H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition by John L Steadman

H. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) remains one of Americas most popular novelists with the only possible contender for most influential horror writer of all time being that master of the genre Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849).

For several decades, researchers have charted Lovecraft’s occult leanings within a number of different magickal and esoteric traditions but particularly throughout his Cthulhu Mythos stories which began with the publishing in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928 of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’.

Although magickians of many dispositions have unearthed what they firmly believe is an authentic magickal tradition or powerful occult current within Lovecraft’s stories, the writer refused to credit his source material as being little more than products of his own fertile imagination.

Today, theorists regarding the spiritual authenticity of Lovecraft’s work fall into two camps: those who credit him with extensive knowledge of an ancient Sumerian system of extraterrestrial invocation and those who, like Lovecraft himself, insist that there is no evidence to suggest that the material came from any sort of obscure occult text but from the deep unconscious of the writer himself.

The question up for debate here is which side is correct or is it that they both are?

The Great Old Ones

In H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition: The Master of Horror’s Influence on Modern Occultism, John L Steadman takes a long hard look at the Lovecraftian heritage and investigates the influence that the Cthulhu Mythos.

With consideration of the many ideas that surround Lovecraft’s description of the Great Old Ones: praetor-human intelligences that are said to reside outside of space and time and in the fery deepest and darkest recesses of the known universe, Steadman explores the impact of this Mythos Tradition upon subsequent generations of mainly black magickians.

In the opening to his book, the author dedicates a whole chapter explaining the principles, practices and definition of black magick; one which is, as most occultists openly accept, is in urgent need of reappraisal.

The author then examines the life, interests and influences which combined to make Lovecraft such a brooding and enigmatic character. He explains that all of Lovecraft’s family suffered from mental health problems to varying degrees.

Anyone who has even a passing interest in the occult enigma surrounding Lovecraft’s work will be aware of the central book or text within the Cthulhu Mythos: The Necronomicon (the book of spells that is supposedly used when summoning the Great Ones).

Although The Necronomicon is a fictitious book that only appears in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, this has not stopped a number of faked versions of the text from appearing in print over the years.

Supposedly discovered from different sources and drawn together as texts in different languages and styles, no two authorities can agree on the authenticity or origin of these pseudo-Necronomicons.

In H P Lovecraft and the Black Magical Tradition, Steadman focusses on unravelling the mysteries that surround each of the more popular versions of the Necronomicon.

It seems as though pretty well every magician of any note or standing has had a go at either outrightly trying to delude the public into thinking that their version is the only truly authentic edition or has tried to interpret Lovecraft’s original with reference to their own beliefs.

Other magickal groups have even professed to have successfully used one or more versions of ‘The Necronomicon’ in their own magickal workings and Steadman takes a look at some of the major organizations to have either incorporated the Necronomicon into their work or who have esoteric teachings which to one degree or another fit into Lovecraft’s mythos.

These typically include the Afro-haitian Vodou cults, Wiccan, the Church of Satan and several Chaos Magick groups.

Of them all it is the connections that magickian Kenneth Grant (1924 – 2011) believed that he had made between the book and his Typhonion offshoot of the OTO that is perhaps the most convincing.

As the mystery continues – one which may not be resolved any time in the near future the author closes his book wit the observation that whatever else, and however you view it; …in his dreams, Lovecraft drew even closer to a frank acceptance of certain basic truths that occultists have known for centuries.

Review

There is no doubt that the central question of whether Lovecraft was a black magickian with deep occult knowledge about the Great Ones, or that he was simply making it all up, or even that he pulled the Mythos from out of the deep recesses of the racial unconscious is a fascinating one.

If you are looking for an answer to this central question then this book will not provide you with one – but it may help you unravel the mystery itself to your own satisfaction.

Within the book’s pages, John L Steadman offers some intriguing lines of possibility and presents a broad collection of the currently available research surrounding the continuing evolvement of the Lovecraft Mythos.

Steadman’s commentaries on the various forms of ‘The Necronomicon’ sacred text is interesting in that he openly derides most versions as forgeries and states that, in his opinion, it is only the Simon Necronomicon which is authentic.

There are many who would openly dispute this and point to evidence to suggest that this version is also a complete forgery.

Personally speaking I found the evidence to support the concept that there is an valid magickal tradition underpinning Lovecraft’s literary work to be weak until one looks at the writings of Kenneth Grant who, throughout his Typhonian Trilogies does offer some evidence to suggest that Lovecraft had managed to tap into an obscure magickal current which Grant describes as currently existing within the ‘Tunnels of Set’.

Connections to other magickal orders and traditions – even to the Church of Satan, I found inconclusive and are, to my mind, probably just opportunism on their part.

Nevertheless, this is a deeply enjoyable book – and one that needed to be written. Despite the fact that many connections within the occult world to Lovecraft’s Mythos still remain unproven this is a very worthwhile summarization of a story that continues to beguile and engross us all.

In ‘H P Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition’ we are presented with an enigma that could, ultimately determine the fate of humanity. The threads that underpin this mystery are long and the pathways run deep but throughout John L Steadman holds the story together and presents an authoritative, but also entertaining, take on a genuine occult enigma.