Medieval Magick

Note: The following article has been published with the author’s approval. The original article can be found at



The Medieval and Renaissance Eras

The “classical age” of the grimoiric texts is roughly equivalent to the span of the Middle (or Medieval) and Renaissance ages. The Middle Ages began roughly in the fifth century CE, when the empire of Rome was both infiltrated and violently overrun by Germanic tribes. This is when the famous sacking of Rome took place at the hands of the Vandals, in the year 455 CE. The established government was slowly inched out of power, and Italy became little more than an extension of a German kingdom. The vast Roman Republic faded away, and was replaced by a wholly agricultural society.

The Roman government, however, was not willing to simply vanish into the pages of history. It quickly shifted from its past political structure and focused upon a theocracy instead. Much of the groundwork for this was set as early as the mid-300s, when the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to take action against the fragmentation of his empire. He saw his chance within the various religious cults of Christianity (which had steadily gained popularity with the people regardless of attempts to exterminate it), and the already widespread worship of Mithras (a rather Christ-like solar God). If the people could be united under one religious structure, then the entire land would finally be controllable again.

In 325 CE, Constantine called together the famous Council of Nice- where four hundred bishops gathered to establish a unified and government-controlled religion. Constantine built churches across the land, and enforced the observance of the new faith. Highly adept at persuading his people, he combined the most popular elements of Christianity with those of other cults such as Mithraism in order to make the new doctrine as attractive as possible. His maneuvering paid off; as this was the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire.



(First Holy Council of Nicea)

The decisions of the Council- recorded as the Nicene Creed– became something of a holy scripture itself. It contained the specific outline of what made one a Christian, in the form of theological beliefs. For example, one line of the Creed reads as follows:

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord and Giver of Life,
Who proceedeth from the Father.

The Nicene council is often considered the birth of Catholicism, but this is not entirely the case. Originally, the Christian religion was quite decentralized, and any given church had its own way of doing things. When issues arose that concerned the religion as a whole, large gatherings of Bishops and religious leaders were called together so the issues could be debated and ruled upon. The Council of Nice itself is an example of this process.

It was not until three hundred years later that a major schism took place within the organization, creating two distinct branches of the faith: Orthodox and Catholic. Though it may be hard to believe, the division was created by the inclusion of a single Latin word into a song. This was done by a French priest who was working on setting the Nicene Creed (in Latin) to the music of Gregorian chant. Apparently, he had trouble with the line quoted above, as the metre of the song left a few notes of the chant without lyrics. In order to “flesh out” the words to fit the music, the priest added the four syllable word filioque onto the line- changing it to:

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord and Giver of Life,
Who proceedeth from the Father, and from the Son.

As the song became popular, it brought the theological implications of the lyrical addition into the spotlight. One camp saw little problem with the inclusion, while others felt it inappropriate to alter the Creed- especially where it concerned the natures of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. In 589 CE, the Third Council of Toledo officially accepted the new word into the Creed, and effectively divided the faith in two. Those who refused to accept the new Creed separated into the Eastern Orthodox faith (centralized in Constantinople under the guidance of the “Ecumenical Patriarch”), and those who remained became the Catholic Church (centralized in Rome under the “Pope”).

Such was the state of Europe at the beginning of the Medieval era, ruled by its Germanic kings and Catholic clergy. The people gathered together upon “manors,” which consisted of the landlord’s castle, the church, a village, and the farmlands that surrounded them. These manors were actually land grants given by the king to powerful noblemen. In return, the noblemen had to declare loyalty, and promise tribute and access to military troops to the king. The noblemen then divided their land amongst various lesser nobles called “vassals,” or land barons. Finally, the land barons contracted peasants (“serfs”) to tend and cultivate the farmland in return for military protection. This was the basic structure of the feudal economic system. The serfs were uneducated, traveled very little, and were heavily taxed by their landlords. The rulers themselves were constantly embattled in petty political and military intrigue.

By the seventh century, the religion of Islam arose upon the Arabian peninsula, and swept through the middle east. Its armies defeated the Byzantine and Persian kingdoms that ruled there, and took control of the Holy Land by the year 638 CE. Over the next three centuries, the Arabians pushed northwestward onto the continent of Europe- engaging in a holy war against the empire of the Christians.

