End of an Enchiridion

I can’t believe it’s come to this.  It’s been four years, and I cannot even, I literally cannot.  I knew this day would eventually come, as all finite things must come to an end, but I’m confused at the fact that it’s here.  It’s been so slowly coming that I never realized how fast this moment arrived, and I’m…not quite at a loss, but nonplussed all the same.

My Moleskine is full.

This isn’t just any journal, mind you, as Moleskines are hardly ever wont to be.  No, this particular journal is my εγχειριδιον, my vademecum, my Book of Shadow, my spellbook, my grimoire, my personal book of prayers and rituals and seals that I have been writing and maintaining since my first days in Fr. Rufus Opus’ courses.  The cover is worn, and certain pages have all but fallen out, and some already would have if it weren’t for the masking tape holding them in place.  Pages with exceptionally well-used prayers are tissue-soft, and others are dog-eared for quick reference so that I don’t have to flip through a chaotic mish-mash of traditions and systems.  Among pages of my best efforts at Roman and Greek script mixed with my personal shorthand, annotated with origins of each prayer and ritual, I have poured countless hours into keeping track of the words and acts I use in my work as a magician as an aide for ritual, supplementing my memory when my memory alone hasn’t caught up.

And it’s full.  Fuck.

I knew this day would eventually come, and I made plans years ago to digitize it into a more easily accessible format, first copying whatever I wanted from a source to my Moleskine, and from there into LaTeX files to be compiled into a fancy PDF which, for various reasons, I haven’t kept up with lately.  And, while that’s still a good way to go for future use (heck, maybe even dissemination to students?), I’m…not sure that’s what I want to do for myself.  Lord knows I still need to keep track of rituals, and even though this particular book is filled, I question whether a digital format or some other means is the best way to keep an enchiridion.

I’m no stranger to journal-keeping, after all, and I’ve filled a number of them over the years since my first attempts back in elementary school, ranging from the mundane goings-on between classes or meetings to the most arcane theorizing of the cosmos, and this blog is just another manifestation of that; as such, I know the paradoxical heart-wrenching elation that comes with filling a journal.  Still, even this particular one is…jarring.  I’ve carried this book with me around the country, and found myself sometimes going into a minor panic when I realize I may have left it at home.  That book has had oil, water, ash, dirt, spit, and even the occasional blood spilled on it.  That book has grown up and full and worn with me as I’ve grown as a magus.  Even though this all seems rather sentimental for a glorified notepad, and even though I’m unusually attached to such a thing, I’m still somewhat at a crossroads with how to proceed.  Do I get a new one, and retranscribe everything?  Do I go for the binder-and-printout method, so that I can more easily manage and organize the thing on the fly?  Do I just want to use a document I can edit on the fly and get an e-reader or tablet to do the same?

I need to do something, obviously.  Just because this journal is full does not mean my Work is complete, not by any sense.  There will still be prayers to practice, rituals to record, and designs I deign to copy for clarity’s sake, and I will still need somewhere to write them and keep a ready index of.  But…I can no longer do it with this book, which already has so much in it and cannot accept any more.  This is a problem that demands a solution, but…perhaps it’s best to review what I’ve learned from keeping such an artifact first.  What do I know now, after filling up a whole book with my rituals and prayers, that I wouldn’t have expected years ago?  What does such a book become and do for the magus?  Based on my own experience, how should one approach the process of writing in an enchiridion?

