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“At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft: Exploring the Subconscious Mind

This novella is one of Lovecraft’s most famous works. It is the story of a group of explorers in the Antarctic who discover the existence of an alien race that forged the evolution of humanity. But the real power of this tale is in the symbolism. Lovecraft uses the story as a vehicle for probing into humanity’s collective subconscious.

The mountains themselves are symbolic of the border, or threshold, between the two states of consciousness.

Little by little, however, they rose grimly into the western sky; allowing us to distinguish various bare, bleak, blackish summits, and to catch the curious sense of phantasy which they inspired as seen in the reddish antarctic light against the provocative background of iridescent ice-dust clouds. In the whole spectacle there was a persistent, pervasive hint of stupendous secrecy and potential revelation; as if these stark, nightmare spires marked the pylons of a frightful gateway into forbidden spheres of dream, and complex gulfs of remote time, space, and ultra-dimensionality. I could not help feeling that they were evil things—mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss. That seething, half-luminous cloud-background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial; and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed austral world.

Once an individual has crossed the boundary and entered to dark caverns of primordial consciousness, that person begins to lose his or her grasp on what we deem sanity in our state of normal awareness. Our mythology is full of tales warning about this. It is the metaphor of “looking back,” of shining a light on the dark past of human consciousness which should remain buried. Lovecraft alludes to these metaphors as the protagonists desperately attempt to escape the nether-regions and return to the world of sanity and normal consciousness.

So we glanced back—simultaneously, it would appear; though no doubt the incipient motion of one prompted the imitation of the other. As we did so we flashed both torches full strength at the momentarily thinned mist; either from sheer primitive anxiety to see all we could, or in a less primitive but equally unconscious effort to dazzle the entity before we dimmed our light and dodged among the penguins of the labyrinth-centre ahead. Unhappy act! Not Orpheus himself, or Lot’s wife, paid much more dearly for a backward glance. And again came that shocking, wide-ranged piping—“Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!

Lovecraft concludes his tale with a stark warning: there are some things that should remain buried in the subconscious. That probing too far into the darkened and obscure recesses of the mind is dangerous, both for the individual and for humanity as a collective whole.

It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.

If you have not read this story, I highly recommend it. It is well-written, thrilling, and deeply thought-provoking. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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Monstress: Issue 35

While reading this installment of the Monstress series, I came across a snippet of dialog that resonated with me.

“Life is very strange, isn’t it?”

“… Stranger … than I … could have dreamed …”

Life is truly strange, and it keeps getting stranger. Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined an existence like the one we have today. What was it Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”? I guess that can be applied to our strange lives.

Anyway, hope you are safely navigating these strange waters. Thanks for stopping by.

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Thoughts on “Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe’s version of the Faustian legend is a cautionary tale for those who are obsessed with learning, the occult, and who suffer from pride and arrogance. “It was written sometime between 1589 and 1592, and may have been performed between 1592 and Marlowe’s death in 1593.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Early in the play, Faustus conjures the demon Mephistophilis and asks him a series of questions, including questions regarding Lucifer.

Faustus. Was not that Lucifer an angel once?

Mephistophilis. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov’d of God.

Faustus. How comes it, then, that he is prince of devils?

Mephistophilis. O, by aspiring pride and insolence;
For which God threw him from the face of heaven.

(Act I: scene iii)

It is important to note that Faustus also suffers from “aspiring pride and insolence,” like Lucifer. Marlowe is foreshadowing the inevitable tragic fall of Faustus.

As is often the case, it is only when Faustus is faced with his death and eternal damnation that he realizes his mistakes and suffers the pangs of remorse.

But Faustus’ offence can ne’er be pardoned:  the serpent
that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.  Ah, gentlemen,
hear me with patience, and tremble not at my speeches!  Though
my heart pants and quivers to remember that I have been a student
here these thirty years, O, would I had never seen Wittenberg,
never read book! and what wonders I have done, all Germany can
witness, yea, all the world; for which Faustus hath lost both
Germany and the world, yea, heaven itself, heaven, the seat of
God, the throne of the blessed, the kingdom of joy; and must
remain in hell for ever, hell, ah, hell, forever!  Sweet friends,
what shall become of Faustus, being in hell forever?

(Act V: scene ii)

While it is generally accepted that the legend of Doctor Faustus is based upon an historical figure, Johann Faustus, who lived in Germany from about 1480 to about 1541, I could not help wondering if there was another inspiration for Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend. My first thought was that Marlowe was using the character of Faustus to criticize John Dee, one of his contemporaries who was a well-known magician and practitioner of the occult.

John Dee (13 July 1527 – 1608 or 1609) was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, teacher, occultist, and alchemist. He was the court astronomer for, and advisor to, Elizabeth I, and spent much of his time on alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. As an antiquarian, he had one of the largest libraries in England at the time. As a political advisor, he advocated for the founding of English colonies in the New World to form a “British Empire”, a term he is credited with coining.

Dee eventually left Elizabeth’s service and went on a quest for additional knowledge in the deeper realms of the occult and supernatural.

(Source: Wikipedia)

While Marlowe could have been writing about John Dee, there is another possibility that I could not avoid considering, and that was that he was writing about himself. Marlowe died shortly after completing the play, and a close reading of the text demonstrates that Marlowe likely had studied occult philosophy. Did he sense that he was nearing his death, and did he harbor any remorse about things he did, or practices he might have engaged in? This is nothing but pure speculation on my part, but I feel that one could make a case.

As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have a blessed day.

