If you’ve ever read a horror story like those by Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft—or watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer—you’re probably familiar with the idea of creepy old books filled with magic spells somehow making their way into the modern world. But did you know that these types of books actually exist, and that (some of them) you can actually get translated into English?
If you don’t believe me, just call Barnes & Noble or browse Amazon.
Grimoires are books of magic. They may instruct the reader how to create charms and amulets, how to cast spells, or even how to communicate with supernatural creatures like angels or demons.
Grimoires tend to draw from a diverse range of occult material, from dark, secret, ancient pagan rituals performed in moonlight cornfields to kabbalistic secrets and numerologies drawn from the wisdom of biblical figures. They have been found all over world, and are just as creepy in Europe as they are in the Caribbean.
Let’s take a look at some of the more noteworthy texts in this genre.
1. The Lemegeton
The Lemegeton, subtitled The Lesser Keys of Solomon, is all about how to communicate with demons and angels. There are five parts to the 16th century book, compiled from a scattering of previously extant material. One memorable part (Ars Almadel) teaches the reader how to construct a sort of wax tablet that can be used for communicating with angelic beings who reside in different planes.
Occult books purporting to be written by the biblical King Solomon were all the rage in Europe. The Church had a love-hate relationship with them; while such books were blasted as heresy, clergymen pored over them, hoping to glean some wisdom from the wisest monarch of all time.
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2. The Picatrix
If the stars won’t align to facilitate whatever it is you want, perhaps you can bend them to your will instead. The Picatrix is a huge codex of around 400 pages, originally written in Arabic under the title of Ghayat-al-Hakim. This book will (reportedly) teach you how to channel the energies of celestial spheres (aka planets), and achieve enlightenment and power. Other parts of the book are a gruesome cookbook of recipes culled from ingredients like blood, guts, and opium. The end result? Altered states of consciousness and cosmic journeys outside of your body. Oh—it will also teach you how to talk to dead people with the help of some bodily fluids.
3. The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum
The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (try saying that three times fast) is a veritable demon directory compiled by Johann Weyer, a Dutch doctor and student of the legendary occultist Henry Agrippa. This lengthy title was a companion text to another treatise that argued against the persecution of witches.
In his works, Weyer described the means by which one could summon one of the 69 demon-kings (and queens) of Hell, who could assist with various tasks like turning water into wine, foreseeing the future, or obtain great cunning. To combat the rise of interest in books like this, the Church began to publish written material about exorcism.
4. The Sworn Book of Honorius
If you are ready to forever aver the company of women and take this book to your grave—in the absence of a worthy magician to inherit it—you are ready to possess one of the three copies of The Sworn Book of Honorius, rumored to be the handiwork of an individual who has never been proven to exist.
It covers the usual old boring stuff about summoning angels and demons, but also some nastily awesome powers like causing floods, gazing into purgatory (we assume that means Hell), and bringing kingdoms to their knees. Just the simple things in life.
5. The Book of Abramelin
It sounds like a story from The Arabian Nights; Abraham of Worms (a city in German) traveled to Egypt, where he was granted a manuscript of Kabbalistic secrets that later became redacted into The Book of Abramelin.
This book describes a lengthy and difficult 18-month ritual for getting in touch with your own guardian angel. Among the strictures one must observe are daily prayers before dawn and at sundown, along with binding 12 powerful demons and removing their negative influence. The book also describes how to use Kabbalistic word-puzzles to manipulate reality and do cool things like walk through water.
6. The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer
After the Enlightenment put an end to witch-hunting, occult books began to flood the market. One such popular book was The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer, compiled by Francis Barrett—a student of chemistry, metaphysics, and the occult sciences. Barrett assembled the material from older Grimoires, purporting the mix of writings to be comprised of contributions from Zoroaster, Hermes, Apollonius, Paracelsus, Roger Bacon, and a whole retinue of other alchemists (you know, those dudes who try to turn everything into gold). Barrett’s book actually became the gateway to many older, less accessible texts for modern-day dabblers and devotees of magic, alchemy, and other weird pursuits.
7. The Red Dragon
The Red Dragon is the book to consult if you’re looking to summon the prince of darkness himself (aka Lucifer). This book, which purports to be yet another 16th century collection of Solomonic wisdom, is actually believed to have originated in the 19th century, during an era when cheap Grimoires were flooding a public hungry for occult reads (it’s always cool to say a book is 300 years older than it is). The Red Dragon is a great business book if you’re interested in making a deal with the Devil, but there are also some more practical bits of advice, such as how to win a lottery, make a girl fall in love with you, or make yourself invisible. Though it was believed to be a crude copy of an early manuscript, this book, also titled The Grand Grimoire, found its way to America and become popular in the Caribbean. Do you do that Voodoo?
8. The Necronomicon
If you’ve ever read any of the strange horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, you know he makes frequent reference to an ancient book of magic written by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, Kitab al-Azif, or The Necronomicon. This particular Grimoire is entirely fictional, but as we have seen in previous examples, the idea of dark tome originating in the Orient and making its way West into the hands of devotees to studying the occult arts has real historical precedent. Despite the fact that it doesn’t really exist, many people assume it does, and bookstores and libraries often field requests for it. It’s backstory is that of crazed devotee to Lovecraft’s fictional dark deities Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu, who journeyed to the subterranean ruins of Babylon.