Occult readings of Lovecraft’s fiction began while he was still alive, with correspondents like William Lumley and the unnamed Salem witch descendent and “Maine wizard” expressing interest or belief in the reality of the artificial mythology and lore that Lovecraft and his contemporaries concocted. As Lovecraft put it:
[William Lumley] 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. Indeed—Bill tells me that he has fully identified my Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep ……. So that he can tell me more about ‘em that I know myself.H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Oct 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 449
Lovecraft, as an ardent materialist, always disabused those who wrote to him asking for the reality of the Necronomicon or for occult lore; while he was happy to play the game of terrible incantations and rites in fiction and in his letters, he did not wish to actually misinform or mislead anyone. The interest generation in such works did, however, present an interesting possibility:
I dont wonder that you recieve letters inquiring about the Necronomicon. You invest it with so much realism, that it fooled me among others. Until you enlightened me, I thought perhaps there was some such book or manuscript sufficiently fantastic to form the basis of fictionized allusions. Say, why dont you write it yourself? If some exclusive house would publish it in an expensive edition, and give it the proper advertising, I’ll bet you’d realize some money from it.Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Apr 1932, A Means to Freedom 1.279
While neither Lovecraft or Howard pursued the idea, long after their death others acted on the idea. Two of the earliest and most prominent of these were the Necronomicon by Simon, first published by Schlangekraft in 1977 and in 1980 as an affordable mass-market paperback (which has never yet gone out of print) and in 1978 The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names edited by George Hay. These two books were both hoaxes that claimed to derive their text from a genuine manuscript; the Simon Necronomicon took as its inspiration Sumerian mythology and a dash of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, while the Hay Necronomicon riffed off the European medieval grimoire tradition.
Of the two, the Simon book was more “serious” and aimed at fooling students of the occult, while the Hay book (with a lengthy introduction by Colin Wilson) was more fun. However, both books were embraced by burgeoning occult communities in the 1970s and 80s, were referenced by Kenneth Grant (a successor to Aleister Crowley) in his occult workbooks The Typhonian Trilogies (1972-2002), and continue to influence contemporary works of occultism such as Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction (2007) by Asenath Mason. For more on the complicated Lovecraftian occult scene, see The Necronomicon Files by Daniel Harms & John W. Gonce III.
Nor were they the only such works; many occult Necronomicons have proliferated over the years…and not all of them in English. Many non-English language Necronomicons are, in whole or in part, translations of the popular Simon and Hay Necronomicons, sometimes with their rituals and imagery mixed together, sometimes interpolated with original material. Other works are largely original. Two particular works from Italy are good examples to compare and contrast how the occult Necronomicon tradition functions.
Magic of Atlantis: Sauthenerom: The Real Source of the Necronomicon (1985) by Frank G. Ripel
This Work is essentially divided into two parts. The first reveals the Text “Sauthenerom” whose source is lost in the Night of Times, and the other is an essay on particular esoterical matters that are related to the Ordo Rosae Misticae (The Order of the Mystic Rose) and connected with the Current of Occult Knoweldge that reaches back 4,000 years to the end of the Stellar-Lunar Cults and the beginning of the Lunar Cults. […]
I can assert that the Sauthenerom (The Book of the Law of Death) is the Text of the Real Necronomcion (The Book of Dead Names), i.e. the Text out of which later on the Necronomicon had developed.Frank G. Ripel, “Introduction” to Magic of Atlantis 7
Frank Giano Ripel is an Italian occultist whose works primarily derive from Aleister Crowley’s system of ceremonial magic, whose best-known practitioners are the Ordo Templi Orientalis (O.T.O.). This system of ritual magic in turn grows out of the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which in turn attempted to distill, codify, and systemize various occult practices such as the Western grimoire tradition such as The Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage, Christian Kabbalah, and tarot (for more on which, see Eldritch Tarot (2021) by Sara Bardi).
After Aleister Crowley’s death, his last secretary Kenneth Grant sought to expand the system of Thelema through a series of books, starting with The Magical Revival (1972), which began to incorporate fictional elements—particularly the Lovecraft Mythos—into the already complicated system of occult correspondences. Other occultists picked up on this thread, and the Simon Necronomicon in particular included a table of correspondences suggesting that the Necronomicon and the Lovecraft Mythos were associated with Crowley’s teachings; Grant referred back to this in his later books, and like how the Cthulhu Mythos grew up from different authors pursuing their own writing goals and referencing one another’s work, the Lovecraftian occult began to expand. Ripel was part of that expansion.
