Introduction to the Necronomicon

Note by the Editor

The Necronomicon, a captivating enigma of arcane knowledge, has endured in the annals of intellectual history, despite its elusive nature and sporadic accessibility. This tome has long fascinated scholars and enthusiasts of esoteric wisdom, leaving an indelible mark on the intellectual landscape of humankind. Tracing its origins back to the early 8th century, the Necronomicon was the ambitious creation of Arab scholar Abdul Alhazred, who sought to compile a comprehensive repository of esoteric wisdom. Drawing from numerous oral and written sources, Alhazred’s work eventually culminated in the tome that would later become the Necronomicon. Although the original title “Kitab al-Azif” is often attributed to Alhazred himself, recent scholarship suggests that it was more likely a later invention by Arab scholars who wished to honor his legacy, given that at no point in his work does Alhazred refer to it by name, only calling it “this work” or “this collection”.

Over the centuries, the Necronomicon underwent several translations, facilitating its dissemination and influence across diverse cultural contexts. In 950 CE, Byzantine scholar Theodorus Philetas translated the work from its original Arabic into Greek. This translation not only introduced the now-infamous name “Necronomicon” but also significantly impacted the alchemists and natural philosophers of Constantinople. The newfound enthusiasm for the book also led to a series of unfortunate events; however, no details are known. These events prompted Michael I Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to ban the book in 1050 CE and order the destruction of all known copies, once again relegating the Necronomicon to the shadows. In 1228, Danish alchemist and scholar Olaus Wormius, not to be confused with his namesake from the 17th century, translated the Necronomicon into Latin, making it accessible to the intellectual elite of the Christian West, who were proficient in Latin but by and large did not speak Greek. However, in 1232, Pope Gregory IX banned the work once more, imposing a strict prohibition on its circulation. The Necronomicon reemerged in the late 15th century when an anonymous German book printer discovered Wormius’ Latin translation. He published the Necronomicon in print for the first time, despite the prohibitions surrounding the work. This act made the knowledge within its pages available to a wider audience, marking the beginning of a renewed interest in the tome’s contents.

A more detailed exploration into the history of the Necronomicon would be beyond the scope of these observations. Our focus is on the book that forms the basis of this newly published English translation. As such, it would be most prudent to discuss the recent discovery of the 15th century Black Letter print of the Necronomicon. Due to privacy protection considerations, we are unable to divulge excessive information; however, we can share some pertinent details. The book was rediscovered in Southern Germany, within an old estate that has been in the possession of the same family for almost 800 years. The family belonged to the gentry; they were affluent but never held any significant power. During the late 15th century, the family experienced a steep economic decline, precipitated by the shifting socio-political landscape, wherein wealth and power transitioned from the countryside to the emerging cities. Nevertheless, the family managed to regain their fortune during the 16th and 17th centuries, owing to a strategic marriage policy that granted them access to several copper and silver mines.

Around that time, the family utilized their newfound wealth to renovate and expand their estate in the fashion of the era, which included the construction of an impressive library. Following the rediscovery of the Necronomicon, the family’s archives were examined in the hope of uncovering additional information. The only likely reference was found in a letter penned in 1738 by one of the daughters of the family, shortly before she joined a Cistercian monastery. In the letter, addressed to her brother, she expressed her dismay over one of their ancestors, a man who lived during the early 17th century, who had supposedly acquired an “entirely blasphemous book, written by that Arab idolator” from an unnamed “alchemist from Nuremberg.” She implored her brother to “sell the book, or better still [to] burn it.” Perhaps her brother’s reluctance to heed her plea contributed to her decision to become a nun.

