Friday, November 22, 2013

from a review of Klaassen's new book Transformations of Magic

"His attentiveness to the volumes ultimately sheds light on the
intellectual frames of reference that result in the transformations he
documents. Regarding image magic the framing question was whether an
image worked because of occult natural powers or demonic intervention.
In the former case, use of the image would be lawful; in the latter,
unlawful. The urge to make image magic lawful then situated it
alongside or even in the field of natural philosophy. The alignment
shaped the debate and can be seen in the placement of the texts of
image magic, which in collected volumes and on library shelves were
found among the <i>naturalia</i>. Prof. Klaassen determines that this
trend was shaped by certain authoritative works, most famously the
</i>Speculum astronomiae</i>, that became increasingly used as a guide
for scribes in their immediate discernment of the philosophical and
moral lawfulness of particular magical texts. Their use had a
constraining effect, and the number of texts of image magic
correspondingly decreased."

Klaassen, Frank F. <i>Transformations of Magic: Illicit Learned Magic
in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance</i>. Series: Magic in History.
 University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013. Pp. x,
280. $69.95. ISBN-13: 9780271056265.

  Reviewed by David J. Collins, S.J.
       Georgetown University

The Medieval Review

Renaissance Magic as the root of 19th century Magic

At first glance, it might seem that Renaissance magicians such as Ficino and Agrippa had embraced the image magic tradition through their own astrological magic systems and shunned the ritual magic. What Renaissance magic represented, however, was the subsuming of image magic into a broader system that shared the goals of ritual magic. This new breed of magus seems to have accepted the basic tenets and procedures of the ritual magic genre while dissociating themselves from the particular texts that came before. It was this particular mixture that powered the ceremonial magic traditions that came to prominence in the nineteenth century, and that are perpetuated even today.
From a review of Frank Klaassen's dissertation

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kiekhefer on the rationality of magic

"We cannot begin with the assumption that magic is irrational; we must ask ourselves why it was that for people whose rationality was otherwise unimpeachable it seemed to fit into a rational view of the universe, and the first step toward answering this question is listening carefully to their formulations, their definitions."
from Magic in the Middle Ages

Monday, September 2, 2013

decline of magic -- fragmentation?

"I suggest that there was a fragmentation of the occult arts and sciences during the Renaissance and early modern periods, as some aspects of the magic tradition became appropriated into the new philosophy, or new science. To a large extent it was the input from magic that made the new philosophies what they were, not only with regard to the experimental method and the new ethos that natural knowledge should be pragmatically useful, but also with regard to the substantive content of those new philosophies. At the same time,however, other aspects of the magical tradition were firmly rejected. These historical changes are perhaps best understood in terms of what sociologists of science have called ‘boundary work’, the process of demarcating supposed legitimate and valid procedures and presuppositions in establishing natural knowledge from those that are deemed invalid and illegitimate. From the Renaissance through the period known as the Scientific Revolution there was a complete rearrangement of the boundaries of what was magic or occult and what was not, which in turn involved a redrawing of the boundaries which determined what was natural philosophy and what was not.Furthermore, it is my contention that this led to a decline in the fortunes (among orthodox thinkers at least) of what was left behind in the realms of magic."

from The Fragmentation of Renaissance Occultism

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Culianu's interest in Renaissance Magic

The security police, known as Securitate, tried to recruit him. He won a scholarship to study in Italy but was turned down for an exit permit. Culianu took refuge from these stifling circumstances by studying Indian mysticism, astrology, the haunting stories of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and, most important, a few Renaissance philosophers of magic, eros and the occult whose works he pondered for the rest of his life. ''Here he found the possibility of meaningful rebellion for him -- not outward, but inward,'' Mr. Anton writes. ''Culianu found in magic a potential release from all forms of power, even the limit of time or identity.''

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Great post on the seriousness of astrology in the Renaissance

"With the advent of Humanist Renaissance in the fifteenth century astrology enjoyed a major revival centred around astro-medicine, or as it was also known iatro-mathematics, a discipline that like astrology had its roots in fourth century BCE Greece. This form of medicine believed that the causes and cures of diseases were controlled by celestial influences and that a medicus must study the horoscopes of both the patient and the disease to determine the correct course of treatment. Chairs of astrology were established at the Northern Italian humanist universities and also in Cracow in Poland, later in other parts of Europe. By the end of the century astrology was the central discipline studied and practiced by the Renaissance mathematicus. This revival in the fortunes of astrology was also made possible because the new astrologers interpreted horoscopes as being indicative and no longer deterministic. That is a horoscope indicated a possible course for the future but one that could be altered by the subject of the horoscope if he took the right actions. Actions defined by the astrologer, of course, for a further fee."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

