“How little does the earth-self know of life and its extent! How little, indeed, ought it to know for its own tranquillity! Of the oppressor I cannot speak. You on earth have unwittingly felt its distant presence—you who without knowing idly gave to its blinking beacon the name of Algol, the Daemon-Star. It is to meet and conquer the oppressor that I have vainly striven for aeons, held back by bodily encumbrances. Tonight I go as a Nemesis bearing just and blazingly cataclysmic vengeance. Watch me in the sky close by the Daemon-Star. I cannot speak longer, for the body of Joe Slater grows cold and rigid, and the coarse brains are ceasing to vibrate as I wish. You have been my friend in the cosmos; you have been my only friend on this planet—the only soul to sense and seek for me within the repellent form which lies on this couch. We shall meet again—perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away.”
– H. P Lovecraft, Beyond the Wall of Sleep
For a man that openly denounced divinity and spat upon claims of spiritualism, Lovecraft was able to eloquently articulate one of, if not the most prominent, goals in the practice of eastern mysticism; however, a particularly rabble-rousing sect of the early (or as some modern scholars on the outlier of mainstream research theorize) pre-Christian groups, the Gnostic’s, also held the belief that we are all not as we seem to be. Time to break loose of those meat suits and travel to the stars.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep chronicles the experiences of a newly hired asylum associate enamored with the case of Joe Slater, a murderous and mentally handicapped patient. Though deemed a mere “denizens” of the Catskill Mountain region (correlated to poverty and a lack of a means of formal education) Slater seemed to, while in a violent state and under a most terrible trance, describe visions of burning lights, of space and of other realities that a man of his imaginative inabilities couldn’t possibly dream up. The intrigued intern attaches a device of his own making to the now dying patient that allows him to take part in the patients fleeting moments of life.
Undertaking a simultaneous astral journey, the undergraduate peers through the veil. Slater’s’ sacrilegious slurs now proven to be true, our narrator returns from Beyond as his biological spaceship, Joe Slater, is slipping away. The entity of light, which exist within even the most primitive of man in Mr. Slater, speaks the words quoted above. A lasting message of comfort. There exist, within the halls of our fantasy and the realm of dreams, a door that can be opened, albeit briefly for some, that can allow us to see Beyond that Wall. What we can only hope to grasp in dreams, death offers with no strings attached.
This is where Lovecraft dances to the heretical hymns of the Gnostic’s. There are many sources and debated claims attempting to pin down the Gnostic’s. In truth, it is an umbrella term we use to categorize the many branches of unorthodox practices of Christianity in early 2nd century (or perhaps earlier). Gnostic groups can be found throughout many lands during the time period. From Egypt, some filtered throughout the middle east while some made their way to Rome. All along their travels they adopted the rituals and practices specific to the regions they were inhabiting. A spiritual camouflage, if you will. The implications within Lovecraft’s story exist at the forefront of most (generalized) Gnostic beliefs:
- Within us exist a God and our biological bodies are their terrestrial prisons
- The world we inhabit is an illusion
- It is possible to ignite the divine spark within the self
- This false structure is overseen by spiritual overlords called Archons (Greek for ruler)
The role of the Archons is to keep our heavenly souls trapped within the material plane. Chief among the Archons is the demiurge, referenced as Algol, the Daemon-Star or “the oppressor” by Lovecraft. The demiurge is the supposed singular source of our cosmic confinement and enemy to us all. I can’t say that I blame Joe for wanting to drop some cataclysmic vengeance.
There you have it. The parallels present between Joe Slater’s journey from mad murderer to multidimensional deity and the path of Gnosis are clear. Another incident of ink seeping into the infinity and creativity creeping within the cosmos. An odd occurrence wherein fact and fiction fluctuate. It was Miguel Conner who said that Gnosticism lies between mysticism and science. I’d like to propose that, perhaps, it lies somewhere else. Somewhere far Beyond the Wall of Sleep.