Crom in the Hyborian Age

Posted: August 15, 2012 in Barbarian Philosophy

Conan of Cimmerian gods: Their chief is Crom. He dwells on a great mountain. What use to call on him? Little he cares if men live or die. Better to be silent than to call his attention to you; he will send you dooms, not fortune! He is grim and loveless, but at birth he breathes power to strive and slay into a man’s soul. What else shall men ask of the gods?
The Queen of the Black Coast

Many esteemed Hyborian scholars have looked upon this passage as evidence that Conan and his Cimmerians were atheistic, or something approaching that. Let me say that I am not buying it.

Atheist – one who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

Okay, we’re done.

Conan says, “What use to call on him?” Yet he shouts the name of Crom in nearly each of his adventures. Is this Conan “calling on” Crom? This is certainly not mere “cursing”, as we do in our dystopian civilized culture.

Looking at the remainder of the passage, we can understand that by “calling on him”, Conan means asking a favor of this deity. At birth, Crom breathes power to strive into a human soul. After that, Crom’s job is done. Favors or answered prayers are not to be expected

So why does Conan say “Crom!” so often if he is not “calling on” his deity? For my part, I think of the character Tevye in the musical The Fiddler on the Roof; Tevye has an ongoing one-way conversation with his God. Like Tevye, then, Conan could be saying, “Crom, look at this! What a Mensch I am!” or “Crom, can believe how these civilized poeple are already?”

Most usefully, he may be recalling the divine spark to his “power to strive”, as it comes from none other than Crom. He’s not ashamed to thank Crom. In the otherwise forgettable tale, The Vale of Lost Women, he says: “You said I was a barbarian…and that is true, Crom be thanked.”

Conan does know that the source of his power to strive comes from Crom, and that this is among the thing that separates him from civilized weaklings. Thank Crom!

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Comments
  1. kortoso says:

    Adding: “His gods were simple and understandable; Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom, because he was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian’s mind, was all any god should be expected to do.”
    – from The Tower of the Elephant

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