Authors from M. R. James to H. P. Lovecraft have dabbled with inventing grimoires for their fiction.
J.F.Penn uses a book bound in human skin (a practice known as anthropodermic bibliopegy) in A Thousand Fiendish Angels, and again in Deviance as a skin collector reaps the tattoed bodies of outcast Londoners.
In this article, I’ve collected ten of the most mysterious occult books. Just be careful what you do with them…
1. The Codex Gigas
This huge book dates to the 13th-century Czech Republic. According to some rumours, it contains all knowledge, including exorcism rituals and a drawing of the Devil. Some call it ‘The Devil’s Bible’.
Legend tells of its creation at the hands of monk who sinned grievously. In order to prevent the punishment of being walled up alive, he promised to write down all human knowledge in one night. Finding himself overwhelmed and unable to complete the task, he bargained with the Devil – his soul for the finished book.
The Devil’s Bible contains the books of the Latin Bible but also spells, incantations, exorcism prayers and images of the Devil and the Kingdom of Heaven. There are pages missing which was brilliant as the search for the pages became a key part of the story that merged art history with religion, both passions of mine.
The Codex Gigas weighs 165 pounds and each of its 620 pages are almost three feet long. The book survived theft from Prague and being thrown from a window to save it from a fire. Maybe it has a touch of the infernal about it.
You can watch a brilliant National Geographic program on the Devil’s Bible – here’s the National Geographic article that refers to it.
For more information, you can view the following:
The entire Codas Gigas scanned so you can see it for yourself.
The Devil’s Bible appears in Crypt of Bone, ARKANE thriller #2 by J.F.Penn.
2. The Book of Soyga
No one knows where the Book of Soyga comes from but John Dee, the astronomer and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, owned a copy.
His occult credentials once saw him depicted in a painting surrounded by skulls. The book disappeared in the early 17th century after Dee died, but two copies appeared in 1994. Both were in library catalogues, in the British Library and the Bodleian Library in Oxford. They weren’t hidden. Librarians had entered them under a different name.
Also known as “the book that kills” and Aldaraia, Dee used mediums to decode the Latin magical book. No one understands its contents, a strange mix of incantations, astrology, and demonology. Scholar Jim Reeds points out that many magical books spell words backwards; Soyga becomes ‘Agios’, the Greek word for ‘holy’.
It probably held so much meaning for Dee since it features a genealogy of angels, who Dee kept trying to contact. The indecipherable letters at the end of the book most confuse modern scholars. Dee claimed only the archangel Michael could interpret the book; perhaps the letters are for his eyes only.
If you’d like to unravel the mystery yourself, you can read the book online here.
3. The Picatrix or Ghayat al Hikam
The origins of the Picatrix remains shrouded in mystery. Most scholars think it dates to 11th-century Andalusia. This Arabic text combines astrology, science, and philosophy. Its first Latin translation appeared in 1256.
But it’s also one of the infamous occult books because of its magical recipes. Want to stop someone from leaving a city? Mix a man’s semen with blood and cook it up with honey. Give the concoction to the person you want to keep around and they won’t be able to leave.
Other recipes include mixing blood, urine, or even brains with substances like opium. The combination of astrological principles and practical techniques turned the Picatrix into an important resource for later magicians.
4. The Voynich Manuscript
This is perhaps the most studied among occult books. It contains almost 250 pages, written using an unknown alphabet. People have studied the book for five centuries.
No one knows for sure it is an occult book, but its illustrations provide a clue. They pepper the text, featuring naked people, plants, or astronomical charts that look like the zodiac. Most scholars think it dates to the late 15th or early 16th century. They think it’s European, but without an identified language system, they can’t be sure.
John Dee apparently owned it (along with the Book of Soyga). But it takes its name from the book dealer who bought it in 1912, Wilfried Voynich.
Yale University keeps it in their rare books collection.
5. The Oera Linda Book
The Oera Linda Book is perhaps the nastiest of these occult books because of its links with Nazism. Written in Old Frisian, it claims to contain records of events dating back four millennia, including information about Atlantis. The first people to translate it thought it was nonsense (or a hoax). Sadly, it became a firm favourite of Heinrich Himmler.
Scholars tracked the paper stock to a German supplier and dated it to 1850. Yet Himmler defended the “ancient” book. He renamed it the “Nordic Bible” and embraced its contents. For him, it legitimised the Aryan race as the descendants of Atlantis. According to the book, the Nordic peoples created many things that started in Africa, the Middle East, or the Mediterranean.
