Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies (Book Review)

Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies

This highly detailed exploration of the history of grimoires leaves no stone left unturned as far as Egyptian, Christian, Jewish and Wiccan magic is concerned. As the title states this book only covers grimoires, so if you think you’re going to find the genesis of divinatory systems, such as tarot cards, you’re mistaken. Davies is predominantly concerned with ancient grimoires, for instance The Key of Solomon and the books of Moses, and how these continue to influence magical practices and written grimoires throughout the ages; leading up to the ubiquitous Book of Shadows.

The introduction is light in tone and explains how books can be magic without containing magic. This quickly changes as we enter the first chapter ‘Ancient and Medieval Grimoires’ which is dry but does bring up some interesting points, for example in Roman antiquity high-class prostitutes were literate and so could have written love magic and binding spells which would be highly useful for them. The second chapter describes how the printing industry, reformation and witch trials affected magical grimoires. Davies continues with the discussion of political socio-historical events such as the Enlightenment and significant people such as Delaurence, and then applies these to magical grimoires.

Davies sets out to and delivers a historical account of grimoires. Taking an objective view and explaining social context before delving into the grimoire, he provides his own criticism to the subject and draws upon many resources. However at times Davies is rather journalistic in his delivery as small parts read like a newspaper. Furthermore, some of the context he provides seems irrelevant for exploring grimoires.

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