Dr. John Dee, the Necronomicon & the Cleansing of the World -
A Gnostic Trail

Colin Low 1996, revised 2000

The Necronomicon is the rarest and most terrible of the magical grimoires. According to New England horror writer Howard Philip Lovecraft, the Necronomicon was

"Composed by Abdul Al-Hazred, a mad poet of Sanaa, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiade caliphs, circa 700 A.D. He visited the ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secrets of Memphis and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia - the Roba al Khaliyeh, or "Empty Space" of the ancients and "Dahma" or "Crimson" desert of the modern Arabs, which is held to be inhabited by protective evil spirits and monsters of death. Of this desert many strange and unbelievable marvels are told by those who pretend to have penetrated it. In his last years, Al-Hazred dwelt in Damascus, where the Necronomicon (Al Azif) was written, and of his final death or disappearance (738 A.D.) many terrible and conflicting things are told." (Lovecraft)

In his history of the Necronomicon, Lovecraft adds that it was translated into English by Dr. John Dee. This manuscript was never published and survives only in rare and often incomplete copies. The fabulous Necronomicon (in freehand copies of the vernacular Dee translation) features in a number of Lovecraft’s better tales, such as The Dunwich Horror.

Despite many attempts to show that the Necronomicon is nothing more than Lovecraft’s literary invention, a group of prominent authors and occultists claimed to provide confirmation of part of Lovecraft’s claim. In 1978 a book researched by David Langford and Robert Turner claimed that Alhazred’s Necronomicon had been preserved by Alkindi in his treatise The Book of the Essence of the Soul. In his introduction to Turner and Langford’s book, Colin Wilson, the occult writer and author of the classic study of intellectual alienation The Outsider, details Lovecraft’s family history. He notes that Dr. Stanislaus Hinterstoisser, president of the Salzburg Institute for the Study of Magic and Occult Phenomena, claimed that Lovecraft's father was an Egyptian Freemason and that Lovecraft’s father had had access to the Necronomicon. (In point of fact, Lovecraft’s father was a travelling salesman who died a siphilitic while Lovecraft was young, and is almost certainly being confused with Lovecraft’s bibliophile maternal grandfather). Co-author Robert Turner, after extensive work on John Dee’s manuscripts held in the Bristish Museum, showed that Alkindi’s lost work had been preserved by John Dee in an enciphered form called the Liber Logaeth.

This is not an implausible suggestion. Dee was a passionate collector of books, and owned one of the largest libraries in Europe. He was familiar with ciphers and travelled widely on the continent of Europe, to the extent that at least one biographer has suggested he was a 16th. century James Bond acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I and her ministers. It is known that one of the foremost works on occultism and encipherment of the period, the Steganographia of the Abbot Trithemius, was copied by Dee in longhand over a period of days in an intense burst of activity. An engraved portrait of Edward Kelly, Dee’s partner and scryer in the angelic revelations, is shown holding a open volume with the name "Trithemius" on the page. The Liber Logaeth does exist (Sloane 3189????), and is a combination of an incomprehensible angelic language (which Kelly understood only while in trance) and a series of letters composed into a series of 49 by 49 squares.

As if this was not enough, another mysterious cipher manuscript has also been connected with Dee, the baffling Voynich manuscript. Despite many attempts to decipher this manuscript, it still remains unbroken. This enigmatic text has also been linked with Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. On the basis of its diagrams all we know is that it might be a herbal. It could be a cipher manuscript that Dee records as having purchased in Prague. All else is conjecture.

The claim that Lovecraft’s relatives were Masonic initiates is not substantiated by what we know of his family. An alternative explanation (promoted by the author in an extended moment of wickedness), that Lovecraft’s wife Sonia Greene associated with the notorious occultist and poet Aleister Crowley during his residence in New York in 1918 is completely plausible and consistent with both their characters, but entirely untrue.

One of the participants in the Langford-Turner spoof (Colin Wilson) has admitted in print that it is a spoof. It is a good spoof however. The best spoofs work because they are founded on truth, and the untruths are so deeply embedded one needs be an expert to winkle them out. It was a technique H. P. Lovecraft understood well, and he used it extensively to add versimilitude to his fiction. Dr. John Dee is a pivotal figure in renaissance theurgical magic, and the system he developed not only survives to this day, it is one of the most active areas of modern magic. Using Dee as a link in the history of the Necronomicon was an inspired move by Lovecraft.

There is a second connection between Dee and Lovecraft's mythos, and it is much more subtle - and in some ways more bizarre  - than any spoof. This second link between Dee and the Necronomicon has grown out of a 20th. century, quasi-gnostic myth surrounding the entity Chrononzon (using Aleister Crowley’s spelling). Choronzon is a demonic entity that occurs in the transcript of a lost book that John Dee received through the mediumship of a scryer called Edward Kelley, from non-human entities who claimed to be angels. Fragments from this book, The Book of Enoch, are scattered throughout his angelic conversations and recorded in Dee's diaries of the angelic communications.

Choronzon is mentioned only once in John Dee’s diaries, during a communication from the angels concerning the expulsion of Adam from the garden of Eden:

"But Coronzon (for so is the name of that mighty devil), envying man’s felicity, and perceiving that the substance of man’s lesser part was frail and unperfect in respect to his purer essence, began to assail man and so prevailed. By offending so, man became accursed in the sight of God, and so lost both the garden of Felicity and the judgement of his understanding, but not utterly the favour of God. But he was driven forth (as your scriptures record) unto the earth which was covered with brambles. ... But in the same instant when Adam was expelled, the Lord gave unto the world her time, and placed over her Angelic Keepers, Watchmen and Princes." (James p.1)

In this context C(h)oronzon is identical with the Serpent of Genesis, and with the rebellious angel Samael in Jewish midrashic and kabbalistic legend. We can equate Choronzon with the Devil, but I must emphasise this is not the Devil of Christian myth; this is the Devil from myths that predate Christianity. In one of the earliest kabbalistic works, The Bahir, it is Samael that rebels against God and tempts Adam through the agency of the serpent:

