Popes and Sorcery

popes and sorcery Some of the highest authorities of the Catholic Church are associated with legends of Sorcery, PactS with DemonS, black Magic, and NECROMANCY. The legends probably were created out of jealousy and political intrigue, as all the “sorcerer popes” were involved in controversies. An accusation of sorcery was not uncommon in fights for control of the papacy. The stories are as follows:

Leo I (r. 440–461) Also called St. Leo the Great, Leo I was said to practice sorcery and black magic. He waged a power struggle against his bishops and attacked Manichaeism in Italy.

Leo III (r. 795–816) Leo III was credited with writing a magical grimoire, the Enchiridion of Pope Leo, which was published in the early 16th century. The book claims to be based on a collection of PRAYERS that the pope gave to Roman emperor Charlemagne as a gift upon his coronation. Charlemagne reportedly had protected Leo III when he was physically attacked by the family of his predecessor. The Charms deal with various protections against evil and misfortune.

Sylvester II (r. 999–1003)

A learned man interested in science and the arts, Sylvester II also was a reputed necromancer who won the papacy through spells and a pact with the devil. He was said to have a lifelong Demon mistress named Meridiana, who satisfied his carnal lust and provided him material wealth.

According to legend, Sylvester II sold his soul to the devil, who gave him a bronze head which gave oracular responses. The head predicted that Sylvester would not die, “except at Jerusalem,” and so the pope decided that he would never visit that city.

While giving Mass one day at a church in Rome, Sylvester fell gravely ill. Remembering the Prophecy, he asked for the name of the church and was told it was the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. He knew the prophecy had come true and resigned himself to his fate. He had a bed put in the chapel and then summoned his cardinals, confessing to them that he had dealt with Demons. He instructed that his corpse should be placed on a chariot of green wood, drawn by one black horse and one white. The horses should be neither driven nor led. He was to be buried wherever they stopped. Then Sylvester died.

The horses stopped in the Lateran, and Sylvester was buried. According to Lore, his tomb sweats prior to the death of a prominent person. If a pope is going to die, the sweat is so heavy that it turns into a stream and creates a large puddle, and Sylvester’s bones shake and rattle.

Gregory VII (r. 1081–1084)

The Synod of Bressanone pronounced Gregory VII a sorcerer on June 25, 1080, prior to his becoming pope. He was an austere reformer and was strongly opposed by cardinals.

Honorius III (r. 1216–1227) Honorius III is the alleged author of a magical GRIMOIRE, the Grimoire of Honorious or the Constitution of Honorius. (In some early copies, Honorius II is credited as the author.) The grimoire was published in the early 17th century and was probably written strictly as a commercial venture with the pope’s name added for authenticity. The book combines Christian and kabbalistic elements and deals especially with rites of Exorcism. The tone of the book is aptly described by Eliphas Levi:

. . . the mystery of darksome evocations is expounded therein with a terrific knowledge concealed under superstitious and sacrilegious forms. Fastings, watchings, profanation of mysteries, allegorical ceremonies and bloody sacrifices are combined with artful malice.

Boniface VIII (r. 1294–1303) Boniface VIII found his authority seriously challenged by the monarchies of Western Europe. He possessed a keen and superior intellect, which was tarnished by a short temper and impulsive nature. Philip IV of France, one of his main opponents and whom he intended to excommunicate, used defamation, forgery, and intimidation against him, including accusations of sorcery and heresy.

Boniface was charged with making a pact with Demons and conjuring them regularly; keeping an imp in a ring on his finger; infidelity; and, when still a cardinal, sacrificing a cock in a black magic spell one night in a garden. Furthermore, it was said that when he died, he confessed his Demonic pacts on his deathbed, and his moment of death caused “so much thunder and tempest, with dragons flying in the air and vomiting flames, and such lightning and other prodigies, that the people of Rome believed that the whole city was going to be swallowed up in the abyss.” Boniface was exonerated of all charges posthumously in 1312.

Benedict XIII (r. 1394–1423)

An antipope, Benedict XIII was believed to hold continuous traffic with spirits, to keep two Demons in a little bag, and to search out books on magic.

John XXIII (r. 1410–1415)

An antipope, said to be saved by magic. When John XXIII was deposed by the Council of Constance, he was saved by Abramelin the Mage, who helped his escape from prison.

Sixtus V (r. 1585–1590)

Sixtus V supposedly sold his soul to the devil to gain the papacy. Born Felice Peretti, he entered the Franciscan order and was sent in 1565 to Spain to investigate the alleged heresy of the archbishop of Toledo. He stirred up much animosity in Spain, and when he was named pope in 1585, the Spaniards accused him of entering into a pact with Satan.

The devil granted Sixtus a six-year reign. After five years, the pope fell gravely ill, and the devil appeared at his bedside one night to collect his soul. The pope protested that he still had another year remaining in his contract. The devil said he was reneging on one year because Sixtus earlier had sentenced to death a young man who was one year too young to be executed, according to law. The pope had no rebuttal and died.

During his papacy, Sixtus spent huge sums of money on public works projects, such as the completion of the dome of Saint Peter’s Church in the Vatican. He also authorized Philip II of Spain to send his armada against England, but the armada was defeated by English witches who cast Spells to raise terrible storms at sea.


  • Levi, Eliphas. The History of Magic. 1860. Reprint, York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 2001.
  • Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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