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Friday, July 21, 2023

Top Ten Spell Books to Tap Into the Ancient Power of Magic

I’ve often joked with myself about titling blog posts as listicles and click-bait. This one seemed like a fun option for it.

 Witches, NeoPagans and Magicians have been saying for decades that the power comes from within you. The power isn’t in the tools, or in what you say. As a result, the best way to communicate what you truly want and need is to speak from the heart…or at least, to craft your spells yourself.

 There is some merit to some of that. But some of it is also pretty bogus. It’s easy to demonstrate that this wasn’t how people looked at magic prior to the last several decades. It’s also easy to shoot holes in the reality of some of those statements.

 Even if we accept that the power comes from within you, and that your experience, perceptions, and conscious engagement with the magic are what’s important…and in some ways, this is all true…we still have to recognize that what you’re doing, and what tools you’re using will impact all of that inner experience. If you’re not confident in what you created, or if you feel like something that has survived through time will be more potent, then you’re better off using something you didn’t fully create yourself. If we recognize that what you use and what you do has meaning beyond just your inner experience then drawing from existing knowledge becomes even more important. 

 The idea of a spellbook is cool. The idea of examining a collection of magical secrets and using them to solve problems or to increase your enjoyment of life is exciting. Even if it’s all about the inner experience, there is value to that excitement.

 I don’t think it’s all about your inner experience though. Not everything is just about any one of us, and the world works and moves in the ways it is designed to. We have to work within those structures to break and rebuild them to what we want.

 Looking at existing methods of magic is a good way to learn how to build magical rituals and spells. Examining what’s been done before is a good way to look at how things work and what tools to use.

 There is a point where saying you want a spell book feels silly because we’ve all been told several times that we don’t need such things and that’s not how this works. Eventually, you reach a point where you realize books like that can be awesome. Not only are they neat and interesting, but they are useful in multiple ways. Not just in the sense of learning, but in the sense of having ready to go solutions, or templates to start building your own solutions from. Spellbooks provide utility while being fun and exciting.

 Having seen someone ask for a good spellbook this morning I’ve decided to do a list. Following the standard, it is in descending order. Not following the standard, my top ten has twelve items.


12. The Long Lost Friend

A lot of people really like this one. I’m not a huge fan. I have not spent a ton of time with it though. It is a general collection of Pennsylvania Dutch folklore. If you’re interested in exploring folklore generally, you will enjoy this. If you’re mostly looking for spells, there are spells, and there are things that straddle a line between spells and less overtly magical folklore. I prefer Romanus Buchlein, which I believe is a related text. Romanus Buchlein is primarily spells. We'll revisit the translator for Long Lost Friend later. 

11. Nummits and Crummits

Nummits and Crummits is also a folklore collection, but from the perspective of a folklorist instead of a practitioner collecting it like Long Lost Friend. As such, it is better organized. This collects folklore from a region in England. There are chapters on magic and counter magic. Most of it is not immediately useful but can be adapted to being useful, or can be used for inspiration.

10. The True Black Magic

 The name is a bit misleading. This is not some Left Hand Path wet dream, nor it is a collection of mischievous diablery. It’s just a Key of Solomon as packaged by the salacious French press of the Biblioteque Bleu period. It is similar to the popular Mathers version of the Key of Solomon, but it retains the section of spells which Mathers omits. There are other better Key of Solomon options, like TheVeritable Key of Solomon, but this is a good accessible slim volume for people who want to look at grimoire spells in the context of a major grimoire. Joseph H. Peterson has put out an edition of this. For an alternative look at a classic grimoire with a collection of spells, Peterson also released Secrets ofSolomon, a version of the Ars Rabidmadar, which is the basis of the GrimoiriumVerum.

9. The Discouerie of Witchcraft

Reginald Scot wrote this text to point out how ridiculous belief in witchcraft was. He wasn’t saying witches are stupid for believing in witchcraft, but that everyone was stupid for believing in witches, and it was all superstition. A lot of his invective regarding superstitious beliefs focused on blaming Catholics for bizarre rituals and inventing bugbears to scare children. If you ignore most of the explanations and commentary, the book is filled with popish papery (Catholicism) which it turns out is just a detailed description of and instructions for performing conjurations, spells, and rituals. The book became so popular with people interested in learning magic, that later editions had essays on magical philosophy appended to it. The Goetia of Solomon is largely based on this book.

8. The Cambridge Book of Magic

 This is not an important book, but it is a favorite of mine. The Cambridge Book is a working magician’s notebook, likely from around the time of the English Reformation. It contains a combination of grimoire style rituals and spells. While the translator noted that it did not include examples of faery magic, it does, in fact, include a conjuration of a faery queen. This came in at the eighth spot because it is slim and accessible and hones in on the type of grimoire magic material which is included in Scot, but it doesn’t have all of the extra stuff. Subsequent books that present working magician’s notebooks are more thorough and larger than this one though.

