The Yellow Sign

The Yellow Sign is a fictional symbol or glyph, first described in Robert Chambers' book of horror short stories The King in Yellow (1895). This eerie icon which is said to possess sinister, magical powers such as mind-control and possession, is the symbolic emblem of the namesake fanatical cult known as the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign.

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow never fully describes the shape and purpose of the Yellow Sign. Nonetheless, "The Repairer of Reputations", one of the stories in the collection, suggests that anyone who possesses, even by accident, a copy of the sign is susceptible to some form of insidious mind control, or possession, by "The King in Yellow or one of his heirs. The stories also suggest that the original creator of the sign was not human and possibly came from a strange alternate dimension that contains an ominous and ancient city known as Carcosa.

The Cthulhu Mythos

H. P. Lovecraft and many of his imitators were great admirers of Chambers' book and incorporated many of his characters and symbols into their own works. In the latter-day Cthulhu Mythos, developed by author August Derleth and other Lovecraft imitators, the Yellow Sign is the sign of Hastur and is used by members of his cult to identify one another. In addition, according to many of these works one of Hastur's avatars is known as the King in Yellow.

Call of Cthulhu

In 1989, Kevin Ross designed a Yellow Sign symbol for the Chaosium roleplaying game "Call of Cthulhu". Ross created the symbol for an adventure scenario entitled "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?" in the supplemental book The Great Old Ones. The symbol resembles a yellow triskelion, and is also believed to resemble a tentacled creature, since Hastur is often described as an aquatic tentacled being similar to Cthulhu.

Ross later stated in an interview that the image used is actually a corruption of his original drawing; apparently, Chaosium printed the image both upside-down and backwards. Flipping the image horizontally and vertically reveals Ross' original conception of the Yellow Sign, which resembles a coiled body or tentacle with two tentacles branching upward. Fans have pointed out that this image bears a resemblance to the "Kronos" symbol used by the band Blue Öyster Cult. When asked, Ross admitted to being a big fan of the band, but could not remember if the resemblance was deliberate.

Appearances in other media

In Literature

In Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy, the Cult of the Yellow Sign is offered to one detective as a concocted explanation of human history. The cult supposedly worships cthulhoid entities known as lloigor, commits human sacrifice, and has striven throughout history to suppress rationalism. The cult is opposed by the rationalist Illuminati.

Movie appearance

Independent film director Aaron Vanek shot the "The Yellow Sign" in 2001, inspired by the Robert W. Chambers story of the same title. Like H. P. Lovecraft, Chambers is a difficult author to adapt to film. The book The King in Yellow which contains the short story "The Yellow Sign" is a set of loosely connected stories about sensitive individuals discovering an obscure play, "The King in Yellow", then becoming obsessed with the horrific otherworldliness. The emphasis is less on plot and characterization than on creating an eerie, disturbing atmosphere.

Vanek, with colleague John Tynes of Pagan Publishing, took the sketchy plot of Chambers' story and built a more complete screenplay around it, while still capturing the proper weird, disconnected, dream-like fantasy feel.

The film was distributed by Lurker Films at the end of 2006 as part of the Weird Tale Collection Volume 1.


The Yellow Sign is the symbol used to designate the Hastur Faction in the Call of​ Cthulhu Collectible Card Game.

The Yellow Sign is also a "tome of magic" in the Old World of Darkness of White Wolf.

The Yellow Sign is depicted on the cover of the Unknown Armies supplement Postmodern Magick.

The Yellow Sign is used by cultists in Green Ronin's Freeport d20 System setting, and a similar cult in the same company's Freedom City setting for Mutants & Masterminds.

The Yellow Sign is used by the country Carcosa in the Darkon Live Action Roleplaying warclub as their country's symbol.

The Yellow Sign is used in the custom dice game Cthulhu Dice by Steve Jackson Games. When the Yellow Sign is rolled the targeted player must give up a sanity token to Cthulhu.

The Yellow Sign appears as the name of a fish and chip shop in the fictional area of Eadwic, London in Funcom's MMORPG The Secret World.


  • The first edition of The King In Yellow was published in 1895 by F. Tennyson Neely, and featured a picture of a lizard on the cover with a stylized symbol in the upper left corner. The symbol has mistakenly been cited as the Yellow Sign, but it is a monogram of F.T.N. - the publisher's initials. The same monogram and lizard appear on other early editions of books published by F. Tennyson Neely as part of their "Neely's Prismatic Library" series.
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