The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage
Books of Magic and Witchcraft
Aleister Crowley described this book as both the best and most dangerous book ever written. Dion Fortune claimed Abramelin’s magical system was the most potent and complete.
The Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage may best exemplify the mysteries, frustration, and beauty of the medieval grimoire genre. The grimoire was allegedly written by the magician Abraham ben Simeon in 1458 for his son, although whether the book itself was actually authored in 1458 or whether the date indicates when a copy was made of an earlier work is unclear. According to the story given in the grimoire, Abraham, a magician and Kabalah master from Wurzberg, spent years traveling through Europe, the Middle East, and Egypt in search of mystic wisdom before meeting his teacher, a Jewish magician in Egypt called Abrahamelim or Abra-Melin. Abra-Melin taught Abraham a magical system which he now allegedly sets down on paper for his son.
Three surviving manuscripts of this work exist, each one written in a different language: French, German, and Hebrew. They are all slightly different; it’s unclear which is oldest. S. L. MacGregor Mathers first translated The Sacred Magic into English in 1900, using the fifteenth-century French manuscript.
Whether the story that explains the grimoire is true has been subject of deep, heated debate. There is no documentation that either Abraham, his son or the mysterious Abra-Melin ever existed, although there is also no proof that they didn’t. A number of Christian references and themes in the work have lead some to believe that the author was a Christian and that the work is a forgery attributed to a Jewish magician either as defamation of character (the stereotype of the Jewish magician encouraged diabolical associations) or because in certain circles, Jewish magic was perceived as glamorous and mysterious, similar to the manner in which Egyptian magical traditions are still perceived. Others believe that later Christian interpolations were added to a book that is at heart exactly what it claims to be. Traditional Kabalah scholars have also studied this work to debate its authenticity. No consensus has been reached. No less an authority than the Kabalah master Gershom Scholem changed his mind about The Sacred Book of Abramelin several times. (By contrast, there is general consensus among Kabalah scholars that the grimoire known as The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses has no basis in true Kabalah or ancient Jewish magic.)
The Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage is not just a collection of seals, spells or rituals but an entire magical system. Think you’ll bring the book home and knock off some spells this weekend? Think again. Abramelin’s system involves months of purification. The book had tremendous influence over ceremonial magic. Once the system has been learned and the practitioner initiated, it promises mastery of the invocation of benevolent and malevolent spirits for material purposes, including acquiring romance and treasure, raising armies from thin air, and magically traveling through air or underwater. (Regardless of who actually wrote this text, this was centuries before submarines or airplanes.) The system is based on a series of magic squares, however the book makes it clear that the system won’t work for anyone who is not an initiate.
Raphael Patai, scholar of esoterica, was fluent in Hebrew, German, and French and so was able to read all three surviving manuscripts and compare them. Based upon these comparisons, he felt that at heart, the story presented in the manuscript was plausible and the magical system authentic, although later interpolations had obviously been made. His fascinating analysis of the three manuscripts is found in his book The Jewish Alchemists (Princeton University Press, 1994).
See HALL OF FAME: Aleister Crowley; Dion Fortune; S. L. MacGregor Mathers.