Since time unremembered, all the way back to when the first flickers of thought and consciousness emerged within our kind and we reached out and sought to explain the myriad wonders of our world there has been the persistent belief in magic. The idea that these strange forces surround us and that we can harness these powers beyond our understanding to influence and shape the world can be universally found across far-flung cultures all over the planet, and since humans first began to write we have long compiled this magical knowledge into various manuscripts and books. Ancient books are already fascinating enough as it is, to hold something from history itself containing lost knowledge in one’s own hands strangely alluring, yet when that book is filled with the mysterious world of magic and its secrets, well that makes it something truly special. These are ancient texts which are said to hold within them the promise of the secrets of the magical arts, the spiritual world, dimensions beyond, and perhaps even the universe itself. Here we will take a journey into these mysterious pages and gain a peek into the weird world of magic.
Books of magic are often referred to in modern times as “grimoires,” a term which originally referred simply to all books written in Latin, which derives from the Old French word “grammaire,” meaning “grammar,” and which came to be associated with magical texts and tomes. These magical texts appear in many cultures throughout the world, and cover a vast array of mystical topics. Within grimoires one can find spells, incantations, curses, instructions for manufacturing powerful magical items, talismans, or artifacts, guides to crafting magical runes, rituals to summon spirits, demons, or angels, ingredients for a myriad of potions, medicines, and brews, words of power, lists of demons, spirits or angels, and all manner of mystical knowledge, and many of these texts were painstakingly compiled over the course of centuries.
One very persistent form of grimoire, especially in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions, is those books which are said to be powered by the sinister forces of demons, evil spirits, and even the Devil himself. Also often called The Red Dragon and The Gospel of Satan, the Grand Grimoire is one of the most well-known old books of magic and is concentrated squarely on demons and the Devil. Originally discovered in 1750, lost somewhere within the ancient, dark tomb of Solomon, in Jerusalem, it is comprised of two separate books written in either ancient Hebrew or Aramaic. The manuscript is labelled as being authored by an Antonio Venitiana del Rabina, and supposedly based writings made by the possibly mythical Honorius of Thebes, who was thought to have been infected, manipulated, and possessed by the Devil and is theorized as perhaps being Pope Honorius III (1148-1227). Although the date etched upon the book itself reads 1522, it has been variously argued to have been written either earlier or long after that supposed date.
The books supposedly focus primarily on rituals and spells designed for the purpose of summoning and controlling various demons, and indeed for invoking the dark one Lucifer himself, as well as instructions on how to make an actual deal with the Devil once he actually appears. Also contained within these weathered, ancient pages are miscellaneous necromancy spells, a list outlining the hierarchy of powerful evil spirits, alleged proof that many of the miracles of the Bible actually took place, the locations of various lost ancient relics, and supposedly even sketches of Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ personally drawn by Satan. It has also been claimed that the book outlines how every Pope undergoes a degenerative process of starting out human and slowly being pulled under the influence of the Devil, finally being fully possessed and in thrall to his dark powers and whims. Another interesting aspect of the Grand Grimoire is that it is claimed to be impervious to fire, and highly resistant to being cut, torn, pierced, or otherwise damaged in any way.
Although official ownership of the Grand Grimoire is claimed by the Catholic Church and it is purportedly sequestered away from public view within the secret Vatican archives, copies of the text or variations of it are allegedly floating around out there. One book said to be either heavily influenced by the Grand Grimoire or even a genuine copy is Le Veritable Dragon Rouge, which is a rather ominous book of curses and hexes popular among Voodoo practitioners in Haiti. Since the Grand Grimoire is kept hidden away and is considered a top secret Vatican text, it is unknown how much of the spectacular lore on its contents is tied to reality and how much is mere spooky myth, legend, and folklore.
Interestingly, a mysterious book written by Honorius of Thebes called the Sworn Book of Honorius, or the Liber Juratus Honorii, upon which the Grand Grimoire is at least partially based, also deals primarily with conjuring up a variety of powerful spirits, angels, and demons for the purpose of being granted a wealth of rather ominous powers, ranging from weather control and causing disasters, to striking down enemies in their tracks, smiting people with sickness, or predicting one’s own death. The book was supposedly compiled with the help of a covert group of magicians who all shared Honorius’ desire to hide this magical knowledge from the Church, which sought to hunt down and destroy all such texts.
