Old One

Old One may be a term used to refer to a god or other deity. Old Ones may also be a term used to refer to beings who co-existed with early humans according to many religions. These terms may also be found in fantasy and horror fiction.


Referring to God

Albert Einstein, the famous 20th-century physicist, famously said:

Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.

This quotation is widely condensed into the short sentence I cannot believe that God plays dice, or God does not play dice (with the Universe).

Referring to Beings

A great many older religions[which?] may believe that Old Ones are the beings that existed at the creation of the universe and everything in it, possibly considered to be minor gods or deities or of co-existing with gods. It is an uncommon term for a creator being but not completely unheard of,[citation needed] though it should be noted that Old One would be the English term for a number of words in other languages.

Cthulhu Mythos

H. P. Lovecraft

In the weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, the term "Old Ones" is employed in different contexts. Lovecraft's first mention of the Old Ones appears in his most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), where he uses the term in reference to Cthulhu's spawn.[1] Inspector John Legrasse of the New Orleans police department raids a cult meeting, capturing several of the members:

They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died.[2]

Lovecraft also mentioned the Old Ones in "The Dunwich Horror" (1929), naming them as mysterious entities associated with the Outer God Yog-Sothoth. In "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936), the Old Ones had the power to keep the Deep Ones in check. In Lovecraft's revision story "The Mound" (1940), "Old Ones" referred to the denizens of K'n-yan.

In Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness (1936), "Old Ones" was another name for a fictional alien species, the Elder Things, which were described in vivid detail in the story. These aliens built cities around the world in ancient times but were eventually relegated to Antarctica. At the end of their reign, they were all but destroyed by the shoggoths, a slave race of their own creation.

August Derleth

August Derleth’s reinterpretations transformed the beings of Lovecraft's fictional mythology. Perhaps most importantly he introduced a good-versus-evil dichotomy between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones. More recently, however, scholars have come to accept that Derleth’s most fundamental innovation was the assignment of these beings to a single mythological pantheon as part of the overarching Cthulhu Mythos. One of the categories of this pantheon – the “Great Old Ones” or “Old Ones” – has become a standard in our thinking about Lovecraft’s fiction.

Other published fiction

The Dark Is Rising series

In The Dark Is Rising (1965–1977), a series of novels by the British author Susan Cooper, the Old Ones are agents of the Light, born as men and women, whose task is to prevent the Powers of the Dark from taking control of the world. They are immortal but are not gods and most do not appear different than late middle aged humans.

Their abilities include time-travel, shape-shifting, and ability to speak and understand various languages without having learned them. Most of their powers are designed to allow them to fulfill their goal of combat against the forces of the Dark and are activated upon reading the Book of Grammarye. Their full abilities are never detailed and they are often the protagonists in the series and serve as a balancing force to the Lords of the Dark who have similar powers.

The Dark Tower series

In The Dark Tower series (1982–present) written by Stephen King, the Old Ones (also sometimes called Great Old Ones) were a highly advanced civilization, called the Imperium, that ruled All-World many centuries, or possibly millennia, ago. They were obsessed with technological development and saw their inventions as a solution to everything; replacing the immortal, magical essence of creation with mortal machinery. The Imperium borrowed the magic of the Dark Tower, using its rooms into the worlds to travel to horrible times in history and revel in the destruction and death. Posters advertising gladiatorial battles and events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or the September 11 attacks appear throughout the main building that served as a transportation hub. In their hubris, they thought they could rule the time-space continuum, but in order to do this, they had to rebuild the Dark Tower. When they arrived in End-World, where the Tower resides, they attempted to knock the Tower down. No sooner had they hit the wall of the Tower when great cracks appeared in the earth, allowing a thick mist infested with monsters to escape from the Outer Dark. These mists spread all over Mid-World and the Old Ones blamed each other for this and soon war started. In one final battle, the ancient people managed to destroy themselves, leaving Mid-world a radioactive wasteland. Technological relics of the Old Ones' era can still be found scattered throughout the world.

Considering how many of the Great Old Ones' interests, machinery, buildings and cities (such as Lud, which is a worn-down version of New York or the field of oil derricks and tanks Roland finds in Mejis when he is young) resemble today's society, the Great Old ones are most probably the name for a civilization directly descending from today's (worldwide) civilizations. It is highly suggested that the Old Ones were in fact human, but were the working or higher class that controlled All-World, and that the name Old Ones was only contrived after centuries of absence.

