John L. Steadman, author of H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, goes into a bit more depth about the horror writer in the conversation below. Enjoy!
In your book, Lovecraft is associated specifically with the practice of black magick, as opposed to white magick, which has unpleasant connotations in the minds of some readers. Are you suggesting that Lovecraft or his works could be considered evil?
Determining whether or not a person or action is “evil” depends solely on the person or the action itself when judged in terms of behavior or effects. Certainly, a black magickian can be described as good as long as he or she acts ethically, while a white magickian can be considered evil if his or hers actions are harmful to others. In Lovecraft’s works, his view of the magickian is definitely black, but not necessarily evil. His magickal practioners perform their craft to either gain knowledge or power; the fact that some of the these practitioners end up becoming evil is besides the point.
Why do critics and readers refer to Lovecraft’s stories at Cthulhu Mythos?
The term “Cthulhu Mythos” was coined by August Derleth, a friend and colleague of Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself referred to his Mythos stories jocularly as “Yog-Sothothery” and he didn’t formally categorize his stories or divide them up into specific, disparate groups. It is correct that Cthulhu isn’t a major player in the Mythos stories; this Great Old One does only appear in The Call of Cthulhu (1926). But Derleth’s designation seems to have “stuck” in spite of this fact and is generally accepted by readers and critics.
Occult writers often link Lovecraft with Aleister Crowley. In fact, one of these occultists, Peter Levenda, argues that Lovecraft had ma naged to establish a link between himself and Crowley’s Holy Guardian Angel, Aiwass. Is this true?
In a letter written to Emil Petaja, dated March 6, 1935, Lovecraft associates Aleister Crowley with the English decadents of the 1890’s: “In the 1890’s the fashionable decadents liked to pretend that they belonged to all sorts of diabolic Black Mass cults & possessed all sorts of frightful occult information. The only specimen of this group still active is the rather over-advertised Aleister Crowley…” Lovecraft’s view of Crowley here is not surprising; in the mid 1920’s, Crowley and his disciples at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu were expelled from Italy by Mussolini and the newspapers in Europe and the US were full of accounts of the lurid rituals and practices that took place at the Abbey. Crowley was universally headlined as the “Wickedest Man in the World”, and labeled a Satanist; thus, Lovecraft’s view of Crowley necessarily reflected the negative press coverage. Other than this, however, there is no evidence that Lovecraft knew anything else about Crowley. Certainly, Lovecraft didn’t forge any link with Aiwass, or indeed, with any extra-terrestrial entity; he didn’t even know who or what Aiwass was, and Lovecraft had no knowledge of Crowley’s experiences on April 8, 9 and 10 in 1904 when Liber AL vel Legis was dictated to Crowley via Aiwass.
John L. Steadman is a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan. Visit him at www.johnlsteadman.com.