From the Ring of Gyges to the Black Cat Bone
A Historical Survey of the Invisibility Spells


By Ioannis Marathakis

All rights reserved. Copyright © Ioannis Marathakis 2007


“According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result – when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared. Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom”.


Plato, The Republic, Book II, 359a-360d, translation by Benjamin Jowett.


This is the famous story that Plato puts in the mouth of Glaucon in the Republic. The story serves as Glaucon’s reply to Socrates, in order to prove his position that a man cannot be willingly righteous, but out of fear of the authorities. Glaucon’s point is subsequently proven wrong, as one could normally expect from Plato, when he has his Socrates saying that only a man who decides not to abuse the power of such a ring is in real peace with himself. Judging from the text’s context, it is almost certain that the story was first conceived by the creative imagination of the author, in order to make a point regarding the true nature of justice. Plato’s works are full of such imaginary tales, all cited with an aim to support some kind of moral. This probability is enhanced by the fact that Herodotus, Plutarch and Nicolaus of Damascus, the three other ancient authors who narrate the story of Gyges, do not mention such a supernatural ring. In fact, Gyges was not even a shepherd; he was a noble, favorite of the Lydian king Sadyates.


Yet, this story served as an inspiration for the generations to come. We can find traces in fiction, from Chretien de Troys (12th century AD) in Yvain, to J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. But let us concentrate on the sorcerers and magicians who tried to duplicate the fabled achievement of Gyges, probably moved by motives not more virtuous than his. In the Roman era, Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79 AD), the author better known as Pliny the Elder, mentions the powers of the stone heliotrope.


“Heliotropium is found in Ethiopia, Africa, and Cyprus: it is of a leek-green colour, streaked with blood-red veins… In the use of this stone, also, we have a most glaring illustration of the impudent effrontery of the adepts in magic, for they say that, if it is combined with the plant heliotropium, and certain incantations are then repeated over it, it will render the person invisible who carries it about him”.


Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book XXXVII, chapter 60, translation by J. Bostock and H. T. Riley.


Unfortunately, Pliny does not cite these “certain incantations”. One could assume that he refers to the construction of a magical ring on which this heliotrope would be bound. This might be similar to the curious signet rings of the Hellenistic and Roman eras that have survived, and the ones mentioned in the Greek Magical Papyri, a corpus of papyri dated from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. There are, for instance, instructions for making a signet ring with a carved heliotrope in Papyrus XII, lines 271-277, although it is not related to the power of invisibility. The instructions include a consecration ritual. The 16th century occult author Cornelius Agrippa preserves the tradition concerning the power of the stone heliotrope in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Book I, ch. XIII and XXIII), as well as the tale regarding the ring of Gyges (Book I, ch. XLVII). So does the 19th century author Francis Barret in his Magus.


However, the heliotrope was not regarded as the one and only invisibility stone. A medieval compilation of Greek magical texts of late antiquity, the Kyranides (edited by Kaimakes D.), preserves another tradition for the construction of an invisibility ring. The first book of the Kyranides offers a catalogue of the magical properties of twenty-four herbs, birds, stones and fishes, each attributed to a letter of the Greek alphabet according to the first letter of its name. The powers of the letter omicron are of particular interest in this study. Its attributes are the herb marshmallow (Althaea officinalis, in Greek Onothyrsis), the bird quail (Ortyx), the fish dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus, in Greek Orphos) and the stone sardonyx (Onychitęs). The significance of the eyes in invisibility recipes will be discussed later.

"Grind the eyes of a quail or of a dusky grouper with some water, and keep them in a glass vessel for seven days. Then add a little olive oil and put it in a lamp… Take a sardonyx stone, carve a quail on it, and then carve a dusky grouper under the quail. Under the stone place some of the mixture for the lamp. Nobody will see you, even if you take something from him. Anoint your face with the mixture and wear the ring. Nobody will see who you are and what you are doing."

 Kyranides, Book I, ch. 15. Translation by the present author. 


