Renaissance humanism (15th and 16th century) saw a resurgence in hermeticism and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic.

Artes magicae

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, derived, 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''.


Practitioners of necromancy or demonic magic in the late Middle Ages usually belonged to the educated elite, as the contents of most grimoires were written in Latin. Demonic magic was usually performed in groups surrounding a spiritual leader in possession of necromantic books. One such case in 1444, Inquisitor Gaspare Sighicelli took action against a group active in Bologna. Marco Mattei of Gesso and friar Jacopo of Viterbo confessed to taking part in magical practices.


The art of geomancy was one of the more popular forms of magic that people practiced during the renaissance period. Geomancy was a form of divination where a person would cast sand, stone, or dirt on the ground and read the shapes. The Geomantic figures would then tell them "anything" based on geomancy charts that were used to read from the shape.


Hydromancy, a form of divination using water, is typically used with scrying. Water is used as a medium for scrying to allow the practitioner see illusionary pictures within it. Hydromancy originated from Babylonia and was popular during Byzantine times whereas in medieval Europe, it was associated with witchcraft.


Aeromancy divination consisted in tossing sand, dirt, or seeds into the air and studying and interpreting the patterns of the dust cloud or the settling of the seeds. This also includes divination coming from thunder, comets, falling stars, and the shape of clouds.


Pyromancy is the art of divination which consisted of signs and patterns from flames. There are many variations of pyromancy depending on the material thrown into a fire and it is thought to be used for sacrifices to the gods and that the deity is present within the flames with priests interpreting the omens conveyed.


Chiromancy is a form of divination based on reading palms and based on intuitions and symbolism with some symbols tying into astrology. A line from a person's hand that resembles a square is considered a bad omen whereas a triangle would be a good omen. This idea comes from the trine and square aspect in the astrological aspects.


Scapulimancy was a form of divination using an animal's scapula. The scapula would be broken and based on how it was broken, it could be used to read the future. It was generally broken by heating it with hot coals until it broke.

Renaissance occultism

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, especially in Germany, England, and Scotland. The people during this time found that the existence of magic was something that could answer the questions that they could not explain through science. To them it was suggesting that while science may explain reason, magic could explain "unreason". 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: : The Hermetic/Cabalist magic which was created by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino was made popular in northern Europe, most notably England, by 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. :

Baroque period

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.

List of authors

Renaissance authors writing on occult or magical topics include: ;Late Middle Ages to early Renaissance *Gemistus Pletho (1355/1360 – 1452/1454) *Johannes Hartlieb (1410-1468) *Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) *Thomas Norton (1433–1513) *Johann Georg Faust (1480-1541) ;Renaissance and Reformation *Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) *Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) *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 (1548–1600) *Edward Kelley (1555–1597) ;Baroque period *Basil Valentine (pseudonym for one or more 16th-century authors) *Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418- published since 1612) *Heinrich Khunrath (1560–1605) *Michael Sendivogius (1566–1636) *Tommaso Campanella (1568–1639) *Jan Baptist van Helmont (1577–1644) *Franz Kessler (1580–1650) *Adrian von Mynsicht (1603–1638) *Sir Kenelm Digby (1603–1665) *Johann Friedrich Schweitzer (1625–1709) *Isaac Newton (1642–1727), see Isaac Newton's occult studies

See also

*Alchemy *Baroque philosophy *Character (symbol) *White magic *Continuity thesis *''Hieroglyphica'' *History of magic (disambiguation) *History of science in the Renaissance *Kabbalistic astrology *''Key of Solomon'' *''Natural Magic'' *Medieval European magic *Scientific revolution *''The Book of Abramelin'' *Faust



*Kurt Benesch, ''Magie der Renaissance'', Wiesbaden, Fourier,(1985). . *Norman Cohn, ''Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom'', University Of Chicago Press (2001). . * Heiser, James D., ''Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century'', Repristination Press (2011). . * Nauert, Charles G. ''Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought.'' Urbana: University of Illinois Press (1965). * Ruickbie, Leo, ''Faustus: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Magician''. The History Press (2009). *Szonyi, Gyorgy E., ''John Dee's Occultism: Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs'', S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions, State University of New York Press (2005). .

External links

Renaissance Magic
BBC Radio 4 discussion with Peter Forshaw, Valery Rees & Jonathan Sawday (''In Our Time, Jun. 17, 2004) {{Renaissance navbox Category:Magic (supernatural) Category:Hermeticism Magic