0. Kraken Attack by Oberon Zell
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1830
The sea has influenced the cultures and psyches of countless societies throughout history. It has provided food and sustenance, served as a route for trade and exploration, borne military fleets on voyages of conquest, served as a barrier against marauders, evoked mystery and poetry from bards and singers—and represented some of humanity’s deepest fears. The sea represents to this very day a frontier of the unknown—a place of darkness and discovery, harboring strange and beautiful creatures as well as devouring monsters that haunt our dreams and the deepest recesses of our imaginations.
It is from the realm of the sea and its darkest depths that the engrossing legend of the Kraken rises—the Kraken (also known as the Krabben and Skykraken), universally depicted as an immense all-devouring monster with multiple arms that draw its victims inexorably to an implacable maw that shreds and consumes their very being. The Kraken—a terrifying beast that lurks in the abyssal depths, rising to the surface to wrap its suckered tentacles around a hapless vessel and drag it beneath the waves—creating a whirlpool that would suck down anything escaping the initial attack. The Kraken turned the sea dark with an inky discharge, and amber that washed up on North Sea beaches was said to be its excrement.
Of all the frightening beasts of legend, it is seldom that there has been such a direct correspondence between the mythical image and the actual animal. For the Kraken is real, as real as a whale or a turtle or a gull skimming the waves. The real animal, as plainly a part of the grand march of evolution as any other creature, embodies most of the horrific attributes associated with the Kraken in the most fanciful legends and seamen’s tales. In its largest and most incredible manifestation, the real monster could very well convince us of the reality behind the most fantastic metaphysical horrors and tortured fantasies of crazed authors of fiction.
Fig. 1. Attack of the Giant Squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The Kraken is the giant squid (Architeuthis)—and its more recently-discovered cousin, the colossal squid (Mesonychiteuthis). Yet having said that, how do we approach this realization? Simply being handed the solution to what started as some sort of cryptozoological investigation does not do justice to the reality or to the legend that preceded it. For a good long time, the question of the giant squid really was a cryptozoological issue. There were reports dating from the earliest days of seafaring. There were the legends of the Hydra, and of Scylla and Charybdis; there were the tales of Jules Verne; there were questions such as, “Did such a thing really exist, and, if so, how big could it really be?” As we shall see, we have now answered most of those questions. Still, the mind-boggling question remains: “If this thing really does exist as a living creature, how to we deal with that fact?”
We are proposing that the reality of the Kraken highlights one of those rare instances in which the metaphysical world of our legends, fears, and archetypal fantasies overlaps with the real, biological, physical world on a continuing basis. But the Kraken has several characteristics that arise from and feed our deepest fears—and which can be identified as well in the living animal. Among these characteristics is that of implacability; despite all attempts to slay or stop the beast, it just keeps coming. It seems that wounding it simply makes it attack all the more. Consider the most ancient legend that can be identified with the multi-armed monster we know as the giant squid—namely, that of the Hydra.
Fig. 2. The Lernaean Hydra by OZ
The Hydra was a monster living in the swamps near the city of Lerna in Argolis in ancient Greece. It was the offspring of Echidna (half maiden, half serpent), and Typhon, who had 100 heads. The Hydra had the body of a serpent and nine heads. The multiple heads probably referred to semi-independent attacking arms belonging to the same creature. The middle heads was impervious to any weapon, and the others, if cut off, simply regrew. In some versions, two regrow for every one cut off. Its breath had a deadly stench as well. The Hydra was notorious for attacking herds of cattle, which it devoured with its many heads.
As his second Labor, the hero Heracles came to Lerna to slay the Hydra, bringing his nephew and charioteer, Iolaus. Heracles instructed Iolaus to cauterize each wound from a severed head with his torch to keep them from growing back. As for the final head, which was said to be immune from every weapon, Heracles simply tore it off with his bare hands, and buried it under a huge rock (which can still be seen today).
