A HISTORY OF THE NECRONOMICON
By Jim Xavier, Wiltshire, 2000.
H. P. LOVECRAFT
The first mention of the Necronomicon was in the work of pulp horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.(1) Lovecraft seems to have obtained a copy of this work and to give verisimilitude to his stories, infused them with rituals, secrets and arcane knowledge lifted from its pages. It is largely through the writings of Lovecraft that the Necronomicon has gained the reputation it enjoys today and copies of this most elusive and esoteric of works are eagerly sought by scholars and occultists the world over. It was long thought to be a fictitious work, invented by Lovecraft to add weight and realism to his Cthulhu Mythos stories, but in recent years fragments of this legendary work have come to light.
A lot of research has been done into the tangled history of the elusive Necronomicon, much of it contradictory and confusing. Separating fact from fiction is a task upon which countless experts have been engaged for decades, with only limited success. Perhaps it is only fitting that this senses-shattering work should be cloaked in mystery and confusion...... However, I will attempt here a brief outline of the history of Abdul Alhazred and his fabled Necronomicon.(2)
THE MAD ARAB POET
The Necronomicon was written by Abdul Alhazred, the mysterious "Mad Poet" of Damascus. He was born in 712 AD in the city of Tabez. Alhazred was a visionary and an interpreter of dreams and portents and was held in superstitious awe and loathing during his lifetime.
He travelled widely across the Middle East to far-flung forgotten and unholy places. He spent time in Egypt where he studied under the wizard Yakthoob; travelled to the Lost city of Irem and spent time alone in the Nameless City.
It was during a pilgrimage to Chorazin on the Sea of Galilee that Alhazred fell into a trance-like state which endured for eight years. It was during this trance that he cloistered himself as a monk and wrote what was to become known as the Necronomicon.
Through the use of strange drugs and magical incantations Alhazred roamed the spaces between heaven and earth and gazed upon different worlds and alien dimensions. He spoke with demons and jinn and gained knowledge and understanding of the Great Old Ones and of Those who Wait Beyond. He wrote down much of what he saw in his book.
When he came out of seclusion his fame spread far and wide throughout Arabia, Iraq and Syria and many stood in awe of his arcane powers. In later life he settled in Damascus which was where he ended his life. His 12th century biographer, Ibn Khallikan tells that he was preaching from the foundations of a temple consecrated to the Great Old One, Mighty Cthulhu when he was swallowed up by the very air itself and disappeared from view!(3) All that remained were his clothes. Many maintained that he was torn apart by invisible demons but his acolytes believed that he had been taken to those 'spaces inbetween' where dwell the Great Old Ones waiting for Their Time to Return.
About twenty years after Alhazred's death the Kitab Al-Azif (as the Necronomicon was originally titled) was translated into Duriac from the original Arabic, although it is not known whether the Duriac version contains all of the original Arabic text.(4)
It was in AD 950 that the Al-Azif, copies of which had been secretly circulated by the poets and scholars of the age, found its way into the Imperial Library of Constantinople. It was at this time that it gained its more widely known title of Necronomicon, when Theodorus Philetas secretly produced a Greek translation from the Arabic text.(5) His original manuscript was destroyed in the sack of Byzantium, when the great libraries of Constantinople were sacked, looted and burned by the Crusaders.
By 1050, it was thought that the original Arabic text was also lost when Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, publicly condemned and burnt all the existing copies of the Necronomicon but faithful servants of the 'Mad Arab' managed to preserve a few copies of both texts.
At the beginning of the 12th century an unknown scribe made a Belgian translation of the work, followed in the 13th century by a French translation, also anonymously made, apparently by monks in a monastery located in southern France.
The first Latin translation of the Necronomicon was made in 1228. Who actually produced this new edition remains a mystery. There are some who believe it was Olaus Wormius the Elder who translated several ancient books into Greek and Latin, while others are of the opinion that this edition, titled De Normis Necium, was perpetrated by occult students in Bologna and was later corrected by the 17th century Wormius. Whatever its authorship, the work was credited to one Olaus Wormius. Once again it was believed that the Arabic text was lost forever but hidden copies still remained in the dark corners of the world.
Four years later, there was another purge by Pope Gregory IX, who tried to suppress the new Latin edition and the remaining Greek copies of the book and again this purge met with only limited success. The Wormius edition was the source for another French translation, published in Lyons in 1472 and also for a German black-letter printing in 1440.
1487 saw the second Olaus Wormius edition of the book. Translated from a complete Greek copy of the text, Wormius produced a corrected Latin version, but this was to be his downfall. Olaus Wormius was one of Torquemada's secretaries during the Spanish Inquisition and he sent a copy of the translated Necronomicon to the abbot and occult scholar Trithemius. Trithemius, was horrified by Wormius' actions and reported him at once to church officials who had Wormius burned at the stake along with the copies of his translation.
