Books of Magic and Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft - Judika Illes 2005

Books of Magic and Witchcraft

Scholars and anthropologists suggest that the need to record rituals, formulas, prophecies, spells and their results may have stimulated the creation of writing. Among the earliest surviving writings from many lands, languages, and scripts are divination results and recommended magic rituals.

(Documents pertaining to taxation are also heavily, if less romantically, represented in these early texts.)

Some acknowledgement of this history may be found in myths revealing the identity of the first book. Inevitably it’s a book of magic spells. In ancient Egypt, Thoth was believed to have authored the first book, the eponymous “Book of Thoth.” It allegedly contained various spells, rituals, and names of power. Names of power were words so powerful that if uttered correctly (and you had to pronounce them just right!) virtually anything was in your grasp: spirits would be summoned to accomplish your every desire.

The ancient Jews knew similar legends although they had a different first book: the angel Raziel, witnessing the expulsion from Paradise, felt sorry for Adam and secretly slipped him this book engraved on a sapphire tablet. Raziel knew that without a guide to spells, rituals, amulets, and talismans life would be much more difficult, painful, and joyless. Jewish mystical tradition names this book after the angel, The Book of Raziel.

The neighboring Samaritans had an almost identical legend, although they called their first book, “The Book of Signs.” And according to Etruscan traditions in ancient Italy, their ancestors were plowing a brand-new field when a strange figure emerged from out of the Earth, with the head and body of a handsome young man but possessing snakes for legs. This sacred being identified himself as Tages and he, too, bore a book of spells, rituals, and mysticism that he gave to the Etruscans along with verbal instructions. It was upon these materials that the Etruscans claimed to have founded their great magical, oracular, and spiritual traditions.

It isn’t all legend. We know that the classical Greek magicians wrote handbooks that integrated spells, rituals, and instructions for creating amulets, magical tools, and curse tablets.

Books have been used to teach witchcraft, encompassing spiritual traditions and magical arts. They’ve been used to store and preserve information; they’ve also been used as magical tools, as sacred objects of power.

Historically magical books have not represented the diverse realities of witchcraft. Women’s magic, folk magic, Earth magic has traditionally been transmitted orally. Until very recently, what was found in books, with very few exceptions, consisted largely of ceremonial or high ritual magic. Perhaps because of the literacy factor, ceremonial magic was considered the province of adepts, while folk magic (“kitchen magic”) was considered foolishness and superstition, even among occultists. This situation has changed drastically today—the pendulum may even have swung in the opposite direction—but only since the 1970s.

Because so few magical books survive and so many unknown manuscripts were destroyed it’s impossible to know whether this split between male and female magic was always the case. The stereotype suggests that only men were literate but that’s also misleading: once upon a time, few men could read either.

What you won’t find in this section:

Image Works of fiction featuring witches as characters or otherwise inspired by witchcraft. Please see CREATIVE ARTS.

Image The literally thousands of “magical texts” including Books of Shadows, spell-manuals and modern grimoires published since the 1970s.

This stereotype of literate male magicians conducting high ritual in some tower while female witches played in the dirt below may be nothing more than stereotype, however: approximately thirty years before the Common Era, the Roman poet Horace wrote about exclusively female witches and their power to draw down the moon. He described them as devotees of Diana and Proserpina who celebrated in secret nocturnal ceremonies. According to Horace, these witches, too, had a book, the Libros Carminum, the “Book of Charms” or Incantations.

Before the invention of the printing press, making a book was an extremely laborious, time-consuming process. Everything was done by hand, one copy at a time. Very frequently only one copy of a book ever existed so when a book was lost, it was gone for ever. Each book was unique, just as each person is unique—parallels that were not forgotten when books were burned, neither by those who destroyed them nor by those who loved or valued them.

Printing was revolutionary; it changed everything. Printing is the process of making multiple copies of a document by the use of moveable characters or letters. The process was developed independently in both China and Europe. Printing made it possible to make more copies in a few weeks than would have been possible in a lifetime by hand. Johann Gutenberg began building a printing press in 1436 although it took him until approximately 1450 to perfect the process. Although the number of books expanded exponentially there were not nearly as many publications as there are today: your choices were very limited, so what existed was very influential.

Quite a few of those early books, a fairly substantial percentage, had to do with magic and witchcraft, one way or another. Among the earliest and most widely distributed publications were witch-hunters’ manuals, guides for trial judges, Inquisitors and witch-finders. For years, the world’s second most popular bestseller, second only to the Bible, was the Malleus Maleficarum, “The Hammer of the Witches.” Although witches have always been eyed with suspicion by authority and various levels of persecution certainly pre-dated the printing press, perhaps without its invention such massive witch-hunts would not have happened.

On the other hand, simultaneously printing presses were used to bring magic traditions, albeit sometimes incredibly convoluted traditions, to more people than ever before. At great tremendous personal risk, printed grimoires, books of ritual magic, began to appear in Europe. They may be understood as an act of brave defiance against censorship and against the witch-hunts.

In 1951, the last law against witchcraft in the United Kingdom was repealed; this opened the floodgates of a new phenomenon: the witch as author. Gerald Gardner is credited with authoring the first factual book about witchcraft written by a self-identified practitioner. Witchcraft Today was published in 1954. (See HALL OF FAME: Gerald Gardner.)

Many people now learn magic, witchcraft, and Wicca from literary sources rather than from other people. (In many cases this is the only option.) Once upon a time, every town and village had at least one wise woman or cunning man with whom you could consult. That opportunity doesn’t exist anymore and so books and authors have stepped in to fill the void.


Almanacs, defined as books, typically published annually, containing useful, practical advice and information, are most familiar today as standard reference books, similar to encyclopedias or dictionaries. Although some are little more than a compilation of tables of information, many are extremely entertaining. In addition to the “useful, practical information” many almanacs also include proverbs and sayings, little stories, humor, recipes, and assorted odd factoids and miscellany.

However, these extras are the icing on the cake: almanacs are filled with information intended to help one plan one’s daily schedule and one’s work schedule, especially if you still subscribe to a “traditional” occupation like farming, hunting, fishing or seafaring. The typical contents of an almanac include farming and planting information, tide tables, tables of sunrises and sunsets, weather forecasts and ephemeredes (the fancy, technical word for astrological tables). Astrology? In a standard reference book? Yes, because the earliest almanacs were books of magic.

The modern English word almanac is believed to derive from the medieval Latin almanach, which most likely derives from the Arabic al-manAkh, meaning “an almanac.” Another theory suggests that almanac actually derives from the Saxon al-mon-aght, the name given to Norse runic clogs, carved wooden sticks detailing a year’s progression.

Almanacs have extremely ancient roots; they derive from what is known as a hemerology. Hemerologies are magical calendars listing predictions for each day. What does each day mean? What blessings does each day promise or, conversely, for what inherent dangers must one prepare? Which deities or forces possess their utmost power on this day? Intrinsic to the hemerology is the notion that there is such a thing as lucky or unlucky days. Hemerologies thus serve as a guideline for avoiding disaster and maximizing good fortune.

Hemerologies list favorable and unfavorable days within each month; positive and negative actions for each day are also listed. Hemerologies existed in places as far apart as China, Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, Mexico, and Rome.

The earliest known hemerology dates back to at least the second millennium BCE in Mesopotamia. Hemerologies typically include predictions like this:

Image On the seventh day of the month he should not take a wife; distress will befall him

Image On the eighth day of the month he may take a wife, his heart will be happy

Daily horoscopes published in newspapers derive from this concept. Among the Aztecs and Mayans, when a baby was born, the hemerological table was consulted in order to reveal the new child’s nahual, patron deity and perhaps name (see ANIMALS: Nahual).

With the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, almanacs, which were cheap to produce, became widely circulated and influential. Many people had only two books in their home, the Bible and an almanac. Scholars began producing their own almanacs, among the most renowned being Michel de Nostre Dame, better known now as Nostradamus. His predictions were first published as a feature within the almanacs he wrote, compiled, and published annually beginning in 1550. English astrologer William Lilly published his own almanacs in the seventeenth century.

By the eighteenth century, almanacs had become an extremely popular literary genre; many were bestsellers. Benjamin Franklin published his Poor Richard’s Almanac from 1732 to 1758. Benjamin Banneker, the African-American astronomer and mathematician also published a series of best-selling almanacs. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, first published in 1792, is North America’s oldest continually published periodical. The Old Farmer’s Almanac was originally a guide for farmers and remains so, although many readers who have nothing to do with agriculture, simply enjoy reading it or depend upon its renowned weather predictions. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s weather and farming advice are based on astrological wisdom, particularly moon phases. For many, these books are their only exposure to true astrology.

The Witches’ Almanac

Another popular publication, The Witches’ Almanac, falls squarely within the tradition of almanacs as books of magic. In addition to the standard practical information one expects to find within an almanac (moon phases, planting tables, and so forth) The Witches’ Almanac is filled with information regarding spells, spirits, and practical magic. The Witches’ Almanac was created by Elizabeth Pepper and John Wilcock and was first published as a labor of love in 1971. It is published annually coinciding with the vernal equinox. In 1980, when their publisher went out of business, The Witches Almanac went on hiatus until 1991 when Pepper and Wilcock revived it as an independent publication. It continues to serve all facets of the witchcraft community.

Books of Shadows

According to its most basic definition, a Book of Shadows is a book of spells or rituals copied by hand. That’s crucial; by definition, a Book of Shadows is a personalized, hand-written book. No two are identical, if only because the handwriting is different. Although various authors have published their personal Books of Shadows, these are usually intended as guidelines or methods of preserving traditions. If you use a printed, published Book of Shadows for spellcasting, which many do, then by definition it is being used in the manner of a grimoire. In order to possess an authentic Book of Shadows it must be hand-written, even if all you do is copy it word for word. A not insubstantial portion of the tradition’s power and beauty derives from the magical art of putting pen to paper.

Books of Shadows derive from the notion that because magical practices and/or pagan religion were persecuted with total eradication as the goal, witches (variously defined) kept secret books. Secrecy was crucial because possession of a magical or pagan text (and that’s a distinction the Inquisition would not have made) was grounds for arrest and conviction for witchcraft. The title of the genre, which may or may not have been coined by Gerald Gardner, father of modern Wicca, refers to the necessity of keeping these books hidden or “in the shadows.”

If one uses the purest, narrowest definition of a Book of Shadows as a hand-written, personalized book of rituals and magic, then in essence, all magical manuscripts created prior to the invention of the printing press, not least the medieval grimoires, are Books of Shadows. They were, by necessity, hand-copied. There was no other way to make a book.

However, that pure, narrow definition of Books of Shadows is rarely used, and the equation of them with medieval grimoires would horrify, appall and anger many Wiccans, because a Book of Shadows is more than just a handwritten ritual guide.

Many would object to considering medieval grimoires as Books of Shadows because these grimoires are virtually all associated with a type of selfish, frequently malevolent, male-oriented sorcery, heavily steeped in Christianity (many who used and perhaps wrote them were theologians) and with a type of magic that is diametrically opposed to traditional Earth-centered witchcraft.

Historic Books of Shadows, as opposed to those created in the wake of Gerald Gardner, are understood to have been books written by individual female witches or by covens in a desperate attempt to keep traditions alive. They are shadowy because normally this material would never have been written down but transmitted orally—but desperate times require desperate action.

This is the definition of Books of Shadows as taught by Gerald Gardner, who claimed to have learned of the tradition when he was initiated into a long-secret coven. Gardner wrote his own Book of Shadows together with Doreen Valiente and Aleister Crowley, and this book is among the bedrock on which Gardnerian Wicca is formed.

Since Gardner, Books of Shadows are an integral part ofWiccan religion, manifesting in various ways.

Image Solitary witches may create their own book to suit personal needs.

Image Some traditions maintain one copy, entrusted to the High Priest or High Priestess; initiated individuals may copy from the book as needed.

