“He is firmly convinced that all our gang—you, Two-Gun Bob, Sonny Belknap, Grandpa E’ch-Pi-El, and the rest—are genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension. We may think we’re writing fiction, and may even (absurd thought!) disbelieve what we write, but at bottom we are telling the truth in spite of ourselves—serving unwittingly as mouthpieces of Tsathoggua, Crom, Cthulhu, and other pleasant Outside gentry.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Oct 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 449
During their lifetimes, H. P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries received inquiries into whether or not the grimoires and entities in their pulp fiction were real—Lovecraft, ever the materialist, always admitted they were fiction. Yet in time occultists did begin to appropriate elements of the Mythos, and notable early works include Kenneth Grant with his Typhonian Trilogies, beginning with The Magical Revival (1972); Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (1976). These works and others like them have in turn inspired further occult material, either expanding on previous work or adapting Lovecraftian elements to other magical paradigms. Lovecraftian occult literature has grown up alongside and occasionally interacting with Cthulhu Mythos fiction.
Much of the early occult interest centered around the Necronomicon, the most evocative of Lovecraft’s fictional grimoires, and in the 1970s it inspired a few prominent hoaxes, including editor George Hay’s Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names (1978) and “Simon” with the ersatz Necronomicon (1977), which for the last several decades has been in print in a cheap and eminently affordable paperback edition. These last two books were presented in the format of genuine grimoires, complete with ritual texts, sigils, talismans, etc. These books have formed the basis for a “Necronomicon tradition” in contemporary occult literature, with writers and practitioners attempting to reconcile, reconstruct, expand upon, and incorporate material from the various sources of the Lovecraftian occult into a cohesive system—or at least their personal system. It is only appropriate that Asenath Mason begins her work addressing this reality:
“[This book] refers to chosen published versions of the Necronomicon (by ‘the Necronomicon’ I will refer in this book to the general idea of the book and the particular lore of entities, not to any specific published text) as well as on some Necronomicon-related texts and grimoires which have appeared in the internet over the last few years. All these texts are generally considered hoaxes and if you do any serious research, you will find out that none of them is the ‘genuine’ Necronomicon. […] This fact, however, should not discourage us from working with these texts. […] Magical power is not contained within any written book but within our minds, and a mind of a creative individual can transform fiction into a genuine experience. In this sense we can use the Lovecraftian lore as a tool in exploration of dark labyrinths of our mind.”
—Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis 9
Mason’s statement here is derived from chaos magicians like Phil Hine, author of Prime Chaos (1993) and Pseudonomicon (1994). While “Simon” presented their hoax Necronomicon with a false backstory as an actual text which inspired Lovecraft, and Kenneth Grant asserted Lovecraft had stumbled upon some occult truth which he expressed through his fiction, chaos magicians owned the fact that Lovecraft invented the Necronomicon, that it was a fictional text—but chose to work with it anyway. Fictional concepts and ideas in their tradition can be as valid for magickal operations as those taken from factual mythologies; to an inhabitant of the 20th or 21st century, Cthulhu and Osiris are both essentially dead names to conjure with.
Necronomicon Gnosis is essentially an exegesis of Lovecraftian occult materials: Mason’s interpretation of the body of magical ideas presented in the original stories (focusing primarily on H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft) and already-presented occult material (primarily the Simon and Hay Necronomicons, Kenneth Grant, Phil Hine, Peter J. Carroll, Stephen Sennitt, and Donald Tyson). The text is not exhaustive and aimed at beginners who have limited experience with the occult or Lovecraft; the result is a bit odd but workable, a combination of literary analysis followed by suggestions or instructions for occult rituals or exercises, with many references to occult works the readers aren’t likely to be familiar with (titles included in a handy bibliography in the back).
