Fictional books have a special sort of attraction. Who wouldn’t want to peruse Borgesian infinite libraries, or wander through the halls of unwritten books stored in the library of the Sandman (Alice’s Journey Behind the Moon by Lewis Carroll, anyone?). Perhaps the most mysterious of such book is the Necronomicon.. It’s a truism to note that much of H. P. Lovecraft’s lasting influence is the deep mythology woven into his work. The Cthulhu mythos has outlived its creator (or medium? host-body?!), becoming a source of inspiration for numerous other writers as well as practising magicians. Chaos magicians such as Phil Hine have worked the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu mythos into their magickal rituals, while Kenneth Grant, former secretary of Alisteir Crowley, argued for a fundamental magical reality to Lovecraft’s fictions that even the author himself was unaware of.
At the heart of the Cthulu mythos lies the Necronomicon, a magical grimoire written by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, a worshipper of Cthulhu and Yog-Shoggoth. Containing an account of the Old Ones, their history, and various means for summoning them, the Necronomicon had a complex history, as outlined by Lovecraft himself in the History of the Necronomicon. Despite Lovecraft’s private protestations that the book was a product of his imagination alone, the Necronomicon has been remarkably persistent in manifesting itself in the “real world” too. If you were to visit the University Library of Tromsø, Norway, for instance, you would find listed a 1994 version of the Necronomicon, attributed to one Petrus de Dacia, although the document is ominously listed as “unavailable”. Or you might be able to track down one of the 348 editions published by Owlswick Press in 1973, written in the indecipherable, apparently fictional language known as “Duriac”. More easily available is what has become known as the “Simon Necronomicon”, a translation of the “real” Necronomicon by the pseudonymous Simon. The blurb rightly warns the reader that this is indeed, “potentially, the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World“. Also easily available is 1979 Necronomicon edited by George Hay, with an introduction by noted occult scholar Colin Wilson.
The Necronomicon is not above intruding on universes other than our own either, having made several appearances in both the Marvel and DC Universes. There is even a comic book about how the Necronomicon came to be written. But while the Necronomicon is perhaps the most legendary fictional (OR IS IT?!) book in Western literature, there is only one book of true magical power and import in the world superhero comics; The Book of Vishanti!
This occult tome belongs to Marvel’s Dr Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. While never as wildly popular as Ditko’s other co-creation Spider-Man, Dr Strange had a loyal, often hippy following. The clip below from the excellent Jonathan Ross documentary In Search of Steve Ditko gives a good introduction to the cultural matrix Dr. Strange became a part of. Ditko’s depictions of non-Euclidean mystical realms held an obvious appeal for the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s. That Strange entered immaterial realms by projecting his astral form while his meditating body lay prone in his Greenwich Village apartment (or Sanctum Sanctorum) and answered to an ascended Tibetan master known as the Ancient One only consolidated his appeal for a movement already primed by imported eastern mysticism and altered states of consciousness. October 1965 saw The Family Dog, Jefferson Airplane and others put on an evening of music entitled “A Tribute to Dr Strange”, while one fan’s (unpublished) letter to Marvel Comics described how he liked to, “smoke a bowl, put on ELO or Pink Floyd and read the latest issue of Doctor Strange“. Far out, man!
Also featured in the documentary is the Wiccan priestess and underground comic artist and publisher cat yronwode, who compiled and self-published The Lesser Book of the Vishanti (1977). Like the Necronomicon, the Book of Vishanti managed to materialise itself outside of the page using yronwode as a medium. Indeed, the section of the Lesser Book Of Vishanti entitled “The Religion – Towards a Vishantist Cosmology”, highlights the fact that just as Lovecraft’s Cthulhu cult had spread beyond the page into our ‘reality’ so too “there are Vishantist graffitti in a public toilet in Austin, Texas and an actual Altar of the Blue Elf Vishantist Geek Orthodox Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico”. The Lesser Book of Vishanti forms part of this same over-writing of our Earth (“Earth-Real” to all you chauvinists”, as yronwode herself puts it) by Earth-Marvel. An actual, potentially usable, grimoire comprised of all the various incantations, spells and references to demons and other realms that Strange made in the comic books, complete with annotations and theological exegesis.
Like one of Lovecraft’s unlucky protagonists I fear I may have stumbled over a terrible secret, hidden in plain sight for decades now. Of course, they would all say I was mad, to believe that fictional tomes of ancient magic were infecting and disinfecting other universes; first universes of ink and paper, and then our own. They would say I was mad and, of course, perhaps they would be right. So what choice have I but to write this? Unburdening myself of this terrible knowledge. A knowledge so unbearable it would drive the strongest, sanest man quite mad. A knowledge which, (and here, I cannot stop laughing as I write, a laugh which is not quite my own) you, poor, dear reader, must now also share. The awful secret is this; the uncanny intrusions of the Book of Vishanti and the Necronomicon into our reality may have an ominous explanation. The Necronomicon is infamous for its dangerous and corruptive qualities; the most powerful book of dark magic in this or any other reality. Rumour has it however that the Necronomicon is simply a pale imitation of an ancient tome known as the Darkhold, or “The Book of Sins”, which corrupts anyone who reads it. In the Marvel Universe the Book of Vishanti was created as a counterpart and corrective to the Darkhold. Could it be that the Lesser Book of Vishanti had to manifest in our reality as a potential corrective to the appearance of the Necronomicon? A manual of counter-spells and rituals with which to protect ourselves when the Old Gods return. Even now the shadows of my room are shifting into obscene shapes. I fear there is only thing that can save us!
There’s really only one way to find out. Repeat after me:
In the name of the Dread Dormammu —
by the power of the deathless Vishanti —
I call upon the Hosts of Hoggoth!
heed the words of thy mortal servant!