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Author Topic: The Elder Sign  (Read 75198 times)
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« on: October 17, 2011, 05:52:02 PM »

So we've gone through nearly all of HPL's solo stories, and most of his revisions.

Where does the Elder Sign come in?

I'm not talking about the "star versus branch" debate. Those are just two different people's ideas of what it looks like. I'm talking about the sign itself as a literary device, its origin in the fiction of Lovecraft or his imitators, and where we as Lovecraft fans collectively get the idea that either a branch or a swirly pentagram is supposed to ward off alien horrors.

I mean, there are references in "Innsmouth" to a swastika-like sign that has some utility against the Deep Ones, though it isn't given a name. And there's a reference in the Dream-Quest to a farmer and his wife who, when asked about the gods, "would only make the Elder Sign and tell him the way to Nir and Ulthar," which doesn't tell us much, and also seems to indicate a hand gesture rather than a sigil of some kind.

As far as I can tell, these are the only references in Lovecraft to anything that could be construed as the "Elder Sign" we all know from... where do we know it from? The roleplaying game?

I sense August Derleth's hand in this, but does anyone have a more definitive answer? Maybe a specific story that introduced the idea, or that lays it all on the table?
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2011, 08:24:36 PM »

"The dark man’s face had a look of fear which he tried to hide, and Blake saw him make a curious sign with his right hand." ... "Then, looking down, he saw the few people in the square edging away and making the same sign with their right hands that the shopkeeper in the avenue had made." ... "They blessed each flash of lightning, and made cryptical signs of fear with their right hands when a turn in the storm caused the flashes to lessen and finally to cease altogether." -The Haunter of the Dark

I though here was a good origin for that. Granted, it comes in his last story. This does dove-tale in a vague sense to the Elder sign in Dream-Quest. I agree that the swastika-like sign made a lot of sense for the term as an icon, or maybe the star-shapes the Elder Things (Old Ones) were so fond of.
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« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2011, 07:31:54 AM »

[...] or maybe the star-shapes the Elder Things (Old Ones) were so fond of.

Well I thought that was derived from the fact that they had star-heads. And it said that they used the star-shaped stones as currency. So I thought it would be like our currency, where there would usually be people's heads on the coins.

I think we have the Elder Sign as a gesture in The Descendant and Haunter of the Dark (implied), whereas the Elder Sign in Innsmouth is more like something that can be drawn... but maybe they are the same thing, like the christian cross is in the catholic church?
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« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2011, 11:00:36 AM »

My point is, though, that none of those things are ever called "The Elder Sign." The only reference to such that I can find is in that line from The Dream-Quest that I quoted above. But there's nothing to suggest that the hand gesture made by the Dreamlands farmers has any connection to the Deep One-repelling swastika, or the gestures of the Polish immigrants around Federal Hill.

So we're left where we started. There's this idea in Lovecraft fandom of "The Elder Sign," this symbol that supposedly has the power to repel Lovecraftian nasties, that appears to be completely unattested in Lovecraft. Whether branch or star, the Elder Sign does not appear to be "canon," as far as Lovecraft's actual fiction is concerned.

Again, I sense Derleth's hand in this, and I think the game must have popularized it.

EDIT: After searching my Kindle (in CthulhuChick's handy Lovecraft e-book), I find that aside from the line in Dream-Quest, the only other mention of the Elder Sign in all of Lovecraft is in the fragment "The Descendant."

Quote
Gabinius had, the rumour ran, come upon a cliffside cavern where strange folk met together and made the Elder Sign in the dark; strange folk whom the Britons knew not save in fear, and who were the last to survive from a great land in the west that had sunk, leaving only the islands with the raths and circles and shrines of which Stonehenge was the greatest.

And that's it. No other mentions in that fragment, and one line in the Dream-Quest.

How about the collaborations and revisions?

Well, there's a throwaway reference in "The Last Test," stating that "even Surama shuddered, made an elder sign that no book of history records, and forgot to chuckle." While it does indeed contain the words "elder sign," it doesn't seem to be a proper noun. It's not the Elder Sign, but an elder sign -  and again, it's a hand gesture, not a symbol. Besides, everyone hates "The Last Test," and I think we can all agree to pretend it was never written.

