"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."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


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.   

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