Saturday, December 31, 2011
Dead Names: THe Dark History of the Necronomicon
Book Review: Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon
by Simon (Avon Books 2006)
This was a great read. Simon sure can weave a tale, though in this book he recounts the rather bizarre story of how the famous grimoire – The Necronomicon – ie. The Book of Dead Names, fell into his hands. It has been assumed, according to internet analysis and a book that has been written, that the Necronomicon is a hoax, invented and perpetuated by Simon and his colleagues. Simon (a professed pseudonym) here presents his argument that the Necronimocon is a real textual grimoire written in Greek by an Arab late in the first millenium CE. He claimed that the manuscript turned up as a part of the booty in a theft ring of esoteric books from libraries (mostly European) in the 70’s. He shows the actual newspaper article about the two priests implicated in the thefts. Simon is apparently a priest of the Eastern Orthodox sect who became more and more interested in ceremonial magick as time passed. He worked with the OTO in New York City (but said he was never a member), taught classes in magick at Herman Slater’s Warlock Shoppe in New York City, and was part of the varied magickal community an NYC during the magical revival of the 70’s and 80’s. He does a great job of painting a picture of that time and place. The Warlock Shoppe became Magickal Childe in the 80’s and I remember getting the catalogues from them then so I actually remember many of the things to which he refers. Simon does mention in the preface that he does at times attribute conduct to himself to protect the privacy of some others – particularly ecclesiastical personnel – involved, who do not wish to risk their reputations.
The Necronomicon has been assumed to have been invented as a legendary magic text in the 20’s by the horror author H.P Lovecraft who apparently mentions both the book and a bit of its content. Simon claims to never have heard of Lovecraft’s story when the Necronomicon fell into his hands. If this is true we are left to ponder how Lovecraft knew about it which remains unanswered. Simon’s Necronomicon contains many names from ancient Sumerian. The Sumerian script and pronunciation was not recovered and interpreted until the late 19th century. This can only mean that there was a tradition practicing with Sumerian deities until the late Dark Ages when the Arab composed the text. Certainly Sumerian would have been known to the later Babylonians and Assyrians. Simon suggests that it was kept up by tribal peoples. The text contains ‘bastardized’ Sumerian and Babylonian intermingled with Neoplatonic type magic which is what one might expect from a later text. If the text did emanate from Arabia – it would not be so far-fetched as Arabia is very close geographically to southern Iraq and ancient Sumer and Babylon. Yemen is also an area referred to in ancient and modern works in the Necronomicon and in works on Arabic magick.
Simon teaches us about the ‘wandering bishops’ – bishops of various Christian churches with shoddy or non-existent credentials. He tells the story of Andrew Prazsky, who became a bishop of the Slavonic Orthodox Church at a young age under bizarre circumstances and his friend, the writer Peter Lavenda. Prazsky started his own church, was a collector of church paraphernalia (and rare occult texts), a well known homosexual, a shyster, and employer of the two priests convicted in the rare book heists. Simon thinks that he burned the manuscripts, including the Necronomicom, out of fear of being implicated. Prazsky died under mysterious circumstances – possibly accidental but likely a suicide. His aged father committed suicide before him by hanging himself in the church on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas. These tragedies are part of the “Dark History of the Necronomicon” as is the suicide of the original publisher – Larry Barnes of Barnes Graphics – from a drug overdose. Herman Slater and his partner at the occult shop died of AIDS. Simon tells the stories of all these people but notes that the history was not all dark as many people did quite well. He tells the story of a vibrant occult scene that included varied groups and types of people from Wicca, paganism, OTO, Church of Satan, Process Church (this one an offshoot from Scientology), New Age, and even the Son of Sam Cult that was implicated in several serial murders and animal sacrifices. Simon was apparently involved in the staging of fests such as the performance of the Rock Opera Book of the Law – which incidentally is why I originally got the book – as I was looking for info on this – I have it on a cassette somewhere but not much can be found on the internet about it. The performance and recording was done by a band called Black 47 (though they may have been called – The Major Thinkers – then. A guy named Larry Kirwan is credited with some of the music. His band, Black 47, is apparently quite popular now as an Irish band in NYC area and has done music for many movies. People congregated around a pub called Bells of Hell and Simon was part of a group called StarGroup One that put things together media and magic-wise. Even the Marvel Comics crowd were among the folk. Later in the book Simon gives updates on several of these folk.
