A Necronomicon Glossary

Compiled by Dan Clore.

Open to suggestions for further entries.


Abdul Alhazred

H.P. Lovecraft invented the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and no references to this name have been found that do not stem from Lovecraft's use of it. The story of Abdul Alhazred's life may be found in Lovecraft's "History of the Necronomicon". It is notable that none of the variant forms of the name used by other writers appear in Lovecraft's work; indeed, his only use of a variant form ("Abdool Al-Hazred") appears in a letter from the eighteenth century quoted in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Lovecraft himself describes the origin of the name in a pair of letters:

... how many dream-Arabs have the Arabian Nights bred! I ought to know, since at the age of 5 I was one of them! I had not then encountered Graeco-Roman myth, but found in Lang's Arabian Nights a gateway to glittering vistas of wonder and freedom. It was then that I invented for myself the name of Abdul Alhazred, and made my mother take me to all the Oriental curio shops and fit me up an Arabian corner in my room.

I can't quite recall where I did get Abdul Alhazred. There is a dim recollection which associates it with a certain elder -- the family lawyer, as it happens, but I can't remember whether I asked him to make up an Arabic name for me, or whether I merely asked him to criticise a choice I had otherwise made.

It should be noted that the element "hazred" may be a pun on the phrase "all has read" or "has read all". Another possible origin is a distorted form of Hazard, the common prefix "al" (the definite article) being added on to the beginning. Lovecraft claimed that his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Robert Hazard (1635-1710), one of a well-known family in Rhode Island history. There appears to be no evidence to support this contention.

In any case, it should be noted that the name Abdul Alhazred is not a properly-formed Arabic name. The element -ul in Abdul is identical to the al- of Alhazred, thus meaning that this element is simply repeated. Additionally, hazred does not exist in Arabic, although it is theoretically possible (however, every single letter in the name could represent more than one possible Arabic original, making it hopelessly obscure as a whole).

This, however, need not be seen as a problem, as many Arabic authors are known in Europe under distorted forms of their true names, such as: Avicenna for Abu Ali al-Husein ibn Senna, Hali for Khalid ibn Yazid, Averroës for Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Rushd, etc. A number of suggestions along this line have been made, among them:

Another suggestion has been that the name is not Arabic at all, but rather Yemenite, and translates as "one-who-sees-what-should-not-be-seen".

The Book of Thoth

Robert W. Chambers and The King in Yellow

Lovecraft's "History of the Necronomicon" states that: "It was from rumours of this book (of which relatively few of the general public know) that R.W. Chambers is said to have derived the idea of his early novel The King in Yellow."

Chambers' book appeared in 1895 and is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Some of these stories in turn refer to a play also titled The King in Yellow, and which drives its readers mad. Some have speculated that Lovecraft derived his idea of the Necronomicon from Chambers' work; this, however, is impossible, as he did not read Chambers until 1927 (the same year, incidentally, that he authored the "History" -- the similarity in conception apparently inspiring the playful allusion) and had referred to the Necronomicon by name as early as 1922 ("The Hound").

Robert W. Chambers: The King in Yellow.
Henrik Johnsson's King in Yellow Page.

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

The Great Beast Aleister Crowley as "the Silent Watcher".

Much speculation has been wasted on the hypothesis that Lovecraft may have been influenced in his conceptions by the occultist and magickian Aleister Crowley. It is usually hypothesized that Lovecraft's wife, Sonya, provides a link between the two during Lovecraft's New York period. In fact, we know perfectly well that Lovecraft had heard of Crowley, and exactly what he thought of him. Lovecraft mentions Crowley in the Selected Letters V, p. 120, -- this letter written in the last year of Lovecraft's life -- and here's what he has to say:

In the 1890's the fashionable decadents liked to pretend that they belonged to all sorts of diabolic Black Mass cults, & possessed all sorts of frightful occult information. The only specimen of this group still active is the rather over-advertised Aleister Crowley .... who, by the way, is undoubtedly the original of the villainous character in H.R. Wakefield's "He Cometh & He Passeth By".

This quotation proves conclusively that Lovecraft knew nothing of Crowley other than what anyone would have gleaned from the press's libelous attacks against him.

Some links for those interested in Crowley:

Ordo Templi Orientis (Crowley Cult).
The College of Thelema & Temple of Thelema.