Fig. 3. Heracles and Iolaus killing the Lernaean Hydra. Antique Greek vase painting
But let’s look at some of the relevant details. The thing lives in a marsh, which, while not the ocean, is still a place of the dark watery unknown which may swallow the unwary wanderer. Lake Lerna was one of the entrances to the Underworld, and the ancient Lernaean Mysteries, sacred to Demeter, were celebrated there. Pausanias writes:
There is no limit to the depth of the Alcyonian Lake, and I know of nobody who by any contrivance has been able to reach the bottom of it since not even Nero, who had ropes made several stades long and fastened them together, tying lead to them, and omitting nothing that might help his experiment, was able to discover any limit to its depth. This, too, I heard. The water of the lake is, to all appearance, calm and quiet but, although it is such to look at, every swimmer who ventures to cross it is dragged down, sucked into the depths, and swept away.1
The Keeper of the Gate to the Underworld that lay in the waters of Lerna was the Hydra—like the “Watcher in the Water” in Tolkein’s The Fellowship of the Ring that guarded the Gates of Moria. The Hydra’s many heads are described as being on long, flexible necks, which enables them to come at its opponents from different directions. There is what appears to be a central head, the invincible one that all the others serve and protect. Attempts to slay the beast only result in making matters worse. It just keeps coming.
Fig. 4. Scylla by OZ
Scylla was the name of a monster that lived under a huge rock in the Straight of Messina. She was originally a sea nymph who was transformed by the wrath of Circe into a monster with twelve feet and six heads. When the ships of Odysseus came within range, each one of her heads plucked a hapless sailor from the deck and devoured him. Sound familiar?
Fig. 5. Scylla, from Greek vase
Scylla’s companion horror, Charybdis, was the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia, whom Zeus turned into a monster for stealing Hercules’ cattle. Depicted as a whirlpool, sucking in and spewing out large amounts of water, and sucking under whole ships with their crews, Charybdis also embodied a consuming horror of the deep. Ulysses steered clear of Charybdis, opting to have six of his shipmates grabbed and eaten by Scylla rather than lose the whole ship to Charybdis. Still, the association with cephalopods is hard to deny. Part of the Odyssey’s description of Scylla reads, “Her legs, and there are twelve, are like great tentacles, unjointed, and upon her serpent necks are joined six heads….”
Fig. 6. Scylla & Charybdis
In the post-Classical era, however, the picture is quite different. Here we have not simply stories set in some mythical past, but reports of actual sightings and incidents, told by sailors who claimed to base them on real experience, however much they may have embellished the retelling. We also have drawings either taken from the descriptions or done by actual witnesses. It is here that the connection to real cephalopods becomes unmistakable.
When Europeans first ventured beyond the Gates of Hercules they hugged the coasts of Europe and Africa. The vastness of the Atlantic must have appeared as a huge unknown, and quite naturally would have harbored monsters both real and imagined. Tales, of course, abounded, as the appearance of the great whales, such as the blue whale or the sperm whale, would certainly have qualified as the sighting of a monster.
The literature contains a fairly large number of reports that could quite easily be identified as sightings of giant squid, but others are more of a stretch. These reports, which range roughly from about 1000 ce to the early 20th century, constitute an interesting mixture of tales. Some later authors and investigators have rightly concluded that there is a squid at the bottom of some of them, whereas others simply projected their own preconceived notions about the anatomy of squids into the descriptions of sightings, and asked themselves what part of a squid’s anatomy seen from which perspective could have given rise to those descriptions.
Fig. 7. Monstrous Fish by Olaus Magnus
An exhaustive recounting of these tales is not appropriate in this essay, but a few examples certainly are. One of the more noteworthy is a description of “monstrous fish” (Fig. 8) by Olaus Magnus, the Catholic archbishop of Sweden. Part of that description (circa 1555) reads, “Their forms are horrible, their heads square, all set about with prickles and they have a sharp horn round about like a tree rooted up by the roots….”
What is interesting in the Magnus account is the description of it resembling an uprooted tree, which brings us to the topic of the word Kraken. Around 1000 ce, King Severre of Norway first used Kraken to describe a sea-monster, and the word occurs again in another work by a Norwegian, Bishop Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidian, in his The Natural History of Norway (1755).2 Apparently, the association of the word Kraken with an uprooted tree is a tenuous connection at best. Kraken is actually the plural of the word krake, which simply means “sea-monster.”
Fig. 8. St. Malmo engraving
There are a few remarkable illustrations of sightings that are unmistakably giant squid. Even the one that looks more octopus-like most likely has a squid at the bottom of it (Fig. 9).
Another depicts a horrific attack by an enormous squid upon a hapless vessel, which was certainly doomed (Fig. 10).
