The Rapier’s Edge – An Interview with Donald Tyson

The Rapier's Edge - An Interview with Donald Tyson

The Rapier's Edge - Exclusive Interviews with Extraordinary Individuals

In 2004, Llewellyn published Donald Tyson’s novel, Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred, based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. While former Necronomicons were written as grimoires, Tyson took a novel (ahem) approach to the text, having fun with it and viewing it, as he told me at the time, as “entertainment.” He followed the following year with Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon, a much thicker novel relating the travels of the mad Arab from a first-person perspective. Later, he introduced the richly illustrated Necronomicon Tarot, and this year he releases the long-awaited Grimoire of the Necronomicon.

In my talks with Don and Llewellyn publicist Marissa Pederson, I came up with a plan to review the Necronomicon series in a way that readers of Rending the Veil can uniquely appreciate. We begin with an interview with Donald Tyson on his new release. Then I, along with magician Lon Sarver, will test the efficacy of Tyson’s system for a few months. We will follow up with a joint review of the system from the evocation and the tarot angles, and another interview with Don. We’ll keep you posted. For now, let’s see what Don has to say.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

If H. P. Lovecraft invented the Necronomicon, why do so many people think it is a real book?

Donald Tyson

Lovecraft did not invent the Necronomicon, he dreamed it into existence. He saw the book repeatedly in his dreams, and he even dreamed the title without understanding what the title signified. It was only later that he researched the name and was able to offer an opinion as to its meaning — he wrote in one of his letters (Selected Letters: 1929-1931. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, V, 418) that the word was Greek and meant “an image of the law of the dead.”

Lovecraft presented the Necronomicon as an actual occult work in his stories, even quoting from it. To make it seem more plausible, he mentioned, alongside it, various genuine works on occult topics, such as The Witch-Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray, Daemonolatreia by Remigius, and Wonders of the Invisible World Being An Account of the Trials of Several Witches Lately Executed in New England by Cotton Mather. The titles of the books he referred to were obscure to most readers, so the Necronomicon seemed to fit in with the others, particularly since he described minor details of the book that would only be known by someone who had studied it.

Other writers of horror stories who were Lovecraft’s friends took up the game and began to mention the Necronomicon in their own stories as though it were a genuine work; and to return the favor, Lovecraft included the names of some of their fictional grimoires in his stories. For example, the creator of Conan, Robert E. Howard, created a book on magic called Unspeakable Cults (Unaussprechlichen Kulten) as a plot device for some of his supernatural fiction, and Lovecraft used the title in his own stories as though it were a real work, sharing an inside joke among his writing circle.

Fans of Lovecraft began to also treat the Necronomicon as though it were real. A few rapscallions inserted cards into the card catalogues of various libraries in North America and Europe listing the Necronomicon as one of the works carried by the libraries. Alas! when someone requested it, the librarian who searched for it found it to always be unavailable. Antique book dealers sometimes listed it in their sales fliers, just from a sense of fun. Fans would go into bookstores and ask for the Necronomicon, then pretend to be puzzled when the store clerks could not find the book among their catalogues of books in print.

In this way the myth of the Necronomicon grew. Finally, the inevitable happened, and in 1973 someone published an actual book purporting to be the genuine Necronomicon. The first edition was titled Al Azif: The Necronomicon (the supposed Arab name of the work) and was introduced by the science fiction writer and biographer of Lovecraft, L. Sprague de Camp. Other writers began to do the same, and now there are more than a dozen versions, including my own. The existence of real books that bear the title “Necronomicon” only increases the confusion of those who think Lovecraft may have been writing about a genuine occult work.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

How is your book, Grimoire of the Necronomicon, connected? How would you describe a “grimoire”?

Donald Tyson

The Grimoire of the Necronomicon is connected to Lovecraft’s dream book by the Great Old Ones, who were supposed to figure prominently in Lovecraft’s book. In one of the quotes from the Necronomicon, Lovecraft described the Old Ones. He also mentioned the Long Chant, used to call them forth, as being part of the Necronomicon, although he never actually gave the chant itself. No one knows the exact contents of Lovecraft’s dream book, apart from the few quotations he left in his stories, but the Grimoire of the Necronomicon is based on the contents of my own version of the Necronomicon, so that the two form companion works that may be studied together. In my grimoire I provide the Long Chant in the Enochian language, with a phonetic pronunciation guide and an English translation.

