Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy H. P. Lovecraft Mardi Gras to You All -- Cthulhu Mythos Based Figures


The Mardi Gras season has about ended here on the Gulf Coast with Fat Tuesday looming in a couple of days.  This year Friday the 13th was followed by St. Valentine’s Day and just a few days later, Fat Tuesday will begin and signal the ending of the Mardi Gras season for 2015, so it seemed a post was in order with this plethora of diametrically opposing holidays. 

New Orleans is linked to one the most central of Lovecraft mythos stories, The Call of Cthulhu, which was written in 1926, but did not see print until February 1928 in Weird Tales.  Interestingly, Lovecraft didn’t actually visit New Orleans until June of 1932[1], eventually getting in touch with author and editor Edgar Hoffman Price at his apartment in the French Quarter near where Lovecraft stayed at a hotel.   Mutual correspondent Robert E. Howard had alerted Price via telegram to Lovecraft’s presence in the Crescent City and that led to a writer’s confab that lasted many hours.  I only wish we could have a transcript of their long conversations.  It’s just too bad that Robert E. Howard couldn’t have made that meeting in NOLA, but the stars just weren’t right. 
Well it wasn’t even close to Mardi Gras in June ‘32 when H. P. Lovecraft paid a visit to New Orleans.  But the weirdness and rule of inversion that is the soul of Mardi Gras just seems to lend itself to his writings nonetheless.  The human arbitrary temporal measure of days and times just don’t seem to work within the magic crescent of New Orleans so the fact that Lovecraft wasn’t in N.O. during Mardi Gras.   Synopsis of the story, Call of Cthulhu  
With all that said, to celebrate the 2015 Mardi Gras season, I put together a photographic ad hoc tableau of artifacts celebrating a H. P. Lovecraft New Orleans Mardi Gras and the looming end of the 2015 season in the mood of his story Call of Cthulhu.  Featured in this photo set is a 19th century Italian cast iron mask form for making traditional carnival masks, as well as a fairly old conch horn, typical of the Caribbean and used in certain rites not condoned in the Catholic Church.  In voodoo ceremonies the loa, Agwe[2] is called with one of these conch shell horns.   
Scattered about the photos about are some original Native American Gulf Coast potshards dating from before the “discovery” and colonization of the area by D’Iberville in 1699.  The flints are imports that the Biloxi Indians and other coastal tribes traded for with northern tribes, as there was no local source on the coast.  These also predate “discovery” so they are fairly old.  As background, I have included an interesting French contract document dating to the 1680s.  Although it has little to do directly with the proceedings, it just seemed too cool to not have in the photo, with its intricate stamps and the hand-laid paper.  A note to prop makers, the 300 year old paper is not yellowed nor does it look like the edges were burned.  Also in the picture is a (20th century modern) hand-hammered iron knife made from a single piece of iron with a dragon handle.  Although not old, it also seemed rather appropriate for inclusion in a Weird Fiction tableau. 
In the story, Call of Cthulhu, inspector John Raymond Legrasse[3] of the New Orleans police contacted the American Archeological Society in 1908 about a figure found, “in the woods and swamps south of New Orleans during a raid”.   Previously Legrass had captured some items from a voodoo meeting.  He led a party of police who found some “oddly marred” bodies used in a ritual.  But you know the story.  If you haven’t, you can download the story from the links below.  Consider that these items are from Legrasse’s collection made over a number of years. 
The swamp featured in Call of Cthulhu was supposed to be quite close to the French Quarter, just outside the original old walls of New Orleans.  This leads me to believe that the area suggested just might be near Chalmette, which coincidentally is the site of the Battle of New Orleans, which just so happens to have celebrated its bicentennial just last month on the 8th of January 1815.  The coincidences just seemed to be too good to pass up! There is an interesting military graveyard at the site dating from 1815 to the near present.