In the eleventh century, the Christians were experiencing more difficulty at home. The East/West schism that had begun nearly half a century before finally came to a boil in 1054 CE. In an effort to mend the dissolving relationship between the Churches, emissaries from Rome journeyed to Constantinople and visited the Ecumenical Patriarch. Unfortunately, the discussions failed, and ultimately ended with both sides casting anathemas of excommunication at each other. The schism was complete, and the Eastern Orthodox Church had no involvement in the later actions of the Roman Catholic Church.




(Map presenting the Great Schism)

Meanwhile, the Turks displaced the Arabians as the rulers of Islam. Where Arabian rulers had often been tolerant of the Christians’ interest in the Holy Land, the Turks were not so kind. Christian pilgrims to the middle east soon found themselves traveling in armed bands for protection against Turkish attackers. In the year 1095 CE, the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, sent an urgent plea for help to Pope Urban II. The sympathetic Pope addressed a council of leaders in Clermont, and the Crusades were created in answer. The Holy Land thus became a place of bitter religious war.

There were several Crusades that took place over the next few hundred years, all directed against non-Christian peoples. The warrior class of Europe had become a religious order in its own right, fighting one holy war after another in the name of God and King. Military conquest continued even after the loss of the Holy Land to the Turks in 1291 CE, though this date is often considered the “official” end of the Crusades.

The Knights Templar arose in the environment of the Crusades in 1118 CE. They were a mystery cult of warrior-monks who protected the merchant lanes of the Holy Land, and practiced the rites of ancient Gnostic Christianity. They were established at the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem by the French king Baldwin II. By 1128 they had been confirmed by Pope Honorius II at the Council of Troyes. As the Holy Land fell to Islam, the Templars slowly withdrew toward Paris, and finally established their headquarters at the Temple Monastery there.



(Templars fighting against the arab army)

The Knights Templar had grown in wealth and power over the years, and eventually excited the greed of the King of France, Phillipe le Bel. Declaring that the mystery rites of the order were heresy to the Church, he began to systematically destroy the order one member at a time. All of the treasure of the Templars was to go directly to his coffers, but none of its members could be coerced or tortured into revealing its whereabouts. Phillipe had wasted his efforts. In a final maneuver, he attempted to demand judgement against the Templars from the Pope. When the holy man refused to be manipulated, the king dismissed him and instated his own man, the Bishop of Bordeaux, as Pope Clement V. This Pope gladly issued a papal bull suppressing the Templar order in 1312 CE.

This was the basis of the dreaded Inquisitions. Their stated objective was to discover heresy within the Church, and thus rid the world of all rival Christian (i.e.- non-Catholic) groups. The Templars were merely the first to fall, with their Grand Master Jaques de Molay burned at the stake with several others in March of 1314. The order went underground, and its history becomes shaded from that point forward.


(Jaques de Molay burned at the stake)

The “Holy Inquisition” had been growing since the twelfth century, though it had not become institutionalized (under the governance of Dominican monks) until the thirteenth century. In 1231 Pope Gregory IX declared life imprisonment for heretics who confessed and repented, and death for those who refused. Once rival Christian sects had been obliterated, the Church turned its attentions toward others. Two Dominican monks- Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger- penned the Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer) in 1468 CE; a text of hatred, lies, and methods of torture dedicated to the eradication of pagan practices. It is in this book that we find the stereotypical images of Medieval witches, midnight sabbaths, black witchcraft, and pacts with Satan. It also happened to give exceedingly graphic instructions for torture, and outlined some of the ludicrous “tests” for witchcraft with which many of us are familiar today. Needless to say, this was the textbook upon every inquisitor’s desk. As late as 1492, the Queen of Spain established the Spanish Inquisition- aimed at the conversion, expulsion, or eradication of its Jewish and Moslem people. This latter was by far the bloodiest chapter of the inquisitorial period.

This entire episode of human history is known today as the Dark Ages, where we find very little beyond blood and ignorance. There was little cultural advancement, much ancient knowledge was lost forever, and the world existed under the iron fist of a Church gone mad.