While Lovecraft or his contemporaries might include some impressive feats of magic in their fiction like raising the dead, Mason’s Necronomicon Gnosis rites are generally more modest in scope, and focus on the understanding and spiritual development of the practitioner—the gnosis aspect of the title. For example, part of the instructions for “The Black Communion” a rite to invoke Shub-Niggurath include:
While the priest recites the incantation, the priestess must concentrate on becoming possessed by the invoked force. She should envision the Goddess with all her attribute and fully identify with her, o that the consciousness of the entity and the priestess become one. She should also arouse her sexual energy of the Kundalini serpent and inflame herself until she feels the primal insatiable lust, embodied by Shub-Niggurath.
—Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis 134
The sexual aspect of this ritual is not unusual among Lovecraftian occult rites; Kenneth Grant was a disciple of Aleister Crowley, whose system incorporates ceremonial sex magick and the use of sexual fluids in rituals, for example. However, the vast majority of Lovecraftian occult materials are written by men, and there is a distinct androcentric and heteronormative approach to sex and sexual workings in the works of Grant, Simon, Tyson, etc., the material often focus either on lascivious depiction (like Grant’s infamous “Rite of Ku”) or on a male practitioner. In interpreting the material, Mason addresses some of the more obvious biases briefly:
[…] sex gives us power over ourselves because it is the ultimate expression of life. Thus, we have the conviction, characteristic of all monotheistic religions, telling us that sex is sin, as all mastery over life is reserved to God and man is not allowed to aspire to the divine power.
—Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis 127
Shub-Niggurath has been associated with any number of female mythological figures by various authors, and Mason spends quite a bit of time running through her accumulated symbolism. While Lovecraft described her as a “sophisticated Astarte”, occultists have associated her with Kali, Inanna, Ishtar, Lilith, Tiamat, Pan, and Bamphomet; with the moon, the planet Venus, and the elemental Earth…and so on and so forth. Mason makes a game effort to untangle the varied strands of symbolism and association with Shub-Niggurath, but as with efforts to “sort out” the Cthulhu Mythos itself, too many writers have contributed too many conflicting thoughts to produce a unified and consistent approach, except at a very high level: Shub-Niggurath is about sex, and exploration of your sexuality is a valid path to gnosis.
That is the point that Mason returns to, again and again, circling back to it through her readings of the Mythos and the Lovecraftian occult, the rituals and invocations. The desire for gnosis could be said to guide a number of Mythos readers who have no practical interest in the occult, and might well balk at the concept, but still thrill to the emotions evoked by a weird tale or look forward eagerly to a terminal revelation, or perhaps seek to broaden their horizons by reading Lovecraftian fiction that challenges the structure of the Mythos they are familiar with. It is a pursuit which, stripped of the occult trappings of spells and grimoires is explored in works like Scott Jones’ When The Stars Are Right: Toward An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (2014).
Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction more or less fulfills its remit. While not as simple a magical system as presented in Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon series or as consistent a system as presented in the Necronomicon books by “Simon”, it is a solid effort at condensing the probably irreconcilable mystic mishmash of forty years of dedicated occult kitchensinking and presenting it while maintaining a consistent philosophy. For those who are interested in going deeper into the Lovecraftian occult, the Necronomicon Gnosis is a useful jumping-off point, naming key texts and authors to further their explorations.
The eternal temptation of such a combined approach is à la carte occultism—readers taking what they want or can use, and leaving the rest. This is effectively the same dilemma faced by readers and authors of the Cthulhu Mythos, and for many of the same reasons: with all these different stories, riffing off of the material created by Lovecraft and others, some of which is clearly incompatible with the rest—how do you decide what is true for you? What exactly are you as a reader or writer of Mythos fiction looking to accomplish? Perhaps we should all take a page from Mason’s book and consider not the trappings of the Mythos, but what we are trying to achieve through the use of the Mythos, what philosophy underlies it all. Do we seek escapism…or revelation and gnosis?
Asenath Mason is the founder of Lodge Magan, the Polish lodge of the Dragon Rouge magical order. Necronomicon Gnosis was published in both Polish and English editions by Edition Roter Drache in 2007. Those interested in a nonfiction history of the Lovecraftian occult and the Necronomicon tradition in particular should read The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend by Daniel Harms and John W. Gonce III.
Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)