Friday, August 2, 2019

The Book of the Night

David Bourassa

The method and structure I'm using here are stolen wholesale from reddit user fxktn and ancepsinfans.

Furt helped me with the translations.

The Book of the Night


"Through my reason I know that I am mad, and all the world mad with me."

So begins the Kitab al-Layl of Abd-al-Hazra (d. 738), the seminal work of Umayyad occultism. The work of the self-described "mad Arab" has been subject to over a millennium of religious and secular censure, shoddy translation, misinformation, additions and moral panics.

While the Kitab al-Layl contains notable treatises on alchemy, medicine, and astronomy, what has remained the work's defining characteristic are the sections named as "Conversations with a Learned Elder", in which al-Hazra engages in a lengthy dialogue with an unnamed individual regarding the nature of the universe and the powers that sustain it.

In the Conversations, al-Hazra divides the universe into three primary aspects: the purely physical, the purely spiritual, and the transitory territory between. This third category he posits as the most potent, consisting of the fundamental aspects and powers that govern the other two.

The al-Hazran universe is modeled as a dodecohedron. Each face of the polygon represents a different power, and maps to those powers which are considered opposites, and those which are more liable to overlap. The powers are further divided into "hot/feminine" and "cold/masculine" groupings, though al-Hazra notes that this is his own invention and the Learned Elder is dismissive of this structure.

al-Hazran admits that other powers might indeed exist outside of his schema and that none of the powers he details are sharply separated from the others, but thus far his design remains the most popular structure for organizing the Outer Powers.

Notable translations and editions of the Kitab al-Layl are as follows:
  • Original manuscript - All known copies of the original manuscript have additions and edits by al-Hazra's students, including the excising of at least two chapters. The last of these (until new manuscripts were found in 2008) were lost in the sacking of Baghdad in 1258.
  • 950 Greek translation -The first major translation. Several significant additions of Byzantine occult philosophy dilute the original content, but more accurate than many to follow.
  • 1228 Latin translation - Despite its spread (it was the most-read pre-modern edition) it fell out of favor by the mid 17th century.
  • 1597 Sussex Manuscript - Based upon the Latin. First English translation. Clunky and difficult to read due to overt literalism.
  • ~1600 English translation - John Dee's unfinished English translation of the Latin. The fragments that exist indicate that it was mostly used as a vehicle for the aggrandizement of Dee's own beliefs and theories.
  • 1938 Miskatonic University Press edition - The "Necronomicon" - a serviceable but heavily flawed (in some cases properly botched) translation of the Greek. Known for being quite flowery and dense compared to the often prosaic original (the "much discussed couplet" was purely a creation of the translator)
  • 1967 Mass-market paperback - Fed by the American counterculture, this reprint of the MUP edition brought the works of al-Hazra out of academia and to the public.
  • 1998 Updated English Translation - A revised and much more readable English translation, based on both Latin and Greek sources.
  • 2010 Revised, Annotated, and Expanded International Edition - Based upon pristine copies of the original manuscript found in 2008. Held to be the most-accurate translation available by scholars and quite lively by readers.
  • 2018 Living Text Edition - A public-domain, crowd-sourced translation project based on the 2010 edition. Seeks to translate the text into as many languages as possible, and with the greatest diversity of translator voices. Contains apocrypha and additional occult theories related to al-Hazra's work.
  • ???? Pnakotic Library Text - A hypothetical version of the book compiled by intra-temporal scholars under Yithian patronage. If it exists, it would contain the full truth of the matter.


The Outer Powers

The names provided are a mix of Arabic and Greek, accompanied by a common English name. While the names used in the 1938 Miskatonic edition are widespread in common usage, they are fabrications of the translator and have no basis in any language.

1. Khaíno (Yawning Chaos, The Dark and Seething Fire)

That which is the untameable chaos from which the cosmos is formed and to which it is fed in destructive return.

It has only ever manifested in the form of a roiling cloud of superheated hydrogen, fusing into heavier elements and shrouded in mantles of dark matter. Sites where it has manifested remain permanently inculcated by radiation and prone to gravitational abnormality.

