Jung and Lovecraft on Prehuman Artifacts
by Robert M. Price
copyright © 1982 by Robert M. Price reprinted by permission of Robert M. Price
Near the beginning of Professor Barton Levi St. Arrnand's thought-provoking study The Roots of Horror in H. P. Lovecraft, the author remarks that "[Carl Gustav] Jung is uncannily relevant to an understanding of the place and meaning of horror in Lovecraft's fiction. . . ." (p. 8). As if his own study did not admirably document this assertion, we will furnish further confirmation of it here. St. Armand notes a parallel between one of Jung's own dreams and the main sequence in "The Rats in the Walls" that is so startlingly close that, were it not for other obstacles, one would have to posit literary dependence. In the present notes, we want to focus on another arresting Jung-Lovecraft parallel. In fact the very chill of surprise discovery one feels upon reading the parallel materials side by side is itself reminiscent of our theme --- the shock of unearthing artifacts from a prehuman era. We will observe the surprising similarities between dreams recorded by Jung on the one hand, and scenes in Lovecraft's fiction on the other. In light of these affinities, the significant divergences of interpretation supplied by both men will seem all the more striking. Eureka! The recording and interpretation of patients' dreams played quite as important a role in Jung's version of psychoanalysis as it did in that of his estranged mentor Freud, though the roles were very different. Freud tended to see dreams as Morse Code tappings from the repressed libido in the subconscious, while Jung viewed them as reflections of a set of "archetypes" --- basic categories and images passed down via racial memory and forming a vast pool of instinctual lore. This he called the "collective unconscious". It might be thought of as a sort of psychological version of Plato's "realm of forms". These archetypes surfaced in modern dreams as well as in ancient myths and fairy tales. Jung was particularly fond of researching the role of the archetypes in various branches of arcana, including ancient Gnosticism and medieval alchemy. In fact, their psychological relevance led Jung to take these branches of occultism with more than a historian's seriousness. Freud once sarcastically recalled the good old days of his acquaintance with "Jung at a time when this investigator was a mere psychoanalyst and did not yet aspire to be a prophet. . . ." (A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, p. 280). Indeed, one might be tempted to dub Jung the only respectable occultist! Yet wherever his theorizing began to slip into genuine occultism, it ran up against the skepticism of his colleagues. Besides the disdainful words of Freud quoted immediately above, another sample of this scholarly caution was the cool reception met by Jung's speculations on "synchronicity", a postulated principle of "acausal connection" that would account for the astonishingly "meaningful coincidences" we all experience at one time or another. Despite the apologetical efforts of Ira Progoff (Jung, Synchronicity, and Human Destiny), this notion is still not taken very seriously by anybody except dyed-in-the-wool occultists. At any rate, it is in Jung's tract Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle that we find the dream accounts which concern us.
87-88). [He entered] a cave. but then had to admit that the columns were continued far back into the living rock and must therefore have come into existence without the help of man. bas-reliefs. when they discover the deserted city of the Old Ones in Antarctica. cast adrift.
