As of today, there is no hard evidence that King Solomon ever existed, or any other equivalent figure in his time and place, roughly 3000 years ago in Jerusalem. For most other historical world leaders, we have ample collections of artifacts, inscriptions, all sorts of physical evidence. We have Egyptian relic permits granting a cowherd the right to breathe in the afterlife, but for this one massively-impressive fellow Solomon, we have bupkis. Beyond the Biblical writings, he was supposed to have constructed an enormous Temple, amassed a tremendous fortune, and sat at the head of a global army, and not a speck of any of it remains.
One interpretation of this lack of evidence appears in the Bible itself, in which the greedy Babylonians come to overtake the mismanaged kingdom from Solomon’s heirs some 500 years after his death, removing every scrap of treasure and defacing every monument or construction. This type of thing happens occasionally in world history, and it was indeed a long time ago, so it is not implausible; but in this case there are probably other factors at work.
A great deal of the Old Testament seeks to explain odd finds in the Middle East, and give them context in the Judaic version of history. Weathered fossils of Neanderthal Man are given a place in a story about removing the savages from the war parties of Joshua, for example, and several other similar examples come to mind. The people encountered something inexplicable, and gave it a place within their own historic lore as a way to claim it as a part of their heritage rather than to leave it in the open as a source of confusion.
In the case of Solomon, there were undoubtedly collections of Proverbs, Odes, and other literature which threatened to become lost if they remained in a disorganized condition. Somewhere along the line, the writings of these people were probably collected and put together under the unifying pen name of King Solomon. It is easier to study one illustrious person than to attempt to pass along to the grandchildren the importance of fifteen rabbis three thousand years ago, and so a variety of ideas about the relationship between God and rulership are condensed into the one Biblical character.
The thing that really made Solomon a bit of a villain for the Jews is the fact that his story is all about the establishment of an Empire. Whereas David was King of the Jews, Solomon is presented as a model for King of the World, and as such his character is much more interested in foreign cultures. His legends, in the Bible, Haggadah, Koran, and other writings, offer a series of insights into responsibility and socialization that apply to far more than ancient royalty. They speak of strategies for getting along with neighbors, accepting unpleasant and unforeseen circumstances, and negotiating peaceful solutions to complex problems.
The story of Solomon is easily obscured by images of wealth and power, the great harem, magic and spirits, and the other elements of fantasy adventure which make it attractive. It can also be obscured by seeing it as just another Bible feature, full of God-talk and practically useless aside from the generic aphorisms. In a similar fashion, the rites of “Solomonic” magic are obscured by complex figures, tedious rituals, and a host of arcane names.
Attempting to understand the symbols is an interesting approach to magic, but it is not very useful in practice. The answers rarely appear any less obscure than the symbols themselves. For example, if a person wishes to explain the symbolic import of a Pentagram, the mystery is merely transformed from a picture into equally mysterious words expressing ideas about geometry, astrology, or some other topic no less esoteric than the symbol itself. A person who becomes thoroughly entrenched in the study of ceremonial symbols will have a head full of ideas but few of them will be relevant to their use.
The defining feature of Solomon that makes him so popular as a basis for magical tradition is not his connection to mysterious things, but his position of responsibility. He is more than just a king; he is a model for a “King of Kings,” an Emperor. If one approaches the idea of Solomonic magic with this fact in mind, rather than any affinity for the names and symbols of the art, it is a much better position to start. More than anything else, this idea that a magician is a responsible for participating in the universal government, rather than a person who “steals fire from heaven,” leads to obtaining the kinds of things that Solomonic magic is designed to provide.
A person with limited focus and selfish desires will not succeed in Solomonic magic. He may be thrilled to think of conjuring demons that make the pretty girls dance naked, or sneaking around invisibly, or even curing his mother of some deadly ailment; but none of these on their own really amount to much. A person might even do a few of these things and then walk around foolishly thinking himself a powerful magician. In order to truly understand the system, a magician must look outward and understand a little about where he stands in the universe and what impact he can have upon it.
The Solomonic system, in any of its wildly diverse manifestations, is practically designed to support a person with big ideas and broad planning. It is explicitly for use by those who are either in power or whose work is adjunct to those in power, so that a person hoping to secure clean water rights for workers in Guatemala will probably fare much better with the spirits than one who wishes to obtain a better labor contract for himself. Whether the spirits are celestial, terrestrial, or infernal, the use of invocation as the basis of ceremonial magic implies that the magician justifies his work by reference to the “glory of God and the good of man,” and it operates best in those conditions.
A key point of this is that the magician must himself be involved in the things in which he wishes to bring about change. I have no real stake in the clean water rights of Guatemalan workers, for example, and my meddling in their affairs is undoubtedly prone to limitation and error; but for a person who works with them on a regular basis, this is an outstanding goal. It is a pity that so few magicians test themselves against situations beyond their home and family.
Barring participation in world affairs, a person could do much worse than to focus magical efforts on the development of skills and possibly a career that revolves around those skills. The Legend of King Solomon comic book speaks of his wanderings in the East and his second job as a chef. It is a tradition in Arabic nations that even royalty must have some sort of real-world skills, and the desire to learn something interesting accounts for about half of the suggested grimoire goals. The Key of Solomon speaks of a curse against anyone who attempts the work without the “requisite skills.” These are nothing so esoteric: one must know how to produce items in cloth, shaping and quenching metal, carving wood, engraving stone, and possibly even gardening. At every point in the process, there is an opportunity to do the best job possible.
A third aspect of moving into more “serious” work with Solomon’s Art is to look high as well as low. Everyone wants to conjure demons, but few people want to seek guidance from angels. There is a fine line between sanctimonious knee-groveling in search of moral platitudes and a genuine request for wisdom and assistance, and so it is not unexpected that this aspect of magic is often neglected. Even the guy who genuinely wishes to conjure demons in order to get ladies to dance naked has room for self improvement of some sort, and the desire to live in a more excellent manner is the meat and drink of contact with celestial beings.
Far too much effort is applied among modern students of ceremonial magic towards understanding the meaning of symbols. The work of a magician is always in some way mysterious, and so it is of no account to have a better explanation of it than that offered by someone else. As well, far too little attention is paid to the role of the magician and the kind of objectives which are chosen for the work. It would ruffle no feathers to describe magic as an act of will, and in the Solomonic system that will is represented as one with broad responsibilities.
The magical literature attributed to King Solomon presents the magician as a person of temporal as well as spiritual power. The scriptural account of Solomon describes him as a ruthless dictator, a skilled diplomat, and a person of worldly appetites. Whereas Waite speaks of the grimoire magician as “poor, proscribed, envious, ambitious, and having no capacity for legitimate enterprises,” the tradition of Solomon is to search for authority by wisdom, not to cheat fate and gain special advantages.