Feb 25, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Strange Story of the Mysterious Simon Necronomicon

There have long been supposed mysterious, magical texts that have drawn in stories of the bizarre. In 1922, the famous horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft introduced the world to one of his most popular literary creations, a magical book called The Necronomicon. The book first appeared in the Lovecraft's short story The Hound, and was described as an ancient text compiled by a man named Abdul Alhazred, also called the “Mad Arab” in the 8th century after exploring ancient Babylonian and Egyptian ruins. The Necronomicon is a fictional book of magic spells, rituals, curses, and incantations for summoning a variety of monsters and powerful archaic deities, and it became a recurring book and part of Lovecraft's wider “Cthulhu Mythos,” which encompasses a vast shared universe of interconnected stories set against a tapestry of ancient inscrutable alien entities, mad cults, cosmic horror, and all manner of horrific, unfathomable monsters lurking in the shadows beyond what we know. The Necronomicon is perhaps one of the most famous fictitious books in horror history, and considering its popularity and HP Lovecraft’s general air of mystery, it is perhaps no surprise that at some point there would be claiming that it was not fictional at all.  

One reason why The Necronomicon was suspected by some to be based on a real text was that Lovecraft was always so convincing when he wrote about it. In addition to giving a very detailed, realistic sounding history behind the book, he also lists it among other magical grimoires that are known to exist in order to enhance the feeling of authenticity, something he sometimes referred to as “mock scholarship,” and in the process making it seem as if the book might actually be real. The fact that several of Lovecraft's friends now included the forbidden tome in horror tales of their own made it just that much more convincing, and also propelling the idea was that the Cthulhu Mythos itself was perhaps real. Even before Lovecraft’s death in 1937 there was the notion that the things he wrote about were not from his own imagination, but were rather being channeled through him from somewhere else, as if he were some sort of medium or prophet. Although Lovecraft himself, who was a materialist with no real belief in the supernatural whatsoever, dismissed this as rubbish, the idea stuck, with some taking it to extreme lengths, such as trying to recreate rituals described in the book, communicate with the ancient aliens described in his works, called Great Old Ones, and even suggesting that the fantastical locations he wrote about were real places. Similarly, it was thought that The Necronomicon was a real, historical spell book, with people constantly pestering the publisher to know where to get a copy. Lovecraft himself would lament this, once writing in a letter:

Regarding the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred - I must confess that both the evil volume & the accursed author are fictitious creations of my own. There is no “Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” That hellish & forbidden volume is an imaginative conception of mine, which others of the W.T. group have also used as a background of allusion. I am opposed to serious hoaxes, since they really confuse and retard the sincere student of folklore. I feel guilty every time I hear of someone's having spent valuable time looking up the Necronomicon at public libraries.

There were also numerous attempts to create a real manuscript based on The Necronomicon, and one of the more infamous of these is a text that first appeared in 1977, when the publisher Schlangekraft, Inc. released a limited edition hard cover version of the manuscript including a forward by a person named simply “Simon.” Claiming that the system in his book is based on ancient Sumerian magic, Simon presents a manuscript containing a blend of ancient Middle Eastern elements, demonology, references to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, parallels with religions such as Christianity, Wicca, and Satanism, and a mishmash of recontextualized Sumerian and Babylonian texts peppered throughout that outlines various magic rituals, conjurations, incantations, spells, and specific instructions on how to inscribe magical seals and amulets. 

In the lengthy introduction, which Simon claims is the only part he wrote and which takes up about 80 pages of a total of 263, he claims that he and his associates had come across a Greek translation of the Necronomicon written by a mysterious monk, and that they had verified that it was a genuine collection of magical rituals that predates most known religions, and that the rituals contained within were very real and very dangerous. It begins with the story of the Mad Arab, who in this version is not named, and how he witnessed an arcane ritual carried out by a cult that had summoned the demons Kutulu and Humwawa, after which he was plagued by visions of his own death. The Mad Arab then would state that he was doomed by supernatural forces for making the Necronomicon known to the world and that anyone reading it was similarly inviting dark paranormal forces into their lives. It is for this reason that many of the spells in the subsequent pages are designed to ward off evil, although there are just as many for conjuring demons or casting curses. Among some of the rituals in the book are some that are more macabre than others, including one for summoning the Mesopotamian primordial goddess of the sea Tiamat, which requires the sacrifice of 11 men. 

