Detailed books of magic rituals and spells, often invoking
spirit entities. The term derives from grammarye or grammar,
as magic was in times past intimately connected to the correct
usage of language. Several of the more important grimoires
were attributed the wise biblical king Solomon, while others
were said to be the work of other ancient notables.
Grimoires began to appear during medieval times, when
Western society was controlled by the Roman Catholic church,
and the early grimoires reflect the conflict with Catholicism’s
supernaturalism. The grimoires called upon spirits generally
thought to be evil by the church and were thus often branded
as instruments of black magic. Some grimoires directly challenged
church authority. One book of black magic was attributed
to a pope. In the last century, a new form of ceremonial
magic that operates outside the Christian sphere has arisen.
Grimoires have thus taken on the trappings of an alternative
religious worldview that assumes a neutral position with regard
to Christianity.
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, students
of magic have tracked down many grimoires, some rare
copies of which survived in the British Museum and the Bibliotheque
de l’Arsenal in Paris, and made them available to the
public. The Magus, published by Francis Barrett in London in
1801, stands as the fountainhead of these efforts. Barrett had
access to a number of magic documents from which he took bits
and pieces to construct a section of his book, which he titled The
Cabala or The Secret Mysteries of Ceremonial Magic Illustrated. It includes
not only instructions for working magic but also imaginative
drawings of the various evil spirits he discusses. The
Magus is important in being the first modern publication with
sufficient instruction to actually attempt magic rituals.
The next major step in preserving grimoires came in the
mid-nineteenth century with the writings of Éliphas Lévi. His
1856 book, The Ritual of Transcendent Magic, enlarges upon Barrett’s
presentation and discusses several grimoires. In The History
of Magic (1971) he includes a lengthy discussion of The Grimoire
of Honorius (1629). Lévi’s books did much to create a
revival of magic which then took embodiment in the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn, the first modern group to create
a whole system of ritual magic. As a result of the order’s activities,
several of its members took important steps in publishing
The Work of MacGregor Mathers
Among the most important works attributed to Solomon was
The Key of Solomon. A manuscript of the work in Greek found
in the British Museum may date from as early as the thirteen
century, and other copies in various languages can be found
around Europe. In 1559 the Inquisition pronounced the Key a
dangerous book and prohibited its being published or read.
Many of the later grimoires, however, show its influence. In
1889 Golden Dawn leader S. L. MacGregor Mathers published
an abridged edition of the work collating some seven different
versions of it from the British Museum collection. His translation
then became a major source for Golden Dawn rituals. It
was reprinted in 1909, and a slightly revised, pirated American
edition was published by L. W. deLaurence. The book, even in
its abridged version, offers detailed instructions for preparing
and executing various magic rituals involving the summoning
and control of spirit entities.
Mathers also began work on a new edition of the Lemegeton,
or Lesser Key of Solomon, (1916) a shorter book that lists a large
number of spirit entities and gives instructions for summoning
them. It seems to date from the sixteenth century. For whatever
reason, the Lemegeton was not published and existed only in a
manuscript version, which Mathers lent to Aleister Crowley. In
1903 Crowley and Mathers had a falling out, and Crowley published
Mathers’s work in 1904. As with The Key of Solomon, deLaurence
published a pirated American edition.
Mathers then turned to his most impressive translating
work, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, (1974)
a grimoire attributed to Abraham the Jew, a fourteenthcentury
German magician. In the introduction, Abraham
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Grimoires
claims that he met Abra-Melin in Egypt, where the older sage
entrusted him with the secrets embodied in the text of The Book
of Sacred Magic. The volume lays out in some detail the prerequisites
for doing magic and then offers instructions on the rather
rigorous process by which it is accomplished. The chief operation
it describes leads one toward knowledge and
communication with one’s guardian angel (what some would
call the higher self), an essential occurrence in the development
of any ritual magician. Mathers’s translation appeared in
1898 and, as with his other works, was also reprinted in a pirated
American edition.
Mathers’s work inspired others to action, not the least being
Arthur E. Waite, who in 1898 published The Book of Black Magic
and of Pacts Including the Mysteries of Goëtic Theurgy, Sorcery and
Infernal Necromancy. Waite included a lengthy survey of the history
and origin, as far as it could be known, of the various grimoires
and then provided a working summary, with copious
quotes and illustrations, of some of the more important grimoires.
In addition to The Key of Solomon and the Lemegeton, the
following grimoires are discussed in the book
Arbatel, a sixteenth-century work published in Basle in
1575. It was supposed to include nine sections, but only one was
ever published. That initial section, the ‘‘Isagoge,’’ deals with
fundamental magic instructions. Basic instructions for summoning
the seven Olympic spirits believed to rule the planets
are given.
The Grand Grimoire, also known as the Red Dragon. This
grimoire had also been discussed at length by Éliphas Lévi. It
had been published in the seventeenth century in France and
was notable as a true work of black magic, for it included instructions
on how to make a pact with the devil.
The Grimorium Verum, an eighteenth-century work claiming
sixteenth-century origins. It is based in part on The Key of
Solomon and claims Solomon as its ultimate source. It describes
the characters and seals of the demons, their powers, and the
method of invoking them.
The Grimoire of Honorius, attributed to an eighth-century
bishop of Rome. It seems, however, to be a seventeenth-century
product first published in 1629. It purportedly gave the sanction
of the papal office to the practice of ritual magic.
The Black Pullet (1972), a product of the late eighteenth century
and a type of popular romantic piece of the period. It is
allegedly the product of a French soldier in Egypt during the
Napoleonic excursion. Left for dead near the pyramids, he was
rescued by a man who came out of one of them. The soldier was
allowed to go into the pyramid, where he discovered a vast
magic center. He was given information on the use of 22 talismans
and the secret of manufacturing the black pullet, or the
hen with the golden eggs.
Waite’s discussions were continued by Idries Shah in The Secret
Lore of Magic (1957) and to a lesser extent by Migene González-Wippler
in The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies & Magic
Since World War II there has been a large market in magical
texts, including grimoires, which has led to a number of reprintings
of older editions. There have also been effort to
create new grimoires, such as The Master Grimoire of Magickal
Rites & Ceremonies (1982), by Nathan Elkana, which integrates
material from the older works into a modern perspective with
little mention of spirits and demons. A few completely new grimoires
have appeared, and there have been several attempts to
create The Necronomicon (1977), the book first mentioned in
the fictional works of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.
Barett, Francis. The Magus. London Lackington, Allen,
1801. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1967.
The Grimoire of Raphael. Edited by Fra. Zarathustra [Nelson
White]. Pasadena, Calif. The Technology Group, 1987.
Lemegeton; Clavicula Salomonis or, The Complete Lesser Key of
Solomon the King. Edited by Nelson White and Anne White. Pasadena,
Calif. The Technology Group, 1979.
Simon, ed. The Necronomicon. New York Schlangekraft
Barnes Graphics, 1877. Reprint, New York Avon Books, 1977.
The Sword Book of Honourius the Magician. Translated and edited
by Daniel J. Driscoll. Gilette, N.J. Heptangle Books, 1977.