Thoughts on the Liber Spirituum

While reading Tyson’s new edition of the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy of pseudo-Agrippa, I was reminded of the Liber Spirituum, or Book of Spirits. Such a work is not a grimoire in the strict sense, but rather a tool that a magician might use to quickly call upon particular spirits without the rigamarole of fasting, prayer, and elaborate conjurations typical of the grimoires.  The book itself needed to be consecrated and, in some cases, signed by each spirit mentioned therein.

The Fourth Book contains the following passage, quoted from Joe Peterson’s e-text:

And this book must be inscribed after this maner: that is to say, Let there be placed on the left side the image of the spirit, and on the right side his character, with the Oasth above it, containing the name of the spirit, and his dignity and place, with his office and power. Yet very many do compose this book otherwise, omitting the characters or image: but it is more efficacious not to neglect any thing which conduceth to it.

Some have insisted that the Liber Spirituum practice originated in the Fourth Book, but what that work actually states is that this is a pre-existing tradition, with enough variation to cause arguments about how it should be properly done.

If this is the case, then, why have we found so few of these books?  I’ve been trying to come up with an example of an honest-to-goodness Liber Spirituum, and I can’t recall one that was ever reported.  Of course, this would have been a magician’s most treasured work, and many would have been quickly consigned to the flames if found, but the lack of these works baffles me.  Any thoughts?



Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 9:59 pm  Comments (10)  

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  1. Dan, the Liber Spirituum has been a particular interest of mine too and I’m also intrigued as to the lack of examples of this type of text. Agrippa also mentions two talismans set at the start and end of the Liber and examples of at least one of these do exist – see Ben’s recent Cyprianus’ Keys to Hell and the plate facing p.230 of Thompson’s Mysteries and Secrets of Magic (where the image is so crudely represented that Thompson that the meaning is lost on Thompson).

    I had speculated that Hockley’s use of Agrippa’s Apocalyptic text in one of the CBoMS exemplars might have indicated his attempt to construct a Liber Spirituum, but ultimately I wasn’t convinced by this argument…

    Obviously the Liber Spirituum would be a natural counterpart to works like the Liber Consecrationum, or the texts of pseudo-Bacon and pseudo-Solomon, but the question of why it is so diffucult to find a document conforming 100% to pseudo-Agrippa’s instruction is a good one… perhaps the general transmission of demonic material as self-contained experiments might have something to do with it? Or the lack of resources – would it not be easier to have all your material in one place (circles, consecrations, spirit lists) if paper and binding materials were scarce or expensive?

    FWIW the Tuba Veneris ritual entails the construction of a Liber Spirituum very closely related to Agrippa’s description. The Apocalyptic talismans of Agrippa are replaced by a drawing and seal of Venus, but the method of strenghening the book by burying it ties in with Agrippa and (IIRC) the Key of Solomon.

    Also, Scheible’s multi-volume Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis also very much has the feel of the Liber Spirituum… perhaps it might be worth investigating the German tradition and any antecedents of this particular Faustian work?

  2. Dan –
    I wonder if perhaps the reason there is no Liber Spiritum is because the grimoire tradition does not reflect the real tradition of magic as it was practiced in the Renaissance. I look at the Key of Solomon and other such books and wonder how anyone could have performed that kind of magic with all of its expensive equipment. I have a theory that the real tradition of magic used ordinary tools and wax talismans and other items not easily identified or easily destroyed. It would also have been a an oral tradition rather than a literary one. Just my thoughts on the subject and I am not a scholar.

  3. Frater,

    That might be an answer, but I think it’s insufficient. If someone didn’t want to spend long periods in purifying themselves and consecrating tools so they could draw a highly complex diagram and speak conjuration after conjuration, that’s one matter. But the rites of the Liber Spirituum – especially the one involving the buried book – are quite simple by comparison.

  4. Dan,
    There’s only one other example conforming to this pattern that I’m aware of, which dates from the late sixteenth century and comprises the images and characters of seven spirits and their associated invocations.
    I think the Liber Spirituum of the fourth book is a hybrid, containing elements of the Liber Consecrationum, which Phil has already referred to, the Liber Officiorum, devoid of images in every example I’ve seen, and the sort of individual experiments found in texts like the Thesaurus Spirituum. Most 16th – early 17th century magical texts I’ve seen tend to be compendia or more-or-less straight copies of, for want of a better description, canonical works, so perhaps there was a reluctance to deviate from ‘proven’ experiments.

    • Alan,

      Can you give some more information on that 16th century book you referred to?


  5. Alvin,
    Drop me a line and we can discuss this further: I can be reached at
    alan_thorogood at yahoodotcodotuk

  6. I am a librarian and have a patron who has been on a quest to find the other images (specifically, the Archangel Sachiel) to Francis Barret’s supposed Book of Spirits, only one plate of which appears in the Magus.
    I have been aiding him in his search but have come to the conclusion Barret had made his own personal Liber Spirituum manuscript, and but one of the drawings made it into the printmaker’s hands. I too, would like to know if the 16th c. work you mentioned could be a source?

  7. I can say that it isn’t in the 16th century copy. I know there’s some Barrett MSS. floating around in England – I think the Magus MS. is at the Wellcome Library – but I haven’t heard of such a book.

    It might also help if we could figure out whatever became of Barrett himself, as he drops off the map after a while.

  8. […] that will send you spiraling off into other corners of the occult world. Including Dan’s original commentary on the idea of the liber spirituum, the type of book that this MS. purports to […]

  9. We know Barret had some artistic training, so I assume the plate was at least made from his original sketch. But there simply doesn’t exist an ancient image (as opposed to sigil) despite a traditional description of what Sachiel’s correspondences and angelic position should be-i.e., color, etc.) Barret ran a small School of Magic in London so you would think at least one of his disciples would have tried to copy his supposed Book of Spirits. The old man whom I mentioned is so obsessed with tracking down the image he offered to buy the original printing plates of the Magus from the publisher Rider of London for several hundred dollars. I pointed out the plates would show nothing that didn’t appear in the first printed edition.
    It is true, however, that for all the talk of a Western Hermetic Tradition we have precious few relics of High Magical works from the hand of a true scholarly Magus, the various grimoires and Cunning Men’s handbooks being pretty primitive and contradictory affairs. Figures such as Doctor Dee, Agrippa, etc. seem to be brilliant but idiosyncratic syncretists rather than faithful followers of a pure traditional Thaumaturgy.

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