The Vertiable Key of Solomon
Stephen Skinner and David Rankine
This is a unique book to review, because Iím not actually reviewing the text, but the translation. Having been originally written centuries ago, The Key of Solomon, by whatever name itís given, truly stands on its own. It has been transcribed by hand into various manuscripts in a number of languages. Some have added to it, and some have omitted portions. It has been wildly popular (at least in occult circles) and it has been placed on the Catholic Churchís index of banned books. It has made its mark on the world, and continues to do so.
This is not a pagan book. But much of Neo-paganism is founded on, or at the very least influenced by, what is contained in this book. The athame of the witches, the way many circles are cast, the 9 foot cord, even the phrase ďSo mote it beĒ, much of what is familiar to many pagans is found between the covers of this book.
Again though, itís not so much the text that is being reviewed, but the translation and presentation of that text.
From the outset, the incredible amount of work that went into translating this work is evident. There has been only one popular English Translation of The Key of Solomon, and that was undertaken over a century ago by S. L. MacGregor Mathers in 1889. While that translation has been very popular, it had its own weaknesses.
Indeed, itís impossible to translate to English ďTheĒ Key of SolomonĒ. This is because there are many manuscripts, in many languages, and few of them are identical. So, the first problem in making a translation comes about when deciding which among the dozens to work with. There are manuscripts in French, German, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic and Czek, as well as a few in English. But not all of these are available to scholars.
Skinner and Rankine chose two main manuscripts to work from, namely the French language Welcomme Manuscripts number 4669 and 4670, which were produced in 1796. These were apparently chosen for their completeness and accuracy to even earlier manuscripts.
The first section of †The Veritable Key of Solomon is a history of the manuscripts, which is quite an education in itself. After reading this, the difficulties of making an accurate translation are readily apparent. Also apparent is the inability to date the origins of the text. The earliest manuscripts date to the 15th century Greek, but all of them at least hint, though not overtly, at sources likely much earlier. With the Churchís attempts at ridding the world of this book, itís possible that there were earlier versions that are no longer in existence.
The portions of the original manuscripts which were rendered in Latin, maintain the Latin text, with English translations in the footnotes. Where there were unintelligible names in the original manuscripts, and the authors were not able to resolve them, these are noted, without an attempt at a guess.
The translation appears to be a very scholarly and accurate translation into modern English. The English is very readable, without being patronizing.
I do wish that the images would have been rendered a bit better than they have been. Itís obvious that the images were scanned. A few seem to have been enlarged, and the pixellation is obvious. But on the plus side, they are very clear and not without detail. For the purpose of recreation, they are quite sufficient.
I believe that I can count the number of typographic errors on one hand, with fingers left-over. For a Llewellyn book, this is no small achievement. Searching for misspellings and typographic errors is a very difficult and time-consuming task, and thus, costly. Any editor knows that the goals of being completely free of errors, remaining on-schedule for a publication date, and keeping costs down cannot always be met together. The quality of this text speaks highly of the translators and of Llewellyn.
The copy I received for review is bound quite well. Itís a hard-cover, cloth-bound volume, printed on high-quality paper on substantial stock. The images are printed in black and white.
There is also a Golden Hoard edition, hand-bound in half-leather and buckram, with marbled endpapers, hand-stamped, and with the pentacles in color. This version is only available online, and is limited to 350 numbered and signed copies.
If youíre serious about the occult, if youíre serious about the history of the occult, this is a grimoire that belongs on your bookshelf. While the Mathers effort was significant, and while its impact on the occult and neo-paganism cannot be underestimated, short of having reproductions of many manuscripts, this work, by Stephen Skinner and David Rankine becomes the gold-standard authority which many will look to for years to come.
© 2008, Deirdre A. Hebert