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"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."


Lost, child? Don't be afraid. You can navigate by using the side bar to the right, under the picture of that curious fellow. Read about what has been written, and what is being written, by looking over the Blog Archive or "Things Lurking in the Dark." Be sure to check out the novella, "Unquiet Slumbers," posted in its entirety.

Monday, July 27, 2015

NUMENERA: JIHAD, "CASTLE AVENTUR"

In the central part of the kingdom lis the unassuming castle of Anatrea, a noblewoman who has traceries of light running just beneath her skin in elaborate patterns...Anatrea has a fascination with the numenera and dreams of one day fusing herself entirely with a machine, ascending to a type of godhood, as she believes the people of past aeons once did...

CASTLE AVENTUR, NUMENERA page 151

One of the usual tricks I use in running a campaign is to set aside a few sessions to focus on each of the characters, something I learned from watching TV shows with large ensemble casts.  The session involves everybody, but the focus that week is squarely on one of the protagonists.  Basically I take cues that the players give me--either from choices in play or character creation--and run with them. On a few occasions, such as when one player in Unknown Armies told me he wanted to play a reincarnated Roman soldier, entire story arcs emerge from this.  In the second episode of Numenera: Jihad, "Castle Aventur," I singled out the Jack, "Beatrix."  His Focus is "Fuses Flesh with Steel" and he chose to leave it open-ended how that happened to him.  How could I resist such an invitation?

THE STORY BEGINS right where we left off.  The Wasteland visionary, Lugar of the Marked Name, bought time for the escape of his comrades from the Shadow Table by turning to confront the pursuing shadow wraith alone.  They make the portal that the shadowy numenera-broker Drakoven opened for them, and Lugar braces for a fight.  It never comes.  The wraith encircles Lugar and prepares to devour him...until suddenly recoiling and fleeing with an unearthly screaming sound.  Something about Lugar scared the thing, and badly.  More on that later. (Hint: It has something to do with HIS Focus, 'Knows Too Much,' from the 'Celestial Wisdom' sourcebook)

Back in Qi the others check into an inn and wait to see if Lugar survived.  The as-yet-unnamed Nano Who Works Miracles (hint to his player...get a name STAT) notices that Beatrix has gone missing.  There are signs of a struggle in his room, but no trace of him.

Half-way across Draolis, in the shadow of Castle Aventur, Myrna--a Graceful Jack Who Fights With Panache--is fleeing a pack of weird Broken Hounds fused with numenera under cover of darkness and in the pouring rain.  She has recovered a powerful numenera artefact from a ruin on the lands of Lady Anatrea, and the noblewoman believes the device rightfully belongs to her.  Despite a valiant effort she is captured, and brought to the cells beneath Castle Aventur.  

Much of the action takes place in this cell block, so we should take a moment to describe it.  There are six cells, three on each side of the hall, labelled "A Matrix," "B Matrix," "C Matrix," etc.  The doors have no bars but approaching them causing severe weakness, nausea, and collapse.  Myrna has been tossed into the A Matrix cell, which has yet another occupant.  This is the girl, Ama, an unfortunate creature who has been the subject of hideous experiments.  (Ama 2(6), a mad deformed thing of putrescent flesh and sticky, oozing metal)  Sometimes she screams herself hoarse in agony, while much of the time she is just catatonic.

The cells have another guest.  Across the way in B Matrix is our missing Jack.  He and Myrna are able to speak across the corridor and he reveals he has been here before...in fact, he spent years on that cell and the laboratories nearby.  In her quest to fuse herself with machine, the Lady Anatrea experimented on Beatrix and his sister, Ama, as well as their other siblings...none of whom seem to have survived.  He escaped a few years back but she has found him and brought him back.

Back in Qi there is a division in opinion how to find Beatrix.  Lugar wants to return to Drakoven, whose information network and teleportation portal could be valuable.  But his Nano companion is against this; he distrusts the shadowy Drakoven and questions his motives.  He decides instead to reach into his own past; though now his is something of a wandering charismatic, part con artist and part faith healer, for years he studied to be an Aeon Priest.  He goes to the Order and his old mentor, Elder Jansen.  Jansen promises to help, and warns him against Drakoven, who is believed to be connected to the Convergence.  

Lugar, meanwhile, goes straight back to Drakoven...who is indeed able to help.  His intelligence tells him Beatrix is back in the dungeons of Aventur, and he sends Lugar there via his portal device.  His arrival is timely.  Myrna and Beatrix had been working together to escape, and Lugar is able to help them do it.  The Nano arrives independently as well; the Order was able to "hack" the dimensional tunnel Anatrea used to abduct Beatrix in the first place and send him through to the source of the transmission.

Their attempt to escape the dungeons fails, and trapped in Anatrea's laboratory they confront her guards.  Hovering in the centre of the room is the Silverite Womb...a blob of protoplasmic silvery liquid 2-three meters in diameter that hovers off the floor.  This numenera fuses any living matter thrust into it with machine.  It was used on Beatrix successfully and Ama less so.  Anatrea hopes to some day use it on herself.

As they confront the guards the lady herself makes an entrance, and we learn the final truths.  Beatrix (whose name comes from his designation, B-Matrix) is not only Anatrea's experiment...he is her son.  Ama is her daughter.  In her obsession, Anatrea used her own children to explore the possibilities of fusing flesh and machine, believing what would work on them should work on their mother as well.  As the others defeat the guards, Beatrix confronts his mother, and tosses her into the Silverite Womb, throwing whatever numenera and random detritus is lying around the lab inside as well.  The Womb seems to overload, it collapses into a puddle on the floor with no trace of Anatrea...as if it digested her.  Beatrix scoops up as much of the silverite liquid metal as he can.

