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The Middle Ages received from previous periods and civilisations a rich inheritance of magic, divination, occult science, and demonology. Egypt and Babylonia bequeathed their long-accumulated stores of superstition. The one offered its elaborate mortuary ritual and charms for the dead, its scarabs and amulets, its wax images and mannikins, its polypharmacy and divining dreams. The other added its incantation tablets, omens, liver divination, prediction from the stars, and varied magical paraphernalia. Both bestowed their sorcery and demons. Greek philosophy had introduced a more rational attitude towards nature, but the Greeks had not abandoned magic and divination. From the Persian Empire came Zoroastrian dualism, in which the struggle of the prince of this world against the other offered possibilities for both terrestrial and celestial magic. During the Hellenistic period astrology developed its elaborate technique. The mysteries and oriental cults that flooded the Roman Empire were accompanied by kindred philosophies: Gnosticism, with its close relations to astrology and magic as well as to Christianity, and Neo-Platonism, with its divination and theurgy. In the literature of the Roman Empire, whether scientific or popular, historical or supposititious, magic and astrology were prominent and were passed on to the Middle Ages in such authoritative works as Pliny’s Natural History and Ptolemy’s Quadripartitum. Finally, there was the primitive magic and folklore of the less civilised peoples who lived in or near the Roman Empire, such as the Celts, traces of whose Druidic lore already appeared in Roman authors, or the Germans, which were to affect popular belief and custom of the medieval period.

As that period opened, however, the Western world, so far as il conies within our ken, was predominantly Christian, and the authorities, clerical or secular, were displaying systematic intolerance towards other forms of religious belief or of popular superstition. Paganism, as the word suggests, became relegated to the rural and backward districts. The Christian Emperors since Constantine, in their edicts preserved in the Theodosian Code, had forbidden magic and divination as well as idolatry and heathen worships. Various Church Councils of the early medieval centuries legislated against this or that popular superstition. How far did this policy succeed in wiping out the magical beliefs and practices of the past? To what extent did Christianity substitute an analogous magic of its own? To what degree did the old superstitions reappear in slightly changed forms or under new names?

The Old Testament contains prohibitions of divination and sorcery but also instances of their employment. In the Roman Empire the Jews were often regarded as charlatans, enchanters, and conjurers of spirits. The early Christians were similarly accused of magic by their adversaries, and the apocryphal and heretical writings, at least, of the early Christian centuries provided some evidence to substantiate the charge. The situation was not unlike a war in which either side hotly charges the other with employing illicit methods, weapons, or gases. But as with gases, so with magic. There is the kind that one indignantly prohibits and condemns, and, on the other hand, the kind that one practises and condones. This is a distinction to be kept in mind throughout the medieval period, that a prohibition of magic does not necessarily imply disapproval of all forms thereof.

If Christianity at first tended to simplify and purify religion and daily life, there soon grew up again the institutions of sacraments, priesthood, and ritual which had an affinity with the ancient order of religious ideas. On the other hand, the personification of things in nature was frowned upon as too closely approaching nature worship. This in turn brought into disfavour the belief that magic power is inherent in natural objects and in rites of nature. God must be given all the glory. But sooner or later the suggestion was made that all these marvels of nature were God’s gift to man, that God had endowed gems with their extraordinary powers, that the stars—although not to be worshipped as gods—were His signs in the sky or instruments and secondary causes manifesting the future, that there was no harm in plucking a potent herb at dawn if one simultaneously repeated a paternoster. Thereby was saved the conception of occult virtue, fundamental in natural magic, and practically the entire pseudo-science of astrology.

The early Christians lived in an atmosphere of prophecy, vision, and miracle, and were keenly sensitive to what the Apostle Paul would have called the “pneumatic” world, or realm of spirits. This continued to be the attitude of the average monastery, and was inculcated by such literature as the lives of the saints and the sermons of popular preachers, or by such practices as the cult of relics, exorcisms, and holy water. The early Christians had been accused of atheism by their opponents, but, instead of denying the very existence of the pagan gods, they generally classed them as evil spirits, thereby swelling the ranks of demons, a class of beings already recognised by pagan antiquity, and increasing the possibility of magic.

Throughout the medieval period theologians repeatedly discussed the nature of demons and their capacity to perform or assist in the performance of feats of magic. Did these spiritual beings possess bodies at all, and if so, were these aerial and transparent to the point of invisibility? Could they assume any bodies they pleased, or did they delude the human senses or imagination into fancying that man perceived such bodies? Could they enter human and other bodies? Could they penetrate and pass through solid bodies? Could they move or transport through the air with extreme rapidity to great distances heavy bodies such as the prophet Habakkuk or witches on their way to the sabbat? Free from bodily limitations, immortal or very long-lived, and possessed as they were of extreme guile, had they acquired so intimate an acquaintance with the secrets of nature and so prolonged an observation of signs and sequences, causes and effects, contingencies and probabilities, that they could perform any marvel required by magicians and enchanters, and could predict with reasonable certainty the outcome of almost any event? Could they speak with the tongues of men and of angels? Could they produce impotency and prevent the consummation of marriage? Did they merely affect dreams and the imagination, or were they capable of intercourse with either sex? Such were the questions debated—in no small measure, it is true, in terms of what classical authors like Plutarch and Apuleius had said already concerning demons. While such questions were variously answered at different times and by different persons, enough preternatural power and subtlety was always allowed the demons—at least by theologians; medical men were more sceptical—to account for the success of a vast amount of divination, sorcery, and other occult arts. This was diabolical and forbidden magic in distinction from the natural and less objectionable variety.

Just as there is a fundamental resemblance between the charm which kills and the charm which cures, so it was no easy matter to draw a hard and fast line between diabolical and natural magic, or, for that matter, between natural magic and natural science. Even Augustine, an exponent of the demoniacal theory of magic, in his Confession1 censures “the vain and curious desire of investigation” through the senses, which is “palliated under the name of knowledge and science,” but is apt to lead one “into searching through magic arts into the confines of perverse science.” Overmuch stress has been laid upon the diabolical magic of the Middle Ages. Magic, according to those who believed in it and practised it, could be performed merely by human agency, without invoking spirits, by use of fitting materials, whether natural or artificial, due rites and ceremony. This sort of magic was related more closely to learning and science, to medicine, technology, and the arts than it was to religion oi demonology. For this reason we must somewhat qualify the generalisation of Hansen that faith in magic grows as interest turns away from empirical study of nature to religious speculation, since it obscures the close historical connexion between the empirical study of nature and magic. Empiricism is often another name for superstition, while magic—and still more astrology and alchemy—may be characterised by experimentation and associated with research. All the Pauline “pneumatics,” all the Christian personification of evil in place of the previous pagan personification of nature, failed to eradicate the underlying connexion of magic with nature. Magic may have striven to transcend, perturb, and upset nature, instead of being content to interpret and utilise it as modern science docs. But it made much use of natural objects and relationships; it had its own characteristic view of nature, its own fixed laws and well-observed rules.

