The cult of Great Cthulhu has maintained a shadowy, esoteric existence through the centuries, only coming into the full light of modern, scientific anthropology in the twentieth century. Below are the first-person oral histories of actual members of the cult of Cthulhu and told to historians, anthropologists, and ethnographers through which we have gained most of our knowledge of the Cthulhu cult.
1. The Theology of Cthulhu
Oral records of the Cthulhu cultists of New Orleans as recorded by Joseph D. Galvez in the fall of 1907 and published in the Proceedings of the American Archaeological Society, Summer 1908.
Galvez was a distinguished Iberian anthropologist whose reputation never recovered after being libeled in Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" as an ignorant and “excitable Spaniard” to better give credit to the Caucasian police inspector John Raymond Legrasse.
It was Galvez who actually recorded the oral history of the Cthulhu cult used by Lovecraft in framing his story.
But before many questions were asked, it became manifest that something far deeper and older than Negro fetishism was involved. Degraded and ignorant as they were, the creatures held with surprising consistency to the central idea of their loathsome faith.
They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R'lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.
Meanwhile no more must be told. There was a secret which even torture could not extract. Mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious things of earth, for shapes came out of the dark to visit the faithful few. But these were not the Great Old Ones. No man had ever seen the Old Ones. The carven idol was great Cthulhu, but none might say whether or not the others were precisely like him. No one could read the old writing now, but things were told by word of mouth. The chanted ritual was not the secret - that was never spoken aloud, only whispered. The chant meant only this: "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."
[The] immensely aged mestizo named Castro [...] claimed to have sailed to strange ports and talked with undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China.
Old Castro remembered bits of hideous legend that paled the speculations of theosophists and made man and the world seem recent and transient indeed. There had been aeons when other Things ruled on the earth, and They had had great cities. Remains of Them, he said the deathless Chinamen had told him, were still be found as Cyclopean stones on islands in the Pacific. They all died vast epochs of time before men came, but there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity. They had, indeed, come themselves from the stars, and brought Their images with Them.
These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape - for did not this star-fashioned image prove it? - but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R'lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious surrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them. But at that time some force from outside must serve to liberate Their bodies. The spells that preserved them intact likewise prevented Them from making an initial move, and They could only lie awake in the dark and think whilst uncounted millions of years rolled by. They knew all that was occurring in the universe, for Their mode of speech was transmitted thought. Even now They talked in Their tombs. When, after infinities of chaos, the first men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among them by moulding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach the fleshly minds of mammals.
Then, whispered Castro, those first men formed the cult around tall idols which the Great Ones shewed them; idols brought in dim eras from dark stars. That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return.
In the elder time chosen men had talked with the entombed Old Ones in dreams, but then something happened. The great stone city R'lyeh, with its monoliths and sepulchres, had sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters, full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the spectral intercourse. But memory never died, and the high-priests said that the city would rise again when the stars were right. Then came out of the earth the black spirits of earth, mouldy and shadowy, and full of dim rumours picked up in caverns beneath forgotten sea-bottoms. But of them old Castro dared not speak much. He cut himself off hurriedly, and no amount of persuasion or subtlety could elicit more in this direction. The size of the Old Ones, too, he curiously declined to mention. Of the cult, he said that he thought the centre lay amid the pathless desert of Arabia, where Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden and untouched. It was not allied to the European witch-cult, and was virtually unknown beyond its members. No book had ever really hinted of it, though the deathless Chinamen said that there were double meanings in the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred which the initiated might read as they chose, especially the much-discussed couplet:
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
2. The Coming of the Cthulhu Cult
The arrival of the Cthulhu cult in Innsmouth, Mass. came as a result of the Pacific trade of the 1830s. In the early twentieth century, Zadok Allen, an elderly Massachusetts resident, told an ethnographer what he knew of the cult's establishment ninety years earlier.
The ethnographer who recorded his testimony recorded it in dialect, making some of the line readings occasionally unclear.