Upon returning to Qi, Beatrix tosses the liquid at the feet of Anatrea's ninth husband, Beleth, who sits on the Council of Spheres.

Missed Episode One?  Look here.



Friday, July 24, 2015

VERLAND: THE TRANSFORMATION


It's a bit unfair to B.E. Scully to kick off my review by saying the book was a disappointment, because ultimately the blame doesn't lie with the author, it lies with other reviewers.  Verland has been on my radar for some time, at last since I reviewed Michael Rowe's Enter, Night back in November, 2014.  In that time I read a number of reviews for Verland, many of them united in trumpeting the novel as a departure from the romantic vampires of Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, and Stephenie Meyer.  Several described it as a return to the traditional vampire, a la Stoker or King.  I suppose this just goes to show how far things like Twilight and The Southern Vampire Mysteries have really lowered the bar, because once again in Verland we have a sympathetic,  attractive vampire protagonist wrestling with his transformation, looking for meaning, and stealing a page from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, caught up in the schemes of the novel's true antagonist...a human being.  The titular vampire is never even a threat.

The story follows true crime writer Elle Bramasol, mysteriously selected to write about a high-profile murder committed by a Jerry Bruckheimer-esque movie mogul, Eliot Kingman.  Kingman, apparently, singled her out to write it even though she isn't terribly well-known.  Instead of spilling his guts when she goes to meet him in prison, he directs her to his mansion, where his wife and a creepy research assistant give her access to an antique journal.  This is, apparently, a vampire diary, beginning the story-within-a-story saga of Verland from his transformation to the present day.  The diary portions of the novel are told, as with Anne Rice, in the first person.  To make a long story short, Kingman discovered the journal, tracked down the vampire, and like any narcissistic Hollywood type on a permanent power trip tried using it to blackmail Verland into giving him immortality.  

All in all, it's a well-told story.  The vampire diary bits are a bit rushed and thin, and the human characters come off a bit two-dimensional (the gay agent, the surfer-turned-policeman-on-again-off-again-boyfriend-who-is-a-decent-guy-and-is-waiting-for-Elle-to-settle-down, and Elle herself, whose only character flaw seems to be lingering sorrow over her mother's death), but a it is a page turner.  It might have even been an enjoyable read if I hadn't kept waiting for it to become a horror novel, or live up to its "return to classic vampirism" praise.  But Verland doesn't belong on the shelf with Stoker or King (Michael Rowe does); it belongs right there with Rice, Harris, and Meyer.

To be fair it is a novel with something to say.  Death sucks, and grief is painful, but it is also a part of life, and the alternative--undeath--isn't a solution as much as just a delay of the inevitable.  This message makes the novel more philosophical and melancholic than anything else, and Verland never reaches the intensity or fever pitch Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire did exploring the same theme.  It is hard to see how anyone could come away from the book with a "wow" reaction.

If you like sympathetic vampire fiction, read Verland.  It is certainly better than a lot of what it out there.  But a return to classic vampires?  Not even close.

Friday, July 17, 2015

RAMSEY CAMPBELL'S "NAZARETH HILL"

Literary critic and Lovecraft expert S.T. Joshi was perhaps a bit too lavish in his praise when he called Nazareth Hill the equal of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.  On the other hand, it's easy to see where the comparison comes from.  Both are a very specific sort of haunted house novel, leaving you wondering at the end if you had just experienced a supernatural event or simply been witness to a psychological break-down. But in Jackson's novel we never actually see anything, and can never really be certain if the house killed Eleanor or she self-destructed under her own internal pressures.  Nazareth Hill by contrast has for more in common with The Shining--more the Kubrick film than the King novel--because there are ghosts aplenty, and it seems pretty clear that they are trying to drive a father into committing unspeakable violence.  All three pieces may be in the vein of the psychological haunted house tale, but Hill House is infinitely more ambiguous than either, a trick only Jackson and Henry James truly mastered.

That out of the way, Nazareth Hill is still an excellent horror novel. Insurance agent and arachnophobe Oswald Priestly forces his eight-year-old daughter Amy to confront her irrational fear of Nazareth Hill, a burned out ruin in the center of town, one Sunday while the family is out walking.  He holds Amy up to a window to peek in and prove there is nothing there to be afraid of.  The problem is she does see something, and is so shaken by it she represses the memory.  

Nearly eight years later Amy's mother has died leaving she and Oswald alone.  Nazareth Hill has been refurbished into a luxury condominium complex, and the surviving members of the Priestly family are now actually among the people living there.  It's an exclusive place, and there is a whiff of "lord of the manor" English class snobbery around its residents.  The real estate company that revamped the place, meanwhile, is keen to keep its history hidden.  Nazareth Hill was once the haunt of a local witch coven, some of whom were eventually caught and hung from a tree there, and later of an insane asylum that was consumed by a suspicious fire, burning all the inmates alive.  Coincidentally perhaps, many of those inmates were survivors of the old, local witch families.

Neither Amy nor her father are the most stable of people.  Both are still damaged from the loss of Mrs. Priestly.  Oswald is priggish, over-protective, and a bit too concerned with propriety.  His arachnophobia is also off the charts.  Amy meanwhile suffers from headaches and takes homeopathic pills for them, and is working overtime to be the rebellious teenage daughter.  Oswald fears she takes after her maternal grandmother, a superstitious old woman obsessed with tarot, tea leaves, and spiritualism who eventually went around the bend.  There is some implication in this that Amy, through her maternal line, might have descended from the local witches that died at Nazareth Hill. More on that later.

