The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses
Books of Magic and Witchcraft
Like the Mystery of the Long Lost 8th, 9th and 10th Books of Moses, the grimoire known as The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses is based on the premise that the Ten Commandments were only part of the message transmitted on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments and the first five books of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament) were the public information transmitted to Moses. God also gave Moses secret information.
This concept is based on some ancient Jewish mystical traditions that suggest that esoteric knowledge was also simultaneously transmitted. This knowledge is dangerous and so is not readily circulated. (Until recently, study of Kabalah was restricted to men who were over 40 years of age and married. It was considered too dangerous for anyone else.) However, the specific backstory of The Sixth and Seventh Books as revealed in its own introduction does not come from Jewish tradition.
According to the introduction, the material in the grimoire was allegedly first divinely revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was then transmitted secretly, generation to generation, until it reached King Solomon, who used the material to command spirits. (In essence, through this story, The Sixth and Seventh Books is making a competitive claim for The Key of Solomon’s glory.) Following King Solomon’s death, the material allegedly went underground for centuries but was then “discovered” in 330 by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine retained the tradition of secrecy; however the secrets had now passed out of Jewish hands, coinciding with Rome’s acceptance of Christianity as the state religion, and would eventually become the personal property of the popes. Eventually Pope Sylvester, another pope reputed to be a magician, had the material translated but commanded that it be kept secret and never made public under threat of excommunication. No secret stays hidden for ever; people had long whispered of these secrets, stolen glances at these manuscripts. Or so they said. In 1520, a copy of the translated book allegedly reached the Holy Roman Emperor, who finally broke with tradition and permitted publication.
To some extent, this is the conspiracy theory grimoire. Beyond whatever else, the story reveals fears of hidden knowledge, Jewish, and/or Vatican conspiracies.
So what’s in these sixth and seventh books? The Sixth Book contains magic seals; the Seventh contains magic tables. The core of the book is an anthology of woodcuts allegedly copied from old manuscripts as well as incantations for summoning, commanding, and dismissing spirits. The book seems originally to have been written in some combination of German, Hebrew, and Latin, although this may be because different versions have been cobbled together. Christian and Jewish spiritual traditions are intermingled, not necessarily comfortably. A German edition was first published in Stuttgart in 1849 and attributed to Johann Scheibel (1736—1809) although scholars believe the material dates back to the fourteenth century. The first English translation was published in 1880 in New York by Wehman Brothers.
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses evokes passionate responses. There are scholars of ancient Jewish magic who absolutely detest this book. Various amulets and talismans are purported in the text to derive from ancient Egyptian and Jewish sources; some Kabalah scholars believe that some of the seals are authentic, or at least based on authentic tradition. However, the text seems to have been written (or incredibly strongly amended) by a Christian author(s) with little direct knowledge of ancient Semitic magic or the nuances of Hebrew or Aramaic. Although the book claims to derive from sacred texts like the Talmud and assorted Kabalistic works, it bears little or no resemblance to them. (Because the average reader has no knowledge of these topics, they are not in the position to judge authenticity but are likely to take it at face value.) Some believe that The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses is a medieval forgery used to implicate Jews as sorcerers, leaving them vulnerable en masse to legal persecution as witches.
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses contains some interesting magical seals that contain recognizable Hebrew letters as well as those of an unknown script. Portions of the manuscript were allegedly translated from Cuthan-Samaritan, a mysterious language about which little is known other than it has allegedly been extinct since the twelfth century.
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses became particularly popular in German magical traditions. It was transported to the Western Hemisphere by German immigrants where it remains a (controversial) part of the Pow-Wow canon. It is also favored by various African Diaspora traditions including Obeah and Vodou.
However, The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses earned its fame and notoriety as perhaps the most diabolized of all the grimoires, evoking particularly strong reactions from those opposed to the practice of magic. It developed an extremely malevolent European reputation, although this may be partly responsible for the book’s popularity.
The book retained great popularity in Germany up until the 1930s. When Pow-Wow artists refer to the “black book” this tends to be the one they mean (unless they’re discussing Satan’s personal book of records).
In the 1950s the German metaphysical publisher Planet Verlag printed and sold 9,000 copies of The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses. In 1956, a coalition of German anti-occult religious and secular authorities sued the publishers, claiming that some of the spells might be construed as encouraging occult murder. A lower court found Planet Verlag guilty of “harmful publication” and imposed heavy financial penalties.