Saturday, March 10, 2012

Top Ten Grimoires - My Opinion

Recently, Chas Clifton, in his blog, “Letters from Hardscrabble Creek” had an interesting link to an article in the Guardian about the top ten grimoires of all time, written by Owen Davies, the very publisher of the book “Grimoires: A History of Magical Books.” I highly recommend the book and author, since I found a lot of useful information about the historical lineages of various grimoires. Anyway, the article on the Guardian isn’t very new, but I missed seeing it, and Chas Clifton pointed it out in his blog. Chas Clifton often has interesting stuff written up in his blog entries, and I enjoy reading them.

Anyway, the article put together a list of the ten most influential grimoires in history, and rounding out the bottom was the Necronomicon and the Book of Shadows. These books actually wouldn’t have been put on my list of important source grimoires for magick, but Owen Davies was listing those that have had a large social impact, and I must bow to his wisdom. You can look over his article and make your own judgement, but I decided to take a swag at putting together my own list of grimoires. So the question is, what are the top ten grimoires that I would actually recommend someone purchase and examine, with an eye to purloining lore for personal uses? After all, that’s the main purpose that I would buy an expensive limited edition book. It would be for the purpose of adding needed lore to my magickal work, since I am not really in the business of collecting books for their own sake.

First of all, I don’t belong to that popular crowd of magickal practitioners who believe in the sanctity of the grimoires. It has become nearly a fad to pick out a grimoire (or two) and then faithfully practice it exactly as it was written, allowing for no substitutions or deviations. The idea is that the old time magicians and sorcerers knew what they were doing, and we, today, have lost this knowledge, so we must rely on the old books to practice magick as it should be practiced. 

Of course, this presupposes that all of the other myriad collections of modern magickal systems are defective, corrupted, and mostly useless. Since I am a terrible revisionist, and I have actually invented whole segments of the ritual lore that I regularly use, I would fail to make the grade of being a proper magician in the eyes of these folks. Perhaps they would ignore the fact that my magickal techniques not only work for me, but they work quite effectively for others, too. The very fact that I have crafted a new magickal system using old and new parts would make what I am doing a complete contradiction to the grimoire purists. In fact, I have only within the last decade or so actually started to incorporate some of the lore from the old grimoires, and then, only what I consider to be the choicest bits. I am certain that my approach to the old grimoires is a lot more like a ghoul picking over dead bodies than an antiquarian sorcerer who worships the old practices.

Secondly, there is the problem of attempting to reconstitute the culture that underlies any one of the old grimoires, some of which have their origins in the early Renaissance or even late middle ages. The fact that a single grimoire is actually an archetypal representation of many unique variations over time, and that the grimoire purists are using published texts that are really translated reconstructions doesn’t seem to really bother any of them. In the end, the grimoire purist and the ultra-modern revisionist are really doing a variation of the same operation. They are both reconstituting a tradition or practice in the modern world, using modern perspectives, tools and other accouterments. Grimoire purists can pretend to be practicing an antique discipline, but without the cultural context that went into producing their cherished book of spells, they are in fact modern reconstructionists at the very least, or modern revisionists. None of us can recreate the culture of the 17th century or earlier, so we have to use the cultural context of a modern world perspective and creatively adapt our work.

Anyway, I have written up my opinions on this subject before, so we don’t have to belabor that issue any further. This is just one of several sticking points that I have with anyone who espouses a grimoire purist perspective. My magick stands in dire contradistinction to the whole grimoire purist movement, and I must say that I am freaking proud of that fact.

According to Owen Davies’ article, the top ten grimoires in his esteemed opinion are as follows: 6th and 7th Books of Moses, Clavicule of Solomon, Petit Albert, Book of St. Cyprian, Dragon Rouge (variation of the Grande Grimoire), Book of Honorius, 4th Book of Occult Philosophy (Le Grande Albert), The Magus, Necromonicon, and Book of Shadows. These might be the most popular books that have had the most impact on European and American cultures, but they are not the most useful books, in my opinion. I would scratch the Necromicon and the Book of Shadows off of the list to start with, and then assemble, in some kind of sequence, the books that I think are the most important grimoires.

Outside of this list of my top ten grimoires would be the source books that were so important to the birth of my current system of magick, and I should make mention of them as well. Two books that had quite a powerful influence on how I work magick were Israel Regardie’s Golden Dawn and Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft. I can also include The Magus in this list, but when Agrippa’s Books of Occult Philosophy later became available, the poor quality of this book became readily apparent (so I abandoned it). I also expropriated ritual structures and ideas from the pre-Vatican Priest’s Mass Missel, and I did use, for a few years, pieces from Simon’s Necronomicon. I should also mention Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows as well, as being one of the earliest source books that I borrowed heavily from for a while. However, we are talking about grimoires, so let me get on with listing the Top Ten Grimoires, in my humble opinion. Keep in mind that these books are not exactly ordered according to their importance to me (they are all equally important).

1. Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon - this would include the Veritable Key of Solomon, and the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key. The Lesser Key usually consists of the Goetia, Theurgia-Goetia, the Pauline Books, the Almadel and the Ars Notoria of Solomon. Of these, I have made the most extensive use of the Goetia, Theurgia-Goetia, the Ars Notoria and to a lesser extent, the Greater Key of Solomon. I have found the verba ignota in the Ars Notoria to be quite powerful and very useful.

