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A Dialogue about the Necronomicon

[from ]

Subject: A Dialogue about the Necronomicon
   Is the Necronomicon real?
   It depends. What do you mean by real?
   Well, I've got this Necronomicon I picked up at the local bookstore, and I
   wanted to know if it was real.
   You can see it, smell it, and touch it, can't you? There you are, then.
   It's real.
   Come on. You know what I mean. Is it an authentic book of black magic
   that's centuries old?
   Probably not. The first person to mention the Necronomicon was the horror
   writer H. P. Lovecraft.
   Who's this Lovecraft guy?
   He was one of the twentieth century's greatest authors of horror and
   science fiction. He lived from 1890 and 1937, and though he wrote only a
   small number of stories, just about every author in those fields has read
   him. Lovecraft started writing about the Necronomicon in 1922 in his short
   story "The Hound", and he went on to include it in several other stories.
   How do you know that the Necronomicon was Lovecraft's invention?
   Lovecraft himself admitted it was, in numerous letters to his fans and
   But what if he were lying?
   He probably wasn't; his letters show him to have been a conscientious
   individual. Even if you won't take his word for it, the fact remains that
   there are no mentions of the Necronomicon before Lovecraft wrote about it.
   I heard that there were some references before then.
   I've heard that, too. When you try to get people to tell you where those
   references are, they usually can't tell you where they heard them. No one's
   been able to provide a source for any of them, or they refer to a published
   Necronomicon or Internet hoax. From what I can tell, there's no basis for
   any of them.
   Isn't it possible that Lovecraft denied the book's existence because it
   frightened him, or that a secretive cult has taken action over the
   centuries to suppress all references to the book?
   It may be possible, but it's unlikely in the extreme. We might be able to
   say that if we had evidence that Lovecraft was lying or that such a group
   existed - but none has turned up. I'd rather believe that the Necronomicon
   didn't exist than that the Necronomicon and a secret cult - neither of
   which we have any evidence for - existed.
   Besides, it brings up more questions. If Lovecraft denied the book's
   existence, why did he write stories about it? If Lovecraft thought it had
   power, why did he express such skepticism toward all non-materialistic
   beliefs? If there really was a secret cult dedicated to keeping the
   Necronomicon secret, why did the cult let Lovecraft write his stories at
   all? It's possible to come up with answers for these, but most of these are
   based on speculation rather than history. Thanks to his extensive
   letter-writing (several a day for most of his life), Lovecraft is one of
   the best-documented individuals of this century. It is telling that no one
   has been able to find any signs of this within the material about his life.
   Couldn't the Necronomicon be another book, hidden behind a false title?
   It could, but it's unlikely. Lovecraft talked freely about his sources of
   inspiration in his letters, and he never cited any real work which served
   as the direct inspiration for the Necronomicon. Every so often I hear that
   the Necronomicon is actually A. E. Waite's The Book of Black Magic and of
   Pacts, or The Epic of Gilgamesh, or something of the sort. Most of the
   time, it's based on the perceived similarity between that book and the
   Necronomicon, rather than reference to Lovecraft's works. Even if they are
   similar, however, that does not necessarily mean that Lovecraft based the
   Necronomicon on that book. Maybe he used a similar book, or a number of
   different books (the best argument, in my opinion).
   Yet there are some other Books of the Dead out there. There's an Egyptian
   one, and a Tibetan one... Could these be Necronomicons?
   First of all, Lovecraft read "Necronomicon" as "An Image of the Law of the
   Dead", not "Book of the Dead". (He was wrong, but if we want to consider
   Lovecraft's inspirations, this is where to start). Second, while these
   books may contain incantations, they are designed to aid the soul's journey
   through the Underworld. Lovecraft's Necronomicon contains spells and lore
   about alien beings which are trapped between life and death, and that will
   return to earth someday. The basic concept is different, and Lovecraft
   never stated that the Egyptian and Tibetan works were his inspiration,
   though he did become familiar with the former.
   If the Necronomicon appeared in fiction, why does everyone think it's real?
   People are funny that way. Actually, it had to do with Lovecraft's repeated
   use of it. If it were in just one story, it would be easier to consider it
   fictional, but Lovecraft liked his monsters and books and often put them in
   many tales. Later on, some of his friends noticed this and started using
   the book in their own stories. Readers of the pulp magazines where these
   stories were published were amazed by all this, and thought that the book
   had to be real. And a legend was born.
   So what's the deal with this Necronomicon I've got here?
   Is the Necronomicon you have a paperback with a black cover?
   That's the Simon Necronomicon, the most infamous of all the Necronomicon
   How do you know that it's fake?
   No one involved has openly admitted that it's a hoax, but the evidence is
   overwhelmingly against it. First, while the book claims to be a Sumerian
