Episode 20 – Pray the Stars are Wrong

Episode 20 Show Notes

Source: Cthulhu Mythos

This week on MYTH, we’re going to head in about as opposite a tone as possible from sunny, pleasant Hawaii and instead, head to rainy, dreary New England.  In this episode, you’ll learn that racism doesn’t age well, that sometimes looks CAN kill, and that pirates are never to be trusted.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the evil shapeshifting pharaoh you might have met without realizing it.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures from around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 20, “Pray the Stars are Wrong”, and it’s the Halloween special!  As always, this episode is not safe for work

 

  • It’s our annual Halloween special, and we’re kicking off what hopefully will be an annual thing.  We’ll be doing a story that’s a little more modern than most of our tales so far, but hey, if The Little Mermaid is fair game, then so is this.  Howard Philips Lovecraft (better known as H. P. Lovecraft) is considered by many to be the father of modern horror.  He died in 1937, poor and unknown, but through the dedicated work of contemporaries and friends, his work survived to become some of the most significant work in the 20th century.  Nearly every modern horror writer or director counts Lovecraft as an influence in their work.  The basic premise of his mythos was that the gods were real, and they either actively hated you or, if you were lucky, simply didn’t give a shit about you.  The Great Old Ones, a pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the earth died years ago.  But being dead doesn’t stop them from wanting to return to life and to the earth again, and there are always madmen willing to help them out in return for power.  Our story, The Call of Cthulhu, is taken from the letters of the late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston and is from his perspective.  I’ll take some passages directly from the story, since Lovecraft’s imagery is often incredible, and you can check the show notes to see what is a direct quote, if it’s not clear.  I don’t want to spoil anything, and I don’t think any more backstory is needed for the story.  For best effect, listen to this story alone, at night, in the dark (that’s how I’m telling it, anyway).
  • Direct quote denoted with *xxx*
  • “It’s lucky that people don’t really understand the universe.  *We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.*  So far, science hasn’t really hurt us, but some day, some day soon, we’ll start to piece together things known in different places, and then, we’ll be well and truly fucked.  We’ll actually understand how big the universe really is, and how utterly unimportant we are, and people will either go completely mad or decide collectively to burn science down to the ground and hide in a new Dark Age.  I don’t know which is more frightening.
  • “However, it wasn’t anything from science that scared the shit out of me, and haunts my dreams.  As I implied, it came from accidentally piecing together completely unrelated items to give me a window to the awful truth: an article clipped out of the newspaper, and the notes of a dead professor.  I won’t tell anyone what I learned.  I can’t.  I don’t think Doc meant to either.  From reading his notes, I think he would have burned it all if he hadn’t died so suddenly.  
  • “For me, it started in the winter of 1926 with the death of my grand-uncle, George Gammell Angell, a professor of ancient languages at Brown University in Rhode Island.  He specialized in Semitic languages, like Hebrew and Arabic, and was a popular authority on ancient inscriptions.  The dude was scary smart.  He was 92, so I initially figured old age got him, but I found out that there was some doubt about it.  He had been coming back from the Newport ferry when a black man, dressed like a sailor, bumped into him.  Seconds later, he collapsed and died right there on the docks.  The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him.  He was old, sure, but his heart hadn’t given out, and he was healthy as a very old horse.  They eventually decided that some age-related complaint they just hadn’t found caused his death, but no one was really satisfied with that.”
  • I should take a pause here to note that Lovecraft’s work can get a eensy bit very racist.  He was writing in the 1920s and 30s, when that was a lot more of an accepted thing, but even more so, Lovecraft was terrified of just about everyone and everything.  There’s a lot of reasons for that, which I’m not going to get into, but I figured it was worth noting the casual racism that will come up in his work.
  • “At the time, I figured the old man’s number had just come up, but knowing what I know now, I wonder – and more than wonder.  I was his only living relative, and his executor, so I had his entire set of files and boxes of papers moved up to my place in Boston so I could go over it thoroughly and respectfully.  Most of the boxes were the normal academic shit, and that will all be published later, but there was one box that was…weird.  Weird enough that I didn’t show anyone else.  It was locked, and the key was on a ring that my uncle always kept in his pocket.  I guess he didn’t want anyone seeing it either.
  • “Inside was a weird carved clay tablet, disjointed notes and old newspaper clippings.  It didn’t make any sense.  Had my uncle gone senile and started to buy into some supernatural shit?  The thought upset me, so I decided to try and find the artist.  Maybe he could shed some light on…whatever this was.
  • “The tablet was fucking unsettling.  It was clearly newly made, but the thing depicted seemed ancient.  Most of the tablet was covered in some weird, angular script I didn’t recognize, but seemed somehow prehistoric.  I had gone through my uncle’s papers on ancient languages for days now, and I hadn’t seen anything even vaguely like this.  Squatting above the writing was a thing.  I can’t really describe it better than that.  It seemed like some sort of a monster, or maybe a hieroglyph representing a monster, but it was utterly alien.  It reminded me of an octopus, a dragon, and a distorted human all at the same time.  It had a pulpy, tentacled head perched on a grotesque, scaly body with large, ungainly wings.  The whole thing sat in front of what looked like an ancient, cyclopean city built on a massive scale.  The whole thing felt unnatural somehow.
  • “Under the tablet were a sheaf of notes, rambling and disorganized, in my uncle’s hand.  It talked about what he called the Cthulhu Cult.  The name was spelled out in painstakingly clear letters to make sure it was clear how oddly the word was spelled.  The first half of the notes told a weird story.  On March 1st, 1925, a thin, dark, neurotic man had called on my uncle with the bas relief tablet now in the locked box, but then was still damp and freshly made.  His name was Henry Anthony Wilcox, and my uncle had recognized him as the youngest son of a rich family.  He’d been studying sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design.  He was known to be a genius, but a little mad.  Since he was a kid, he’d had strange, unsettling dreams.  If he hadn’t been so rich, he probably would have been committed to a madhouse years ago.  He said he was psychically sensitive, which made everyone else even more sure he was mad.  