"[Samael] said: ‘How can we cause him to sin and be exiled from before God.’ He descended with all his host, and sought a suitable companion on Earth. He finally found the serpent, which looked like a camel, and he rode on it." (Bahir p.81)

After tempting Eve

"[God] took the three of them, and decreed upon them a sentence of nine curses and death. He then cast the wicked Samael and his group from their holy place in heaven. He cut off the feet of the serpent and cursed it more than all the other animals and beasts of the field. He also decreed that it must shed its skin every seven years. Samael was punished and made the guardian angel over the wicked Esau." (Bahir p.82)

Dee's record states (see above) that

"the Lord gave unto the world her time, and placed over her Angelic Keepers, Watchmen and Princes"

There is a confusion over the identity of the ‘Angelic Keepers’ mentioned in Dee’s record above. That the earth is watched over by angels is a very old tradition, and it is fascinating to see it surface during Dee’s angelic communications. According to Dee’s angels, the Watchmen and Watchtowers are provided

"against the usurping blasphemy, misuse and stealth of the wicked and great enemy, the Devil. To the intent that being put to the Earth, his envious will might be bridled ..." (T&FR p.170)

The story appears to be straighforward according both to Dee’s angels and traditional legend: Samael/Choronzon tempted Eve, and was banished into the world with them, and Watchers were set over the creation to maintain its bounds. However, traditional legend holds a surprise:

"Samael and his angels were banished to a dark dungeon, where they still languish, their faces haggard, their lips sealed; and are now known as the Watchers" (Graves & Patai)

This legend is recounted in a book that Dee could not have read because it was lost in Europe until it was brought back from Ethiopia by the Scots adventurer James Bruce of Kinnaird in 1773. By an astonishing coincidence this happens to be yet another Book of Enoch. Although it has been dubbed one of the most boring books ever written, anyone with an interest in Dee and Kelly’s conversations with angels should read it. Too much attention has been devoted to the magical system communicated by the angels to Dee; this occupies a relatively small part of the several hundred pages in Dee’s transcripts. The angels have a great deal to say. It is interesting to meet again many of Dee’s angels in the visions recounted in the Ethiopian Book of Enoch. It is interesting to compare their concerns.

Much of the content of the Ethiopian book is about the background to the first destruction of the world, an event brought about by the evil caused by angelic "Watchers" (Patai suggests an alternative translation "guardian angels" - that is, they are identical with Dee’s Watchmen and Overseers). Much of the content of Dee’s transcript is concerned with the final destruction of the world. This theme occurs constantly, both explicitly and through symbolism which is clearly linked to the Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John. Dee was well aware of this, and his margin notes show that he understood the references. Dee divided the world into three ages: the first age up to the Flood, a second age up to the coming of Jesus Christ, and a final age terminated by the destruction of the world. In common with many (most) Europeans of his time, he lived his life in an awareness that this end was not a conjecture - it was a matter of fact - and that it was imminent. The angels confirm several times that the "end of days" is nigh.

There are so many parallels between events leading up to the first destruction of the world (the biblical Flood) and events leading up to the final destruction (the Apocalypse) that they must be considered duals - that is, not as unconnected mythic material, but as the beginning and end of the same story reflected like mirror images at opposite ends of time. The three ages of the world are in some way connected to the three mystical and visionary works that tell the story: the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, Dee’s Book of Enoch, and the Apocalypse of St. John.

The legend of the Watchers in the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, a book neither Dee or Kelly could have read, is that the angels set to watch over the creation lusted after the daughters of men and came down to earth. Their name in Hebrew, the Nephilim, means literally "The Fallen Ones". The part-human offspring of these unions were terrible and evil "giants", and Jewish commentaries on the scriptures (midrash) make it clear that the Flood was a direct consequence of the evil caused on earth by the fall of the angels (this is not entirely clear in the Bible itself, but commentaries are very clear about the causality). In his visions, the seer of the Book of Enoch is taken by the angel Uriel to a deep abyss ...

" ... with columns of heavenly fire, and among them I saw columns of fire fall, which were beyond measure alike towards the height and towards the depth. And beyond that abyss I saw a place which had no firmament of the heaven above, and no firmly bounded earth beneath it: there was no water upon it, and no birds, but it was a waste and horrible place. I saw there seven stars like great burning mountains, and to me, when I inquired regarding them, The angel said ‘This place is the end of heaven and earth : this has become a prison for the stars and the hosts of heaven .... And Uriel said to me ‘Here shall stand the angels who have connected themselves with women, and their spirits, assuming many different forms, are defiling mankind and shall lead them astry into sacrificing to demons as gods, (here they shall stand), till the day of the great judgement in which they shall be judged till they are made an end of." (Enoch)

It is estimated that the earliest parts of this work date from 200-150 BC, hundreds of years before any part of the New Testament was written. The continuity between the fall of the angels, the first destruction of the world, their imprisonment, and the final judgement and end is explicit here and in other passages:

"From the days of the slaughter and destruction and death of the giants, from the souls of whose flesh the spirits, having gone forth, shall destroy without incurring judgement - thus shall they destroy until the day of the consummation, the great judgement in which the age shall be consummated over the Watchers and the godless, yea shall be wholly consumated." (Enoch)

There is a strong probability that the seven stars "burning like great mountains" are identical with the seven evil demons of Assyrio-Babylonian sorcery:

"Destructive storms (and) evil winds are they,
An evil blast that heraldeth the baneful storm,
An evil blast, forerunner of the baneful storm,
They are mighty children, mighty sons,
Heralds of the Pestilence,
Throne-bearers of Ninkigal,
They are the flood which rushesth through the land.
Seven gods of the broad heaven,
Seven gods of the broad earth,
Seven robber gods are they.
Seven gods of might,
Seven evil gods,
Seven evil demons,
Seven evil demons of oppression,
Seven in heaven and seven on earth." (D&ESoB)

