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Individual students may take a readings course: they are directed in studying a subject not available in the regular classroom schedule. This page displays an example of the papers that they create.

                                                   Magic During the Renaissance
                                                               Jenne German
                                                     Salt Lake Community College
                                                              Sociology 1900
                                                               July 26, 2007

                                                   Magic During the Renaissance
 Nearly 600 years ago between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries European society came out of what historians call Medieval Times and entered the Renaissance. One thing was constant– people could scarcely believe what was happening in and to their world:
                   The printing press was already working at full speed
                   . . . The Crusades had brought the East closer to the 
                   West; its mysteries now seemed less impenetrable, as
                   expanding trade reached across the Mediterranean.
                   Also, with the discovery of America, the equilibrium of
                   Europe was disturbed. The social revolution implicit
                   in the Peasants’ War in Germany, the Reformation,
                   the political expansion by the House of Hapsburg, the 
                   economic marasmus aggravated by inflation, caused
                   partly by the abundance of gold imported from America,
                   and the constant threat of Turkish invasion, created an
                   atmosphere of instability. (Seligmann, 1997, pp. 206-7) 
Renaissance society was changing at a greater rate than traditional social institutions could keep up with. Experiencing cultural lag, such institutions were in need of reform to meet the needs of a people feeling dislocated and unsure of their identity.

 A revitalization movement was started to reconcile and answer such feelings of anomie. The movement was toward reformation, which relied heavily upon magic and various interpretations of magic. Magic during the Renaissance was an ideology used to explain phenomena otherwise unexplainable. People believed what was unexplainable was supernatural, and by manipulating the supernatural, that is by practicing magic, supernatural forces could be channeled into people’s lives. How magic was interpreted as “divinely” or “demonically” inspired is what gave credence to its practice. Magic became a functional equivalent of religion, as it was never wholly recognized as a religion itself but fulfilled similar needs. Renaissance magic elevated an individual’s control over present needs and conditions and provided a kind of spiritual-intellectual refuge in a constantly changing world. Once properly allied with changing societal concerns, magic and its ideology could re-define values and ease a shift toward secularization.  This paper will discuss how changing interpretations of magic influenced Renaissance gravitation toward reformation and secularization and its subsequent affect on gender stratification.
                                                   Experimenting with Magic
 During the Renaissance, people came to understand natural forces in their environment via experimentation. Experimentation in various “scientific” fields was rooted in magic and continued to produce otherwise unexplainable results at an accelerated rate. Answers and implications stemming from magical experiments were frequently contradictory and threatening to prevailing scholastic and religious ideology, bringing attention to a fallacy in Medieval knowledge. Reformation thus took place outside traditional social institutions, leaving ideas about magic’s role in society up for individual examination. Magic was a double edged sword– imperative to studying and understanding life while also destroying what people previously believed to be true.

Magic itself was what needed reformation so it could provide justification for the reformative dynamic it was helping to catalyze. Before magic could be reformed, it had to change its former status. Medieval demonic magic was broadened and transmuted into reformed, classically inspired religious magic by allying itself with changing attitudes and perspectives.

 Renaissance attitude was against Medieval scholasticism and prevailing cultural context, that is methods and instruments, of attaining and transmitting knowledge. Unhindered by accumulated degradation of what previously passed as knowledge, a revival of classics accordingly meant a return to and hope for a pure, golden culture. New vernacular translations and study of Greek and Christian works shifted “authors” and “authorities,” providing a new, more accessible framework for reforming Renaissance culture (Garin, 1997, p. 134). Where rigid Aristotelianism formerly reigned, Stoicism, Platonism and Pythagorianism, often leaden with magic, created a return to topics of immortality and everlasting fame (Kristeller, 1979, p. 187). Popularity of such secular philosophies even prompted the Lateran decree of 1513 whereby the soul’s immortality was established as Catholic dogma (Kristeller, 1979, p. 191).
 Perception became more “human” and secular, people’s activities and behaviors became central, and intellectual pursuits became “an investigation of man’s action in the world and of his destiny”
(Kristeller, 1979, p. 167; Garin, 1997. p. 129).

