Grimoire: Wikis


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This design for an amulet comes from the Black Pullet grimoire. According to the instructions you should embroider it upon black satin and say "Nades, Suradis, Maniner", and a djinn will appear; tell the djinn "Sader, Prostas, Solaster", and the djinn will bring you your true love. Say "Mammes, Laher" when you tire of her.

A grimoire (pronounced /ɡrɪmˈwɑr/) is a textbook of magic. Such books typically include instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination and also how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels, spirits, and demons.[1] In many cases the books themselves are also believed to be imbued with magical powers, though in many cultures other sacred texts that are not grimoires, such as the Bible and Qur'an, have also been believed to intrinsically have magical properties; in this manner whilst all books on magic could be thought of as grimoires, not all magical books could.[2]

Whilst the term grimoire is originally European, and many Europeans throughout history, particularly ceremonial magicians and cunning folk, have made use of grimoires, the historian Owen Davies noted that similar such books can be found all across the world, ranging from Jamaica to Sumatra,[3] and he also noted that the first such grimoires could be found not in Europe but in the Ancient Near East.[4]

It is most commonly believed that the term grimoire originated from the Old French word grammaire, which had initially been used to refer to all books written in Latin. By the 18th century, the term had gained its now commonly used usage in France, and had begun to be used to refer purely to books of magic, which Owen Davies presumed was because "many of them continued to circulate in Latin manuscripts." However, the term grimoire also later developed into a figure of speech indicating something that was hard or even impossible to understand amongst the French. It was only in the 19th century, with the increasing interest in occultism amongst the British following the publication of Francis Barrett's The Magus (1801), that the term entered the English language in reference to books of magic.[5]




Ancient period

The earliest known written magical incantations come from ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), where they have been found inscribed on various cuneiform clay-tablets excavated by archaeologists from the city of Uruk, and dated to between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE.[6] The ancient Egyptians also employed magical incantations, which have been found inscribed on various amulets and other items. The Egyptian magical system, known as heka, was greatly altered and enhanced after the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, invaded Egypt in 332 BCE. Under the next three centuries of Hellenistic Egypt, the Coptic writing system evolved and the Library of Alexandria was opened, and this likely had an influence upon books of magic, with the trend on known incantations switching from simple health and protection charms to more specific things such as financial success and sexual fulfilment.[7] It was also around this time that the legendary figure of Hermes Trismegistus developed as a conflation of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek Hermes; this figure was associated with both writing and magic, and therefore of books on magic.[8] The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that books on magic were invented by the Persians, with the 1st century CE writer Pliny the Elder stating that magic had been first discovered by the ancient philosopher Zoroaster around the year 6347 BCE, but that it was only written down in the 5th century BCE by the magician Osthanes - his claims are not however supported by modern historians.[9]

The ancient Jewish people were also often viewed as being knowledgeable in magic, which according to legend they had learned from Moses, who himself had learned it in Egypt. Indeed, amongst many ancient writers, Moses himself was seen as an Egyptian rather than a Jew, and two manuscripts likely dating to the 4th century CE, both of which purport to be the legendary eighth Book of Moses (the first five being the initial books in the Biblical Old Testament), present him as a polytheist who explained how to conjure gods and subdue demons.[10] Meanwhile there is definite evidence of grimoires being used by certain, particularly Gnostic sects of early Christianity; in the Book of Enoch found within the Dead Sea Scrolls for instance, there is various information on astrology and the angels. In possible connection with the Book of Enoch, the idea of Enoch and his great-grandson Noah having some involvement with books of magic given to them by angels continued in various forms through to the mediaeval period.[11]

"Many of those [in Ephesus] who believed [in Christianity] now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power."
Acts 19, c. 1st century CE

Another Biblical figure who was associated with magic and sorcery in the ancient world was the Israeli king Solomon, and sometime in the first five centuries CE a Greek manuscript was written, probably in either Babylonia or Egypt, that was attributed to him - the Testament of Solomon. This work tells of the building of The Temple and how, being hampered in its construction by demons, the angel Michael gave the king a magical ring with the Seal of Solomon on it which had the power to bind demons from doing harm. Solomon used the ring, locking certain demons within jars and commanding others to do his bidding, although eventually, according to the Testament, he was tempted into worshipping "false-gods" like Moloch, Baal and Rapha, and after subsequently losing favour with God, wrote the book itself as both a warning and a guide to the reader.[12]