A late 13th century compilation, spuriously attributed to Albertus Magnus and named The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus (edited by Best R. M. and Brightman H. F.), contains material copied from older works. The stone heliotrope is again mentioned (Book of Secrets, pp. 35-36), but this time there is no account of its invisibility powers. They seem to have been transferred to another stone named Ophthalmus (the ancient Greek word for the eye), which is the opal. The connection with the laurel, which is a solar plant as the herb heliotrope, indicates that this may be a variation of Pliny’s recipe. Later in the same work things get more complicated, since the stone that gives invisibility is one that is found in the lapwing’s nest. Yet, when this stone is described in p. 41 under the name Quiritia, there is no reference to invisibility. Here follows the passage regarding the opal. 


"If thou wilt be made invisible


"Take the stone Ophthalmus, and wrap it in the leaf of the Laurel, or Bay tree; and it is called Lapis Obtalmicus, whose colour is not named, for it is of many colours. And it is of such virtue, that it blindeth the sights of them that stand about. Constantius carrying this in his hand, was made invisible by it."


Best R. M., Brightman H. F. (eds.), The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus, pp. 26-27.


Rings and stones were not the only talismans that could render one invisible, according to the magicians of the late antiquity. The relatively unknown Greek magical book named The Epistle of Rehoboam, written in the 1st or 2nd century AD (according to Carrol Scott in the Preliminary Analysis of the Epistle of Rehoboam), is dedicated to the construction of talismans for almost any desirable effect. The purest form of this text can be found in Codex Monacensis 70, ff. 240r-253v, which is edited by J. Heeg in vol. VIII2 of the series Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum, pp 143-165.


Acording to the Epistle, each of the 168 (24x7) hours of the week is dedicated to a different purpose, and each is presided by a holy angel and a malefic demon. The works of invisibility belong to the first hour of Wednesday, the day and hour of Hermes-Mercury, the god (and planet) of trickery and deception. The corresponding angel is Ourięl, and the demon is Loutzipher. After an invocation to Mercury, one is expected to conjure the angel and the demon, and write some Mercurial characters on parchment, using a special Mercurial ink. This talismanic tradition seems to have survived through the centuries, since the 16th century Key of Solomon, presents another invisibility talisman, yet very different and with no Mercurial connection. The Epistle also contains another manner of rendering oneself invisible, by means of a Mercurial herb. More on the black cat will be discussed later.


"The herb of Mercury is the cinquefoil. Uproot it at the hour of Mercury, while reciting the proper invocation and the names. Take the flowers and the seed, wrap them in the heart of a black male or female cat, and carry them upon you. You will be invisible."


Codex Monachensis 70, f. 253. Translation by the present author.


The tradition concerning the Ring of Gyges, this time combined both with the Mercurial connection and with the “stone from a lapwing’s nest”, seems to have survived until the 18th century, as it is evident from a French magical book of the time, the Marvelous Secrets of Natural and Qabalistic Magic, by Little Albert (Petit Albert). This book contained a great deal of spells and recipes, and it cites two similar methods of constructing an invisibility ring. A. E. Waite, in his Book of Ceremonial Magic translates one of them:


"Invisibility by means of a Ring


"This important operation must be performed on a Wednesday in spring-time, under the auspices of Mercury, when it is known to be conjoined with other favourable planets, such as the Moon, Jupiter, Venus or the Sun. Taking good mercury, fixed and well purified, compose a large ring thereof, so that the same will pass easily over the middle finger of the hand. Let the collet be enriched by a small stone which is found in the pewit's nest, and about the ring let the following words be enchased:


"Jesus passing + through the midst of them + disappeared +


"Next, having placed the ring on a palette-shaped plate of fixed mercury, compose the perfume of mercury, and thrice expose the ring to the odour thereof; wrap it in a small piece of taffeta corresponding to the colour of the planet, carry it to the pewit's nest from which the stone was obtained, let it remain there for nine days, and when removed, fumigate it precisely as before. Then preserve it most carefully in a small box, made also of fixed mercury, and use it when required. The method of use is to place the ring upon the finger with the stone outwards; it will so fascinate the spectators by its virtue. That one may be present without being beheld. When the wearer no longer desires to be invisible, he has merely to turn the ring, so that the stone shall be inward, and close the hand over it."


Waite A. E., The Book of Ceremonial Magic, pp. 308-309. For the whole original French text see Peterson J. (ed.), Les Secrets Merveilleux du Petit Albert.