  • “Wilcox had asked my uncle for help identifying the writing on the tablet.  My uncle, reasonably, had asked him ‘Do you think I’m an idiot?  You clearly just made this.  Fuck off.’  The artist’s reply had struck my uncle enough that he had written it down verbatim.  *’It is new, indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon.’*  I’ve since met him, and this sounds just like him.  He said there had been the tremor of a weak earthquake the night before, but still the strongest in New England for many years.  It had apparently affected his imagination, because that night, he dreamt of great Cyclopean cities of titanic blocks of stone and massive monoliths, dripping with green ooze and filled with some foreboding horror he couldn’t explain.  The walls and pillars had been covered in hieroglyphics, and they had all reverberated with a voice that was not a voice, and came from somewhere below.  It was a chaotic jumble of nonsense that only madness could say was sound, but he tried to pronounce what he heard as ‘Cthulhu fhtagn.’
  • “Professor Angell questioned the sculptor with a scientist’s thoroughness, and studied the sculpture the artist had found himself working frantically on the night before after waking from his disturbing dream.  The old man’s questions stuck the artist as odd, often veering to a discussion of cults and secret societies, and promises of secrecy if the young man admitted he was part of one.  Eventually, my uncle became convinced that the artist really didn’t know what the fuck he had created.  He sent the man home after making him promise to tell him if he had any more weird dreams.
  • “Included in the locked box were accounts of later dreams the artist had related to my uncle on later visits.  They all centered around some *terrible Cyclopean vista of dark and dripping stone*, which echoed a voice shouting gibberish.  The two sounds he remembered most frequently were something like ‘Cthulhu’ and ‘R’lyeh’.
  • “On May 23rd, Wilcox didn’t show up like he was supposed to.  Angell checked his home, and found that he had fallen ill with some strange fever, and had been sent home to live with his family.  He called the parents, and was put on with the young man’s doctor.  He spoke shudderingly of the artist’s delirious shouts about the weird city, his screams of something miles high lumbering towards him.  He never fully described the thing, but the doctor had heard enough to convince my uncle that he was seeing the thing he had carved on the tablet.  The weird thing, said the doctor, was that other than being in a delirious dream state, the man seemed perfectly healthy.  He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
  • “At about 3pm on April 2nd, Wilcox’s fever disappeared suddenly and without a trace.  He had no memory of anything that had happened since March 22nd, and seemed fit, so the doctor let him go back to school.  From that point on, though, he was useless to Professor Angell.  He had no more strange dreams.
  • “This was where the first part of my uncle’s notes stopped, and I sat back in thought.  There were other notes in the box of dreams from other people in the same period as the artist.  He had apparently asked everyone he knew for accounts of their dreams almost immediately, and he got them.  Laborers and businessmen had perfectly ordinary dreams the whole time.  Men of science mostly had normal dreams, although there were a few glimpses of a strange landscape, and one mention of an unspecified dread from some abnormal thing.  It was the artists and the poets who were most affected.  I didn’t have the original letters, just my uncles notes, so I figured he must have asked them leading questions.  In trying to draw out these dreams, I figured he had put the ideas in their heads without meaning to.  And, I figured that young Wilcox was a fraud, trolling the old man for shits and giggles.  
  • “The dreams from the artists and poets were all similar to Wilcox’s.  They spoke of scenes and sounds like Wilcox had screamed of, and an acute fear of some nameless, terrible thing.  During the period of Wilcox’s fever, the dreams had grown more intense, and the fear more visceral.  In one case, an architect known to dabble in the occult, went violently insane on the day Wilcox had fallen into his fever, and died several months later.  He spent his last months screaming in terror for someone to save him from some escaped demon from Hell.
  • “Ever the true scientist, he referred to all but the last cases as numbers instead of names, so I had no way of knowing who they were to check with them now.  I was able to figure out a few, and they all bore out my uncle’s notes in full, although they were completely in the dark as to what the professor was getting at with his questions.  I’m glad they never figured it out.  For their sakes.
  • “The box also contained clipped out newspaper stories of madness, panic, and hysteria during the period of Wilcox’s fever.  There were hundreds, from all over the world.  One told of a nocturnal suicide in London, who leapt from a window after shouting gibberish.  Another was a letter to the editor from South America predicting a dire future from his nightmarish visions.  Countless disturbances at mental hospitals.  I don’t know how no one saw the connection.  I don’t know how, even after all that, I dismissed everything as coincidence.  I thought I knew better.
  • “The second part of my uncle’s notes told a story that explained why my uncle had been so fascinated by Wilcox’s story in the first place.  That day in his study was not the first time he had seen that hellish outline, seen those demonic hieroglyphics, heard the name ‘Cthulhu.’  17 years before, in 1908, he had gone to a meeting of the American Archaeological Society in St. Louis.  
  • “The meeting was a place where outsiders would often bring strange inscriptions or findings to get the advice of multiple experts at once.  That year, one of the people looking for help was a common looking middle-aged man from New Orleans.  His questions became the center of the meeting for a while, as he asked for help that no one had been able to give so far.
  • “His name was John Raymond Legrasse, and he was a police inspector.  He had brought with him an ancient stone statuette of a grotesque and repulsive figure whose origin no one seemed to know.  Now, don’t go thinking the cop had any interest in archaeology whatsoever.  He didn’t give two shits about it, but he needed the information for a case.  The thing had been captured several months before during a raid of a suspected voodoo cult in the swamps south of New Orleans.  They had found more than they bargained for, and even the most hardened cops had felt sick when they discovered the dark rites being performed by a cult they had never encountered before, worse than anything they had ever seen.  Other than the few wild, outlandish stories from captured members, no one seemed to know anything about the cult, what it was, where it came from, nothing.  This statue was the only concrete piece of evidence, and he had come to the meeting hoping that some fancy shmancy expert could tell him where to look for the rest of these murderous bastards.  This cult needed to be stopped.