The Dresden Files

In The Dresden Files series of novels (2000–present) by Jim Butcher, the Old Ones are demons or dark gods who ruled the world before mankind. They were apparently banished from our reality. The Seventh Law of Magic prohibits the summoning of both the Old Ones and their foot soldiers the Walkers, or Outsiders.

Role-playing games

Dungeons & Dragons

In the Dungeons & Dragons supplement Wrath of the Immortals (1992), the Old Ones are hinted as super-powerful beings, more powerful than even the highest level immortals themselves. The Old Ones are thought to live in the Vortex Dimension and are in charge of almost everything in the multiverse.

Palladium Fantasy

In the Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game created by Kevin Siembieda and published by Palladium Books, the Old Ones comprise a race of Alien Intelligences that are considered to be among the most ancient and powerful beings in the universe. Their presence and influence figure prominently in the Palladium Fantasy setting, but they also receive occasional mention in other role-playing games published by Palladium.[3] Described as "the masters, if not the very source of magic" who appear as "hideous, oozing slimes and gelatinous mounds of flesh and tentacles,"[4] they are each the embodiment of a particular aspect of evil and subsist upon the respective brands of suffering they inflict.[5] After being overthrown and defeated through the combined efforts of various races under their rule, the Old Ones were placed into an enchanted slumber and hidden away in hopes that they will neither escape nor be reawakened.[4]


Within Games Workshops fantasy and science fiction settings there is reference to the Old Ones; these are implied to be the same creatures though they have been presented in slightly different ways.

Warhammer 40,000

In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Old Ones traveled through space manipulating minor species on several planets and growing them into tools for their battle against the C'tan. The Slann were probably their servants. The Old Ones could be the Eldar due to a reference in Ghostmaker.

Warhammer Fantasy

Though less prevalent, the Old Ones also appeared in the background material for the Warhammer Fantasy setting and the Slann are the rulers of the Lizardmen. Before the Lizardmen Army book was released, the race now known as the Old Ones were called the Slann (primary referenced in the High Elf rulebook); after the book was released, they were renamed the Old Ones allowing the name Slann to be assigned to the Mage-Priests of the Lizardmen. No current allusions are made as to the physical appearance of the Old Ones, although it is assumed they were bipedal - as was the race that served them (the Slann, who in turn presided over the Saurus and Skinks. The Saurus being the warriors, the Skinks being in charge of work requiring more finesse; pottery, scribing etc.). Some materials (Drachenfels) referred to them as the "toad men" from the stars. The Old Ones were the ones who set up the warp gates at either pole of the planet and shifted it into a more favorable orbit before encouraging the development of the native species. In older versions of the material, the Old Ones where known as the Old Slaan and were ancestors of said race, who at that time where far more humanoid (a race of psychic frog-men).


Babylon 5

In the television series Babylon 5, a race of beings known as "the first ones" appear during the course of the show. In the show's lore, these powerful entities were the first civilizations to develop in the galaxy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In the fictional Buffyverse established by the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the "Old Ones" are the powerful pure-breed demons that once dominated earth before humankind appeared and during its first years. In the first-season episode "The Harvest", Rupert Giles tells Buffy:

This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their...their Hell. But in time, they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for, for man. All that remains of the Old Ones are vestiges, certain magicks, certain creatures...

This description closely matches the Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos as interpreted by August Derleth.


The Old Ones are referenced in Season 7 of "Supernatural", where they are primarily called The "Leviathans". They were among the first of Gods creations but were locked in Purgatory as they were powerful enough to destroy all Creation. When Purgatory was breached and the angel Castiel absorbed all the souls inside, the Leviathans entered him too, steadily destroying his body and physically trying to rip their way out of him. Judging by Castiel's drastically altered and maniacal mental state as they take control of him, they are similar to the Great Old Ones of H.P Lovecraft, as they appear insane and incredibly vicious.

Video games

Age of Mythology

In the campaign of the real time strategy video game Age of Mythology, the titan Kronos is referred to as the "Old One".

Demon's Souls

In Demon's Souls, the great demon who brought despair and summoned demons into the kingdom of Boletaria was referred to as the old one. Taking the form of a massive hovering creature composed of wood, rock, and soil.

Dragon Age

In the Dragon Age series, the Archdemons are said to be "Old Gods" who were buried underground by the Maker, where they became corrupted by the Darkspawn.