Despite the fact that the Biblical figures of Moses, Enoch and Solomon were commonly associated with magic, when Christianity became the dominant faith of the Roman Empire, the early Church disagreed with the propagation of books on magic, connecting it with paganism, and in many cases attempted to outlaw it, and burned many books. This was not a new idea; the Imperial Roman government had, even before Christianisation, suppressed many pagan, Christian, philosophical and divinatory texts that it viewed to be a threat to authority, including those of the Greek mystic and mathematician Pythagoras. In the New Testament, St. Paul had called for the burning of magic and pagan books in the city of Ephesus, and this advice was adopted on a large scale after the Christian ascent to power.[13]

Mediaeval period

In the Mediaeval period, the production of grimoires continued in Christendom as well as amongst Jews and the followers of the newly founded Islamic faith. As the historian Owen Davies noted, "while the [Christian] Church was ultimately successful in defeating pagan worship it never managed to demarcate clearly and maintain a line of practice between religious devotion and magic,"[14] and the use of such books on magic continued. In Christianised Europe, the Church divided books of magic into two kinds; those than dealt with "natural magic" and those that dealt in "demonic magic". The former was acceptable, because it was viewed as merely taking note of the powers in nature that were created by God, for instance the Anglo-Saxon leechbooks which contained simple spells designed for medicinal purposes were tolerated. However the latter, demonic magic was not acceptable, because it was believed that such magic did not come from God, but from the Devil and his demons - these grimoires dealt in such topics as necromancy, divination and demonology.[15] Despite this, "there is ample evidence that the medieval clergy were the main practitioners of magic and therefore the owners, transcribers, and circulators of grimoires"[16] whilst several grimoires were actually attributed to various Popes.[17]

An excerpt from Sefer Raziel HaMalakh, featuring various magical sigils (or סגולות, seguloth, in Hebrew).

With the increase in contact between Christians and Muslims through the Crusades and the Moorish occupation of Spain, various magical ideas and concepts originating in the Islamic world made their way into European grimoires. In particular, astral magic, involving invoking and praising the powers of celestial bodies into talismans and amulets was introduced to significant effect. One such Arabic grimoire devoted to astral magic, the 12th century Ghâyat al-Hakîm fi'l-sihr, was later translated into Latin and circulated in Europe during the 13th century under the name of the Picatrix. Another was the Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh, translated in Europe as the Liber Razielis Archangeli.[18] However, not all such grimoires of this era were based upon Arabic sources; the 13th century the Sworn Book of Honorius for instance was, like the ancient Testament of Solomon before it, largely based upon the supposed teachings of the Biblical king Solomon, and also included ideas such as prayers and a ritual circle, with the mystical purpose of having visions of God, Hell and Purgatory, and gaining much wisdom and knowledge as a result.[19]

A later book also claiming to have been written by Solomon was originally written in Greek during the 15th century, where it was known as the Magical Treatise of Solomon or the Little Key of the Whole Art of Hygromancy, Found by Several Craftmen and by the Holy Prophet Solomon. In the 16th century this work had been translated into Latin and Italian, being renamed the Clavicula Salomonis or the Key of Solomon.[20] Also in Christendom during the Mediaeval, grimoires were written that were attributed to other ancient figures, thereby supposedly giving them a sense of authenticity because of their antiquity. The German Abbot and occultist Trithemius (1462–1516) supposedly had in his possession a Book of Simon the Magician, based upon the New Testament figure of Simon Magus. Magus had been a contemporary of Jesus Christ's, and like the Biblical Jesus had supposedly performed miracles, but had been demonised by the Mediaeval Church as a devil-worshipper and evil individual.[21] Similarly, it was commonly believed by Mediaeval people that other ancient figures like the poet Virgil, astronomer Ptolemy and philosopher Aristotle had been involved in magic, and grimoires claiming to have been written by them were circulated.[22] However, there were those who did not believe this, for instance the Fransiscan friar Roger Bacon (c.1214-1294) stated that books falsely claiming to be by ancient authors "ought to be prohibited by law".[23]