There are many other grimoires that purportedly derive their power from evil demonic forces, such as The Munich Manual of Demonic Magic. This 15th century text, also called The Necromancer’s Manual, was written in Latin by an anonymous German magician, often thought as having perhaps been a member of the clergy, in order to serve as a sourcebook for a wide variety of spells mostly concerned with demons and necromancy (death magic). Within these pages one can find incantations for summoning demons, illusionist spells meant to decieve and trick the mind into seeing things, astrological spells, spells for the purpose of influencing or controlling others, those for striking enemies down, and divination spells for reading the past and future, as well as instructions for carrying out exorcisms and a list of high ranking demons.
The book is highly focused on dark, demonic magic and black magic, and many of the rituals and spells require a bloody sacrifice of some kind, sometimes oddly in the form of a seemingly completely folkloric creature. Whether any of the spells and dire magic contained within its pages are real or not, The Munich Manual of Demonic Magic is considered to be important for its insight into how Christians and clergy of the Middle Ages thought of magic at the time, and as a general look into the world of medieval and Renaissance magical tradition. Those who believe that the spells are real and who have supposedly tried some of them have warned that since it is fueled by the power of demons, the magic of the book tends to be difficult to control and unpredictable, as well as having various negative mental and physical side effects, and is to be used at one’s own risk.
Also concerning demonology and black magic is the Pseudomonarchia Daedonum, also known as “The False Hierarchy of Demons.” this 16th century compendium of weirdness was written by Dutch physician and demonologist Johann Weyer, as an appendix to his book on demonology and witchcraft called Praestigiis Daemonum, which went through great lengths to rail against the persecution of witchcraft and was widely praised by the likes of Sigmund Frued. Weyer was a student of German theologian and famed occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, who stoked his intense interest in the mystic arts and greatly influenced his work.
The Pseudomonarchia Daedonum is comprised of a list of the names and variations thereof of 69 demons, as well as their particular powers, how to tap into them, and guidelines for how to conjure them. The powers allegedly accessible through these demonic summonings include the ability to find treasure, the ability to hold sway over other people’s opinions, to render people deaf or blind, and to forsee the future. Interestingly, Weyer himself was in fact a devout Christian, and strongly advised against actually using any of the grim knowledge contained within his work. It is said that to this end he intentionally left out key parts of the various rituals in order to obfuscate the true power that was possible through them. In his own words, he did this "in order to render the whole work unusable. Lest anyone who is mildly curious, may dare to rashly imitate this proof of folly.”
On the other end of the spectrum of malignant demons and evil spirits, we also have grimoires that deal with the power of angels. A very prominent ancient mystical text featuring angels is a book called the Book of Abramelin the Mage, which was allegedly written by a 14th or 15th century Jewish explorer, Abraham von Worms, after he allegedly encountered a mage named Abramelin while traveling through the Egyptian desert. Partially an autobiography of his journey, Abraham also claimed in the work that the mage Abramelin had let him copy from two prized magical texts in his possession, and had imparted a great deal of knowledge on Kabbalistic magic and mystical secrets onto him as well, which Abraham then supposedly passed on to his son, Lamech.
The book is very reliant on words twisted and arranged into complex puzzles, also called “magic squares,” for its spells to work. When different letters are skillfully and carefully arranged in different ways, they are said to produce a range of specific magical powers, including making someone love you, flight, invisibility, divination, precognition, control of the weather, the ability to look into the past, the ability to discover buried treasure, the power to start war, and others that are said to be too powerful to use by mere mortals. One of the most interesting features of the book is a ritual known as the “Abramelin Operation,” which is a harrowing and complicated ritual requiring 18 months of strict purification, meditation, and prayer, as well as supreme self-control and discipline. If the ritual is successfully carried out, it is said to grant one the ability to contact their guardian angel, who will impart vast magical powers, as well as the ability to bind and control all demons.