Image In some traditions, initiation involves copying and understanding the Book of Shadows over an extended period of time.

Image Not all traditions create Books of Shadows; some prefer not to put everything in writing.

In this sense Books of Shadows transcend spells. They are books of ritual. If one belongs to a specific spiritual or witchcraft tradition, this sacred book is where the laws, rituals, spells, and crucial information of that tradition are written.

This notion of the historical Book of Shadows grounded in the witch-hunts is controversial. Academics specializing in witchcraft often object to it, convinced it didn’t exist. Many believe Gerald Gardner created the concept himself and only claimed that the tradition was old, similar in fashion to the way grimoires authored in the eighteenth century claim to be based on ancient manuscripts. Because so few ancient magical or Pagan texts survived, it’s impossible to verify—or disprove—these claims.

Scholarly objection stems mainly from the fact that the type of witch Gardner describes tends to be female and is generally believed to be at best functionally illiterate. However, this is assumption and incredibly difficult to prove, one way or another.

Witch-trial records do show that when witches were burned, books were burned with them. However because the books were burned there is little if any evidence of what was burned. It’s an old political trick: first burn the evidence, then say the evidence didn’t exist. And maybe it didn’t. Maybe the scholars are right. But maybe they’re wrong—at least some of the time. Secrets have a way of emerging from the shadows: one historical reference survives. According to seventeenth-century Venetian Inquisition records, charges of witchcraft were levied against a woman named Laura Malipero. When the agents of the Inquisition searched her home they discovered a copy of the banned grimoire The Key of Solomon, together with a private, hand-written book of spells and rituals into which Laura had copied portions of that classical grimoire. Laura Malipero was obviously not illiterate. Her handwritten book fulfills Gerald Gardner’s concept of the individual witch’s Book of Shadows and straddles the fine line between them and medieval grimoires.

And whether Gerald Gardner or someone else made up the notion of Books of Shadows may be irrelevant; it is a beautiful tradition. The completed books (and some are never complete, perpetual works in progress) are beautifully embellished works of art, power, magic, and spirituality. Some are written in magical scripts; some are illustrated. No two are exactly alike.

Wiccan Books of Shadows are traditionally kept secret. Many covens administer an oath of secrecy to initiates. You have to enter and commit yourself to that twilight world of shadows to gain access.

In 1971, the American Wiccan Lady Sheba (Jessie Wicker Bell, died March 25, 2002) was the first to publish an entire Book of Shadows, under the title Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows. Lady Sheba was a pioneer of Wicca as a public religion. She was among the first to officially register her religion as Wicca at a time when many people were ignorant of Wicca and associated it with Satanism. (The United States armed forces now acknowledges Wicca as a religious option, something not afforded to various Native American or African-derived spiritual traditions.)

Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows was published to tremendous interest but also tremendous animosity. By publishing her personal Book of Shadows Lady Sheba ignited a firestorm, not from outsiders but from within the Wicca community. Many felt betrayed and believed that she had violated her oath of secrecy. She was accused of making precious spiritual secrets public. (This was a time when comparatively few metaphysical works of any sort were published.)

In addition, many misunderstood the concept of a Book of Shadows being a compilation of earlier material and traditions. Because her Book of Shadows was published under her name, many accused her of claiming to be the author of the material in her book, some of which was traditional. However, other material in her book had been composed by Doreen Valiente, Gerald Gardner’s High Priestess and co-author of Gardner’s Book of Shadows. Because it was never entirely clear exactly how much of Gardner’s material was old and traditional, and hence in the public domain, and how much was created to fulfill the needs of a new spiritual tradition, various issues of copyright infraction, on the ethical level if not also on the legal, were raised.

Lady Sheba’s response to this controversy and the hostility engendered was that the time of secrecy was over and that she had never claimed that the material was original. She was merely passing on the Gardnerian tradition as she had received it. The book remains in print. It is not a book of magic spells but of Wiccan ritual and theology.


Dreams are often understood to contain encoded symbolic meaning. The problem inevitably is cracking the code. Dream-books are guides that allegedly help you do just that. It is an ancient genre that retains its popularity today. The concept is found around the world.

Image The Artemidoros, a classical dream-book, was written in Greek in the second century CE and named for its author.

Image Artemidoros’ work was translated into Arabic in the ninth century and stimulated a rash of medieval Arabic dream-books, which in general are accessible only to those fluent in classical Arabic and its nuances.

Image The Arabic dream-books’ influence may be seen, however, in The Oneirocriticon of Achmet, a Byzantine work on dream interpretation, which was written in Greek in the tenth century and has greatly influenced subsequent dream-books, not only in Byzantine Greek and medieval Latin but also in modern vernacular European languages.

Dream-books aren’t psychological studies of dreams; instead they’re mainly tables of interpretations. If you dream of something, what does it really mean? They’re books of codes. For instance, if your head turns in a dream, this might indicate a change of location in your future. Eventually dream-books began to fulfill another important purpose: treasure hunting. It was believed (and still frequently is) that your dreams hold the clue to your fortune. Any dream symbol can be assigned a number; if you’ve got the right numbers, you might just win the lottery. The implication is that everyone has the right numbers although only a few can decipher them and put them to good use.

Although dream-books do not evoke the hostility of spell-books or grimoires, they were greatly discouraged by the Christian authorities during the Middle Ages. (Later on, they’d just be disparaged as foolishness and superstition.) Games of chance derive originally from sacred arts and it is a very small step from believing numbers are imbedded in your dreams to appreciating that benevolent guardian spirits placed them there. In fact, various Italian and Chinese spells invoke spirits to help provide winning numbers.

In a dream-book all components of a dream, anything envisioned or experienced, is assigned a number. For example, according to Aunt Sally’s Policy Players Dream Book and Wheel of Fortune should you encounter a woman named Clara in your dreams (or even just see or hear the name) you might want to play 13, 36 or 42. Everything may be assigned a number and the better books are quite comprehensive, inventive, and fun.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, inexpensive Hoodoo-oriented publications were marketed with romantic titles like The Mystic Oracle or The Gypsy Dream Book and Fortune-teller. Many were sold in conjunction with dream incense. The incense was burned before bedtime to stimulate clairvoyant dreams and then the book would help you figure them out. Aunt Sally’s Policy Players Dream Book, published in the 1890s and still in print, features a cover illustration of a thin gap-toothed black woman with gypsy-style earrings pointing to some lucky numbers with a knowing look. The implication is that she is a conjure woman; she wears a head wrap tied to display horns of power. Aunt Sally’s and many other modern dream-books oriented toward the hoodoo trade are believed to incorporate material from much older sources.


In 1277, the Archbishop of Paris issued a condemnation of “books, rolls or booklets containing necromancy or experiments of sorcery, invocation of demons or conjuration of demons, or conjurations hazardous for souls.” In other words, grimoires.

The term “grimoire” is the name given to the genre of books of magic spells and rituals. Grimoire is a French word and is most usually pronounced “grim-wahr.”

Variants exist in other languages like Latin (grimorium) or Spanish (grimorio) although an English variant does not exist, the French version being used instead. In general, the grimoires were a European phenomenon. Many of the classical grimoires weren’t translated into English until well into the nineteenth century (S. L. MacGregor Mathers, founding member of the Golden Dawn, is responsible for some of the earliest translations).

The closest English word to grimoire is “grammar,” meaning a textbook or, more specifically, an instructive manual teaching correct construction of language. At their simplest, grammars are spelling books and so are grimoires. They just teach different spelling skills.

The first thing one must understand about grimoires, if one wants to understand the genre at all, is that they were illegal. These aren’t merely textbooks of magic and magical ritual; they’re forbidden textbooks; to be precise, forbidden texts of forbidden practices. Back in the Middle Ages, if you were caught with a magical book, punishment was dire. You’d be arrested and arrest almost inevitably led to torture. Oh, you could confess voluntarily to every charge but it gained you little. It wouldn’t earn you a faster, more painless death because voluntary confession was rarely enough. Inquisitors were convinced that arrested witches and sorcerers were always hiding something; it was in the nature of witches to be cleverly evasive and secretive. So they’d torture you until they deemed that what you confessed under pain, terror, and duress was sufficient. Only then would you be burned alive with your magical book at your feet, lest you forgot what got you into this mess in the first place. The book prominently displayed and burned was also a warning to others to stay away at all costs from forbidden texts. There are very excellent reasons why until recently you couldn’t openly buy any sort of magical work in a regular bookstore.

Historically, however, no matter how many have been willing to kill for a forbidden book of magic or spirituality, many more have been willing to risk their lives and die for these books and the knowledge they contain.

Grimoires are based on awareness of how precious and endangered magical and spiritual traditions were and how difficult they were to access. Persecution of witches and the destruction of their books pre-date Christianity. Roman authority, although pagan, feared and wished to suppress magical information; they destroyed works by the thousands too.

There were always people, however, who regretted this loss and attempted to forestall and prevent it, albeit usually secretly. Fragments, pieces and individual pages of these magical texts were saved and preserved. Those who had read them sometimes attempted to recreate them. A black market for these invaluable suppressed magical texts soon sprang up, as did forgeries.

Magical texts, even in fragments were treasured. People copied them by hand from other people’s copies. These copies, each perhaps slightly different, were circulated and copied again and again.

Few knew what to expect from these books because by definition they were scarce and mysterious. Few could understand or even read them: many texts were in archaic or unrecognizable scripts. Some are written in obscure foreign languages. And for a population that was largely illiterate, perhaps any writing is obscure and mysterious. Those little details didn’t stop people from copying them and making attempts at translation. Some early manuscripts are written in several languages at once; your speculation as to why is as good as anyone else’s. As to whether these manuscripts were authentic or whether translations were anywhere near accurate, there was rarely anyone to ask. Even if there was someone, who could trust that that person wouldn’t inform the Inquisition of your curiosity, especially if they’re arrested and tortured themselves?

The results of these hand-written magical manuscripts are the medieval grimoires. Pretty much across the board, they’re a garbled mess. Some are believed based upon genuinely ancient magical texts. Others may contain fragments of these texts, while still others may be forgeries, written to discredit sorcerers or despised ethnic groups or just to earn small fortunes on the black market. Some are a combination of all of the above.

Grimoires as we know them began to appear in the twelfth century. Authorship is generally unknown. New editions were made by handcopying old ones at great personal risk. It is a dream-like genre. Books were written in code, so that only adepts could understand what they were really saying. Some grimoires are attributed to famous names from the past like King Solomon, Albertus Magnus, and various occult masters. (Many are largely cribbed from the works of Cornelius Agrippa although this is rarely acknowledged.) Inevitably attributed authors are long dead and gone for obvious reasons: dead men tell no tales; dead men can’t be prosecuted for witchcraft. Did these famous authors write the entire grimoire? Definitely not. Did they write some or any of the book? Maybe. It can’t be conclusively determined.

In general, with few exceptions, these books are compilations of materials from varied sources, often reflecting very different and even contradictory traditions. Some may be “made up”—an attempt to gouge money from book collectors. Sometimes however even in a book that seems 99 percent invented, a glimmer of genuine occult wisdom suggests that at some point something was real.

For a living person to actually take credit for authoring a grimoire would have been tantamount to suicide, so inevitably they are always “found” manuscripts. An old trunk was opened and an old book discovered within. Or more frequently the story is that someone was minding their own business when a mysterious stranger handed them the text and disappeared. Are these stories true? Maybe. Books were hidden away in chests; someone transporting an illegal magical text probably wouldn’t stop for a chat, tell you where they came from or give you enough information to find them later. On the other hand, maybe these mysterious stories are the required excuses needed for possession of a magical book, or maybe the person telling the story was really the one who first produced the book.