  • “The cop hadn’t expected to become the darling of the convention.  All of these men of science crowded around to gape at the weird little thing.  It was utterly foreign to all of these men, the greatest experts in ancient cultures in the world, utterly unrelated to anything they had seen before.  It was clearly centuries old, maybe millennia, and they were beside themselves.  They passed the thing around so everyone could get a good look.  It was an 8” tall figure in greenish stone of a vaguely anthropoid creature, but utterly inhuman, with an octopus face, a rubbery looking body covered in scales, massive claws on hands and feet, and long narrow wings folded behind it.  It carried an air of evil and hatred, and squatted on a stone block covered in a language no one had seen before and made from a weird stone no one could identify.  Everything about it was ancient and utterly alien.
  • “Only one man out of all of the world’s greatest minds knew the slightest damned thing about it.  Professor Webb from Princeton had gone to Iceland and Greenland almost 50 years before and had encountered a cult centered around a deliberately blood-thirsty devil worship.  The locals had avoided the subject as much as possible, and spoke of the cult only in whispers and shudders.  They told Webb of strange rites with human sacrifices and a repeated chant in a language they didn’t understand.  The professor had sought them out and watched them dance in the moonlight around a stone idol, a carving that looked a lot like the awful thing before them now.
  • “This got Inspector Legrasse all hot and bothered.  The two men compared notes in hushed tones.  Silence reigned through the hall, so everyone heard when the two men discovered that, though thousands of miles and a language barrier separated the two cults, one phrase was identical to both rites.  Webb had transcribed what he’d heard as best he could, guessing at the word breaks: *’Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.’*
  • “Webb had no idea what it meant, but Legrasse had managed to literally beat the answer out of one of the cultists he had captured in the swamp.  All it had taken was white cops beating the shit out of minority suspects (some things never change).  It meant *’In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.’  This news convinced the gathered academics, who previously hadn’t given much of a shit about a cop’s story, to clamor for details.  
  • “On November 1st, 1907, residents from the swamp south of New Orleans had run into the police station begging for help.  The men and women there were known to the police to be Cajun rednecks, but mostly good people.  They were usually unshakeable, but now they were fucking terrified of some unknown danger.  A booming drum had started to beat in from the heart of the swamp, and since it had begun, women and children had gone missing from the village.  Wild screaming and blood-chilling chanting had begun to echo from near the drum, and the sullen glare of a massive fire could be seen glowing through the trees; the villagers feared those lost had been sacrificed to a dark god.  
  • “A squad of 20 officers had set out that afternoon with a terrified local as a guide.  He led them down a broken, rutted road into the swamp, and when the road trailed off into the mud, they splashed off into the black water between groves of cypress trees where daylight never fell.  Roots snaked up to trip the unwary, and nooses of Spanish moss dangled from skeletal branches like twisted hangmen.  And this wasn’t the awful part of the swamp.  
  • “The guide soon led them through all this shit to the squatter settlement where the swamp folk lived.  The terrified villagers (if you could even call this miserable huddle of moldy huts a village) crowded around the armed police and their reassuring lantern light.  Farther on, the muffled beat of the drum, like the heartbeat of some massive beast, could be heard.  Beyond the yellow lantern light, a sullen light the color of old blood filtered through the pale undergrowth through the endless avenues of night.  Here, their terrified guide refused to go any farther.  None of the villagers would go either, so the police, led by the inspector, set out alone into the sweltering darkness where none of them had ever been before.
  • “This area had all sorts of dark local legends around it, including stories of a dark lake beyond the lands of men where dwelt a huge, formless white polypous thing with huge, lidless, glowing eyes.  Locals whispered that at night, bat-winged devils flew out of caverns deep in the earth to worship the ancient thing by moonlight.  It had been there before the American settlers, before the natives, even before the beasts of the earth.  It was nightmare given flesh, and to see it was to die.  Its existence was only known because its malevolent aura crept into men’s dreams, creating mad nightmares.  The drum was beating from the edges of the forbidden area where the death god dwelt, and that was more than bad enough.
  • “No poetry or madness can accurately describe the sounds that beat on the sanity of the police forcing themselves into the dark realms of nightmare.  The screams couldn’t possibly have come from human throats, but the words being chanted couldn’t possibly have come from anywhere else.  It was an orgy of madness and nihilistic lust that swelled without end.  When the voices would peak, suddenly all the voices would chant with one mind the same phrase: ‘*’Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!’*
  • “The trees suddenly thinned out ahead, and the police got their first glimpse of the unholy scene waiting for them.  Four of the officers reeled at the sight, light-headed; one fainted dead away into the murky water and was rescued by his comrades; two screamed in horror (but they couldn’t be heard over the shrieks coming from the masses around the bonfire).  The rest stood, trembling in horror, but unable to look away.
  • “The fire sat on a rise above the level of the swamp, completely clear of trees.  Around the fire danced a horde of naked, writhing, savage men and women, chanting and screaming in inhuman voices.  At the center of the fire stood an 8 ft tall stone monolith with the weird statue that Legrasse had captured atop it.  This was clearly the center of this unholy rite.  Circling around the fire to either side of the noxious statuette stood ten roughly-built scaffolds with butchered and mutilated bodies of the villagers that had been taken bleeding onto the dark earth.  They were suspended upside down, and from the twitching of the flayed, mangled forms, not all of them were dead yet.  
  • “The worshippers danced and swayed between the fire and the tortured women and children, chanting into the night.  It may have been imagination, and it may have been echoes, but one of the police that night swore he heard an atonal, inuman response come from deeper in the swamp, where the death god dwelt.  I found and interviewed the man later, and he seemed excitable and a touch mad.  He said he had also heard the beating of great bat wings and had seen, deep in the gloomy darkness, the glow of massive, lidless eyes.  I think he’d listened to the natives too long.  At least, I fucking hope so.
  • “The pause felt like forever, as the men stared at hell on earth, but they quickly remembered their duty.  Although there must have been a hundred savage, naked, bloodthirsty cultists dancing in the blood and the mud, the police charged, guns drawn.  Five minutes of absolute chaos resulted.  Shots rang out, and skulls were bashed.  Many escaped, but many were captured.  Five cultists were killed, and two severely wounded.  Prisoners were drafted to drag the corpses and the wounded out of the swamp.  Legrasse himself grabbed the idol and carried it away.