Theologians and canonists might argue that demon activity was concealed in this sort of magic too, by implied pact or otherwise; their strained contention does not seem to have carried general conviction. Even an incantation was not necessarily spoken to a spirit; it might address itself directly to herb or wind, to drug or human being. It was a command or cue to be obeyed by the thing directly concerned. Moreover, the theologians were perhaps none too well advised in granting to the demons so great a sway over this attractive field. If those evil spirits knew so much and could do so much, why should not adventurous and heroic individuals risk soul and body to snatch some of these secrets for the benefit of humanity and posterity? The theologians would reply that demons are by nature deceivers, whose prime object is to lead men astray, and that no dependence is to be placed upon them. Yet men could read in professed histories, or even in professed scriptures, that all useful arts and sciences had been revealed to early man by fallen angels, and men might insist that, while certain arts of divination had originally been learned from demons, they were now workable independently of any diabolical aid or pact. Apart from the standing temptation to invoke a spirit and try to extract some desired information or service from him, there was another flaw and seduction in the arguments of the Church Fathers and schoolmen. If the demons’’ ability to work marvels vying with divine miracles and to predict the future was in large measure explainable by their long lives and close acquaintance with nature, why might not mankind, by long-continued observation and experiment, by building on the results believed to have been already obtained by Moses and Solomon, or by “the divine men of Egypt and Babylon, keep developing the powers and enlarging the sphere of natural magic until men would have little need or temptation to solicit the dangerous assistance of spirits. Thus, at least, the matter would be apt to present itself to a person of superior intellect such as Roger Bacon or Albertus Magnus.

The ordinary man, of course, employed the one or two charms which were known to him personally and of whose efficacy he had somehow become convinced, or paid an occasional visit to a diviner or astrologer under the urge of some selfish motive or curiosity. A preacher might spiritedly exhort the peasant to let all his cows die rather than consult a witch for a charm to cure them; the rustic was apt to try to save his cattle first and his soul afterwards. For we must guard against inferring that prohibitions of magic by Church Fathers or ecclesiastical synods and councils would make much impression on the superstition of the common man. Magic had always been more or less prohibited and practised sub rosa in classical times and pagan antiquity, and the requirements of logical consistency which a trained intellect would draw from a monotheistic faith were not much taken to heart by the populace. Consequently in the Coptic period of Egyptian history we find popular magic remaining unchanged save for an added Christian tinge, such as the use of Christian divine names with which to conjure. There is little reason for supposing that the barbarous Celtic and German West under the influence of declining Rome would prove more enlightened.

Standing out on the watershed between ancient and medieval times and thought is the tremendous figure of St Augustine (a.d. 354-430), “the greatest of the four”. As the sun of classical culture and oriental religion set behind it, it cast a long shadow over the centuries to come. Undoubtedly St Augustine’s credulity concerning tales of sorcery and the many passages in his writings against magic and astrology were very influential. But he had too little sympathy with scientific investigation to carry much weight with those interested in nature. Even in the fifth century he still found it advisable to defend Christians and Christianity from the imputation of magic. That his own opposition to astrology was not universal, or even typical, is shewn by the uncompromising astrological manual of Julius Firmicus Maternus in the fourth century, written almost certainly after his intolerant attack on other religions than Christianity, and by Augustine’s fellow African bishop and contemporary, Synesius of Cyrene, who was a student of the occult and of divination, and perhaps author of a work on alchemy. Even Augustine shared the faith in mystic numbers of his Neo-Platonic contemporaries, Macrobius and Martianus Capella.

Alchemy, which we just mentioned, is thought of as especially connected with the Middle Ages, and not without some justification, since the earliest extant manuscripts of alchemical writings date from about the third to the fifth centuries of our era. That ascribed to the historian Zosimus appears to be genuine. Alchemy continued, however, to flourish in early modern Europe and is still practised in Egypt and the Orient. The earliest alchemical treatises are closely associated with magic papyri and are themselves full of magic. Their tone and style are even more mystical and oracular than those of later productions in the same field. These earliest extant treatises are written in Greek; alchemical compositions in Arabic can hardly be traced farther back than the Abbasid dynasty.

From the early medieval period, when literature, learning, and the arts were in a state of decline in the Latin West, there nevertheless have come down to us documents attesting the continued interest in magic and astrology. A few may be mentioned by way of illustration. Medieval epitomes of the fourth-century work of Julius Valerius on the legend of Alexander set forth the story of Nectanebus, Egyptian magician and astrologer and natural father of Alexander, and were thus precursors of the magic motif in the later vernacular romances of Alexander. Other characteristic works were the Herbarium of the Pseudo-Apuleius with its conjurations of herbs and other magical procedure; the De medicamentis of Marcellus Empiricus with its very superstitious remedies; the Latin translation of Alexander of Tralles, a Greek physician of the sixth century, with its ligatures and suspensions, incantations and characters; the translation by the Venerable Bede of a treatise on divination from thunder. The De natura rerum of Bede likewise comprised several chapters on presages from moon, stars, clouds, fires, and birds, which Haureau justly censured the printed edition included in Migne's Patrologia latina for having expurgated. Boethius strengthened the position of astrology in the Christian world by his discussion of fate, free will, and the stars in The Consolation of Philosophy, Isidore of Seville blew both hot and cold on the subject, stating that astrology was partly superstitious, partly a natural science. For a brief definition, however, it is doubtful if this can be bettered. Isidore also gave a definition of magic and a catalogue of occult arts which was much utilised by subsequent writers—Rabanus Maurus, Hincmar of Rheims, Burchard of Worms, Ivo of Chartres, Gratian in the Decretum, Hugh of St Victor, John of Salisbury, and others after him. We may not affirm with absolute certainty that the naive and simple schemes and methods of divination which are found scattered through the extant manuscripts from the ninth to the twelfth century and still later were equally in use earlier, but everything seems to point towards this conclusion. The Sphere of Apuleius or Pythagoras, which was used to determine whether the patient or person otherwise in danger would live or die by a numerical calculation based upon the letters of his name and referred to a table, was but a continuation of the Greek Sphere of Democritus or Petosiris. The lists of unlucky Egyptian days for each month go back to a Roman calendar of a.d. 354 and were mentioned by St Ambrose and St Augustine. Other common methods of divination were prognostication of the character of the coming year according to the day of the week on which it began, a method supposed to have been divinely revealed to the prophet Esdras, and prediction from the day of the moon. These moon-books in the earlier manuscripts are either anonymous or attributed to the prophet Daniel. Thus scriptural names were used to sanction questionable superstitions, which arc furthermore apt to occur on the fly-leaves of ecclesiastical calendars.