The exclusively male orientation of this genre may be appreciated when one considers that magical books are attributed to Enoch, the Angel Raziel, the Egyptian deity Thoth, and the master magician King Solomon as well as his arch-rival, the master demon Asmodeus. Even a pope is credited with a grimoire. Why then are there no grimoires attributed to such legendary sorceresses as Isis, Circe, Medea or Morgan le Fay?

Grimoires frequently begin with an explanation of who wrote them, where, and why. Conjurers inevitably conjure up glamorous pasts and reputations for themselves. They were trave-ling in Egypt; they met a holy man in India. Are these stories true? Maybe.

The printing press was invented and popularized in Europe during the era of witch-hunting. Magical texts remained forbidden and illegal, however the new technology offered the possibility of making these texts more accessible. After the invention of the printing press, grimoires were published and circulated in secret. Surviving classical grimoires seem to have been printed and standardized between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries although they preserve older material within their pages, although by the time a work was published in a standard edition, it often bore little relation to the original manuscript upon which it was based.

Several versions of the same book may exist, frequently in different languages. It may be impossible to determine which was published first or whether all derive from a now missing source.

Medieval grimoires are in general not books of practical magic. They reflect the predilections, needs, and desires of their intended readers: educated male sorcerers, many with a background in Christian theology.

The grimoires were inspired by various sources. Any one grimoire may include spells and rituals based on one or more of the following:

Image Egyptian magical papyri

Image Jewish angelology and magical handbooks including Kabalistic texts

Image Pagan magical texts, especially surviving remnants from classical Greece, Rome, and pre-Christian Byzantium

Image Roman Catholic ritual, especially rites of exorcism

Image Alchemical traditions and mysteries

In general the grimoires emphasize a school of magic known as Ceremonial Magic or High Ritual magic. Further details explaining this school of sorcery may be found in MAGICAL ARTS: Commanding and Compelling. However, the basic premise is that the magician attempts, via a series of often lengthy rituals, to summon spiritual beings and command them to perform various actions on their behalf.

There are three components to this style of magic:

1. Spirits, frequently identified as demons, must be summoned or compelled to come to you.

2. Once you have them, you have to tell them what to do and enforce their compliance.

3. Finally, at the appropriate moment the spirits must be banished or compelled to leave.

The orientation is almost exclusively male. Angels and demons are summoned but not to reveal spiritual secrets, or at least not for the sake of mere knowledge. They’re called upon to locate treasure or forcibly deliver the woman (frequently someone else’s wife) who’s already rejected you. There is relatively little herbal magic (some grimoires contain remedies, although these tend not to be practical or based on established herbal medicine), which was considered the province of women. Sorcerers weren’t interested in this type of magic. Instead, grimoires are handbooks of magic for personal satisfaction, often rooted in selfish desire, rather than for the magical worker who serves her community.

As a whole, the medieval grimoires are not representative of modern witchcraft practices, Wiccan or otherwise. Those who are unfamiliar with them will likely be shocked. To describe them as mean spirited is an understatement (however this is true of many old magical documents, especially surviving texts from Alexandria). Although few if any are literally diabolical, many advocate brutal animal cruelty, magical rape, theft, and murder.

The most important surviving manuscripts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance are preserved in the British Museum in London and the Arsenal Library in Paris.

A sampling of the most famous grimoires follows. Also included in this list are a few books that are not medieval grimoires but were consciously written to follow in the tradition.

Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches

Although Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches is a relatively modern book devoted to magic and witchcraft, it is surrounded by an aura of mystery and controversy as powerful as that of any medieval grimoire.

Charles Godfrey Leland (August 15, 1824—March 20, 1903), who is credited as Aradia’s author, was an American folklorist, author, and journalist, and a respected authority on magic and witchcraft. A wealthy, cultured, well-traveled man, he went to Italy where he employed fortune-tellers and witches to serve as sources and teach him about their traditions. Leland came to believe that Italian witchcraft was deeply rooted in ancient Etruscan and Roman traditions. When he heard rumours about a mysterious manuscript setting forth the ancient doctrines of Italian witchcraft, Leland was determined to obtain it.

Among his sources was a fortune-teller named Maddelena whom he allegedly met in 1886 when he began employing her as a source. He nagged her to help him find this manuscript and, eventually, apparently she did. (How much he pressured her is subject to debate. Leland paid his sources; whether what they told him and brought him was true or was intended to please a wealthy patron is also subject to debate.)

Maddelena brought Leland the manuscript that would serve as the basis for Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches on New Year’s Day, 1897. It was not an ancient manuscript. An older version (or any other version) of Aradia has never been found. Nor did Maddelena bring him the original but had copied it in her own hand, similar to the tradition of Books of Shadows and of medieval grimoires. Leland himself confessed that he did not know how much of Maddelena’s handwritten manuscript was copied from another book and how much was based on oral traditions.

Having delivered the manuscript, Maddelena disappeared. Leland never saw her again, nor was he ever able to produce her in order to verify his story. He translated the Italian manuscript. Aradia is mainly devoted to the deity Diana, Queen of the Witches. It describes a version of her mythology and also includes a compendium of charms, spells, incantations, rituals, and folk magic. Leland added a commentary and published the work in London in 1899. (The part that he claims is derived from Maddelena’s manuscript is in Italian with an English translation; Leland’s own additions are solely in English.)

The tale Leland recounts of how Aradia came to be published is not dissimilar from the backstory explaining the existence of many medieval grimoires: the gist of the story is inevitably that a magical adept delivers a manuscript to someone and then disappears, leaving that person to present the manuscript to the world. However, Leland was no medieval sorcerer but a preeminent folklorist operating, theoretically at least, under the guise of science and anthropology, and so his book was held to a higher standard than that of the grimoires. Bitter arguments immediately sprang up regarding whether the manuscript is really a copy of an ancient book or whether it simply purports to be. Although there is no proof that Aradia is based on an ancient manuscript, neither is there any proof that it isn’t.

How much of it is historically verifiable and how much is “made up”? Since its publication, Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches has stimulated tremendous debate as to its true origins.

There are four possibilities:

1. Maddelena genuinely copied an ancient manuscript.

2. Maddelena wrote the book herself, perhaps based on her own family and personal traditions.

3. Leland made up the story about Maddelena and actually wrote the book himself.

4. Some or all of the above are true.

Because Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches would eventually exert tremendous influence on Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente and become incorporated into their vision of modern Wicca (most significantly the foundation of The Charge of the Goddess, among the most beloved Wiccan rituals, lies within Aradia), this debate regarding the book’s origins has never gone away but remains fervent and perhaps even more passionate now then when it was first published over 100 years ago.

Aradia is a complicated, complex book even as to how it should be categorized. It is somewhat unique, falling midway between a witch’s Book of Shadows and a medieval grimoire. Whoever did compose the book was familiar with both those magical literary genres. However, the book identifies itself as a vangelo or a gospel; Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches consciously intends to serve as a testament to Diana in the manner that the New Testament gospels serve as a testament to Christ.

Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches explicitly states that devotion to the Madonna, particularly when she is visualized with the crescent moon, masks forbidden devotions to Diana.

In the context of medieval grimoires, Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches is radical because the focus is on powerful female deities (and Diana is clearly a goddess, not a demon) and because most of it is clearly intended for use primarily by women. There is no pretense toward containing hidden teachings from ancient Egypt or secret writings authored by prophets, kings or popes. Instead this is a text of witchcraft ostensibly created by witches for other witches, and humble ones at that. Simple if potentially powerful folk magic spells, the “Conjuration of the Lemon and Pins” for instance, are included that, one imagines, would have bored Dr Faust-style magicians with loftier pretensions.

However, Aradia is more than just a collection of folk magic and ritual. The book includes Leland’s personal definitions of witches and witchcraft:

…in Italy great numbers of strege, fortunetellers or witches, who divine by cards, perform strange ceremonies in which spirits are supposed to be invoked, make and sell amulets, and, in fact, comport themselves generally as their reputed kind are wont to do, be they Black Voodoos in America or sorceresses anywhere.

Leland understands Italian witchcraft (stregheria) to be the joint product of hereditary witches and those who over the centuries, for one reason or another, joined forces with those witches: “the witches of old were people oppressed by feudal lands [sic] …holding orgies to Diana which the Church represented as being the worship of Satan,” as well as a “vast development of rebels, outcasts, and all the discontented, who adopted witchcraft or sorcery for a religion” who held “secret meetings in desert places, among old ruins accursed by priests as the haunt of evil spirits or ancient heathen gods, or in the mountains.”

In Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches, Diana is described as the first of all spiritual entities. Reminiscent of the Pelasgian creation tale retold in ANIMALS: Snakes, Diana first begets Lucifer (who may or may not be that Lucifer). Vain, proud, and arrogant, Lucifer rejects Diana’s advances but she outsmarts him by resorting to witchcraft, shape-shifting into the form of a black cat, and so is able to conceive their daughter Aradia (Herodias), identified as the female Messiah, the first true witch.

Aradia contains no demonology comparable to medieval grimoires; the deities are treated respectfully. Aradia contains no commanding and compelling rituals equivalent to medieval grimoires but does share some themes in common with standard sorcerers’ grimoires—most jarringly (to modern ears and in a book largely devoted to women’s magic) a spell intended for use by a wizard desiring the love of woman.

He is encouraged to transform her into a dog, Diana’s sacred creature, in which form she will be compelled to come to him whenever he wishes. He can then transform her back into female shape and have his way with her. She will remember nothing of the experience, it will seem like a dream. This is essentially the wizard’s equivalent of a magical date-rape drug.

The image of women transformed into dogs is very powerful, however. Diana’s votive imagery almost always depicts her accompanied by hounds; the implication contained in Aradia is that these hounds are transformed devotees, witches accompanying their goddess in disguise, and recalls that the slur “son of a bitch” was once intended to insinuate that a man’s mother was a witch and hence sexually autonomous (or promiscuous depending upon perception), and that his father’s true identity might thus be suspect.

See also Books of Shadows; ANIMALS: Dogs; Snakes; DIVINE WITCH: Aradia; Diana; Herodias; HALL OF FAME: Gerald Gardner; Charles Godfrey Leland; Doreen Valiente.

The Black Pullet or The Hen with the Golden Eggs

Do you remember the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Wouldn’t you like to own a bird like that? Impossible, you say? Well, how about a chicken that can lead you to treasure? Would you settle for that? Sure you would. Now all you need is this book and the magical skill to put its secrets into practice.

Subtitled The Science of Magical Talismans, The Black Pullet is believed to have been first published in the late eighteenth century. Who wrote it? Who knows? The oldest extent version was written in French although it seems to have been published in Rome. According to what’s written in the text, the anonymous author was traveling in Egypt when a mysterious man took him inside a pyramid and taught him occult secrets, which the author now wishes to share. The Black Pullet is the result.

This grimoire is devoted to talismanic magic and treasure hunting. It is divided into two sections, which may or may not have once been separate books. The first contains instructions for making magical rings that will enable you to command and control the elemental fire spirits known as salamanders. Why ever would you want to do that? Because salamanders can, allegedly, be compelled to bestow gifts like invisibility and winning lottery numbers. The book’s second section, fairly unique among grimoires, is devoted to instructions on how to create a magical chicken that can lead you to buried treasure. Don’t laugh; this wasn’t intended as a joke—or at least maybe it wasn’t. A fairly late grimoire, with no pretense of presenting ageold information, The Black Pullet was produced in an era where the lines between obsessed sorcerer and mad scientist were very fine.

The Black Pullet takes a novel approach toward the prevention of piracy and copyright fraud, one that other publishers would perhaps like to consider. Similar to those curses found within Egyptian tombs or inside buried hordes of treasure, the text warns that anyone producing a pirated version will be severely punished via magic.

The Black Pullet displays more humor (or what can be interpreted as humor; maybe there was never any intention of being funny) than is customary in this genre. However, one mustn’t underestimate The Black Pullet. It’s an influential grimoire, which has been incorporated into various traditions, especially those of the Western Hemisphere including Hoodoo. The book is available in English. A Spanish translation—Gallina Negra—has been influential in both Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Santeria.