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Thoughts on “The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt” by Ken Krimstein

So a while back, I said that I was going to be changing the format of the blog and just posting quotes instead of sharing my thoughts. Well, as you have likely surmised, I have gone back to my original format. There were a couple reasons why I went full circle:

  • I discovered that posting quotes regularly did not really take that much less time; in fact, I think I spent even more time, since I felt compelled to post more often.
  • My daughter was all excited because she Googled something by Umberto Eco and one of my blog posts was the top Google search result.

Anyway, I figure I will write when I can, and not sweat it if I get too busy to write. That said, my thoughts on this book.

I came across this at a community center where there was a table of free books (a dangerous thing for a bibliophile). Most of the books were of no interest to me, but this one immediately caught my attention. While in college, I had read Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece of political theory, The Origins of Totalitarianism. The book was one of those that left a strong and lasting impact on me. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed the behaviors of political leaders and listened to their words, then thought back to Arendt’s book. Essentially, she wrote the book on totalitarianism. The term did not exist until she coined it.

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt is a biographical graphic novel. It provides a witty overview of Arendt’s life, how she fled Europe during World War II, established herself as a political theorist and philosopher, and eventually went on to become the first woman to be appointed full professor at Princeton University.

While most of the book tells the story of Ms. Arendt’s life, it does briefly summarize some of her political ideas.

As fire lives on oxygen, the oxygen of totalitarianism is untruth. Before totalitarian leaders can fit reality to their lies, their message is an unreeling contempt for facts. They live by the belief that fact depends entirely on the power of the man who makes it up.

(p. 167)

The graphic novel quotes Arendt as saying, “Whatever I do, I am simply unable to avert my eyes from the reality of the world around me.” (p. 126) I feel the same way. It is impossible to ignore what I see going on in the world. And if you ever read The Origins of Totalitarianism, you will also not be able to look at the behaviors of political leaders the same way again.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share in my musings. I hope you find these posts interesting. If so, please let me know. As long as there is interest, I will do my best to keep writing.

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Three Treasures

I have Three Treasures, which I hold fast and watch over closely. The first is Mercy. The second is Frugality. The third is Not Daring to Be First in the World. Because I am merciful, therefore I can be brave. Because I am frugal, therefore I can be generous. Because I dare not be first, therefore I can be the chief of all vessels.

If a man wants to be brave without first being merciful, generous without first being frugal, a leader without first wishing to follow, he is only courting death!

Lao Tzu. Tao Teh Ching

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Overcoming the Negative Through Music

Often I, too, am overcome by the hatred, the jealousy and envy, the wars, all the ugliness that is a part of our world. I try to live in beauty and goodness; I seek out all that has a quality of inner beauty, and I am immediately repulsed by anything ugly that sends out bad vibrations. Over the years, with the help of my guru, I have tried very hard to create and build up within me a kind of beauty and spiritual strength, so that I always have this to turn to when the harshness of the world becomes too depressing. It is this inner beauty that I have worked so long to create that I try to reveal through my music and share with all my listeners.

Ravi Shankar. My Music, My Life

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Music as a Path to God

Our tradition teaches us that sound is God—Nada Brahma. That is, musical sound and the musical experience are steps to the realization of the self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises one’s inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. We are taught that one of the fundamental goals a Hindu works toward in his lifetime is a knowledge of the true meaning of the universe—its unchanging, eternal essence—and this is realized first by a complete knowledge of one’s self and one’s own nature. The highest aim of our music is to reveal the essence of the universe it reflects, and the ragas are among the means by which this essence can be apprehended. Thus, through music, one can reach God.

Ravi Shankar. My Music, My Life

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90% of everything is…

In 1958, Theodore Sturgeon, an American writer and critic of science fiction and horror stories, argued that 90% of everything (he specifically listed science fiction, film, literature and consumer products) is crap.

David Travis and Philip Hodgson. Think Like a UX Researcher

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Humility

How does the sea become the king of all streams?
Because it lies lower than they!
Hence it is the king of all streams.

Therefore, the Sage reigns over the people by humbling himself in speech;
And leads the people by putting himself behind.

Lao Tzu. Tao Teh Ching

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Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate III: On Dialectic [The Upward Way]

In this tractate, Plotinus discusses how a metaphysician should apply the philosophical practice of dialectic to assist in gaining an understanding of God, essentially raising one’s consciousness so as to become more godlike.

The Oxford Dictionary defines dialectic as the “inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.” Plotinus goes into a deeper explanation of how dialectics are applied in the search for ultimate Truth and knowledge of the Divine.

It is the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things—what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many Beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.

Dialectic treats also of the Good and the not-Good, and of the particulars that fall under each, and of what is the Eternal and what the not-Eternal—and of these, it must be understood, not by seeming-knowledge [“sense-knowledge”] but with authentic science.

This is a lot to digest, so let’s identify the key points.

First, according to the dialectic method as applied to metaphysics, the only way to come to an understanding of divine Truth is through careful analysis and comparison between two opposites. Think of the yin and yang symbol. The whole is made up of two different halves, each the opposite of the other, yet containing a seed of the other. So, when Plotinus is talking about understanding Being by comparing Real-Being with non-Being, it would seem that he is describing the comparison between the Forms as posited by Plato with the manifestations of those archetypal Forms in this reality.

But then Plotinus takes this to the next step, which is knowledge of God, or as he states, the Eternal. In order to come to a complete understanding of God, one must experience direct contact with God and compare that with that which is not God, presumably the Soul which exists within each of us, the Soul being from God, but not God.

This is probably enough for today. Meditate on this a little and I will have another installment up soon.

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