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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A legacy revealed,
Davies announces in his Introduction that he considers Grimoires to be the `most dangerous books ever written.' He goes on to qualify that statement by extolling their role within and throughout History. He makes an excellent case for their immeasurable influences upon variant paradigms and events. As pivotal catalysts for change and innovation, these books are held accountable as tomes `feared and revered in equal measure.' Clearly, this book asserts itself, not as a critique of the contents of the considerable number of Black Books known to have graced the shelves of all levels of Occultists, but as a serious study of in exactly how history was molded by the dissemination of that knowledge.
Included within this comprehensive study of historical occult literature is a subtext explaining the chronological demograph of influence from the ancient Middle East through Europe and across into the New World. Davies sources their origins as books from within the French `Grammaire' traditions of rhyming Latin scripts, drawn mainly from religious volumes, including the Bible. Incantations and formulae derived from the countless verses and prayers therein are briefly exampled. Because popular belief assumed the removal of all magickal [and therefore all forms of self-empowerment] elements from these stalwart religious tomes, Davies affirms their usage as `an essential companion to the Bible.' Emphasis is stressed upon the legality of the written word over that spoken.
Political and religious considerations are given vent through topics that include the democratization of magic at the popular level and their subsequent usage by all manner of tradesman, apocatheries and cunning folk. Covering contentious issues of patriarchy, misogyny, holy war and religious prejudice, Davies demonstrates how the written word subversively and substantially manipulated world events. Of significance, he devotes considerable attention to the incendiary flames of intolerance by the medieval demonologists, the subsequent Inquisition, witch trials and the notorious Devil's Compact that lead to the association between the Devil and the Grimoire. As an important cottersil to this, Davies also includes the detrimental effect the printed word had upon the elitist and often impeachable Grimoires, tackling questions of compromised integrity and dissolution of gnosis.
Notable inclusions insinuated as fundamental to the shaping of the modern era through Old and New world events are: the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses; the Book of Raziel; Clavicula Salomonis; the Picatrix; the Sworn Book of Honorius; the Heptameron; The Magus; Almandel; Arbatel; De Occulta philosophia; Ars Notoria; Pseudomonarchia daemonum; Enchiridon; Le Dragon Rouge; Petit Albert; Libro de San Cipriano and the Faust inspired Black Raven. So, some obscure volumes to intrigue the curious among the usual suspects.
Davies includes a brief excursion into the dubious contributions to occultism by various frauds and hoaxsters, revealing the less than respectable veneer upon which much within the occult world floats. The shady world of the carpet bagger and snake-oil salesman is exposed through American mass media that links not too indiscreetly to obscure works such as the Voynich Manuscript and to the extraordinary works of Dee and Lovecraft. The final section of the book concentrates upon syncratic magickal praxes such as Candomble, Vaudou, Santeria, Obeah, Yoruba etc that are able to trace their causal premise to at least one Grimoire. Davies concludes with his conviction that folk traditions fused with those of culture and religion to cross fertilize directly or through a negative feedback patterning to form systems where such Grimoires were core oriented.
The 19th century flowering of western occultism is explored from this perspective; Antiquarians, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Rosicrucians and Mystics are all brought to bear the influence of the Word according to the potency of the Grimoire to suggest, subvert and sensationalize the illusory compact of magick. Nazi's, Freemasons and hex doctors range the scale of influence expounded here by Davies as he slides neatly into 20th century `Pulp' magic, the Weird Tales of comic horror. Supernatural tall stories laced with extracts culled from the long dusty Grimoires. He even finds room for Anton le Vey and The Father of Modern Wicca, Gerald Gardner.
A monumental march though history that delivers every promise. It is inexpensive, yet worth every penny. More illustrations would have been a bonus. If you are looking for a study of the occult subject matter written within the many Grimoirés, then this is not the book for you, but don't let that stop you from buying this excellent treatise on their colourful history.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An accurate history of who wrote magic books, who bought them, and why!,
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Davies traces the history of modern magic books from the very first book-producers to the modern printing presses in a country-by-country, era-by-era way. In the process he brushes with many quacks, crazy men, religious zealots and the Inquisition. It is a great book for anyone interested in alternative religion, the dark ages, magic, superstition. The book provides enough background information to be readable to those who aren't history buffs, and enough detail and methodical evidence to be of use to those who *are* history buffs.
Like Professor Hutton, Own Davies sticks strictly to an evidence-first approach to history. At worst, the book the quite dry and dense. The author makes it clear that these magic books are often historical mistakes, but, in order to do so in a balanced way, the book is devoid of judgements, pronouncements and seemingly devoid of heartfelt conclusions. On the plus side, you can be assured that it is accurate and well-researched. There are a few pages about The Satanic Bible (about which I know a great deal), and I found that even in that niche Owen Davies had his facts right.
11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hucksters, quacks, astrologers, fortune tellers and occult practitioners.,
Grimoires: A History of Magic Books /
by Owen Davies
Published by Oxford University Press
366pp / Hardback
*"The production of grimoires was an entrepreneurial enterprise that thrived wherever the influence of secular and ecclesiastical censors was restricted by geographical, educational or political factors. The opening up of America created just such an environment, and hucksters, quacks, astrologers, fortune tellers and occult practitioners of all shades thrived." p. 188*
Which may indicate that the primary audience for this book might not be the "hucksters, quacks, astrologers, fortune tellers and occult practitioners" some of whom might even read this newsletter. Owen Davies has built a strong reputation for himself as author of the groundbreaking /Cunning Folk: Popular Magic in English History/ re-branded with an eye to the MBS marketplace as /Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History. /Here again he has taken up a largely neglected topic with some verve and produced a page turning history of the grimoire.