The Black Pullet created a new style in grimoires, resulting in a series of book with equally evocative titles. Extremely similar grimoires were published under titles like Black Screech Owl, Queen of the Hairy Flies, and Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids. A new “version” of the Grand Grimoire was also published around this time entitled The Red Dragon (see page 127).

See ANIMALS: Chickens; DICTIONARY: Santeria.

The Book of Pow-Wows or The Long Lost Friend

The Book of Pow-Wows has over the years become the work most often used to define the Pow-Wow tradition. This selection of charms and folk medicine was compiled in 1819 by Johann (John) George Hohmann.

Pow-Wow uses an Iroquois word to name the magical traditions of German immigrants to the United States. More information may be found within the DICTIONARY.

Unlike virtually all other books in this section, medieval and otherwise, The Book of Pow-Wows and its author are well-documented. Pow-Wow artist John George Hohmann (his name is variously spelled Hohmann, Homan, and Hohman) was born in Germany in approximately 1775. He emigrated to the United States as an indentured servant, arriving in Philadelphia on October 2, 1802 with his wife Anna Catherine and at least one child. Mr and Mrs Hohmann worked as indentured servants in different households in exchange for payment of their sea passage.

Hohmann served in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for 3 1/2 years. Upon release from indenture, The Hohmanns reunited and set up a household together. Hohmann was a devout Roman Catholic and a fervent believer in faith healing. He put together a German-American spellbook, reflecting Pow-Wow tradition. The book was initially published in German as Lange Verborgene Freund (The Long Lost Friend) in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1820. It was eventually translated into English and retitled The Book of Pow Wows or The Long Lost Friend in 1855.

Hohmann did not want his compilation to be considered a grimoire, or at least he didn’t want the local negative attention that authoring a grimoire would attract. This reflects the controversy in the Pow-Wow community between those who perceive themselves as devout Christians, with Pow-Wow as a form of Christian faith healing, and those who acknowledge and perhaps identify with other roots and influences. Hohmann certainly would have resented having his book appear on the same list as The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, a book reputed to be dangerous and diabolical although (perhaps for that reason) it was extremely popular among German magicians as well as dabblers in the occult. Many understand The Book of Pow Wows to be a safe alternative to that book.

Needless to say, The Book of Pow-Wows is intensely Christian in tone, if not ritual. Pagan Pow-Wow practitioners avail themselves of the same charms by merely deleting Christian references, many of which are easily omitted.

The Book of Pow-Wows was extremely influential outside the Pow-Wow community as well. Traveling salesmen specializing in “religious goods” carried The Book of Pow-Wows to the south, where it was purchased by Hoodoo and Voodoo practitioners who began to incorporate its practices and from whence it entered what would eventually become mainstream American magic transmitted to the world.

The book contains magic from various traditions including German folk magic, Romany magic, and Kabalah. As is so often the case, The Book of Pow-Wows seems to have offered readers more benefits than it did its author. Hohmann did not enjoy economic success; five acres belonging to him were sold in a sheriff’s sale in 1825.

The Book of San Cipriano and Santa Justina

There are two St Cyprians. Both were third-century archbishops who died as Christian martyrs. One or both of them was a converted pagan magician who renounced sorcery to allegedly become a devout Christian. As part of that renunciation process, the magician burned his substantial library of magical texts. Apparently several centuries after his death, St Cyprian began to regret his actions or at least the book-burning ones. He decided that he’d better make amends and provide people with a book containing the essence of his old collection. Now a dead man can’t write, even if he is a sainted archbishop, but he can do the next best thing—he can channel.

According to the preface of The Book of San Cipriano the German monk Jonas Sulfurino wrote down the words dictated to him by St Cyprian in 1000 CE. Exactly who was Jonas Sulfurino? Who knows? But of course in order to be considered an official saint, by definition one must produce miracles. If a saint can produce miracles, who says he can’t dictate a book?

Various slightly different versions of this grimoire have been published under the same title or very close variations on the title. The manual became extremely popular in Iberia, where St Cyprian (San Cipriano) is considered the major patron of magic. He is also considered patron saint of the Romany, who have exerted tremendous influence over Iberian magical traditions. Much of The Book of San Cipriano is devoted to finding long-lost buried treasure in Iberia. The best-known edition was printed in Spain in the sixteenth century. Still very influential in Spain and Portugal, Europeans brought the grimoire to the Western Hemisphere where it has been incorporated into various Afro-Brazilian traditions, including Candomble, Macumba, and Umbanda. As far as I know, there is as yet no English translation.

The book is intensely Christian in tone with prayers addressed to San Cipriano and Santa Elena (St Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, credited with discovering the True Cross in Jerusalem.) Despite this, it still bears a reputation in some quarters as a “wicked book.” Some believe that owning a copy leads to evil deeds including murder and suicide.

The Grand Grimoire or The Red Dragon

Believed to have been written in the mid-seventeenth century, the earliest extent version of The Grand Grimoire is in French. The book includes methods of demonic conjuration and necromancy. It is not a nice book and perhaps best fulfills the stereotype of a diabolical grimoire. Arthur Waite, scholar of magic and founding member of The Golden Dawn described The Grand Grimoire as “one of the most atrocious of its class” because it directs the magician to perform acts possible “only to a dangerous maniac or an irreclaimable criminal.”

The Grand Grimoire contains a unique ceremony of demonic conjuration to summon a spirit called Lucifuge Rofocale. Instructions for making a pact with Lucifuge are included, although the text suggests that this should only be used by those magicians who are unable to force the demon without resorting to a pact. Demonstrating the arrogance of this tradition, the pact contained in The Grand Grimoire is intended as a trick; the demon allegedly believes he will obtain the conjurer’s soul after 20 years of service, however only vague promises of some type of reward are really made. Essentially these are instructions for beating the devil at his own game. Lucifuge can allegedly be compelled to locate hidden treasure and deliver it to the sorcerer.

The Great Albert

The full title of this influential grimoire is Albertus Magnus, Being the Approved, Verified, Sympathetic and Natural Egyptian Secrets or White and Black Art for Man and Beast Revealing the Forbidden Knowledge and Mysteries of Ancient Philosophers. Perhaps that’s why they call it The Great Albert. (There’s also a Little Albert.)

The book is attributed to the theologian, Christian saint and alleged magician Albertus Magnus. It is basically a collection of German folk magic and medicine with a strong Christian component. The earliest Great Albert currently known is a German manuscript dating to 1478. The first English edition was published in London in 1725.

The Grimoire of Honorius the Great

The Grimoire of Honorius the Great was allegedly written by Pope Honorius III, who passed away in 1227. The grimoire is occasionally attributed to one of the other popes known as Honorius, however the general consensus seems to be that if the grimoire was indeed written by a pope, then Honorius III is the one. Why would a pope author a grimoire? For priests to use—or at least that’s the rationale given in this book.

The book’s origins are unclear. The Grimoire of Honorius has existed in its present form since at least 1629 and was published in Rome in 1670. According to information contained in its text, a convention of sorcerers elected Honorius to write a work capturing the essence of the magical arts. The text was to be closely guarded and secretly passed from one generation to another. The anonymous author of The Grimoire of Honorius, whoever he was, included an introduction in the form of a papal bull from Pope Honorius proclaiming that Roman Catholic priests are now permitted to invoke demons.

The Grimoire of Honorius suggests various methods of summoning, commanding, and dismissing demons. Included in the work are prayers, assorted animal sacrifices, and instructions on how to create a magical book. Whether or not the grimoire was actually authored by a pope, its orientation is clearly Christian and intended for use by sorcerers in Christianity.

Is the concept of a pope authoring a grimoire completely laughable? Again, who knows? Since the Middle Ages, rumors have consistently circulated that before confiscated magical texts were burned, copies were secretly made and sent to the Vatican Library. Many sorcerers came from a clerical background and in many areas, such as France or Russia, priests were frequently reputed to double as sorcerers and were feared as such. Historically, priests were convicted and burned as witches. Based on their texts, some grimoires were intended for use by rogue priests.

Because the Pope had access to these stores of knowledge, many popes have had reputations, whether deserved or not, as sorcerers. One persistent conspiracy theory alleges that the European Witchcraze was at its roots really a secret attempt to eliminate everyone else possessing any kind of magical wisdom so that only a very small elite, safely hidden in the heart of the Church, would have control over this knowledge.

The Key of Solomon or Clavicula Salomonis

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:

Image In 1350, Pope Innocent VI orders something called The Book of Solomon burned.

Image 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.

Image In 1456, a pamphlet against magic mentions the Key by name.

Image In 1559, the Inquisition specifically condemns The Key of Solomon and bans it as a heretical work.

Image 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.

The Lemegeton or The Lesser Key of Solomon

The Lemegeton is a collection of five books devoted to spirit summoning. Once again, the text is attributed to King Solomon. The earliest complete surviving manuscript in its present form was written in French and dates to the seventeenth century, although it contains references that date back to approximately 1500. Johann Weyer (1515—1588) included material that seems to derive from The Lemegeton in his catalog of demons, indicating its earlier existence.

What does Lemegeton mean? It resembles an acronym but no one is sure. The text is divided into four parts, which may or may not have originally been separate works. At least one, the Almadel is believed to have once been an original work. The sections are published together and individually today. Purchasing The Lemegeton can be tricky as sometimes the books are sold in one volume but sometimes not. Any volume sold under that name will contain the first book, the Goetia and possibly some or all of the others. Each book or section possesses an individual title, however.

The books are divided as follows:

1. Goetia: this means “sorcery” in Greek. When people refer to The Lemegeton, this is often what is meant. It includes a list and analysis of the 72 most influential demons, many of whom were deities, not demons, at the time of King Solomon. According to legend, King Solomon imprisoned these particular 72 inside a sealed brass cauldron and threw them into the ocean’s depths. Eventually the cauldron washed ashore. It was discovered and opened in the expectation that it would contain treasure, or at least the equivalent of obliging genies in the bottle. Instead, the spirits escaped and are now loose in the world, more troublesome than ever. They can only be controlled by the methods described in this book. The Goetia was translated into English in a collaboration between Aleister Crowley and S. L. MacGregor Mathers, before their eventual falling out.

2. Theurgia Goetia: describes directional spirits and what to do with them.

3. Art Pauline: includes information on planetary hours and governing and guardian angels, as well as instructions on determining your own angels.

4. Art Almadel, also sometimes spelled Almandel: who needs dangerous, troublesome demons? This book includes instructions for summoning angels and convincing them to provide your heart’s desire. The age and origin of this book is unknown. The earliest known reference to The Almadel occurs approximately 1500. Its title isn’t as mysterious as those of some other grimoires: an almadel is a wax square upon which one may inscribe sigils. The handbook reveals how to create almadels.

There is also a fifth book, well, two of them, that are sometimes considered part and parcel of The Lemegeton package. The two fifth books are not identical and have different names. If you purchase a “complete” Lemegeton, it may contain only the four books listed above; it may contain the four books plus one of the following titles or it may substitute one of the following for one of the above:

Image Artem Novem: this includes rituals and prayers that it claims are necessary to consecrate the tools used in the other books

Image Ars Notoria or The Magical Art of Solomon: also attributed to Solomon

The Little Albert or Les Secrets Merveilleux de la Magie Naturelle et Cabalistique du Petit Albert

This is also known as The Book of Secrets, the same nickname given to The Great Albert (as opposed to the grimoire True Black Magic, which is also known as The Secret of Secrets.) Like The Great Albert, this one is attributed to theologian, saint, and magician Albertus Magnus, although whether some or any of it was actually authored by him is subject to debate. The manuscript originally circulated in various handwritten versions. It was later printed and standardized, reputedly first published in 1651 in Lyon. The Little Albert was banned by the Inquisition.

