"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.





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.