Archive for February, 2012

Item of the Week: Ars Notoria and the occult

February 8, 2012

By Lesley Ragsdale, Reader Services Student Assistant

Among the Clark’s collections rests a seemingly innocuous 1657 pocketbook holding a surprising secret.  Ars Notoria: the notary art of Solomon translated by Robert Turner is the fifth and final part of the anonymous 17th century grimoire, The Lesser Key of Solomon.  Grimoires are books of occult knowledge, purportedly granting the reader the ability to cast spells, create talismans, invoke spirits or demons, and perform divination.  Grimoires have appeared throughout most of European history, but the advent of moveable type in the 1450s allowed the widespread reproduction and circulation of such arcane books.  As an interesting note, the terms grimoire and grammar have the same root in the Old French word grammaire, a word meaning magic or sorcery that was sometimes used to describe any work written in Latin.  At a time when Latin was the language of scholarship and its readership limited to an elite few, words themselves were attributed with esoteric and mysterious powers.

The Lesser Key of Solomon, also known as the Clavicula Solomonis or the Lemegeton first appeared in the 17th century, but the writer borrowed portions from various 16th century texts including the Psuedomonarchia Daemonum of Johann Weyer.  It became and remains one of the most popular books on demonology.  Legend attributes the writing of the original text of the book to Solomon through its invocation of the Trinity and attribution of distinctly European titles such as marquis for ranks of demons places it well into the Christian era.  Some of the text dates to the 14th century or earlier.  Robert Turner translated the only English version of the Lesser Key of Solomon in 1657 from a Latin version written fifty years earlier.   Ars Notoria, the last portion of the book, contains a series of prayers and orations said to invoke angels and to focus and increase the mental powers of memory, stability, and eloquence.  The prayers contain Kabbalistic and magical words in several languages including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.  The book claims these prayers granted Solomon his fabled wisdom and understanding of all the liberal and mechanical sciences.  The volume concludes with a moral defense and explanation of astrology in the format of a question and answer session.

“a certain magnetick experiment”

Of particular interest is an illustration depicting “a certain magnetick experiment” which demonstrates an ostensible way to communicate across vast distances by virtue of a lodestone and a pair of compass needles.  Many of Turner’s contemporaries in the 17th and 18th centuries, scholar and occultist alike, became fascinated with magnestism and believed it might contain a method for long distance communication.  The theory held that if two compass needles were rubbed against the same lodestone, they would become “entangled,” and however the first needle was manipulated, the second would follow suit.  By placing each needle within a circle of letters and prearranging a time to send a message, two people could spell out messages to each other from opposite sides of the globe.