Nyarlathotep

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Nyarlathotep
Nyarlathotep.jpg
Artist's rendition of Nyarlathotep
First appearance "Nyarlathotep"
Created by H. P. Lovecraft
Information
Title Crawling Chaos
God of a Thousand Forms
Family Azathoth (father)
Nameless Mist (sibling)
Darkness (sibling)

Nyarlathotep is a name used for various characters in the works of H. P. Lovecraft and other writers. The character is commonly known in association with its role as a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe, where it is known as the Crawling Chaos. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers and in the tabletop role-playing games making use of the Cthulhu Mythos. Later writers describe him as one of the Outer Gods.

Although the deity's name is fictional, it bears the historical Egyptian suffix -hotep, meaning "peace" or "satisfaction."

In the work of H. P. Lovecraft[edit]

In his first appearance in "Nyarlathotep", he is described as a "tall, swarthy man" who resembles an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.[1] In this story he wanders the earth, seemingly gathering legions of followers, the narrator of the story among them, through his demonstrations of strange and seemingly magical instruments. These followers lose awareness of the world around them, and through the narrator's increasingly unreliable accounts the reader gets an impression of the world's collapse.

Nyarlathotep subsequently appears as a major character in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926/27), in which he again manifests in the form of an Egyptian Pharaoh when he confronts protagonist Randolph Carter.

The twenty-first sonnet of Lovecraft's poem-cycle "Fungi from Yuggoth" (1929/30) is essentially a retelling of the original prose poem.

In "The Dreams in the Witch House" (1933), Nyarlathotep appears to Walter Gilman and witch Keziah Mason (who has made a pact with the entity) in the form of "the 'Black Man' of the witch-cult," a black-skinned avatar of the Devil described by witch hunters.

Nyarlathotep is also mentioned in "The Rats in the Walls" as a faceless god in the caverns of earth's center.

Finally, in "The Haunter of the Dark" (1936), the nocturnal, tentacled, bat-winged monster dwelling in the steeple of the Starry Wisdom sect's church is identified as another manifestation of Nyarlathotep.

Though Nyarlathotep appears as a character in only four stories and two sonnets, his name is mentioned frequently in other works. In "The Whisperer in Darkness" the Mi-Go chant his name in reverential tones, describing him as a non-human entity who takes the form of a man. In "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936), the "hideous secret of Nyarlathotep" is revealed to the protagonist by Khephnes during their imprisonment by the Great Race of Yith.

Nyarlathotep does not appear in Lovecraft's story "The Crawling Chaos" (1920/21), despite the similarity of the title to the character's epithet.

Inspiration[edit]

In a 1921 letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, Lovecraft related the dream he had had — described as "the most realistic and horrible [nightmare] I have experienced since the age of ten" — that served as the basis for his prose poem "Nyarlathotep". In the dream, he received a letter from his friend Samuel Loveman that read:

Don't fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible — horrible beyond anything you can imagine — but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.

Lovecraft commented:

I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in public halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts — first, a horrible — possibly prophetic — cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus. As I received the letter, I seemed to recall that Nyarlathotep was already in Providence.... I seemed to remember that persons had whispered to me in awe of his horrors, and warned me not to go near him. But Loveman's dream letter decided me.... As I left the house I saw throngs of men plodding through the night, all whispering affrightedly and bound in one direction. I fell in with them, afraid yet eager to see and hear the great, the obscure, the unutterable Nyarlathotep.[2]

Will Murray has speculated that this dream image of Nyarlathotep may have been inspired by the inventor Nikola Tesla, whose well-attended lectures did involve extraordinary experiments with electrical apparatus and who some saw as a sinister figure.[3]

Robert M. Price proposes that the name Nyarlathotep may have been subconsciously suggested to Lovecraft by two names from Lord Dunsany, an author he much admired. Alhireth-Hotep, a false prophet, appears in Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana and Mynarthitep, a god described as "angry" in his "The Sorrow of Search".[4]

Summary[edit]

Nyarlathotep differs from the other beings in a number of ways. Most of them are exiled to stars, like Yog-Sothoth and Hastur, or sleeping and dreaming like Cthulhu; Nyarlathotep, however, is active and frequently walks the Earth in the guise of a human being, usually a tall, slim, joyous man. He has "a thousand" other forms, most of these reputed to be maddeningly horrific. Most of the Outer Gods have their own cults serving them; Nyarlathotep seems to serve these cults and take care of the deities' affairs in their absence. Most of the gods use strange alien languages, but Nyarlathotep uses human languages and can be mistaken for a human being. The other Outer Gods and Great Old Ones are often described as mindless or unfathomable rather than truly malevolent, but Nyarlathotep delights in cruelty, is deceptive and manipulative, and even cultivates followers and uses propaganda to achieve his goals.

