In an intriguing Internet document devoted to the Necronomicon, Tyagi Nagasiva places Lovecraft’s potent dreamtales within the terma tradition found in the Nyingma branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Termas were “pre- mature” writings hidden by Buddhist sages for centuries until the time was ripe, at which point religious visionaries would divine their physical hiding places through omens or dreams. But some termas were revealed entirely in dreams, often couched in otherworldly Dakini scripts. An old Indian revisionary tactic (the second-century Nagarjuna was said to have discovered his Mahayana sutras in the serpent realm of the nagas), the terma game resolves the religious problem of how to alter a tradition without disrupting traditional authority. The famous Bardo Thodol, or Tibetan Book of the Dead is a terma, and so, perhaps, is the Necronomicon.
Of course, for Chaos magicians, reality presents itself through any number of self-sustaining but mutually contradictory symbolic paradigms (or “reality tunnels,” in Robert Anton Wilson’s memorable phrase). Nothing is true and everything is permitted. By emphasizing the self-fulfilling nature of all reality claims, this postmodern perspective creatively erodes the distinction between legitimate esoteric transmission and total fiction.
This bias toward the experimental is found in Anton LaVey’s Satanic Rituals, which includes the first overtly Lovecraftian rituals to see print. In presenting “Die Elektrischen Vorspiele” (which LaVey based on a Lovecraftian tale by Frank Belknap Long), the “Ceremony of the Angles,” and “The Call to Cthulhu” (the latter two penned by Michael Aquino), LaVey does claim that Lovecraft “clearly…had been influenced by very real sources.” But in holding that Satanic magic allows you to “objectively enter into a subjective state,” LaVey more emphatically emphasizes the ritual power of fantasy—a radical subjectivity which explains his irreverence towards occult source material, whether Lovecraft or Masonry. In naming his Order of the Trapezoid after the “Shining Trapezohedron” found in Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark”—a black, oddly-angled extraterrestrial crystal used to communicate with the Old Ones—LaVey emphasized that fictions can channel magical
forces regardless of their historical authenticity.
“The Old Ones are the objective manifestations … of the subjective universe which is what is trying to ‘break through’ the merely rational mind-set of modern humanity.”
In his two rituals, Michael Aquino expresses the subjective power of “meaningless” language by creating a “Yuggothic” tongue similar to that heard in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Whisperer in the Dark.” Such guttural utterances help to shut down the rational mind (try chanting “P‘garn’h v’glyzz” for a couple of hours), a notion elaborated by Kenneth Grant in his notion of the Cult of Barbarous Names. After leaving the Church of Satan to form the more serious Temple of Set in 1975, Aquino eventually reformed the Order of the Trapezoid into the practical magic wing of the Setian philosophy. For Stephen Flowers, current Grand Master of the order, the substance of Lovecraftian magic is precisely an overwhelming subjectivity that flies in the face of objective law. “The Old Ones are the objective manifestations … of the subjective universe which is what is trying to ‘break through’ the merely rational mind-set of modern humanity.” For Flowers, such invocations are ultimately apocalyptic, hastening a transition into a chaotic aeon in which the Old Ones reveal themselves as future reflections of the Black Magician (“There are no more Nightmares for us,” he wrote to me).
This desire to rebel against the tyranny of reason and its ordered objective universe is one of the underlying drives of Chaos magic. Many would applaud the sentiment expressed by Albert Wilmarth in Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness”: “To shake off the maddening and wearying limitations of time and space and natural law—to be linked with the vast outside—to come close to the nighted and abysmal secrets of the infinite and ultimate—surely such a things was worth the risk of one’s life, soul, and sanity!”
In his electronically circulated text “Kathulu Majik: Luvkrafting the Roles of Modern Uccultizm,” Haramullah Tyagi Nagasiva writes that most Western magic is ossified and dualistic, heavily weighted towards the forces of order, hierarchy, morality, and structured language. “Without the destabilizing force of Kaos, we would stagnate intellectually, psychologically and otherwise… Kathulu provides a necessary instability to combat the stolid and fixed
methods of the structured ‘Ordurs’ … One may become balanced through exposure to Kathulu.” Nagasiva criticizes black magicians who simply reverse “Ordur” with “Kaos,” rather than bringing this underlying polarity into balance (a dualistic error he also finds in Lovecraft). Showing strong Taoist and Buddhist influences, Nagasiva calls instead for a “Midul Path” that magically navigates between structure and disintegration, will and void. “The idea that one may progress linearly along the MP [Midul Path] is mistaken. One becomes, one does not progress. One attunes, one does not forge. One allows, one does not make.”
