The Necronomicon is the most infamous book of magick (whether real or fictional)ever to crawl into the mind of man. first mentioned in Lovecraft’s 1924 short story “The Hound”, written in 1922, though its purported author, the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, was spoken of by HPL a year before in “The Nameless City”..It makes an Appearance in “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”.But,the greatest amount of information about the Necronomicon appeared in “The Dunwich Horror” (Summer 1928). The following passage is especially powerful:
Nor is it to be thought…that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substances walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones where Their seal is engraven, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again. (“The Dunwich Horror,” 170)
Let me start this line of research by Quoting HPL from _The History and Chronology of the Necronomicon_.
“Original title Al Azif-Azif being the word used by the Arabs to designate that nocturnal sound (made by insects) supposed to be the howling of demons”.”Composed by Abdul Alhazred, a mad poet of Sanaa, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished in the time of the Ommiade Caliphs, circa A.D. 700. He visited the ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secrets of Memphis and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia-the Roba el Khaliye or ‘Empty Space’ of the ancients and ‘Dahna’ or ‘Crimson Desert’ of the modern Arabs, which is held to be inhabited by
protective evil spirits and monsters of death. Of this desert many strange and unbelievable marvels are told by those who pretend to have penetrated it. In his last years Alhazred dwelt in Damascus, where the Necronomicon (Al Azif) was written… Of his madness many things are told. He claimed to have seen the fabulous Irem or city of Pillars, and to have found beneath the ruins of a certain nameless desert town the shocking annals and secrets of a race older than mankind”.
Later it is said the Al Azif was translated into Greek under the Greek title Necronomicon (the title is definitely not in Latin as is often claimed). This title is translated as “the Book (or image) of the Practices of the Dead”; Necro being Greek for “Dead” and Nomos meaning “practices”, “customs” or “rules” (as in astronomy). The title Necronomicon absolutely does not translate as Book of Dead Names (as Colin Wilson has mistakenly and
repeatedly stated). In order for it to mean Dead Names it would have to be Latin/Greek hybrid (besides HPL flatly indicated the first translation is the correct one). Still later (possibly in the 1200’s) it was translated into Latin but retained it’s Greek title. The Latin text came into the possession of Dr. John Dee in the sixteenth century. Dr. Dee made the only English translation of the Necronomicon known.(True,False,who cares! It makes the book all the more enticing to the Lovecraftian Scholar)
And so that is the Mythos about this Tome of Horror and Wonder,and what HPL writes about the Necronomicon is filled with actual Arab myths and magickal techniques,Lovecraft was quite the bibliophile who Loved Arab mythology when he was a Lad.According to the theories of Ryan Parker, Lovecraft Almost certainly had an unprinted, probably rare, book (or some other form of manuscript), on Arab myths or magick. This is the most economical explanation as to how VERY OBSCURE information on Arab magick could appear in his stories. I quite agree with this idea,the rare information, The Elder God names and use of Ghouls (or Ghuls in Arab myth) in his writing all point to HPL having info unknown to his contemporaries.
Alhazred visited the lost city “Irem of the Pillars” and encountered many strange magicks in that empty place. HPL said that Irem was in the middle of the Rub al Khali.This is just the tip of the sanddune when it comes to similarities between fact and HPL’s “Fiction”. “Irem Zhat al Imad” (Irem of the Pillars) is the cities name in Arabic. The Arab stories say that Irem was built by the Jinn under the direction of Shaddad, Lord of the tribe of Ad. This is very similar in description to the Hebrew “Nephilim”. The Muqarribun (a name for Arab magicians) , whose traditions predate Islam, believe that Irem is a locale on another level of reality, rather than a physical city like New Orleans. The “Pillars” in “Irem of the Pillars” has a hidden meaning. Among Arab mystics pillar is a code for “elder” or “old one.” Thus “Irem of the Pillars” is really “Irem of the Old Ones.”