The rediscovery of the Necronomicon occurred during a recent renovation of the estate. Construction workers who were installing a new central heating system stumbled upon a bricked-up door in the cellar. Behind this concealed entrance lay a small storage room containing several chests. While the majority of these chests held silverware and a few precious gems, one of them housed a collection of valuable books, among which was the elusive Necronomicon. An approximate date for the concealment of these items can be established based on the chests’ contents. It is likely that they were hidden away no earlier than the year 1800. The most plausible explanation for this action is that the family sought to safeguard their most precious possessions during the tumultuous period of the Napoleonic Wars. The head of the family succumbed to typhus in 1814, and it is conceivable that he was the sole individual privy to the knowledge of the secret cache. Consequently, the hidden room and its valuable contents remained undisturbed for over two centuries until their fortuitous rediscovery. Ultimately, it was discovered that the measures taken to safeguard the treasures were not needed, as the French armies never approached the estate, even though it should have been directly on their marching route. It appeared as though an unseen force kept them at bay.

Local tales suggest that the French had caught wind of the mysterious occurrences linked to the estate. To this day, a number of elderly villagers living near the mansion avoid it, insisting that the building is animated by a dark, otherworldly energy. However, such stories are commonplace when it comes to ancient structures. In truth, the nearby northern hills held more strategic importance for the French army than the secluded estate. The choice to sidestep the estate was likely a pragmatic one, based on the landscape and the French forces’ strategic objectives, rather than any supernatural sway the estate may have possessed.

The cellar in which the Necronomicon and other valuable items were concealed provided ideal storage conditions, maintaining a constant temperature of 12°C, a relative humidity level of 40%, and no exposure to light. As a result, the book has been preserved in remarkably good condition, considering its age. Given that none of the other extant copies of the Necronomicon in general, and the Black Letter edition in particular, are accessible to the public, the rediscovery of this volume presented a unique opportunity to analyze both the print and the text itself. This rare chance to examine the work has granted invaluable insights into the nature of the Necronomicon and its historical context, enriching our understanding of the enigmatic tome.

The physical characteristics of this rediscovered volume of the Necronomicon suggest that it retains its original binding, although verifying this conclusively would necessitate disassembling the book. The binding’s construction is consistent with the practices of the late 15th century, featuring four sets of double hemp cords that span across the spine, to which the quires—each comprising four folded paper folios—are sewn. These cords then connect the spine to the wooden book cover in a manner typical of the period. The leather binding is black and, although scratched and with parts of the surface flaking off, only superficially damaged. The leather is still intact, covering the entire book, and, despite its sensitive surface, it is surprisingly flexible and less brittle than many other books of a similar age. It is important to note that all books from the 15th century were individually bound, and no two bindings were identical; thus, we can draw only limited conclusions from the binding of this particular volume. Nevertheless, some intriguing details are worth noting. For instance, unlike most medieval books, this edition of the Necronomicon bears no blind embossing on its leather cover. The surface is entirely unadorned and plain. Yet, the book retains its original brass book corners and clasp, which also diverge from typical 15th-century design. While most books of this era would feature floral ornamentation on both the leather and brass components, this volume of the Necronomicon is distinct, with its brass book corners etched to depict writhing tentacles—an atypical and hitherto undocumented design choice that adds a unique element to this rare artifact.

When examining the content of this edition of the Necronomicon, the most striking feature is the vast array of woodcuts found within its pages. Excluding the numerous initials, there are 227 unique woodcuts in this volume, all of which have been included in this English edition, with two of them being used twice. This equates to nearly one woodcut for every two pages—an extraordinary ratio for a book from this period. Style and quality of these woodcuts vary substantially, suggesting that multiple artists, and perhaps even several workshops, were commissioned to create the images, given that artists within a workshop would typically strive to maintain a consistent style. The reasons for this unusual approach to the book’s illustration can only be speculated upon. It is possible that the printer sought to expedite the work by employing multiple workshops. Or he aimed to obscure the true nature of the book by compartmentalizing the task, thereby preventing any single individual from grasping the complete picture of the text being printed. Regardless of the rationale, the overall quality of the woodcuts is exceptional, with the level of detail in many of the images rivaling the finest examples of the craft from this period. It is clear that the anonymous printer enlisted some of the most talented artists of his time, though, without further information about the workshops involved, it is impossible to speculate about the artists’ identities. It is plausible, however, that we would recognize some of the names of those involved, given the high caliber of many of the woodcuts. In addition to the impressive craftsmanship, the artistic quality of the images is also noteworthy. The woodcuts vividly capture the madness and bizarre nature of various scenes in ways that were truly innovative for their time. While the 15th century certainly saw artists capable of depicting demonic imagery and frenzied displays—such as Hieronymus Bosch or Jan Wellens de Cock—the artists responsible for the Necronomicon’s woodcuts appear to have elevated this style to a new level, infusing it with a distinct sense of dread and horror.

