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The Necronomicon and Ancient Sumer: Dubunking the Myth by Adapa

Questions concerning the origin of the Necronomicon and of the magickal workings based upon the writings therein have plagued the text since its first publication in English in 1978. Once thought to be a fictional masterpiece concocted by the noted writer H. P. Lovecraft{1}, with this printing came renewed interest in discovering the mysterious tomes' source. This task was hampered by the lack of uniformity among the various editions. With the popularization of the Simon edition, however, replete with the prominent use of Sumerian and Babylonian deities, the misconception of its Sumerian or Assyro-Babylonian origin was born.{2} an analysis of the Sumerian religion, and its components to which the Necronomicon attempts to relate, clearly reveals the fiction of such a proposition.

Epistemological Difficulties

When making judgments or determinations about the life, and particularly the religion, of a civilization dead now some 3000 years, the search for Truth is invariably superseded by the search for "probabilities". Nearly all of what we know about this noble race which blessed the face of our world must be couched, to varying degrees, in terms of such probabilities, for our understanding of the culture is, to a large measure, at the mercy of the vagaries of archeology: "This is a caveat tacitly accepted by Assyriologists in all areas of Mesopotamian research. Theory which withstood decades of excavation and research may suddenly have to be abandoned or reformulated in light of just one, newly unearthed tablet."{3} The initial problem which is faced in making any type of determination about these probabilities, and specifically in making any determination about the probable existence of a "Necronomicon"-type system existing explicitly or implicitly within Sumerian religion, was best explained by Jean Botterro in his enlightening treatise "Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods", wherein he states,

What is peculiar to such a search for the probable- in contrast to the search for Truth- is the capacity to resolve the same problem materially in different ways, without being detrimental to a profound intuition that is easily the same behind all these solutions{4}

What this means, and more importantly what this HAS meant, is that one is easily able to derive mistaken conclusions which do not run counter to any known Truth, and which are not inherently contradicted by what little data or insight one has available. What has been the greatest support to covens (and other less organized groups) who operate under the supposition that the Necronomicon is Sumerian in Origin, or that it is descriptive of Sumerian religion, is that there exists no positive Truths which would DISPROVE such a conclusion. Indeed, the insertion of Sumerian and Babylonian epithets into later editions of such named texts has served to all but cement such erroneous conclusions, despite the complete lack of any non-fictional historical{5} source to support the accuracy of such conclusions. In this sense, so called "Elder Workings" based on the Necronomicon are as much a product of the "will to believe" as of any legitimate historical source. Such self-created "revelations", however, serve to sever the efficacy of the religion - dividing it into intermingled portions of truth and half-truth. Such dualism may seem inherent in a belief system which attempts to utilize the power of a historical religion within the framework of a modern one - e.g. Neo-Witchcraft. This tendency is indicative of a broader psycho-intellectual problem which many encounter in attempting to truly "connect" to such an ancient religion. This problem is best described as "spanning the dimensional gulf". As Leo Oppenhein states,

It is open to serious doubt whether we will ever be able to cross the gap caused by the difference in "dimensions." This conceptual barrier, in fact, is more serious an impediment than the reason usually given: the lack of data and specific information. Even if more material were preserved, and that in an ideal distribution in content, period, and locale, no real insight would be forthcoming - only more problems. Western man seems to be both unable and, ultimately unwilling to understand such religions except from the distorting angle of antiquarian interest and apologetic pretense. For nearly a century he has tried to fathom these alien dimensions with the yardstick of animistic theories, nature worship, stellar mythologies, vegetation cycles, pre-logical thought, and kindred panaceas, to conjure them by means of the abracadabra of mana, taboo, and orenda. And the results have been, at best, lifeless and bookish syntheses and smoothly written systematizations decked out in a mass of all-too-ingenious comparisons and parallels obtained by zigzagging over the globe and throughout the known history of man{6}

This is not to say that I feel this gulf CANNOT be spanned; but rather, that many simply choose to substitute contemporary reasoning to "fill the gaps" created by their inability, or unwillingness, to make such a spiritual pilgrimage. The introduction of Cthonic elements into the framework of Sumerian/Babylonian religion is one such short-cut undertaken by those who espouse such a union. What such a blatant disregard for historical accuracy disregards, however, is the sheer importance of the question itself- what is Sumerian Religion really about? By simply conjuring an answer out of thin air, they have ignored the lessons to be gained in the quest for understanding itself. The importance of this spiritual journey cannot be overstated, for it is often along this road, and not at its destination, that the greatest insights are gained.

