Book review:


rev reading

GRIMOIRES- A History of Magic Books”

by Owen Davies (Oxford Uni Press 2009)

A book of magic is also a magical book”

A Grimoire is in essence a grammar of magic, that is to say, it is literally a spell-book, teaching the ABC’s of magical procedure. It’s foreboding name hints at the contents lurking within.

While most of the spells, rituals & charms that have comprised the human magical tradition have traditionally been passed down orally, nontheless the grimoire also has a long tradition. The urge to commit magical knowledge to writing goes back to the cuniform clay tablets of ancient Sumer, and continues to this day with the mass publication of pulp primers for teen wannabe-wiccans and ambitious, go-getting third world hustlers.

As Davies observes, it has never been easier to acquire these “forbidden” texts. In an Age where child pornography and instructions for making plastic explosives or amphetamines are readily accessible via the glories of the Internet, mere books of “Occult” knowledge seem quaint and innocuous. Yet once upon a time, the mere possession of many of the texts here mentioned would have been enough to condemn you to the stake and a fiery end.

Why did the medieval Christian Church fear such books? Essentially it was a matter of Power and magical control. Religion and Magic are essentially the same Thing. Religion is merely the State taking control of the magical process for its own ends. 

This can perhaps be seen most clearly with the Roman State religion, essentially organised Paganism, with the State appointing priests to conduct religious rituals on the State’s behalf. The Romans consistently banned and punished ‘renegade’ cults and free-lance magicians who operated for the benefit of mere individuals. Even Astrologers were frequently banished in purges, the state religious apparatus wishing to keep control of all augaries and prognostications. Don’t want any Alternate Realities popping up do we? The seriousness with which the Romans viewed signs and augaries can be seen from the examples related in my essay, “Ravens, Riots and Rome”, at;


Later on the Christian religion, after having been adopted by Constantine, became heir to the Roman state religion and its practices.

Most of the more famous (or infamous) Renaissance and Enlightenment era Grimoires give themselves an origin myth, creating a dubious heritage laying claim to great antiquity to enhance the authority of the book’s claims. Most of these claims upon examination have proved to be spurious. Yet much of the content of these Grimoires does indeed have an ancient lineage. Grimoires tend to be hotch-potch collections from different sources, and these sources often derive back to the ancient world.

Davies traces the European Grimoire traditions back to the age of the Ptolemies and the library of Alexandria. There a great cultural cross-fertilization took place, between Egyptian, Greek, Jewish and Chaldean traditions. The Gnostic cults grew out of this milleau, and later had great influence on both European and Arabic magical thinking.

Its interesting also to read in this book how another great cross-fertilization of magical traditions occurred in the new world, when black slaves mixed European occult elements with their own African traditions. The bizarre, top-hatted figure of Baron Samedi in Voodoo perhaps best symbolises this mixing of Cultural Practises.

Cthulhu Fa'tagn

Who knows what the Grimoires of tomorrow will look like. Perhaps some indication can be drawn from the little history of the Necronomicon, or, as it is sometimes called, “The Book of the Names of the Dead”.

Originally, of course, the Necronomicon did not exist at all, except as a figment of horror-novelist H.P. Lovecraft’s unspeakably lurid imagination. Fragmentary excerpts appeared in his Cthulu Mythos related short stories. Like the best of his stories, the “horror” of these excerpts lay largely in what was not said. That expressive trail of dots fading off…

In time Lovecraft’s acolytes added to the Mythos, with further references to the non-existent book. Of course interested readers often asked after the book that did not exist.

Like some unbending economic law, demand created supply and eventually, sometime in the seventies

 as I recall, someone called Simon, put out “the first published edition of the Necronomicon since Olaus Wormius.” Of course, it was a magnificent hoax.

(I suspect that old prankster Anton Wilson, or one of his cronies, was behind this amusing fraud) . Interestingly much of this text was apparently based on recent archeological finds in Sumer, now modern Iraq. Translated cuniform rituals from archaic tablets

and temples and so forth.

So now naïve young people can order the Necronomicon over the internet and invoke once more the ancient Sumerian Gods, who have lain neglected in the desert dust all these millenia. Hopefully “They” will be appropriately grateful for all the belated attention.

The Moral seems to be:

All Grimoires are forgeries, and all of them are Real.

Don’t you know its Magic?

book crop


well wisher Jpig


Reverend Redrum

The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet,

President of the Kurilpa Institute of Creativity Inc.,

and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism

AND the Church of the Universe.

It was that or get a job.



~ by reverendhellfire on December 14, 2014.

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