“He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of the Hyades.”
-Robert W. Chambers
Way back when, through both “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1891) and “Haïta the Shepherd” (1891), both published in the book Can Such Things Be?, Ambrose Bierce may, or may not, have given us a brief, vague intertextual mythology which actually tells us very little: there is an ancient city named Carcosa, a prophet called Hali, a god of shepherds whose name is Hastur. Or did he? There is actually no true connection between both stories, other than having appeared in the same book.
Years later, Robert W. Chambers borrowed all these names for his sole, unforgettable, incursion in weird fiction, in the series of stories which comprise his book The King in Yellow (1895). Here, the stories are loosely connected by these elements; a few stories allude to a strange play also titled The King in Yellow, which describes Carcosa as an unnatural city whose spires rise beyond the Moon, Hali not as a prophet but apparently as a cloudy lake, Hastur ambiguously may be a place, a deity, or –in yet another story- a human character. Other equally-ambiguous characters and places join the cast: Demhe, Yhtill, Aldones, and Camilla and Cassilda, who –in one of the few quotes from the mysterious play- talk to a Stranger during a masquerade:
Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
I am going over some of the elements in Bierce and Chambers’ stories only briefly, in order to set the cards upon the table, so to speak; much more can be said –and has been said-about these stories and their contents, and the grouped elements and names have given birth to several literary storylines, vastly different between each other, such as the straightforward Lovecraftian horror in August Derleth’s development of Hastur as a Lovecraftian “Old One,” the sword & sorcery dynasties developed from Chambers by Marion Zimmer Bradley who chose, in her endless Darkover series, to filter out any and all horrifying overtones, or the Chambers-inspired reconstructions of the King in Yellow Mythos in such diverse hands and styles as James Blish, Thomas Ryng, Joseph S. Pulver, and many others (even my own El último relato de Ambrose Bierce / El grito de la máscara), including attempts at reconstructing the fabled play.
Now, besides the fascinating, suggestive names juggled by Bierce and Chambers, other elements are found in these stories: certain star cluster from the constellation of Taurus, the Hyades, and the bright star Aldebaran, which are specifically seen in plain day on the sky by Bierce’s inhabitant of Carcosa, and are later mentioned alongside Carcosa, Hastur, Cassilda and the Stranger in some of Chambers’ stories, where they are apparently mentioned in the cursed play.
I wish to stress certain key elements in both Bierce and Chambers: Hastur the god of Shepherds, Aldebaran and the Hyades, and the Stranger. And I now suggest that what follows may be Ambrose Bierce’s inspiration for Hastur and mentioning said stars, and that Chambers was aware of this source and expanded upon it when he added the Stranger to his personal mythology.
Allow me to stray a bit from our main subject in order to introduce you to J.M. Ragón. José María Ragón was a French erudite, a Freemason of great renown and particularly of note as a Masonic writer. Born in Braysur-Seine (Seine et Marne) on February 25, 1781 and died in Paris in 1862 when he was 81 years old and at 60 years after his initiation to Freemasonry. After being a very Young tax collector in Bruges (Lys), where he was initiated in 1803, he became chief of the Inner Ministry in 1814, then moving to Paris, where he would later found the three Trinosophos Masonic workshops, which would develop into one of the foremost lodges in Paris, with Ragón as Venerable president for many years. Ragón was well-traveled and worked hard on networking with Freemasons worldwide, especially in America; he eventually collected over 400 rituals and other documents, which he drew from to write abundant essays and books which have also been widely read in Latin America. Ragón contributed actively to all the reformations in the Grand Orient, which he strongly endorsed, and particularly those reformations focused in the introduction and propagation of the Rite of Misraim in France.
Now, allow me to quote extensively from J.M. Ragón’s Philosophical Course of Ancient and Modern Initiations (my translation from the Spanish version; cursives are Ragón’s, bolds are mine; I’ll rejoin you after you read this passage:
“For the same reason, it is said that the Greater Bear, the Lion and Bacchus’ Tiger, or the celestial Wolf spoken of in the ancient rites, walk in concert westward with the sun, that is with the Scorpion, and guard the entrance to the cavern, because they are still on the edge of the horizon when the sun is no longer seen.
“When discussing the degree of master we have demonstrated the identity between the sun and Hiram; starting off from this undeniable starting point we may easily find in all the accessory elements of the degree of elect a perfect astronomical theme, which will tell us in an obvious manner the time of the year with which it is related and will facilitate the understanding of useful truths.
“We have seen already that the three assassins are none but the three signs of autumn which cause the death of the sun. The name Abi Balah (the father’s murderer) with which the one with greater guilt is known, sufficiently designates the Saggitarius, constellation which slays the sun, itself father of all things (rerum omnium pater). Let us follow along the path we’ve started, which shall lead us to the complete interpretation of the allegory.
“The culprits retreat after performing the crime to the edge of the sea, near Joppé, city situated West of Jerusalem. Now, everybody knows that all the ancient peoples believed the Western sea to be the lower portion of the skies, where the stars end their race and disappear from sight. The cavern spoken of in this degree’s legend receives the name Benacar, abode of sterility, because the Western portion of the sky, which looks like an abyss into which the stars plunge, was of old considered the dwelling place of death and the place of sterility. Therefore the Egyptian Serapis and the Greek Pluto reigned in the West, and the Gauls believed that Britain and, therefore, the isle of Saín, situated West of the Armorican peninsula, was the refuge of death and the dwelling place of shades.
