Call of Chicago: What We Talk About When We Talk About Leng

One of the joys of writing a whole new Cthulhoid core book (The Fall of Delta Green, and thank you for asking) is attempting yet another take on the old familiar Mythos legendry. The technothriller tone of Delta Green cries out for specifics and details and connections to our real world of war and terrorism, just as the Mythos demands uncertainty and confusion. I have to walk a fine line aiming for the “care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax,” as Lovecraft requires. Sometimes, in my walk, I wind up piling up a little too much verisimilitude, and I have to pare it back somewhat, as indeed I did when I tried a survey of Leng. I should have known better — even Lovecraft famously never pinned Leng down to “Central Asia” or the Dreamlands or Antarctica. So having left only the sparest and most jut-jawed of descriptions in the Fall of Delta Green corebook, I’ve been saving all my Leng for you.

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Leng Is In The Air

The lore of the “icy desert plateau” of Leng closely resembles that of unknown Kadath in the Cold Waste, and it is possible that they are actually the same location given divergent names in early occult tradition. If Leng is a physical location on Earth, Kadath might be the dimension to which it provides access. More usually, occultists consider Leng to be a “soft place” or “etheric window” in the world’s geometry where natural and Unnatural overlap, or where the one slides into the other. The name likely comes from the Chinese lĕng, “cold,” although some Sinologists argue for a derivation from léng, which can mean either “hilly, steep, rugged,” or “edge, angle.” The Qin emperors destroyed all scrolls and texts that referred to Leng, including the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan and the Dhol chants.

The ruler of Leng is a monstrous high priest or high lama wearing a yellow silken robe and veil, neither of which quite conceal his amorphous form and grotesque features. The High Priest Not To Be Described dwells in a windowless lamasery in the middle of a circle of crude (or aeon-eroded) monoliths. He sits at the edge of a foul and bottomless well, an echo of the oracular pit of Delphi, and possibly an entrance to the vaults of hellish Zin.

Leng’s other landmark is the “Elder Pharos,” a lighthouse that shoots a glowing blue beam up into the skies, attracting foolish wanderers both mundane and occult. Outside the palace of the High Lama and the Elder Pharos, a few bone-white buildings dot the plateau, likely temples or lamaseries dominating a small peasant population. The lees and crevasses of Leng’s seemingly inhospitable ice desert shelter bloated, unsettlingly sentient purple spiders. They may be the source, or the carrier, of the “black fever” brought out of Asia (“the farther uplands of Thibet”) by the epidemiologist Alfred Clarendon, who perished in a hospital fire while attempting to culture an “antitoxin” for the San Francisco bubonic plague of 1900-1904.

Medieval European travelers described the corpse-eating cult of Leng, locating it vaguely in or beyond Tibet, possibly conflating Leng with the Tibetan plateau of Ü-Tsang. Joannes de Pian (ca. 1245) mentions their cannibalism and calls them “deformed” and “beardless,” William of Rubruck calls them “misshapen individuals” (1253), Marco Polo (1295) says they have “the best enchanters and astrologers that exist in all that quarter of the world; they perform such extraordinary marvels and sorceries by diabolic art, that it astounds one to see or even hear of them. So I will relate none of them in this book.”

According to the Necronomicon, the lamas of Leng wear a winged hound as their soul-symbol. Despite this, occult lore seldom associates them with Nodens of the Hounds, but rather with Ithaqua, Hastur, Azathoth, or Nyarlathotep. Von Junzt even repeats rumors of a cult of Ghatanothoa on the plateau of Leng, possibly a holdover from its Lemurian-era golden age. Between the prehuman Lemurians and the coming of the Ghulistani tribes, the moon-beasts ruled an empire centered on Leng that reached as far as Ib in the land of Mnar; thus, remnant cults of Gol-Goroth or Mormo may survive in Leng.

Swaddled like their high priest, the inhabitants of Leng wear turbans, fur boots and gloves, and enveloping robes. Beneath, they show a wide variety of deformities; medieval and even 20th-century travelers report everything from horns to hooves. Travelers most often describe Lengi as possessing mouths that seem “too wide.” Given the habitual clothing of Lengi, this may just be the unnatural feature most commonly visible to outsiders. The Ahnenerbe expeditions to Tibet (Ernst Schaefer, 1938) and Afghanistan (Inge Kircheisen, 1935 and 1938) took cranial and facial measurements of Nepalese, Sikkimese, Tibetans, Tajiks, Nuristani, Monpa, Kalash, and other peoples of the region, possibly attempting to locate Leng phylogenetically.