As with many occultists and groups, the background is a little hazy. It appears that in the 1980s Ripel began self-publishing his own occult works for a relatively small and select audience; the principal volumes of these are the Sabean Trilogy which consists of three books, with the titles Magic of Atlantis, Red Magic, and Stellar Magic in English. Various translations of some of these were made in English, Spanish, and Serbian by small presses, and today several editions are available as ebooks, but the early English translations Magic of Atlantis are quite rare and it isn’t clear if the other books in the trilogy were ever translated into English, so Ripel’s influence on English-speaking Lovecraftian occultists appears to be minimal.
Ripel’s Magic of Atlantis is a sort of hybrid between Kenneth Grant’s and Simon’s approaches. The first part of the book, called the Sauthenerom, is implicitly a “received text” on the order of “The Book of the Forgotten Ones” (1977) by Nema Andahadna—or at least, unlike The Book of Dzyan (1888) by Helena Blavatsky there is no suggestion that Ripel was pretending to work off of a physical manuscript he had discovered. This Necronomicon ur-text borrows rather liberally from Lovecraft, though not without its original changes:
The Old Ones Are, the Old Ones Were and the Old Ones Will Be. From the Dawn of Times, in the Primordial Chaos, in ever Centre of the Infinite called Naxyr, the Gods Were and Were-Not; They were floating in the formless Waters of Darkness, in the Void of Naxyr. […]
At the Centre of Naxyr resideth his Manifestation in the form of that Protoplasmic Chaos, that Boiling Energy; the Manifested Father who is also the Son, the Projection of the Mother.
His Name is Azathoth,the Blind God who Explodes with no End, and out of his Death, the Manifested Worlds are born; and Planets and Stars and Suns and their inhabitants. He is the One that sits on the Double Throne. He is the One that clothes Yog-Sothoth of his Mother.Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 11
This mythological section borrows fairly heavily from Theosophy…too much, in that it reproduces some of the inherent racism of the “root races”:
There were divisions among the Races caused above all by climactic conditions. For example, the South Race developed the faculty of enduring the bruning Sun’s Rays through the emission of a substance which darkens the skin. In the span of Ten Generations, this factor became hereditary.Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 25
References to Lovecraft’s Mythos aside, the Sauthenerom section is relatively brief (26 pages) and divided into 13 chapters with a combination of myth, cosmology, and ritual. The bulk of the book is the second section, which details the magickal practices and beliefs of the Ordo Rosae Misticae, which presents itself as a splinter of the O.T.O.; Ripel both criticizes Grant’s publications while borrowing from them—like Crowley and Simon, Ripel borrows in Lovecraft’s creations to his system, though much of the Magic of Atlantis involves “correcting” Grant’s errors:
Talking of the relation between Lovecraft’s Cult and that of Crowley, we must point out an erroneus assertion of Kenneth Grant (see The Magical Revival) that Lovecraft did not know the Work of Crowley. Lovecraft’s letters, instead, demonstrate precisely the contrary. Besides, Grant’s comparative table between the Two Cults contains considerable mistakes.Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 56-57
The third part of the book is devoted to the grades of Ripel’s order, and the actual magickal operations are described in part four; these mostly involve fairly typical instructions for how to create various ritual tools and spaces, and variations of familiar Thelemic rites—in place of Crowley’s “Mass of the Phoenix,” for example, is given instructions for the “Host of Satan”:
To prepare the Host of Satan (Lucifer’s Bread of Light) various types of Blood could be used, the best is that of the Moon, that is the Menstrual Blood. One will have ot burn the Blood making cakes out of it.Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 179
There is little to nothing of Lovecraft in this “operational” portion of the book, and that rather reveals Magic of Atlantis for what it is: a handbook for by and for practicing Thelemic magicians working within Ripel’s particular interpretation of Crowley and Grant’s system.
The fanciful pseudo-Lovecraftian material that fronts the book ultimately gives way to almost prosaic repetition of standard Hermetic ceremonial matters in the back half; despite grand claims to have at his access ultimate secrets, at least in this book Ripel’s imagination falls far short of expectations. Would-be Lovecraftian cultists may be disappointed not to find anything as weird or grand as in the Simon and Hay Necronomicons…but actual serious-minded occultists will probably appreciate Ripel’s criticisms of Grant (provided they agree) and his efforts at magical scholasticism.
Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred (2022) by Miranda Gurzo
|La versione di Hay e Wilson, ad esempio, è interessante per tutta la parte introduttiva, che tesse un intricato mistero attorno alla figura di John Dee e alle sue “comunicazioni angeliche”, ma il testo vero e proprio del libro maledetto è piuttosto breve e modellato senza tropa fantasia sull’impronta dei manuali magical medievali.||Hay and Wilson’s version, for example, is interesting throughout the introductory part, which weaves an intricate mystery around the figure of John Dee and his “angelic communications”, but the actual text of the cursed book is rather short and modeled without too much imagination on the imprint of medieval magical manuals.|
Where Magic of Atlantis is a book for magicians by magicians, Miranda Gurzo’s Necronomicon is plain about being a work of fiction more in the vein of the Hay Necronomicon—but to go it one better and try and produce a work of fiction that is more in keeping with the spirit and scope of the Necronomicon-as-medieval-grimoire. Rather than overly concerning itself with contemporary Lovecraftian occultism, Gurzo focused on creating something closer to what the Necronomicon in Lovecraft’s stories might have looked like, if it was a real book.
There have been a few other books with similar approaches, but most of them are ultimately prop books—works that look the part, but without a particularly coherent or interesting original text. Italian publisher Libri Prohibiti for example creates beautiful, functionally unique works of book art, but the texts of these imaginary-books-made-flesh aren’t original, being often taken from some public domain text, sometimes with alterations to reflect the theme. Efforts to actually write the Necronomicon in whole or in part tend to run up hard against a lack of effort, lack of creativity, or both. L. Sprague de Camp, for example, famously published a version of the Al Azif in 1973 that consists only of a long narrative introduction and eight pages of the same pseudo-Duriac text.
It looks the business, but you can’t actually read it.
Many other authors have tried to write pieces of the Necronomicon, as collected in the Chaosium book of the same name, but the results usually fail to meet expectations. In part, that has to do with the reputation that the Necronomicon was attributed by Lovecraft in his early fiction, and which has only grown over subsequent generations. It’s pretty much impossible to distill something sufficiently shocking, terrible, revelatory, occult, grotesque, and weird into a single book…and if you did manage that feat, it would still fail to live up to expectations, because the whole point of the Necronomicon is a book which is literally defined as being beyond your imagination. If you can pick it up and read it, how could it ever compare to that ancient, moldering tome kept under lock and key in the Miskatonic University library?
In a sense, Gurzo tries to get around this by tempering expectations.
|Ma io, Abdul Alhazred, ho potuto con i miei stessi occhi scrutare i mistici caratteri delle Cronache di Nath, la cui antichita’ supera quella del nostro cosmo, e la cui origine si situa nel mondo da cui Quelli di Prima vennero in principio, che i mistici conoscono come Nath dei Tre Soli.||But I, Abdul Alhazred, was able with my own eyes to scrutinize the mystical characters of the Chronicles of Nath, whose antiquity surpasses that of our cosmos, and whose origin lies in the world from which Those who First came in the beginning, which the mystics know as Nath of the Three Suns.|
Basically, the Gurzo Necronomicon is a kind of pseudo-medieval occult textbook, combining aspects of fantastical geography, cosmology, theology, metaphysics, and “functional” occultism. It is written in a pseudo-archaic style—as far as tone and format—although the actual language is contemporary Italian rather than another dialect (such as Venetian), and all the proper names (Abdul Alhazred, Shub-Niggurath, Cthulhu, etc.) are in recognizable contemporary forms. In this, it probably more closely resembles translations of actual medieval grimoires into contemporary languages than it does a genuine medieval product…but you can actually read it (or, if you don’t read Italian, translate it by hand or via an app).