The Magus by Francis Barrett

Written in 1801 in England, this is considered a primary source for modern ceremonial or high ritual magic. For a long time it was very rare and sought after, although always very controversial. The Magus evokes strong reactions. Many consider it a masterwork; others consider it an act of theft. Is it a compilation or did Barrett claim to be author?

Francis Barrett was a British chemistry professor. He also taught private classes in the magical arts. He translated many occult texts previously unavailable in English.

The Magus is unusual as a grimoire written in English, which may or may not have contributed to the hostility toward it. Those who favor the book believe that Barrett compiled it in an attempt to stimulate the survival and growth of ceremonial magic, which he perceived as endangered.

The Magus is divided into sections, the last being a series of biographical sketches of various magical masters. It is somewhat out of character with the rest of book and there have been allegations that this section was added by the printer as “padding.” (Adding insult to injury, some consider this the best part of the book.)

The Munich Manual of Demonic Magic

This book, written in Latin and dating from the fifteenth century, offers instructions for conjuring and dismissing demons using magic circles and words of power. Roman Catholic ritual is heavily incorporated although hardly in an approved, orthodox manner. Spells are included to obtain a woman’s love when other methods aren’t working, to attain invisibility, and to cause enmity between people who currently like each other.

Mystery of the Long Lost 8th, 9th and 10th Books of Moses

The Mystery of the Long Lost 8th, 9th and 10th Books of Moses is not a medieval grimoire but is based upon the traditions of the genre. It was first published in 1945. Its author and compiler, Henri Gamache, was a mysterious, albeit highly influential folkloric-scholar He collected the material for The 8th, 9th and 10th Books from medieval Arabic, Aramaic, and Coptic grimoires. Gamache’s work doesn’t evoke the same passions as does The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (see page 129)—it is considered neither diabolical nor inauthentic. The general consensus is that Gamache’s work is based on genuine sources.

Henri Gamache’s book consists of three parts. The first two include his analyses of Moses, whom Gamache describes as “the great voodoo man of the bible” and of how and why these magical texts were lost. (Basically these two parts are Gamache’s explanations of why conventional wisdom regarding the Bible is wrong.) Gamache links ancient Egyptian and Jewish magic and spiritual traditions to those of sub-Saharan tribal Africa.

The third part is called Curiosa or 44 Secrets to Universal Power and contains various seals, nostrums, and sigils.

Rather than commanding and compelling demons, the focus is upon “practical magic” such as “seals for love between a man and his wife” or “seal for whoever wisheth for a woman and her father will not give her.”

The Picatrix or the Ghayat al-Hakim (“The Aim of the Wise” or “The Goal of the Wise”)

The Picatrix is highly unusual because it is a survival of an Arabic book of magic in Europe. Because it was translated into Latin at an early stage, The Picatrix remained accessible to Europeans when almost all other Arabic metaphysical knowledge was not.

The Picatrix was apparently composed in Andalusia in approximately 1000 CE at a time when most of what is now Spain was under Muslim rule. Although the book is attributed to the Andalusian mathematician al-Majriti who died c. 1005, there is little indication that this attribution is any more reliable than those of other grimoires. Some believe that the book was actually composed and/or compiled in the twelfth century. The book now popularly known as The Picatrix was translated into Latin in 1256 for the Castilian king Alfonso the Wise.

The Picatrix is substantially larger than other grimoires. It is a compendium of four books and may offer the most complete magical system of any grimoire. It is mainly a compilation of astral, sympathetic, and talismanic magic, grounded in Arabic and classical magic, with reference made to Hermes Trismegistus. Among the stated aims of the book’s spells are the acquisition of love and longevity, healing, escape from captivity, and gaining control over one’s enemies.

Although it was always rare, it was also highly influential. Latin, French, Spanish, and German translations are available. The first two books of The Picatrix were finally translated from Arabic into English in 2002 and published by Ouroborus Press.

See HALL OF FAME: Ficino; Trithemius.

The Red Dragon

If you’ve read The Grand Grimoire, you’ve read The Red Dragon. Some versions of The Grand Grimoire (or The Red Dragon) are in fact published as The Grand Grimoire or The Red Dragon, although each may also be published independently. Confused? Apparently that’s what a publisher wanted. The Red Dragon is believed by many to be nothing more than a retitled, slightly different version of the earlier Grand Grimoire. Allegedly when a publisher wished to sell a new grimoire but lacked a new manuscript, the new title was simply tacked onto a version of the old book. An alternative explanation suggests that The Grand Grimoire was retitled to sound similar to The Black Pullet, which was then considered more stylish and nouveau than diabolical older texts like The Grand Grimoire, which had earned an evil reputation. (A certain cynicism may be at play here. It’s been long rumored that a good percentage of those who purchase grimoires do so because they want to own something notorious and diabolical, not because they ever plan to put the book into practice or even have the capacity to read it.) The Red Dragon was published in 1822, although information contained in the text claims that it was really written in 1522. Again, who knows?

The Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage

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.

The Secret of Secrets or True Black Magic

According to this manuscript’s claims, it was allegedly discovered in Jerusalem at the Sepulcher of Solomon (yes, this one is attributed to him too.) Allegedly translated from Hebrew, it seems to have first been published in Rome in 1750. The book contains 45 talismans and some instructions on how to use them. Arthur Waite identified The Secret of Secrets as an adaptation of The Key of Solomon. It is truly very similar although more malicious in tone. It was considered a diabolical, dangerous text, although this may have been a deliberately cultivated image—as demonstrated by its alternative title.

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

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.

The True Grimoire or Grimorium Verum

This is a strange grimoire full of interesting details, inaccuracies, and controversy. S. L. MacGregor Mathers described it as “full of evil magic, and I cannot caution the practical student too strongly against[it].” Another work attributed to King Solomon, it is sometimes sold as The True Clavicles of Solomon. As clavicles means “keys” the implication is that this work is superior and more authentic than the renowned, popular Key of Solomon. This may be opinion or it may be audacity; there are those who believe that the bulk of The True Grimoire is cribbed from the Key and the Lemegeton.

Be that as it may, The True Grimoire was allegedly translated from the Hebrew by a “Dominican Jesuit” (which doesn’t exist—there is no such religious order) and allegedly published by Alibeck the Egyptian in Memphis, Egypt in 1517. (Arthur Waite says Memphis is really Rome.) Its author and origins are unknown. Some experts date it no earlier than 1750 although others disagree and accept the alleged publication date. Some claim that this text was among those used by the diabolical Abbé Guibourg in the seventeenth century.

The True Grimoire offers a complete course in summoning and compelling demons and was at one time extremely popular—it was the most popular grimoire in Europe by the nineteenth century, particularly in France. Similar in style and nature to The Grand Grimoire, it contains instructions for conjuring and compelling demons, including sigils and descriptions of demons’ powers. Like The Grand Grimoire, The True Grimoire was considered a diabolical book

Although it is now a notorious book and many avoid it for fear of being tainted by association, The True Grimoire is a particularly fascinating example of the grimoire genre. It is unusual in that grimoires virtually always assume that practitioners and readers are exclusively male: The True Grimoire uniquely contains some instructions offering variations depending upon whether the magician is male or female. It is also comparatively respectful towards demons. Instead of merely commanding and compelling, the reader is informed that such powerful spirits won’t do anything without payment. This may be construed as referring to offerings or sacrifice and indeed, pretty disgusting instructions are included for preparing a sacrificial goat, although these instructions correspond to no spiritual traditions’ notions of sacrifice.

Diabolical or not, whoever wrote The True Grimoire must have been a book-lover. Among the various demons and their powers that The True Grimoire identifies is Humot who, the text assures, will instantly provide the conjuring sorcerer with any book he or she might demand.

The World’s Greatest Magician Black Herman’s Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain

The author, who called himself “Black” Herman Rucker, was an African-American stage magician, herbalist, and hoodoo doctor. He remains highly unusual because he is among the very few to have successfully integrated simultaneous careers in legerdemain and true magic. Since the European witch-hunts, both these traditions have eyed each other with suspicion and hostility. Although each derives from shamanic arts, many practitioners of either art perceive their craft as diametrically opposed to the other.

Rucker published a monthly magazine from his Harlem headquarters and was famed for providing winning lottery numbers. Like many magicians, Rucker cultivated a glamorous image and origins. He claimed to have been born in Africa and to have learned mystic traditions in his travels around the world, including stops in Paris, London, China, India, and Egypt.

This is not a handbook of instructions for commanding and compelling; however it was written by someone who was familiar with the genre, particularly with those grimoires that combine folk healing with practical charms and spells.

Just because Black Herman’s grimoire is modern doesn’t mean it isn’t steeped in mystery and confusion. The book consists of two parts: a preface and a body of main text. The preface is dated 1925, however no book in the form in which it presently exists has ever been found with a publication date earlier than 1938.

To further add to the confusion, there is also a nineteenth-century grimoire known as Herman’s Book on Black Art. It has no relationship to Black Herman’s Secrets of Magic other than a confusing similarity in titles. The identity of the older Herman remains unknown; that book hews to more traditional grimoire material and has been classified as a necromancer’s manual. The World’s Greatest Magician Black Herman’s Secrets of Magic combines parlor tricks and legerdemain with spells, charms, horoscopes, lucky numbers, and Christian ritual.

See DICTIONARY: Conjure; HALL OF FAME: Black Herman Rucker.

Library of the Lost

These are the books you can’t read. You certainly might want to; they were packed with metaphysical, magical, and spiritual wisdom, but you can’t because they don’t exist anymore. Now, books, even in the best of times, are fragile and perishable things. Paper burns, gets ripped or wet. Bindings break. Sometimes books that are too loved just fall apart eventually. However, that was not the fate that befell these books. These books were deliberately and systematically destroyed because someone with the authority to do so didn’t want you or anyone else to read them.

The New Testament indicates the existence and suppression of magical texts. According to Acts 19:18-20 Paul encouraged his Ephesian converts to burn their vast collections of magical books. How vast were these collections? Their worth was estimated at fifty thousand pieces of silver at that time. And In 1501, a papal bull authorized the burning of heretical and profane books.

It’s impossible to describe most of what was destroyed because nothing remains to tell, not even knowledge of existence. The following works and collections, however, are among the most prominent members of this library of the lost.

Alexandria’s Library

Once upon a time, the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt is believed to have been the largest depository of written work in the ancient world. It’s estimated that at its peak it held between 400,000 and 700,000 scrolls, including Aristotle’s own personal collection donated by one of his students. Allegedly, the Library possessed a copy of every book then in existence. How was this accomplished? Theft.

The Library belonged to the Pharaoh, whose word was law. All visitors to Alexandria were required to surrender any books in their possession. Copies would be made and the copy returned to the rightful owner, while the original was retained by the Library. Visitors didn’t even have to enter the city. The Library was authorized to remove any books (scrolls) found aboard ships docking at this major port city on the Mediterranean; once again, copies were made and given to the owner.

All that remains of the Alexandria Library is information regarding its policies and the names of some of its titles, a little taste of what was lost. In addition to books of general interest, the Library possessed vast stores of metaphysical works from ancient temple collections throughout Egypt, Greece, Judea, Libya, Mesopotamia, and Nubia.

The Library is believed to have been founded during the third century BCE by Pharaoh Ptolemy II. There are various versions of how the library was lost. The version most commonly circulated until recently suggested that during Julius Caesar’s invasion of Alexandria, the Egyptian fleet was burned with the fire spreading to city and library. Much of the old royal city of Alexandria ended up underwater following a series of earthquakes. Only recently has technology been developed to enable archeologists to study these ancient submerged ruins. The old city has been recreated and mapped more accurately than ever before. It’s now believed that Caesar’s military actions did not destroy the library itself; instead it’s believed that warehouses filled with books, perhaps intended for export, near the Alexandria docks were burned instead.

