"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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


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.





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