. and vast dinosaurs roamed the tropical steppes of Europe and Asia" (p. At the top of a steep slope he came to a ridge of rock honeycombed with holes. pp. On top of each column was a dark brown human head with large eyes. and impressions..to the lower Eocene or upper Cretaceous --and contained bas-reliefs of an artistry surpassing anything else . at the back of which a cluster of columns could be seen in the living rock. . and its position in an abyss which had yawned at the bottom of the sea since the world was young. . That it was merely a gigantic piece of stone. there is art as well as architecture. He reflected that the rock was at least half a million years old and that the artifacts could not possibly have been made by human hands" (Synchronicity. memories. I soon assured myself. i. . and astronomical features. biological. . "The sculptures in the building we entered were [carved] perhaps two million years ago --. Jung's "dreamer was in a wild mountain region where he found contiguous layers of triassic rock. but I was conscious of a distinct impression that its contour and position were not altogether the work of Nature. Once ashore. carved with great care out of some very hard stone. . "Eocene". 54). for despite its enormous magnitude. . 55). . . In the short tale "Dagon" a sailor." (At the Mountains of Madness. "There could now be no further merciful doubt about the nature of the beings which had built and inhabited this monstrous dead city millions of years ago. "To form even a rudimentary idea of our thoughts and feelings as we penetrated this aeon-silent maze of unhuman masonry one must correlate a hopelessly bewildering chaos of fugitive moods. He loosened the slabs and discovered to his boundless astonishment that they had human heads on them in low relief" (p.as checked up by geological. . when man's ancestors were primitive archaic mammals. "The dreamer was walking in a wooded mountain region. and both note the age of the rock in terms of geological chronology --. . I perceived beyond a doubt that the strange object was a well-shaped monolith whose massive bulk had known the workmanship and perhaps the worship of living and thinking creatures" (Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. p. . 56). though they are of such great age that the architects cannot have been human. In the case of Jung's dream record. a human observer is amazed to find architectural specimens which definitely evidence intelligent design. . Lovecraft's Antarctican explorers find themselves facing an analogous aesthetic anomaly. The sheer appalling antiquity and lethal desolation of the place were enough to overwhelm almost any sensitive person. . like lignite. . Now we may proceed to another set of parallel vignettes which center more on such prehuman artistry than architecture. Note that in all three scenes. Much the same astonishment grasps the explorers in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.e. A closer scrutiny filled me with a sensation I cannot express."triassic". the sculpted heads. he espies "an object that gleamed whitely in the newly bestowed rays of the ascending moon. 87). that we encountered" (p. 5-6). seeks refuge on an island just pushed above the ocean surface by volcanic disturbances. Interestingly. pp.In one of them. "Cretaceous". The dreamer could hardly believe his eyes at first. One edifice hewn from the solid rock seemed to go back forty or possibly fifty million years --. both narrators find samples of a particular kind of carving.
A woman who had listened to a discussion on the theme of "self-subsistent meanings" heard someone present remark. . .)." The same night she had this dream: "In the garden there was a large sandpit in which layers of rubbish had been deposited. Finally. In all cases. Small.or Heaven knows how much more. It is a matter of hundreds of thousands of years --. They are mostly sandstone and granite. . . the inscriptions are the work of prehuman hands. . blocks or tablets are unearthed which bear markings on them traced there by no human hand. 17). but was ingrained in the stone. the similarities between Jung's and Lovecraft's accounts are surprising. . . Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?
. notwithstanding their prehistoric antiquity. that the clay fragments were. 404-405).but their contour and figurings were damnably puzzling" (n. The black was not painted on. they were "artificial" in the sense of being genuine "artifacts".Probably the most shocking prospect of all would be the discovery of actual prehuman writing or inscription. But this very similarity brings to our attention an equally important difference between the versions of Lovecraft and Jung. Their shape and markings were so queer that a few scholars hinted at artificiality. one of them radios this message back to the camp: "Have found peculiar soap-stone fragment about six inches across and an inch and a half thick. ." (p. .greenish. clearly. . another explorer makes a similar discovery in the Australian wilderness. . Returning again to Lovecraft's Antarctican archaeologists. In "The Shadow out of Time". "The geometrical square does not occur in nature except in crystals. Parenthetically. . Shaped like fivepointed star with tips broken off. . . p. slaty plates of green serpentine. . "I came on a lot of queer pieces of dressed stone perhaps 3x2x2 feet in size and weathered and pitted to the very limit." "I have some knowledge of geology. like the markings in an agate." "Without question we are faced with the remains of an unknown civilization older than any dreamed of before. Has curious smoothness and regularity. baked and carved plates rather than natural fossils of some kind. dug up from pre-carboniferous strata in southern England. Again. Lovecraft discusses "those debatable and disquieting clay fragments called the Eltdown Shards. whereas in the latter they have been put there by no hand at all. Similar marks were found on two or three other plates. Lovecraft's mention of "artificiality" does not seem intended to imply that the fragments were a hoax like the discoveries of the "Piltdown Man" (from which the name "Eltdown Shards" was derived) and the "Cardiff Giant". [W]hen l looked close enough I could make out some deeply carved lines despite the weathering. wholly unlike any visible local formation --. and made wild conjectures about them and their origin. from a time when no human beings could exist on the globe --. . . Lovecraft uses the regrettably ambiguous term "artificiality" to suggest. . but no evidences to place its period. . One of them had black squares on it. arranged concentrically. We find something like this in Jung's account of a friend's dream. They came. In other words. and can tell you that these blocks are so ancient they frighten me. 87). smooth depression in center of unbroken surface. in "The Challenge from Beyond". . as the context indicates. though one is almost certainly made of a queer sort of cement or concrete. Groups of tiny dots in regular patterns" (p. . In the former. In one of these layers she discovered thin. I don't like to think about it" (pp.
