The Key of Solomon the King by R.A. Gilbert - Read Online
The Key of Solomon the King
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This most celebrated of all magical textbooks, believed to be written by King Solomon himself, details the processes for summoning and mastering the spirits. Demonstrates that the usual theoretical distinction between black magic and white, evil magic and good, is not so simply drawn. Included in this edition is a new foreword by R. A. Gilbert, esoteric scholar and antiquarian bookseller.
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ISBN: 9781609254506
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The Key of

Solomon the King

(Clavicula Salomonis)

Translated and edited from

manuscripts in the British Museum by

S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers

Foreword by

R. A. Gilbert

This edition first published in 2000 by

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

With offices at

665 Third Street, Suite 400

San Francisco, CA 94107

First American edition, 1972

First paper edition, 1989

This edition, 2006

Foreword copyright © 2000 Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Red Wheel/Weiser. Reviewers may quote brief passages.

ISBN: 978-0-87728-931-9

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Clavicula Salomonis. English

The key of Solomon the King (Clavicula Salomonis) / translated and edited from manuscripts in the British Museum by S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers ; foreword by R. A. Gilbert.

p.   cm.

Originally published: London : G. Redway, 1889.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 0-87728-931-X (pbk.: alk. paper), ISBN 0-87728-945-X (alk. paper)

1. Magic—Early works to 1800. 2. Magic, Jewish—Early works to 1800. I. Solomon, King of Israel. II. Mathers, S. L. MacGregor (Samuel Liddell MacGregor), 1854-1918. III. Title.

BF1601 .C5313 2000

133.4'3—dc21                                                                                    99-048471

Printed in the United States of America


15  14  13  12  11  10  9

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1992(R1997).


Of the 519 titles that comprised the Second Order Library of the Golden Dawn, Key of Solomon [by] MacGregor Mathers is listed in its Catalogue as No.l—a pride of place justified not only because Mathers was the pre-eminent magician of his time, but also because The Key of Solomon is a crucial text of Western ritual magic. Magic, however, was—and is—very much a minority interest, and although the magicians of the Golden Dawn were well aware of the importance of what they had, the general public was not.

The Key of Solomon the King was published late in 1889 in a small edition of 500 copies, and at the high price of £1.5s (roughly equivalent today to $300). Subscribers were few, reviewers even fewer, and it did not sell well: ten years later, when Mathers' Kabbalah Denudata (1887) was long out of print, the Key was still readily available. But it did not languish forever. In 1909 a new edition appeared that was well received by both press and public, and its sales were boosted by the very public clash between Mathers and Aleister Crowley. Mathers had attempted to prevent the publication of the Golden Dawn's rituals in Crowley's journal, The Equinox, but the case failed on appeal and Crowley won the day. However unwelcome this outcome was for Mathers, it vastly increased public awareness of; and enthusiasm for, ritual magic. And, to judge by the constant stream of largely illicit reprints of both the Key and other magical texts, the public have maintained their enthusiasm over the last ninety years.

But just what is ritual magic, and what are the distinguishing features of specifically Western ritual magic? Definitions of magic are legion, and usually either inaccurate (as with Eliphas Levi's traditional science of the Secrets of Nature), or inadequate (Crowley's fatuous the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will) being prime examples. There is, however, one excellent and succinct definition of magic that will serve very well when considering the type of magic—ceremonies worked according to specific ritual texts—with which The Key of Solomon is concerned. It is by Evelyn Underhill and appears in her classic work, Mysticism (1930, 12th ed.):

Magic, in its uncorrupted form, claims to be a practical, intellectual, highly individualistic science; working towards the declared end of enlarging the sphere on which the human will can work, and obtaining experimental knowledge of planes of being usually regarded as transcendental (p. 152).

And there's the rub: in its uncorrupted form, for in terms of its morality, The Key of Solomon is, to say the least, highly equivocal.