It is worth noting the challenges faced by Olaus Wormius regarding the astrological diagrams. In his foreword, Wormius detailed the difficulties he encountered when dealing with certain markings associated with these diagrams. This issue seems to have persisted throughout subsequent copies, including the woodcuts in the recently found print of the Necronomicon. It appears as if some information has been lost over time. Many of the diagrams were clearly intended to have markings or labels, but it is uncertain whether enough detail has been preserved to decipher them, even if the appropriate script was known. This highlights the need for further research in order to unravel the mysteries surrounding these astrological diagrams and their cryptic markings, potentially shedding new light on the enigmatic contents of the Necronomicon.

Moving from the images to the initials, one can observe another fascinating aspect of this edition of the Necronomicon. In the earliest prints, initials were usually drawn by hand; however, by the end of the 15th century, the craft had advanced and woodcuts were increasingly used for this purpose. This is indeed the case for the initials found in the Necronomicon. The shape and style of these initials align with the prevailing trends of the era, as does the typography employed. However, as with the book’s exterior details, there is an entirely unique aspect to these initials. Instead of featuring the conventional floral imagery characteristic of the period, the initials within the Necronomicon are adorned with twisting tentacles. This distinctive feature strongly suggests that the initials were specifically commissioned for the printing of this book. They were not reused from earlier works and neither intended to be employed in the creation of later prints.

The font utilized in the Necronomicon is yet another aspect that sets this edition apart. While every other element of the book points toward the very end of the 15th century, the black letter typeface feels almost anachronistic, harkening back to the earliest printed works. By the late 15th century, black letter fonts were primarily reserved for German texts, while Latin books were predominantly printed in Antiqua. Furthermore, the specific letters employed by the anonymous printer were clearly inspired by the very first book ever printed, Johannes Gutenberg’s famous Bible. The Necronomicon’s typeface closely mimics that of the Gutenberg Bible in every aspect except for its smaller size. This old-fashioned font lends a more austere impression than the typical black letter typefaces of the late 15th century. The letters within the Necronomicon, like those of early prints, attempt to replicate the impressive medieval calligraphy, replete with flourishes and embellishments that evolved from the art of manually copying books. However, by the end of the 15th century, the fashion had shifted and typefaces became simpler and rounder, making them easier to read. One might initially assume that the anonymous printer sought to save money by reusing an outdated typeface. However, given the deliberate nature and disregard for cost exhibited in other aspects of the book, it is just as plausible that the choice of typeface was intentional. Speaking of cost, there is one particular chapter in the Necronomicon that is written entirely in an unknown typeface. Olaus Wormius notes in the foreword to his translation that this is believed to be the legendary script of Naacal. Remarkably, the printer procured movable letters for this script, even though they could only ever be used for this one chapter in this one book. The decision to create a font for this chapter was certainly not driven by economic considerations. In fact, it likely would have been cheaper to hand-copy this chapter into every single print of the book. Nonetheless, the printer of this enigmatic tome opted for a different approach, further emphasizing the exceptional nature of this edition.