The customs of the Germanic peoples were not reduced to writing in the form of Latin leges until the early medieval centuries, after their practitioners had long been on Roman soil and under Christian influence. Their redaction was probably the work of ecclesiastics who omitted traces of heathenism and primitive magic or at least covered them with a Christian veneer. An example is the method of proof by ordeal, over which Christian priests presided until Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 forbade participation of the clergy on the ground that the procedure was superstitious.

A larger amount of primitive folklore appears to have survived in Celtic law, witness the introduction of the Senchus Mor, and in Celtic culture generally. When St Columba expelled the evil spirits from a magic fountain in Scotland, he sanctified it by bathing in it and blessing it, so that it continued to heal diseases as before. The loricae of Gildas, Patrick, and others seem to be Christianised charms. St Patrick had feared the incantations and prodigies of the Druids, but some of the practices of their successors, the fili, were tolerated in the medieval period. Christianity forbade two of their methods of divination, but permitted a third by one’s finger-ends. Prognostications were also made from the howling of dogs. Moreover, such satires or maledictions of the fili as the following were as dreaded as had been the incantations of the Druids: “I’ll make a satire against you; I’ll make one against your father, your mother, and your grandfather. I’ll sing magic words on the waters of your realm, and there’ll be no more fish caught therein. I’ll sing magic words on your trees, and they’ll bear no more fruit. I’ll chant against your fields, and they’ll never yield crops again.” Or the fill would kill a man by taking hold of his ear with two fingers. Especially characteristic of the Celtic peoples was the belief in fairies or underground beings. Other reported details of Celtic magic, such as magic shields or swords, wands of yew or rods of hazel, enchanted caves and draughts, the virtues or voices of winds and waves, may for the most part be duplicated in the similar lore of other peoples and in later medieval romance. Astrology does not appear to have been highly developed among the Celts, but they observed the waxing of the moon.

Of popular superstitions of the early Middle Ages we are also informed by such documents as the Indiculus superstitionum, the decrees of Church councils, and the capitularies of the Carolingians. These denounce the making of offerings at trees, stones, fountains, and cross-roads, or the lighting of fires and candles there, or the addressing of vows and incantations to such natural objects. They forbid the worship of groves, stones, wells, and rivers. The sun and moon arc not to be called lords. Wizardry and tempest-raising, divination and dancing, choruses and orgies, are prohibited. Among these laws against nature-worship and magic is one noted for its sceptical character, the so-called Canon episcopi, a regulation of uncertain provenance, first given in the legal collection of Regino of Prüm about 906. It brands as a mere dream the delusion that women ride at night with Diana. Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons from 814 to 841, attacked the belief in magic weather-making in his Liber contra insulsam vulgi opinionem de grandine et tonitruis. But such rare instances of scepticism stand out against a background of general credulity in magic in the early medieval period. At its close the Northmen were firmly convinced of the reality of wizards, ghosts, and other preternatural phenomena and forces, and of the magic of strange peoples, especially the Lapps. Of their own primitive magic as well as pagan mythology there is still some reflection in their literature as written down about the twelfth century.

The Anglo-Saxon Leech-Book of Bald and Cild contains a large amount of magical procedure with much Christian colouring which may often replace a previous pagan equivalent. For example, a man stung by an adder is cured by drinking holy water in which a black snail has been washed, and the bite of a viper is smeared with ear-wax with three repetitions of “the prayer of St John”. For another type of poisoning is prescribed an application of butter churned on a Friday from the milk of “a neat or hind all of one colour,” with nine repetitions of a litany, paternoster, and an unintelligible incantation. Much fear is shewn of witchcraft, enchantment, and ills from evil spirits. Other medical manuscripts from the ninth to the twelfth century abound similarly in charms, incantations, and characters, with Christian tags and prayers to certify their unimpeachability or to reinforce their healing virtue. Even the medicine of Salerno was free neither from magic and empiricism nor from lunar and astrological superstition. Latin treatises on the arts from the eighth or ninth to the twelfth century are marked by quaint procedure dependent on the conception of occult virtue and by an occasional bit of magic or incantation. Two of the foremost minds of the tenth century, both in intellectual history and in ecclesiastical and political activities, Gerbert and Dunstan, gained reputations for magic, the one posthumously, the other already as a studious youth.

The Arabic world until the twelfth century was more civilised and learned than Western Christendom. It produced far more men of science. But it was hardly less given to the occult, since magic and necromancy, astrology and alchemy, flourished there apace. Supposititious and apocryphal literature multiplied; various superstitious works were fathered upon famous philosophers and physicians of antiquity. We must not, however, lay too much stress upon a supposedly oriental tendency to vagaries, fantasy, and occultism. The worth of astrology was questioned by Farabi and others; alchemy was not without its critics. The accomplishments of Arabic medicine, mathematics, and astronomy have won general recognition, but Berthelot pronounced Arabic alchemy inferior to the Latin alchemy of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He regarded the genuine writings of the Arabic Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan) as of little worth compared to the Latin treatises ascribed to Geber but for which no Arabic originals could be found. More recent research has found additional Arabic manuscripts which go far towards rehabilitating Geber’s reputation, while the eleventh-century work by Abul-Hakim Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Malik as-Salihi al-Khwarazmi al-Kati contains matter corresponding to some of the inventions credited to the later Latin alchemists. Abul-Hakim also emphasises the importance of quantitative relations and of scientific instruments and apparatus. Indeed the contribution of Arabic alchemy to experimental method may not be gainsaid.

But this is not to say that Arabic alchemy was entirely scientific and free from taint of magic and the occult. Nor was the scepticism to which we referred above sustained and consistent. The philosopher Kindi might deny the possibility of the transmutation of metals and write on The Deceits of the Alchemists, but he believed in astrology to the full and in the magic force of words, figures, characters, and sacrifice, as his On Stellar Rays or The Theory of the Magic Art makes plain.