“Thar’s whar it all begun—that cursed place of all wickedness whar the deep water starts. Gate o’ hell—sheer drop daown to a bottom no saoundin’-line kin tech. Ol’ Cap’n Obed done it—him that faound aout more’n was good fer him in the Saouth Sea islands.
“Everybody was in a bad way them days. Trade fallin’ off, mills losin’ business—even the new ones—an’ the best of our menfolks kilt a-privateerin’ in the War of 1812 or lost with the Elizy brig an’ the Ranger snow—both of ’em Gilman venters. Obed Marsh he had three ships afloat—brigantine Columby, brig Hetty, an’ barque Sumatry Queen. He was the only one as kep’ on with the East-Injy an’ Pacific trade, though Esdras Martin’s barkentine Malay Pride made a venter as late as ’twenty-eight.
“Never was nobody like Cap’n Obed—old limb o’ Satan! Heh, heh! I kin mind him a-tellin’ abaout furren parts, an’ callin’ all the folks stupid fer goin’ to Christian meetin’ an’ bearin’ their burdens meek an’ lowly. Says they’d orter git better gods like some o’ the folks in the Injies—gods as ud bring ’em good fishin’ in return for their sacrifices, an’ ud reely answer folks’s prayers.
“Matt Eliot, his fust mate, talked a lot, too, only he was agin’ folks’s doin’ any heathen things. Told abaout an island east of Otaheité whar they was a lot o’ stone ruins older’n anybody knew anything abaout, kind o’ like them on Ponape, in the Carolines, but with carvin’s of faces that looked like the big statues on Easter Island. They was a little volcanic island near thar, too, whar they was other ruins with diff’rent carvin’s—ruins all wore away like they’d ben under the sea onct, an’ with picters of awful monsters all over ’em.
“Wal, Sir, Matt he says the natives araound thar had all the fish they cud ketch, an’ sported bracelets an’ armlets an’ head rigs made aout of a queer kind o’ gold an’ covered with picters o’ monsters jest like the ones carved over the ruins on the little island—sorter fish-like frogs or frog-like fishes that was drawed in all kinds o’ positions like they was human bein’s. Nobody cud git aout o’ them whar they got all the stuff, an’ all the other natives wondered haow they managed to find fish in plenty even when the very next islands had lean pickin’s. Matt he got to wonderin’ too, an’ so did Cap’n Obed. Obed he notices, besides, that lots of the han’some young folks ud drop aout o’ sight fer good from year to year, an’ that they wa’n’t many old folks araound. Also, he thinks some of the folks looks durned queer even fer Kanakys.
“It took Obed to git the truth aout o’ them heathen. I dun’t know haow he done it, but he begun by tradin’ fer the gold-like things they wore. Ast ’em whar they come from, an’ ef they cud git more, an’ finally wormed the story aout o’ the old chief—Walakea, they called him. Nobody but Obed ud ever a believed the old yeller devil, but the Cap’n cud read folks like they was books. Heh, heh! Nobody never believes me naow when I tell ’em, an’ I dun’t s’pose you will, young feller—though come to look at ye, ye hev kind o’ got them sharp-readin’ eyes like Obed had.”
“Wal, Sir, Obed he larnt that they’s things on this arth as most folks never heerd abaout—an’ wouldn’t believe ef they did hear. It seems these Kanakys was sacrificin’ heaps o’ their young men an’ maidens to some kind o’ god-things that lived under the sea, an’ gittin’ all kinds o’ favour in return. They met the things on the little islet with the queer ruins, an’ it seems them awful picters o’ frog-fish monsters was supposed to be picters o’ these things. Mebbe they was the kind o’ critters as got all the mermaid stories an’ sech started. They had all kinds o’ cities on the sea-bottom, an’ this island was heaved up from thar. Seems they was some of the things alive in the stone buildin’s when the island come up sudden to the surface. That’s haow the Kanakys got wind they was daown thar. Made sign-talk as soon as they got over bein’ skeert, an’ pieced up a bargain afore long.
