Drew Wiberg

An Ecology of Grimoires

Drew Wiberg
An Ecology of Grimoires

I've been wanting to bring up the concept of 'book' (and more specifically the grimoire) more in this blog, but have been trying to focus more on actual practice and less on armchair theory, and talking about 'book' as a concept / entity / spirit is definitely closer to armchair than the Baba Yaga altar a day's walk into the virgin forest.

The concept of 'book' is something I was introduced to during my undergraduate education. I took a course on 'artists' books' (and then two more courses in that same subject, because, well, they're awesome). Artists' books are books as the medium or canvas for artistic expression, so conceptualizing what a book is is a necessary first step. So what is book, or what makes a book? Let's filter through the obvious, first. A book is bound, it has pages, it stores information that can be accessed at any time. A book is organized and archival, right?

These are features of a common book, but they don't really constitute 'bookishness'.

Keith Smith, in his work, "Structure of the Visual Book" states:

"Like the formal elements within a single picture, the elements of the book function in unison to create the book. Each element must be conceived as part of and help determine the other elements... Words should not be housed, but revealed by the book format... the writing is then revealed by the act of experiencing the book, and the book becomes part of the writing."

In just those few sentences, Smith creates for us an environment to conceive of and understand bookishness and in turn, the grimoire, in a radically different way.

"Words should not be housed, but revealed by the book format..."

It is this conceptualization, for instance, that makes the Necronomicon more than an imagined tome, and I am not referencing the Simonomicon or another physical manifestation of what an author thinks the Necronomicon 'should be', but what the Necronomicon actually is, an idea of a book that has become a real book through its own force, through constructing its own ecological niche in our minds.

The physical niche's are mapped out by Lovecraft in his "History of the Necronomican"

Al Azif written circa 730 AD at Damascus by Abdul Alhazared
Tr. to Greek 950 AD as Necronomicon by Theodora's Philetas
Burnt by the Patriarch Michael 1050 (i.e., Greek text). Arabic text now lost.
Plausible translates Gr. To Latin 1228
1232 Latin ed. (& Gr.) super. By Pope Gregory IX
14.. Black-letter printed edition (Germany)
15.. Gr. Text printed in Italy
16.. Spanish reprint of Latin text

Once read, it is difficult not to associate these areas of the globe as environments where the Necronomicon has existed. The idea of magical niche construction is that a magical object or spirit or force exists in a place and changes that place to suit its own needs. I argue that the idea of the Necronomicon has done this, and thus, has brought itself into a greater focus in the real.

This can be seen with other grimoire's as well. For instance, in the newly released "The Immaterial Book of St. Cyprian" by Jose Leitao, the following assertion is made:

"The book of Saint cyprian, in its travels, always leaves behind footprints. No environment where the book has entered can hope to pass unoffended, and our current one will not be the exception."

So here we see the grimoire as a species acting in similar ways, carving out magical ecological niches. The Book of Saint Cyprian, leaving its traces like an invisible but devastating insect in a deep forest, lends its own reality to the Necronomicon's, and the Necronomicon lends its immateriality to the Book of St Cyprian in turn. Two members of the same species influencing each other and influencing our world, merely through the idea of their existence.

Words should not be housed, but revealed by the book format.

In Lovecraft's short stories, words from the Necronomicon are slowly revealed, beginning with it's first, quite famous and influential although uncredited appearance in his work, "The Nameless City":

"There is no legend so old as to give it a name, or to recall that it was ever alive; but it is told of in whispers around campfires and muttered about by grandmama in the tents of sheiks, so that all the tribes shun it without wholly knowing why. It was of this place that Abdul Alhazred the mad poet dreamed on the night before he sang his unexplainable couplet:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."

A phrase that is revealed over and over like a deep echo throughout the cultural output on this planet. The Necronomicon uses manifestations of our cultural tool kit as its pages, binding us all in between its tanned human flesh covers. Grimoires exists as books with invisible writing, blank, ephemeral, inscrutable but still coveted. Grimoires exists as physical tomes trapped in libraries and then digitized by enraptured archivists and conservators, extending their materiality into the undimensional non-world of the internet, and then back out again infecting the minds of the student and researcher.

The Necornomicon is the perfect grimoire, beginning as an idea that might or might not have belonged to Lovecraft, and then populating a fictional world, cross-pollinating and hybridizing in the minds of other and birthing democratic multiple golems cobbled together of other works. The Necronomicon has been and can be observed now still pushing its way through the ecology of the human imagination into a state of reification, where it can no longer be said that anyone is to blame for its existence, except for itself. It is more and more a real book, not one that houses words, but one that writes itself and reveals them to us in our own anthropogenic ecology, as it sees fit.