A grimoire (French: grammar) is a magician’s workbook. In it, a magician sets down his personal system of magic, for his own use or perhaps for the use of his son or apprentice. During the times the most famous grimoires were created, there were no printed books in Europe. All books were written out by hand with pen and ink, and unless copied by someone else, were unique. The oldest of the grimoires that survive were just such works. They are highly practical in nature, and contain descriptions of rituals, sigils, names of spirits, incantations, exorcisms, astrological procedures, and similar material for dealing with the spirit world.

My own Grimoire of the Necronomicon is of the same nature — a highly practical guide for summoning and communicating with the Old Ones and their servants.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

What are the Old Ones? Is there any evidence that they’ve ever existed, or were they just figments from Lovecraft’s dreams and imagination?

Donald Tyson

The Old Ones revealed themselves in Lovecraft’s dreams. Edgar Cayce is sometimes called the “sleeping prophet” but I believe that this title should be given to Lovecraft. So much of his fiction was not invented at all, but was merely copied from his repeating nightmares and dreams, which had a visionary or prophetic quality.

The term Old Ones is used loosely by Lovecraft in different stories over a span of years to refer to several races or hierarchies of alien beings who came to dwell on the Earth in the distant past, before the rise of humanity. This multiple use naturally causes some confusion, but most commonly the Old Ones are assumed to be the beings described in the quotation from the Necronomicon that appears in Lovecraft’s story “The Dunwich Horror” (published in 1929). The quotation reads:

Nor is it to be thought … that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They had trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones whereon Their seal is engraver, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.

Mentioned in company with these Old Ones are several great beings that I have characterized as their lords: Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath. In other stories Lovecraft refers other great and powerful beings, and places some of them in the Necronomicon. Not all of these great beings can be directly linked with the Old Ones of the “Dunwich Horror” but it is not a great leap to suggest that they are related. In addition to the three lords above, I have made use of four others — Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Dagon and Yig.

As to whether the Old Ones are real, it is my belief that Lovecraft was connected on some deep, subconscious level with higher dimensions of reality, and that he saw things in his dreams that have existence on those higher planes. His creations have a archetypal, mythic quality that gives them resonance in the imagination. I believe they have as much reality as many other astral beings that occultists regard as real, such as fairies and elementals.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

Do you feel that dreams have any connection with astral projection? Could Lovecraft have been encountering these beings on another plane of reality?

Donald Tyson

As I mentioned, I regard Lovecraft as a sleeping prophet. He did not so much invent his stories as dream them, often dreaming them over and over for months or years. One of his strangest and greatest characters, Nyarlathotep, was copied from a repeating dream, which Lovecraft gave almost verbatim in his story “Nyarlathotep” (published in 1920). Dagon also appeared to him in a repeating dream in which a strange island rose up from the midst of the ocean bearing ancient monuments. He described it in his story “Dagon” (published in 1919). Years later, Lovecraft used the same plot device for his story the “The Call of Cthulhu” (published in 1928).

I do think that Lovecraft was unconsciously projecting astrally while asleep, and that his astral experiences came to him in the form of vivid dreams. Lovecraft would never have admitted this to anyone, and probably would not have admitted it even to himself. He was a hard-headed scientific materialist. Even though he wrote about the supernatural, he claimed not to believe in any of it.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

Is the Necronomicon black magick? Are the Old Ones demons? Why or why not?

Donald Tyson

This depends as much as anything on your point of view. Remember, Lovecraft was writing horror stories. His characters encounter alien beings and occult forces as antagonists, ignorant of their true nature. They are naturally terrified of these beings and seek either to flee from them, or destroy them.

Lovecraft himself did not regard the Old Ones as evil. To Lovecraft, they were above human concepts of good and evil. The affairs of humanity were so trivial as to be largely unimportant to them. There are exceptions. Nyarlathotep enjoys the company of men, and sometimes deceives or torments them for sport. Cthulhu relies on his cult of human worshippers to free him from his stone house on R’lyeh, once the stars come right in the heavens, and sunken R’lyeh rises from the depths of the ocean. Shub-Niggurath also appears to welcome the worship and sacrifices of human beings. Lovecraft associated this lord of the Old One with witchcraft and the sabbat.