(Process of a witch, depicting a woman being undressed, probably to find the ‘signs of the Devil’ on her body. These signs were usually moles, of which people believed were done by the devil and would not bleed if pricked)

However, there was some light during these dark times. The 1200s saw great gatherings of scholars and philosophers in Spain and other areas of Europe. This class of people did not harbor the all-too-common religious bigotry of the day, and they met Christian, Muslim, Jew, and Pagan alike. It was here that the Qabalah as we know it was created, marked especially by the publication of The Sepher haZohar (Book of Splendor)- a mystical commentary on Biblical literature- by Moses de Leon.

This was also the time of the famed Magna Carta, a human rights contract which the English land barons of 1215 forced King John to sign at peril of his life. It changed little for the serfs, but it greatly restricted the king’s right of taxation and required trials before punishment. In many ways, it is the historical forerunner to the American Bill of Rights.

Finally, the domination of the Medieval Church was dealt its greatest blow, in the fourteenth century, by the spread of the bubonic plague from China. The cycle of the virus continued until the seventeenth century, and wiped out a large portion of the population of Europe. For centuries the people had paid heed to the Church’s doctrines of the end of the world, and to the armies of Angels who would come to the aid of the faithful in those times. When the black plague struck, the Church lost no time in proclaiming the final rapture (Thessalonians 4:16-17), and insisted that only the sinners of the world would suffer.


(Plague victims were blessed; illustration from Omne Bonum manuscript by James le Palmer, 14th century)

This was a political disaster. The plague swept through the known world, and paid no attention to the piety of its victims. Worse than this, the one segment of society least affected by the plague were the Jewish peoples, due to their strict religious laws regarding cleanliness. These were the people whom the Church had promised would first fall. Now, if the plague were truly the Armageddon, then it was the Jewish people who were proving themselves the “Chosen.” The Church could do nothing, and its armies of Angels languished with sheathed swords. This ultimately broke the spell the Church held over Europe. These sixteenth century people felt that, when the chips had been on the table, their spirituality had failed them. Thus, they slowly began to seek for alternative answers. This ended the Dark Ages, and began the age of the Renaissance.

The invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenburg in 1450 revolutionized communication and scholarship in a manner comparable to our own development of the Internet. Columbus discovered the New World in 1492. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg; leading to the separation of the Roman Church into Catholic and Protestant sects. King Henry VIII created his protestant Church of England, and his daughter Elizabeth established it during her reign from 1558 – 1602. Johannes Kepler, Galileo, John Dee, and a host of others came to the forefront of the scientific world in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; many times in direct opposition to the Catholic Church. This was also the time of the most famous wizards of history; such as Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), Dr. John Dee (1527-1608), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), and others. It isn’t taught in our modern schools, but the very men who originally fashioned the basic scientific assumptions about our world had copies of the grimoires upon their shelves, and/or claimed membership to various mystery orders.



(Johannes Trithemius 1462-1516)

One thing for which the Renaissance is particularly known is the shifting of thought from the Medieval philosophy based on Aristotle to the more pantheistic Neo-platonic views. In the late 1400s, Marsilio Ficino translated the Corpus Hermeticum– believing it was a true reflection of ancient Egyptian religion and the source for the philosophy of Plato and the Greeks. Of course, today we know that the Hermetic Arts arose in the early Common Era, and that it was they who were affected by Plato. However, this was not understood in the fifteenth century, and Ficino’s work created something of an Egyptian craze among mystics and occultists.

At the same time that Ficino was disseminating the Hermetic teachings, one Pico della Mirandola was doing the same for the Qabalah. Both of these traditions (Hermetic and Qabalistic) had been in vogue centuries earlier, but had been largely lost due to Church suppression. The efforts of men such as Ficino and Mirandola re-created the mystical movements that gave rise to the spiritual values of the Renaissance mystics. This Neo-platonic Hermetic-Qabalistic philosophy is the very one described in detail by Henry Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy. (An extremely important book in relation to the grimoiric literature- see below.)

This philosophy endured until the 1600s, where it would culminate in a German mystical movement known as the “Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.” In 1614 and 15, two manifestos (generally known as the Fama and Confessio) were anonymously published in the name of this Brotherhood. Each of them took a very strong anti-papal stance, and insisted on religious tolerance, the advancement of science as a spiritual art, and the reform of education, religion, and ethics. These “Rosicrucians” were deeply Hermetic (holding Alchemy as the most sacred of sciences) and they drew much from the philosophy outlined by Dr. John Dee in his Hieroglyphic Monad of 1564 CE.



