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Owen Davies, professor of social history at the University of Hertfordshire, has written extensively about the history of magic, witchcraft and ghosts. Last month Oxford University Press published his most recent work, Grimoires, the first ever history of the books of spells whose origins were first recorded in the ancient Middle East.
1. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses
Although one of the more recent grimoires, first circulating in manuscript in the 18th century, this has to be number one for the breadth of its influence. From Germany it spread to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch, and once in cheap print was subsequently adopted by African Americans. With its pseudo-Hebraic mystical symbols, spirit conjurations and psalms, this book of the secret wisdom of Moses was a founding text of Rastafarianism and various religious movements in west Africa, as well as a cause célèbre in post-war Germany.
2. The Clavicule of Solomon
This is the granddaddy of grimoires. Mystical books purporting to be written by King Solomon were already circulating in the eastern Mediterranean during the first few centuries AD. By the 15th century hundreds of copies were in the hands of Western scientists and clergymen. While some denounced these Solomonic texts as heretical, many clergymen secretly pored over them. Some had lofty ambitions to obtain wisdom from the "wisest of the wise", while others sought to enrich themselves by discovering treasures and vanquishing the spirits that guarded them.
3. Petit Albert
The "Little Albert" symbolises the huge cultural impact of the cheap print revolution of the early 18th century. The flood gates of magical knowledge were opened during the so-called Enlightenment and the Petit Albert became a name to conjure with across France and its overseas colonies. As well as practical household tips it included spells to catch fish, charms for healing, and instructions on how to make a Hand of Glory, which would render one invisible.
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