Just as witchcraft is looked upon as evil by Christians (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”) but as wholesome and life-affirming by neo-pagans who have embraced the Goddess, so can the Old Ones be viewed in a more positive light by those who serve them and who receive aid from them. The ritual worship of the Old Ones, or their service, would undoubtedly be regarded as black magic by Fundamentalist Christians, but these are the same people who think that witches should be executed, and that any form of magic is the work of the Devil.

The rank and file of the Old Ones might be called daemons in the higher sense that the ancient Greeks used the term, to describe spiritual beings of the air and the earth who are more wise and potent than man, but less in stature than the gods of the firmament. The great beings that I have characterized as the lords of the Old Ones would better be thought of as gods.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

Why should a magician want to contact the Old Ones?

Donald Tyson

We might ask why anyone should wish to contact any spiritual being. Those of us who believe that such beings exist, also believe that they can teach us useful spiritual wisdom, and can in some cases aid us in our daily lives.

The Old Ones, as Lovecraft presented them, are beings from another dimension or plane of reality who have immense knowledge and power, but who are restrained from acting directly on this planet by the natural alignment of the heavens that presently exists. This causes them to seek human beings to serve as their instruments or agents in this world. As agents of the Old Ones, these individuals and groups receive certain gifts of arcane knowledge as a kind of payment, and they are watched over and protected by the Old Ones because they are useful to the purposes of the Old Ones.

Even though the Old Ones are restrained from large displays of direct action in our world, they can act in indirect ways, making their favor worth cultivating. Some of the lords of the Old Ones are more overtly active than others. Nyarlathotep seems to have an unusual degree of freedom, as does Yig and Shub-Niggurath. They prefer to remain unseen and unknown by the greater mass of humanity, so when they do act, it is usually in the shadows and in ways that will remain unnoticed.

There is reason to suspect that the pact entered into by witches with a being generally supposed to have been the Devil by Christian demonologists was in actuality a pact between Shub-Niggurath and her acolytes. Lovecraft identifies Shub-Niggurath as the so-called Black Man who presided over witches’ sabbats throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, to whom witches pledged their service. Shub-Niggurath is hermaphrodite, having aspects of both sexes (consider this in conjunction with the illustration of Baphomet by the occultist Eliphas Levi). She is the sabbat goat, and indeed one of her titles used by Lovecraft is the Goat with a Thousand Young.

So the answer as to why a magician should wish to contact and enter into an arrangement with one or more of the lords of the Old Ones is the age-old answer — knowledge, and power. These are the primary reasons we study magic. We seek self-empowerment.

Each of the seven lords of the Old Ones rules over a certain area of human interest and activity. To invoke and give offerings to a particular lord is to invite and seek wisdom and proficiency in that particular area of life. Cthulhu, who is a warrior, presides over martial arts and fighting skills, the dominance and supremacy of the will. Dagon, the lord of the Deep Ones, presides over arcane and occult knowledge, and is for this reason to be sought by scholars of necromancy and other obscure arts of magic. So for the rest.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

What precautions would you advise for magicians wishing to evoke these beings?

Donald Tyson

In my grimoire I describe a ritual structure that is enacted within a ritual circle of seven stones. This structure is designed to channel communication between the magician and the particular Old One with whom communication is sought. Since it excludes interference by other beings, it insures a measure of safety. It is a kind of ceremonial filter that only allows interaction with the particular entity who is invoked.

Those who fear the lords of the Old Ones should not summon them. They are potent beings, but they are not malicious (with the possible exception of Nyarlathotep, who must be dealt with circumspectly). They are alien, which is to say, their thoughts, emotions and motives are not human. Do not expect them to react as a human being would react.

The primary protection for the magician is the Elder Seal, a sigil in the form of a talisman that may be uncovered to drive away the Old Ones from the circle. This sigil was fashioned aeons ago by a race that waged war against the Old Ones and defeated them — or so the writings of Lovecraft state. Lovecraft himself drew out this sigil in one of his letters — he was addicted to letter writing, and wrote thousands of letters to fans of his work and to other writers. It is reproduced in a more detailed form in my book.

A lesser protection is the Elder Sign, a hand gesture that may be used to ward away the otherworldly servants of the Old Ones, but it is less potent than the Elder Seal. This Lovecraft did not describe, but I have given my own received impression of its shape.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

In your book, you talk about the Great Work of the Old Ones. What is their Great Work, and why should human beings help them achieve it?

Donald Tyson

This is something that lies at the heart of understanding the Old Ones and their purpose on this planet, but even though it is indicated by Lovecraft in his story “The Dunwich Horror” no other writer has focused serious attention upon it, to my knowledge.