Before modern archeology, much of what was known about ancient history was filtered through the eyes of Christian monks who translated, wrote, and edited history texts. Booklovers themselves, they may have preferred the notion that Caesar was responsible for this waste and destruction. (Even reports that still hold Caesar responsible acknowledge that attempts were made to rebuild or further enhance the Library. Marc Antony allegedly gave his lady-love, the scholar pharaoh Cleopatra, a gift of 200,000 books for what was essentially her library.)

The Royal Library was finally shut and destroyed during the late fourth century when all other Pagan temples were destroyed. Theophilus, the second Bishop of Alexandria, requested authorization from the Emperor in 391 to destroy all aspects of Paganism and that was the end of the Library. Exactly what happened to the Library is unclear, however the Temple of Serapis was destroyed by a Christian mob that burned all texts found within the shrine.

Druid Books

Very little is known today about the Druids and even less is completely understood; we’re not even 100 percent sure of exactly who they were or what their function was in Celtic society. (Yes, yes, I know. You can read a book that will definitively, absolutely identify the Druids, their beliefs, rituals, and actions; afterwards, you can pick up another book that will give you some other definitions and explanations. Many definitive versions exist.) Most of what we do know is filtered through the writings of Romans like Julius Caesar, who encountered them under less than friendly circumstances.

The standard explanation for our lack of knowledge regarding Druids is that they didn’t write, therefore left no information behind. Celtic society was either non-literate or it was felt that it was too dangerous to commit information, particularly esoteric, valuable information, to paper, where anyone could theoretically read it, including the uninitiated or enemies. This standard explanation may very well be correct; certainly no proof currently exists to indicate that it isn’t. The only clue that this might not entirely be the case comes in reports that St Patrick claimed to have burned 180 books belonging to Irish Druids.

The Etruscan Library

According to legend, Tages, Lord of Wisdom, emerged one day from out of a newly plowed field in the form of a young man with snakes for legs, bearing a book, which he gave to the Etruscan people. This book became the basis for their spiritual and mystical traditions, including their extremely sophisticated systems of divination and augury.

The Etruscans were a non-Indo-European people who inhabited northern and central Italy from approximately 800 BCE. Their memory survives in the name “Tuscany.” Scholarly debate rages as to whether the Etruscans were indigenous to the region or immigrants from Asia Minor or the Eurasian steppes. Very, very little, in fact, is known about the Etruscans although, unlike the Druids, it cannot be said that they didn’t have books. They were an extremely literate, educated, structured society, the dominant power in that area for centuries. The little that is known about them today is filtered through the eyes of their neighbors, the Romans and Greeks, who were uneasy with the Etruscans, not least because of the prominent presence and political and economic equality afforded to Etruscan women.

The Etruscans were what is known as a magical society and were viewed as great magicians. The English words “augury” and “auspicious” derive from Etruscan. Augury—a method of divination through the observation of birds—was pioneered by the Etruscans, while auspice or auspicious derives from “haruspex” (plural haruspices)—the title given the Etruscan priest/magician/seers.

The early kings of Rome were ethnic Etruscans. The very name “Rome” may derive originally from an Etruscan word. Unfortunately for them, the Etruscans found themselves sandwiched between warring, hostile Celts and Romans and bore the brunt. Although the Etruscans first dominated the Romans, they were eventually subjugated by them and not particularly nicely. Etruscans were granted Roman citizenship in 90 BCE but their leadership picked the wrong pony in a political dispute and so they ended up complete losers, their language suppressed and their culture outlawed.

Before he was emperor, Claudius (August 1, 10 BCE-October 13, 54 CE, emperor from 41—54) was a scholar. (This is the emperor who inspired the book and television series, I Claudius.) Claudius sought to preserve Etruscan traditions of magic, divination, and spirituality. The countryside was scoured for elderly Etruscans who were brought before him to be quizzed. The end result of Claudius’ efforts was a 20-volume compilation of Etruscan history, spirituality, and knowledge. Claudius established laws protecting the haruspices and convinced the Roman Senate to establish a library housing his 20 volumes as well as various other writings pertaining to Etruria. The Sibylline Books (see page 136), by then somewhat out of fashion, were moved into this storehouse of spiritual wisdom.

Christianity’s rise to power sounded the death knell for what remained of Etruscan culture. Arnobius, author of The Seven Books of Arnobius against the Heathen, exemplified the official attitude when he wrote in approximately 300 CE that “Etruria is the originator and mother of all superstitions.” Etruscan magical practices were still held in high regard by the general Roman population, if not the government, and thus were targeted for elimination.

The Christian general Flavius Stilicho, regent for the Emperor Honorius between 394 and 408 CE destroyed Claudius’ 20-volume Etruscan compilation as well as The Sibylline Books and the Tagetic Books, which had been stored in Rome’s Temple of Apollo. Today, we are still unable to decipher Etruscan writing; less than 100 words of the Etruscan language can be definitively translated.

Mayan, Aztec, and Mixtec Codices

Most of the cultures encountered by the first European explorers of the Western Hemisphere were non-literate, but there were exceptions. The organized, highly structured and urban civilizations of what is now Mexico were highly literate. The Aztecs (centered in what is now Mexico City) and Mixtecs (centered near Oaxaca) recorded their spiritual, magical, historical, and astrological knowledge as well as prophecies in a type of hand-written book now known as a “codex” (plural codices). These would eventually be systematically destroyed by the Conquistadors and the Inquisition. Less than 20 Mixtec codices survive and precious few Aztec ones as well, notably the Borgia Codex currently housed in the Vatican.

The Mayans were beheld with awe both by their contemporary neighbors and by later observers for their mystical and astrological systems. They had an incredibly complex calendar. Most cultures base their calendars on either the lunar or solar cycles. The Mayans studied cycles of the sun, moon, and Venus and computed a calendar that coordinated all three.

Mayan codices were made from flattened fig tree bark, covered with lime paste (calcium carbonate, not the citrus fruit) and then folded like an accordion. They were written using an exceptionally sophisticated hieroglyphic system, which has yet to be completely deciphered and understood, and vividly illustrated on both sides. This type of paper survives and is known as amaté paper and is a staple of Mayan crafts designed for tourist consumption.

As far as the vast storehouse of Mayan codices goes, only three pre-Columbian Mayan texts and a fragment of a fourth remain. The sixteenth-century Spanish conquerors appreciated immediately that the Mayans had a great, literate, developed civilization. The Mayan hieroglyphic system frustrated and puzzled them. Initially, all texts were gathered together in an attempt to make sense of them but it was quickly decided that the codices were pagan and diabolical and so they were burned.

Father Diego de Landa, second Bishop of Yucatan (November 12, 1524—April 29, 1579) is responsible for the destruction of Mayan texts. Although some books had already been destroyed, when it was brought to his attention that some Mayans, believed to have converted to Christianity, were still practicing their indigenous traditions, Father de Landa ordered an Inquisition followed by an auto-da-fé in which all the Mayan texts (and also some five thousand Mayans) were burned on July 12, 1562. Father de Landa writes:

We found a large number of books in these characters [the hieroglyphics] and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they [the Mayans] regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.

Not all books were destroyed. The Mayans rescued some, burying them or hiding them in caves. Unlike hidden manuscripts buried in the arid deserts of Western Asia and Egypt, however, the Yucatan climate isn’t conducive to hiding forbidden books. Most were destroyed by humidity, the surviving pieces now impossible to read. Three codices survived in Europe, although how they got there remains mysterious as is much of their history (one codex was ultimately recovered from a garbage can). They are named after the cities in which they were found: the Dresden Codex, Paris Codex, and Madrid Codex. A fourth, fragmentary one is known as the Grolier Codex.

Missing Grimoires

How many books, whether defined as Books of Shadows or grimoires, were burned during the witch-hunts? If it’s impossible to determine the number of human victims, it’s even more impossible to determine the quantity of books. Magical possessions, or anything perceived as such belonging to those convicted of witchcraft, were burned, especially books. What was destroyed in these fires? Who knows? The books are gone and in general it is as if they never existed.

There is an important exception however. The Dominican inquisitor Nicholas Eymericus confiscated and burned many magical books (including such titles as The Table of Solomon and The Treasury of Necromancy) but not before he read them first. Although these books no longer exist, his descriptions do. He wrote a Directory for Inquisitors. According to Eymericus, confiscated books described elaborate magical systems, demons and the means necessary to command them, words of power and what Eymericus described as the diabolical pact.

The Sibylline Books

The ancient prophetesses known as the Sibyls were once rivaled only by those from Delphi. Solitary prophetesses, the various Sibyls existed in various locations; the most famous, and the only one for whom archeological evidence currently exists, is known as the Cumaean Sibyl because she prophesied from a cave near the town of Cumae (now Cuma) overlooking the Bay of Naples. At some point, for whatever reason, the Cumaean Sibyl decided to close up shop, but apparently thought the king of Rome might wish to preserve her prophecies. In 525 BCE, the Cumaean Sibyl presented herself to Tarquin the Proud, last king of Rome, ruler from 534—510. Despite her modern acclaim, he was unfamiliar with her, or perhaps he was expecting someone more impressive. She offered to sell him nine books revealing the future destiny of the world for 300 pieces of gold. She was small, bent over, shabby, and extremely aged, a veritable hag and the king perceived her as senile. He laughed at her and dismissed her.

Sometime later, the Sibyl returned to the king, offering to sell him six books revealing the future of the world for the same price as the nine. Now Tarquin was convinced she was deranged; he mocked her and sent her away. Sometime later, the Sibyl returned for the third time, carrying only three books now, for which she demanded the same 300 gold pieces. Something about her finally impressed the king and he asked to see the books. When he looked them over, he immediately recognized their value, paid the asking price and demanded to buy the other six. The Sibyl had the last laugh; she told Tarquin that she had burned them and promptly disappeared and was never seen again.

Whether one believes that story or not, The Sibylline Books existed. We know this because documentation survives regarding how they were stored, edited and finally destroyed.

Three books came directly from the Sibyl. Tarquin tremendously regretted not purchasing all nine. He ordered the entire College of Priests to recreate the other six as closely as possible. Envoys were sent to other Sibyls in other areas to obtain information. They did the best they could; however an aura of doubt remained as to whether all the crucial information had been retrieved. According to legend, because of Tarquin’s failure Rome was fated to never know its future.

These books were once Rome’s most heavily guarded treasure. The Sibylline Books were kept in a closely guarded vault beneath the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter where they were consulted by the College of Priests. The senate decreed that The Sibylline Books could only be consulted in cases of dire national emergency or before any momentous decision. Even the high priests were not permitted to examine them without receiving special authorization from the Senate. Anyone who attempted to defy this decree was to be sewn into a sack and tossed into the Tiber River.

In 204 BCE, when the Romans found themselves unable to defeat Hannibal of Carthage, The Sibylline Books were consulted. The books foretold victory if the sacred meteor representing the goddess Kybele, then housed in what is now Turkey, be brought to Rome and installed in a temple built for Kybele. History proved this prophecy correct.

Some information as to what was contained in The Sibylline Books survives. Some of it was agricultural information, similar to a modern almanac. There were also instructions for ending plagues and a description of the apocalyptic end of the world, which sounds remarkably like a description of nuclear disaster.

In 83 BCE, a tremendous fire destroyed the Temple of Jupiter and The Sibylline Books burned with it. Once again envoys were sent to various oracles in order to reproduce the texts as closely as possible. The Roman hysteria that greeted Egyptian Queen Cleopatra’s love affairs with Roman leaders derived partly from rumors that The Sibylline Books had prophesied her eventual takeover of Rome. In 18 BCE, Cleopatra’s nemesis Augustus Caesar had a second copy of the books made to protect against loss. During the process, he had one or both copies of The Sibylline Books carefully edited to erase all passages he deemed unacceptable.

