Grimoires. Are they real? Part 2

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Have you ever wondered if any of the ancient magickal texts people like Rupert Giles or Sam and Dean Winchester had were real? What about the really old magick books Dark Willow assimilated or a real Book of Shadows like the one the Halliwells have? If they are real….can they still be used today?

Last week we started to look through our magickal library for real life grimoires. For Part 1, we got things going with The False Monarchy of Demons, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, The Grand Grimoire/ The Red Dragon, The Key of Solomon The King and Arbatel. So now we’ll conclude our look at old magick books.

Welcome to Part 2

The Sworn Book of Honorius

The Sepher Ha-Razim 

The Lesser Key of Solomon 

The Picatrix

The Voynich Manuscript

The Sworn Book of Honorius

The oldest preserved manuscript in the British Library dates to the 14th century. So we know this is a pretty old book. It’s a very real grimoire but it was supposedly written by Honorius from Greece, but nobody knows who this guy is, so there’s no way to tell who really wrote it. Our version was published in 2016 by Ibis Press.

What’s it about?

It’s four ‘works’ in one book. It’s more like an instruction manual, rather than a book of spells, so this is exactly the sort of thing Dark Willow would have assimilated. The objective of the Sworn Book is to try to know God through magick. It’s got a lot of Christian thought, as well as Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism contained within it, and talks about using seals and sigils to call on various angelic entities, when to best contact them and what to ask them for. 

Fakelore? Or Real?

The prologue to the Sworn Book has a whole bunch of fakelore in it. It’s awesome! Apparently, magick in the middle ages was getting corrupted so, after some hand-wringing from the Pope and some other church types, 89 magicians teamed-up to elect one badass mage, Honorius, to co-author a magickal text with an angel no less. The job was to bring together the best bits of other magickal texts into one book and then discard the so-called corrupted bits. Kind of a magick heist. And so the Sworn Book is the result.

The real history around this book is not as cool but we know the book is pretty old, and we know it was pretty hard-core feared or revered. We know this because we see references to this book pop up in various legal proceedings through the years (yeah, remember witchcraft and magick wasn’t en vogue at certain points in history). This book also gets an honourable mention in other magickal texts. So the magick in it really was considered the best of the best. We don’t really know who wrote it though. Yeah spoilers, it wasn’t Honorius (whoever he was).

What do we think of it?

If you’re looking for an old Rupert Giles type grimoire, you can’t go wrong with this book. It’s a great text if you’re new to working with various entities and especially useful if you’re more interested in ‘angelic ones’. This book does come with the seals and sigils as well, more on what they are later!

Personally, we’re not that into all the Christian language this book contains, it’s a lot. Even for a book of it’s time….so it’s not a book we’ve used but for anyone who is interested to see the evolution of magick, as we are, this is great research material. 

The Sepher Ha-Razim

Imagine the scene if you will….it’s 1963, and you’re in some dank cellar pouring over dusty old manuscripts for your thesis. Then suddenly you spot a fragment of a magick spell….you gasp. It can’t be, can it? You scrabble in the dim light (oh yeah, this dank cellar is candle lit now) to find your notes…you knock over your chair as you stand in excitement…IT IS!

This is exactly what happened to Mordecai Margalioth, a student of Kabbalistic texts, at Oxford. Well, mostly. We’re pretty sure the dank cellar was a library. Properly lit with electricity and with a librarian pushing a cart full of books ready to “sshhhh” any squeals of joy, but you get the point. This really real event led Margalioth down a rabbit hole to get all the other fragments together that he remembered seeing, which then became the Sepher Ha-Razim. Our version of his completed text was published in 1983 by the Society of Biblical Literature. 

What’s it about?

This is seven books in one. The first six books correspond to one part of heaven and include all the names of the angels that work there. Book seven talks about the ‘seventh’ heaven which, being the best one, is where God works. It’s got various rituals in it and the best times of day to call the angels when they’re at work. Given it’s all about angels, Sam and Dean Winchester could easily have flicked through this themselves a few times. Sadly it doesn’t have a ritual for calling God directly.

