The House of the Octopus

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The House of the Octopus: Essays on the Real-Life ‘Cthulhu Cult’ of the Pacific edited by Jason Colavito.

Jason Colavito The House of the Octopus

Well, who knew? Jason Colavito has unearthed some late-19th-century accounts of cults involving an actual octopus god in the South Pacific. The sources are proto-anthropologists and scholar-missionaries, whose accounts often acquire the tone of a travelogue, and come close to the narrative tone used by some of Lovecraft’s scholarly protagonists. There is nothing here to contradict “The Call of Cthulhu,” and the notion of a sleeping-not-slain cephalopod deity is practically confirmed by these pages.

Of particular note is the Samoan temple ruin referenced in the title of the volume. The “House of the Octopus” (O le Fale o le Fe’e) was evidently distinctive for its stone vertical supports, a design otherwise absent in the island environment where plenty of trees were to hand for building pillars. Although the cuttlefish god continued to be reverenced, this site was already in long disuse by the 19th century, and the writers represented here had the opportunity of discovering it as a “lost” site (with the aid of knowledgeable locals).

Colavito has provided a rather minimal editorial service here, pulling the five source essays together into a single, brief volume that he has issued through lulu.com. His foreword provides little more than a reassurance that the materials are in factual earnest. He seems sure that Lovecraft didn’t know about the Samoan cuttlefish cult, but I have to wonder. See, for example, the reference to the Australian Buddai in “The Shadow Out of Time” for evidence of HPL’s study in this sort of material.

At some point, optical character recognition (OCR) was used to gather these texts, and they have suffered for it. Insufficient care was taken to eliminate artifacts like “rougli” for “rough,” and “cither” for “either” (both on p. 5, with many more to come). The cover design is attractive and appropriate, featuring a detail from an Enoch Arden engraving of 1869, and the book is a slim, convenient digest for the use of latter-day Miskatonic University students. [via]