The Key of Solomon the King

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BY far the most important class of Magical Rituals is that which incorporates elements both of Black and White procedure-so called. For convenience of treatment these are here termed composite. At the head of all, and, within certain limits, the inspiration and the source of all, stands the Key of Solomon, with its complement, in many respects more important than itself, the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key, sometimes attributed to Solomon Rabbi; the Rabbi and the monarch are, however, one and the same-at least in respect of their office, which is the pseudonymous production of impostures. The other Rituals which will be treated in this class are the so-called Fourth Book of Cornelius Agrippa and the Magical Elements ascribed to Peter of Abano. The occult student--who is commonly led by fools, when not by impostors--has been taught to regard these works as dealing exclusively with White Magic, and it is part of the present design to indicate for the first time the mixed character of their proceedings, even on the surface thereof. The innumerable Rituals of Magic which remain in MS. and are never likely to be printed, belong also, with few exceptions, to the composite class, but, setting the Lemegeton aside, to which every prominence should be given, they have had little influence, and being, therefore, of no moment to the p. 59

history of the occult sciences, will not demand further consideration than has already been accorded some of them in the slight sketch at the close of the first chapter.

Mr. Mathers' presentation of the Key of Solomon, 1 which is still in print, though the work of an uncritical hand, must be held to remove the necessity for entering into a detailed account of the Contents of that curious work. So far as it has been incorporated by the later makers of Grimoires, it will be found, with its Goëtic variations, in the Second Part. We have here only to consider the question of its antiquity and to establish its true character.

The Key of Solomon proper is familiar to scholars in Latin, French, Italian and one or two German MSS. The oldest codex used by the English editor is in contracted Latin, and belongs to the sixteenth century. It is preserved in the British Museum. It is possible that older MSS. may exist in Continental libraries, but those of the Bibliothèque Nationale and of the Arsénal at Paris are of later date. 2 The majority of known MSS. are in the French language. It is, however, claimed that the work was written originally in Hebrew. In this claim there is nothing essentially improbable, but it has the disadvantage of being championed by the last class of persons who hold titles for the expression of an opinion. Assuming that it is well founded, it is not unlikely that the original may p. 60

still exist. The large Hebrew literature of the Middle Ages has been only imperfectly explored, especially in that part which connects with practical Magic. The knavish methods which have ruled in the manufacture of most magical books largely discount the probability with which I am dealing, and the mere affirmation in a manuscript cannot, under these circumstances, be regarded as evidence. No Hebrew scholar is acquainted at the present day with such an original, and three hundred years back the matter, according to P. Christian, was involved in precisely the same uncertainty, for at the end of the sixteenth century the learned Jesuit, Gretser, states that it was unknown, but that there was a Greek translation in the library of the Duke of Bavaria. The present whereabouts of this highly important MS. I have failed to trace, though I must not presume that I have taken especial pains concerning it. In a literature of this class, whether that is best which lies the nearest or not, it is serviceable enough for the practical purpose. I do not propose to be the historian of Magic, whether Black or White, or the classifier of its MSS. All occultism is part of the path of descent, and that which is especially Black may be in one sense the least harmful, as we know where we are in its presence. I will therefore only add in termination of this question that in the eighteenth century the Abbé d'Artigny mentions various examples of the Key of Solomon in Latin, and also an edition printed in 1655, which is not only unknown to Mr. Mathers, but seemingly to all modern bibliographers. 1

Leaving the language of the original an open question, it is clear that, in either case, there is no ground for attributing to the Key of Solomon in its present form a higher antiquity than the fourteenth or fifteenth century, at which time Hebrew literature was developing at a rapid rate. 1 If it were first written in Latin, it is, at any rate, permeated with late Jewish ideas, and the corrupt state of the Hebrew in the conjurations and talismans--which is much the same, and that as bad as it can be, in all existing copies--could scarcely have been attained in less than two centuries of careless and ignorant transcription. We may therefore fix the date of its manufacture, or otherwise of its translation, about the period which has been mentioned.

The attribution of the work to Solomon is obvious enough; it could not fail to have suggested itself to a compiler with Kabalistic leanings and with a knowledge of Jewish tradition from the days of the Talmud onward. Further, it is quite p. 62

consistent with a literature which has done nothing but ascribe falsely. That it should be taken seriously by any well-equipped person at the present day must, of course, be quite inscrutable, and in respect of the English editor, those who feel concerned in the question may account for it in one of two ways:--by a predisposition to accept statements on the faith of occult tradition following upon a conviction as to the reality of occult science, or, alternatively, by a knowledge derived from the traditions of initiation. The first is regrettable because it is open to abuse, which is stating the case in terms of unstrained mercy; the second is not likely to exist, because it is injurious to the intelligence of the King of Israel to suppose that he wrote the Clavicle. I do not feel clear, however, that it would be beneath certain storehouses of occult tradition to ratify the ascription or to make archives to support it. In sum, it would be quite in accordance with the mind of occult initiation to transmit a false tradition or to manufacture it.

So far concerning the antiquity of the work and the sovereign mystification of its authorship. It remains now to say something of its character. The Key of Solomon can scarcely be judged accurately in the light of its English version, for the translator, preternaturally regarding it as a highly honourable memorial of lawful magic, has excised as much as possible the Goetic portions, on the ground that they are later interpolations, which is of course arbitrary. He still retains, however, what is generally stigmatised as one of the distinctive marks of Black Magic; the ritual is permeated with the bloody sacrifice, which Mr. Mathers rightly condemns, but has not seen his way to reject. His version further includes various references to the performance of works of hatred and destruction--that is, works betraying an evil purpose, or a purpose directly connecting with Black Magic. The chapter detailing p. 63

the method of effecting such objects is omitted, but it is found in five out of the seven codices upon which the version is based. Furthermore, where the intention is not evil, it is frivolous, hyperbolical or paramountly foolish. It is (a.) frivolous in such experiments as the detection of stolen goods, by which it is placed on the same level as the pedlar's literature of fortune-telling; it is (b.) hyperbolical and fantastic in the experiment of invisibility, in the composition of the Magic Garters and the Magic Staff; it is (c.) foolish in such chapters as that on preventing a sportsman from killing any game. Perhaps, however, these distinctions may be held to merge into one another. M. Papus, the mouthpiece of the French occultists, distinguishes between the Keys of Solomon and the impostures of colportage; but in what respect, it may be asked, are these processes superior to the chapbooks of colporteurs?

The highest ambition of the Clavicles is identical with that of the Grimoires--to become master of a treasure possessed by spirits. It should also be observed that experiments which have for their object an interference with the freewill of another person, such as that of seeking favour and love, are essentially evil experiments.

I have now enumerated all the processes which are set forth in this "fountainhead and storehouse of Kabalistical Magic"; it is for such trumpery purposes that the Magus is directed to undertake his laborious preparation, and for such also to put in motion the powers believed to be inherent in Divine Names, in long pages of pretentious prayers and in "stronger and more powerful" conjurations. However much the justice of the critic may be tempered by the mercy of the familiar explorer towards a memorial of occult science which has been unduly honoured--that is, honoured otherwise than as a literary curiosity-it must be concluded that the p. 64

Key of Solomon is a grotesque combination of the pompous and ridiculous; it is, in fact, the old story of the mountain and the mouse, but so great is the travail that, in this case, the mouse is brought forth dead.

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Fundamentals of Magick

Fundamentals of Magick

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  • giosu
    Where to buy key of solomon spells?
    2 years ago

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