First of all I just wanted to thank everyone who risked the weather to make it to the meeting last night. For those of you who couldn’t make it, I am writing this EXTREMELY long post so that you can bore yourself to tears by reading all about the Necronomicon. Sorry you couldn’t make it but better to be safe then sorry.
Secrets of the Necronomicon
One of the first questions many people ask about the Necronomicon is, “is it real?” That’s a tricky question to start out with because the answer is both yes and at the same time no. Is there a book in publication that is called The Necronomicon? The answer to that question is without a doubt yes! Is it the same book that H.P. Lovecraft wrote about in 18 of his short stories and novellas? Well unfortunately the answer to that question is no… Or maybe that is a good thing.
To really understand the Necronomicon we have to ask ourselves a few questions, what do we know about it and if it doesn’t “really” exist why is there so much hype over a book that was never real?
To answer those questions lets look at the history of the Necronomicon according to H.P. Lovecraft.
The original manuscript was said to be wrote by Abdul Alhazred a poet who died in Damascus around the year 738 A.D. The original Arabic title of this manuscript was Al Azif which was a reference to the nocturnal sound of insects which were believed to be the howling of demons by Arabic people. According to Lovecraft, Alhazred died mysteriously when he was set upon by an invisible monster who devoured him publicly in broad daylight. So far this sounds just like something out of a Lovecraft story. But from here things start to get interesting.
In 950 A.D. Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople is said to have translated the original manuscript from Arabic to Greek, thus giving it the name Necronomicon. As for the name Necronomicon itself. It sounds foreboding enough right? Lovecraft wrote that the title, as translated in the Greek language, meant “an image of the law of the dead”: nekros – νεκρός (“dead”), nomos – νόμος (“law”), eikon – εικών (“image”) So it wasn’t just some crazy name he (Lovecraft) came up with. It was a logical title that was in fact Greek.
In 1228 Olaus Wormius made the first Latin translation. Prior to this the Necronomicon was known to very few scholars. Once translated however it became much more popular in occult circles. So much so in fact that Pope Gregory IX had the book banned in 1232. Again Lovecraft used real people to add credibility to his creation. Believe it or not there really was some poor guy named Olaus Wormius who was was a Danish physician and antiquary. Unfortunately Wormius lived from 1588 to 1655. That’s 356 years after Lovecraft says he translated the book to Latin. Pope Gregory IX was also real and was in fact Pope during the time, (1227-1241) that Lovecraft says the Necronomicon was published in Latin.
But it doesn’t stop there! Next came the English translation by John Dee. Dee was also a real person who lived from, 1527-c. 1609. However Lovecraft claims that the Dee translations are only fragments from the original Greek or Latin text. John Dee who devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy again gave credibility to Lovecraft’s fiction.
At the time Lovecraft was writing about the Necronomicon he claimed that there were currently copies of the book at the British Museum, Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris the Widener Library at Harvard, the University of Buenos Aires, and of course Miskatonic University in Arkham. Understandably these copies are kept under lock and key in the “restricted” section. With the exception of Miskatonic University (Which sounds real) Lovecraft names real places for his imaginary work to be found.
A real Greek name, real people from history and real locations gave the Necronomicon just enough credibility to have the illusion that it was in fact a real book. By adding reality into the lore of the Necronomicon, Lovecraft was able to breath life into his creation. You also must keep in mind that in the 20’s and 30’s you couldn’t just Google this kind of stuff so if you did research somebody like Olaus Wormius you would in fact find a record of this person. You just might not notice that the dates didn’t match up. Mixing fiction with reality is a well known tool writers use to create the illusion of reality. If you don’t think this kind of thing works just take a look at the hype created by Dan Brown author of The Da Vinci Code.
But real or not, it worked! Even in Lovecraft’s lifetime he would receive letters from readers asking if the Necronomicon was real and where they could find a copy of it. I’m sure being able to pull off such a hoax gave Lovecraft a real laugh. However he was the first to tell people that the book was fake. Below are a few quotes from letters Lovecraft wrote to his fellow writers about the Necronomicon.
To Robert Bloch (May 9, 1933):
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.