The second half of the novel could be read in very Haunting of Hill House terms, as it follows Amy's descent into obsession with the history of the building and her father's parallel descent into paranoia that Amy is being consumed by the madness that took her grandmother.  The first half, however, makes a purely psychological interpretation harder.  After all, a photograph taken of Nazareth Hill shows a hideous face in one of the windows, the photographer is subsequently killed by the burned to a crisp undead that haunt the house, and an old man sees the apparition after.  So it is fairly clear the place is haunted.  This makes the shift into the second half all the more jarring, as if Campbell was not quite sure if he was telling The Shining or Hill House.  There is a terrifying scene later in the book that might lead the reader into thinking poor Amy really is going mad (it involves handwriting), but because Campbell played the ghosts so strong in the first half it is easy to pin the blame of them.  If the first half had been as subtle as the second, Nazareth Hill might have been more like Hill House or Turn of the Screw.  

Undeniably a page-turner, and packed with ample scares, the book also has something to say about domestic violence and the domination of men over women.  Nazareth Hill, the locale and not the novel, was the site of a circle of powerful women broken and hung by patriarchy.  The mental institution was more of the same, with "hysteria" replacing "heresy."  And as Oswald falls deeper under the spell of the place, he becomes very much the stern, puritanical Christian father we might find in Miller's Crucible.  The house has a pattern of men caging and trying to break women that threaten them, and this is brilliantly played out between Amy and her father.  Again, their are hints here (Amy's response to the house and it to her, the suggestion that her grandmother was--like the earlier witches--locked up for her interest in all things pagan and unChristian, and the climax of the novel) that make you think Amy descended from that original coven, and that she is doomed to suffer the pattern of male domination as a result.  Campbell prefers to imply rather than tell, and that works just fine for the atmosphere of the novel.

Nazareth Hill is certainly one of the better haunted house novels, but I am reluctant to call it "Haunting of Hill House" good.  It does (as the better novels of the genre do) strip the trappings and frills off the ghost to expose it for what it really is...the past refusing to let go of the present.  This definitely elevates it above hundreds of other haunted house tales.  It's a must read if you like "pressure cooker" haunted houses, and books that have a bit more to them than just a fear of the dead.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

NUMENERA: JIHAD, "THE SHADOW TABLE"

This is the first chapter of the Numenera: Jihad campaign.

It starts with the "Numenera Main Theme," the fantastic "Restart" from DigitalRepublic.


Then, in the back alleys of Qi, two strangers sit in on a game of Triads.

A Triads board

Triads is a strategy/card game popular throughout the Steadfast.  Two to six players sit down at a hexagonal board divided into triangles.  Each player begins with 20 stones of a single colour.  In the first round, a coloured stone is placed at each of the corners of the twenty four triangles.  The colour of the stone is determined by each player drawing a numbered card, and the lowest card wins.  Once all the stones are placed on the board, play begins.  The object is to take control of as many triangles as possible by having your stones at each corner of it.  To seize control of a corner from another player, a wager is made and five cards are drawn.  Three cards are selected to create the lowest total possible (lowest always wins).  Once initial wagers are made, the opponents each have the choice of raising up to three times.  At the end of the final raise, both must show their hands or the loser surrenders.  Surrendering loses the initial wager and the corner, matching the final wager and losing costs the final wager and corner.  The game is player until one player controls the entire board or the other players run out of Shins to bid.

The game comes down to Jaxon Piaxxi (Level 2, Triads 3) and Beatrix, an Impulsive Jack Who Fuses Flesh and Steel.  When Piaxxi runs out of Shins, he wagers an acorn-sized crystal of pale blue, claiming it contains a map leading to treasure.  This is quietly confirmed by another player--Emerson, a Learned Nano Who Fuses Mind and Machine.  Emerson spots Beatrix the Shins to match Piaxxi's wager and the Jack comes out on top.  He collects the crystal and he and the Nano leave together to discuss how to settle their joint custody of it.

In the back alleys they are ambushed by Piaxxi's men, eight street thugs (Level 2, light weapons, no armour).  Outnumbered they start to fight.  Luckily for them, two passersby leap into the fray to assist them.

They are Lugar of the Marked Name, a Wasteland Glaive Who Knows Too Much and an unnamed Charming Nano Who Works Miracles.  The Wastelander had met the Nano just days before and enigmatically declared the Nano to be "the one I was sent to serve."  He has been following the Nano about since.  When the Wastelander spies Beatrix, he calls him by name (though they have never met) and jumps in to aid him.  

The thugs are defeated and introductions made.  The Wastelander, plagued by prophetic visions, has seen the others in his future.  Intriguingly, the acorn crystal responds to him as well, changing colours.  The Nanos analysis it, and discover it projects a hologram of an inverted pyramid, with coordinates spinning around it.  It lies somewhere off the coast...and 3000 meters above the surface of the sea.  It is called "The Shadow Table." They decide it might be worth seeking out.

As they head for an inn to plan, panic electrifies the streets.  The sky overhead darkens as if by eclipse, while bright flashes of heat lighting flicker and dance.  A smell of ozone fills the air, and static electricity seems to trickle over everything.  A voice speaks, simultaneously in both ears...to every man, woman, and child in Qi.  Possibly even the Steadfast...

I am in Truth he that is called Durranet VI, Keeper of the Keys of Saint Calaval, who Sought and Found the Truth.  I am the Father of the Steadfast, who has ascended to the Throne.  Let all who would Speak the Truth and Seek the Truth know me, and witness the Truth of these words.