There are many incantations and exorcisms against the terrible seven:

"Spirits that minish the land,
Of giant strength,
Of giant strength and giant tread,
Demons (like) raging bulls, great ghosts,
Ghosts that break through all houses,
Demons that have no shame,
Seven are they!
Knowing no care,
They grind the land like corn;
Knowing no mercy,
They rage against mankind;
They spill their blood like rain
Devouring their flesh (and) sucking their veins,
Where the images of the gods are, there they quake (?)
In the Temple of Nabu, who fertilizeth the shoots of wheat.
They are demons full of violence,
Ceaselessly devouring blood." (D&ESoB)

The evil giant offspring of the Nephilim in Jewish legend were also noted for their vaste appetites, eating thousands of animals a day, and even human flesh (obviously a memory of large sacrificial offerings). The "seven evil sons of Ea" described on ancient clay tablets are enumerated as the South Wind, a dragon with mouth agape, a grim leopard that carries off young, a terrible serpent, a furious beast, an evil windstorm and one that cannot be identified because of damage to the clay tablet. It is possible that these seven evil sons of Ea reappear in the Apocalypse, firstly as the seven angels with seven trumpets whose sounding progressively causes terrible events to occur that mark the end of the world, and also the "seven angels with seven plagues" carrying bowls containing the wrath of God. It is highly likely that the ninth Enochian key (from Dee's angelic transcript) evokes the same terrible seven:

"A mighty garde of fire with two-edged swords flaming (which have viols of wrath for two tymes and a half: whose wings are of wormwood and of the marrow of salt), have setled their feete in the West, and are measured with their Ministers 9996. These gather up the moss of the earth as a rich man doth his threasor: cursed ar they whose iniquities they are in their eyes are milstones greater than the earth And from their mowthes rune seas of blud: Their heds are covered with diamond: and upon their heds are marble sleves. Happy is he, on whom they frown not. For why? The God of righteousness reioyceth in them. Come away and not your Viols ..." (James)

Definitely a case of "Don’t bring a bottle" - see Revelations XV for a more explicit description of what these angels can bring to a party, hence the exhortation to "Come away and not your viols" (vials).

It can be seen that one slight reference to Chronozon in Dee’s transcript of his conversations with angels hides a rich and somewhat muddled lore. That Choronzon is identical with Samael is evident. The lore concerning Samael is somewhat confusing however. He tempted Adam and was cast out of heaven to earth. He was assigned to watch over the earth, but fell (with his angels) and begat monsters, culminating in the first destruction of mankind. He is chief of the evil seven (seven imprisoned stars in Enoch, seven Assyrio-Babylonian demons, seven deadly angels) that God keeps at hand for running the more unpleasant parts of the eschatological process. He will be judged at the end of time. He will be unleashed at the end of time.

This apocalyptic theme is strongly pronounced in the work of both H.P. Lovecraft and the 20th. century magician Aleister Crowley. Crowley had a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, and incorporated many elements from the book of Revelations into his personal myth. He reinterpreted the symbols to suit himself, but there is no question that like Dee, he had a deep and scholarly knowledge of the book. It is often forgotten just how thorough Crowley’s knowledge of the Bible was - he could quote Biblical passages with the best.

The axis around which Crowley’s life turned was the communication of "The Book of the Law" in Cairo "on three successive days, April 8th., 9th., and 10th., in the year 1904". Crowley continues:

"The author called himself Aiwass, and claimed to be ‘the minister of Hoor-Paar-Kraat’; that is, a messenger from the forces ruling the earth at present ..." (Crowley, LavL)

The idea that there are forces ruling the earth is a little odd to the modern mind, but it is consistent with very old traditions that the earth is watched over by a hierarchy of powers, and can be traced back to the earliest times when the stars and planets were worshiped literally as the divine rulers of the world (the Sumerian cuniform for a god is a star symbol). That Crowley was not a million miles from this viewpoint can be seen in his own explanation of "The new Aeon": "It explains that certain vast ‘stars’ (or aggregates of experience) may be described as Gods. One of these is in charge of the destinies of this planet for periods of 2000 years". Just in case you assume Crowley was talking purely metaphorically (he was a complex man and routinely talked on several levels at once ...) one should consider that the 2000 year period mentioned by Crowley refers to the movement of the intersection of the Earth’s equatorial plane with the ecliptic (the first point in Aries) through a sign of the Zodiac, a movement caused by the Earth’s axial precession. In other words, Crowley is referring to a zodiacal sign as being "in charge" of the planet. He is referring to the onset of what is more routinely referred to as "The Age of Aquarius".

Crowley understood the Book of the Law to be the corporate mission statement of the new planetary management, delivered by the trinity of Nuit, Hadit and Ra-Hoor-Kuit with himself as mouthpiece and prophet. It has an apocalyptic flavour, firstly because it literally marks the end of one age and the beginning of a new age, and secondly because this new age has something in common with the terrible "end-time" of Revelations. Crowley’s personal identification with the Great Beast of Revelation has deep roots in his desire to usher in the destruction of the stifling world of his childhood. Crowley admits that many people will find some parts of this small book "repugnant". It is tempting to read many passages mystically, magically or metaphorically to blunt the harshness of the message. These are some extracts from the words of Hadit:

20. Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire are of us.

21. We have nothing with the outcast and the unfit; let them die in their misery. For they feel not. Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched and the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world. Think not, o king, upon that lie: That Thou Must Die: verily thou shalt not die, but live. Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstacy for ever.

22 I am the Snake that giveth Knowledge and Delight and bright glory, and stir the hearts of men with drunkenness. To worship me take wine and strange drugs whereof I will tell my prophet & be drunk thereof. They shall not harm ye at all. It is a lie this folly against self. The exposure of innocence is a lie. Be strong o man! lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture: fear not that any God shall deny thee for this. (Crowley, LavL)

And some extracts from the words of Ra Hoor Kuit:

11. .... Worship me with fire and blood; worship me with swords & with spears. Let the woman be girt with a sword before me: let blood flow to my name. Trample down the Heathen; be upon them o warrior, I will give you of their flesh to eat!

