of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”

    • 1907, November 1: raid near New Orleans captures Cthulhu cultists

    • 1908 - 1913: Wingate Peaslee’s amnesia

    • 1909: Golden Goblin Press, New York. Expurgated edition of Unauss. Kulten (fully one quarter of work cut), handsomely bound, illustrated by Diego Vasquez. Approx. 30 known to still exist.

    • 1910, January: Houdini is “Imprisioned With the Pharaohs”

    • 1913, August 3: Box delivered to A. Jermyn

    • 1917, August 20: “The Temple” 20 N, 35 W

    • 1919, August 25: exploration of the Shunned House

    • 1921, August: Reporter encounters “The Lurking Fear”

    • 1922, January: “The Attic Window” published in Whispers (see “The Unnamable”)

    • 1923, July 16: Delapore moves into Exham Priory

    • 1923: Lovecraft writes “The Festival” (“...they included old Morryster’s wild Marvells of Science, the terrible Saducismus Triumphatus of Joseph Glanvil, published in 1681, the shocking Daemonolatreia of Remigius, printed in 1595 at Lyons, and worst of all, the unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, in Olaus Wormius’ forbidden Latin translation...” [“The Nameless City” written 1921; “The Hound” 1922]

    • 1925, March 23 to April 2: R’lyeh emerges from ocean

    • 1925, October 9: Letter 197, vol 2, Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith: “I bedeck my tale [Horror at Red Hook] with incantations copied from the ‘Magic’ article in the 9th edition of the Britannica, but I’d like to draw on less obvious sources if I knew of the right reservoirs to tap.” Recommends Witchcraft in Western Europe to CAS.

    • 1926: R. U. Pickman disappears.

    • 1927, Good Friday: Chas. Dexter Ward revives Joseph Curwen

    • 1927, July 6: “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”

    • 1928, February: Raid on Innsmouth

    • 1928, August: The Dunwich Horror

    • 1928, October 7: Randolph Carter goes through the Gate of the Silver Key [Aug 30, 1932 letter “Dear Abdul...And for each plane of cutting, we get a different 3 dimensional solid. Thus from an original, unchangeable 4th dimensional SOMETHING, we get a (sic) infinity of seemingly different 3 dimensional forms; as by varying the angle at which a plane cuts a cone... All of which is the thesis accounting for Carter’s scrambled affairs.”]

    • 1931, January 22: Plane spots the Mountains of Madness 76ø 15' S, 113ø 10' E.

    • 1931, March: Gale wrecks roof of the Witch House

    • 1935, June 3: First blocks found by Peaslee’s Australian expedition

    • 1935, Night of July 17-18: Peaslee explores ruins

End of Part 8 of the alt.horror.cthulhu FAQ, “Mythos Lore.”

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