Non-Occult Books

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A list of non-occult books mentioned by Lovecraftian authors.

Fanciful Anthropology

A Report from the Kingdom of Congo

The Picture in the House
Africa

Relatione del reame del Congo, or A Report of the Kingdom of Congo, and the Surrounding Countries, Drawn Out of the Writings and Discourses of the Portuguese, Duarte Lopez, (1591 in Spanish; 1597 in English, ? in French, and 1598 in German) by Filippo Pigafetta

Translated to English by Abraham Hartwell as A report of the kingdome of Congo, a region of Africa : And of the countries that border rounde about the same. 1. Wherein is also shewed, that the two zones torrida & frigida, are not onely habitable, but inhabited, and very temperate, contrary to the opinion of the old philosophers. 2. That the blacke colour which is in the skinnes of the Ethiopians and Negroes &c. proceedeth not from the sunne. 3. And that the Riuer Nilus springeth not out of the mountains of the Moone, as hath been heretofore beleeued: together with the true cause of the rising and increasing thereof. 4. Besides the description of diuers plants, fishes and beastes, that are found in those countries. Drawen out of the writinges and discourses of Odoardo Lopez a Portingall, by Philippo Pigafetta, 1597.

Inspiration for the pictures and book described in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Picture in the House (Fiction)":

The first object of my curiosity was a book of medium size lying upon the table and presenting such an antediluvian aspect that I marvelled at beholding it outside a museum or library. It was bound in leather with metal fittings, and was in an excellent state of preservation; being altogether an unusual sort of volume to encounter in an abode so lowly. When I opened it to the title page my wonder grew even greater, for it proved to be nothing less rare than Pigafetta’s account of the Congo region, written in Latin from the notes of the sailor Lopez and printed at Frankfort in 1598. I had often heard of this work, with its curious illustrations by the brothers De Bry, hence for a moment forgot my uneasiness in my desire to turn the pages before me. The engravings were indeed interesting, drawn wholly from imagination and careless descriptions, and represented negroes with white skins and Caucasian features; nor would I soon have closed the book had not an exceedingly trivial circumstance upset my tired nerves and revived my sensation of disquiet. What annoyed me was merely the persistent way in which the volume tended to fall open of itself at Plate XII, which represented in gruesome detail a butcher’s shop of the cannibal Anziques.

- H.P.Lovecraft, "The Picture in the House"

The book and its illustrations purport to describe the tribes of the African Congo, in exaggerated or fanciful detail, with special lurid detail payed to the supposed cannibal diet of the Anzique tribe, as depicted by the Anzique's unfriendly neighbors:

They have shambles for human flesh, as we have of animals, even eating the enemies they have killed in battle, and selling their slaves if they can get a good price for them; if not, they give them to the butcher, who cuts them in pieces, and then sells them to be roasted or boiled. It is a remarkable fact in the history of this people, that any who are tired of life, or wish to prove themselves brave and courageous, esteem it great honour to expose themselves to death by an act which shall show their contempt for life. Thus they offer themselves for slaughter, and as the faithful vassals of princes, wishing to do them service, not only give themselves to be eaten, but their slaves also, when fattened, are killed and eaten. It is true many nations eat human flesh, as in the East Indies, Brazil, and elsewhere, but to devour the flesh of their own enemies, friends, subjects, and even relations, is a thing without example, except amongst the Anzichi tribes.

- Philippo Pigafetta

The text of this rare volume is apparently short (said to be 60 pages of text), with much of this "medium sized" volume consisting of De Bry's woodcut illustrations. The woodcut illustrations were executed by the brothers De Bry, who had never been to Africa or South America and based their fanciful illustrations on vague, confused, or equally fanciful descriptions given to them second-hand. Lovecraft describes the German 1598 version as medium-sized and bound in leather with metal fittings. Some versions of this book have been described as "over a foot long". (source)


Qanoon-e-Islam

Qanoon-e-Islam or, the Customs of the Moosulmans of India (1830s)

A book describing the culture and rituals of Indian Muslims in the nineteenth century, mentioned in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: "A fine volume of the forbidden Necronomicon conspicuously labelled as the Qanoon-e-Islam."


