With Commentary by Dan Clore
(The following (Anti-)FAQ was meant in a spirit of jest, as Colin Low himself has confirmed. However, I have seen far too many persons take it seriously, and solemnly cite it as supportive documentation of various false claims about the Necronomicon. Hence, I too decided to take it seriously -- or pretend to do so -- and provide a rebuttal to its spurious claims. -- DC)
I guess all those people who still think the Necronomicon is an invention of Lovecraft's just aren't keeping up with the fast-moving pace of modern occult scholarship. It is time to repost the Necronomicon FAQ.
Well, we'll see about that.
Q. What is the Necronomicon?
The Necronomicon of Alhazred, (literally: "Book of Dead Names")
This translation is inaccurate. See my Page on the subject.
is not, as popularly believed, a grimoire, or sorceror's spell-book;
This popular belief, of course, derives from Lovecraft, who mistakenly has several characters derive spells from the work.
it was conceived as a history, and hence "a book of things now dead and gone", but the author shared with Madame Blavatsky a magpie-like tendency to garner and stitch together fact, rumour, speculation, and complete balderdash, and the result is a vast and almost unreadable compendium of near-nonsense which bears more than a superficial resemblance to Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine.
What is the authority or evidence for this statement?
In times past the book has been referred to guardedly as Al Azif, or The Book of the Arab.
It was written in seven volumes, and runs to over 900 pages in the Latin edition.
Authority or evidence?
Q. Where and when was the Necronomicon written?
The Necronomicon was written in Damascus in 730 A.D. by Abdul Alhazred.
According to Lovecraft's History, merely "circa 730 A.D."
Q. Who was Abdul Alhazred?
Little is known. What we do know about him is largely derived from the small amount of biographical information in the Necronomicon itself - he travelled widely, from Alexandria to the Punjab,
Odd that Lovecraft was unaware of these travels, while he does mention a number of others.
and was well read. He had a flair for languages, and boasts on many occasions of his ability to read and translate manuscripts which defied lesser scholars.
His research methodology however smacked more of Nostradamus than Herodotus. As Nostradamus himself puts it in Quatrains 1 & 2:
Sitting alone at night in secret study;
it is placed on the brass tripod. A slight
flame comes out of the emptiness
and makes successful that which should
not be believed in vain.
The wand in the hand is placed
in the middle of the tripod's legs.
With water he sprinkles both the hem
of his garment and his foot.
A voice, fear; he trembles in his robes.
Divine splendour; the god sits nearby.
In case anyone is interested, here is the original of Nostradamus' verses:
Estant assis de nuict secret estude
Seul reposé sur la selle d'aerain;
Flambe exiguë sortant de solitude
Fait prosperer qui n'est à croire vain.
La verge en main mise au milieu des BRANCHES
De l'onde il moulle & le limbe & le pied;
Un peur & voix fremissant par les manches;
Splendeur divine. Le divin pres s'assied.
Much clearer in the original, n'est-ce pas?
Just as Nostradamus used ritual magic to probe the future, so Alhazred used similar techniques (and an incense composed of olibanum, storax, dictamnus, opium and hashish) to clarify the past, and it is this, combined with a lack of references, which resulted in the Necronomicon being dismissed as largely worthless by historians.
What authority or evidence is there for Alhazred's use of these techniques, and more particularly, for this precise récipé?
He is often referred to as "the mad Arab", and while he was certainly eccentric by modern standards, there is no evidence to substantiate a claim of madness, other than a chronic inability to sustain a train of thought for more than a few paragraphs before leaping off at a tangent.
Now this claim is patently unbelievable. The quotations which I have collected show the "mad Arab" as lucidity personified.
He is better compared with figures such as the Greek neo-platonist philosopher Proclus (410-485 A.D.), who was completely at home in astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and metaphysics, but was sufficiently well versed in the magical techniques of theurgy to evoke Hekate to visible appearance; he was also an initiate of Egyptian and Chaldean mystery religions. It is no accident that Alhazred was intimately familar with the works of Proclus.
Authority or evidence?
Q. What is the printing history of the Necronomicon?
No Arabic manuscript is known to exist;
Not surprising, since no manuscript in any language is known to exist.
the author Idries Shah carried out a search in the libraries of Deobund in India, Al-Azhar in Egypt, and the Library of the Holy City of Mecca, without success.
Evidence or authority?
A Latin translation was made in 1487 (not in the 17th. century as Lovecraft maintains) by a Dominican priest Olaus Wormius.
An odd claim, since Lovecraft places the translation of Olaus Wormius at 1228, whereas the actual historic Olaus Wormius did indeed live in the 17th century.
Wormius, a German by birth, was a secretary to the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, Tomas de Torquemada, and it is likely that the manuscript of the Necronomicon was seized during the persecution of Moors ("Moriscos") who had been converted to Catholism under duress; this group was deemed to be unsufficiently pure in its beliefs.
What evidence is there that this third Olaus Wormius even existed? And why did a German have a Danish name?
