Magic Books

legends from Northern Europe
selected and translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2003-2021


  1. Books on Black Art (Ireland).

  2. The Wondrous Michael Scott (Scotland).

  3. The Magic Book (Germany).

  4. The Magic Book and the Crows (Germany).

  5. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (Germany).

  6. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (Germany / Poland).

  7. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (Germany).

  8. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (Germany).

  9. The Black Book (Germany).

  10. Faust's Book of Hell's Charms (Germany).

  11. Dr. Faust's Hell-Master (Germany).

  12. The Book of Cyprianus (Denmark).

  13. The Book of Magic (Russia).

  14. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Books on Black Art


Books on Black Art were got in Scotland by those who went to work there during the Harvest.

It was against the law to sell or buy these but it was done. A £1 was left on a certain place and while one watched a hand appeared took the money and shortly afterwards put the required book in its place.

At the beginning of each book these words were written:

Read me through
But pursue me not,
For if you do
Hell and damnation will be your lot.

Mrs. M. A. McAdoo (56)
Parish of Ematris,
Barony of Dartrey.

The Wondrous Michael Scott


Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie flourished during the 13th century.... He was a man of much learning, chiefly acquired in foreign countries. He wrote a commentary upon Aristotle, printed at Venice in 1496; and several treatises upon natural philosophy, from which he appears to have been addicted to the abstruse studies of judicial astrology, alchymy, physiognomy, and chiromancy. Hence he passed among his contemporaries for a skilful magician.

Dempster informs us , that he remembers to have heard in his youth , that the magic books of Michael Scott were still in existence, but could not be opened without danger, on account of the fiends who were thereby invoked. Dempsteri Historia Ecclesiastica, 1627, lib. xii. p. 495.

Lesly characterises Michael Scott as "singulari philosophiæ, astronomiæ, ac medicinæ laude prestans; dicebatur penitissimos magiæ recussus indagasse."

A personage, thus spoken of by biographers and historians, loses little of his mystical fame in vulgar tradition. Accordingly, the memory of Sir Michael Scott survives in many a legend; and in the south of Scotland, any work of great labour and antiquity is ascribed, either to the agency of Auld Michael, of Sir William Wallace, or of the devil.

Tradition varies concerning the place of his burial: some contend for Holme Coltrame, in Cumberland; others for Melrose Abbey. But all agree, that his books of magic were interred in his grave, or preserved in the convent where he died.

The Magic Book


It is said that eighteen years ago an old shepherd from Mödiskruge, County of Guben, possessed a book containing all kinds of secrets. He wanted to get rid of it and tried to cut it into pieces, burn it, and give it away, but nothing succeeded until the pastor in Fünfeichen took it from him in the church.

Children were told to walk around the old man three time if they wanted to speak to him. Otherwise he could harm them, put a spell on them, or something similar.

The Magic Book and the Crows


A peasant in Breslack had an old book. Whenever he would read in it the entire room was suddenly filled with crows. He gave the book to the pastor, who removed the curse from him.

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses


A woman in Fünfeichen was said to possess the sixth and seventh books of Moses. When asked how she would cure a mad dog, she replied that she would say: "Devil, depart from this animal. For that I give you body and soul!" But then she added: "This will restore the dog's health, but if it is a female dog, all of her pups will turn mad."

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Germany / Poland

The most important magic books are the sixth and seventh books of Moses. Because their contents bring misfortune, they were excluded from the Bible. However, they are still found now and again, pastors having kept them in their churches. If one throws such books into the fire, they will not burn.

A journeyman miller owned such a magic book. Once when he had gone to church the master came by and read in the book, which he had left lying on the table. The master very much liked the stories he was reading, but while he was reading, numerous lords came in through the door, sat down at the table, and demanded work.

This terrified the master, and he sent someone to the church to fetch the journeyman. The journeyman read everything backwards that the master had read forwards, and with that the spirits disappeared. Nevertheless, the journeyman was very angry at the master's audacity, scolded him, and told him never again to touch his books.

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Chemnitz, Germany

There is no longer any magic or witchcraft. That is because the sixth and the seventh books of Moses can no longer be used. Witchcraft, magic, and incantations were all exactly described and recorded there. These two books are now secured at Wittenberg. They can still be seen as curiosities, but can no longer be used.

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Rügen, Germany

Many years ago there lived in Trent an old master tailor whose wife had inherited an unusual book from her mother. They say she had the sixth and the seventh books of Moses. Whenever the woman read in the book, deer, wolves, hares, and other animals would come to her, lie down at her feet, and play with her children. All these animals would disappear as soon as the book was closed.