The occult science of the Arabic writings would not have made such an impression upon the Western Latin world, had it not been intertwined with chemical, medical, and mathematical knowledge of real value, had it not come in under great names which were as often genuine as apocryphal, and had it not formed an integral part of the prevailing Weltanschauung or general scheme of things. This may be briefly yet sufficiently illustrated by the case of Avicenna, whose Canon constituted the chief medieval textbook in both medicine and surgery, and who had further influence as a commentator on Aristotle. Yet he introduced a mystical and magical factor into science which was rather foreign to Peripateticism. He was repeatedly cited in medieval Latin works as a supporter of fascination and incantations, as holding that nature would obey thought, that a strong effort of the human will and imagination might move phenomena, “that souls can in so far conform to the celestial intelligence that it will alter material bodies at their pleasure, and then such a man will work wonders”. Another doctrine of an astrological cast which was constantly ascribed to him by Latin writers was that the power of the stars was so great that their virtue would generate another race of men, should the present population be wiped out by a universal deluge. Alchemical works were also ascribed to him.

Whenever we may choose to date the first beginnings of the medieval revival of learning in the Christian Latin West, it had at any rate become pronounced by the twelfth century. With the increase of schools and studies, of written literature and learned works, the amount of natural magic intermingled with the science and medicine of the time, and also the number of professedly magic books, became more abundant. This was especially true of the numerous translations from the Arabic, and probably in no field was Arabic influence greater than in astrology. Yet the voluminous writings of the Arabic astrologers would not have been so eagerly sought out and translated had there not already been existent in the Western Christian world a very lively interest in that subject. Comets were feared, and even bishops and abbots were not unknown to pore over the pages of Manilius or Firmicus. The process of translation from the Arabic perhaps began as early as 984, when Gerbert asked a Lupitus of Barcelona to send him a book on “astrology” of which he had made a version. Astrologia, however, might mean astronomy, just as astronamia in medieval Latin may denote judicial astrology. Gerbert himself may have been the translator of other works not wholly free from the astrological interest, and the Mathematic a Alhandrei (or, Alchandri) a confused miscellany of astrological detail, which certainly shows Hebrew—and probably Arabic—influence and names, if not a direct translation, is found in manuscripts dating back to the tenth or eleventh century. But the bulk of Arabic astrology appears to have been translated in the course of the twelfth century, when such authors as Albohali, Haly Heben Rodan, Messahala, Aben-ragel, Alcabitius, Kindi, Albumasar, Zael, Thebit ben Corat, Aomar, and Almansor were put before the Latin-reading public. These works remained in use long after the invention of printing, when they appeared in early editions or old collections of astrological works. The twelfth century also saw the Greek Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy turned into the Latin Quadripartitum through the medium of the Arabic. Indeed, the translation of this astrological work preceded that of the astronomical Almagest. Moreover, the very translators promptly began to write astrological manuals of their own, such as John of Spain’s Epitome, consisting of an introduction to astrology and four books of judgments.

The prevalence of an astronomical interest may be further inferred from such works of the first half of the twelfth century as the Philosophia or Dragmaticon of William of Conches and the De mundi universitate of Bernard Silvester. John of Salisbury essayed an attack upon astrologers in his Policraticus, but it had so little effect even upon his own countrymen that in the second half of the century wo find Daniel of Morley defending both astrology and the Arabic learning of Toledo, and Roger of Hereford writing astrological treatises in several parts. Early in the thirteenth century Michael Scot composed an elaborate but confused and cumbrous introduction to astronomy and astrology at the request of Frederick II. Leopold, son of the Duke of Austria, made a long astrological compilation for which different dates between 1200 and 1260 have been suggested; it was later printed.

Let us note the character and content of astrology as accepted in the Middle Ages. According to the then prevailing Ptolemaic or geocentric theory, the earth was the centre of the universe to which all matter gravitated in order of its grossness and heaviness, just as, according to the Aristotelian physics, earth, the heaviest of the four elements, was covered with water, which in its turn was enveloped with air, beyond which came the sphere of fire. Then followed in succession the spheres of the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and outside these the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. Things on or near the earth within the spheres of the four elements were known as inferiors, while all bodies from the orb of the moon upwards were called superiors. For in one way or another the stars, planets, and celestial spheres were preferred to terrestrial creation; whether as of longer or eternal duration, a more refined substance, a more regular and purposive motion than inanimate objects—so that they must needs be either themselves animate beings or at least guided each by its ruling Intelligence—or whether as secondary causes closer to the First Cause in the chain of causation than were other phenomena, It followed that other natural phenomena were produced by them as instruments of the First Cause. In other words, inferiors are ruled by superiors.

This may be regarded as the fundamental hypothesis not merely of astrology but of the entire medieval view of nature. Moreover, it was more universally accepted throughout Christian society than is, for example, the theory of evolution at the present time. The most sceptical or pious opponent of the astrologers would hardly venture to call it in question. This may serve to explain why the Copernican doctrine was so slow to be formulated, why it seemed so revolutionary at the time, and why it so long failed of anything like general acceptance. The astrological hypothesis was also closely related to the Peripatetic conception of form and matter, and more particularly to the notion of matter receiving form at a certain moment and thus becoming a composite or individual. Inferiors are the matter which receives form from the superiors. Hence, so long as men continued to think of everything as composed of matter and form, it was unlikely that the belief that terrestrial phenomena are ruled by the celestial movements and figures would be seriously shaken.

Everything on earth was thought of as related to some force in the sky. From the enclosing spheres potent influences concentrated upon the earth’s surface, and as the errant planets in the circle of the zodiac wove their intricate pattern of approach and recession, epicycle and eccentric, stationary and retrograde, conjunction and opposition, the course of nature altered to correspond. It was plausible to connect three of the twelve signs into which the zodiac divided with each of the four elements, qualities, humours, winds, and the like; to divide the human body into twelve sections from top to toe, each under the control of one of the signs; to relate the seven planets to the days of the week, the chief metals, the ages of man and of the world; to suppose that fluids in vegetation and animals were affected like the tides by the waxing and waning of the moon. Winds and weather, all gems and minerals, herbs and trees and medicinal simples, all animal life even to the human body, were believed to be governed by the stars. Hence no one could go far in zoology, botany, mineralogy, alchemy, or medicine without knowledge of this astral rule of inferior nature.

