Nyarlathotep, also known as the Crawling Chaos, is a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe created by H. P. Lovecraft. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers and in the tabletop roleplaying games making use of the Cthulhu Mythos. Later writers describe him as one of the Outer Gods.
In the work of H. P. Lovecraft
In his first appearance in "Nyarlathotep", he is described as a "tall, swarthy man" who resembles an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. In this story he wanders the earth, seemingly gathering legions of followers, the narrator of the story among them, through his demonstrations of strange and seemingly magical instruments. These followers lose awareness of the world around them, and through the narrator's increasingly unreliable accounts the reader gets an impression of the world's collapse. The story ends with the narrator as part of an army of servants for Nyarlathotep.
Nyarlathotep subsequently appears as a major character in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926/27), in which he again manifests in the form of an Egyptian Pharaoh when he confronts protagonist Randolph Carter.
The twenty-first sonnet of Lovecraft's poem-cycle "Fungi from Yuggoth" (1929/30) is essentially a retelling of the original prose poem.
In "The Dreams in the Witch House" (1933), Nyarlathotep appears to Walter Gilman and witch Keziah Mason (who has made a pact with the entity) in the form of "the 'Black Man' of the witch-cult," a black-skinned avatar of the Devil described by witch hunters.
Nyarlathotep is also mentioned in "The Rats in the Walls" as a faceless god in the caverns of earth's center.
Finally, in "The Haunter of the Dark" (1936), the nocturnal tentacled, bat-winged monster dwelling in the steeple of the Starry Wisdom sect's church is identified as another form, or manifestation of, Nyarlathotep.
Though Nyarlathotep appears as a character in only four stories and two sonnets (which is more than any other of Lovecraft's gods), his name is mentioned frequently in other works. In "The Whisperer in Darkness" Nyarlathotep's name is spoken frequently by the Mi-Go in a reverential or ritual sense, indicating that they worship or honor the entity, and in "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936), the "hideous secret of Nyarlathotep" is revealed to the protagonist during his period spent in pre-cambrian earth by Khephnes, another prisoner of the Great Race.
Despite similarities in theme and name, Nyarlathotep does not feature at all in Lovecraft's story "The Crawling Chaos", (1920/21) an apocalyptic narrative written in collaboration with Winifred V. Jackson (aka Elizabeth Berkeley).
In a 1921 letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, Lovecraft related the dream he had had — described as "the most realistic and horrible [nightmare] I have experienced since the age of ten" — that served as the basis for his prose poem "Nyarlathotep". In the dream, he received a letter from his friend Samuel Loveman that read:
- Don't fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible — horrible beyond anything you can imagine — but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.
- I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in public halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts — first, a horrible — possibly prophetic — cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus. As I received the letter, I seemed to recall that Nyarlathotep was already in Providence.... I seemed to remember that persons had whispered to me in awe of his horrors, and warned me not to go near him. But Loveman's dream letter decided me.... As I left the house I saw throngs of men plodding through the night, all whispering affrightedly and bound in one direction. I fell in with them, afraid yet eager to see and hear the great, the obscure, the unutterable Nyarlathotep.
Will Murray has speculated that this dream image of Nyarlathotep may have been inspired by the inventor Nikola Tesla, whose well-attended lectures did involve extraordinary experiments with electrical apparatus and whom some saw as a sinister figure.
Robert M. Price proposes that the name Nyarlathotep may have been subconsciously suggested to Lovecraft by two names from Lord Dunsany, an author he much admired. Alhireth-Hotep, a false prophet, appears in Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana and Mynarthitep, a god described as "angry" in his "The Sorrow of Search".