Fig. 9. Squid attack on a sailing ship
Sorting out exactly how factual the accounts behind these engravings are is not so much the point as is the anatomical similarity between the drawings and the actual animal. Everything we know today about large squid—be they giant or colossal—tells us that none of them is large enough to actually drag a ship down to Davy Jones’s Locker. That doesn’t mean they are not big and dangerous, mind you—just not that big.
A more reasonable account came in 1861 from the French corvette Alecton, whose crew reported the capture of a giant squid. The crew was able to bring only a portion of the body aboard because it broke apart while being hoisted out of the water. The Alecton report and the accompanying illustrations appear in the light of today’s knowledge to be quite realistic, yet the captain and crew were denounced as liars.
Fig. 10. The Alecton encounter, from Buel3
The eyes were described as the size of dinner plates, and the mouth as being 18 inches across. In addition, the crew mentions a horrible stench. In a freshly caught animal, this would not be the result of putrification but the normal characteristic of the giant squid—that is, the ability to secrete ammonia. We know now that both the giant and the colossal squid lack swim bladders like those of fish, but can adjust their buoyancy by secreting ammonia into their tissues, thus changing their specific gravity. This results in the ammonia smell, and renders the flesh completely inedible. The Alecton incident appears to be a reliable and factual account of an encounter with a giant squid.
The resistance in the biological community to accepting the existence of this species as well as its size remained intense until the late 20th century, when it could no longer be denied. One is tempted to attribute this to the normal skepticism of the scientific community, but one must factor in an additional element—the archetypal horror of the all-consuming Kraken of our deep, existential fears. This, then, leads us to the question of just how big and aggressive can these monsters be—for monsters they truly are.
Fig. 11. Kraken postage stamp from Canada
When we talk about the Kraken, we are actually speaking of two distinct species that are now (albeit after much convincing) recognized by science: the Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux, and the Colossal Squid, Mesonychiteuthis hamiltoni. For some time, it was speculated that Architeuthis was a passive feeder, hanging inverted in a chosen temperature layer deep in the ocean, seizing passing prey with its long tentacles, and then drawing the prey to its beak with its eight shorter arms. We now know that Architeuthis is an aggressive predator. Like all squid, it has two long appendages called “tentacles” that are elastic and can be shot out to seize prey with the club-like pods on the end of each. Then it has eight shorter arms that grab and draw the prey to the savage beak, which shreds and devours it. In the case of giant squid, the suckers on both tentacles and arms are ringed with sharp tooth-like hooks.
The first Architeuthis caught live (in December of 2006, by a team of Japanese researchers) actively attacked the bait and fought being hauled in, losing the pod of one tentacle, which writhed for some time with its toothed sucker cups on the deck of the ship. The squid itself did not survive the capture, but was the first example of Architeuthis to be photographed live.
Fig. 12. Giant squid washed up on Catalina beach
As to the aggressive nature of large squid in general, we can look at a more familiar example, the Humboldt squid, Dosidicus gigas. Unlike the two giant species, the Humboldt squid is edible—but then it has the same attitude toward those who would try to capture it. Growing up to six feet long, including the arms (but not the tentacles), and weighing about 100 pounds, the Humboldt squid inhabits the Sea of Cortez and from the tip of Baja, California, to, most recently, the Central California coast. They move in schools of up to 1,200 individuals and can swim at up to 13 knots, often coming up at night from depths of around 2,000 feet to feed.
Fig. 13. Giant Humboldt squid
Local fishermen fear them because a significant number of them have been attacked and badly bitten, and some have been dragged down to their doom by groups of squid that were trying to eat the victim and each other. Humboldt squid have toothed suckers like those of the giant varieties. Their reputation as aggressive hunters is indisputable, and, given the observed behavior of the one living Architeuthis, can probably be assumed to be the case with the two giant species. Both the giant and colossal squid have toothed suckers on their arms. The Architeuthis has toothed suckers on the clubs of its tentacles, whereas Mesonychoteuthis has swiveled hooks on the clubs.