But then arose the disputed question: how far was man as a part of nature subject to the decrees of superior bodies, and how far was he, as a conscious, intelligent, and self-willed being, the master or wrecker of his own destiny? What events in human life and history might be classed as necessary and predictable, what as contingent and only conjecturable? Ptolemy, in a passage cited by almost every later writer, whether pro or con, had granted that the wise man rules the stars, but his meaning was that it is necessary to know astrology and the future in order to make the best of it or to avoid it. Similarly the prevailing medieval view would seem to have been that, while an astrologer’ might make mistakes or try to predict something beyond his ken, he was so likely to tell one something true and valuable that it was the safer procedure and part of prudence to consult him beforehand. Some were even so bold as to urge that horoscope and ascendent kept step with divine prescience and providence without violating human freedom, and that God regulated the moment of an individual's birth to conform to the fate which He foresaw was in store for him.

Astrology in this narrower sense of the prediction of human character and fate divided into four sections. Nativities were the determination of a person's temperament and life from the position of the constellations at the time of his birth. Revolutions and conjunctions determined general events—including the weather, crops, pestilences, and other natural phenomena as well as historical occurrences—for the ensuing year in the case of a revolution, or for the duration of the influence of the conjunction of the planets or eclipse of sun or moon. Interrogations were answered by the astrologer on the basis of such considerations as the questioner's horoscope and the time when the question was put. Elections were the art of selecting the favourable astrological moment for the initiation or performance of any undertaking, from planting a cucumber vine to electing a Pope. As an adjunct to this fourth branch we find the science of astrological images, in which the fundamental idea was to engrave or construct the image at the right moment when the prevailing constellations would be most favourable to the end sought. Thereby it was supposed that the virtue of the stars could be transferred to the image, which thus became a potent talisman for future use. It was by such channels as elections and images that astrology ceased to be mere divination and fused with operative magic. Two popular treatises on these astrological images were those of Thebit ben Corat and Thetel or Zael; another was ascribed to Ptolemy.

Geomancy ranked next to astrology in popularity as a method of divination. From the twelfth century onwards geomancies occur with great frequency in the manuscripts. Many of those in Latin bear the names of Arabic authors or of twelfth-century translators. Probably the most elaborate Latin work on the subject was that composed in 1288 by Bartholomew of Parma for a bishop-elect. Even a humanist like Pomponius Laetus late in the fifteenth century copied a geomancy with his own hand. Strictly speaking, geomancy should be divination from the element earth, just as pyromancy is prediction from fire. Actually, the method of these medieval geomancies is to obtain a figure by jotting down at random four lines of dots and then cancelling dot for dot in either pair of lines until only one or two dots remain in each line. Presumably the marks were originally made in dust or sand with the four fingers of one hand. By this chance procedure one of sixteen possible figures is obtained which serves as a key in referring to a set of tables for the answer which is sought as to the future. Since a number obtained by chance would serve as well for this purpose, we have analogous methods such as revolving a wheel until a pointer comes to rest upon a number, as in the treatise assigned to the physician of King Amalricus (Amaury) or the Prenosticon Socratis Basilei. These geomancies usually claim at least an astrological basis, but often determine the prevailing constellations by the same chance method. Sometimes, however, not only are the sixteen figures related to signs, planets, houses, and other astrological details, but prognostication is based upon general instructions instead of fixed tables of answers.

Divination from dreams found a certain amount of support both in Aristotle’s De somno et vigilia and in the Bible, although theologians warned men to beware of the illusions of demons in dreams. The work of Achmet or Ahmed ben Sirin, in over three hundred chapters, was translated from the Greek by Leo Tuscus in the twelfth century. The briefer Latin dream-books which were common from the tenth to the fifteenth century were generally attributed either to Joseph or Daniel, and usually consist of an alphabetical arrangement of things seen in dreams with a line of interpretation for each: for instance, “Aves in sompniis apprehendere lucrum significat.” There were also fuller treatments, such as that of William of Aragon, who endeavoured to relate dreams to the constellations and to find an astrological basis for oneiromancy.

Other arts of predicting the future were for the most part prohibited or disapproved, possibly because of the prominence of divination in pagan Greece and Rome. Necromancy was reckoned especially reprehensible, although some Arabic writers had classed it as a department of natural science, notably Farabi in De ortu scientiarum, and this classification was repeated even by some Christian writers such as Gundissalinus in De divisione philosophiae, and Daniel of Morley. Pyromancy was suspected of involving fire-worship. Treatises on it are scarce and those on hydromancy and aerimancy still more so. Divination by gazing into lucid surfaces, such as the blades of swords, crystals, basins, mirrors, or finger-nails, was much practised and even by the clergy, but was suspected of demon aid and condemned by ecclesiastical councils. Chiromancy was less open to objection, since it seemed to have a physical basis in physiognomy, or the relation of personality and character to physique, upon winch a treatise was ascribed to Aristotle. Lot-casting seemed to have scriptural sanction, but Aquinas gave the warning not to tempt God unduly in this practice in his opusculum, De sortibus, addressed possibly to the Duchess of Burgundy. Opening the Psalter at random was a common method.

Like astrology, alchemy received an impetus from translation from the Arabic. The Book of the Composition of Alchemy of Morienus purports to have been translated in 1144 by Robert of Chester, but Ruska has questioned its authenticity. By the middle of the next century, if not earlier, such works as the Lumen luminum and De aluminibus et salibus were well known. These two titles suggest the contrasting sides of alchemy, the mystical and the practical. Other much-read medieval treatises were The Book of Seventy Precepts and The Booh of Perfect Mastery, the Turba Philosophorum, and the Summa attributed to Geber. Works of alchemy were later ascribed to Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, and other prominent philosophers and students of nature of the thirteenth century, as well as to mere men of letters like John Garland and Jean de Meung. However, the works of undisputed authenticity of such natural philosophers, observers, and experimenters as Albertus Magnus, particularly his five books on minerals, and Roger Bacon give a fairly good picture of the status of alchemical theory, practice, and literature at that time. Alchemy met with more scepticism than astrology, partly because the transmutation of metals seemed more contrary to the course of nature as then understood, and partly because it could be better put to the test of immediate and repeated experiment, and because persons lost more money by it.

