Mr. Davies you are an author after my own heart. As a writer and someone in the library field, Grimoires as a history of written magic is a work touching upon my biggest passion and deepest interest. It took me longer than usual to read and review this title as I wanted to savour every sentence and paragraph and retain all I learned from each chapter covering the history of magic books. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books is a history of magic in print and therefore a history of magic overall presented with all its highs and lows along with all the geniuses, mystics, and swindlers throughout history. It is also a history of the effect magic has had on the publishing world and how that subsequently affected how people viewed magic all over the world both in ancient times and today. Davies covers all books of magic not just the familiar classic grimoires of the scholars of Greece, Egypt and the Middle East, but also works on natural magic, folk magic, folk medicine, hoodoo, santeria, witchcraft, and satanism. Most importantly Grimoires shows that magic has been around as long as people have existed and that even in today’s age of disbelief and science magic is still present on the fringes of society as it is deeply rooted in its belly. Magic has never died and no matter how much it is persecuted it never will.
“Grimoires exist because of the desire to create a physical record of magical knowledge, reflecting concerns regarding the uncontrollable and corruptible nature of the oral transmission of valuable secret or sacred information. This urge to provide a tangible magical archive dates right back to the ancient civilization of Babylonia in the second millennium BCE. But grimoires also exist because the very act of writing itself was imbued with occult of hidden power. ‘A book of magic is also a magical book’…” (p.2)
I was pleasantly surprised to also find the magical value and use of the written word as a talisman in the introduction of Grimoires. Davies explains how written charms were used for healing and magic, how the words written with special magical inks give the words written great power, and also how even entire books were used as amulets and believed to possess protective powers for whomever owned or carried them. However, the belief was also held that not everyone who possessed a magical book could actually use it:
“The qualities of the magician remained important. Whether by birth right, geography, or piety only certain people were thought to have innate power to possess and perform grimoire magic on the behalf of others. So even when grimoires were available to everyone not everyone could use them safely and effectively.” (p.5)
In Grimoires Owen Davies takes you on a wild ride starting in ancient Babylon and Egypt, then on to the inquisition and witch trials, then the rediscovery of grimoires and ancient magics during the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, and then further on to the pulp magic books and birth of the modern metaphysical stores out of the botánicas and hoodoo drugstores of the early 1900s, and then into the twisted occultism of Nazi Germany, and lastly on to the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951 after which Gerald Gardner and the modern witchcraft revival entered the stage. In the epilogue Davies reveals his thoughts on the place of the internet in the publishing of magic today and what influences it has had on today’s society and culture as well as what the future may hold for the evolution of magic on the World Wide Web.
Besides the classic grimoires like Key of Solomon, the Petit Albert,the Galdrabók, or the Grand Grimoire, Davies also covers the works of modern grimoire authors like Henri Gamache, John George Hoffman, Arthur Edward Waite, Samuel L.M. Mathers, Aleister Crowley, Eliphas Lévi, Gerald Gardner, and even Anton Levay’s Satanic Bible. At times in Grimoires it seems that Davies tends to speak more of the charlatans than the true mystics, but I believe this was a necessary addition by Davies to stress to modern readers of both grimoires and modern Pagan books that plagiarism and fakelore still abound in the publishing world today and have throughout the history of magic in print. The modern reader needs to be aware of what is genuine and what is fake reading every work with a grain of salt so as not to be drawn into fakelore and false operative magic. Owen Davies focuses mainly on the American-based charlatans Delaurence and Otoman Zar-Adusht Hanish who both caused quite a stir in the early 20th century with their magical groups and publications.
Whether you are a Hermeticist, alchemist, sabbatic witch, folk magician or Crowleyite, if you are fascinated with the grimoire tradition and love both the classic grimoires as well as the works of modern grimoire publishers like Xoanon, Fulgur, and Ouroboros Press then you will adore Owen Davies’ Grimoires and hang on his every word as you journey with him through the long history of magical works as they evolved from clay tablets and scrolls, to hand written manuscripts, and eventually into printed books. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books is extremely valuable as a historical work covering the lesser known histories of the authors, publishers, and practitioners of magic who influenced the evolution of magic explaining the origins of all the differing types of magic practiced today. ♥
Filed under: Books - Non Fiction | Tagged: academic, alchemy, grimoire tradition, grimoires, history, magic, occultism, Owen Davies, Oxford University Press, Paganism, Wicca, witchcraft