Detailed books of magic rituals and spells, often invoking spirit entities. The term derives from grammarye or grammar, as magic was in times past intimately connected to the correct usage of language. Several of the more important grimoires were attributed the wise biblical king Solomon, while others were said to be the work of other ancient notables.
Grimoires began to appear during medieval times, when Western society was controlled by the Roman Catholic church, and the early grimoires reflect the conflict with Catholicism's supernaturalism. The grimoires called upon spirits generally thought to be evil by the church and were thus often branded as instruments of black magic. Some grimoires directly challenged church authority. One book of black magic was attributed to a pope. In the last century, a new form of ceremonial magic that operates outside the Christian sphere has arisen. Grimoires have thus taken on the trappings of an alternative religious worldview that assumes a neutral position with regard to Christianity.
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, students of magic have tracked down many grimoires, some rare copies of which survived in the British Museum and the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal in Paris, and made them available to the public. The Magus, published by Francis Barrett in London in 1801, stands as the fountainhead of these efforts. Barrett had access to a number of magic documents from which he took bits and pieces to construct a section of his book, which he titled The Cabala or The Secret Mysteries of Ceremonial Magic Illustrated. It includes not only instructions for working magic but also imaginative drawings of the various evil spirits he discusses. The Magus is important in being the first modern publication with sufficient instruction to actually attempt magic rituals.
The next major step in preserving grimoires came in the mid-nineteenth century with the writings of Eliphas Levi. His 1856 book, The Ritual of Transcendent Magic, enlarges upon Barrett's presentation and discusses several grimoires. In The History of Magic (1971) he includes a lengthy discussion of The Grimoire of Honorius (1629). Levi's books did much to create a revival of magic which then took embodiment in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the first modern group to create a whole system of ritual magic. As a result of the order's activities, several of its members took important steps in publishing grimoires.