The tales are spotted with examples of mysterious ancient texts which promise their readers and adherents powers beyond the realms of ordinary human beings. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that people in the past were deeply invested in the magical powers that these ancient tomes claimed to offer and there are multiple medieval documents attesting to whether they worked or not.
THE HIDDEN POWERS OF THE ARS NOTORIA
One of the most famous of these purported magical books is the Ars Notoria, an ancient text which claims to teach the reader how to master academia and develop a perfect memory. It is believed that the book was written as part of a textbook of magic with information on how to create talismans and amulets and how to perform magical spells. By best estimates, the book was compiled between the twelfth century and the thirteenth century by various authors and copies of the text have been found in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
The Ars Notoria is almost unique among magical texts from the early and mid-medieval period because it focuses on prayers, meditations and oral exercises rather than magical incantations, potions, and rituals. The book claims that if the user follows the exercises properly that they will develop mastery of rhetoric, a perfect memory and wisdom far beyond the capability of the average human being. It was claimed that the Ars Notoria had been passed down through the ages by the wise King Solomon himself.
In the medieval period, most people were not capable of reading in any language, let alone the classical languages of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. It was quite common in these days even for kings and queens to be incapable of reading. Therefore, the only people capable of accessing this kind of secret knowledge were the monks and priests.
“…The Notory Art revealed by the Most High Creator to Solomon. In the Name of the Holy and undivided Trinity, beginneth this most Holy Art of Knowledge, revealed to Solomon, which the Most High Creator by his Holy Angels ministered to Solomon upon the Alter of the Temple; that thereby in short time he knew all Arts and Sciences, both Liberal and Mechanick, with all the Faculties and Properties thereof: He has suddenly infused into him, and also was filled with all wisdom, to utter the Sacred Mysteries of most Holy words…” – The Notory Art of Solomon.
One of the people who tried was a fourteenth-century monk named John of Morigny. However, after he carefully adhered to the exercises in the book he found himself afflicted with horrifying demonic visions and abandoned the text. He claimed that he did gain all of the benefits that the Ars Notoria promised but that he would advise that no one enters into the secret mysteries contained in the text lightly as the gifts it offered demanded a very high cost from the adherent.
“And know this; that if thou hast not the books in thy hands, or the faculty of looking into them is not given to thee; the effect of this work will not be the lesse therefore: but the Orations are twice then to be pronounced, where they were to be but once: And as to the knowledge of a vision, and the other virtues which these Holy Orations have; thou maist prove and try them, when and how thou wilt.” (source) –Ars Notoria The Notory Art of Solomon.