Eliphas Levi, in his Transcendental Magic, makes a short mention of the Little Albert version of the Ring of Gyges. However, he prefers another one, consisted of an alloy of the seven planetary metals. Curiously, both in the concluding chapter of his History of Magic and in his Grand Arcane, he uses very similar descriptions in order to present the Ring of Solomon – a ring that has nothing to do with invisibility, as it is used to control the celestial and infernal spirits. Here follows his first account, from Transcendental Magic.


"It has a double collet and two precious stones – a topaz constellated under the sign of the sun and an emerald under the sign of the Moon. It should bear on the inner side the occult characters of the planets and on the outer their known signs, duplicated and in kabalistic opposition to each other; that is, five on the right and five on the left; the signs of the sun and moon resuming the four several intelligences of the seven planets".


Eliphas Levi, The Ritual of Transcendental Magic, p. 78. Translation by A. E. Waite.


The sorcerers of late antiquity believed also that there were certain familiar spirits who sometimes granted the power of invisibility. In Papyrus I, lines 42-196, there is a ritual for obtaining such a familiar, under the title Familiar of Pnouthis the lector Priest. This spirit allegedly could “send dreams, bring women and men without the need of a connecting matter, slay, destroy, cause winds, bring to you gold, silver and copper if there is a need, free you from chain bonds, open doors, render you invisible in order not to be seen by anyone…” This belief has also survived, but, until the Renaissance, certain spirits seem to have specialized in the works of invisibility, and one could evoke them and ask for their help.


Just to name some of these spirits who can grant the power of invisibility according to the later magical books, the Lesser Key of Solomon (Goetia) refers to Bael, Glasyalabolas, Foras, Asmoday and Balam. The Key of Solomon the King cites Almiras and his ministers, along with a special conjuration addressed to them. The Arbatel of Magic names Aratron, the Olympic spirit of Saturn. The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage refers to Magot and his minions. The Grand Grimoire names the spirit Sargatanas, and finally, the Grimorium Verum cites the spirits Morail and Pentagnony.


Other texts combine the belief in spirits who grant invisibility with the tradition of the Ring of Gyges. There is an operation contained in book XV, chapter X of Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft (London, 1584), aiming at evoking three female spirits in order to give the ring of invisibility to the sorcerer. Versions of this operation was also included in other magical books, but the ring served other purposes. An 18th century short treatise on magical rings, named Douze Anneaux (Twelve Rings), contained in the Lansdowne MS 1202 and edited by Joseph Peterson, combines the two traditions in another way, since the spirit is meant to be imprisoned within the ring. One has to make a golden ring with a yellow stone, on which the sigil of the spirit Tonucho must be carved, his name being written on virgin parchment underneath the stone. The operation includes a conjuration of the aforementioned spirit, in order to enter the stone.


But apart from talismans and spirits, the ancient belief was that one could also render themselves invisible by means of a magical ointment. Here follow two examples from the Greek Magical Papyri that may have sprung from an older single recipe. It can be observed that both ointments have one common ingredient, an eye; the eye of a night owl (a bird that cannot see in the sunlight), or the eye of a dead man (who cannot see because he is dead). The eye of the ape must have entered here as a substitute, as human eyes might be difficult to find. There is a certain similarity with the recipe from the Kyranides, since the eyes must be mixed with oil.


"Definite invisibility


"Take the fat or the eye of a night owl, a beetle’s ball of dung and perfumed oil from unripe olives. Grind them all together, anoint your whole body, and say to the sun:


"I conjure you, o great name, Borkę, Phoiour, Iô, Zizia, Aparxeouch, Thythę, Lailam, aaaaaa iiiii ôôôô, Ieô, Ieô, Ieô, Ieô, Ieô, Ieô, Ieô, Naunax, Aiai, Aeô, Aeô, Ęaô.


"When you are liquidating the mixture, recite the following:


"Make me invisible, o lord Sun, Aeô, Ôaę, Eię, Ęaô, to the sight of any man, until the sunset, iô, Iôô, Phrix, Rizô, Eôa.