The Sumerian Problem

Succinctly stated: there are no "Ancient Ones" in Sumerian Religion or mythology. Similarly, there are no "Elder Gods". Additionally, there exists no written record of any god, demon, or lesser figure whose names resemble those of the Cthonic pantheon. Some have advanced the proposition that Cthulhu is taken from the eponym Kutu-lu, a mangled rendering of "man of Kutha". This would suggest that Cthulhu is supposedly a title of Nergal, the patron deity of the city of Kutha in ancient Mesopotamia. Yet nowhere in any extant text is this title referred to. In fact, nowhere in any tablet is any god of the Mesopotamian pantheon referred to under the title "man of..." Such a base descriptive was unheard of as a divine appellation. The closest one comes is the epithet "Lugal" or Lord (i.e. lu-gal - "great or exalted man") Further, it is hard to imagine that Nergal, son of Enlil{7} (and underworld aspect of Utu the sun god{8}), is Lovecraft's Cthulhu. While his temperament in the Erra and Ishum myth may have a dark side, to the ancient Mesopotamians his actions were justified by the increasingly lax attitude of Marduk{9} in the saga, and in the end he is placated by the Gods (notably Ishum), and reclaims his place at their side.

The Good vs. Evil dichotomy inherent in such a Ancients/Elders system simply did not exist within the religion. This is not to say that the religion or its attendant mythology was free from dualism. On the contrary, its is rife with such division. The Iggigi/Annunaki Sky God-Earth God dichotomy, the gender-energy dichotomy inherent in the God/consort relationship, even the dichotomy of warring factions seeking mutual domination are all present.{10} What you will NOT find is the Zoroastrian dualism of a coexistent race of Malevolent Gods whose destructive powers are checked only by their more benevolent counterparts and their servants. Such good vs. evil motifs, on a divine scale, would not be developed historically until the emergence of later Semitic religions in the region. The Gods, qua gods, in the Sumerian and Babylonian religion were all inherently "good", though purely in the sense of being 'divine.' Their natures, however, were subject to shifting whimsy, and they were not above acts which might be deemed "bad" (for want of a better descriptor.)

In the Atrahasis myth, when faced with the mounting cacophony produced by the burgeoning race of mankind (which noise pitilessly disturbed his midday naps...), the God Enlil's response was to send plague, pestilence, war, and finally the Great Deluge upon mankind, in the hopes of destroying him utterly. It was only with the intercession of the God Enki that the seed of mankind was saved. Yet this act is not judged within the framework of the Religion as Evil; Enlil is merely recognized as a God whose wrath is mighty. This illustrates the ancient Mesopotamians view that "evil", in the sense of "suffered" evil, often occurred due to some transgression on the part of the actor. This view maintained the Hermetic harmony inherent in Sumerian religion.

Certainly, the mythology of Mesopotamia had its fair share of "demonic" force. But these forces were by their very nature subservient to the will of the gods, and in no way rivalled them in power:

It is true that religious imagination had at first invented a certain number of personalized causes to explain the various evils that prey on human life: supernatural beings of the second rank, those which we would call "demons" who intervened like vicious animals that throw themselves on anyone to bite or to terrify, without any other motive than their own fantasy...When the "theology" of sovereignty was universally imposed on belief, the"demons" ceased to act spontaneously. They became like the gendarmes of the gods, charged with the execution of their decisions,{11} and with the bringing of evil and miserable punishments to those who had offended the gods authority{12}

Thus, the "demons" of ancient Mesopotamia, while serving as a source for "suffered" evil are no more a source of "moral" evil than the wrathful gods, "because in a religion that is indifferent to ethics what we call 'moral evil', an evil action as such, does not have any meaning."{13}

The Enuma Elis, the Babylonian Epic of Creation, serves as the closest example of struggle on a divine scale. It is a tale which has served in the past to support the views of those who would suggest the existence of an Elders/Ancients dichotomy within the religion. Ignoring, for now, the obvious answer that this myth is NOT Sumerian, but rather Babylonian, it will suffice to say that such a view, besides running contrary to the religious principles related above, are similarly adverse to the more obvious meanings within the myth. This creation myth, attributed to the mid second millennium in the Old Babylonian period, stands not for the struggle between the forces of Darkness and Light, but rather serves to exemplify the movement form chaos to order in the political arena of this ancient land:

Just as his observation about the physical origin of his country guided the ancient Mesopotamian in his speculations about the origins of the Universe, so do his memory and his experience of its political organization seem to have governed his thinking about the origins of order in that universe. Politics in Mesopotamia in the Old Babylonian Period, various and unstable, abounded in tribal and urban political forms. It ranged from near anarchy to democratic or semidemocratic forms based on general assemblies to monarchies. Its continually shifting power combinations and frequent attempts at achieving supremacy now by one, now by another, undoubtedly afforded many an object lesson in how to win power when common danger imposed unity and in how to preserve such power by wise and benevolent rule after the immediate danger was past. In the [Enuma Elis] epic, world order is seen as the outcome of just such a successful drive towards supremacy{14}