Fig. 14. Architeuthis suckers (a) compared with Mesonychoteuthis hooks (b)
The question of how big is a thornier one. Extrapolations of Architeuthis attaining 150 feet in length are just not credible. Also, statements about the length of giant squid tend to be confusing in general. Measurements—inflated to sound more sensational—include the arms, as well as the two elastic tentacles with wider clubs on the ends used to grab prey. At least in the case of Architeuthis, the length of these tentacles can vary widely, sometimes depending on how far they have been stretched by those doing the measurements. Then there are the eight arms, which typically have a length proportional to that of the particular specimen. The head, arms and tentacles extend from the front of the mantle, whose length is the standard used for comparing the relative sizes of giant and colossal squid.
Fig. 15. Squid measurements
By now we have a fairly large sample of specimens of Architeuthis, and it is not known to attain a mantle length greater than 7.4 feet, which would result in a length with the arms (not the tentacles) of no more than about 16.5 feet. To those among us who may be disappointed with these sizes, that is a very large and dangerous animal. But it’s just not capable of pulling under a vessel or impeding the progress of a 19th-century submarine.
Mesonychoteuthis is a somewhat different matter. Colossal is quite the appropriate word for it. We know for a fact that it exists on the basis of at least two specimens, one of which was captured live in February of 2007 and brought, completely intact, aboard the fishing vessel that caught it, but died in the process of being hauled in. Unlike the Alecton, the fishing vessel was able to freeze the creature until it could be brought in for study. This creature, a mature male, weighed 992 pounds and was supposedly 39 feet long. Early reports neglected to specify which measurement this was. Mesonychoteuthis is considerably stockier and heavier than Architeuthis, in addition to being longer. The only other intact specimen was an immature female with a mantle length of 7.5 feet. Based on the estimates of female to male size, it is quite possible that a mature female could reach a mantle length of 13 feet or a little more. The weight, however, would approach a ton. Again, the beak is enormous, as can be seen in the photo of the captured male (Fig. 17).
Fig. 16. Captured male colossal squid (AP 2/22/07)4
Estimates of squid size have been done by comparing beaks taken from the stomachs of sperm whales, which is the giant and colossal squids’ only natural predator. Some of the extrapolation has been done by examining fragments of tentacles and using their diameter to estimate the overall length. Because the Mesonychoteuthis is proportionally more heavy-set than Architeuthis, mistaking a colossal squid arm for that of a giant squid could lead to wildly different length estimates.
Fig. 17. Giant and colossal squids compared (after Steve O’Shea)5
So now we know our monster. It is real. It is a biological presence on our planet. It is an implacable hunter, aggressive and deadly in its element—the deep ocean. Yet it has rarely been known to attack humans. There was one incident off the coast of Newfoundland in which two men and a young boy in a small boat beat back an attacking giant squid, but that is the only verified attack.6 Yet this image populates some of our deepest fears. It lurks in realms of mystery and nightmare. What has made it so compelling?
Fig. 18. Giant squid attack off Newfoundland, Oct. 26, 1873
Written when he was only 21, “The Kraken” by Tennyson contains evocative elements that foreshadow the Cthulhu mythos, begun in the early 20th century by H.P. Lovecraft and continued by other authors including Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard and others. Among these elements are a mysterious great being slumbering beneath the depths of the sea, images of vast age and murkiness, and the prospect that it will awaken and rise in the midst of some unnamed catastrophe. Just what moved Tennyson to write such a thing at such a tender age will never be known, except that he might have tapped into some archetypal imagery that would resonate and be reprised by others. Nor is it known whether Lovecraft or his circle were aware of this poem.
As an author, H.P. Lovecraft was an admirer of such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, and Arthur Machen. In terms of the literary craft, he never rose to the level of Poe, but his work influenced a good number of writers in the fantasy and horror genre. The Cthulhu mythos became a sort of shared world to which many contributed, but which was under no single author’s control.
The Cthulhu mythos revolves around a race (or races) of alien beings who came to this planet untold ages ago—the chief among these being the Great Cthulhu—but who are now mostly dormant. Cthulhu lies dead but undead in the sunken city of R’lyeh in the depths of the Pacific. He is described as a large, green creature with bat wings, huge talons, and the head of a squid—that is, with tentacles below the eyes. Every so often, R’lyeh rises from the depths and the Great Old Ones hold sway until it sinks again. The myth holds that someday, when the “stars are right,” the sunken city will rise again and the Old Ones led by Great Cthulhu will reign supreme over the Earth.
