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Solomon's Secret Arts

Solomon's Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment

Paul Kléber Monod
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Solomon's Secret Arts
    Book Description:

    The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of science and reason. But in this illuminating book, Paul Monod reveals the surprising extent to which Newton, Boyle, Locke, and other giants of rational thought and empiricism also embraced the spiritual, the magical, and the occult.

    Although public acceptance of occult and magical practices waxed and waned during this period they survived underground, experiencing a considerable revival in the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of new antiestablishment religious denominations. The occult spilled over into politics with the radicalism of the French Revolution and into literature in early Romanticism. Even when official disapproval was at its strongest, the evidence points to a growing audience for occult publications as well as to subversive popular enthusiasm. Ultimately, finds Monod, the occult was not discarded in favor of "reason" but was incorporated into new forms of learning. In that sense, the occult is part of the modern world, not simply a relic of an unenlightened past, and is still with us today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19539-2
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction: What Was the Occult?
    (pp. 1-20)

    Like poverty, death and taxes, the occult seems always to have been with us. From the mysterious cave painters of Lascaux to today’s online astrologers and televised psychic readers, human beings throughout history have sought ways of tapping into hidden powers, to gain knowledge and influence through what is now commonly referred to as “the unexplained.” Contemporary British culture is hardly immune to a fascination with the occult—witness the immense popular success of the Harry Potter novels, replete with witches, wizards and alchemists, or the stupendous magical confrontations of theLord of the Ringsfilm trilogy, or any number...

  7. Part One: Aurora, 1650–1688

    • CHAPTER ONE The Alchemical Heyday
      (pp. 23-52)

      When was alchemy at its peak in England and Scotland? Ask somebody that question today, and the answer is likely to be “the Middle Ages” or perhaps “the Tudor period.” The term “alchemy,” after all, conjures up the image of damp monastic walls harbouring a sage in a long robe, with unkempt hair and a preoccupied look, who stares intently at mysterious crucibles and bubbling retorts. He is a seeker after the mad goal of making gold, half-scientist and half-mystic, immortalized (and frequently lampooned) by artists and writers throughout the early-modern period, from Pieter Bruegel the Elder to Ben Jonson....

    • CHAPTER TWO The Silver Age of the Astrologers
      (pp. 53-81)

      If the late seventeenth century was the golden age of the alchemists, it was the silver age of the astrologers. Arguably, the intellectual peak of English astrology came earlier, perhaps between 1603, when Sir Christopher Heydon published his influentialDefence of Judiciall Astrologie, and the 1650s.¹ During the Civil Wars and Interregnum period when predictions and prophecies made a powerful political impact, the careers of numerous famous astrologers reached their height, among them John Booker, Nicholas Culpeper, William Lilly, Richard Saunders, John Tanner, George Wharton and Vincent Wing.² Astrological almanacs circulated in impressive numbers—Lilly’sMerlinus Anglicusreportedly sold thirty...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Occult Contested
      (pp. 82-116)

      Thus, in the person of Ralpho, the semi-educated, gullible squire of Sir Hudibras, Samuel Butler satirized occult philosophy in the first canto of his classic mock epic of the 1660s,Hudibras. The poem makes merciless fun of Hermeticists, Rosicrucians, ritual magicians, alchemists, astrologers, almanac-makers, conjurors and those who believe in the black magic of witches. All are associated with vulgar ignorance, credulity, fraud and the fanatical religious sectarianism that precipitated the Civil War. All, in Butler’s view, were equally ridiculous and contemptible.

      Hudibrasreminds us that, even in the golden age of alchemy and the silver age of astrology, occult...