Renaissance man was a universalist, someone who’s knowledge and actions spanned various fields and disciplines, but specifically someone “deeply involved in the problems of contemporary society, the city, and the family . . . [and someone who had] an awareness of the dramatic nature of the human condition” (Garin, 1997, p. 143). Fields oriented to aid humanity, like medicine, were at once praised and celebrated, including their magical overtones and undertones “for what physician and what patient would not try all means [whether magical or not] to determine an accurate prognosis?” (Hall, 1994, p. 168).
 Magic and its alignment with such attitudes and perspectives on humanity couched itself in a kind of spiritual elitism where “knowledge became an ethic and a ritual as well”(Albanese, 1981, p. 185).  Those with social and financial ability to access education became the sociopolitical leaders of reformation.
  Magic and its practice was no longer a bizarre underground phenomenon barely visible or hardly advocated during the Renaissance, but infiltrated nearly all aspects of European society. Magic found itself participating in political culture where self-proclaimed magicians collaborated with princes and cardinals, elevating the status of Medieval magicians to Renaissance Magus. Financial backing from prominent families such as the Medici’s allowed magicians a higher degree of social networking and a vast audience via new institutions from which they could teach and practice, all while keeping small circles to work on “secret,” more radical ideas, technologies and experiments (Garin, 1997, p. 142).
Each magician pursued different metaphysical systems, all with an intent to elevate individual free will. Greater latitude was gained by people in regard to what teaching or teachings they followed, befitting a constantly changing world and demonstrating the degree to which magic and its proponents increased social mobility and paved the road to reformation and secularization. 
                                                                 Reformed Magic
 Reformed magic had to give meaning and necessity to the social changes happening in society. What helped reform of Medieval magic to Renaissance magic was an atmosphere created by new interpretations and translations of classic works, justifying a grassroots or “natural” magic. The new atmosphere was one in which linguistics were of extreme importance, where relations between words and objects came under extensive examination. The use of language in such a relation to natural phenomena and objects led to nature being seen as a kind of book, which could only be translated with new or reformed technology (Garin, 1997, pp. 131, 151).
 New interpretation of the Bible meant it was still an icon or talisman, “as the physical manifestation of the word of God,” only the power to use it, to read and understand it, was open to more people, diffusing interpretation from ecclesia to secular or more profane people (Simon, 2007, p. 29). New interpretation of the Old Testament “indicated the superiority of man over all other creatures . . . although on account of Adam’s fall, he had lost much of his natural dignity” (Kristeller, 1979, p. 170).

Emphasis on the superiority of man was taken to mean man should exert by his natural, divinely ordained dignity, control over nature in pursuit of attaining his original dignity. Man’s dignity was linked inherently with his immortality and everlasting fame, hence a stress on individuality and adherence to works of individuals possessing an everlasting fame. Enter natural magic with its practical methods to understand and manipulate forces of the physical world to attain a wisdom, a fame and immortality of Genesis and Platonism, hindered by Medieval scholasticism and orthodox religious practices.
 Leading a transition to natural magic was Marsilio Ficino (1433-99). Ficino was strongly influenced by the Hermetica, a group of treatises on magical ideology and practice, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes was believed to be an Egyptian priest imbued with ancient and secret wisdom of the universe. Although Hermes’ authorship was disproved around 1588, it shed much light on why the Hermetica was looked upon so highly for so long (Yeats, 1991, p. 399). The Hermetica was written around the third century, where Renaissance readers found themselves returning “to that religion of the world, strongly tinged with magic and oriental influences, . . . the refuge of weary pagans seeking an answer to life’s problems other than that offered by . . . the early Christians” (Yeats, 1991, p. 2). Ficino was careful, however, with his use of Hermetic magic and his Neoplatonic justification to avoid what ecclesiastics deemed pagan heresy.  Pursuing a universal truth so idealized during the Renaissance, Ficino claimed “all other religions are based on man’s fundamental desire for God, that they all aim . . . at the one true God, [being] species of the same genus religion of which Christianity constitutes the most perfect” (Kristeller, 1979, p. 204). Ficino’s interpretation of Hermetic magic was reformed or rather re-Christianized by aligning its Platonic and Gnostic ideas with traditional Christian theology. 
 Ficino’s magic was based upon “degrees by which the reflections of the Divine Ideas descended into the world here below” (Yeats, 1991, p. 66). Higher forms of such degrees could essentially alter lower ones and with Ficino’s magic, man came into position to manipulate and control nature by use of talismans and talismanic images (Yeats, 1991, pp. 64-5). All natural objects were endowed with a sort of divine virtue and by knowing which virtues corresponded to which objects or talismans, a practitioner could channel certain “good fortune” into their life. Ficino’s magic and Neoplatonic ideology was a way of elevating philosophy to theology, creating a religious natural magic. Ficinian magic was a manifestation of understanding the language of the world and putting it to use in physical reality where man, by virtue of his divine dignity, was given a distinct position and destiny in the universe. Talismanic power confined to priests was now in the hands of many, which was very appetizing for people who wanted security, control, and identity in a quickly changing world.    
 A step further was Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s magic (1463-94). Uniting Cabala with Ficinian magic, Pico established Hermetic-Cabalist magic and religion (Yeats, 1991, p. 86). Pico’s Cabalist extension of Ficino’s natural magic allowed practitioners to go beyond the realm of natural cosmos, reaching angels, archangels, and even God via manipulation of Hebrew letters. Hebrew, as the Biblical language of God, was instilled with divine power and magic. Cabalistic magic, involving Pythagoriansim, used numerical values of Hebrew letters to contact and channel “good” spirits, angels and God, separating Pico’s “pious” magic from Medieval demonic magic, as it was divinely reformed and inspired (Yeats, 1991, pp. 98-9). 