Fakelore? Or Real?

The preface, like most of our grimoires, has a bunch of fakelore. Apparently angel Raziel gave this book to Noah while he was building that ark. It is implied that Noah used the Sepher Ha-Razim to understand how to build his ark, how to get the animals on the ark and what food to bring with him. Then when the flood was over Noah passed the book down through his descendants and others until Solomon got hold of it.  To be clear, this is isn’t fakelore that Margolioth made up, it was stuff he found on the manuscripts he was researching.

The real story is pretty amazing though (aside from our embellishments…). When Margolioth found that first fragment, he was looking at something that dated back to the early 4th century, which was describing magick that was even older still. Pretty impressively old.

What do we think of it?

It’s not a book we use if we’re being perfectly honest. We don’t practise angel magick and we’re not Jewish, so for us we feel we need to respectfully leave it. But as a study into really old magick, this is amazing. 

The Lesser Key of Solomon

This is a different book to the Key of Solomon The King, we talked about in Part 1. Though, like that book, this one was also compiled in the mid 1800s. The Lesser Key reproduces (steals?) material that is a couple of centuries older, and found in other grimoires. Our version of The Lesser Key was published in 2001 by Weiser Books.  

What’s it about?

It’s five completely different books in one. The first book is called Ars Goetia, and reuses the Who’s Who of demons from The False Monarchy of Demons, but this time the demons have a bunch of seals and sigils, so exactly the sort of thing the Winchesters would have painted on the floor to trap demons in. These seals and sigils kinda act like the @ of its day, meaning no demon could resist when the sigil is used.

Book two is the Ars Theurgia Goetia. This one has more sigils, more demon summoning, and seems to reuse material from another magickal text called Steganographia rather than come up with anything new.

Book three is the Ars Paulina, which is more stuff borrowed (nicked?) from Steganographia but this time it’s is about contacting angels, and the best time to do that…so a little bit like the Sepher Ha-Razim (but in the 1800s the Sepher Ha-Razim was still in bits and pieces waiting to be discovered, so we know it isn’t nicked from that directly).

Book four, Ars Almadel, contains one long spell for building a wax tablet and using it to contact angels.

Finally, book five is the Ars Notoria, which is a series of incantations or prayers designed to curry favour with God.

Fakelore? Or Real?

In and of itself, it’s sort of real. Well, in the sense that it’s a collection of other books. The material in the five original books date from about the 1500s, maybe a little earlier in the case of the Ars Notoria, so if we’re ok with the fact the five books probably come with their own fakelore about which angels did or didn’t write them with some guy from mediaeval times, then it’s real and using material that really is kinda old.

But, the Lesser Key never really credits the original material, so the Lesser Key itself is a bit fake-ish, because it was written, or rather, created in the mid 1800s. So it’s not as old as it likes to suggest it is, and it isn’t saying anything new about the magick. Aside from attributing sigils, which The Key of Solomon The King does as well….so…nothing new. Even the name isn’t new.

What do we think of it?

It’s fine, as a one stop shop to access some real mediaeval magick. We’ve not used the magick of the older texts it cribs from very much, and so we don’t have copies of the source material. If you’re into seal or sigil magick you’re probably better off searching for copies of the actual source material rather than hoping the author of the Lesser Key didn’t edit out some crucial bit of the sigil. Nobody wants to accidentally @ some total bore of a demon instead of the cool ones.   

The Picatrix

The Picatrix was possibly written in the ninth century by an unknown Arabic practitioner. The book was translated into Spanish and Latin on the orders of King Alfonso of Castille in 1256 and it is one of the oldest surviving books on astral magick. A very real grimoire. Our version was published in 2011 by Renaissance Astrology Press, and we’re gonna fan-favourite all over this one.

What’s it about?

This is four books in one and is one of the more detailed discussions on magickal philosophy. So it’s more like Agrippa’s Three Books and less like a book of spells or lists of angels. Picatrix describes the most opportune times to practise certain kinds of magick spells, and how to use the energy of the various planets in magick, collecting herbs or when making talismans. But it does also have a few spells to practise what is being taught along the way. It’s right in the sweet spot between astrology and magick. Right where we are.