OD's book is likely to be of special interest to those with some knowledge of the genre. Davies gives very few examples of a grimoire's actual content, so there is an assumption that the author has already read one or two. The small examples OD does give tend to underline his thesis that the grimoires are at best a debased form of ancient magick or worst cynical, gibberish. Modern magicians tend to approach the grimoire as an exercise in magical creativity but also as a possible source of Pagan wisdom and occult knowledge that has somehow survived the hands of Christian iconoclasts.
Academic authors are obviously quite keen for the practitioner community to read their work although they are less keen to read anything the practitioners write about the same subject. So you won't find much here of the contemporary magicians approach to the grimoire, apart that is from old chestnuts such as the /Necronomicon/ and the /Satanic Bible/.
Even so, there is much in here of interest to the contemporary practitioner, once one gets over the slight disappointment at the absence of any mention of the "Goetia", the most popular example of the genre. There is also nothing of what surely be the most famous of all occult trials involving a grimoire, that of Gilles the Rais - Bluebeard. For those with an interest in Aleister Crowley, there is also very little in this book. Crowley of course, represents the way the practitioner community has reframed and rationalised the grimoire over the years. And Crowley penned what is considered to be the best and most cogent of all modern grimoires - /Liber ABA/.
However most of the book's contents were new to me - although one passage where I would take issue with the author is when he discusses the Theban Magical Library alternatively known as The Greek Magical Papyri or Greco Egyptian Magical Papyri. Davies tells us that these are somehow connected with the very first grimoires in the sequence - which would be my own intuition. But he then says that "There are distinct differences between the magic they contain and that found in the earliest magical inscriptions and papyri from the time of the pharaohs" (p 9) . I read that and thought that must be wrong and wondered where he could have found such a view amongst Egyptologists? My heart sank when I saw the reference to Geraldine Pinch's seminal work on Egyptian Magic, could she really be so out of step with all her colleagues? But there again what does Geraldine Pinch actually say (p. 160-1):
"The openly expressed malevolence of these spells /seems/
un-Egyptian but /similar desires /may lie behind some of the earlier
/Letters to the Dead/. These do no specify exactly how the /akhu/
are to deal with the writer's enemies. . . Many spells in the
Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri describe how to make a deity appear
and answer questions. The appearance may take the form of a dream
for the magician or a vision for the child assistant. These spells
/are the private equivalent /of consulting a /temple oracle/, or of/
incubation/ - sleeping in the/ temple /to receive a divine dream".
In other words there is quite a lot of Ancient Egyptian religion in the PGM and I suspect the grimoires. Afterall doesn't it say in the /Goetia/ that the spirits speak the Egyptian tongue?
These small issues of the beginning aside, Davies' study is soon on stronger ground after fifteen hundred years of development we arrive at the era of the printed book, when the grimoire really did make it big on the world stage. As the book's publicity confirms, "to understand the grimoire is to understand the spread of Christianity, the development of early science, the cultural influence of the print revolution, the growth of literacy, the impact of colonialism and the expansion of western culture across the oceans."
One tantalizing parallel between the PGM and later grimoires is the "Sixth & Seven Books of Moses" discussed in fascinating detail by OD. These books began circulating in Germany in the eighteenth century and were to become popular in USA. One could of course argue that given the well known existence of the first five, it is just human nature to want to supplement this with a sixth, seventh or even more; just as some bright spark penned a "Fourth" book of Occult Philosophy, a "Fourth" Veda or even "Fourth" chapter of Crowley's "Book of the Law". Interestingly no ancient edition survives of a "Sixth" and "Seventh" Book of Moses. The PGM jumps straight in there with "The Eighth" . There may never have been a sixth or seventh in classical Greco-Egyptian magic, none has so far been found. The explanation advanced for this hiatus is that the number "eight" has special symbolic resonance, perhaps connected with Hermes and the Company of Heaven .
OD calls these "modern" versions "pulp . . . to signify not just the quality of the paper but also the merit of the contents printed on it - worthless, pappy, throwaway literature fit only for those too intellectually limited to digest more serious fare. They were not the sort of publications that found their way into academic and public libraries. Yet their influence was such that, by the late 1930s, American educationalists were waging war on the genre." p. 233. Looking at the few examples of the contents given in OD's study, these would not be so out of place in the PGM - so I wonder where their real provenance lies?
If you want gnosticism and theurgy, one maybe needs to look elsewhere than in this study of grimoire. Owen Davies is revealing the dark underbelly of the magical tradition. I suspect he might even side with the shrinking minority of academics who still follow Frazer's division of magic and religion. Religion from this perspective, being all about social networking and rationality; magick the malign, irrational, solitary practice, bent on material gain. Drive a wedge between Egyptian religion and its magick, downplay the philosophical aspect of the grimoire and it all begins to look that way. It is in these areas that Davies book certainly has an colourful tale to tell. No surprise then that coming up to date, we venture into the explicitely fictional grimoires as instanced in H P Lovecraft's /Necronomicon/. The book concludes with a discussion of the huge popularity of Anton LaVey's /Satanic Bible// /and the promise that, in case you didn't know it, the
history of the grimoire is hardly likely to be over. "As we enter uncertain times . . . There is no sign of these books being closed for good. " p. 283
[Reviewed by Mogg Morgan with some assistance from David Rankine and JackDaw]
8 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comentari sobre Grimoires: A History of Magic Books,
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Potser l'únic defecte, per indicar-ne algun, és que manca una bibliografia més extensa i no necessàriament anglosaxona.
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Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies (Paperback - 23 Sep 2010)