The Cult of Alien Gods: HP Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture (2005)

By Jason Colavito

Rating: 6/10

Overall, this book was an interesting look at the history of HPL, his influences, and the descendants of his works.  The author basically argues that since HPL invented the “alien-astronauts give birth to human civilizations” in his fiction, others took this idea and ran with it as non-fiction, influencing millions of people’s beliefs that humans, in fact, did have our cultural heritage influenced by visitors from outer space.  Colavito argues that since the initial non-fiction proponents of this idea read (and were therefore inevitably influenced by) HPL, the “gentlemen from Providence” unwittingly planted the seeds of alien-genesis that would germinate in the minds of dupes and non-critical thinkers down through the decades.

For me, I’m more interested in reading some of HPL’s influences and comparing his stories to the late 19th century authors he read and found inspiration from.  A more detailed outline of the book follows.

I.  HPL influenced by:

a)      Lord Tennyson Poem: “Kraken” [1830] (big ancient thing dreaming under the ocean)

b)      Ignatius Donnelly: Atlantis: “The Antediluvian World” [1882] (ancient mysteries, cross-cultural comparisons, similarities are the work from those Outside since the native not intellectually capable of advanced culture).

  • Archeological ruins being discovered by amateurs and wild theories abound during the late 19th century
  • Though HPL rejected this pseudoscience, he borrowed heavily from the imagery of Atlantis (for Call of Cthuluhu) and how it spawned later civilizations

c)      Helena Blavatsky “The Secret Doctrine” [1888] (channeled an ancient book older than man itself “Book of Dyzan”)

d)      Arthur Machen: “Great God Pan” [1890] and “Three Imposters” [1895] (strange things survived from Man’s earliest days)

e)      Lord Dunsany’s: “Pegana” [1905] (gods and demons interacting with humans)

f)       Poe: dark, gothic style

g)      Charles Fort: “Book of the Damned”[1919] (beings from space may have colonized the earth and humans)

h)      James Churchward: “Mu, the Motherland of Man” [1926] (another sunken continent whose only traces are standing stones in the Pacific Islands)

II. HPL Cthulhu Mythos:

a)      Cosmos populated by strange and powerful beings who were nonetheless subject to natural law (being a scientific materialist who didn’t believe in the supernatural)

b)      Hierarchy

  • Azathoth (Center of the cosmos- ‘demon sultan’ and ‘nuclear chaos’)
  • Old Ones surrounded the Lord of All
  •   Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep (soul and messanger); sometimes humanoid w/a thousand faces
  •   Yog Sothoth (connected the universes together); All-in-one and one-in-all
  •   Shub-Niggurath; black goat of the woods with a thousand young
  •   Cthulu- High priest of the old ones, trapped under the seas until ‘the stars were right’
  •    Tsathoggua- alien toad entity
  •    Under them were the various alien races who visited earth
  •       Mi-Go (Fungi from Yuggoth)- 9th planet from the sun (before Pluto was discovered); stalked backwoods to steal brains using metal cylinders

c)      Ultimately, aliens came down from the stars, ancient societies mistook them for gods (inspiring the first religions), and they promised to return; their evidence is in the anomalous ancient art and architecture.  All of these together were unique to HPL (elements from his predecessors rolled into one mythology).

III. The spread of the ancient-astronaut theory and pseudoscience:

a)      The Lovecraftian circle grew and HPL wrote for others to supplement his income, often intertwining each others’ works; even Blavatsky’s Book of Dyzan was included.  Though HPL didn’t believe in the pseudoscience works, he felt by mixing ‘real world’ books with his own creations would create an air of deeper fiction.

b)      During the 1930s, HPL, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard were prolific writers in Weird Tales, an interchanged each others’ concepts.

c)      After HPL died (1937) August Derleth took up the mantle of keeping HPL’s legacy alive, though somewhat controversially.  He wrote many stories, attributing “collaboration” with HPL even though little (if any existed). Derleth also injected a Judeo-Christiain good vs. evil dichotomy into HPL where none had existed before.

  • He also created his own publishing house to promote HPL, and sent many copies of the pulp overseas to the servicemen of WWII. (Eventually found its way into France)

d)      1940s: UFO craze with new technology, the threat of Communism, and the cinema with ‘alien invader’ movies (often as an analogy for the Red Terror).

