Reading Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires: The Classical Texts of Magick Deciphered

Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires: The Classical Texts of Magick Deciphered. Aaron Leitch. Published by Llewellyn Publications, U.S. August 2005. 456pp.
Reviewed by Jake Stratton-Kent

As a long time student and practitioner of the Grimoires, with some well established opinions of my own, I was ready to hate and shred this book if it failed to deliver. It is also true that at first glance my prejudices were not immediately assuaged, but this is not a book to be lightly skimmed. Once I got to grips with it properly, it began to delight me with its clarity, depth and consistency as well as the author’s evident expertise. This book is a splendid guide to the magick of the Grimoires, opening up the whole subject in a way the modern revival has not previously achieved. It is true that the author is squarely ‘on the side of the Angels’ and to some degree perhaps passes lightly over the darker texts. True too that he is a little overly accepting of the ‘gnosticism’ of the Knights Templar; and seems unaware that the diabolic pact originates with Origen and St. Augustine rather than the much later Inquisition. However, these are minor points, and the Grimoire genre is hugely clarified by his analysis, which deals solidly with areas many previous works neglect entirely. He also clearly appreciates that the Grimoires approach to ‘demons’ is less than the black and white of the Inquisitors, far closer to the Greco-Roman world’s wider spectrum of spirits. In insisting that some demons do live up to their nasty reputation, and that the magician be equipped to deal with them, he is simply doing justice to the roots and purposes of magic throughout history.

My criticisms? Well, the author admits he is less than green fingered, so there is no in depth consideration of herbal lore in the Grimoires, aside from psychotropic plants. Although this could have developed further the link he presents between shamanism and the Grimoires, it really requires a specialist and it would be unfair to pretend otherwise. There are also points of interpretation where we differ — for example of Names on Barrett’s skrying table, where ‘the Four Kings’ for me would be Oriens and company rather than the Four Archangels. The fact is these are minor criticisms, and being points of interpretation we are entitled to different opinions! These are far outweighed by the enormous value of the book to Grimoire studies, which finally have an intelligent and comprehensive manual.

Everybody with an interest in the Grimoires should read this ‘benchmark’ book.