Neverwinter Nights

In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons, the Old Ones are an extinct race of extremely powerful, cruel, reptilian humanoids who had enslaved the "warm blooded" races in ages past. The story of Neverwinter Nights (2002) revolves around their queen's attempt to resurrect the race – also called the "Creator Race" – and reestablish its dominance on Faerûn.

Mass Effect

  • In the video game Mass Effect, the massive, intelligent plant-like being called the Thorian refers to itself as the "Old Growth".
  • In Mass Effect 2, the geth called Legion refers to the Reapers as the "Old Machines", and claims that the geth who have attacked organics believe the Reapers to be gods.


In Blizzard Entertainment's universe of Starcraft, the Xel'Naga are beings who are said to have been responsible for the creation of all of the sentient beings in the universe and nurturing their civilizations. These included the Terrans (Humans); however, only the Zerg and Protoss had ever come into contact with the Xel'Naga. The Xel'Naga are beings of supposedly unsurpassed wisdom and power, though it has been noted that the Zerg became uncontrollable for them and decimated their fleets.


In World of Warcraft, there are beings known as the Old Gods, malevolent entities that ruled the world of Azeroth in ancient times. The Old Gods were defeated by the Titans and buried deep underground. They still live, and their influence occasionally spills out onto the surface. Some of the Old Gods' names are mentioned and are very similar to those of Lovecraftian beings, such as C'Thun (Cthulhu) and Yogg-Saron (Yog-Sothoth).

Other appearances

  • In Darren Shan's bestselling series The Demonata (2005–2010). They are first mentioned in the fourth book of the series, Bec, as beings of light living in a cave under the sea. The Demonata fear but hate them. They left Earth 1,600 years ago when their time came to an end and ascended to the Heavens.
  • There is a filk entitled The Old Ones by Zander Nyrond that was inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos and the 1962 Cliff Richard pop song "The Young Ones".
  • In Marvel Comics, Cthulhu-esque Old Ones appear as extradimensional demons who once ruled the Earth tens of thousands of years ago. They serve largely as a backstory, the only one of note being the Doctor Strange enemy Shuma-Gorath.
  • The Old Ones are the main villains in Anthony Horowitz's book series The Power of Five (2005–2008). They take many forms, but mostly preternatural demonic animals, half-human, half-beast demons, a swarm of flies able to take human form, and numerous shapeshifting demons. In this series, the Old Ones ruled Earth ten thousand years ago, and suppressed numerous human rebellions before being banished into another dimension in outer space by the Gatekeepers, who are later reincarnated into modern teenagers when the Old Ones' prison is unlocking. The Old Ones break through their prison and it is up to the Five to stop them.
  • Old Ones appear in Madeleine L'Engle's series of science fantasy books about the Murry family, notably in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978). These Old Ones are similar to the ones in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series: humans born with unusual mystical powers and dedicated to a never-ending struggle against the powers of darkness and evil. In both series, the Old Ones are associated with an Old Music.
  • In the 2000 novel Shadow Scourge, part of the Outlanders series by Mark Ellis, the villain, Ocajinik, is suspected of being an Old One.
  • In the 2003 short story "A Study In Emerald" by Neil Gaiman, the old ones are great inhuman monsters that have taken control of earth's governments. For instance, the queen of England is described as being "[she] is called Victoria because she had beaten us in battle seven hundred years before, and she was called Gloriana, because she was glorious, and she was called the Queen, because the human mouth was not shaped to say her true name. she was huge, huger than i imagined possible, and she squatted in the shadows, staring at us without moving." [Fragile Things, pg.11]


  1. ^ Harms, D. (July 1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana: A Guide to Lovecraftian Horror. Call of Cthulhu RPG (2nd ed.). Hayward, CA: Chaosium. p. 128. ISBN 1-56882-119-0. 
  2. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (February 1928). Wright, F. ed. "The Call of Cthulhu". Weird Tales (Chicago, IL: Popular Fiction Publishing) 11 (2): 159–178, 287. 
  3. ^ Siembieda, K. & Sheiring, S. (May 1991). Rifts World Book One: Vampire Kingdoms. Taylor, MI: Palladium Books. p. 11. ISBN 0-916211-52-5. 
  4. ^ a b Siembieda, K. (June 1984). The Palladium Role-Playing Game, Revised. Detroit, MI: Palladium Books. pp. 155, 187. ISBN 0-916211-04-5. 
  5. ^ Siembieda, K. (November 1984). The Palladium Role-Playing Game Book II: Old Ones. Detroit, MI: Palladium Books. p. 208. ISBN 0-916211-09-6. 

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