The Book of Abramelin the Mage was highly influential on the famed occultist and mystic Aleister Crowley, who claimed to have tried the “Abramelin Operation” ritual and that it had produced many inexplicable supernatural effects. So impressed was Crowley by the power of the book that he used it as a basis for his system of magic called Thelema. The book also impacted and was used heavily by the 19th century British occult society the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Yet another grimoire concerned with angels is called the Book of Soyga, also called the Aldaraia, which was part of a vast library owned by the Elizabethan scholar, mathematician, astrologer, occultist, and alchemist John Dee in the 16th century. At the time, Dee was well-known for having the largest library in England, which harbored texts on a huge selection of subjects, including of course magic. Dee was particularly fascinated by the Book of Soyga, which he later claimed was first given to Adam in the Garden of Eden by angels from God.
The book itself was long a conundrum, composed of over 40,000 letters written in a cryptic, puzzling code, and its true purpose and meaning was unclear. Dee spent years feverishly studying the book and obsessively attempting to decipher it, and was able to gradually uncover that it seemed to be a book of magical incantations. However, as much progress as he made, there were parts of the mysterious book that Dee was not able to crack on his own, and he sought out other mystics and occultists all over Europe to aide him. On his long journey to find answers, Dee was able to enlist the help of a medium who assisted him in using the book to supposedly contact the Archangel Uriel, who is the one that informed him of the book’s origins in the biblical Garden of Eden. When Dee implored of Uriel to help translate the rest of the book, he was told in no uncertain terms that only the Archangel Michael knew how, but efforts to contact Michael were unsuccessful and so the book remained a perplexing puzzle.
Upon his return from his travels, it was discovered that the prized, once highly respected library had been robbed and ransacked, with many works missing or destroyed and forcing Dee to sell many of the ones that remained in order to stay afloat. It is unclear just what happened to the Book of Soyga at this time, but it disappeared for centuries before two copies of the long lost manuscript surprisingly turned up hidden away within the dusty archives of the British Library in London and the Bodleian Library in Oxford. To this day, the book’s enigmatic, seemingly impenetrable code has never been deciphered.
Angels have a way of turning up in other magical texts as well. Originally uncovered in the 13th century, the Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh Liber Razielis Archangeli is a book of Jewish magic that has the bold claim to fame of apparently holding all of the knowledge of the universe, and was given power by the angel Raziel, who presented it to Adam, much in the same way as the Book of Soyga. In this case, when Adam prayed to God for help in hard times, He sent Raziel down with the book to teach him. The text supposedly holds various spells to influence nature, protective spells, and instructions for creating talismans, as well as lists of the names of angels and even the various names of God. The Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh Liber Razielis Archangeli became renowned in mystical circles outside of Judaism, and was popular among German Renaissance magicians.
Similar to the Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh Liber Razielis Archangeli is the Sepher Ha-Razim, also called “The Book of Secrets" or “The Book of Amulets,” which was also supposedly bestowed by the angel Raziel, only this time to Noah in the 3rd century. The book is broken down into seven sections representing the seven days of creation, and contains a vast variety of spells of all types, such as healing, bringing good luck or wealth, and spells for protection or conversely attacking enemies in a myriad of ways. Many of the potent spells within this book require magical artifacts and animal sacrifice to work.
In some cases, grimoires hold a mixture of magic based on both demons and angels. Originally compiled in the 17th century from various other earlier magical texts, what is known as the Lesser Key of Solomon, Clavicula Salomonis, or Lemegeton is a collection of 5 separate books focused mostly on demonology and angels, called Ars Goetia, Ars Theurgia-Goetia, Ars Paulina, Ars Almadel, and Ars Notoria. The first three books deal primarily with summoning spirits, demons or angels for a wide variety of magical purposes, but the last two books, Ars Almadel and Ars Notoria are particularly interesting.
The 4th book, Ars Almadel, outlines the method by which to construct an “Almadel,” which is a wax altar that supposedly allows communication with angels from different domains through scrying, a type of divination sort of like a crystal ball or Ouija board. Written in the text are the names of the angels that can be contacted, as well as guidelines for the proper etiquette for dealing with them once a dialog is established, and the best times for attempting such contact. Since the angels are said to often appear during these sessions, it also describes what each type of angel from each domain looks like. When properly summoned and approached, the angels are said to be able to answer almost any question and can grant requests or even wishes as well.