McGinnis on Avicenna's Cosmology

Avicenna's modal ontology yet again provides him with a neat solution to this problem of medieval cosmology. From the necessary Existent there emanantes fro Avicenna the Intellect associated witht eh outermost celestial sphere. This Intellect must itself already be composite, for it is something possible in tiself but necessary through another. Now, continues Avicenna, when this Intellect contemplates the Necessary Existent, there emanates from that first Intellect another Intellect-let this second Intellect be the one associated with the fixed stars. In addition to contemplating the Necessary Existent, the first Intellect also contemplate itself, but, as has already been seen, it si something composite consisting of its won possible existence and the necessary existence it has from another. Thus, according to Avicenna's own unique emanative scheme, when the first Intellect contemplates itself as something merely possible in itself, there emanates from it a certain celestial body, whereas when it contemplates itself as necessary through another, it emanates that celestial body's soul. This process continues at the level of the second Intellect. Now, however, the second Intellect contemplates its relation the first Intellect and the Necessary Existent. This emanative process continues cascading downward with new Intellects, souls, and clestial bodies being produced until reaches the Active Intellect or Giver of Forms, which is the Intellect that produces the Moon and lunar soul. 

(thanks to Michael Chase for posting this on the Neoplatonism list)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

notes for a review of Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy

Hanegraaf does an archaeology of theory of esotericism, looking at
constructions of "magic" and other forms of rejected knowledge in
the early modern philosophical discourse that prefigures and often
haunts modern scholarly understandings of what is now discussed
under the umbrella of "Western Esotericism." Looking at theoretical
approaches from an historical lens with penetrating insight and a
welcome rigor, he explains where his discipline came from and with
great clarity elucidates many problems that still plague the field.
The result is a great success that will be invaluable to both the
theorist and the historian.

Platonic orientalism -- role of Renaissance magical theories
how occult sciences eventually became understood from unifying perspective

tainted terminologies

critiques Brian Vickers' understanding of the occult sciences

navigates the complexities of the historiography of alchemy

examines Faivre's position in relation to the religionism of Esalen

what Segal has done for Myth and Fanger for Theurgy

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Adam Gopnik on John Dee

“The Arch-Conjuror of England” (Yale), Glynn Parry’s entertaining new biography of Galileo’s contemporary the English magician and astrologer John Dee, shows that Dee was, in his own odd way, an honest man and a true intellectual. He races from Prague to Paris, holding conferences with other astrologers and publishing papers, consulting with allies and insulting rivals. He wasn’t a fraud. His life has all the look and sound of a fully respectable intellectual activity, rather like, one feels uneasily, the life of a string theorist today. The look and the sound of science . . . but it does have a funny smell. Dee doesn’t once ask himself, “Is any of this real or is it all just bullshit?” If it works, sort of, and you draw up a chart that looks cool, it counts. Galileo never stopped asking himself that question, even when it wasn’t bullshit but sounded as though it might well be. That’s why he went wrong on the tides; the-moon-does-it-at-a-distance explanation sounds too much like the assertion of magic. The temperament is not all-seeing and curious; it is, instead, irritable and impatient with the usual stories. The new stories might be ugly, but they’re not crap. “It is true that the Copernican system creates disturbances in the Aristotelian universe,” Salviati admits in the “Dialogue,” “but we are dealing with our own real and actual universe.”

 from What Galileo Saw

see also the thorough drubbing Gopnik received at the hands of the Renaissance Mathematicus

Monday, January 14, 2013

Failures of Neoplatonic Memory Magic

I explore the failures of Prospero’s magic in the context of the public conflict over memory systems that pitted Giordano Bruno’s image-rich magical system (propagated by Alexander Dicson) against the iconoclastic methods favored by the Cambridge Ramists (spearheaded in print by Rev. William Perkins) in late Elizabethan England.  The strongly visual and theatrical strategies employed by Prospero (most notably in the play’s two masques), coupled with the dependence of his magic on memory and the forced rewriting or imposition of memory, suggest that his magic is both neo-Platonic in form and specifically linked to the magical memory system described by Bruno. As a magician, Prospero tries to assert his power by controlling memory, revising history to reflect his desired narrative. However, his attempts to superimpose his own narrative are repeatedly resisted, interrupted, and rejected. Given these failures to control either his own plans or his subjects, I’d like to suggest that Prospero’s magic, most particularly in its image-rich masques and focus on memory, stages a parodic interrogation of this debate over memory and memory systems. And while resistance does not itself invalidate his magical theories, Prospero’s attempts at memory manipulation notably succeed only in altering his own interpretation of events; his inability to recognize his failure thus points to the inherently self-deceiving nature of his art. This frame enables us to consider Prospero not simply a positive or negative figure, but as one who calls into question not simply his own skill, but the basic validity of the magical system he employs.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Calder on Dee and the search for a "real character"