The debate over the book’s authenticity led to the Ahnenerbe’s formation, a force that pressured academics to accept Nazi ideas. The Oera Linda Book proves that people can use books to push a sinister agenda.
6. The Grand Grimoire (or The Red Dragon)
With a name like the Grand Grimoire, you’d expect plenty of occult secrets. Which it delivers with gusto. Some believe the author based the book on King Solomon’s work. Many believe it to date to the early 16th century.
Many grimoires flooded the French market in the 18th century following better access to the printing press. The books ended up in French colonies like Haiti, which could explain why some practitioners of Haitian Voodoo still use it.
The version available now dates to the early 19th century. Also known as the Gospel of Satan and the Red Dragon, its first section explains how to enslave a demon. Other rituals include necromancy.
Officials keep the original book in the secret archives at the Vatican. According to rumours, even fire can’t destroy it.
7. The Rohonc Codex
No one knows who wrote this illustrated manuscript, or when. Written in an unknown language, it appeared in the early 19th century in Hungary. Some think it’s an 18th-century hoax due to its unconventional writing system. Studies of the codex think the paper dates to 1530s Venice. But there’s no guarantee the author wrote the book at the same time.
Both the text and the illustrations in the codex defy translation. It’s one of the most mysterious occult books on this list. Some scholars think the text looks like Hungarian runes. One attempt came close to translation, and if correct, the book is religious.
Look at this digital version online and see what you think!
8. The Black Pullet
The Black Pullet dates to 18th century France. According to its legend, one of Napoleon’s officers wrote the book in Egypt. The only survivor of an attack, an old man nursed the Frenchman back to health inside a pyramid. There, the old man kept ancient manuscripts, and he passed on the teachings to the officer.
The name, the Black Pullet, comes from the legend of a hen that lays golden eggs. Whoever owned and controlled the hen would be fabulously wealthy. It bears a strong resemblance to the folklore around the goose that laid the golden eggs. Other spells are instructions for making amulets and talismans. Some talismans can help you call and control djinn, force the truth out of people, and destroy your enemies.
Some people confuse it with the Grand Grimoire. You can read it online here.
9. The Munich Manual
The Munich Manual dates to the 15th century. Written in Latin, it’s also known as the Necromancer’s Manual because it focuses on demonology and necromancy. Steeped in black magic, it contains spells to create illusions, control others, or see into the future. It calls these forms of magic Illusionist, Psychological, and Divinatory. Most grimoires of the period include angel folklore, but the Munich Manual only includes demons.
Among its instructions is a ritual to make a Mirror of Lilith, used in divination. In the Kabbalah, Lilith was Adam’s first wife before God made the more docile Eve. She doesn’t appear in the Bible, but she features in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Mirrors act as portals to her realm so the ritual to create a Mirror of Lilith allows the magician to ask her for guidance.
Not a book to mess about with.
10. The Galdrabok
This 16th-century grimoire comes from Iceland. It contains 47 spells from a range of magicians, which rely on the use of staves. These are runes you might carve onto an object or write on paper. You carry them with you to enjoy their magical properties.
The Galdrabok features in Delirium by J.F.Penn, handed down to Blake Daniel from his Swedish ancestors and responsible for the demons that plague his father … or is it all in Blake’s mind?
Most of the Galdrabok’s spells relate to healing or protection. Spells can cure headaches or insomnia and help ease childbirth. Others help you catch thieves or win legal battles. Pretty different from the Munich Manual.
But other spells help magicians harm others. Spell 46 involves “fart runes”, inflicting your enemy with incessant flatulence. Others let you cause food poisoning or kill their animals. The book proves a fascinating source of information about Germanic gods and magical beliefs in Iceland.
You can read an English translation online. The Academy of Science (State Historical Museum) in Stockholm now holds the book.
These occult books are an interesting way to learn about older belief systems. Yet if they’re ‘real’, they also contain a lot of power. It’s probably best to leave their contents to scholars or magicians!
BIO: Icy Sedgwick writes dark fantasy and Gothic horror when she isn’t writing about folklore and the occult. She also loves Cumberbatch, cameras, coffee and cake.
Love Infographics? 4 Strange Occult Books of Magic