A Grimoire, strictly speaking, is a collection of magical formulas or symbols, with instructions for their use to achieve certain ends. The word grimoire is from the Old French grammaire, and is from the Greek root "grammatikos", “relating to letters”, from which grammar, a system for language, and glamour, influential appeal, are derived. The word "grimoire" came over time to apply specifically to those books which did indeed deal with magic and the supernatural.
Such books contain astrological correspondences, lists of angels and demons, directions on casting charms and spells, on mixing medicines, summoning unearthly entities, and making talismans. "Magical" books in almost any context, especially books of magical spells, are also called grimoires.
Often containing complex instructions for conjuring demons and spirits, European Grimoires were astonishingly common between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries. What is even more surprising is the atmosphere of Christian piety that often permeates these texts. A far cry from the black magick and pacts with Satan one might expect, they are filled with biblical references and regimens of prayer and Angelic supplications. Ritual Magicians of the Middle ages and Renaissance periods tended to be heavily religious, and although they found inspiration in Pagan and Islamic texts, they often relied on Christian magical traditions going back as far as the first century. Some especially religiously oriented magicians even found a biblical imperative in the words of Jesus- " And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do "
There are generally two types of magical manuals, Ritual Magic primers and compendiums of so called "Natural magic." While the latter are usually a hodge podge of chemical preparations and herbal formulas, the former contain a curious mixture of prayer, conjuration, and Qabalistic or astrological formulas. They often contain a laundry list of enchantments, from the mundane (obtaining money and favors) to the improbable (invisibility, invincibility, and the power to fly), to the profoundly spiritual (union with God, enlightenment, and wisdom). Much of modern Ritual Magick is based on the techniques found in these old books, which contain many features recognizable to both Magicians and Wiccans - magical weapons, the calling of quarters, pentacles and sigils used in invocations, and the use of magickal or heavenly languages.
Golden Dawn founder, S. L. MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918) was a formidable scholar and linguist, reading and translating English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic and Coptic. He was also a passionate translator of magical grimoires. His translations include The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, The Kabbalah Unveiled, The Key of Solomon The King and The Lesser Key of Solomon. MacGregor Mathers also translated The Goetia and compiled the magical hierarchies that were inappropriately published by Aleister Crowley as Liber 777 as though they were Crowley’s own works.
The first grimoires appear in the High Middle Ages, growing out of earlier traditions, notably of medieval Jewish mysticism, which continued traditions dating back to Late Antiquity. Thus, the 13th century Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh is significantly based on the Sefer Ha-Razim (ca. 4th or 5th century), which is in turn influenced by Hellenistic Greek magical papyri. Notable 13th to 17th century grimoires include:
The Picatrix ("The Goal of the Sage [in sorcery]") (13th century) is a grimoire of uncertain origins, isprobably written circa 1200 AD. Offering talismanic and astrological guidance, the text clearly comes from a non-European ethos. It has been attributed to al-Majriti (an Andalusian mathematician), but this attribution is doubtful, and the author is sometimes listed as "Pseudo-Majriti". Originally written in Arabic, a Latin translation appeared in 1256 from the court of Alphonso X of Castile. The book has a major influence on West European magical thinking from Marsilio Ficino in the 1400s, to Thomas Campanella in the 1600s, to Ivan Chtcheglov in the 20th century. The edition in the British Library passes through several hands: Simon Forman, Richard Napier, Elias Ashmole and William Lilly.
Liber Juratus, or, the Sworn Book of Honorius (13th century) (also liber sacer, sacratus or consecratus, Sworn Book of Honorius) is a medieval grimoire. Its date of composition is uncertain, but it is mentioned as liber sacer in the 13th century, apparently asserting a high medieval date. Johannes Hartlieb (1456) mentions it as one of the books used in nigromancy. The oldest preserved manuscript dates to the 14th century, Sloane MS 3854 (fol 117-144). Sloane MS 313, dating to the late 14th or early 15th c. had been in the possession of John Dee. The book is one of the oldest existing medieval grimoires as well as one of the most influential. It is supposedly the product of a conference of magicians who decided to condense all their knowledge into one volume. In 93 chapters, it covers a large variety of topics, from how to save your soul from purgatory to catch thieves or find treasures. It has many instructions on how to conjure and command demons, to work other magical operations, and knowledge of what lies in Heaven among other highly sought information. Like many grimoires, it has lengthy dissertations for proper operation and seals to be used. The book can be classified as a "Solomonic Grimoire" due to its heavy use of angelic powers and seals like those found in The Greater Key of Solomon.
Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh Liber Razielis Archangeli (13th century) "Book of Raziel the Angel"), is medieval Qabalistic grimoire, primarily written in Hebrew and Aramaic, but surviving also in Latin translation, as Liber Razielis Archangeli, in a 13th century manuscript produced under Alfonso X.
The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage (1450s) The grimoire known as the Book of Abramelin is framed as a sort of epistolary novel or autobiography in which Abraham of Worms describes his journey from Germany to Egypt and reveals Abramelin's magical and Qabalistic secrets to his son Lamech. Internally the text dates itself to the year 1458. The Book of Abramelin tells the story of an Egyptian mage named Abramelin, or Abra-Melin, who teaches a system of magic to Abraham of Worms, a German Jew presumed to have lived from c.1362 - c.1458. The magic described in the book was to find new life in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to S.L. MacGregor Mathers' translation, "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage," its import within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and later within the mystical system of Thelema (established in 1904 by Aleister Crowley). Unfortunately, Mathers used the least-reliable manuscript copy as the basis for his translation and his translation contains many errors and omissions. The later English translation by Georg Dehn and Steven Guth, based on the earliest and most complete sources, is more scholarly and comprehensive. Dehn attributed authorship of The Book of Abramelin to Rabbi Yaakov Moelin (ca. 1365-1427), a German Jewish Talmudist.
The so-called Munich Handbook (15th century). The "Munich Manual of Demonic Magic" (CLM 849 of the Bavarian State Library, Munich) fifteenth century grimoire manuscript. The text is largely concerned with Demonology and Necromancy.
Three Books of Occult Philosophy
Libri tres de occulta philosophia by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1531) "Libri tres de occulta philosophia" (Three Books about Occult Philosophy) is Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's study of occult philosophy, acknowledged as a significant contribution to the Renaissance philosophical discussion concerning the powers of ritual magic and its relationship with religion. The three books deal with Elemental, Celestial and Intellectual magic. The books outline the four elements, astrology, qabalah, numbers, angels, gods names, the virtues and relationships with each other as well as methods of utilizing these relationships and laws in medicine, scrying, alchemy, ceremonies, origins of what are from the Hebrew, Greek, and Chaldean context. These arguments were common amongst other hermetic philosophers at the time and before. In fact, Agrippa's interpretation of magic is similar to the authors Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Johann Reuchlin's synthesis of magic and religion. Unlike many grimoires of the time, before and past, these books are more scholarly and intellectual than mysterious and foreboding. These books are often read as authoritative by those interested in the occult even today.
Clavicula Salomonis (Greater Key of Solomon)
The Greater Key of Solomon (16th century), Clavis Salomonis, or Clavicula Salomonis is a medieval book on magic falsely attributed to King Solomon. Most manuscripts date to the 16th or 17th century, but a prototype in Greek still survives from the 15th century. It is sometimes used as a grimoire. It is possible that the Key of Solomon inspired later works such as the Lemegeton, also called The Lesser Key of Solomon, although there are many differences between the books. What may have inspired the Lemegeton are the conjurations and rituals of purification, and in a less important way, the clothing and magic symbols. Judging by its style of writing, the book was written in the Middle Ages. Many books attributed to King Solomon were written in this period, which was underscored by the Crusades and the influence that the contact with Jewish qabalists and Arab alchemists had on European magicians and demonologists. Unlike other similar books, the Key of Solomon does not mention any of the seventy-two spirits constrained by King Solomon in a bronze vessel as the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (16th century) and the 17th century Lemegeton seal of the demons do. What the Key of Solomon describes is not the appearance or work of any demon but only the necessary drawings to prepare each experiment. The book contains several paragraphs and terms inspired by Talmudic texts and the Jewish Qabalah teaching.
Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (16th century). The grimoire, "Pseudomonarchia Daemonum," (Hierarchy of Demons) first appears as an Appendix to Johann Weyer's De praestigiis daemonum. The title of the book translates roughly to "false monarchy of demons". A grimoire similar in nature to the Ars Goetia, the first book of The Lesser Key of Solomon, it contains a list of demons, and the appropriate hours and rituals to conjure them. The book was written before known copies of The Lesser Key of Solomon, and has some differences. There are sixty-eight demons listed (instead of seventy-two), and the order of the spirits varies, as well as some of their characteristics. The demons Vassago, Seere, Dantalion and Andromalius are not listed in this book. Pseudomonarchia Daemonum does not attribute seals to the demons, as The Lesser Key of Solomon does. Weyer referred to his source manuscript as Liber officiorum spirituum, seu Liber dictus Empto. Salomonis, de principibus et regibus daemoniorum. (Book of the offices of spirits, or the book of saying of Empto. Solomon concerning the princes and kings of demons).
Lemegeton (Lesser Key of Solomon)
The Lemegeton, or, the Lesser Key of Solomon (17th century). The "Lesser Key of Solomon" (Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis) (the Clavicula Salomonis, or Key of Solomon is an earlier book on the subject), is an anonymous 17th century grimoire, and one of the most popular books of demonology. It has also long been widely known as the Lemegeton, although that name is considered incorrect because it depends on faulty Latin. It appeared in the 17th century, but much was taken from texts of the 16th century, including the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, by Johann Weyer, and late-medieval grimoires. It is likely that books by Jewish qabalists and Muslim mystics were also inspirations. Some of the material in the first section, concerning the summoning of demons, dates to the 14th century or earlier. The book claims that it was originally written by King Solomon, although this is certainly incorrect. The titles of nobility assigned to the demons were unknown in his time, as were the prayers to Jesus and the Christian Trinity included in the text. The Lesser Key of Solomon contains detailed descriptions of spirits and the conjurations needed to invoke and oblige them to do the will of the conjurer (referred to as the "exorcist"). It details the protective signs and rituals to be performed, the actions necessary to prevent the spirits from gaining control, the preparations prior to the invocations, and instructions on how to make the necessary instruments for the execution of these rituals. The several original copies extant vary considerably in detail and in the spellings of the spirits' names. Contemporary editions are widely available in print and on the Internet. The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King (Clavicula Salomonis Regis) is a 1904 translation of the text by Samuel Mathers and Aleister Crowley. It is essentially a manual that gives instructions for summoning 72 different spirits and is derived from one book of the Lemegaton.
The Black Pullet (18th century). The "Black Pullet" is a grimoire that proposes to teach the "science of magical talismans and rings", including the art of necromancy and Qabalah. It is believed to have been written in the late 18th century, and according to the text, written by an anonymous French officer who served in Napoleon's army. According to the text (which is written as a narrative), the story centers around this French officer during Napoleon's (Napoleon is referred to here as the "genius") Egyptian expedition when his unit are suddenly attacked by Arab soldiers (Bedouins). The French officer manages to survive the attack, being the sole survivor. When an old Turkish man who appears suddenly from the pyramids takes the French officer into a secret apartment within one of the pyramids and nurses him back to health whilst sharing with him the magical teachings from ancient manuscripts that escaped the "burning of Ptolemy's library". The book itself contains information regarding the creation of certain magical properties, such as talismanic rings, amulets and the Black Pullet itself. The book also teaches the reader how to master the extraordinary powers from these magical properties. Perhaps the most interesting magical property is the power to produce the Black Pullet, otherwise known as the Hen that lays Golden Eggs. The person who understands and attains the power to instruct the Black Pullet will gain unlimited wealth. The notion of such a lucrative possession has been reflected throughout history in fables, fairy tales and folklore. This text has often been associated to two other texts, known as the Red Dragon (or The Grand Grimoire) and the Black Screech Owl (also known as The Black Pullet or Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids). Each of the above are examples of grimoires that claim to possess the science of ancient magic.
Le Grand Grimoire
Le Grand Grimoire, The Grand Grimoire (19th century, allegedly 1522) The "Grand Grimoire" is a black magic grimoire that claims to date back to 1522. It is widely suspected that it was written some time in the 19th century. It was ostensibly published in Cairo by a person known as Alibek the Egyptian. Also known as "The Red Dragon", this book contains instructions purported to summon Lucifer or Lucifuge Rofocale for the purpose of forming a pact. Sections of it are found in Waite's Book of Ceremonial Magic and in Hyatt and Black's Pacts with the Devil. The book is called "Le Veritable Dragon Rouge" ("The Red Dragon") in Haiti, where it is revered among many practitioners of Vodou and Santeria.