Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Oooh... A Real Necronomicon!

Any Evil Dead/Army of Darkness fans out there?  If so, the following description might be familiar to you:

“Necronomicon Ex Mortis, The Book of the Dead.  Bound in human flesh and inked in blood.  This ancient Sumerian text contained bizarre burial rites, funerary incantations, and demon resurrection passages.  It was never meant for the world of the living.”

Now, although this name and concept have been tossed around for a long time, the word Necronomicon * was invented by none other than the grandfather of the horror genre, H.P. Lovecraft (if you’re not familiar with the name, he inspired Edgar Allan Poe).  However, it has become such a legend in its own right that many people think it real.  Now, there is an Egyptian Book of the Dead which some people may confuse with the Necronomicon.

This ancient text, preserved in papyrus for thousands of years, described rituals to be performed on the dead and instructions on the behavior of the deceased in the Land of the Gods.  Many copies and translations can be found today.  

These three examples are at the Alamogordo Public Library
(Call number: 299.31 BOOK)
Here is a close-up of the transliterated version.

So, besides Halloween coming up, what would prompt such a morbid topic?  Ah, I’m so glad you asked!  I found a blog post from the Houghton Library, Harvard’s repository for rare books entitled, “The science of anthropodermic binding”.  Anthropodermic binding… book covers made from human skin!  One of their books dating from the 19th century was bound in parchment but after several tests were done, it was determined that the covering was not sheep or goat skin, as is common with old parchment, but primate skin.  And since humans were pretty much the only accessible primate for most people, the deduction is that it really is human skin binding the book.
Destinies of the Soul at the Houghton Library
It is not really as rare as it sounds, though, this was a practice used for many years and often it was the bodies of criminals donated to science that ended up with their skin being used in tanneries and book binderies.  How’s that for a spooky thought, this close to Halloween?

Questions/comments?  Let me know!

*Disclaimer:  I usually don't use or endorse using Wikipedia as an authoritative source (as my students will tell you) but since this is a fictional book and I'm taking it from the context of a campy movie, I figured it was o.k. this time.

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