The Info List - Renaissance Magic

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RENAISSANCE HUMANISM (15th and 16th century) saw a resurgence in HERMETICISM and Neo-Platonic
varieties of CEREMONIAL MAGIC .


* 1 Artes magicae * 2 Renaissance occultism * 3 Baroque period * 4 List of authors * 5 References * 6 See also * 7 Bibliography


The seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae, arts prohibited by canon law, as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456, their sevenfold partition reflecting that of the artes liberales and artes mechanicae , were:

* nigromancy ("black magic ", demonology , by popular etymology, from necromancy) * geomancy * hydromancy * aeromancy * pyromancy * chiromancy * scapulimancy

The division between the four "elemental" disciplines (viz., geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy) is somewhat contrived. Chiromancy is the divination from a subject's palms as practiced by the Romani (at the time recently arrived in Europe), and scapulimancy is the divination from animal bones, in particular shoulder blades, as practiced in peasant superstition . Nigromancy contrasts with this as scholarly "high magic" derived from High Medieval grimoires such as the Picatrix or the Liber Rasielis .


Both bourgeoisie and nobility in the 15th and 16th century showed great fascination with these arts, which exerted an exotic charm by their ascription to Arabic, Jewish, Romani, and Egyptian sources. There was great uncertainty in distinguishing practices of vain superstition, blasphemous occultism, and perfectly sound scholarly knowledge or pious ritual. Intellectual and spiritual tensions erupted in the Early Modern witch craze , further reinforced by the turmoils of the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
, especially in Germany
, England
, and Scotland

C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
in his 1954 English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama differentiates what he takes to be the change of character in magic as practiced in the Middle Ages as opposed to the Renaissance:

Only an obstinate prejudice about this period could blind us to a certain change which comes over the merely literary texts as we pass from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. In medieval stories there is, in one sense, plenty of “magic”. Merlin does this or that “by his subtilty”, Bercilak resumes his severed head. But all these passages have unmistakably the note of “faerie” about them. But in Spenser, Marlowe, Chapman, and Shakespeare the subject is treated quite differently. “He to his studie goes”; books are opened, terrible words pronounced, souls imperiled. The medieval author seems to write for a public to whom magic, like knight-errantry, is part of the furniture of romance: the Elizabethan, for a public who feel that it might be going on in the next street. Neglect of this point has produced strange readings of The Tempest
The Tempest
, which is in reality Shakespeare’s play on magia as Macbeth
is his play on goeteia (p. 8)

The Hermetic/Cabalist magic which was created by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino
Marsilio Ficino
was made popular in northern Europe, most notably England, by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
's De occulta philosophia libra tres. Agrippa had revolutionary ideas about magical theory and procedure that were widely circulated in the Renaissance among those who sought out knowledge of occult philosophy. "Agrippa himself was famous as a scholar, physician jurist, and astrologer, but throughout his life he was continually persecuted as a heretic. His problems stemmed not only from his reputation as a conjurer, but also from his vehement criticism of the vices of the ruling classes and of the most respected intellectual and religious authorities." While some scholars and students viewed Agrippa as a source of intellectual inspiration, to many others, his practices were dubious and his beliefs serious. The transitive side of magic is explored in Agrippa's De occulta philosophia, and at times it is vulgarized. Yet in Pico and Ficino we never lose sight of magic's solemn religious purposes: the magician explores the secrets of nature so as to arouse wonder at the works of God and to inspire a more ardent worship and love of the Creator. "Considerable space is devoted to examples of evil sorcery in De occulta philosophia, and one might easily come away from the treatise with the impression that Agrippa found witchcraft as intriguing as benevolent magic"


The study of the occult arts remained widespread in the universities across Europe up until the Disenchantment period of the 17th Century. At the peak of the witch trials , there was a certain danger to be associated with witchcraft or sorcery , and most learned authors take pains to clearly renounce the practice of forbidden arts. Thus, Agrippa while admitting that natural magic is the highest form of natural philosophy unambiguously rejects all forms of ceremonial magic (goetia or necromancy ). Indeed, the keen interest taken by intellectual circles in occult topics provided one driving force that enabled the witchhunts to endure beyond the Renaissance and into the 18th century. As the intellectual mainstream in the early 18th century ceased to believe in witchcraft, the witch trials soon subsided.


Renaissance authors writing on occult or magical topics include: Late Middle Ages to early Renaissance

* Johannes Hartlieb (1410-1468) * Marsilio Ficino
Marsilio Ficino
(1433–1499) * Thomas Norton (1433–1513) * Johann Georg Faust (1480-1541)

Renaissance and Reformation

* Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
(1452–1519) * Pico della Mirandola
Pico della Mirandola
(1463–1494) * Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
(1486–1535) * Paracelsus
(1493–1541) * Georg Pictorius (1500-1569) * Nostradamus
(1503–1566) * Johann Weyer (1516–1588) * Thomas Charnock (1524–1581) * Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525–1609) * John Dee (1527–1608) * Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno
(1548–1600) * Edward Kelley
Edward Kelley

Baroque period

* Basil Valentine (15th century- published since 1604) * Nicolas Flamel
Nicolas Flamel
(1330-1418- published since 1612) * Heinrich Khunrath (1560–1605) * Michael Sendivogius (1566–1636) * Tommaso Campanella
Tommaso Campanella
(1568–1639) * Jan Baptist van Helmont
Jan Baptist van Helmont
(1577–1644) * Franz Kessler (1580–1650) * Adrian von Mynsicht (1603–1638) * Sir Kenelm Digby
Sir Kenelm Digby
(1603–1665) * Johann Friedrich Schweitzer (1625–1709) * Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
(1642–1727), see Isaac Newton\'s occult studies


* ^ John S. Mebane, Renaissance Magic -webkit-column-count: 3; column-count: 3;">

* Alchemy
* Baroque philosophy * Character (symbol) * John Crowley\'s Aegypt Sequence * White magic * Continuity thesis * Hieroglyphica * History of magic (other) * History of science in the Renaissance
History of science in the Renaissance
* Kabbalistic astrology * Key of Solomon
Key of Solomon
* Natural Magic
Natural Magic
* Scientific revolution
Scientific revolution
* The Book