Papyri Grecae Magicae, Papyrus I, lines 223-230. Passages from the Greek Magical Papyri are translated by the present author. For another translation of the whole corpus, see Betz H. D. (ed.) The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation.


"Effective invisibility, a great operation


"Take the eye of an ape or of a man who had a violent death, and aglaophotis herb – that is to say a rose. Grind them together with sesame oil. Grind them from the right to the left, and while doing so, recite the following:


"I am Anubis, I am Ousirphrę, I am Ôsôt Sôrôn Ouier, I am Osiris whom Seth destroyed. Arise, o spirit of the Netherworld, iô Erbęth, iô Phorbęth, iô Pakerbęth, iô Apomps, when I (name) order you, and be my servant.


"Whenever you want to render yourself invisible, anoint your forehead with the mixture, and you will be unseen for as long as you wish. If you want to be visible again, walk from the West to the East while reciting the following name, and you will be discernible to all. The name is this:


"Marmariaôth, Marmaripheggę, make me (name) visible to all, today, now, now, quickly, quickly.

This is very effective."


Papyri Grecae Magicae, Papyrus I, lines 247-262.


Simpler –and less disgusting– recipes for invisibility also appear in the magical papyri. The copyist informs us that he took the following recipe from another, unknown to us book of the time, named the Crown of Moses. It requires that one put a herb in his mouth for the whole night.


"From the Crown of Moses


"Take the herb snapdragon and put it under your tongue when you are going to sleep. When you wake up in the morning, before saying anything else, recite the names and you will be invisible to all. If you recite it over a cup and then give it to a woman, she will love you, because this incantation is effective for all purposes.

Areskillious, Thoudalesai, Krammasi, Chammar, Moulabôth, Lauabar, Chouphar, Phor, Phôrbaô, Sachi, Arbach, Machimasô, Iaô, Sabaôth, Adônai.


"Then, add what you want. “Bring (name) to (name)” or anything else you wish".


Papyri Grecae Magicae, Papyrus VII, lines 619-627.


There is no doubt that magical recipes were in a constant evolution through the centuries. We can observe, for instance, the similarities with the simple recipe from a Silesian 18th century spellbook, the Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus (not to be confused with the older work named The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus). Again, one has to use the eye of an animal that cannot function in daylight.


"To Make Yourself Invisible.


"Pierce the right eye of a bat, and carry it with you and you will be invisible."


Peterson J. (ed.), Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus.


The Bernardakean Magical Codex (Bernardakeios Magikos Kodikas), a 19th century Greek manuscript which was donated to the Academy of Athens by a private collector and has recently been published by the same institution, contains a recipe that is closer to the “ointment” tradition of the Magical Papyri, since it instructs one to put the eye of an owl in olive oil.


"Another recipe, for invisibility


Take an owl alive, and when you catch it, ask it “What would you give me if I let you go to heaven?” Then, take out its eyes skillfully with a knife, and bury the bird in a secret place. Take care not to be seen. Put one eye in a cup of olive oil, and the other in a cup of honey and hide them for forty days. Then take them out and try them in front of a mirror, in order to see which one is effective."


Bernardakean Magical Codex, ff. 61v-62r. Passages from this Codex, as well as from Harley 5596 and Atheniensis 1265, are translated by the present author.


There is also a very interesting recipe, contained in a 15th century Greek manuscript that is kept in the British Library, Harley 5596. This manuscript includes a version of the magical book of the late antiquity named The Testament of Solomon. It also contains the oldest version of the Magical Treatise of Solomon, a Greek Clavicle that seems to be the main source of the famous Key of Solomon. Armand Delatte edited parts of this manuscript in Anecdota Atheniensia I.


The recipe is cited in folios 6v-7r and it has no title. Although the language of the recipe is typical 15th century Greek, the incantations are expressed in an obviously older language. It is very probable that this spell evolved from recipes similar to the ones we came across in the magical papyri. The core idea is similar, but instead of the eye of a dead man, the sorcerer must use the empty sockets of a human skull.


"Take the dry skull of a man that did not die a natural death. Go to a secret, inaccessible and impassable place, and recite these names over the skull.


"Grant me invisibility, o Lord, by the names Theophaęl, Diokaides, Peridôn, Enarkalę, Ęsboięl, Apelout, Gakarkęntos, in order for this work to be effective.


