Necronomicon as Occult Object

With the discussion of fate and destiny out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. The way in which Lovecraft attempts to delimit the Necronomicon’s destiny to the literary sphere suggests a general discomfort with that destiny but an inability to sever himself from it. Not only did he make use of the text throughout his work, but he proceeded to expand its scope, putting it into communication with the literary occultism of his fellow writers, both explicitly and implicitly. Its literary fate becomes a root system, through which its destiny survives and along which it is able to flare up.

I don’t want to get far ahead of myself, though. I want to stick with Lovecraft a little longer. I want to address the relationship between his literary output and his life. That linkage situates the destiny and fate of the Necronomicon in the fate and destiny of its creator. As the product of Lovecraft’s hand, we can’t exclude him from it. If the Necronomicon has potent occult ties to a destiny, those ties depend on Lovecraft. His craft and imagination provide the medium through which this destiny was able to resonate. In short: Lovecraft is a medium; we should evaluate him as such.

Before I get into the discussion, let me emphasize once more that Lovecraft’s Necronomicon is not a book. It represents an orchestration of forces that Lovecraft has condensed into the image of a book. It resonates as an image. The various books published under its name may resonate with Lovecraft’s image, but they are not themselves the Necronomicon proper; that Necronomicon is no book at all.

Lovecraft’s mediumship is well-evidenced. He reported being plagued by nightmares that inflicted on him by spirits, he interacted with a rich dream world. He and many of his contemporaries saw this in materialistic terms, with overtones of organic degeneracy but I see no reason to accept those evaluations at face value. Taking these as signs of a mediumistic capacity, we can examine his literary output as giving voice to those spiritual encounters.

His materialistic preconceptions do prevent Lovecraft from engaging with them in a spiritual fashion. He had neither the tools nor inclination for clarifying or intensifying the spiritual forces with which he was in sympathy. While his literary output represents a kind of intensification, its narrow field of action suppressed the full scope of its resonance. It is entirely possible that this is precisely what Lovecraft needed, that a more direct connection to the material would have proven too distressing to him. It is entirely possible that this is the only way that the work could have achieved even its limited resonance, that if Lovecraft had been more adept he might have deliberately worked to move himself out of sympathy with the forces that fueled his literary work.

Still, I do suspect that had Lovecraft been disposed to spiritual work and had assistance to engage in it, his life would have been easier for it. Spirits often exert their influence over a medium without a clear sense of the medium’s capacity to handle their contact. Without some form of aid to moderate that, the contact causes all manner of (unnecessary and not beneficial) crises and hardship. Lovecraft had neither inclination nor guidance and appears to have suffered more than a little for it. This isn’t to blame Lovecraft, but to observe the way in which his fate structured his relationship to a destiny. His life did not provide him with the ideal circumstances for developing that mediumship and those stresses put limits on what he was capable of achieving.

We have to be especially careful here. The strains that limited him are also what make his peculiar work possible. The conflation of racism, night horrors, his fondness for materialism, the disruptive scientific views of his time, his ambiguous relationship with his family and history, the shock of World War I, form part of the network of resonances into which he carves a literary fate. While we want to extract from it a vital destiny, we are still at risk to succumbing to (and supporting) the fates knotted up within it. I would suggest this may be especially true of works that attempt to give the Necronomicon a grimoiric body.

Nietzsche is often quoted for his aphorism “And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” This holds here. Lovecraft looks long into the abyss and we can see in his work the abyss staring back through him. I want to draw attention to the first part of this aphorism, too, the less quoted portion: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

I know, this seems trite in reference to Lovecraft, almost as purple and bloated as some of his prose. Still, scale it back and think about the other side of this Nietzschean equation. When fighting, the fighters risk imitation, risk becoming so deeply entrained that they reproduce each other’s tactics. When the monster is the abyss of history that Lovecraft confronts, it’s mighty hard to see past it. It is hard to do anything but succumb to the horror of war, to the terror of other races and cultures so close to your own home with ways of living and talking that seem to threaten it, to the great men before you that your actions cannot hope to equal.

