A treasure rediscovered... The Summa Sacre Magice

Cover of the Summa Sacre Magice once owned by John Dee, then passed on into the alchemical library of Landgraf Moritz von Hessen (*1572 †1632)

This year a truly liminal book release is coming our way. Very little is known about the book so far as it has only recently been rediscovered. Yet the impact of its vast content could easily require us to rewrite some chapters in the history of Western Magic. Reason enough for us to take a brief sneak preview at the little we know about the book today...

The book is called the Summa Sacre Magice and has been compiled and redacted in 1346 by some Berengario Ganell (also known as Berengarius Ganellus in the latinized version). To begin with here are a couple of key points that explain why this release will be such an important contribution to the history of Western Magic: 

  • The Summa Sacre Magice (SSM) is a colossal fourteenth century compendium of magic, more than 800 folio pages long and loosely structured into five books. Up until the 16th century it was known as a classic of occult latin literature. Yet no existing copies were known of until its recent rediscovery in 2002. 
  • In an encyclopedic approach the author brings together many of the magical source texts of the Solomonic and Grimoire tradition as known during the thirteenth century. In fact he attempts no less than to provide a complete overview on the 'ars vetus' the magic of the past as well as the 'ars nova', the magic of his present time.
  • It originally had been published in Spain almost 200 years before Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia (1533) and some 300 years after the Arabic Picatrix (death of acclaimed author al-Majriti around 1004-7). Thus representing a major stepping stone in the continued traditionof Magic in the West.
  • The author - or more precisely 'redactor' as Claire Fanger points out - of the SSM might have been one of the first known authors to claim ownership of the compendium he created in his own name, i.e. breaking with the tradition of covering authorship under the guise of a pseudonym such as Hermes, Pseudo-Dionysius, etc.
  • Only three copies of the SSM are know to this date, one of which has once been owned and annotated by Dr. John Dee. Thus not unlikely allowing new conclusion about the origins of his Enochian system of magic on closer examination. 

If that doesn't get you all excited about such new found perl in our occult lore, I don't know what could? Well, maybe this one: in 2012 a full critical edition of the SSM is most likely to see the light of day. Dr. Damaris Gehr has studied the text for several years as part of a post-doc scholarship (2007-2010) and is currently preparing its release...

The recently released and highly recommendable 'Invoking Angels' sheds some further light on the SSM. Specifically Claire Fanger's wonderful Introduction as well as J.R.Veenstra's contribution on the 'Liber Iuratus' give intriguing insights into content as well as context of the SSM. If we also add the information given in the catalogue of the 2010 exhibition 'Editionen in Basel' where a copy of the SSM seems to have been on display - the following overview emerges:


A page of the SSM as displayed in the catalogue of 'Editionen in Basel' (click image for link)Very little is known to date about Beringario Ganell. He was a Catalonian, lived in the early 14th century and was known in the circles of Jaume III de Mallorca. While writing the Summa he stayed in the border region between Spain and France in Perpignan. As mentioned above the goal of his colossal work was to give a complete overview of the old and new magic of his times. The texts he worked from were mostly astrological and magical grimoires of hebrew and arabic origins which circulated in the Spain of the 13th century. Ganell paid special attention to the Solomonic texts of the 'Magica' and 'Liber Vitae', to the 'Magica' of Toz the Greek (Toz Graecus) as well as to the 'Liber Razielis' and 'Liber Iuratus'. 

Furthermore, Ganell provided detailed information on aspects of the practical kabbalah, particularly on the creation of magical names. The two central components of the SSM, however, are taken up by the ritual instructions and descriptions as given according to Ganell's source texts. As an integral part of this - and as expected in such a bold approach to create a single anthology of grimoires - we finally find long and elaborated lists of angel and demonic names including their offices and functions...

While much of Ganell's work aimed at bringing together the wealth of magical knowledge of his times and combining the major ritual texts and instructions in one volume, it goes significantly beyond that. The SSM is more than just a long list of magical source texts bound together in a single tome. Rather in his challenging undertaking Ganell set out to create a coherent system of magic, a synthesis of the magical knowledge and practice he already found scattered at his time. In addition to the new source material made accessible by the SSM it is because of this latter aspect that the forthcoming edition of the SSM will highlight its important role in the tradition of Western Magic - right next to its well known siblings in spirit, the Picatrix and Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia.

Jan R. Veenstra in his comparative essay on the two versions of the original Liber Iuratus according to the Sloane manuscripts and the SSM fortunately provides a brief overview on the chapters of the SSM:

"The work contains five books, each book comprising two or three tracts, and each tract containing a number of chapters ranging from three to thirteen." (Invoking Angels, p.152)

Examples of these chapters are the following, again quoted from Veenstra:

  • On the rings of Solomon
  • On the Shemhamphoras
  • On the Almadel
  • On Thos Grecus
  • On the Liber Rasiel
  • De candariis Salomonis
  • Liber trium animarum
  • Capitulum de sacratione Honorii
  • Capitulum de sigillo Dei
  • Capitulum de vocatione sanctorum angelorum in circulo
  • Capitulum de novem modis invocationis spirituum
  • ... and many more

Well, this all sounds a bit too good, doesn't it? Right. Because here is the bummer: Unfortunately the forthcoming edition of the Summa will only contain the original Latin version plus an introduction in Italian... So after all the decades that the Summa spent silently sleeping on the shelf of a German library and after several years of intense study by scholars since its rediscovery in 2002 - it is likely to remain a 'locked book' for the practitioners of the Arte simply due to a language that most of us can't read...  

My hope remains that publishers like Oroborous Press, Golden Hoard Press or Scarlet Imprint will realize the immense value of this book - as a unique compendium of magical source texts that deserves not only to be studied but to be put into practice again... 

So once the Latin version is available later this year it will once again take bold scholars like Joseph Peterson, Stephen Skinner, John Michael Greer or Christopher Warnock who help us to finally unlock this treasure for the practitioners of the Arte. Clearly this will be a challenging undertaking and take arduous months of hard translation and research efforts. It's not only about translating the pure latin text, but also about grasping the historic context of the time as well as the essence of the body of magical texts cited in the Summa - in order to be able to make the full text accessible for a non-scholarly audience.

Yet, the efforts might be rewarded in no insignificant ways... Just consider this: anyone who has purchased a copy of Agrippa's De Occulta would be likely to also purchase a copy of the English version of the Summa? And if yours is the only version available on the market... well, to me that sounds like a nice source of income for a couple of decades at least?

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Selected Resources

  • Fanger, Claire, Introduction: Theurgy, Magic and Mysticism, in: Invoking Angels, Magic in History Series, Penn State Press 2012, p.1-33
  • Gehr, S. (et al, ed.), Editionen in Basel: Sammeln, Sichten, Sichtbar Machen, Universitätsbibliothek Basel 2010
  • Gilly, Carlos, Tra Paracelso, Pelagio e Ganello: l’ermetismo in John Dee/ Between Paracelsus, Pelagius and Ganellus: Hermetism in John Dee, in: Magia, alchimia, scienza dal ’400 al ’700. L’influsso di Ermete Trismegisto Magic, Alchemy and Science 15th-18th centuries. The influence of Hermes Trismegistus Volume I, Ritman Library 2002
  • Schütte, Rudolf-Alexander (.ed), Einbandkunst: vom Frühmittelalter bis Jugendstil, Universität Kassel, 2002
  • Veenstra, J.R., Honorius and the Sigil of God - The Liber Iuratus in Berengario Ganell's Summa sacre magice, in: Invoking Angels, Magic in History Series, Penn State Press, 2012, p.151-191