Tuesday, July 29, 2008

26 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks


Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Spiritual fast food”. Rav Feldman is completely justified in slamming the Kabbalah Centre, an organization which purports to spread knowledge of the Qabbalah, a Jewish mystical system, to the masses, but is known to engage in exploitative behavior.
  2. “Al-Qaida urges Muslims to kill Saudi king for hosting interfaith dialogue”: Apparently some Muslims also have anti-ecumenical views, too. Apparently they did not see through the public-relations scam nature of the conference, or perhaps they simply do not care.
Today’s news and commentary:Continuing our H. P. Lovecraft series for the Three Weeks, today’s story, originally published appropriately in Weird Tales, is “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”.


Theological review of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”:

This is frankly the strangest of the lot so far, presenting a conception of reality that is outright mystical.

And if you know nothing of mysticism, you may want to stop reading this review and go on to tomorrow’s Lovecraft story. Really. Mysticism can be very harmful to one’s belief system, both in its pure form and in watered-down forms for the masses, leading to heresies and unjustifiable behaviors. So if you wonder what your author is talking about, ask yourself if you really want to know first, because you will have to do some research to find out.

Randolph Carter, a scholar of the arcane, makes use of a magic key to ascend to higher levels of existence, meets his guide, and does the rites and makes the proper signs to ascend even higher. Those who read the books of Gershom Scholem will have heard of such journeys. What he finds at the end of the journey, beyond the final gate, is akin to Advaita; he is not the single person he thought he was, but as the atman is part of the Brahman, he finds himself an amazingly powerful being present in multitudinous forms throughout all time and space. He is finally freed from maya. As it is written:
The Man of Truth is beyond good and evil,” intoned the voice that was not a voice. “The Man of Truth has ridden to All-Is-One. The Man of Truth has learned that Illusion is the One Reality, and that Substance is the Great Impostor.
If this were a story about enlightenment, Carter should be reveling in moksha, but such an ending is too happy for Lovecraft. Rather than joy, Carter’s reaction is terror. (What else would anyone expect from Lovecraft?) He wants to go back to Earth and his human life, but by some plot-hole, he is trapped in an alien body on an alien world which has an infestation of giant burrowing monsters. And his human facet and the facet of himself native to this body do not particularly like each other. And to make things even worse, the piece of parchment with the magic formula on that can make him human again has been left behind on Earth. Thus any possibility of Carter doing anything on a higher level of existence is chucked out the window so he can be the monster of the week/alien invader pretending to be a human. Why the publisher of Weird Tales let him get away with such an obvious waste is beyond your author.

There are two things to note about Carter’s mystical trip:

  1. Carter never became one with or found himself to be the Brahman, thus escaping a mystical trap which is easy to criticize.
  2. If I may quote a relevant passage:
    He [Randolph Carter] was shown the smallness and tinsel emptiness of the little Earth gods, with their petty, human interests and connections—their hatreds, rages, loves and vanities; their craving for praise and sacrifice, and their demands for faiths contrary to reason and nature.
    Your author is not clear whether or not this reflects Lovecraft’s own religious views—or what Lovecraft’s own religious views were. However, it does reflect the nature of gods of the Cthulhu Mythos so far very well. The Old Ones, as mentioned previously, are low on the scale of deities, so weak they depend on humans to accomplish their goals. People often say that humans “create”, as it were, gods in their own images; “envision” would be a better term. This is exactly what Carter’s guide seems to be doing. Being small himself, he projects this smallness on the gods that humans actually worship. And indeed humans often envision gods as nothing more than magnified humans, acting just as pettily as those who worship them. But the guide is no better, only bestowing secret knowledge upon those that perform for him—and only for him—the right rituals, displaying no care for sentient life in general or interest in morality. It never occurs to him that besides the small gods, many humans worship big gods, gods who are not selfish, gods whose interests are beyond themselves, gods whose characters are rich without being petty, gods who find worship and ritual in the absence of moral behavior repugnant, and gods who value reason and accept that a human can be righteous while still living the life as a human. Intuition suggests the guide’s attitude may be connected with that of Anton Szandor LaVey, who in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals shows every sign of always assuming his opponents’ gods are small and never big.
Theological rating: D.

Scariness rating: My pants mock this story.

Next up for tomorrow:  “The Night Ocean”.

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