(To Rosy Cross, associated with the founder Christian Rosenkreuz)

It is most likely that the Brotherhood did not exist in any tangible sense. The Rosicrucians claimed to meet only at an “Invisible College”- and there are many subtle hints to suggest that this was meant as an allegory. The Rosicrucian manifestos were addressed to all free thinkers and spiritual seekers in the world; especially those who yearned for the dawning of a new age, the advancement of learning, and freedom from the oppressive Roman Church. The Invisible College was the common ground within the hearts of all who sought such goals. There is no known historical philosopher or Hermetic mystic, who we would call “Rosicrucian” today, who ever claimed membership to such an Order. Instead, it is the results of their Work that make them Rosicrucian thinkers.

This represents the end of the classical period upon which this book focuses. The Rosicrucian movement initiated a new magickal current- much less shamanic in nature than the grimoiric material (see chapter two). After the initial furor caused by the publication of the manifestos, the Thirty Years War broke out in Europe, driving the thought movement underground. There it continued until it finally found expression in the Age of Enlightenment and within Freemasonry. It is from Freemasonry that so many of our modern magickal systems descend. Rosicrucianism, therefore, stands as a mid-point between the authors of the grimoires, and the Masonic founders of our own post-Victorian magickal systems.



The Classical Grimoires


Though the time of the grimoires rests mainly in the late Medieval era, the legacy upon which they were founded extends much further into the past. The methods of magick they utilize are as ancient as the tribal magicks of pre-history. Their forms, however, seem to have been set during the first four centuries of our Common Era; specifically within the Greek magickal papyri. These Greek spells drew from such sources as ancient Christianity (Gnosticism), Judaism, and Egyptian magick. Their focus was much the same as the later Medieval texts- healing, obtaining visions, exorcism, the destruction of enemies, the gaining of beauty, etc. They incorporated mystical names and words into their prayers- the so-called “barbarous names of invocation” which have no earthly meaning, but indicate magickal formulas of vibration. They insist upon ritual cleansing and purity, and the donning of priestly linen garments. The list of similarities between the Greek and later European literature could continue, though an example would serve as well. Perhaps the most famous Greek ritual today is an invocation performed before attempting an exorcism, known as the Rite of the Headless One:

Write the names upon a piece of new paper, and having extended it over your forehead from one temple to the other, address yourself turning towards the north to the six names, saying…

Compare this, then, with a quote from the Key of Solomon the King, Book I, chapter 13:

Write upon a slip of virgin parchment…this Character and Name; …thou shalt hold with thy right hand the aforesaid strip of parchment against thy forehead, and thou shalt say the following words:

At the same time, another influence played a primary role in the formation of the classical grimoires: the apocryphal biblical text known as the Testament of Solomon. Elizabeth Butler considers this work “The turning point between ancient and Medieval magic…” The Testament outlines the mythology of King Solomon, from his subjugation of the spirits to build the Temple to his eventual entry into worship of foreign Gods.


(King Solomon evoking demon Belial)

Most important for our consideration, however, is the fact that the text describes a sophisticated demonology wherein the King summons, questions, and binds several spirits. Each spirit revealed to Solomon his functions, an (often hideous) composite appearance, and the name of the Angel who directly opposes him. For example, one of the demonic princes interrogated by King Solomon was known as Beelzeboul:

I Solomon said unto him:

Beelzeboul, what is thy employment?

 And he answered me:
I destroy kings. I ally myself with foreign tyrants. And my own demons I set on to men, in order that the latter may believe in them and be lost. And the chosen servants of God, priests and faithful men, I excite unto desires for wicked sins, and evil heresies, and lawless deeds; and they obey me, and I bear them on to destruction. And I inspire men with envy, and murder, and for wars and sodomy, and other evil things. And I will destroy the world.”
Many of the lesser spirits in the book were associated with physical ailments rather than social taboos, and the Angelic names given are regarded as curative formulas. This links the entire tradition to older rites of exorcism:

The third said: “I am called Arotosael. I do harm to the eyes, and grievously injure them. Only let me hear the words, ‘Uriel, imprison Aratosael’, at once I retreat.”…

The sixth said: “I am called Sphendonael. I cause tumours of the parotid gland, and inflammations of the tonsils, and tetanic recurvation. If I hear, ‘Sabrael, imprison Sphendonael’, at once I retreat.’

