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Spells and Magic

Shakespeare for Kids

Book of magic: with instructions for invoking spirits, etc. Manuscript, ca. 1580

One of the treasures in the Folger collection is a handwritten book of magic spells that is over 400 years old. The book is written in English, but also includes magical terms like "abracadabra" and drawings of angels, demons, dragons, and other supernatural creatures.


This book was used by many people over many, many years. Owners added their own notes into the margins, and one person even wrote in page numbers.


Although people in the Middle Ages and even during Shakespeare's time used magic for lots of different reasons, including healing sick people, helping to find lost objects, or finding the guilty person when a crime was committed, magic was often done in secret. 

Edward Topsell. The historie of serpents. London, 1608 (Detail)

Did you know?

Books on magic, especially those from the Middle Ages, are referred to as grimoires. The word grimoire comes from the Old French word grammaire, meaning related to letters. "Grammaire" actually has a Greek root, from the word graphein, "to write."

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