Grimoires are Handbooks of magic, some reputedly dating back to ancient sources, popular from the 17th to early 19th centuries.
Grimoires still are consulted by students of ceremonial magic in modern times, though newer books have replaced them.
In modern Witchcraft, some rituals may draw on ceremonial magic texts, but the witch’s personal handbook of Craft rituals and laws is
called the book of shadows.
The original purpose of the grimoires was to conjure and control demons and spirits, in order to acquire great wealth and power or harm or kill enemies.
Grimoires give precise and sometimes laborious instructions for various rituals, instructing the magician on what to wear, what tools to use and what prayers and incantations to recite at precise astrological times and various hours of the day and night. They give recipes for incenses to burn, descriptions for the creation of magic circles, amulets, talismans, seals and sigils, instructions for the slaughtering and sacrifice of animals and ways to deal with unruly demons. They admonish the magician to prepare with periods of fasting, sexual abstinence, cleanliness and prayer and to use only virgin materials in rituals. They describe the hierarchies of demons and spirits that may be summoned with the help of the grimoire’s instructions.
Grimoires, or “black books,” as they were often called, came into usage around the 13th century. They were possessed not only by magicians and sorcerers but also by physicians and noblemen—or anyone who thought he had something to gain with help from a demon. Ideally, the grimoire was copied by hand.
The material in grimoires is drawn largely from Hermetic texts dating to 100–400 c.e. and from Hebrew and Latin sources. Some grimoires are devoted to theurgy, or magic effected with divine intervention, while others concern goety, or sorcery. Some include both.
The writers and users of grimoires did not consider themselves Devil-worshipers or evil. The conjuring of demons was merely one of many means to an end. Doing business with demons often meant making pacts with them. The magician’s objective was to outwit the demon so that he did not have to fulfill his end of the bargain.
It is possible that the greatest grimoire is The Key of Solomon, which has provided material for many other grimoires. The book is attributed to the legendary King Solomon, who asked God for wisdom and commanded an army of demons to do his bidding and build great works. A book of incantations for summoning demons, attributed to the authorship of Solomon, was in existence in the first century and is mentioned in literature throughout the centuries. So many versions of this grimoire were written that it is virtually impossible to ascertain what constituted the original text.
A Greek version that dates to ca. 1100–1200 is part of the collection in the British Museum. Around 1350 Pope Innocent VI ordered a grimoire called The Book of Solomon to be burned.
In 1559 Solomon’s grimoire was again condemned by the Church as dangerous. The Key of Solomon was widely distributed in the 17th century.
Another grimoire attributed to Solomon is the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key of Solomon, which includes both white and black magic information