"Then take seeds of the herb korakia. The Romans call it faba vicia, that is to say wild faba. Plant one seed in each of the eyes, and put another one in the mouth. Cover the place with earth and recite the following.

As the eyes of the dead do not see the living, so these beans may also have the power of invisibility, wherever I shall go.


"And when the beans yield seed, be careful not to lose any of them, but take them out of their husks and keep them all together. Then, bring a mirror, and take each bean in your hand, one by one. If you do not see yourself in the mirror, this particular bean has power. Carry it upon you and go wherever you wish. People cannot see you."


Anecdota Atheniensia I, p. 396.


Now, let us follow the thread of the spell evolution and return to the Bernardakean Magical Codex, which proved to be an actual treasurehouse of different versions of this recipe (I numbered the versions for convenience). The compiler seems to have collected them from manuscripts of varying antiquity. In the first version the recipe is slightly changed. The day of the experiment is now very specific. It must be done at the waning of the Moon (because the light is fading), and on a Wednesday, that is to say the day of Hermes-Mercury, probably following the tradition of the Epistle of Rehoboam. The general invocation to God is now changed into a conjuration towards Mercury. The connection with the idea of the dead who cannot see is not very obvious here.


(Version I) Another recipe, for invisibility


"At the 25th or the 29th day of the Moon, on a Wednesday, take a human head from a grave and go to an isolated place. Take four faba beans, put one seed in each of the eyes, and the remaining two in the mouth. Then, recite the following:


"O cunning art of invisibility, and you, o Hermes Mercury, Gogedomęda, Thee, Phile, Persôn, Dia, Neomęta, hear me. I conjure you by God who created you to make this work of invisibility effective and true, in order for me to be invisible, unharmed and unheard by all men when I carry the seed.


"Then, bury the head in the earth and take care of it until the seeds grow. When they are ripe, let them dry, and be careful not to lose any of the beans. Carry the effective ones upon you, and you will be invisible among all. But you must be clean when you plant them or you carry them."


Bernardakean Magical Codex, ff. 62r-63r.


The second version changes further. As a substitute of the human skull, the head of a black cat can also be used. The author seems to be influenced by the cinquefoil recipe contained in the Epistle of Rehoboam. Another new element is that the first watering of the seeds requires human blood. The seeds must be put into the operator’s mouth, faintly reminding the recipe from Papyrus VII, 619-627. The conjuration of Mercury still remains almost the same.


(Version II) The art of being invisible for as long as you want, by carrying a seed upon you


"As long as you carry it, you will be invisible. Work as follows. At the 29th day of the Moon, at the hour of Mercury, take the head of a dead man or of a black cat that has not a single white hair. Then, take seven black chickpeas. Put one in the mouth, one in each ear, two in the nose –that is to say one in each nostril– and two in the eyes. After you have put them there, recite the following.


"O you Hermes, most holy craftsman of invisibility, o you Hermes Mercury, Nagodiômęda, Theophilon, Person, Dôna, Neomęta, Prokorsou, I conjure you by God who created you to make this work of invisibility effective, in order for me to be invisible, unseen by all men, when I carry the seed.


"Put it in a flowerpot and when you water it for the first time use human blood taken from phlebotomy. Take care of them until they yield seed. When they are dry, be careful not to lose any of the seeds. Take a new mirror and try them. Put them one by one in your mouth and look into the mirror. If you do not appear in the mirror, keep the seed. Use it when you need it, if you must be invisible to all."   


Bernardakean Magical Codex, ff. 317v-318v.


The third version is dramatically changed. Now the human skull is not mentioned at all. There is no conjuration, and one does not have to wait for a season until the plants yield seed.


(Version III) Another recipe for invisibility, written by another master


"Take a black cat and slaughter it on a Saturday night. On Monday go to an isolated mountain, at a place that ants have their nest. Take three broad beans. Place two of them in the cat’s nose, and the remaining in its mouth, near the tongue. Bury it inside the ant nest. Then, take human blood from the barber and put it in a new vessel. You must go there every morning for forty days, in order to water the cat and cense it. After the forty days take the broad beans back. Throw away the sprouts and put a seed in your mouth, then take a new mirror and look into it. If your face appears in the mirror, throw the seed away and try with the next one, until you find what you wish. The mirror must be new; no one must have looked into it. You will be invisible when you return home. End of recipe."


