Book/Tarot Deck Review – The Tyson Necronomicon Series
Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon Series, including
- Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred
Llewellyn Publications (December 1, 2004)
- Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon
Llewellyn Publications (July 1, 2006)
- Necronomicon Tarot
Illustrated by Anne Stokes
Llewellyn Publications (September 1, 2007)
240 pages plus 78 cards
- Grimoire of the Necronomicon
Llewellyn Publications (August 1, 2008)
Reviewer: Lon Sarver
Stars rating pending.
H.P. Lovecraft, a writer of weird fiction for the pulp magazines of the first quarter of the twentieth century, created for his fiction a pantheon of demonic deities and their debased cults. This collection of beings and lore are known today as the Cthulhu Mythos, and have been expanded, first by Lovecraft’s friends and fellow pulp authors, and also by later generations of fantasists. Lovecraft and the others did the job so well that even now there are still people who believe that Lovecraft was writing fact disguised as fiction.
Even those who do not believe that Lovecraft’s writings are on some level literally true feel the dread pull of the Cthulhu Mythos, finding therein powerful symbols of strangeness, fear, and alien mystery. As with anything that grabs the attention and provokes the emotions, the Mythos has found its way into several serious works of magick.
Don Tyson’s Grimoire of the Necronomicon (Llewellyn 2008) is an attempt at one of these. Along with its companion volumes, Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (2004), Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon (2006), and the Necronomicon Tarot (2007), the Grimoire presents a new look at the Cthulhu Mythos as workable magickal system.
As such, the texts can be evaluated three ways: as contributions to the overall literature of the Cthulhu Mythos, as contributions to occult scholarship, and as a functioning magickal system.
Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred, the first to be published, presents itself as a version of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, detailing the Mythos as discovered by Abdul Alhazred, a medieval Arab sorcerer. Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon is a much longer work, describing the life and journeys of Alhazred in the form of a novel of adventure and occult mystery.
From his surviving letters and non-fiction writing, we know that Lovecraft believed in using fragments and hints to fire the reader’s imagination. Dread and horror would thus be created in the reader’s mind far more effectively than they could be in complete descriptions on a page.
Unfortunately, Tyson’s writing does much to remove that kind of mystery without replacing it with anything worthwhile. While Necronomicon could easily be excused as an occultist fan’s labor of love, perhaps, Alhazred could not. The novel would read and feel exactly the same if one were to change the names of the protagonist and the monsters so as to remove all allusions to Lovecraft.
Also, the attributes Tyson ascribes to the Mythos and its entities are so changed from Lovecraft’s work that it seems, at times, as if the author is writing about entirely different things, and only borrowing the more famous names. This would give the books a hollow feeling to any reader familiar with the other stories that make up the Mythos.
This is important to the magickal value of the Grimoire and the tarot deck. Insofar that the point of writing a work of Cthulhu Mythos magick is to tap the current of energy created by generations of readers of this kind of fiction, departures from that fiction weaken the link, and the power that can be drawn through it.
The Necronomicon Tarot suffers heavily from this. The descriptions of the various Mythos entities used in the deck frequently do not match their presentation in works of Mythos fiction, and often do not match the meanings of the cards upon which they appear. For example, Azathoth is described by Lovecraft as a blind, idiot god dancing at the physical center of the universe. The deity is generally understood by Lovecraft scholars as a metaphor for Lovecraft’s existential dread of a blind, uncaring universe far too large for humans to comprehend.
In the Necronomicon Tarot, this deity is used as the image for Trump 0, The Fool. While the traditional divinatory meanings of innocence, child-like wonder, and gullibility are kept for the card, the deity is described as a filthy, insane being squatting in its own excrement. Use of the deck for divination, or really for any purpose other than rounding out a collection of Mythos paraphernalia, would be impaired by such internal dissonance. It certainly was for me.
The Grimoire of the Necronomicon itself suffers on many levels. Stripped of all of Tyson’s Lovecraftian pretentions, it is a simplified system of planetary/astrological magick. In brief, particular beings from the Mythos are ascribed to the seven “planets” of classical astrology, whose energies are held to rule various aspects of life. Communing with these beings through ritual brings these energies under the magician’s control and perfects the magician’s soul. Additionally, Tyson created twelve beings to represent the signs of the zodiac, for similar use.
Stripped to its bones, the system isn’t bad, just incomplete. Much of the material is borrowed from other, better works of planetary magick, without the context or depth that the original systems provided. In place of this is a narrative which attempts to explain how the various deities of the Cthulhu Mythos are related to the planets, why they would work with the magician, and why such an alliance is a good idea in the first place.
The narrative begins with the creation of the physical world as the aftermath of a cosmic rape. Nyarlathotep, a malign trickster god, attempts to usurp Azathoth’s throne and rapes his daughter. Azathoth is blinded and driven insane, and his daughter flees the divine court and wraps matter around herself, becoming the Earth. Nyarlathotep and the other deities then vow to extinguish all life on Earth and destroy the planet, to “free” the goddess in order for Nyarlathotep to force himself on her again and complete his usurpation.
