On Cosmicism – H.P. Lovecraft’s Signature Philosophy

The peculiar type of horror that pervades throughout Howard Phillip Lovecraft’s works is the existential fear of insignificance amidst the vast cosmos. A feature of his creatures is that, unlike the undead or werewolves of folklore, the very sight of incomprehensible, alien beings is enough to drive men to madness. It’s not the threat of being eaten that makes Lovecraft’s monsters so terrifying, but instead the true fathomless scope of the universe that these indescribable beings hint at. This type of fear stems from the philosophy of cosmicism. In short, this way of thinking sees humanity as an insignificant piece of a much larger intergalactic existence.

H.P. Lovecraft was a product of his time, and by that I mean he was very scientifically minded. In the beginning of the twentieth century, a mythological and spiritual view of the world was already seen as outdated, and the empirical process had utterly transformed the developed world. Science seemed to have all the answers, and it was up to humans to discover them. While most at the time seemed optimistic about this, Lovecraft was deeply pessimistic about progress. The more humans discovered, the more they realized how small they truly were in the greater scheme of the universe, at least according to Lovecraft’s thinking.

Cosmic horror is a revitalization of the genre; it is horror for the scientific mind. Folklore of old told of monsters just beyond the horizon of what man knew. In ancient forests, beneath dark waters, and in shadows of the night, creatures lurked. In a way, old myths symbolized the fear of the unknown by embodying it into predatory creatures. In those times, this was very practical, as the world is a dangerous place. Modern people scoff at these stories, however, as notions of water monsters or things living in the woods are easily disproven. Cosmic horror brings these stories to the horizons of modern man’s understanding. Instead of lurking within dark lakes, ancient beings waited beyond the stars. Where folkloric monsters had a place within the religious narratives, Lovecraft’s creatures sat in the blind spots of scientific development.

The symbolism of Lovecraftian creatures is also a continuation of a more ancient tradition, even if not consciously. The serpent has long been seen as an antagonistic force whose changing, slithering body has been associated with deceit and cunning. I believe its no accident that the tentacle – which shares the same writhing shape as a snake – is so prominent in the Cthulhu Mythos. The unknowable wisdom of the beyond would have no better symbol than one so similar to a serpent. Also, the chimeric qualities of Lovecraft’s monsters are in line with the patterns of ancient mythology, albeit on a larger scale. Where creatures who lived on the edge of the world were mismatched combinations of animals, so too are the beings that live on the edge of the galaxy.

The most potent of cosmic horror’s aspects, though, is how it approaches man’s place in the universe. Following the tenants of secular science to its logical conclusion, H.P. Lovecraft thought of the plights of humanity as meaningless amidst the vast, unknowable cosmos. I agree that he is correct – only if you accept his assumptions. I do not. The problem of restricting the world to a scientific worldview does not account for the meaning of things. Science in itself cannot make value judgements; it can only empirically derive things based on evidence. Therefore, science cannot prove things to have meaning, and it should come as no surprise that the resulting world is seen as meaningless. It’s like claiming a steak has no taste based solely on a picture of the meal in question. The visual representation has no way of capturing the deeper qualities of the subject and should not be expected to do so.

I have come close to arguing against athiesm here, but such is the central tenant and potency of cosmicism, for it attests to meaningless when we humans need meaning to thrive. That being said, what use is such an outlook? Why should I, a man who strives too see the world as meaningful, care? I see it as an antagonistic force. The indescribable horrors created by Lovecraft are demons of the modern, scientific age. Cosmicism is a more mature form of nihilism, as it isn’t fueled by pride and resentment, but instead cool indifference. Such a force is something worthy of being embodied in adversaries of modern mythology, and by that I mean the media of today. Like St. George who slew the dragon, this generation needs heroes who will stare into the cosmic abyss and not lose faith. I’m trying to do that with The Wizard Slayer Saga, and if you’ve already read the first installment, you may have seen glimmerings of cosmicism show up in Ahkred the Eternal. More is coming, and I hope to show you all a confrontation that you won’t soon forget.

I have nothing but respect for H.P. Lovecraft himself. His prose is absolutely amazing, and I’ve spent many hours enjoying his works. While he and I have two very different perspectives of the world, I know an intelligent man when he can effectively get underneath my skin with his works of horror.

If you’re interested in Lovecraft’s work, HorrorBabble on YouTube did an excellent reading of his most famous work, The Call of Cthulhu. Listen to it here.

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