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Alhazred's Necronomicon

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The Necronomicon has become a kind of egregore in the modern world. It is the most notorious grimoire of all time, a notable achievement for a book that never existed. There is no historical evidence that such a book was written, yet tens of thousands of people believe it is real and claim to have seen copies in various libraries in Europe and America, or assert that they know someone who owns a true copy. The very weight of persistent belief in the book has lent it a kind of shadow life that makes the question of its reality difficult to answer with a simple yes or no.

It began simply as a plot device in the short stories of the New England writer of weird tales, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937). Lovecraft, whose short stories were published primarily in the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, needed an ancient book of magic more potent and dreaded than the actual occult texts with which he was familiar, one that he could quote from when hinting at dark secrets of cosmic evil. So he created the Necronomicon. That much is clear enough. What is not so plain is whether he created it from nothing, or drew it forth from the moldering library of the akasic records during his troubled dreams.

Lovecraft was a strange and complex man born into the wrong century, or so he believed. He deliberately adopted the mannerisms and speech of the 18th century, and had an active dislike for anything modern. Paradoxically, he was a keen amateur astronomer and was drawn to study geology, chemistry, and other sciences as a hobby. He considered any productive employment to be beneath the dignity of a gentleman, and throughout his life held his own writings to be no more than amateur productions, even though he was forced to rely on income from his literary labors to eek out a bare living.

From his earliest years Lovecraft suffered from vivid nightmares in which he wandered through the twisted, narrow streets of ancient cities, or was caught up into the air by winged monsters and carried to dizzying heights before being hurled to his death on needle-like peaks. Some of his stories were directly based on nightmare incidents. He created a character, Randolph Carter, who possessed the ability to enter into his dreams while retaining full conscious awareness, and interact with the creatures that lived there. In writing about Carter, Lovecraft was describing an idealized form of his own experience. For Lovecraft, the boundary between waking reality and the stranger reality of the astral world was little more than a line in the sand.

There are those who believe that Lovecraft did not so much invent the mythology of his tales as draw it forth from some deep reservoir of racial memory. It is centered around a group of godlike creatures of incredible power from distant stars, the Old Ones, who came to our planet long before humanity evolved as a distinct species, and who ruled it with absolute authority until the changing alignment of the stars drove them into other dimensions slightly removed from our own, where they wait and plan for the moment when once again the stars will come right in the heavens, and they will be able to reemerge into our world.

These other realities where the Old Ones sought shelter are accessible to human beings through magic, and some of that magic is purported to be described in the pages of the dread Necronomicon. In addition to the history of the Old Ones and other alien races on our planet, and the ritual ways to communicate with these beings, the Necronomicon is supposed to describe the technique of raising the dead back to life, and other aspects of the venerable art of necromancy, which literally means corpse divination, the communication with the dead.

If, as the writer and magician Kenneth Grant and others have suggested, the lore of the Old Ones is not entirely a fiction, but an astral echo of beings and events having reality on a level different from our own, yet still accessible to the human mind, it is no more far-fetched to speculate that the Necronomicon itself may have objective, independent reality in the astral world, and that Lovecraft in his dreaming may have encountered the book and remembered its title and at least a portion of its contents. It might even be speculated that the book once had physical existence, but has since been lost to history, and that Lovecraft somehow recovered its shadow from his nightmares.

The Necronomicon is first mentioned in his short story The Hound, written in 1922. Lovecraft later claimed that he heard the name spoken in a dream, so he cannot really be said to have invented it. He interpreted the name to mean "an Image of the Law of the Dead," but his Greek was imperfect and others have hazarded different translations. For the rest of his life Lovecraft elaborated on its contents with brief quotations and veiled allusions that appear scattered throughout his writings. He even considered writing out the entire work, but alas! was daunted by the amount of labor it would have required and did not dare to make the attempt.

As early in his writings as the Necronomicon made its appearance, it was later than the purported author of the work, identified by Lovecraft as Abdul Alhazred, a mad poet native to the Arabian kingdom of Yemen, who wrote the book based on his own personal experiences, while living out the final years of his life in the city of Damascus, in Syria. Alhazred is mentioned by name and quoted in the Nameless City, written and published in 1921. There is no more historical evidence for Alhazred than there is for the Necronomicon itself, but the mad poet held a singular fascination for Lovecraft.

As a precocious child of five, Lovecraft read the Arabian Nights and delighted to dress up as an Arab. He took to calling himself Abdul Alhazred for no reason that any of his family members could fathom. This was the same period of his life during which he began to experience the vivid nightmares that later formed the basis for some of his tales. The persona of Alhazred remained with Lovecraft, in the secret chambers of his memory, and when he needed to name an author for his Necronomicon, that is the name he chose. There is no way to know whether Lovecraft was able to tap into a stream of racial memory that expressed itself through his dreams, but assuming this to be so, it may be that Alhazred is a part of that recovered information.

When I came to consider the task of creating the text of the Necronomicon in a form that Lovecraft might have approved, I had no wish to do as others have done, and merely cobble together a slender collection of pseudo-spells and garbled names of power, along with various hypothetical demons, calling it a grimoire. Such works are tedious to read. Foremost in my mind was the consideration that the Necronomicon was a book penned by Abdul Alhazred. It had not sprung forth from nothing, but was written by an Arab poet in the early 8th century, based on what he himself had experienced and studied during his lifetime. To me, this meant that the Necronomicon must have a human side, because it was penned by a human being. It arose within a specific cultural context, the early decades of Islam, as a result of Alhazred's deliberate rebellion against the restrictions imposed upon him by that religious culture.

