Renaissance magic
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 (15th and 16th century) saw a resurgence in hermeticism
Hermeticism or the Western Hermetic Tradition is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus...

and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic
Ceremonial magic
Ceremonial magic, also referred to as high magic and as learned magic, is a broad term used in the context of Hermeticism or Western esotericism to encompass a wide variety of long, elaborate, and complex rituals of magic. It is named as such because the works included are characterized by...

The Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

, on the other hand, saw the rise of scientism
Scientism refers to a belief in the universal applicability of the systematic methods and approach of science, especially the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints...

, in such forms as the substitution of chemistry for alchemy, the dethronement of the Ptolemaic theory of the universe assumed by astrology, the development of the germ theory of disease, that restricted the scope of applied magic and threatened the belief systems it relied on.

Artes magicae

The seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae, arts prohibited by canon law, as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb
Johannes Hartlieb
Johannes Hartlieb was a physician of Late Medieval Bavaria, probably of a family from Neuburg an der Donau. He was in the employment of Louis VII of Bavaria and Albert VI of Austria in the 1430s, and of Albert III of Bavaria from 1440, and of the latter's son Sigismund from 1456.In 1444, he...

 in 1456, their sevenfold partition reflecting that of the artes liberales and artes mechanicae
Artes Mechanicae
"Mechanical arts": a medieval concept of ordered practices or skills, often juxtaposed to the traditional seven liberal arts Artes liberales. Also called "servile" and considered "vulgar", from antiquity they had been deemed unbecoming for a free man, as ministering to baser needs.Already Johannes...

, were:
  1. nigromancy ("black magic
    Black magic
    Black magic is the type of magic that draws on assumed malevolent powers or is used with the intention to kill, steal, injure, cause misfortune or destruction, or for personal gain without regard to harmful consequences. As a term, "black magic" is normally used by those that do not approve of its...

    ", demonology
    Demonology is the systematic study of demons or beliefs about demons. It is the branch of theology relating to superhuman beings who are not gods. It deals both with benevolent beings that have no circle of worshippers or so limited a circle as to be below the rank of gods, and with malevolent...

    , by popular etymology, from necromancy)
  2. geomancy
    Geomancy is a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or the patterns formed by tossed handfuls of soil, rocks, or sand...

  3. hydromancy
    Hydromancy is a method of divination by means of water, including the color, ebb and flow, or ripples produced by pebbles dropped in a pool....

  4. aeromancy
    Aeromancy is divination conducted by interpreting atmospheric conditions. Alternate spellings include Arologie, Aeriology and Aërology.-Practice:...

  5. pyromancy
    Pyromancy is the art of divination by means of fire.-History of pyromancy:Due to the importance of fire in society from the earliest of times, it is quite likely that pyromancy was one of the earlier forms of divination...

  6. chiromancy
    Palmistry or chiromancy , is the art of characterization and foretelling the future through the study of the palm, also known as palm reading, or chirology. The practice is found all over the world, with numerous cultural variations...

  7. scapulimancy
    Scapulimancy is the practice of divination by use of scapulae...

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 gypsies (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 grimoire
A grimoire is a textbook of magic. Such books typically include instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination and also how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels, spirits, and demons...

s such as the Picatrix
Picatrix is the name used today, and historically in Christian Europe, for a grimoire originally written in Arabic titled غاية الحكيم , which most scholars assume was written in the middle of the 11th century, though a supported argument for composition in the first half of the 10th century has...

or the Liber Rasielis.

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, Gypsy 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
A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and lynching, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials...

, further re-inforced by the turmoils of the Protestant
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, especially in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, and Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...


C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

 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 Pico and Ficino was made popular in northern Europe, most notably England, by 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 througout 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"

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
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

 or sorcery
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

, and most learned authors take pains to clearly renounce the practice of forbidden arts. Thus, Agrippa while admitting that natural magic
Natural magic
Natural magic in the context of Renaissance magic is that part of the occult which deals with natural forces directly, as opposed to ceremonial magic, in particular goety and theurgy, which deals with the summoning of spirits...

 is the highest form of natural philosophy unambiguously rejects all forms of ceremonial magic
Ceremonial magic
Ceremonial magic, also referred to as high magic and as learned magic, is a broad term used in the context of Hermeticism or Western esotericism to encompass a wide variety of long, elaborate, and complex rituals of magic. It is named as such because the works included are characterized by...

refers to a practice which includes the invocation of angels or the evocation of demons, and usage of the term in English largely derives from the 17th century grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon, which features an Ars Goetia as its first section...

 or necromancy
Necromancy is a claimed form of magic that involves communication with the deceased, either by summoning their spirit in the form of an apparition or raising them bodily, for the purpose of divination, imparting the ability to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge...