The Discoverie of Witchcraft

The Discoverie of Witchcraft (published in English by Reginald Scot in 1584)

Intended as an exposé of medieval witchcraft. It contains a small section intended to show how the public was fooled by charlatans, which is considered the first published material on magic. Scot believed that the prosecution of those accused of witchcraft was irrational and un-Christian, and he held the Roman Church responsible.

His volume became an exhaustive encyclopædia of contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, spirits, alchemy, magic, and legerdemain, as well as attracting widespread attention to his scepticism on witchcraft. The chapter on magic tricks constituted a substantial portion (in some cases, nearly all) of the text in English-language stage magic books of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Scot did adopt contemporary superstition, in his references to medicine and astrology. He believed in the medicinal value of the unicorn's horn, and thought that precious stones owed their origin to the influence of the heavenly bodies. The book also narrates stories of strange phenomena in the context of religious convictions. The devil is related with such stories and his ability to absorb people's souls. The book also gives stories of magicians with supernatural powers performing in front of courts of kings.


The Golden Bough

Frazer's The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion or The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890)

In English. A wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). It was first published in two volumes in 1890; in three volumes in 1900; the third edition, published 1906–15, comprised twelve volumes. The work was aimed at a wide literate audience raised on tales as told in such publications as Thomas Bulfinch's The Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Heroes (1855).

Frazer offered a modernist approach to discussing religion, treating it dispassionately as a cultural phenomenon rather than from a theological perspective. The influence of The Golden Bough on contemporary European literature and thought was substantial.

("The Call of Cthulhu")

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray (1921)

In English. Describes the theory known as the witch-cult hypothesis, described in further detail in The God fo the Witches, which suggests that the things told about witches in Europe were in fact based on a real, ancient, existing, secret, pan-European pagan religion that worshiped a horned god, which was influential on the witchcraft revival of the 20th Century, introducing many of the ideas that would be incorporated into witchcraft as a modern religion. Murray suggested that the secrets of this religion were originally handed down by oral tradition among a hidden human race of "little people" who were constantly driven deeper into the wildernesses by the encroachment of civilization.

("The Horror at Red Hook", "The Call of Cthulhu")

The God of the Witches

The God of the Witches Margaret Murray (1931)

In English. Continues describing the theory known as the witch-cult hypothesis first put forward in The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, which suggests that the things told about witches in Europe were in fact based on a real, ancient, existing, secret, pan-European pagan religion that worshiped a horned god, which was influential on the witchcraft revival of the 20th Century, introducing many of the ideas that would be incorporated into witchcraft as a modern religion. Murray suggested that the secrets of this religion were originally handed down by oral tradition among a hidden human race of "little people" who were constantly driven deeper into the wildernesses by the encroachment of civilization.






Bestiaries

Naturalis Historia

Naturalis Historia, or The Natural History (Pliny the Elder, Latin, 79 AD)

It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover all ancient knowledge. The work's subject area is thus not limited to what is today understood by natural history; Pliny himself defines his scope as "the natural world, or life".

The work is divided into 37 books, organized into ten volumes. These cover topics including astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, agriculture, horticulture, pharmacology, mining, mineralogy, sculpture, painting, and precious stones.

The Natural History became a model for later encyclopedias and scholarly works as a result of its breadth of subject matter, its referencing of original authors, and its index.


Omnium Fere Gentium

Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum, habitus et effigies, et in eosdem epigrammata (Almost All the Nations of Our Age; Their Conditions and Images; and Described in Poems), by Jacobus Sluperius, Latin, 1572 Antwerp

The book contains 135 woodcuts of various men and women of different exotic nationalities in carefully-detailed traditional priestly attire, with poems about each of them. Curiously, among them are a few monstrous peoples, including a "Sea Monk" and "Bishop-Fish", a hideous cyclops, and hair-covered wild-men.

Physiologus

Physiologus, Greek, Anonymous, 200-300(?) A.D.; translations in Latin, Ethiopic and Syriac date to 700 A.D.

Consists of descriptions of animals, birds, and fantastic creatures, sometimes stones and plants, provided with moral content. Each animal is described, and an anecdote follows, from which the moral and symbolic qualities of the animal are derived. Manuscripts are often, but not always, given illustrations, often lavish. It retained its influence over ideas of the "meaning" of animals in Europe for over a thousand years. It was a predecessor of bestiaries (books of beasts). Medieval poetical literature is full of allusions that can be traced to the Physiologus tradition; the text also exerted great influence on the symbolism of medieval ecclesiastical art: symbols like those of the phoenix rising from its ashes and the pelican feeding her young with her own blood are still well-known.


