"A dangerous book. The theological equivalent of a loaded gun." - William S Burroughs on the Necronomicon.
Into the Mauve Zone
The Necronomicon isn't supposed to exist, but - like so many things that shouldn't - it does. And how it's come to exist makes an interesting, and troubling story.
But first, let's talk about HP Lovecraft, who imagined the book into fiction. I've mentioned previously his influence upon occultists of the Left Hand Path. (And Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis, has written an excellent overview of Lovecraft Magick here.)
Figures such as Michael Aquino, who composed a "Call to Cthulhu" ritual before he left the Church of Satan to found his Temple of Set, have adopted aspects of Lovecraft's mythos and imagery of hungry, tentacled gods in order to stimulate their own magick. (Also by Aquino, the "Ceremony of the Nine Angles" includes an evocation of Lovecraft's Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath.)
Kenneth Grant, a living disciple of Aleister Crowley who believes himself to be his rightful heir , founder of the "Typhonian" OTO and the first apostle of the Cult of Lam, takes things much further. Grant believes Lovecraft, a self-described "mechanistic materialist," to have been a "natural adept" who was able to unconsciously enter the abyss. (Lovecraft claimed many of his ideas came to him in disturbing dreams.) According to Grant's understanding of Qaballah, and following the Crowley model, the abyss is entered by Daath, the 11th circle of power on the tree of life. Grant calls it the "Mauve Zone." The Necronomicon Files co-author John Wisdom Gonce III describes it as a "kind of Sephirothic worm-hole allowing access not only to the Qlippoth [the shells of horror and disease that mirror the Sephiroth as a Tree of Death], but also to other nonhuman worlds." To Grant, the Qlippothic universe is connected by 22 "Tunnels of Set" - sort of a underworld autobahn of demons and sundry horrors. And to Grant, it's all good. Gonce writes: "the universe of the tunnels is perceived as evil only by those who are unenlightened about their real importance. In Grant's view, the abhorrent entitites lurking in the Tunnels of Set are not 'evil spirits' per se, but primal atavisms within the human consciousness, which the magickal practitioner can access by means of sex magick rituals."
Grant makes much of what he regards as unaware correspondences between Lovecraft, Crowley and others. Elizabethan occultist John Dee mentioned an Enochian demon called "Choronzon" who he said may interfere with a magician's work. Crowley called Choronzon "the Breaker-Down of all Thought and Form," and said he was the guardian of the gateway of Daath. Grant says Lovecraft knew him as "Yog-Sothoth," for this line from The Dunwich Horror: "Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and the guardian of the gate."
Occultist Barry Walker elaborates on the correspondences, and on the "Mauve Zone":
To illustrate this link here are some examples cited by Grant: Al Azif [Lovecraft's Arabic title for original manuscript of the Necronomicon], the book of the (mad) Arab. This book is referred to as all powerful in a magical sense corresponds to Crowley’s Al vel Legis. Crowley claimed this book to contain the supreme spells. The Great Old Ones from the Mythos = The Great Old Ones of the Night Time, a phrase which occurs in rituals of the Golden Dawn. The Cold Waste, Kadath = Hadith, the Wonder of the Waste, a title taken by Crowley etc. etc. There are many other parallels but these point out the path for you to follow if you want to find others.The above list shows how there are indeed links between what was understood to be only “fictions” and a “real” occult tradition. It seems that Lovecraft was a channel, chosen or random, for ideas to ooze into our reality from beyond. The place where these ideas come from has become known amongst Typhonian occultists and others as the Mauve Zone, a place where the concepts such as “real” and “unreal” lose any meaning, a zone which can spill from the pages of a book into the mind of its reader, opening up a gate though which the Great Old Ones can, once again, gain a footing on our world.
But that's enough of that for now. What was this about the Necronomicon?
Even if you haven't read Lovecraft you must have heard of it. It's a supposedly 1,200 year old text by the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazrad (a name Lovecraft coined as a boy), containing fearsome spells for invoking the "Old Ones" of the Cthulhu Mythos. And of course it was Lovecraft's invention, and it provided a nice linking device for his fiction. But apart from a few quotes salted in his stories, he didn't write it.
So what is that paperback book that hasn't gone out of print for 25 years?
There have been a number of claimants to the title, but by far the most popular - and also, seemingly, the most "magickal" - is known as the Simon Necronomicon.
