Monday, April 27, 2009

Owen Davies' "Grimoires"

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).

His new book is Grimoires: A History of Magic Books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Grimoires and reported the following:
Grimoires explores the history of books of spells and conjurations from their origins in ancient Babylonia, through the fertile cultural exchanges of the Hellenistic world, the rise of Christianity, the advent of print, the Enlightenment, and finally to our continuing modern fascination with the mystical power of books in the Internet age.

Page 99 comes a few pages into Chapter 3, entitled ‘Enlightenment and Treasure’, which explores how the boom on cheap literature across much of Europe during the eighteenth century promoted magical knowledge as much as the rational thought that usually characterizes the so-called Enlightenment. On page 99 there is an image of the title page of one of the most influential cheap grimoires of the modern period – the Secrets Merveilleux de la Magie Naturelle et Cabalistique du Petit Albert. Beneath there is a description of how the Petit Albert first appeared in print in Geneva in 1704 and then in Paris two years later. A few years after it was being sold around the country by hawkers and attracting notoriety. Two centuries on, the popular fascination with the spells and charms it contained had permeated French colonies in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. In the sense that one of my reasons for writing Grimoires was to demonstrate how closely literacy and literature has always been tied to the desire to record and access secret knowledge, the discussion of the Petit Albert on page 99 is pretty representative of the book as a whole.
Learn more about Grimoires at the Oxford University Press website.

See Davies's list of the top ten grimoires.

--Marshal Zeringue