Before we continue, however, let us look at the book’s structure.
The first section of the grimoire is a typical sorcerer’s manual, consisting of rituals to be performed on certain days and to certain spiritual forces. There are many requirements involving the celebration of the Mass, the use of sacraments, and the invocation of Jesus and the Holy Trinity. There can be no doubt that this manual’s intended use was as a companion to a priest’s Rituale Romanum: that collection of prayers, rituals, and exorcisms that is a standard volume in every priest’s library.
However, this section is then followed by two more, and these give us a greater insight as to the book’s intended audience, for the first section is concerned with finding treasure and affairs of the heart (or, at least, the loins), while the third section is concerned only with spells to protect crops and livestock. It is this last section that gives us some evidence of the age of the grimoire and its provenance.
As someone who has been translating French grimoires for many years now, I can say that this volume presented some of the greatest challenges. While the first two sections were easy enough to render into English, the last section proved more formidable. This was for two reasons: (a) it is concerned largely with animals, livestock, and crops, which have their own jargon and unique nomenclatures, particularly among the French peasant class; and (b) some of the terms used in this section are no longer current in modern French usage. I needed recourse to dictionaries that were at least two hundred to three hundred years old, and thankfully I was able to find these invaluable resources and solve some minor problems with the text. However, what this demonstrated to me was that the author of this grimoire was living and writing prior to the nineteenth century and most likely no later than the mideighteenth century, making the grimoire’s alleged publication date of 1670 rather more plausible.
Further, the emphasis on spells to protect livestock implies that this grimoire—or those specific parts of it—found use in the French countryside and not in the cities, and indeed could have come from other, more popular books on folk magic and simply been added to the grimoire, since there is virtually nothing in this last section that has anything at all to do with the first, more heavily clerical and ceremonial section.
A look at the Sworn Book of Honorius— another, much older grimoire believed to have been the inspiration for the Grimoire of Pope Honorius III—shows us a striking similarity between the two. Each of these grimoires begins with a meeting of magicians in Rome. In the case of the Sworn Book, this meeting takes place as a reaction to Papal hostility to magic, the magicians gathering to determine what to do to preserve their mysterious art. In the case of the Honorius III grimoire, however, this convocation is summoned by the Pope himself, and the rest of the grimoire proceeds without further explanation or introduction.
Another version of the Grimoire of Pope Honorius III has a more detailed introduction. It also has Honorius the Great summoning the magicians to Rome, but in this case there is what appears to be a Papal Bull attached in which the practice of magic is defended on canonical grounds, by citing Matthew 16:15-19—“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be unbound in heaven”—and by further mentioning the miracles accomplished by Jesus as detailed in the Gospels and his subsequent passing on his power and authority to St. Peter, the first in a long line of Popes.
These Biblical proof texts are taken as canonical precedent for the use, by priests, of occultism and magic. As the priests must be exorcists, and as the rite of Extreme Unction (more commonly known as “Last Rites”) was originally designed to be a ritual to heal the sick, it would seem that the performance of supernatural acts would come under the aegis of the Church and its priesthood. In fact, the Church recognizes the validity of its own sacraments when performed by a validly ordained priest, regardless of whether that priest is saintly or corrupt: in other words, a supernatural power has been passed to him via the ritualof ordination—of the laying-on of hands—and every ritual he performs, including the all-important rite of transubstantiation that takes place during the Mass—when bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood, respectively, of Jesus Christ—is considered valid and efficacious no matter the individual priest’s holiness or lack thereof. This view is what has opened the door to the abuse of the sacraments by validly ordained priests who then defile them in acts such as the Black Mass or in the rituals of the grimoire that follows. Blasphemous they may be, hideous and heretical they are; they are nonetheless powerful when performed by a priest of whose ordination the Church has undertaken and approved.
(In the Eastern Orthodox churches—the churches of Greece, Russia, the Slavic, Middle Eastern, and some African countries—this viewpoint is considered rather senseless. A priest and even a bishop is not considered possessed of the requisite sacramental power and ability unless he is in full conformance with the canons and with his parish or diocese. He must be in full harmony with the ecclesiastical community, else any rituals he performs are automatically invalid. This complete difference in approach to the sacraments is one of the stumbling blocks preventing unification of the Eastern and Western churches.)
Once the canonicity or religious legality of the idea that priests can be magicians has been established, then the grimoires go straight to the rituals themselves. Invariably, these involve the conjuration of particular spirits for specific days of the week. This idea goes back to the time of ancient Babylon, when the seven “planets”—the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn—each held sway over one day of the week. This idea became more finely tuned when specific hours of specific days were assigned to the planets. In the grimoire we have before us, in fact, the reader is directed to the tables of planetary hours as published in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, thus assuming a level of acquaintance with other occult literature.
Each planet has rulership over particular human events. For instance, Tuesday’s spirit is Nambrot and believed to be able to raise the operator “in honor and dignity.” The planet of Tuesday is Mars, and the symbol for Mars is found in the center of the Seal of Nambrot, with his name written around the circle.
A problem with this particular text is the conjuration for Monday, dedicated to the Moon and to Trinitas (“Trinity”); however, the conjuration makes no mention of Trinitas but is instead directed to Lucifer. The Seal of Trinitas also has the name Lucifer written around the circle. Yet, the phrase written around the Seal—Prohibeo te Lucifer in nomine sanctissime (“I restrain you, Lucifer, in the most holy name”)—indicates that the operator is to summon Lucifer and exert his authority over him. The implication we can take from this is that the spirits of the remaining six days are also demons, and we would be correct for we have Astaroth—widely recognized in all the grimoires as a powerful demon—as the spirit to be evoked on Wednesday. Astaroth is the survival into modern times of an ancient Mesopotamian goddess, Ishtar of the Babylonians and Inanna of the Sumerians. (There is also some discussion among scholars as to whether or not Ishtar/Astaroth is another form of Asherah, a presumed Middle Eastern deity who was believed to be the consort of Yahweh, the God of the Jewish people.)
