Renaissance magic

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

Artes magicae[edit]

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:

  1. nigromancy ("black magic", demonology, by popular etymology, from necromancy)
  2. geomancy
  3. hydromancy
  4. aeromancy
  5. pyromancy
  6. chiromancy
  7. 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.

Renaissance occultism[edit]

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. The intellectual and spiritual tensions erupted in the Early Modern witch craze, further re-inforced by the turmoils of the Protestant Reformation, especially in Germany, England, and Scotland.

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 story 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, 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 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 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"[1]

Baroque period[edit]

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.[citation needed] As the intellectual mainstream in the early 18th century ceased to believe in witchcraft, the witch trials subsided almost instantaneously.[citation needed]

List of authors[edit]

Renaissance authors writing on occult or magical topics include:

Late Middle Ages to early Renaissance
Renaissance and Reformation
Baroque period

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

  • Kurt Benesch, Magie der Renaissance (1985). ISBN 3-921695-91-0.
  • Norman Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom, University Of Chicago Press (2001). ISBN 978-0-226-11307-4.
  • Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press (2011). ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4.
  • 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). ISBN 978-0-7509-5090-9
  • 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). ISBN 978-0-7914-6223-2.

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ Renaissance Magic & the Return of the Golden Age, John S. Membane