Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Grimoires: A History of Magic Books” as Want to Read:
Grimoires: A History of Magic Books
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Grimoires: A History of Magic Books

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  465 ratings  ·  50 reviews
No books have been more feared than grimoires, and no books have been more valued and revered. In Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, Owen Davies illuminates the many fascinating forms these recondite books have taken and exactly what these books held. At their most benign, these repositories of forbidden knowledge revealed how to make powerful talismans and protective am ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 15th 2009 by Oxford University Press (first published March 26th 2009)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Grimoires, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Grimoires

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  465 ratings  ·  50 reviews

Sort order
Start your review of Grimoires: A History of Magic Books
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Books are magic. Some of them are veritable grimoires, others are timewasters, and yet others a pleasure or a point of interest. And most of them are a basis for a lifelong addiction: bibliophilia. Books are a source of some conflicts and a means to resolve many of them.

The Holy Bible was used as a grimoir occasionally. The individually known grimoirs widely notorious included Ars Notoria, Secretum Secretorum, Picatrix, Sefer ha-Razim, the Sworn Book of Honorius (not the Pope one, btw, but rath
Tim Pendry

This is less of a social history than it might have been but one cannot complain if the title is crystal clear about what is being offered - a history of magic books. And, as such, it is excellent.

At times, it seems not much more than a compilation of information about these books century by century but this serves one important purpose - it strips away any notion that the bulk of these books served any other purpose than personal aggrandisement in an age of poverty and lack of welfare provision
Steve Cran
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Three things hit you in the head upon reading this book all the way through. Owen Davies knows his stuff. This book is well researched as are all his works from beginning to end. By this I mean both time and book. You will learn a lot from any of his works. The second is that most grimoires are not in the least bit factual. They are penned by people but often times false histories are ascribed to them. Going further many are said to be written by people who did not even write them . Some would c ...more
Nov 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The only downside of this book was that it inspired me to buy a big pile of grimoire reprints that are not remotely as fascinating as their history. Tremendously entertaining and fascinating for this reader, who has always gotten a kick out of the idea of secret mystic tomes.
Katharine Kerr
Feb 24, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is an unfortunate victim of its publisher. The content itself is fascinating, and were I rating it on that basis alone, I would have given it 4 stars. But the production values are terrible. Apparently Oxford University Press decided that copy editors cost too much. The text reads like a second draft -- mostly comprehensible, but filled with small errors that together add up to a big problem.

Spelling errors, poor punctuation, sloppy paragraphing -- they have no place in a scholarly wor
Jul 01, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Give credit for consistency: grimoires lure in readers by virtue of the fantastic premise of mystical secrets, but usually turn out to be dreary lists of pointless arcana, of interest to the specialist but yawn-worthy to the lay reader, and Davies' monograph on the subject sadly shares many of the same characteristics. He's done a comprehensive job of tracking down the important titles, outlining details of their production and consumption, and tracing the impulse to create books of magic from t ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, occultism
This was a great introduction to some of the most notorious books ever created. If you're not familiar with grimoires, they have instructions on how to cast spells, summon angels and demons, perform alchemy, find hidden treasures, etc.--whether or not they actually do these things, is up to the reader or magician. Davies, the author of this book, gives readers a look into how grimoires impacted various cultures, migrated to different continents, were translated into different languages, offers b ...more
Apr 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
This was a fascinating but frustrating read. I appreciate the impressive breadth of the topic but feel that much of the depth was selected rather arbitrarily to titillate or hint at just how far the author's knowledge-net reaches: like, here are runic farting spells and Satan-citing remedies for impotence, tee hee. Davies has previously written on popular magic and cunning-folk, so that may explain the periodic glossing of content, and his chapter notes are pretty generous if you're looking for ...more
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very thorough history of grimoires from the ancient period all the way up to the modern day, he looks at the major books that where prevalent in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, touches somewhat on influences from India, it really only leaves out the Orient. Davies very definitely knows his subject matter and has gone to great lengths to research the various magic books that people have used throughout the ages and looks at the most notorious throughout history including The Lesser Ke ...more
Mark Hebden
Nov 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Do you believe in magic? Angels, demons and the like? Most people don’t, and why should they? Historic superstition has been replaced by scientific knowledge, peer review and scepticism. Throughout human history though people have believed in these things, as much as we now believe in the theory of gravity and ever since someone first dreamt of magic there have been ways of committing such things to paper and its forebears; these manuscripts, texts, scrolls and books became known as Grimoires. D ...more
Jeremy Monkres
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really wish I could give this 3.5 stars. The subject matter is really interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed half - two-thirds of the book. The problem is the beginning was the part that was less enjoyable. This is no fault of the author, or less fault anyway, and more to do with the nature of the book. The author is telling the history of magic books more or less chronologically, so in dealing with antiquity and medieval matters, the lack of detailed reliable records to draw upon results in dri ...more
Scott Ferry
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is an extremely informative and well researched book on the history of Grimoires from late Roman times to the 20th century. There was alot of information in the book that enlightened my understanding of ancient magical books as well as understanding of how books like this found their ways into many cultures across the globe and in some cases actually meshed with or restructered folk beliefs (ie. africa, carribean, etc.) One thing the author brings to light over and over is how these books w ...more
Utterly readable. Of a good global breadth. Compelling historical case studies. Refreshingly well referenced with "Further Reading" list. If I could have given more than five stars I would have. Highly recommend. ...more
Pedro Pascoe
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
A simply fascinating romp through the history of magic via the books that contained their wisdom and folly. A book that well and truly places such texts as The Greater (and Lesser) Key of Solomon, the Picatrix, the Petite Albert, the Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses, the Sacred Book of Abra-Melin, the Necronomicon and the Satanic Bible into historical and cultural perspective.
The eye-opener for me was the treasure-hunting craze using 'occult' means during the so-called 'Enlightenment', exposing t
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A super mega fascinating introduction to the history of magic books. The amount of information is excessive at times, but that's part of the charm. To talk at length of each book and each author would require double the size of this volume, so for the regular reader who just wants to learn some history as a pastime, it works pretty well. I would argue that perhaps the ancient part is too short, but I´m sure this book will make any enthusiast be excited about all the comings and goings of magic b ...more
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Really interesting, well-researched, and broad history of magical texts in the western tradition. Not sure how I heard about this book, as it had been sitting in my Kindle library for a few years, but it was more readable than I expected.
Edward Brock
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and thorough study of Grimoires. If you have any interest in magic/occult books--particularly how they have been used, studied & banned in history--this is a must-have book.
David Halpin
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Video review of Grimoires: A History of Magic Books here... ...more
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a social history of the books of Western magic. Davies covers ground from late antiquity to the modern era. The main message of the book is that there is tremendous continuity in the documents, the appear over and over again through the ages, repurposed for different types of magic.

