Episodes 104 -- 107: The Shadow Out of Time

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I did some additional research/reading and the reference to “Buddai” most likely originated from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  I was able to find the 1894 edition through google books and it mentions “Buddai” quite clearly.  

“The only idea of a god known to be entertained by these people is that of Buddai, a gigantic old man lying asleep for ages, with his head resting upon his arm, which is deep in the sand.  He is expected one day to awake and eat up the world.  They have no religion beyond those gloomy dreams.”  -Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1894.

In Joshi's “Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue,”  HPL quite clearly did own the EB; his edition was published in 1896 and was used for reference in a number of his stories; I think it is safe to assume that the entry on Australia for 1894 is similar to the 1896 edition as I checked the entries about Australia in the 1878 and 1902 editions and the reference to “Buddai,” Grey and Eyre were the same.  (old book,  I do think the catalogue of Lovecraft's Library is incomplete; something Joshi does indicate as well.)
After some additional reading to confirm for myself the likelihood that HPL did use the EB, it is pretty clear HPL became increasingly aware of the limitations of the EB, despite his frequent use of it as a resource for his fiction; he is documented in letters asking for good occult texts that he could use as reference since he found the EB lacking.  By the time he had written Shadow Out of Time, he most probably would have looked for additional texts on Australia to help flesh out the descriptions of Australia for his writing.   I am able to prove that there is a slight, but tangible link to Lang, but not to Mathew.

The 1894 EB entry for Australia, mentions two sources for information on the aborigines.  Sir George Grey and John Eyre both headed expeditions to explore the western part of Australia and published books on their experiences.   Dr. Rev. Lang is mentioned briefly in an article about Queensland.  I am fairly comfortable this is the same Lang who wrote “Queensland, Australia,” as apparently John Dunmore Lang was considered to be a bit of activist and it is in the context of activism he is mentioned under the Queensland entry.   I find it interesting to note that until the last half of the 19th century, western Australia was really one of the last great unexplored lands of the world.  I can understand why HPL would place his story here.

Neither Eyre or Grey mention “Buddai;” despite this, both men go into considerable detail regarding the life, beliefs, and culture of the aborigines.  However, Grey did correspond with John Dunmore Lang about his thoughts on the aboriginal ideas of property and possessions and the letter from Lang is included in volume 2 of the books authored by Grey.   More importantly, though Mathew does mention “Buddai,” he omits the description of  Buddai waking up to devour the world, a point that both the EB and Lang include.

I also can't find any reference to Mathew in the relevant books by Grey, Eyre & Lang; despite this, Mathew mentions all three individuals in his book “Eaglehawk and Crow.”

In comparing SOOT with “Queensland, Australia” and “Eaglehawk and Crow” there are number of parallels; some of these could very well be coincidence, but they are interesting and I think worthy of discussion.

The basic premise of SOOT is the idea that the Great Race can send their souls across the great reaches of time and space to inhabit the bodies of other races; while the souls of the other races are then sent back to inhabit the bodies of the Great Race.  I don't think that it is a stretch that HPL may have been inspired by the idea of reincarnation.  Both “Queensland, Australia” and “Eaglehawk and Crow” discuss this, but Lang discusses this in much more detail.

“I had not been long in New South Wales when I had reason to believe, that some such doctrine as the famous oriental doctrine of the metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, was generally received and held among the aborigines. In talking on the subject, however, with a number of intelligent persons throughout the colony, I found that it was the general belief of such persons that the idea had originated with their convict-servants, who, with no object whatever but merely to practise on the credulity of the natives, had persuaded them, in the convict-slang of the times, that 'black fellows, when they died, would jump up or rise again, white fellows, and that white fellows would jump up black fellows.'* I was satisfied with this explanation for a time; but I found, at length, that it was not satisfactory, as at different periods in the history of the colony, and in widely distant localities, particular white men had been recognised (or, at least, supposed to be so) by the blacks, as deceased black men, whom they knew and named, returned to life again; and the feeling with which they were known to regard such persons convinced me that the idea had not originated with the convicts at all.  Shortly after the first settlement of New South Wales, a runaway convict, of the name of Wilson, who had lived for years
among the aborigines, was supposed, by the tribe in which he was naturalised, to be a particular deceased native, whom it seems he resembled, and whose mother was then living, returned to life  again. The poor old woman believed it herself, and adopted the runaway as her son ; and as Wilson, who, it appears, was an artful fellow, found it his interest to keep up the delusion, he was at no pains to undeceive her.
In September, 1790, five convicts seized a small boat, with the intention of escaping, if possible, from the colony; but after suffering much hardship and privation, they were at length driven ashore at Port Stephen, about 100 miles to the northward of Sydney. They were kindly received by the natives, and, as
Colonel Collins informs us,* on their own authority, — for it appears they were discovered, and brought back to Sydney, several years thereafter — " they were never required to go out on any occasion of hostility, and were, in general, supplied by the natives with fish, or other food. They told us that the natives appeared to worship them, often assuring them, when they began to understand each other, that they were, undoubtedly, the ancestors of some of them who had fallen in battle, and had returned from the sea to visit them again ; and one native appeared firmly to believe, that his father was come back in the person of either Lee or Connoway (two of the number), and took him to the spot where his body had been burned. On being told that immense numbers of people existed far beyond their little knowledge, they instantly pronounced them to be the spirits of their countrymen, which, after death, had migrated into other regions."*”
” -Lang, “Queensland, Australia”