Mathers was well aware of this. In his Preface to the Key he draws, or attempts to draw, a clear distinction between good and evil magic, strongly warning the practical worker against the use of blood when working these rituals, and advising him to shun absolutely such works on Black magic as the Grimorium Verum. But can such a distinction be made? Mathers' contemporary, A. E. Waite, thought not, and in his own collection of magical texts, The Book of Ceremonial Magic (1911), he claims that any argument to distinguish good from evil magic is specious. Referring to all the extant Rituals, he points out that:

Some are more absurd than others, some are perhaps more iniquitous, but they are all tainted with Black magic in the same way that every idle word is tainted with the nature of sin. The distinction between White and Black Magic is the distinction between the idle and the evil word (p. xii).

Nor was Waite alone. In her book Ritual Magic (1949), E. M. Butler recognizes that "Mathers honestly believed that [the Key of Solomon] was a book of white magic contaminated by black processes, and yet says of the Key's original author, His intentions seem to have been of the best; but they were literally of the kind which pave the way to hell" (p. 62).

Assuming, that is, that magical rituals really are effective, and that they provide the magician with what he is seeking—for which assumption, at least as far as empirical results in the material world are concerned, there is no evidence at all. But for Mathers, magic was less a matter of altering the material world than of bringing about change in the magician on a psycho-spiritual level. In this respect it undoubtedly does work, as practicing magicians as varied as Crowley, Regardie, and Dion Fortune have all vouched. Even A. E. Waite, who abhorred ritual magic, felt that under the right conditions auto-hypnosis could bring apparent success to the aspiring magician.

This being the case, it could be argued with some justice that magical texts of the kind found in the Key are so wicked, and the consequences for the immortal soul of the practitioner so dire, that they should not be published at all. There are two responses to this. First, the extreme complexity of the rituals, with their great mass of minutely detailed instructions—the exact following of each and every one of which is crucial to the success of all magical operations—effectively guarantees the complete failure of the would-be magician in his attempt to bring his ceremonial workings to a successfiil conclusion. On this argument the spirits (or demons, or angels—depending on one's point of view) will never manifest themselves and the magician will be safe from harm. Except to his peace of mind; although when such magicians failed, they would, as E. M. Butler wrote:

be unlikely to blame their mentor. For they could never be quite sure that they had not deviated at some point or other from his sometimes ambiguous instructions. They could try, try and try again until they died of senile decay without losing hope and without losing faith in Solomon (Ritual Magic, p. 54).

And it is the supposed author of the Key who brings us to the second and more solid justification for publishing the text.

Whether or not we approve of them, we cannot deny that the Key and related magical ritual texts are part of the intellectual and cultural inheritance of Judaeo-Christian civilization and, as such, they are worthy of study within the academic disciplines of, inter alia, comparative religion, psychology, and the history of ideas. They are also, of course, a part of the Western Hermetic Tradition, and it was a desire to place them in the context of that tradition which justified Waite in his publication of ritual texts that even Mathers condemned as Black Magic. Waite wished simply to present a systematic account of magical procedure, and approached the subject from the bibliographical and critical standpoints, carefully distancing himself from Mathers' goal of providing a translation for the use of occult students: persons who, in Waite's words, believe in the efficacy of magical rites and may desire to put them in practice.

Such a description is also particularly apt for Mathers himself; for he was of one mind with Glendower (in Shakespeare's Henry IV), that he could call spirits from the vasty deep: and his reply to Hotspur's question, But will they come when you do call for them? would certainly have been Yes. And in this lies Mathers's besetting fault. He was undoubtedly a very competent and accurate transcriber of magical texts, a gifted magician and a truly great ritualist—but he utterly lacked the critical faculty. In a breathtaking display of credulity he writes in the Preface to the Key that he sees no reason to doubt the tradition which assigus the authorship of the ‘Key' to King Solomon, even though none of the texts on which he draws are earlier than the late 16th century. No subsequent commentator has placed the Key further back than the medieval period (although there are traces of earlier influences on the text), and most of them have pointed out the anachronism of King Solomon referring to SS Peter and Paul and quoting from St. John. ignoring all this, Mathers maintained his belief in the Solomonic authorship of the Key, citing Josephus, the Arabian Nights and many Eastern traditions in support! He also knew his readers: the occult students for whom he wrote were as uncritical in matters of occultism as he was himself; for they were members of his own magical Order—the Golden Dawn—and they were not noted for undue scepticism.

