The Grimoire, a very medieval concept.

Grimoires, the magical books in operation from as early as 12th Century and used by Magus to conjure the angelic and demonic, were used for the purposes of healing, cursing and self edification by means of ritual and sacred instruments.


The very materiality of the Grimoire itself was important in its construction, as an object which could not be bought or sold but bequeathed to individuals by means of legal agreement.  The books were written on virgin parchment.  All accouterments accompanying such must not have been used prior to the writing of the Grimoire either.  Some Grimoires that were covered in human skin were particular prized possessions.

The emphasis with these magical books was on their ability to hold power within their pages and could only affect their environment if they were hand written and not printed. It is the interjection of the human hand to write the spells down that gives the magus his ability to conjure from the book.  Perhaps it is in the act of writing that something of the person is left on the page?  Magic varies from learned to folk level and from Theurgy to Goetia of which the Grimoire may have held a varying degree of each.  The Magus would invoke divine authority to be able then to conjure a being from the demonic realms.  Plays such as Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Dr Faustus‘ are famous examples of the workings and purposes of the Magus in his search for complete knowledge.


While the Grimoire suffered in the 17th and 18th Centuries due to a decline in spiritualism and a rise in sciences, forms of low magic continued to play a part in the folklore of local communities.  Talismans and charms are well known products of Irish culture and continue even today in some communities.  Interestingly, the Grimoire is a book that would often be referred to as a ‘creature’, an independent entity with the existence of magic power within it.  My interest in ‘The Book of Margery Kempe‘, which refers to Margery herself in places as ‘this creatur’ harks to the spiritual nature of the time in which she lived and of her behaviour under the influence of the ‘visions’ she had throughout her life.

A recent article view here in the Guardian claims to have shed some light on the personage of Margery Kempe.  A small recipe for making lozenges to ease neurosis lies within the back pages of the manuscript; an indication of a treatment to control the psychosis of Margery’s incessant wailing and hallucinations.  A modern day anti-depressant perhaps?  Or could it be a medieval wise woman’s spell to cure the flux?  The oral tradition of folk magic would have been known to Margery but as a woman of God would she have consulted with these sorts of people?


The recipe is for ‘dragges’ small lozenges of herbs and spices which are boiled and cooled and eaten.  Although the recipe for such was most probably not found in a Grimoire, the magical properties which medieval communities believed they possessed are evidence of a form of low magic in the medieval text on which I have based my project.  The issue for me is to try and understand why this particular recipe appears on a copy of the manuscript and who put it there.



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