Fig. 19. Great Cthulhu in R’lyeh
The slumbering beneath the sea seems to tie in with the fact that great squid dwell at incredible depths and thus are rarely seen on the surface—usually only when they are sick or dying. However, the sight of the emergence of a hungry, deadly Humboldt squid from the depths of the ocean—or, in the case of the Great Cthulhu, from a place beyond space—can give rise to an implacable horror of the sightless deep, as well as the hapless victim’s fear of being dragged into the creature’s alien world. Even a very bad 2006 HBO movie, Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep, depicted a giant squid recently woken from its long slumber and eating everybody (except, of course, the beautiful blonde marine biologist).
It is a commonplace in Lovecraft stories that certain realities would better be left unknown. In The Call of Cthulhu, he writes,
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our own frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.7
One of the elements of The Call of Cthulhu is the existence of a cult, depicted by Lovecraft in his ingrained, racist way as made up of squat, swarthy men influenced by the thoughts of dreaming Cthulhu to do his bidding. They celebrate unspeakable rites and do dastardly things in their efforts to waken Cthulhu from his slumbers. Interestingly, something analogous to these “swarthy men” may exist in the real world that involves the giant and colossal squid. Given that the only natural predator of both is the sperm whale, would not Great Cthulhu wish to free his “children” by doing away with this nasty menace?
Fig. 20. Battle between sperm whale and squid (from National Geographic)
Sperm whales and giant squid do tremendous battles in the depths, with the whale usually coming out ahead of the game and eating the squid. If there were fewer whales, there could be more and larger squid. Now, despite the international pressure to ban or at least limit whaling, there is one nation, Japan (whose inhabitants might be uncharitably described by some ignorant folks as “swarthy”), that defies the International Whaling Commission and continues to massacre whales all over the world. Could it be that the Japanese whalers are consciously or unconsciously doing the bidding of a dreaming Cthulhu by killing off the enemies of his minions?
It has not escaped attention that there have been more Architeuthis brought out of the ocean depths in recent years than in all previous history. Even more recently, we have observed the recovery of at least two Mesonychoteuthis and can expect more. On the one hand, these developments have finally convinced a skeptical scientific community that these creatures do, indeed, exist. On the other hand, the increase in numbers could strike one as disturbing.
Of course, such creatures as giant and colossal squid are just biological creatures that evolved in tune with their environment like all other forms of life, aren’t they? How then does humankind appear to have had a notion of their form before it became known in photos and specimens? How is it that there is a creature living today that appears to embody some of our most basic fears regarding our own existence and the integrity of our being? Are their numbers really increasing, or does the proof of their existence simply lend itself to the recognition of existing numbers?
If there truly are more, what is behind that increase? Is it possibly another effect of climate change, or is some other agency at work—buried behind a wall of dreams and lost in a realm of strange angles and dark shades? If you found yourself confronted with such a creature in its own realm, would it matter what the answer is? The horror is far away from our daily “placid island of ignorance,” as Lovecraft puts it. But it is real. It lurks in the sightless depths, its beak shredding toothfish and marlin with an intractable indifference to the fate of either. And, just occasionally, but perhaps more frequently, it reaches up above the waves to remind us of some of our most deeply seated and repressed fears.
A Personal Addendum by Oberon
I have always been fascinated with cephalopods in general, and giant squids in particular. I was enthralled by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid, and, in 1954, I eagerly awaited Disney’s terrific movie version, wherein my favorite scene was the battle with the giant squid. I grew up near Chicago, where I spent many happy weekends exploring the wonderful museums of the windy city. The indelible image that has remained in my mind these 60-some years later is the full-size model of a giant squid that hung from the ceiling of the Field Museum of Natural History. From Bernard Heuvelmans’ classic Le Kraken et le Poulpe Colossal (1958) to Richard Ellis’ The Search for the Giant Squid (1998), I have read every book and article on these creatures I could get my hands on, saved every news clipping on beached carcasses, and recorded every Discovery Channel special on current quests to film and obtain a live specimen.
