Books for professional use
VCF 14 (Germany, 1577-1600): Explanatio artis cabalisticae (Explanation of Kabbalah), paper, 466 fols., 310 x 194 mm, 1 col., 22-31 lines.

Where some alchemical manuscripts solely contain texts that describe chemical processes, the texts in this manuscript are also concerned with the esoteric and philosophical teachings of Kabbalah. Kabbalah, originally a Jewish mystic discipline, tries to comprehend the relationship between the universe and God. Practitioners of Kabbalah believe that every letter, word and number in the Tanakh, the canon of Hebrew scriptures, contains hidden messages.

The fourth text of this manuscript is the third volume of Johannes Trithemius’ Steganographia. This volume, believed to be about magic, was placed on the “List of Prohibited Books” in 1609. The texts describe how spirits can be used to communicate over long distances. Fol. 76r and fol. 76v contain a list of the thirty-one so-called Aerial Spirits, also known as jinn. The first column lists the names of these spirits, the second column shows their symbols and the third, fourth and fifth columns list how many lesser spirits were under their command. The Aerial Spirits were associated with King Solomon, which possibly explains why this manuscript also contains a treatise on the Song of Songs, a Biblical text that is sometimes ascribed to Solomon. It includes additional texts on alchemy and astronomy.

(Boeren, 1975, pp. 45-48)


  1. Manuscripts were made from parchment, paper or a combination of these two materials. The quality of these materials varied considerably. What material was used in this manuscript and how can you tell?
  2. Some manuscripts were made for institutional use, for example for a monastery, a nunnery, or a school. Others were made for one specific reader, who may even have made the book for him- or herself. While it is not easy to deduce whether the scribe made the manuscript for a community or a specific individual (or even for personal use), material features can sometimes provide clues to this end. Study this manuscript in search for such clues. Look for ownership inscriptions (often in the front or back of the book), the number of different individuals who added information into the margins (the script may help you here), and the number of entries added by these individuals. If you had to speculate, for what scenario would you opt and why: community or individual use?


  1. Boeren, P. C. (1975). Codices vossiani chymici. Universitaire Pers Leiden.