Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

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.

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Childhood Home

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.

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V.I.T.R.I.O.L

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.

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Grandfather: Brother Whipple Van Buren Phillips

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.”


 

Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?

Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?

When I turned that corner in the Paris Catacombs this past May, having already crossed the stone portal into the massive ossuary and read its famous warning, “ARRÊTE! C’EST İCİ L’EMPİRE DE LA MORT (“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”), I came into first contact with the remains of the estimated 6 and 7 million people stored there. My mind went entirely blank.

My next thought was recollection of a conversation I had with a California male-only Mason years ago when I still was a Fellowcraft. He was a member of a traditional observance lodge – still quite rare in the U.S. – that wanted to restore traditions removed by a grand lodge that no longer wanted to scare anybody. “Karen,” he said. “I want my skulls back.”

I come from a Masonic tradition that never lost its skulls and other emblems of mortality. So it was and has been difficult for me to more than pity his poverty. Masonically, I was like some folks who scribble out a donation to help starving children in far-off lands they themselves never expect to visit.

In the catacombs, I came to better understand that far-off land and to more fully grok what the skulls are for:

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“Stop traveler and cast an eye,

As you are now so once was I,

Prepare in time make no delay

For youth and time will pass away.”

Many of the more esoteric Masonic writers doubt little at all that Freemasonry is a direct descendant of the ancient mystery schools. It is the same class of writers who will tolerate no challenge, no questions, and no suggestions that they might be mistaken and will dismiss those who bring those challenges, questions, and suggestions as just not being open to the experience. I observe that the majority of their readers are quite satisfied with what light those unchallenged assertions provide.

There are, of course, other writers of sterner academic metal who doubt, with justification, Freemasonry’s direct connection to the ancient mystery schools. These prefer to recognize those ancient mystery schools as metaphysical traditions that were harmonious with other contemporary and so-called “mysteries” but no later than that. Auguste and Alphonse Mariette, wrote in their “Monuments of Upper Egypt“, published in 1890, that ancient Egyptian mystery schools hinted to neophytes their own hidden spark of the divine.

“To the initiated of the sanctuary, no doubt, was reserved the knowledge of the god in the abstract, the god concealed in the unfathomable depths of his own essence. But for the less refined adoration of the people were presented the endless images of deities sculptured on the walls of temples.”

However, even the Mariettes were not fully convinced about that. “Unfortunately, the more one studies the Egyptian religion, the greater becomes the doubt as to the character which must definitely be ascribed to it,” they wrote in the following paragraph on the same page.

Many a neophyte, in as many traditions, have mistaken the symbol for the thing. They as often mistake similarity for proof of connection. Apples and oranges have many points of comparison, being fruits that are roughly round, can be peeled and grow on trees, but they are not genetically connected. Apples and oranges do, however, remain what they are.

Fully understanding the lessons of any mystery school, regardless of its origin, means barriers must be passed. The official website of the Paris catacombs warns that folks with heart or respiratory problems, who suffer from a “nervous disposition” or who are young children, should not make the visit. Clearly, one must be a fit and proper person. Neither the rash nor fearful to apply.

Those who qualify too often face other barriers. Bringing the ancient mystery schools, such as those of Isis and at Eleusis, into full focus can be difficult for those who see everything through Judeo-Christian-Muslim lenses. The mystery school promises nothing about the divine and provides no universal absolutes or pathways to heaven or hell. They tell no one what to believe.

For those who make it past all those barriers, the mystery school does its best to quicken a personal evolution in each individual, to awaken in them a knowledge of themselves, and to prepare them for the more personal lessons will spring up in their everyday lives from places where those lessons had always been; but they’d never noticed before. The mystery school does that, in large part, through symbol and near-dream-imagery ritual to trigger in the neophyte a stark recognition of who they already are, will be and where they were headed.

That’s what the skulls are for.

The idea is that if you know where you’re headed, the end that awaits us all, then you’ll better appreciate and actually live the life you will have and will not be too terrified when it is over. You will have actually lived while you could and will not be plagued in the end by regrets.

The greatest students in those schools become wise through a series of shared experiences but they also recognize in other students a lack of full understanding. It doesn’t seem to matter. Even those who don’t quite get it can still work the same ritual and still pass on the same ideas. It’s quite possible to transmit on wisdom without understanding it.

I’m not convinced that Freemasonry has a direct connection to those ancient mystery schools. However, it is quite clear to me that traditional and orthodox Freemasonry is a mystery school. Among its lessons is the idea, which would have been familiar in those ancient mystery schools, that man is mortal and the more enlightened should, for their own sake, meditate upon their own personal mortality while they still possess the vigor to do so.

Freemasonry does not monolithically teach that. There are those in the Craft who would root out “any form of esotericism” and maintain that Freemasonry “certainly does not deal in spirituality.” And that’s OK, Freemasonry is large enough even for those who don’t want those lessons.

For those who do, the lessons remain, though there may be a struggle to even learn them. My male-only friend and the brothers in his traditional observance lodge did, eventually, get their skulls back after their grand lodge decided it was all part and parcel with “pre-ritual education.” And so it goes.

 

 

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“Memento Creatoris tui in diebus juventulis . . . “