Two popular types of literature in the 8th century were the travel book and the book of wonders. The travel book is an ancient form well known to the Greeks and Romans, in which a traveler described the places, peoples and events he had seen in the course of his wandering. The book of wonders is a collection of lore, obscure teachings, fabulous creatures and strange places, spells, potions, chants, and other things scarcely to be believed, but always eagerly read. These forms might be combined into a single text. Travelers supplemented their personal observations with tavern tales they overheard and copied down as fact, and you find the lore of a supernatural beast such as the gryphon alongside the lore of the very natural, but equally strange to the reader, lion or elephant.

It seemed to me, as I considered what might be contained in the Necronomicon were such a book to have been written by a scholar of Yemen around the year 730, that it would probably resemble a combined travel book and collection of wonders. Lovecraft in his apocryphal history of Alhazred mentioned that the poet had traveled widely throughout the ancient world. This was the common practice of scholars. If you sought to acquire knowledge, you could not afford to sit in one place and hope it would somehow find its way to your door—you were forced to take ship and go looking for it. It was most probably during the course of his wandering that Alhazred acquired the information about the Old Ones that he would later set down in his Necronomicon.

Lovecraft made the observation that Alhazred was a worshiper of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu. This casual remark has profound implications when we consider the life of the poet. Alhazred was born shortly after the prophet Mohamed finished the conquest of the region we call the Middle East. He must have been born and raised as a Muslim. Yet if he was in later life a worshiper of the Old Ones, at some point he abandoned his religion. I have suggested at the start of my version of the Necronomicon what sort of trauma might have caused such a decisive repudiation of faith, and also provoked the madness for which Alhazred was later so renowned.

In the course of seeking to re-create the Necronomicon as the book of the events in Alhazred's life, I was mindful of the need not to contradict the quotations from the work that were given by Lovecraft in some of his stories, or the lore Lovecraft provided concerning the history of the book and its author. Those who look will find incorporated into the text of my Necronomicon Lovecraft's quotations from the work. Since Lovecraft's description of the Necronomicon is so scanty, it was necessary to add a great deal of material not referred to by Lovecraft, but as well as I was able, I avoided contradicting Lovecraft.

It is a curious work, if I as its author may say so. It is partly a grimoire and partly a travel book of the mysteries of the ancient world, yet it takes the reader to places that are shown on no maps drawn by sane men, and brings them into contact with races and ancient creatures who have one foot in this earthly realm and several other feet in realms of strange dimensions seen by few men, and perhaps described only by Alhazred. The mad poet of Yemen is present on every page. It is his voice that narrates the course of his life experiences, though he refers to himself obliquely and seems to hover over the book like a ghost, unseen yet palpably in control of events.

When I finished the Necronomicon, I realized that I had told Alhazred's story as he might have set it down in old age, as a record of his acquired wisdom. Yet that was not the only way to tell his story. It might also be presented more directly, as a novel describing the actual events of his young and very eventful life as they were unfolding. Consequently, I wrote the story of Alhazred's travels again, in his own youthful and irreverent voice, and the result is Alhazred.

The Necronomicon and Alhazred are two parts of a single literary conception. Each stands on its own, and may be read and enjoyed independently. Yet those wishing the fullest possible understanding of the matters described in the Necronomicon will acquire it by also reading Alhazred. The novel is the larger work of the two, and it was possible to include many events and a great deal of information in the novel that is not contained in the Necronomicon, but by the same token, the different purpose of the Necronomicon allowed me to place in it many details of practical ritual magic connected with the Old Ones that would have been out of place in the novel.

There is yet another aspect of the Necronomicon that I am presently working on, which when published will form the third side of a kind of trilogy on Alhazred's world. This third part is visual. I wished to present some of the images that are painted in words in the Necronomicon, and decided that the best way to accomplish this, and at the same time produce a work of independent interest and value, would be to create a Necronomicon Tarot. It will depict the strange creatures encountered by Alhazred, yet will also be a functional Tarot suitable for divination.

It is my hope that, were Lovecraft still alive, he would approve of my conception of his Necronomicon, and the central role I have given its author, Abdul Alhazred. Lovecraft described the book in various ways in different places in his writings, and it is not unlikely that such a work, had it existed in an historical sense, would have undergone additions, deletions and mutations in the course of being copied and recopied by hand, prior to its eventual printing. Translators would undoubtedly have introduced yet other changes. My Necronomicon is intended to be the work as it came from the first pen to write it, held by the mad poet himself. It is naturally briefer than it later became under the weight of added material, but it is also a purer, more concentrated book, and dare I say, a more readable book.

To what extent my Necronomicon reflects the contents of the astral text that Lovecraft may have glimpsed in his nightmares can only be conjectured. It is as true to the few details recorded by Lovecraft as I could make it. I would like to think that on some level of the creative process, Alhazred watched over my shoulder and guided my hands as I typed. No other writer has sought to bring the mad Arab so fully to life as I have done in the Necronomicon and in the novel Alhazred. As strange and even horrifying as his actions are from time to time in the pages of these works, I find myself liking him, and I hope readers will feel the same affection.

About Donald Tyson

Donald Tyson is an occult scholar and the author of the popular, critically acclaimed Necronomicon series. He has written more than a dozen books on Western esoteric traditions, including Tarot Magic, and edited and ...

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