Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies - review by Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

Hocus Pocus

Grimoires: A History of Magic Books


Oxford University Press 384pp £14.99

Owen Davies has now achieved the position of our nation’s foremost academic expert on the history of magic, and this book is the proof. It is a comprehensive account of the nature and use of books intended to aid practitioners of ritual magic by prescribing the ceremonies, spells and materials (allegedly) required. The story is a long one, beginning in the Hellenistic world, a few centuries before the Christian era, and ending at the moment at which Davies’s manuscript went to press. Long scholarly narratives tend of necessity also to be thin; but not this one, which follows the dispersion and multiplication of the texts across the world, into every continent, ocean and hemisphere. The trail is pursued all over Europe, and into North and Latin America, and the islands of the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, with the same meticulous care. That this is possible is due to an extraordinary synthesis of secondary works by scholars in English, French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Danish, many of which will be totally unknown to, let alone read by, most specialists in the English-speaking world. 

At first sight, the very existence of so many studies in different languages seems to give the lie to the commonly made declaration that the history of magic has been, until recently, a neglected subject in the academic world. A closer look at the list, however, serves to

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