Lovecraft and the Christmas Star

In preparation for a new book on the Star of Bethlehem, I have been exploring popular culture and how it has been affected by astronomical theories of what the Star “really” was. In my studies, I have been down plenty of interesting rabbit holes, but I thought to share one I don’t think will make it into the book. That will be unfortunate, since it connects to the 20th century’s most influential horror author: H.P. Lovecraft.

There isn’t too much in the was for Christmas cheer in the Cthulhu Mythos, but one of Lovecraft’s early stories takes place (sort of) at Christmas. Published in 1925, The Festival has little in the way of traditional Yule-tide trappings, but it has plenty of Lovecratian adjectival utterances along with his creepy imagery. This was written and published before Lovecraft composed The Call of Cthulhu, so The Festival is very early in the history of him rendering his larger mythology. The themes of madness, a constant of his work, is the entire conceit of the story in which the entire tale is a fever dream based on a reading of the dreaded Necronomicon. However, there are a few interesting details from the story that are suggestive of the nature of Christmas.


First, the story begins by noting that what we call Christmas is “older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind.” (He suggests much the same in his earlier poem, “Old Christmas.”) But what about it that we associate with Bethlehem goes back so far in time? A clue may be the earlier mention of the star Aldebaran, the eye of the constellation, Taurus the Bull. We are introduced to Aldebaran in the story with it shining at the end of a snowy road to the the town our protagonist was traveling to. After he arrives, he becomes a part of a dark ceremony, part of which is a procession to a church. When the procession reaches the house of worship, Aldebaran is seen above just on the spire of the church roof, a sight that made our first-person narrator shiver.

Consider now: Aldebaran was first seen ahead on the trail to a town, and then it is again seen just above the place he was going to in an unholy procession. Was Aldebaran leading the way as the Bethlehem Star led the Magi? It seems to be more than a coincidence given the Christmas season of the tale and the earlier reference to Bethlehem itself. But if so, why would Lovecraft choose Aldebaran of all stars?

As an avid reader of science, especially astronomy, Lovecraft almost certainly knew the Richard Allen’s Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning (1899), a book that is still referenced today because of its rich collection of myths and stories about the constellations. This source book has a good, long discussion about Taurus and Aldebaran. Of particular note, Allen says that the Babylonians called Aldebaran “the leading star of stars.” So here then we have a leading star known as such since Babylon and now apparently like the light of Bethlehem. That seems purposeful. Additionally, the Dog Star (Sirius) is mentioned as ‘leering’ at the procession on its way to the church; Allen’s book says that Sirius was also known as “the Leader”. So the two named stars in Lovecraft’s story were known as leader stars, and Aldebaran in particular appears to act in that fashion.

The play on this part of the Christmas story is subtle, and so far as I can find no one in Lovecraft studies has made this connection. But I admit I an not enough of a scholar to know all the places to look. Nonetheless, it seems that H.P. was looking to make the rite of this festival an imitation and terrifying mockery of Nativity celebrations.


A New Source for the Star of Bethlehem? The Ragnarok Connection

As I continue to pursue as many connections as I can with my work on science, history, religion, and Christmas, I keep coming across new little things on the Star of Bethlehem. Years ago, I was told by a Mormon that the book from Joseph Smith includes two allusions to the Christmas Star (i.e., 3 Nephi 1:19–20). That usually isn’t considered an independent source, since most folks believe the Book of Mormon is a 19th century creation, not an ancient document.

However, I happen to come across a truly amazing, cosmic source I had not expected. By Odin’s beard! It was nay expected. For what was shown to have been was revealed by the Eye of Odin, overpowered by the Mighty Thor!

According to the ever-seeing Eye, there was a tremendous event that shook Asgard to its complete destruction, the unspeakable Ragnarok. What was shown by the eye was reproduced by the visionary master of art, Jack Kirby, in The Mighty Thor, Vol 1, No. 293 and the following issue. For the fiery destruction of heavenly Asgard was seen in the night sky 2000 years ago, producing the Christmas Star.


But… of course that is how it happened!

After all, it was shown to the Thunderer twice.


How could there be any doubt now? One would have to be a skeptic to not believe based on this testimony. Then again, I know of a good book on the subject…

Upcoming talk at MIT

This Monday, February 27th, I will be giving a talk for the Secular Society of MIT as part of a lecture series they are starting called Course 0. This will be a part of helping people engage in critical thinking on the subjects of science, religion, secularism, and many intersecting cultural areas.

As is usual for me, this talk will highlight my research on the Star of Bethlehem, and because of that Christmas theme, that means people will be wearing the ugliest Christmas sweaters they can. I encourage it! This does appear to be a public event, so let’s see who all in the Greater Boston area wants to come. I’ll also have my book available. Details in the FB link here.


God’s Not Dead 2.0 — Star of Bethlehem Edition

Last year there was a lot of news about a small movie with a strong Christian bent, but apparently its marketing strategy worked and got plenty of people, including atheists, talking about it. With a premise that some compared to the sorts of chain emails that have been around for decades, God’s Not Dead was all about how one person, steadfast in their faith, takes on the odds to argues against his atheist philosophy professor and convinces everyone that God is really for real. There are several other subplots all running together, and it has unnecessary cameos by Ducky Dynasty folks and pop Christian music. More noteworthy, the actor playing the atheist/sad-rabid puppy professor was Kevin Sorbo, best known for playing Hercules in the 1990s TV series. Critically panned and philosophically dubious (as shown expertly by Daniel Finke), it made plenty at the bank as various evangelical groups came to it in droves, and at least some secular folks had to see it if just to say they know what message it was trying to get across.