Equally they were not noted for any undue eagerness to perform the conjurations of low magic, and as respectable middle-class citizens they would have balked at raising spirits to obtain either love or hidden treasure, or at practicing Operations of Mockery, Invisibility and Deceit. The pentacles, sigils, and mystical alphabets illustrated in the Key were, however, another matter. These were important for their studies of symbolism, and undoubtedly helped to enlarge the sphere on which the human will can work. In addition, all of these pictorial symbols had been restored to their original form with the aid of the co-creator of the Golden Dawn, Dr. William Wynn Westcott: for members of the Order the book was thus doubly authoritative.

Just how many members read the Key is not known, but all those who entered the Second Order had access to it via their library and nine members appear among the thirty-five names on the original subscription list. Two prominent members also wrote about the Key: J. H. Slater, to praise it in a paper for the Bibliographical Society on Some Books on Magic, and A. E. Waite, who came, as we have seen, to bury it. Outside the confines of the Golden Dawn, however, the first edition of the Key was little read. Even within the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, of whose Metropolitan College Mathers was then Secretary, it caused no great stir—perhaps the members felt no need of the printed text because the Society's library already held two manuscript versions in English.

Curiously enough, Mathers had made no use of the SRIA copies when he was preparing the Key, confining himself to the seven manuscript versions in the British Museum Library—all of which he had to translate. They are, admittedly, more important texts than the later English copies, and they enabled him to produce the most authoritative edition of the Key to date (it cannot be considered as definitive, because Mathers failed to make use of a related 16th century English manuscript version in the British Museum, and he deliberately omitted one or two experiments partaking largely of Black magic). They also provided him with something else: his Second Order motto in the Golden Dawn. I thell Colquhoun noted, in Sword of Wisdom (1975), her study of Mathers, that one of the manuscripts that he used—Lansdown MSS No. 1202—includes a talisman of Mars. It shows a snake twined around a sword, and bears the words of his motto, Deo Duce Comite Ferro, on its coils. For reasons best known to himself; but in keeping with the obsessive secrecy that characterizes the founders of the Golden Dawn, Mathers chose not to reproduce the talisman in his published text.

He may, perhaps, have felt that it was a dangerous talisman. Certainly he had a healthy respect for the potency of the rituals that he continued to transcribe and translate for many years after the appearance of the Key. None of them, however, brought him any great reward. The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage (1898) is looked upon as a masterpiece of magical exposition by later generations of occultists, but for Mathers it was an unhappy production: he lost the first draft of the manuscript, there was occult interference in his drawing of the magical squares, and the published book was a financial disaster. He fared no better with his other magical translations.

Shortly after he had produced the Key, Mathers translated and edited another Solomonic text, the Lemegeton, or Lesser key of Solomon. However one interprets magic, this is unquestionably a far more dubious text—in the moral sense—than that of the Key, but its non-appearance in print at the time had more to do with the commercial failure of the Key than with any qualms on the part of Redway, or any other prospective publisher. Eventually Mathers loaned the manuscript to Crowley, who failed to return it, and published the first and most unpleasant part, The Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King, on his own behalf in 1904. This truncated text does no credit to Mathers and it is perhaps as well that Crowley refers to him only as a Dead Hand. Mathers' final translation was of Tft.e Grimoire of Armadel, a text that he found, like that of Abramelin, in the Bibliotheque de I' Arsenal at Paris. During his lifetime it circulated in manuscript among the members of his rump of the Golden Dawn, and it did not appear in print until 1980, more than sixty years after his death.

Perhaps in his later years Mathers had grown wary of the low magic