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Grimoires: A History of Magic Books Paperback – December 1, 2010
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"An amazing achievement, not just for its depth of research but its breadth, from Massachusetts to Martinique to Mauritius. It must become the classic work on the subject."--Ronald Hutton, author of The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft
"Excellent and nuanced."--History Today
"A sweeping, fascinating history... Highly recommended."--CHOICE
"Among the many pleasures of reading Davies' book is the simple, shiver-producing enjoyment of scanning the rich, ominous-sounding titles that he catalogs in the course of charting their historical development."--Los Angeles Times
"Davies...opens up sp many new and fascinating areas in the history of magic."--Michael D. Baily, Iowa State University
"Davies' book is indeed a remarkable accumulation of exotic data...Owen Davies' Grimoires is an extraordinary assortment of riches - it is highly recommended."--Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review
About the Author
Owen Davies is Reader in Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. His previous books include The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts; Murder, Magic, Madness: The Victorian Trials of Dove and the Wizard; and Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History.
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Top Customer Reviews
Davies' approach is strictly that of a social historian writing a popular history, not a practitioner of magic. He is more concerned with the social influence of grimoires and any controversies surrounding them than their content (which is generally and lightly touched on) and effectiveness, and he considers the "lineage of magic" as "dubious" (page 11). At the top of his list in terms of "the greatest influence on the modern world of magic and religion" is The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses followed by "the most enduring, influential, and notorious Solomonic book," The Key of Solomon (pages 11 & 15). Other grimoires discussed include the Picatrix, the Sworn Book of Honorius, the Little Albert, the Grand Grimoire (and a version of it called the Red Dragon), the Book of St Cyprian, the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, Francis Barrett's The Magus, the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin, and Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows among others. However, some may be disappointed by the low degree of coverage of certain texts. The American book pirate L. W. de Laurence and his publishing influence, on the other hand, receives ample coverage. Some may also be surprised to find Simon's Necronomicon, which Davies calls "a well-constructed hoax", treated as "no less 'worthy'" as a piece of magical literature than other grimoires. Of this and other Necronomicons he states: "Like other famous grimoires explored in this book, it is their falsity that makes them genuine" (page 268). These type of statements show that although false authorship and fictive elements are used in many grimoires, Davies lacks the discerning eye of a skilled practical magician and more careful scholar of magic.
Given the above caveats, Davies' text is still an enjoyable and informative read. It will certainly introduce some readers to grimoires they did not know existed and provide a historical context for them. For further context, Davies highly recommends Michael D. Bailey's Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present (2007) as "an ideal companion" (pages 286 and 291 [Note 4]). Like Davies' text, it too has its weaknesses, but each book is strengthened by the other if used together. In addition to being well bound with an attractive dust jacket, Davies' book also contains 27 illustrations, 17 plates on glossy pages, a six-page Epilogue, as well as chapter notes, an index, and a useful Further Reading section.
In a world where Harry Potter has his own Florida theme park and Americans talk to Astrologers over the phone for 1.99 a minute, the continued relevance of Magic is beyond doubt. One of the surprises of this book is the narrow band within which Magic operated, historically speaking. For example, a major focus of interest in regards to Grimories was their use to locate treasure. Davies has a fascinating chapter in the middle of the book about the relationship between contemporary Magical practice and the divinations of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church.
Magic Books existed before the printing press was invented, it's a tradition that stretches clear back to antiquity and many of the historically grounded Magic Books of Europe owe some influence to Egypt, Israel or Baghdad. Like many other emblems of literate culture, the tradition of Magic Book was sustained through the pre-printing press era by Church Officials and Monks, which is certainly evidence of a freedom of thought that one typically WOULD not associate with a Monastery circa 500 AD.
The Printing Press made the distribution of Magic Books easier, but it remained a very esoteric phenomenon until the late 18th/early 19th century till a host of related conditions: Discovery of "folk culture" by intellectuals, grown of Esoteric Societies among the lower and Middle classes (Freemasonry, etc.), growth of English language literacy among Colonial societies; brought the magic book into what we call "the Modern Era." Certainly, Magic loses a bit of its charm after the Industrial revolution, though whether that is due to the Industrial Revolution itself OR whether the Industrial Revolution is itself a manifestation of the same shift in outlook that caused Magic to lose its status as an emblem of free thinking intellectualism.
Contemporary Magic devotees fall into two main groups: People who are into it because they practice Wiccanism or some offshoot, and Harry Potter/Fantasy fans. These are large, powerful Audiences, but they bear little resemblance to the Audiences described for most of Grimories. I would have liked a chapter on "Mass Media and Magic" but it's a small point that doesn't mar an otherwise splendid treatment of an esoteric subject.