The music of Leng, a combination of chants, droning pipes, and wooden hand-clackers, resembles that ascribed to pre-Pythagorean Greece. Some authorities identify the Lengi as Tcho-Tchos; they may be Tcho-Tchos interbred or otherwise altered by the moon-beasts, who ruled antediluvian Leng in theosophical legend. They may also be devolved Lemurians; the ruined Lemurian city of Sarkomand (cf. ancient Sogdian sart-kimand, “way to the cold”) lies in a valley at the base of the plateau.

Looking For Leng In All The Wrong Places

As I mentioned earlier, even Lovecraft couldn’t pin Leng down to just one location. Here are a few of his ideas, and a few of mine, on the topic.

In his Unaussprechlichen Kulten (1839), Von Junzt locates “inaccessible Leng” in Central (or “Inner”) Asia; what few specifics he gives seem to point to northern Turkestan, now divided roughly between Kazakhstan and Xinjiang. Some scholars connect this region to the Aryan tribe called the Tochoa in Greek texts, scattered in the 3rd century CE by Hunnic and Persian invasions. The Tochoa practiced cranial deformation, possibly in an attempt to ape the inhuman Lengi lamas. The legendary inhuman music of Leng may derive from the “singing sands” of Dunhuang in Gansu province.

Across the Tarim basin from Dunhuang lie the ruins of Lou-lan, its name supposedly a Chinese mistranscription of “Krorän,” which its Tocharian (possibly kindred of the Tochoa) inhabitants named it in their language, the “tongue of the shining ones.” The city’s Chinese conquerors described the people of Lou-Lan as resembling “birds and wild beasts,” implying that Lou-lan may have been a colony city of Leng. The icy Takla Makan (possibly from the Arabicized Uighur tarq makan “place of no return,” or the Turkish taqlar makan “place of ruins”) desert swallowed Lou-lan around 330 CE, roughly the same time that archaeologists put the collapse of Ubar in Arabia – another Cthulhoid cult center, identified by some as the outward seeming of Irem of the Pillars.

In the pre-Buddhist Bönpo rolang (“corpse who stands”) ritual, the ngagspa (tantric practitioner) must bite the tongue off a corpse. Alexandra David-Neel reported that the lama Chogs Tsang ate pieces of a dead body seen floating against the current, and that the Dzogschen sect of Tibetan Buddhism believes that eating the flesh of an arhat (enlightened teacher) grants illumination. The connection to the “corpse-eating” cult of Leng is obvious; Leng may be the mystical ancient kingdom of Ling in Tibetan lore.

The Tibetan epic of Gesar of Ling apparently originated in the Amdo region, inhabited by the Tukuhun people. The Tibetans considered the Tukuhun outsiders; the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo destroyed the Tukuhun in 633 CE. In Tibetan, ling means “island,” and the Tukuhun lived on the shores of the Koko Nor, the largest lake inside the boundaries of the People’s Republic of China. Leng may be a mystical island (similar to the Arthurian Avalon) that appears in Koko Nor, perhaps when the Elder Pharos flares azure.

Northwest of the district of Zin in Afghanistan, between the provinces of Uruzgan and Daykundi, lies Mount Leng-e Mulla Aman (elevation 2,916 meters). Von Junzt drew a parallel between the enormous statues carved into the cliff at Bamiyan in Afghanistan (generally thought to represent the Buddha) and the statue of the god carved into the side of Mt. Ngranek: “long narrow eyes and long-lobed ears, and that thin nose and pointed chin.” The face on Ngranek pointed to the inhabitants of Inganok, on Leng’s western border. Sixty years after von Junzt visited Afghanistan, king Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan destroyed the Bamiyan statues’ faces with cannon fire. (Both Aurangzeb and Nadir Shah had attempted to do so in the 18th century.) The Taliban demolished what was left in 2001.

In a possible parallel with Bamiyan and Ngranek, the Italian friar Odoric of Pordenone described two sights during his return from China (1329) in the “Valley of Death,” somewhere in Central Asia. (By contrast with his meticulous records of his outward voyage, his description of his homeward route is chaotic and fragmentary, as though he had encountered something that deranged or at least fundamentally disturbed him.) Not only did he see “swarms of corpses,” but “upon a certain stone, I saw the visage of a man, which beheld me with a terrible aspect.” Did Fr. Odoric enter the ghoul-haunted Valley of Zin at the foot of Leng?

