Spells, Invocations and Divination: The Ancient History of Magical Grimoires

Spells, Invocations and Divination: The Ancient History of Magical Grimoires

Grimoires are books containing magic spells and instructions for the making of amulets and talismans, but some of them also contained directions on how to summon and control demons. Grimoires have gained great popularity in recent years through movies and television shows, but their origins date back to ancient times, and their full purpose still remains under much speculation. The Oxford dictionary defines a grimoire simply as a book of magic spells and invocations, and these books are usually attributed to famous figures such as Moses and King Solomon.

Owen Davies is perhaps one of the most prominent scholars in the field of magic studies. His book, "Grimoires: A History of Magic Books"(2009), compiles extensive research on the history of grimoires as well as magic. For Davies, grimoires are books of conjurations and charms, believed to have stored knowledge that could protect people against evil spirits, witches, heal illnesses, and alter destiny, to name just a few uses.

The word 'grimoire' is believed to derive from the French word for 'grammar', the act of combining symbols to create sentences. Grimoires are not magical diaries but a compiled set of instructions intended to produce a specific desirable outcome. Although grimoires are books of magic, not all books of magic are grimoires. Some magic texts were concerned with discovering and using secrets of the natural world instead of focusing on the conjuration of spirits, the powers carried by words, or the rituals involving the creating of magical objects.

In Ancient History

Grimoires existed to manifest the desire to create physical records of magical or secret knowledge, and to secure information which could be lost with the oral transmission of valuable information. In addition, the very act of writing was associated with occult or hidden powers. This urge of creating tangible sources to record magical information dates back to the ancient civilization of Babylonia in the second millennium BC, and Egypt also provide us with records of this nature. Large numbers of papyri containing information about magic practices and ceremonial magic have been discovered. Writing on papyrus required the use of ink and it led to a new magical notion based on their constituent. In order to create ink, ingredients such as myrrh, which was also used for some charms, and blood were often used.

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Part of the Book of the Dead of Pinedjem II. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

But what exactly constituted a grimoire still remains under debate. Taking, for example, the "Egyptian Book of the Dead": is it a guided instruction to the soul's successful path to the afterlife, or is it a collection of spells to be recited at the moment of death when the soul begins the journey to the afterlife to ensure its control over the supernatural entities in which it would come into contact during the journey? Or could it be both? The earliest papyri record of the "Book of Dead" dates back to the fifteenth century BC, but ritual utterances can be traced back even a thousand years earlier. Some of the spells in the "Book of the Dead" originated in the "Pyramid Texts", which first appeared carved in hieroglyphs on the walls of the burial chamber and anteroom of the pyramid of the last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, King Wenis, from around 2345 BC.

Early Christian Era

Although not actually a grimoire, the words in the Bible were believed to contain power, making it one of the widest magical resources across society and culture for a thousand years. Passages from the Bible were used as healing charms and psalms were read for magical effects. By the early years of Christianity, many magic books were in circulation in the eastern Mediterranean among Jews, pagans, and Christians. There is archaeological evidence for such, represented in Graeco-Egyptian and Coptic papyri. While the Church defeated much of the pagan worship during those early years, it never managed to make a clear distinction between magic and religious devotional practices, and medical manuals are an example of this. The so-called leech books contained not only classical medicine but also spells for healing and protection. Some of the charms were Christianized versions of pagan healing verses, and while most of the spells were enacted orally, with the written form only serving as a record, textual amulets were an integral part of the tenth and eleventh century medicine as practiced by clergy and literate lay folk.

The so-called ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’. Photo credit: Karen L. King ( Harvard Divinity School )

Medieval Era

During the European Medieval era, the main interest in grimoires resided in the practice of astral magic, which was influenced by Arabic knowledge and based in the idea that the powers from planets and stars could be channeled into talismans and images through the intervention of named spirits and angels, at precise astrological moments. Owen Davies states that "the idea that divine and astral spirit forces could be harnessed by magical means dates right back to the beginning of recorded magic. It was practiced in ancient Babylonia, and Jewish and Indian influences can also be found in the Arabic works". Medieval grimoires displayed their intentions more clearly, providing the magician with directions towards how and what could be accomplished with the knowledge contained within the words written.

An excerpt from Sefer Raziel HaMalakh, featuring magical sigils.

It is important to keep in mind that magic, spells, demons and spirits meant something very different for people in the past, who lived in a world surrounded by the unknown. When studying ancient magic and magical practices, one needs to be sensible about those differences and approach the subject with a nonjudgmental mind.

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Even nowadays, magic is not easily defined as it means different things to different people at different times and places in the world. In addition, distinction between religion and magic has never being clear in the past eras, and it changed over time and in relation to the various religious systems.

Man inscribed in a pentagram, from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia

As Owen Davies beautifully stated, "the history of grimoires is not only about the significance of the book in human intellectual development, but also about the desire for knowledge and the enduring impulse to restrict and control it". Current scholars acknowledge the importance of studying magic, not only as historical and cultural subject, but also in relation to its connections with medicine and healing. Grimoires can serve as clues to understand the beliefs held by individuals at different points in our history.

Top 10 Grimoires

Owen Davies, professor of social history at the University of Hertfordshire, has written extensively about the history of magic, witchcraft and ghosts. His most recent book, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, is a history of magic books that takes us from ancient Eygpt, through Kabbalah, Scandinavian witchcraft, 19th-century Egyptology, West African folk religion, a Chicago mail-order charlatan whose books are still banned in Jamaica today, and – of course – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the post below, which originally appeared on The Guardian’s website, Owen Davies chooses his top 10 grimoires.

“Grimoires are books that contain a mix of spells, conjurations, natural secrets and ancient wisdom. Their origins date back to the dawn of writing and their subsequent history is entwined with that of the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the development of science, the cultural influence of print, and the social impact of European colonialism.”

1. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses
Although one of the more recent grimoires, first circulating in manuscript in the 18th century, this has to be number one for the breadth of its influence. From Germany it spread to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch, and once in cheap print was subsequently adopted by African Americans. With its pseudo-Hebraic mystical symbols, spirit conjurations and psalms, this book of the secret wisdom of Moses was a founding text of Rastafarianism and various religious movements in west Africa, as well as a cause célèbre in post-war Germany.

2. The Clavicule of Solomon
This is the granddaddy of grimoires. Mystical books purporting to be written by King Solomon were already circulating in the eastern Mediterranean during the first few centuries AD. By the 15th century hundreds of copies were in the hands of Western scientists and clergymen. While some denounced these Solomonic texts as heretical, many clergymen secretly pored over them. Some had lofty ambitions to obtain wisdom from the “wisest of the wise”, while others sought to enrich themselves by discovering treasures and vanquishing the spirits that guarded them.

3. Petit Albert
The “Little Albert” symbolises the huge cultural impact of the cheap print revolution of the early 18th century. The flood gates of magical knowledge were opened during the so-called Enlightenment and the Petit Albert became a name to conjure with across France and its overseas colonies. As well as practical household tips it included spells to catch fish, charms for healing, and instructions on how to make a Hand of Glory, which would render one invisible.

4. The Book of St Cyprian
Grimoires purporting to have been written by a legendary St Cyprian (there was a real St Cyprian as well) became popular in Scandinavia during the late 18th century, while in Spain and Portugal print editions of the Libro de San Cipriano included a gazetteer to treasure sites and the magical means to obtain their hidden riches. During the early 20th century, editions began to appear in South America, and copies can now be purchased from the streets of Mexico City to herbalist stalls high in the Andes.

5. Dragon rouge
Like the Petit Albert, the Red Dragon was another product of the French cheap grimoire boom of the 18th century. Although first published in the following century, it was basically a version of the Grand grimoire, an earlier magic book which was infamous for including an invocation of the Devil and his lieutenants. The Dragon rouge circulated far more widely though, and is well known today in former and current French colonies in the Caribbean.

6. The Book of Honorius
Books attributed to Honorius of Thebes were second only to those of Solomon in notoriety in the medieval period. In keeping with a strong theme in grimoire history, there is no evidence that an arch magician named Honorius lived in antiquity – as manuscripts ascribed to him stated. Through prayers and invocations, books of Honorius gave instructions on how to receive visions of God, Hell and purgatory, and knowledge of all science. Very handy.

7. The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy
Cornelius Agrippa was one of the most influential occult philosophers of the 16th century. He certainly wrote three books on the occult sciences, but he had nothing to do with the Fourth Book which appeared shortly after his death. This book of spirit conjuration blackened the name of Agrippa at a time when the witch trials were being stoked across Europe.

8. The Magus
Published in 1801 and written by the British occultist and disaster-prone balloonist Francis Barrett, The Magus was a re-statement of 17th-century occult science, and borrowed heavily from an English edition of the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy. It was a flop at the time but its influence was subsequently considerable on the occult revival of the late 19th century and contemporary magical traditions. In the early 20th century a plagiarised version produced by an American occult entrepreneur and entitled The Great Book of Magical Art, Hindu Magic and East Indian Occultism became much sought after in the US and the Caribbean.

9. The Necronomicon
A figment of the ingenious imagination of the influential early 20th-century writer of horror and fantasy HP Lovecraft, this mysterious book of secret wisdom was penned in the eighth century by a mad Yemeni poet. Despite being a literary fiction, several “real” Necronomicons have been published over the decades, and today it has as much a right to be considered a grimoire as the other entries in this Top 10.

10. Book of Shadows
Last but not least there is the founding text of modern Wicca – a pagan religion founded in the 1940s by the retired civil servant, folklorist, freemason and occultist Gerald Gardner. He claimed to have received a copy of this “ancient” magical text from a secret coven of witches, one of the last of a line of worshippers of an ancient fertility religion, which he and his followers believed had survived centuries of persecution by Christian authorities. Through its mention in such popular occult television dramas as Charmed, it has achieved considerable cultural recognition.

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Magic and Divination in the Ancient World The Metamorphosis of Magic Prayer, Magic, and the Stars

The three collections under review here land on an ever-rising stack of “magic volumes,” including notable collections edited by Faraone and Obbink, Meyer and Mirecki, Schäfer and Kippenberg, Jordan, Montgomery, and Thomassen, Ankarloo and Clark, and Koenig, in which scholars from Egyptology and Classics to medieval studies strive to redefine materials once relegated to superstition and syncretistic survivals. 1 In many ways, of course, “magic” has become too easy a reason to assemble a volume (or to hold a conference in the first place) and one still awaits the collected volume that cumulatively advances thinking about how the term magic can be constructively applied. What makes any magic volume useful depends on the conception of its over-arching theme and the cohesiveness of the papers — and barring these editorial attributes, the individual interest of the contributions within. Two of these volumes seek to consider the relationships between “magic” and those more identifiable classes of religious behavior, divination (Ciraolo/Seidel) and astrology (Noegel/Walker/Wheeler) but magic then remains the more elusive zone of practice. The third volume is interested in the “transformation of ritual into occult philosophy against the background of cultural changes in Judaism, paganism and Christianity” (Bremmer/Veenstra), but it leaves entirely vague what genus of ritual it is that magic should represent: secretive, diabolical stuff experimental attempts at reifying power or whatever was deemed illegitimate or peripheral at some point in time? It is also a notable feature of all three volumes (like most of their predecessors) that there is no real cohesiveness among the papers nor any kind of interconnected discussion of a particular theme or category. They present us, rather, with groups of individual papers and this review will consider them on their merits.

