One note on the Theosophists: there was a lot more (craziness) to them than just a vague idea of a "spiritual hierarchy." They also had a lot to say about the history of the Earth, including lost civilizations and bizarre ideas about the evolution and development of humanity. Robert E. Howard's Hyborean Age takes a lot of influence from the Theosophists. More relevant to Cthulhu, they were big on sunken continents: The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria
was a Theosophical book (compiled from W. Scott-Elliot's articles in a Theosophical magazine, if I'm not mistaken), and they also had some things to say about the lost continent of Mu, although they may have equated that one with Lemuria, I can't remember.
If you haven't read it, Jason Colavito's The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture
is an outstanding book that partially deals with this subject. One passage dealing with Theosophy founder Helena Blavatsky shows just how Lovecraftian some of their beliefs were:
Blavatsky's book claimed to channel the prehistoric Book of Dzyan, said to be older than mankind itself, though in fact it was an uncredited paraphrase of the Sanskrit Rig Veda, which, for interested parties, is believed to have been composed between 3000 and 2000 BCE. In it, Blavatsky told the world that eighteen million years ago boneless, rubberlike vegetable creatures lived on Earth. They evolved into an intelligent race four million years ago, and this race was described as "gentle." Then three million years ago a race of androgynous giants developed and created monsters when they mated with animals, spawning, of course, Greek myths about minotaurs, centaurs, and other hybrids. But by this frantic mating the pure essence of intelligence became trapped into a fleshy cycle of reproduction.
Claiming to have received channeled celestial wisdom from the spirit world, Blavatsky contended that the ethereal spirits had revealed that Lemuria was the homeland of humanity, the place of the first creation. Further, there were to be seven Root Races ruling the Earth in succession, of which humanity today was only the fifth. The fourth of these races were the Atlanteans, who were destroyed by black magic. Lemuria would rise and fall to spawn new races until the Seventh Root race, perfect in every way, would take its rightful place as master of the world. Lemuria, she said, was destroyed by a volcano, a popular way to get rid of unwanted continents in those days.
... although really, all that sounds much more like At the Mountains of Madness
than The Call of Cthulhu
Blavatsky's book also contains some decidedly Lovecraftian views on race
, that even tie in to the "degenerate" races who make up the Cthulhu and Dagon cults:
Mankind is obviously divided into god-informed men and lower human creatures. The intellectual difference between the Aryan and other civilized nations and such savages as the South Sea Islanders, is inexplicable on any other grounds.
South Sea Islanders... weren't those the folks who led Obed Marsh to find religion?
The Theosophists were more or less the state of pseudoscience and occultism in Lovecraft's time. Though he was an avowed skeptic and atheist, he clearly had some interest in what we would now call the "paranormal," as evidenced by his subject matter and frequent references to the crackpots and weirdos of his time (there's even a Charles Fort shout-out in "The Whisperer in Darkness"), and the influence of those old fringe nuts in HPL's fiction is huge. I suppose a modern equivalent would be the X-Files
, or maybe the Hellboy
comics, which weave a lot of paranormal shtick (and folklore, Biblical material, ancient Russian mythology, '30s pulp fiction, and a million other weird influences) into their stories.