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Necronomicon: ancient grimoire or modern hoax?


Necronomicon: ancient grimoire or modern hoax?

Wait, there are people who think this thing is real?

Zak Bagans is not the most honest or credible ghost hunter in the business, and that’s saying something. From claiming an allegedly haunted mirror in his not-so Haunted Museum once belonged to Bela Lugosi to plagiarizing large tracts of his Ghost Hunting for Dummies, Bagans has a history of misrepresenting the facts. So when a friend suggested I watch an episode of his show Ghost Adventures which mentioned the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, I could only imagine what nonsense Bagans was going to try and foist on the public.

And boy, he did not disappoint.

Necronomicon cover

The episode, which first aired in 2018, centers around Bagans and his boo crew investigating San Francisco’s Westerfeld House, a historic (allegedly haunted) mansion built in 1889. In 1967, Kenneth Anger filmed his Invocation of My Demon Brother there, a movie that starred both LaVey and future Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil.

In an interview with Bagans, Anger confirms that he conducted rituals in the Westerfeld House with the express purpose of “calling forth some of the entities,” which Anger did in fact identify as demonic. When asked whether or not he considered these entities dangerous, Anger cautions Bagans, “I wouldn’t suggest doing things to try and provoke it.”

So, of course, Bagans decides it would be a good idea to conduct a ritual of his own — you know, to try and provoke it. Bagans consults with fellow investigators Aaron Goodwin and Jay Wasley, and Wasley explains his idea:

“The one thing that really got to me about Kenneth’s interview was how inspired he was by Thelema, which was Aleister Crowley’s belief. Aleister Crowley’s belief, the things that inspired him, was back from the same book that I used at Goatman’s Bridge [a 2016 episode of Ghost Adventures most famous for Bagans choking himself on TV].

My belief is that if that book and those rituals inspired Aleister Crowley, they [Anger, LaVey, and Beausoleil] were probably doing similar rituals up there. What I propose we do is probably what they did there.”

I can’t help but wonder — why didn’t they just ask Anger what book or books he was reading from? Bagans makes it clear they’re not going to reveal the name because “the book where these rituals are contained (…) is very dangerous,” but even so, they could’ve asked Anger the name of the book and chosen not to reveal it.

Fortunately, whether due to incompetence or insincerity, Bagans makes it easy to identify the book. All you have to do is a quick Google search of the passage Wasley reads aloud:

“Spirit of the moon, remember. In the name of the covenant sworn between thee and the race of men.”

More embarrassing, eagle-eyed observers can see in several shots the front cover of the book is clearly visible. So much for protecting the viewing audience. A little editing help from my friends Kenny Biddle and Tim Vickers clearly shows the book Jay is reading from is the Necronomicon; specifically, what’s known in occult circles as the Simon Necronomicon.

To be clear, the Necronomicon is a work of fiction — a cursed book referred to in the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft and first appearing in his 1922 The Hound. The Simon Necronomicon was first published in 1977, and later reprinted by Avon Books as a mass market paperback in 1980. This is the version occultniks are most familiar with, and it’s the version Wasley reads from.

Bagans and Wasley make several claims about the book and the ritual they perform in this episode. “This is an ancient ceremony (…) the ritual is based on ancient Sumerian text,” Bagans says. Wasley believes the book and its rituals inspired Crowley. Neither of these claims is true.

First of all, the book and its rituals are neither ancient nor Sumerian.  According to occultist Alan Cabal, who frequented the Magickal Childe bookshop where the Simon Necronomicon first appeared, the book “was a team effort,” with the text itself being the creation of author Peter Levenda, “a synthesis of Sumerian and later Babylonian myths and texts peppered with names of entities from H.P. Lovecraft’s notorious and enormously popular Cthulhu stories.”

The Simon Necronomicon was created to cash in on gullible people who believed the Necronomicon of Lovecraft’s fiction was a real book. In his “documentary” Demon House, Bagans claimed, “I’m one of the world’s leading researchers on ghosts and demonology,” yet he couldn’t tell the difference between a genuine grimoire and a work of fiction?

Secondly, it’s impossible that Aleister Crowley could’ve been inspired by the Simon Necronomicon — he died in 1947, exactly 30 years before the book was published. While the Simon Necronomicon does make reference to Crowley, there’s simply no way he could’ve read it, and nothing contained within the book influenced Crowley’s philosophy in any way.

Necronomicon: ancient grimoire or modern hoax?

Considering Bagans’ history of making dubious claims, I believe there are only two conclusions we can possibly draw here. Either Bagans and Wasley are so naïve they believed the Simon Necronomicon’s own claims about itself at face value, or they simply didn’t care that they were misrepresenting the book as genuinely ancient, Sumerian, and influential to Crowley.

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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