There's a passage (attributed to Alhazred) in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" that refers to "the Evil that defieth the Elder Sign." No further details are given.

Again, that's all.

That passage in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" is as close as Lovecraft ever comes to the Elder Sign we know. The only places left to check, as far as "foundational" Mythos material, are Derleth's stories and "The Lurker at the Threshold," which I've never read.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2011, 01:45:35 PM by Genus Unknown » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2011, 03:47:19 PM »

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Sign

Yellow Sign
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Yellow Sign is a fictional symbol or glyph, first described in Robert Chambers' book of horror short stories The King in Yellow (1895).
 
Interpretation of the Yellow Sign created by Kevin Ross for Call of Cthulhu.

Contents
1 The King in Yellow
2 The Cthulhu Mythos
3 Call of Cthulhu
4 Other media
4.1 Literature
4.2 Film
4.3 Games
5 F. Tennyson Neely monogram
6 Notes and references

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow never fully describes the shape and purpose of the Yellow Sign. Nonetheless, "The Repairer of Reputations", one of the stories in the collection, suggests that anyone who possesses, even by accident, a copy of the sign is susceptible to some form of insidious mind control, or possession, by the King in Yellow or one of his heirs. The stories also suggest that the original creator of the sign was not human and possibly came from a strange alternate dimension that contains an ominous and ancient city known as Carcosa.

The Cthulhu Mythos

H. P. Lovecraft and many of his imitators were great admirers of Chambers' book and incorporated many of his characters and symbols into their own works. In the latter-day Cthulhu Mythos, developed by August Derleth and other Lovecraft imitators, the Yellow Sign is the sign of Hastur and is used by members of his cult to identify one another. In addition, according to many of these works one of Hastur's avatars is known as the King in Yellow.

Call of Cthulhu

In 1989, Kevin Ross designed a Yellow Sign symbol for the Chaosium roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu. Ross created the symbol for an adventure scenario entitled "Tell Me, Have You Seen The Yellow Sign?" in the supplemental book The Great Old Ones. The symbol resembles a yellow triskelion, and is also believed to resemble a tentacled creature, since Hastur is often described as an aquatic tentacled being similar to Cthulhu.[1]

Ross later stated in an interview that the image used is actually a corruption of his original drawing; apparently, Chaosium printed the image both upside-down and backwards. Flipping the image horizontally and vertically reveals Ross' original conception of the Yellow Sign, which resembles a coiled body or tentacle with two tentacles branching upward. Fans have pointed out that this image bears a resemblance to the "Kronos" symbol used by the band Blue Öyster Cult. When asked, Ross admitted to being a big fan of the band, but could not remember if the resemblance was deliberate.[2]

Other media

Literature


In Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy, the Cult of the Yellow Sign is offered to one detective as a concocted explanation of human history. The cult supposedly worships cthulhoid entities known as lloigor, commits human sacrifice, and has striven throughout history to suppress rationalism. The cult is opposed by the rationalist Illuminati.

Film

Independent film director Aaron Vanek shot The Yellow Sign in 2001, inspired by the Robert W. Chambers story of the same title. Like H. P. Lovecraft, Chambers is a difficult author to adapt to film. The book The King in Yellow which contains the short story "The Yellow Sign" is a set of loosely connected stories about sensitive individuals discovering an obscure play, "The King in Yellow", then becoming obsessed with the horrific otherworldliness. The emphasis is less on plot and characterization than on creating an eerie, disturbing atmosphere.

Vanek, with colleague John Tynes of Pagan Publishing, took the sketchy plot of Chambers' story and built a more complete screenplay around it, while still capturing the proper weird, disconnected, dream-like fantasy feel.

The film was distributed by Lurker Films at the end of 2006 as part of the Weird Tale Collection Volume 1.

See Lurker Films and the original website Web Noir.

Games

The Yellow Sign is the symbol used to designate the Hastur Faction in the Call of Cthulhu Collectible Card Game.
The Yellow Sign is also a "tome of magic" in the Old World of Darkness of White Wolf.
The Yellow Sign is depicted on the cover of the Unknown Armies supplement Postmodern Magick.
The Yellow Sign is used by cultists in Green Ronin's Freeport d20 System setting, and a similar cult in the same company's Freedom City setting for Mutants & Masterminds.
The Yellow Sign is used by the country Carcosa in the Darkon Live Action Roleplaying warclub as their country's symbol.
The Yellow Sign is used in the custom dice game Cthulhu Dice by Steve Jackson Games. When the Yellow Sign is rolled the targeted player must give up a sanity token to Cthulhu.