In 1550 an unknown scholar made a Russian translation followed in 1567 by an Italian edition of the Greek text. During the period 1576-9 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (the author of Don Quixote) made a Spanish translation while in captivity in Algiers, giving it the title El Libro de los Normos de los Perdidos.
It was in 1586 that the Necronomicon was finally translated into English by Dr. John Dee an astrologer and magician in service to Queen Elizabeth I. His translation was based partly on a Greek manuscript, partly on the second Wormius Latin edition and partly on the results of Dee's own drug induced dreams and conversations with angels. As a result, this edition is considered incomplete but contains much of interest. At his death, on January 7th 1988, the noted fantasy writer and editor Lin Carter was engaged in translating further papers from the collection of John Dee, most of which made up Book I of the Necronomicon.(6)
1598 saw another partial English translation of the Latin text by Baron Frederick of Sussex, England. He titled this translation Cultus Maleficarum but it is better known today as The Sussex Manuscript. It is a confused and chaotic piece of writing and is not considered reliable by occult scholars.(7)
In 1623 the Olaus Wormius translation was published in a new edition, this time in Spain.
Aleister Crowley published a limited edition of the English Necronomicon in 1916, based on the Dee translation and in 1956. Henrietta Montague translated the British Museum's Greek edition of the Necronomicon into English in an expurgated version.
And so the history of the Necronomicon rolls on. In recent times, new editions of the book have even appeared as mass market paperback editions (which will be discussed later) including a number of fakes, which just serve to further confuse and confound the serious scholar in search of Alhazred's original writings. One thing is certain however, despite, purges, condemnation and systematic destruction of the Necronomicon it still survives today, no doubt partly due to the fact that many people believe it to be an invention of H. P. Lovecraft and therefore harmless....
THE ELUSIVE BOOK
It would appear that it isn't just occultists, scholars and authors of macabre fiction who exhibit an interest in the Necronomicon. It is now known that a copy of the 'Black Letter' edition of the infamous book was discovered in the late 60's by Roky Erickson, who was lead vocalist with Texas based psychedelic group The Thirteenth Floor Elevators.
Legend has it that he was inspired by the cult horror film The Night Of The Demon, with its mention of ancient curses, demons, runes and forbidden books of arcane lore and set off in search of the book spoken of in the film. It was in a small, cluttered book shop in Austin, Texas that he stumbled across a copy of the Necronomicon.
Those were strange days those 'acid drenched' sixties. Roky was taking drugs of every description, including LSD and Heroin. However at the time he was also deeply involved in translating Alhazared's loathsome work. By July 1969, Roky was declared insane (to escape a drugs bust) and put inside the Rush State High Security Hospital where he remained for three years, and where, as well as writing a book of poetry titled Openers, he completed the task of translating the Necronomicon and became interested in the nature and habits of demons. It was the Necronomicon, rather than the drugs, that caused his 'madness' and incarceration in the first place. In a radio interview Roky said that he had written his own volume The Wolfcronomicon: "That's something I wrote after the Necronomicon". In this he sets down the names and sigils of the lesser demons. This work remains unpublished.
My recent research on this nightmare book has led me to speculate that a copy exists somewhere in Wiltshire - indeed I strongly suspect it is owned by Steve Lines himself! He strongly denies this however. A perusal of his extensive library drew a blank, (although I did see several versions of the more readily available editions of works titled Necronomicon, plus Haydon Atwood Prescott's The Behemoth From Below; Richard Anderson's The Necronomicon: A Study and The Sevenford Seals with an inscription by Ramsey Campbell). Also on his shelves were several other works by Haydon Atwood Prescott and a few artifacts from his bequest which I recognised as being missing from the collection held by The British Museum. This leads me to the conclusion that Steve does in fact have Prescott's John Dee translation of the Necronomicon.
Scholars familiar with the "Cult of Cthulhu" cannot fail to see the repeating symbols and imagery of the Cthulhu Mythos in Steve's lyrics with his band Stormclouds. Death, sleep, dreaming and the ocean are recurrent obsessions within his songwriting, as his recent work, Sleep No More, reveals.(8) Cthulhu, as has been stated, lies dreaming in death-like sleep in his prison at R'lyeh beneath the waves: an encapsulation of the above themes. But there are other parallels. Mr Lines was born in November (making his star sign that of Girtab, the Scorpion), on a remote part of the Welsh coast. Let me quote here a few choice passages from the Necronomicon: "Supplicate great Cthulhu only at Hallowmass Eve when the sun abides within the house of the Scorpion and Orion riseth." and this from Ye Adjuration of Great Cthulhu: "On Hallowmass Eve thou must travel to some lonely place where high ground overlooks the ocean....and Cthulhu shall come to you in sleep and show His sign with which ye shall unlock the secrets of the deep."