The Testament even lists four demonic rulers of the cardinal points of the compass, who were later echoed by a great number of Medieval grimoires: Oriens (of the east), Amemon (of the south), Eltzen (of the north), and Boul (of the west).

It would seem that the direct inheritor of this material among the Medieval grimoires is the Goetia– or Lesser Key- which lists 72 such spirits, along with their characters, functions, appearances, and information on how to bind them to the will of the magickian. The four “cardinal princes” even make an appearance, called here Amaymon, Corson, Zimimay, and Goap. The Goetia, in turn, had a major influence on the texts that followed. Therefore, the demonology of the Testament of Solomon became the grimoiric standard.

This occurred along with another trend that ran throughout the European texts- the assimilation of Jewish mysticism into the primarily Christian material. Even before the rise of the Qabalah in the thirteenth century, there existed a form of Jewish shamanic magick known as Mahaseh Merkavah or the “Work of the Chariot.” This was a practice of astral travel through the seven palaces of heaven (i.e.- the planetary spheres), where the ultimate goal was the Vision of the Throne of God.


(Ezekiel sees the Throne of God)

This practice does not seem to have originated with the Merkavah. The oldest examples of such literature we have found to date are the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which both deal with the ascension of the soul through the heavens after death. Apparently, the Chaldean or Babylonian priests of later times made this after-death journey while still alive- creating a kind of controlled near-death experience. The practice was then adopted by both Gnostic and Jewish mystical schools, which have each had a large influence upon Medieval European magick.

The Ethiopian Book of Enoch, the Hebrew Book of Enoch, the Pirkei Heichaloht, and even such canonical Biblical texts as Ezekiel and the Revelation of St. John are all centered upon- or connected to- the Merkavah tradition. The Merkavah’s use of ritual drugs, its focus upon talismans and seals, the summoning forth of Angelic gatekeepers, and the gaining of mystical visions are elements that run throughout the grimoiric spells.

The fascination of the Medieval mages for the Merkavah, and the reputation of its Jewish practitioners as extremely powerful wizards, led to the adoption of quite a bit of Judaic material into the grimoires. Richard Kieckhefer lists several examples in relation to the Sworn Book of Honorius, though the ideas extend to many texts. Meanwhile, he explains that Jewish tradition was likely a main source for the grimoires’ insistence upon moral purity along with the usual ritual purity. Also, the texts’ use of prayers with linguistic variations on similar words is probably derived from the Jewish Qabalah. Even the instructions to bury the grimoires if their owners could not find suitable successors may be a reflection of the Jewish custom of burying (rather than destroying) prayer books containing the Name of God. Professor Kieckhefer suggests that the grimoiric manuscripts, drawing as they do from Judaic magick, are examples of a primitive form of Medieval Christian mysticism that preceded the Christian Qabalah of the thirteenth century. He points out that Medieval society had a surplus of clergy, and thus the spawning of an underemployed, largely unsupervised, and frankly mischievous “clerical underworld” was the inevitable result.



(Excerpt from the kabbalistic grimoire Sefer Raziel HaMalakh)

It is obvious enough that the grimoires are clerical in nature, beside the borrowings from Judaism. The rites of the Church are mirrored in the texts, such as techniques of exorcism, recitation of Psalms, the Litany of Saints, and other established Catholic prayers and sacraments. In many cases, access to an actual church is necessary: such as placing a grimoire on the altar during a service to consecrate it, the use of the elements of the Eucharist, or the necessity of holy oil used in a church. All of these presuppose that the mage either has close connections inside, or is perhaps employed in the Church itself. Other grimoires instruct the use of Christian observances without describing them, or fully explaining their use in the spell, which indicates that the authors of the texts considered them “given” and felt no need to write them out in full.

Another Christian trend that runs through the texts is the use of pseudepigrapha, or the attribution of a text by its author to someone other than himself. In many cases the supposed author may be a purely legendary figure, and in some cases it might be a historical personage. Most of the books of the Bible fall into this category, starting with the Gospels (at least Mathew, Luke, and John), and continuing into the apocrypha such as the Book of Enoch, or the Testament of Solomon. Where it comes to the grimoires- such as the Key of Solomon, Sworn Book of Honorius, etc- it might be said that tradition was simply followed.

