MAGIC, SCIENCE, RELIGION. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS

Level: 
Master's
Course Status: 
Elective
CEU credits: 
2
ECTS credits: 
3
Academic year: 
2010/2011
Semester: 
Fall
Start and end dates: 
14 Sep 2010 - 7 Dec 2010
Full description: 

COURSE DESCRIPTION Central European University / Department of Medieval Studies

MAGIC, SCIENCE, RELIGION. THE DEVELOPMENT
OF THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS
MA course in Medieval, Early Modern and Religious Studies
(Tuesdays, 13:30–15:10)
György E. Szönyi
Office hours after the class + appointment
(N11/114, SzonyiGy@ceu.hu; geszonyi@freemail.hu)

COURSE DESCRIPTION
The course introduces the basic concepts of Western esoterism, then it discusses those
Classical, Eastern and medieval traditions which amalgamated into the syncretic concepts of the
"great Renaissance magi": Ficino, Pico, Trithemius, Agrippa, Paracelsus, Dee, Bruno, Fludd, and
others. Beyond the writings of these early modern thinkers texts will be used from Greco-
Egyptian mythology, Hellenistic Neoplatonism, Coptic Gnosticism, medieval angelology, Jewish
cabala and the sources of ceremonial magic. The conclusion of the course will point toward the
modern period (post-17th century to the present), which will be discussed in a second course,
next semester. The sequel of the present course will examine the rise of the alternative occult
thinking in the time of the Enlightenment, reaching as far as the contemporary pertinence of the
esoteric today.
The goal of the course is to make students aware of an intellectual tradition which
reached from Antiquity through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and has been one of the
stimulating forces behind the so called "Western ideology". This tradition has not died out, it is
still active in modern Western esoterism and New Age ideology, except that since the 17th century
it has become rather a counterculture than a dominating intellectual and cultural trend.
The learning outcomes will consist of 1/ an accumulation of historical knowledge in a
specific and relevant field of intellectual/cultural history; 2/ an awareness of the
interconnectedness of pre-modern ideas and recent intellectual/ideological developments; 3/ the
enhancement of methodological equipment with which students can handle and interpret
intellectual and cultural history with ample expertise. The learning outcomes will be assessed
through class participation, the presentation of a book review, and the essay.

ASSIGNMENTS, GRADING
–Participation in classes (30%)
–Book review-presentation (30%)
–Essay (40% – 8-10 pages, min. 8 items of references, 30% contents, 10% format/
language).

TOPICS AND READINGS
(Extracts from primary sources will be provided in the "Reader". Underlined titles from among the References can
be chosen for the "book review-presentation".)

1. September 14 (13:00).
Zero-week lecture – Definitions: The Occult World Picture. The Great Chain of Being –
correspondences – macrocosm/microcosm – mysticism-esotericism-magic – a typology of magical
practices.
Text: --
Reference: Seligmann, The History of Magic and the Occult; Szõnyi, John Dee, Ch 1-2.

2. September 28.
The Western Esoteric Traditions – A Historical Introduction. Definitions of the esoteric and
the historiography of the research of Western esotericism – the Warburg school, Henry Corbin,
Antoine Faivre, etc.
Text: Goodrick-Clarke, Studying Western Esotericism; Versluis, Methods in the Study of Western
Esotericism (reader).
Reference: Goodrick-Clarke, The Western Esoteric Traditions, Ch 1.

3. October 5.
The Renaissance Revival of Magic. The Renaissance discovery of the Hermetic Tradition and
the Christianization of the Kabbalah.
Text: Pico della Mirandola, De hominis dignitate / On the Dignity of Man (reader).
Reference: Idel, "The Magical..."; Szõnyi, John Dee, 90-96; Yates, Giordano Bruno, Ch 5.

4. October 12.
The Hermetica in Context of Ancient Magic. Philosophical hermeticism – the "technical"
hermetica – neoplatonic esotericism.
Text: Corpus hermeticum IV, XIII, Ascpelius (Copenhaver, Hermetica, reader); Platonici
(Iamblichus, Proclus, reader).
Reference: Copenhaver, Corpus hermeticum, "Introduction"; Szõnyi, John Dee, Ch 3; Yates,
Bruno, Ch 1-3.

