Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis, edited by Don Karr and Stephen Skinner.
Golden Horde Press/Llewellyn Worldwide: Woodbury, MN, 2010. 264 pages. $65.00 USD.
review by Samuel Scarborough
Grimoires are those workbooks and notebooks of magicians from ages long past. If you have been in the Magical or Esoteric Community for any time (or even if you have not), you have heard the names of these tomes spoken of in hushed tones, or even in tones of awe and fear. Names like Clavicula Salomonis (The Key of Solomon the King), The Goetia, The Lemegeton, The Grimorium Verum, and probably the most famous (or infamous) – The Book of Abramelin all conjure up images in the minds of magicians and would-be magicians.
In recent years, with more interest in Grimoires, the field has opened up, leading to new discoveries of these old magical texts. New scholarship has opened doors in the old libraries that house the original manuscripts and collections containing new versions of the “old” classics and even “new” gems are found tucked away in these hallowed repositories. Academia has started to take a more careful look at these once neglected works.
One of the “new” gems to come out of this more open environment is Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis which is edited by Don Karr and Stephen Skinner. Here is presented a complete sixteenth century English grimoire. That is correct, I wrote ENGLISH, and while the name of the name is similar to the more familiar Hebrew text Sepher Raziel ha-Melekh (The Book of Raziel),the current work is purely of a different tradition from the Hebrew. Karr and Skinner have combed the collections of the British Library, especially Sloane MSS (Manuscripts) 3826, 3846, 3847, and 3853 to get this early English grimoire. Originally the text of this work was in Latin, but was translated into English in the mid-sixteenth century – one of the Sloane Manuscripts being “precisely dated November 1564” (Sloane MSS 3846), possibly making this work one of the earliest English translations in the grimoire tradition.
This particular grimoire is divided into seven books, with each book or treatise relating to a specific topic. Book One is called Clavis and relates to astronomy and the stars. Book Two is called Ala, being the virtues of some stones, herbs, and beasts. Book Three is called Thymiamatus and relates to “suffumigations” – incenses and how to make them for the operations. Book Four is called the Treatise of Tymes – being the times of the day, night, and year that operations should be performed. Book Five is called the Treatise of Cleanesse of Absinence – being about being clean and pure to do the magical workings. Book Six is called Samaim and is about the names of heaven, angels and how to work with them. Finally Book Seven is called the Booke of Vertues and Miracles – this book being about the various divine names and how they are to be used.
Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis is the Sixth Volume in the Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic Series. These works look at many of the lesser known grimoires and their influence on later magical traditions in the Western Mystery Tradition. This book is a direct transcription by Don Karr of British Library Sloane MS 3826, folios 2-57, and has much of the early English spellings that you would find in something written by Edward Kelley, John Dee, Edmund Spencer, or even Shakespeare. In many cases the same word is spelled several different ways – which was common at the time this text was originally translated into English. The English language had not yet been codified into a more uniform version, so spellings were more varied. Even though the spellings may be difficult for many readers, the material flows very well and is easy to understand. Actually, reading Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis out loud may help those who have problems with Shakespeare or Spencer.
But do not worry that you have to repeat High School Shakespeare or College Elizabethan Literature to appreciate this grimoire. The second portion of the book has the same material rendered into modern English for an easier read. This will be the meat of the book for most readers as it is easier for a modern magical practioner to understand. This modern English language version is replete with textual notes as well as footnotes which better elucidate on the terms, concepts, and language used in both versions presented within this book. This modern English version is the work of Stephen Skinner. Often these notations are nothing more than explaining the name of a plant. For instance, the name “lilium domesticus” is used for an herb to be used, this of course is the “domestic lilly”, but most of us have horrible Latin skills or are not familiar with the Latin names for plants so it helps that Skinner gives us a common name to go with these terms.
Following this modern English version of Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis, Skinner has two appendices. The first is in reference to incense, and the second is a set of tables of angels found within the Sepher Raziel. The material in these appendices can be found Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables. After the two appendices, there is a comprehensive bibliography and index which further add to the book.
At first glance I had a bit of “sticker shock” at the price. This was quickly overcome by reading the material contained within the book. The book is also hardcover with a dust jacket. It is the scholarly work of both Karr and Skinner that really help to overcome this “sticker shock,” especially in this struggling economy. Skinner has, in the past, not produced very good material in some of his books, and has been duly criticized about for this in other places (even by me), but his work in Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis is much better than some of his other works. While he makes some suppositions in his footnotes in the modern English version of the work, they are not that bad and actually shed some insight about the original document that both he and Karr worked from.
This all leads to the obvious question, “Is this book with having?” The answer is yes. Actually it is a resounding YES, especially if you are into working within the grimoire tradition of magic. I strongly recommend it for those that want to understand how much of the “modern” Western Mystery Tradition got its foundation from older sources such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew magical texts and traditions. This book is not just a curiosity of the grimoire tradition, it is a living, breathing, workable text that any practicing magician should study and work with. It really is a “gem” within the grimoire tradition.