  • The original description of the cultists is pretty wildly racist, all of them being low born, mixed blooded, and mentally aberrant men, mostly sailors, from the West Indies and Cape Verde.  He describes them as being steeped in, quote “negro fetishism” and I feel dirty even saying that.  With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, back to the tale.  “After questioning, it soon became clear that this cult was far older than any voodoo.  All of them held with surprising consistency to the central tenants of their horrifying religion.
  • “They worshipped the Great Old Ones, who lived ages before men had walked the earth, and who came to the world from the sky when it was young.  They were gone now, buried in the earth, and drowned beneath the sea, but their dead bodies had whispered secrets to the first men in their dreams.  They had formed a cult, the first cult, which had never died.  The worshippers said that this was the cult as it had always existed, as it would always exist, hidden in the dark and evil places of the world until the day when the great priest Cthulhu would rise from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh, deep beneath the ocean, and crush the world under his rule.  Some day, when the stars were right, he would call to the faithful, and they would be ready to free him.
  • “That was all they were allowed to tell.  Isolated from each of the others, every cultist told the same story.  There was some secret they hid, and even torture (and make no mistake, the cops had definitely resorted to fucking torture) could make them tell.  Some said that man was not the only intelligent creature that walked the earth, for they had been visited by shapes from the darkness, but these were not the Great Old Ones.  No one had ever seen them.  The carved idol was of great Cthulhu, but none could say if the others were like him.  
  • “Two of the prisoners were found to be sane enough to hang.  The rest were thrown into various asylums to rot.  None admitted to having mutilated and butchered the villagers; that had been the Black Winged Ones, who had crawled out of the woods from the hidden lake.  No one could give a coherent account of them, but one man, Castro, claimed to have sailed around the world, and visited the undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China.  
  • “He told the police stories of ancient aeons, before men, when inhuman Things had ruled the world, and built great cities.  Remains of them could still be found, Cyclopean stones on Pacific islands.  They had all died in ages before men had been born, but there were rites that could revive them when the stars had come again to the right places in the cycle of eternity.  They had come from the stars, bringing their idols with them, in ancient days.  He said that the Great Old Ones were not entirely flesh and blood.  They had form, but it was not really made of matter.  When the stars were right, they could sail through the interstellar void on the solar winds from world to world.  When the stars were wrong, they died, only they were never completely dead.  They lay in their great stone houses in the city of R’lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu, their priest.  They waited for resurrection.
  • “But to be awakened anew, they needed some outside force to free their bodies.  Cthulhu’s spells preserved them, but it kept them immobile.  They needed men to make the first move to free them, to awaken them.  They needed men to open the door.  They lay their, dreaming, aware of everything that transpired in the world, as millions of years rolled by.  Since the dawn of man, they had whispered in the dreams of sensitive men, and shaped events.  
  • “The time was coming, and it would be easy to know.  Men would be as the Great Old Ones, wild and free, beyond good and evil.  Laws and morals would be cast aside as useless pieces of shit, and all men would shout and scream and revel in death and violent fucking.  The earth would be aflame with destruction, in a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.  In elder days, cult leaders had spoken with the Great Old Ones in dreams, but long ago, something had happened.  R’lyeh had sunk beneath the waves and was lost, and the dreams had faded, cut off by the water.  The cult had survived though, and kept alive the needed rites until the time was right, and the city would rise again.
  • “The cult’s center, Castro said, was somewhere in Arabia, where Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden in the wild desert.  It was unknown to the well-known cults, kept secret in dark places, and no book truly spoke of it, though the deathless Chinese men had said that there were double meanings in the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, especially the passage *’That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons, even death may die.’*
  • You’ve likely heard the name of the dread book of the dead, the Necronomicon, before.  Bound in human flesh and inked in blood, this obscene book of terrible rites and madness inducing knowledge is a mainstay in a lot of horror movies and literature.  If, like me, you’re a fan of the Evil Dead movies, you’ve definitely seen it before.  For a long time, I thought this was based on a real book somewhere, similar to Egypt’s Book of the Dead, but as it turns out, it’s a Lovecraftian invention.  He gave permission for some contemporary writers he was penpals with to use his inventions in their work, and so this evil book took on a life of its own.  It even shows up in Conan the Barbarian.  Seriously.
  • “Legrasse had spent a long time trying to learn more about this horrible death cult, but Castro had told the truth.  It was a total secret.  No one knew a goddamned thing.  Webb’s story of seeing something vaguely similar was the most anyone had ever known.  Legrasse has the statue still.  I went to see it, after reading all of this, and it made me uneasy.  It’s definitely the same Thing from the artist Wilcox’s dream sculpture.  
  • “It’s not hard to imagine why my uncle was so interested in this case.  What must he have thought upon hearing Legrasse’s story and seeing Wilcox’s statue, from a dream, completely ignorant of all of this.  How had he carved this figure and those unearthly words exactly, without ever having seen it?  Personally, I thought the artist must have heard of the cult somewhere and just forgotten about it, or else invented the dreams to hide his knowledge of such an abhorrent cult.  I thought Wilcox was an asshole troll, toying with my uncle, so I decided to give him a little visit.
  • “He was dark and frail when I met him, and he frankly looked like shit.  He didn’t bother to stand when I knocked on his half open door, and he asked me who the fuck I was from the couch.  When I told him who the fuck I was, though, he perked right the hell up.  He’d liked the old man, who had made him super curious about why this scholar was interested in his weird ass dreams.  The fact that the old man had never told him made him extra curious.  I didn’t explain anything either, but I talked with him for hours trying to figure out if he was a fraud.