Simon goes into great detail about the goings on of the Wandering Bishops including Pratzsky’s and Lavenda’s daring appearance (as teens) at the televised funeral of Robert Kennedy where they apparently faked their way in dressed as young priests in Russian Orthodox garb and knew enough of the rite to seem authentic. This happened before they became recognized priests and helped authenticate them. Many of the ‘apostolic successions’ or lineages of various sects are examined.
Simon talks about the appearance of the book, his getting various people to translate it from the Greek and other people to re-draw all the sigils in the book. He describes how Larry Barnes came into the picture, how the book was promoted, the first hardbound edition, and the eventual mass market paperback edition by Avon Books - that was not originally planned. Many people have criticized this format for a secret and potentially dangerous grimoire but Simon seems to like that it was available to people at low cost. There is much discussion also of young occultists working with it as a symbol of the self-professed and quite reckless teenage satanist. The book was found to be possessed by a small teenage cult who committed murder and was suggested to be possibly implicated in other occult crimes but Simon shrugs off such nonsense. He also gives a good history of the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the late 1980’s that brought occult crime paranoia to its height with most of it found to be a total hoax. The Son of Sam Cult was an exception. Ritual murders were committed by them as part of an offshoot of the Process Church which was itself an offshoot of Scientology. This Cult had nothing to do with the Necronomicon but some of its members undoubtably crossed paths and shared events with others in the general occult community of the time and place. Simon gives has own interesting analysis of troubled teenager occultism below:
“The idea that reciting a few prayers from a book enables one to master the unseen world is very attractive to the disenfranchised elements of our society. Those who are powerless in any other way – politically, economically, socially – can seek solace in these forbidden books and a means to self-empowerment. That is why troubled and disturbed teenagers find the occult so fascinating, for they are suffering from two forms of stress: the normal stress of being adolescent in a world full of stimulation and excess, and the stress that comes from psychological imbalance and disorder. In effect, these troubled youths are potential shamans for they fit many of the requirements of shamanism as described in works by Mircea Eliade, for instance: mental disorders, confusion over sexual identity, creative sensitivity, social ostracism. In the case of the shamans, the initiate returns to the tribe empowered by the spirits to fulfill a necessary role as healer and seer. In our case – in modern Western, scientifically oriented society – the “initiate” has no social function to fulfill, no “redeeming social value,” and no cultural framework in which to understand the changes that are taking place within his soul or the strange desires that motivate him. He either outgrows this fascination with the occult as he forces himself into some semblance of balance or conformity, or he turns into a Roderick Ferrell and looks for sacrificial victims. There is rarely a desire to turn to organized religion for comfort or understanding, since the whole point of the occult quest is to seek out an alternative form of spiritual expression, one that provides avenue for the deep conflicts one is experiencing as well as an outlet for the anti-social acts he feels driven to commit. Organized religion is ill-equipped to deal in a constructive way with feelings of anger, rage, lust, and the other, baser human emotions and instincts. Its approach has always been to control or exorcise those feelings, to rein them in or banish them entirely. The occultist – especially the young, adolescent occultist – distrusts that approach to what he believes are his natural inclinations.”
Part 2 of the book is called – The Sumerian Tradition and the Hidden God – and this part I found to be rather fascinating. Apparently the similarities of the Necronomicon to an authentic Sumerian text such as the Enuma Elish, recovered in archaeological investigations – show the Necronomicon to have gone through many changes – to have been ‘bastardized’ as Simon puts it, by time and cultural crossings. He suggests that there are so many references to Sumerian and later Akkadian and Babylonian civilizations that the grimoire is a unique survival of an occult system that made its way through various changes of empire and was glossed over by the popular neo-Platonic forms of Hermetic magick of the Mediterranean areas of the early years of the first millenium. It is well known that the Babylonians and Akkadians preserved the Sumerian language as well as Sumerian religion and magic. According to Simon:
“What we seem to have is an attempt by a Middle Eastern occultist to syncretize the oral tradition of his cult, a Sumerian tradition, with the more literate Gnostic and neo-Platonist influences alive in his environment.”