The story thus mythologizes the Mesopotamian view of the movement to order from chaos (i.e. the genesis of creation) as being achieved through the dialectic struggle of opposing forces. The dichotomy is one not of Good vs. Evil, but of the political interplay of Factionalist forces. The Thesis which serves as the culmination of this dialectic is characterized by Marduk (i.e. Monarchy.) The necessary consequence of this political consolidation is the concentration of once local power (i.e. local deities) in the personage of Marduk (the "monarch"). To this end are the 50 "titles" of Marduk instituted, for each title represents the name of a once wholly independent local deity. By assuming the ceremonial"titles" of the deities into himself, and hence assuming their roles for all intensive purposes, Marduk effectively centralized the once dilute structure of the Mesopotamian pantheon. In this way, the myth was thus effectively constructed to mirror the political experiences of the Babylonians, filled with struggle and turmoil as they were, and thus effectively maintained the Hermetic balance so important in their mythology. No mention is made in the Enuma Elis, nor any other known text from the period, of these 50 "titles" being related in any way to astral"seals", nor does anything about the text suggest a struggle between the Elder and Ancient gods. Rather, as Thorkild Jacobsen makes clear, "the final goal is certainly Marduk's attaining to the position of permanent King of The Universe, thereby creating the monarchical form of government. A major step toward making that possible was his vanquishing Tiamat in a decisive victory of the powers for energy and movement, the gods, over the older powers who stood for inertia and rest."{15} Thus, the Enuma Elis cannot support the conclusion that an Elders/Ancients dichotomy existed in Mesopotamian religion or mythology.{16}

Finally, some claim that the ancient Mesopotamian mythology surrounding the "seven", or Sebitti, actually relates to the seven Ancient Ones. The following segment of an ancient Babylonian incantation has been used to support this proposition:

Seven are they! Seven are they! In the ocean deep, seven are they! Battening in heaven, seven are they! Bred in the depths of the ocean; not male or female are they, but are as the roaming wind-blast. No wife have they, no son can they beget; knowing neither mercy nor pity, they hearken not to prayer. They are horses reared amid the hills, the evil ones of Ea; throne bearers to the gods are they{17}

However, if one looks to the very incantation used to support this proposition, one sees problems. First, the seven are claimed to be "sons of Ea (Enki)", but the ancient ones are NOT supposed to be borne of the Elder Gods. Secondly they are said to be "throne bearers to the gods," but this would suggest a level of subservience on the part of the Ancient Ones that is entirely out of place. Additionally, mythology associates the Sebitti with the plieades. Indeed, seven stars in formation (or alternately, seven single dots) was the cuneiform representation for both.{18} But the plieades was a constellation that was looked upon as favorable: divinatory texts, for example, often include a prayer to the plieades seeking a good omen. All of these facts lead to the conclusion that the Sebitti of ancient Mesopotamia are not the seven Ancient Ones.

It seems obvious, even from this quite cursory examination of the relation between the Necronomicon and ancient Sumer/Assyro-Babylonia, that text of such a work cannot be attributable to either the Sumerian or Babylonian religious systems or their attendant mythology. This is not to say that a true version of a book titled "The Necronomicon" does not exist - such an inquiry is not the subject of this piece. What this does mean is that texts which use such Mesopotamian associations CANNOT be trusted. Given that we now know the text not to have any actual basis in the period, the application of the religious system of the Mesopotamians to such a context is an outright fiction. Use of such texts and attempts at utilizing the powers therein is, therefor, at best dangerous and irresponsible.


{1} and, in all fairness, still considered as such by many.

{2} This should not be misconstrued as any type of judgment regarding the verity of the Necronomicon, or of the Simon edition thereof, fort such is not the purpose of this treatise. My purpose, rather, is merely to show that the suggestion that the Sumerian religion was or is acurately portrayed therin is false.

{3} Mark E. Cohen, The Cultic Calandars of The Ancient Near East, p. 389

{4} p. 218

{5} Use of the term ³non-fictional historical² may appear redundant, but the growing tendency, particularly in the pagan community, to Œslant¹ history to support individual conclusions makes the use of such a term here necessary.

{6} Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, p. 182-183

{7} see the myth "Enlil and Ninlil"

{8} see S. Fiore, Voices From The Clay, p. 47

{9} see the introduction to Stephanie Dalley¹s translation in Myths From Mesopotamia, p. 283

{10} see e.g. the Enuma Elis, Lugal-E, and Anzu myths.

{11} see e.g. the Gallu from the Descent of Inanna myth

{12} Jean Bottéro, Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods, p. 229

{13} Id at 228

{14} T. Jacobsen, Treasures of Darkness, p. 169-170

{15} Id at 183

{16} Indeed, the internal inconsistencies, relative to this myth, of many groups who see this story as support for the erroneous attribution of the Necronomicon to this period make it all the more unlikely that what they have to say on the subject is of any value. Some of these groups, for example, link Kingu (Qingu) with the Ancient Ones by assigning him the status of general for the Ancient Ones in their war against the Elder Gods (which this myth supposedly represents.) Though these groups claim to be servants of the Elder gods, they worship Tiamat as a benevolent creatrix, ignoring the fact that it was Tiamat who appointed Kingu HER general in the Enuma Elis, leading to the conclusion that Tiamat was an Ancient One and therefor that this group worshipped the Ancient Ones while claiming to serve the Elder Gods.

{17} Lewis Spence, Myths & Legends of Babylonia & Assyria, p. 264

{18} Black & Green, Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 162

©1996 Twin Rivers Rising

updated: 18 - 02 - 98

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