Monday, April 27, 2009

Pg. 99: Owen Davies' "Grimoires"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies.

About the book, from the publisher:
No books have been more feared than grimoires, and no books have been more valued and revered. In Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, Owen Davies illuminates the many fascinating forms these recondite books have taken and exactly what these books held.

At their most benign, these repositories of forbidden knowledge revealed how to make powerful talismans and protective amulets, and provided charms and conjurations for healing illness, finding love, and warding off evil. But other books promised the power to control innocent victims, even to call up the devil. Davies traces the history of this remarkably resilient and adaptable genre, from the ancient Middle East to modern America, offering a new perspective on the fundamental developments of western civilization over the past two thousand years. Grimoires shows the influence magic and magical writing has had on the cultures of the world, richly demonstrating the role they have played in the spread of Christianity, the growth of literacy, and the influence of western traditions from colonial times to the present. Through his enlightening and extraordinary account, we see how these secret books link Chicago to ancient Egypt, Germany to Jamaica, and Norway to Bolivia, and grasp how the beliefs of Alpine farmers became part of the Rastafarian movement, how a Swede became the most powerful wizard in early America, and how a poor laborer from Ohio became a notorious villain in his own country and a mythical spirit in the Caribbean.

Despite religious condemnation and laws barring their use, the grimoire has survived to the present day, and not just in Harry Potter films and Broadway's Wicked. Here is a lively and informative history of a genre that holds a powerful fascination for countless readers of the occult.
Learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

Owen Davies is Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. His most recent books are The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (2007) and Murder, Magic, Madness: The Victorian Trials of Dove and the Wizard (2005).

See Davies's list of the top ten grimoires.

The Page 99 Test: Grimoires.

--Marshal Zeringue