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Let Sleeping Gods Lie: The Forbidden Necronomicon

(Recently, I was asked to create a faux blog for my Writing for Media Professionals course. Because the resulting “site,” Libris Obscuriis tonally similar to my author blog, I’ve decided to reproduce three of its “posts” here. It’s a shame to let content go to waste, after all!)

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
Abdul Alhazred, the Necronomicon

The Necronomicon is no doubt the most famous grimoire ever to have existed. Penned in 738 A.D. by a Yemeni cultist, the book is said to contain magic spells, forbidden knowledge, and a system for summoning ancient gods known collectively as the Old Ones. Though heavily suppressed from its inception, the Necronomicon spread through underground channels. It was translated into Greek in 950, into Latin in 1228, and into English by Elizabethan magician John Dee in the early seventeenth century. Its dark influence is subtle but inescapable, even today.

The Necronomicon, H.P. Lovecraft

Except not really. As entertaining as it is to believe that such a book might exist, the Necronomicon remains stubbornly fictional. The concept of a cursed manuscript that drives its readers insane originated with author H.P. Lovecraft and his cronies, who began mentioning the Necronomicon in their work around 1922. Contemporary horror writers and directors have continued the tradition—references to the Necronomicon have popped up in Friday the 13th, the Evil Dead, and even Archie Comics.

Even Harvard University has gotten in on the fun. According to Lovecraft, Harvard’s Widener Library is one of only five institutions worldwide to house a copy of the dread tome (the others being the British Museum, the Biblioteque nationale de France, the University of Buenos Aires, and the fictional Miskatonic University). If you poke around on the Widener website, you’ll find several listings for the book. None of them are the genuine article, of course.

Where Do I Find It?

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Candy in a Bowl: A Social Experiment in Harvard Yard

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Here are some Reese’s peanut butter cups. If you saw a bowl of them sitting out on a stool, positioned invitingly near a sidewalk, beckoning to passers by and clearly unattended, would you take one? What if you left for an hour, came back, and they were still there? Would you rationalize it? (“I’m in the center of a college campus, and it’s almost Halloween. Maybe some student activities group put them here for people to take?”) Or would you moralize? (“Stealing is stealing, no matter the circumstances.”) Your answer may depend on whether you think you’re part of a stupid social experiment.

I’m not a fan of social experiments. I’m enough of an asshole without being manipulated into unethical behavior.

Are humans inherently greedy?

“Yep!” I say, stuffing eight peanut butter cups into my mouth.

Will humans compromise their morals if they think they can get away with it?

“Definitely,” I say, cramming the remaining peanut butter cups into my pockets.

What are the limits of the human capacity for self-justification?

“Boundless,” I say, swiping the bowl and sticking it down my pants to enhance my already full posterior.

To be honest, I’m actually more likely to behave poorly if I think I’m part of a social experiment, because screw you, sociologists! You don’t own me. Your results don’t count if I corroborate your thesis intentionally. What now?

Taking a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-Social experiment

I’m so counterculture.

When I saw the bowl of candy sitting out in Harvard Yard, I went from hungry to pissed almost instantaneously. I began scanning the area for any suspicious characters–sociology students crouching in the shadows with a camera and/or notepad, congratulating themselves on finally exposing the rotten core of humanity. I walked away for a while. I came back. I watched from afar as other people examined the bowl, probably asking themselves the same question I’d asked: Is this a social experiment?

People don't take any candy from the bowl in Harvard Yard.

These people didn’t take any candy. (background, center)

“How dare they?” I told my friend, Caitlin. “How dare this social scientist try to control us? I didn’t consent to be a part of this experiment!”

“I don’t really feel like candy right now,” said Caitlin.

“That’s not the point!” I replied. “It’s the principle of the thing!”

These people didn't take any candy, either.

These people didn’t take any candy, either.

So I finally took a peanut butter cup. And I ate it. And it tasted like freedom.

If whatever underhanded undergraduate set up this experiment is reading this now, know that you have have lost. I behaved in an unethical fashion on purpose. I ate your candy. I ATE IT UP. You can report that to your professor, if you want, but the truth will burn out your insides: I knew exactly what I was doing, which invalidates your results.

You’ve been dunked on, sucker!

Forbidden Knowledge: The Necronomicon at Harvard

Harvard Yard

They’ve got some real sloppy security at Harvard University. I tried to visit the Widener Library this evening, and they wouldn’t let me in. Yet they had no problem admitting Wilbur Whateley.

Dean Stockwell, The Dunwich Horror

In fairness, he does look a lot more trustworthy than I do.

For years I’ve dreamed of visiting Harvard–not for its rarefied Ivy League atmosphere or its storied history, but for its card catalog. Harvard’s Widener Library, according to H.P. Lovecraft, is one of only five institutions possessing a copy of Abdul Alhazared’s The Necronomicon. Of the remaining four, three of them are in other countries and one of them is at Miskatonic University, which doesn’t exist. So Widener is really the only option for most enterprising students of forbidden lore.

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