Magic, prophecy, and mystery religions were increasingly unpopular in Rome. In 13 BCE, Augustus Caesar burned two thousand magical scrolls. Owning a magical book became a capital offense. Those who wished to preserve their books as well as their lives hid their libraries. The Sibylline Books were preserved but they fell out of fashion and were rarely consulted. Eventually the Roman Emperor Claudius established laws protecting diviners and prophets, including the Etruscan priests known as haruspices. He persuaded the Roman Senate to establish a library housing various writings on Etruscan religion and spirituality. Among the texts preserved in this library were The Sibylline Books.

Magic, prophecy, and mystery religions became even less popular once Christianity became Rome’s official religion. However, for a while The Sibylline Books were tolerated, and even respected, because it was believed that the Cumaean Sibyl had foretold the birth of Christ. Attempts were also made to utilize the Sibylline prophecies to their best advantage. Thus we know of the apocalyptic prediction because Christians later wrote of it, explaining that although others would perish, they would survive to live forever in the Kingdom of God. However, The Sibylline Books were ultimately Pagan works and exceptions would not long be made for them.

In 405 CE, the Christian general and acting regent, Flavius Stilicho, burned The Sibylline Books as heretical texts offensive to Christianity, along with Claudius’ entire library of Etruscan books devoted to divination, magic, religion, and spirituality, only stopping to scrape the gold from the doors of the Temple of Jupiter.

Because there were at least two copies of The Sibylline Books and because near the end they weren’t as closely guarded as they had been in their heyday, rumors persist that a copy of The Sibylline Books is secretly kept in the Vatican Library of Forbidden Books.

Witch-Hunt Books

Like the chicken and the egg, it’s impossible to determine how much the witch-hunts inspired the genre of witch-hunters’ manuals and how much the manuals influenced the witch-hunts. Certainly, stereotypes of witches and the demonization of witchcraft resulted from these books. Witch-hunting was given a religious, even papal, seal of approval in mass-market print form. Regular people, even the illiterate, were able to buy picture books that enabled them to recognize a “witch” and her familiars. (Let’s just say that whoever created these illustrations must have enjoyed drawing cats and bats.)

These manuals taught witch-finders how to find “witches” and instructed judges to have no mercy. Methods of torture were discussed dispassionately. This is a virulent genre; the books are worth reading if only because they still possess the ability to shock. The hatred of witches, women, nature, and foreign people and cultures is palpable.

Interspersed among witch-hunters’ manuals are a few other works published simultaneously, protesting against the witch-trials or the demonization of witches. It is worthwhile to read these as well because they put the lie to the notion that the European witch-hunts occurred because of ignorance, because people didn’t know any better. Balthasar Bekker and Friedrich Spee knew better, and felt strongly enough to record their beliefs in print for everyone to read, at tremendous personal sacrifice and great personal risk.

Some of the most prominent witch-hunters’ manuals are discussed below although there are others in the genre. The few works that dispute witch-hunt methods stand pretty much alone, although history shows that there was a tremendous response to these works. Bekker’s work in particular is believed to have drastically minimized witch-hunting in the Netherlands. Because many of the authors of the most prominent witch-hunt manuals also presided over trials, much of their historical background will be found in WITCHCRAZE!

Unlike grimoires, authors of witch-hunters’ manuals were pleased and proud to sign their work. Publication dates and locations are reliable. There was no reason, when publishing these books, to fear the law; these authors were the law. Books are listed in alphabetical order by author’s name. (As you will see, in general, grimoires had snappier, more evocative titles.) None of the following titles have been lost. All remain in print.

Ady, Thomas

A Candle in the Dark, or a Treatise Concerning the Nature of Witches and Witchcraft: Being Advice to the Judges, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace and Grandjurymen What to Do Before They Pass Sentence on Such as are Arraigned for their Lives as Witches (1656)

Ady’s book argues that the Bible does not support the validity of witchcraft, at least in the demonic sense. Ady criticized tests used by contemporaries to determine whether someone was a witch. This book was particularly popular among Protestant critics of the witch-trials for whom the Bible was the ultimate arbiter. The book contains the first written reference to “hocus pocus,” used to describe fairground conjurers who practice deceit and illusion rather than witchcraft.

Bekker, Balthasar

The World Bewitched or The Enchanted World (1690)

Balthasar Bekker, a Dutch scholar and Reformed Dutch Church clergyman (March 20, 1634—June 11, 1698) was a major force in preventing the escalation of witch-hunts in Holland. In 1690, he published The World Bewitched, a revolutionary work in which he argued that spirits cannot control the actions of humans and that witches do not consort with the devil, and therefore people are deluded if they fear the power of witches. Bekker suggested that Church leaders encouraged these beliefs so as to justify their practice of confiscating the estates of wealthy people convicted of witchcraft. This book is now considered the seventeenth century’s most influential critique of demonology and witchhunting.

The World Bewitched was published in Dutch and was soon translated into English, French, and German. Within two months of publication, 4000 copies had been sold in the Netherlands alone. Bekker’s church did not support him. In 1692 he was expelled from the ministry because of his book. The World Bewitched was very influential among the Dutch populace, despite protests from local church officials, and witchhunting in Holland was subsequently mild, never reaching the panic levels experienced in France, Germany, and Switzerland.

Bodin, Jean

Demonomania of Witches (1580)

Jean Bodin (1529—1596) was a French Carmelite monk who left the order to study law, eventually becoming a law professor and attorney. Beginning in 1561, Bodin spent 15 years serving King Charles IX of France, at which point he authored and published Six Books of Republic, which analyzed the concept of sovereignty, the king’s right to rule. The book became extremely influential and established Bodin as a leading European political theorist. Many of his books fell somewhat foul of the Inquisition because they were understood to reveal Calvinist sympathies. Bodin has been described as “a learned and humane scholar” and praised for his early defense of religious tolerance.

Of course, that tolerance didn’t extend to witches, nor was Six Books of Republic Bodin’s only work. Bodin left the Court shortly after its publication and became a small-town attorney, public prosecutor and trial judge. Bodin was already prominent and esteemed when he wrote Demonomania and it quickly became among the most widely read demonological treatises of its day, going through ten editions before 1604. It was published in French, German, and Latin.

The book is essentially a professional handbook for prosecutors and judges. In it Bodin argues that it is the responsibility of all judges to treat witches harshly and then execute them by the most painful methods possible. He regretted that burning someone alive wasn’t painful enough and suggested the use of green wood so as to prolong the experience. Anyone showing mercy to witches was suspect and should be tried and executed, too. Bodin suggested that Johann Weyer (see page 146), who had previously disputed the existence of witches, be among those tried. No exceptions were to be made for little witches; Bodin encouraged children to be tortured as brutally as adults so that they’d testify against their parents (and presumably against whomever else their torturers suggested).

Demonomania was used by many judges to justify cruelty and torture. Bodin himself boasted that he’d had both children and adults burned with hot irons until they confessed to any and every accusation. He died from bubonic plague in 1596.

“Whatever punishment one can order against witches by roasting and cooking them over a slow fire is not really very much; and not as bad as the torment which Satan has made for them in this world, to say nothing of the eternal agonies which are prepared for them in hell, for the fire here cannot last more than an hour or so until the witches have died.” (Jean Bodin, Demonomania)

Boguet, Henri

Discourse on Sorcery (1602)

Henri Boguet (c. 1550—1619) was a French attorney and author of legal textbooks for witch-trial judges. Boguet himself had presided over witch-trials as a chief judge in Burgundy and he included details of personal experience in his Discourse on Sorcery. As judge, Boguet condemned at least 600 people to death, including children, for whom he showed no mercy. Boguet describes how he oversaw in person the torture of an eight-year-old girl allegedly possessed by demons. Despite the common practice of strangling the condemned prior to burning their bodies, Boguet personally made sure that many of the condemned were burned alive. His textbook was highly popular, with over a dozen reprints by 1614. He held witches responsible for outbreaks of syphilis. Boguet writes as an eye-witness that Germany in 1590 was

almost entirely occupied with building fires [for witches]; and Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travelers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound.

del Rio, Martin

Disquisitiones Magicarum or Investigations into Magic (1603)

Martin del Rio (1551—1608), who became a Jesuit at the age of 30, was considered a great scholar. His work was written in Latin and became immensely popular, even displacing the Malleus Maleficarum in certain circles. It argues that European witchcraft beliefs and practices were stimulated by attraction to Moorish culture in Spain and also implicates various heresies and the emergence of Protestantism as having influence over witches. He perceived Christianity as besieged by alchemists, sorcerers, and witches whom he classified as heretics as well as evil-doers. Del Rio’s teacher at the Sorbonne, Professor Juan de Maldonado, also taught Pierre de Lancre (see page 144). A popular lecturer, he emphasized that faith was more vital than reason, and is believed to have had an impact on the witch-hunts, if only indirectly, through his famous, powerful students.

Gifford, George

A Discourse of the Subtle Practices of Devils by Witches and Sorcerers (1587) and A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraft (1593)

The English clergyman George Gifford (c. 1548—?) wrote two books arguing that witches did not possess supernatural power to harm. Only the devil himself possessed the power to work supernatural evil. Gifford believed that most self-professed witches were delusional and that witch-hunters and persecutors were stimulated by fear and hysteria, not reason. Gifford was an independent thinker; in 1584 he had been suspended from his ministry for refusing to subscribe to the articles of the established church. He lost his position despite petitions otherwise from his parishioners. Gifford did not deny the existence of witchcraft; however he amended its definition. Magical work and mystic power sought through Christian channels were not to be considered witchcraft. Gifford’s works contain rare descriptions of the Essex witch-trials.

Guazzo, Francesco Maria

Compendium Maleficarum or Collection on Witches (1608)

Francesco Guazzo was an Ambrosian monk considered an expert on witchcraft and demonology. Federico Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan between 1595 and 1631 and later a cardinal, requested that Guazzo write Compendium Maleficarum. In 1605, Guazzo had been called to Germany because of his reputation as an expert demonologist. In Germany he was personally involved with various witchcraft trials, serving as a judge. He returned to Milan in 1608 and presented Compendium Maleficarum to the archbishop. It immediately became a standard text for witch-hunters and judges, used by lawyers and church official for making arguments and rendering decisions during trials.

Guazzo acknowledges in the text that some women accused of attending sabbats had witnesses who saw them simultaneously home in bed. However, Guazzo points out that these alibis aren’t proof that the witches weren’t at the sabbat, for two reasons:

Image Witches can magically journey in their dreams.

Image Satan is perfectly capable of creating a “false body” that impersonates the witch well enough to fool her husband and children, making it look like she’s home while really she’s reveling.

Using Guazzo’s arguments, it’s virtually impossible to provide an alibi or prove innocence. It wasn’t necessary, incidentally, to read the Compendium Maleficarum either closely or in full to be influenced by it. Its very title subliminally sent a powerful message. Maleficarum is the feminine form of the Latin term for witches, which subtly reinforced the notion that witches were largely, if not exclusively, female. In fact, it wasn’t necessary to read Compendium Maleficarum at all in order to understand its underlying message. Compendium Maleficarum is essentially an extension and update of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum (1486). Guazzo’s work also shows the influence of other witch-hunting authors like Martin del Rio and Nicholas Remy. However, unlike these other books the Compendium is a picture book. The other manuals presuppose a fairly high level of literacy. None of these books are easy to read. The language is specialized; they’re full of convoluted legal arguments and theology. Unlike English witch-trial pamphlets, these handbooks were intended as texts for attorneys, clergymen, and judges, not for the average reader. The Compendium Maleficarum however doesn’t demand literacy at all; the book is illustrated with a series of provocative, stereotypical and frequently sordid woodcuts depicting witchcraft, demons, and maleficia. The images remain familiar today; they’re used to illustrate countless books on witchcraft. The illustrations, perhaps even more than the text, made the Compendium Maleficarum an extremely influential book.