The Ciraolo/Seidel volume actually stems from a Berkeley conference of 1994, resulting in some papers’ inability to take account of publications in the intervening years, others to have been preempted by their authors’ later work, and in one case (Kolenkow) the author’s demise before shaping her paper for publication. With the mandate “to explore aspects of the interrelationship between magic and divination from earliest times,” the papers concern everything from ancient Egyptian coffin texts to Rabbinic exegesis.

Joann Scurlock, “Soul Emplacements in Ancient Mesopotamian Funerary Rituals” (pp. 1-6)

Ann Kessler Guinan, “A Severed Head Laughed: Stories of Divinatory Interpretation” (pp. 7-40)

Joel Sweek, “Inquiring for the State in the Ancient Near East: Delineating Political Location” (pp. 41-56)

Richard Beal, “Hittite Oracles” (pp. 57-82)

John Gee, “Oracle by Image: Coffin Text 103 in Context” (pp. 83-88)

Robert K. Ritner, “Necromancy in Ancient Egypt” (pp. 89-96)

Jonathan Seidel, “Necromantic Praxis in the Midrash on the Seance at En Dor” (pp. 97-106)

Gregg Schwender, “Under Homer’s Spell” (pp. 107-118)

Peter T. Struck, “The Poet as Conjurer: Magic and Literary Theory in Late Antiquity” (119-32)

Anitra Bingham Kolenkow, “Persons of Power and Their Communities” (133-44).

Of these papers, Guinan’s and Sweek’s stand out as particularly worthy of note for their discussions of divination in general: that is, the designation of some field of random (or partly controlled) activity, like birds or liver-lobes or star constellations, as having the capacity to transmit divine messages. Guinan examines collections of portents and omens from Mesopotamia with an eye towards how these portents and omens were chosen. Following a detailed study of the texts (and before a lengthy appendix of primary sources), she offers some invaluable, theoretically-informed observations on the nature of divination (pp. 18-30) that should be required reading for anyone embarking on the study of these phenomena. Sweek’s paper, examining the real importance of diviners in ancient Near Eastern societies (including Israel), likewise provides useful general observations on divination as public religious practice.

Other papers are more restricted in scope. Scurlock’s discussion of Mesopotamian mortuary ritual and its use of places or objects to transfer the soul from the body makes effective comparisons with Asian materials but has little to do with divination per se. Beal’s description of Hittite divination methods gives a vivid sense of the great range of mantic fields that one ancient culture might designate as omen-bearing: from intestinal arrangements and bird behavior to the provoked actions of sheep and snakes. The papers on ancient Egypt are particularly set apart from broader conversation. Gee, for example, examines the ancient Egyptian coffin texts with little sense of cultural context, and he leaps abruptly from the Middle Kingdom to texts of the Greco-Roman period. Ritner’s paper serves basically as a polemic against another article’s assertion (in another magic volume!) that ancient Egypt lacked a tradition of “necromancy” — that is, seeking oracles from spirits of the dead. But while he does not seek to broaden his topic or to problematize the definition of necromancy as a phenomenon of ancient religions, 2 Ritner does give an effective overview of the use of spirits of the dead to give oracles in the history of Egyptian religion. 3

The four essays on the Roman/late antique period are quite diverse in their methods and scopes. Schwender, using the evidence for book-divination in Roman Egypt to argue for larger religious shifts from place to text as well as for priestly bilingualism, seems not to have updated his original paper to reflect the abundant work on these topics since 1994. Seidel’s paper analyzes the various rabbinic attempts to make sense of the story of Saul and the raising of Samuel at Ein Dor (1 Sam 28), arguing on largely philological grounds for rabbis’ continuing awareness of necromantic practices. Struck’s essay, since folded into his Birth of the Symbol (Princeton 2004), examines classical conceptions of the symbolon as a vehicle for divine expression and even a token of power, not simply mimesis of some original form. Finally, in what is more a series of compelling impressions than an essay, the late historian of Greco-Roman religions Anitra Kolenkow discusses the various ways that ancient holy men worked within and served communities — through their acolytes, their enactions of myth, and their involvement with traditional structures.

The Metamorphosis of Magic began as a 1999 invitational seminar at the University of Groningen on “Cultural Change,” which included a stellar cast of scholars. The intention was to look at how “magic” took on different forms from the early Roman period (Dead Sea Scrolls) through early modern Europe (represented by various learned grimoires). The papers are all quite discrete in historical/cultural focus, however, making it difficult to see the continuous development of any particular phenomenon over time and space. What might be “magical” for the Dead Sea Scrolls certainly bears little similarity to what Augustine discusses or to early modern debates about lycanthropy.

[Editors], “Introduction” (pp. ix-xiv)

Jan N. Bremmer, “The Birth of the Term ‘Magic'” (pp. 1-11)

Florentino Garcia Martínez, “Magic in the Dead Sea Scrolls” (pp.13-33)

Sarah Iles Johnston, “The Testament of Solomon from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance” (pp. 35-49)

Jan N. Bremmer, “Magic in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles” (pp.51-70)

Anna Scibilia, “Supernatural Assistance in the Greek Magical Papyri: The Figure of the Parhedros” (pp.71-86).

