In the last post I reviewed examples of technology used in early 20th century horror fiction to conjure egregore-like entities. The basic plot of these stories involved a narrator whose doomed friend summons dangerous beings using an invention. The device augments human visual perception, though other sensory apparatus may come into play. An underlying assumption in these stories seems to be that egregoric phenomena become hazardous only when humans become able to detect them, pay attention to them, and interact with them. This is how they get stronger and become able to manifest their own agenda, often carnivorous in nature.1
Thinking of fictional characters like Crawford Tillinghast (“From Beyond”) and Jean Averaud (“The Devotee of Evil”) reminded me of a Wiccan associate of mine. This is someone very passionate, nearly evangelical, about making contact with supernatural entities, a preoccupation of his since early childhood. (Can this be some sort of archetype? Don’t we all have a friend or associate who dabbles in more extreme ideas and behaviors than we would care to, yet fascinates us just for that reason?)
A frequent attendee at local occult conferences, he claims to have a gift, present since age five, which allows him to see “the other side”, including the beings that reside there. It began with visions of enormous spiders that no one else could see. He was certain these visions constituted visitations from a world beyond ours. Sometimes when he and I would meet he would suddenly break off our conversation, point at a corner of the room and say “Did you just see that?” (I had not.) “They’re here” he would conclude. This habit of his was disquieting at first, though eventually became merely annoying.
To augment his natural talents, he has a wooden box of various devices that measure subtle changes in magnetism, air pressure, electromagnetic radiation, temperature and other factors that indicate the presence of them. The devices are inexpensive versions of equipment one might see on TV shows like Ghost Hunters or SurrealEstate. They are the descendants of sensory enhancements not unlike the devices that appeared in the stories by Lovecraft, Smith and Hodgson.
In this way the veneer of technology gives at least the perception of objective science being applied to what is subjective experience. In a similar way, the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson reviewed previously show the gradual absorption of a more scientific and materialistic world view into weird fiction circa the 1920s and 1930s—a process that continues today. Perhaps authors at the time felt that the credibility of their stories needed ever larger doses of technology and scientific theorizing to remain convincing, in the decades preceding the Golden Age of Science Fiction.
Insofar as our faith in science remains stronger than our supernatural sensibilities—which seems less and less the case these days—we turn to science to ratify what we suspect and fear is already true. The lure of the supernatural world beyond our senses, beyond objectivity, remains strong. Maybe, as Colin Dickey suggests, this is a result of the relentless disenchantment of our world, now a century or two in progress, with the triumph of materialist and scientist world views.2 A temporary triumph perhaps, and one our restless hearts might seek to reverse.
But I am sympathetic and respectful of some of my associate’s scientifically outlandish claims, on the principle of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. (Or where there’s indeterminacy, there’s an egregore forming.) Why would these entities populate so much of our horror and fantasy literature if at some level we did not suspect, or at least hope, they might exist?
1This trope is still very common. I’m currently reading David Wong’s hilarious John Dies at the End (2009), a very lovecraftian take on the hazards of altering one’s perceptions to see what shouldn’t be seen. The protagonist and “John” partake of the “sauce”, a hallucinogenic substance that may be an entity itself, making them both gateways for something outside that wants to come in.
2See Colin Dickey’s fascinating book, The Unidentified (2020)