  • “I’m pretty sure he was legit.  He really didn’t seem to know anything about the cult, which left me grasping at ways for him to have learned of that dark thing he had carved, and which had influenced all of his art since.  He spoke poetically about his dreams, drawing me in so that I almost saw with awful vividness the damp, slimy green stones of the Cyclopean city *-whose geometry, he oddly said, was all wrong-* and almost heard the half-mental calling from the underground depths: ‘Cthulhu fhtagn, Cthulhu fhtagn’!  This was part of the cult’s dark worship of dread Cthulhu, and I was sure he had heard of the cult years ago in some offhand way and forgotten, and it was now resurfacing in his subconscious dreams.  I no longer thought him some asshole troll.  I still didn’t like the gothy little shit, but I had to admit that he was both honest and an artistic genius.  
  • “Even after I left his home, the cult fascinated me.  I went to New Orleans to talked with Legrasse and a few others from the swamp raid, and was even able to talk to a few of the prisoners at the mental hospitals.  Old Castro had died years ago, but other were still kicking.  I didn’t learn anything new, but it was chilling to hear first hand confirmation of some of the darker shit my uncle had written.  It was also exciting because I thought I was on the trail of a discovery that could make me rich and famous (since reality tv wasn’t invented yet).  I was really only in this for the money.  God, I wish that was still true.
  • “One thing I began to suspect, and which I’m afraid that I now know, is that my uncle was straight up murdered.  Because I’m a little racist, the fact that Doc was pushed by a black sailor right before he died makes me think of the Louisiana cultists, with their mixed heritage and nautical history.  I wouldn’t be surprised if those ancient evils knew the secrets of poisoned needles from aeons past.  Legrasse and his fellow cops have been fine, true, but they don’t really know anything, and a sailor from Norway who saw things he shouldn’t have is dead now.  I think my uncle’s search got to the wrong ears, and they decided drop the ax on him.  I know too much now, and I wonder if they’ll come for me next.  Is that reasonable, or am I getting paranoid?
  • “If it hadn’t been for what I thought at the time was a lucky break, I never would have noticed that one stray piece of paper on the shelf.  If I had one wish, it would be to never have found that goddamned page.  I never would have come across it any other way, because who the fuck reads old issues of local Australian newspapers?  It was an article from the April 18, 1925 issue of the Sydney Bulletin, and it was being used by a friend of my uncle’s to pack archeological specimens on a storage shelf.  Looking through the pieces he had, the article’s picture jumped out at me.  It was a hideous stone image that could have been the fucking twin of the one from that accursed Louisiana swamp.  
  • “I pulled it out from under the rock, and read it excitedly.  I was disappointed to see it wasn’t very long, but it gave me fresh clues.  It told of a freighter, the Valiant, which had found a derelict yacht, the Alert, with two men aboard, one alive and one dead, and had towed it to harbor.  Valiant  had been pushed way off course by unseasonable storms and monster waves on March 25th.  On April 2nd, Valiant spotted the Alert and boarded her.  In the cabin, the crew found a delirious, half mad wretch clutching a horrible stone idol about a foot high and completely ignoring the body of the dead man lying next to him, which had been rotting for at least a week.
  • “The survivor said he found the idol on the yacht, in a weird shrine carved for it.  After being treated for exposure, the man told a weird, unbelievable tale of piracy, mayhem, and slaughter.  His name is Gustaf Johansen, a Norwegian sailor and second mate on the Emma out of Aukland.  He says the ship was thrown way south of their intended course by the huge storm on March 1st, which is why they crossed paths with the Alert on March 22.  The crew, he described as an evil-looking assortment of Pacific Islanders and other dark-skinned men (see again the racism disclaimer).  The yacht ordered Emma to turn back with no explanation, and then opened fire on the ship with no warning.  
  • “The sailors were more than a little surprised by this, because who the fuck expects a yacht to be armed to the teeth?  They even had a motherfucking cannon, and the fire was withering.  With no real option, the small ship fired back with small arms and drove straight at the assholes on the yacht.  The cannon had punched more than one hole below the waterline, so the Emma was going down.  The surviving men leapt onto the Alert as soon as they were close and fought hand to hand.  No quarter was asked or given, and Emma’s crew was forced to kill everyone on board.
  • “Three of Gustaf’s shipmates were killed in the fighting, including the Captain and the First Mate, which left Gustaf in charge of the surviving eight men.  All of them were exceedingly curious about what exactly this ship was hiding to risk trying to murder everyone for getting close. They sailed the captured yacht the way they had been going to find out.  The next day, they found a small island and went ashore, although no such island exists on any sea charts.  Six men died ashore in unexplained circumstances, and Gustaf was weirdly close-mouthed about the whole thing.  He gave a vague answer about falling in a chasm, but it sounded like bullshit.  The two surviving men returned to the yacht and sailed for home, but were beaten to shit by the storm of April 2nd.  
  • “He says he doesn’t remember anything after the storm until regaining consciousness in the hospital, not even the death of his friend, William Briden.  The coroner ruled his death due to exposure.  The paper reported that the Alert was a known island trader with an evil reputation, with the crew often taking trips ashore in the middle of the night to the middle of the fucking woods.  It had apparently set sail with great haste after the storm and earthquake of March 1st.  
  • “I couldn’t help but reel at all of this new information.  This was the first solid lead on the Cthulhu cult I’d had since Louisiana petered out.  And the dates that all of this had occurred coincided freakishly well with the dates my uncle had noted for all of the weird shit happening around the world.  On March 1st (which was February 28th this side of the Date Line), the earthquake and storm had come (and how often do those happen together?).  The evil yacht had shot off into the sea, and around the world, poets began to dream of an unsettling, dank, Cyclopean city and an artist sculpted the unnatural form of Cthulhu.  On March 23rd, the island had killed the men on the Emma and around the world, the dreams had darkened and driven more than one person to suicide.  The artist had fallen ill, and the architect had gone mad.  And then, on April 2nd, another storm hits and all of the dreams stop at once as if a faucet had been shut off.  
  • “I couldn’t help but be reminded of Old Castro, and his stories of the coming reign of the Great Old Ones, their devoted cult, and their mastery of dreams.  This couldn’t be coincidence.  I had to know more.  It couldn’t be that bad, since the storm had clearly put an end to everything.  I decided to travel.