Simon suggests that the Toda people of Southwest India were Sumerians that had fled and eventually landed there. Their stone monuments and the symbols thereon – eight petaled star flower, seven pointed stars, lunar crescent horns, and scorpions are very similar to Sumerian monuments and so to is their god On – to the Sumerian An, or Anu. Sumerian loan words are thought to be in their language – which is an Elamite-Dravidian dialect. The Elamites came from Iran northeast of Mesopotamia but their precursor culture may have as well been the Sumerian precursor culture as well as perhaps the Indus Valley culture. Genetic markers of the Toda – which is a very small tribal population – are apparently much different than most Indians, and they are much lighter skinned than most South Indian Dravidians. Simon suggests the possibility that the Toda fled Sumeria when the Semitic Babylonians invaded around 2000 BC. The example of he Toda is given as one possibility as to how a Sumerian tradition could survive. Next he talks about the cult of the Yezidis in northern Iraq that have Shaitan as a deity. As well they venerate Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel and the well-known demon Azazel – who they call Melek Azazel. This is thought to be similar to the Canaanite deity Asiz. Simon suggests a relation to the Azif of the Necronomicon – which refers to the ‘nocturnal howling of the Jinn’ and - Al Azif - is apparently the Arabic title of the Necronomicon. Azazel is also the scapegoat of the Jews, carrier of the sins away into the wilderness. The very fact that these deities (Azazel, Shaitan [Satan]) are demons and devils in Islamic and later ceremonial magick traditions suggests that perhaps they were gods in earlier cultures. Yezidism was formed from earlier cults during the life of the founder Sufi – Sheikh Adi ben Musafir – in the 1100’s C.E. Previous to this there was a mythical belief in the area of - the King of the Jinn, aka Shaitan or Ibliss. Simon links the Yezidi beliefs in seven angels, a forgetful God, and other symbols and practices to ancient Mesopotamian beliefs. The admonitions in the Necronomicon “Spirit of the earth remember, Spirit of the sky remember” also suggest that the gods are forgetful.
Simon suggests that Lovecraft’s demon Cthulhu is the same as KUTULU given in the Necronomocon which means “Man of Kutu” or “Man of the Underworld.” In the north of Sumer was the city of Cutha, or Gudua, or Kutu (in Semitic). The deity of this city was Nergal, god of Mars. It was also a necropolis, a ‘city of the dead’ or resting place of the dead. Nergal was also a god of death and the Underworld and ancient tablets apparently mention the forces of chaos being ‘suckled’ by the monstrous sea goddess Tiamat – similar to the Necronomicon descriptions. Simon links the Cuthites to the biblical Samaritans who apparently are still a small minority in Israel and still practice animal sacrifice as in the old ways. Apparently they were also around Saudi Arabia in the early centuries A.D. and were in Mecca during the time of Mohammed as is mentioned. The Samaritans were considered heretics by the Jews for worshipping idols. Mohammed was of the priestly tribe called the Quraysh who were in charge of the Black Stone of Mecca. Pre-Islamic peoples would visit and circumambulate this stone/Ka’aba/cube (much as Moslems do today) which was associated with 360 deities – 360 being a well known Babylonian number of the complete circle, the zodiac, and time. Mohammed may have exploited the Jews’ disdain for the Samaritans in order to convert the Jews of Mecca to Islam. The seven circumambulations of the stone at Mecca may well be presaged by the seven gates of several Sumerian and Babylonian stories (as in a few different Inanna myths) and the seven steps of the ziggurats – and the various symbolism of the seven zonei, or wanderers/planets given in the Necronomicon and Babylonian omen astrology. Simon suggests that the sacrifice of goats and sheep among Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca harks back to pre-Islamic times and that the priests of the Quraysh tribe may have been the old priests of the war god Nergal at Cutha. After being won over to Mohammed’s doctrine they conquered Mesopotamia (their old homeland?) and the caliphate was eventually set up in Baghdad. The Quraysh tribe was known to be in Babylon around 200 A.D. during the Sassanid Persian Empire where they acquired writing and practices of the Persian Magi. They also brought to Mecca the Mesopotamian deities Hubal and al-Uzza (Goddess of Venus). Nergal was known at this time period in Mesopotamia as well. As far as chthonic deities such as Nergal, Simon notes that Lovecraft invented in his stories – Miskatonic University – which certainly suggests the word ‘chthonic” in its European pronunciation. He also notes a pre- Lovecraft occurrence of a Semitic version of the word Kutulu in a recently found version of – The Key of Solomon – thought to have been lost. Here the name and seal of Kutulu (KThULH) is immediately followed by a description of the Mazkim – the ‘liers in wait’ demons mentioned in the Necronomicon. Many years after the book was published Simon mentions being led to a web posting on Arabic magic where it was posted that khathoolan is a word in Arabic meaning ‘deserter’ and can also refer to Satan in the Quran. He suggests that perhaps Lovecraft had some sort of access to lost Arab magic information. “Deserter’ or ‘abandoner’ again suggests the old forgetful gods.
