Shub-Niggurath, often associated with the phrase “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”, is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. The creature is sometimes referred to as “The Black Ram of The Forest With A Thousand Ewe”, lending a male gender to the Great Old One that is often thought of as female.
Shub-Niggurath is first mentioned in Lovecraft's revision story The Last Test (1928); she is never actually described in Lovecraft's fiction, but is frequently mentioned or called upon in incantations. Most of her development as a literary figure was carried out by other Mythos authors, including August Derleth, Robert Bloch and Ramsey Campbell.
Shub-Niggurath's appearances in Lovecraft's main body of fiction do not provide much detail about his conception of the entity. Her first mention under Lovecraft's byline was in The Dunwich Horror
(1928), where a quote from the Necronomicon
discussing the Old Ones breaks into an exclamation of "Iä! Shub-Niggurath!"
The story provides no further information about this peculiar expression.
The next Lovecraft story to mention Shub-Niggurath is scarcely more informative. In The Whisperer in Darkness (1930), a recording of a ceremony involving human and nonhuman worshippers includes the following exchange:
- Ever Their praises, and abundance to the Black Goat of the Woods. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!
- Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!
Similarly unexplained exclamations occur in The Dreams in the Witch House (1932) and The Thing on the Doorstep (1933).
Lovecraft only provided specific information about Shub-Niggurath in his “revision tales”, stories published under the names of clients for whom he ghost-wrote. As Price points out, “For these clients he constructed a parallel myth-cycle to his own, a separate group of Elder Gods”, including Yig
, "the evil twins Nug and Yeb
While some of these revision stories just repeat the familiar exclamations, others provide new elements of lore. In The Last Test (1927), the first mention of Shub-Niggurath seems to connect her to Nug and Yeb: "I talked in Yemen with an old man who had come back from the Crimson Desert--he had seen Irem, the City of Pillars, and had worshipped at the underground shrines of Nug and Yeb--Iä! Shub-Niggurath!
The revision story The Mound, which describes the discovery of an underground realm called K'n-yan by a Spanish conquistador, reports that a temple of Tsathoggua there "had been turned into a shrine of Shub-Niggurath, the All-Mother and wife of the Not-to-Be-Named-One. This deity was a kind of sophisticated Astarte, and her worship struck the pious Catholic as supremely obnoxious.
The reference to "Astarte", the consort of Baal in Semitic mythology, ties Shub-Niggurath to the related fertility goddess Cybele, the Magna Mater mentioned in Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls", and implies that the "great mother worshipped by the hereditary cult of Exham Priory" in that story "had to be none other than Shub-Niggurath.
The Not-to-Be-Named-One, not being named, is difficult to identify; a similar phrase, translated into Latin as the Magnum Innominandum, appears in a list in "The Whisperer in Darkness and was included in a scrap of incantation that Lovecraft wrote for Robert Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars". August Derleth identifies this mysterious entity with Hastur (though Hastur appears in the same "Whisperer in Darkness" list with the Magnum Innominandum), while Robert M. Price equates him with Yog-Sothoth--though he also suggests that Shub-Niggurath's mate is implicitly the snake god Yig.
Finally, in "Out of the Aeons", a revision tale set in part on the lost continent of Mu, Lovecraft describes the character T'yog as the "High Priest of Shub-Niggurath and guardian of the copper temple of the Goat with a Thousand Young". In the story, T'yog surprisingly maintains that "the gods friendly to man could be arrayed against the hostile gods, and...that Shub-Niggurath, Nug, and Yeb, as well as Yig the Serpent-god, were ready to take sides with man" against the more malevolent Ghanatothoa. Shub-Niggurath is called "the Mother Goddess", and reference is made to "her sons", presumably Nug and Yeb.
Other evidence of Lovecraft's conception of Shub-Niggurath can be found in his letters. For example, in a letter to Willis Conover, Lovecraft described her as an "evil cloud-like entity".