This is not a documentary history, getting into the details of differences in manuscripts, provenance, etc. If that is what you are looking for, you will feel that the book is extremely tedious, recounting thi
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
oof...this was a tough read. the writing is average at best, and it is so densely-packed with references (the notes section makes up about 1/3 of the book!) that one's eyes often glaze over. it's like the author wanted to cram in as much information as possible, but it results in totally losing the forest for the trees. I wish he had dug more into the psychology behind these books (their authors, users, and censors) and explained more of what they actually contained. such an interesting topic, b ...more
so not something i would recommend. it was just all over the place. there were a lot of fun anecdotes so that's why it scrapped a two because if you're really into the idea it is okay but that's it.

i felt you needed an extensive background in history - & religion - & books - some of which i had some of which i decidedly did not have enough - just to follow along here. so much is just thrown at the reader without a lot of context, even a paraphrase here and there might have helped. in general it
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic! Detailed history of books of so-called magic (concentrating mostly on the west). May not appeal to all but plenty of fascinating trivia for all those interested in the arcana of religion and esotericism. Definitely would recommend a scholarly book like this over the countless sensationalist occult or anti-occult books on the topic.
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a scholarly work written by a master. Davies knowledge must be utterly vast to have put this book together. Was it riveting? No, but it was entertaining. The breadth of topics is staggering. This is almost a history of the world told through humans’ love and hate of magical books.
Dan Johnson
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic overview of the history of magical grimoires. From centuries in the past, up to the modern day, and spanning our globe, Davies takes us on a tour of magic beliefs and practices. His section of further reading at the end is sure to increase the load on my bookshelves.
Apr 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was fantastic! Covering everything from the Keys of Solomon to LaVey’s Satanic Bible, this book follows the evolution and interplay of some of the most influential magic books, along with some of the more interesting anecdotes about their readers.

Edric Unsane
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Detailed and thoroughly researched, this is a must have for any interested in the history of Grimoires.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
most of the book is pretty surface level but ok, and then the last chapter and the epilogue are bad and skippable.
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
In this book, Davies presents a comprehensive historical overview of books of practical magic, and how they have interacted with the broader cultures in which they are produced. Beginning in earnest with the fertile environment of intellectual cross-pollination around the eastern Mediterranean during the late 1st millennium BCE, the book proceeds chronologically up to the present, primarily focusing on developments in the grimoire tradition of Europe and its colonial extensions (quite forgivably ...more
William Crosby
Sep 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good interdisciplinary book in religion, sociology, anthropology, and history.

Often fascinating, but sometimes the reading can be tedious with the tremendous pile-up of details. So this is best to be read in small doses.

It helped me to understand various historical happenings better by giving a context for the many grimoires.
Jonathan Day
Could be better.

The ultimate condemnation of the teaching profession is well-deserved here. The book has recorded many interesting facts and placed them together, which is a valuable exercise in itself. However, there seems to have been a desire to prove theories rather than develop theories from the facts, resulting in some odd choices.

There were errors in details and layout, but not many. Good fact-checking and proof-reading would soon clear those up.

If this had been a draft copy prior to a pr
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Communion: A True Story
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
  • The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
  • The Occult
  • Unexplained: Supernatural Stories for Uncertain Times
  • Genghis Khan: Conqueror of the World
  • Christian Demonology and Popular Mythology (Demons, Spirits, Witches #2)
  • Teaching History with Big Ideas: Cases of Ambitious Teachers
  • Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium
  • Bréf til Láru
  • The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World
  • The Gameshouse (The Gameshouse #1-3)
  • Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time
  • Zone One
  • The Varangians of Byzantium
  • Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
  • Wakenhyrst
  • A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from History's Most Orthodox Empire
See similar books…
Owen Davies is a reader in Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. His main field of research is on the history of modern and contemporary witchcraft and magic.

His interest in the history of witchcraft and magic developed out of a childhood interest in folklore and mythology, which was spawned in part from reading the books of Alan Garner. From around the age of sixteen, he also became

Related Articles

As this strange summer of staying put winds down, one thing remains truer than ever: Books offer us endless adventure and new horizons to...
57 likes · 30 comments
“A female magician named Catherine Trianon, who lived together 'as man and wife' with another cunning-woman, was described as having more learning 'in the tip of her finger' than others acquired in a lifetime. When her house was searched in 1680 twenty-five manuscript volumes on the occult sciences were found.” 5 likes
More quotes…