This is the final section of a three part series featuring an interview with John L. Steadman, author of the recently published H.P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition. Previously, Mr. Steadman commented on the authenticity and use of the Necronomicon in magickal practice, Lovecraft’s interaction and influence with other authors in his circle, and the clear “dichotomy between Lovecraft, the atheist and the materialist, and Lovecraft as a dreamer—as the prophet, in effect, of the Aeon of the Great Old Ones.”
As a magickal practitioner yourself, can you discuss the status of contemporary occult and magickal practice? How do you envision the future?
Currently, the predominate white magickal organization in the US and worldwide is the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis) USA; this organization has at least 46 or so lodges, encampments and oases scattered across the country and their ranks of initiates continue to grow on a yearly basis. I was a member of the Thelema Lodge for many years in my youth; I took the following degrees: II° in New York on 3/79; I° on 11/20/77 and the 0° in California on 5/70, though I allowed my membership in the order to lapse as of 11/27/84. Nevertheless, I still have friends in the OTO, and it seems clear to me that the OTO USA will continue to grow in the future, guiding and assisting fledging initiates in their quest for spiritual, mental and moral perfection.
In the near future, also, I think that the great black magickal systems that I have focused on in the latter portion of my book will continue to flourish. The Vodou religion has become a bona-fide religion and yet, unlike most of the Christian sects (excepting the Catholics, of course), Vodou has managed to preserve its magickal roots and its mysteries. The Wiccan religion is likewise in the process of solidifying its position as a new religion, but whether or not its magickal roots will remain intact is an open question. Certainly, creative neopagans such as Konstantinos (who has written seven wonderful books under the Llewellyn imprint) are earnestly working to keep Wiccan vital, while incorporating Lovecraftian themes and concepts into their ritual workings.
As for the other three systems, the Typhonian Order, the Church of Satan, and the Chaos Magick Pacts, these all seem to be expanding, evolving and transmogrifying into a diversity of different organizations and offshoots. The Typhonian Order, under the directorship of Michael Staley, Kenneth Grant’s “deputy”, still operates; whether it will continue to flourish is unclear as yet. Chaos Magick spokesman Peter Carroll has established the Arcanorium College, which offers advanced degrees in magickal practice; this is an interesting idea, but in my opinion, institutionalized magickal temples tend to work against the natural inclinations among average Chaos Magickians to function in small, individualistic, cell-like covens.
Interestingly, I see a lot of healthy growth among the Satanists. The original Church of Satan, under the directorship of Magistra Peggy Nadramia and Ms. Barton, is still going strong (Satan bless them!), but there are many new groups as well. There is the Temple of Set, represented by High Priestess Patricia Hardy IV°; there is the Modern Church of Satan (MCoS); and there is The Satanic Temple—Detroit. In addition, there are a number of satanic groups that are generally closed to the public; the International Satanist Union; the Dark Black Satan Metal group; and the Satanica Universal, among others. All of these groups and organizations are keeping the dark gnosis alive in the 21st century.
I think that the new millennium will witness a more extensive use of Lovecraft’s pantheon of extra-terrestrial entities and Lovecraftian elements by occultists. Currently, there is an order known as The Esoteric Order of Dagon, headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, and presided over by Grand Master Frater Obed Marsh which has, according to Marsh, been in operation for nearly thirty years. The writer and artist Gavin Callaghan discusses the Cult of Cthulhu group in Wisconsin, led by Venger Satanis; this group is actively working to evoke the Great Old Ones and literally bring about a Lovecraftian apocalypse.
In the future, however, I see Lovecraft’s occult influence becoming more spiritualized—a kind of R’lyehian spirituality, in fact, as Scott R. Jones refers to it in his excellent book, When the Stars are Right (Martian Migraine Press, 2014).
More importantly, however, I think that magickal practice and the scientific disciplines will begin to move closer together as the millennium progresses, and I think a time will come when scientists, philosophers and other proponents of rationality will eventually undertake the study of magickal texts in their search for viable ways to quantify their speculations. Indeed, they will need to do this ultimately if they have any intention of progressing beyond speculation.