The Old Ones did not come to this planet by accident, but to fulfill a purpose. They are here to raise this planet up from its present plane of existence to a higher dimension of reality, a place from which our world fell countless aeons ago. They are here to restore the Earth to her former high spiritual estate. In doing so, they intend to literally wrest our planet from its orbit around the sun and pass it through the gates of Yog-Sothoth to its original exalted and more spiritual dimension.

Before the Earth can be lifted up through the gates of Yog-Sothoth, it must be cleansed of its material lifeforms. This does not necessarily mean sterilization, but rather entails a sublimation or spiritualization of living things from their present condition to a higher and less grossly physical state.

You will immediately see the parallels here between the purpose of the Old Ones, and the Apocalypse described in the biblical book Revelation. In Revelation, the Earth is also to be cleansed and purified, its inhabitants either destroyed or rendered more spiritual in nature.

There are also similarities with the Gnostic teaching that mankind is in his essential nature divine, and will ultimately be stripped of his gross covering of physical matter and elevated to his rightful place among the stars, once the veil of ignorance is lifted from his eyes, and he is made aware of his true god nature.

This Great Work of the Old Ones has been delayed by the chance alignment of the stars, which inhibits them from fulfilling their purpose. However, human beings may pledge their service to the lords of the Old Ones and assist them in preparing for the day when the stars come right, and this purpose is ultimately fulfilled. In return for this service they gain the patronage of the Old Ones, to the improvement of their lives.

It might be argued that the Apocalypse is a bad thing. Perhaps it is, for some, but it will be to the betterment of others. This is what Christians believe and teach, at any rate. They welcome the Apocalypse and constantly search for signs of its imminent commencement. They believe that it will result in a more spiritual world.

Of course, Christians have their own interpretation of this period of cleansing of the planet. The Apocalypse of Christians and the Great Work of the Old Ones are the same future event. It is merely a matter of different points of view. Whether a person welcomes it or hopes that it never occurs largely depends on how they see themselves in its unfolding — either as an active participant, or as an unwilling victim. According to prophecy, the Apocalypse cannot be averted. However, it is possible that it is not going to be quite so grossly destructive in a physical sense as is depicted by St. John the Divine. I suspect that if it does occur, it may be more spiritual in nature, and may involve more inward transformation than outward transformation.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

It’s been said that the real purpose of the Old Ones is to destroy life on this planet. If that is not their purpose, then what is?

Donald Tyson

This gets to the question of what the Great Work will actually involve. We might just as easily ask, what will the Apocalypse entail? They are the same event from two different prophetic perspectives.

In Lovecraft’s fiction, it is said that it will involve the destruction of all life on the surface of this planet (though not necessarily all life beneath its surface). But remember, Lovecraft was writing horror fiction, and his human characters are terrified by the Old Ones and their intentions. Remember, too, that Lovecraft’s Necronomicon was written by a human being, from a human perspective. It is not to be expected that we would find any sympathetic description of the Great Work of the Old Ones in these stories, where the Old Ones are depicted as alien monsters who must be destroyed.

One of the servants of the Old Ones in Lovecraft’s story the “Dunwich Horror,” Wilbur Whateley, does not intend to die when the work of the Old Ones is fulfilled, but expects to be transformed as his gross fleshy aspect is stripped away.

Consider the biblical book Revelation. It seems, on the surface, a completely horrifying and negative series of events, with endless scenes of destruction and mass killing. Yet it is presented as the necessary work of God, that will be presided over by Jesus Christ himself carrying a flaming sword. How can it be all evil if it is required by God? And indeed, when we look more closely at Revelation, we discover that not every human being will be annihilated. Rather, a chosen number will be transformed and rendered more spiritual in their natures, so that they can endure the spiritual world that will arise from the smoldering ashes of the old material world.

I do not wish to whitewash the Great Work of the Old Ones. It will involve destruction and death. It is a period of radical transformation. However, there are indications in prophecy that it is not only necessary, but inevitable. On the bright side of things, it may not take place for many years into the future, and it may not be a rapid series of events, but may occur over such an extended span that its severity is mitigated for those who actually must live during its unfolding.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

Are there connections between Lovecraft’s Old Ones and ancient sources, such as the Bible, the Gnostic, or the Book of Enoch?

