Just a brief update to last November's post Weird Tales.
Peter Levenda added a comment, "there will be a book coming out next year concerning the history of the Simon / Avon / Necronomicon that should set much of this argument and controversy to rest. This is not Sinister Forces Book Three, the Manson Secret, but a book by another author and another publisher. When I have more definite information, I will pass it on to your readers."
I haven't heard more, but Saturday afternoon, over the quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore shelved in the "controversial knowledge" section of Bay and Bloor's Indigo Books, I found it. Alongside matching, shiny new editions of "Simon's" Necronomicon and The Necronomicon Spellbook was his Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon.
Regarding the mystery of his identity, Simon writes nothing here to dispell the contention that he is, himself, Levenda. For one thing, all of the named principals other than Levenda are dead, while Simon himself remains a cypher. And whenever Levenda drifts away from the scene, "Simon" appears. Many of the anecdotes surrounding the book's genesis are Levenda's, and while this might be expected since every other source is deceased, Simon also shares a number of ticks familiar to Levenda's readers, such as "wandering bishops," the Manson clan and other pop and occult signposts.
But even as a mere character in Simon's story, Levenda looms large. It's said that as high school seniors in 1968 staring down the draft, Levenda and friend William Andrew Prazsky hit upon the idea of exploiting the clergy deferment, and created the Slavonic Orthodox Church in Exile. So Levenda himself became a wandering bishop. (An early adventure is said to have been their crashing Robert F Kennedy's memorial service, and actually leading the clerical procession out of St Patrick's Cathedral.)
As Prazsky and Levenda advanced in the ranks of schismatic clergy, they drew to themselves the attention of anti-communist operatives and the US military, who used the Eastern European paper churches as cover for intelligence gathering, arms-smuggling and more. According to a colonel with Selective Services, the catch to Levenda's deferment was that he act as part of a "team" constituted by the American Orthodox Catholic Church (the church of wandering Bishops David Ferrie and Jack Martin), and make himself "available for such assignments as needed." Simon writes that Levenda attended meetings of various antiwar groups [and] listened to members of the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, the IRA and other more radical organizations." He found himself under surveilance, photographed by the driver of a car parked across the street of his family's apartment, and decided to leave the church. (This prompted a revocation of Levenda's deferment, until he responded with a "veiled threat" to expose what he knew, and it was reinstated until the end of the draft.)
Simon stands by the story that The Necronomicon surfaced in Manhattan as part of a rare book theft ring run by two Slavonic monks, Michael Hubak and Steven Chapo (though the New York Times identified them as "defroked Byzantine Priests"). It's now a better story with the bishops wandering about in the background, but it's still one that stretches credulity some distance. He suggests that the original manuscript was burned by Prazsky when he feared discovery that he was in possession of stolen goods, and that his own photocopies of the text "degraded with time. In less than ten years the ink had disappeared from the pages and I was left with a mass of useless, curled and shiny paper."
Dead Names reads like a mature reimagining of a youthful hoax, borrowing a number of the tropes of Levenda's far superior, and hence less popular and potentially more subversive, Sinister Forces. In thirty years, nearly a million copies of Simon's Necronomicon have been sold on the cheap, like metaphysical crack to schoolyard Satanists, making it difficult now to say "Just kidding." Especially when so many occultists have found it does what it says, and some things it doesn't say.