Early Modern period

As the Early Modern period commenced in the late fifteenth century, many changes began to shock Europe that would have an effect on the production of grimoires; the historian Owen Davies classed the most important of these as being the Protestant Reformation and subsequent Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Witch Hunt and the advent of printing. The Renaissance saw the continuation of interest in magic that had been found in the Mediaeval period, and in this period, there was an increased interest in Hermeticism amongst occultists and ceremonial magicians in Europe, largely fuelled by the 1471 translation of the ancient Corpus hermeticum into Latin by Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499). Alongside this, there was also a rise in interest in a form of Jewish mysticism known as the Kabbalah, which was spread across the continent by Pico della Mirandola and Johannes Reuchlin.[24] The most important magician of the Renaissance was Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535), who widely studied various occult topics and earlier grimoires, and eventually published his own, the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, in 1533.[25] A similar figure was the Swiss magician known as Paracelsus (1493–1541), who published Of the Supreme Mysteries of Nature in which he emphasised the distinction between good and bad magic.[26] A third such individual at the time was Georg Faust, upon whom several pieces of later literature were written, such as Christopher Marlow's Faust, that portrayed him as consulting with demons.[27] The idea of demonology had remained strong in the Renaissance, and several demonological grimoires were published, including The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy which falsely claimed to having been authored by Agrippa,[28] and the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, which listed sixty-nine different demons. To counter this, the Roman Catholic Church authorised the production of many works of exorcism, the rituals of which were often very similar to those of demonic conjuration.[29] However, alongside these demonological works, grimoires on natural magic also continued to be produced, including Magia naturalis, written by Giambattista Della Porta (1535–1615).[30]

Man inscribed in a pentagram, from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Libri tres de occulta philosophia. The signs on the perimeter are astrological.

The advent of printing in Europe meant that books could be mass-produced for the first time, and could reach an ever-growing literate audience. Amongst the earliest books to be printed were magical texts; the nóminas were one example of this, consisting of prayers to the saints used as talismans.[31] It was particularly in Protestant countries such as Switzerland and the German states, which were not under the domination of the Roman Catholic Church, where such grimoires were published. Despite the advent if print however, hand-written grimoires remained highly valued, as they were believed to contain inherent magical powers within them, and they continued to be produced.[32] However, with increasing availability, people lower down the social scale and women began to get access to books on magic; this was often incorporated into the popular folk magic of the average people, and in particular that of the cunning folk, who were professionally involved in folk magic.[33] These works also left Europe and were imported to those parts of Latin America controlled by the Spanish and Portuguese empires and the parts of North America controlled by the British and French empires.[34]

Throughout this period, the Inquisition, a Roman Catholic organisation, had organised the mass suppression of peoples and views that they considered heretical. In many cases, grimoires were found in the heretics' possessions and destroyed.[35] In 1599, the Church published the Indexes of Prohibited Books in which many grimoires were listed as forbidden, including several mediaeval ones like the Key of Solomon which were still popular.[36] In Christendom there also began to develop a widespread fear of witchcraft, which it was believed was Satanic in nature, and the subsequent hysteria, known as the Witch Hunt caused the death of around 40,000 people, most of whom were women. Sometimes those found with grimoires, particularly of a demonological nature, were prosecuted and dealt with as witches, but in most cases those accused had no access to such books. The European nation that proved the exception to this however was the highly-literate Iceland, where a third of the 134 witch trials held here involved people who had owned grimoires.[37] By the end of the Early Modern period however, and the beginnings of the Enlightenment, many European governments brought in laws prohibiting many superstitious beliefs in an attempt to bring an end to the Witch Hunt; this would invariably affect the release of grimoires.

Meanwhile, Hermeticism and the Kabbalah would influence the creation of a mystical philosophy known as Rosicrucianism, which first appeared in the early seventeenth century when two pamphlets detailing the existence of the mysterious Rosicrucian group were published in Germany. These claimed that Rosicrucianism had originated with a Mediaeval figure known as Christian Rosenkreuz who had founded the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross; however there was no evidence for the existence of Rosenkreuz or the Brotherhood and it seems likely that Rosicrucianism was formed as a hoax.[38]

18th and 19th centuries

"Emperor LUCIFER, master of all the rebel spirits, I beg you to favour me in the call that I am making to your grand minister LUCIFUGÉ ROFOCALE, desiring to make a pact with him; I beg you also, prince Beelzebub to protect me in my undertaking. O count Astarot! Be favourable to me, and make it so that this night the grand LUCIFUGÉ appears to me in human form, and without any bad odour, and that he accords to me, by the pact that I am going to present to him, all the riches I need."
—From the Grand Grimoire.

