Wednesday, May 9, 2012


A grimoire, or textbook of black magic for evoking demons, supposedly compiled by the ‘‘mad Arab Abdul Alhazred,’’ but in fact an invention of H. P. Lovecraft, early twentieth-century writer of supernatural and fantasy fiction. The name Abdul Alhazred was adopted playfully by Lovecraft around the age of five, after he read an edition of The Arabian Nights. He later used it in his fiction. It may also refer to an old Rhode Island family name, Hazard.

In 1936 Lovecraft wrote a pseudoscholarly essay titled A History of the Necronomicon, which claimed that its original title was Al Azif, derived from the word used by Arabs to designate the nocturnal sound of insects resembling the howling of demons. There followed an account of various editions of the Necronomicon, beginning in 730 C.E. Lovecraft claimed that there was a copy of the work in the equally fictional library of Miskatonic University, in Arkham (a city he invented in his fiction). Lovecraft’s essay was published in leaflet form by Wilson H. Shepherd in 1938 and has since been reprinted. The Necronomicon was cited in various stories by Lovecraft and gradually acquired a spurious life of its own.

For example, someone inserted an index card for the book in the files of the Yale University Library. A New York bookseller could not resist inserting an entry for a Latin edition in one of his sale catalogs. Eventually a group of writers and researchers headed by occult scholar Colin Wilson solemnly presented The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names as a newly discovered lost masterpiece of occult literature.

In an introduction to this publication, Wilson suggested that Lovecraft’s invention may have had some substance in fact, perhaps revealed through Lovecraft’s subconscious mind. Wilson told a story as fabulous as that of the origin of the Golden Dawn cipher manuscript. Wilson’s story concerned a Dr. Stanislaus Hinterstoisser, president of the Salzburg Institute for the Study of Magic and Occult Phenomena, who was said to have claimed that Lovecraft’s father was an Egyptian Freemason. Lovecraft Sr. saw a copy of The Necronomicon in Boston (where he worked), which was a section of a book by Alkindi (d. 850 C.E.) known as The Book of the Essence of the Soul—so the story went.

Science fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp (who published a biography of Lovecraft in 1975) is said to have acquired an Arabic manuscript from Baghdad titled Al Azif. The British occultist Robert Turner, after researching in the British Museum Library, claimed that the Alkindi work was known to the magician John Dee (1527–1608), who had a copy in cipher manuscript. This book, known as Liber Logaeth, was recently examined by computer analysis, and so The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names has now been researched, edited, and published (Neville Spearman, U.K., 1978).

No doubt other recensions of The Necronomicon will be discovered in the course of time. It might seem inevitable that once The Necronomicon appeared, a group accepting it as a valid magic text would soon follow. In the 1980s there surfaced on campuses across the United States flyers from what was termed ‘‘the Campus Crusade for Cthulhu,’’ drawing upon Lovecraft in a parody of the Evangelical Christian organization, Campus Crusade for Christ. While the organization appears to be based in satire, it nevertheless demonstrates the comprehensive nature of the mythology created by Lovecraft and the seriousness with which some of his readers have taken the idea of the old gods enunciated therein.

De Camp, L. Sprague, ed. Al Azif (The Necronomicon). Philadelphia:
Owlswoch, 1973.

Hay, George, ed. The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names.
UK: Neville Spearman, 1978. Reprint, London: Corgi, 1980.

Simon, ed. The Necronomicon. New York: Schlangekraft, Inc.;
Barnes Graphics, 1977. Reprint, New York: Avon Books, 1977.

———. Necronomicon Spellbook. New York: Magickal Childe, 1986.

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