It was an act of sheer folly for Wormius to translate and print the Necronomicon at that time and place. The book must have held an obsessive fascination for the man, because he was finally charged with heresy and burned after sending a copy of the book to Johann Tritheim, Abbot of Spanheim (better known as "Trithemius"); the accompanying letter contained a detailed and blasphemous interpretation of certain passages in the Book of Genesis.
Again, evidence? And where can the text (or even a summary) of this letter be found?
Virtually all the copies of Wormius's translation were seized and burned with him, although there is the inevitable suspicion that at least one copy must have found its way into the Vatican Library.
Almost one hundred years later, in 1586, a copy of Wormius's Latin translation surfaced in Prague. Dr. John Dee, the famous English magician, and his assistant Edward Kelly were at the court of the Emperor Rudolph II to discuss plans for making alchemical gold, and Kelly bought the copy from the so-called "Black Rabbi" and Kabbalist, Jacob Eliezer, who had fled to Prague from Italy after accusations of necromancy.
At that time Prague had become a magnet for magicians, alchemists and charletons of every kind under the patronage of Rudolph, and it is hard to imagine a more likely place in Europe for a copy to surface.
Now, this logic is impeccable. We can take it as proven that a copy of the Necronomicon would appear in Prague at this time. Ergo, one did.
The Necronomicon appears to have had a marked influence on Kelly; the character of his scrying changed, and he produced an extraordinary communication which struck horror into the Dee household; Crowley interpeted it as the abortive first attempt of an extra-human entity to communicate the Thelemic Book of the Law. Kelly left Dee shortly afterwards. Dee translated the Necronomicon into English while warden of Christ's College, Manchester, but contrary to Lovecraft, this translation was never printed
Contrary to Lovecraft, who states: "An English translation made by Dr. Dee was never printed...."? (The copy of Dee's translation that appears in "The Dunwich Horror" is apparently a handmade transcription.)
-- the manuscript passed into the collection of the great collector Elias Ashmole, and hence to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Where, like the rest of Dee's manuscripts, it is available for the inspection of scholars. What is the catalogue number of this manuscript? (We see the answer to this later on.)
There are many modern fakes masquerading as the Necronomicon. They can be recognised by a total lack of imagination or intelligence, qualities Alhazred possessed in abundance.
Well, hard to disagree with that one.
Q. What is the content of the Necronomicon?
The book is best known for its antediluvian speculations. Alhazred appears to have had access to many sources now lost, and events which are only hinted at in the Book of Genesis or the apocryphal Book of Enoch, or disguised as mythology in other sources, are explored in great detail. Alhazred may have used dubious magical techniques to clarify the past, but he also shared with 5th. century B.C. Greek writers such as Thucydides a critical mind and a willingness to explore the meanings of mythological and sacred stories. His speculations are remarkably modern, and this may account for his current popularity: he believed that many species besides the human race had inhabited the Earth, and that much knowledge was passed to mankind in encounters with being from other "spheres". He shared with some neo-platonists the belief that stars are like our sun, and have their own unseen planets with their own lifeforms, but elaborated this belief with a good deal of metaphysical speculation in which these beings were part of a cosmic hierarchy of spiritual evolution. He was also convinced that he had contacted these "Old Ones" using magical invocations, and warned of terrible powers waiting to return to re-claim the Earth -- he interpretated this belief in the light of the Apocalypse of St. John, but reversed the ending so that the Beast triumphs after a great war in which the earth is laid waste.
What was Alhazred, an Arab, doing with Christian scriptures -- however "indifferent" a Muslim he may have been?
Q. Why did the novelist H.P. Lovecraft claim to have invented the Necronomicon?
The answer to this interesting question lies in two people: the poet and magician Aliester Crowley, and a Brooklyn milliner called Sonia Greene.
A more accurate answer lies in the fact that he did invent it (more precisely, it occurred to him in the course of a dream).
There is no question that Crowley read Dee's translation of the Necromonicon in the Ashmolean, probably while researching Dee's papers; too many passages in Crowley's Book of the Law read like a transcription of passages in that translation.
Examples of these passages?
Either that, or Crowley, who claimed to remember his life as Edward Kelly in a previous incarnation, read it in a previous life!
I vote for this alternative!
Why doesn't he mention the Necronomicon in his works? He was surprisingly reticent about his real sources - there is a strong suspicion that 777, which Crowley claimed to have written, was largely plagiarised from Allan Bennet's notes. His spiritual debt to Nietzsche, which in an unguarded moment he refers to as "almost an avatar of Thoth, the god of wisdom" is studiously ignored; likewise the influence of Richard Burton's "Kasidah" on his doctrine of True Will. I suspect that the Necronomicon became an embarrassment to Crowley when he realised the extent to which he had unconsciously incorporated passages from the Necronomicon into The Book of the Law.
Yes, this must be it! He was too embarrassed by the fact that Aiwass -- who dictated The Book of the Law to him -- was a plagiarist, to admit his praeternatural friend's literary crime, or even to mention the book he plagiarized from! That's it, right!