). 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 subsided almost instantaneously.

List of authors

Renaissance authors writing on occult or magical topics include:

Late Middle Ages to early Renaissance
  • Johannes Hartlieb
    Johannes Hartlieb
    Johannes Hartlieb was a physician of Late Medieval Bavaria, probably of a family from Neuburg an der Donau. He was in the employment of Louis VII of Bavaria and Albert VI of Austria in the 1430s, and of Albert III of Bavaria from 1440, and of the latter's son Sigismund from 1456.In 1444, he...

     (ca. 1400–1468)
  • Marsilio Ficino
    Marsilio Ficino
    Marsilio Ficino was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance, an astrologer, a reviver of Neoplatonism who was in touch with every major academic thinker and writer of his day, and the first translator of Plato's complete extant works into Latin...

  • Thomas Norton
    Thomas Norton (alchemist)
    Thomas Norton was an English poet and alchemist. He is known as the author of the Ordinall of Alchemy , an alchemical poem of around 3000 lines. According to Jonathan Hughes, Norton was born in Calne, Wiltshire...

  • Johann Georg Faust
    Johann Georg Faust
    Dr. Johann Georg Faust , also known in English as John Faustus , was an itinerant alchemist, astrologer, and magician of the German Renaissance...

     (ca. 1480-1540)

Renaissance and Reformation
  • Leonardo da Vinci
    Leonardo da Vinci
    Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

  • Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494)
  • Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
    Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
    Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim was a German magician, occult writer, theologian, astrologer, and alchemist.-Life:Agrippa was born in Cologne in 1486...

  • Paracelsus
    Paracelsus was a German-Swiss Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist....

  • Georg Pictorius
    Georg Pictorius
    Georg Pictorius of Villingen was a physician and an author of the German Renaissance.He became active as a physician from 1540 in Ensisheim...

     (c. 1500-1569)
  • Nostradamus
    Michel de Nostredame , usually Latinised to Nostradamus, was a French apothecary and reputed seer who published collections of prophecies that have since become famous worldwide. He is best known for his book Les Propheties , the first edition of which appeared in 1555...

  • Johann Weyer
    Johann Weyer
    Johann Weyer , was a Dutch physician, occultist and demonologist, disciple and follower of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. He was among the first to publish against the persecution of witches...

  • Thomas Charnock
    Thomas Charnock
    Thomas Charnock was an English alchemist and occultist who devoted his life to the quest for the Philosopher's Stone.A native of the Isle of Thanet, Charnock spent most of his life in Combwich, a small village on the Steart Peninsula, near Bridgwater in the west of England...

  • Judah Loew ben Bezalel
    Judah Loew ben Bezalel
    Judah Loew ben Bezalel, alt. Loewe, Löwe, or Levai, widely known to scholars of Judaism as the Maharal of Prague, or simply The MaHaRaL, the Hebrew acronym of "Moreinu ha-Rav Loew," was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who served as a leading rabbi in the city of...

  • John Dee
    John Dee (mathematician)
    John Dee was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy....

  • Giordano Bruno
    Giordano Bruno
    Giordano Bruno , born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited...

  • Edward Kelley
    Edward Kelley
    Sir Edward Kelley or Kelly, also known as Edward Talbot was an ambiguous figure in English Renaissance occultism and self-declared spirit medium who worked with John Dee in his magical investigations...


Baroque period
  • Basil Valentine (15th century- published since 1604)
  • Nicolas Flamel (ca. 1330 or 1340- 1418?- published since 1612)
  • Michael Sendivogius (1566 - 1636)
  • Tommaso Campanella
    Tommaso Campanella
    Tommaso Campanella OP , baptized Giovanni Domenico Campanella, was an Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet.-Biography:...