Yet, there were other factors involved as well. Books of “ancient wisdom” tend to sell better when attributed to someone great from the past. Besides this, the books were illegal, and it was a rare mage who could enjoy seeing his name on the title page of such a work. (It may even be true that this is why a tradition of pseudepigrapha arose among the early Christians, as they were also persecuted heavily in their day.)

The existence of the grimoires on the shelves of Medieval clergy strikes me as a perfectly natural occurrence. By this, I am not merely indicating the dynamic of a group of mystics caught in a land where magick was illegal, and thus producing a body of underground mystical material. I am also indicating the very nature of Christianity as a written tradition. From the original circulation in Palestine of anti-Roman war literature, known today as the four canonical Gospels, the Christian religion has been dedicated to the written word. From Bibles to prayerbooks to litanies, Christian magick is very often centered upon its sacred writ. This is no less true of the Judaic tradition, which may have adopted this aspect from Babylonian and Egyptian sources.

The Medieval era itself saw the advent of paper, a medium much cheaper and convenient than parchment. An explosion of written material and bound books resulted; even if it was a specifically limited explosion. Most of the world remained illiterate, and it was the clergy who were charged with producing and reading written material. Those in Kieckhefer’s “clerical underground” were the same monks who took on jobs of transcribing and translating texts on a regular basis. If a literature arose which circulated amongst a reading audience, these men would have been both the audience and the authors. The grimoires were such literature.

(Scribe monk)

It may be true that much of the grimoiric material was originally transmitted orally. Oral transmission might also help explain some of the more blatant corruptions of Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Chaldean words in the invocations. It was during the middle to late Medieval era that the tradition began to surface on paper thanks to the pen-happy and ambitious monks. Not only this, but the Christian mysticism of the written word had woven itself into the tradition, and the books surfaced as living magickal objects. They were often regarded as alive, or as possessed of spirits. When they were burned, witnesses actually reported hearing screams coming from within the pages. Even the cleric-mages themselves warned against the opening of the books by those unpracticed in magickal lore.

When the Inquisitions did come, it was indeed the clergy who made up the majority on the prosecution’s list. Remember, after all, that it was to ferret out heresy within the Church that the Inquisition was founded, and those who possessed grimoiric texts were highly suspect. Pope John XXII, in 1318, had the bishop of Frejus investigate a group composed of clerics and laymen accused of necromancy, geomancy, and similar magickal practices. In 1406, a conspiracy was uncovered in which another group of clerics was accused of working magick against the king of France and Pope Benedict XIII. By 1409, Benedict himself was charged with both using necromancy and employing necromancers. In 1500, a monk from the Sulby monastery named Thomas Wryght was caught with a book of magickal experiments, and was fortunate to escape with light punishment.

So the grimoires arose in a world of drastic political and religious change. They draw from several sources of mysticism and magick, which we have only begun to cover in this chapter. They were born from the hands of a clerical underground, perhaps even from mystical groups associated in some way with the Knights Templar. They represent a community of mages existing within the confines of its contemporary religious doctrine, experiencing mysteries that lay far outside of that doctrine. This is perhaps the most romantic trait of the grimoires. They embody a rebellion of the human spirit, and a refusal to let go of the Light even in the darkest of ages.


The Medieval texts do not (for the most part) contain dark and horrible rites that call upon “Lovecraftian” beasties. They are not all about curses or pacts with “the devil,” and there is no enslavement of innocent spirits. Instead, they reflect the magickal philosophies and wisdom of our magickal ancestors, from whom we have inherited much. It is a system of magick complete unto itself and rich with the influence of tribal magick. Agrippa, in the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, describes what the grimoires promise:

To defend kingdoms, to discover the secret councils of men, to overcome enemies, to redeem captives, to increase riches, to procure the favor of men, to expel diseases, to preserve health, to prolong life, to renew youth, to foretell future events, to see and know things done many miles off, and such like as these, by virtue of superior influences, may seem things incredible; yet read but the ensuing treatise, and thou shalt see the possibility thereof confirmed both by reason, and example. [Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Llewellyn, p lxi]

The schools of magick or “natural philosophy” (that is- Alchemy, Astrology, and Spirit-working) were considered among the respectable sciences from the earliest of times. The Medieval and Renaissance mages I’ve mentioned above, along with numerous others both known and unknown, were also physicists, doctors, astronomers, biologists, mathematicians, philosophers, architects, navigators, etc. The existence of the Notary Arts and related texts makes this point evident. In truth, the men who created most of our modern fields of scientific study were adept mages as well (such as Sir Isaac Newton, who was in fact an alchemist).

