Wisconsin is a long way from Lovecraft’s New England-based horrors, but for occult practitioners devoted to the Mythos, certain Wisconsin lakes are deep wells of dark cosmic energy known as Cthulhu power zones where they conducted bizarre rituals to summon the Deep Ones.
Rumors of occult activity in Wisconsin have persisted for decades. From animal sacrifices in the Kettle Moraine to black masses in the dark recesses of abandoned churches and schools. In some cases, the locations where these rituals take place are also known hotspots for paranormal activity and sightings of strange creatures such as Goatman and the Beast of Bray Road.
They may not be connected, but then again….
In 1992, Whitewater police received multiple reports that robes figures were performing some sort of ritual on the shore of Whitewater Lake. Witnesses said the group was chanting and swaying. A fog rolled in off the lake with an eerie green glow, and then something started to come out of the water.
“We heard the water start splashing and this deep gurgling noise,” one eyewitness said. “We all just looked at each other, but when we heard this slurping sound and saw something coming out of the water, we ran like hell.”
In the morning, police investigated the beach and found the remnants of the ritual, including rocks and small bones arranged into mysterious symbols in the sand.
In 1923, something dragged two fishermen on Whitewater Lake right out of their boat and into the water. They fought it off and managed to escape to shore with their lives, though their bodies were covered in red, circular marks resembling the suckers of octopus tentacles.
In Baraboo, legend tells of a terrible drought one summer that dried up much of Devil’s Lake into two smaller lakes with dry land between them. The story, it’s said, was told to an early missionary to the area by the chief of the indigenous people who called the area home. The people awoke one morning to the horrific sight of some monstrous, tentacled creature thrashing about on the land, trying to free itself so it could return to the water.
Devil’s Lake has seen numerous accounts of various lake monsters throughout the years ranging from serpents to giant tentacles that drag visitors under.
It also happens to be one of several lakes where an obscure coven of occultists frequently came to conduct bizarre rituals intended to raise Lovecraftian horrors from its depths.
Lovecraft in Wisconsin
H.P. Lovecraft never stepped foot in Wisconsin. His influence, however, reached into the darkest depths of the state, where the Cthulhu mythos may be more alive than anywhere in the fictional New England towns tormented by his cosmic horrors.
In the 1920s and 30s Lovecraft corresponded frequently with a group of fans and fellow weird fiction writers known as the Lovecraft Circle. Among them was a young aspiring Milwaukee writer named Robert Bloch. Bloch was an avid reader of the pulp magazine Weird Tales. It was in those pages that a then 10-year-old Bloch encountered his first Lovecraft story, “Pickman’s Model,” in the October 1927 issue.
In 1933, Bloch wrote a letter to Lovecraft asking where he could find copies of certain older stories. Lovecraft sent him copies of each, and they maintained regular correspondence until Lovecraft’s untimely death.
In 1935, Weird Tales published a short story by Bloch called “The Shambler from the Stars.” In it, the protagonist from Milwaukee visits a “mystic dreamer” in Providence who is clearly intended to be a fictional stand-in for Lovecraft. It is here that – with Lovecraft’s enthusiastic blessing – Bloch grotesquely kills off Lovecraft’s literary proxy when words recited from the forbidden De Vermis Mysteriis accidentally summon a cosmic monstrosity that mangles him and drains his blood.
Lovecraft returned the favor the following year in what would end up being his final work, bringing doom down upon the Bloch-inspired character Robert Blake in “The Haunter of the Dark.” The story even includes Bloch’s actual address at the time – 620 East Knapp Street in Milwaukee.
“Believe me, beyond all doubt, I don’t know anyone else I’d rather be killed by,” Bloch once said of the honor.
Much of Bloch’s early writing was directly inspired by Lovecraft, and his work added extra dimension to the Cthulhu Mythos. His most well-known work, however, was uniquely his own, and uniquely Wisconsin. Bloch had been living in Weyauwega in 1957 when police discovered the atrocities hidden inside the dilapidated farmhouse of a man named Ed Gein in nearby Plainfield. Bloch’s defining novel, Psycho, with the Gein-inspired killer Norman Bates, was published less than two years later with Hitchcock’s silver screen adaptation following in 1960.
The Birth of Arkham House
Bloch wasn’t Lovecraft’s only connection to Wisconsin. Sauk City writer August Derleth was also a member of the Lovecraft Circle.
Of his first meeting with Derleth, Bloch said he “fulfilled my expectations as a writer by wearing this purple velvet smoking jacket. That impressed me even more because Derleth didn’t even smoke.”
Bloch and Derleth began planning to pay for Lovecraft to travel to Wisconsin for a visit, but he died before they could make that happen. Lovecraft succumbed to intestinal cancer in 1937, when he was just 46. He died poor and virtually unknown, which devastated his small group of friends and fans.
“Part of me died with him, I guess,” Bloch recalled, “not only because he was not a god, he was mortal, that is true, but because he had so little recognition in his own lifetime. There were no novels or collections published, no great realization, even here in Providence, of what was lost.”