One day while the woman was reading the book, she was surprised by her husband. He grabbed the book and threw it into the stove. But behold! The fire went out, and the book remained undamaged. The tailor did not want to have this book in his house any longer, so, acting on the advice of some old people, he had a boy who was born on a Sunday during the sermon throw the book into the stove. That worked, for the book was immediately consumed by the flames.

The Black Book

Rügen. Germany

In Sabitz near Bergen there formerly lived a number of peasants who, it was said, possessed a black book. With its help they were able to acquire substantial wealth, and if they did anything bad to a neighbor, they always went unpunished. Whoever wanted to use the black book had to read the text forwards and backwards. The devil gained control of anyone who failed to read it backwards. It was no longer known where the book came from. The oldest people knew only that they had come into its possession through an inheritance. Sometimes the book caused its owners much grief, so finally they tried to dispose of it. For a long time these attempts were to no avail, until they sought the advise of a pastor. He freed them from the book by nailing shut the drawer in which it was being stored.

Faust's Book of Hell's Charms

Zellerfeld, Germany

The Book of Hell's Charms is in the church at Zellerfeld, secured by an iron chain. It was written by Doctor Faust. Only a few people can read it, and it is extremely dangerous to read it. To read it without losing one's life, one must be able to read it forwards and backwards. If one reads it forwards, the devil will appear. If one reads it backwards, he will leave. If anyone has read the Book of Hell's Charms forwards and cannot read it backwards, then the devil will do the rest.

Dr. Faust's Hell-Master


According to legend, there is a book, named Dr. Faust's Hell-Master, which teaches the art of controling spirits, even of making the devil subservient to oneself. It is said to be buried beneath a thorn bush behind the Chemnitz Castle, on the road to the Küch Forest. Many advocates of the black art have unsuccessfully attempted to find this book.

The Book of Cyprianus


Cyprianus was a student, and by nature a gentle and orderly person, but he had passed through the Black School in Norway, and was therefore engaged to the devil to apply his learning and extraordinary faculties to the perpetration of evil. This grieved him in his latter years, his heart being good and pious; so to make the evil good again, he wrote a book, wherein he first shows how evil is to be done, and then how it may be remedied.

The book begins by explaining what sorcery is, and with a warning against it. It is divided into three heads, viz. Cyprianus, Dr. Faustus, and Jacob Ramel. The last two parts are written in characters which are said to be Persian or Arabic, and also in ordinary characters. In this book are taught exorcising, laying and raising of spirits, and all that of which mention is made in the 5th book of Moses (XVIII: 10-12).

Whether this book has been printed is uncertain, but manuscript copies of it are concealed here and there among the common people, who regard it as something sacred. Those who possess the book of Cyprianus need never want money; they can read the devil to them and from them, and no one can harm them, not even the devil himself.

But whoever possesses the book cannot get rid of it; for whether he sells, burns or buries it, it will come back; and if a person cannot dispose of it before his death, it will go badly with him. The only method is, to write his name in it in his own blood, and lay it in a secret place in the church, together with four shillings clerk's fee.

The following is the German tradition of Cyprianus: In ancient times there lived in one of the Danish isles a man named Cyprianus, who was worse than the devil; consequently, after he was dead and gone to hell, he was again cast forth by the devil and replaced on his isle. There he wrote nine books, in the old Danish tongue, on witchcraft and magical spells. Whosoever has read all these nine books through becomes the property of the devil.

From the original work three (or nine) copies are said to have been made by a monk, and mutilated copies of these to have been dispersed all over the world. A count, who resided in the castle of Plön, is said to have possessed a perfect copy, which he caused to be fastened with chains and buried under the castle; because in reading through eight books he was so troubled and terrified that he resolved on concealing it from the sight of the world.

One of these books still exists in Flensburg.

Some spells from the nine books are still known among aged people.

Whoever wishes to be initiated therein must first renounce his Christianity.

Two miles from Horsens there dwelt a miller, who was a master in the black art and possessed the book of Cyprianus. A peasant having once stolen an axe from him, was obliged to bring it back at midnight, and was, moreover, borne so high in the air that his feet rattled among the tops of the trees in Bierre forest.

This miller in fact performed so many wonderful things that all his neighbors were astonished at his feats. Impelled by curiosity, a journeyman miller once slipped into his master's private room, where having found an old quaint-looking volume, he began to read in it, when the horrible Satan appeared before him and asked his commands.