The Naacal language found in the Necronomicon is indeed intriguing, as it appears more akin to a cuneiform script than to hieroglyphs, which is how medieval sources typically described the Naacal letters. This discrepancy may be attributed to early inaccuracies regarding their classification that became the standard way of describing Naacal. Regardless, the cuneiform text within the Necronomicon is unlike any other form of cuneiform known to us. In comparison to Sumerian, Akkadian, Luwian, or Hittite, it is much simpler and almost crude, consisting of only 22 discernable symbols. A statistical analysis of these symbols reveals a distribution consistent with the structure of human languages. Furthermore, this same analysis suggests that Naacal is an alphabetic script. This characteristic would make it closer to Old Persian than to the logo-syllabic scripts typically associated with cuneiform. However, since Naacal is believed to be much older than Old Persian, a direct relationship seems unlikely. Interestingly, despite the inability of even the most advanced computers to identify any specific language encoded within these lines, certain patterns have emerged that may hint at a distant relationship with ancient languages from central Asia. The Naacal language and its potential connections warrant further research and exploration, as it remains a fascinating and enigmatic aspect of the Necronomicon.

The content of the Necronomicon is organized into nine distinct books. From various known references, it seems that this structure was established long before the 15th-century printing of the Necronomicon, dating back at least to Theodorus Philetas’ Greek translation. However, it is improbable that Abdul Alhazred’s original manuscript followed this structure. The individual chapters within the nine books lack an overarching narrative connection. In instances where two chapters appear to have a connection, they can often be found in separate books, such as the two chapters on the Shining Trapezohedron or the two chapters on the essential salts. It seems likely that the original manuscript was more of a chaotic collection of disparate texts rather than a coherent work. At some point, possibly during Theodorus Philetas’ translation, an attempt was made to bring order to the chaos by organizing the content into the nine-book structure. However, as mentioned earlier, this organization is far from perfect, and the chapters within the nine books still appear to be haphazardly arranged, without any discernible logic behind their placement. Each chapter is preceded by brief summaries which were most likely added by the German printer and certainly do not originate from Abdul Alhazred’s manuscript. For our translation, we have opted to transform these short summaries into proper chapter titles that better align with contemporary reading preferences.

This brings us to the translation of the Necronomicon. The process of translating the text was fraught with challenges. Firstly, the medieval Latin of Olaus Wormius is not always as precise as that of his classical counterparts. Secondly, the script, although beautiful, often makes it difficult to discern individual letters due to the numerous ligatures and abbreviations employed. While extensive use of abbreviations was commonplace during the Middle Ages to conserve expensive parchment, this practice had become less necessary by the late 15th century when paper had become the medium of choice for books, making the excessive use of abbreviations within the Necronomicon appear anachronistic. Modern-day translators are often unfamiliar with this style of writing, making the task of deciphering the correct words time-consuming. To address these challenges, we employed several experts to translate the book, which ultimately proved to be a wise decision. This approach not only saved time but also mitigated the burden on individual translators, as some had faced emotional difficulties during the process. However, this method of using multiple translators has led to some inconsistencies in tone and language. While we do not believe that these differences will impede readers’ enjoyment, we apologize in advance for any linguistic discrepancies.

As for the rituals described within the Necronomicon, we must caution readers that our studies are still in their early stages. While skepticism is warranted concerning the many outlandish claims of Abdul Alhazred, the initial results of our experiments have yielded some concerning outcomes. Perhaps it would have been prudent to seal away this edition of the Necronomicon, much like the other surviving examples that remain under lock and key. However, in the interest of scientific inquiry and our quest to better contextualize and understand our history, we have chosen to publish the book nonetheless. We implore our readers to approach the Necronomicon with the responsibility and reverence it deserves. Treat it as a window into the past, an artifact that offers invaluable insights into the human experience and the ever-evolving knowledge of our ancestors. Should readers still be inclined to attempt piercing the veil, we strongly advise against heeding the voices, and most certainly not to act upon their suggestions. May this edition enlighten and caution us in equal measure, as we strive to comprehend the mysteries it holds. With the hope that the wisdom gained from this tome will serve to enhance our understanding of the human condition, we present to you the Necronomicon. Proceed with care and respect, and may your journey into its depths be an enlightening one.

Thomas Alexander, Editor
The 5th of May, 2023

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