The 18th century saw the rise in the Enlightenment, a movement devoted to science and rationalism, predominantly amongst the ruling classes. However, amongst much of Europe, belief in magic and witchcraft persisted, as did the witch trials in certain areas. Certain governments did try and crack down on magicians and fortune tellers, particularly that of France, where the police viewed them as a social pest who took money from the gullible, often in a search for treasure. In doing so they confiscated many grimoires.[39] However it was also in France that a new form of printing developed, the Bibliothèque bleue, and many grimoires were published through this and circulated amongst an ever growing percentage of the populace, in particular the Grand Albert, the Petit Albert, the Grimoire du Pape Honorious and the Enchiridion Leonis Papae. The Petit Albert in particular contained a wide variety of different forms of magic, for instance dealing in both simple charms for ailments along with more complex things such as the instructions for making a Hand of Glory.[40] In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, following the French Revolution of 1789, a hugely influential grimoire was published under the title of the Grand Grimoire, which was considered particularly powerful because it involved conjuring and making a pact with the Devil's chief minister, Lucifugé Rofocale, in order to gain wealth off of him. A new version of this grimoire was later published under the title of the Dragon rouge, and was available for sale in many Parisian bookstores.[41] Similar books published in France at the time included the Black Pullet and the Grimoirium Verum.

The widespread availability of such printed grimoires in France despite the opposition of both the rationalists and the Church soon spread to neighbouring countries such as Spain and Germany. In Switzerland, the city of Geneva was commonly associated with the occult at the time, particularly by Catholics, because it had been a stronghold of Protestantism, and many of those interested in the esoteric travelled from their own Roman Catholic nations to Switzerland to purchase grimoires or study with occultists.[42] Soon, grimoires appeared that involved Catholic saints within them; one such example that appeared during the 19th century which became relatively popular, particularly in Spain was the Libro de San Cipriano, or The Book of St Ciprian, which falsely claimed to date from circa 1000. Like most grimoires of this period, it dealt with how to discover treasure amongst other things.[43]

In Germany, with the increased interest in folklore during the 19th century, there were many historians with an interest in magic and grimoires. Several published extracts of these such grimoires in their own books on the history of magic, thereby helping to further propagate them. Perhaps the most notable of these was the Protestant pastor Georg Conrad Horst (1779–1832), who from 1821 to 1826 published a six-volume collection of magical texts in which he studied them as a peculiarity of the Mediaeval mindset.[44] Another scholar of the time interested in grimoires was the antiquarian bookseller Johann Scheible, who first published the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, two influential magical texts that claimed to have been written by the ancient Jewish figure Moses.[45] The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses were amongst the works that later spread to the countries of Scandinavia, where, in the Danish and Swedish languages, grimoires were known as 'black books' and were commonly found amongst members of the army.[46]

Frontpiece of the 1880 New York edition of The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.

In Britain, the nation where Freemasonry (a fraternal organisation based largely upon ceremonial magic) had originated, new grimoires continued to be produced throughout the 18th century, such as Ebenezer Sibly's A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology, which became particularly popular with cunning folk. In the last decades of that century, London was experiencing a revival of interest in the occult, and this was only further propagated when Francis Barrett published The Magus in 1801. The Magus contained many things taken from older grimoires, particularly those of Cornelius Agrippa, and whilst not achieving initial popularity upon release, gradually came to be a particularly influential text.[47] One of Barrett's pupils, John Parkin, created his own handwritten grimoire, The Grand Oracle of Heaven, or, The Art of Divine Magic, although it was never actually published, largely because Britain at the time was at war with France, and grimoires were commonly associated with the French. The only writer to widely publish British grimoires in the early 19th century, Robert Cross Smith, released The Philosophical Merlin (1822) and The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century (1825), but neither sold well.[48]

The Lemegeton, or, the Lesser Key of Solomon (17th century) In the late 19th century, several of these texts (including the Abra-Melin text and the Key of Solomon) were reclaimed by para-Masonic magical organisations such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis.

20th and 21st centuries

The Secret Grimoire of Turiel claims to have been written in the 16th century, but no copy older than 1927 has been produced.