The man, who was not aware that it was necessary to give the fiend some stiff job to execute, fell down in terror deprived of speech, and it would, no doubt, have been all over with him, had not his master entered at the moment and seen how matters stood. Snatching up the book, the miller instantly began to read in another place, in order, if possible, to drive the fiend away; but things had already gone too far, and nothing remained to be done but to give him something to do, so taking a sieve, he commanded him to bale water with it from the millpond; but being unable to do so, he was obliged to take his departure through the air, and left behind him a most loathsome stench.

Cyprian's book is also known in Normandy, where a similar story is told under the title of Le Grimoire du Curé. Calderon has made Cyprian the hero of one of his dramas, in which he appears as a native of Antioch.

The Book of Magic


A soldier was quartered in a certain town. He had taken to study the Black Art, and had got possession of books which dealt therewith. One day, during his absence from his quarters, one of his comrades came to see him. Not finding him at home, the visitor took up one of the soldier's books, and for want of other occupation began to read it. It was in the evening, and he read by the light of a lamp. The book was full of names and nothing else.

He had read about half of the names when he raised his head, and looking around him, saw that the room was full of diabolical looking beings. The soldier was struck with terror, and not knowing what to do, began again to read the book. After reading for some little time, he again looked round him; the number of spirts had increased. Again he read, and having finished the book, looked again around him. By this time the number of demons had so much increased that there was barely space for them in the room. They sat upon each other's shoulders, and pressed continually forward round the reader.

The soldier saw that the situation was serious; he shut the book, closed his eyes, and anxiously awaited his comrade.

The spirits pressed closer and closer upon him, crying, "Give us work to do -- quick!"

The soldier reflected awhile, and then said, "Fill up the cisterns of all the baths in the town with water brought thither in a sieve."

The demons flew away. In two minutes they returned and said, "It is done! Give us some more work to do -- quick!"

"Pull the Voivode's [Governor's] house down, brick by brick; but take care you do not touch or disturb the inmates; then build it up again as it was before."

The goblins disappeared, but in two minutes returned. "It is done!" they cried. "Give us more work -- quick!"

"Go," said the soldier, "and count the grains of sand that lie at the bottom of the Volga, the number of drops of water that are in the river, and of the fish that swim in it, from its source to its mouth."

The spirits flew away; but in another minute they returned, having executed their task. Thus, before the soldier could think of some new labor to be done, the old one was completed, and the demons were again at his side demanding more work. When he began to think what he should give them, they pressed round him, and threatened him with instant death if he did not give them something to do.

The soldier was becoming exhausted, and there was yet no sign of his comrade's return. What course should he take? How deliver himself from the evil spirits?

The soldier thought to himself, "While I was reading the book, not one of the demons came near me. Let me try to read it again; perhaps that will keep them off."

Again he began to read the book of magic, but he soon observed that as he read the number of phantoms increased, so that soon such a host of the spirit-world surrounded him that the very lamp was scarcely visible.

When the soldier hesitated at a word, or paused to rest himself, the goblins became more restless and violent, demanding, "Give us work to do! Give us work!"

The soldier was almost worn out, and unhappily knew not how to help himself. Suddenly a thought occurred to him, "The spirits appeared when I read the book from the beginning; let me now read it from the end, perhaps this well send them way."

He turned the book round and began to read it from the end. After reading for some time he observed that the number of spirits decreased; the lamp began again to burn brightly, and there was an empty space around him. The soldier was delighted, and continued his reading. He read and read until he had read them all away. And thus he saved himself from the demons.

His comrade came in soon afterwards. The soldier told him what had happened.

"It is fortunate for you," said his comrade, "that you began to read the book backwards in time. Had you not thus read them away by midnight they would have devoured you."

Links to related sites.

Targets open in new windows.

  1. The Black School. Migratory legends of type 3000, in which a wizard in training escapes from his satanic teacher, albeit with the loss of his shadow.

  2. Faust Legends. Stories about mortals who enter into contracts with the demonic powers.

  3. Foolish Wishes. Tales of type 750A and other stories about the foolish use of magic wishes.

  4. Goethe's ballad "Der Zauberlehrling." The original German text with English translations.

  5. The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 325* and migratory legends of Christiansen type 3020.

  6. Why the Sea Is Salty. Folktales of type 565.

  7. Straightening a Curly Hair. Folktales of type 1175, in which a demon is defeated because he cannot straighten a curly hair.

  8. Deceiving the Devil. A folktale of type 1176, in which the devil loses control over his intended victim by failing to catch and return broken wind.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised March 31, 2021.