  1. It becomes a ritual tool in and of itself, rivaling the importance of any wand or shewstone or oil.
  2. It is a physical object made of paper and thread and cardboard and, if you’re fancy, leather.  Even with careful and delicate use, the book will rip and tear and fall apart, and so should be given all the respect due to any magical tool for as long as it is used.
  3. It gains power in its own right, not only by virtue of the words and seals and patterns inscribed within, but by the constant use and reuse in ritual, as well as by the spirits and powers it comes in contact with.
  4. It offers a way to prototype and practice a ritual without ever performing it first, by recording all words said and motions made, before ever putting them to use.
  5. It provides a useful way to learn what is important and what is not important in ritual, gauging by how little one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  6. Conversely, it provides a way to note what ought to be learned by heart, gauging by how much one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  7. The fact that one is writing, actively putting in words, as opposed to typing gives the book a different feel and different (more) power.  Yes, the information may be the same, but the method makes the difference.
  8. With written words, one has the book indelibly and permanently made in one’s own kind of typographical image, as our handwriting is as much us as any photograph or depiction.
  9. It forms a record of one’s progress by virtue of the order and type of rituals written inside.  Even without records of ritual or proceedings of meditations, the prayers and rituals themselves show the state of the magus when they were first needed, as well as their exploration by the variety of text added over time.
  10. It is a testament to one’s activity and work as a magus, and as such is best kept private and secret lest anyone find it and, thus, find you out as a magus.
  11. Depending on your sources and your teachers, the text inside may be the last time those words are ever written, with you the last magus ever to use them.  As long as those words are around, at least in your own book, the traditions and rituals you use can stand the test of time and survive to be practiced by yet another generation.
  12. Organization from the outset, when keeping track of these things, is overrated.  When you’re still learning, the best order is chronological; by flipping through over and over to find the same things, you get used to the physical location of the text you need within the book.
  13. Presetting certain boundaries, so that this set of pages will be dedicated to conjuration rituals and that set of pages dedicated to Hellenic prayers and so forth, potentially wastes pages since you never know exactly how many or how few pages you need for a given topic, should you even get into that topic, which may not always be determined from the start.
  14. It is a finite object with a limited amount of space.  It will eventually become full, even if you keep only the most important and sacred words in it with nothing extraneous written and no space wasted.
  15. It is a tool and an aide.  It is to be used as much as it can be, so that the paper and ink inside is not wasted on idle copying, but made to work as much as you Work.
  16. When first copying things into it, you will use up a lot of space; only a year or so into my work, I had already filled up over a third of the pages, but it took me another three to fill up the other two thirds.  The rate at which you add things in will almost always decrease over time as you settle into a particular tradition and use the same rituals over and over.
  17. Not everything can be memorized.  While memory can always be improved, there are some things that one will keep forgetting without regular, almost daily use.
  18. A written text is crucial for smooth, repeatable work, so that one can read when memory can fail.  There’s a reason Catholic priests literally focus on the Missal while they perform their ritual, that they don’t slip up and jumble words or forget the order of things.
  19. What you write in the book, you write in your spirit.  The act of transcribing prayers is an important and powerful form of kinetic meditation.  For a similar reason, I find it helpful to say aloud every word that is to be said aloud in prayer or ritual (a la the tradition of soferim in Judaism), and to visualize the action when writing down instructions for actions.
  20. The art of handwriting is not doing too hot nowadays, and I don’t claim to have a good style of penmanship by any means, but it is a crucial aspect of maintaining the book.  Clear handwriting bespeaks a clear, methodical, premeditated mindset, and involves as much art as any skillful orison or profound prayer, not to mention making reading off the paper easier in dim lighting.
  21. It is useful to keep rituals and processes separate from records of using those rituals and processes.  I do not mix the two, and maintain a separate journal for keeping track of spiritual seals, conjuration conversations, and after-effects of ritual.  This is because the same ritual may work at some times and not at others through no fault of the ritual at all, and sometimes a ritual needs to be edited even though it works well-enough so that it can work better.
  22. It is useful to keep practice separate from theory.  Theory and philosophy and theology are nice to know and learn and discuss, but they do not come into play on the ground when the ritual is being done and the only thing that matters is the result.  Save space and keep the theory for another place, and focus only on what is necessary to complete the task at hand.
  23. It is useful to keep practice separate from recipes.  While oils, incenses, and the like may definitely be done in a ritual manner, the ingredients, conditions, and processes may often take up a lot of space that isn’t needed when doing the chanting or other ritual actions involved.