  • “I went first to Dunedin, where the Emma had docked, but no one remembered one group of villains in a hive of scum and villainy.  I heard a few vague stories about trips to the hills, massive bonfires, and distant drum-driven chanting, but nothing concrete.  I went to Auckland, and learned that when Gustaf had come home, his blonde hair had gone snowy white.  He had apparently left Australia as soon as the police were satisfied that he hadn’t done anything shady, and returned to his old home of Oslo.  He had been as tight-lipped with his friends as with the police, and they could only shake their heads sadly and give me his address.
  • “The stone idol was in a local museum, and I went to stare at it.  It was just as unsettling and unearthly looking as Legrasse’s story had said, and here also, scientists said that they had no idea what it was made of.  There was nothing else like it on earth.  I thought again about what Castro had said about the Great Ones in time beyond memory: *‘They had come from the stars, and had brought Their images with Them.’*
  • “I had to admit, this was starting to creep me the fuck out.  There was a lot of weird shit flying around, and I didn’t like the direction it was headed, but I was still convinced that their had to be a rational explanation.  I was missing it because I didn’t have all the pieces yet.  To get them, I needed to talk to Gustaf Jorgansen, so I set off for Oslo.
  • “After a long, exhausting trip, I found myself in front of a neat, ancient looking home with a scarred door.  I knocked, and a sad-faced woman in black opened the door.   She told me in halting English that Gustaf was dead.  He hadn’t survived for long after coming home.  Whatever hell he had experienced had broken his spirit.  He had refused to tell her what had happened, for her own good he said, but he had written a long manuscript of quote “technical matters”, and had put it in English to keep her safe from it.  
  • “Not long after finishing, he had been out for a walk in town when a bundled collection of papers had fallen from a window and knocked him from his feet.  Two Indian sailors had appeared and helped him to his feet, but only moments later he collapsed again, and was dead before the ambulance arrived.  The doctors couldn’t find a cause, and ended up chalking it up to a weak heart from everything he’d been through.  I didn’t buy it.
  • “I lied my ass off to the widow to convince her that I was connected enough with the “technical matters” for her to give it to me, and she finally did.  I took it away with me, and started to read it on the long boat ride back.  It was a long, rambling thing, and was basically a simple recounting of everything that had happened, day by day.  When I was done, I was terrified, and I really wished I had gone home some way other than boat.  To this day, the sound of the waves gives me nightmares.  I had to shove cotton in my ears at night to have any hope of getting any sleep at all, and that marred by dark, unsettling dreams.
  • “Johansen hadn’t figured out everything, but he’d figured out enough.  Since reading his diary, I haven’t had any peace.  I can’t stop thinking about the *horrors that lurk ceaselessly behind life in time and in space, and of those unhallowed blasphemies from elder stars which dream beneath the sea, known and favored by a nightmare cult ready and eager to loose them on the world* whenever another earthquake raises that terrible island from the ocean’s depths.  
  • “The diary started exactly the way his story to the police had.  He recounts hating the necessity of watching the Emma sink and taking control of Alert, and he speaks with uncertain horror of the men on that dread boat.  There was something about those men that was…wrong, and all of the Emma’s crew had felt it.  Killing those men had felt like a duty, like making the world a little less wrong.  He had never understood why the shorebound had accused him and his men of ruthlessness and needless cruelty in killing the Alert’s crew.  It had been absolutely necessary.  They were twisted and warped, and the world was better without them.
  • “As he had said, the survivors had decided to sail off in the direction they had been going to try and figure out what all the fucking fuss was about.  The next morning, they had come across a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and simply massive weed-draped blocks of stone.  From everything I had learned, this could only be one thing: *the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror – the nightmare city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.  There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults*.  Now that it was all above the waves again, the dead body of the Great Old One was sending out his psychic speech to the dreams of the evil and the sensitive.  All over the world, artists and cultists had heard the call.  The Alert had been on its way to answer that call for a pilgrimage of liberation and restoration.
  • “Johansen didn’t know any of this, but he soon saw more than enough.  Too much for any mind to see and stay completely sane.  I suspect that the island that had risen was only the peak of a sunken mountain, *the hideous monolith-crowned citadel whereon great Cthulhu was buried*, and I shudder to think on just how much of that terrible city didn’t make it above the waves.  How vast is that lost city?  How many horrors sleep there?  I sometimes hold a razor to my wrist and contemplate ending all of this shit before I go mad, but I can never go through with it.  
  • “Johansen and his men were awed by the sight, by the sheer scale of what lay on that island, of *the cosmic majesty of this dripping Babylon of elder demons, and must have guessed without guidance that it was nothing of this or of any sane planet.  Awe at the unbelievable size of the greenish stone blocks, at the dizzying height of the great carven monolith, and at the stupefying identity of the colossal statues and bas-reliefs with the queer image found in the shrine on the Alert is poignantly visible in every line of the mate’s frightened description.*  He spends a lot of time trying to capture the essence of what he saw, stone surfaces too large to belong on this planet, and decorated in disturbing, profane images and hieroglyphs.  His description of the angles reminded me of something Wilcox had told me.  He’d said the city in his nightmares had a geometry that was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and eye-twisting.  Everything about it seemed alien, not just from another planet, but from an entirely different understanding of how basic geometry even worked.  Johansen’s description was the same.  It terrified me.
  • “The crew had landed at a sloping mud bank and had clambered up over titanic stone blocks that, after a few minutes climb, reminded the men of a staircase for something of impossible size.  The very light of the sun seemed warped and distorted by the mist rising from the rancid mud they trudged through on *this sea-soaked perversion, and twisted menace lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock*.  You’d look, and you’d see a stone outcropping, clearly convex; you’d look again, and it was now just as clearly a stone indention, clearly concave.  It didn’t move, it was just that the angles didn’t make sense.  Even at this point, when nothing had been seen except strange stone with weird geometry, the Emma’s crew was terrified, and each would have happily turned around if they weren’t afraid of being called a pussy by their friends.  Peer pressure is a bitch.  Half-heartedly, they searched for some portable souvenir to try and show someone how fucking weird this place was.  
