The Teeming Brain Podcast #1: “Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror”

Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft


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Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror

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Do nihilism and cosmic meaningfulness stand in fundamental tension with each other at the heart of the horror genre? Were Lovecraft and Machen getting at fundamentally different moral, aesthetic, and metaphysical points with their respective horror stories? Does the (possible) tension between Lovecraftian cosmic horror and Machenian sacred terror constitute a fault line running right through the center of the horror genre and impacting its literature and cinema today?

These are the questions driving this first-ever Teeming Brain podcast, which has been, if you count back to the blog’s original launch, six years in the making. More immediately, it was recorded between November 20 and 28, 2012. Its origin can be found in three items: first, an article titled “Meaning to the Madness” — about Lovecraft, Machen, and the moral and philosophical ideas playing out in the current horror movie scene — written by Christian horror novelist Jonathan Ryan and published in Christianity Today; second, a response to and rebuttal of Ryan’s argument by Teeming Brain founder Matt Cardin in “Cosmic Horror, Sacred Terror, and the Nightside Transformation of Consciousness“;  and third, the vigorous conversation that grew up around that response both here and at Thomas Ligotti Online. There is also, fourth, John Morehead’s suggestion that this could all be turned into a stimulating podcast.



This debut episode presents a roundtable featuring eight authors and thinkers in the areas of horror, philosophy, and religion, all of whom engage the questions described above plus a whole lot more.

  • Peter Bebergal, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and author of the widely praised memoir Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood.
  • Matt Cardin (host), founder and editor of The Teeming Brain and author of Dark Awakenings, Divinations of the Deep, and the forthcoming To Rouse Leviathan.
  • Nicole Cushing, author of the forthcoming horror novella Children of No One and the trippy bizarro fiction collection How to Eat Fried Furries.
  • Richard Gavin, author of the numinous horror collections At Fear’s Altar and The Darkly Splendid Realm and the Teeming Brain column Echoes from Hades.
  • T. E. Grau, fiction editor at Strange Aeons, author of the Teeming Brain column The Extinction Papers, and co-author (with his wife, author/editor/screenwriter Ives Hovenessian) of the forthcoming horror fiction collection I Am Death, Cried the Vulture.
  • John W. Morehead, Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, creator of the blog Theofantastique (“A meeting place for myth, imagination, and mystery in pop culture”), and co-editor of The Undead and Theology.
  • W. Scott Poole, Associate Professor of History at the College of Charleston and author of Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting.
  • Jonathan Ryan, author of “Meaning to the Madness,” the highly praised supernatural/spiritual horror novel The Faithful (as Jonathan Weyer), and the forthcoming urban fantasy novel 3 Gates of the Dead.
Image via Tartarus Press, from “Arthur Machen vs. H.P. Lovecraft

About The Teeming Brain

The Teeming Brain is a blog magazine exploring the intersection of religion, horror, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, and culture. It also tracks apocalyptic and dystopian trends in technology, politics, ecology, economics, the arts, education, and society at large.

Posted on November 30, 2012, in Arts & Entertainment, Podcasts, Religion & Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this discussion, Matt. It was a great one, and I think with all the issues raised and contrary positions related to them, we’ve only scratched the surface on this important topic.

  2. There is no contradiction or dichotomy between Machen and Lovecraft. In Lovecraft’s own life was a stigma of mental illness that belonged to him and moved him deeply. He felt rejected by society. He had terrible nightmares of the visions he transcribed, as Guilermo Del Torro said of Machen, into his fiction. Lovecraft’s fiction is not constructed in a material way. Lovecraft’s materialism simply means that the sacred is material and not spiritual or immaterial. If there is an illusion of immateriality it is merely an illusion to human eyes, and some hidden laws are being utilized. Monsters like Cthulhu are an overlay overtop of a deeper sacred terror inherent in folklore, and stories like Tales Of The 1001 Arabian Nights, that he adored as a child.

    “I consider the use of actual folk-myths as even more childish than the use of new artificial myths […] I refer to the aesthetic crystallization of that burning & inextinguishable feeling of mixed wonder and oppression which the sensitive imagination experiences upon scaling itself & its restrictions against the vast & provocative abyss of the unknown. This has always been the chief emotion in my psychology […] from which very few sensitive persons are wholly free […] [A]ll my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large […] Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. [W]hen we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown – the shadow-haunted Outside – we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.” – H. P. Lovecraft

  3. The only way this podcast could have been better is if it had used the theme music from William F. Buckley’s old “Firing Line” PBS TV show as the intro (you know, to better-establish that we’re all classy an’ stuff) 😉

    (seriously, loved the intro as-in)

  4. I wanted to leave a short note of praise for the podcast. very interesting discussion and I thought everyone spoke well – I will have fun thinking about the ideas and re-reading Arthur Machen to remind myself of his work. I also thought the podcast itself was very, very well produced, especially if it was your first one. the discussion stayed on topic, speakers sounded well briefed, people got a chance to rebut what other people had said about them and (very importantly for me, with dodgy hearing) you had the levels right, no-one was too quiet and everyone was equally ‘present’ to the listener. thanks very much! a lot of work obviously went in to this.

  5. I really, really enjoyed listening to this.

    Thank you, Matt, for putting this together, thank you John, for inspiring the idea, and thanks to all who participated.

    Such a sharp group, and should I be lucky enough to be involved again, I’ve certainly gotta’ step my game up to keep my eyeline above the tabletop.

  6. Thanks a lot for this podcast, it was very interesting, I had a lot of fun listening to it while taking one of my usual long walks. Will there be a chance for the Teeming Brain podcasts to be available via itunes anytime in the future?

    Thanks! And congratulations!

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