O my Sons and Daughters, I am in fear.  The Eidolon of Those Who Went Before has shown me the Storm.  I have seen the Lightnings and heard the Thunders.  I have been torn by the howling Winds.  It rises in the North, O my Steadfast, across the fields of Cloudcrystals, it grows in the black hearts of those who reject the Truth.  It is a seed, a cancer growing in the minds of the Barbarians who cling to superstition and deny that great and glorious First Truth, the words that bring solace and comfort to all Mankind...Nothing Cannot be Understood.  The spirit worshippers, the Gaians, those who deny the Eidolon who raised Men from the Drit, they sharpen their swords, yea verily even now they sharpen them!  They assemble their legions, and they are coming for your children, your lands, your blessed Order of Truth.  Like a living darkness exhaled from the jaws of the Traducer they spread across the sky, blotting out the Light, the Sun, the Truth.  I say unto you, my Steadfast, they come out to extinguish that Holy Flame Saint Calaval returned from the Dying and Reborn Sun.

They come!  They come!  But to all of you I say in Truth, NOT ON MY WATCH.

O ye Nine Rival Kings, from Navarene to Milave, from the Sea Kingdom to imperial Pytharion, all of you who make your habitation between the Black Riage and the Secret Seas, lay aside all differences and be as One in the Truth!  One Body, One Spirit, One Kin, holy and pure and True.  Hear the call of the High Father Above to defend what is right and real.  Arm and armour yourself for the Crusade!  Raise your armies, ye Princes of Men, lift your weapons ye Knights, gather and form O Soldiers!  For night falls and the Sons of the Light must rage against it.  The Jihad is upon us for the sake of Truth!

The skies lighten, the words fall silent.  Life returns to normal, but all is changed.  The Amber Pope has never before spoken to the masses this way.  Who are these Gaians, these enemies of Truth?  

The characters ponder this, but also how to pursue their quest.  Are the two connected?  It would seem a stretch, but the Wastelander's strange visions urge him to think so.  They debate whom to turn to for aid...one of the Nanos has contacts in the Order of Truth, and they are always keen to sponsor investigations into new numenera.  And yet, under the laws of the Steadfast, the Order has the right to select any numenera recovered for itself from any expedition it sponsors.  This leads to the other alternative.

The Jack knows of a collector, an extraordinarily wealthy and reclusive man in Qi by the name of Drakoven.  The story goes that he sponsors expeditions for numenera all the time, and charges only one price.  Anything recovered must be given to him and "scanned" by a strange machine in his possession.  It is then returned unharmed to those who recovered it.  Darkoven seems interested in knowledge only.  

They go to him.

(This will turn out to be one of those choices that shifted the entire direction of the campaign)

Drakoven (Level 6, 7 regarding numenera) is a quiet, still man in simple black, neither overlarge nor imposing, but radiating a chill nonetheless.  He meets them and after examining the crystal reveals a portal in his possession.  He sets the coordinates to those in the crystal.  They have but to prepare and step through...

Once ready they find themselves on the base of a smooth, black, inverted pyramid, high above the seas.  On the centre of the the monolith is a door that opens every 39 seconds and stays open exactly 13 seconds.  They jump through.


The gravity reverses, so now down is up and up is down.  They are in the centre of a black metal labyrinth.  



Once inside they find a fearful anomaly...the interior will not conduct sound of any sort.  Not a word, not a tap, not a scream.  Navigating the maze to its centre, they find a large round room filled with smoky black quartz crystals, some are several meters high, others litter the ground.  It is a treasure trove.  They find several Mass Nodules, Disrupting Nodules, and Invisibility Nodules.  They even recover a Thought Storage Sphere.  Strangest of all, in the bones of a long dead explorer, they find a curious cube or carved brass the size of a fist.  Before they can investigate, the horror within the Shadow Table descends....

It is a Wraith, a thing of tenebrous shadow devouring living matter to exist in this dimension.  Level 5, Armour 2, Damage 4.  They must defeat it to survive...

  






  



  











Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NUMENERA: JIHAD (An Introduction)

Numenera: Jihad is a campaign set against the backdrop of the Amber Pope's call to war against the Gaians.  It follows the adventures of a group of Ninth Worlders at a time when politically and culturally the Steadfast is going through upheavals around them.  The campaign is constructed to follow the players' lead; in other words, though the Crusades are building up around them, the characters are not necessarily forced to get involved.  They are free to join the Holy War or to ignore it, to side with the Order of Truth or against it.  All choices have consequences.

And if you have no bloody idea what Numenera is, look here first.

For months leading up to the first game session, I have been dropping hints on my Facebook page.  Most of them concern the key players in the coming struggles; the pseudo-religious Order of Truth, the animistic Gaians, the shadowy Convergence, and the Angulan Knights.  Some of those teasers follow here;

THE ORDER OF TRUTH

I added one thing to the Order...a quasi "god."  In my conception, when Calaval entered the Amber Monolith it brought him to "the Throne," a citadel in the heart of the Sun.  There a disembodied intelligence, "the Eidolon," revealed itself to him.  It taught Calaval the language known as Truth, and claimed to have been a servant of the Men Who Went Before, the human masters of a previous world who were godlike masters of time and space, matter and energy, life and death.  The Eidolon further claimed to have raised the current, Ninth World humanity "from the drit," from genetic traces the First Men left behind.  It intends to help humanity reclaim its birthright, and sent Calaval back as the first Amber Pope to teach Truth and the core message, "Nothing Cannot Be Understood."


Go ahead, click to enlarge


THE GAIANS

In the lands of Lostrei, beyond the Cloudcrystal Skyfields north of the Steadfast, people follow a radically different faith.  They believe the Earth is alive and aware, they believe the inhabitants of the previous worlds all ascended into a state of "pure spirit" and merged with the Earth and Nature.  The Amber Pope and the Order of Truth have tried, unsuccessfully, to convert them.  Now they have declared a Jihad.  The question is, "why?"  Are the Gaians a genuine threat, as the Order claims, or is this merely a bid for power over the Nine Rival Kingdoms of the Steadfast?