  8. Part Two: Eclipse, 1688–1760

    • CHAPTER FOUR A Fading Flame
      (pp. 119-156)

      In 1688, the Catholic King James II fled from his kingdoms, losing his throne to his Protestant son-in-law William of Orange and his daughter Mary in what became known as the Glorious Revolution. Nothing in this political change would have signalled imminent catastrophe to those who were interested in occult philosophy and science. On the contrary, many adherents of the occult were sectarians or heterodox Anglicans. They might be seen as beneficiaries of the revolution, which ushered in a Parliamentary Act of Toleration that encompassed mainstream Protestant groups. Within a decade of 1688, however, occult thinking was suffering from a...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Newtonian Magi
      (pp. 157-188)

      Anathematized by the orthodox, deprecated by the polite, the occult was fading by 1715. Yet remarkably, a small number of influential men within the English intellectual elite still longed, if not to resuscitate it, then at least to appropriate it in ways that were compatible with natural philosophy. They were Newtonians, and the period after 1715 was their age of glory. Although the revered scientist lived only until 1727, Sir Isaac’s disciples would dominate scientific and philosophical discourse until the 1760s.¹ Whigs to a man, they had lofty aspirations, hoping to reshape the entire British cultural landscape to accord with...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Occult on the Margins
      (pp. 189-224)

      The Newtonians who sought to reclaim the occult as support for their own theories were not concerned with its coherence. They borrowed what they needed from alchemy, astrology or Neoplatonism, ignoring the rest. This chapter, by contrast, deals with those who faithfully preserved one aspect or another of occult tradition. Few of them were well connected. For social, political or religious reasons, they existed on the margins of cultural authority. Some of them belonged to the wide and nebulous region that separated formally educated members of the elite from the rest of the English and Scottish population—that is, they...

  9. Part Three: Glad Day, 1760–1815

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Occult Revival
      (pp. 227-262)

      Between 1760 and 1800, England witnessed a remarkable revival of occult thinking.¹ The same phenomenon does not appear to have happened in Scotland. The English revival was more a reinvention than a simple revamping of traditional ideas. The established practices of alchemy, astrology and ritual magic, which had been declining among educated people for some time, were reconfigured—pulled apart, jumbled together and combined with different elements. New conceptions of occult philosophy and science emerged that would last into the modern age. Their main characteristics were: first, a high degree of commercialization; second, a greater insistence on the interconnectedness of...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT An Occult Enlightenment?
      (pp. 263-299)

      How did the occult revival relate to the Europe-wide phenomenon known as the Enlightenment? The question is far from a simple one. In some contexts, occult thinking was antipathetic to a movement associated with rationalist or sceptical ideas. In other ways, however, occult thinkers consciously and deliberately attached themselves to the concept of enlightenment, by lavishing praise on scientific advancement and the improvement of modern life. From one perspective, the occult might be seen as an alternative to the Enlightenment, because it was founded on sentiment and personal revelation rather than the application of pure reason. Thus, Joscelyn Goodwin has...

    • CHAPTER NINE Prophets and Revolutions
      (pp. 300-338)

      In the 1790s, the occult revival faltered, slowed and in some respects came to a grinding halt. The intellectual energy that it had projected since the 1760s suddenly diminished, and the respectability that it had begun to enjoy was severely curtailed. This does not mean that occult thinking disappeared or that fewer people were attracted to it. New editions of Ebenezer Sibly’s encyclopaedias continued to appear into the new century, while Sigismond Bacstrom kept working at his experiments in the dingy “hut” in Albion Street. After war broke out with the French republic in 1793, however, the cultural climate changed....

    (pp. 339-346)

    The occult may always have been with us, but it has not always been the same. Within England and Scotland during the period 1650–1815, it can be understood in two principal ways, neither of them fixed or static. First, it related to a philosophical tradition constructed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries from Neoplatonic and Hermetic thought, which informed the theory and practice of alchemy, astrology and ritual magic. By the late eighteenth century, the coherence of this Renaissance tradition of occult thinking was in tatters. The re-examination of ancient art and philosophy by Stukeley, Hancarville, Payne Knight and...

    (pp. 347-349)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 350-419)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 420-430)