  24. It’s good to get a good-quality journal for this, neither poor nor great.  Something cheap and trashy is easy to fall apart and destroy, and something expensive and rare is too precious to waste a working text with errors, emendations, and errata in.  Settle for sturdiness, not for style, and save the pricey stuff for an heirloom calligraphied masterpiece that will be complete in and of itself.
  25. When there are a series of texts one may wish to transcribe, such as the Orphic Hymns or the Book of Psalms, it’s often better to get a separate text that contains those prayers as a complete set.  Transcribe only the ones you use most frequently, like Psalms 51 and 23 without the other 148 psalms.  An urge for completion is natural in many magi, for whom a perfectionist streak often runs strong, but you’ll ruin your hand with painful cramps and fill your book up faster than you need to.
  26. Be terse in the text for your instructions, and thorough in the text to be said aloud.  Only say what is absolutely necessary for instructions, as that can take up far more space than you need.  Laconic brevity is a virtue in the process of ritual, as is completion and wholeness in the prayers.  So long as you’ve written down enough to perform all steps of the ritual, you’ve written enough, and in the process allow yourself with room to grow and experiment and customize steps of the ritual.
  27. Even if you think they’re demanded of only by the bitchiest of middle-school teachers, get a bookcover or some sort of protection for your book.  You want to keep the book as intact and safe for as long as you possibly can.  Moleskines fit perfectly in a variety of leather car manual three-fold cases, as it turns out, and even includes a little loop for a pen and a pad of paper for quick notes and visions.
  28. Once you’ve started writing, do not stop until you’re done.  Do not leave something unfinished; if it’s part of a whole, write it wholly.  Do not begin writing until you know you can complete it in a single go, but if you need to write it, write it then and there.
  29. Generalize rituals when appropriate; think rubrics for ritual, not specific instances or implementations of ritual, and leave blanks and bracketed spaces for names or other things to be inserted when necessary.  Make a note when a particular prayer may be modified from its original intent or purpose.
  30. Only include tables of correspondence when absolutely necessary, such as when making a reference for how to fill in a ritual rubric.  Times when needing to use a table of correspondence in ritual are few, and usually only serve to take up space.  It’s better to commit the system of correspondence to memory, and that only what is necessary.
  31. Plan for rituals to be as modular as possible.  Build and conduct rituals using multiple prayers and acts, and record each one separately rather than writing the same invocation over and over for multiple rituals.
  32. The word enchiridion literally means “in the hand”, and vademecum “go with me”.  The book itself should be small enough to fit conveniently in a knapsack, but big enough to hold and read from comfortably.  If you use something too small, it’ll fill up too fast and will be hard to read from; if you use something too big, it’ll be hard to hold and hard to carry around.
  33. Never tear anything out of the book.  You will never make a mistake so egregious that you cannot write around it, and all rituals, even if needed just the once, will help you learn.  There will always be spare paper or media available to write on for things that cannot go in the book.  Keep the book intact as much as possible, since it’ll weaken on its own over time without any extra help from you.
  34. Get a good pen, and keep to that same type of pen when you write in the book.  Whether it’s a fountain pen or ball-point pen, you can never have too good a pen.  Carry it around with the book.  Keep it a neutral color, like black or blue, using other colors for specific purposes like corrections or particular symbols or watchwords.  And yes, it has to be a pen, one that isn’t erasable.  The point of the book is to put things in and keep track of what you practice, not to change the past and remove it.
  35. It doesn’t matter how you write in your book, so long as you can read it.  Your book is primarily for you and your eyes; everyone else takes a very, very distant second, although the day will come that someone else will need to use your book.  If you use a shorthand or type of code to write in the book, include a key somewhere hidden just in case you or someone else needs to decode it.
  36. Do not lose the book.  Do not destroy the book.  Do not get rid of the book.  Once finished or rendered to a point where it is unusable through age and wear, keep it somewhere safe, and only if you absolutely cannot keep it with you should you even begin to consider entrusting it to someone you can trust.
  37. It doesn’t matter whether your book is a journal or a sketchbook, i.e. lined or unlined.  I find lines helpful since I’ve never been able to develop a steady baseline for handwriting, and it helps with drawing out patterns and diagrams, but many people prefer an unlined paper to write on.  Go with what’s best for you.
  38. Once you start writing in a book, keep the book and keep using the book until it’s filled or you cannot use it any longer.  Just because you don’t like a ritual you wrote doesn’t mean the whole book is trash.  Just because you’ve changed traditions doesn’t mean you forget your history and past rituals.
  39. Take the book with you and read from it in as many rituals as you need to do.  You may not always need the book, especially if you’ve memorized the rituals and prayers needed, but take it with you just in case.  If nothing else, you help the book build power.