Dr. John Dee

Dr. Dee Edward Kelly

Dr. John Dee (left)

Edward Kelly (right)

John Dee was born on July 13, 1527 in London. His life included a notable amount of study and practice of magick, some of it in service to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Much of Dee's practice consisted of alchemical experiments, and he also indulged in the creation of talismans. However, he gained the most notoriety for the contact that he and his associate Edward Kelly (who may have been something of a con man) established with a group of praeterhuman beings they referred to as Enochian Angels, recalling the apocryphal Book of Enoch. In this, Kelly acted as "skryer", gazing into a "shewstone" -- a piece of crystal, dictating to Dee the messages sent by the Enochian Angels. It is interesting to note that these messages are composed in their own unique language, which does indeed have its own syntax and vocabulary. Later mages have supposedly found this language to be the most effective language known for their incantatory purposes. In any case, Dr. Dee acquired a reputation as the archetypal mage.

Dee was first connected with the Necronomicon by Frank Belknap Long, who seems, however, to have had in mind that Dee was its author rather than a mere translator. H.P. Lovecraft, having recently written his "History of the Necronomicon", then added that Dee had translated the work and referred to this translation in "The Dunwich Horror".

One of the more interesting bits of Forteana concerns Dee's Enochian Angels. When Aleister Crowley was in contact with them, he produced a portrait of one, named Lam. As can be seen, Lam appears almost identical to the "Greys" who currently besiege UFO abductees:


Lam, an Enochian Angel

Links on John Dee:

The John Dee Society.
The Enochian Webring.
The Twilit Grotto -- Esoteric Archives (includes texts by Dee and others).

Ebn Khallikan

Ibn Khallikân (1211-1282) was born in Irbil and lived in Egypt and Syria, where he served as kadi (head of justice) of Damas. He compiled a biographical dictionary, the first of its kind, that took twenty years to complete.

Extant versions (Ibn Khallikân updated the work several times) do not seem to include an entry for Abdul Alhazred, either under that name, or under any recognizable variant. This should not be too surprising, considering that the work followed the novel plan of only including information which had been obtained first-hand from living individuals. So, the omission of the eighth-century mad Arab is understandable, as Ibn Khallikân is unlikely to have had access to him in the thirteenth century (do I smell a plot-germ here?).

Ibn Schacabao

Lovecraft has Alhazred cite Ibn Schacabao with the interesting couplet:

Happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain,
And happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes.

Ibn Schacabao is also referred to in "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", in which Joseph Curwen writes in a letter:

I laste Night strucke on ye Wordes that bringe up YOGGE-SOTHOTHE, and sawe for ye firste Time that fface spoke of by Ibn Schacabao in ye ------.

Later authors have given Ibn Schacabao's work the tile Reflections.

The name "Schacabao" is not a proper Arabic name. It has thus been subjected to much the same speculation as "Alhazred". Possibilities include:

Irem, the City of Pillars

In Lovecraft's "History of the Necronomicon" we read: "Of his [Alhazred's] madness many things are told. He claimed to have seen the fabulous Irem, or City or Pillars, and to have...."

Elsewhere in the fiction Irem is mentioned only in these brief allusions:

....and one terrible final scene shewed a primitive-looking man, perhaps a pioneer of ancient Irem, the City of Pillars, torn to pieces by members of the elder race. ("The Nameless City", D 106)

Of the cult, he [Castro] said that he thought the centre lay amid the pathless deserts of Arabia, where Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden and untouched. ("The Call of Cthulhu", DH 141)

That antique Silver Key, he [Randolph Carter] said, would unlock the successive doors that bar our free march down the mightly corridors of space and time to the very Border which no man has crossed since Shaddad with his terrific genius built and concealed in the sands of Arabia Petraea the prodigious domes and uncounted minarets of thousand-pillared Irem. Half-starved dervishes -- wrote Carter -- and thirst-crazed nomads have returned to tell of that monumental portal, and of the Hand that is sculptured above the keystone of the arch, but no man has passed and returned to say that his footprints on the garnet-strown sands within bear witness. The key, he surmised, was that for which the Cyclopean sculptured Hand vainly grasps. ("Through the Gates of the Silver Key", MM 426)

"Be careful, you -- -- ! There are powers against your powers -- I didn't go to China for nothing, and there are things in Alhazred's Azif which weren't known in Atlantis! We've both meddled in dangerous things, but you needn't think you know all my resources. How about the Nemesis of Flame? I talked in Yemen with an old man who had come back alive from the Crimson Desert -- he had seen Irem, the City of Pillars, and had worshipped at the underground shrines of Nug and Yeb -- Iä! Shub-Niggurath!" ("The Last Test", HM 47)

Lovecraft did not invent Irem. The City of Pillars is mentioned in the Qûran; in the Arabian Nights; and in Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. In these, Irem, Iram, or Irâm appears as a city destroyed ages before and lying buried somewhere in the desert sand. Its many columns, pillars, or towers are frequently mentioned.