It is of interest to note the intellectual and historical relation between Dee's approach in the Monas and the search for a real character (Francis Bacon in the Advancement of Learning, called for one which would represent "neither letters nor words but things and notions," and would "serve for an antidote against the curse of the confusion of tongues") and the universal language which occupied so many in the succeeding century - Kircher, Dolgarno Hartleb and through him Boyle, Wilkins (who declared "As men do generally agree in the same Principles of Reason, so do they likewise agree in the same internal Notions or Apprehensions of things") and others, and received in England the attentions and encouragement of the Royal Society (94); Dee's manner of regardig his hieroglyph and its constituent parts approaches in some respects Leibniz' conception of the universal character which underlay, though it has been inevitably overshadowed by his more fruitful vision of a general logical calculus, for this latter implied the possibility of the reduction of all scientific concepts, by analysis, into a small number originally constitutive of them, to be expressed in ideographic symbols, revealing their nature and the operations they allowed of and from which all scientific knowledge might be then deduced

Calder on John Dee's answer to Socrates in the Cratylus

Such a position provides an answer to Socrates' objection to such procedures at the end of the Cratylus (89) that the far better and surer way to knowledge is to avoid such an attempt to learn from the image (word or sign), however exact an imitation it may be, and to examine the things themselves, that are supposedly represented. For to Dee, the figures he examines would appear to stand for intelligible concepts, employed by God in creation, principles not directly manifest to sense through particular objects, complex symbolic syntheses of the universal law. This also applies in part to his more conventional "Cabalism," using words and letters, in the Monas, while the way in which other standard objections - as those raised in theCratylus - were thought to be adequately answered has already been discussed (90). It is interesting however that Roger Bacon relies on the same text as Dee cites in the prefatory letter, to justify such practises; writing "For the Lord says, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the alw till all be fulfilled. And therefore there is an admirable exposition in the book on the meanings of the scriptures stating how the individual letters of the Hebrew Alphabet had significance respecting the ancient people, and how they show the number of centuries through which the state of that race passed as regards its different periods and ages, in accordance with the special powers and potencies ofthe letters....I cannot sufficiently admire the manner in which the examination was derived, although it may seem to the uninitiated to have a weak basis in the letters of the alphabet which are the first rudiments of children. But according to the teaching of the Apostles lesser things are more necessary and are to be accorded greater honour...."(91) Bacon, as Dee here also, gives equal status to the Greek and Latin alphabets. Agrippa does the same, declaring that it is God who has given man discourse in different languages, of which the written characters have a fixed order, and particular shapes which are not the result of chance, or human invention, but divinely formed in accordance with the celestial bodies and angelic powers and the virtue of these. In a manner very close to the method of Dee's Monas, he attempts the reduction of letters to zodiacal and planetary signs (92). Tymme sums up the case in his preface to his proposed translation of Dee's book. Adam he says gave names to creatures "agreeing with their nature," he inscribed in two tablets of stone with prophecies and philosophy in hieroglyphical characters, one of which Noah discovered after the flood in Armenia, and from this the signs of the planets derive. A universal science was then possible by their means, but the knowledge it embodied has since then not only diminished but has been divided up in such sort that its surviving fragments "make one an Astronomer, another a Magitian, a third a Cabalist, and a fourth an Alchemist"; but this lost unity of science Dee's work aims at reestablishing by means of the primitive planetary figures and the Cabalah, which last says Tymme "out of hidden and misticall sciences serveth to make away for men to come unto God."(93)

Calder on the influence of Proclus on John Dee

Now, although many early neo-Platonists such as Plotinus (who praises for instance the way the Egyptian sages have expressed the true natures of each thing in the hieroglyphs standing for them (86)) or Iamblichus, dealt with the virtues of figures from this point of view, it is Proclus who offers some of the fullest, most explicit discussions, and the most obviously relevant to Dee's present work. He recurs frequently to the theme, seeming to regard the best method in all instruction to be that which he attributes to the Pythagoreans, which falls into three stages (perhaps corresponding to the familiar levels of Sensible Intuition, Abstract Reason, and Spritual Reality) the first and third of which employ this approach. For prior to scientific doctrine the Pythagoreans render manifest the proposed objects of enquiry by approximate similitudes and images, and finally once more have recourse to symbols of a different kind to reveal the arcane virtues of these objects (87). In the preface to his commentary on Euclid, a work in which Dee seems to have been thoroughly steeped, Proclus declares that in Numbers, Figures and Musical Accords are to be found the three ways in which the constitutive reasons of all intellectual, moral and theological truths are presented to the human mind, and later has a lengthy discussion on the virtues of figures reflecting directly on the position taken up in Dee's Monas