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Grimoires: A History of Magic Books

By Owen Davies

I’ve often found myself wondering how people started believing in magic in a world of science, and “Grimoires” answers that they never stopped. Magic might be in the “metaphysics” section of every large bookstore, but that’s just an issue of packaging. It may ebb and flow from the cultural consciousness, but belief in magic never completely disappears. In 1943, there were 80,000 practicing fortune tellers in the USA alone.

The first ingredient to the belief in magic appears to be desperation. The less control people have over their lives, the more they are likely to believe in magic, including miracles I suspect. The second is that it should be foreign. Lots of 19th Century magic specialists who were run out Europe for fraud and debt made quite a decent living in America selling the old secrets of European cults. Magic books from Southern Europe sold in Northern Europe and vice versa.

What startled me, but probably shouldn’t have, was the effect of the printing press on the magic industry. Lots of printers made money printing books about magic even from the beginning. It’s interesting to note that people did not consider printing press editions to have the inherent magical quality of handmade, hand written magic books, only magical information.

“Grimoires” includes a spectrum of books. It includes the authors who were true believers, the authors who were conscious frauds, and the authors like Lovecraft who knew they were writing fiction and shook their heads when learning that people tried to find the “Necronomicon” in the library.
Tags: subject: history
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