Fritz Graf, “Augustine and Magic” (pp.87-103)

Bernard H. Stolte, “Magic and Byzantine Law in the Seventh Century” (pp.105-15)

Valerie I. J. Flint, “Magic in English Thirteenth-Century Miracle Collections” (pp.117-31)

Jan R. Veenstra, “The Ever-Changing Nature of the Beast: Cultural Change, Lycanthropy and the Question of Substantial Transformation (From Petronius to Del Rio)” (pp. 133-66)

Nicolas Weill-Parot, “Astral Magic and Intellectual Changes (Twelfth-Fifteenth Centuries): ‘Astrological Images’ and the Concept of ‘Addressative’ Magic” (pp.167-87)

Jan R. Veenstra, “The Holy Almandal: Angels and the Intellectual Aims of Magic” [with an appendix: The Art Almadel of Solomon ] (pp.189-229)

Bernd Roling, “The Complete Nature of Christ: Sources and Structures of a Christological Theurgy in the Works of Johannes Reuchlin” (pp. 231-66)

Jan N. Bremmer, “Appendix: Magic and Religion” (pp.267-71)

Bremmer’s (Groningen) first and last essays are revisions of a 1999 ZPE article (126:1-12). In the first he argues that the ancient Greek use of magos as a term of abuse equivalent to the English term “charlatan” arose only in the fifth century BCE, due to the increasingly prominent activities of real Persian magi. Thereafter, magos and mageia eclipse older terms of disapproved ritual activity like goês and goêteia. The second part of the 1999 article, which Bremmer placed in this volume as an Appendix, argues that “magic” should not be juxtaposed to “religion,” since the latter is a relatively recent category that was never conceptualized in antiquity — and certainly not as the opposite of “magic.” Claiming to rebut a 1991 essay by Henk Versnel that in fact makes much the same point (with broader methodological implications), this Appendix should probably have been excised for this publication. 4

One of the confusing features of this volume revolves around whether the term “magic” is a historically-specific invention, specific to a group or an institution, or a general, second-order type of ritual behavior. Thus, if Bremmer clings meticulously to the word’s historical etymology in the first essay, his chapter on the Apocryphal Acts presents these early Christian texts, full of the apostles’ elaborate thaumaturgical techniques, as rich repositories of magic, even though the ancient authors are adamant that the apostle is the very opposite of the magician. So why compare an apostle to a magician? The phenomenological resemblances may be clear, as Bremmer shows with references to Greek Magical Papyri and ancient novels, but extending the use of the term “magic” to cover Christian thaumaturgy is only justified if one defines magic in general, second-order (“etic”) terms. Valerie Flint (Hull) actually addresses a similar question, the ways in which Christian thaumaturgical bishops covered the same ritual territory (techniques, ingredients, concepts) as the freelance ritual experts in thirteenth-century England but the miracle dossiers she uses offer a more likely picture of real local ritual practices than do Apocryphal Acts.

Garcia Martínez (Groningen) lays the same confusion over the fascinating incantations, amulets, and oracle instructions found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the Qumran sectarians had a clear concept of illegitimate, demonic ritual (following revelations in 1 Enoch 8), the exorcistic and divination rites in which they themselves engaged — horoscopes, physiognomies, manuals for demon-expulsion — were actually practical extensions of their dominant ideology of cosmic dualism. The sectarians, that is, did not in any way consider these practices akin to what the fallen angels had taught. So it does no good to call them magic — unless, that is, the word carries some helpful comparative meaning that will illuminate their function or nature. Unfortunately, scholars who have clustered the exorcism, divination, and practical incantation texts from Qumran as magic have simply imported the classification from nineteenth-century stereotypes.

Other papers emphasize particular literary corpora, and in quite inconsistent ways. Among those concerned with Mediterranean antiquity, Johnston (Ohio State) gives a succinct picture of that central document of early demonology, the Testament of Solomon, focusing on two unusual features in the text: the imprisoning of demons in vessels and the harnessing of demons for positive purposes. Scibilia (Messina) examines spells in the Greek Magical Papyri meant to invoke a supernatural assistant, but her discussion suffers from an overly literal interpretation of these Greco-Egyptian incantations and a tendency to isolate them from any historico-religious context. Graf (Ohio State) shows how Augustine, in his references to magic as demonic, inherits traditional Roman fears of magic as a peripheral, immoral, and dangerous ritual pursuit. And for the end of late antiquity, Stolte (Groningen) describes how civil legislation against “magic” ceases in the late sixth century, leaving the topic largely for church bodies in prosecute. Ecclesiastical canons thus become a resource for investigating various types of marginal ritual practices — both real and, one presumes, imagined. But should not an essay like Stolte’s here have been preceded by ones on the Twelve Tables and Theodosian Codes as similar witnesses to magic? Readers may find themselves quite unable to see the “metamorphosis” the editors advertise over such a confusion of different kinds of texts.

But readers will find much of interest among the four papers devoted to later medieval and early modern materials. Veenstra’s (Groningen) first paper, on the cultural construction of the werewolf, and more broadly on theories of animal/human transformation, makes fascinating reading even if it has little to do with notions of magic. His second paper traces the evolution of angel invocation from the concatenation of sacred names that one finds in early Jewish ritual texts and the Magical Papyri to the theoretical angelologies one finds in medieval texts like the Solomonic Almandal text, which Veenstra translates with diagrams, in an appendix. Roling (Munster) also discusses angelology, showing the development in late medieval Christianity (from Jewish sources) of rituals to summon private angels to facilitate mystical self-perfection. Weill-Parot (Paris VIII) looks at the use of amuletic designs, drawn from manuals, to control stars and therefore fate and he coins the term “addressative” to encompass those acts of preparing amulets to “address” some otherworldly being and secure its help in accomplishing some goal (169). These last three papers show the potential fruit that might have resulted if the editors had integrated the volume around a single topic like magical manuals or practical hierarchies of spirits.

Prayer, Magic, and the Stars — also based on a conference, at the University of Washington in 2000 — is by far the most useful of these three volumes, not for the coherence of its essays but for its genuine effort to be up-to-date in its critical approaches to materials and its conceptions of magic and astrology. The editors warn up-front that magic serves both as a general category for the study of religion and as an ancient marker for peripheral or exotic ritual. Their interests, however, lie less in shaping a consistent definition of magic than in framing different areas of cultural activity to which magic was relevant.