Lovecraft's precise source, however, can be determined from an entry [no. 47] in his commonplace book. Here, Lovecraft cites an article from the Encyclopedia Britannica, of which he owned the ninth edition:

From "Arabia" Encyc. Britan. II-255: Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. "Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hudramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally, and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller." Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.

In 1975, there was an archaeological discovery in the city Ebla, which had itself been discovered only the decade before. There, a library of more than fifteen thousand tablets was found. Some of these tablets mentioned Irem by name, taking it out of the realm of legend and giving it a historical foundation.

The City of Pillars made a further step into reality when archaeologist examined photographs taken by the space shuttle Challenger in 1984. These, of the Arabian Gulf Coast, revealed a number of buried cities along routes to the "Atlantis of the Sands" -- the center of the frankincense trade between 2800 BCE and 100 CE. Among others, there was found a city known as Ubar, identified with the Irem of Arabic legendry.

NASA's Ubar Page.
"The Extinct Arabian People of 'Ad and their Famous Pillars of Iram."
The NOVA documentary on Ubar.

(The Patriarch) Michael

Most likely, Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 1043-58.

Theodorus Philetas

So far as I know, this purported translator of the Necronomicon is purely fictional and an invention of Lovecraft's.

Roba el Khaliyah

The Voynich Manuscript

In two works by Colin Wilson, "The Return of the Lloigor" and The Philosopher's Stone, the Voynich Manuscript's code is cracked and the volume turns out to be the Necronomicon. The Voynich Manuscript really does exist; however, it remains indecipherable to this day.

Here is a description of the Voynich Manuscript from the Catalogue of Yale University Library, where it currently resides:

MS 408
Cipher Manuscript

Central Europe [?], s. XV^ex-XVI [?]

Scientific or magical text in an unidentified language, in cipher, apparently based on Roman minuscule characters; the text is believed by some scholars to be the work of Roger Bacon since the themes of the illustrations seem to represent topics known to have interested Bacon (see also Provenance below.) A history of the numerous attempts to decipher the manuscript can be found in a volume edited by R. S. Brumbaugh, The Most Mysterious Manuscript: The Voynich "Roger Bacon" Cipher Manuscript (Carbondale, Illinois, 1978). Although several scholars have claimed decipherments of the manuscript, for the most part the text remains an unsolved puzzle. R. S. Brumbaugh has, however, suggested a decipherment that establishes readings for the star names and plant labels; see his "Botany and the Voynich 'Roger Bacon' Manuscript Once More," Speculum 49 (1974) pp. 546-48; "The Solution of the Voynich 'Roger Bacon' Cipher," Gazette 49 (1975) pp. 347-55; "The Voynich 'Roger Bacon' Cipher Manuscript: Deciphered Maps of Stars," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976) pp. 139-50.

Parchment. ff. 102 (contemporary foliation, Arabic numerals; not every leaf foliated) + i (paper), including 5 double-folio, 3 triple- folio, 1 quadruple-folio and 1 sextuple-folio folding leaves. 225 x 160 mm.

Collation is difficult due to the number of fold-out leaves that are not always foliated consistently. I-VII^8 (f. 12 missing), VIII^4 (leaves foliated 59 through 64 missing from center of quire), IX^2 (double and triple fold-out leaves), X^2 (1 triple fold-out), XI^2 (1 quadruple fold-out), XII^2 (f. 74 missing, followed by stubs of conjugate leaves), XIII^10, XIV^1 (sextuple fold-out), XV^4 (1 triple and 1 double fold-out), XVI^4 (1 double fold-out; ff. 91, 92, 97, 98 missing, 2 stubs between 94 and 95), XVII^4 (2 double fold-outs), XVIII^12 (ff. 109-110, central bifolium, missing). Quire signatures in lower right corner, verso, and sometimes on recto.