Donald Tyson

I’ve already anticipated this question by referring to the Revelation of St. John the Divine, the final book of the New Testament. The Great Work of the Old Ones, and the Apocalypse of St. John are the same event.

This makes the Old Ones and their minions the same angels of judgment, death and destruction described by St. John. We cannot know how accurate the descriptions of these beings in Revelation may be, since prophecy is at best, a distorted mirror of the future, but by considering Revelation we can perhaps form a fuller understanding of the nature of the Great Work that will elevate the Earth from her orbit to a higher spiritual estate.

As for the prophecy of Enoch, it may well be that the men of old who were the result of the interbreeding between the angels known as the Watchers and the daughters of men, were servants of the Old Ones. The Watchers gave their hybrid offspring knowledge of all arts and sciences, including the knowledge of the forbidden arts of magic. It is also said in the Book of Enoch that these children and their descendants were more intelligent and stronger in body than ordinary human beings. This suggests the benefits that may result from a close interaction with the Old Ones. Wilbur Whateley, the servant of the Old Ones in Lovecraft’s “Dunwich Horror,” was the result of breeding between a human woman and one of the Old Ones, perhaps Yog-Sothoth himself.

The Gnostic connection would be in the view that a transformation from a physical body to a spiritual body is not something that is to be feared or dreaded, but is to be welcomed as a liberation from our prisons of flesh. The Gnostics taught that mankind is trapped by incarnation in ignorance of his true divine nature. The ultimate goal of Gnostics is to achieve liberation from this prison of flesh that binds us all to dross matter. The way to this achievement is through gnosis (wisdom). According to Gnostics, the process of gnosis began in the Garden of Eden when the wise serpent gave to Eve the gift of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It will be consummated when the world we know ends and we cast off our vessels of matter and ascend to the stars as fully aware, spiritual beings.

But as I mentioned earlier, these momentous events may not occur in our lifetimes, or for many lifetimes to come in the future. They need not be feared as imminent.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

You once told me that you believed Enochian angels were intent upon ushering in Armageddon. Is there any similarity between this view and the goals of the Old Ones? Why do you think the alleged “end of the world” is a desirable event?

Donald Tyson

I do tend to think that the Enochian angels believed themselves to be agents in triggering the Apocalypse described by St. John in Revelation. Whether this belief on their part is plausible is for each person to decide, based on a consideration of the existing angelic communications they made with John Dee and Edward Kelley.

If we presume that there is one apocalyptic series of events that is being foreshadowed by prophecies, then the Apocalypse sought by the Enochian angels and the Great Work pursued by the Old Ones, intimations of which Lovecraft glimpsed in his dreams, are at root the same thing. This suggests that the Enochian angels may be agents of the Old Ones.

I don’t view the end of the world as a desirable event, from a purely conventional human perspective. It will cause great disruption in human lives, even if it is not immediately fatal, and disruption and change are always to be avoided, and are almost always viewed with horror and looked upon as disastrous by those they afflict. However, it may be that some form of great transformation, such as that predicted by various prophecies, is inevitable. It may also be that it will be seen as a good thing by those who weather its difficulties and emerge at the other end of it transformed — though exactly what they will be transformed into is a matter of conjecture.

Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil

Are you planning any more volumes in your work on Lovecraft and the Necronomicon?

Donald Tyson

Yes, I plan at least one more book on Lovecraft’s mythos, that will be a reference work describing and categorizing all the strange beings and races, alien landscapes, and curious objects, revealed to Lovecraft in his dreams, and recorded by him in his stories. I intend this book to be a resource for those who wish to work in a serious way with the magic of the Necronomicon and the Old Ones.

It is also possible that I will write another novel concerning the adventures of Alhazred, the author of the Necronomicon. Writing my novel Alhazred gave me great enjoyment, and was an experience I would like to repeat.

The Rapier’s Edge is a semi-regular column featuring interviews with our contributors, other occult authors, and celebrities of interest to RTV readers. If you’d like to be interviewed, please contact and we’ll be pleased to consider such an interview (especially if you have suggestions for questions!).

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

Sheta Kaey is Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil and is working on her first book, Infinite Possibility. You can read her blog here.

©2008 Sheta Kaey and Donald Tyson.
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Rending the Veil is seeking serious volunteers to help kick off next summer with new features and new staff. Also, we now welcome submissions anytime, so send in your best pieces today! Volunteer application (.docx).


Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

49 queries. 1.684 seconds