46. I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the Eighties cower before me and are abased. I will bring you to victory and joy: I will be at your arms in battle & ye shall delight to slay. (Crowley, LavL)

If one is to offer an apology for this, then the best that one can do is observe that gods and goddesses tend to be made in the image of their worshippers, and the gods of the ancient world were almost incomprehensibly different from anything now regarded as acceptable in western culture. It is difficult to find a modern historian who will say anything pleasant about the Assyrians, a people who delighted in warfare, butchery, and torture. There is a shocked unanimity among Assyrian scholars; a numbness at having to translate too many commemorative inscriptions recalling their brutal successes in war, plunder, siege and sack. The words of Hadit and Ra Hoor Kuit have an unpleasant authenticity.

It is interesting to compare the general tone of The Book of the Law with the following passage from one of Lovecraft’s most influential stories, The Call of Cthulhu.

"That cult would never die until the stars came right again [precession of the Equinoxes? - CL], and the secret priests would take Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild, and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstacy and freedom." (Lovecraft, CoC)

Many of Lovecraft’s stories (the so-called Cthulhu Mythos) are based on the premise that at one time in the distant past, various races of beings came to the Earth from the stars. These beings were cast out or imprisoned, but await the moment when they can return to reclaim the Earth for themselves. They are neither material or immaterial, partaking of both qualities, and in their exile they are confined not in some far away place, but in dimensions of reality adjacent to our own. They are continually seeking ways to return, and the danger of texts such as the Necronomicon is that they could tempt an unwary magician into opening the Gate between their dimension and our own.

The return of the Old Ones is apocalyptic because it effectively terminates humanity’s short dominion on this planet - it is the end of our world. There is a substantial identity between the conditions required for the return of the Old Ones (outlined in the passage above) and the general conditions mediated by Crowley’s New Aeon. It is worth adding that although Lovecraft and Crowley were contemporaries, there is no evidence that either knew of the other’s existence.

In another of those strange coincidences that give the impression that there is more going on than meets the eye, Choronzon reappears (literally) in the North African desert. The event is recorded in Crowley’s autobiography, and also in a record of his progress through the thirty Enochian Aethyrs, a book he published as The Vision and the Voice in 1911 in Volume 1, No.5 of The Equinox.

Like a subterranean river, the system of magic given to John Dee by the angels had not disappeared into obscurity. It "quit the night and sought the day" almost exactly 300 years after its original revealing (Dee’s scrying transcripts with Kelly terminated in 1587, and the Golden Dawn was instituted in 1887), becoming an integral and core part of the magical syllabus taught by the now famous Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Crowley joined the Order in 1898 and played a role in its disintegration two years later. He also published much of the Order’s magical syllabus in his periodical The Equinox.

It was from the Golden Dawn that Crowley acquired his initial knowledge of Dee’s angelic magic, but in his autobiography he says that he followed that up by visiting the Bodleian library in Oxford to study Dee’s original manuscripts, in preparation for publishing the Enochian system in The Equinox - he did in fact publish a substantial summary of Dee’s system (including much that is not found in the Golden Dawn Knowledge lectures) in 1912 in Vol. 1 No.7 of The Equinox. He says he spent "much time and research" clarifying the obscurities of the Enochian system with Frater Semper Paratus (Thomas Windram), an Adeptus Major of the Golden Dawn. In other words, we must regard Crowley as an independently motivated student of the angelic system, who continued to study and use the system for a decade after he parted company with the Golden Dawn.

Crowley invoked the angels of the first two Aethyrs while travelling and climbing in Mexico in August 1900. He did not feel ready (or able) to go further for nine more years. He says he had "no special object" in going to Algiers with his magical protogee, the poet Victor Neuburg (who is better known through his friendship with Dylan Thomas). Nevertheless, he just happened to discover (nestling in a crevice at the bottom of his rucksack in amongst the fluff and kif and biscuit crumbs) one of his magical notebooks containing the Enochian keys, and also his "great golden topaz (set in a cavalry cross of six squares, made of wood, painted vermillion) , engraved with a Greek cross of five squares charged with the Rose of forty-nine petals". Well, I find that sort of thing in my rucksack all the time. I even lost my ritual double-handed broadsword once, and had to go through all the pockets before I found it.

The invocations were carried out as they walked across the desert towards Bou Saada, usually one invocation per day, and the entire series took most of a month. As the Aethyrs progressed in difficulty Crowley began to recite a passage from the Koran 1001 times each day, prostrating himself on the ground with each repetition. During each invocation Neuburg acted as scribe, and Crowley appears to have recited the Call of the Thirty Aethyrs and then pressed the shewstone against his forehead - he mentions on several occasions the extreme pain this caused. The "vision and the voice" which were obtained in trance following the Call lasted between 1.5 and 3 hours.

Crowley assigned Dee’s thirty Aethyrs to the ten sephiroth of the Kabbalah in what is know as "lightning flash" order, beginning in Malkuth with 30 (TEX), 29 (RII) and 28 (BAG). In the system of the Golden Dawn, the magician was initiated through the sephiroth in this "lightning flash" order until the sephira Chesed was reached, at which point the Abyss was encountered, an abyss which separates the microcosm of the magician from the macrocosmic realm of the three supernal sephiroth, which represent (along with Malkuth) the manifest God. According to Crowley’s assignment of the Aethyrs, the tenth Aethyr marks the abyss, and it is this aethyr which Crowley calls "accursed". It was during the invocation of this Aethyr that the encounter with Choronzon occured.