Bernardakean Magical Codex, ff. 316v-317r.


The fourth version is taken from another Greek manuscript, Codex Atheniensis 1265, which is kept in the National Library of Athens. It is a 16th century manuscript that, like Harley 5596, contains a version of the Magical Treatise of Solomon. Some parts of it are edited in Anecdota Atheniensia I, while others in Volume X of Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum. Some of the spells and recipes were added later by another hand, one of them being the following, from folio 34r. This recipe is very similar to the previous one.


(Version IV) Another art of Solomon, about invisibility


"Take the head of a cat. It must be a black one. Slaughter it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. When you slaughter it nobody else must be present. Do it at night. Put a broad bean in its mouth, two in its ears and two in its nostrils. Bring red earth and a new flowerpot and plant it there. Water it with human blood, or with the blood of a slaughtered beast. It must be watered by a virgin child (the child must be nine or ten years old) for forty days. Find a way that the child does not forget this task. At the end of the forty days, the broad beans are perfect. Then, bring a mirror. If you see yourself into it, throw away the particular seeds. If you do not see yourself, hold the seed in your left hand and go wherever you wish. It is glorious."


Anecdota Atheniensia I, p. 81.


Now let us examine the evolution of these spells outside the Greek world. The infamous French Grimoire of Pope Honorius contains a recipe very similar to the first two Greek versions. The blood however is changed to “fine spirits” (excellente eau-de-vie) and the recipe is enriched with a dialogue with the spirit of the deceased whose skull is used in the spell. The very same recipe is included in another French magical book, the Grimorium Verum.


To make yourself invisible


"One begins this operation on a Wednesday before sunrise, being provided with seven black beans. Then take the head of a dead person, and put one of the beans in the mouth, two in the nostrils, two in the eyes, and two in the ears. Next make on this head the character on the first line of the present figure, then bury the head with the face towards the sky. Water it for nine days with fine spirits, in the morning before sunrise. On the eighth day you will find there the spirit of the deceased, who will ask, "what are you doing there?" Reply to him, "I'm watering my plant." He will respond, "give me the bottle, I wish to water it myself." Reply to him that you do not wish to. It will press you again, but you must refuse to let him, until he stretches out his hand, and there you will see figures similar to the ones you made on the head hanging from the tips of his fingers. In this case you may be assured that this is the true spirit of the head; for another could surprise you, which would bring you harm, and your operation would become fruitless.


"When you have given him your vial, he will water it himself, and then you will leave. The next day, which is the ninth day, return once more, and you will find your beans have matured. Take them, place each in your mouth, and look at yourself in a mirror; if you do not see yourself, it is a good one. Check each of the others, or test them in the mouth of a child. Any that are worthless must be reburied with the head."


Peterson J. (ed.), Grimorium Verum. Translation used with permission.


Another infamous magical book, the Grand Grimoire, preserves the later tradition, the one with the black cat. The recipe is almost unrecognizable here, but it certainly bears a slight connection.


To make oneself invisible


"Take a black cat, and buy a new pot, a mirror, a lighter, a stone of agate, coal and tinder. Gather water from a fountain at the strike of midnight. Light your fire, and afterwards put the cat in the pot. Hold the cover with your left hand without moving nor looking behind you, no matter what noises you may hear; and after having made it boil 24 hours, put it on a new dish. Take the meat and throw it overcoat your left shoulder, saying these words: 'accipe quod tibi do, et nihil ampliůs' (Accept my offering, and don't delay). Then put the bones one by one under the teeth on the left side, while looking at yourself in the mirror; and if they are no good, throw them away in the same manner, repeating the same words until you find the right bone; and as soon you cannot see yourselve any more in the mirror, withdraw, moving backwards, while saying: Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum. (Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.)"


Peterson J. (ed.), Grand Grimoire. Translation used with permission.