THE CONVERGENCE

Depending on your philosophical outlook, they might be the Bad Guys or the ultimate Pragmatists, but the Convergence is a shadow fraternity of Nanos and sorcerers that shares the Order of Truth's vision of human ascension...but for themselves alone, not everyone else.  A secret society, they study the numenera and comb the ruins for the secrets of lost worlds, and are deeply suspicious of the Eidolon and the message it is selling.  



THE ANGULAN KNIGHTS

A warrior order of the Steadfast, they have taken the Order of Truth's teachings one step further.  The Men Who Went Before were like gods...not the abhumans, the mutants, or the Visitants.  Among the first to answer the call to Holy War, the power of the Angulans will wax strong as the Jihad progresses, and their quest to purge all genetic impurity from the world to prepare it for the Ascension of Man will reach frightening proportions.


In the next post, I will be putting up notes on the first scenario, a brief summary of play, and some other goodies.  Stay tuned.








Saturday, March 28, 2015

THE SIMON NECRONOMICON PART 2: THE COSMOLOGIES OF DERLETH AND THE ARAB

The Simon Necronomicon (Schlangekraft, 1977) purports to be the survival of an ancient Mesopotamian magical tradition that subsequently influenced both the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) and the occult teachings of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947).  None of this is exactly true.  This  Necronomicon is not exactly Lovecraftian, it's not exactly Sumerian, and it's not exactly Crowley...rather it combines the ideas and writings of Lovecraft's and Crowley's proteges, August Derleth and Kenneth Grant respectively, in an attempt to materialise the "astral Necronomicon" Grant so often wrote about.  The result is an intriguing, workable grimoire that puts many of Grant's theories into practice.

in keeping Lovecraft's work alive, Derleth--a devout Catholic--also added to and tinkered with the mythos, turning it into a radically different vision than that of Lovecraft.

The Mad Arab and August Derleth   

In his Introduction, editor Simon makes some comments about Lovecraft;

Lovecraft depicted a kind of Christian Myth of the struggle between opposing forces of Light and Darkness, between God and Satan, in the Cthulhu Mythos...(b)asically, there are two "sets" of gods in the mythos : the Elder Gods, about whom not much is revealed, save that they are a stellar Race that occasionally comes to the rescue of man, and which corresponds to the Christian "Light"; and the Ancient Ones, about which much is told, sometimes in great detail, who correspond to "Darkness".

This is, of course, absolutely not the case.  What Simon is describing is the work of August Derleth (1909-1971), a Lovecraft fan and imitator who played a vital role in keeping Lovecraft's tales and letters in print.  But in keeping Lovecraft's work alive, Derleth--a devout Catholic--also added to and tinkered with the mythos, turning it into a radically different vision than that of Lovecraft.  Pre-eminent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi states the case nicely, and I will quote him at length;

The essence of the Derleth Mythos is as follows:

- There is a moral conflict between the Elder Gods (benevolent cosmic deities who battle on behalf of the human race) against the “evil” Old Ones (Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, etc.), who are intent on subjugating the human race. [In Lovecraft’s stories, there are no benign deities, and the Old Ones are for the most part not gods at all but morally neutral space aliens who have come to earth and encountered human beings and other earthly entities at random points in history.]

- As a result of this cosmic struggle, the Elder Gods have “imprisoned” the Old Ones in various obscure corners of the world or the universe. [In Lovecraft’s stories, none of the “gods” or space aliens are imprisoned with the exception of Cthulhu, and there is no evidence that his imprisoning was at the hands of any benevolent deity.]

- Accordingly, the Cthulhu Mythos is analogous to the Christian mythos, especially in regard to the expulsion of Satan and his minions from heaven. [Lovecraft, an avowed atheist, portrayed a bleakly amoral and atheistic vision of an insignificant humanity lost in the temporal and spatial depths of the cosmos.]

- The Old Ones are “elementals”—that is, they represent the four “elements” (earth, air, fire, and water) of ancient and mediaeval philosophy. [Lovecraft’s “gods” do not bear the slightest resemblance to elementals, especially as they have come from the depths of space where earthly elements may not exist.]

If you were a reader discovering Lovecraft in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, it is likely you did so via Arkham House, the publishing company created by Derleth in 1939 to keep Lovecraft's writings and letters in print.  This would have meant, however, that you were being exposed to Lovecraft's Mythos through a "Derlethian" lens.  It wasn't really until the 1980s that scholars and critics (in America...Lovecraft had been the subject of serious study in European scholarship for decades) took Lovecraft seriously enough to begin to distinguish his vision from his protégé's.  S.T. Joshi, quoted above, was one of those scholars critical to this process.  Simon, writing his Introduction in the mid-Seventies, was simply repeating what was thought about Lovecraft at the time.  Indeed, by his own admission in the book Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon, when he discovered the Necronomicon manuscript Simon claims he knew nothing about Lovecraft. Whether you believe that Simon edited the Necronomicon or authored it, it's easy to understand how someone writing about the Cthulhu Mythos in the 70s would mistake  Derleth's version for than Lovecraft's.  

The better question then, is why "the Mad Arab" makes the same mistake.