Ars Notoria, the last book, is different from the others in that it is not focused on angels, demons, and spirits, but rather on learning through magical means. The book contains methods and rituals such as visualization, prayers, magic words, contemplation, and orations, for attaining mastery of academia. Through the instructions outlined in the book, one is said to be able to gain insight into difficult books, expand one’s mind, attain heightened senses and increased focus, master any subject, gain increased eloquence and gravity in debate, develop superhuman clarity of thought, and achieve perfect photographic memory. Although Ars Notoria seems to be mostly involved with benign practices focused on academic enlightenment, there were those who believed that sinister forces were at work behind these gifts. For instance the 14th century monk John of Morigny claimed that the use of the book, while indeed granting heightened learning prowess, came with the side effect of terrifying dreams and visions which he believed to have come from a demonic origin.
Another form of magic that appears often in grimoires is that which relies on the power of heavenly bodies such as the moon, planets, and stars. The Lesser Key of Solomon is said to have been highly influenced by one such grimoire called the Heptameron, written by Italian philosopher and astrologer Peter de Abano in the late 13th century or early 14th century and published in the 1400s long after he died languishing in a prison on charges of heresy. The book deals mostly with planetary magic, relying heavily on astrology and planetary alignment, and is said to hold rituals for summoning angels, as well as spells for purification or consecration of objects, and instructions for creating creating magical circles for a wide range of purposes.
Also written by a philosopher and dealing with astrological and planetary magic is perhaps one of the more highly regarded magical grimoires, the Libri Tres de Occulta Philosophia, or “Three Books of Occult Philosophy.” The grinoire’s pedigree is impressive, being written by the well-known German mystic and alchemist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Dealing mostly with elemental and celestial magic and astrology, as well as alchemy, communication with spirits, and numerology, the 3 books’ approach is distinctively intellectual in nature, approaching the idea of magic from a rather rational and scholarly viewpoint. Additionally, throughout the book are scattered many cryptic passages on magic and the occult supposedly taken from the lost works of notable intellectuals such as Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Plato, and Aristotle, which makes the book rather unique among its kind and has helped cement it as an authoritative tome on magic even in modern times.
One of the largest known volumes on magic is also astrological in nature. Dating back to at least the 11th century, the Picatrix was originally written in Arabic and entitled the Ghayat Al-Hakim, which roughly translates to “The Aim of the Sage" or "The Goal of the Wise.” It is a vast, 400 page compendium on astrological theory and magic, including various spells to focus and control the occult energies of stars, planets, comets, and other heavenly bodies, and indeed it is widely considered to be one of the most important texts on astrological magic ever written. Some of the effects said to be achieved through using the book are inducing out of body experiences, astral travel, teleportation, altered states of consciousness, precognition, mind control, influencing people, destroying cities, power over the dead, and a wide range of others. Also included is a variety of magical astrological images that are said to impart powers when engraved into items.
Originally an Arabian text, the rather large grimoire was translated into Spanish and then into Latin, which is when it gained the title “Picatrix.” Although the book went on to be very influential on Western magic, including the Renaissance mages Cornelius Agrippa and Marsilio Ficino, it is not known who originally wrote it, although it has been speculated that the author was perhaps the Andalusian mathematician Ahmad Al-Majriti.
One of the most notable features of the Picatrix is the grotesque and disturbing, often referred to as “obscene,” ingredients used in the various spells contained within its ancient pages. Frequently recurring materials needed for creating the unsettling concoctions for its rituals and spells include blood, sperm, spit, ear wax, tears from the eyes, feces, urine, and brain matter, from both humans and animals, as well as a variety of odiferous materials that create noxious, overpowering fumes. There is also called for a good amount of various hallucinatory and psychoactive substances, such as hashish, opium, and numerous other mind-altering substances derived from plants. It is perhaps no wonder at all that use of the magic in the Picatrix, with all of the nauseating and sickening brews and drugs, is said to often cause dire side effects such as profound mental distress, insanity, faintness, crippling sickness, a comatose state, and indeed even death.