“Prof. W. B. Spencer and Mr. Gillen have brought to light certain most interesting particulars regarding the totemism of the Arunta tribe of central Australia — notably, (i)f that totems are attached to localities, the totem of a child being determined by the place at which it was conceived. The reason given for this is that in the Alcheringa (a mythical period) one of the beast-man ancestors died at that spot; his spirit still dwells there, and enters into such women as conceive there, coming to life anew in the child ; the tree or rock which the spirit-child is supposed to have inhabited before conception is called its * nanja' tree or rock.” -Mathew, “Eaglehawk and Crow”

In SOOT, Peaslee discusses several aspects of the Great Race.  The Great Race does practice infanticide, and infanticide is mentioned in passing by Lang and Mathew.  The Great Race is loath to mention the Yithians in anything but the vaguest of references: “Members of the Great Race never intentionally referred to the matter, and what could be gleaned came only from some of the more sharply observant captive minds.”  I find this oddly reminiscent of the aboriginal practice of not mentioning the deceased by name; and again, both men discuss this practice.

Peaslee goes into great detail about the society of the Great Race, but not once does he discuss their religion.  A lack of religious belief appears to serve the purpose of underscoring the idea this Great Race is so well grounded in knowledge and science; it has no need for any gods.  
Lang has a similar regard for the aborigines, “The subject of religion, however interesting and important, is one upon which, unfortunately, there is little to be said in reference to the aborigines of Australia, and that little is entirely in the form of negation. They have no idea of a supreme divinity,
the creator and governor of the world, the witness of their actions, and their future judge. They have no object of worship, even of a subordinate and inferior rank. They have no idols, no temples, no sacrifices.  In short, they have nothing whatever of the character of religion, or of religious observance, to distinguish them from the beasts that perish. They live “without God in the world.””  

Although Lang disputes the assertion made by Forster about the indigenous tribes found on Tierra del Fuego, Forster's description sounds much like some descriptions used by HPL, “To the south of the straits of  Magalhaens, or Tierra del Fuego, are a tribe of people apparently much debased or degenerated from those nations which live on the continent. We found them to be a short, squat race, with large heads; their colour yellowish brown, the features harsh, the face broad, the cheek-bones high and prominent, the nose flat, the nostrils and mouth large, and the whole countenance without meaning.”  
In both SOOT and Polaris, HPL makes reference to the “squat yellow Inutos,”  and “the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west ...”  I am aware the link is weak here and the reference to squat yellow races may just be coincidence.  Another interesting coincidence is Lang's mention of Dagon more than once.

Despite my inability to find anything more that a tenuous thread of a link, “Eaglehawk and Crow” does share some tantalizing parallels to SOOT that are separate and distinct from “Queensland, Australia.”  Old book found some interesting things in regards in Mathew's description of aboriginal cave art and their similarity to descriptions of the Great Race in SOOT.  The location of one cave does not seem accidental when compared to the coordinates described in SOOT.  Mathew does spend some time discussing several examples of prehistoric aboriginal art, a few of which also appear to include a strange form of writing that Mathew believed he deciphered and may have also been of inspiration to HPL.  Of the cave art discussed by Mathew, their locations fall within Latitude 15° 20' South and Latitude 20° 37' South; and within Longitude 117° 14' East and Longitude 125° 36' East.  It does not seem a coincidence that HPL places the mythical ruins of the Great Race at 22° 3' 14" South Latitude, 125° 0' 39" East Longitude, but rather that he placed the ruins of his fictional story intentionally to give his fiction a feeling of even more authenticity.
Additionally, Mathew discusses aboriginal myths that bear some similarity to the description of the Yithians in SOOT.  In SOOT, “According to these scraps of information, the basis of the fear was a horrible elder race of half-polypous, utterly alien entities which had come through space from immeasurably distant universes and had dominated the earth and three other solar planets about 600 million years ago. They were only partly material - as we understand matter - and their type of consciousness and media of perception differed widely from those of terrestrial organisms. For example, their senses did not include that of sight; their mental world being a strange, non-visual pattern of impressions.”