Nyarlathotep enacts the will of the Outer Gods, and is their messenger, heart and soul; he is also a servant of Azathoth, his father,[5] whose wishes he immediately fulfills. Unlike the other Outer Gods, causing madness is more important and enjoyable than death and destruction to Nyarlathotep. It is suggested by some that he will destroy the human race and possibly the earth as well.[6]

The Nyarlathotep Cycle[edit]

In 1996, Chaosium published The Nyarlathotep Cycle, a Cthulhu Mythos anthology focusing on works referring to or inspired by the entity Nyarlathotep. Edited by Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price, the book includes an introduction by Price tracing the roots and development of the God of a Thousand Forms. The contents include:

Table of forms[edit]

Nyarlathotep has many forms (some literature refers to these forms as Masks and claims that he has a thousand of them) and is thus known by different avatars.

Overview[edit]

This table is organized as follows:

  • Name. This is the name of Nyarlathotep's form.
  • Region. This is the geographical location where Nyarlathotep's form is active.
  • Description. This entry describes Nyarlathotep's form.
  • Notes. This field contains additional information.
  • References. This field lists the sources that contain references to Nyarlathotep's form. If the source is a story, it is denoted by a two-letter code—the key to the codes is found here. If the reference is listed as rpg it means a role-playing game was the source, with specifics included in a footnote.
If an entry appears in bold, this means that the reference introduces Nyarlathotep's form.

Table[edit]

Nyarlathotep's forms
Name Region Description Notes References
Ahtu Congo Appears as a gelatinous mass extruding golden tentacles. Ahtu's cult in Africa is composed of human worshipers of no hope, driven to insanity by being ill-treated and forced into encroachments by rulers and exploiters. Self-mutilation is a sign of the cult: all have amputations and terrible scars from near-fatal whippings and beatings. However, New World worship more resembles voodoo rituals. He can be called by a magical, golden bracelet, which is kept separated into two halves to prevent accidental summonings. rpg,[7] UD
Black Man Salem and Arkham Appears as a hooved, hairless, man with pitch black skin and caucasian features. Appears to be an avatar of the popular depiction of Satan in Christianity. Nyarlathotep is worshipped by witch covens in this form. This is demonstrated in "The Dreams in the Witch House" by the witch Keziah Mason. DW, FG
Black Pharaoh Egypt Appears as a haughty Egyptian pharaoh wearing a brightly colored robe. The Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh worships Nyarlathotep in this form. DQ, rpg[8]
Black Wind Kenya Manifests as a devastating storm.
IK, rpg[9]
Bloated Woman China
(Shanghai)
Initially appears as a dainty maiden behind a fan, though the fan casts an illusion masking the true form of a large bloated tentacled humanoid who eats brains. The Order of the Bloated Woman worships Nyarlathotep in this form. The cult has an emissary in Stockholm.[10] rpg[11]
Crawling Mist Dreamlands Appears as a putrid, living fog.
EL
Dark Demon
Appears as a larger version of the Black Demon yet more treacherous. Those who study the black arts are sometimes contacted by this avatar. In return for entering their bodies, the Dark Demon promises them great rewards. Unfortunately, Nyarlathotep never makes good on this promise. KD
Dark One California,
Louisiana,
Tennessee
Appears as a pitch-black, eight-foot-tall, faceless man who can walk through any physical barrier.
MK
Dweller in Darkness Wood of N'gai This avatar wails as it forms and reabsorbs random appendages. It has no face, but can take any shape it pleases for short time periods.
DD'
The Faceless God Ancient Egypt Appears as a winged, faceless sphinx. This avatar has the ability to send its worshippers back through time. FG
The Floating Horror[12] Haiti Appears as a bluish, red-veined jellyfish-like creature.
AP
The Haunter of the Dark Australia;
Providence, Rhode Island;
Yuggoth
A bloated, batlike creature with a single three-lobed burning eye which appears able to kill by fear alone. This avatar is destroyed by light. Its most important cult is the Church of Starry Wisdom, based in Providence, which can summon the avatar using the Shining Trapezohedron. It is also worshipped by some modern Aborigines. Its other epithets include Face Eater, Father of All Bats, Dark Wing, Sand Bat, and Fly-The-Light. CD, HD, rpg,[13] S5
The Royal Pant North America, Jazz clubs and crossroads An African-American jazz saxophone player Appears to musicians who desire to sell their souls for musical skill and/or fame. rpg
Howler in the Dark Wood of N'gai (somewhere in northern United States) Appears as a hideous, howling giant with a tentacle in place of a face. Occasionally referred to as the God of the Bloody Tongue, or the Bloody Tongue for short. DD
L'rog'g
(also Lrogg),
Bat God of L'gy'hx
The planet L'gy'hx (Uranus) Appears as a two-headed bat (debatable). Avatar worshipped by the cuboid inhabitants of L'gy'hx and by a group of renegade Shan. IS, rpg[14]
Messenger of the Old Ones
Appears as an enormous black mass that seems to creep across the sky. This form is manifest only during occasions of cosmic importance, such as the awakening of Cthulhu. rpg, WA
Mr. Skin Los Angeles Eight-foot-tall, pale silver, faceless imitation of a pimp. This avatar, appearing in the Los Angeles area, is closely associated with certain worshippers of Shub-Niggurath. MK
Randall Flagg Mid-World and United States A shapeshifter with many aliases, Flagg usually appears as an enrobed sorcerer, or a pale man clothed in jeans, cowboy boots and a denim jacket. During the climax of The Stand, he briefly takes on a monstrous, slumped, hunched, almost shapeless form, with yellow, cat-like eyes. A creation of American horror writer Stephen King. Flagg appears in at least nine of King's novels, including The Stand and the Dark Tower series. He wanders from one universe to another, leaving a trail of chaos and destruction in his wake. [15][16]
Samael Israel Considered to be the Angel Of Death. Often Appears as a skeleton in a dark robe. Worshiped By The Cult of Malkira. Very important figure in Abrahamic Religions. Also Demiurge. WG
Shugoran Malaysia Appears as a black human-like creature playing a horn. This form is worshipped by the Tcho-Tcho. They sometimes summon this avatar to punish offenders. BH, rpg[17]
The Thing in the Yellow Mask Dreamlands A creature clothed in yellow silk. This avatar is only known to manifest in the city of 'Ygiroth in the Dreamlands. Some claim that it is the lone occupant of the remote, unnamed monastery on the Plateau of Leng (see High Priest Not to Be Described). CE, FY, YG
The White Man New England Appears as a blonde man in a shining white robe.
NS
The Whispering Man
A pharaoh or a sphinx with piercing gaze. Haunts the dreams of the insane. Revels in disasters and wars. SQ

