H.P. Lovecraft and Freemasonry. Yes, I’m going there.
A long-serving Brother in Universal Co-Masonry has been known to observe that the stars are always where they are but can be seen only against the dark night sky; and he points out that all light is worth seeking. Lovecraft is some pretty dark stuff and it could be that only the most intrepid will seek the light revealed there.
“H.P. Lovecraft, Providence and Freemasonry” is the title of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive webmaster Donovan K. Loucks’ planned paper during the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual meeting over the weekend of September 28 in Providence, Rhode Island.
As the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon points out on its website, Lovecraft is best known as “a writer of weird fiction,” which is true enough. His medium isn’t exactly horror, though it can be pretty scary. It isn’t exactly science fiction, though it can be geeky and, at times, intangibly technical.
However it’s defined, Lovecraft’s work beckons to the reader’s darkest, most deeply veiled interior places and lays bare what’s really there. If there happens to be light there, it is worth seeking.
Depending on how “success” is defined, Lovecraft could be said to have had little of it. Born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, his work was published only in pulp magazines, not much respected at the time. His father died in the psychiatric institution of Butler Hospital in Providence a month shy of H.P.’s 8th Birthday. His mother also died in Butler in 1921.
A pale, gaunt, brooding fellow with a piercing stare and deep, dark eyes, Lovecraft seldom went out before nightfall, suffered what he called “Night Gaunts” when he slept, never graduated from high school and failed a National Guard physical. He at times went without food to pay the postage on his voluminous private correspondence with contemporary literary ne’er-do-wells such as Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith.
Beyond his innate ability to write and edit, Lovecraft had few marketable skills, generally rubbed employers and co-workers the wrong way and seldom had any so-called “regular jobs.” He died in poverty and obscurity, as do many painfully brilliant artists, at age 46 on March 15, 1937.
His work received little notoriety in his lifetime and a decade would pass before it started to be recognized for its literary importance and to be collected into posthumous volumes. In my opinion, some of his best works include “The Outsider,“”Haunter of the Dark,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Alchemist” and, of course, the Cthulhu Mythos stories.
In my observation, Lovecraft’s work is wildly popular among some of the more intense Freemasons most interested in all that V.I.T.R.I.O.L. stuff, but the author’s own brushes with Craft are hard to pin down. Lovecraft wasn’t a Freemason and neither was his father. However, his maternal grandfather, who by all accounts was the lone father figure in H.P.’s youth, the businessman Whipple Van Buren Phillips, was in 1870 a founding member of Ionic Lodge No. 28 in Greene, Rhode Island and was reckoned to be a very active Freemason.
Lovecraft’s work stands on its own, it doesn’t have to be read as an exercise in self-reflection but, for the Freemason willing to go there, it’s quite an exercise. The Philosopher Graham Harman, in his 2013 “Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy” describes Lovecraft’s work as having a unique, if veiled, anti-reductionalist ontology. “No other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess,” Harman says.
Yes, Lovecraft was a bit of a racist and he had other personal flaws, as do we all, but I learned long ago not to seek perfection in any artist. The work is the thing and art never apologizes.
I have a preference for the dark stuff, a great appreciation for emblems of mortality and and no real hesitance to reflect upon mortality with an eye toward living life while there’s life to live. That, for me, is the light worth seeking as revealed against the darkness; and why I read Lovecraft.
Loucks’ paper isn’t the only thing going on at the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual conference this year. I’ve been a member for years, and I’ve always wanted to go. I can, however, never seem to get the highly complicated, multi-level math to work. However, it’s a very good, if quiet, conference aimed not so much at research but in facilitating research and applying professional library sciences to Masonic libraries. The conference is open to all.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a bit of Lovecraft, from his 1921, “The Defence Remains Open!“:
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”