“Them things liked human sacrifices. Had had ’em ages afore, but lost track o’ the upper world arter a time. What they done to the victims it ain’t fer me to say, an’ I guess Obed wa’n’t none too sharp abaout askin’. But it was all right with the heathens, because they’d ben havin’ a hard time an’ was desp’rate abaout everything. They give a sarten number o’ young folks to the sea-things twict every year—May-Eve an’ Hallowe’en—reg’lar as cud be. Also give some o’ the carved knick-knacks they made. What the things agreed to give in return was plenty o’ fish—they druv ’em in from all over the sea—an’ a few gold-like things naow an’ then.
“Wal, as I says, the natives met the things on the little volcanic islet—goin’ thar in canoes with the sacrifices et cet’ry, and bringin’ back any of the gold-like jools as was comin’ to ’em. At fust the things didn’t never go onto the main island, but arter a time they come to want to. Seems they hankered arter mixin’ with the folks, an’ havin’ j’int ceremonies on the big days—May-Eve an’ Hallowe’en. Ye see, they was able to live both in an’ aout o’ water—what they call amphibians, I guess. The Kanakys told ’em as haow folks from the other islands might wanta wipe ’em aout ef they got wind o’ their bein’ thar, but they says they dun’t keer much, because they cud wipe aout the hull brood o’ humans ef they was willin’ to bother—that is, any as didn’t hev sarten signs sech as was used onct by the lost Old Ones, whoever they was. But not wantin’ to bother, they’d lay low when anybody visited the island.
“When it come to matin’ with them toad-lookin’ fishes, the Kanakys kind o’ balked, but finally they larnt something as put a new face on the matter. Seems that human folks has got a kind o’ relation to sech water-beasts—that everything alive come aout o’ the water onct, an’ only needs a little change to go back agin. Them things told the Kanakys that ef they mixed bloods there’d be children as ud look human at fust, but later turn more’n more like the things, till finally they’d take to the water an’ jine the main lot o’ things daown thar. An’ this is the important part, young feller—them as turned into fish things an’ went into the water wouldn’t never die. Them things never died excep’ they was kilt violent.
“Wal, Sir, it seems by the time Obed knowed them islanders they was all full o’ fish blood from them deep-water things. When they got old an’ begun to shew it, they was kep’ hid until they felt like takin’ to the water an’ quittin’ the place. Some was more teched than others, an’ some never did change quite enough to take to the water; but mostly they turned aout jest the way them things said. Them as was born more like the things changed arly, but them as was nearly human sometimes stayed on the island till they was past seventy, though they’d usually go daown under fer trial trips afore that. Folks as had took to the water gen’rally come back a good deal to visit, so’s a man ud often be a-talkin’ to his own five-times-great-grandfather, who’d left the dry land a couple o’ hundred years or so afore.
“Everybody got aout o’ the idee o’ dyin’—excep’ in canoe wars with the other islanders, or as sacrifices to the sea-gods daown below, or from snake-bite or plague or sharp gallopin’ ailments or somethin’ afore they cud take to the water—but simply looked forrad to a kind o’ change that wa’n’t a bit horrible arter a while. They thought what they’d got was well wuth all they’d had to give up—an’ I guess Obed kind o’ come to think the same hisself when he’d chewed over old Walakea’s story a bit. Walakea, though, was one of the few as hadn’t got none of the fish blood—bein’ of a royal line that intermarried with royal lines on other islands.
“Walakea he shewed Obed a lot o’ rites an’ incantations as had to do with the sea-things, an’ let him see some o’ the folks in the village as had changed a lot from human shape. Somehaow or other, though, he never would let him see one of the reg’lar things from right aout o’ the water. In the end he give him a funny kind o’ thingumajig made aout o’ lead or something, that he said ud bring up the fish things from any place in the water whar they might be a nest of ’em. The idee was to drop it daown with the right kind o’ prayers an’ sech. Walakea allaowed as the things was scattered all over the world, so’s anybody that looked abaout cud find a nest an’ bring ’em up ef they was wanted.