Variations of both recipes are contained in some versions of a book named The Book of Saint Cyprian, very popular nowadays in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, where, according to Ray Vogensen in his article The book of Saint Cyprian, “it is an essential part of Macumba, Umbanda, or Candomblé in Brazil and Santeria in the Caribbean”. It seems that Saint Cyprian, the fabled 3rd century bishop of Antioch, in these cultures has usurped the role that Solomon once played in the magical literature. Ray Vogensen also cites translations of two invisibility recipes, according to a certain edition of the aforementioned book.


I admit I have no means to ascertain the antiquity of this book or of the recipes contained in it. Yet, judging by their context, it seems to me that both are older than the French ones, and close to the Greek versions. The first might well have been formed at any time between the Greek Versions I and III. A black cat must be slaughtered (as in Version III), no blood watering is mentioned (as in Version I), and the broad beans have to yield seed before used (as in Versions I and II). This recipe may have influenced the Grimorium Verum version, since it refers to ghostly apparitions during watering, but it is not so precise yet as to describe an exact dialogue with a spirit.


The great magic of the broad beans


"Kill a black cat and place a broad bean in each eye, one below the tail and another in each ear.  Then, bury it and water the grave every night at midnight until the broad beans, after sprouting, are ripe.  Cut off the beans. After cutting, take the beans home and put them into your mouth one by one.  When, you think you are invisible, it is because the bean in your mouth has the magical property.  So, if you want to go into any place without being seen, put the magic bean in your mouth.


"Observations on using this magic!


"When you are watering the broad beans many ghosts will appear to frighten you so that you won't carry out the magic until the end.  The reason is simple:  it is because the demon has envy of whoever is going to use this magic, without giving himself to it heart and soul, like the witches, who he calls women of virtue.  We ask that you be not afraid, since he will not do you any harm, and for this it is good, before anything, to make the sign of the cross."


Ray Vogensen, Magic Spells from the Book of Saint Cyprian.


The other invisibility recipe from the Book of Saint Cyprian could have been one of the missing links between the Greek recipes and the Grand Grimoire version. The seeds still exist, although they are not planted in the cat’s head, but boiled together with the cat.


"Spell of the black cat’s bone


"Cook the body of a black cat in boiling water with white seeds and wood from the willow until the meat is loosened from the bones.  Strain the bones in a linen cloth and, in front of the mirror, place the bones, one by one in your mouth, until you find that you have the magic to make you become invisible.  Keep the bone with the magic property and, if you want to go somewhere without being seen, place the bone in your mouth."


Ray Vogensen, Magic Spells from the Book of Saint Cyprian.


And while the two Portuguese recipes seem to be earlier than those of the classical French Grimoires, the African American Hoodoo tradition preserves a lot of “post-grimoiric” folklore. Harry Middleton Hyatt, in his five-volume work Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork, collected a large portion of this material. The Grand Grimoire version seems to have changed a little in Hoodoo, since some of Hyatt’s informants maintain that the invisibility bone will be the top one after the water evaporates, yet others maintain that it can be found by throwing the bones in a creek. In this second case, the invisibility bone will float and move towards the opposite direction of the stream.


As a conclusion, I would like to refer to the rationale underlying all these practices. Not all authors provide an explanation for the power of invisibility, but in many cases, particularly in the recipes related with eyes and eye sockets, what the Scottish anthropologist James Frazer named “Sympathetic magic” is fairly obvious. Others believe that certain supernatural beings or abstract agents, the god Mercury or the force of the planet Mercury for example, can grant such a power. The more “rationalists” among them, such as the compiler of The Book of Secrets and Cornelius Agrippa, maintain that it is just the shine of a certain stone that dazzles the sight. Aleister Crowley, in his Confessions, provides a more modern explanation. After his claims of having extraordinary results, he notices the psychological ground upon which invisibility can be based.


But the real secret of invisibility is not concerned with the laws of optics at all; the trick is to prevent people noticing you when they would normally do so. In this I was quite successful. For example, I was able to take a walk in the street in a golden crown and a scarlet robe without attracting attention.


Crowley A., The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, p. 203.



I would like to thank Joseph Peterson for bringing to my attention texts related to this subject, Nena Pappa and Tessi Kanakari for their help with the French passages, and Stelios Demonakos for proof reading this article.






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