  • “Rodriguez climbed up the foot of the monolith and shouted for everyone to come see.  They all clambered over and soon stood in front of a curious carved door with the now-familiar squid/dragon/monster/thing adorning it.  Johansen described as like a great barn door.  They knew it was a door because of the obvious frame and lintel, but they couldn’t decide if the door was laying flat, like a trap door, or at a slant like a cellar door.  Every time you looked, the exact angle changed.  It was maddening.  *As Wilcox would have said, the geometry of the place was all wrong.*  If you couldn’t even be sure that the ground and the sea were flat, everything else seemed phantasmal, dreamlike.
  • “Briden pushed at the stone in a few places without success.  Donovan climbed around the edge, (at least, he climbed if the thing was in fact at an angle and not flat), checking the stone around the perimeter.  The door covered almost an entire acre all by itself, so this took time.  When Donovan neared what might have been the top, the enormous door began to give inward at that end.  The thing was clearly cunningly balanced, and Donovan crawled or slid, depending on the angle, down to join the rest of the men.
  • “Everyone stood silently to watch the thing open, and in spite of it being impossible, the door somehow opened diagonally from the top.  The space behind the door was black with a darkness that was almost solid.  Johansen thought the darkness might have actually been physical, because it concealed things that the light should have revealed with the door open now, and actually burst forth into the world like smoke from its aeons-long imprisonment.  The sun visibly darkened *as it slunk away into the shrunken and gibbous sky on flapping membraneous wings.*  The stench that arose cause several men to puke on the carved stones, on themselves, but no one cared.  Hawkins said he heard a sound, a nasty, sloshing, slopping sound, coming from the depths.  
  • “Everyone listened, breaths held, and everyone stared into the dark, so they all saw it when *it lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted air outside of the poison city of madness.*  Of the six men who died on the island, Johansen wrote that he thinks two died right then and there from sheer terror of what was being unleashed on the world.  *The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.  A mountain walked or stumbled.*  Is it any surprise that at this moment, across the world, people felt this psychic blow and fucking killed themselves to escape it?  That men went mad at the taste of this Thing in their minds?
  • “Cthulhu was awake.  The stars were right, and he had come to reclaim what was his.  What an ancient cult had failed to do after millennia of preparations, some asshole sailors had done by complete accident, and the Great Old One was spoiling for a little fun.  What does the high priest of incomprehensible gods worshipped by a nightmare cult think is fun?  Glad you asked.
  • “Before anyone could think to move, and while the two men who died of sheer terror were still screaming as their minds ripped apart, flabby claws shot out with deceptive quickness and seized three men and drew them up to the tentacle-encrusted maw, and their screams could still be heard as they were devoured.  Everyone else ran then.  Parker slipped as everyone was racing across the slimy, slippery rock that seemed to stretch forever, and Johansen swore he saw the man fall into and be swallowed up by an angle of masonry that shouldn’t have been there.  It was clearly an outcropping of stone that should have provided a foothold for Parker’s foot, but he disappeared into it like it was a bottomless pit.  
  • “Only Briden and Johansen reached the dinghy they had come ashore in.  The two men dragged the boat into the water and rowed desperately for the Alert. As they rowed, they had to face the island and watch as the gelatinous mountain of pure madness flopped over the slimy stones and gathered itself hesitantly at the water’s edge.  The ship had been left ready for a quick exit, so Briden and Johansen abandoned the dinghy in the ocean and clambered aboard.  It only took them a few feverish moments to get the thing moving out to sea.  
  • “*Slowly, amidst the distorted horrors of that indescribable scene, she began to churn the lethal waters; whilst on the masonry of that charnel shore that was not of the earth, the titan Thing from the stars slavered and gibbered like Polypheme cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus* (we’ll get to that story, don’t worry).  Polypheme had been afraid to chase Odysseus’ ship, but Cthulhu was not afraid.  THe monstrosity slid its greasy bulk into the water and chased the Alert, raising huge waves that nearly swamped the ship as it came.  Briden watched the Thing coming and went mad, laughing shrilly as they raced their own deaths, and he never stopped laughing until he finally died one night, alone in the cabin, while Johansen wandered the ship, delirious from exposure and thirst.
  • “Johansen could see that Cthulhu was gaining, and would soon catch them.  He didn’t want to think about what that would mean, so he took a desperate gamble.  He pushed the engine to the utter limit and gathered as much speed as he could, then he cut the wheel hard.  The Alert wheeled quickly and began to drive straight at the *pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a demon galleon.*  The Thing’s face was only a little above the top of the ship this far out into the water, and Johansen knew he could be sailing directly into the squid-like tentacles to be snatched and eaten, but he kept on going.  *There was a bursting of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper.*  
  • “For an endless moment, the ship was completely lost in a green, acrid smog, and then the ship was through.  In spite of himself, Johansen looked back, and saw the hole he had punched in the star substance of the Thing writhing in an unwholesome fashion and knitting itself back together.  The Thing was fucking fixing itself, and Johansen knew he wouldn’t be able to make himself do that again.  Fortunately, he wouldn’t have to.  He had gained enough distance in driving through its chest, and it took Cthulhu long enough to turn around, that the Alert was able to gain safe distance and run.
  • “After that, Johansen has only fleeting memories: sitting in the cabin and brooding over the stone idol of the thing that had nearly murdered him, and that he knew was still out there, still coming; wandering the cabin and eating what little food there was; trying to take care of the raving madman who had been his crewmate and friend.  He didn’t bother trying to navigate anymore.  He was more than a little mad himself, and he figured it made no difference.  With that Thing loosed on the world, nowhere was really safe.  