The conception of occult virtue was generally held by medieval encyclopedias, treatises on animals, herbs, and stones, and medical works. Such virtues were marvellous, producing results that seemed almost divine and could not be accounted for by the component four elements in natural objects or by their qualities of hot and cold, moist and dry. Most of these reputed virtues seem fictitious: for example, the power of a gem to make its bearer invisible, of the heart of a vulture to make him popular and wealthy, or of the eye of a tortoise, taken internally, to clear the system of vapours and make possible illuminating visions. The carcass of an animal may yield some acid or drug useful in industry or pharmacy. But when Bartholomew of England affirms that “there is nothing in the body of an animal which is without manifest or occult medicinal virtue”, we cannot but feel that he is overstating the case, however commendable his desire to utilise waste products. Nevertheless some occult virtues were true, such as the power of the magnet to attract iron. Because there were certain remarkable natural properties which medieval science could not explain, men assumed the existence of many others which do not exist. How far shall we classify this attitude as superstition, how far as mistaken science? Certainly it was closely related to both magic and astrology. The magnet is especially employed in magic, Marbod and other medieval writers tell us. And occult virtues which could not be accounted for from the elements and qualities were explained as produced by the influence of the stars. Pliny was probably right in suggesting that the Magi were both the great employers and the discoverers (or rather, imaginers) of these occult virtues. They were apt to be associated with magic procedure, and it was easy for defenders of superstition against criticism to adduce the existence of these occult virtues as an unanswerable argument in favour of the occult and marvellous. Their existence was accepted by men of the highest scientific attainments then possible. The most extreme claims in the way of occult virtue were made for gems, so that even the advocates of such virtues recognised that there was an opposing scepticism. Yet there seems to be no purposive attack upon the occult properties of gems extant from the medieval period.

Poisons, with their mysterious action, were commonly confused with sorcery in times past. The Greek and Latin languages employed the same words, pharmachia and veneficia, for both. The fact of poisoning supported the supposition of sorcery, and conversely the belief in sorcery encouraged an exaggerated credulity as to distant and far-fetched action of poisons and drugs. We therefore find the theory of occult virtue carried to great lengths in the numerous medieval works on poisons, such as that of Peter of Abano, which was perhaps addressed to Pope John XXII, that of William de Marra to Urban V, that of Christopher de Honestis, and those of Francis of Siena, Antonio Guaineri, professor of medicine at Pavia, and John Martin of Ferrara to three different Dukes of Milan. In such treatises we read of venomous animals that kill by mere glance or hiss, of poisons which act at a distance or whose effects are felt only after a long lapse of time, and of amulets like the foot of a vulture which betray the presence of secret poisons or prevent their operating. Akin to poisoning was the supposed human power of fascination or the evil eye.

There was more doubt felt and expressed as to the efficacy of immaterial things, like words, figures, and characters, in altering either natural phenomena or human nature. This scepticism was often extended to astrological images even by those who accepted the influence of the shirs upon nature, man, and society. It was not merely that those who called magic diabolical insisted on crediting to the agency of demons what might otherwise have been ascribed to the power of words, characters, and images. There was also a rational objection to assigning any motive force to incorporeal entities without power of physical contact.

On the other hand, by the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there were in circulation numerous books of magic, some of which went to the length of necromancy and the invocation of spirits. William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris from 1228 to 1249, cited many of these in the discussion of magic and demons in his De universo. Later in the same century Albertus Magnus wrote the Speculum astronomiae to distinguish unobjectionable works of astronomy and astrology from other treatises contrary to the Christian Faith and concerned with necromancy, but making a false pretence of possessing an astronomical basis and character. To this end he gave a critical bibliography with titles, names of authors, and incipits. Not only were such magic books cited in other medieval writings, but many survive in manuscript. The liber lune ascribed to Hermes, the Book of Venus of Toz Grecus, and the Book of the Spiritual Works of Aristotle or the Book Antimaquis dissociated spirits with (he shirs and planets. Still more elaborate works, dealing with various kinds of magic, were Picatrix, which emanated from Spain and the Arabic, the Liber vacce or Liber Anguemis, which pretended to be a work of Plato revised by Galen, and The Sworn Book of Honorius. Of the Notory Art, which sought illumination from God by use of mystic diagrams, magic words, and invocation of angels, there are treatises ascribed to Solomon and to Apollonius.

We may illustrate the character of these works a little further. The Liber lune associates fifty-four angels with outlandish names with the twenty-eight mansions of the moon, employs suffumigations and repetitions of names of spirits, and instructs in the engraving of images to effect such results as injury to a personal enemy, the rout of an army, or the destruction of a given place. Picatrix tells how to work almost every conceivable marvel, from walking on water, becoming invisible, or appearing in animal form, to impeding the erection of buildings or rendering them safe and stable. The magician must meet certain personal requirements, go through the most complicated procedures, and use a vast number of natural substances. The pages are also thickly sprinkled with incantations, characters, and adjurations. Sorcery and sacrifice are prominent and often attended with great ceremonial. In the Liber vacce the animal to be sacrificed must commonly be of a specified colour and physique, and is then confined for a period before being killed and is subjected to a strict regimen or diet. For example, a crow without a speck of white on it is to be drowned. An equally black dog is imprisoned in a dark kennel and on the third day is to eat the crow and drink the water in which it was drowned. On the eleventh day when only the whites of the dog’s eyes shew and it cannot bark, it is to have some of the juice of a certain small tree, after taking which it will be enabled to bark loudly. But it is then to be bound so that it may not struggle and to be boiled in a big pot. The broth which is thus obtained is to be used in producing rain.

Among less objectionable works, not open to the charge of dealing with spirits, was the Kiranides of Kiranus, King of Persia, which was translated from some Oriental original into Greek in 1168-69, and into Latin not very long afterwards. Its four books deal with the virtues of trees, birds, stones, and fish for medicinal and magical purposes. Of the same category are the Secrets or Experiments and the De mirabilibus mundi, which were attributed to Albertus Magnus. While these treatises were probably not by Albert, his genuine works on nature sometimes contain parallel passages, and he was not unfavourable to what we have earlier defined as natural magic. In one passage he even speaks of the three sciences of magic, necromancy, and astrology. But he regarded natural magic as essentially different in method and results from the Aristotelian “physical science”. William of Auvergne also accepted the existence of a natural magic which was not concerned with demons, but he called it a part of natural science. The attitude of Roger Bacon was similar, although he was more timid about giving the word “magic” any favourable connotation. These men also leave us with a strong impression of the empirical and experimental character of magic. The “experimenters” to whose activities they allude or whose writings they cite are as apt to appear charlatans, quacks, and empirics in our eyes as they are to represent the forerunners of modern scientific investigation. An “experiment” then might be a successful prescription or cure in medicine, the discovery of a new occult virtue of a stone or a part of an animal, the finding of a herb of potent quality, the working of a magic illusion, or any other marvel attested or supposed to be attested by experience. William of Auvergne repeatedly cites experimentaiores and books of experiments for feats of magic, especially of natural magic. Just such books of experiments have come down to us: the Experimental Alberti already mentioned, several treatises of medical experiments and secrets ascribed to Galen or Rasis, collections of chemical and magical experiments such as the Liber ignium of Marcus Grecus or the twelve experiments of John Paulinus with pulverised snakeskin. While all this so-called experimental literature smacks strongly of magic, yet it leads on to the experimental method of modern science. The alchemists in particular were assiduous experimenters, just as the astrologers were frequent observers and measurers of the heavens. Works of alchemy consist largely of directions for processes, and the modern laboratory may be regarded as the lineal descendant of the medieval alchemist’s workshop. Roger Bacon has been given great credit as a forerunner of modem scientific ideals and procedure because of the section in his Opus maius entitled, “Experimental Science.” But when we come to analyse its spirit and content, what else is it than natural magic and alchemy?

