Solomon at his throne, painting by Andreas Brugger, 1777.

Grimoires by a Biblical King? The Magical Treatise of Solomon and the Key of Solomon

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The Magical Treatise of Solomon and the Key of Solomon are two grimoires (handbooks of magic) commonly said to have been written by the biblical King Solomon. The latter grimoire has been described as The most enduring, influential, and notorious Solomonic book , and much has been written on it. English translations of this piece of work can also be found easily. By contrast, the Magical Treatise of Solomon may be said to be less well known, and relatively less has been written about it. Nevertheless, this grimoire is regarded as the precursor to the Key of Solomon .

 Little Key of the Whole Art of Hygromancy

The Magical Treatise of Solomon is known also as the Little Key of the Whole Art of Hygromancy, Found by Several Craftsmen and by the Holy Prophet Solomon , or simply as the Hygromanteia. This text is a compilation of Greek manuscripts, and dates to the 15th century AD. It has been said that this text is the ancestor of the famous Key of Solomon . At present, the only English translation of the Magical Treatise of Solomon is the one edited by Ioannis Marathakis, which was first published in 2011. With regards to this translation, it has been stated that “For the first time (outside of a handful of pages in academic works) the full Greek original of the Key of Solomon appears in English.”

The Magical Treatise of Solomon, or Hygromanteia by Ioannis Marathakis.

The Magical Treatise of Solomon, or Hygromanteia by Ioannis Marathakis. ( Amazon)

It is said that the Magical Treatise of Solomon was taken to Italy, likely Venice, at some point of time during the decline of the Byzantine Empire. Some say that the Key of Solomon was a translation of the Magical Treatise of Solomon from the Greek to Latin and Italian. The Latin name of this piece of piece, by the way, is Clavicula Salomonis . On the other hand, popular opinion suggests that this grimoire was translated from a Hebrew original. For instance, in the ‘Preliminary Discourse’ of Mathers’ English translation, it is written thus,   

This Testament was in ancient time translated from the Hebrew into the Latin language by Rabbi Abognazar, who transported it with him into the town of Arles in Provence.

Another source says that “there is no substantive evidence for a Hebrew version before the seventeenth century”. Additionally, the oldest manuscripts used by Mather’s for his translation of the Key of Solomon are probably from the 16th century AD. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the Key of Solomon is a translation of the Magical Treatise of Solomon . Nevertheless, there are “precedents going back further”, and there are those who do not doubt that Solomon himself was the author of this grimoire.

A group of pentacles from the Hebrew manuscript (BL Oriental 14759, fol. 35a).

A group of pentacles from the Hebrew manuscript (BL Oriental 14759, fol. 35a). ( Public Domain )

The Key of Solomon

In Mather’s edition of the Key of Solomon , the grimoire is divided into two parts. Both parts deal with various aspects of the practice of magic. For example, several chapters are dedicated to the preparations needed to be undertaken by a practitioner of magic. In Book I, such chapters include ‘Chapter I. Concerning the Divine Love Which Ought To Precede the Acquisition of This Knowledge’, and ‘Chapter IV. The Confessions To Be Made By the Exorcist’, whilst in Book II, one finds such chapters as ‘Chapter IV. Concerning the Fasting, Care, And Things To Be Observed’, and ‘Chapter V. Concerning the Baths, And How They Are To Be Arranged’.

In order to illustrate the range of magical aspects dealt in the Key of Solomon , a few more examples will be used. Chapter X of Book I is entitled ‘Of the Experiment of Invisibility, And How It Should Be Performed’. This is followed by a completely unrelated chapter entitled ‘To Hinder A Sportsman From Killing Any Game’. Solomon is perhaps best known for the power given to him by God to communicate and control supernatural beings, and there are some chapters relating to this as well.

Buer, the tenth spirit, who teaches "Moral and Natural Philosophy" (from a 1995 Mathers edition).

Buer, the tenth spirit, who teaches "Moral and Natural Philosophy" (from a 1995 Mathers edition). ( Public Domain )

For instance, in Chapter XIII of Book I, one may learn ‘How To Make the Magic Carpet Proper For Interrogating the Intelligences, So As To Obtain An Answer Regarding Whatsoever Matter One May Wish To Learn’, followed by a chapter on ‘How To Render Thyself Master of A Treasure Possessed By the Spirits’.

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