12. Bāb al-Lanhaya (The Gate of Infinity)

That which is the impassive, unchanging imposition of order. That which maintains the passage of days and the circuits of the heavenly bodies in their course.
  1. The door was never meant to be there, that leads where it was never supposed to go.
  2. A patch of time that runs too fast, too slow, backwards, upside-down.
  3. Through the telescope it is clear that the outer planets are gone, replaced by alien worlds.
  4. Quantum foam bubbles out of a gash in the air, containing within infinite refraction.
  5. A star the size of an apple and the lifespan of a mouse, giving off all the radiation befitting its station.
  6. The constellations dance, and then wink out one by one with the coming of dawn.

2. Najis (Decay)

That which is rot, sickness, corruption, the making-wrong of things, the fundamentally unclean and irredeemable.
  1.  A lake of rotting slurry, enough to drown in. Ripples of something big out there in the distance.
  2. The house of a hoarder, bigger on the inside. They haven't been seen in years. Dead? 
  3. A parade of roadkill, with jugglers and clowns and an elephant for the Master of Ceremonies. 
  4. You cannot scrub the smell out. It spreads to anything you touch.
  5. A sudden and pervasive cloud of malaise descends, a fog of shit and rust.
  6. The cow corpses spell out "The worms are waiting, but there is no hurry" in their spilled viscera.

11. Erêmos (The Desolate Place)

That which destroys utterly, which sterilizes, which excises, which ends and leaves nothing behind. The severing of continuity.
  1.  A column of aurora-fire, rising up tall as a mountain. All the land around its base is stripped of life, rendered down to grey dust.
  2. Flashes of bitter white light burst in the night sky. Those who see it will go blind by dawn.
  3. A loving partner turns cold and distant, painful to the touch.
  4. A man aflame, complaining of the cold as his skin blackens and his clothes turn to white ash.
  5. Patches of oily sheen, slowly spreading, killing whatever cells pass through it.
  6. An old building is torn down; the overnight replacement is minimalist and stark white and filled with plastic mannequins. No one can say who bought it.

3. al-Hayik (The Weaver)

That which weaves and spins, drawing all things together and moving without seeing. The loom of causality.
  1.  A winning lottery ticket. You don't remember ever buying it, and the prizes keep arriving in unmarked parcels on the front step. You never asked for these. You do not want them. They keep appearing on the front step
  2. Cobwebs thick as tapestries, displaying the potential horrors the viewer might commit.
  3. Each room leads to more, deeper and deeper and never finding an exit. Footsteps thud from a few rooms away.
  4. Rooms full of bloody bodies, each clutching to a severed rope and blunt scissors.
  5. A loom strung with muscle fiber and sinew, halfway through clothing a skeleton.
  6. The cobweb in the corner spells out, in nice neat letters, " SOME LONG PIG."

10. Khthónios (The Dark Beneath the Earth)

That which is sleeping, stagnant, slothful. The warm stillness of the primordial dark. Unmoving in its passivity, slinking down into dreamless, thoughtless night.
  1. Hot black tar, a faint orange fire glowing in its depths, oozing through the cracks in the walls.
  2. A hole in the basement's concrete floor, a tunnel leading down. 
  3. A coma patient tattooed across the chest: "wake me up when everyone else is dead".
  4. As dawn breaks, the earth shifts beneath your feet, vibrations in your bones, as if something is stirring awake.
  5. A persistent fuzz in the mind, as if woken up from a dream. 
  6. A room filled wall to wall to floor to ceiling with sleeping, naked forms.

4. Pankólpos (The All-Womb)

That which is generation, fecundity, birth. That which grows until the point of death. That which eats and kills and shits and fucks and changes.
  1. A bloated black goat that gives birth to human infants.
  2. A quivering mass of teats and vulvas, forever eating its newborns.
  3. A gnarled black tree; ancient, monstrous. Bleeds sweet sap like milk. 
  4. Tide pools full of amniotic fluid, forever restarting the dance of life and death.
  5. Each corpse had a fetus within it. Most looked to have been killed by others trying to free their passengers.
  6. An unlabeled VHS tape, containing a grainy nature documentary that devolves into hundreds of hours of increasing grotesquery.

9. al-Shamal (The Winter Wind)

That which is hunger, loss, lack, emptiness, abandoned. The bitter edge, the gnawing cold. The curse of want, the wasting away.
  1. The sandstorm that never ceases, the blizzard that never wanes.
  2. The form of a lone man on the desolate horizon. He turns to face you, and begins to run.
  3. A debt collected in pounds of flesh. Not carved out, but starved out.
  4. A pervasive smell of cold metal. Objects seem hyper-focused, their edges sharp and invisible, cutting. 
  5. A broken sword, so sharp that it might flense the memories from the brain and the senses from their organs if one stands too close.
  6. They found the widower frozen to death in the middle of a heat wave. No friends, no family, no one there but him.