In the Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magic, the anonymous author of “Return of the Elder Gods” presents an evolutionary reason for Mythos magic. The author alludes to an approaching world crisis brought on by the invasion of the Elder Gods—Qlipothic transdimensional entities who ruled protohumanity until they were banished by “the agent of the Intelligence,” a Promethean figure who set humanity on its current course of evolution. We remain connected to these Elder Gods through the “Forgotten Ones,” the atavistic forces of hunger, sex, and violence that linger in the subterranean levels of our being. Only by magically “reabsorbing” the Forgotten Ones and using the subsequent energy to bootstrap higher consciousness can we keep the portal sealed against the return of the Elder Gods. Though Lovecraft’s name is never mentioned in the article, he is ever present, a skeptical materialist dreaming the dragons awake.
Within the Mythos tales, one finds two dimensions—the normal human world and the infested Outside—and it’s the ontological tension between them that powers Lovecraft’s magick realism. Though Cthulhu and friends have material aspects, their reality is most horrible for what it says about the way the universe is. As the Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi notes, Lovecraft’s narrators frequently go mad “not through any physical violence at the hands of supernatural entities but through the mere realization of the existence of such a race of gods and beings.” Faced with “realms whose mere existence stuns the brain,” they experience severe cognitive dissonance—precisely the sorts of disorienting rupture sought by some Chaos magicians.
The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu wonderfully expresses the violence of this Lovecraftian paradigm shift. In adventure games like Dungeons &
Dragons, one of your character’s most significant measures is its hit points—a number which determines the amount of physical or magical punishment your character can take before it gets injured or dies. Call of Cthulhu replaces this physical characteristic with the psychic category of Sanity. Face-to-face encounters with Yog-Sothoth or the insects from Shaggai knock points off your sanity, but so does your discovery of more information about the
If you use any of the binding spells from De Vermis Mysteriis or the Pnakotic Manuscripts, you necessarily learn more about the Mythos and thereby lose more sanity.
Mythos. The more you find out from books or starcharts, the more likely you are to wind up in the Arkham Asylum. Magic also comes with an ironic price, one that Lovecraftian magicians might well pay heed to. If you use any of the binding spells from De Vermis Mysteriis or the Pnakotic Manuscripts, you necessarily learn more about the Mythos and thereby lose more sanity.
Lovecraft’s scholarly heroes discover the Mythos as much through reading and thinking as through investigations of physical space, and this psychological exploration draws the mind of the reader directly into the loop. Usually, readers suspect the dark truth of the Mythos while the narrator still clings to a quotidian attitude—a technique that subtly forces the reader to identify with the Outside rather than with the conventional worldview of the protagonist. Magically, the blindness of Lovecraft’s heroes corresponds to a crucial element of occult theory developed by Austin Osman Spare: that magic occurs over and against the conscious mind, that ordinary thinking must be silenced, distracted, or thoroughly deranged for the chthonic will to express itself.
In order to invade our plane, Lovecraft’s entities need a portal, an interface between the worlds, and Lovecraft emphasizes two: books and dreams. In “Dreams of the Witch-House,” “The Shadow out of Time” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” dreams infect their hosts with a virulence that resembles the more overt psychic possessions that occur in “The Haunter in the Dark” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Like the monsters themselves, Lovecraft’s dreams are autonomous forces breaking through from Outside and engendering their own reality. But these dreams also conjure up a more literal “outside”: the strange dream life of Lovecraft himself, a life that (as the informed fan knows) directly inspired some of the tales. By seeding his texts
with his own nightmares, Lovecraft creates an autobiographical homology between himself and his protagonists. The stories themselves start to dream, which means that the reader too lies right in the path of the infection.
Lovecraft reproduces himself in his tales in a number of ways—the first- person protagonists reflect aspects of his own reclusive and bookish lifestyle; the epistolary form of the “The Whisperer in Darkness” echoes his own commitment to regular correspondence; character names are lifted from friends; and the New England landscape is his own. This psychic self- reflection partially explains why Lovecraft fans usually become fascinated with the man himself, a gaunt and solitary recluse who socialized through the mail, yearned for the 18th century, and adopted, with much dry humor, the crabby outlook and mannerisms of an old man. Lovecraft’s life, and certainly his voluminous personal correspondence, form part of his myth.