[Editors], “Introduction” (pp.1-17)

Part I. Locating Magic

Jonathan Z. Smith, “Here, There, and Anywhere” (pp. 21-36)

Part II. Prayer, Magic, and Ritual

Ian Moyer, “Thessalos of Tralles and Cultural Exchange” (pp. 39-56)

Marvin Meyer, “The Prayer of Mary in the Magical Book of Mary and the Angels” (pp.57-67)

Gideon Bohak, “Hebrew, Hebrew Everywhere? Notes on the Interpretation of Voces Magicae” (pp. 69-82)

Michael G. Morony, “Magic and Society in Late Sasanian Iraq” (pp.83-107)

Part III. Dreams and Divination

Kasia Szpakowska, “The Open Portal: Dreams and Divine Power in Pharaonic Egypt” (pp.111-24)

Peter Struck, “Viscera and the Divine: Dreams as the Divinatory Bridge Between the Corporeal and the Incorporeal” (pp.125-36)

Jacco Dieleman, “Stars and the Egyptian Priesthood in the Graeco-Roman Period” (pp.137-53)

Michael D. Swartz, “Divination and Its Discontents: Finding and Questioning Meaning in Ancient and Medieval Judaism” (pp.155-66)

Part IV. The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars

Francesca Rochberg, “Heaven and Earth: Divine-Human Relations in Mesopotamian Celestial Divination” (pp. 169-85)

Mark S. Smith, “Astral Religion and the Representation of Divinity: The Cases of Ugarit and Judah” (pp.187-206)

Nicola Denzey, “A New Star on the Horizon: Astral Christologies and Stellar Debates in Early Christian Discourse” (pp. 207-21)

Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, “At the Seizure of the Moon: The Absence of the Moon in the Mithras Liturgy” (pp. 223-39)

“Here, There, and Anywhere” is Smith’s best essay in decades. Here he nuances his classic dichotomy of “locative” and “utopian” worldviews to embrace, now, three spheres of religious practice and ideology in the Greco-Roman world: the domestic, the civic/national, and the trans-national — which includes not only religious associations that eschewed terrestrial anchors but also “entrepreneurial religious figures.” Each has its sense of geography and cosmos, its particular fears, and its integrating rituals. In his depiction of the “religion of ‘anywhere’,” Smith is able to capture novel religious developments in the Mediterranean world without recourse to notions of anxiety, spiritual decline, rising superstition, or the inevitability of Christian salvation. Magic itself is as much a hybrid of domestic practice as it is an expression, and miniaturization, of civic traditions and transcendent deities.

“Prayer, Magic, and Ritual” is rather a hodge-podge of topics that don’t really address magic or ritual expressions in general. But of the four essays in this section, Moyer’s (Pomona) is the most historically far-reaching, examining a text well-known among students of Egyptian religion in its later phases, the novelistic preface by Thessalos of Tralles to his second-/third-century herbal. An inquisitive Greek heads to Thebes in search of Egyptian ritual wisdom and gets himself initiated into secret mysteries (and a direct vision) by some aged priests. Moyer discusses both the authentically Egyptian traditions maintained in this text and its reflection of the commodification of these traditions — as “magic” — in a world entranced by exotic wisdoms. Meyer (Chapman) discusses a late Coptic spell invoking Mary for a range of purposes, but as one who breaks bonds and chains. Like many of the texts in Bremmer/Veenstra, this Mary spell questions distinctions between magic and prayer (if there is anyone who still maintains such distinctions). Bohak (Tel Aviv) shows that the Jewish influence long imagined to pervade the voces magicae in Greek spells and amulets comes down only to disparate words and phrases requiring little knowledge of Jewish liturgy. In an abundantly illustrated and thorough survey of magic bowls in Iraq, Morony (UCLA) lays out the ritual preparation and function of these personalized apotropaic devices — used among Jews and non-Jews alike — and offers some broader observations on social and economic changes in late antique Iraq based on patterns in the personal names in the bowls. Morony’s is certainly the most accessible discussion yet of the magical bowls and of their historical and social significance.

Part III is meant to be distinct from Part IV by focusing on matters of practice rather than constructions of the heavenly world yet overlapping papers like Dieleman and Rochberg make the division rather arbitrary. More importantly, without real conversation among the papers in either section, the reader unfamiliar with ancient divination or the range of astrologies craves some thematic synthesis or explanation of these larger topics. Szpakowska (Swansea) looks at various ways that gods could appear in dreams in New Kingdom Egypt, according to one ancient manual of oneiromancy. She then turns to “waking” apparitions of the goddess Hathor, in what appear to be image-processions. The connection between these two types of theophany is unclear and one especially wishes for some segue with Dieleman’s (UCLA) masterful overview of Egyptian priests’ growing engagement with astrology over the Late and Greco-Roman periods. Struck (Penn), also represented in Ciraolo/Seidel, here offers a quite innovative discussion of Greek notions of the body as microcosm of the heavens (Hippocrates, Plato). Therapy of the body can consequently take place through dreams, which both reach out to the macrocosm and allow the respective celestial bodies to penetrate the organs. Finally Swartz (Ohio State) identifies the multiple fields in the environment — birds, books, and children’s behavior, for example — where early Jews sought divine omens, often assisted by divination manuals. It is important to appreciate the great range of devices and “pallettes” that communities located in their environments for divining supernatural intent. Divination was not so much a belief-system as multiple concrete devices for accessing belief-systems — to make them relevant and active. It is through such surveys as Swartz’s (like Guinan’s and Beal’s in Ciraolo/Seidel, above) that we can grasp how environments could provide such diverse langues for the parole of the gods.