If the Gurzo Necronomicon doesn’t promise the most terrible secrets of the universe, it does at least present a reasonable and readable facsimile of what a medieval occult textbook based on the Mythos might actually have looked like. It is relatively long (356 pages of text), detailed, and certainly a labor of love to gather bits and pieces of Mythos lore from across dozens of stories and try to weave them together into something like a coherent narrative. This goes beyond just Lovecraft, but borrowing from Clark Ashton Smith and other Mythos writers as well:
|COmpresi allora aldila’ di ogni dubbio che quello che avevo veduto altro non era che l’Idolo dei Ciechi, il simulacro di un mostruoso Essere venuto dall’Esterno; Egli dimora nel lago sotterraneo del deserto di Chaur, e nelle tenebre tartaree e’ adorato e servito da una razza degenerata di Aihai chiamati Yorhis, i quali sono costantemente mantenuti dall’Abitatore dell’Abisso in uno stato di oblio e inconsapevolezza, cosi’ che non possano ribellarsi alla tirannia del loro Signore.||I understood then beyond any doubt that what I had seen was none other than the Idol of the Blind, the simulacrum of a monstrous Being who came from Outside; He dwells in the underground lake of the desert of Chaur, and in the Tartarean darkness he is worshiped and served by a degenerate race of Aihai called Yorhis, who are constantly kept by the Dweller of the Abyss in a state of oblivion and unawareness, so that they cannot rebel against the tyranny of their Lord.|
Probably the closest equivalent in English would be Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (2004) by Donald Tyson, which was part of a series of Necronomicon-related works of dubious merit for the new spirituality shelves at your favorite local chain bookstore. Tyson’s books are almost the definition of cheap pop-occultism, utterly unambitious and aimed at a reader that doesn’t know much of anything about either magic or the Mythos. Gurzo at least delves deep into Mythos lore, to the point where you might want to keep the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia handy to look up an obscure reference or two.
Gurzo hasn’t neglected the Lovecraftian occult elements, but the incantations, magic circles, and other instructions tend to be interspersed through the text; to give the flavor of it:
|E le labbra degli stregoni, e con loro le mie, iniziarono a cantilenare le Parole proibite del Rituale Nero di Yaddith:|
Gn’narh ng’gha w’zah hey m’nah k’ha nay Shub-Niggurath
R’ahay w’nah kbah t’agh tr’ogh b’naeh sh’baah Yog-Sothoth
Yah’hay t’lagh’ ph’nuy d’nah mnha ghaay ptha lw’ha u’nahy
Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
|And the sorcerers’ lips, and mine with them, began chanting the Forbidden Words of the Black Ritual of Yaddith:|
Gn’narh ng’gha w’zah hey m’nah k’ha nay Shub-Niggurath
R’ahay w’nah kbah t’agh tr’ogh b’naeh sh’baah Yog-Sothoth
Yah’hay t’lagh’ ph’nuy d’nah mnha ghaay ptha lw’ha u’nahy
Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
Like the Hay Necronomicon, the Gurzo Necronomicon is not attempting to be a complete magical system or text in the sense of the Simon Necronomicon or Ripel’s Magic of Atlantis. What it is trying to do, more than the other books, is to present a Necronomicon that is reasonably accurate to the contents of the Necronomicon as Lovecraft and his contemporaries and heirs described it, with explicit and frequent reference to the Mythos entities, places, books, and magical operations that you can read about in Mythos fiction.
Which probably won’t stop some eager cultists from trying out a few of the tongue-twisting incantations on their own. The nature of the Lovecraftian occult is to spur the imagination of practitioners, who tend to borrow from myriad sources as they explore the weird world of magick. Ripel and Gurzo are coming from different perspectives, and in different ways: Magic of Atlantis is a relatively slim hardback that was published in a single edition in limited numbers, and the main illustrations are a series of line-diagrams of the Tree of Life and poorly-reproduced black-and-white photographs; Gurzo’s Necronomicon is a fat hardback published print-on-demand with relatively more diagrams…but the images show loss of resolution, blurring and pixelization. Both are primarily products of single creators rather than corporate products, but the publishing environment has shifted vastly in the nearly 40 years between the two books.
Ripel is attempting to appeal to occultists, and Gurzo to weird literature fans—but they have ended up in practically the same place, both of them crafting new recensions in the Necronomicon occult tradition. The line between “real” occultism and fiction is blurry, and the two influence one another all the time; the Necronomicon quotes that Lovecraft came up with in “The Dunwich Horror” have been assimilated into these fictional grimoires, and some of those practices have in turn inspired new Lovecraftian fiction like Trolling Lovecraft (2021) by V. McAfee.
How much influence these particular works will ever have on English-language Mythos fiction or the Lovecraftian occult is hard to say; the language barrier can be difficult to pass. Plus, the market is saturated: we are in the fifth decade of Lovecraftian occult publishing, and there is no end in sight, and would-be practitioners have a lot of raw material to choose from.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
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