Review: H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magick Tradition

By Allen Griffin

Steadman, John L.H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magick Tradition. Weiser Books (September 1, 2015). Paperback: 304 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1578635870.

The number of books dedicated to the intersection of H.P. Lovecraft and the Occult continues to grow with the release of John L. Steadman’s H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magick Tradition. Published by Weiser Books, an imprint of Red Wheel, this text emerges from a publisher focused on the Occult and esoteric subject matter.

Despite Lovecraft’s own philosophical stance as a strict Materialist, many have tried to link him with the Occult since he began publishing. For once, the author doesn’t really try to bridge that divide, but rather, sets out to illustrate how Lovecraft influenced various esoteric movements.

Overall, the text is very successful at this. Whether describing The Old Ones or recounting the various versions of the Necronomicon, Mr. Steadman’s Lovecraft scholarship is impressive. He exhibits an intimate knowledge, not only of Lovecraft’s fiction, but also his voluminous correspondence with others that provided insight into his thinking. He gives vivid explanations of several aspects of the Mythos and this alone seems valuable in providing insights into the various deities in the pantheon.

Equally, he is able to work through the difficult corpus of Kenneth Grant, Chaos Magick and Vodou, among others, and give the reader a basic understanding of the subject matter. I cannot stress how valuable a resource this is. Anyone who has attempted to decipher Grant’s Typhonian Trilogies or Michael Bertiaux’s Gnostic Voudon Workbook can attest to their density and difficulty. Many find these texts, particularly Grant’s, nearly unreadable. Steadman manages to summarize the concepts that drive these various traditions and give enough background in order to put them into some kind of context. H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magick Tradition is certainly a great primer for one interested in falling down this particular rabbit hole.

That being said, I do have one significant gripe with this book: the author is quick to attack others. Within the first ten pages, he criticizes Aleister Crowley’s definition of Magick and instead offers his own, no less controversial, definition in its place. He goes on to call out Peter Levenda, Kenneth Grant, UFOlogists, and others.

His criticism of Levenda and his book The Dark Lord is particularly troubling. While I certainly wouldn’t suggest whole-heartedly endorsing Levenda’s views, Steadman’s presentation of Levenda’s arguments seems oversimplified and incomplete. This aspect of the book seemed both unnecessary and mean-spirited. I wouldn’t want to divest Mr. Steadman of his own opinions, but their presence in the text came across as incongruous with the nature of this book.

Still, I believe there is great value to be found here. The lucidity and clear presentation of often-challenging material is top-notch. Cosmic horror authors looking to add a level of depth to the treatment of the Occult in their work could gain great insight from this book. Equally, someone interested in learning more about the intersection between H.P. Lovecraft and the Occult, or just wanting to figure out what Kenneth Grant was talking about, should probably start here. Just keep in mind that the author has some very strong opinions of his own.

Bio: Allen Griffin is a writer and musician living in Indianapolis, Indiana. His work has appeared in several places such as The Mustache Factor and Innsmouth Magazine, and in several anthologies — including Ominous Realities and Splatterlands, published by Grey Matter Press — and the Surreal Worlds anthology from Bizarro Pulp Press. He also plays bass for Profound Lore recording artists Coffinworm.