I suppose I had more thoughts on keeping and maintaining such a book than I expected.  I guess I wanted to be thorough, in a kind of “what would you tell a younger version of yourself” kind of way.

I think, at this point, I’ve decided on what I’m going to do.  I may not stick with Moleskine, but I am going to get another blank journal for myself.  I can always digitize the stuff as I need to in case I need a digital copy of my book, but…in all honesty, I can’t bring myself to care as much about that as I will about having a handwritten copy of my rituals with the ability to add in new rituals at a moment’s notice.  For me, and I speak only for myself, I will need to write by hand my enchiridion, and I will do this again, word by every painstaking word, for as many times as I need to.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to the coming weeks as I start this process again, but for me and my practice, it’s absolutely worth it.

On the Arbatel

I feel like it’s been too long since I talked about something solidly within the framework and scope of Western Renaissance Hermetic magic.  Admittedly, that’s partially because I haven’t been doing much.  Beyond the occasional candle spell or planetary invocation, my work has been focusing as of late on the study of Greek letter magic, mathesis-centered meditation, Saint Cyprian work, and communion with the gods.  Life gets busy, after all, and I get swept up in a particular current every so often.

Still, that doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken everything I’ve learned with the angels, the planets, or even qabbalah (as much as I was using it, or as most modern Hermetic magicians use it, which isn’t saying much).  I still try to keep up with daily planetary angel invocations and call on them and the elemental princes in banishing rituals, although I don’t find that I have much time for conjuration anymore except on the rare occasion when I really need it.  Generally speaking, that’s okay; if you don’t have problems, you don’t have much to fix.  My life is generally in order due to the graces of the gods and goddesses and saints and angels I work with; they have my back and I have theirs.  I do admit that I miss the power and psychotripping in conjurations, however, and I have been considering getting back to that.  Saint Cyprian is trying to trick me into some goetic conjurations, not that I mind, but I’m letting that sit on the back burner for a while yet while I get other stuff in order.

Still, after my exploration and invention of mathesis, I’ve been considering a different route to conjurations, and for that I’m casting my eyes elsewhere than Trithemius’ conjuration ritual.  Trithemian conjuration technology and methodology is priceless and endlessly applicable, of course, but I’m starting to look elsewhere for ideas that can tie in easier into mathesis as I begin to explore the idea of mathetic ritual.  One such place for me to explore would be the magic and system presented in the Arbatel, an anonymous work of magic that’s pretty simple, short, and to the point.  Quoth Joseph H. Peterson of the Esoteric Archives (who also published a new translation of the text):

In many ways, Arbatel is unique among texts on magic. Unlike the vast majority of writings, it is clear, concise, and elegantly written. The practical instructions are straightforward and undemanding. When it first appeared in 1575, it attracted the attention of people with a surprisingly broad range of agendas, including some of the finest minds of the time. Often quoted and reprinted, both praised and condemned, its impact on western esoteric philosophy has been called “overwhelming.”

The Arbatel takes the format of 49 aphorisms, broken down into seven sets each called a septenary.  Each septenary of aphorisms focuses on a different aspect of the behavior, conduct, cosmology, and conjuration practices of the magician.  (No, I don’t think I’ll be doing a 49 Days of Definitions project for the Arbatel, so don’t worry, my beleaguered readers.)  The introduction to the text itself says that the 49 aphorisms that comprise the Arbatel are actually just the introduction to a nine volume set of works, each containing seven septenaries of aphorisms; however, Peterson notes that these were probably never written and have never been found extant, which is a damn shame since I’d love to read about the magical systems purported to be used by Hesiod, Homer, Apollonius, and the Sibyls of Rome.  Ah well, guess we just have to make them up in our own time instead of relying on someone making it up five centuries ago.

What we have that survives to us, or what we have that the author was able to write down, is sometimes called the Isagoge, literally an introduction or outline to the practice of the Arbatel.  The Arbatel is perhaps most famous for introducing to us the seven Olympic spirits, each one associated with one of the seven planets of traditional astrology.  Thus, Phul is associated with the Moon, Ophiel with Mercury, Hagith with Venus, and so forth; each have their own particular seal beautiful renditions of which you can find on Asterion’s art blog, and which occasionally pop up in gothic occult art and jewelry.  Each of the seven Olympic spirits is described according to the usual planetary powers, and the Arbatel also notes how many legions of spirits and how many rulers of spirits belong to them, as well as which spirit rules over the current era of 490 (7 × 7 × 100) years.  (For those who are curious, Ophiel rules the current era until 2390 CE).