August Derleth wanted to change that. He believed Lovecraft deserved recognition and he, along with fellow weird fiction writer Donald Wandrei, sought to publish a memorial collection of Lovecraft’s best stories. Every publisher they approached rejected their pitch, so they eventually decided they would do it themselves.
They founded Arkham House in Sauk City in 1939.
That year, they published the first hardcover collection of Lovecraft’s stories in The Outsider and Others. The volume compiled 37 of his most notable works, including “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
Without Derleth and Arkham House, Lovecraft’s work may have been forever lost to time.
Beyond just being a friend and fan of Lovecraft, however, Derleth seems to have found some deeper meaning in his work that either inspired, or was inspired by, a strange group of occult practitioners from Chicago.
Evoking the Deep Ones
“According to August Derleth, who continued the literary tradition of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, certain parts of Wisconsin contain specific Cthulhu power-zones, the most potent of which lies about a deserted lake,” occultist Kenneth Grant wrote in his 1975 book Cults of the Shadow.
Grant was the last student of Aleister Crowley, and was initiated into Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. When Crowley died in 1947, Grant assumed leadership of the British O.T.O. In 1954, he founded the New Isis Lodge, which incorporated a variety of ideas, including Lovecraftian occultism, into Crowley’s Thelemic teachings.
In Cults of the Shadow, Grant writes about the practices of Chicago occultist Michael Bertiaux’s “Lovecraftian Coven” La Couleuvre Noire – Cult of the Black Snake.
In The Necronomicon Files, authors Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III explain:
“Kenneth Grant and Michael Bertiaux began corresponding before Grant wrote his Cults of the Shadow (1975). Whether both men were practicing Lovecraftian occultism, or if this displays Grant’s influence, is unknown, but Cults gives an account of Bertiaux’s experiments in this field. Bertiaux set up a “Lovecraftian Coven” that sought to unite the aquatic energy brought with the Deep Ones in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” with that of the half-human creatures from “The Dunwich Horror.” This coven carried out a set of rituals using the powers of Lovecraft, including aquatic rites – of a disturbingly sexual nature – near a lake in Wisconsin (possibly Devil’s Lake near Baraboo) where August Derleth claimed Mythos beings dwelt.”
“A small group of initiates directed by Bertiaux frequently visit this region with the intention of evoking the Deep Ones,” Grant wrote, “whose point of entry to the earth-plane lies within the lake itself.”
The Deep Ones originated in Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” in which the residents of Innsmouth are at the mercy of an agreement they made with the ancient race of humanoid ocean dwellers to keep their town in steady supply of fish. In exchange, the Deep Ones demanded sacrifices, as well as copulation with human women in order to breed hybrid offspring.
Bertiaux was a prominent figure in Chicago’s Haitian voodoo culture during this time. He derived his practices from the teachings of Crowley, as well as Tantric and Voodoo traditions, which occultists believed were derived from the ancient sex and death magick of Atlantis. Instead of animal sacrifices, these rituals required sexual energy to empower the transformative process of lycanthropy, wherein the practioner metaphysically reverted to animal form to regain the knowledge lost by humans during the evolutionary process.
In occult traditions, power zones are places where fields intersect to form a special vortex of energy. Chakras and the points on the Qabalistic Tree of Life are common energy centers, or power zones, that Beriaux’s practices focused on. For August Derleth and the Black Snake Cult, specific lakes around Sauk County were physical locations where the dark energy of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors could be unlocked with the proper invocations.
Besides Devil’s Lake, Bertiaux’s group are also rumored to have conducted their rituals on the shores of two other lakes identified as Crystal Lake and Fish Lake.
“The rites are performed when the Sun is in one of the Water Signs of the zodiac: Cancer, Scorpio, or Pisces,” Grant wrote. “This attunes the magicians with the nature of the being evoked, Cancer and Scorpio being the best times for this type of working; and if Jupiter, Luna and Pluto are also in these signs, the results are usually spectacularly successful, for the creatures then assume an almost tangible substance.”
The rite would begin on the shore of the lake with the consecration of magical images and the chanting of a Creole-French spell created specifically for use in conjuring the Deep Ones. Then the members of the coven would move into the water.
“The Cult of the Deep Ones flourishes in an atmosphere of moisture and coldness, the exact opposite of the fire and heat generated by the initial ceremonies which include the lycanthropic rites that evoke the inhabitants of the lake,” Grant explains. “The participants at this stage actually immerse themselves in the ice-cold water where a transference of sex-magical energy occurs between the priests and priestesses while in that element.”
“The impression Grant gives of Bertiaux’s activities in Cults of the Shadow makes La Couleuvre Noire sound like an American version of his New Isis Lodge,” The Necronomicon Files authors write, “complete with beautiful priestesses copulating with scaly Mythos monsters on the shores of deserted Midwestern lakes.”
Have you seen something strange and unexplainable in a Wisconsin lake? Tell us about it in the comments below.