All books of magic, however superstitious, unscrupulous, and immoral they may seem, were almost certainly the work of educated authors and make at least some pretence to science and learning. Vulgar witchcraft may be said to have left practically no written records of its own. Old wives, enchantresses, and ordinary diviners were mere practitioners or imposters, not authors. Witches had no libraries. We learn of their doings from the tales with which chroniclers endeavour to enliven or lighten their pages, from the hostile diatribes of preachers and theologians, from the caustic comment of members of the medical profession who lost their patients to such quacks and charlatans, from adverse legislation or the accounts of trials. As a rule such vulgar witchcraft was of a dull and sordid character, simple and restricted in its procedure, inferior in interest and variety to the magic of the learned which could give it points even in such matters as sex appeal.

As for adverse legislation, for some centuries it seems to have been more ecclesiastical than secular. Even in the later Middle Ages most Italian cities had no specific legislation against magic in their statutes. This was likewise true of French coutumes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and of German law of the same period. These municipal statutes and local customs seem tacitly to have continued the attitude of the Roman Law, that a magician, witch, or sorcerer was to be punished only if he or she could be shewn actually to have done someone injury, in which case he or she would be liable anyway by ordinary process of law. Somewhat similar but not quite identical was the attitude of the Spanish code, Las Siete Partidas, of Alfonso the Learned in the thirteenth century. Those who invoked evil spirits, or made wax images of other persons with the intent to injure them, were to be punished by death, but those who employed incantations with kindly purpose and good results were pronounced deserving of reward rather than penalty. Here credulity in the power of witchcraft had reached a point where sorcery with intent to injure was punished rather than actual injury, while on the other hand no objection was made to the employment of magical procedure for good ends.

The closing years of the thirteenth and opening years of the fourteenth century saw some further development of Latin astrology and astrological medicine. Guido Bonatti, an astrologer of Forli, in the defence of which against the papal troops in 1282 he played a prominent part, wrote a voluminous Liber astronomicus in ten tractates. The famous Catalan, Arnold of Villanova, who served a number of kings and Popes as physician until his death in 1311, in his numerous medical writings included ligatures and suspensions, incantations and fantastic procedure, astrological medicine and images or seals. In the Libellus de improbatione maleficiorum he questioned the power of sorcerers to invoke demons and the extent of diabolical magic, but in his Remedia contra maleficia he repeated old counter-magic against both sorcerers and demons. Many works of alchemy were ascribed to Arnold, and recently Pansier has argued that he believed in transmutation, Peter of Abano, in his celebrated scholastic work of medicine, the Conciliator, finished in 1303, and in his other writings, shewed a credulous interest in dreams, fascination, incantations, and every variety of astrology. Far from limiting himself to astrological medicine, he interpreted the course of history, religious as well as secular, by the theory of conjunctions of the planets. In 1320 Firminus de Bellavalle added his treatise on weather prediction by astrology to similar works by Arabic authors, and in 1325 the same theme was discussed in a work composed at York by an author who in one of the manuscripts is called Perscrutator and who has sometimes been identified with a Robert of York, to whom have been further ascribed a Correctorium alchimiae and a treatise on ceremonial magic. The Alfonsine Tables, completed about 1272, seem to have become known outside of Spain rather slowly, but led in the first part of the fourteenth century to a very considerable output of astronomical tables, canons, and commentaries in Latin, which often had as their prime purpose to shorten the labours of astrologers in finding the positions of the heavens in making their judgments and predictions.

The poet and astrologer Cecco of Ascoli was burned at the stake in Florence in 1327, after being condemned by the Inquisition as a relapsed heretic for having violated the terms of a previous lighter sentence imposed upon him at Bologna in 1324. The event was apparently unusual and sensational, and aroused much subsequent interest. It is mentioned by later medieval writers, while numerous manuscripts contain what purport to be summaries of the sentence on Cecco by the Inquisition or accounts of his life and death. Unfortunately, these various sources of information are open to suspicion as of late date, some being of the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Moreover, they do not agree as to the nature of Cecco’s heresy either with one another or with Cecco’s works as they have come down to us, since these contain no denial of freedom of the will, no subjection of Christ to the stars, and no palliation of necromancy, which are among the leading suggestions made as to the nature of his heresy. However, these same suggestions are already present in the nearly contemporary chronicle of Giovanni Villani. It is true that Cecco displays undue curiosity as to necromancy and that he quotes from books of magic or astrology passages which might well be regarded as heretical, but he is always careful to express disapproval of them. This may, of course, have been only a subterfuge on his part.

If Cecco was executed as an astrologer, it was an isolated instance rather than part of a general policy of persecution of that pseudo-science by the Church and Inquisition. It was at the very time when Pope John XXII was taking measures against sorcerers and alchemists, but we have no decree by him against astrologers, although his penitentiary, Walter Cato, is said to have written a treatise against them which does not seem to be extant. Such Christian scholars as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas had allowed all except the more extreme tenets of astrology, granting a considerable influence of the stars over men as well as nature, since most men obey impulse rather than resist it. Guido Bonatti had, on the one hand, assumed an attitude of defiance towards theological critics of astrology, and, on the other hand, had addressed an audience in which members of the clergy were evidently not his least frequent patrons. Arnold of Villanova more than once found himself in theological difficulties, but this was because he, a mere layman, presumed to discuss mysteries of the Faith and to urge Church reform, and not because of his astrology. Peter of Abano has been represented by some historians as one whose astrological doctrine was held to be heretical and who escaped the stake only by dying during his trial. The existing evidence rather shews that, while his views had met with some theological objection, he had successfully defended himself and had been acquitted. The same late medieval writers who depict Cecco's heresy as meeting a merited fate either tell how Peter ably defended himself before a council, or praise his learning in such a way as to indicate that no stain rested upon his memory.