See CREATIVE ARTS: Visual Arts: Medieval Woodcuts.

Gui, Bernardo

The Inquisitor’s Manual (c. 1324)

Bernardo Gui (1261—1339) was Inquisitor in Toulouse between 1307 and 1323 and took personal credit for at least 930 convictions of heresy, although not necessarily of witchcraft. His book’s main targets were Jews who had converted to Christianity but then “relapsed.” It describes methods to be used by the Inquisition and set a precedent for witchcraft trials as well as trials for heresy. Gui makes an appearance, allegedly very much in character, as the witchhunting Inquisitor of Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose. Among his suggestions, Gui proposes that the Inquisition investigate “women who ride out at night.”

James I, King of England

The Daemonologie (1603)

The Daemonologie attracted great attention, not least because its author was the king. It contains little fresh material and is mainly a reworking of various continental witch-hunters’ manuals. James I had long held a passionate fear of and fascination for witchcraft. His ascent to the throne united the crowns of England and Scotland. In his other incarnation as King James VI of Scotland, James had participated in various witchcraft trials, most notoriously those of the North Berwick witches, accused and convicted of plotting against the throne. Scotland had a history of brutal witch panics, second in intensity perhaps only to Germany; England, on the other hand, had a relatively mild attitude towards witchcraft with little focus, until James’ arrival, on demonology.

James was so enraged by Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (see page 145) that he ordered every single copy of the book burned by the public hangman. Daemonologie was intended as a refutation of Scot’s work, written in the year of James’ ascension to the throne of England. It was popular enough to justify publication of a second edition in 1651.

Kramer, Heinrich and James Sprenger

Malleus Maleficarum or Hexenhammer or The Hammer of the Witches (1486)

The most influential witch-hunters’ manual of all is often popularly described as the “witchhunter’s Bible,” however it might better be considered the witch-hunters’ Mein Kampf. For years, it outsold every other book except for the Bible.

The Hammer of the Witches, to use the English translation of the title, is a long tract written in Latin by two Dominican scholars, published in Cologne in 1486. The Malleus Maleficarum is a practical textbook, whose primary focus is legal advice on how to bring witches to trial and convict them.

Although it was not the first manual offering advice to those judging witch trials, it quickly became the most influential of such works and might be considered the first comprehensive guide to identifying, interrogating, torturing, convicting, and burning witches. It served as source material, inspiration, and justification for countless other treatises. In essence, without The Hammer of the Witches this section of The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft might not exist and most probably the section devoted to witch-hunting would be substantially briefer. The Hammer of the Witches provided primary source material for the Inquisition.

The authors were not unfamiliar with the Inquisition, although certainly not from the perspective of the persecuted. Heinrich Kramer, once spiritual director of the Cathedral at Salzburg, was appointed Inquisitor for southern Germany in 1474. (Heinrich Kramer is sometimes known as Institoris, the Latin version of Kramer.) His partner, Jacob (or James) Sprenger, Dean of Theology at the University of Cologne, became Inquisitor for the Rhineland in 1470. Eventually he would be General Inquisitor for the German lands. The first major witch-hunt in Germany, the Ravensburger persecution of 1484, inspired Kramer to write The Hammer of the Witches. It was first printed in 1486. There were 13 editions by 1520 and 16 more by 1669.

The Malleus Maleficarum has a preface in the form of a papal bull (a bull is an official decree) from Pope Innocent VIII, essentially a Vatican seal of approval. This proclaimed to readers, most of whom were theologians and professional witch-hunters and judges, that this was more than just another book. It appeared to be an official Vatican publication.

The Malleus Maleficarum was revolutionary in how directly and exclusively it identified witchcraft with the female sex. Although the stereotype certainly existed prior to publication, it essentially hammered the point home so that it could not be avoided. It casts women in an extremely negative light and maliciously so. The Malleus Maleficarum falsely derives the word “feminine” from “fe” (faith) and “minus” (minus, less, lack). Women, according to the Malleus Maleficarum, are inherently lacking in faith but insatiable with carnal desire and hence vulnerable to the devil’s administrations in a way that men cannot be.

The book states that disbelief in the existence of witches and witchcraft is heresy. Also, according to the book, witchcraft is the most evil of all crimes and the most abominable of all heresies.

When investigating witchcraft, not all forms of torture are acceptable, although perhaps not for reasons you might think. Malleus Maleficarum bans hot iron and boiling water ordeals, which had previously been used, because the devil might use these methods to help a witch escape unscathed. (Various cold water ordeals might be substituted.) Although the book doesn’t go into further detail, various shamanic traditions, to this day, use hot iron and boiling water as demonstrations of power and ritual possession. Whether Kramer and Sprenger were aware of these traditions or had seen demonstrations is unknown.

The Malleus Maleficarum remains in print. It has been translated into English, French, German, and Italian. Although written by Dominicans, the tract was accepted by Lutheran and Calvinist authorities as well as Catholic, perhaps one of the only things, along with witchcraft, with which they were all in agreement. Interestingly, the Spanish Inquisition, which was under distinct management from Europe’s other Inquisitions, was not overly impressed with the Malleus Maleficarum and skeptical of its value.

Lancre, Pierre de

A View of the Duplicity of the Messengers of Evil (1613)

This work was published in Paris as a justification of witch-hunter Pierre de Lancre’s (c.1553—1630) merciless persecution of the French Basques in 1608. De Lancre’s book gives extensive details of the diabolical sabbat, and drags out every stereotype of cannibal, devil’s ass-kissing witches. De Lancre’s book, like the Malleus Maleficarum is virulently hostile to women and particularly prurient. Far more is revealed about de Lancre’s sexual fantasies than about any aspect of witchcraft. It also includes attacks on Jews, whom he describes as Christianity’s oldest enemy.

The book does contain what may be the only known pre-twentieth-century reference to an “esbat.” De Lancre claims a French witch used the word to describe a gathering of witches. It’s not necessary to actually read the book incidentally; an engraving by the artist I. Ziarko graphically depicting the diabolical sabbat complete with witches in attendance, appeared as a double-page spread in the second edition of the book so that the illiterate could still appreciate the message.

Mather, Cotton

Late Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689)

The Reverend Cotton Mather (February 12, 1663—February 13, 1728) was a profound believer in diabolical witchcraft and involved in many of the New England witch trials, including those in Salem Village. He preached a sermon in Boston in 1689 entitled “A Discourse on Witchcraft.” The sermon was included in a larger collection of writings entitled Late Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions.

Reverend Mather was highly influential in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; at a time and place where the variety of reading material was limited, Reverend Mather’s work was highly circulated, discussed, and respected. Three years after publication, Salem Village erupted in its notorious witch panic. Mather’s work breaks no new ground but is consistent with those of his contemporaries in Britain.

Perkins, William

Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608)

Reverend William Perkins (1555—1602) was an English Puritan preacher and author of this 1608 guidebook for witch-hunters. The book established criteria for what constituted “legitimate” suspicion of witchcraft:

Image Those who consort, are affiliated with or closely associate with witches are most likely witches too, thus encouraging arrests of husbands, children, siblings, parents, and other relatives of suspected witches.

Image If someone is cursed and then dies, the curser should immediately be arrested and charged with witchcraft.

Image Deathbed accusations of witchcraft must be heeded.

Perkins writes that because all evil things written about witches are true, severe torture is justified to extract confessions. Essentially there is to be zero tolerance of snippy, evasive witches. All witches, regardless of crime or circumstances, warrant equal punishment: the worst. Perkins writes

by witches we understand not those onely which kill and torment: but all Diviners, Charmers, Juglers, all Wizzards, commonly called wise men and wise women…in the same number we reckon all good Witches which doe no hurt, but good, which doe not spoile and destroy, but save and deliver.

Remy, Nicholas

Demonolatry (1595)

Nicholas Remy (1534—1612) was a French priest and attorney. In 1570, he served in the Inquisitorial tribunals in Alsace. He became privy councilor to the Duke of Lorraine in France. In 1591, he became Lorraine’s attorney general and presided as judge over witchcraft trials for the next 15 years. Remy was also involved with werewolf trials. He was proud to boast that he was personally responsible for the deaths of 900 witches between 1581 and 1591. According to him, this was his life’s greatest accomplishment. Perhaps he could have made it an even thousand but an epidemic in 1592 caused him to flee to his country estate where, at his leisure, Remy compiled a treatise on demonology based largely on his own personal experiences. The book was published to great popular acclaim, enough to warrant eight reprintings, and was translated into German. Among Remy’s arguments is that trial judges and magistrates are immune to witchcraft by virtue of their office and the divine sanction obtained by royal appointment.

Demonolatry’s title comes from its focus on the diabolical relationship between witches, demons, and Satan. According to Remy, Satan craved Black Masses and manifested to people in the form of a black man or animal. Demons could enter into sexual relationships with women. If the women would not be seduced, then the demons would rape them.

Scot, Reginald

The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584)

Reginald Scot (1538—1599) lead the skeptical opposition to the witch-hunts. Scot does a case-by-case analysis of the realities and illusions of witchcraft and witch-hunting. It is perhaps the earliest “rational” approach to the witch-hunts. He reveals tricks of conjuring (illusion) and so refutes notions of diabolism. It encourages the notion that if witchcraft is only conjuring and thus not “real,” it’s not really witchcraft and so should be safe from persecution. Scot’s book is credited with saving lives. A chapter of the book is devoted to criticism of alchemy. Scot’s book so aggravated King James VI of Scotland that he ordered all copies burned and was inspired to write his own treatise on the subject after he became King James I of England.

Spee, Friedrich

Cautio Criminalis or Circumspection in Criminal Cases, also published as A Book on Witch Trials (1631)

Friedrich Spee (February 25, 1591—August 7, 1635) was a Jesuit assigned to be the confessor for those condemned to die as witches in Wurzberg in the 1620s. What he heard convinced him that the unfortunate souls were innocent of the crimes of which they were accused. Cautio Criminalis was first published as an anonymous attack of the witch-hunts. He described torture in (non-prurient) detail, particularly the use of the rack. Spee did not deny the existence of witchcraft or even demand the abolition of the trials. Instead he demanded legal reform and an end to hysteria, panic, torture, and lies. Spee is among the heroes of the German witch-hunts. Many experts believe that his book was instrumental in abolishing the witch trials in various places, such as Mainz, and helped stop or at least reduce the terrible slaughter in Germany.

Weyer, Johann

De Praestigiis Daemonum (1563)

Weyer (1515—1588), also known as Wierus, was a student of the theologian and magical scholar Cornelius Agrippa. He was personal physician to the Duke of Düsseldorf. Although other books had debated the reality of various aspects of witchcraft and demonology, Weyer’s was the first to deny the reality of witches altogether. According to Weyer, witches were not recruited and made no pact with the devil; however the whole notion of supernatural witches was a diabolical illusion. In other words, the devil, whose existence he does not deny, is responsible for the witch panic and witch-hunters are playing into his hands. The witch-hunters might be said to be operating under a diabolical illusion or they might be construed as collaborating with Satan themselves. In response, French witch-hunter Jean Bodin suggested that Weyer be burned for witchcraft. Virtually every contemporary demonologist, Catholic or Protestant (Weyer was Lutheran) attacked his suggestions and his reputation.

Weyer did not dispute the existence of malevolent sorcery, nor did he suggest that those guilty of that crime go unpunished. However, he claimed that witchcraft as presented by the witch-hunters, complete with supernatural powers and demonic pact, was an impossibility. Instead he believed the witch-hunts to be misguided attacks on harmless, if perhaps crazy, old women. (Weyer is believed among the first to use the term “mentally ill.”)

Weyer published his work in 1563 in Latin and continued to publish expanded editions in 1564, 1566, 1577, and 1583. He also translated an abridged version into German in 1566, which was reprinted in 1567 and 1578.