The quest of many magicians, as it seems, is to obtain the one and true grimoire; the one set of instructions, unaltered by time nor man to reveal the true praxis of high magick; to be followed to the letter and to be protected in its purity.
What is a Grimoire?
But before we name this illustrious work, one must ask oneself “what is a Grimoire?” I found it always simpler in understanding things by starting to look at their definition. So the word grimoire originates from the French language: grammaire, which used to refer to all books written in Latin. Only by 18th century, the term had begun to be used to refer purely to books of magic.
So if there is a true Grimoire, that indicates there are false Grimoires?
Quite a few people argue that the true grimoire has passed the test of time and delivered to us over time unchanged. False grimoires, are said, have claims to be proven untrue or lack the evidence of their legitimacy.
So how many supposed Grimoires are there?
I’d suggest to have a quick look at this wiki page to familiarise yourself with a few works considered to be Grimoires ( I will be referring to some mentioned there), but to quickly name a few:
- The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses
- The Clavicule of Solomon
- The Book of St Cyprian
- The Book of Honorius
- The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy
(I’m sure I am insulting someone by leaving their favourite out, but rest assured, you can imagine your favourite in the list without having to tell me I missed it)
Grimoires keep occultists busy arguing over legitimacy and accuracy where it usually dumbs down every few years until someone finds an earlier copy that is translated differently or suddenly has an extra page and discussions flare up again.
How are Grimoires born?
Arguing over the accuracy of a translation that is 200 years old or older can provide fun for the whole family, as this type of topic does have to potency to split entire communities apart, but have you ever wondered what the birth of a Grimoire was like? Imagine that there was a moment of an original idea, or a moment went an enterprising mage decided to grab all his notes and compile them into a book in order to pass on with the heeded warning that “Nothing must be changed, else the promise of peril and eternal doom awaits you!” or the entire treatise is said to be the fruit of some mad oriental character who in his last dying breath, being chased by demons, finds the time to produce a three volume tome to warn us against badly implemented ritual magick, but can’t find the time to sign his name.
But does any of these grimoires contain an original idea? It is hard to believe it as most introductions of Grimoires boil down to “this wasn’t my idea, this was the idea of some mad hermit who got this by word of mouth tradition and I had to torture him to get it out of him, but trust me, this is very arcane knowledge!”
Sure enough we hear the mention of Gods and Goddesses, which we can find evidence off through archeology and the odd sumerian tablet someone digs up from the desert, but very rarely, we will actually find rituals in grimoires where the writer refers to the Berlin Museum of archeology referring to exhibit 15, item b7.
The original translation.
There is something really powerful about handwritten grimoires. Imagine a first edition handwritten Clavicule of Solomon, but how would you know it is a first edition? One can only assume it because none earlier have been found, so for anything not proving it otherwise, we might say that it is the original. But there is a problem with that. As I said, it is hard to prove the authenticity of an unchanged Grimoire and easy to disprove it (just an earlier version needs to emerge) It become easier to understand the problem with legitimacy of grimoires when we simple look at the younger traditions like the Gardnerians and Alexandrians who have their Book of Shadows that serves as their Grimoire. Only recently, through the wonders of the internet, people from those traditions though it be fun to compare their notes, and even with just 40 years passed and the strict instruction to everyone to copy the Book of Shadows exactly how they found it, guess what? People had extra stuff or different stuff in their books of shadow.
Now grace for common sense, people sat down and compared and realised that(in case of the Alexandrians) that Alex sanders worked of the BoS for many years and people that hived off earlier, brought early versions into the world as those that hived off later. As a result, many are now scribbling away to catch up.
I came across another story (I believe it was of Gardnerian origin) that somewhere along the line, due to someone’s awful handwriting, the fragment “we are the children of the Goddess” got copied over as “we are the chickens of the Goddess” and it took a whole generation and many copies later that some one remarked “eh, that is not what it should say”. The story goes that said covens refused to change it, because they held fast to the tradition in not to change what was passed on, even if it were chickens.
So imagine, these sort of things happening in just 40 years. What would you expect of something claiming to be around for centuries and referring as its original source to be word of mouth tradition?
Works of fiction
Would you find it strange that mages draw upon a construct they created from fiction? Anyone who read “Dune” from Frank Herbert may not ever think the same about time, space and the nature of consciousness through the quotes of various personas in the series introducing the chapters in the books. It is really hard to make up stuff that doesn’t have an original idea somewhere in history. As a magical practitioner, one is in tune with the magical world and we find that even our fantasies tie in to that plane of the arcane, that a connection can be found and ready to be implemented into a system of magic. Creations of fantasy are often adopted in the animistic religions and other approaches where visualisation is key to an authentic magical experience. I’m sure the interested mind on shamanism have come across the stories of shamen having Mickey Mouse as a power animal. (and it is not wise to insult Mickey Mouse when said shamen is around!)
Then there are the products of imagination that are proven so blatantly fictional and preposterous that just having a serious look at it doesn’t seem to be worthwhile investment of precious time. One of those more controversial Grimoires is the Simon Necronomicum which makes the perfect case of the sort of regard one should have towards any work claiming to be a legitimate Grimoire.
It is so obviously based on HP Lovecraft’s creation of the Cthulhu mythology and is by many regarded as the best known Grimoire hoax on this side of reality (with even HP Lovecraft allegedly admitting he made up the Necronomicum and the whole mad Arab thing). Some go through great lengths to prove that the author created it to make some quick cash and even some make it their life’s calling to expose said work as not worth your time at all. Problem with that, the more I read about how ridiculously made up the whole Simon Necronomicum is, the more interested I became to sit down and read it (As I have a strong affinity to the Sumerian Pantheon) I just have to mention a blog I am subscribed to, papers in the attic, as I found the comments of those who defend the work more interesting than the arguments of those who wish to dismiss it to the fiction section of the library. What I find amazing is to see the parallels with other systems, and for me, just somethings that makes sense in a weird absurd way, knowing that this is not a work of verifiable age and legitimacy. I’d say it is the Mickey Mouse of Grimoires (and just so you know, remember what I said about having HUGE respect for Mickey Mouse as explained before…)
Caution into the wind
Something is really fascinating about the Simon Necronomicum, as I read it and found that it can actually function as construct for performing magic. So my intent is to play with it, throw caution in the wind and change whatever I feel needs change to make it work for me, as an experiment. Those who said to practise the Simon Necronomicum may warn me for all the peril that may be brought upon me, in all sincerity, in by approach where I practise what I feel to be of value and filling any blanks I feel that are there.
I have the belief that as a mage, there isn’t much in playing “safe”. For me, the craft is an exploration; of myself and creation. Yes, definitely yes, before you can run, you need to learn to walk and some guidance by some proven ways and tradition is a good starting point for any seeker. But as I also observe with some other practitioners of magic, there comes a time where the training wheels can come off.
If nothing of the craft should be changed, and the craft did have an origin (as we can find more commonalities than differences), how did we end up with all these different grimoires and traditions? The worst thing to happen is that all goes out of control and I am forced to testify that changing anything in a Grimoire will lead to a demise in horror (If I do, I make sure to thoroughly describe each and every honour and fail to write my name under it!) But honestly, the last time I checked , the chickens of the Goddess were still alive and well 😛