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The Transformations of Magic

The Transformations of Magic: Illicit Learned Magic in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance

FRANK KLAASSEN
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v69b
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  • Book Info
    The Transformations of Magic
    Book Description:

    In this original, provocative, well-reasoned, and thoroughly documented book, Frank Klaassen proposes that two principal genres of illicit learned magic occur in late medieval manuscripts: image magic, which could be interpreted and justified in scholastic terms, and ritual magic (in its extreme form, overt necromancy), which could not. Image magic tended to be recopied faithfully; ritual magic tended to be adapted and reworked. These two forms of magic did not usually become intermingled in the manuscripts, but instead were presented separately. While image magic was often copied in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, The Transformations of Magic demonstrates that interest in it as an independent genre declined precipitously around 1500. Instead, what persisted was the other, more problematic form of magic: ritual magic. Klaassen shows that not only were texts of medieval ritual magic cherished in the sixteenth century, but even the writers of new magical treatises, such as Agrippa von Nettesheim and John Dee, were far more deeply indebted to medieval tradition than previous scholars have thought them to be, and specifically to the medieval tradition of ritual magic.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05928-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)

    This book is about illicit learned magic in England and the ways in which it was transformed between 1300 and 1600. It concerns the changes, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic, that took place each time a medieval author, scribe, or collector set out to understand and practice learned magic, and then to copy the associated texts or write new ones. It also deals with the transformations that entire genres of this literature underwent in the later Middle Ages and the sixteenth century. It seeks to understand what motivated these changes and what this tells us about the intellectual culture of...

  5. PART I: THE APOTHECARY’S DILEMMA

    • [PART I: Introduction]
      (pp. 13-16)

      The story goes that the thirteenth-century astrologer Guido Bonatti took pity upon a poor apothecary with whom he used to play chess: “Guido gave him a wax image of a ship, telling him that if he kept it hidden in a box in a secret place he would grow rich, but that if he removed it he would grow poor again.”¹ In time, the apothecary became very wealthy. But he began to worry about the condition of his soul—was the magic diabolical?—and so he confessed to a priest, who advised him to destroy the image. The hapless apothecary...

    • 1 MAGIC AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 17-32)

      In hisDialogue on Miracles,the late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Cistercian Caesarius of Heisterbach relates the story of a group of German students studying necromancy in Toledo. After several months of intense study, they had seen no concrete results. By threatening his life, they convinced their master to give them a demonstration of his art. He took them to a deserted place, drew a circle around them, and warned them not to leave the circle for any reason. The master then summoned a group of demons who first appeared as knights, attempting to frighten the students out of their...

    • 2 SCHOLASTIC IMAGE MAGIC BEFORE 1500
      (pp. 33-56)

      The idea of magic is inextricably bound up with the issue of representation in spoken words, visual signs, or physical gestures. In the sense that magical practices employ representations or apparent representations—and even divination may be said to enact the process of fate to predict a future event—all magic is image magic. Although pictorial representations ranging from written charms to necromantic circles appear in almost all late medieval magical practices, our discussion will be limited to a relatively specific library of magic texts that developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Their coherence as a group derives in...

    • 3 SOME APPARENT EXCEPTIONS: IMAGE MAGIC OR NECROMANCY?
      (pp. 57-80)

      In the preceding chapter, I described the common patterns of scribal interest associated with texts of astrological image magic. Scribes regarded these texts as belonging to the broad category ofnaturalia,and many evidently regarded image magic as a legitimate part of that library. Like the Magister Speculi, the scribes appear to have made a distinction between this sort of magic, which I have referred to as Scholastic image magic, and other kinds of magical practices that I will refer to as ritual magic. As we shall see, these texts involve the explicit binding, invoking, and employing of demons, the...

  6. PART II: BROTHER JOHN’S DILEMMA

    • [PART II: Introduction]
      (pp. 81-88)

      Brother John of Morigny thirsted after enlightenment.¹ But its pursuit by necromantic means filled him with dread and fear for his soul. He unburdened himself to Jacob, a doctor friend, who suggested that theArs notoriawas his best alternative, since it employed angels instead of demons. Through this art John might achieve intellectual gifts and complete knowledge of the arts and sciences. After a program of prayers and meditations, the Holy Spirit would infuse him with these gifts. The suggestion launched John, who from an early age had been given to visions that filled the sky and shook the...

    • 4 THE ARS NOTORIA AND THE SWORN BOOK OF HONORIUS
      (pp. 89-114)

      TheArs notoriaascribes its authority to Solomon. It elaborates upon the account in 2 Chronicles 1:9–12 and 2 Kings 3:5–14, where God appears to Solomon in the night. Among other things Solomon has asked for, he is grantedsapientia, scientia et intelligencia. That a wider group of people might expect such gifts from God is suggested by Daniel 1:17, in which God endows Daniel and the four young men with skill and wisdom. Daniel is additionally given insight into visions and dreams. Similarly, in Luke 21:15 Christ promises to endow certain Christians with the gift of wisdom....

    • 5 THE MAGIC OF DEMONS AND ANGELS
      (pp. 115-156)

      Necromancy is one of the more peculiar progeny spawned in the rich, turbid waters where Jewish, Greek, Arabic, and other ancient literature flowed together in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Latin Christendom. Its manuscript children often give the impression of Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together from whatever varied and improbable parts came to hand. Yet despite the unlikely parentage and wild appearance of this tribe—or perhaps because of them—necromancy achieved a high level of notoriety in the Latin West and survives in one form or another to the present day.¹ Like the theurgic magic we have just examined—but unlike Arabic...

  7. PART III: MAGIC AFTER 1580

    • [PART III: Introduction]
      (pp. 157-160)

      These words, which conclude Thorndike’s volumes on the sixteenth century, epitomize a perspective on the historical relation between early modern magic and science from which later scholarship has not radically deviated. They also reflect a common assumption about the distinctiveness of the sixteenth century. Frances Yates has argued for the presence of a magical tradition that fueled the scientific revolution, variously styled “Hermetic” or “kabbalist and Hermetic” and heavily natural and mathematical in focus. Renewed by Ficino under the influence of the Hermetic corpus, the old natural magic was transformed into “astral magic.” Under the influence of kabbalism and in...

    • 6 SIXTEENTH-CENTURY COLLECTIONS OF MAGIC TEXTS
      (pp. 161-186)

      If we date the beginning of the “magical renaissance” to the publication of Ficino’sDe vita coelitus comparandaand Pico’sOration on the Dignity of Man, 900 Theses, andApologyin the 1480s, the new era they inaugurated does not appear to have had a significant impact upon the traditions of ritual magic. Although we may detect new influences and perhaps broader intellectual horizons in sixteenth-century ritual magic collections, neither the texts nor the way they were regarded and transmitted changed a great deal. The texts common in collections of the fifteenth century and other very similar material still populated...

    • 7 MEDIEVAL RITUAL MAGIC AND RENAISSANCE MAGIC
      (pp. 187-218)

      Surviving sixteenth-century manuscripts of illicit magic betray no dramatic changes in ritual magical traditions following the publication of works by Pico, Ficino, and Agrippa. The few changes that the library of ritual magic underwent in the sixteenth century were, in almost every way, natural continuations of transformations already under way during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. How, then, do we account for the apparent disjuncture between the interests of the famous Renaissance proponents of magic and those represented in the surviving manuscripts? How is it that the traditions of Scholastic image magic, so strongly represented in Renaissance writers, could suffer...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 219-248)
  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 249-266)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 267-280)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-281)