Historicising ‘Western Learned Magic’

Preliminary Remarks

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  • 1 University of Erfurt

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This programmatic paper conceptualises a research topic that has emerged in academic research over the past decades—‘Western learned magic’—and provides a theoretical foundation for its historicisation to come. Even though a large amount of specialised findings on this topic have been brought forward in recent years, a diachronic and cross-cultural overview of the history of ‘Western learned magic’ that reconstructs possible red threads through the manifold material is still an urgent desideratum. Based on the observation that most classic definitions and theories of ‘magic’ are irrelevant to the history of ‘Western learned magic’—as these have been deduced from anthropological sources and theorising—this article raises a range of theoretical issues that need to be taken into account in the course of its historicisation: continuity, changeability, hybridity, deviance, morality, complexity, efficacy, and multiplicity. By means of this novel theoretical setup, historians will be able to work towards a methodologically sound history of ‘Western learned magic’ that takes into account the recent criticism against a second-order category of ‘magic’ while, at the same time, revealing out-dated stereotypes and master narratives on the topic.

  • 20

    See on this observation also Pasi, ‘Magic’, 1135, 1139.

  • 31

    Otto, ‘A Catholic “magician” historicises “magic” ’, 432.

  • 36

    See Bailey, Magic and Superstition in Europe, 223.

  • 37

    Ibid., 9–42.

  • 38

    Ibid., 238–247.

  • 44

    Ibid., 6–43.

  • 45

    Ibid., 272–277.

  • 46

    Ibid., 47–48.

  • 47

    Ibid., 175–177.

  • 48

    Ibid., 177–179.

  • 49

    Ibid., 184–185.

  • 50

    Ibid., 272–274.

  • 112

    See Lévi, Transcendental Magic, 235.

  • 121

    See McCown, The Testament of Solomon, 10–28.

  • 122

    See ibid., 46 (TestSal 15, 5 Rec B); see further Otto, Magie, 378 f. However, the Testamentum Salomonis is often transmitted in codices that include self-referential ‘magical’ texts such as the Hygromanteía Salomonis; even though this Byzantine text may have served as a Middle Greek prototype version of the Latin Clavicula Salomonis, it is still barely recognised by Byzantine scholars (as it is neither mentioned in Magdalino/Mavroudi, The occult sciences in Byzantium, nor in Walker, ‘Magic in Medieval Byzantium’). Nonetheless, both texts can be found—bound together—in Ms. Harleian 5596 (see McCown, The Testament of Solomon, 13 f.), Ms. Bologna Ms. 3632 (see ibid., 21 f.), or Ms. Paris Bibliotheque Nationale, Anc. fonds grecs, 2419 (ibid., 25 f.).

  • 123

    Duling, ‘Testament of Solomon’, 964.

  • 124

    See ibid., 962, footnote k.

  • 128

    Ibid., 375 (German trsl.). Greek text and French translation can be found in Ruelle, ‘Hermès Trismégiste: Le Livré Sacre sur les Décans’.

  • 130

    See their description in Duling, ‘Testament of Solomon’, 977–981.

  • 137

    Ibid., 13.

  • 146

    See Otto, ‘A Catholic “Magician” historicises “Magic” ’, 422–426.

  • 153

    See Gotha research library, Ms. Orient. 1251, f. 9–11; the calculation recipe is related to a prescription in Aḥmad ibn al-Būnī’s Manbaʿ uṣūl al-ḥikma (see al-Ḥalabī, Manbaʿ uṣūl al-ḥikma, 61 f.). A technique for calculating angel names, derived from a Hebrew template, is described in Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia, book 3, ch. 27.

  • 167

    See Carroll, Liber Null & Psychonaut, 20–22.

  • 196

    Otto, ‘A Catholic “Magician” historicises “Magic” ’, 422.

  • 197

    See on this point also Pasi, ‘Magic’, 1139; Pasi, ‘Theses de Magia’, 3–5; Otto, ‘Towards historicizing “Magic” in Antiquity’, 338/39; Bogdan, ‘Introduction: Modern Western Magic’. For a similar argument with regard to ‘Western Esotericism’, see Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy, 254 f. The classical sociological argument would be that social stigmatisation eventually leads to appropriation and identification: see Goffman, Stigma, and Lipp, Stigma und Charisma (who applied Goffman’s notion of ‘stigma’ to the field of religious deviance).

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  • 207

    Bohak, ‘Jewish Magic in the Middle Ages’, 268.

  • 222

    See Davies, Grimoires, 98–100. On the Petit Albert see Peterson, ‘Les secrets merveillieux du Petit Albert’.

  • 238

    See, e.g., Fanger, Conjuring Spirits, vii–ix; Fanger, Invoking Angels (therein foremost Mesler, ‘The Liber iuratus Honorii and the Christian Reception of Angel Magic’); see also various entries in Collins, The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West.

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  • 278

    See Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy, 164–177.

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