It should be noted that this is original with Tyson. Except for the characterization of Nyarlathotep as a malign trickster, none of this appears in any Mythos fiction of which I am aware. Thematically, the story is entirely counter to original stories. What made the entities of the Mythos horrible in the original stories was that they were undeniable proof that the Earth is not special and that the powers that be do not care if humanity lives or dies. It is, so far as I can tell, a rather loose adaptation of certain Gnostic ideas about the corruption of the material world and the human spirit’s fall from grace.
The text of the Grimoire is ambivalent about the myth at its center. Sometimes, it seems to hint that the tale is about the redemption of a fallen world, and that the “good” magicians work to restore Azathoth to health and power. Most of the time, the text suggests that there is nothing one can do but go along with a bad system, repeating that those who will not serve Nyarlathotep will be destroyed with everyone else.
Perhaps the only saving grace of the Grimoire is that it does not pretend to be a revelation of the “real” magick behind Lovecraft’s fiction. The introduction is candid about the text being a fusion of fiction and bits and pieces of magickal systems. Despite this, however, it never quite makes a case for why a magician would want to choose this particular modern synthesis over all the other more complete, and less offensive, systems of planetary magick available.
So these four texts contribute nothing original or useful to the literature of either the occult or the Cthulhu Mythos. The question remains, though: Does it work?
Yes and no.
In order to test the system, I performed an evocation of Yig. In the original fiction, Yig was a snake-god in the American west who took horrible vengeance on anyone who harmed a snake. In the Grimiore, Yig is the god associated with Saturn, the keeper of forgotten and occult secrets. This seemed to be the appropriate entity of which to ask questions about a magickal system.
The ritual for contacting the Great Old Ones detailed in the Grimiore is not complex. One goes to a lonely place, preferably one at altitude and with a view of the night sky. A circle of seven stones is made, with four rods painted the colors of four of the Great Old Ones marking elemental directions. On a central altar, three more colored rods representing Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth form a triangle. Candles are placed at the points of this triangle.
The magician then sits or stands to the south of the altar, facing north, and recites the Long Chant. The Long Chant is a fairly standard invocation, customized to the narrative of the Grimiore. The chant is presented in both English and Enochian, for the convenience of the magician.
Once the chant is completed, one calls upon the chosen entity to appear in the triangle. Any offerings or sacrifices are placed on the altar inside the rods. The text does not provide invocations for the deities, though many of them have personal requirements of location or timing the magician must observe.
What is supposed to happen next is left vague. The magician is to meditate, and will, if all goes well, receive some kind of communication from the entity called. The gate is closed, the candles extinguished, and the rite is over.
For me, a circle of stones on a hilltop was not practical. I substituted a room on the second floor of my home, with a large, open window through which I could see the night sky. In the place of a stone circle, I created banners for the cardinal points according to the instructions in the Grimiore, and hung them in the appropriate directions. As the Grimoire stresses that the “true” circle exists on the astral, I felt comfortable in simply visualizing the standing stones.
I read out the Long Chant four times, first in English and three more times in Enochian. After, I improvised an invitation to Yig, praising his wisdom and asking for contact. In my mind’s eye, I saw a snake curled up in the triangle. Meditating on the altar, I did receive a vision of Yig and his realm, and heard the god’s answers to my questions about the system of the Grimiore.
To summarize the wisdom of Yig, the beings contacted by the magick of the Grimiore are not, in fact, the beings written of by Lovecraft and his peers — but they could be, given time and the effort of magicians using this system. In any case, the specific names and images of the system are only tools for achieving contact with whatever it is magicians are contacting, so it doesn’t matter whether or not the deities are fictional or historical.
I thanked the old snake and closed the rite.
So, did the magick work? Yes, in the sense that the ritual induced a vision. However, the ritual did not evoke any of the sense of dread or cosmic vastness associated with the Cthulhu Mythos. This is for the best, really. The folks who seek experiences with real-world magick based on the Mythos are most likely not imagining what it would feel like to be living out one of Lovecraft’s stories. Instead, they’re probably recalling what it felt like to read those stories, and seeking to tap into that emotional current.
While the system seems to produce results, it doesn’t actually do anything better or differently than any other system of magick I have ever worked. The Lovecraft pastiche doesn’t seem to interfere, but it also adds nothing.
One might wonder how useful it is to make contact with a fake snake god. To quote Alan Moore, author, magician, and worshiper of the late Roman snake god Glycon; “If I’m gonna have a god I prefer it to be a complete hoax and a glove puppet because I’m not likely to start believing that glove puppet created the universe or anything dangerous like that.1”
Approached this way, the Grimiore of the Necronomicon might be useful in maintaining a healthy skepticism about one’s magickal work. Those seriously interested in planetary magick with an old-school feel would be better served to study the systems of the Golden Dawn or the The Key of Solomon The King: (Clavicula Salomonis). Those seeking to evoke the mood of the cosmic and alien in their spiritual lives would do very well to track down a copy of The Pseudonomicon, by Phil Hine2 .
- Quoted from an interview, “Magic is Afoot,” published in Arthur magazine in May 2003
- New Falcon publishing, 2004
Review ©2009 Lon Sarver
Edited by Sheta Kaey