   manuscript, many of the gods and demons within don't come from Sumerian
   times, but from later periods. The ones whose names resemble those of
   Lovecraft's creatures don't turn up in any mythology. Don't take my word
   for it; most libraries have a large section on myth, and you can check it
   out for yourself.
   Next, there's the differing stories about its origins. The story given in
   the Necronomicon about Simon being a spy was dropped in a later
   publication, the Necronomicon Spellbook. That book claimed that Simon was a
   poor Eastern Orthodox bishop who received the Greek manuscript from two
   fellow monks who were later jailed for stealing books from libraries. This
   case is a real one, but there are still some problems - for example, the
   monks were stealing old atlases, not Greek manuscripts.
   Finally, I've talked with some people who claimed to have known those
   involved, and they all stated that it was a joke. Of course, one has to be
   careful about believing what someone tells you, but I can't think of why
   they would all state it was a fake instead of playing it up for the
   Who is this Simon guy?
   I wish I knew. Just about everyone in the occult community has been named
   as Simon at one time or another. It's something which a good private
   investigator could probably find out in an hour, but it seems no one cares
   enough yet.
   Some people say the spells in this book work. Do they?
   That's a matter which you have to decide as an individual. Some people
   don't believe in magic, and for them it doesn't work. I've talked with a
   number of people who are practicing magicians. Most of them believe that
   even a book created recently can be useful in magic. Most of them also told
   me that the spells in the book were more trouble than they were worth.
   A friend of mine has a different Necronomicon, this thin brown paperback.
   It claims that Lovecraft's dad was a Freemason who owned the Necronomicon.
   The writers found an encoded text in the British Museum which they
   deciphered, and they found out it was the Necronomicon.
   That's the George Hay Necronomicon. It's a fake.
   How do you know?
   Colin Wilson, the writer of the introduction, wrote an article about the
   book in issue 23 of Crypt of Cthulhu magazine, published back in 1984. He
   said that it was a hoax he concocted with a few friends.
   Why didn't I hear about this?
   Crypt of Cthulhu is a small-press fanzine with only a small circulation.
   That was all that was ever said about it, and when the book was re-printed
   recently, they didn't mention it.
   So Lovecraft's father really wasn't a Freemason?
   Well, that's not so sure. Lovecraft's maternal grandfather founded a
   Masonic lodge in Foster, Rhode Island, so there's a good chance Winfield
   Lovecraft was as well. Most American Masonic lodges are strictly business
   organizations with little or no mysticism, though, and Winfield's work as a
   salesman probably kept him from playing a major role in his lodge. There's
   little chance that the only Freemason in history to reveal such crucial
   secrets would be a minor member of a small-town lodge.
   You said some people think the Simon Necronomicon can be used for magic.
   How about the Hay one?
   It is used occasionally, but for some reason, it's not as popular as the
   Simon one. I think it's because it has less material and draws more from
   medieval traditions, which require long preparation and expensive
   Are there any other Necronomicons out there?
   Quite a number, actually. Some of them are clearly magazines or art
   portfolios, while others are props people made for the fun of it. Once
   again, none of them pre-date Lovecraft.
   If all this is true, why do people still believe in the Necronomicon?
   There's a number of reasons. A great deal of it is a lack of good
   information on the topic. Most people learn about the Necronomicon through
   people they know, who usually are only repeating what little they've heard.
   Even if they decide to research the subject properly, much of the material
   is so rare that they may never encounter it.
   Yet some people have been confronted by evidence and still believe. I think
   that this is largely due to what UFO research Jacques Vallee calls "the
   ratchet effect". The ratchet effect is when a person accepts an idea and
   refuses to disbelieve it, no matter any evidence to the contrary. Once a
   person believes that a pre-Lovecraft Necronomicon exists, they are often
   unwilling to accept any proof that it doesn't. Usually they're uninformed
   about Lovecraft, and they resort to speculation to fill in the gaps.
   But couldn't you be accused of being a victim of the ratchet effect
   I suppose I could. Yet I've tried to avoid this sort of narrow dogmatism.
   For years, I've followed up every clue to the best of my ability, sometimes
   even being fooled in the process. Each time, I've come up empty in the end.
   Some might say I need to be more open-minded, but I've noted that those
   people usually make little or no effort to do the same work I have.
   You know, I'm still not entirely convinced that everything you say is true.
   That's exactly the way I like it. At its heart, this project is not so much
   about the Necronomicon as showing you how to think for yourself and
   evaluate the claims you hear. Even if you disagree with me on the
   specifics, I think my efforts were worthwhile if you set out to do that.
   Return to Necronomicon Files page
   1998  Daniel Harms.

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