The papers in Part IV address the various ways that religions and ritual systems in antiquity could either construct or appropriate astrological themes. Thus Rochberg (UC-Riverside) examines the basis for celestial omens in Mesopotamian cosmology: rather than presuming some kind of cosmic harmony, the omens indicate various isolated correspondences believed to exist between divinities and terrestrial events. It is quite astounding that she makes no reference here to Struck’s or Swartz’s papers, given the convergence of their themes. One might think they had never heard each others’ papers. Rochberg’s contribution to this part of the volume is evidently intended to show that astral conceptions of deities in Mesopotamia were intrinsically rooted in divination practices and manuals: ritual precedes myth (or theology). The reverse conclusion emerges in Edmonds’ (Bryn Mawr) paper, which argues that the ritual insistence on a moon-less sky for the performance of the famous “Mithras Liturgy” in the Paris Magical Papyrus reflects “an underlying cosmology in which the moon is seen as a potentially hostile and dangerous power, in contrast to the benevolent power of the sun” (224). Taking such ascent texts as attempts to participate in preexisting cosmologies, as Edmonds does here, represents their more classic appraisal, although one should always consider as a plausible default that the cosmologies are ad hoc inventions, sanctifying ritual experiments and bricolages. Edmonds can justify this moon-less cosmology by reference to some Mithraic remains but one wonders what alternative conclusions might follow the recognition of the text’s fundamentally Egyptian context.

Neither Smith nor Denzey is so interested in ritual applications. In a quite engaging history of the elevation of the originally astral god Yahweh in ancient Canaan to become Lord of Israel, Smith (NYU) shows Yahweh’s progressive juxtaposition to, then synthesis of, the non-astral “storm-god” features of the Canaanite god Baal. It is in this synthetic form that Yahweh assumes the role of the astral high-god El, whence he becomes Elohim in early psalms and narratives. Denzey (Bowdoin) gives a fascinating overview of early Christian discussions of Christ’s relationship to the celestial order. As Seidel (in Ciraolo/Seidel) uses rabbinic exegesis of 1 Samuel to reveal evidence of rabbinic divination practices, Denzey draws her evidence from early interpretations of the star of Bethlehem legend (Matt 2:1-12). We find that Christians were wed to a variety of astrological systems to undergird Christ’s cosmic inevitability. Yet many writers came to argue that Christ’s advent superseded and even vanquished the power of the stars.

Overall, as interesting and innovative as many of these papers are, these are conference volumes in which the editors have made little effort to impose or require conversation among their contributors, even though these contributors clearly had the benefit of such conversations at the time — to learn from each other, to gain illumination from the comparisons their colleagues brought, and to experiment with new models. Perhaps as book-publishing becomes more competitive, the conference volume will also become a more selective and integrated genre. There may also come a time when “ancient magic” or “magic and divination” make insufficient rubrics for either a conference or a volume. Instead, organizers might begin to consider the kind of thematic work that can be done across a series of papers: the history of a seminal text like the Testament of Solomon, for example, or transformations of divination traditions in Egypt, Mesopotamia, or Judaism, or the changing conceptions of illegitimate ritual (not exotic practices), or the different genres of magical texts and spell manuals, or the metamorphosis of spirit and angel invocations over time. Perusing these latest magic volumes makes it clear how much could be done productively if thought were put into new directions for research in magic and if interaction were required of authors.

1. Jacob Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs, and Paul Virgil McCracken Flesher, eds., Religion, Science, and Magic: In Concert and in Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, eds., Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki, eds., Ancient Magic and Ritual Power (Leiden: Brill, 1995) Peter Schäfer and Hans G. Kippenberg, eds., Envisioning Magic: A Princeton Seminar and Symposium (Leiden: Brill, 1997) David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, eds., The World of Ancient Magic: Papers from the First International Samson Eitrem Seminar (Bergen: Norwegian Institute, 1999) Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, eds., Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999) Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki, eds., Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World (Leiden: Brill, 2002) Yvan Koenig, ed., La magie en Égypte (Paris: Louvre, 2002).

2. See, e.g., Sarah Iles Johnston in BMCR 2002.06.19.

3. Readers should probably consult the updated French translation of this paper: Robert K. Ritner, “Des preuves de l’existence d’une nécromancie dans l’Égypte ancienne,” La magie en Égypte, 285-304.

2. The Clavicule of Solomon

This is the granddaddy of grimoires. Mystical books purporting to be written by King Solomon were already circulating in the eastern Mediterranean during the first few centuries AD. By the 15th century hundreds of copies were in the hands of Western scientists and clergymen. While some denounced these Solomonic texts as heretical, many clergymen secretly pored over them. Some had lofty ambitions to obtain wisdom from the "wisest of the wise", while others sought to enrich themselves by discovering treasures and vanquishing the spirits that guarded them.

    (3rd century) (4th century) (4th century) (13th century) (13th century) (13th century) (1256) (15th century) (15th century) (15th century) (15th century) (1496) (1499) (16th century) (16th century) (1527) (1531) (1558) (1560s) (1560s) (1563) (1572) (1575) (1577) (1577) (1582) (1583) (1583) (1584) (1594) (17th century) (1600s) (17th century) (17th century) (1608) (1612) (1620) (1630s) (1633) (1641) (1655) (18th century) (18th century) (1706) (1725) (1760) (1788) (19th century) (1801) (1817) (1820) (1820s) (1821) (1849) (1456) (1795) (1810s) (1861) (1863) (1950s)


If you can't find what you are looking for here, try some of these sites:

Twilit Grotto: the best resource for full texts of grimoires, with excellent scholarship.

History of Occult Grimoires

The word “grimoire” comes from the French term grammaire, meaning “grammar”. Because, in the Middle Ages, Latin grammar books were central to school and university education, and the illiterate majority suspected that non-ecclesiastical books were magical.