To Miss Margaret Sylvester (January 13, 1934):
Regarding the Necronomicon—I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination! Inventing horrible books is quite a pastime among devotees of the weird, & . . . . . many of the regular W.T. contributors have such things to their credit—or discredit. It rather amuses the different writers to use one another’s synthetic demons & imaginary books in their stories—so that Clark Ashton Smith often speaks of my Necronomicon while I refer to his Book of Eibon . . & so on. This pooling of resources tends to build up quite a pseudo-convincing background of dark mythology, legendry, & bibliography—though of course none of us has the least wish actually to mislead readers.
To Robert H. Barlow (August 14, 1934):
[P.S.] Just had 2 more enquiries as to the reality of the Necronomicon!
** W.T. Is shorthand for Weird Tales the magazine that Lovecraft contributed writings to.
Even in Lovecraft’s own lifetime people actually believed that the book was real. Yet Lovecraft himself was the first to tell people that it was something that he had quite literally “Dreamed Up”. In addition to using real names and places to give the illusion of reality many of the writers that Lovecraft knew and corresponded with shared ideas with each other. As he notes in his letter to Miss Margaret Sylvester, Clark Ashton Smith uses the Necronomicon in some of his stories. This gives the book even more of a life of it’s own. Now people will see it not only in Lovecraft’s writing but in the writing of others. Further adding to the idea that it must be a real book somewhere.
So if we know that the Necronomicon isn’t a real book why are there so many people who believe that it is? Better yet why are there actual religious groups who warn their members to stay away from it? Why is it on watch lists in public schools and even some police departments? How can something from the imagination of a 20’s pulp writer have such an effect on people? To understand that lets first look at what else was going on in the world at the time Lovecraft was writing about the dreaded Necronomicon.
In 1921 an a prominent British Egyptologist and anthorpologist named Margaret Murray published the book, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. A book that was in fact an influence for Lovecraft and some of his creations. Also at this time another individual was making headlines. Aleister Crowley was already infamous by the time Lovecraft was writing his short stories. While I have never found anything to says Lovecraft was inspired by Crowley in his fiction I have no doubt that he had some knowledge of Aleister Crowley as a public figure.
This outside influence of the strange and occult was likely fertile ground for the legend of the Necronomicon to take root in. No doubt that many people wouldn’t have found it hard to believe that such a book existed had they any knowledge of Murray or Crowley so the existence of something like the Necronomicon was probably not a stretch of the imagination. But at that time it still wasn’t a real book yet. That would happen in 1977.
Avon Books was founded in 1941 by the American News Corporation (ANC) to create a rival to the publisher of Pocket Books. Avon published pulp novels as well as digest size collections of short stories. Among the writers that they published were, you guessed it, H.P. Lovecraft. After changing hands and ownership a number of times in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s Avon was trying new things by the mid 1970’s. Avon Books frequently published short story books about Science Fiction and Horror and some of those stories were by Lovecraft. It isn’t clear what prompted them to create a version of the Necronomicon but popular opinion is that it was simply to make money. (Not hard to believe.) Thus in 1977 Avon Books published The Necronomicon or Simon’s Necronomicon as it has come to be known.
It is called the “Simon Necronomicon” because it is introduced by a man identified only as “Simon”. The book claims to derive its content from Sumerian mythology- however it actually draws more from Babylonian mythology- and its introduction attempts to identify the fictional Great Old Ones (and other creatures introduced in Lovecraft’s Mythos) with Gods and demons from Sumer-Babylonia. The tales presented in the book are a blend of Mesopotamian myths (not only Sumerian, but Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian as well), and a storyline of unknown authenticity about a man known as the “Mad Arab.”
There is a large section in the introduction of the book that talks about Lovecraft and even explains how Lovecraft himself learned of the book. A crucial difficulty with the Necronomicon’s authenticity is the question of how Lovecraft would have learned about the book before 1921, (since it didn’t exist) and why he would have maintained that he invented it. Some proponents, such as Kenneth Grant, assert that Lovecraft was an unconscious medium who learned about a real book in his dreams; others cite potential links between Lovecraft and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or other magical orders). Which for those of you keeping score is a load of crap.