Jung affirms a universal meaning structure. According to Jung's theory. Far from showing humanity to be a meaningless ephemera.
. 88). This is important. while Lovecraft nihilistically champions humanity's insignificance as a mere collection of cosmic flotsam.All of Jung's examples seem to use the prehuman age of the artifacts to underline the fact that humans cannot have fashioned them. things are (or at least seem to be) altogether different. it is the capacity to encompass the world in thought. minds kidnapped from various expanses of past and future. On this reading.that of the very intelligence whose presence in ancient alien life-forms was supposedly so horrifying. They describe . a psychic hostage of the Great Race. or pseudopod. the narrator mourns the death of one of the recently-revived Old Ones with a kind of grudging admiration for the weird aliens. they were men!" (p. no one else is in view. . 90). The differences of physiology and even of planetary origin are seen as purely secondary and superficial. tentacle. but they most definitely were the work of intelligent claw. from this planet and that. Seen this way. even if unwittingly. "God. synchronous events (such as precognitive dreams) are psychic flashes which illuminate the archetypal structure of meaning resident in the universe as a whole. And besides human beings. Lovecraft has restored humanity (or at least intelligent life) to an effective centrality in the cosmos. . the narrator. The idea here is that "man is [n]either the oldest [n]or the last of earth's masters". For Lovecraft. what intelligence and persistence! . tells how he fellowshipped and conversed with the rest of the captive-intelligences. Thus. and no mere spatial coordinates. The discovery of prehuman or nonhuman intelligent races is envisioned as having the same kind of effect as the discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe. Note the profound shock and fear produced in Lovecraft's characters by these revelations. p. Lovecraft believed that humanity's ultimate insignificance in the face of kalpas of cosmic history would be made mercilessly clear by such discoveries as he described. As Emil Brunner stated. (There is even one of the Antarctican Old Ones on hand!) In both cases the idea is that there is indeed a continuity between all the races --. Lovecraft has come awfully close. a centrality which withstands any Copernican revolution (The Word of God and Modern Man. Lovecraft and Jung could not be further apart in their interpretation of the imagery of prehuman artifacts. Radiates. His prehuman artifacts were not made by any hand. Lovecraft winds up extending this epistemological centrality backward and forward throughout eternity. because Jung believes that the dreams all illustrate "the presence of a formal factor in nature. This is explicit in At the Mountains of Madness ("They were men!") and implicit in "The Shadow out of Time". monstrosities. In "The Shadow out of Time". that give humanity its centrality. star spawn --. vegetables.whatever they had been. and all intelligent entitles are seen to be fundamentally of the same stock. But there is another way to read Lovecraft's own images. to Jung's conception of a pattern of meaning throughout the universe. the meaningful coincidence of an absolutely natural product with a human idea apparently independent of it" (p. . . 33). Just as the medieval church was shaken by this catapulting of the earth to an insignificant niche on the periphery. In At the Mountains of Madness.