Describing a cosmology that marries Derleth to the Enuma Elish, the author of this Necronomicon writes of two warring pantheons of deities, the primordial Ancient Ones and the younger Elder Gods who defeated and imprisoned them.  The Ancient Ones are led by Tiamat, the ancient Sumerian goddess of chaos and the seas, and her mate Absu (lord of subterranean waters).  These are, of course, authentic Mesopotamian deities, but to their number the text adds a host of clearly Lovecraft-inspired horrors; Iak Sakkak (Yog Sothoth), Azag-Thoth (Azathoth), Ishniggarab (Shub Niggurath), and of course Kutulu (Cthulhu).  These ancient beings are convincingly Lovecraftian.  They are alien, inhuman, immense, and possessing monstrous power.  But against them are the Elder Gods, led by the Babylonian god Marduk.  He and his fellow "Zonei" are each associated with one of the Hermetic planets (Nanna with the Moon, Nebo with Mercury, Inanna with Venus, Shammash with the Sun, Nergal with Mars, Marduk with Jupiter, and Ninib with Saturn).  They defeat the Ancient Ones, steal their power, and imprison them.  Then their father Enki fashions Man (a point we will get to shortly).  

Now, these Elder Gods have very human attributes and concerns.  Nebo is patron of the sciences, for example, while Inanna oversees love and war.  All of this completely flies in the face of Lovecraft's mythology, where the "gods" are utterly alien and man is entirely insignificant to them.  This is the whole point of Lovecraft's horror; it rejects the traditional notion of cosmic powers at war over Man's soul.  For Lovecraft, the universe neither notices us nor cares.  Humanity simple doesn't matter.  And this, more than anything, is where the Necronomicon betrays itself as "Derlethian" rather than "Lovecraftian," because in its pages Man is a the very centre of the cosmic struggle;

And was not Man created from the blood of KINGU
Commander of the hordes of the Ancient Ones?
Does not man possess in his spirit
The seed of rebellion against the Elder Gods?

...Created by the Elder Gods
From the Blood of the Ancient Ones
Man is the Key by which
The Gate of IAK SAKKAK may be flung wide  

Far from being insignificant, Man is the centrepiece of the entire system, born of the Ancient One's blood and the breath of the Elder Gods he is the key that can release the Ancient Ones from their prison.  While Lovecraft struggled to create a mythology completely divorced from humanity, this Necronomicon returns to the very path he was departing from.  If we are to believe this is the "real" Necronomicon, the one that inspired Lovecraft's work, it is very difficult to explain why it more closely resembles the bastardised version created by August Derleth.

Simon Dissents


As we touched on briefly in Part One, one of the interesting features of the Necronomicon is that it speaks with two contrasting voices.  One the one hand we have it's author, the Mad Arab, who represents a very traditional viewpoint (from the Western esoteric viewpoint, that is).  For the Mad Arab there is a human race created by the gods and playing a central role in the cosmos, seven hermetic planets associated with fairly traditional correspondences that enclose and protect the world, and forces of Light and Darkness at war with one another.  Humanity is, naturally, urged to side with the Light in this struggle.  These are the same sorts of things we might find in Agrippa, Levi, or any of the medieval grimoires.

The Ancient Ones are not unspeakable horrors that must be kept imprisoned, but a Power, a force venerated in the East but demonised in the West.

Against this we have the voice of the editor, Simon, who speaks from a very nontraditional viewpoint.  He espouses views that started with Aleister Crowley and flowered through modern occultists like Austin Spare, Anton LaVey, Peter Carroll, and (most specifically) Kenneth Grant.  This is a view that transcends notions of Light and Dark and Good and Evil.  Where the Mad Arab has a very dualistic 'us against them' mentality (the 'Christian Myth' Simon mistakenly ascribes to Lovecraft), Simon seems to see the Elder Gods and Ancient Ones as part of a single continuum. When discussing the traditional viewpoint of the Mad Arab, for example, Simon calls everything into question.  Note the use of quotation marks and the statements made in the follow section;

There was a battle between the forces of "light" and "darkness" (so-called) that took place long before man was created, before even the cosmos as we know it existed.  It is described fully in the Enuma Elish and in the bastardised version found in the NECRONOMICON, and involved the Ancient Ones, led by the Serpent MUMMU-TIAMAT and her male counterpart ABSU, against the ELDER GODS (called such in the N.) led by the warrior MARDUK, son of the Sea God ENKI, Lord of the Magicians of this side, or what would be called "White Magicians"--although close examination of the myths of ancient times makes one pause before attempting to judge which of the two warring factions was "good" or "evil"...

"Light," "Darkness," "so-called," "White Magicians," "good," "evil..." Simon is clearly skeptical of the Mad Arab's traditional assumptions.  He is consistent in this.  When writing of Enki's opposite, the Ancient One AZAGTHOTH, he calls him the Lord of Magicians, but of the "Black" magicians, or the sorcerers of the "Other Side."  Again, "Black" and "Other Side" are enclosed in quotation marks.  And shortly after these comments, Simon sets aside a chapter of his Introduction to discuss the worship of the Ancient Ones in which it sounds suspiciously like he is defending the idea;

S.H. Hooke, in his excellent Middle Eastern Mythology, tells us that the Leviathan mentioned in JOB, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, is the Hebrew name given to the Serpent TIAMAT, and reveals that there was in existence either a cult, or scattered individuals, who worshipped or called up the Serpent of the Sea, or Abyss.

Bear in mind Simon's counterpart, the Mad Arab, speaks of these worshippers too, but always with absolute horror.  They are the "wreakers of havoc," "the ensnarers, the piers-in-wait, the blind fiends of Chaos," "secret priests initiated into the Black Rites, whose names are writ forever in the Book of Chaos."  Simon begs to differ;

It is this TIAMAT or Leviathan that is identified closely with KUTULU or Cthulhu in the pages of the NECRONOMICON...(t)his monster is well know to cult worship all over the world...the Dragon or Serpent is said to reside somewhere "below the earth;" it is a powerful force, a magickal force, which is identified with mastery over the created world; it is also a power that can be summoned by the few and not the many. However, in China, there did not seem to be a backlash of fear or resentment against this force as was known in Europe and Palestine...In the West, the conjuration, cultivation, or worship of this Power was strenuously opposed with the advent of Solar, Monotheistic religions...