 Pico’s magic, although deeply religious, complex and artistic came under intense heat from theologians and ecclesiastics, unseen with Ficino’s natural magic, precisely because Pico’s magic gave individuals direct access to God without need of ecclesia (Yeats, 1991, p. 104). Heat came from a fire for purification of religion which questioned whether magic should be and if magic already was involved in religion. Largely instigated by John Wyclif and the Lollards around 1395, allegations of “ecclesiastical magic” branded rituals such as the Eucharist, blessing of bells, and use of blessed wax lambs as demonically influenced by magic (Greenwood, 2001, 138-9). By Pico’s time, such claims were defended, although not always accepted, as wholly separate from demonic magic and invested with power solely by God (Yeats, 1991, p. 113). Pico asserted, however, by similar linkage with Godly power, his reformed magic helped lead practitioners to greater spiritual awareness and confirmation of Christianity’s truth (Yeats, 1991, p. 106). 
 Expounding on the benevolence of his magic, Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man disagreed with Hermetism on one point– what ecclesiastics considered gnostic heresy whereby man was capable of becoming a “divine being.” Pico rather allowed man to only become a “divine man.” Man was not equal with God on account of his having no clearly defined essence or nature, being given, upon his creation, every gift associated with every other terrestrial being (Yeats, 1991, p. 111; Kristeller, 1979, p. 174). Man’s ambiguous position was congruously oriented with his burgeoning secular lack of identity and strive toward universalism. By man’s own will he could become whatever he wanted, but ultimately his goal was to reach his individual divinity (Kristeller, 1979, p. 175).
 Pico’s popularity laid in his Stoic stress of man’s dignity being focused on and measured by man’s free choice of leading a better moral and intellectual life. Having no specific place in a metaphysical hierarchy of powers, man was ranked and judged according to his choices alone (Kristeller, 1979, p. 176). It is not difficult to see why Pico’s notions were considered threatening to orthodoxy, especially with his emphasis on secularization and individuality. Pico’s writings on magic and Cabala were condemned as heresy in 1487 by Innocent VIII. Pico’s work was not kept in silence long, however, and his Dignity of Man was absolved and published in 1493 by Innocent’s successor, Alexander VI, as a valuable aid to Christianity which all interested in should accept as unimpeachable orthodoxy (Yeats, 1991, p. 114). Pico’s work doubtlessly influenced subsequent popular reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin when they joined the debate regarding free will in their works The Bondage of the Will and Free Will and Predestination, respectively.
 Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), another self-proclaimed magician, added to Pico’s magic a role of priestly magic and performance of miracles. Agrippa claimed miracles could be performed by priests on account of “divine magical religion,” which was based on faith, and to a lesser extent, “superstitious religion,” based on credulity (Yeats, 1991, p. 138). Agrippa’s priests, performing priestly magic including religious services and miracles, were to lead a new society– a pure and golden theocracy based on divine magical religion (Yeats, 1991, p. 142). Agrippa’s magic, miracles and clergy was the most radical attempt at reformation magic attained. Agrippa’s rationalization was displayed by a letter sent in 1535 to officially recognized professors and theologians of Cologne: “these filthy hogs, are in the habit, when [they dislike or fail to understand something], of going about grunting about heresy, scandal, spells, superstition, and evil influences, condemning as pagan perfidy all classical philosophy except their pestilential Aristotle” (Garin, 1997, p. 147).
Agrippa’s apology for magic explained how magic was now well beyond mere spells and conjuring, being a complex, highly intellectual and religious matter, greatly evolved from pagan and Medieval Times. Agrippa as one of the strongest, most radical proponents of reformed magic also tried to reform the status of women on similar religious grounds.     
                                     Magic’s Affects on Gender Stratification
 As already hinted at in this paper, the Renaissance was a time for exaltation of man, not woman. Renaissance revival was oriented toward Christian classics, especially the Bible, where works were only viable if they advocated Christianity or in some way heralded it (Kristeller, 1979, p. 70). Many Christian texts revived did not include Gnostic feminist ideas like those found over 500 years later at Nag Hammadi, which sharply contrast traditional Christian ideas of women’s roles, identities and self-expression (Pagels, 1989, pp. 48-69). Reformation of magic in many aspects was really revival of third century male hegemony, casting a shadow of traditionalist ideology in Medieval magic’s reformation. It is also why many books and treatises on reformed magic did not even mention women, addressing men and male audiences only.