A perusal of the seven days and their spirits will orient the reader in the particular system used in this grimoire; but before the conjurations can take place, a number of preparatory rituals must be performed. The most important of these is the creation of a magic circle.
The standard feature of virtually every grimoire (with the exception of the Book of Abramelin the Mage and perhaps a very few others) is that the magic circle is the sacred, protective area within which the magician—and any assistants—must stand. Once the ceremony is begun, the magician is not to leave the circle for any reason whatsoever until the spirits who have been conjured have been told to depart. Should the spirit or spirits still remain outside the circle, dire consequences would follow for the magician.
The magic circle represents a place between the worlds—the two worlds of normal, waking reality and the world of the unseen. It is a tangent point between them, between heaven and earth or between this world and the next. At this nexus the magician confronts the realm of spirits, angels, and demons. To some authors, this represents the magician’s confrontation with his or her own unconscious mind; indeed, patients undergoing depth analysis with the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung were known to paint elaborate magic circles, or mandalas, representing their successful path to spiritual integration. For the ceremonial magician, the magic circle is not the end point but the starting point, since the magician’s approach to psychic material is proactive rather than passive. The magician does not wait for the results of years’ of psychoanalysis, but rather dives into the psyche with all the tools available. The summoning of spirits such as Lucifer and Astaroth may represent attempts to confront important psychic complexes buried deep within the unconscious mind. These confrontations are necessarily dangerous, and the care taken in the creation of the magic circle repays the effort in the end because it is a highly visible reminder of the magician’s security, safety, and identity in the face of unimaginable terror, as well as representing a tangible effort to delineate a “safe place” from which to examine the monstrosities that dwell beneath the surface of our dreams and nightmares.
The grimoire states that “before beginning any conjuration, one must take great care in making the Circle and censing it.” As there is no other clarification of this, let us make it now.
Aside from the care needed in making the Circle—something we have already discussed—the requirement that it be censed is not to be ignored. Incense is not used merely to perfume the area or give it a “churchlike” atmosphere. The role of incense is quite important in occult ritual. Different scents have different properties (considered psychologically), and the various planets have incenses particular to them. Thus, for the Moon one might burn camphor; for Venus it may be sandalwood or even (in the opinion of New Orleans hoodoo workers) patchouli. The sense of smell is the least developed in modern humanity, but it is an ancient one and a crucial sense among the rest of the animal kingdom. Although we are not always conscious of the effect of smell on our psyches, it is only necessary to describe the mechanism of olfaction: when we smell something, like an incense, we actually ingest particles of it through our noses. We are, in a sense, consuming the thing that is smelled. There is a chemical reaction, and the nervous system is thereby affected, which means the brain and the psyche are also affected.
The association of different smells with different planets, for instance, is a kind of mnemonic device. Once the brain has been “trained” to recognize and differentiate the different odors of sanctity, it is an easy thing to summon the appropriate spirits. This effect is magnified if we also take into consideration the different colors appropriate to the individual planets: thus combining two senses, that of smell with that of sight. Add to this the appropriate incantations, and the sense of sound is added to the mechanism that is our ritual. This has the effect of blotting out ideas, memories, and concepts that are not part of the planetary complex we are invoking and making the invocation of the planetary spirit much easier.
This idea is not alien to the Church. For centuries the ecclesiastical calendar has specified that the priest wear vestments of certain colors for certain types of saint, for martyrs, virgins, etc. For the Feast of Good Friday, the church is usually draped in purple, and the crucifix and all other icons covered in purple veils. Easter, of course, is gold and white; etc. The association of colors with spiritual concepts has been used by both the Church and the magicians, and for the same ends: to impress the psyches of all concerned and to remove extraneous thoughts, ideas, etc.
One further aspect of the use of incense during the ceremonies has been little understood or remarked upon, and we remedy that now.
Spiritual forces generally require a “material basis” to manifest themselves visibly in our world. In the popular imagination, this is sometimes provided in the form of a trance medium or “channeler” who allows his or her body and nervous system to become the instrument of the spirit. In other cases, such as that of demonic possession, the spirit—a demon, in this case— possesses the body and nervous system of someone without their permission. In still other cases, such as that of Haitian voudon, the devotees may be temporarily possessed by one of their gods for the duration of the ceremony. We may say that, in all of these cases, human beings have acted as the material basis for spiritual forces to manifest visibly in our world.
However, there are less drastic means available.
The use of clouds of incense smoke, for instance, enables weak spiritual forces to appear visibly since they are able—perhaps through the properties of a kind of magnetism of which we are unaware—to draw the smoke around themselves, as it were, in a kind of cloak. This is similar to the way we rub a pencil over a piece of paper to reveal what has been written over it before.
Spiritual forces use this method a great deal. We are always told, for instance, to ignore the wailing of the wind. “It’s only the wind,” we are told. Nothing to fear. However, the wind can be used as a material basis, and the sounds that so approximate the howling of tormented souls—and can be scientifically measured as effects caused by the wind whistling through tree branches, etc.—may also be used by spiritual forces as a means of communication. The modulation of that sound may be caused by forces, resulting in intelligible words or phrases that even the judicious application of the Fast Fourier Transform would not have been able to predict.
Therefore, when a rite of ceremonial magic is being performed, everything must be recorded and given equal weight. Every sensory experience may represent a form of weak communication with the forces being evoked. Taken together, these experiences may communicate something important indeed.