Can you talk some more about the connections between quantum physics and the various entities in Lovecraft’s pantheon, (i.e., “the Great Old Ones”)? This seems especially applicable to Lovecraft’s The Dreams in the Witch-House.
The entities in “The Dreams in the Witch House”, are perfect examples (if there is such a thing) of quantum entities; asymmetrical; chaotic, iridescent, poly-dimensional and pan demonic, constantly merging and melding into different forms, shapes and colors that bear little resemblance to the shapes characteristic of our normal time-space continuum.
The Great Old Ones, likewise, tend to manifest in a similar fashion. For example, Azathoth is envisioned as a shapeless, nuclear chaos (some Mythos scholars equate Azathoth with the scientific concept of the Big Bang), while Yog-Sothoth appears as a congeries of iridescent spheres, similar to the forms that Keziah Mason and Brown Jenkin assume in the alternate dimensions.
Lovecraft makes it clear that human beings who gain access to the alternate dimensions are unable to form anything other than the vaguest conception of the ever-changing panorama of sights and sounds that they are experiencing. Consequently, they are forced to grasp at mental constructs derived from their own unique physiologies and psychological predispositions.
In the chapter about the Church of Satan, you describe LaVey’s belief that existence after death may be possible through the exercise of a strong ego, powerful will, and “lust for life”. This sounds very close to the beliefs of the refrigerated Dr. Muñoz in Lovecraft’s Cool Air. Given the author’s chronic illness and early death, is it possible that this was his best hope?
Lovecraft had no hope at all that any human component, the soul, the mind, the “will”, the vitality, whatever, is strong enough to survive the death of the physical body. Consequently, Dr. Munoz’s beliefs are certainly not Lovecraft’s own beliefs. And in fact, Lovecraft makes it clear in Cool Air that Munoz, despite his assertion that “will and consciousness are stronger than organic life itself”, still succumbs to death in the end since, after all, the man is really only being kept alive because of the ammonia cooling system in his room; his powerful will and drive are, thus, by themselves, ineffectual.
With regard to Lovecraft’s own death, I find the accounts of his last months and particularly, his reaction to the fact that he was dying, to be very stirring and noble. Right up to the end, Lovecraft bravely held to his principles and his convictions. He never wavered from his beliefs, and there is no cowardly recanting of his atheistic principles, such as we find in the case of Oscar Wilde or Aubrey Beardsley, both of whom professed to be atheists, but whom, ultimately, received Extreme Unction rites administered by Catholic priests before their deaths.
Your book has received considerable praise from several in the field, including the venerable S.T. Joshi, who shares with Lovecraft a materialist and atheist world view. Have you received any pushback from less supernaturally inclined reviewers?
I can’t say that any of my experiences with reviewers and endorsers have been anything other than positive and, in fact, entirely satisfying. I did ask Bruce Sterling for an endorsement and he refused, humorously claiming that if he endorsed the book, then the night gaunts would likely “get” him. I suppose that this experience might be construed as “pushback”, but I found it quite amusing. And if Mr. Sterling is reading this, I should warn him that I am going to take another stab at an endorsement from him for my second book, night gaunts notwithstanding.
What do you have in mind for future projects? Are there other aspects of Lovecraft’s work you would like to explore?
H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition is the first book in a projected trilogy. Currently, I am working on the second book and have finished, to date, just over 86,000 words, so it is nearing completion. Definitely, this second book and the third one will deal with other aspects of Lovecraft’s life and works, but I don’t want to go into detail about any of the specifics until I have signed a contract for the second book; I am hoping that Weiser Books will publish the entire trilogy, of course.
With regard to the second book, however, I will say that I am utilizing my skills as a literary critic (which I developed during my tenure at the University of Virginia) and am offering the reader a close, analytical study of Lovecraft’s major works; correcting previous readings when necessary, refuting what needs to be refuted, on occasion, and generally examining the direction and future of contemporary Mythos fiction.
If you are in the area next week, John L. Steadman will be discussing his book at Crazy Wisdom, 114 South Main, Ann Arbor, Michigan on Tuesday night, 10/6/15, 7:00-9:00 p.m. (734-665-2757)