I’m sure I read somewhere that somebody commented on how Neo-Pagans had largely remained outside the entire phenomenon of Necronomicon editions, magick, and falsifications, until fairly late in the game. This is hardly so, of course; even the most widespread version of the Necronomicon, the Simon edition, was born at that beehive of Neo-Pagan activity, the Warlock Shoppe/Magickal Childe bookstore in New York, run by the Wiccan writer Herman Slater, who was of course directly involved in the book’s publication. However, that particular instance has been discussed to death and then some by Daniel Harms & John W. Gonce (The Necronomicon Files) on the debunking end, by Simon (Dead Names) himself as the foremost defender of the book’s authenticity, and endless articles, individuals, groups, online forums, etc., over the last decade.
Right now I’m thinking about the other versions of the Necronomicon presented by prominent Neo-Pagans. Now there’s an unexplored field of pointless bickeri- er, I mean, of enlightening debate!
Let’s take one such book; The Necronomicon or The Book of Shades, edited by E. A. St. George. This is a fairly intriguing book in several ways.
Harms’ and Gonce’s The Necronomicon Files have precious little to say abouth this edition (just like they do about any non-Simon version of the Necronomicon, of course). Daniel briefly speaks of Elizabeth Ann Saint George’s loosely-autobiographical Casebook of a Working Occultist, mentioning how she grew up in the West Indies, traveled much, and later started a psychic investigation firm, Spook Enterprises, beyond which “this book ranges from a serious account of her initiation into a Western mystery school to tales of chasing KGB agents with her family and friends, their dogs, and an archangel.” Daniel adds, cautiously: “Though I am hesitant to make such judgments, I believe that much of it was written in fun.” Very likely, I'd say, since she apparently has a lot of fun with her publications, as we'll soon see. Apparently, since daniel refers to her as a ceremonial magician of some sort, this autobiography does not mention that Saint George was also a Wiccan high priestess and teacher; I'd heard about her several times before I realized this was the same "St. George" of Necronomicon fame.
Daniel does commit a small mistake in quoting St. George’s brief introduction; he says, “the author comments that the work is also known as ‘The Book of Shades’” but St. George actually states that the book is titled The Book of Shades, and it is her who assumes that this book is the actual Necronomicon, a title St. George evidently attributed to it. An easy misreading, I guess, unless the text of the introductory note differs somehow between the original edition (by St. George’s Spook Enterprises, 1983) consulted by Daniel and the currently-available Corvus Books edition (2006) currently in my possession.
According to St. George, she fount the book in 1964 at the library of the deceased husband of a peruvian lady, Madam Ruzo, who translated it for her (it’s tantalizing to wonder whether there is any connection to the Peruvian occult writer and politician Daniel Ruzo; could this book come from his library?).
The Book of Shades is “the Book of Power of al Rashid of Sothis, whose sorceries have brought him renown in the eyes of men”, a devout muslim as well as a magician. No other biographical information is available in the brief work (actually a slim 26-page chapbook) but that doesn’t stop St. George from speculating freely about his life, education, and experiences.
Daniel points out that The Book of Shades “is unusual among Necronomicons in that it attempts to portray Alhazred as someone who knows of Islam” –very true! We do not find, for example, a single display of actual Arabic culture, folklore, or language in the writings of the Mad Arab in Simon’s Necronomicon. Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred does display a lot of hard work documenting the book, but I did find it somewhat annoying that Tyson’s Alhazred was very learned in Qabbalah and Hebrew traditions but there was next to none mention of actual Arabic concepts other than ghouls (which were presented in Lovecraftian rather than Arabic fashion anyways). Still, St. George’s book doesn’t exactly try to portray Alhazred in any way whatsoever – St. George actually says that Alhazred was a misrepresentation of Al-Rashid! She further states that in its original Arabic form, the book was a long poem. Which it should if Alhazred/Al-Rashid was a sah’ir or poet!
Daniel further comments that “the book is too short to truly fulfill its intention.” Actually, that’s only true if we assume that its intention was to present a book that stands in as what we all expect when our mind conjures up the name “Necronomicon” –but I wonder whether that was the case.
I actually find it likely that this little book is no hoax perpetrated by St. George, but that she genuinely found it at Mrs. Ruzo’s home and was eager to publish it. The only reason to tag the book with the title Necronomicon is that at some point this little spellbook quotes a line that sounds suspiciously like Alhazred’s couplet “That is not dead which can eternal lie/And with the strange Aeons even death may die.” The Book of Shades actually says, “Thou shalt conjure the dead, using the names of their evil gods. They shall come forth, for they are not dead, but lie eternal, unto the time when death is vanquished. And they will come forth when thou callest them by their gods.”
Now, the book is translated from an Arabic manuscript; however, I wonder whether it was an ancient manuscript or actually a modern manuscript purporting to be a trannscription of an older work. What if it was the late Mr. Ruzo who authored the whole thing, and St. George merely trusted his widow’s word on the matter? It might also be an actual ancient grimoire in which Mr. Ruzo found a phrase that sounded a bit like the famous couplet and he conveniently tweaked it around (although the unlikely name Al Rashid of Sothis seems like a red flag; why would any Arab magician use Sothis, the Egyptian/Coptic name for the star Sirius, as his name or as the name of his homeland? Robert Temple’s book The Sirius Mystery had popularized the name “Sothis” in 1975. Just sayin’.
At any rate, how did St. George even know this was “the Necronomicon” if the book was in Arabic, and the only clue was a brief paragraph in the middle of the text? Presumably. Madam Ruzo said as much, maybe remembering what her husband used to say, or perhaps there were notes written in Spanish that mentioned either that the book was the Necronomicon, or quoting the text similar to the couplet and remarking on the similarity. St. George is all too brief on the matter. Of course, it could also be a piece made by her in good fun.
However, this was not Elizabeth Ann St. George's first forage into the troublesome activity of publishing "forbidden" books. But concerning her publication of a large portion of a Gardnerian Liber Umbrarum or Book of Shadows I'll speak at length in another post...