Here’s the thing, though. The abyss looks back. The monster becomes. The line can be pushed in the opposite direction, such that the monster-fighter makes monster-fighters of monsters, that the abyss shapes itself to the one who looks upon it. In song:

There is a point at which resonance becomes engagement, engagement becomes resolution, and resolution becomes the mold received into the abyss. That requires an instrument of destiny, though, not fate, a rood rather than sword. It requires, perhaps, a Necronomicon. But I’m racing ahead again. Before I can talk about another way of engaging the destiny Lovecraft bequeathed to us, I need to talk a little about what composes that destiny.

In the first post discussing the Necronomicon, I drew a distinction between the Necronomicon as a text and the Necronomicon as a potent image or subtle talisman. This distinction helps us find the limits of Lovecraft’s work as a model for occult practice and it allows to consider the source of its potency. The potent figures in Lovecraft’s fiction, like the Necronomicon, represent productive operations in the astral. They are not shadowy doubles of a work that might come to exist, but productive forces that operate on the world in order to produce concrete and existing things. We might think of the Necronomicon as a kind of cell and the active force within it as active, unstable, and mutagenic spiritual RNA.

The literary elements that constitute it define its receptors, the points at which it is capable of introducing mutations in habits of thought. As those stabilize, they become the solid ground through which new spiritual influences find traction in the world of creation. Let us turn back to the literary object for a moment. Here, though not fully realized, we encounter in Lovecraft’s literary trajectory an occult trajectory that can be taken to heart (though not put directly into practice).

The Necronomicon first appears, as its latinate moniker implies, as a book of dead names. Within its pages are the means necessary for the dead to acquire influence among the living. The earliest appearances suggests that the corpse of a wizard is a kind of book in itself, a lesson that teaches the very earth in which it resides to take on a new subtle form. The neighbors are warned to burn a wizard to avoid that, but as Lovecraft develops the Necronomicon’s contents, he reveals that even the ashes of the wizards (his “Essential Saltes”) may provide the basis for his rebirth into the world.

The work appears early on associated with the mysteries of the cosmos, with the strangeness that lies between the stars. It thus links the necromantic return of the wizard with the arrival of inhuman horrors, the aliens that terrorize and break the human mind and body. In the earlier stories, these forces are in alignment. The land, the wizards, the starry and starless heavens resonate, though it is an unearthly resonance. The Necronomicon itself is the means by which this is constellation is established and, as the book of dead names, the means through which it is sustained into the future, the means by which it acquires a lineage.

The destiny that operates the Necronomicon cuts a vertical axis across heaven and earth, joining them in a relationship mediated by a human figure, the wizard or witch (Lovecraft makes little distinction between them), through which that destiny contagiously spreads along the horizontal plane to encompass other forms of life on earth. That contagion depends on the wizard deepening their connection to the earth and its land, on becoming a vital force even after death. The treating with higher powers is not a form of transcendence but a remaking of embodiment, of finding a heaven within and alongside the earth.

I agree with Lovecraft that any actual Necronomicon falls short of the idea of the Necronomicon. It exists most potently as a destiny, not as a fate. The more specific and detailed the Necronomicon becomes, it becomes fated. It acquires a direction and context from which it cannot be extracted. If you make the Necronomicon a concrete grimoire, you lock it more tightly to specific contingencies. As a symbol or image, though, it can be the axis for a potentially infinite (though actually finite) series of resonances.

As an image, its resonance can’t be translated quickly into practice. The literary images of decline and evil amplify the destiny operating through it as images, not as representations of something to be enacted in action. I don’t think there are too many people out there who are actively trying to be Lovecraft cultists, but it’s worth underlining because the eagerness with which people seek after ‘real’ Necronomicons (i.e., actual books purporting to be it) reflects a literalism that inhibits access to the imaginal Necronomicon. The images clarify and activate only as images, much like tragic theatre can produce its cathartic release only as theatre.

5 thoughts on “Necronomicon as Occult Object

  1. Stacey

    “Have you seen the Yellow Sign?”

    Seriously, some of this would apply to Chambers’ _The King in Yellow_ as well (not coincidentally, he was one of HPL’s influences).

  2. Stacey

    Reblogged this on Coffee and Blood and commented:
    I’m biased (the author is my partner), but this is a nicely thought-provoking examination of Lovecraft and the Necronomicon as influences on contemporary magic.

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