Monday, April 24, 2017

The Origins of the Deep Ones

This is a piece of fiction that I wrote some years ago in a somewhat pompous and erudite style designed to imitate Lovecraft's fiction. It was supposed to be part of a scenario for a campaign of the "Call of Cthulhu" role playing game and, as you may imagine, Samuel T. Ellicon was one of the characters in play (h/t Luca Somigli, who developed it). Now that I reread it, I found it somewhat scary. Are the "Deep Ones" really existing? Who knows? (image source)


By Samuel T. Ellicon, Ph.D., FRS

Curator's note: These pages were written by the late Professor Samuel T. Ellicon shortly before his disappearance in tragic circumstances in 1917, during the great war. The loss of professor Ellicon was a serious blow to science and in particular to studies of ancient mid-East civilizations. The curator has collected these notes and is diffusing them in the belief of carrying out a service for the scientific community, especially in light of the great prestige of the author. The reader is however advised that this text was not originally written for publication and that several points will require appropriate study before they can be accepted by the scientific community.

Among the variegated races of creatures that populate ancient myths, we cannot avoid to remark the large number of those which are in various ways related to the marine environment: Nereid, Typhons, Hydras, and, perhaps the most familiar one, the mermaid, a creature that is related to the one called "Siren" in the classic word. The popular knowledge about these beings was widespread in ancient times, and we may assume that it remains so even to this day. To convince yourself of this, a simple test will show that there are good chances are that anyone, even of the lowest classes, can describe the bodily appearance of a mermaid, a creature with the upper body and the head of a woman and with the lower body of a fish.

Perhaps, the fascination with mermaids and the associated marine creatures is something that is more worth of exploration by those who study the depths of the human mind, rather than by those who deal with ancient myths and beliefs. Yet, some intriguing hypothesis may be put forward even in the present context if we seek to find exactly where and when these myths originated. For this purpose, we must go far back in time. Some events that occurred in Mesopotamia at the age of the Sumerians, maybe as early as during the 3rd millennium B.C., are related by Berosus, a Babylonian priest of Bel-Marduk who lived at the time of Alexander the Great. Among other things, Berosus says that

.. there made its appearance, from a part of the Persian gulf which bordered upon Babylonia, an animal endowed with reason, who was called Oannes. ... the whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and had under a fish's head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish's tail. It had a human voice and it spent the time of the day among men without taking food, teaching the practice of letters, sciences and arts....At night it went back to the waters of the Sea. (1)

Oannes is the Greek rendition of the word that was spelled Aun in Sumerian. According to Berosus, in later times other fish-beings emerged from the sea, one of the last of them being named Odacon and again described as having the shape of a fish blended with that of a man. We find the same name mentioned also in the Bible in a slightly changed form as Dagon, the god adhored by the Philistines. We cannot avoid to remark that the outlandish appearance of these beings seems to be unrelated to any belonging to the known kingdom of marine beasts. However, the mix of human and ichthyc characters strongly reminds us of those mythological creatures (the mermaid, for instance) which shared this feature.

Despite their weird aspect, beings such as Oannes and Odacon seem to have been readily accepted in the Sumerian world. In fact, as Berosus reports, the Sumerians appear to have attributed the very existence of their civilization to their teaching. Clearly, the fish-beings must have been benign deities, quite possibly carrying gifts with them. Yet, we cannot avoid to note how the passing of the centuries brought a substantial change of the attitude of mankind. Already Berosus, writing in Hellenistic times, denies them the status of gods, preferring to define them simply as terion "animals". The Bible clearly shares the same attitude defining Dagon as a false God or a demon. This change in attitude may be linked to the reversals of fortune that the worshippers of these divinities underwent. Both the Sumerian and the Philistine civilizations disappeared, crushed by warlike neighbors.

The civilizations that dominated the Mediterranean area afterwards, the Hellenistic one first, and then the Judaico-Christian one, seems to have maintained only a distorted subterranean knowledge of these ancient deities. For instance, perhaps we could see the story of John the Baptist as told in the gospels as an allegory of the appearance of the water-god Oannes/Aun. It is well established, in fact, that the name "John" (Latin: "Joannes", Hebrew: "Yohahan"), derives from the name of the Sumerian god Oannes. So, it may not have been just a coincidence that John the Baptist appeared most of the time semi-submerged in the river Jordan. Indeed, it is a disquieting thought at this point the one that leads us to recall the importance placed in Christian belief to the ritual submersion in water and to remember that early Christians symbolized Christ as a fish (2). 

However, this line of reasoning would lead us far away from our main points. We can only say that the old marine Gods were not wholly forgotten, but rather transformed into something that had taken an evil taint. In the great mass of myths of Greek lore, marine creatures are monsters and demons that dwell in remote and desolate places. The most widespread and best known of these myths is that of the siren. We shall not here attempt to disentangle the complex iconographic relation that links the ancient Mediterranean siren (originally described as a creature with the body of a bird and the head of a woman) to the half-fish and half-woman being that is nowadays referred to as "Siren" in the Latin world, but that we are more accustomed to describe with the Anglo-Saxon term of "mermaid". For the purposes of the present essay, it shall suffice to say that these two beings are basically one and the same. As described in Homer, sirens/mermaids were capable of luring people by their singing, but they would also devour them. It may well be that this vision is just an allegory of the capability of these creatures to impart some form of esoteric knowledge, something so different from everything normally accepted in the civilized world that it could be practiced only in remote areas. Furthermore, those who would receive it would be so transformed by it that they would not seek ever to return. To the eyes of those who remained, the followers of the sirens were at all effects "eaten".