In reality there is little that connects the Simon Necronomicon with anything that Lovecraft himself wrote. In fact Lovecraft wrote very little about what was actually in the Necronomicon. There are only a few passages in his stories where he (Lovecraft) quotes from the book. Perhaps the most well known being, “That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.” Which is not included anywhere in the Simon Necronomicon. Strange that the best-known quote would be missing don’t you think?
By now your probably thinking… So what? Why would anyone buy into this? Again we should look at what was going on in the world at the time that this book hit the stands. It was the late 70’s early 80’s and at the same time that the Necronomicon was becoming popular another force of unspeakable evil was being unleashed on the world, Dungeons & Dragons. Yes as stupid as it sounds the role playing game and the Necronomicon have a long history together. In fact monsters from the Cthulhu Mythos are in the very first Deities & Demigods (Later removed due to legal reasons.) but this was enough to prove to some religious wing-nuts that Satan was coming for their children and he was doing it in the form of books and games.
Necronomicon and Cults
So we have a book that doesn’t really exist but “sort of” does. It’s history is fictional and even the history of the Simon Necronomicon can’t really be proven. But there are still those who think it is real. So much so in fact that Jack Chick a religious publisher has released articles on the dangers of the Necronomicon as well as Dungeons & Dragons, rock music and of course Satan worship.
Unfortunately the Necronomicon has had some “real” bad press. For example, the book was used as courtroom evidence in the murder trials of Roderick Ferrell and Glen Mason, with suggestions that it played a part in Satanic human sacrifices. Ferrell, it is claimed, used the book during cult rituals.
Patricia Pulling who in her book, The Devil’s Web: Who Is Stalking Your Children For Satan? (published by Vital Issues Press, 1989) warned against the Simon Necronomicon. According to Pulling, the book was used regularly by teenagers. She urges police officers to open interrogations of suspected teenage occultists with the question, “Have you read the Necronomicon, or are you familiar with it?”
There are many cases that involve not only the Necronomicon but the Satanic Bible and other so-called “occult books” however in many instances it comes to light that these books have little to do with the overall “motivation” of the individuals involved with the crimes and more often then not the involvement of the occult is hyped up by the media.
A more “Lovecraft friendly” version of the Necronomicon was published by Llewellyn Books in 2004. Donald Tyson published Necronomicon; The Wanderings of Alhazred. which doesn’t go as far off course with what Lovecraft created as the Simon Necronomicon. Tyson is considered to be somewhat of an occultist but in all reality he is a writer. Using a ritual structure similar to Gardnerian Wicca rituals Tyson has crafted a “spell book” of sorts using the Old Ones and Elder Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos as a backdrop for the “magic” in the book Grimoire of the Necronomicon. However I personally believe that these were published as a vehicle to promote his later work. Alhazred Author of the Necronomicon which is a 667 page novel he wrote about Lovecraft’s, Mad Arab.
Again another version of the Necronomicon that adds fuel to the fire that it might just be a “real” book.
So Is It Real?
Is the Necronomicon real? Is it a mysterious grimoire of dreadful secret knowledge? Are there cults who worship the Old Ones and use it as a holy text? In short… Yes there are books out there called The Necronomicon. Are they the same Necronomicon that H.P. Lovecraft was writing about? Nope.
The fact is that prior to Lovecraft there is no record or history of a book called the Necronomicon. The reality is that it is nothing more then a prop dreamed up by Lovecraft to add some spice to his stories. But there is something truly powerful about the Necronomicon. A magic at work that can’t be denied even if you know that the real book doesn’t exist. Lovecraft created a powerful idea when he created the Necronomicon and his Mad Arab poet. An idea so powerful that people believe it to be real nearly 100 years after it was first mentioned in his short story “The Hound”. It has become exactly what Lovecraft wanted his Necronomicon to be. A book that is feared and shrouded in mystery. Connected with wicked cults, strange rituals and unfortunately even murder. Banned in some public libraries and considered dangerous to many religious groups. His basic idea of the Necronomicon has become a reality. It may not be exactly how he wanted it to be. Lovecraft himself would probably think it is all foolish but if nothing else the Necronomicon is a true testament to the influence and creative genius of H.P. Lovecraft.