The bulk of the Isogoge of the Arbatel is focused on living right and properly in the eyes of God; it’s no stretch at all to say that the Arbatel is solidly a Christian magician’s grimoire, and the author quotes or refers to the Bible throughout the text.  Honestly, this is all pretty straightforward morality stuff: hide what should be hidden, reveal what should be revealed, don’t procrastinate, have faith in and love for and fear of God, be humble, accept what God gives you, and the like.  Still, though this is simple and though we’ve undoubtedly heard it before in our plentifully Christian modern culture, for a magician, this all makes sense.  If we’re going to be given powers and secrets of the cosmos, we better be worthy of them and make sure we use them responsibly and without concern just for ourselves.  If we get deluded by greed and hate and infidelity, then everything collapses in a spectacular meltdown only magicians are known for.

When it comes to working with these spirits, the Arbatel’s system of magic is so minimalist and straightforward that it might be described as scantily written or even lacking.  At sunrise on the planetary day associated with the Olympic spirit, face one of the four cardinal directions based on what type of thing you want to learn or discuss, say a short prayer requesting the spirit’s presence, converse with the spirit for no longer than an hour (unless you and the spirit are really tight), and say another prayer to dismiss the spirit.  That’s it.  No tools needed, not even a description of how to use the seals of the Olympic spirits or whether they’re even needed at all.  In fact, the use of the names of the Olympic spirits isn’t even required, and the Arbatel suggests you use more general appellations of office rather than the name of a spirit since names tend to change over time.  To be fair, there was supposed to be another volume of the Arbatel that details how to work with the Olympic spirits, but that doesn’t exist, so we’re pretty much on our own with what we have.

Of course, leave it to ceremonial magicians to complicate things, especially when we’re so used to all the wands and circles, plumes of incense, and the like.  Indeed, some magicians have used all the stops and props of Golden Dawn-style ritual, while others simply take it straight to the astral and commune with the Olympic spirits there.  Other magicians have written about their experiences with the Arbatel, from the Scribbler’s posts to the detailed and heavy writings of Fr. Acher.  There’s no exact consensus, it’d seem, on what the nature of the Olympic spirits are; some people hold that they’re the gods themselves, others that they’re the angels, others that they’re planetary spirits under the angel of their planet, others that they’re some mix of the above.  What people do agree on, however, is that they work, and that they’re powerful.

Given the simplicity in calling upon the Olympic spirits and their power, I plan on starting up a new cycle of conjuration that focuses on these guys.  I’m not turning my back on the planetary angels, of course, and Lord knows I still have work to do with them, but there’s no sense either in declining to explore other parts of magic.  Besides, if it goes well, then I might be able to develop a mathetic conjuration ritual based on my experiences with the spirits of the Arbatel.  Could be useful, no?

New Ebook! “The Book of Saint Cyprian”

If synchronicity actually is a thing, it takes a prodigious level of thickheadedness to miss omens and portents that signify something important.  Not that long ago, I was in a botanica with my boyfriend, and in the case where they had several books on magic, the orishas, aspects of ATRs and ifá and the like, I found a particular book that caught my eye.  It had the Hierophant card on the front from the Thoth deck, which seemed out of place in the botanica I was in; looking at the title of the book, I noticed that it was a small grimoire attributed to none other than Saint Cyprian of Antioch, the patron saint of magicians and sorcerers I keep harping on about.  Since I’ve only ever heard about such a book being attributed to Saint Cyprian in Spanish, I decided to snatch it up that moment.  I did say at the beginning of the year that I wanted to work with him, after all, so if something like this was basically being handed to me, I may as well take it up.

The book was in Spanish, but it was fairly easy to read, given my background in Latin and not a little help from Google Translate and a good Spanish dictionary.  The book was also small, however, and seemed incomplete in some ways.  Looking around online, I found an even larger and more comprehensive book under the name “El Libro de San Cipriano”, which had nearly all (but not the entirety of) the smaller Cyprian book I had found, as well as a good few sections on Solomonic magic incorporating the Key of Solomon and the Grimorium Verum.  Many of the spells, prayers, and rituals the book describes seemed interesting to me, so I decided to translate the sections that seemed most worthwhile, i.e. the ones not directly lifted from other grimoire texts.  And, having finished my translation, I decided to go ahead and put it into an ebook format and sell it on my Etsy page.