Crowley received a warning of this encounter during the fifteenth Aethyr:

And even as the shew-stone burneth thy forehead with its intolerable flame, so he who hath known me, though but from afar, is marked out and chosen among men, and he shall never turn back or turn aside, for he hath made the link that is not to be broken, nay, not by the malice of the Four Great Princes of evil of the world, nor by Chorozon, that mighty Devil, nor by the wrath of God, nor by the affliction and feebleness of the soul.

The full "terror of the situation" became apparent to Crowley during the eleventh Aethyr; the encounter with Choronzon in the Abyss would have to be experienced. Crowley asked the Angel of the eleventh Aethyr whether anyone would be appointed warden during this encounter, and received as answer "Eloi Eloi lama sabacthani " - the words of Christ in his final despair and agony. The vision of the eleventh Aethyr continued:

"And he speaketh unto me these words:

Behold, a mighty guard against the terror of things, the fastness of the Most High, the legions of eternal vigilance; these are they that keep watch and ward day and night throughout the aeons. Set in them is all force of the Mighty One, yet there stirreth not one plume of the wings of their helmets. Behold, the foundation of the Holy City, the towers and the bastions thereof! Behold the armies of light that are set against the outermost Abyss, against the horror of emptiness, and the malice of Choronzon.

These things are spoken unto him that understandeth, that is a breastplate unto the elephants, or a corselet unto the angels, or a scale upon the towers of iron; yet is this mighty host set only for a defense, and whoso passeth beyond their lines hath no help in them.

Yet must he that understandeth go forth unto the outermost Abyss, and there must he speak with him that is set above the four-fold terror, the Princes of Evil, even with Choronzon, the mighty devil that inhabiteth the outermost Abyss. And none may speak with him, or understand him, but the servants of Babylon, that understand, and they that are without understanding, his servants. Behold! it entereth not into the heart, nor into the mind of man to conceive this matter; for the sickness of the body is death, and the sickness of the heart is despair, and the sickness of the mind is madness. But in the outermost Abyss is sickness of the aspiration, and sickness of the will, and sickness of the essence of all, and there is neither word nor thought wherein the image of its image is reflected.

And whoso passeth into the outermost Abyss, except he be of them that understand, holdeth out his hands, and boweth his neck, unto the chains of Choronzon. And as a devil he walketh about the earth, immortal, and he blasteth the flowers of the earth, and he corrupteth the fresh air, and he maketh poisonous the water; and the fire that is the friend of man, and the pledge of his aspiration, seeing that it mounteth ever upward as a pyramid, and seeing that man stole it in a hollow tube from Heaven, even that fire he turneth unto ruin, and madness, and fever, and destruction. And thou, that art an heap of dry dust in the city of the pyramids, must understand these things."

Like Dee’s Watchtowers, the walls and towers of the Holy City are fortified by the legions of the Most High against the powers of the Abyss, but they look outwards, not inwards. There is a spectacular twist in this however, and it is worth examining the transcript of the tenth Aethyr in detail for the light it throws on the true nature of Choronzon. Note in the last paragraph the poisonous, corrupting and destructive nature of Chronozon.

For the invocation of the tenth Aethyr Crowley and Neuburg retreated far into the dunes, made a triangle of evocation in the sand for the demon to manifest into, and poured the blood of three pigeons at each corner to confine it:

Now, then, the Seer (Crowley) being entered within the triangle, let him take the Victims and cut their throats, pouring the blood within the Triangle, and being most heedful that not one drop fall without the Triangle; or else Choronzon should be able to manifest in the universe.

In his commentary to the electronic edition of the Vision and the Voice, Bill Heidrick remarks "Perhaps the joke here is that the manifest universe is itself, in a sense, Choronzon." The accuracy of this remark will become apparent later when the nature of Chrononzon is exposed.

Neuburg (referred to as "the Scribe" in the transcript) took his place in the magical circle, while Crowley states that he himself abode apart, in his magical robe with its hood drawn over his face. I had always assumed that Crowley was present in the triangle of evocation during the working and provided the physical basis for the manifestation of Choronzon - that is, for a time, Crowley was Choronzon. Crowley implies otherwise, stating he was in a secret place and he neither moved or spoke. On reflection, this is Crowleyan ambiguity at its worst - I believe he means that as a Master of the Temple his essential nature was across the Abyss in the "City of the Pyramids", a very secret place indeed, a place characterised by stillness and silence. Neuburg’s record of what happened suggests that the body of Crowley, possessed by Choronzon, was very active indeed. The "vision and the voice" began:

There is no being in the outermost Abyss, but constant forms come forth from the nothingness of it. Then the Devil of the Aethyr, that mighty devil Choronzon, crieth aloud, Zazas, Zazas, Nasatanada Zasas.

I am the Master of Form, and from me all forms proceed.

I am I.

I have shut myself up from the spendthrifts, my gold is safe in my treasure-chamber, and I have made every living thing my concubine, and none shall touch them, save only I. And yet I am scorched, even while I shiver in the wind. He hateth me and tormenteth me. He would have stolen me from myself, but I shut myself up and mock at him, even while he plagueth me. From me come leprosy and pox and plague and cancer and cholera and the falling sickness. Ah! I will reach up to the knees of the Most High, and tear his phallus with my teeth, and I will bray his testicles in a mortar, and make poison thereof, to slay the sons of men.

Note firstly the demiurgic declaration of Chrononzon: "I am I". This demon is the master of form. Note also that he mutilates the body of God and turns it to poison.

Choronzon hath no form, because he is the maker of all form; and so rapidly he changeth from one to the other as he may best think fit to seduce those whom he hateth, the servants of the Most High. Thus taketh he the form of a beautiful woman, or of a wise and holy man, or of a serpent that writheth upon the earth ready to sting.

At this point Neuburg literally saw these many forms of Choronzon, even the form of a woman he loved. Sometimes Choronzon spoke with Crowley’s own voice. Much of the time the voice of Choronzon was an "insane babble".