The Black Goat
Although Shub-Niggurath is often associated with the epithet "The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young", it is possible that this Black Goat is a separate entity. Rodolfo Ferraresi, in his essay "The Question of Shub-Niggurath", says that Lovecraft himself separated the two in his writings, such as in "Out of the Aeons" (1935
) in which a distinction is made between Shub-Niggurath and the Black Goat — the goat is the figurehead through which Shub-Niggurath is worshipped. In apparent contrast to Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat is sometimes depicted as a male, most notably in the rite performed in "The Whisperer in Darkness
" (1931) in which the Black Goat is called the "Lord of the Woods".
The Black Goat may be the personification of Pan, since Lovecraft was influenced by Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan (1890), a story that inspired Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" (1929). In this incarnation, the Black Goat may represent Satan in the form of the satyr, a half-man, half-goat. In folklore, the satyr symbolized a man with excessive sexual appetites. The Black Goat may otherwise be a male, earthly form of Shub-Niggurath — an incarnation she assumes to copulate with her worshipers.
Robert M. Price's interpretation
Robert M. Price
points to a passage from "Idle Days on the Yann", by Lord Dunsany
, one of Lovecraft's favorite writers, as the source for the name Shub-Niggurath:
- And I too felt that I would pray. Yet I liked not to pray to a jealous God there where the frail affectionate gods whom the heathen love were being humbly invoked; so I bethought me, instead, of Sheol Nugganoth, whom the men of the jungle have long since deserted, who is now unworshipped and alone; and to him I prayed.
Notes Price: "The name already carried a whiff of sulfur: Sheol was the name for the Netherworld mentioned in the Bible and the Gilgamesh Epic.
As for Shub-Niggurath's association with the symbol of the goat, Price writes,
- we may believe that here Lovecraft was inspired by the traditional Christian depiction of the Baphomet Goat, an image of Satan harking back to the pre-Christian woodland deity Pan, he of the goatish horns and shanks. The Satanic goat is a device of much spectral fiction, as when in Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out the Archfiend's epiphany takes goat-headed form.
Something black in the road, something that wasn't a tree. Something big and black and ropy, just squatting there, waiting, with ropy arms squirming and reaching. . . It came crawling up the hillside. . . and it was the black thing of my dreams – that black, ropy, slime jelly tree-thing out of the woods. It crawled up and it flowed up on its hoofs and mouths and snaky arms.
—Robert Bloch, "Notebook Found in a Deserted House"
The Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath are horrifying, pitch-black monstrosities, seemingly made of ropy tentacles. They stand as tall as a tree (perhaps between twelve and twenty feet tall) on a pair of stumpy, hooved legs. A mass of tentacles protrudes from their trunks where a head would normally be, and puckered maws, dripping green goo, cover their flanks. The monsters roughly resemble trees in silhouette — the trunks being the short legs and the tops of the trees represented by the ropy, branching bodies. The whole mass of these things smells like an open grave. They usually dwell in woodlands wherever Shub-Niggurath's cult is active.
The Dark Young are usually called upon to preside over cult ceremonies. One means for summoning them is found in the Book of Eibon and requires a blood offering. The ritual may only be performed in the deep of the woodlands at the darkest of the moon, and the victim must be sacrificed over a stone altar.
Dark young act as proxies for Shub-Niggurath in the accepting of sacrifices and the worship of cultists, in the devouring of non-cultists, and in the spreading of their mother's faith across the world.
In Ramsey Campbell's story "The Moon Lens", the English town of Goatswood
is inhabited by once-human worshippers of Shub-Niggurath. When the deity deems a worshiper to be most worthy, a special ceremony is held in which the Black Goat of the Woods swallows the initiate and then regurgitates the cultist as a transformed satyr
-like being. A changed worshiper is also endowed with immortal life.
In the short story "Crouch End", contained in "Nightmares and Dreamscapes
", the plot consists of a woman who loses her husband to and then is chased by minions of something and then the thing itself. It is known as the "The goat with a Thousand Young," an obvious reference to Shub-Niggurath.
The villan and title character of the book IT is a gigantic black spider, female and pregnant with hundreds of offspring. It also has a second form said to lay outside of the universe itself.