The aboriginal myth of the Alcheringa Period is startlingly similar in that it refers to a group of shadowy beings that are not fully physical:  “The Arunta tribe in central Australia have an intensely interesting myth about the ' Alcheringa/* the earliest period to which their traditions refer. "At the very beginning of this there were no true human beings such as now exist but only ' Inapertwa,' that is, almost shapeless beings in which just the vague outlines of the different limbs and parts of the body could be detected. Two spirit beings who lived far away in the western sky and who were called ' Ungamb!kulla, , a word which signifies ' made out of nothing,' or ' self-existing/ came down to earth and transformed the Inapertwa creatures into men and
Another relevant passage can be found in discussion of the ghosts of the aborigines residing below ground level:  “A ghost was called a ' shadow,' and the conception of its existence was shadowy like itself. A general feature of Australian mythology is the peopling of deep waterholes with indescribable spirits.”
At least, from what I have reviewed, it appears that both Lang and Mathew were likely secondary resources for HPL in addition to the Ecyclopaedia Britannica.  I am at a disadvantage, I do not have access to the huge volumes of correspondence that exist from Lovecraft and his circle to confirm this, however, it is plausible that HPL could have come across Lang from a reference in Grey's book as mentioned in EB, and I am able to prove that the link exists.  Mathew remains more a challenge for me, how HPL may have come into contact with his book remains unknown, but Mathew does cite three of the authors mentioned previously and that may provide the link needed; and the information provide by old book is worth note and I strongly feel has great value in any discussion regarding SOOT, as well as to help prove that HPL used Mathew as a resource.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1894
archive.org id: encyclopaediabri03kell

Queensland, Australia, John Dunmore Lang
archive org id: queenslandaustr00langgoog

Eaglehawk and Crow, John Matthew
archive.org id: eaglehawkandcro00mathgoog

Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-West and Western Australia, v.2, George Grey

Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, etc., Volume 1 and 2, John Eyre

edit (minor spelling and grammar fixes)

Genus Unknown:
Quote from: starblazie on March 26, 2012, 09:19:02 PM

I did some additional research/reading and the reference to “Buddai” most likely originated from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Wouldn't be the first time. Didn't he lift the little black magic incantation from "The Horror at Red Hook" directly from EB?

Quote from: Genus Unknown on March 26, 2012, 09:46:20 PM

Quote from: starblazie on March 26, 2012, 09:19:02 PM

I did some additional research/reading and the reference to “Buddai” most likely originated from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Wouldn't be the first time. Didn't he lift the little black magic incantation from "The Horror at Red Hook" directly from EB?

Yeppers.  I believe it was after he wrote Red Hook he realized he needed better resources on the occult than what was afforded to him through the EB.  Both Joshi and Harms discuss the incident, but Harms quotes a letter to Clark Ashton Smith asking for recommendations on magical texts.  I don't think it is a stretch that to say HPL was smart enough to realize he would need to do this on all topics he felt deficient in, not just the occult or magic subjects. 

Chris Lackey:
Such scholastic joy on this thread! You guys rock balls.

old book:
Wow, starblazie, so he could've used all three as sources, plus the EB? If it were a long-term obsession, perhaps he consulted a newer EB at the New York Public Library, and perhaps that article mentioned Mathew in the footnotes, and he took notes for later, which he used to write SOOT very many years after he had left New York? The ex libris of the Mathew book I downloaded says it is from University of Michigan, so there were copies in the USA.

On the Tierra del Fuego passage, that caught my eye, too. If you combine that with descriptions of the Eskimo and perhaps NW Coast Salish or Tlingit, HP could model a "Turanian" race who were squat and "yellow-brown" living on the various fringes. And HPL puts his Inutos sometimes in the extreme south, and sometimes in the extreme north, if I remember right.

On Buddai's repose, if you sort of squint at the area of Western Australia around the coordinates for "Pnakotus" as Lin Carter later named the library-city, and ignore the place-names and just take in the physical relief, it's easy to imagine a guy sleeping with one arm strewn above his head toward the north coast.

I find the correlations between the description of the woman-inside-a-kangaroo cave painting and the Great Race too close to be a coincidence. Mathew supposedly deciphered the script above some of the other paintings as Sumatran I think, a Sumatran script for one of the Malay languages, right? That script does look very "cosmic" like something an alien might scrawl onto a rock face, say, an alien ca. 1974 or so. Almost "Klingon." And the Inuktikut syllabic script looks similarly "alien" like something you'd read on the side of a flying saucer.

On metempsychosis and all that jazz, it's a bit too general of a concept for me to think HP needed to take it directly from "Queensland, Australia." It seems like the bit about Buddai eating the world is an extrapolation of the myth that if he awoke and rolled over again, it would spell the end of the "blackfellows," at least locally.

Spirits of the dead or just spirits in water holes and a dark cthonic race slumbering under "Pnakotus" are not neccessarily connected, because this is sort of a common device in mythology and dreams and weird tales. It goes with the idea of "little people" living on the fringes, and "Turanian races" as well, I suppose. The other side of it is its emotional value in dreams of a personal nature where something wells up from beneath a foundation, usually signifying the emergence of previously-unconscious material in the psyche. What might be interesting is to compare the architecture in SOOT and HPL's Outsider. The same image of massive stones covering up portals to deeper and darker realms is used several times in DQ/UK. I believe HPL approaches those barriers from both sides, at various times, expressing a sort of sympathy for the beings on both sides of the barriers. If you take that idea further, could it be that the dark forces under "Pnakotus" set to destroy the Great Race--and who presumably did--were actually some sort of very ancient humans with fully-developed powers, third eyes, telekinesis, whatever? Or does the legend of Buddai tell us these beings are dangerous and even fatal to mankind?

Stellar work, starblazie. I know it's difficult without having access to more sources, but you've made great discoveries! Keep it up!


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