For further information on this point, I highly recommend The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, by Frances Yates. The preface, especially, and truly the entire book, contains much information about the magickal nature of the early sciences, and the mystical minds it took to dream of them. The Rosicrucian thinkers of the seventeenth century were the ancestors of the Masons, the Royal Society of England, and of the Age of Enlightenment overall.

Not only was magick respected among the sciences, it was actually considered the highest and most sacred science. The Goetia begins, in some manuscripts, with the following words:

Magic is the Highest, most Absolute, and most Divine Knowledge of Natural Philosophy, advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things; so that true Agents being applied to proper Patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced. Whence magicians are profound and diligent searchers into Nature: they, because of their skill, know how to anticipate an effect, the which to the vulgar shall seem to be a miracle.

One must question, then, why magick fell from its lofty position. Why are the texts considered superstitious rubbish when they were penned by the hands of such as John Dee, Henry Agrippa, and Trithemius? In general, we are given the impression that magick fell by the wayside due to its inability to withstand the scientific process. By applying the steps of experimentation, magick is said to have come up short, producing no results, and was thus abandoned by the educated.

However, that assumption is simply not true. The historical fact is that magick was feared enough by the Medieval Church to outlaw it. Richard Kieckhefer opens his book Forbidden Rites with the observation that we are (mentally speaking) what we read, and the power that books hold to transform minds has given rise to anxiety as much as celebration. Various related developments in late Medieval Europe brought about a Renaissance of literature, and brought with it concerns about what people were reading. Magickal books which blatantly called upon demonic powers embodied the worst fears of those who naturally feared a populace that (for the first time in history) could read.

It was not that magick failed to pass the test, but that it passed enough of its tests to make the world-rulers of the day take action against it. It was forced from its position of highest respect into the underground realm of the outlaw and fraud. This is, in fact, no different from the current drug laws, and the treatment received by such educated men as Timothy Leary. History shows us that such arts as magic, alchemy, and even a good number of the currently accepted sciences have been regularly repressed by established governing bodies. The scientists of the Medieval and Renaissance Eras necessarily had to distance themselves from the practice of magick (at least outwardly). A world where a man could be executed for suggesting that the Earth revolves around the Sun was no world for the investigations of occult philosophy.

As well, the black plague that decimated Europe at the end of the Medieval Era had shaken many of the peoples’ faith in all things spiritual. Those who continued to insist on its use were often feared by the peasants, and ridiculed by their peers. Thus, a tangible separation began to grow between the studies of magick, and the other- materialistic- sciences.

So, here we stand at the dawning of a new Age, with the fear of the Church and our dependence upon materialistic science receding ever further into the past. We might choose to accept their authority on the uselessness and superstition of the grimoires, or we might instead return to the manuscripts for a second look; to judge them according to our own knowledge and experiences. We might decide to put them to the test- nearly six or seven hundred years after they were written- and see what results they might produce. Though it is common knowledge that they are the origins of many of our current magickal practices, few seekers have taken an interest in learning what deeper secrets they might contain.

In my searches, I found precious few who had taken such an interest. As I stated before, most (even Neopagans) were happy to accept the Medieval Church’s doctrine on the matter. On the other hand, those few who did make the effort to duplicate the experiments of the classical texts seemed to report outstanding results time and again. One might have to get up a little early on a Wednesday morning to find a virgin nut-tree from which to cut a wand. It might take some time to find thread spun by a young maiden. One might even have to dedicate a search by phone and internet to locate rare materials, herbs or perfumes. However, as E. M. Butler suggests concerning the Greek texts that gave rise to the grimoires: the instructions are not prohibitively difficult to follow, but they are by no means easy, and frequently demand considerable physical and mental effort on the part of the aspirant.

If one has “what it takes” to put forth such physical and mental effort, then one can eventually access the treasures of the grimoires. I personally made the decision to test their promises, and to follow their instructions and procedures as completely as possible. What I have found is far from a failed science that can not stand up to scientific process. On the contrary, I have found the results of the practice extremely impressive.