Fig. 22. Giant squid, life-size model, Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago
I consider cephalopods to be among the most fascinating creatures on Earth. They belong to the order of Mollusca, which first appeared in the mysterious “Cambrian Explosion” 544 million years ago, along with every other order of multicellular life forms (including a couple dozen that were never seen again).8 Cephalopods are undoubtedly the first animals to have developed intelligence. Laboratory studies of common reef octopuses indicate they are as smart as dogs. Unlike vertebrates, whose brains cannot outgrow their rigid skulls, the brains of cephalopods continue growing throughout their lives, just as the animal itself does. For an octopus, however, that isn’t a very long time. Even the giant Pacific Octopus lives no longer than six years, and the females of all octopi die after hatching their eggs. So whatever degree of intelligence they attain must be developed during a period of time corresponding to our own early childhoods. How smart were you at six, compared to now?
Octopi are solitary hunters, and associate only briefly to mate. Therefore, other than territorial and mating signals, they have no need to develop any sophisticated form of communication with each other. It is pretty well considered axiomatic that the greatest intellectual development among all creatures occurs as a factor of intercommunication among the members of social species (for example, cetaceans, primates, wolves, elephants, parrots, and certainly velociraptors), so the solitary existence of octopi, along with their short life span, would also limit how intelligent they can become.
Fig. 23. Life-size giant squid and whale, American Museum of Natural History in New York
Neither of these limitations applies to giant squid. Although the largest remains found washed up on beaches have been in the very impressive neighborhood of up to 60 feet long from tail to tentacle tip, sucker scars on the skins of the adult male sperm whales that eat them, and undigested beaks found in the bellies of such whales, indicate the probable existence of truly colossal giants—possibly twice that size. Although no live specimen of Architeuthis has ever been obtained for study, experiments with other common species of squid—with brains the size of marbles—have indicated intelligence equivalent to that of octopi. There is no reason to assume less for their enormous cousins, whose donut-shaped brains surround their esophagi at the front of their heads.
The confirmation of giant squids up to 60 feet long—and the probable existence of far larger specimens in the abyssal depths of the oceans—indicates that giant squids, like anacondas, great white sharks, and some dinosaurs, probably continue growing throughout their life. And, like all other cephalopods, their brains continue growing larger along with their bodies. What we don’t yet know, however, is their life span. Is it short, like that of other cephalopods, or long?
Unlike octopi, squid are social hunters, often aggregating in vast schools. Indeed, early sonar developed during World War II often returned “false bottom” soundings, which were later thought to have been caused by extensive shoals of giant squids. The near-simultaneous coordinated movements of schools of small squid which have been filmed implies a sophisticated degree of communication—probably effected through subtle shifts in the coloration patterns made possible by the uniquely sensitive chromatophores possessed by all cephalopods. Squid have the greatest eye-to-body size ratio of any living creatures, and giant squid possess the largest eyes on Earth.
Given large brains, coordinated social predation, and possible longevity, it is not much of a stretch to hypothesize a considerable intelligence for Architeuthis and Mesonychiteuthis. We are, of course, familiar with the nature of vertebrate intelligence (based largely on vocal/auditory communication), as it is our own. And we are somewhat aware of the nature (or at least the existence) of arthropod intelligence, in the form of “hive minds” among the social insects, which communicate primarily by scent. We are only lately beginning to study cephalopod intelligence; and as yet we have no idea how it may manifest in these monstrous squid.
And thus, out of paleontology and marine biology, I offer my own contribution to the Cthulhu mythos:
Fig. 24. Creatures from the Burgess Shale
544 million years ago, the Great Old Ones came to Earth, manifesting in many bizarre forms (see the Burgess Shale). Most of those original orders killed each other off during the early aeons, and others (such as coelenterates, sponges, echinoderms, and worms) retreated into mindlessness and even sessility. Successful active hunters included the arthropod eurypterids and giant trilobites, but they never developed intelligence. Cephalopods—the Spawn of Cthulhu—first appeared as organisms with shells in the form of ammonites and nautiloids, some of which grew to lengths of more than 15 feet. And they became intelligent.
They ruled the oceans of this world unopposed for 200 million years, until a rival intelligence finally arose in the form of vertebrates—the first of which were armored like tanks to ward off beaks, claws, and suckers. From the 30-foot-long Dinicthys (now renamed Duncleosis) of the Upper Devonian, the 50-foot-long Icthyosaurs and Kronosaurs of the Cretaceous, and the Archaeocetae of the Eocene, to the 60-foot-long sperm whales of today, calamari has been a favorite food of many oceanic hunters specifically evolved to eat them (a real challenge for Architeuthis, whose body fluids are ammonia- rather than water-based!). And the bigger the squid, the bigger the hunters. We grew up together and in opposition to one another, each species stimulating the evolution—and intelligence—of the other.