And, because he is himself, therefore he is no self; the terror of darkness, and the blindness of night, and the deafness of the adder, and the tastelessness of stale and stagnant water, and the black fire of hatred, and the udders of the Cat of slime; not one thing, but many things. Yet, with all that, his torment is eternal. The sun burns him as he writhes naked upon the sands of hell, and the wind cuts him bitterly to the bone, a harsh dry wind, so that he is sore athirst. Give unto me, I pray thee, one drop of water from the pure springs of Paradise, that I may quench my thirst.

I feed upon the names of the Most High. I churn them in my jaws, and I void them from my fundament. I fear not the power of the Pentagram, for I am the Master of the Triangle. My name is three hundred and thirty and three, and that is thrice one. Be vigilant, therefore, for I warn thee that I am about to deceive thee. I shall say words that thou wilt take to be the cry of the Aethyr, and thou wilt write them down, thinking them to be great secrets of Magick power, and they will be only my jesting with thee.

I know the name of the Angel of thee and thy brother P. . . ., and all thy dealings with him are but a cloak for thy filthy sorceries.

(Here the Scribe averred that he knew more than the demon, and so feared him not, and ordered the demon to proceed.)

Thou canst tell me naught that I know not, for in me is all Knowledge: Knowledge is my name. Is not the head of the great Serpent arisen into Knowledge?

The great serpent referred to is Leviathon, but more particularly this refers to a Golden Dawn diagram which shows the serpent reaching from the worlds of the evil shells below the Tree of Life up to the place on the Tree called Da’ath, or Knowledge. What could Neuburg tell the Maker of Worlds what he does not already know?

Images, images, images, all without control, all without reason. The malice of Choronzon is not the malice of a being; it is the quality of malice, because he that boasteth himself "I am I", hath in truth no self, and these are they that are fallen under my power, the slaves of the Blind One that boasted himself to be the Enlightened One. For there is no centre, nay, nothing but Dispersion.

Here Choronzon (or Crowley) finally and unequivocally gives the show away. It was obvious before, but now it is spelled out for us. Anyone who has read the gnostic gospels recovered from Nag Hammadi will know this demon. The etymology of the name Samael has two derivations. The most common and traditional derivation is that it derives from the Hebrew word for poison, and means "Poison of God". The identification of Choronzon with Samael was made on the basis of his appearance in Dee’s transcript as the instrument of the Fall, and in Crowley’s vision he is the poisoner and despoiler of the world.

However, the eminent scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, who made an extensive study of ancient gnostic texts, shows that the oldest and most accurate etymology for Samael is "the blind archon", and he is identical with the demonic demiurge of the Ophites, Ialdebaoth. He was also known as "the blind dragon" and identified with Leviathon. In Mandean gnostism Samael is the demon of blindness. (Scholem, OotK p.295 for extensive sources).

A gnostic text found at Nag Hammadi, The Nature (Hypostasis) of the Archons, describes the demiurgic demon creator of the world:

"Their chief is blind [because of his] power and ignorance [and his arrogance] he said, with his [power], "It is I who am God; there is none [apart from me]."

When he said this, he sinned against the [entirety]. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility saying "You are mistaken, Samael" - which is, "god of the blind".

His thoughts became blind. And having expelled his power - that is, the blasphemy he had spoken - he pursued it down to chaos and the abyss ...

When Crowley/Chronozon mentions the "slaves of the Blind One that boasted himself to be the Enlightened One", it seems unquestionable that he is referring to the gnostic myth of Samael. Another gnostic text from the Nag Hammadi corpus , "The Secret Book (Apocryphon) of John" states:

"Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance". (TNHG)

Choronzon is the master and the maker of form who has no face because he has all faces ( see above). Another text, quoted by Kurt Rudolph, describes Ialdebaoth as follows:

"But Jaldabaoth, Saklas, the many formed, so that he can show himself with any face, gave to them (the planets) of the fire which belongs to him; but he did not give them of the pure light of the power he had drawn from his mother. For the reason that he ruled over them, because of the glory which was in him from the power [of the light] of his mother. For this reason he himself called "God" in that he resisted the nature from which he had come into being. And he bound seven powers with the principalities."

The mother who brings forth the "abortion" Ialdebaoth is the subject of Crowley’s vision of the next (and ninth) Aethyr - he calls her "the Virgin of Eternity", otherwise known in Kabbalah as the sephira Binah.

It is significant that the words Crowley/Choronzon uses are not vague stabs in the general direction of gnostism - they might have been copied directly from gnostic texts. The Nag Hammadi texts were not discovered until 1945, two years before Crowley’s death, so we cannot accuse him of plagiarism, but (in the comical extreme) we can imagine Crowley and Neuburg stumbling across troves of Coptic texts amongst the sand dunes and translating them in situ. More realistically, Crowley, who was astonishingly erudite, could have found traces of this lore in the works of early Church heresiologists such as Irenaeus of Lyons [Note: since orginally writing this I have inspected the work of Irenaeus and find nothing that would account for Crowley/Choronzon's prescience. Any insight into a source for "the Blind One that boasted himself to be the Enlightened One" would be appreciated]

Less easy to rationalise is what comes next. When I began to read Dee’s angelic transcripts I was struck by the thought that the God of Dee’s angels was the same demonic demiurgic God I was already familiar with in gnostic texts. It is difficult to give much substance to this feeling, other than to say that the original gnostics derived their demiurge by taking the worst qualities of the God of the Jews, transforming him into a demonic entity. The God of Dee’s angels is similarly demonic - a God of wrath and punishments and ‘righteousness’ who fully intends (like the God of Revelation) to turn the world into a charnel-house. In his book Tetragrammaton, Donald Tyson points out the phrase "God of Righteousness" quoted in the ninth Enochian key (quoted earlier) is given as IAD BALTOH in Enochian, a transparent anagram of IALDBAOTH. For either of Dee or Kelly to be this ingeniously erudite beggars belief.

Crowley’s "vision and voice" continued the manifestation of Choronzon:

Would God that I were dead.