Some grimoires focus more on creating magical objects and artifacts rather than casting spells, drawing the power of the planets and stars, concocting potions or brews, or summoning supernatural beings. One such tome is called the Black Pullet, and was written in France sometime in the 18th century, purportedly by a soldier in Napoleon’s army who claims in the first person that he was rescued in the desert wilds of Egypt by a mysterious Turkish magician who nursed him back to health and taught him the magical arts contained within the book.
The Black Pullet is primarily concerned with the crafting of 22 various magical talismans, amulets and rings, which are engraved with runes and wield powers that include forcing others to do one’s bidding, making others tell their deepest, darkest secrets, finding true love, allowing one to see through walls and doors, striking people dead, and even conjuring up a powerful being of smoke and fire known as a djinn, or more widely known as a genie. These magical objects are mostly fashioned out of silk, bronzed steel, and ink, and are typically inscribed with numerous occult words, which the book gives detailed information on creating, as well as advice on using and mastering the artifacts.
The most famous item in the book is the one from which it gets its title, “The Black Pullet,” which is a hen that is said to be able to find treasure and lay golden eggs. According to the grimoire, anyone who is able to successfully create and wield this object will be forever rich beyond their wildest dreams. The Black Pullet grimoire is credited with influencing other works on magic as well, including the previously mentioned Grand Grimoire, as well as others.
Another text on creating magical objects is one concentrating on creating none other than the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to have the power of alchemy, such as turning lead into gold, as well as the secrets to making the fabled “elixir of life,” which can purportedly heal any wound, cure any disease, and grant immortality. These incredible magical secrets are contained in a series of scrolls rather than in book format, and were supposedly penned by an Augustinian monk from Yorkshire named George Ripley in the 15th century. Although a monk, Ripley was apparently quite fascinated with the world of alchemy, and spent 20 years wandering around Europe collecting various alchemical secrets, including the knowledge on how to achieve everlasting life.
The Ripley Scrolls supposedly lay out in pictures and cryptic text the method by which to construct the Philosopher’s Stone, and by some accounts it was said to actually work. Ripley himself was said to have paid out large amounts of gold, in particular to the Knights of Malta and Rhodes to help them fight of the Turks, which was purportedly all the result of alchemy. Although it may be surprising to see such an important figure of science here, none other than Sir Isaac Newton himself was said to be highly interested in the possibilities of transmuting base metals into valuable ones, and he used the Ripley Scrolls heavily as references. The Ripley Scrolls themselves mysteriously disappeared, but there are supposed recreations made by some 16th century artists which are said to be faithful reproductions, although each one seems to be slightly different from the others.
Other books of magic rely on objects that are imbued with power through magical runes or symbols. One such work is a grimoire from 16th century Iceland called the Galdrabok, which holds within its pages a variety of runes which are to be inscribed on paper, carved into objects, or even written on the body to tap into various supernatural abilities, and are called staves, or Galdrastafur in Icelandic magic. These staves are said to hold a vast array of different powers and magical effects. Some examples include bringing good fortune, currying favor with the rich and powerful, inducing awe and fear, bringing fertility, opening locks without keys, gaining business success or acumen, winning in court, numerous protection abilities, poisoning an enemy, warding off thieves, evil spirits, or wild animals, and summoning spirits, among many others. Some of the staves are very specific and even odd, such as a rune that brings good luck in fishing, one that allows one to find their way through rough weather, one that kills cattle, and another that causes an enemy to have uncontrollable gas and flatulence. In total the Galdrabok holds 47 individual runes for whatever one’s needs are.
Here I have covered only a sampling of some of the most purportedly powerful of the grimoires of magic, but there are many more of them out there. Indeed, there are perhaps some we may not even know of, gathering dust in some darkened corner of a library or archive, holding secrets lost to time, or perhaps destroyed in some accident to be forever erased from existence or otherwise lost to us. These grimoires we do know of offer many things to us; a glimpse into another long-gone time, insight into the attitudes over the ages towards the mystical, and yes, even perhaps the power to wield magic. They are relics from ancient times that carry on and record an idea that we as a species have carried from the age when our consciousness first sparked within our primordial brains and we looked out into the world and saw magic and monsters looming everywhere; that magic is real and it is all around us, even able to be harnessed and channeled if we just know what to do or where to look.