5. Laímargos (The Glutton)

That which brings suffering, the knife whose point is cruelty. That which is agonies, ecstasies, self-destruction.
  1. The implication of a hidden dungeon of depravity, just behind the wall or beneath the floor.
  2. A fat, headless man sealed behind a damp brick wall, laughing to himself.
  3. The chants at the rally slur and shift, descending to a hateful language not spoken for a hundred thousand years.
  4. A gang of teens beat a homeless man to death. Tomorrow, they will kill him again.
  5. A lash of thorns, dried blood on the fronds. It wriggles when it detects hidden and pleasurable guilts.
  6. A mouth opens up in each palm, licking its lips and demanding to be fed broken taboos, making promises if obeyed.

8. al-Nihaya (The End)

That which is the threat to come. Far away now it sleeps and dreams, but it will come in time and reshape the world. A thing so great and vast that to comprehend even its pieces is to know it cannot be fought nor diverted.
  1. Dreams of hovering in the endless blue of the open ocean, just below the surface. Far below, where the blue shifts to black, sinuous shapes impossibly large twist and writhe.
  2. Mass-panics strike coastal cities; hallucinations of tidal waves and hurricanes.
  3. An unpublished concerto: The Song of Abaia. Never performed; the composer drowned himself.
  4. A school of cuttlefish arranges itself into displays of hypergeometric equations.
  5. Misshapen whales beach themselves, cry out in human voices, die.
  6. A form the blots out the stars, descending from above, descending from outside. 

6. Sah Weitn (Maker of Lies, The Bloody Tongue)

That which is disruption and lies. The dancer and the piper, the masked stranger. The face of chaos. The hand that guides towards undoing.
  1. A tall, dark man of regal bearing and soft voice, who advises even the poorest of men as if they are kings.
  2. A crooked old man with a twisted leg and broken, yellowed teeth. He'll give you guns and alcohol and sympathize with with your grievances and encourage you to do something about it.
  3. A woman so monstrously obese that she smothers her consorts and breaks her servants' backs.
  4. A shambling, leathery-skinned thing, its head a lashing wet red tendril, howling at the moon.
  5.  The virus, once released, will pry out any electronic secret and spread it to those who will make the most use of it.
  6. A winged black cat without a face, slinking ouit of the shadows to watch one's deepest despair.
It ought to be noted that this power is named in Coptic, the only such use of the language in the book.

7.  Al-Malik fi al'asfar (Xanthous King)

The distant throne which troubles the mind and disrupts its workings. That which corrupts word and thought and draws all things under its mantle until neither word nor thought may escape.
  1.  A slim manuscript of a two-act play, no author known, appears in the library.
  2. The cultural legacy and material culture of an empire that never existed.
  3. The phone rings, the authorities are on their way, lie face first on the floor with your hands above your head. You do not recognize the name, you are certain it can't be real.
  4. Invasive thoughts that cannot be shaken.
  5. An ever-deepening hole of deep fakes responding to each other, branching off, growing wild.
  6. Rats scrabble in the walls. The faded portrait of a beloved leader in his pallid mask. A curious pattern in the wallpaper.



9 comments:

  1. This one took ENTIRELY too long to complete, but it's now done.

    I swear, I will eventually make my own cosmic horror stuff. I swear it'll happen.

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  2. Cool, and look forward to it!

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  3. This is a beautiful reworking of the Mythos entities and a splendid reflavoring of the Magnus Archive's Dread Powers. I like the way you've made them work as secondary and tertiary 'colors' of the Fourteen (Fifteen?).

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  4. I'm sure this was obvious to others, but would the "Much Discussed Couplet" be the "Even death may die" line?

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    1. Yep. Implication being that ol' HPL was the translator, and did a terrible job of it.

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  5. I immensely enjoy the idea of written cult works having translation histories. With how much arguing went into the translation of The Bible, can you imagine the petty hostilities that folk would have over translating The Necromonicon?

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    1. The Miskatonic faculty Christmas party was cancelled for three years running in the mid-fifties due to this very cause. Too many fistfights.

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  6. Here is hoping your internet comes back soon Dan!

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