In 1918 Crowley was in New York. As always, he was trying to establish his literary reputation, and was contributing to The International and Vanity Fair. Sonia Greene was an energetic and ambitious Jewish emigré with literary ambitions, and she had joined a dinner and lecture club called "Walker's Sunrise Club" (?!); it was there that she first encountered Crowley, who had been invited to give a talk on modern poetry.
Authority or evidence (yet again) for this meeting?
It was a good match; in a letter to Norman Mudd, Crowley describes his ideal woman as "rather tall, muscular and plump, vivacious, ambitious, energetic, passionate, age from thirty to thirty five, probably a Jewess, not unlikely a singer or actress addicted to such amusements. She is to be 'fashionable', perhaps a shade loud or vulgar. Very rich of course." Sonia was not an actress or singer, but qualified in other respects. She was earning what, for that time, was an enormous sum of money as a designer and seller of woman's hats. She was variously described as "Junoesque", "a woman of great charm and personal magnetism", "genuinely glamorous with powerful feminine allure", "one of the most beautiful women I have ever met", and "a learned but eccentric human phonograph". In 1918 she was thirty-five years old and a divorcee with an adolescent daughter. Crowley did not waste time as far as women were concerned; they met on an irregular basis for some months.
Isn't the question obvious by now?
In 1921 Sonia Greene met the novelist H.P. Lovecraft, and in that year Lovecraft published the first novel where he mentions Abdul Alhazred ("The Nameless City").
Too bad that Lovecraft wrote that short story (not novel) in January, and didn't meet Sonia for months afterward. Perhaps he'd had a dream presaging the remarkable information she would impart to him....
In 1922 he first mentions the Necronomicon ("The Hound"). On March 3rd. 1924, H.P. Lovecraft and Sonia Greene married.
Well, I bet mentioning the Necronomicon was just a ploy to get into her pants.
We do not know what Crowley told Sonia Greene, and we do not know what Sonia told Lovecraft. However, consider the following quotation from "The Call of Cthulhu" :That cult would never die until the stars came right again [precession of the Equinoxes?], and the secret priests would take Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild, and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstacy and freedom.
It may be brief, it may be mangled, but it has the undeniable ring of Crowley's Book of the Law.
Well, it might have a slight similarity to a few passages, yes. Still, why this passage, and not one presented as a quotation from the Necronomicon?
It is easy to imagine a situation where Sonia and Lovecraft are laughing and talking in a firelit room about a new story, and Sonia introduces some ideas based on what Crowley had told her; she wouldn't even have to mention Crowley, just enough of the ideas to spark Lovecraft's imagination.
Sure, it's easy to imagine, but what evidence is there that it ever happened?
There is no evidence that Lovecraft ever saw the Necronomicon, or even knew that the book existed; his Necronomicon is remarkably close to the spirit of the original, but the details are pure invention, as one would expect. There is no Yog-Sothoth or Azathoth or Nyarlathotep in the original, but there is an Aiwaz...
Really? -- Evidence?
Q. Where can the Necronomicon be found?
Nowhere with certainty, is the short and simple answer, and once more we must suspect Crowley in having a hand in this. In 1912 Crowley met Theodor Reuss, the head of the German Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O), and worked within that order for several years, until in 1922 Reuss resigned as head in Crowley's favour. Thus we have Crowley working in close contact for 10 years with the leader of a German Masonic group. In the years from 1933-38 the few known copies of the Necronomicon simply disappeared; someone in the German government of Adolf Hitler took an interest in obscure occult literature and began to obtain copies by fair means or foul.
So, the logical place to look would be right next to the Ark of the Covenant. Get going, Indy!
Dee's translation disappeared from the Bodleian following a break-in in the spring of 1934.
Now, that's unfortunate. Are police records of this event available?
The British Museum suffered several abortive burglaries, and the Wormius edition was deleted from the catalogue and removed to an underground repository in a converted slate mine in Wales (where the Crown Jewels were stored during the 1939-45 war).
Ouch! -- Guess we'll have to look elsewhere....
Other libraries lost their copies, and today there is no library with a genuine catalogue entry for the Necronomicon.
There are, however, many with fraudulent entries.
The current whereabouts of copies of the Necronomicon is unknown;
To say the least.
there is a story of a large wartime cache of occult and magical documents in the Oster-horn area near Salzburg.
And what is this story?
There is a recurring story about a copy bound in the skin of concentration camp victims.
And what is this story? And where does it occur and recur?
This F.A.Q. was compiled using information obtained from:
The Book of the Arab, by Justin Geoffry, Starry Wisdom Press, 1979.
Colin Low has never read the Necronomicon, never seen the Necronomicon, and has no information as to where a copy may be found.
Well, I think that this much is obvious by now.
Have any more information on this (Anti-)FAQ, or any other comment?
Please inform me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1997-2006 Dan Clore.
The Official Dan Clore Homepage
The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page