  • Jan Baptist van Helmont
    Jan Baptist van Helmont
    Jan Baptist van Helmont was an early modern period Flemish chemist, physiologist, and physician. He worked during the years just after Paracelsus and iatrochemistry, and is sometimes considered to be "the founder of pneumatic chemistry"...

  • Franz Kessler
    Franz Kessler
    Franz Kessler was a scholar, inventor and alchemist living in the Holy Roman Empire.He wrote a book called Unterschiedliche bisshero mehrern Theils Secreta oder Verborgene, Geheime Kunste , which was published in Oppenheim in September 1616...

  • Adrian von Mynsicht
    Adrian von Mynsicht
    Adrian von Mynsicht was a German alchemist. He is best known for the allegorical work Aureum Saeculum Redivivum , published under the pseudonym Henricus Madathanus, and usually dated to 1621/2...

  • Sir Kenelm Digby (1603–1665)
  • Johann Friedrich Schweitzer
    Johann Friedrich Schweitzer
    Johann Friedrich Schweitzer was a Dutch physician and alchemical writer, of German extraction. He is known for his book Vitulus Aureus , published in 1667. Another book is Ichts aus Nichts, für alle Begierigen der Natur from 1655.He is notorious for the story that he actually carried out...

  • Isaac Newton
    Isaac Newton
    Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

     (1643–1727), see Isaac Newton's occult studies
    Isaac Newton's occult studies
    Sir Isaac Newton , the noted English scientist and mathematician, wrote many works that would now be classified as occult studies.These occult works explored chronology, alchemy, and Biblical interpretation ....

See also

  • Alchemy
    Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

  • Kabbalistic astrology
    Kabbalistic astrology
    Kabbalistic astrology Kabbalistic astrology Kabbalistic astrology (called Mazal or Mazalot ["zodiac," "destiny"] is a system of astrology based upon the Hebrew Kabbalah. It is used to interpret and delineate a person's birth chart, seeking to understand it through a Kabbalistic lens...

  • Hieroglyphica (discovered 1422)
  • Natural Magic
    Natural Magic
    is a work of popular science by Giambattista della Porta first published in Naples in 1558. Its popularity ensured it was republished in five Latin editions within ten years, with translations into Italian , French, and Dutch printed.Natural Magic was revised and considerably expanded...

  • The Book of Abramelin
  • Key of Solomon
    Key of Solomon
    The Key of Solomon , is a grimoire, or book on magic incorrectly attributed to King Solomon. It probably dates back to the 14th or 15th century Italian Renaissance...

  • Character (symbol)
  • Baroque philosophy
  • History of science in the Renaissance
    History of science in the Renaissance
    During the Renaissance, great advances occurred in geography, astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, manufacturing, and engineering. The rediscovery of ancient scientific texts was accelerated after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the invention of printing which would democratize...

  • Continuity thesis
    Continuity thesis
    In the history of ideas, the continuity thesis is the hypothesis that there was no radical discontinuity between the intellectual development of the Middle Ages and the developments in the Renaissance and early modern period. Thus the idea of an intellectual or scientific revolution following the...

  • Scientific revolution
    Scientific revolution
    The Scientific Revolution is an era associated primarily with the 16th and 17th centuries during which new ideas and knowledge in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry transformed medieval and ancient views of nature and laid the foundations for modern science...

  • History of magic
    History of magic
    History of magic may refer to:*Magic *Magic **Magic in the Greco-Roman world**Renaissance magic-See also:*Magic and religion*European witchcraft*Christian views on magic*Shamanism*History of religion...

External links


  • Kurt Benesch, Magie der Renaissance (1985). ISBN 3921695910.
  • Norman Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom, University Of Chicago Press (2001). ISBN 978-0226113074.
  • Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press (2011). ISBN 978-1461093824.
  • Nauert, Charles G. Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought. Urbana: University of Illinois Press (1965).
  • Ruickbie, Leo
    Leo Ruickbie
    Leo Ruickbie is an historian and sociologist of magic, witchcraft and Wicca. He is the author of several books, beginning with Witchcraft Out of the Shadows, a 2004 publication outlining the history of witchcraft from ancient Greece until the modern day. Ruickbie was born in Scotland and took a...

    , Faustus: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Magician. The History Press (2009). ISBN 978-0750950909
  • 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 978-0791462232.
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