Almost every page contains botanical and scientific drawings, many full-page, of a provincial but lively character, in ink with washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue and red. Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: Part I. ff. 1r-66v Botanical sections containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species. Special care is taken in the representation of the flowers, leaves and the root systems of the individual plants. Drawings accompanied by text. Part II. ff. 67r- 73v Astronomical or astrological section containing 25 astral diagrams in the form of circles, concentric or with radiating segments, some with the sun or the moon in the center; the segments filled with stars and inscriptions, some with the signs of the zodiac and concentric circles of nude females, some free-standing, other emerging from objects similar to cans or tubes. Little continuous text. Part III. ff. 75r-84v "Biological" section containing drawings of small- scale female nudes, most with bulging abdomens and exaggerated hips, immersed or emerging from fluids, or interconnecting tubes and capsules. These drawings are the most enigmatic in the manuscript and it has been suggested that they symbolically represent the process of human reproduction and the procedure by which the soul becomes united with the body (cf. W. Newbold and R. Kent, The Cipher of Roger Bacon [Philadelphia, 1928] p. 46). Part IV. ff. 85r-86v This sextuple- folio folding leaf contains an elaborate array of nine medallions, filled with stars and cell-like shapes, with fibrous structures linking the circles. Some medallions with petal-like arrangements of rays filled with stars, some with structures resembling bundles of pipes. Part V. ff. 87r-102v Pharmaceutical section containing drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots, all with identifying inscriptions. On almost every page drawings of pharmaceutical jars, resembling vases, in red, green and yellow, or blue and green. Accompanied by some continuous text. Part VI. ff. 103r- 117v Continuous text, with stars in inner margin on recto and outer margins of verso. Folio 117v includes a 3-line presumed "key" opening with a reference to Roger Bacon in anagram and cipher.

Binding: s. xviii-xix. Vellum case. Remains of early paper pastedowns.

Written in Central Europe [?] at the end of the 15th or during the 16th [?] century; the origin and date of the manuscript are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. The identification of several of the plants as New World specimens brought back to Europe by Columbus indicates that the manuscript could not have been written before 1493. The codex belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (Holy Roman Emperor, 1576-1612), who purchased it for 600 gold ducats and believed that it was the work of Roger Bacon; see the autograph letter of Johannes Marcus Marci (d. 1667, rector of Prague University) transcribed under item A below. It is very likely that Emperor Rudolph acquired the manuscript from the English astrologer John Dee (1527-1608) whose foliation remains in the upper right corner of each leaf (we thank A. G. Watson for confirming this identification through a comparison of the Arabic numerals in the Beinecke manuscript with those of John Dee in Oxford, Bodleian Library Ashmole 1790, f. 9v, and Ashmole 487). See also A. G. Watson and R. J. Roberts, eds., John Dee's Library Catalogue (London, The Bibliographical Society, forthcoming). Dee apparently owned the manuscript along with a number of other Roger Bacon manuscripts; he was in Prague 1582-86 and was in contact with Emperor Rudolph during this period. In addition, Dee stated that he had 630 ducats in October 1586, and his son Arthur (cited by Sir T. Browne, Works, G. Keynes, ed. [1931] v. 6, p. 325) noted that Dee, while in Bohemia, owned "a booke...containing nothing butt Hieroglyphicks, which booke his father bestowed much time upon: but I could not heare that hee could make it out." Emperor Rudolph seems to have given the manuscript to Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz (d. 1622); inscription on f. 1r "Jacobi de Tepenecz" (erased but visible under ultra-violet light). Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland presented the book to Athanasius Kircher, S. J. (1601-80) in 1666. Acquired by Wilfred M. Voynich in 1912 from the Jesuit College at Frascati near Rome. Given to the Beinecke Library in 1969 by H. P. Kraus (Cat. 100, pp. 42-44, no. 20) who had purchased it from the estate of Ethel Voynich.

Included with MS 408 is the following supplementary material in folders or boxes labelled A - N.