Fakelore? Or Real?

There isn’t a whole bunch of fakelore that goes along with this book. The prologue to the book does talk about the translation by the Spanish, and attributes the book to some dude called Picatrix. Though nobody really knows who that is. So it seems that the prologue was added through that translation process. It could be that that any fakelore was just lost in translation, but we like to think the author just didn’t need all that guff to appeal. The author does make a big deal about only proper clever people will understand this book, but that’s about it.

All that aside, it really is a very old magickal text and was considered important enough to be translated from Arabic for the King at some point in the 13th Century. After that, it weirdly disappeared in its own right and sort of becomes a source of inspiration for other magickal texts. These other books than became more popular. As far as old magickal books go, this is one of the oldest. What impresses us more is even though it’s damn old, it talks about other even older ideas. So Picatrix pulls on even older source material.

What do we think of it?

Well, it’s one of our favourite magickal texts and this is what our magick is based on. We use this book and draw on its knowledge heavily, so of course we think it’s one of the best magickal texts there is. The philosophy, the practice, it’s all aligned with our belief system. We haven’t practised any of the spells in this book, as they’re very ‘of its time’. When seemingly, back in the day, nobody minded the consumption of poisonous plants, and no magick was complete without something’s blood in it. Those bits aren’t up our street. But the rest of it is amazing.

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is a mysterious text dated to the early 1400s, written by an unknown author in some kind of weird code, that nobody can seem to crack. It’s named after the last person to have it in their possession, a chap called Wilfrid Voynich, who had it at some point in the early 20th century. Our version was published in 2016 by Yale University Press. 

What’s it about?

Literally nobody knows. But it looks to be divided into six books, or six sections. Each section details a different aspect of magickal lore, herbs, star signs and all that good stuff. So it’s a Book of Shadows. Complete with beautiful pictures in it, just like the Charmed Sisters had. Or at least to us, that’s what it looks like. There’s a couple of sections on plants or what look to us like potions or tinctures, another on astrology and the Zodiac, a section on what looks to be female empowerment or sisterhood, a section with circular drawings which could be some kind village plan or Virgil’s personal map of Hell (equally it could just be a dream diary). Then finally there’s a section with what look like spells, each marked with a star next to it.

Fakelore? Or Real?

Considering nobody knows what this book is, what it says or what it was for, this one has been through the ringer for lore, fakelore, back to lore and more fakelore. Even the book’s ownership is not really known for sure. The book has been carbon dated to the early 1400s, but the first documented owner was some antique dealer guy from the 1600s. Who knows where it was for 200 years before he had it. It’s now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, where some White Coats can look at it and wonder.

What do we think of it?

We’d love to know what it says! We love the mystery of it. We love to make up our own lore as well. After all, it might not be someone’s Book of Shadows, but we think it is. Possibly the first Book of Shadows, which would be like the Dead Sea scrolls for Wiccans. How amazing would it be to crack the code and find out what it says? C’mon Science, you don’t look busy. Hop to it.

So that wraps up our exploration of magickal texts….What we found striking about a lot of the magickal texts we have, is the need by the author to add ‘authenticity’ to the contents by adding in prologues and prefaces filled with fakelore. To be clear, this is not the modern day publishers or editors doing this. These folks have worked tirelessly to reproduce these texts as they were, even the fakelore that came with it.

No, it seems to us that the orginal authors from eons ago needed an influencer to promote their work. To give their ideas credibility, they used kind of a celebrity endorsement via an angel or some Old Testament guy. Of course, old ideas do seem more attractive somehow. More mysterious perhaps. Even back then. Now that centuries have passed since these books were first written, they do now carry their own credibility.

If you’re interested in the source material for your magickal practice chances are it’s been written down in one or more of these magick books. So you see, grimoires are real. See if you can get hold of a copy and have a look at where your magick comes from.  

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Published by Magenta School of Magick

We are a school for people who want to learn the 'philosophy and art of affecting change through (so far at least) unseen causes', also known as 'magick'.

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