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The Llewellyn Journal

Solomon's Keys: Revealing the Origins of Modern Ritual Practices

This article was written by David Rankine
posted under Magic

The Key of Solomon is well known as a grimoire or medieval book of magick, yet its influence on the development of modern magickal practices is largely ignored.  What many people do not realize is that the Key of Solomon is in fact a large family of more than one hundred and forty manuscripts containing a range of material, which unite the traditions of Jewish Kabbalistic magick with ancient Greek magick.  This synergy produced a collection of techniques that have become the bedrock of most modern magickal and pagan ritual practices.

The Key of Solomon could be considered the first magick primer, being full of all the techniques needed by the magician to create a magick circle, prepare tools and robes, work out propitious times, prayers for preparation, conjurations of the angels, instructions on how to make the pentacles for achieving desired results, and preparing a personal book recording all of this.  This is further emphasized by the style of the text, which is concise and explanatory throughout, as this example from the chapter entitled “What are the most fitting Times and Places for the Operations of the Great Art” demonstrates:
“Your attention span is very important and it is essential to maintain if you wish to work without any distraction. For this reason, it [the procedure] demands that you should be in a secluded location, far from any noise or the troubles of the world. Because the essence of Spirits and other Celestial Intelligences contain in part some of the nature of God, so they will appear to us and talk to us more willingly in the stillness of lonely places.”

The fact that there are so many manuscripts of the Key of Solomon spread across Europe in nine different languages (these being Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and Latin) suggests it was the first book an aspiring magician would have acquired.  This explains why all the subsequent grimoires, all of which exist as manuscripts in low numbers (fewer than ten copies) either leave out or only briefly cover all of the preparatory material found in the Key of Solomon—because the magician would be expected to already know it!

Significantly, the Key of Solomon was a text that was widely available to practitioners of magick, both “high” and “low” varieties, including the practitioners of folk magick such as the English and Welsh cunning folk, Italian witches and monks, European aristocrats, and many others.  A major trade in magickal manuscripts occurred over the centuries, a dangerous occupation when it was for a work like the Key of Solomon, which had been banned by the Catholic Church.  The Italian witch Laura Malipiero was arrested in Venice in 1654 for selling copies of manuscripts, with the Key of Solomon being specifically named in the charges against her.

Finally, I would like to end with a quote from the introductory chapter of the Key of Solomon, which introduces the well-known phrase “properly prepared” amongst some very sound advice:
 “Therefore, O my son! Thou mayest see every experiment of mine or of others, and let everything be properly prepared for them, as thou shalt see properly set down by me, both day and hour, and all things necessary; for without this there will be but falsehood and vanity in this my work; where are hidden all secrets and mysteries which can be performed…”

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