“Treasure up, O my son Roboam! the wisdom of my words, seeing that I Solomon, have received it from the Lord.”The Greater Key of Solomon
Is The Greater Key of Solomon appropriated from Judaism?
First, let’s delve into what it means to appropriate a practice from a closed culture, because that’s the whole phrase when someone claims something has been appropriated. Start with an understanding of what it means that a culture, religion, or magical practice is “closed”: namely, that the members of the culture, religion, or magical practice have asked outsiders to avoid using their culture, religion, or magical practice without first joining that culture, religion or magical practice. When a practice has been appropriated, outsiders have taken that practice out of context, without permission, and outside the bounds of properly initiated practice.
So, is the Greater Key an instance of appropriation?
Oh boy, this gets complicated, because kinda? But not for the reasons you probably think. The Greater Key of Solomon was most likely written in the 14th or 15th century in Italy, and not by the actual King Solomon son of King David sometime in the mid-900’s BCE. It was a bit of a fad in the early Renaissance for wealthy magicians to write a big fancy grimoire, or book of spells. Solomon had a reputation for dealing with angels and demons, so claiming that the grimoire was his gave magicians an aura of authenticity.
Now, some of the figures, symbols, and invocations in the Key feature Hebrew letters and words, so it’s easy to think that it’s pulled from Qabbalah, Jewish Mysticism. However, in the preface to the Mathers edition of the Greater Key, he point blank states, referring to the Hebrew figures in the manuscripts from the British Library that he was working from, that there was “execrable mangling of the Hebrew words”, and that “it is in the Pentacles that the Hebrew is worse, the letters being so vilely scribbled as to be actually undecipherable in some instances, and it has been part of my work for several years to correct and reinstate the proper Hebrew and Magical characters”. It’s clear the original manuscripts compiled by Mathers for his edition of the Greater Key had a questionable at best connection to Jewish Mysticism.
Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers
Born in 1854, died in 1918, Mathers was one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and alongside his translation work, he also published texts on magic, including The Kabbalah Unveiled. Mathers was not Jewish, and, arguably, had absolutely no business poking his nose into Kabbalah or Qabbalah. His text on the Kabbalah was published two years before his translation of the Greater Key, therefore we know he was familiar with Qabbalistic Western Magic, and we can reasonably assume that influenced his work in reconstructing the text on the Pentacles in the Key.
Is the Key of Solomon appropriated from Judaism? Probably.
Not the entire text, and actual Qabbalah doesn’t use the Pentacles or symbols from the Key, but some of the concepts, ideas, and associations, absolutely.
Should you use the Greater Key in your practice? Up to you.
It’s not directly taken from Jewish Mystical practice, but is influenced by it. Is that enough to render the entire text and practice ‘tainted’ for your practice? I can’t tell you that. Your practice is yours, whole and entire, and only you get to decide what’s proper for your magical work. If you decide the Greater Key of Solomon is too tainted by appropriation for you to use, that’s fair, just, I hope you decide that based on the facts, and not on fear mongering over-reactions and misinformation claims that the Key is Jewish Mysticism.
Why am I interested in the Greater Key?
I am eternally led by my own curiosity and contrary nature. When someone tells me not to do a thing, I tend to go do it anyway, and if someone tells me to go do it, I just plain ol’ won’t. On both Tumblr and Tiktok you’ll find witches and occultists who’ve declared that the entire field of Thelema, Theosophy, Hermetic magic and more, are all forbidden, off limits, and if you do those things, you’re a morally bankrupt bad person. So of course I had to go look, I couldn’t not.
Up to this point in my practice, I’ve been disinterested in Ceremonial Magic as a whole, mainly because it’s complex and multi-layered, and, yes, “borrowed” extensively from more than one closed culture. It just didn’t speak to me. But then I got hooked into astrology and studying that and the planets, so suddenly the Planetary Seals became intriguing. Add to that the stern admonishment from strangers online not to even look at that stuff, and, here I am, poking at the First Pentacle of Jupiter.
Enter the experiments on the Pentacles.
I have established pretty well in my own mind that the Mathers translation of The Greater Key of Solomon is at least influenced by Western (appropriated) Quabbalah. But, due to my research, I think I can alter the Pentacles to remove the appropriated Hebrew and Quabbalah. The writing around the rim of the First Pentacle of Jupiter is meant to invoke angels associated with Jupiter. If I substitute that writing with the names and symbols of other energetic beings associated with Jupiter, I should be able to have a functional Pentacle with no relationship to appropriated practices. In theory.
I’ve created a Pentacle fairly close to the Hermetic practice, and have plans for at least three more, altered versions.
I plan to create a version with the names of deities associated with Jupiter, one with alchemical and zodiacal symbols appropriate to the purpose of the Pentacle, and one with the names of muppets. My background in science rears its head, and you can see that I want to test for substitution, and am including a version to test for failure. If the Muppet Pentacle works just as well as the Traditional Pentacle, then I’ll know stripping the Hebrew names out is feasible, possible, and won’t affect the utility of the Pentacle. It’s an experiment. And, yes, I’m writing things down as I go.
Wish me luck! (That’s a Jupiter joke…)