5. October 19.
Medieval Esotericism (Pseudo-Dionysius, Lullus, Picatrix, Jewish mysticism, Ceremonial/
Solomonic magic). Angelology as the basis of later magical theories – A variety of medieval
magical theories and practices.
Text: Synopsis of John the Monk's Book of Visions (Fanger, Conjuring Spirits, 242-49, reader);
"Salmon's Almadel Art" (from The Lesser Key of Solomon, ed. Joseph H. Peterson,
reader).
Reference: Fanger, Conjuring Spirits; Flint, The Rise of Magic; Idel, Ascension on High,
Kieckheffer, Magic, Láng, Unlocked Books; Scholem, Major Trends.

6. October 26.
The Transisiton from Medieval to Renaissance Magic. Magia naturalis (Pseudo Albertus
Magnus) – Image magic (Ficino).
Text: Albertus, The Book of Secrets (excepts, reader); Ficino, De triplici vita (The Book of Life,
234-241, 321-33, 342-49, reader).
Reference: Szõnyi, John Dee, 79-90; Yates, Bruno, Ch 4.

7. November 2.
The Formation of Renaissance Magic (traditions of classical and medieval heritage).
Trithemius – Lazzarelli – "Mercurio" da Correggio – Knowledge, angelology, 'exaltatio'.
Text: Trithemius on "Mercurio" da Correggio (Hanegraaff ed., Lazarelli, 329-35, reader);
Lazzarelli, Prefaces to "Mercurio" da Correggio (Hanegraaff ed., Lazarelli, 151-63,
reader);
Reference: Brann, Trithemius; Hanegraaff ed., Lazzarelli; Szõnyi, John Dee, 105-10.

8. November 9.
The First Comprehensive Synthesis: Agrippa. The tripartite system of magic: natural, celestial,
ceremonial.
Text:Agrippa, De occulta philosophia (Three Books on Occult Philosophy, ed. Tyson, TOC, lxvlxxii,
1.1-2 [3–7], 2.35 [373], 3.3-4 [448-51] reader).
Reference: Copenhaver, "Astrology and Magic"; Szõnyi, John Dee, 110-131; Yates, Bruno, Ch7.

9. November 16.
Magic and Science 1: Copernicus, Paracelsus, Servet, della Porta. Magia naturalis – hermetic
considerations about the new astronomy – the status of alchemy and astrology in the early modern
period.
Text: Paracelsus, Archidoxies... (Waite ed., 3-9, 81-83, reader); Servetus, A Discourse in Favour
of Astrology (reader).
Reference: Ball, Paracelsus; Blumenberg, Copernicus; Boorstin, The Discoverers, 294-304, 338-
50; Grell, Paracelsus; Szõnyi, John Dee, 131-45; Yates, Bruno, Ch 8.

10. November 23.
Magic as Alternative Universalism 1: Guillaume Postel and John Dee. Early modern
universalist concepts: interconfessionalism, general reformation, philosophia perennis, pansophia.
Text: Postel, Concordia mundi (The Concord of the World, Ross, Portable, 372-75, reader);
Postel, Introduction to the Zohar (reader); Dee, Mathematical Preface (reader).
Reference: Kuntz, Venice; Szõnyi, John Dee, 145-53, 174-81.

11. November 30.
Magic and Science 2: Bodin, Bruno, Kepler, Fludd. "Scientific approach" to witchcraft – The
contexts of the scientific revolution – inductive and deductive methodologies – religious overtones
in early modern scientific discourse.
Text: Bodin, Demon-Mania, 93-101 (reader); Bruno, On Magic, 105-118 (reader)
Reference: Boorstin, The Discoverers, 305-27, 386-417; Yates, Bruno.

12. December 7.
Magic as Alternative Universalism 2: The Sociology of Magic. From the medieval 'clerical
underworld' through humanist subversion to the secret societies.
Text: Szõnyi, John Dee, Go-Between (reader); The Rosicrucian Manifestos (Yates, The Rosicrucian,
reader).
Reference: ; Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.