At the end of the 19th century some of these texts were claimed by masonic and other occult organizations such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis. Aleister Crowley, a great promoter of these groups, gave rise to base on them various modern movements such as Wicca, Neopaganism, and Chaos Magic.

While little is known about the origin of many of the magic formulas, it is probable that they are the result of translations of knowledge of Arabic oriental magic fused with Western elements.

6 The Clavicle Of Solomon, Revealed By Ptolomy The Grecian

The Clavicle of Solomon, revealed by Ptolomy the Grecian represents one of the earliest manuscripts of the infamous Key of Solomon, the most influential grimoire in existence.

The book details some very broadly named experiments of invisibility, love, envy and destruction, mocking and laughing, and grace and impetration. Surely, one of these categories would cover every lofty thing a practitioner of magic can think of. [5]

White Magic History

White Magic is a conceptual system that asserts human ability to control the natural world (including events, objects, people, and physical phenomena) through mystical, paranormal or supernatural means. The term White Magic can also refer to the practices employed by a person asserting this influence, and to beliefs that explain various events and phenomena in such terms. In many cultures, White Magic is under pressure from, and in competition with, scientific and religious conceptual systems.

Believed to be the founder of historic sourcery, King Henry III’s second cousin, Mariel Stolarski, wrote journals on the effects of White Magic in her everyday life.

White Magic in the Greco-Roman world:
The prototypical “magicians” were a class of priests, the Magi of Zoroastrianism, and their reputation together with that of Ancient Egypt shaped the hermeticism of Hellenistic religion. The Greek mystery religions had strongly magical components, and in Egypt, a large number of magical papyri, in Greek, Coptic, and Demotic, have been recovered. These sources contain early instances of much of the magical lore that later became part of Western cultural expectations about the practice of White Magic, especially ceremonial magic. They contain early instances of:

  • the use of “magic words” said to have the power to command spirits
  • the use of wands and other ritual tools
  • the use of a magic circle to defend the magician against the spirits he is invoking or evoking.

White Magic in the Middle Ages:
Several medieval scholars were credited as magicians in popular legend, notably Gerbert d’Aurillac and Albertus Magnus: both men were active in scientific research of their day as well as in ecclesiastical matters, which was enough to attach to them a nimbus of the occult. Magic practice was actively discouraged by the church, but remained widespread in folk religion throughout the medieval period. Magical thinking became syncretized with Christian dogma, expressing itself in practices like the judicial duel and relic veneration. The relics had become amulets, and various churches strove to purchase scarce or valuable examples, hoping to become places of pilgrimage. Tales of the miracle-working relics of the saints were compiled later into quite popular collections like the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine or the Dialogus miraculorum of Caesar of Heisterbach. From the 13th century, the Jewish Kabbalah exerts influence on Christian occultism, giving rise to the first grimoires and the scholarly occultism that would develop into Renaissance magic. The demonology and angelology contained in the earliest grimoires assume a life surrounded by Christian implements and sacred rituals.

Renaissance white magic:
Renaissance humanism saw a resurgence in hermeticism and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic.

  • geomancy
  • hydromancy
  • aeromancy
  • pyromancy
  • chiromancy
  • scapulimancy

Both bourgeoisie and nobility in the 15th and 16th century showed great fascination with these arts, which exerted an exotic charm by their ascription to Arabic, Jewish, Gypsy and Egyptian sources. There was great uncertainty in distinguishing practices of vain superstition, blasphemous occultism, and perfectly sound scholarly knowledge or pious ritual.

Study of the occult arts remained intellectually respectable well into the 17th century, and only gradually divides into the modern categories of natural science vs. occultism or superstition. The 17th century sees the gradual rise of the “age of reason”, while belief in witchcraft and sorcery, and consequently the irrational surge of Early Modern witch trials, receded, a process only completed at the end of the Baroque period or in ca. the 1730s. Christian Thomasius still met opposition as he argued in his 1701 Dissertatio de crimine magiae that it was meaningless to make dealing with the devil a criminal offence, since it was impossible to really commit the crime in the first place. In Britain, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 established that people could not be punished for consorting with spirits, while would-be magicians pretending to be able to invoke spirits could still be fined as con artists.

Romanticism White Magic:
From 1756 to 1781, Jacob Philadelphia performed feats of white magic, sometimes under the guiseofscientific exhibitions, throughout Europe and Russia. Baron Carl Reichenbach’s experiments with his Odic force appeared to be an attempt to bridge the gap between white magic and science. More recent periods of renewed interest in white magic occurred around the end of the nineteenth century, where Symbolism and other offshoots of Romanticism cultivated a renewed interest in exotic spiritualities. The late 19th century spawned a large number of magical organizations, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society, and specifically magical variants on Freemasonry. The Golden Dawn represented perhaps the peak of this wave of white magic, attracting cultural celebrities like William Butler Yeats.

20th century White Magic:
A further revival of interest in white magic was heralded by the repeal, in England, of the last Witchcraft Act in 1951. This was the cue for Gerald Gardner to publish his first non-fiction book Witchcraft Today, in which he claimed to reveal the existence of a witch-cult that dated back to pre-Christian Europe. Gardner combined white magic and religion in a way that was later to cause people to question the Enlightenment’s boundaries between the two subjects. The various branches of Neopaganism and other Earth religions that have been publicized since Gardner’s publication tend to follow a pattern in combining the practice of white magic and religion. Some people in the West believe in or practice various forms of magic. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, and their followers are most often credited with the resurgence of magical tradition in the English speaking world of the 20th century. Other, similar movements took place at roughly the same time, centered in France and Germany. Most Western traditions acknowledging the natural elements, the seasons, and the practitioner’s relationship with the Earth, Gaia, or the Goddess have derived at least in part from these magical groups, and are considered Neopagan. Long-standing indigenous traditions of magic are regarded as Pagan. Aleister Crowley preferred the spelling magick, defining it as “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.” By this, he included “mundane” acts of will as well as ritual magic. In Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter XIV, Crowley says: What is a Magical Operation? It may be defined as any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will. We must not exclude potato-growing or banking from our definition. Let us take a very simple example of a Magical Act: that of a man blowing his nose. Western magical traditions include ceremonial magic, as well as Wicca and some other Neopagan religions. Definitions and uses of white magic tend to vary even within magical traditions.