A modern grimoire is the Simon Necronomicon, named after a fictional book of magic in the stories of author H. P. Lovecraft, and inspired by Babylonian mythology and the Ars Goetia, a section in the Lesser Key of Solomon which concerns the summoning of demons. The Azoëtia of Andrew D. Chumbley has been described as a modern grimoire.[49]

The Neopagan religion of Wicca publicly appeared in the 1940s, and Gerald Gardner introduced the Book of Shadows as a Wiccan Grimoire.[50]

Popular culture

The term "grimoire" commonly serves as an alternative name for a spell-book or tome of magical knowledge in such genres as fantasy fiction. The most famous fictional grimoire is the Necronomicon, a creation of the author H. P. Lovecraft. It was first referenced in his story "The Hound" and subsequently made appearances in many of his stories. Other authors such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith have also cited it in their works with Lovecraft's approval. Many readers and others have believed it to be a real work, with booksellers and librarians receiving many requests for the fictional tome. Pranksters have even listed it in rare book catalogues, including one who surreptitiously slipped an entry into the Yale University Library card catalogue.[51]

Michael Crichton also included it in the bibliography of his 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead (which professes to be a translation of the mediaeval travel narrative of Ibn Fadlan). Several authors have also published books titled Necronomicon, though none have been endorsed by Lovecraft himself.

Grimoires are a common item in video games or fantasy role-playing games with a magical element.


  1. ^ Davies (2009:1)
  2. ^ Davies (2009:2-3)
  3. ^ Davies (2009:2-5)
  4. ^ Davies (2009:6-7)
  5. ^ Davies (2009:1)
  6. ^ Davies (2009:8)
  7. ^ Davies (2009:8-9)
  8. ^ Davies (2009:10)
  9. ^ Davies (2009:7)
  10. ^ Davies (2009:10)
  11. ^ Davies (2009:7)
  12. ^ Davies (2009:12-13)
  13. ^ Davies (2009:18-20)
  14. ^ Davies (2009:21-22)
  15. ^ Davies (2009:22)
  16. ^ Davies (2009:36)
  17. ^ Davies (2009:34-35)
  18. ^ Davies (2009:25-26)
  19. ^ Davies (2009:34)
  20. ^ Davies (2009:15)
  21. ^ Davies (2009:16-17)
  22. ^ Davies (2009:24)
  23. ^ Davies (2009:37)
  24. ^ Davies (2009:46)
  25. ^ Davies (2009:47-48)
  26. ^ Davies (2009:48)
  27. ^ Davies (2009:49-50)
  28. ^ Davios (2009:51-52)
  29. ^ Davies (2009:59-60)
  30. ^ Davies (2009:57)
  31. ^ Davies (2009:45)
  32. ^ Davios (2009:53-54)
  33. ^ Davies (2009:66-67)
  34. ^ Davies (2009:84-90)
  35. ^ Davios (2009:54-55)
  36. ^ Davies (2009:74)
  37. ^ Davies (2009:70-73)
  38. ^ Davies (2009:47)
  39. ^ Davies (2007:95-96)
  40. ^ Davies (2007:98-101)
  41. ^ Davies (2007:101-104)
  42. ^ Davies (2007:109-110)
  43. ^ Davies (2007:114-115)
  44. ^ Davies (2007:121-122)
  45. ^ Davies (2007:123)
  46. ^ Davies (2007:134-136)
  47. ^ Davies (2007:123-124)
  48. ^ Davies (2007:135-137)
  49. ^ Semple, Gavin (1994) 'The Azoëtia - reviewed by Gavin Semple', Starfire Vol. I, No. 2, 1994, p. 194.
  50. ^ Davies, Owen (2008-04-04). "Owen Davies's top 10 grimoires". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-08. 
  51. ^ L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers, pp. 100–1. ISBN 0-87054-076-9.


External links

Simple English

[[File:|frame|This design for an amulet comes from the Black Pullet grimoire.]] Grimoire is an old name for a book of magic. The word is pronounced "grim-warr", which rhymes with "guitar".

The word is a mistaken way of saying grammar. It probably started being used in a time when not many people could read. Then any book might be thought to contain instructions for magic.

In the religion of Wicca other forms of Neopaganism, such a book is sometimes called a "Book of Shadows".


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