Books on Martian Life

Mars

Mars (Percival Lowell, published by Macmillan Co. in Toronto Canada, English, 1895)

The first of three books Lowell wrote on Mars, this book focuses on attempts to interpret observations made by Earthly astronomers about mysterious features on Mars, spending most of the time painting a geological and climatic picture of mars as a planet, and ending with a brief examination of the observation of "canals", and their implications for life on Mars.

This book attempts to describe features Lowell believed he could see on Mars, including Seas, "Canals" that Lowell believed to be too regular and predictable to be natural, forests or fields of vegetation that seemed to be irrigated by the canals, flourishing in some seasons and residing in others, and oases of life in lifeless deserts.

Lowell believed Mars to be a very ancient world, far older than Earth, and with a far longer history in which civilization rose up earlier, reached its zenith, and then declined into decadence as Mars died from drying seas and thinning atmosphere.

Lowell in his conclusion to the book speculates on the nature of intelligent life on Mars, deducing that lower gravity would mean that beings on Mars would be much bigger than their counterparts on Earth who could do at a minimum three times as much work on Mars as on Earth with just as much effort, and potentially over 80 times as much work; judging from the marvels of engineering that the apparent canals suggested, Martians must have been - and might still be - incredibly intelligent beings as well, perhaps with technology far in advance of our own.

Lowell also deduced that the rise of Man on Earth to intelligence was likely accidental, and that there is nothing to guarantee that whatever rose to intelligence on Mars would in any way resemble human beings - perhaps just as easily intelligent beings on Earth might have been amphibians or reptiles, and more likely on Mars descended from some order of life that mankind has never seen. And so in closing, Lowell suggests that explorers to Mars prepare themselves for such a thing, so that they might some day meet their perhaps frighteningly alien Martian counterparts with courage, wisdom, and grace befitting the unprecedented meeting of two races of intelligent beings.

Mars and Its Canals

Mars and Its Canals (Percival Lowell, published by Macmillan Co. in Toronto Canada, English, 1906)

Following on his conclusions from his previous book, Lowell continues his speculations on Mars, with a focus on the Martian canals and the vegetation he previously believed to be oceans, and their implications on the current state of Mars as a habitable world.

Lowell expands on his previous book on Mars by describing Martian polar regions, seasons, and weather, and what Earth might look like to Martians. Lowell believes that Mars is largely flat with few mountains, colder and drier than Earth, but with similar weather, chemistry, and seasons, and still capable of supporting life analogous to Earthly life, though not necessarily in familiar forms. The climate of Mars is, Lowell observes, one of extremes.

Lowell also speculates on the nature of Martian plant life: regions alternating by season between a blue-green-grey and chocolate brown, are better accounted for by vegetation than by seas, as speculated in the previous book. With that revelation, Lowell concludes that the state of decay suffered by Mars is far different than previously believed, and Mars must be further along in the planetary evolution that Lowell believed dooms all worlds: to begin as a world covered in oceans, which in time dry up and disappear, leaving behind a dry, dead, barren landscape. The Canals, previously thought to merely irrigate Martian crops, must instead be a desperate, last-ditch attempt to distribute that last of the water from a dying Mars to parched and hopeless Martian cities and drying Martian fields and crops, and the remnants of Mars' wild vegetation and wildlife clinging to the drying, muddy pits that once were Mars' ocean deeps against the encroaching deserts.

Lowell considers terrestrial desert life in the Sahara to observations on "ochre" regions of Mars, believed to be deserts, which change hue seasonally from ochre to sometimes brick red, concluding that these regions must be populated by poor desert plants struggling at the edge of survival.

Lowell spends about half of the book elaborating on his observations of apparent canals, describing the presence of countless new canals and "double canals" of what seem to be parallel trenches dug across the Martian surface, and the connection of some canals to what appeared to be ports or inlets/outlets for the Canals at larger bodies of water.