In describing the key Middle Eastern influences on the Western occult traditions Simon offers the following:
“... the most dramatic influence on modern occultism derives from the Qabala of the Jews, the astrology of the Babylonians, and the syncretistic mass of supernatural beliefs and practices inherited from the ancient Egyptians, the Gnostics, the Arabs, the Manicheans, and others that have come down to us in such esoteric traditions as alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Templarism, and Freemasonry.”
Lovecraft gave a date of 730 A.D. for the writing of the Necronomicon. This would be about a hundred years after the founding of Islam and among the height of the conquests where old pagan beliefs were in deep danger of being wiped out – as is indicated in the dire language of the ‘Mad Arab’ in the Necronomicon.
Simon goes on to compare the works of the Thelemic mages, Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Grant, and Jack Parsons in regards to the Sumerian tradition. Crowley encountered the Yezidi in his travels and was quoted by Grant as saying that the rediscovery of the Sumerian tradition was a key goal of magick. The spirit/loa/god/trans-human intelligence said to have dictated the – Book of the Law – to Crowley’s consort at the time – was named Aiwas. Aiwas was said by Crowley to have been the true name of the god of the Yezidis. Aiwas has also been equated to Shaitan and in several Thelemic rites is given as Shaitan-Aiwas. Though Simon thinks Lovecraft had access to authentic Arabic magic texts – perhaps the Necronomicon itself, Grant considered Lovecraft to have somehow channeled these authentic ancient currents. There is also mentioned a (legendary?) Arabic grimoire called – The Veils of Negative Existence – which was said by occult scholar Francis King to have once been in the possession of the Golden Dawn. He also discusses Grant’s notion of – The Hidden God – perhaps in reference to old displaced gods in general as the gods of our ancestors still remotely accessible to us and/or to the dangerous and chaotic/chthonic “Ancient Ones” mentioned in the Necronomicon.
Simon goes through the initiatory structure in the Necronomicon where one encounters the Seven Gates – again equated to the planets, colors, symbols, and other correspondences. Also there is reference to guarding the gates (in service to humanity) magically so that chaotic and destructive magical forces don’t find their way through to our plane. There is an account of Inanna’s descent into the Underworld and her return. Simon suggests that she did not return alone but brought dangerous magical forces with her. Also discussed is the possibility that the Sumerian religion refers to extraterrestrial contact – such as was mentioned and written extensively about by the late Zacharia Sitchin. There is a ritual in the text of blood sacrifice – which really makes the detractors of the text cringe and consider it an evil satanic text – but as Simon points out – animal sacrifice was quite common in pagan times and is common then and today as well among Muslims and many other peoples. One would perhaps expect it from a non-Christianized sect of that time and place.
Next Simon refutes much of the information floating around the internet about the book and how it came to be. He exclusively refutes many of the assertions of Gonce and Harm’s book – The Necronomicon Files – published in 1998 and 2003. Though I have never read this book – Simon does take quotes from it and soundly refute them. He suggests that it is mostly an amateurish attack on his credibility, the authenticity of the text, and the danger of the text in leading to occult crime. Simon’s arguments, especially as to lore, are well referenced and clearly and well stated.
Simon also notes a few other books he has penned about the Necronomicon: The Gates of the Necronomicon – and the Necronomicon Spellbook. There is another one I have by Donald Tyson that was published around the same times as – Dead Names – but I have not read it. At a glance it looks like it does have quite a bit of lore that perhaps corroborates some of Simon’s work.
I really enjoyed this book – a fast and exciting read. Whether what - Simon says – is true or partially true or an elaborate hoax – it sure was a fun read. I have found Simon’s analysis in this book to be intelligent, plausible, accurate to what I know, and so he does seem sincere. I read the Necronomicon many years ago and may have done some preliminary exercises with it but no major rituals. I do know a few people that have done some of the rites and I do recall some strange results. The fact that the Necronomicon was published in small paperback format by Avon – as was this book – Dead Names – made it very inexpensive and available. It was a very good selling occult book compared to most in such a genre. I remember actually familiarizing myself as a late teen (with a few magical comrades) with the deities and ideas in the book. We saw it as daring and perhaps dangerous but not as satanic or destructive. We appreciated the ancient lore and the possibility of tapping into lost and perhaps powerful sources of magical energy.