 Agrippa was one of the few exceptions. He defended women’s rights to practice magic and participate in secular society in his treatise De nobilitate et preaecellentia sexus foeminei.  Agrippa’s statements were groundbreaking as he saw the only difference between male and female was anatomical. Created for the same end, women and men equally posses the gifts of spirit, reason, and words. Adam, not Eve, had been the greater sinner . . . and thus Jesus chose to come as man, not woman, for the redemption of the race. (King, 1997, p. 246)
Other leading reformers, although not self-proclaimed magicians, fully supported Agrippa’s Biblically sanctioned feminism. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) saw education as far more valuable and useful to women compared to domestic chores and other such pursuits holding women back from the public sphere (King , 1997, p. 246). Sir Thomas Elyot (1490-1546) followed up with The Defence of Good Women, asserting women’s rationality as beyond men’s with women as fully capable of, if not better at, being sociopolitical leaders (Jordan, 1987, pp. 247-50).
 Such work was not enough and had too few followers to sanction women’s participation in magic’s reformation despite women’s financial or social power. Women were persecuted much more often, especially for suspicion alone of practicing magic because ecclesiastically and secularly it was acceptable for women to “receive divine inspiration and share divine compassion, [but not] to define doctrine or guide new institutions” (King, 1997, p. 231). Women could gain some power and freedom of expression in religious organizations, but only under ecclesiastic and social order which held women responsible for male fallacies. Women who assumed traditional male roles were admired by few, but generally distrusted by those challenged simply by their presence. Such women were labeled “Amazonian” and were not only perceived, but viewed themselves as “masculinized, fierce and grotesque,” escaping such “deformities” only by adopting strict traditional female regulations of chastity, silence, and obedience (King, 1997, p. 244).
 Women became scapegoats of mounting resentment to reformed magic’s pervasiveness and power. Although it was men at the forefront of reformed magic, women received the stigma of “witch” far more often, suffering physical punishment and even death while men who openly practiced magic were usually only criticized. “From 1480-1700 more women were killed for witchcraft (usually by burning) than for all other crimes put together . . . [and] 70-90 percent of all persons accused and convicted of witchcraft were female, usually widows or spinsters” (King, 1997, p. 230). Women lacking ties to the domestic realm or women entering the public sector were especially targeted for practicing demonic magic. Medieval magic’s reformation had many of its adverse affects manifested here in gender stratification, corporally reinforcing traditional gender roles.
 The role of gender in magic’s interpretation and reformation was further strengthened by a handbook for witch-hunting published in 1487– the Malleus Maleficarum. Malleus intended to prove the existence of witchcraft, how more witches were female than male, hence the feminine noun malefica, and how witches were to be handled judicially (“Malleus Malificarum,” n.d.). By forgery of papal approval alone Malleus Maleficarum experienced popularity, greatly enraging the Inquisition since they condemned the manual for its unethical and illegal judiciary procedures (Gibbons, n.d.). Such evidence suggests the manual was not as influential as legend would yield, but its labeling of women stigmatized any who dared challenge traditional norms, regardless of revival of feminist works or other writing, exalting women in secular, political and religious roles.
 Magic of Ficino, Pico and Agrippa is nothing short of addressing the unfulfilled needs of subscribers to the Church. People wanted hope for a peaceful future society, ensuring security and stability, but ecclesia failed to provide such hope or rather the miracles to inspire and foster hope. Renaissance magic took Christianity back to its cultic roots “of Jewish occultism and mysticism as well as practices and beliefs . . . [of] the Gnostics and other Middle Eastern sects and cults” (Simon, 2007, p. 24). It provided miracles and answers people needed in Christian terms, essentially reviving magic already present in Christianity. Christian symbols were re-defined and brought to new use or rather used in new conditions of Renaissance society. Such symbols became part of talismanic and finally priestly magic, promising a chance to grasp immortality and fame of people like Plato, Seneca, and Hermes Trismegistus. Intermediaries between secular society and supernatural powers went from ecclesia to individuals, or rather filtered to those with education in diverse disciplines who would help reform society and the status quo. As knowledge and education expanded, although not to everyone, it permeated society, leaving hardly any discipline unscathed and unravished by magical means. Such conclusions speak to the dynamic of reformation, secularization and gender stratification of European society and its additional connection to modern day society. How and where exactly such connections exist, much like magic’s role during Renaissance society, is still largely up for individual examination.

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This student received an "A" for the course