“In this story there is a stranger who plays a most important role. This character is astronomical, like all the rest; he is the star whose appearance causes the death or disappearance into the West of Hiram’s murderers, in the same way as the mysterious star of the magi announced the birth or appearance of the savior-god. Now, if we look up which is the notorious star that appears in the East of the horizon at the precise moment when the Saggitarius is about to disappear in the West, we shall see that it is Aldebaran, which is one of the most beautiful luminaries in the sky and the most outstanding in the constellation of the Bull.
“The stranger was a guardian of herds, and Aldebaran is surrounded by Hyades, which form a group around it, while the Pleiads, situated upon the neck of the celestial Bull, form a second flock at its sides.
“Nine masters are elected to go in search of the killers; Y have previously stated that these nine masters correspond to the nine signs of winter, spring and summer, since, even though in this number are included three lower signs, these are not considered baneful, because they do not cause the death of the sun like the autumn signs do. The dead Christ spent only three days in the tomb, which is to say, in the abode of death, that is in hell (the underworld), and those three days again correspond to the three killers, or the three signs of autumn.
“The nine elects go in search of the culprits led by the stranger and traveling along twisted, scarcely-trodden paths. This route reminds us of that of the Zodiac described by Ovid. Does it not seem, indeed, as if Aldebaran, which is the brightest star on the horizon, towed the zodiacal constellations in pursuit of the Balance and the Scorpion, which disappeared at the moment when the Ram appeared on the horizon and after the Saggitarius, which dies when the Bull appears?
“Who leads Johaben along the perilous road? A dog. Here too the astronomical interpretation is perfect, since, upon the moment when the Scorpion disappeared, rose Phocion or Can minor over the horizon opposing the Western constellation; while the Eridán occupies the meridional portion of the sky. Effectively, after the death of Abibala, Johaben drinks from a nearby fountain.
“Therefore, according to its symbols, the degree of elect is related to the springtime sky, a time in which the King of Nature exacts revenge upon his enemies and rises in triumph in his sky after having succumbed to his opposers’ blows, that is, after having descended to the lowest point in his course and disappeared from the sight of many peoples and after having been born anew to again begin his renewed race, which is here represented by the honors and tribute commanded by Solomon in the memory of Hiram. Meanwhile his enemies are plunged into the abyss. This sun is the Osiris who, traitorously slain by his brother, descends unto hell, and resurrects triumphant, himself, over Typhon, who is the ruler of darkness and the spirit of autumn, whose main abode is the Scorpion. This sun if Horus, who is born, dies, and resurrects like his father; he is Hercules, who goes down into hell after having imprisoned Cerberus therein; he is the mystical Christ Sun, who descends likewise into hell and returns therefrom as defeater of Satan and death in the times of Easter, that is, of the passing of the sun from the lower signs unto the higher signs.
“Everything serves here to complete the allegory: the place where we find ourselves, due to its somber sadness, evokes the Winter we now approach.
“Nine weeks passed before the crime was punished; indeed, the vengeance begins halfway through the third month, when the celestial Ram or lamb begins to appear above the horizon. At the same time the Balance and the Scorpion sink beneath the horizon, over which Abibala or the Sagittarius reigns still, and does not disappear until the Bull approaches.”
I apologize for the overlong quote, but I thought it best to cover most of the mythical and astrological context (there is more, but this will suffice to adequately place the stranger, Aldebaran, within its mythical role).
I propose, then, that we connect the dots. Ambrose Bierce describes, in “Haïta the Shepherd” Hastur as a god of shepherds, “Hastur, who never disclosed himself;” it is in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” that he describes “through a sudden rift in the clouds Aldebaran and the Hyades.” Truly, although he sometimes loosely connected his stories (for example, the prophet Hali is not only mentioned in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” but also in “The Death of Halpin Frayser”), there is nothing truly connecting Hastur and Aldebaran in Bierce’s own stories; however, the connection is explicitly made by Robert W. Chambers when, drawing from all these stories, pieces together his own ambiguous mythology. Chambers’ fictitious play, The King in Yellow, is supposed to be a French play, and some of his stories which deal with this subject are actually set in France, so, given that the Hiram myth and astrological symbolism described by Ragón is presumably found in various Masonic rites the world over, it is hardly a stretch to assume that Chambers might have been acquainted with it –perhaps even through Ragón’s very book!- and he might either have recognized Bierce’s vague allusions or, otherwise, having read Bierce’s stories in a row, might have seen the parallels between the mentions of a shepherd and those of Aldebaran and the Hyades.
In Chambers’ stories, a Stranger plays an essential, if unclear, role, and thus, when he brings together Bierce’s perhaps separate allusions along with this additional Stranger, it would be a stretch to believe that he didn’t have the Masonic myth above described in mind! If this is so, then Hastur, the shepherd god, would be the shepherd star Aldebaran, followed by the herd of the Hyades, as well as the mysterious Stranger himself who so terrifies Camilla and Cassilda. If this is so, then Lovecraft might have been right when, in spite of the vague mentions by Chambers of Hastur as both a human groundskeeper in “The Demoiselle d’Ys” and possibly a city or place, he identifies Hastur as the object of an "accursed cult" in The Supernatural Horror in Literature. At any rate, he would be a terrible supernatural entity who needs no mask to participate in a masquerade. And what then is his role? A role of revenge and punishment, like the original myth states concerning the Stranger representing the star Aldebaran? It is a terrible thing to fall in the hands of the living God, says Chambers. Perhaps the myth of Hiram might somehow shed light upon Chambers’ original conception of what the never-described plot of the cursed play, The King in Yellow, might have been about?