When I was a younger man taking a survey of poetry course in college, I began an unseemly obsession with the occult. It all started with a light interest in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft and the now cliche stories of the Cthulhu Mythos. All Science Fiction and Horror fans owe it to themselves to read a collection of Lovecraft, as the entire Sci Fi cannon can be connected to his writing in some way. Even Stephen King has taken huge notes from Lovecraft’s world building. The story that caught my attention was “The Dunwich Horror,” and to be honest, it’s not exactly the most groundbreaking piece of short fiction. But the actual description of the monster that emerges near the end absolutely captivated me. The creature was a mass of tendrils and unsettling images with a human face at it’s center. It was escorted by a cloud of whippoorwills wherever it went.
It was a bizarre image to say the least, and I thought back to my childhood listening to whippoorwills cry out late at night at my grandmother’s house. Later, as a young student of literature, the similarity of the Dunwich Horror and the Lion creature of Yeats’ poem: “The Second Coming” set me upon my first real obsessive literary chase. I suspected that more hid behind this coincidence and hoped to find evidence that Yeats and Lovecraft had somehow met or referenced each other in correspondence. My instructor at James Smith allowed me to embark on the wildest of Whipporwill chases, likely knowing how insane and fruitless this path would be. To this day I am thankful for his patience and willingness to let me chase some ghosts.
The search was not altogether pointless as I discovered one more creepy clue. Sometime in the 60’s or 70’s a forgery of The Necronomicon was published by an anonymous author that went by the name Simon. The book was an obvious hoax, or at least that was my assumption when my spells to summon some ancient evil from beyond The Gate of Walking failed. One page in particular inspired my obsession to flare into a near fever pitch. This image is taken from the Simon Necronomicon 1980 edition.
This is Nergal’s symbol, the glyph used to summon the God of War. I include it here simply for the impressive way that Simon makes the marks look convincing. A reader could get lost in the fantasy that recreating this bizarre marks in a ritual could somehow alter the universe around them or summon an ancient power. The text describing this deity includes a few more than curious images. “He has the head of a man on the body of a lion, and bears a sword and flail.” His ceremony is to be done far from prying eyes and is to be kept a great and dangerous secret.
When we look at the text of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” the similarities are uncanny. A menacing figure makes his way across a desert, approaching the city of Bethlehem.
…a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A Shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of indignant desert birds. (Finneran, 187)
This quote tied together the Simon Necronomicon, Yeats and Lovecraft in a triad of occult beauty. One of my proudest moments in life was achieving a raised eyebrow of James Smith in a private conference concerning my modern poetry research assignment. He wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, and I could tell he fought with the urge to dismiss the whole thing as absurd.
But he didn’t. Instead he told me “This is more the basis of book than a paper.” I am now writing that book!
To be fair, after years of research and obsessive digging through the personal notes and lives of both Lovecraft, Yeats, and the historical figures both lives drew into their bizarre circles, I can confidently say Yeats drew no notes from Lovecraft. It was quite the opposite. Lovecraft was an avid fan of Yeats and drew inspiration from his poems. Simon, our pseudepigraphic friend, likely drew upon both Yeats and Lovecraft in his silly, but convincing effort to produce a real Necronomicon. The real story, and the real discovery goes much deeper. As one explores the occultic backgrounds and practices haunting Yeats and the texts that inspired his own mystical writings, a strange story begins to emerge. It is my hope to now use this story to shed new light on the Christian tradition and make a new appeal to the once lost philosophy of religious Gnosticism.
We will begin our quest with Yeats and explore the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A brief discussion of Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley will lead us to the Jewish Kabbala and it’s relationship with ancient Egyptian mystical symbols. We then unite these traditions with the Chaldean Sumerian, and Zoroastrian themes that evidence now shows INFLUENCED both Jewish and Christian thought. After a discussion of the Yazidi and Richard Carrier’s new theories of Christ’s MYTHICAL character, we can begin to make large extrapolations to the nature of religion, it’s role in our lives, and the true origin of the Gods we worship today.
There is no magic here, no power to save, condemn or destroy. There is only wisdom older than perhaps our entire species. There will be a death and rebirth of faith. There will also be a new exhortation to Unitarian Universalism as the realized panacea of Madam Blavatsky’s hopes. I pray (to whatever deity started this entire mess) that some will share this adventure, and find some measure of peace in a world where multitudes claim truth but have no clue to the true nature of their mystical pursuit. Let’s make the world a better place.