Honorius Versus Honorius: The Sworn Book and the Grimoire, Part 2

Following up on the last post regarding the history of the Sworn Book of Honorius, we can move forward to the actual contents of the book, as best we know.

The caveat comes because the Sworn Book actually features a long table of contents, detailing ninety-two chapters.  These promise us all manner of topics, including the ability to know great secrets, to gain a vision of God Himself, to bring up treasure, to summon visions of wonder, to make the caster great, and to kill one’s foes or strike them with disease.  The two final chapters, on making animals appear and the dead appear to speak, have been piously omitted by Honorius.

The trouble is, Honorius seems to have left out a great deal more than just two chapters.  In fact, out of this  grandiose plan, only a scarce handful exist in the manuscripts we have discovered, and some of these would be considered phoned-in performances were this not from the 13th century.  It could be that the rest of the manuscript has been lost to time.  It’s more likely that Honorius – whoever he really was – just didn’t have the fortitude and/or time to complete the book.

As it stands, the centerpiece of the book is a long ritual intended to inspire a vision of God in the practitioner.  As with Abramelin, the person must withdraw from ordinary life for a period of around a month (I refuse to reconstitute the ceremony enough to figure out exactly how many days – I think it’s in Hedegard’s book, for those who are interested) while saying a particular series of prayers in a very particular and demanding sequence.  On the final day, he washes himself, says another series of prayers, and lies down on a couch of hay surrounded by ashes in which a hundred sacred names of the Almighty have been written.  Then, in a dream, he will see God and the angels of heaven.

In an article in Conjuring Spirits, Richard Kieckhefer points out that the ceremony bears parallels to the Jewish mystical tradition of Merkabah, by which a holy man could ascend through the heavens to experience a vision of the Divine.  This might indeed be the origin of the procedure, though I should point out two differences.  First, the visions of Merkavah typically include more involved imagery and an ascent between the levels of the cosmos, whereas Honorius’ rite takes us straight to the top of the cosmic totem pole.

Second, if examined closely, Honorius’ ritual also serves a broader purpose – to provide a series of prayers to be said to accomplish the items later on the list.  By combining these orisons in different orders, the would-be magician can accomplish many more wonders than a trip to Heaven.  In fact, the essentially mystical character of the Sworn Book is largely due to the fact that its earthier and more morally dubious procedures were not included with the other.

Having examined the Sworn Book, what of the Grimoire of Honorius?  We’ll look at that in our next post.

Published in: on November 3, 2008 at 9:51 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have not read the Sworn Book, but readers who are interested in this post may also be interested in the last couple posts over on my blog.

  2. So it’s a combinatorial system of magic?

  3. Combina… what?

  4. Like a language. Combine the elements (orisons/words) according to certain rules (rituals/grammar) to produce a large number of different results (effects/meanings) from a finite number of elements.

  5. I think I know what you mean. Like using the diagram of the circle of evocation over again as a talisman for dream oracles. The original experience and its associations are used to evoke a new effect. This type of thing leads to magical formulas that are just silly unless you’ve actually learned and used the grammar. I haven’t read the sworn book so I don’t know its ‘system’ if it has one. The magical ‘secrets’ that were appended to some grimoires do contain some interesting combinations though.

  6. […] Versus Honorius: The Sworn Book and the Grimoire, Part 4 Three posts in, and it’s time to look at the backstories for the Grimoire of […]

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