Lovecraft solidifies the virtual reality of his stories by adding autobiographical elements to his shared world of creatures, books and maps. He also constructs a documentary texture by thickening his tales with manuscripts, newspaper clippings, scholarly citations, diary entries, letters, and bibliographies that list fake books alongside real ones. All this produces the sense that “outside” each individual tale lies a meta-fictional world that hovers on the edge of our own, a world that, like the monsters themselves, is constantly trying to break through and actualize itself. And thanks to Mythos storytellers, role-playing games, and dark-side magicians, it has.
In the climax of the tale, Peaslee journeys to the Australian desert to explore ancient ruins buried beneath the sands. There he discovers a book written in English, in his own handwriting: the very same volume he had produced inside his monstrous dream body.
In “The Shadow out of Time,” Lovecraft makes explicit one of the fantastic equations that drives his Magick Realism: the equivalence of dreams and books. For five years, the narrator, an economics professor named Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, is taken over by a mysterious “secondary personality.” After recovering his original identity, Peaslee is beset by powerful dreams in which he finds himself in a strange city, inhabiting a huge tentacle-sprouting
conical body, writing down the history of the Western world in a book. In the climax of the tale, Peaslee journeys to the Australian desert to explore ancient ruins buried beneath the sands. There he discovers a book written in English, in his own handwriting: the very same volume he had produced inside his monstrous dream body.
Though we learn very little of their contents, Lovecraft’s diabolical grimoires are so infectious that even glancing at their ominous sigils proves dangerous. As with dreams, these texts obsess Lovecraft’s bookish protagonists to the point that the volumes, in Christopher Frayling’s phrase, “vampirize the reader.” Their titles alone are magic spells, the hallucinatory incantations of an eccentric antiquarian: The Pnakotic Manuscripts, for example, or The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan. Lovecraft’s friends contributed De vermis mysteriis, the R’lyeh Text, The Book of Eibon, and von Junzt’s Die Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Hovering over all these grim tomes is the “dreaded” and “forbidden” Necronomicon, a book of blasphemous invocations to speed the return of the Old Ones. Lovecraft’s supreme intertextual fetish, the Necronomicon stands as one of the few mythical books in literature that have absorbed so much imaginative attention that they’ve entered published reality.
The text was penned in 730 AD by a poet, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and named after the nocturnal sounds of insects. It was subsequently translated by Theodorus Philetas into Greek, by Olaus Wormius into Latin, and by John Dee into English.
If books owe their life not to their individual contents but to the larger intertextual webwork of reference and citation within which they are woven, then the dread Necronomicon clearly has a life of its own. Besides literary studies, the Necronomicon has generated numerous pseudo-scholarly analyses, including significant appendices in the Encyclopedia Cthulhiana and Lovecraft’s own “History of the Necronomicon.” A number of FAQs can be found on the Internet, where a tedious flame war periodically erupts between magicians, horror fans, and mythology experts over the reality of the book. The undead entity referred to in the Necronomicon’s famous couplet
—“That is not dead which can eternal lie/And with strange eons even death may die”—may be nothing more or less than the text itself, always lurking in the margins as we read the real.
Lovecraft’s brief “History” was apparently inspired by the first Necronomicon hoax: a review of an edition of the dreaded tome submitted to Massachusetts’ Branford Review in 1934. Decades later, index cards for the book started popping up in university library catalogs. Inevitably, and with supremely Lovecraftian logic, all these ghostly references eventually manifest the book itself. In 1973, a smallpress edition of Al Azif (the Necronomicon’s Arabic name) appeared, consisting of eight pages of simulated Syrian script repeated 24 times. Four years later, the ceremonial magicians at New York’s Magickal Childe published a Necronomicon by “Simon,” a grab bag that contains far more Sumerian myth than Lovecraft (though portions were “purposely left out” for the “safety of the reader”). George Hay’s Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names, also a child of the ’70s, is the most complex, intriguing, and Lovecraftian of the lot. In the spirit of the master’s pseudoscholarship, Hay nests the fabulated invocations of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu within a set of analytic, literary and historical essays.
Though magicians with strong imaginations have claimed that even the Simon book works wonders, the pseudohistories of the various Necronomicons are far more compelling than the texts themselves. Lovecraft himself provided the bare bones: the text was penned in 730 AD by a poet, the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, and named after the nocturnal sounds of insects. It was subsequently translated by Theodorus Philetas into Greek, by Olaus Wormius into Latin, and by John Dee into English. Lovecraft lists various libraries and private collections where fragments of the volume reside, and gives us a knowing wink by noting that the fantasy writer R. W. Chambers is said to have derived the monstrous and suppressed book found in his story collection The King in Yellow from rumors of the Necronomicon.