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How the Necronomicon Works

The Language of the 'Necronomicon'
The Simon hoax edition of the "Necronomicon" contains Sumerian mythology and a mishmash of occult rituals.
The Simon hoax edition of the "Necronomicon" contains Sumerian mythology and a mishmash of occult rituals.
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According to a letter Lovecraft wrote to fellow author Clark Ashton Smith, Theodorus Philetas translated the original Arabic text into Greek in A.D. 950, whereupon "Al Azif" became known as the "Necronomicon." Most copies were burned after a few nasty incidents involving people experimenting with the text with the intent of harnessing the power of the Old Ones.

In 1228, Olaus Wormius, a priest, translated the Arabic text into Latin. Pope Gregory IX banned both the Latin and Greek translations, and Church officials seized and burned as many copies as they could find (in reality, Olaus Wormius was a 17th-century Dutch physician with no connection to mystical books).

Additional lore claims that in 1586, Dr. John Dee, an Englishman and magician, discovered a long lost copy of Wormius' Latin translation. Dee and his assistant, Edward Kelly, attempted to translate the work into English. No publisher ever printed the full text, and the original translation sits in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, (the real John Dee was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and was known as both a mathematician and an alchemist).

Other authors mention more translations, including a copy written in Hebrew, but not all Lovecraft fans accept those copies as canon in the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft said that copies of the "Necronomicon" exist at the following libraries:

  • Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris (Latin text)
  • British Museum (Latin text, safely locked away from the public)
  • Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. (Spanish reprint of the Latin text)
  • University of Buenos Aires (Spanish reprint)
  • Widener Library at Harvard (Spanish reprint)

In Lovecraft's fiction, most religious and political organizations ban the book outright, as madness and calamity follow copies wherever they go. Of course, all of these copies are completely fictitious. In fact, Miskatonic University and Arkham are both Lovecraft inventions and don't exist.

In the next section, we'll look at some hoaxes that have fooled people into thinking there is a real "Necronomicon."