Grimoires began simply as quick-reference "grammar books" for sorcerers, magicians, and priests before evolving into comprehensive guides to magic, complete with spell-casting rituals, magical alphabets, and instructions to create amulets and talismans. With the advent of the printing press, some grimoires were mass produced, but many of the abbreviations were misinterpreted and magical words misspelled, rendering them ineffective. The most powerful grimoires remained not only secret but also heavily encoded, making them accessible only to the highest initiates of the magical traditions. Drawing on his own private collection of grimoires and magical manuscripts as well as his privileged access to the rare book archives of major European universities, Claude Lecouteux offers an extensive study of ancient books of magic and the ways the knowledge within them was kept secret for centuries through symbols, codes, secret alphabets, and Kabbalistic words. Touching on both white and black magical practices, he explains the basic principles of medieval magic, including the doctrine of names and signatures, mastery of the power of images, and the laws of sympathy and contagion. He gives an overview of magic in the Western Mystery tradition, emphasizing both lesser-known magicians such as Trithemus and Peter of Apono and famous ones like Albertus Magnus and Hermes Trismegistus. Creating a universal grimoire, Lecouteux provides exact reproductions of secret magical alphabets, symbols, and glyphs with instructions for their use as well as an illustrated collection of annotated spells, rituals, and talismans for numerous applications including amorous magic, healing magic, and protection rites. The author also examines the folk magic that resulted when the high magic of the medieval grimoires melded with the preexisting pagan magic of ancient Europe.
The word “grimoire” is a distortion of grammaria, “grammar” and originally designated a book written in Latin, but it quickly assumed the meaning of book of magic. It appeared as a mixture of various recipes both for healing certain ills as well as for conjuring or invoking demons, obtaining advantages, manufacturing talismans and amulets, casting fates, and so forth.
Magic treatises existed long before the appearance of the word “grimoire,” a term designating a wide variety of works that shared a common feature of being writings that had been anathematized by the Church. To get a glimpse of this, we need only give the floor to a few Medieval authors, who, from the thirteenth to sixteenth century, compiled lists of these manuals. These nomenclatures are interesting because they clearly show that the essential features of Western magic come from the Mediterranean world, which was itself subject to even more remote influences, such as those from India, for example. Thanks to the authors cited we can see that a line directly connects Babylon to Greece, then the Arab world, and finally Western Europe.
The old grimoires appeared in one of two forms. First was a small format with twenty to fifty pages, a true pocket book intended for consultation when the wizard or mage was called by someone requesting his services. The next was the form of a large folio, a monumental book for consultation and study in the home. This latter type was never printed and is only found in manuscript form in library collections and is much richer than all those that can be found at book dealers and antiquarians.
A large number of manuscripts offer extraordinary information, but it is necessary to unearth them as well as be able to read and transcribe them, which is no small matter given the fact that the texts are by nature obscure, encrypted, crammed with symbols and letters, spells and Kabbalistic words whose meaning has yet to be deciphered. An example would be the ANANIZAPTA. This is the acrostic of the spell: Antidotum Nazareni Auferat Necem Intoxicationis Sanctificet Alimenta Poculaque Trinitas Amen. To create the magic word, the initial letter was taken from this phrase that means: “Antidote of the Nazarene who delivers us from death by poison; may the Trinity bless food and drink! Amen.”
One of the most prevalent domains in medieval magic is the one connected with feelings, love especially. There are numerous recipes for these in the grimoires that rely on magical signs, sometimes written with one’s own blood (n° 85) or that of an animal (n° 91), sometimes by burning the cloth on which they were written (n° 87), as the combustion allegedly inflamed the targeted individual with love, sometimes by calling upon astral magic (n° 87), sometimes by relying on talismans that one carries personally or places in the targeted individual’s house.
Because magic compelled the intervention of supernatural forces, which took shape as angels or demons, it was absolutely imperative to know their names if you wanted to order them to do something for you. It so happens that a different angel and demon exist for every hour of the day and night, and they are also different for each day of the week, which gives us a total of one hundred sixty-eight angels and one hundred sixty-eight demons! We also must add to this the angels of the cardinal points--five to the east, six to the west, six to the north, and six to the south--and those of the seasons. All or almost all of them have exotic names that hinder their easy memorization, hence common appearance of the long lists, which acted as a kind of memory aid. This holds equally true for God whose real name is concealed among others, most often a total of seventy-two. Here, mages use numbers to discover it.
Magic requires a long apprenticeship, and this is also why the iconography has frequently fixed the features of the magician as those of an elderly man. And even when this knowledge has been gained, it is still necessary to respect its prescriptions to the letter. They concern time and place because the configuration of the heavenly bodies plays a primordial role. They concern the officiating individual, who should, for example, be chaste, clean, clad in certain garments, and have gone to a specific place with these or those objects. Any changes whatsoever to a transmitted spell of ritual amounts to annulling its power. It was even said that the simple fact of revealing it to a non-initiate would make it inoperable. Henry-Cornelieus Agrippa writes in his treatise of Occult Philosophy (III,1):
Every magic experiment abhors the public, seeks to be concealed, is strengthened by silence but destroyed by declaration, and its complete effect does not follow because all one advantages have been lost by exposing it to babblers and non-believers.
Claude Lecouteux is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne. He is the author of numerous books on medieval and pagan afterlife beliefs and magic, including The Book of Grimoires, Dictionary of Ancient Magic Words and Spells, and The Tradition of Household Spirits. He lives in Paris.
“Lecouteux is a genius. I have been gratefully following his research--which provides information I have never found in other locations--for years. As someone who has seen no small amount of grimoires, I can attest to the practical as well as scholarly nature of this book. Whether you are hunting for healing charms or just trying to find out more about the history of grimoires, this work will not disappoint you. Lecouteux’s brilliant observations are the icing on the cake for this amalgamation of various works, outlining workable incantations and valuable lost techniques. I was particularly pleased to find a list of Solomon’s demons with their diseases and remedies within the pages. This book is a serious contribution to occult work and a joy to read.”
– Maja D’Aoust, White Witch of L.A., astrologer, counselor, and coauthor of The Secret Source
“A grimoire is a textbook of magic that typically include instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magic spells, charms, and divination, and how to summon the dead or supernatural spirits. This book is a far-reaching study of magical books and shares the techniques and instructions mentioned above. The book is well documented and extensive, though not exhaustive. It isn't really for the novice but one with a deep interest in magical arts.”
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