Monday, April 5, 2010

Magic books: Necronomicon

Today I tell the story of a curious item: a no-book, the only name I could came up with for a book that having never existed is more famous than many actually published. There are people looking for it right now in old bookstores, ghettos, archeological sites or something, dear friends of mine claim to have it in their bookshelves (but have not gathered the strength to read it) and they will jump to my throat for saying it is fictional and yet, for me that is its glory: to be part of a basic and classic library of the occult being imaginary. The book is the Necronomicon by the "mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, who did not exist either.

Jorge Luis Borges said he was lazy and preferred to review the books from his imagination than actually write them. Howard Phillips Lovecraft, a writer not as honored as Borges but maybe more influential (at least for horror and fantasy literature there is no argument) neither reviewed nor wrote the text, but created a world that made it possible and through that path the book went into the real world.

Lovecraft's mother, a hysterical old woman, convinced him that the world was a horrible and that they have British ancestry (quite unlikely) so she raised him with the rigor of those who believe themselves to be aristocrats and demand to preserve imaginary traditions. In adolescence the future author locked himself in his berdroom day and night, completely alone. He called the American Revolution "the schism of 1776," immigrants "that Mongoloid horde " and the eighteenth century his favorite era. He was an atheist, he longed for the British colonialism, progress terrified him ... but he loved letters like the aristocrats of the eighteenth century and so the myths Ctulhu emerged from the contributions of his correspondents in their letters or their own stories.

Ctulhu is one of the Great Old Ones, extraterrestrial gods, nameless entities confined to this planet for some unknown blasphemy. Every now and then ordinary people, unable to see beyond what our limited intelligence is entitled to, come across with disastrous results with worshipers of the Great Old Ones who live at war with the Elder Gods. All these cults (or the ruins of their sanctuaries) are practiced by degraded races in Lovecraft's native region, New England, among some other places around the world and across America, like Arabia, China, Antarctica or Lousiana.

Lovecraft was not any hermit but one gifted with a particular skill at portraying his environment. The struggle between the blasphemous Great Old Ones against the not necessarily well-meaning Elder gods re-edit the myth of the fallen angels. Lovecraft have the old devils to wear modern garments without abandoning the ancient terrors. But his success was to build a real space where that could really happen.

Lovecraft's universe is a detailed picture of the New England countryside. Embeded in his nostalgia for a lost golden age he takes what he can to replace the ruined castle on a steep mountain and makes an ivy-walled house represent it; the traditional american town is turned into a place with low ceilings and derelict buildings everywhere and a maze of basements. And he takes Harvard and Brown universities, the latter in his native Providence, and fuse them into Miskatonic University based in the city that would summarize the region, Arkham, which is with another name a town with a tradition of occultism, witchcraft and ancestral rites: Salem.

At that point Lovecraft already had four things for his mythology: gods, city, rituals and the closest thing to a church you could find in the mind of an atheist, a university. The only thing left was the sacred books, among which the Necronomicon began to be mentioned over and over again modifying the device of Borges, for Lovecraft not even reviewed the text, but just gave clues and finally left a posthumous history of it (ironically the Argentina’ author wrote a devastating review of the stories of the American acusing him to have produced a degeneration of the terror literature from Borges beloved Poe, a review Lovecraft himself certainly would have signed without thinking)

There are copies of the Necronomicon at Miskatonic University, the British Museum, the National Library in Paris, the University of Buenos Aires and private collectors. It has at least 751 pages bound in scraps of leather and iron guards. Its original name would be Al Azif (in Arabic "Azif" means "strange sound of the wind" but Lovecraft did not seem to find that translation scary enough and came forward with "sound at night that is indistinguishable from the wind and it’s produced by insects imitating the howling of demons" .) Its author was a Yemeni, Abdul Alhazred, who wrote in Damascus after visiting Babylon and Memphis before his strange death in 738, seemingly devoured by a demon. The book is divided into four parts and explains the rituals to contact the Great Old Ones, won fame in secret circles and was translated into Greek at Constantinople in 950 by Theodoro Philetas, who gave it its current name and means "image of law the dead”. For his " terrible experiments " Philetas was burnt by patriarch Michael (who really existed) in 1050, then the book was translated into Latin by Oalus Worm (there was someone with that that name but the years do not match), then Pope Gregory IX banned it in 1232 and secret editions from the Latin version were made in Germany (fifteenth century) Italy (s. XVI) and Spain (XVII century).

If telling the story like that give you the feeling that at least something like the Necronomicon must have existed, if not the book itself, imagine the effect of seeing it in its natural habitat, the complex world of the Lovecraft myths.The author spent his last years saying, yelling, screaming the book did not exist, but things were already beyond control.

Some have taken advantage of the fame of the book to actually write it, the most famous is the Simon's Necronomicon, published in 1980. The book is barely related to the work of Lovecraft, but it shows knowledge of Sumerian mythology and rituals from peoples opposed to the Hebrew people of the Bible, which increases its credibility: never out of print, it has sold nearly a million copies and is the text which undid the border between reality and fiction for ever (and it’s the one two of my friends have and I, a coward, only dare to prick their fantasy from here so they can’t use the book either to cast a spell on me or to beat me with it). The most recent mention was in Sam Reimi film Evil Dead which states that it is a leather-bound book written in human blood (in some way the story was perfected out of the film and the book ended up in the Vatican)

I couldn't give credit to that poster of Miskatonic since I found it at directory with no references. Some other artwork like that at

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