F. Tennyson Neely monogram

The first edition of The King In Yellow was published in 1895 by F. Tennyson Neely, and featured a picture of a lizard on the cover with a stylized symbol in the upper left corner. The symbol has mistakenly been cited as the Yellow Sign, but it is a monogram of F.T.N. - the publisher's initials. The same monogram and lizard appear on other early editions of books published by F. Tennyson Neely as part of their "Neely's Prismatic Library" series.

Notes and references
^ "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?". The Great Old Ones. 1989. Chaosium Inc.
^ Forums - Yog-Sothoth for Lovecraft & Cthulhu

---------------------------------------------------------

Old Book comments:

I think HPL and other writers in the Weird Tales stable played around with the idea. In HPL the sign has to be two things: a hand gesture used to ward off evil, evil magic or the Gods from Aoutsaid, or something, and a glyph, an ancient symbol, perhaps a spiral, a swastika, a cross, a pentagram or something rather simple like these. At the simplest level, the hand gesture functions as a cross made over the heart by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, while the glyph contains the same sort of potency as a crucifix in warding off evil spirits.
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2011, 05:28:12 PM »

That's the Yellow Sign. Close, but no Elder Cigar.

Damn. It seems I'm going to have to actually read a bunch of August Derleth stories to get to the bottom of this.  Undecided
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2011, 08:33:48 AM »

I think you need to contact Chad and Chris about this one. And I only say that because I remember that it was in fact discussed in the podcast once before, though I cannot remember which episode. As I recall, the Elder Sign was discussed in some of Lovecraft's correspondences and not so much in actual descriptive writing in the stories. If I remember correctly, Derleth changed it up to be the star-shape as opposed to the tree-shape to make it more accessible to fans, thinking it would be easier to represent and a bit more sinister in appearance. And OldBook beat me (once again) to the punch about he Yellow Sign. I do recall it being described as swastika-like in the "King in Yellow" and I think HPL includes it in Innsmouth as a tip of the hat to Chambers.

So you may be looking in the wrong place for your answer, Genus Unknown. I think in this case, the whole thing has been batted around by other writers, attributed to Lovecraft, and then spread around through the RPG. However, when you do get your answer,please post it here.

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« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2011, 09:07:05 AM »

Eureka!

Quote from: August Derleth, 'The Lurker at the Threshold'
"The Elder Sign, the mark of those Elder Gods whose strength against the Great Old Ones is absolute, the mark the Great Old Ones fear and hate."

And more information on the creation of the Elder Sign here, from good ol' Robert M. Price:

Quote
Derleth seems, then, to have picked up on the "Old Ones' sign" from "The Shadow over Innsmouth", described it in terms of the Antarctican star-stones of At the Mountains of Madness, and adopted the nomenclature of the "Elder Sign" from The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key".

So I was right: Derleth took a few lines and signs from different Lovecraft stories and melded them together into one thing, the famous Elder Sign.
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« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2011, 10:53:54 AM »

Ah, Derleth, the chopper in a hopper, the manly Mythos cuisinart.
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2011, 05:03:02 PM »

Genus:--

Doubtless you are right and the Yellow Sign is related only as a tangent. I would like to tell you the Derleth stories you perhaps seek are available on-line at library nu with a dot/da'ath between these two elements and that Derleth makes extensive use of the talisman in The Witches' Hollow.

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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2011, 09:20:31 PM »

So we know where it comes from now on to the more important question:

Star or Twig!?


I vote star.
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« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2011, 09:53:56 PM »

So we know where it comes from now on to the more important question:

Star or Twig!?


I vote star.

Which one can be made into a cryptical hand sign?
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« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2011, 07:45:10 AM »

So we know where it comes from now on to the more important question:

Star or Twig!?


I vote star.

I pretty much have to vote Twig.
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« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2011, 08:40:05 AM »

Wow, nothing like being prepared, is there? Shocked

Bob
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« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2011, 09:44:15 AM »

What, no swastika?
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