Yes, dear reader, you too can now read the Book of Saint Cyprian in English for only US$10!  I’ve never found an English translation before, though one may exist somewhere.  Coming in at 83 pages, this translation goes over the talismans and amulets, prayers and orations, and many spells that have circulated through the Spanish-speaking world for at least a century now, all attributed to the good Saint Cyprian of Antioch.  Included in this text, too, is a special novena dedicated to Saint Cyprian and Saint Justina, which is claimed to have the following effects:

No one will cause you evil through magical or cabalistic objects, nor through enchantments; all your difficulties will be overcome and your enemies unarmed; your spirit will be made tranquil and will soar to the highest heights where it will be freed from its material body, enjoy heavenly delights, and spread its influence over all events and matters. You will achieve such things as you desire at the novena’s end if you run true with these prayers to the Supreme Creator.

Because this grimoire overlaps significantly with other texts such as the Key of Solomon, the Arbatel, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, and the Grimorium Verum, I’ve also provided an appendix that compares the Libro de San Cipriano to these texts and figure out where in the grimoire tradition this Spanish text falls, as well as how they differ in the details.  As I’m just now getting to read Jake Stratton-Kent’s marvelous Testament of Saint Cyprian the Mage, this little translation should help immensely in understanding more of the background around the renaissance the renown of this saint is currently undergoing.

Again, all you need to do is visit this Etsy link and click on the big green button.  I’m glad to be able to offer this translation, especially since it’s done partially as an act of devotion to Saint Cyprian of Antioch, as well as furthering the knowledge of grimoires within the Internet-based occulture.  And don’t forget, you can also check out my other ebooks on my Etsy page, too!  I’ll start keeping a list of all the ebooks I’ve written so far on the panel to the right of the page on my website for easy access, too.

Grimoiric Textual Authenticity and Legitimacy

I was looking over some of the threads in /r/occult on Reddit recently and came across a perplexing, bemusing thread that…not gonna lie, it made me too angry to reply to it.  Like, not enraged Tea Party-like flaming anger, but there was just so much wrong with the OP’s views that I had a hard time knowing where to begin.  They admitted they were new, but I contented myself with downvoting and upvoting replies appropriately in the thread.  The gist of the thread was that the OP was looking for “propper [sic] grimoires”, at first for display purposes like home decor but later to actually read and investigate.  After having been suggested the Clavicula Solomonis, the OP did some searching on Amazon, but decided he didn’t want “Knock-off / Edited / Bad copies of the book”, trying to find “the acutal [sic] book itself”.  From his later replies in the thread, he didn’t necessarily want the original manuscripts, just the “original text” instead of something that had been “edited into oblivion”.

I…what is this, I don’t even.  Essentially, what he’s asking is like asking for the original Gospel of John, Dao De Jing, or something similar, the very first copy taken down by hand without any of the translation, editing, or whatnot.  None of the attached philosophy or editing, just the good ol’ original text without any of the extra embellishment.

Grumpy Cat says "NO"

This is such a bad question that I honestly don’t know how to reply except “no, stop it, you’re doing it wrong”.  Actually, no, it’s so bad, it’s not even wrong.  Grimoires (literally “grammars”, methods and rules for learning and applying magic that often contain exact ritual specifications in addition to magical and ritual frameworks) aren’t discrete texts that arose independently in occult vacuums.  Grimoires, then and now, were part of a thriving (and often underground) tradition of magic that was derived from older grimoires before them and helped derive newer ones after them.  They were more academic than hedgewitchy formularies or herbals, and less philosophical than outright religious tractates on angels or heresies, but were still fairly academic texts.

The big issue is that academic rigor nowadays is much different from academic rigor back then.  Combining hearsay with experimental or anecdotal data, plus plenty of appeals to authority (Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, and Solomon were some of the faves back then), as well as flawless incorporation of spiritual and material knowledge yielded sometimes awkward but applicable logical results in magic.  The primary method of transcribing this method was by manuscript and handwritten text; given the expensive nature of book publishing and the fact that vanishingly few publishers would want their names sent to the Inquisition for starting up a Renaissance Llewellyn, there was really no other choice but to copy, write, and transcribe grimoires from book to blank book.  This would by nature make the texts different through copy differences and transcription errors, sometimes in significant ways (differences in sigils, holy names, and words of power especially).