The legend of this Necronomicon is that in 1972, two monks who had been stealing precious books from university libraries across the United States delivered a copy to "Simon," a translator of rare manuscripts who was also involved in international espionage. Simon took his translation to New York City's Magical Childe bookshop. The shop's owner was Herman Slater, described by Daniel Harms in The Necronomicon Files as a "showman-occultist of the old school." William S Burroughs dropped in and "after going through the pages and a few lines of powder, he offered the comment that it was 'good shit,'" illustrator Khem Caighan told Harms. The Simon Necronomicon went through several small print runs with occult presses, before being picked up by Avon Books in 1980, where it has served as the Joe Camel of chaos magick to American youth ever since.
There is considerable dispute about the book's provenance. Particularly the identity of "Simon."
Alan Cabal's "The Doom that Came to Chelsea", published in the New York Press, June 3, 2003, offers an answer:
Into this bubbling swamp of spiritual fecundity stepped Peter Levenda, aka "Simon." Charming, soft-spoken and aloof, well-versed in all aspects of occult theory and practice, he eased his way to the center of the scene. The Necronomicon was a team effort. Herman provided the sponsorship, while the design and layout were the work of Jim Wasserman of the OTO, a raving cokehead from Jersey named Larry Barnes whose daddy had the production facilities and a fellow who called himself Khem Set Rising (who also designed the sigils). The text itself was Levenda’s creation, a synthesis of Sumerian and later Babylonian myths and texts peppered with names of entities from H.P. Lovecraft’s notorious and enormously popular Cthulhu stories. Levenda seems to have drawn heavily on the works of Samuel Noah Kramer for the Sumerian, and almost certainly spent a great deal of time at the University of Pennsylvania library researching the thing. Structurally, the text was modeled on the wiccan Book of Shadows and the Goetia, a grimoire of doubtful authenticity itself dating from the late Middle Ages.
"Simon" was also Levenda’s creation. He cultivated an elusive, secretive persona, giving him a fantastic and blatantly implausible line of bullshit to cover the book’s origins. He had no telephone. He always wore business suits, in stark contrast to the flamboyant Renaissance fair, proto-goth costuming that dominated the scene. He never got high in public.
In short, he knew the signifiers and emblems of authority, and played them to the hilt. He hinted broadly of dealings with intelligence agencies and secret societies operating at global levels of social influence. He began teaching classes in the back room, and showed a genuine knack for clarifying and elucidating such baroque encrypted arcana as John Dee’s Enochian magick system in such a way as to make it understandable even to a novice. He also lacked the guts to let a woman know when he was through with her, or so Bonnie said. She was positioned to know at the time, despite her failing marriage to Chris Claremont, the comic book author who put the X-Men on the map. Chris was her third husband. I was her fourth, and last.
As Simon, Levenda threw parties with various forms of live entertainment and staged rituals presented by the various groups that swarmed around the shop. He had no political enemies on the scene, owing to his adamantine and resolute refusal to affiliate with any one group. There has always been a very heavy crossover factor between the Renaissance fair/Society for Creative Anachronisms crowd, the science-fiction fan circuit and the occult/wicca scenes. Simon had friends throughout all of these arenas, and they all showed up to support this effort at unity.
In case you missed it, that's Peter Levenda, author of Unholy Alliance and Sinister Forces.
Levenda is forthcoming about his involvement in the publication of the Simon Necronomicon, however he hasn't yet mentioned it in his other published works, despite frequent references to the cursed book. He has usually claimed his efforts were limited to translation. Asked on his Sinister Forces Q&A forum about his alleged authorship, he responds: "There is a lot of speculation on the Net and everywhere else about this, most of it in error as can be expected, but a book will be published next year that will clarify my role and the role of Simon in the controversy. In short, however: Did I have something to do with it? Yes. Did I write it? No. Other than that, I guess we will all have to wait for the book to come out next year." (I presume that book will be the third volume of Sinister Forces: "The Manson Secret.")