For know that I am proud and revengeful and lascivious, and I prate even as thou. For even as I walked among the Sons of God, I heard it said that P. . .could both will and know, and might learn at length to dare, but that to keep silence he should never learn. O thou that art so ready to speak, so slow to watch, thou art delivered over unto my power for this. And now one word was necessary unto me, and I could not speak it. I behold the beauty of the earth in her desolation, and greater far is mine, who sought to be my naked self. Knowest thou that in my soul is utmost fear? And such is my force and my cunning, that a hundred times have I been ready to leap, and for fear have missed. And a thousand times am I baulked by them of the City of the Pyramids, that set snares for my feet. More knowledge have I than the Most High, but my will is broken, and my fierceness is marred by fear, and I must speak, speak, speak, millions of mad voices in my brain.

The secret of Choronzon is that Choronzon and and "Most High" are the same. There isn’t a sheet of paper that one could insert between them. This is the origin of Bill Heidrick’s comment that there isn’t much point in preventing Choronzon from manifesting in the physical universe, because the universe is "in a sense" Choronzon. The "Most High" is as demonically poisonous and destructive as Choronzon, and declares, like Choronzon , the He is the only God. Every pulpit thumper is Choronzon, declaring the one truth; and the pulpit thumpers, thundering at the blasphemies and heresies and sacriligious untruths of other pulpit thumpers are the many faces of Choronzon. Every person who makes a world for other people to live in is the "Most High", setting down laws of right and wrong, good and evil, and in their demiurgic isolation they are also Choronzon. Every aspect of Chronozon, declaring "I am I" in brief isolation from the whole, is the Most High, but taken together (and there can only be one Most High) they constitute the raving dispersion of Choronzon.

Choronzon is the particular foe of magicians. Dee, for example, believed utterly in a Most High who had all knowledge. A common theme in the Enochian Keys is that the magician commands because he is a "true worshipper of the Highest". As a magician approaches the heirophantic position in Chesed, the last sephira before the Abyss, he is assumed to have all the answers. He is a pope in his own world, with faithful followers who demand mysteries with answers, who demand revelations just as Dee prayed for revelations. That is why Choronzon scorns Neuburg’s claim to know more than he - Choronzon has all the answers anyone could ever want. A problem with having all the answers is that all the other hierophants also have all the answers, and so the eleventh Aethyr is the Holy City with its mighty walls and towers and motionless legions guarding against the terrible powers of the Abyss, where everything is real, and nothing is true, and the mightiest of hierophants is nothing.

Crowley does not beat around the bush on this issue. In his own words:

For he is wisdom, and by wisdom hath he made the Worlds, and from that wisdom issue judgements 70 by 4, that are the 4 eyes of the double-headed one; that are the 4 devils, Satan, Lucifer, Leviathan, Belial, that are the great princes of the evil of the world. {142}

And Satan is worshipped by men under the name of Jesus; and Lucifer is worshipped by men under the name of Brahma; and Leviathan is worshipped by men under the name of Allah; and Belial is worshipped by men under the name of Buddha.

Poor Neuburg, alone in the protective magical circle, had to contend against all the verbal wiles of the mightiest of devils. Choronzon began to recite the poem Mad Tom O’Bedlam

With a heart of furious fancies,
Whereof I am Commander,
With a burning spear
And a horse of Air
To the wilderness I wander.

(The idea was to keep the Scribe busy writing, so as to spring upon him. For, while the Scribe talked, Choronzon had thrown sand into the circle, and filled it up. But Choronzon could not think fast and continuously, and so resorted to the device of quotation.

The Scribe had written two or three words of "Tom o'Bedlam," when Choronzon sprang within the circle (that part of the circumference of which that was nearest to him he had been filling up with sand all this time), and leaped upon the Scribe, throwing him to the earth. The conflict took place within the circle. The Scribe called upon Tetragrammaton, and succeeded in compelling Choronzon to return into his triangle. By dint of anger and of threatening him with the Magick Staff did he accomplish this. He then repaired the circle. The discomfited demon now continued:)

All is dispersion. These are the qualities of things. The tenth Aethyr is the world of adjectives, and there is no substance therein.

I am a-cold.

(Here Choronzon, being a couth and literary demon, ceases being Mad Tom O’Bedlam and becomes poor Tom of King Lear)

(Here Choronzon wanted to leave the triangle to obtain wherewith to cover his nakedness. The Scribe refused the request, threatening the demon. After a while the latter continued:)

I am commanded, why I know not, by him that speaketh. Were it thou, thou little fool, I would tear thee limb from limb. I would bite off thine ears and nose before I began with thee. I would take thy guts for fiddle-strings at the Black Sabbath.

I have prevailed against the Kingdom of the Father, and befouled his beard; and I have prevailed against the Kingdom of the Son, and torn off his Phallus; but against the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost shall I strive and not prevail. The three slain doves are my threefold blasphemy against him; but their blood shall make fertile the sand, and I writhe in blackness and horror of hate, and prevail not.

At the conclusion Crowley wrote the name BABALON in the sand with his magical ring and he and Neuburg lit a great fire in the sand to purify the place.

This incident in the desert is one of the most memorable incidents in Crowley’s vivid and memorable life; perhaps it is the most memorable. It has been enormously influential, and an elaborate mythology has accreted around Choronzon and the Abyss.

A key part of this development has been the modern interpretation of the non-sephiroth Da’ath as a gateway. Da’ath means ‘knowledge’. Where the word appears in Genesis it is translated into Greek as ‘gnosis’. When Adam knew Eve, the word used was based on the same verb root as the word Da’ath. In traditional Kabbalah Da’ath never made it as a proper sephiroth (as Sepher Yetzirah puts it, there could only be "ten and not nine; ten and not eleven", and so the eleventh quality on the kabbalistic Tree of Life has developed a mystique that comes from being unlike the others. As the sephiroth represent emantations of the divine in creation, Da’ath has progressively taken on the quality of an anti-emanation. It is difficult to place exactly in time the point at which this attribution began to find real coherence. In a book on Kabbalah published in 1965 the author Gareth Knight attributes to Da’ath the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god of portals who is forever looking two ways. However, some of the most vivid depictions of Da'ath as gateway were introduced in the mid 1970s in the writings of the British magician (and joint biographer of Crowley) Kenneth Grant.