A: Autograph letter of Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland in which he presents the manuscript to Athanasius Kircher in Rome, in the belief that Kircher would be able to decipher it. "Reuerende et Eximie Domine in Christo Pater. Librum hunc ab amico singulari mihi testamento relictum, mox eundem tibi amicissime Athanisi ubi primum possidere coepi, animo destinaui: siquidem persuasum habui a nullo nisi abs te legi posse. Petijt aliquando per litteras ejusdem libri tum possessor judicium tuum parte aliqua a se descripta et tibi transmissa, ex qua reliqua a te legi posse persuasum habuit; uerum librum ipsum transmittere tum recusabat in quo discifrando posuit indefessum laborem, uti manifestum ex conatibus ejusdem hic una tibi transmissis neque prius huius spei quam uitae suae finem fecit. Verum labor hic frustraneus fuit, siquidem non nisi suo Kirchero obediunt eiusmodi sphinges. Accipe ergo modo quod pridem tibi debebatur hoc qualecunque mei erga te affectus indicium; huiusque seras, si quae sunt, consueta tibi felicitate perrumpe. retulit mihi D. Doctor Raphael Ferdinandi tertij Regis tum Boemiae in lingua boemica instructor dictum librum fuisse Rudolphi Imperatoris, pro quo ipse latori qui librum attulisset 600 ducatos praesentarit, authorem uero ipsum putabat esse Rogerium Bacconem Anglum. ego judicium meum hic suspendo. tu uero quid nobis hic sentiendum defini, cujus fauori et gratiae me totum commendo maneoque. Reuerentiae Vestrae. Ad Obsequia Joannes Marcus Marci a Cronland. Pragae 19. Augusti AD 1666 [or 1665?].

B: Correspondence between W. Voynich abd Prof. W. R. Newbold concerning Newbold's supposed decipherment of the manuscript (1919-26). Correspondence between Anne M. Nills, executrix of the estate of Ethel Voynich, and the Rev. Theodore C. Peterson, dated 1935-61, concerning the provenance, dating and decipherment of the manuscript.

C: Cardboard tube containing articles from international newspapers and magazines; among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, Der Zeitgeist, and others, concerning the announced sale by H. P. Kraus of the cipher manuscript.

D: Scrapbook of newspaper clippings (1912-26) concerning the cipher manuscript, compiled by W. Voynich.

E: Miscellaneous handwritten notes of W. Voynich.

F: Miscellaneous material, including handwritten notes by A. Nills about the cipher, and her correspondence about the sale of the manuscript.

G: Five notebooks handwritten by Ethel Voynich containing notes on the identification of the plants, medicinal herbs and roots; miscellaneous notes by A. Nills listing some characters or combinations of characters as they appear in the manuscript.

H: Box of negative and positive photostats.

I - L: Lectures, pamphlets, reviews and articles concerning the manuscript. Includes (in K) the transcript of a seminar held in Washington D. C. on November 1976 entitled "New Research on the Voynich Manuscript."

M: Miscellaneous correspondence between R. Brumbaugh and J. M. Saul (Paris) and J. Arnold (Oak Grove, Mo.). Handwritten transcription of ff. 89v-116r by R. Brumbaugh.

There is a great deal of information about the Voynich Manuscript on the Web; among other places:

The European Voynich Manuscript Transcription Project Home Page.
Voynich Manuscript Page.
Voynich Manuscript Bibliography.

Olaus Wormius

In his "History of the Necronomicon" Lovecraft states that: "(1228) Olaus Wormius made a Latin translation later in the Middle Ages, and the Latin text was printed twice". While this is a fine example of Lovecraft's pseudo-documentary style, he has committed an unfortunate error in placing Olaus Wormius at this time. In fact, Olaus Wormius (Ole Wurm) was a Danish physician who lived from 1588-1654, putting him far too late to make the translation Lovecraft imputes to him. Wormius published a work on the literature of his native country, Runir; seu, Danica Literatura Antiquissima, vulgo Gothica Dicta Luci Reddita (1636), and also a book on the philosopher's stone, Liber Aureus Philosophorum (1625).

Lovecraft's unfortunate error can be attributed to his use of secondary sources rather than primary. He drew on a work of Hugh Blair (1718-1800), A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal (1763), which contains a section on Runic or Gothic poetry in general. In this, Blair states:

Their poets were distinguished by the title of Scalders, and their songs were termed Vyses. Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish historian of considerable note, who flourished in the thirteenth century, informs us, [....] A more curious monument of the true Gothic poetry is preserved by Olaus Wormius, in his book de Literatura Runica. It is an Epicedium, or funeral song, composed by Regner Lodbrog; and translated by Olaus, word for word from the original.

It can be seen from this that Lovecraft has accidentally conflated this two figures, thus leading him into his erroneous dating of Wormius in the thirteenth century. As an item of trivia, it is interesting to note that Lovecraft prepared a rough draft of a translation of Wormius' Latin version of Regner Lodbrog's poem.

(I am indebted to S.T. Joshi's fine essay, "Lovecraft, Regner Lodbrog, and Olaus Wormius", which appeared in Crypt of Cthulhu, No. 89, for most of the facts in this entry.)

Have any further information on the matters discussed here, suggestions for further entries, or other comments?
Please inform me: [email protected].

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