In interview I tried to press Steve further on these subjects but he became strangely reticent and began to show an uneasiness and furtiveness totally at odds with his easy manner during his previous discourse on music. So there I left it, maybe for some investigative journalist braver of heart than I to undertake.
THE NECRONOMICON TODAY
There have been several editions with the title Necronomicon published in recent years, most in paperback editions no less! The first edition of the infamous book was published in 1973 by Owlswick Press under the title Al Azif. This purported to be a manuscript discovered by L. Sprague De Camp while in Baghdad, written in the ancient Duriac language and allegedly looted from a tomb in the ruins of Duria. This turned out to be the first of several hoaxes. It was in fact page after page of repeated Arabesque calligraphy!
Four years later "Simon" published his own version of the Necronomicon in hardback but this was once again a spurious attempt at creating the Necronomicon for gullible Lovecraftians and occult scholars. A paperback edition followed in 1980 from Avon Books.
Edited by George Hay and introduced by Colin Wilson; The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names appeared in 1978 published in Neville Spearman. (A paperback edition of this also appeared in 1980, published by Corgi Books.) This was more like it! Translated from an original manuscript, written in cipher, discovered amongst the papers of Elizabethan magician John Dee, it contained some of the more harmless texts from Alhazred's dark tome.
The writer and editor Lin Carter was engaged in translating more of Dee's Necronomicon when he died on February 7th 1988, but his unfinished work was eventually published by Chaosium Books in their volume The Necronomicon, edited by Robert M. Price and published in 1996. It also included, along with several pieces of fiction dealing with the Necronomicon, L. Sprague De Camp's introduction to Al-Azif.
The Swiss artist H. R. Geiger's has published two volumes titled Necronomicon. These are large format books containing the best of Geiger's macabre "biomechanoid" drawings, paintings and designs, through there is little in their pages that relates directly to Alhazred's work. A cursory glance through their pages shows he obviously has knowledge of the Necronomicon and its pantheon of deities and, with his extensive occult library it is fair to assume he owns the cursed book in one form or another. It was the publication of H. R. Giger's Necronomicon by Big O Publishing in 1977 which drew him to the attention of the producers of the film Alien (1979) and it is by his work on this and subsequent Hollywood films that he is most well known. H. R. Giger's Necronomicon Two was published in 1986.
There still hasn't been, and probably never will be, a complete edition of the Mad Arab's famous text. Down through the centuries it has been published, suppressed, re-published, translated, re-translated, copied by hand and transmitted via the internet. Several hoaxes have been perpetrated and many authors have added to the work through their own fiction so nobody is really sure what is original Alhazred and just what has been added, deleted and changed over the years. And perhaps that is just as well. Mankind was never meant to know those things hinted at by Abdul Alhazred in the Necronomicon and it is better that we live on "our placid island of ignorance" and continue to believe that the Necronomicon is the fictional invention of the horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Far better that than dwell on the awesome implications if the book should be real......
Jim Xavier, Comptonbury. November 2000.
1. The Necronomicon and its author Abdul Alhazred are first mentioned in Lovecraft's second Mythos story The Hound, first published in 1922.
2. For more details on the publication history of the Necronomicon see the following:
Ex Libris Miskatonici by Joan C. Stanley.Necronomicon Press. 1998.
History of the Necronomicon by H. P. Lovecraft.Necronomicon Press. 1986.
The Necronomicon Edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium Books1996.
The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (Revised second edition) by Daniel Harms. Chaosium Books. 1998.
3. The Life of the Master (A Biography of Abdul Alhazred by his Student, El Rashi) in The Necronomicon Edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium Books1996.
4 Kitab Al-Azif roughly translated means "Revelations of the Jinn or "Secrets of the Demons. See A Critical Commentary on the Necronomicon by Robert M. Price in The Necronomicon Edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium Books1996.
5. For discussion on the meaning of the title Necronomicon see What Kind of Book? from A Critical Commentary upon the Necronomicon by Robert M. Price in The Necronomicon Edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium Books1996.
6. The Necronomicon: The Dee Translation by Lin Carter Lin Carter's in The Necronomicon Edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium Books1996.
7. The Sussex Manuscript by Fred L. Pelton in The Necronomicon Edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium Books1996.
8. Sleep No More by Stormclouds. Rainfall Records. September 2000.