Anyway, most of the figures, icons, and the like in these photos were made by that ceramic artist Michael Moses, whose diversity shows in the plethora objects he has made over the years.  The rest of the items are a mix original artifacts, one of which is the voodoo related conch horn.  Some other items here are antiques dating from the time of European “discovery” or before.   The Mythos ceramic figures are made of pottery clay and fired at a high temperature (twice) and should last centuries, even when dropped in a swamp.
Mardi Gras has always had a wild kind of pre Christian flavor, so this assemblage seems to work out well in association.  I thought a cornucopia of Chthonian goodies would be a fine ending to the season.  The collection needed a little airing out so a photo shoot just seemed to follow.  Hopefully this will get folks reading HPL’s Call of Cthulhu, if they haven’t already or at least be amused by the assemblage of items, both original and spurious.  Keep on reading.             CoastConFan
Footnotes:
     [1] Info on Lovecraft’s visit to New Orleans http://mfkorn.blogspot.com/2009/02/new-novel-sold-and-mention-made-of.html and  https://tentaclii.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/lovecraft-and-new-orleans/
  
   [2] As a bit of coincidence, see also Kenzaburo Oe’s story, Aghwee The Sky Monster from his book, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1994).  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agw%C3%A9
Additionally, one of Michael Moses’ other pieces of pottery is called The Day he Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away (not shown).  Here's another one, the loa called Agassou, one of Papa’s Agwee’s crew, is in the form of a crab.  Now it just so happens that Agassou is close in sound to Sargasso – the place of giant crabs and groping tentacles in the novella, Boats of the Glen Carrig by William Hope Hodgson (see my post about same), whose influence on HPL is discussed therein.  This is all just happy coincidence and makes the story work even better by this bit of serendipity.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agassou  and  http://altreligion.about.com/od/symbols/ig/Vodoun-Veves/Agwe.htm .  Also Agwe's female counterpart is La Sirene, the siren of the seas, the conch horn also comes into play with this.  It doesn't take much of this kind of loose association to make it all appear to be part of the whole narrative. These kinds of random and weak association can enhance the backstory of a prop or in a RPG/LARP scenario sequence. 

    [3] John Raymond Legrasse, inspector of the New Orleans police from 1904 to 1916, after which he enlisted in the U.S. army.  He was discharged in 1919 after a tour in the military police and returned to New Orleans.  Born in 1874, in New Orleans, Legrasse was of Creole descent and educated at parochial schools and later at Tulane.  He was in the N.O. police from 1894 to 1916 and again from 1919 to 1927, after which he retired.  Legrasse passed away in 1932 and his estate funded the Legrasse Endowment for Cultural Studies in 1932.  The collection was housed in a private residence for years.

Some links of interest to you Lovecraft and New Orleans fans

CoC RPG ref  Sourcebook for New Orleans   http://www.yog-sothoth.com/wiki/index.php/The_New_Orleans_Guidebook





An kickstarter article about a NOLA-based CoC set of RPG scenarios   https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/goldengoblinpress/tales-of-the-crescent-city-from-golden-goblin-pres

An overview of some CoC RPG titles https://www.sfsite.com/11b/chao21.htm

Free downloads of the story, Call of Cthulhu

The complete works of H. P. Lovecraft for Nook and Kindle (free -- why pay more) http://arkhamarchivist.com/free-complete-lovecraft-ebook-nook-kindle/

The complete works of H. P. Lovecraft in PDF form (708 pages) free again -- https://maggiemcneill.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/the-complete-works-of-h-p-lovecraft.pdf

Some posts about the Cthonian inspired ceramic works of Michael Moses




Cthulhu reverse glass painting icon by Michael W. Moses  http://coastconfan.blogspot.com/2010/09/cthulhu-icon-painting.html


A little lagniappe:  An article by Robert Bloch, Poe & Lovecraft, 1973:  http://alangullette.com/lit/hpl/bloch.htm
 Text Copyright © by William Murphy, aka CoastConFan, 2015  
as well as some photos.

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