2. Book of Abramelin - since I have developed my own version of the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal, this book has become much more important to me than it was earlier in my magickal career. Prior to building up that working, this grimoire was nothing more than a curiosity, since I didn’t have the time or resources to devote the actual ordeal outlined in the book.

3. Four Books of Occult Philosophy by Agrippa. The three books are readily identifiable as having been penned by Agrippa, the fourth book is questionable. However, the fourth book is quite useful in that it usually has a copy of the Heptameron included in the appendix, which, I might add, is also a very useful grimoire. My opinion is that if someone wanted to adopt a Renaissance methodology for practicing ceremonial magick, then Agrippa’s books would likely be the best resource. I often find myself going back to Agrippa’s writings when researching a specific occult perspective or methodology, however, I only obliquely use the materials contained within them to practice my system of magick.

4. Liber Juratus - Sworn Book of Honorius - while the rituals and other workings in this grimoire have not been particularly useful to me, I have found the verba ignota written in the various psalms to be extremely powerful. I have used them in my magickal mass rites and in other workings as well. I have found this language to be even more powerful than Enochian. The language in this grimoire is very similar to that found in the Ars Notoria, and they may be related, since their place and time of origin is analogous (early 13th century Germany).

5. Enochian Diaries of Dr. John Dee - these books and writings, and other books that are based on them, have been very important and useful to my work. The fact that I have used the Enochian Keys or Calls for many years as well as working with a number of the spirits (Elementals and Talismanic Elements, and their associated spirits) in that system’s hierarchy would make these writings very valuable to me.

6. Arbatel - this grimoire contains an entire system of planetary magick based on the seven Olympian spirits. Since my first approach to planetary magick was through the Olympian spirits, and it’s something that I still use today, I would have to rate this grimoire as very important. 

7. Picatrix - only recently translated fully into English, the Picatrix is a useful resource for astrological magick. I have expropriated the system of Lunar Mansions from this work to use in my own talismanic workings.

8. 6th and 7th Book of Moses - this grimoire was also just a curiosity to me until Joseph Peterson came out with his definitive version of the book, having discovered a more uncorrupted German source to work from. The language or words of power used in this grimoire is quite potent, and so are some of the sigils, characters and special lamens. While I have not yet extracted any lore from this grimoire, it is high on my list of future projects.

9. Grimoire Armadel - one of the most curious and likely incomplete grimoires is the Armadel. The reason why the Armadel is on this list is because it probably represents a lost system of magick from the renaissance period, known as the art of Armadel. I haven’t had time to reconstitute this grimoire in a published format, but I have figured out how to make use of it. I have expropriated several of the characters from this grimoire and used them to decorate my magickal gateway keys. The net result was very powerful indeed, leading me to conjecture that the entire grimoire is worth reconstituting.

10. Grimoirum Verum - just a year ago, this grimoire wouldn’t have been on my list. However, I have been convinced by Jake Stratton Kent that this grimoire is both important and strategic in regards to working with goetic daemons. I haven’t found any use for this book yet, but it is also one that I intend on researching in the future. Other grimoires from this branch would probably include the Grande Grimoire, Grimoire of Pope Honorius, the Black Pullet, the Dragon Rouge and the recently published Dragon Noir. The Enchiridion and the Dragon Noir have been published together in a book entitled “Crossed Keys,” which I mentioned in a previous article. The tenth position is a kind of catch-all for any other miscellaneous grimoire that I might have missed, and for the more supposedly disreputable grimoires, many of which are in my collection.

So that’s my list of the ten most important grimoires, and I am certain that you have your own list as well. As you can see, it differs remarkably from what Owen Davies has written down in his article, but then again, he’s a historian, and I am a practitioner. We are bound to disagree on just this little matter, and that’s quite acceptable to me.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Excellent post, I hadn't heard of Picatrix, I'm curious to look into that one. As far as the grimoire purists, I agree with your point of view.

  2. tend to agree regarding ultra-purists, though arguments against traditional methods are rarely entirely convincing.

    my top ten, in no particular order:

    1. The Hygromanteia (missing link and source text of Solomonic)
    2. The Testament of Solomon (earliest Solomonic, and effective counter to later developments like 'all male spirits')
    3. The True Grimoire (best text of the 'Goetic revival' - my description of the 'blue grimoire' genre)
    4. The Art Armadel (most under-rated grimoire, its angels are 'third order' which is to say, elemental spirits other stances interpret as demons)
    5. The Arbatel of Magic (the Olympic spirits are very close to the planetary gods of late Classical magic/religion; plus it epitomises Paracelsian influence on the later genre)
    6. The Key of Solomon (especially Lansdowne MS 1203 version, again Elementals rather than 'demons foul' & probably influenced by Paracelsus)
    7. Book of Saint Cyprian (Iberian and New World tradition, under rated blue grimoire, awaiting attention)
    8. Magical Elements of Saint Cyprian (as above, mind blowing spirit catalogue and interesting talismans - much deeper than it looks)
    9. Picatrix (Sabean & Hermetic magic, neither Jewish nor Christian, yet a major influence on the entire grimoire genre)
    10. Red Dragon/Grand Grimoire (on close examination more coherent and workable than the Goetia of Solomon, and in less need of re-translation and tweaking, yet thought 'frivolous' by the snobs).

    PS Solomonic magic was originally Hellenised Jewish folk magic; perception of it as a 'literary tradition' belonging to the 'elite' came much later and muddies the waters.