Lowell then returns to the subject of Martian life, deducing that the presence of Martian vegetation, canals, and ports all provide tantalizing hints at higher forms of Martian life, including intelligent life, though evidence of animal life would be far harder to detect than plant life, except for feats of engineering on the scale of the Canals. Lowell then meditates on the nature of life and civilization, again speculating on what Earth and the works of man must look like to an observer from Mars, and ponders upon how life and civilization mark the worlds that host them, reasoning that geometry, straight lines, regularity, and other seemingly simple patters and forms arise as a natural result of agriculture and civilization, and on a large enough scale can imply the presence of civilized, intelligent life.

In conclusion, Lowell speculates on the nature of intelligent life on Mars: they must, he believes, be an incredibly advanced and intelligent civilization, and one which has evolved beyond war to allow the kind of cooperation that a project of the vast scale represented by the Canals must imply. The civilization must be heavily motivated to cooperate with each other to achieve such a vast and difficult undertaking, and the connection to water implies that water must be precious and important enough to this civilization to provide that motivation. Lowell suggests that, based on observations of Earthly life in conditions that might be similar to those he believes to exist on Mars, life on Mars might depend heavily on seasonal temperatures warm enough to encourage and support reproduction, and reasons that hibernation in colder seasons might be a necessity as a result. Long Martian seasons might, Lowell infers, lead to long childhoods, encouraging intelligent life, and thus making Mars an environment that, even if harsh, might also be potentially friendly to the development of intelligent life.


Mars as the Abode of Life

Mars as the Abode of Life (Percival Lowell, published by Macmillan Co. in Toronto Canada, English, 1908)

Expanding even further upon the observations and conclusions of his first two books, the primary focus of this book is upon the evolution and nature of life on Mars, and the geological and cosmological evolution of Mars as a planet, and its implications for Earth as Mars' younger sister.

Lowell speculates on the birth, history, and evolution of Mars, as a likely result of a catastrophic origin by collision of meteorites, and also upon the possible evolution of Martian life. Ultimately, Lowell follows what he believes to be the normal evolution of a world: from a youthful world covered in oceans, to a dead world of evaporated seas and waterless deserts; a fate which Lowell believes faces Earth some day as well, such that a glimpse into the present of Mars can hint at the future of Earth.

Lowell revisits the climate, weather, and other conditions that he believes must exist on Mars, including less obvious subjects such as the boiling point of water on Mars.

Ultimately and perhaps ironically, Mars as the Abode of Life is the most apocalyptic of Lowell's three books, painting a picture of worlds as the doomed products of celestial violence, places which enjoy a wealth of water in their battered youth, but which in time lose their reserves of water, drying into dead, icy, barren wastelands. Mars, Lowell concludes, must be in the twilight of its life span, and Earth must be following close in Mars' footsteps toward planetary death, with our world eventually to lose its oceans and air and warmth as well. The humans of Earth, currently warring savages who cannot cooperate for long on anything, would have much to learn from the mighty feats of engineering, organization, leadership, and cooperation which the Martians appear to have used to stave off the impending doom of their ancient civilization just a bit longer by constructing the canals needed to distribute much-needed water to the parched deserts which would once have been seas, fields, and forests.

Ultimately, Lowell's books would prove highly influential over science fiction by painting a picture of dying alien worlds peopled by cold, hardened, jealous beings thirsty for the water, warmth, life, wealth, and youth of Earth, and prepared to invade our world to take what they desire by force and colonization, paving the way for science fiction writers like H.G. Wells to take the next logical steps in creating the first alien invasion stories, which would prove to be one of Science Fiction's most fertile subgenres for the century following the publication of Lowell's books, and beyond.



Cryptography

Poligraphia

Trithemius’ Poligraphia, Polygraphiae, or Polygraphiae libri sex - Clavis polygraphiae (1518)

The first printed book on cryptography. The codes that Tritheim invented and described in this book, notably the "Ave Maria" cipher, which takes up the bulk of the work (each word representing a letter, with consecutive tables making it possible to so arrange a code that it will read as a prayer), and the "square table", a sophisticated system of coding using multiple alphabets, were used for centuries. The remarkable title page is composed of a 7 woodcut blocks, showing the author presenting his book, and a bearded monk presenting a pair of keys, to the Emperor Maximilian. This block is within historiated woodcut borders of scholars holding emblems of science, arms of Maximilian and three other armorial shields at corners, and a reclining portrait of Trithemius himself at bottom.