Fig. 25. Giant Squid and Kronosaur from Australian Dinosaurs book, by Marilyn Pride9
And for the past 350 million years, these three emerging orders of intelligence have been locked in ceaseless and savage warfare—in the seas and, eventually, on land. In the seas, cephalopods hunt and eat arthropod crustaceans and vertebrate fish; in turn, both are hunted and eaten by vertebrates: fish, marine reptiles, and marine mammals. And on land, where cephalopods have never emerged, the battle still rages between arthropod insects and all land vertebrates.
Throughout human history, rare encounters with the Spawn of Cthulhu have given rise to horrific legends: the Hydra (from the Labors of Heracles); Scylla (from the Odyssey); the Centimani (“hundred-handed”) of the Titanomachia; the Norwegian Kraken; “Le Poulpe Colossal”; Bishop Olaus Magnus’s “monsterous fish”; Charles Douglas’s “Stoor worms”; and so on. Deep beneath the ocean waves, in the sunken land called R’lyeh, the collective soul of Great Cthulhu resides in a monstrous entity—like the termite queen in the foundation of the hive. He waits, hates, and dreams...
Fig. 26. Cthulhu plaque by Oberon Zell
And Cthulhu’s malevolent dreams have seeped out into the nightmares of humanity. He is at war; he has always been at war, for 350 million years: at war with all vertebrate life, but particularly with his greatest adversary, the mighty sperm whale—the only creature alive that can defeat him in physical battle.
And so Cthulhu has fostered a cult among humanity dedicated to destroying his ancient enemy: the worldwide whaling industry. In my fevered fantasies, I imagine secret temples hidden somewhere in the bowels of the whaling companies, with shrines to Great Cthulhu, where the whaling lords pay homage to their true master...
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
And with strange aeons even death may die.
—Abdul Alhazred, Al Azif
Monster Movies: The Kraken and the Hydra
Fig. 27. “Release the Kraken!” From Clash of the Titans (1981)
The earliest attempt to create an animated cephalopod on film was a 1916 silent adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A far more successful version was produced by Disney in 1954, and remains an all-time classic. Although Ray Harryhausen’s monstrous six-tentacled cephalopod that attacked San Francisco in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) was depicted as a gigantic octopus, it was certainly meant to be a Kraken. And in that same year, Ulysses portrayed the multiheaded Scylla. A 1960 Italian film titled Hercules vs. the Hydra featured that beast. Harryhausen’s 1961 adaptation of Verne’s Mysterious Island had Captain Nemo’s divers attacked by a giant prehistoric nautilus. Harryhausen’s finest film, Jason and the Argonauts (1963) had a Hydra guarding the Golden Fleece. In the marvelous 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), the Loch Ness Monster becomes a multiheaded Hydra. In 1981, Harryhausen included both the Kraken and the Hydra in Clash of the Titans. Cast a Deadly Spell (TV, 1991) featured Great Cthulhu. Peter Benchley’s The Beast (1996) was a quite realistic giant squid. Scylla appears in the excellent 1997 TV miniseries of The Odyssey, and that same year, Disney’s animated Hercules included the Hydra. Peter Jackson’s superb adaptation of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) presented the “Watcher in the Water” as a kind of freshwater Kraken. Disney’s animated Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) again featured a Kraken. The Hydra was also portrayed in a very good TV miniseries simply called Hercules (2005). In 2006, the Sci Fi Channel premiered Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep. But the most spectacular Kraken ever created on screen has to be the one in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006).
Oberon Zell is a renowned Wizard and Elder in the worldwide magickal community. In 1962, he co-founded the Church of All Worlds, a Pagan church with a futuristic vision. First to apply the term “Pagan” to the newly emerging Nature Religions of the 1960s, and through his publication of Green Egg magazine (1968-present), Oberon was instrumental in the coalescence of the modern Pagan movement. He has had many adventures around the world, including raising Unicorns and diving with Mermaids. Oberon designs beautiful figurines and jewelry for The Mythic Images Collection , and is the author of A Wizard’s Bestiary and other books. He is also the Founder and Headmaster of the online Grey School of Wizardry: www.GreySchool.com
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