H. P. Lovecraft's stories include several different, apparently independent ways that a person can become an undead creature after their own natural death (being raised from saltes, being reanimated with an injection of West's formula, using the Spanish doctor's process, etc.). Whether relating to primarily occultic or primarily medical processes, inherent to these situations is the fact that they are unusual - most people don't have the opportunity to get raised from saltes, injected with West's formula, etc. One possible exception to the rule that people only "come back" as a result of an explicit plot token process, not commonly available to most or even many people who have died, is The Outsider, in which

The main character wakes up in what he eventually discovers is the afterlife, from which he "returns" to our world and "rises" from the grave as undead. He's apparently no one special - he had a family, and a home, but wasn't particularly famous, and there's no indication that he was specifically chosen by some mad scientist or eldritch horror as his latest test subject.

Is there anything in the writings of Lovecraft or other Mythos writers that explains whether becoming Undead is standard fare for persons who have died, or whether there is a "standard" place that people "go" when they die, even if they do not become undead?

In other words, for some random person in the Mythos universe - one who isn't on Curwen's radar, one who isn't anywhere near Herbert West's victim research subject hunting grounds, etc., what happens to them when they die? Do they go to their own version of that underground castle? Do they get judged by some Elder God and get assigned to a specific afterlife? Do they simply cease to exist as an independent being unless they are specifically chosen for resurrection?

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    is there a standard agreed upon definition of what works fall under "Mythos writings"? Imo - that feels too broad
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 19, 2018 at 19:52
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    @NKCampbell we have a lot of other "Does X exist in the Mythos?" questions here on the site. Are those ones too broad as well? Nov 19, 2018 at 19:58
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    No idea - I've not seen every question on the site. I saw this one though and that's my comment / question and vote. I'm happy to be corrected or remain the only close vote :)
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 19, 2018 at 20:00
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    @RobertColumbia Anyone whose question was voted out for whatever reason can say "I have seen similar questions that are currently accepted." If you want to make a point, you need to give specific examples that support it.
    – Misha R
    Nov 19, 2018 at 20:45
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    One of the issues with this question is that August Derleth, who was a major part of popularizing Lovecraft wrote his own additions to the genre... and his have a clearly Judaeo-Christian bent -- so, answers from " writings of Lovecraft or other Mythos writers" won't be terribly consistent.
    – K-H-W
    Nov 23, 2018 at 2:48

4 Answers 4


People of a certain aesthetic sort: (successful dreamers) can continue in the dreamlands [The Quest for Unknown Kadath] even after their bodies are dead on Earth.

The dreamlands seem to be an aspect of the total human unconsciousness stretching back to prehistory (which is why Lomar etc are both in the dreamlands as still existing countries and long vanished upon the waking Earth).

This seems to be the closest thing to an afterlife, but if tied to an existing humanity it would not be eternal if Earth were to be cleaned away by the Great Old Ones.

The Curwen resurrection from saltes relies on the completeness of the remains and may be a kind of space/time manipulation [Dreams in the Witch House implies witchcraft is a kind of relativity mathematics]. If so the thing resurrected does not exist anywhere between its death and the calling up. It is part of its past world-line that is pulled into the future.

Herbert West's reanimation is clearly that of the body and brain - a mechanical process again failing when the freshness is insufficient creating in the most part monsters rather than anyone called back from Heaven.

H.P. Lovecraft's own atheist beliefs lead him to write in his letters that “I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes; with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism—religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality.” It is therefore not surprising that no immortality or afterlife is presented as definitively eternal in his stories.

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    The postulation of an afterlife is unless the writer is actively religious, deadening to drama. Because whatever happens the good will be rewarded, if not in this life then the next. Ghost stories do not in fact postulate an afterlife so much as a horrible void from which things intrude. I strongly suspect that to include an afterlife in a work of fiction is almost always the product the author's belief unless it is part of a satire on religion. [Examples: Charles Williams, C S Lewis. Satire: Heinlein, Job] Can you cite an atheist who has included an afterlife in his fiction? Nov 23, 2018 at 17:40
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    "Because whatever happens the good will be rewarded, if not in this life then the next." That's a very specific thing which is not present in all real belief systems. Jul 3, 2019 at 16:33

To a larger extent, Cthulhu Mythos with regard to subjects like this falls into the "up to the writer" category. For example, August Derleth tended to have a much more theist slant to his work than Lovecraft himself.

Here's what I mean by up to the author. If you're writing a kind of lightweight mythos book that is more high fantasy than cosmic horror, you can have a conventional afterlife. If you want to play it to form, you leave no afterlife, but those who are not "eaten first" are in for a world of hurt before they finally do meet their end. If you want to emphasize just how much humans are playthings of things better left unmentioned, you can have them become zombies, or worse, have an afterlife that exists just so they can be tortured over and over again.

This is kinda why I've always felt like Lovecraft's atheism actually gets in the way of narrative, because in the absence of a strong sense of afterlife, there's a sense that as hopeless and bleak things are, suicide is kinda an easy way out of the torment. On the other hand, having them behave as overlords in a universe that should be theist with an afterlife and everything, but have them horribly twist it for those who encounter them, is far more frightening. You could even have some "good" and "evil" ones fighting over the soul, only to find out that the truth is far more convoluted than this.

It kind of depends on whether your real question is whether an afterlife is out of the question (see my reasons above for why it's not), or whether most of the writers write one.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This is a very interesting argument, but it only incidentally deals with the actual question. Reading between the lines, it seems you're answering the question with "no,, there is no standard afterlife" but you should explicitly state that at the start of your answer, before exploring the horrific implications of an afterlife patterned on the Old Ones.
    – DavidW
    Jul 3, 2019 at 2:11
  • Suicide is indeed a way out in the Cthulhu mythos. Though people tend to be driven to madness before that. I think the absence of an afterlife is scarier: this is the only life you have, and some cosmic horror is making you waste it ;)
    – Andres F.
    Mar 18, 2020 at 23:18

There is no afterlife at all defined in the Mythos as H.P. Lovecraft defined them on his writtings.

As it's been stated before, he was a pragmatic materialist and atheist, he didn't believe in any type of religion or afterlife, even joked often about them on their letters.

But the main theme connecting almost every aspect of his work is that known as "Cosmic Horror", which we can resume as his characters realizing the nothingness and emptyness of the human condition, the fact that our beliefs and our existence means nothing in the horrific hidden truth that they unveil during the story.

The acceptance of any kind of afterlife or relevance between mortal beliefs (religions) would have worked against the idea that he wanted to tell on their stories, as readers could have some relief on those, being able to separate from the horror that the characters are living.


It is stated in the dunwich horror that the soul (I think ghosts are even stated to exist) does exist and that the whiperwilles act as psychopomps (reapers/guides of the dead). I can't speak for everyone, but personally I think there is an afterlife in the Cthulhu mythos, just not a happy one.

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    If you could edit in a quote/source for this that would make for an excellent answer.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Mar 18, 2020 at 22:12

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