These "Solar, Monotheistic religions" are what Simon meant with the phrase a "Christian Myth of the struggle between opposing forces of Light and Darkness."  It is a dualistic struggle Crowley would have called Osirian and which Simon enthusiastically dismisses;

The wholesale slaughter of those called "Witches" during the Inquisition is an example of this, as well as the solemn and twisted--that is to say purposeless and unenlightened--celibacy the Church espoused.  For the orgone of Wilhelm Reich is just as much Leviathan as the Kundalini of the Tantrick adepts, and the Power raised by Witches.  It has always, at least in the past two thousand years, been associated with occultism and essentially with Rites of Evil Magick, or the Forbidden Magick, of the Enemy, and of Satan...

Instead of a cosmic struggle between the forces of Good and Evil, Simon sees in the Necronomicon something completely different.  The Ancient Ones are not unspeakable horrors that must be kept imprisoned, but a Power, a force venerated in the East but demonised in the West.   The perception of them as Evil is one fostered by two thousand years of priestly propaganda.  

In Part Three, we will be taking a closer look at this idea, tracing it through Crowley, Spare, and Grant.

      

 

  











  










Tuesday, March 10, 2015

THE SIMON NECRONOMICON PART 1: THE IMAGINARY GRIMOIRE

By the way—there is no “Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” That hellish & forbidden volume is an imaginative conception of mine, which others of the W.T. group have also used as a background of allusion.

Lovecraft, Letter to Robert Bloch, May 9, 1933

A Book That Never Was

The Necronomicon is one of those literary inventions--like Atlantis or Noah's Ark--that certain circles of people desperately want to believe really existed.  The invention of American master of weird fiction Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), the Necronomicon makes it's first appearance in the short story "The Hound" (1922), but is probably best remembered from "The Dunwich Horror" (1929), where it is a vital part of the plot and quoted extensively.  Composed around 700 AD by the "half-crazed" Yemeni Abdul Alhazred, the sprawling 800+ page volume describes the cosmic deities, alien races, and occult forces of the "Cthulhu Mythos," a term coined by Lovecraft protege August Dereleth.  The Necronomicon is just one of many fictional tomes invented by Lovecraft, and because it--like all elements of the Cthulhu Mythos--was something he freely shared with his literary circle and allowed other authors to borrow for their own tales, the Necronomicon began to enjoy an existence independent of its creator.  As more authors started writing about the Necronomicon, more readers started assuming it actually existed, forcing Lovecraft to set the record straight on several occasions;

Regarding the Necronomicon—I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination!

Letter to Margaret Sylvester, 1933

Regarding the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred—I must confess that both the evil volume & the accursed author are fictitious creatures of my own—as are the malign entities of Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, &c.

Letter to William Anger, 1934

Now about the “terrible and forbidden books”—I am forced to say that most of them are purely imaginary. There never was any Abdul Alhazred or Necronomicon, for I invented these names myself.

Letter to Willis Conover, 1936

Upon learning the Black Book never existed, some urged Lovecraft to attempt writing it.  To "Conan" creator Robert E. Howard he wrote in 1932;

As for writing the Necronomicon—I wish I had the energy and ingenuity to do it! I fear it would be quite a job in view of the very diverse passages and intimations which I have in the course of time attributed to it! I might, though, issue an abridged Necronomicon—containing such parts as are considered at least reasonably safe for the perusal of mankind! When von Juntz’s Black Book and the poems of Justin Geoffrey are on the market, I shall certainly have to think about the immortalisation of old Abdul!

Lovecraft never did get around to his abridged version of the sprawling volume, but by the 1970s, several others decided to try.  The climate, after all, was right for a Necronomicon.  The 50s and 60s had seen an occult revival, which by the 70s was drifting from Age of Aquarius white Magic towards something darker.  The Church of Satan was grabbing headlines and spawning imitators, Kenneth Grant was exploring the nightside of Eden, and Chaos Magic was coalescing.  And Lovecraft, who for decades had been banished to quiet semi-obscurity, was making a comeback. H.R. Giger published a collection of horrific art in 1977 under the title Necronomicon, and it helped land him the job of creating the terrifying xenomorph in Alien.  A bit earlier, von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods reawakened Lovecraft's themes of ultrarerrestrial deities and unearthly visitations.  Rod Serling's Night Gallery brought a few of Lovecraft's stories to the small screen, and the decade had kicked off with a film version of The Dunwich Horror. In short, there was a new interest in the Cthulhu Mythos, and coupled with the shadowy direction the occult scene had taken a Necronomicon was nearly inevitable.

Of the three major attempts the Seventies made at manifesting a Necronomicon, only one was viable.  1973 saw Owlswick Press publish a Necronomicon in the fictional, indecipherable language of "Duriac."  It consisted of about twenty pages repeated over and over again to make it look like a real book, and had little value as anything but a prop.  In 1978, the Hay Necronomicon appeared, "prepared from" encoded sections of John Dee's Liber Logaeth.   It's claim to fame was a long-winded ramble by Colin Wilson that the Necronomicon "had to be real" because Lovecraft was too much of a hack to have ever made it up, and went to great pains to show how this weird fiction writer would have come across it.  Vastly superior to the Owlswick attempt, it nevertheless rapidly faded back into obscurity.  But in 1977, a Necronomicon rose from the vortex of New York's occult scene that thirty-seven years and four editions later would still be in print, a little black book that televangelists would wave around alongside The Satanic Bible throughout the Eighties to scare the rubes.  Bearing very little in common with Lovecraft's accursed book, this Necronomicon nevertheless seized the title and made it its own.