  • The US Government used the UFO craze to cover up their top-secret testing of aircraft

e)      1950s: though UFOs/aliens became mainstream (and discredited), and small minority continued to believe an began recounting alien encounters

  • Many of these abductions were inspired by on-screen events

f)       1960s: Twilight Zone and Outer Limits big successes on TV

  • France still recovering from losing its “Great Power” role, and had already embraced HPL (introduced via US troops) in earlier decades. The French took his philosophies a bit more seriously

i.     Two Frenchmen, Louis Pauwles and Jacuqes Bergier (owners of the influential journal Planéte), published a book (Dawn of Magic) that revived an interest in the occult and introduced the philosophy/POV of “fantastic realism” (a new way of looking at the world thus revealing a new reality).  Ultimately, it speculated that aliens may have been responsible for the rise of humans and our culture (a concept invented by HPL).

ii.     This work drew heavily on Donnelly and Fort, asserting that the positivism of archeology could never get the explanation of the past correct

iii.     Also discussed HPL alongside Einstein and Jung

g)      1970s: In turn, Robert Charroux expanded on the alien-astronaut theme, writing several books (eventually appearing in the US)

h)      Erich von Daniken (Swiss) read Charroux’s books, embezzled funds to travel the world in search of archeological sites, and wrote Chariots of the Gods? And sold 6.5 million copies in the US and 60 million world-wide!

  • The media (TV, talk shows, etc.) spread the word, and people began believing in it.  Scientists refuted it, but their protestation fell on deaf ears.
  • It spoke in “may have beens” and “perhaps” so didn’t really say anything definitive. It ridiculed the establishment, academia, and relevant authorities which struck a chord with the US audience of the 1970s.
  • His follow-up book even quotes extensively from the Book of Dzyan (and admits in his intro that he is no scholar).

i)       1976

  • Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery

i.     Frog people from the star Sirius gave civilization to mankind around 5000 BCE, and the government was persecuting him for revealing this secret

  • Though debunked, the book seemed scholarly b/c of footnotes, complexity, and length
  • Zecharia Sitchin’s The Twelfth Planet

i.     Claimed to be the only one able to “correctly” translate Sumerian, and says they show how aliens called Annunaki visited earth and created humans to mine gold for them.

ii.     Brought the study of our past to the masses; gave lectures and certificates out if you attended

  • Viking probe records the ‘face on Mars’
  • L. Sprague de Camp’s biography of HPL brings him back for good
  • Claude Vorilhon begins the Raëlian Revolution

j)       1990s (resurgence in the unexplainable and alternative archeology)

  • 1995- Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods; something in human’s past was amiss, but dumped aliens in favor of  a lost civilization (respected journalist, good writer)
  • 1996- put aliens back in the equation
  • Overall a backlash against the establishment—trying to democratize the study of our past (Internet allowed like-minded people to shelter together)
  • Many of the works in the 1990s relied on the “authority” of earlier works from  1976 especially.

k)      Raëlians- a religion synthesizing Daniken’s appeal to mysterious past with Sitchin’s quasi-religious evocation of the aliens’ return.

  • Even began fundraising for human cloning…and Brigitte Boiselier claimed success (though no proof ever presented) (Clonaid lab in WV). The FDA and US gov’t stepped in and raided the lab (though they never disclosed how far Clonaid got in their research).

i.     This announcement also ignited a global debate about the ethics of human cloning

IV. Colavito’s Conclusions:

a)      Alien-astronaut theories are filled with circular logic and evidence being made to fit their desired “hypotheses”

b)      Our education system produces non-critical dupes who are susceptible to outlandish claims

c)      The rebuttals of fantastic theories never get the same amount of press.

d)      Our modern age, where old religion has been abandoned, has sought a new creation myth, and alien-genesis is a substitute.

V. Interesting tidbits:

  1. The movie Alien (1979) has been said to evoke the atmosphere of HPL, specifically his story At the Mountains of Madness.  Alien was based on the film The Thing from Another World (1951) which in turn was based on the story Who Goes There? (by John Campbell in 1938).  Many argue that Campbell rewrote HPL’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936), thus coming full circle.
  2. HPL flirted with converting to Islam in his youth, and briefly went by the name Abdul Alhazred after reading 1001 Arabian Nights.  Of course, later in his writing career, HPL would name the “mad Arab Abdul Alhazred” as the author of the dreaded Necronomicon.  


H.R. Giger's version of the Necronomicon.