“And I composed a certain work wherein I rehearsed the secret of secrets, in which I have preserved them hidden…Also I have written them in this Key, so that as like a key openeth a treasure-house, so this (Key) alone may open the knowledge and understanding of magical arts and sciences”- Introduction to The Key of Solomon.
Reading The Key of Solomon the King, it becomes obvious whence the Circle-Casting component of modern Magickal-Ritual derives. Long considered an almost legendary manuscript (or more properly, a series of manuscripts, each bearing the same mutual title), this Foundational Work of medieval Magick and Western Occultism- which is very, very preoccupied with the Casting of Circles- is now made happily and conveniently available through Weiser Books’ 2006 reproduction of S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers’ definitive edition. Mathers (1854-1918), a leader in Britain’s Occult Revival in the late 1800s and co-founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, did the Magick-Using (Magick-Believing) world an immortal favor in his dedication to the service of the Clavicula. As esoteric scholar R.A. Gilbert notes in the Foreword to the Weiser reprint, the Key had never been published before Mathers’ edition in 1889. As Mathers says himself in his Preface (p. ix), until then the grimoire had “for centuries remained in Manuscript form inaccessible to all but the few fortunate scholars to whom the inmost recesses of the great libraries were open.”
Working from “several ancient” manuscripts preserved at the British Museum, “which all differ from each other in various points” (p. x), Mathers collated the various versions into a coherent whole, correcting various mistakes such as incorrectly given or indecipherably rendered Hebrew letters (the “restoration of the Hebrew letters in the body of the Pentacles has been a work of immense difficulty, and has extended over many years,” [p. 78]). Due to Mathers’ painstaking diligence, by the end of the nineteenth century and for the first time in history, the most famous of Magickal grimoires could be read widely; thanks to Weiser Books, Mathers’ work can be appreciated and studied today.
Attributed to King Solomon of the Old Testament, the Clavicula is an extremely Christian-Magickal tome (one wants either to adapt and “Paganize” the rituals, or to be really, really comfortable with invoking Angels and Archangels). As “Solomon” feels it important to coordinate rituals with the correct planetary alignments (“When, therefore, thou shalt wish to acquire the knowledge of Magickal Arts and Sciences, it is necessary to have prepared the order of hours and of days, and of the position of the Moon, without the operation of which thou canst effect nothing; but if thou observest them with diligence thou mayest easily and thoroughly arrive at the effect and end which thou desirest to attain” [Chapter I: Book I, page 10]), much discussion of the planetary hours and correspondences are given. “Prayers and Conjurations” follow; then “Stronger and More Potent Conjuration”; and lastly “An Extremely Powerful Conjuration” (Chapter VII: Book I). “Concerning the Medals and Pentacles, and the Manner of Constructing Them” receives appropriate study, as does such diverse topics as “Experiments Concerning Things Stolen” (the grimoire admirably resists the urge to pressure its readers, couching operations throughout as “experiments” such as might be undertaken in an adventurous mood); “Experiment of Invisibility”; “How to Render Thyself Master of a Treasure”; and “Of the Experiment of Seeking Favor and Love.”
The thing that comes through the most strongly is how apparent it is that the Magickal Ritual inherited by us as “Gardnerian Witchcraft” or “Wicca” represents the Magickal Ceremony understood by the Middle Ages. “The Construction of the Circle” receives a detailed section of its own, between Chapters III and IV (p. 17); the importance of Quartering the Circle is consistently addressed (“thou shalt trace the Four Quarters of the Earth”; Chapter VII: Book II advises the “Master” to sound a trumpet towards the “four quarters of the Universe”): indeed, the Circle for Consecrating Pentacles, Figure 3 from Plate 1, looks exactly like a diagram for a Wiccan Altar lay-out. The independent Book of Shadows tradition is seemingly alluded to in Chapter XXI: Book II, “concerning characters, and the consecration of the Magickal Book,” or the Magickal volume intended to be maintained by the Master and his Disciples. Even the curious Witch’s side-note concerning garters (which for instance, play a controversial role in understanding the story of Edward III and the founding of England’s Order of the Garter) is apparently signaled by Chapter XII: Book I, “How to Make the Magic Garters” (p. 54). Finally, Mathers’ exhortation to his readers, from his Preface (p. x)- “Let him who, in spite of the warnings of this volume, determines to work evil, be assured that that evil will recoil on himself and that he will be struck by the reflex current”- sounds like an early expression of the Law of Threefold Return, or the Principle of Magickal Consequence.
Everyone with an interest in Magickal Ceremony owes a debt to The Key of Solomon, and to MacGregor Mathers for his efforts to reconcile the various manuscript-editions of the Key, preserving them in accessible form for subsequent generations. Even if one disagrees with the writer cited by R.A. Gilbert in the Foreword, that Magick is “a practical, intellectual, highly individualistic science, working towards the declared end of enlarging the sphere on which the human will can work, obtaining experimental knowledge of planes of being usually regarded as transcendental,” or with Gilbert’s statement on (p. vi), that Magick can serve as a way of bringing about change in the Magick-Worker on a “psycho-spiritual level”- one cannot argue with Gilbert’s assessment that the Key and ”related magical ritual texts are part of the intellectual and cultural inheritance” of civilized Western Culture, “worthy of study within the academic disciplines of comparative religion, psychology, and the history of ideas.” Assuming that the Juggler reader agrees with me that this is indeed important, Weiser Books’ preservation of Mathers’ definitive edition of the Key remains a vital step.