It would come to be known as the Simon Necronomicon.

The Simon Necronomicon succeeded for several reasons.  For starters, it tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist of the 1970s. In addition to the trends of darker magic and H.P. Lovecraft mentioned above, the Simon Necronomicon added two other key elements.  The first was Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), who in the Seventies was making a comeback much as Lovecraft was.  The second was Sumer, which thanks to Zacariah Sitchin had replaced Egypt as the new epicenter of the "ancient astronauts" craze.  As we shall see, Sumer, Crowley, and Lovecraft are the three corners the Simon Necronomicon is written around, and all three were hot topics in the Seventies underground.  Bringing the Annunaki, the Cthulhu Mythos, and Crowley's Magick together was a stroke of genius.



A second factor had to be the book's graphic design.  The distinctive Gates and Seals throughout the Simon Necronomicon are nothing short of striking. Indeed, the "Arra-Agga-Bandar" Sigil adorning the front cover on the book rapidly became--alongside the Church of Satan's Baphomet--a universal logo of dark magic, recognizable on heavy metal album covers and back alley walls throughout the Eighties.  This is a real testament to the book's ability to grab the eye.  Being as much about aesthetics as anything else, the look of a magic system's occult mandalas is crucial to a grimoire's success.  The Necronomicon's sigils are far more convincing than any of the text itself.

...there is hardly a grimoire out there (or holy text for that matter) that doesn't make absurd claims about its origin.  The Key of Solomon was not written by Solomon.  The Corpus Hermeticum was not composed by Thrice Great Hermes.  The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses weren't written by Moses, and the five books of the Pentateuch weren't either.  So the point is never what the text claims about its origination, but the fruit it bears...

The key element in the book's success, however, is that it is an actual grimoire.  It is a "fake" Necronomicon but a "real" book of magic.  There is a complete system of magic in the Necronomicon's pages, as unique and self contained as, say, the Enochian system.  Whether the claims it makes about this system are true or not (that it predates all modern magic systems and is an ancient tradition) doesn't change the fact you can pick up the book and work with it.  This, of course, is the only criteria that really matters with a grimoire; does it work.  Because there is hardly a grimoire out there (or holy text for that matter) that doesn't make absurd claims about its origin.  The Key of Solomon was not written by Solomon.  The Corpus Hermeticum was not composed by Thrice Great Hermes.  The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses weren't written by Moses, and the five books of the Pentateuch weren't either.  So the point is never what the text claims about its origination, but the fruit it bears.

With this in mind, for the rest of our discussion we are going to lay aside questions of the book's authenticity and concentrate on it as a piece of occult technology.  To do this, we need to look at the volume's two parts; the text proper, and Simon's long Introductions and explanatory front matter.

Simon Says

"Simon" is both the man of mystery who brought this Necronomicon to press, and the Editor whose voice provides a modern counterpoint to the "Mad Arab" who is said to have written the text.  His Introductions (as of the 2008 edition there are four) and commentary take up nearly a quarter of the book.

Simon's presence in the Necronomicon is interesting, because the ideas he expresses so often run completely counter to what the Mad Arab is telling us.  For example, the Mad Arab's motivation in writing the book is to protect us from the very dark powers the Necronomicon discusses; "Seek ever to keep the Outside Gate closed and sealed, by the instructions I have given thee, by the Seals and the Names herein."  Simon, however, blithely dismisses these warnings;

After the long and poetic MAGAN text, comes the URILLIA text which might be Lovecraft's R'lyeh Text, and is subtitled "Abominations". It has more specifically to do with the worship of the Serpent, and the nature of the cults that participate in the Concelebration of Sin. Again, more conjurations and seals are given, even though the reader is charged not to use them; an inconsistency that is to be found in many grimoires of any period and perhaps reveals a little of the magicians's mentality; for there is very little that is evil to the advanced magus, who cares not if he deals with angelic or demonic forces, save that he gets the job done!

This seems to be the first of the roles Simon plays in the book...to urge us to look past the lurid horrors and dire warnings of the Mad Arab towards a deeper meaning in the text.  The Mad Arab reads like A. E. Waite, while Simon sounds like Aleister Crowley ("Ah! Mr. Waite, the world of Magic is a mirror, wherein who sees muck is muck..." Crowley famously wrote, chiding Waite for his pious fear of Goetia).  More to the point, given the nature of this Necronomicon, the Mad Arab reads like August Derleth and Simon like Kenneth Grant.

I mention these names because Simon's second role seems to be connecting the dots for us, bringing together Lovecraft, Crowley, and ancient Mesopotamia for us in the pages of the book;

That a reclusive author of short stories who lived in a quiet neighbourhood in New England, and the manic, infamous Master Magician who called the world his home, should have somehow met in the sandy wastes of some forgotten civilisation seems incredible. That they should both have become Prophets and Forerunners of a New Aeon of Man's history is equally, if not more, unbelievable. Yet, with H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, the unbelievable was a commonplace of life. These two men, both acclaimed as geniuses by their followers and admirers, and who never actually met, stretched their legs across the world, and in the Seven League Boots of the mind they did meet, and on common soil . . . . Sumeria.

The gist of the initial 1975 Introduction is that the Necronomicon, as an ancient magical tradition, is the common source of both Crowley's Magick and Lovecraft's fiction (as well as the cult of Wicca and much of modern Satanism).  The problem with this is that both Simon's Introduction and the text itself are clearly derivative not of Lovecraft and Crowley, but their proteges...August Derleth and Kenneth Grant.  This is a matter we will be exploring in Part Two.