On the Shelf Review – Owen Davies’ Grimoires: A History of Magic Books

Having touched upon the discussion of the Necronomicon‘s origins in the book Grimoires by Owen Davies, it now falls upon me to describe Davies’ work.  Simply put, it is a magisterial analysis of the grimoire phenomenon.

The last major survey of grimoire literature was E. M. Butler’s Ritual Magic, published in 1949, preceded byArthur Edward Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic.  In the following sixty years, the study of magic has gained more academic respectability, and grimoires, both past and present, are more readily available now than ever before.  As such, the time for a new survey of the grimoire tradition has come, and Davies has done an outstanding job of it.

Davies reveals to a broader public what most readers of Papers already know – that the grimoire tradition is one that reaches back to Mesopotamian times and is still living and vibrant across the world today.  The sheer amount of research that has been done for this book is simply breathtaking.  I kept wondering if the author was going to find this or that obscure article or reference – and behold, there it was.  Either Davies has done years upon years’ worth of intensive research on the grimoire tradition, or he’s been living in my campus steam tunnels to sneak into my office at night to read my files.  Either way, he’s been doing a wonderful job, and the extensive footnotes are a bonanza for future researchers.

Sadly, some of the chapters aren’t as stunningly wonderful as the rest.  The first chapter simply covers too much ground and is likely to leave most readers in the dust.  Splitting it into two chapters, one covering up to late antiquity and the other dealing with Byzantium, Western Europe, and the Muslim world might have been helpful for more thorough coverage.  Chapter 5, on the British occult revival, doesn’t really seem to be linked strongly to occult books, which Davies as much as admits at one point.  Still, these chapters are simply fine, instead of being as comprehensive as the others.

In short, this is quite the book, and a definite addition to any library on occult topics, whether you’re a necromancer, a writer, a historian, or just a gamer who wants to add a touch of verisimiltude to your entertainment.  When I said to get it now, I meant it.

Published in: on May 10, 2009 at 11:27 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This really has nothing to do with the post, but I couldn’t find a contact e-mail for you. Did you formerly live in Nashville? If so, we met briefly a few times, and I heard recently that a mutual friend passed away. If you don’t know about this, drop me a line and I’ll give you what little info I have.
    If this is the wrong Daniel Harms, I apologize.

  2. […] I can say that my experience at a faculty committee meeting with Owen Davies’ Grimoires was that the academy not only admits the grimoire, but that it thinks it’s kind of […]

  3. It’s a great book yes – but for a history of grimoires I would figure that the Grimoirum Verum would be mentioned at least one time …

  4. The Doctor,

    Point taken. I’d say that Grimoires is overall a survey, so I wouldn’t take it amiss if one work or another isn’t mentioned. Still, some attention to its role in Quimbanda might have been nice…

  5. […] more recent additions to the genre of published grimoires would have been welcome.  One note:  Davies’ book on grimoires is not included here, but it is referenced in the notes to the […]


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