Plus, these texts were also largely written and copied by people who were actually doing the work, reading and incorporating those texts into their own occult practice, perhaps keeping the text intact with as few errors or differences as possible, sometimes adding in their own information or experiments, sometimes blending in information or technique from multiple sources.  Whether they wanted to keep to the tradition verbatim, add in their own supplements, or make changes based on their own experiments (e.g. “method X won’t work as written, use improvised method Y for expected results”), the end results gave grimoires a life of their own, growing and changing with different generations of occultists and magicians.

Another big source of edits in the grimoires was that their source information was often unintelligible or poorly understood to begin with.  Many of the oldest texts we have out there in the grimoire tradition are in Greek or Hebrew, and many European occultists simply had bad understanding of either language; the phrase “it’s Greek to me” came from this very situation by monks with the same problem.  Between translation to translation to copy to copy, names or nuances might have been changed or lost, especially based on the aesthetics of the transcriber’s eye when it came to magical circles, diagrams, or sigils.  This is especially bad with Hebrew, as can be seen in many manuscripts of the middle-to-late Renaissance, where any word with “Hebrew letters” is downright illegible.  There’re good arguments to be made that these illegible or overly-and-poorly stylized Hebrew letters sometimes became magical sigils in their own right, which again would undergo changes from copy to copy.

And then there’s the whole notion of “forged” grimoires.  So what if something is a “forgery”?  What would it have been forged from?  Who even cares?  Half of the texts used in the Renaissance, medieval era, and back were variously attributed to the Jewish prophets, Christian apostles, Greek philosophers, rabbinic authorities, and so forth often with no real connection between what the prophet/philosopher/apostle/etc. was known for and what the text was about (cf. Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, or the “Diadem of Moses” from the PGM, or Pietro d’Abano’s Heptameron).  The attribution of a text to a spurious author doesn’t really change the nature of the text; the real question on evaluating whether a magical text is legitimate is whether its magic is legitimate.  As Crowley said, “let success be thy proof”.  By this metric, then, even copies of the Necronomicon (a wholly and fully fictional text from Lovecraftian mythos that some authors took and ran with) are legitimate, because their magic works.  Who cares if it was made up out of whole cloth, or whether it was based on older sources?  If it works, it works; if not, trash it and start with a different text.

Asking for an “original grimoire” is…well, it’s a stupid request.  If you’re looking for an actual manuscript from the 1500s, you’d be better off trying to bribe one of the curators in the Bodleian or Ashmolean Libraries, or be willing to shell out thousands on eBay or something.  If you’re looking for the original text from which something came from, you’re on a fool’s errand.  Consider the Key of Solomon, which has some of its earliest known copies from the 1400s; we find similar information in the Grimoirum Verum and Liber Juratus, with information in Liber Juratus coming from the Hygromanteia and Sefer Razielis, which is based on the Sefer Raziel ha-Malakh, which comes from a tradition dating back to the classical Sefer ha-Razim and Greek Magical Papyri.  From Liber Juratus and the Key of Solomon, in turn, we also have material that formed the basis of the Heptameron, which is a close sibling or cousin to the planetary conjurations of the Munich Manual of Necromancy; from the Heptameron we have Trithemius’ method of drawing spirits into crystals, which itself forms the basis for much of my work.  Asking what the original source for all this stuff is, without edits or changes or translations, is like asking who the first guy who talked to angels with using a wand and circle.

I understand the want for a “critical edition” or “authoritative copy” of a text, I really do, but it’s something we take for granted in our modern age when we have Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia and people from on-high or centralized systems telling us what’s cool and what’s not.  But this is hard to do when different copies of a given text are equally useful as tried by different people or handed down in different traditions, difficult when you’re looking at centuries of living tradition and practice that introduced features rather than bugs, and impossible when there’s no authority to judge authenticity or correctness.  Magic is often seen as belonging to orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy, proper practice instead of proper doctrine; magic involves actually doing stuff more than it does simply learning it.