What Grant has done can best be described by analogy. Suppose we were to take a normal person and we identified all the occasions when this person was being generous and pleasant and kind, and we also identified all the occasions when they were being irritable and selfish and malicious. Let us also suppose we gave this person two names (Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde spring to mind) and we insisted that instead of one person with a full range of emotions we were dealing with two different people each with a more limited range of emotions. Having made this distinction we could then mystify the point of transition between the two ‘identities’ (as Robert Louis Stevenson did in his novel by means of arcane chemistry). This is what Grant has done to the Tree of Life, splitting it into two Trees, one of which is the dark reflection of the other, and he has turned Da’ath into the Gateway between the two Trees. By removing much of the power from what many people think of as the ‘normal’ Tree he has created a dark reflection of the Tree and by this legerdemain he has provided himself with material for a number of books:

I am fully aware that the averse regions of the power zones are dangerous territory, and at the outset I would remind those who feel that such an exploration had better not be made that one cannot begin this initiation, or journey inward, as one begins one’s ascent from Malkuth, for only by projecting consciousness through Da’ath, the Gate of the Abyss, can one enter the Kingdom of infernal spaces that is under the dominion of Choronzon. (NoE)

For reasons already given, the transformation of Da’ath into a hole or gateway is a natural and numinous transformation of a non-sephira into something that complements the images of transition and fear of the unknown associated with the Abyss. Whether Grant’s splitting of the Tree into two is symbolically useful or merely an arch-gothic Adam’s Family caricature of a kabbalistic tradition already pregnant with representations for darkness and evil has to be questioned. Grant’s work carries gematria to new heights by showing that any concept can be related to any other, either by numbers, or by the most bewildering and fanciful etymology, so that one has to wonder whether the author himself takes it seriously. The overwhelming impression given by "The Nightside of Eden" is not that words and symbols signify anything, but they have become an end in themselves, and Grant uses them to weave Chorozonic mysteries of semiotics: the map has become the territory.

It is Kenneth Grant who brings a trail that begins with Lovecraft and meanders through the lives of Dee and Crowley back to Lovecraft once again. His books are permeated with Lovecraftian imagery. In The Magical Revival he compares Lovecraftian entities with entities from traditional magic. In a later book he writes:

"This Cult of the Spectral Hyena persisted when all other forms of its God had perished, and certain magicians and dreamers have received intimations of its existence throughout the centuries. Dr. John Dee (1527-1608), who first called it down from the spaces of Daath in historic times, named it Choronzon. Aleister Crowley, who contacted it in our own times, also called it Choronzon, while H.P. Lovecraft sensed it as the monstrous and amorphous slime known as Yog-Sothoth" (NoE)

We have come full circle, from fiction to fact and back to fiction, and if it is possible for Dee (in the world of fiction) to have translated the Necronomicon, then it is certainly possible for Lovecraft (in the world of fact) to have met Choronzon. One of the best descriptions of Yog Sothoth can be found in Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, in a supposed extract from an incomplete copy of Dee’s translation of the Necronomicon:

Nor is it to be thought [ran the text as Armitage mentally translated it] 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 have 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 none 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. (TDH)

Like the Nephilim of lore, Yog Sothoth can and does join with mortal women to father half-human abominations (that is the whole point of the story). The description of Yog Sothoth as the guardian and key to the gate entering into the chaotic dimensions of the Old Ones completes the identification with Choronzon, and it is at this point that fact and fiction blend so seamlessly into myth that in his book Tetragrammaton, Donald Tyson concludes about the Enochian Keys (and one can feel the ghost of Lovecraft guiding his pen):

"The apocalypse glimpsed in the vision of St. John is a complex magical working that cannot be initiated by the angels themselves but must be called into the universe by the living Word vibrated in a vessel of flesh that wears the form of the warrior Christ. The angels of wrath cannot call themselves into being. What they could, and did, do is teach mankind how to summon them through the guardian gates of the Four Watchtowers that sustain the universe."

"Once Coronzon and his angels gain access through the Watchtowers, their mere presence in our world will render it unfit for human habitation by increasing the degree of chaos and disrupting the balance of the natural laws that presently provide stability and order. Coronzon will transform our universe into a suitable dwelling place for himself and his ministers, in the process destroying the human race." (Tetragrammaton)

But what about the Necronomicon? We left a question hanging in the air at the beginning of this essay. Does the terrible grimoire really exist?

Well, as Lovecraft told several of his many correspondents, Alhazred was a name he took as a child because of his fascination with the exotic tales of The Arabian Nights. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, he may have taken the name of his most famous grimoire from the Astronomica of Manilius. Yes, Lovecraft invented the Necronomicon. It is fictional. The world's most terrible book of sorcery is just a title, a brilliant and inspired title, but it is a title with no content. Although Lovecraft alludes to the book many times, he provides (if my memory serves me) only three direct quotations, and the only substantial quotation is the one provided above. The Necronomicon is a hollow vessel - it booms resoundingly, but has nothing in it but the projections of our own fantasies.

And the idea that magicians through the ages have been attempting to contact strange and terrible powers that seek to possess and lay waste to the Earth is quaintly ridiculous. Not.

Copyright Colin Low 1996


[I wrote this essay originally for an audience whom I assumed was familiar with Dee's angelic (Enochian) workings and also with their subsequent re-surfacing in the lives of several prominant magicians, including Aleister Crowley. This essay presents the material somewhat tersely, and ideally requires an introduction to Dee and his system. Fortunately, Dee remains a figure of intense interest to this day, and there are many WWW sites devoted to Dee and his magical system. Search on "Dee" and "Enochian".]

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