This four-part series was written by Edje Jeter:
Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids make up the class Cephalopoda (Greek: head-feet). Cephalopods appear in oceans, horror stories, nineteenth-century polemical literature, and—in their Mormon instantiations—in my next four posts.  I begin with the cuttlefish.
Last week I posted on the cuttlefish and a few weeks ago I posted on the upas tree. The upas post was prompted by a line from Edgar Folk: “[Mormonism] is the Upas tree of our civilization, the octopus of our political life.” Having treated the vegetable, I now turn to the animal.
Seeing as how it’s “Mormonism and Politics” month at JI, let’s talk about spineless carnivores with sucker-covered tentacles. One of the most common forms of octopus propaganda was a labeled octopus on a map representing an “imperial” power of some sort—a nation or company or, in the Mormon case, a church/theocracy—that controlled various geographic areas politically or economically. Michelle Farran at Vulgar Army provides several examples(see image below).
The octopus metaphor persists to the present but the cultural milieu has changed. For example, last week I wrote about the image at right. My sense is that most 2013 observers would describe it as “quaint,” maybe even “cute.” A century earlier it was an “inky-black demon” with a “big black body lying flat, disgustingly spread” or “a horrible octopus” with “fiendish goggle eyes” and “treacherous succer-like tenticles reaching out.”  In this post I will try to account for the difference—I will summarize something of what late-nineteenth-century Europeans and Americans thought and felt about octopuses.  (Spoiler alert: it casts Mormonism as very bad.)