REFERENCES, BIBLIOGRAPHY
Primary Sources
Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Tr. James Freake [London,
1651], completely annotated with modern commentary by Donald Tyson. St. Paul, Minnesota:
Llewellyn Publications, 1997.
Bodin, Jean. On the Demon-mania of Witches. Ed. Jonathan L. Pearl. University of Toronto:
Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2001 (Renaissance and reformation
Texts in Translation 7).
Bruno, Giordano. Cause, Principle, and Unity; Essays on Magic. Ed. Robert de Lucca, Richard
J. Blackwell. Cambridge: CUP, 1998 (CEULib).
Corpus hermeticum = Brian Copenhaver ed. Hermetica. The Greek Corpus hermeticum and the
Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation with Notes and Introduction. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Ficino, Marsilio. Three Books on Life. A Critical Edition and Translation with Introduction and
Notes. Ed. Carol V. Kaske & John R. Clark. Binghamton, NY: SUNY Press, 1983 (Medieval
& Renaissance Texts & Studies 57) (CEULib).
Kieckheffer, Richard ed. Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer's Manual of the Fifteenth Century.
Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1997 (CEULib).
Lazzarelli, Lodovico. The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents. Ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff
and Ruud M. Bouthoorn. Tempe, Arizona: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies,
2005 (MRTS 281).
Paracelsus, Theophrastus Bombastus. The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus
Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, called Paracelsus the Great (2 vols). Ed. A. E. Waite
(1894). Berkeley: Shambala, 1976.
Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. "The Dignity of Man". In Ross and McLaughlin 476-79.
Postel, Guillaume. "The Concord of the World". In Ross and McLaughlin 372-75.
Ross, James Bruce, Mary Martin McLaughlin ed. The Portable Renaissance Reader. London:
Penguin, 1968.
Servetus, Michael. "The Discourse in Favour of Astrology (1538)". In Charles D. O'Malley ed.
Servetus: A Translation of His Geographical, Medical, and Astrological Writings.
Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1953, 168-89.
Trithemius, Johannes. Steganographia. Ed. Adam Maclean. Edinburgh:Magnum Opus Hermetic
Sourceworks, 1982.
The Zohar. Tr. and comm. Daniel C. Matt. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2004
(CEULib).

Secondary Sources
Ball, Philip. The Devil's Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science.
London: Heinemann, 2006 (CEULib).
Blumenberg, Hans. The Genesis of the Copernican World. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987
(CEULib).
Boorstin, Daniel J. The Discoverers. New York: Vintage Books, 1983 (CEULib).
Brann, Noel L. Trithemius and Magical Theology. A Chapter in the Controversy over Occult
Studies in Early Modern Europe. NY: SUNY Press, 1999.
Copenhaver, Brian. "Astrology and Magic," in Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, et. al. ed.,
The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988, 264-300 (CEULib).
Fanger, Clare ed. Conjuring Spirits. Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic. Phoenix
Mill: Sutton, 1998 (CEULib).
Flint, Valerie I. J. The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1991 (CEULib).
Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Western Esoteric Traditions – A Historical Introduction. Oxford
University Press, 2008.
Grell, Ole Peter ed. Paracelsus: the Man and His Reputation, His Ideas and Their Transformation.
Leiden: Brill, 1998 (CEULib).
Idel, Moshe. "The Magical and Neoplatonic Interpretation of the Kabbalah in the Renaissance."
In David B. Ruderman ed. Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and
Baroque Italy. New York University Press, 1992, 107-170 (CEULib).
Kieckheffer, Richard. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: CUP, 1989 (CEULib).
Kuntz, Marion Leathers. Venice, Myth and Utopian Thought in the Sixteenth-century: Bodin,
Postel and the Virgin of Venice. Aldershot, Hampshire: Variorum, 1999 (CEULib).
Láng, Benedek. Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of
Central Europe. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008 (CEULib).
Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1961). New York: Schockem Books,
1995 (CEULib).
Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic and the Occult. New York: Harmony Books, 1983
(CEULib).
Szõnyi, György E. John Dee's Occltism: Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs. New
York: SUNY Press, 2004 (CEULib).
Szõnyi, György E. "John Dee as Cultural, Scientific, Apocalyptic Go-Between." In Andreas
Höfele, Werner von Koppenfels ed. Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in
Early Modern Europe. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005, 88-104.
Versluis, Arthur. "What is Esoteric? Methods in the Study of Western Esotericism," Esoterica
4 (2002): 1-15, available at <http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIV/Methods.htm>.
Yates, Frances A. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964). Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1991 (CEULib).
Yates, Frances A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1973). London: Routledge, 1993 (CEULib).