Let us try now to interpret these facts, and in this I shall be forced to cast away at least some of the natural tendency of the academic to accept only the well proven evidence. However, I trust that the reader will forgive this attitude as it is the result only of a genuine quest for truth. So, let us first of all put forward some reasonable hypothesis about the origin of the Sumerian fish-gods: We know that Aun and Odacon came from a place called Apsu, a term that has come down to us from the Sumerian language as abyss, meaning, apparently, the same thing that it does now. In earlier times, however, "abyss" may have had a quite different meaning than it has in modern English. In fact, it may be possible to identify Aun/Oannes with an earlier deity named Enki, that in later Babylonian myths is referred to as Ea. "Oannes" in fact may derive from the compound word Ea-ghanna to mean "Ea the fish"(3) Now, some early versions of the myths do indicate that Enki/Ea originally came from the sky, apparently from a star. Aun may therefore have been a dweller of deep space before becoming a sea divinity (4).

I shall make now the bold assumption that a race of beings from far away in space traveled to Earth in the remote past, thousands, or maybe tens of thousands, of years ago. They may have been wholly alien to our world and they may have needed elaborate precautions to survive on land (something that may be reflected in Berosus' report, where the fish-god Oannes is described as if wearing some kind of pressure suit). Perhaps they were creatures originally adapted to live under water. But we may also see another, perhaps more important reason for these beings to avoid the land, and that was the presence of mankind. Clearly the knowledge of beings capable of traveling among the stars could not be but immensely superior to that of mankind, then still in the stone age. But the creatures from the stars may have been only few. Possibly, our ancestors of the stone age may have felt a natural revulsion against these creatures and may have fought them effectively even with their primitive weapons.

I shall call these creatures, for lack of a generally accepted word, the Deep Ones (5). We do not know why the Deep Ones left their star of origin, yet if they came all the way to here, their purpose can only have been to live here, and that must necessarily mean to take over Earth for themselves. For this they were fighting not just against mankind, they were fighting against Earth's environment and for this purpose they needed mankind. Theirs was an ambitious plan of interbreeding, where they would use man to create a new race. A race that would be at home both on land and on sea; that would remain mentally kin to the original Deep Ones but use human breeding just as a means of adapting their physical bodies to the conditions of Earth. But it may not have been easy to convince stone age human beings to submit to this plan. Hence, by means of gifts and of teaching the Deep Ones tried to create a society where even their monstrous shape could be accepted, at least in some special moment and aided by special rites. Thus, worshiped as deities, they could mingle with humans and carry on their interbreeding plans.

But before the new race could emerge, something went wrong. Eventually the fish deities were rejected; the civilizations practicing their cult invaded and destroyed, their temples crushed to pieces. The very memory of their teaching distorted into vague tales of evil ritual about demon-like creatures. From the viewpoint of the Deep Ones, it must have been a crushing setback for their plans of interbreeding. But their knowledge and power must certainly far surpass that of human beings. What could then be the cause of their defeat? Certainly we cannot think that puny human beings could have fought them knowingly. Something or someone must have worked to thwart the Deep Ones's efforts. Someone holding a power and a knowledge at least of the same level as theirs. So what kind of creatures walk among men, perhaps disguised as men, that could fight the Deep Ones and chase them back to the sea? We cannot know and we are not in the position of understanding the strategy of beings whose plans extend over thousands of years. And certainly no one can be sure that the defeat of the Deep Ones is by any means definitive, and who can be sure that in this very moment somewhere, maybe not far away from here, they are not actively working to take over some town on the coast there to carry out their interbreeding plans.

1Adapted from F. Lenormant; "Essai de commentaire des fragments cosmogoniques de Berose", Paris 1871

2The fish (ICHTHUS) is commonly believed to be an acronym for Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter (Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior)

3 H. Winckler "Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens". Leipzig 1892

4 Note here how the transformation from a sky dweller to an abyss dweller is mirrored in the change in the popular image of the siren from a bird to a fish.

5 I am indebted for this term, as well as for other precious insights in this matter, to mr. Howard Philip Lovecraft


  1. Philippe GauthierApril 24, 2017 at 8:50 AM

    It seems to me that in his roundbreaking work, Professor Ellicon nevertheless misses a key element. The attitudes toward such creatures as Oannes and Odacon change in the late Antiquity. The turning point seems to be the Late Bronze Age, a civilization that was destroyed by the so-called "Sea People". Could it be that those marine deities actually tried to destroy the cultures they had previously been shaping? Human civilizations eventually survived the onslaught, but the memory of the conflict endured and the "gods" of old were finally recognized as the evil monsters they are.

    1. See? This subject may be more interesting than peak oil!