  • “Then came the storm of April 2nd, and he remembers nothing at all.  *There is a sense of spectral whirling through liquid gulfs of infinity, of dizzying rides through reeling universes on a comet’s tail, and of hysterical plunges from the pit to the moon and from the moon back again to the pit, all livened by a cachinnating chorus of the distorted, hilarious elder gods and the green, bat-winged mocking imps of Tartarus.*  He never knew if that was madness, or if, in sailing through Cthulhu, he opened himself up in some way to the Thing’s mind, to its memories.  
  • “Out of that fever dream sailed the Vigilant, and everything that followed.  He was close-mouthed with the police out of need; if he told them the truth, they would think him mad (and maybe he was).  He knew he couldn’t tell anyone what he had seen, but he also knew it couldn’t be lost forever. Thus did he write down the account that I read, and I have it safe in a box with the artist’s carving and my uncle’s papers.  I intend to put my own record there too, this chain of things I pieced together.  I pray to whatever god might listen that no one else ever pieces it together.
  • “I have seen the madness that waits behind reality, and now I can’t enjoy anything of life.  The skies and flowers of spring are poison to me.  It is madness to live like this, but I don’t think my life will be very long.  They got my uncle, they got Johansen, and soon they will get me.  The cult is still out there, and I know too much.  They can’t let me live.
  • “Cthulhu still lives too, I think, probably hidden again in that stone chasm that shielded him since the sun was young.  That accursed city has sunk beneath the waves again; the Vigilant sailed over the spot after getting Johansen’s story, and found nothing.  He MUST have been trapped, or we would all be screaming in fear and madness as he walked over the cities of the earth by now.  He’s gone.  For now.  He’ll be back.  *What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise.  Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.  A time will come – but I must not and cannot think!  Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.*”
  • This is one of the quintessential Lovecraft pieces, and hopefully you can see both why it’s had such a huge impact on modern horror and also why I wanted to do this for the Halloween special this year.  This story is darkly creepy, with everything from ritualistic human sacrifice to mysterious murders to evil gods.  You can also see the heavy influence of world mythology on this new Cthulhu mythology.  When our narrator describes the dreams of the sunken city of R’lyeh, it’s not hard to imagine that this could easily be the home of the Fomor from Celtic mythology (see Episode 17).  Cthulhu’s emergence, snatching sailors to their deaths carries echoes of Scylla from Greek mythology (who we haven’t covered yet, but we will, don’t worry).  
  • I especially like the bleak desolation that infuses the whole story.  There’s no happy ending here, or in any of Lovecraft’s stories.  The best you can ever hope for is to stave off the darkness for a few more minutes, a few more years, a few more generations.  Eventually, entropy wins out and chaos reigns.  It carries a little bit of the feeling of Ragnarok from Norse mythology, which we’ll also cover in a future episode.  
  • Lovecrasft’s influence can be felt in pretty much all modern horror.  His atmospheric, unknowable horror of a universe that simply doesn’t give a shit about you pervades such diverse creators and creations as Stephen King, Hellraiser, Metallica, Castlevania, and Stranger Things.  You can also see his spiritual children in so many iconic supernatural slashers, especially Freddy Krueger (a monster who invades your dreams and drives you mad, with real world consequences) and Jason Voorhees (an undead juggernaut who rises from the waters when the time is right, and is dead otherwise).  Cthulhu is a personal favorite of mine, and I wanted to share him with you, hypothetical listener.
  • In recent years, Cthulhu has become a marketing powerhouse, showing up in board games, cartoons (my favorite is the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy episode, The Collect Call of Cthulhu), movies, and even plush toys.  He’s become such an iconic figure, and he’s had such an influential role, that it’s a shame more people don’t know his story.  
  • And while we pray that the stars stay wrong, it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s god is a Lovecraftian shapeshifter named Nyarlethotep.
  • Often referred to as The Crawling Chaos, Nyarlethotep is a dark, malign deity from the Cthulhu mythos who shows up on the edges of a lot of stories, but only has a few he’s featured in (but they’re good ones).  As you may have guessed, his name is meant to sound Egyptian (although entirely fictional), with the use of the suffix ‘hotep’, which means peace or satisfaction.  Unsurprisingly, he is often depicted as appearing as a tall, swarthy man resembling a pharaoh from ancient Egypt.
  • Unlike most of the elder gods, he is neither exiled beyond the stars nor dreaming in his tomb in R’lyeh.  Most of the Outer Gods and the Great Old Ones are not evil per se so much as they are beyond the concept of good and evil.  They aren’t malignant, they simply can’t be bothered to give a fuck about you.  After all, how often do you watch your feet to make sure you don’t trod on ants?  Nyarlethotep is different.  He actively enjoys causing pain and suffering, and he walks the earth in a human disguise, although he has a thousand forms (and most of them are horrible enough to cause outright madness to the unfortunate mortal who catches a glimpse).  Many of these forms are worshipped by cults around the world.
  • Like a very twisted Hermes from the Greeks, Nyarlethotep is the messenger of the gods.  He travels between the cults, often in disguise, and gives aid and guidance to the cultists when needed.  He primarily serves his father, the blind idiot god Azathoth, who sleeps at the center of the universe, lulled to sleep by the mad piping of lesser gods; when he awakes, there will be neither worlds nor gods any longer.  When not explicitly working for his father, though, Nyarlethotep meets with humans to twist them, deceive them, and corrupt them.  He enjoys causing madness even more than straight up murder, and several of his appearances show him manipulating events from behind the scenes.  Often, the only indication is the horrifying turn events have taken and the discovery of a cleverly made mask of someone the narrator has been speaking to through the story.  Nothing in the Lovecraftian universe can be trusted, and madness lurks behind everything.  

 

That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth and on Instagram as Myths Your Teacher Hated Pod.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  I want to thank Christopher Reinhard for the review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.

 

Next time, we’ll be catching up with one of my favorite trickster gods, Anansi, who we last saw way back in Episode 2.  I’ll be telling three of my favorite stories of the tricksy spider man.  You’ll see that beans can be bad for more than your heart, that you should always be nice to strange old men, and that mooching off your friends has consequences.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, you’ll discover that snakes and elephants are basically the same thing.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.