Document Type

Book Review

Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date

Winter 2011

Journal or Book Title

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft





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This “history of magic books” might equally well have been subtitled a “history of magic through books.” Not all forms of magic, obviously. Davies is quick to recognize that large areas of magical practice exist entirely in oral culture. Yet one of the most important points he makes in this book is that “grimoires” are not just rare and expensive tomes available only to elite, learned magicians. At least from the time of the printing revolution, magic books were making their way into the hands of simple cunning folk (the subject of a previous book by Davies), and this trend only increased as time went on, culminating here in Davies’s fascinating chapter on “pulp magic.” So what is a grimoire, exactly? It does not have to be a long, complex, or erudite text, but neither can it be so simple as a single spell or written amulet. It is, rather, a compilation containing “conjurations and charms, [or] providing instructions on how to make magical objects such as protective amulets and talismans” (p. 1). Yet not all magical books are grimoires. Davies excludes esoteric texts that purport to deal with occult forces in the natural world, such as works on alchemy or astrology. The distinction is not absolute, of course. Books of astral magical rites and conjurations, such as the famous medieval Picatrix, definitely fit the category of grimoire, and occult books of secrets are treated at various points, if not as grimoires themselves, then for elements that they contributed to the grimoire tradition. Davies’s study of this tradition is, then, a survey of a broad and diffuse but still particular kind of magic—not “learned,” necessarily, but literate and by definition bookish.


This is a book review from Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 6 (2011): 212, doi:10.1353/mrw.2011.0024. Posted with permission.


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