“Matt he didn’t like this business at all, an’ wanted Obed shud keep away from the island; but the Cap’n was sharp fer gain, an’ faound he cud git them gold-like things so cheap it ud pay him to make a specialty of ’em. Things went on that way fer years, an’ Obed got enough o’ that gold-like stuff to make him start the refinery in Waite’s old run-daown fullin’ mill. He didn’t dass sell the pieces like they was, fer folks ud be all the time askin’ questions. All the same his crews ud git a piece an’ dispose of it naow and then, even though they was swore to keep quiet; an’ he let his women-folks wear some o’ the pieces as was more human-like than most.
“Wal, come abaout ’thutty-eight—when I was seven year’ old—Obed he faound the island people all wiped aout between v’yages. Seems the other islanders had got wind o’ what was goin’ on, an’ had took matters into their own hands. S’pose they musta had, arter all, them old magic signs as the sea-things says was the only things they was afeard of. No tellin’ what any o’ them Kanakys will chance to git a holt of when the sea-bottom throws up some island with ruins older’n the deluge. Pious cusses, these was—they didn’t leave nothin’ standin’ on either the main island or the little volcanic islet excep’ what parts of the ruins was too big to knock daown. In some places they was little stones strewed abaout—like charms—with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs. Folks all wiped aout, no trace o’ no gold-like things, an’ none o’ the nearby Kanakys ud breathe a word abaout the matter. Wouldn’t even admit they’d ever ben any people on that island.
“That naturally hit Obed pretty hard, seein’ as his normal trade was doin’ very poor. It hit the whole of Innsmouth, too, because in seafarin’ days what profited the master of a ship gen’lly profited the crew proportionate. Most o’ the folks araound the taown took the hard times kind o’ sheep-like an’ resigned, but they was in bad shape because the fishin’ was peterin’ aout an’ the mills wa’n’t doin’ none too well.
“Then’s the time Obed he begun a-cursin’ at the folks fer bein’ dull sheep an’ prayin’ to a Christian heaven as didn’t help ’em none. He told ’em he’d knowed of folks as prayed to gods that give somethin’ ye reely need, an’ says ef a good bunch o’ men ud stand by him, he cud mebbe git a holt o’ sarten paowers as ud bring plenty o’ fish an’ quite a bit o’ gold. O’ course them as sarved on the Sumatry Queen an’ seed the island knowed what he meant, an’ wa’n’t none too anxious to git clost to sea-things like they’d heerd tell on, but them as didn’t know what ’twas all abaout got kind o’ swayed by what Obed had to say, an’ begun to ast him what he cud do to set ’em on the way to the faith as ud bring ’em results.”
“Poor Matt—Matt he allus was agin’ it—tried to line up the folks on his side, an’ had long talks with the preachers—no use—they run the Congregational parson aout o’ taown, an’ the Methodist feller quit—never did see Resolved Babcock, the Baptist parson, agin—Wrath o’ Jehovy—I was a mighty little critter, but I heerd what I heerd an’ seen what I seen—Dagon an’ Ashtoreth—Belial an’ Beëlzebub—Golden Caff an’ the idols o’ Canaan an’ the Philistines—Babylonish abominations--Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin—”
“S’pose one night ye seed somethin’ heavy heaved offen Obed’s dory beyond the reef, an’ then larned nex’ day a young feller was missin’ from home? Hey? Did anybody ever see hide or hair o’ Hiram Gilman agin? Did they? An’ Nick Pierce, an’ Luelly Waite, an’ Adoniram Saouthwick, an’ Henry Garrison? Hey? Heh, heh, heh, heh. . . . Shapes talkin’ sign language with their hands . . . them as had reel hands. . . .