Another candidate for Leng in Afghanistan is Tirich Mir, or Terichmir, at 7,7o8 meters the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush. Its name means “King of Darkness” or “King of Shadows.” Tirich Mir was widely considered the home of peris, djinn, and other unnatural beings, including demons with twisted feet; Gurdjieff hinted at having studied there with an ancient magical brotherhood. It remained unclimbed until a Norwegian expedition successfully reached the peak in 1950.

The Chinese mystical travelogue Shan Hai Jing (4th century BCE) mentions a Mount Ling, which holds all medicines and from which descended ten wu (shamans) in the primordial era. Sinologists consider this a reference to the Wushan mountain near Chonqqing. In 1986, paleontologists discovered 2 million year old primate fossils in a cave near Wushan, including Gigantopithecus (Lemurian) remains.

In 2006, the Malaysian government officially denied the existence of the “Lost City of Gelanggi,” reputed to be the first capital of the Srivijaya Empire (650-900 CE). Sighted in 1881 by Hervey and in 1931 by Gerald Gardner (who later founded Wicca), Gelanggi or Linggiu supposedly consists of black ruined blocks of stone in the jungle. Thai lore calls the city Ghlong-Keow (the “Box of Emerald”), recalling the legendary rubies traded by ships from Leng. Linggiu may be the Tcho-Tcho colony of Lelag-Leng, on the “shore of Leng.”

William Dyer identified Leng as the central Antarctic plateau in his 1931 report on the Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition. Dyer’s thesis was that racial memory and the prehuman Pnakotic manuscripts passed down the name and description of Leng as a frozen plane of horror. Greek and Arab scholars attached that concept to the more familiar (if still inaccessible) plateaus of Afghanistan, and later of Tibet.

Perhaps the last word on the topic belongs to Randolph Carter: “Men reached Leng from very different oceans.”

2 Responses to “Call of Chicago: What We Talk About When We Talk About Leng”

  1. Arinn Dembo says:

    Your last line echoes my own thoughts on the subject, which is why I suggested that inhabitants of Leng have access to multiple continents on our Earth, including Africa and Asia and probably North America, the Europe etc., through their dimensional doorways.

    My suggestion is that Leng is a High Cold Place which can touch all other High Cold Places when the stars are right or the gates are open.

    Denizens of Leng often seem to invade the human lowlands and I would suggest that there are several monstrous races which visit our plane and wreak havoc with their raids from time to time.

    The Tcho-Tcho are the most notorious, in that they seem to use the Tibetan plateau as their point of entry and then follow the Mekong, driving human populations before them with fire, sword, sorcery and cannibalism.

    The species I decided to write about in “Magna Mater” were Lovecraft’s “white apes” (which I’ve suggested are an offshoot of Homo heidelbergensis or Homo erectus, adapted to cold and high altitude, as well as competition with other monstrous races). There is absolutely no evidence for a white gorilla or chimpanzee in Africa proper, as we all know, nor is there any reason for our cousin ape lineages on that continent to produce such an obvious cold/snow adaptation as white fur…and that’s leaving aside the problem of an “ape”which can still produce viable offspring with a human being!

    Leng is probably home to at least a few populations of true humans, as well as pre-humans and some things that are just plain old not-human or hybridized with something very much not human.

  2. David Tormsen says:

    Deriving the name of Leng from the Chinese words for cold or angle is somewhat dubious for the fact that modern Chinese phonology is very, very different from old Chinese phonology. There are some who believe the Chinese languages of the South retain more features from Old Chinese, and leng in Cantonese, Hakka, Min Nan and Wu is laang, lâng, léng and lan respectively, which is a mixed bag. In Korean, also considered to have retained Old Chinese forms of borrowed words, it is naeng in the South and laeng in the North. But it is still quite likely that the character 冷 was pronounced very differently when the first hapless Qin dynasty people stumbled onto the Leng plateau.

    Also, it sounds a little twee. I mean, “Plateau of Cold”?

    Still, there are other alternatives to consider if looking into similar Chinese words. 塄 léng means “elevated bank in a field” which sounds like a plateau with the added ominous implication that the land surrounding Leng and the inhabitants thereof are considered by Something to be of primarily agricultural use.

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