With the basic idea that academia is trying to force secularism onto everyone that attends, the underdog story has great appeal for those that want to say they are being oppressed or persecuted (even if it’s not so), and the formula is now being repeated. And in particular, it looks like one variant has come to my area of specialty. While not yet produced, there is a screenplay for a movie about the Star of Bethlehem, which again will run the premise of underdog Christian protagonist against political correctness in schools, at least according to what news sources I can find. It has gotten attention because it has received a newly minted award designed to highlight promising Christian or evangelical films, the “Chronos Prize”. The Star of Bethlehem movie was a finalist for best screenplay, and apparently it won a significant cash prize of $50,000. That may not be enough to get such a movie project off the ground (I have no idea what budget it needs), but the attention will probably bring in the investors.

The writers of the film are not nobodies either. Joan Considine Johnson was a writer for two major cartoons on Nickelodeon, among other projects. Her husband, Dave Alan Johnson, has also worked in the TV business as a writer, director, and other high-level jobs. Among other things, they both worked on the show Doc with Billy Ray Cyrus, father of Miley Cyrus. It looks like this current film is a family project (for now), since all three writers (including Gary R. Johnson) have the same last name. There is nothing on IMDB about a Star of Bethlehem film project from these three, nor by anyone else as best as I can tell. But again, that’s probably because there is only a screenplay right now and is likely to be produced not so much by Hollywood but other, independent companies. As for the content, the tiniest bit of blurbing I have seen is about showing the science behind the story and proving it’s true even to a secular public school administrator or teacher. I would guess that the particular theory it would rely on is the one from the Star of Bethlehem documentary by lawyer Rick Larson, to which I have already provided an extensive critique. I could be wrong about that, but given the obvious evangelical bent of the film and this particular documentary I would probably win a bet. And even if not, I have a book on the subject that would address the proposals anyway.

But will the movie actually get made? I’m sure there are thousands of proposals and screenplays written every year that go nowhere, so even with the current publicity I have no idea how much of a chance it has. And there is the most important question: will Kevin Sorbo return as the angry atheist professor? Because I know another atheist professor that knows a lot about the subject… 😉

A good piece about Carl Sagan

The new COSMOS is coming, and there are some really great pieces reminiscing about the late Carl Sagan. We all await to see his legacy continue this Sunday.

Why Evolution Is True

With Neil deGrasse Tyson’s presentation of “Cosmos” (produced by Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane) set to premiere this Sunday, people are harking back to the original “Cosmos” of Carl Sagan. That original ran for 14 telvision episodes at the end of 1980, and I remember it well. Sagan was mesmerizing, and his excited presentation didn’t seem an affectation, like that of some science gurus, but a true reflection of his personality.

One of the best retrospectives I’ve read is a piece in the new Smithsonian by Joel Achenbach,  “Why Carl Sagan is truly irreplaceable“. Have a read when you have some leisure time and (preferably) a good libation.

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff: about Sagan’s meeting with Timothy Leary, in prison for LSD use, about Sagan’s habit of dictating his books, and about his own prolific use of marijuana (I didn’t know that he was…

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Chinese Third Graders Fall Behind U.S. Students (The Onion)*

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice


CHESTNUT HILL, MA—According to an alarming new report published Wednesday by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, third-graders in China are beginning to lag behind U.S. high school students in math and science.

The study, based on exam scores from thousands of students in 63 participating countries, confirmed that in mathematical and scientific literacy, American students from the ages of 14 to 18 have now actually pulled slightly ahead of their 8-year-old Chinese counterparts.

“This is certainly a wake-up call for China,” said Dr. Michael Fornasier, an IEA senior fellow and coauthor of the report. “The test results unfortunately indicate that education standards in China have slipped to the extent that pre-teens are struggling to rank among even the average American high school student.”

“Simply put, how can these third-graders be expected to eventually compete in the global marketplace if they’re only receiving the equivalent of a…

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Upcoming Writing Projects

In less than a month, I will need to have gotten a lot done. The big thing that has been absorbing of time has by the work on my dissertation. It needs to be finished, defended, edited, and then submitted before the next semester starts. I think I’m on track, but the deadline looms.

A little less stressful is my book on the Star of Bethlehem should be getting ready to become a final draft and then shared with the world. I’m hoping for release in September or October at the latest. Fortunately my editor has been making it into the best draft it can be, and once published it should be the best book on the subject out there, IMHO.

Lastly, I have a book chapter that will be going into a response to the 1001 Inventions exhibit I talked about in the past (here and here and here). I will talk about the pedagogy of a good museum exhibit based on education theory, and I have my own idea on how to make something that teaches the history of science and better contextualizes and demonstrates medieval Arab or Islamic contributions to science.

But right now, time to focus on that dissertation. I’m supposed to write 100 pages to get one particular sheet of paper when I’m done.

Today, July 1st, Marks the 150th Anniversary of the First Day of Fighting at Gettysburg

Today until July 3rd marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle that effectively forced the Confederacy to no longer take the offensive in the American Civil War.

And it started about 7:30 in the morning, as our friends over at the blog of the Gettysburg National Military Park tell us:

It is described in the 2004 Gettysburg National Military Park National Register of Historic Places listing this way: “The building’s location on the crest of a ridge overlooking the Chambersburg Pike and Marsh Creek west of Gettysburg made it an excellent point of observation for Union pickets in the early morning hours of July 1, 1863. It was from the yard of the house that some of the opening shots of the battle were fired against advancing artillery and infantry of Heth’s Confederate Division. In 1886, Lieutenant Marcellus Jones and two other members of the 8th Illinois Cavalry came back to Gettysburg and placed the first shot marker in the front yard of the old Wisler house.”

via Off the Beaten Track – Gettysburg’s “First Shot” House…

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