The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Key of Solomon or Clavicula Salomonis
Books of Magic and Witchcraft
This may be the work that inspired all medieval grimoires. Much of the whole commanding and compelling magical genre derives from tales of King Solomon as the world’s most powerful magician. King Solomon was allegedly able to command a host of spirits. Of course, back in Solomon’s day there was no notion of demons as Satan’s spawn, which emerged only post-Christianity. Arabic tradition, which retains many wonder stories featuring the Jewish king, identifies the spirits Solomon commanded as djinn. Jewish tradition suggests that Solomon obtained and maintained his power over the spirits, many of which were dangerous, through the use of a magical ring.
However, be that as it may, by the first century CE, the Roman collaborator Flavius Josephus, author of The Jewish Wars, noted the existence of a book written by King Solomon. Did Solomon really write this book or did the tradition of attributing manuscripts to the world-renowned already exist? Who knows? No definitive consensus can be reached. Cleopatra of Egypt is known to have authored books so it’s not a far-fetched notion to imagine that Solomon could have written a manual of magic, whether he actually did or not.
People have been searching for King Solomon’s magical manuscript ever since. We know that a book entitled The Testament of Solomon existed by the fourth century. Several handwritten manuscripts recognizable as The Key of Solomon have survived. The oldest surviving copy is in the British Museum. It was written in Greek and is believed to date from the twelfth century.
The Key of Solomon and its companion work, The Lesser Key of Solomon (The Lemegeton), are considered the most influential medieval grimoires. Many other grimoires including The Grand Grimoire incorporate information taken from The Key of Solomon, sometimes openly, sometimes not.
Different portions of The Key of Solomon as it exists today were composed at different times and by different authors. It’s believed that vestiges of ancient Jewish magic survive within the text. The Key of Solomon is a book of ceremonial magic based on Jewish mysticism and Kabalah. The emphasis is on spirit summoning and control. The text outlines magical rituals for evoking spirits, including animal sacrifice.
Perhaps the oldest of the grimoires, The Key of Solomon gained a notorious reputation during the witch-hunts:
In 1350, Pope Innocent VI orders something called The Book of Solomon burned.
At around the same time Nicholas Eymericus burned a book confiscated from a sorcerer entitled The Table of Solomon. This may or may not be a version of the Key.
In 1456, a pamphlet against magic mentions the Key by name.
In 1559, the Inquisition specifically condemns The Key of Solomon and bans it as a heretical work.
During her seventeenth-century trial for witchcraft in Venice, Laura Malipero’s home was searched and a copy of the Key found. A hand-written book was also found into which she was transcribing excerpts from the Key.