Nyarlathotep differs from the other beings in a number of ways. Most of them are exiled to stars, like Yog-Sothoth and Hastur, or sleeping and dreaming like Cthulhu; Nyarlathotep, however, is active and frequently walks the Earth in the guise of a human being, usually a tall, slim, joyous man. He has "a thousand" other forms, most of these reputed to be maddeningly horrific. Most of the Outer Gods have their own cults serving them; Nyarlathotep seems to serve these cults and take care of their affairs in their absence. Most of them use strange alien languages, while Nyarlathotep uses human languages and can be mistaken for a human being. Most importantly, while the other Outer Gods and Great Old Ones are often described as mindless or unfathomable, rather than truly malevolent, Nyarlathotep delights in cruelty, is deceptive and manipulative, and even cultivates followers and uses propaganda to achieve his goals. In this regard, he is probably the most human-like among them.
Nyarlathotep enacts the will of the Outer Gods, and is their messenger, heart and soul; he is also a servant of Azathoth, whose wishes he immediately fulfills. Unlike the other Outer Gods, causing madness is more important and enjoyable than death and destruction to Nyarlathotep. It is suggested by some that he will destroy the human race and possibly the earth as well.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences - of electricity and psychology - and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of a nightmare.
—H. P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep
And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods — the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.
—H. P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep
It was the eldritch scurrying of those fiend-born rats, always questing for new horrors, and determined to lead me on even unto those grinning caverns of earth's centre where Nyarlathotep, the mad faceless god, howls blindly to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute-players.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls
What his fate would be, he did not know; but he felt that he was held for the coming of that frightful soul and messenger of infinity's Other Gods, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
There was the immemorial figure of the deputy or messenger of hidden and terrible powers - the "Black Man" of the witch cult, and the "Nyarlathotep" of the Necronomicon.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Dreams in the Witch House
The Nyarlathotep Cycle
In 1996, Chaosium published The Nyarlathotep Cycle, a Cthulhu Mythos anthology focusing on works referring to or inspired by the entity Nyarlathotep. Edited by Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price, the book includes an introduction by Price tracing the roots and development of the God of a Thousand Forms. The contents include:
- "Alhireth-Hotep the Prophet" by Lord Dunsany
- "The Sorrow of Search" by Lord Dunsany
- "Nyarlathotep" by H. P. Lovecraft
- "The Second Coming" (poem) by William Butler Yeats
- "Silence Falls on Mecca’s Walls" (poem) by Robert E. Howard
- "Nyarlathotep" (poem) by H. P. Lovecraft
- "The Dreams in the Witch House" by H. P. Lovecraft
- "The Haunter of the Dark" by H. P. Lovecraft
- "The Dweller in Darkness" by August Derleth
- "The Titan in the Crypt" by J. G. Warner
- "Fane of the Black Pharaoh" by Robert Bloch
- "Curse of the Black Pharaoh" by Lin Carter
- "The Curse of Nephren-Ka" by John Cockroft
- "The Temple of Nephren-Ka" by Philip J. Rahman & Glenn A. Rahman
- "The Papyrus of Nephren-Ka" by Robert C. Culp
- "The Snout in the Alcove" by Gary Myers
- "The Contemplative Sphinx" (poem) by Richard Tierney
- "Ech-Pi-El’s Ægypt" (poems) by Ann K. Schwader
Table of forms
Nyarlathotep has many forms (some literature refers to these forms as Masks and claims that he has a thousand of them) and is thus known by different avatars.
This table is organized as follows:
- Name. This is the name of Nyarlathotep's form.
- Region. This is the geographical location where Nyarlathotep's form is active.
- Description. This entry describes Nyarlathotep's form.
- Notes. This field contains additional information.
- References. This field lists the sources that contain references to Nyarlathotep's form. If the source is a story, it is denoted by a two-letter code—the key to the codes is found here. If the reference is listed as rpg it means a role-playing game was the source, with specifics included in a footnote.
- If an entry appears in bold, this means that the reference introduces Nyarlathotep's form.