So we can see that Irem is located in the Rub al Khali just as our buddy HPL said it was. To the Muqarribun the Rub al Khali also has a “hidden” meaning. Rub al Khali translates as “the EMPTY Quarter.” In this case Empty refers to the void and is a close analog of the Abyss in the Tree of Life/Tree of Death system of the Qabalah/Qlippoth .Rub al Khali is the “secret” door to the Void much like DAATH in the Qabalah. To the Muqarribun, this is the Gateway to the “city of the Old Ones.”HPL made many references to a gate connected with the “Old Ones.” He also wrote
that the Old Ones were from Outside and linked them with the “infinite void.” By making these claims about the “Old Ones” and connecting them to Irem and the Rub al Khali Lovecraft tapped into the very core of ancient Arab magick. HPL must have done some serious research into Arab magickal and mystical traditions to have found such obscure info.there are many other examples in which Lovecraft borrowed from Arab and Near Eastern mythology.The Deep Ones and Dagon,who is an actual Philistine deity that appears as a giant fish- man,is also known as the Babylonian Oannes. Oannes (Dagon) was the head of group fish-men Priests who did rituals in his name for sea-side villages. The Ghoul is another tell tale sign that HPL was digging deep from Arab Lore.Found in Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by Lovecraft,it is shown as a once human creature with a canine appearance. Ghouls feed on the human dead or even occasionally live humans.The ghouls of lovecraft’s tales are based on the ghuls of Arab magick. In Arab lore ghuls are again semi-human creatures with dog-like faces.The Arab ghul lived in lonely and deserted places feeding on the dead.It is said a powerful magician can transform into a ghul. The ghuls are associated with a homophagic diet (eating humans), necrophilia, and magickal transformation.There is no question in my mind that this is the source of Lovecraft’s Ghouls.
Now I bring to your attention a few of HPL’s Letters about the Necronomicon,this may give you a better understanding of how desperately he wanted his fellow writers to think that it was all made up.Why would he do such a thing,well read on and I believe it will be made clear to you.
To Edwin Baird (February 3, 1924):
At one time I formed a juvenile collection of Oriental pottery and objects d’art, announcing myself as a devout Mohammedan and assuming the pseudonym of “Abdul Alhazred”—which you will recognise as the author of that mythical Necronomicon which I drag into various of my tales.
To William Frederick Anger (August 14, 1934):
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. Tsathoggua & the Book of Eibon are inventions of Clark Ashton Smith, while Friedrich von Junzt & his monstrous Unaussprechlichen Kulten originated in the fertile brain of Robert E. Howard. For the fun of building up a convincing cycle of synthetic folklore, all of our gang frequently allude to the pet daemons of the others—thus Smith uses my Yog-Sothoth, while I use his Tsathoggua. Also, I sometimes insert a devil or two of my own in the tales I revise or ghost-write for professional clients. Thus our black pantheon acquires an extensive publicity & pseudo-authoritativeness it would not otherwise get. We never, however, try to put it across as an actual hoax; but always carefully explain to enquirers that it is 100% fiction. In order to avoid ambiguity in my references to the Necronomicon I have drawn up a brief synopsis of its ‘history’… All this gives it a sort of air of verisimilitude.
To Robert E. Howard (May 7, 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!
To Robert E. Howard (August 14, 1930):
Regarding the solemnly cited myth-cycle of Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Nug, Yeb, Shub-Niggurath, etc., etc.—let me confess that this is all a synthetic concotion of my own, like the populous and varied pantheon of Lord Dunsany’s Pegana. The reason for its echoes in Dr. de Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine—into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun. If any other clients of mine get work placed in W.T., you will perhaps find a still-wider spread of the cult of Azathoth, Cthulhu, and the Great Old Ones! The Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred is likewise something which must yet be written in order to possess objective reality. Abdul is a favourite dream-character of mine—indeed that is what I used to call myself when I was five years old and a transported devotee of Andrew Lang’s version of the Arabian Nights. A few years ago I prepared a mock-erudite synopsis of Abdul’s life, and of the posthumous vicissitudes and translations of his hideous and unmentionable work Al Azif…—a synopsis which I shall follow in future references to the dark and accursed thing. Long has alluded to the Necronomicon in some things of his—in fact, I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude by wide citation. I ought, though, to write Mr. O’Neail and disabuse him of the idea that there is a large blind spot in his mythological erudition!
As you can see,he suffered from a case of “Me Thinks He Doth Protest Too Much”,and it has often been proposed in some Occult Circles that HPL Dreamed of the Book and that it is sitting in the Astral Plane just waiting to be read by the next Dreamer/Magician/Madman or Fiction writer.For now,I will leave the truth of this up to you my gentle reader.In my next post about the subject,I will try and examine THE NECRONOMICON, HPL and the effect they have both had on modern Horror culture and Film (Evil Dead anyone :) )
Until next time,“Be careful, you ––! There are powers against your powers – I didn’t go to China for nothing, and there are things in Alhazred’s Azif which weren’t known in Atlantis!” (“The Last Test,” HPL)
Sources:The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited with a Foreword and Notes by Leslie S. Klinger (Liveright).Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi.The Necronomicon Information post by: Ryan Parker
Copyright 2015 Vincent Piazza
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