One of various books on codes and cryptography mentioned in The Dunwich Horror (these are real books, Lovecraft copied the list verbatim from his Encyclopaedia Britannica).

De Furtivis Literarum Notis

Giambattista Porta’s De Furtivis Literarum Notis (1500s)

Describes the use of a deck of card to encode secret information by writing on the sides of the deck in a known order, then shuffling the cards to destroy the order and render the message illegible to anyone not familiar with the stack.

One of various books on codes and cryptography mentioned in The Dunwich Horror (these are real books, Lovecraft copied the list verbatim from his Encyclopaedia Britannica).


Traité des Chiffres

De Vigenère’s Traité des Chiffres (1586)

Describes an polyalphabetic encryption system, a type of substitution cipher, the same letter may, depending on its position, be replaced by different letters, unlike a monoalphabetic encryption system. This method thus resists frequency analysis, which is a decisive advantage over monoalphabétic ciphers. Vigenère's cipher was broken by the Prussian major Friedrich Kasiski who published his method in 1863, and it no longer provides any security.

One of various books on codes and cryptography mentioned in The Dunwich Horror (these are real books, Lovecraft copied the list verbatim from his Encyclopaedia Britannica).


Cryptomenysis Patefacta

Falconer’s Cryptomenysis Patefacta, or Cryptomenysis patefacta; or, The art of secret information disclosed without a key. Containing, plain and demonstrative rules, for decyphering all manner of secret writing. With exact methods, for resolving secret intimations by signs or gestures, or in speech. As also an inquiry into the secret ways of conveying written messages, and the several mysterious proposals for secret information, mentioned by Trithemius, etc.

One of various books on codes and cryptography mentioned in The Dunwich Horror (these are real books, Lovecraft copied the list verbatim from his Encyclopaedia Britannica).


Kryptographik

Klüber’s Kryptographik, or Kryptographik Lehrbuch der Geheimschreibekunst (1809)

A book written by Johann Ludwig Klüber, still cited as a noted reference book on the history of cryptography. Includes examples of line scripts using a rectangle, circle and a series of embedded ci rcles. For each example, the letters of the alphabet were inscribed within the shapes. In some cases, multiple letters of the alphabet are contained in the same cell. In these cases, the person decrypting the message may need to figure out from the context which letter was more likely in the original message.

One of various books on codes and cryptography mentioned in The Dunwich Horror (these are real books, Lovecraft copied the list verbatim from his Encyclopaedia Britannica).


Others

In The Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft mentions other books by Davys, Thicknesse, Blair, and von Marten in the subject of cryptography ("Davys’ and Thicknesse’s eighteenth-century treatises").

Thicknesse's Treatise

Philip Thicknesse (A Treatise on the Art of Decyphering and of Writing in Cypher), 1772

Davys' Treatise

John Davys (An Essay on the Art of Decyphering: in which is inserted a Discourse of Dr Wallis), 1737

Blair's Treatise

William Blair (the writer of the comprehensive article "Cipher" in Rees's Cyclopaedia), 1819

von Marten's Treatise

Cours diplomatique ou tableau des relations des puissances de l'Europe, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1801)



Books Bound in Human Flesh

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Andreas Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (Latin for "On the fabric of the human body in seven books") (1543)

A set of heavily-illustrated books on human anatomy written by Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) and published in 1543.

(A copy of this book, bound in human skin, is kept in the collection of the Brown University John Hay Library in Providence, RI, one model for the Miskatonic University Orne Library.)


Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre (1538)

A satirical allegory on the universality of death illustrated with woodcuts by Hans Holbein: no matter one's station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The original Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. This book refashions the late-medieval allegory of the Danse Macabre as a reformist satire, and one can see the beginnings of a gradual shift from traditional to reformed religion. The first book edition, containing forty-one woodcuts, was published at Lyons by the Treschsel brothers in 1538. The popularity of the work and the currency of its message are underscored by the fact that there were eleven editions before 1562 and over the sixteenth century perhaps as many as a hundred unauthorized editions and imitations. Ten further designs were added in later editions.

(Two copies of this book, bound in human skin, are kept in the collection of the Brown University John Hay Library in Providence, RI, one model for the Miskatonic University Orne Library.)