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 grimoires.
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, de-Laurence 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 fourteenth-century German magician. In the introduction, Abraham 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 talis-mans 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 (1978).
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.
The Sword Book of Honourius the Magician. Translated and edited by Daniel J. Driscoll. Gilette, N.J.: Heptangle Books, 1977.