Theories of adherents to White Magic:
Adherents to white magic believe that it may work by one or more of the following basic principles: Natural forces that cannot be detected by science at present, and in fact may not be detectable at all. These magical forces are said to exist in addition to and alongside the four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force. Intervention of spirits similar to these hypothetical natural forces, but with their own consciousness and intelligence. Believers in spirits will often describe a whole cosmos of beings of many different kinds, sometimes organized into a hierarchy. A mystical power, such as mana or numen, that exists in all things. Sometimes this power is contained in a magical object, such as a ring, a stone, charm, or dehk, which the magician can manipulate. Manipulation of the Elements by using the will of the magician and/or with symbols or objects representative of the element(s). Western practitioners typically use the Classical elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Manipulation of Energy. Also believed to be the manipulation of energy from the human body. Most commonly referred to by the usage of the hands while the mouth uses a command of power. Manipulation of symbols. Adherents of magical thinking believe that symbols can be used for more than representation: they can magically take on a physical quality of the phenomenon or object that they represent. By manipulating symbols (as well as sigils), one is said to be able to manipulate the reality that this symbol represents. The principles of sympathetic magic of Sir James George Frazer, explicated in his The Golden Bough (third edition, 1911-1915). These principles include the “law of similarity” and the “law of contact” or “contagion.” These are systematized versions of the manipulation of symbols. Frazer defined them this way: If we analyse the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. Aleister Crowley wrote that “. . . the exaltation of the mind by means of magickal practices leads (as one may say, in spite of itself) to the same results as occur in straightforward Yoga.” Crowley’s magick thus becomes a form of mental, mystical, or spiritual discipline, designed to train the mind to achieve greater concentration. Crowley also made claims for the paranormal effects of magick, suggesting a connection with the first principle in this list. However, he defined any attempt to use this power for a purpose other than aiding mental or mystical attainment as “black magick”. The magical power of the subconscious mind. To believers who think they need to convince their subconscious mind to make the changes they want, all spirits and energies are projections and symbols that make sense to the subconscious. A variant of this belief is that the subconscious is capable of contacting spirits, who in turn can work magic. A mysterious interconnection in the cosmos that connects and binds all things, above and beyond the natural forces, or in some cases thought to be an as-yet undiscovered or unquantifiable natural force. “The Oneness in All” based on the fundamental concepts of monism and Non-duality, this philosophy holds that Magic is little more than the application of one’s own inherent unity with the Universe. The central idea is that on realizing that the Self is limitless, one may live as such, seeking to preserve the Balance of Nature and live as a servant/extension thereof. Many more theories exist. Practitioners will often mix these concepts, and sometimes even invent some themselves. In the contemporary current of chaos magic in particular, it is not unusual to believe that any concept of magic works. Key principles of utilizing White Magic are often said to be Concentration and Visualization. Many of those who cast spells attain a mental state called the “Trance State” to enable the spell. The Trance State is often described as an emptying of the mind, akin to meditation.

Grimoires with Alexander Cummins

Kept safe in many Special Collections around the world are very odd and very special Books. They are filled with interesting content- Invocations, Evocations, Prayers, Spells as well as odd diagrams. These are Grimoires- A Magician’s textbook and are used for many purposes such as divination, crafting talismans, herbs and stones, as well as how to summon Demons, Angels, Spirits and other entities. Joining this episode to discuss these fascinating and incredible documents is the Scholar, Author and Modern Cunning Man Dr. Alexander Cummins!

Dr. Alexander Cummins is a practicing as well as Consulting Magician– truly a Cunning Man of the 21st Century. He most recently published with Phil Legard An Excellent Book on the Arte Of Magicke which was beyond a doubt the best Occult Book release in Years. He is co-host of a Magic Podcast Radio Free Golgotha with Jesse Hathaway Diaz, and also a founder of one of the only Facebook groups worth Joining – Folk Necromancy. He has set up a live online cabaret called Speakeasy of the Dead. His online courses are beyond exceptional and can regularly be found at Wolf & Goat as well as The Cauldron Black. To Subscribe to his newsletter and see what the good Doctor is up to, have a click on the pic!

Ancient Conjurations and Invocations - Magic Spells and Rituals

Ancient Conjurations and Invocations is a collection of 22 spells for contacting and communicating with the other side. The spells, conjurations, and invocations contained in the book of shadows are not recommended for the inexperienced practitioner or witch. These magic spells, conjurations, invocations, and rituals are updated versions of invocations, conjurations, and rituals used in antiquity. Great care has been taken to retain the original intent and cadence of the language used when these spells were originally written. These spells are provided as CURIOS ONLY for personal entertainment.

Absolute control, based on knowledge and experience, is of the utmost importance when conjuring-up or communicating with spirits. The conjurations and invocations contained in this book are recommended for experienced practitioners only and the publisher and distributor of this collection or any of its parts shall be held harmless against and free from all liabilities. The purchaser, user, owner or holder of this collection, by their possession of it in whole or in part, shall stand noticed and agree that they are solely liable for their actions and the outcomes.

Watch the video: My First Divination, Spell, Evocation, Invocation. Did it work??!!