7. The Works of Daniel Harms et al

 Daniel Harms has been involved with the publication of several grimoires and cunningman’s notebooks. These tend to be well laid out and present copious interesting material. TheBook of Oberon, which was done with Joseph Peterson and James Clark is very popular and reflects a working grimoire added to by several magicians. His recent release, The Book of Four Occult Philosophers, is similar, and passed through the hands of some of the same magicians as The Book of Oberon. Angels Demons and Spirits is another great one which presents the grimoire of a cunningman. David Rankine released The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, which is also a cunningman’s notebook. It has similar material to the one released by Harms but is also worth exploring. Its layout is less user oriented though. Stephen Skinner also released A Cunningman’s Grimoire, and Jim Baker, along with David Rankine, released A Cunningman’s Handbook which was perhaps one of the first popular releases of such a text.


6. Saint Cyprian

St. Cyprian, the Sorcerer Saint, was a legendary magician who converted to Christianity to gain its power. Despite his reason for converting, Cyprian was devout and became a bishop and a martyr. Despite his hagiography describing him abandoning and rejecting magic, the folk-memory of him describes a Christian bishop who retained and integrated his magical knowledge into his Christian life. As a result he remained one of the consummate icons of magic. There was a mythical book containing the ultimate magical secrets attributed to him. The book was believed to be so magical that people began names magic books “cypriani.” Throughout Northern Europe, black books, or collections of magical practice, were associated with his name even though they did not necessarily contain references to him. In Iberia, he was more of an icon, and there was an array of pamphlets and booklets of folk magic which were associated with him. This continued in Spanish colonies in the Americas, and he is a significant figure in some ADR magical traditions. Humberto Maggi released a Book of Saint Cyprian collecting some Cyprianic material, Jose Leitao has released multiple books of Cyprianic material. I like the layout of Leitao’s collections better, in particular the latter collection which is huge. Leitao organizes the material based on the source so you get more of a sense of the way the material is collected and presented in pamphlets and booklets which would have been used in folk practice.  Leitao's two main texts are The Book of Saint Cyprian: The Sorcerer's Treasure and Opuscula Cypriani: Variations on the Book of Saint Cyprian

5. The Sporting Life

 This is a very short but useful text by Charles Porterfield which presents information on Hoodoo specifically related to things like money, gambling, sex, and avoiding the police. It presents correspondences and ideas so you can build your own techniques, but it also presents several spells for various general and specific purposes. Chapters are arranged based on the area of life the magic relates to. Some of the language may be off-putting for some readers but the book is very useful and straight to the point.

4. The Secret of the Psalms

This book provides magical applications of the psalms. Some instances provide particular spell or ritual components to do with the psalms, but generally, the psalm’s power is explained, sometimes with multiple effects it can have. You can recite the psalm to try and apply its power, or you can incorporate the psalm with other spellwork. The text is essentially copied from another book of psalm magic which was included in the German collection of magical texts Das Kloster. The German text also contains The 6th and 7th Books of Moses, which like The Secret of the Psalms, became a popular and influential text in Hoodoo.  

3. Greek Magical Papyri

 The Greek Magical Papyri refers to several separate and distinct collections and fragments of writing on magic spanning several hundred years (about the 1st or 2nd Century BCE through about the 5th century CE). These texts are primarily from Roman Egypt. By the point these texts were created, Egypt had been under Greek (Macedonian) control prior to becoming a client state for Rome and then eventually coming fully under Rome’s control. Roman control does not seem to have created cultural impact reflected in the texts, but the texts show a blend of Greek and Roman influences. There are also other Near Eastern elements reflected in some texts. There are two major English language presentations of several of the papyri. The standard for several years has been The Greek Magical Papyri by Betz et al. A new larger text is available from Faraone and Toralles Tovar The Greek and Egyptian Magical Formularies. Both primarily present translations of the spells and rituals presented in these texts. If you want ancient, or late antique examples of magic the papyri are one of the most popular sources.

2. Svartkonstboecker

This is the work of a folklorist who unfortunate died before its publication. The text is huge. It collects together several “black books” or magical notebooks often passed along through families, in Sweden. It is a great collection of folk magic practices. For people interested in this flavor of spellbook but want something smaller, The Black Books of Elverum are an option.

1. The Works of Judika Illes

 I will admit, I don’t have these books. Everything else on the list, I do. When I was a kid starting out, Modern Witches Spellbook was the well known spell book. It had the spooky witchy feel of 1970s/1980s witchcraft. They seemed a bit naughty and old fashion, which was exciting, but I also felt like as a middle schooler they weren’t the books I should be buying. Judika Illes’s books have a nicer more friendly aesthetic. Because of that and their titles, I just ignored them. I thought they were just coffee table books that might not even be by a magician, similar to the magical picture books Barnes and Noble has in their bargain section. By the time I became aware of Illes’s books, I was probably also in that phase where I would have thought “why do I want a random spellbook?” Since then, I have known numerous people who have met her and respect her deeply. I’ve met more people who have her books and think they’re great. They’re on my list of books to consider picking up. I’ve heard they contain spells from a wide range of sources covering many places, times, and traditions. For that reason, if someone just wants a spellbook and is not interested in a particular structure or tradition, this is probably the broadest general presentation of spells. Some of her books are, The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells, The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic that Works, and Emergency Magic! 150 Spells for Surviving the Worst-Case Scenario

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this list and it will provide you with some options if you’re looking for books from which to draw examples for building your own magic, or from which to draw completed spells to use. If you want books for exploring magic here is my Getting Started in Sorcery list. At some point I hope to have some more getting started guides for specific approaches to magic. In the meantime, hopefully these are helpful.


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