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Revealing the Books of Secrets

By David Rankine

Over the last thousand years there have been several distinct streams of Western magical practice. Running parallel are the Grimoires, which focus on preparation and complex procedures to produce effective communication and interaction with spiritual beings, and the Books of Secrets, full of simple techniques using easily available ingredients. Both of these traditions have influenced many of the more recent magical traditions and practices that have developed in recent centuries, from Wicca and the Golden Dawn to Voodoo and Hoodoo. However, until recently the importance of the early Book of Secrets tradition has been largely ignored.

In some respects the Books of Secrets can be seen as being more important than the Grimoires. The Grimoires were hand-copied manuscripts, sold and traded amongst the wealthy, literate classes, whereas Books of Secrets were cheaply printed and widely distributed. The most famous Book of Secrets, an Italian work by Alessio Piemontese (called Secreti) was published in 104 editions in nine European languages between 1555 and 1699. These books were amongst the early best-sellers, and contained not only magical charms and spells but also a diverse spectrum of useful remedies and tips, from medical and gardening hints to cosmetics and metalwork. Such books sold not only to the middle classes, but also at village fairs and wherever an audience could be found.

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