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CONCERNING THE DEAD
© Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved.
"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."
These lines from the short story "The Nameless City," published in Weird Tales in 1921, are the first hint the world was given of the unspeakable tome known as Necronomicon. Attributed to the mad poet, Abdul Alhazred, the couplet describes the erstwhile denizens of a forbidden metropolis, reptilian beasts from another dimension, enemies of humanity and covetous of our home. Unnamed in either this story or the second short story in which it's mentioned (1922's "The Hound," also published in Weird Tales.), the book was only known as a collection of blasphemous wisdom and arcane, sickening drawings, bound in tanned human skin. Over the course of a dozen or so short stories and novellas penned by science fiction/horror author Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1891-1937), the book, called Necronomicon, is revealed to be a grimoire (a written collection of magickal rituals), and one of a most unwholesome variety. Not only were the spells, rites, incantations, and anecdotes within its noisome covers created for the purpose of consorting with humanity's greatest alien enemies, but those writings themselves are of such foulness that the very study of them drives their readers incurably mad.
Known as one of the fathers of modern speculative fiction, H.P. Lovecraft was possessed of a vivid and paranoid imagination. A sickly, bookish child, confined to bed a great deal of the time, his fertile imagination was given free rein to roam and to weave wild fantasies, but that same imagination often produced terrifying nightmares of otherworldly beings, dangerous alien lifeforms lusting to overtake Earth. As an adult, Lovecraft used this imagery to create a cycle of short stories that have chilled readers and inspired other writers for decades. In his fictional world, Earth is forever on the verge of being invaded by evil extradimensional gods, terrifying powers who wish to enslave and devour humanity. To make matters worse, there are those humans who worship and would welcome in these beings - practitioners of mad, debauched magicks, madmen craving power.
According to the fiction, one such man, the disgraced, exiled Arab, Abdul Alhazred, left behind a written account of these beings and the profane rites used to invoke them. He called the book Al Azif, which is an Arabic pun describing both the sound of night insects in the desert and the howling of demons. Later translators called the book the Necronomicon. This name, which Lovecraft claimed came to him in a dream and which is apparently a mix of Greek and Latin, has been translated variously to mean The Book of Dead Names, The Book of Dead Laws, The Image of the Law of the Dead, and other like permutations, but the most accurate translation appears to be Concerning The Dead.
While Lovecraft always insisted that the Necronomicon was a work of fiction, there have always been those who have insisted as vehemently that it was not. His voluminous correspondence would appear to indicate that he was a strict materialist, believing in nothing that science and the five senses could not prove, and that he had little or no interest in mystical pursuits or magickal studies, other than purely for the sake of research. There appears to be ample evidence that Lovecraft either made the whole thing up, or wanted everyone to think that he had. Those who believe that the Necronomicon is real can point to other evidence - one favorite theory is that Lovecraft's father and grandfather both had occult connections, and he might have learned of the book that way. And then there are those who believe that the Necronomicon is indeed a real book, but existing only on the astral plane, and that Lovecraft was a natural and unwitting shaman, who traveled between the worlds in his dreams and channeled information about those who live in the wastes between the stars.
To complicate matters and further challenge our definition of "real", since the 1970s, several books have become available on the market, all called Necronomicon, and all claiming various levels of authenticity. The best-known of these, commonly referred to as the "Simon Necronomicon," is also the most controversial, as its author/translator has always remained anonymous and its claims to authenticity are notoriously shaky. While debunkers have done their best to discredit this version of the book, its author(s), and its authenticity, researchers have reported that unpredictable and dangerous results have been achieved through use of the book. Perhaps, as theories of chaos magick posit, the effectiveness of a magickal working is less dependent on the authenticity of the material as on how the practitioner feels about the material, and indeed it has been chaos magicians who have reported some of the most interesting results from working with Lovecraftian imagery.
In addition to the purported grimoires variously available, there have also been many other works of fiction which refer to the Necronomicon, far beyond the handful of stories in which Lovecraft mentioned it. Authors such as Robert Bloch and Stephen King have featured the dread volume in works of their own, and it's turned up wreaking havoc in a number of recent popular films, most notably the Evil Dead series. And most recently, noted occult author Donald Tyson has penned two exhaustive fictional works on the topic, one his own version of the Necronomicon, carefully faithful to Lovecraft's specific vision of the book, and the other, AlHazred, an autobiographical account of the life of the mad Arab.
Those interested in further study are encouraged to begin their journey with a thorough sampling of the writings of Lovecraft himself. For further information on Lovecraftian currents in chaos magick, see the works of Phil Hine or Peter J. Carroll, two founders of the chaos magick movement. Readers choosing the popular paperback Necronomicon and its companion volume The Necronomicon Spellbook (both naming Simon as their editor and translator) will find collections of rites and incantions suitable for calling up various Damned Things, as well as fascinating ancedotes on the creation of this edition of the book. Those wishing to know more about the creation of that edition will find Dead Names, also by Simon, to be a compelling read. And for a general overview of the topic, The Necronomicon Files by Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III is both thorough and entertaining, covering the history of the book as well as its use in magick and its influence on popular culture. The student is reminded, however, of the fates of those who studied this profane text too deeply. During this season of Halloween, as the night grows longer and stronger with each passing moonrise and the veil between the worlds grows thin, take care with strange books and forbidden lore. Some things are not for us to know.
" The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"
© Copyright 2006 Nancy Batty, All Rights Reserved.