Levenda added more detail in this interview a few years ago with the editor of Dagobert’s Revenge:
My involvement was on the translation side. I've been around occult groups in New York since the late Sixties. I was a friend of Herman Slater of the old Warlock Shop in Brooklyn Heights before it moved to Manhattan and became Magickal Childe. I was around during the famous Witch Wars of the Seventies, when it seemed that everyone was casting spells on everyone else. I was there when Gardnerians and Welsh Trads and Alexandrians and Sicilian Trads sat down around a table in the back of Herman's shop to settle the War and make peace once and for all. Herman had once interviewed neo-Nazis in New York in the 1960s and we had a lot of interests in common. I never joined any of the groups, that wasn't my intention or inclination, but I was a familiar face around the campfire, so to speak. My fascination has always been on the degree to which religion and occultism influence mainstream politics; Unholy Alliance began as an academic study of this before it turned into a Nazi history. As for the Necronomicon, it was part of a stash of stolen books. The story is told, I think, in other places and I have been asked this before -- also on the Internet -- so to summarize: in the 1970s a couple of Eastern Orthodox monks pulled off the biggest rare book heist in the history of the United States. It was a continuing crime, the books being taken from libraries and private collections all over the country (and, it was said, Canada and Mexico). They were finally busted, and did federal time, but most of the books were never recovered. The Necronomicon was part of this swag as were a lot of occult books. It was in Greek, handwritten, but the problem was that much of the Greek was unintelligible. My modest contribution to this was recognizing that some of the Greek was an attempt to phoneticize Babylonian and Sumerian words. I am not one of the people arguing that this Necronomicon is THE Necronomicon, or that Lovecraft was even aware that it existed. I think Lovecraft heard the name through one of his friends in the Golden Dawn, and used it creatively. If the Simon Necronomicon is a hoax, I think it would have been better done and more closely followed the Cthulhu Mythos. I kind of like the fact that William Burroughs was into it, and wrote Simon and L. K. Barnes a letter praising it as an important spiritual breakthrough.
He went a bit further some time later in conversation with Daniel Harms: "My role in the Necronomicon affair was as a general editor of the translated text. I also did much of the background research....I researched Sumarian lore at the NY Public Library, for instance, and provided some of the bibliography for Simon's introduction."
Levenda also wrote a short promotional article on the Necronomicon, which has turned up at the American Religions Collection at the University of California at Santa Barbara's Davidson Library. Next to his byline, someone has written in "Simon (Editor of Necronomicon)" Levenda was receiving half of the royalties from the Simon book, so he must have had an important hand in the book.
It is fiction. But saying "it's only fiction" isn't much of an argument when it comes to magick, which could be called the science of make believe. Tibetan magick, for instance, includes the creation of "tulpas": entities willed into existence by disciplined acts of imagination. Many of the classic grimoires are falsely attributed to figures of antiquity or myth -
Jack Parsons' inspiration wasn't found only in figures such as Aleister Crowley and the great occultists; it was also in pulp fiction such as Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think, a story of hereditary werewolves that revive the old gods under the leadership of the "Child of Night," the product of a magickal birth. A story like that would naturally bear considerable frisson for an self-styled Antichrist trying to crash the world system by invoking "Babalon" as a magickal "moonchild." John Carter's Sex and Rockets quotes Williamson as saying that, on meeting Parsons, "I was astonished to discover he had a far less skeptical interest in such things than I."
Seventeen-year old Roderik Ferrell was leader of a Kentucky "vampire clan," guilty of occult-inspired animal mutilation and murder, and a good deal of that inspiration was drawn from the Necronomicon.
Investigations into the background of Roderick Ferrell revealed that his interest in the Necronomicon was far more than casual. His possession of the book at the time of his arrest was no coincidence. According to seventeen-year old Audry Presson, a friend of Ferrell's at Eustis High School, Ferrell often discussed the Necronomicon with her over the telephone. Presson testified under cross-examination by defense attorney Candice Hawthorne that she and Ferrell had shared an interest in the book, although he took it more seriously than she did. Psychologist Wade Myers III testified that Ferrell "felt he was able to get powers from this book."
Gonce adds that "Simon's" book, particularly the section "The Conjuration of the Watcher," may have influenced the Vampire Klan's animal sacrifice, by advising readers
...to not make their sacrifices to demons neither too large nor too small for fear that the evil spirits will not answer when summoned or else grow too powerful. He follows this with an anecdote about a priest from Jerusalem who worshipped the "Old Ones" and sacrificed sheep to demons. Human sacrifice also seems to be encouraged by the Simon Necronomicon, as seen on page 19: "strive ever onward...though it mean thine own death; for such a death is as a sacrifice to the Gods, and pleasing.
I learned of Levenda's disputed but clearly significant part in the Necronomicon only Saturday evening, after writing that day's post praising the second volume of his Sinister Forces. My opinion hasn't changed, but it's been informed.
There is at least a terrific irony that the author of a study of evil and occult influence in American life can also be credited with a how-to book on demonic invocation marketed to the young and impressionable, which advocates animal and human sacrifice.