Nyarlathotep's forms Name Region Description Notes References Ahtu Congo Appears as a gelatinous mass extruding golden tentacles. Ahtu's cult in Africa is composed of human worshipers of no hope, driven to insanity by being ill-treated and forced into encroachments by rulers and exploiters. Self-mutilation is a sign of the cult: all have amputations and terrible scars from near-fatal whippings and beatings. However, New World worship more resembles voodoo rituals. He can be called by a magical, golden bracelet, which is kept separated into two halves to prevent accidental summonings. rpg, UD Black Man England Appears as a hooved, hairless, man with pitch black skin and caucasian features. Nyarlathotep is worshipped by witch covens in this form. DW, FG Black Pharaoh Egypt Appears as a haughty Egyptian pharaoh wearing a brightly colored robe. The Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh worships Nyarlathotep in this form. DQ, rpg Black Wind Kenya Manifests as a devastating storm. — IK, rpg Bloated Woman China
Initially appears as a dainty maiden behind a fan, though the fan casts an illusion masking the true form of a large bloated tentacled humanoid who eats brains. The Order of the Bloated Woman worships Nyarlathotep in this form. rpg Crawling Mist Dreamlands Appears as a putrid, living fog. — EL Dark Demon — Appears as a larger version of the Black Demon yet more treacherous. Those who study the black arts are sometimes contacted by this avatar. In return for entering their bodies, the Dark Demon promises them great rewards. Unfortunately, Nyarlathotep never makes good on this promise. KD Dark One California,
Appears as a pitch-black, eight-foot-tall, faceless man who can walk through any physical barrier. — MK Dweller in Darkness Wood of N'gai This avatar wails as it forms and reabsorbs random appendages. It has no face, but can take any shape it pleases for short time periods. — DD'
Nyarlathotep's forms Name Region Description Notes References The Faceless God Ancient Egypt Appears as a winged, faceless sphinx. This avatar has the ability to send its worshippers back through time. FG The Floating Horror Haiti Appears as a bluish, red-veined jellyfish-like creature. — AP The Haunter of the Dark Australia;
Providence, Rhode Island;
A bloated, batlike creature with a single, burning, three-lobed burning eye which appears able to kill by fear alone. This avatar is destroyed by light. Its most important cult is the Church of Starry Wisdom, based in Providence, which can summon the avatar using the Shining Trapezohedron. It is also worshipped by some modern Aborigines. Its other epithets include Face Eater, Father of All Bats, Dark Wing, Sand Bat, and Fly-The-Light. CD, HD, rpg, S5 Howler in the Dark Wood of N'gai (somewhere in northern America) Appears as a hideous, howling giant with a tentacle in place of a face. Occasionally referred to as the God of the Bloody Tongue, or the Bloody Tongue for short. DD L'rog'g
Bat God of L'gy'hx
The planet L'gy'hx (Uranus) Appears as a two-headed bat (debatable). Avatar worshipped by the cuboid inhabitants of L'gy'hx and by a group of renegade Shan. IS, rpg Messenger of the Old Ones — Appears as an enormous black mass that seems to creep across the sky. This form is manifest only during occasions of cosmic importance, such as the awakening of Cthulhu. rpg, WA Mr. Skin Los Angeles Eight-foot-tall, pale silver, faceless imitation of a pimp. This avatar, appearing in the Los Angeles area, is closely associated with certain worshippers of Shub-Niggurath. MK
Nyarlathotep's forms Name Region Description Notes References Shugoran Malaysia Appears as a black human-like creature playing a horn. This form is worshipped by the Tcho-Tcho. They sometimes summon this avatar to punish offenders. BH, rpg The Thing in the Yellow Mask Dreamlands A creature clothed in yellow silk. This avatar is only known to manifest in the city of 'Ygiroth in the Dreamlands. Some claim that it is the lone occupant of the remote, unnamed monastery on the Plateau of Leng (see High Priest Not to Be Described). CE, FY, YG The White Man New England Appears as a blonde man in a shiny white robe. — NS
- In The Stand (the uncut edition) by Stephen King, Nyarlathotep is said to be one of the pseudonyms of Randall Flagg.
- In Haiyore! Nyarko-san Japanese parody light novels with romantic comedy theme. The heroine, Nyarko, is Nyarlathotepian alien who claims that her kin was friend of Lovecraft and become his inspiration of mythos.