Medieval – Renaissance Timeline: Including Historical Events and Appearances of Grimoires

325 – Council of Nice called by Roman Emperor Constantine.

455 – Rome sacked by Vandals. Medieval Era begins circa this time.

589 – Third Council of Toledo inserts filioque into the Nicene Creed, driving a wedge between the Eastern and Western Churches.

638 – Islamic armies take control of the Holy Land.

1054 – Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church mutually excommunicate each other, and separate into two distinct bodies.

1095 – Byzantine Emperor pleads with Pope Urban II for help against Islamic Turks in the Holy Land. The Crusades are begun.

1118 – Knights Templar are established in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

1128 – Knights Templar confirmed by Pope Honorius II at Council of Troyes.

1215 – King John forced to sign the Magna Carta, an early Bill of Rights, by land barons.

1231 – Pope Gregory IX declares life imprisonment for repentant heretics, and death for those who refuse to confess.

1256 – Date of earliest known copy of the Picatrix, from the court of king Alphonso of Castille. The text is likely much older.

Late 1200s – Moses de Leon publishes the Sepher haZohar, the principal book of the Qabalah.

1291 – Holy Land lost to the Turks. “Official” end of the Crusades. Knights Templar establish new headquarters at Temple Monastery in France.

1300s – Bubonic plague spreads from China during this century, and continues until 1600s. The Key of Solomon the King appears during this century, though it may be quite a bit older. The oldest known copies of the Ars Notoria also appear during this century.

1312 – Pope Clemet V, at the insistence of French King Phillipe le Bel, issues a papal bull suppressing the Templar order.

1314 – Templar Grand Master Jaques de Molay, and others, burned at the stake for heresy.

1318 – Pope John XXII has the bishop of Frejus investigate several clerics and laymen on charges of necromancy, geomancy, etc.

Early 1400s – Suggested origin of the Sworn Book of Honorius.

1406 – Group of clerics accused of working magick against the King of France and Pope Benedict XIII.

1409 – Pope Benedict XIII is himself accused of working necromancy and employing necromancers.

1450 – Johann Guttenburg invents printing press. Renaissance Era begins circa this time.

1462 – Trithemius born.

1468 – Two Dominican monks write the Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer).

1492 – Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition; except for the Queen of Spain. Columbus sets out to find shortcut to India.

Early 1500s – Martin Luther instigates schism of Roman Church into Catholic and Protestant sects. King Henry VIII creates the Church of England.

1509-10 – Agrippa writes the Three Books of Occult Philosophy. After his death the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy appears, and is rejected as a forgery by Agrippa’s student Wierus.

1527 – John Dee born.

1558 – Henry’s daughter and successor, Queen Elizabeth I, officially establishes her father’s Church circa this time.

1575 – Latin copy of the Arbatel of Magic appears. (John Dee also mentions the book in his work between 1581 – 1583.)

1581 – 1583 – John Dee scribes the Five Books of the Mysteries.

1583 – 1607 – John Dee scribes further Angelic journals, published by Meric Casaubon in 1659 (see below).

1600s – Earliest known copies of Lemegeton date to this century, though it is certainly much older.

1610 – 1640 – The Grimoire of Armadel flourishes in France around this time.

1614 – 1615 – The “Rosicrucian Manifestos” (the Fama and Confessio) are published in Germany, sparking the Rosicrucian thought movement.

1655 – Robert Turner includes a translation of the Heptameron in his collection of esoteric texts.

1659 – Meric Casaubon publishes A True and Faithful Relation…, a collection of John Dee’s journal entries (see 1583 above), in order to slander Dee’s memory.

Late 1600s to Early 1700s – The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage appears (though it claims to have been written between 1368 – 1437).

Mid 1700s – The probable origin of the Grimoirium Verum, and the Grand Grimoire.

1801 – Francis Barrett publishes The Magus, perhaps attempting to establish a magickal order.


This text is part of the book Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires written by Aaron Leitch. You can order the book by accessing the following link


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Position: Collaborator City: - Age: 44 Beliefs/System: Domains of interest: Solomonic traditions, Shamanism, Neoplatonism, Hermetism, Alchemy, Traditional Wicca, Neopaganism, Thelema, Angelology, Qabalah, Enochian, Hoodoo Website: | | Read more>