Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grimoire Magic and the Trivium

Did you ever stop to think about why we call them "grimoires?" I'm pretty sure I blogged about this before, but it's been a while and my blog followers have grown. I'm perceiving a lack of awareness in several grimoire magic blogs I've perused today* of the reason they're called "grimoires," so for the benefit of new followers, the Grimoire tradition everywhere, and in case I haven't really covered it in full before, I'm going to address Grimoire Magic and the Trivium.

For an accurate understanding, I suggest reading the Wikipedia entries on Paedia, the Trivium, and for a good overview of how it all works in modern recreations of the educational practice, this article from the Well Trained Mind web site.

In Medieval times, education was afforded to the elite, and was modeled on the educational system developed in Ancient Greece. The Trivium is the first thing you would learn, consisting of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. The Trivium was designed to teach a person how to learn. From there you would move on to learning the Quadrivium, which consisted of Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry, and Music. The trivium and the quadrivium combined to form the seven Liberal Arts.

The three parts of the Trivium, logic, grammar, and rhetoric were three stages of progression. Logic taught one the mechanics of thought, the way to deduce truth. Grammar taught the way the truth was expressed, the symbols used (letters, and words), and the rules that govern how the symbols interact to create clear communication of the truths deduced in logic. Rhetoric taught how to use logic and grammar to communicate well. 

The word Grimoire is from the French and means "grammar." Since most of the grimoires were compiled in the Renaissance when the classical education model of the trivium and quadrivium were being taught, I believe it's a fairly logical leap to assume that the Grimoires were called such as a direct nod to this system of education.

Understanding the flow of thought to symbol to the art of expression, we can see the role of the magical grimoires in the development of a magician. They do not teach logic, but by inference we can deduce that the thought, the truth being codified into the symbols of the grimoires was the basic neo-platonic, Hermetic approach to the emanation of the universe. We see gods, angels, and demons discussed. These hearken back to Iamblichus' four orders of entities, the gods, angels, demons, and heroes. Personally, I see the magician as the hero class of being, aware of his divine race, standing manifest as both mortal and immortal, the point of contact between that which is above and that which is below.

The grimoires do not teach the rhetoric of magical practice either. They are not handbooks of high art, they are basic lists of the pieces and parts, and the rules governing the symbols of the magician. They do not teach advanced magic, they simply teach an introduction to the system. A student who has completed the grammar stage of education will be able to construct sentences that express their thoughts clearly enough, but they will not necessarily have the skills required to write a strong argument that pursuades the reader to their particular point of view. Graduates of grammar education can write papers, but they are of the quality of middle school children.

It would be etymologically correct to say the magic of the grimoires is "trivial," and I think that's really funny.

Ok, enough with the boring bits. I see a couple of things that are interesting. The Lemegeton's Goetia, a very popular "grammar," has many spirits that teach the Quadrivium. More proof that they are part of the trivium, perhaps? It's a logical assumption;. There are spirits that teach rhetoric as well, so I'm thinking they are the ones that teach the nuances of performing magic well, as opposed to simply "right."

And I think this understanding of the role of Grimoires pretty much blows away the idea that you have to follow the grimoires completely to the "T" forever. I think it's still important to do your best to follow the steps of the grimoires the first time you contact the spirits, and you definitely should avoid trying to add bits and pieces from other systems. LBRPs and Middle Pillars have no place in Grimoire magic, in my humble opinion.

But once you've learned what the symbols represent and the rules that govern them, it's time to start honing your skills and doing magic well. In rhetoric, it is fairly common to break the rules you learn in grammar. You do it on purpose, to compel or pursuade, and you learn to do it with style. But you still have to have mastered the rules before you start breaking them. Beat poets can get away with bad grammar and no education, but a lot of beat poetry sucks and is ineffective at getting the point across. Granted, there are masters, virtuosos, savants born with skill sets extrardinaire from the womb, but odds are pretty good we're not among them. If you cnjured demons to visible appearance when you were four, ok, you don't have to follow the rules and learn to do it right.

Otherwise, learn the system. Follow the rules. See how the pieces and parts fit together to express the logic of the system. Then start improvising. Otherwise your Art is shit.

* I read a really good blog by a guy named Nestor, and a bunch of posts by someone who seems to have read the Lemegeton's Goetia once or twice, and is 19. Sigh. And a couple others that some friends linked to.


  1. You have a bad link, I think you meant to link to rather then use a Facebook jump link.

  2. Thanks Mike, it's corrected.

  3. Good synopsis. However, I would like to add something that I think a lot of magicians (and 'moderns') neglect when discussing ancient notions of paideia. Essentially, Plato makes it clear in his Republic, that knowledge of 'the good' is directly related to 'doing the good.' For the elites in Greco-Roman society, the cultivation of virtue becomes directly proportionate to the depth of education. You learn how to perceive 'the good' through the power and skill of dialectic (Republic, 533a). This emphasis upon logic/dialectic gets taken up by Medieval philosophy, but is sadly neglected in modern mass-marketed "education."

    Therefore, when I see fellow magicians who have merely memorized a bunch of facts, who cannot engage in intelligent discourse, who act like assholes, who are basically losers with an active fantasy life - well, it kind of leads one to believe that they do not understand the basic foundations of Hermetic philosophy, medieval philosophy, grimoiric magick, et cetera. And that tells be something about the efficacy of their magick....


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