- In Charles Stross' novel The Fuller Memorandum, the containment of Nyarlathotep in a parallel universe and the attempts of a cult to free "the Black Pharao" is the main focus of the plot.
- A 13-minute short film version of Nyarlathotep was released in 2001, directed by Christian Matzke. It was re-released on DVD in 2004 as part of the H. P. Lovecraft Collection Volume 1: Cool Air.
- "The Dark Eternal Night" from Dream Theater contains numerous references to locations and imagery described in the short story Nyarlathotep.
- Nyarlathotep also appears in the Megami Tensei series as a recurring demon and as a villain, particularly as the main antagonist of the first and second Persona games..
- Nyarlathotep is a boss in the game Cthulhu Saves the World.
- Harms, Daniel. "Nyarlathotep" in The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.), pp. 218–222. Oakland, CA: Chaosium, 1998. ISBN 1-56882-119-0.
- ^ HP Lovecraft, "Nyarlathotep", The Doom that Came to Sarnath, New York: Ballantine Books, 1971, 57-60.
- ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, December 21, 1921; cited in Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 18-19.
- ^ Will Murray, "Behind the Mask of Nyarlathotep", Lovecraft Studies No. 25 (Fall 1991); cited in Robert M. Price, The Nyarlathotep Cycle, p. 9.
- ^ Price, p. vii, 1-5.
- ^ Harms, "Nyarlathotep", The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, pp. 218–9.
- ^ Detwiller et al, Delta Green; Herber, "Dead of Night".
- ^ DiTillio & Willis, Masks of Nyarlathotep.
- ^ DiTillio & Willis, Masks of Nyarlathotep
- ^ DiTillio & Willis, Masks of Nyarlathotep.
- ^ Harms, The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, "The Floating Horror", pp. 222. This name was created by Harms.
- ^ DiTillio et al, "City beneath the Sands"; Petersen et al, The Complete Dreamlands.
- ^ Aniolowski, Ye Booke of Monstres.
- ^ Ross, Escape from Innsmouth.
- ^ GA Bunko Official Japanese site
- ^ Nyarlathotep (2001)
- ^ H. P. LOVECRAFT'S NYARLATHOTEP: The Official Website
H. P. Lovecraft WorksList of works · Dream Cycle Locations Characters Cthulhu Mythos deities Great Old Ones Outer Gods Elder Gods Cthulhu Mythos species Books about H. P. Lovecraft Legacy and influence Film adaptationsThe Haunted Palace (1963) · Die, Monster, Die! (1965) · The Dunwich Horror (1970) · Re-Animator (1985) · From Beyond (1986) · The Curse (1987) · The Unnamable (1988) · Cast A Deadly Spell (1991) · The Resurrected (1992) · The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1993) · In the Mouth of Madness (1994) · Necronomicon (1994) · Witch Hunt (1994) · Bleeders (1997) · Cthulhu (2000) · Dagon (2001) · Beyond Re-Animator (2003) · The Call of Cthulhu (2005) · H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch-House (2005) · Cthulhu (2007) · 'The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) Other adaptationsCall of Cthulhu RPG (1981) · Arkham Horror (1987) · Shadow of the Comet (1993) · Prisoner of Ice (1995) · Anchorhead (1998) · Unspeakable Vault (of Doom) (2003–present) · Call of Cthulhu Living Card Game (2004) · Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005) · Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End (unreleased) · Trail of Cthulhu (2008) Associated peopleAmbrose Bierce · Algernon Blackwood · Clive Barker · Robert Bloch · Ramsey Campbell · Lin Carter · Robert W. Chambers · August Derleth · Lord Dunsany · C. M. Eddy, Jr. · Robert E. Howard · S. T. Joshi · Stephen King · Brian Lumley · A. Merritt · Sandy Petersen · Edgar Allan Poe · Robert M. Price · Clark Ashton Smith Related articles
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