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 some texts that take a rather dark and sinister turn into the demonic.
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 other 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, and here we get into some spooky territory.
Surely one of the weirdest, most famous, and most bizarre such books is the one known as the The Codex Gigas, a text dating from the 13th century AD that is also known as the Giant Book, or more ominously as The Devil's Bible. The first thing that impresses upon seeing the Devil's Bible is the sheer size of it. The book is 92cm (36 inches) tall, 50cm(19.7 inches) wide, 22cm (8.6 inches) thick, and weighs 74,8kg (165 pounds). These enormous dimensions make the Codex Gigas the largest known medieval manuscript. The whole thing is bound in a leather covered wooden folder that is decorated with ornately shaped metal designs. The strangeness of the book does not end with the impressive proportions and unique appearance. The 310 pages contained within the book are fashioned of some sort of animal skin, most likely donkey or calf skin, and it is thought that 160 animal skins were required to make them.
Scrawled upon these pages are both testaments of the Vulgate Bible, various medical texts, some sort of encyclopedia, a calendar, magical spells, and a text on exorcisms, among others, mostly penned in Latin but also featuring Hebrew, Greek, and Slavic alphabets. The text is heavily illuminated throughout, meaning that the pages and letters are adorned with various decorations such as miniature illustrations, ornate borders, stylized letter designs, and decorated initials, all colorfully highlighted in red, blue, yellow, green, and gold. The book also prominently features various illustrations, including one of the kingdom of Heaven, as well as a large, ominous illustration of the Devil that is about 50cm (19.7 inches) high. Adding a sinister twist to the prominent Devil illustration is the presence of several pages leading up to it that are somewhat blackened in stark contrast to the other pages of the book.
The contents of the text hold many enigmas. The meticulous handwriting is amazingly uniform throughout, suggesting a single scribe. This detail becomes more mysterious when considering that it has been speculated that the entire gigantic collection of texts held within the Codex Gigas' pages, including the illuminations and illustrations, would have taken a single person around 5 years of continuous, nonstop writing all day and all night to complete, and that a realistic estimate for creating the entire thing, including the animal skin pages and cover, would be around 25 years for a single individual. This is particularly impressive as the handwriting shows no signs of being deteriorated or being influenced by age, disease, or the mood of the writer, never deviating throughout the vast tome of texts. Adding to the bizarre nature of the manuscript is the fact that around 10 pages are missing, having apparently been intentionally removed over the centuries, although it is unknown for what purpose. It has been theorized that these missing pages could have held information that was deemed too dangerous to fall into the hands of mere mortals, that the pages were stolen for some nefarious purpose, or that they were simply found to be offensive to some long ago owner of the book.
Also unknown is the identity of the scribe or indeed the reason why they took on such a monumental undertaking. This is where the creepy legends and history surrounding the book come into play. One legend has it that a Benedictine monk in Bohemia, which is now known as the Czech Republic, committed a grievous infraction against his monastery and was sentenced to be walled up alive within the monastery indefinitely. The monk, desperate to avoid his fate and certain death, is said to have struck a deal with the other monks. He offered to pen in one night a huge religious text the likes of which the world had never seen. It was agreed that if the monk could accomplish this task in one night, then he would be freed. The monk got to work, but it quickly became apparent that it was an impossible feat, and that he would never finish it in time. The monk called for help from the Devil, who appeared and offered to help in return for the monk's soul and also if he could also include a picture of himself within the manuscript. The monk agreed to the dark pact and was able to complete the manuscript, as well as the illustration of the Dark Prince himself, in time to be set free. This menacing legend is somewhat supported and given a grain of truth by the sinister image of the Devil contained within the book, as well as the fact that indeed it appears to have been penned by a single person with an incredible amount of uniformity that would suggest it was written in a short time rather than over decades of toiling.
Whatever the true origins of the Codex Gigas, it certainly has a rather tumultuous and seemingly cursed history. After its creation, the monastery where it was held was destroyed in the 15th century AD and the manuscript passed hands between several local Benedictine monasteries over the years, until ending up in Prague in 1594, where it became part of the collections of the Holy Roman Emporer Rudolph II. The book remained there until 1648, when it was forcibly taken as plunder by Swedish forces during the 30 Year War and taken to Stockholm, where it was kept at the Swedish Royal Library. In 1697, a huge fire broke out at the library, and in order to save it from the flames, someone threw it out of a window. The book survived the fall and the fire, but a few of the existing pages are reported to have come loose and blown away, after which they have never been recovered. The Codex Gigas remained at the Royal Library until 2007, when it was returned to Prague on loan and exhibited at the Czech National Library until 2009, after which it returned to Sweden and remains on display to this day in the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm.
Throughout its history, the Codex Gigas has accrued a reputation for being cursed, bringing misfortune, disaster, and disease to all who possess it. Indeed, the destruction of its original home, as well as the fire at the Royal Swedish Library have been attributed to this dark curse. As of now, the National Library Sweden has managed to avoid a similar fate, but who knows what sinister powers may lurk within these old, worn pages. The mysterious Codex Gigas is one of the biggest draws for the library, and visitors come in droves to look upon the gigantic text as well as read digitized pages of its contents.
Another such text that is equally as eerie is often called The Red Dragon and The Gospel of Satan, but mostly the Grand Grimoire, which 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 allegedly 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 on 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 mere mortals possess.
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 the 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 numerous 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 creatures. 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 arcane 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.”
What are we to make of such mysterious magical manuscripts? Are these just bits of folklore spun around the fear of the demonic, or are they perhaps more than just printed words on the page? Is this all just mere superstition, or do these sinister texts hold dark powers within their pages? This is merely a sampling of the magical books supposedly lying out there, and at the vvery least they illustrate our morbid fascination with trying to somehow tame power beyond our comprehension, regardless of whether they are in the grim, weeping corners we have no business meddling with.