Adding to the feeling of dread when reading what has come to be called the “Simon Necronomicon” are repeated warnings from the Mad Arab to not actually try any of the spells, and Simon himself claims in his introduction that a curse hovers over those who helped publish the book, and he points out that the Ancient Ones described in Lovecraft’s work now lie "not dead but dreaming", awaiting a day when they may return to life. It is also pointed out that the myriad demons and monsters summoned by the spells in the book cannot be easily banished once they are invoked, and are impossible to control. It is all very sinister, spooky stuff, and when coupled with various promotional material making sensational claims like “The most potent and potentially, the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World” people were eating it up. Indeed, with its realistic sounding spooky history, combination of exotic elements, and shadows of supernatural danger permeating it throughout it was a smash hit on the New York occult scene, later widely published in paperback form and becoming a bestseller. Over the years, the book would also gain a dark reputation for being the catalyst for a few murders, and was even featured in a court case that would propel it even further into the public consciousness.

On November 25, 1996, Roderrick Justin "Rod" Ferrell and some accomplices snuck into the home of Naomi Ruth Queen and Richard Wendorf in Eustis, Florida. At the time, 49-year-old Richard was asleep on his couch and Ruth was in the shower, so they had little awareness that there were intruders in their house until it was too late. Using a crowbar, he had picked up on the way in, Ferrell beat Richard to death before he even woke up, and then when Ruth stumbled onto the scene after getting out of the shower he bashed her head in and killed her as well. When Ferrell and his accomplices were arrested 4 days later four states away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ferrell would be charged with the murders and things would get weird.

The case was immediately a media sensation because not only was it claimed that Ferrell had used the Simon Necronomicon to carry out rituals, but also because he claimed to be a 500-year-old vampire named Vesago and that his accomplices were members of his “Vampire Clan.” The book was even produced at the trial, where it was argued that it had influenced Ferrell to carry out the killings. Whether this is true or not, Ferrell would plead guilty of two counts of felony murder and receive the death penalty. The then 17-year-old Ferrell was the youngest inmate on death row until November 2000, when the Florida Supreme Court reduced his sentence to life in prison. It is unclear just how much the Simon Necronomicon was truly connected to the crime, but the case definitely put it in the spotlight and it was now more popular than ever before even as it was feared and derided by some. 

To this day there are those who believe the Simon Necronomicon to be an authentic historical text, and it has become one of the most mysterious books there is, but the problem is that it is almost certainly all a well-constructed hoax. Not only are there various inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and misinterpretations to be found with regard to the ancient cultures being discussed, but the book also straight up seems to plagiarize other works such as R. C. Thompson's The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia and James B. Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, from which large swaths are lifted practically word for word. Although the identity of the mysterious Simon is not known for certain, it has been claimed that it is the occultist Peter Levenda, and rather than just writing the introduction as “Simon” claims, he put together the entire thing himself as a hoax of a real life book based on a fictional, nonexistent one. A few of the occultists who frequented the occult New York bookshop The Magickal Childe, where the Simon Necronomicon first appeared, would claim to have known all along that it was a hoax, and expressed surprise and alarm at how much it had grown to take on a life of its own. Author John Wisdom Gonce III would even write a whole book debunking the Simon Necronomicon and outing it as a hoax, entitled The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend, of which he says:

Over the years, I encountered several individuals, and small groups, who were "true believers" in the Simon Necronomicon, and attempted to use its magick. I was amazed at first; thinking that surely everyone knew it was a hoax. As a lifelong fan of H.P. Lovecraft, I was aware of the pulp fiction origins of the Necronomicon. As a worshiper of the Goddess Inanna/Ishtar, with some knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia (my parents gave me my first book about ancient Sumer when I was eight years old), I knew that its magick was not Sumerian. After "deprogramming" or "exit counseling" one victim of a "dabbler" cult that used the Simon Necronomicon as its "sacred text," I had a sort of epiphany. I realized that somebody in the Pagan/occult community needed to address this issue.

With public ignorance of Sumerology and Assyriology being what it is, most people who pick up a copy of the Simon Necronomicon probably assume that it is an authentic work of Sumerian magick, based on the hype written in the introduction of the book. Those who take a no-nonsense approach to ancient Mesopotamian metaphysics may find this alarming, and perhaps they should! My own love of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian magick and religion was one of the things that motivated me to write my book The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend in order to dispel the confusion created by the Simon book. Another reason was that my career in American "alternative" culture brought me repeatedly into contact with people who sincerely believed the Necronomicon to be an authentic historical grimoire (book of spells), and insisted they could use it to practice real Sumerian magick. Since beginning this project, I have uncovered scores of incidents, news stories, and first-hand encounters with people who are "true believers" in the Simon book, and who have used it as a source for their beliefs and practices. Some of these incidents and encounters were merely laughable, some frightening, and some tragic.

In the face of this sort of skepticism and criticism, the enigmatic Simon would appear once again, this time to pen his own book called Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon, in which he attacks his critics who claim the book is a hoax and reinforces that it is all completely real. In the end we are left to wonder. Is the Simon Necronomicon the real deal, or is it just a clever hoax fusing real history with fiction? It is unlikely we will ever know for sure, and at the moment it remains a curious literary oddity tied to a very mysterious and often impenetrable author. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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