Grimoire is an enchanting word with mundane origins, but nonetheless has mystical familiarity. It comes from the word grammaire. Similarly, it has history with gramarye, a word pertaining to magic. Grammaire, a French word, is pronounced “grim-wahr”. Grammaire, meaning grammar, and its evolution into grimoire, has forever tied the significance of language, speech, and writing, with the occult, magic, and sorcery. Incantations, phrases, magic sayings, and ancient cryptic writings are nothing new, nor were they new when the French language came around, but by the time the word became associated with magic even within the Franco-sphere, it was not disappearing. Magic text, magic books, and other words were used to describe what we would know as a grimoire today in English speaking locations in medieval times. It was not until the 19th century did the word become used the way it is now in an English speaking context.
Within modern history, one of the first grimoires to appear was the Key of Solomon. An incredibly complex book, it had immaculate descriptions of rituals, incantations, phrases, pentacles, what weapons would be needed, how many, talismans to make, what days of the year, planet, ect., were important for practicing magic, and much more. Though it was highly complicated, the grimoire was not arbitrary or unnecessarily convoluted. Even by grimoire standards, the Key of Solomon was quite complicated. A unique mosaic of magical symbols and phrases, it was intricate, but highly impactful. Indeed, many would copy its formula and also take the name of Solomon and slap it on the cover of their book in an attempt to gain more fame.
Solomon has a tradition with being associated with magic and demonology. While these traditions vary in validity from person to person, those who do attribute great magical prowess with Solomon often refer to his magical ring which sealed many demons, Josephus’s comment on his alleged book which contains rituals on summoning demons, or a list he supposedly made containing demon’s names and their powers.
Another grimoire that is attributed to Solomon, but likely was not written by him, is the Lesser Key of Solomon. Its material old, the author aimed to write a grimoire on demonology. Made up of 5 books, it has a number of rituals on conjuring spirits and a list of 72 demons with their names and rank in a hierarchical model of hell.
The French seemed to take a particular interest in these two influential grimoires. As a result, many grimoires would be written by French authors from the 17th century onward. The Grand Grimoire from the 1600’s would become an infamous grimoire of black magic. Summoning demons, making demonic bonds and pacts, “infernal devices”, and more, it was not meant for novice practitioners. Warning of high risk without proper care and tools in rituals, one had to be experienced, or incredibly bold, to take the risk of using the sinister arts found within that text. Similarly, True Black Magic was written in the mid 18th century and contained text on how to make magical symbols, talismans, and other darker rituals. The Grimoire of Honorius the Great of the late 16th century evoked the power of God, included psalms and prayers, but its contents were anything but intended for the pious and clergy.
A Swiss grimoire, Arbatel of Magic has rituals on summoning the “seven Olympic Spirits”. In summoning these spirits, one could aim to achieve knowledge of God, prosperity, and a longer life span.
Although a fictional grimoire, perhaps the most well-known one is none other than Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. The grimoire is so wicked it can kill the one trying to master its esoteric secrets. Despite this, it is a highly coveted text and appears in Lovecraft’s works numerous times. Perhaps a testament to the impact grimoires, the occult, and magic has had in our past, it is only fitting that a pop culture icon is nothing more than a fictional book containing dark secrets and infernal powers