The Scarifyers - The Devil of Denge Marsh, by Paul Morris, is a light hearted radio play (on CD as a Cosmic Hobo publication, 2007) that has its heroes – Lionheart played by Nicholas Courtney, and Dunning, played by Terry Molloy - engaged in foiling the return of this watery timeless horror and thwarting the intentions of its mysterious (and sometimes bizarre) human acolytes. Whilst somewhat tongue-in-cheek, aficionados of the genre will find much to amuse them and it is, nevertheless, a rollicking good yarn!
Gary Myers's story, "What Rough Beast," casts Shub-Niggurath as the mother of all the gods, and her children as the chapters of her ongoing revelation.
Even now the cycle of life was returning to the starting place, and the womb of the Great Mother was swelling to the full. Soon the cycle would be complete, and the womb would expel into the world the new god we waited for. The god whose coming would signal the start of the cleansing time, when the world would shake off its plaguing cities as a great beast shakes off stinging flies. The god whose power would remake the world for the greater glory of the Great Mother of us all. For the greater glory of Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!
In popular culture
- Shub-Niggurath sometimes appears or is alluded to in fiction that falls outside the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror. Some of the Doctor Who spin-off novels, for example, have identified the Nestene Consciousness (the being which animates the Autons) as one of the offspring of Shub-Niggurath. The connection was first drawn in Millennial Rites by Craig Hinton, and has been followed up in other appearances of the Consciousness in the novels.
- In Neil Gaiman's "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" (1998), "Shub Niggurath" is the name of a seaside bed and breakfast.
- In Mike Mignola's Hellboy series, characters have to contend with plots to unleash the Ogdru Jahad and their 365 offspring, which is similar to Shub-Niggurath and her Thousand Children.
- The final adversary of the first-person shooter computer game Quake is called Shub-Niggurath.
- Shub-Niggurath is the name of a French Zeuhl musical group as well as a Mexican death metal band.
- In the film " Atomik Circus - Le retour de James Bataille" (2004), the alien creatures are called Shub-Niggurat.
- Sarbakan's online game Arcane: The Stone Circle features an appearance by Shub-Niggurath during the final scene in episode 8.
- In the webcomic Bruno the Bandit there is a recurring character named Shub-Megawrath that has a 1001 young, which is a parody of Shub-Niggurath.
- The Polish blackened death metal band Behemoth has an instrumental song titled ``The Goat With A Thousand Young`` on their Demonica album.
- Morbid Angel's third album, Covenant, features a song about Shub-Niggurath, entitled "Angel of Disease"
- The song "Six-Gun Gorgon Dynamo" by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is about Shub-Niggurath (Shub-Niggurath is mentioned in several of their other songs as well)
- The song "The Black" by Swedish black metal band Marduk is also about Shub-Niggurath and features the complete line "the black goat of the woods with a thousand young".
- Bloch, Robert (1998). Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. 1st ed., New York, NY: Random House. ISBN 0-345-42204-X.
- Campbell, Ramsey (1987). Cold Print. 1st ed., New York, NY: Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 0-8125-1660-5.
- Harms, Daniel (1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana. 2nd ed., Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-119-0. [Suggests Byatis is the son of Yig]
- —"Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath", pp. 75, ibid.
- —"gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath", pp. 124, ibid.
- —"Shub-Niggurath", pp. 275–7, ibid.
- Ferraresi, Rodolfo A. "The Question of Shub-Niggurath". Crypt of Cthulhu #35: A Pulp Thriller and Theological Journal Vol. 5 (No. 1): Robert M. Price (ed.), Mount Olive, NC: Cryptic Publications.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1985). At the Mountains of Madness, and Other Novels. 7th corrected printing, Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-038-6. Definitive version.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984). The Dunwich Horror and Others. 9th corrected printing, Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8. Definitive version.
- Lovecraft, Howard P.; Zealia Bishop (1989). The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-040-8.
- —and Adolphe de Castro (1928). "The Last Test", ibid.
- —and Hazel Heald (1932). "The Man of Stone", ibid.
- Myers, Gary Dark Wisdom. Poplar Bluff, MO: Mythos Books. ISBN 0-97899-113-3.
- Pratchett, Terry (2002). Moving Pictures. New York, NY: HarperTorch. ISBN 0-06-102063-X.