Popular culture[edit]

  • In Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, a series of romantic comedy-parody light novels,[18] Nyarlathotep is the title character, going by the nickname Nyaruko and taking the form of a teenage girl with long silver hair and emerald green eyes. An alien of the Nyarlathotepian race, she claims that her people served as the inspiration for Lovecraft's writings; whether Nyaruko is the "real" Nyarlathotep or not is unclear, though in the first volume she says "People call me Nyarlathotep, but I have a real name."
  • A 13-minute short film version of Nyarlathotep[19] was released in 2001, directed by Christian Matzke.[20] It was re-released on DVD in 2004 as part of the H. P. Lovecraft Collection Volume 1: Cool Air.
  • Nyarlathotep appears in the Megami Tensei series as a recurring demon, the two forms he most commonly uses is based on "The Haunter of the Dark", used in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, and "Howler in the Dark", used in Persona 2. He takes center stage as the main antagonist of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Nyarlathotep and other Cthulhu Mythos creatures are presented as creations of humanity's collective unconsciousness, with Nyarlathotep representing humanity's destructive potential.
  • Nyarlathotep is the main antagonist in the story Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute.
  • Alan Moore's Neonomicon utilises Nyarlathotep in the form of Johnny Carcosa, a masked drug dealer who frequents Cthulhu-themed clubs and occult shops. His manner of converting new followers is to place them in a vegetative state, subsceptible to "Aklo" - words related to Lovecraft's work, which alter the consciousness of those who listen to them. In Moore's story, he serves the allegorical role of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, informing the protagonist that she has been impregnated and will soon give birth to Cthulhu.
  • The card Outer God Nyarla from the game Yu-Gi-Oh! is based on Nyarlathotep, both in name and appearance.
  • The Italian alternative rock band Verdena wrote a song titled "Il Caos Strisciante" (The Crawling Chaos).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ HP Lovecraft, "Nyarlathotep", The Doom that Came to Sarnath, New York: Ballantine Books, 1971, 57-60.
  2. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, December 21, 1921; cited in Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 18-19.
  3. ^ Will Murray, "Behind the Mask of Nyarlathotep", Lovecraft Studies No. 25 (Fall 1991); cited in Robert M. Price, The Nyarlathotep Cycle, p. 9.
  4. ^ Price, p. vii, 1-5.
  5. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (1967). Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft IV (1932–1934). Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House. "Letter 617". ISBN 0-87054-035-1. 
  6. ^ Harms, "Nyarlathotep", The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, pp. 218–9.
  7. ^ Detwiller et al, Delta Green; Herber, "Dead of Night".
  8. ^ DiTillio & Willis, Masks of Nyarlathotep.
  9. ^ DiTillio & Willis, Masks of Nyarlathotep
  10. ^ Anders Fager (2011). Collected Swedish Cults. Stockholm, Sweden: Wahlström & Wistrand. ISBN 9789146220961. 
  11. ^ DiTillio & Willis, Masks of Nyarlathotep.
  12. ^ Harms, The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, "The Floating Horror", pp. 222. This name was created by Harms.
  13. ^ DiTillio et al, "City beneath the Sands"; Petersen et al, The Complete Dreamlands.
  14. ^ Aniolowski, Ye Booke of Monstres.
  15. ^ King, Stephen (1990). The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. New York: Doubleday. pp. 214–215. ISBN 0-385-19957-0. 
  16. ^ Furth, Robin (2006). The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance. New York: Scribner. pp. 265–268. ISBN 0-7432-9734-2. 
  17. ^ Ross, Escape from Innsmouth.
  18. ^ GA Bunko Official Japanese site
  19. ^ Nyarlathotep (2001)
  20. ^ H. P. LOVECRAFT'S NYARLATHOTEP: The Official Website

References[edit]

  • Harms, Daniel. "Nyarlathotep" in The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.), pp. 218–222. Oakland, CA: Chaosium, 1998. ISBN 1-56882-119-0.