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Grimoires: A History of Magic Books

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  415 ratings  ·  42 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 ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 15th 2009 by Oxford University Press (first published March 26th 2009)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡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
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
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 ...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
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: occultism, history
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 ...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
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 ...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. ...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 ...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 ...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.
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.
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
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, ...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
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 ...more
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
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.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: need-to-get
Thoroughly researched and very well written with appeal to academics, lay persons, and students of any magical school interested in learning more about the historiography of the craft as well as its history.

It seems a little rushed by the end, but by devoting the work to the written histories as acceptable evidence, Owen is only reflecting the weight of the study - not any personal pretense that only those from long ago and far away have meritorious analyses! In fact, excerpts of stories are
Mahmoud Awad
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference, fringe
The Esoteric and the occult are, by their nature, extremely obscure, obfuscated subjects. This volume is easily one of the most valuable I have ever come across for the purpose of making them intelligible. I strongly advise their use in combination with Manly P. Hall's "Secret Teachings" and Nigel Pennick's "Magical Alphabets". Reading only of the three on its own will provide an incomplete picture and dramatically warp the reader's impression of their legitimacy. You ought not to be seduced by ...more
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Magic and religion are just for Kaballah anymore! Who knew Christianity is founded on magic? Well, considering Solomon was a magician I guess we all should have known. But this book uncovers what is frequently forgotten; that Christianity is full of forgotten histories just as much as any other belief system. What we believe today is not what was believed 1,000 or even 100 years ago. Our understanding of science has largely led to the removal of magic/other spritualisms from Christianity. Anyone ...more
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's a very interesting read for those who enjoy or are curious about the timeline / history on magic books. I like the fact that its written in an academic (non believer) way, and as such, contain several scientific notes and references all around.

Additionally, the author does not make it Europe-centric and shows how such texts evolved and spread influences in several religious / cult / magical literature worldwide, including south american and african regions. A must read for any serious
Steve Wiggins
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not the most dynamically written account, but very informative and interesting. I had no idea that magic books were so pervasive, despite having read quite a lot on witchcraft over the years. For a good, scholarly introduction to the books used by the believers, this is very good. See more about it on my blog: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
I recently read a history of the occult in America, but this book talked about things I hadn't read about -- mainly the African-American tradition, and the effects of American and European grimoires on places like Nigeria and Argentina. I was also unfamiliar with 19th and 20th century publications and their effects on Europe and South America. So there was I lot I didn't know, and the book was well-written and a pleasure to read.
Sep 24, 2014 marked it as to-read
I read the preview - What a wonderful book!
I was hooked from page one - history, lore, legends, so delicious! I loved the writer's approach to telling the story of the books themselves, more like a colorful anthropological study of the cultures from which they came…
A fascinating history! I really want this book! I can tell it would be a favorite that I would consult over and over…
Amber Domenico
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: magick
I found this book very educational and informational. It brought up a few questions I would like to further investigate. I really enjoy books that lead me to other books. I also found it interesting to read about my ancestral lands involvement in the history of Grimores and other historical magickal writings.
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good, if very densely written, social history on the spread and cultural influence of grimoires. Appreciated the large portions focusing on their influence on African-American and Latino folk magic traditions.
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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
“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
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