“Wal, Sir, that was the time Obed begun to git on his feet agin. Folks see his three darters a-wearin’ gold-like things as nobody’d never see on ’em afore, an’ smoke started comin’ aout o’ the refin’ry chimbly. Other folks were prosp’rin’, too—fish begun to swarm into the harbour fit to kill, an’ heaven knows what sized cargoes we begun to ship aout to Newb’ryport, Arkham, an’ Boston. ’Twas then Obed got the ol’ branch railrud put through. Some Kingsport fishermen heerd abaout the ketch an’ come up in sloops, but they was all lost. Nobody never see ’em agin. An’ jest then our folks organised the Esoteric Order o’ Dagon, an’ bought Masonic Hall offen Calvary Commandery for it . . . heh, heh, heh! Matt Eliot was a Mason an’ agin’ the sellin’, but he dropped aout o’ sight jest then."
3. The Civilization of the Old Ones
From "The Narrative of Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez, gentleman, of Luarca in Asturias, Concerning the Subterranean World of Xinaián, A. D. 1545."
The early Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez recorded the testimony of Charging Bull, a Native American informant, during explorations of what is now Oklahoma in 1545.
Zamacona's manuscript was believed (and is still believed) to be an early form of science fiction, with Zamacona building on native legends he recorded in Oklahoma to create a fantasy about an underground society of monsters, an apparent satire on Spanish court life.
The place was about a five days’ march to the south, near the region of great mounds. These mounds had something to do with the evil world down there—they were probably ancient closed-up passages to it, for once the Old Ones below had had colonies on the surface and had traded with men everywhere, even in the lands that had sunk under the big waters. It was when those lands had sunk that the Old Ones closed themselves up below and refused to deal with surface people. The refugees from the sinking places had told them that the gods of outer earth were against men, and that no men could survive on the outer earth unless they were daemons in league with the evil gods. That is why they shut out all surface folk, and did fearful things to any who ventured down where they dwelt. There had been sentries once at the various openings, but after ages they were no longer needed. Not many people cared to talk about the hidden Old Ones, and the legends about them would probably have died out but for certain ghostly reminders of their presence now and then. It seemed that the infinite ancientness of these creatures had brought them strangely near to the borderline of spirit, so that their ghostly emanations were more commonly frequent and vivid. Accordingly the region of the great mounds was often convulsed with spectral nocturnal battles reflecting those which had been fought in the days before the openings were closed.
The Old Ones themselves were half-ghost—indeed, it was said that they no longer grew old or reproduced their kind, but flickered eternally in a state between flesh and spirit. The change was not complete, though, for they had to breathe. It was because the underground world needed air that the openings in the deep valleys were not blocked up as the mound-openings on the plains had been. These openings, Charging Buffalo added, were probably based on natural fissures in the earth. It was whispered that the Old Ones had come down from the stars to the world when it was very young, and had gone inside to build their cities of solid gold because the surface was not then fit to live on. They were the ancestors of all men, yet none could guess from what star—or what place beyond the stars—they came. Their hidden cities were still full of gold and silver, but men had better let them alone unless protected by very strong magic.
They had frightful beasts with a faint strain of human blood, on which they rode, and which they employed for other purposes. The things, so people hinted, were carnivorous, and like their masters, preferred human flesh; so that although the Old Ones themselves did not breed, they had a sort of half-human slave-class which also served to nourish the human and animal population. This had been very oddly recruited, and was supplemented by a second slave-class of reanimated corpses. The Old Ones knew how to make a corpse into an automaton which would last almost indefinitely and perform any sort of work when directed by streams of thought. Charging Buffalo said that the people had all come to talk by means of thought only; speech having been found crude and needless, except for religious devotions and emotional expression, as aeons of discovery and study rolled by. They worshipped Yig, the great father of serpents, and Tulu, the octopus-headed entity that had brought them down from the stars; appeasing both of these hideous monstrosities by means of human sacrifices offered up in a very curious manner which Charging Buffalo did not care to describe.
Bibliographic note: 1: Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu." 2: Lovecraft, "The Shadow over Innsmouth." 3.: Lovecraft and Zelia Bishop, "The Mound."
Note to the humor impaired: Cthulhu in World Mythology is a work of fiction and in no way advocates for the actual reality of Great Cthulhu or the Old Ones. It is intended for entertainment purposes only.