No interruption of astrological activity is manifest following upon Cecco’s execution. Although the astrological writings of Andald di Negro of Genoa have not been exactly dated, he appears to have been as devoted to astrology after 1327 as before. Galfredus de Meldis (Gaufred de Meaux), who had made predictions from the comet of 1315 and the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 1325, lived on to make a prognostication from the eclipse of 13411 and to discuss the astrological causes of the Black Death in 1348 after the event. This last treatise has been confused with other predictions made at the time of the triple conjunction of 1345 by Leo Hebraeus, Jean de Murs, and others. In 1331 John of Saxony did not hesitate to write a commentary upon the judicial astrology of Alcabitius as Cecco had done before him. The Oxford school of astronomy at Merton College engaged also in astrological prognostications, of which John Eschenden may be mentioned as a leading author. Besides predictions from conjunctions and eclipses in 1345,1349,1357, and 1366, there is extant by him a ponderous Summa iudicialis which he brought to a conclusion during the terrible year of the Black Death. It was later printed, and in 1379 John de Ponte made an abbreviation of it which cut away much of Eschenden’s verbosity.

Even stronger evidence that religious opposition to astrology was slight and ineffectual is the fact that members of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, from whose ranks inquisitors were drawn, themselves composed astrological treatises. Only three years after Cecco’s death, in 1330, the Dominican Niccolò di Paganica (also called de Aquila) compiled a compendium of astrological medicine. Petrarch, whose criticisms of both medical men and astrologers have been taken too seriously by some of his modem expositors and biographers, treasured a copy of Niccoló’s work in his celebrated library. Some of the Oxford school of astronomers and astrologers were Franciscans. Dionysius de Rubertis de Burgo Sancti Sepulchri, who was praised by Petrarch and called by King Robert to Naples on account of his astrological predictions, was an Augustinian. He died in 1339; a prediction for the following year was made by another member of the same religious Order, Augustine of Trent, who lectured at the University of Perugia. In 1359 a Dominican of Magdeburg, John of Stendal, “at the instance of the reverend masters and students of Erfurt,” where he was “censor,” commented, like Cecco, upon Alcabitius. Passing on to the next century, we find the Dominican Nicholas of Hungary, in his Liber anaglypharum written in 1456, accepting astrology in all its ramifications, even to the use of images, giving a horoscope for Christ which he ascribes—I think incorrectly—to Albertus Magnus, and affirming that “all astronomers are agreed in this, that there never was any conjunction of these two planets (i.e. Saturn and Jupiter) without great change in this world.” A remarkable instance of good relations between the Inquisition and astrology is provided by a treatise of 1472-73 by Franciscus Florentinus, a Franciscan and inquisitor, entitled: De quorundam astrologorum parvipendendis iudiciis pariter et de incantatoribus ac divinatoribus nullo modo ferendis. Despite the title, Francis always speaks with respect of the astrology of the learned, and even recounts with approval Peter of Abano’s doctrine of the influence of conjunctions on the course of history and religious change. Similarly, Jean de Murs addressed a memoir to Clement VI pointing out that the approaching great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter on 30 October 1365, in the eighth degree of the sign Scorpion, would be critical for Islam and offer a great opportunity to Christendom to strike a telling blow against the Muslims and perhaps to convert them. The canonist and supporter of the temporal power of the Papacy, John of Legnano, in his treatise on war written in1360, questioned whether wars ever could be abolished, since the constellations would require them in the future just as they had brought them in the past.

The Black Death of 1348 stimulated the literature of astrological medicine, if it did not indeed encourage a more fatalistic attitude in general and, by the shock it gave to society, foster the growth of vulgar witchcraft. Gui de Chauliac not only manifested belief in the influence of the stars in his great surgical work of 1363, but composed a separate astrological treatise. We see a like union of surgery and astrology in the writings of Leonard of Bertipaglia in the next century. His Cirurgia, which was several times printed, concludes with a discussion whether wounds will heal or are fatal according to conjunctions of the sun and moon in the twelve signs, and with other astrological matter. A few years later he composed a Judgment of the Revolution of the Year 1427 which has remained unprinted. A leading work of astrological medicine in the fifteenth century was the Amicus medicorum or Directory of Astrology Made Medical, a clear and well arranged manual written in 1431 by Jean Ganivet, a Franciscan of Vienne. That it continued in use for two centuries may be inferred from the appearance of editions at Lyons in 1496, 1508,1550, and 1596, and at Frankfort in 1614.

An anonymous writer against astrology in the second half of the fourteenth century stated that the citing of the Fathers of the Church against astrologers had become ineffectual; one must combat them with their own science. Astrology and magic encountered such technical and rational opposition in a notable series of treatises written in the latter half of the fourteenth century by Nicolas Oresme, known for his French translations of Aristotle and his contributions to mathematics and economics, and by Henry of Hesse, who from Paris went to the new University of Vienna about 1382-84 as professor of theology. In several treatises in Latin and French Oresme tried to dissuade princes from consulting astrologers, demonstrated the difficulty and uncertainty of prediction from the stars, and rejected much of astrological technique and rules as unreasonable. He did not, however, reject astrology entirely. Even less did Henry of Hesse, although while still at Paris he belittled the significance of the comet of 1368 and attacked the theory of conjunctions of the planets with especial reference to fantastic predictions made in 1373. In the next century Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly, who was much enamoured of astrology, accepted some of Henry’s criticisms but rejected others. Oresme’s attack was remembered as late as 1451, when John Lauratius de Fundis, doctor of arts and medicine at the University of Bologna, composed a defence against it. In a collection of miscellaneous questions or Quodlibeta. Oresme also tried to shew that apparent works of magic could be explained on natural grounds without resort either to miraculous power, the influence of the stars, or the interference of demons. Somewhat similar were the works of Henry of Hesse, On the Reduction of Effects to Their Common Causes and Off the Habitude of Causes and the Influx of Common Nature with Respect to Inferiors. These were, however, almost too abstract and subtle in their scholastic reasoning to have any very general influence. More humanistic were the arguments of Coluccio Salutati in the closing years of the fourteenth century.

Eymeric (1320-99), Inquisitor-General of Aragon, wrote against alchemists and divination as well as invokers of demons, but still left to astrology about the usual field of activity that it was accorded by stricter Christian opinion. This was likewise the position of Jean Gerson (1363-1429), who was also primarily a theologian and less given to astrology than his master. Cardinal d'Ailly. Gerson was unusually severe against superstitious observances and went to the length of endeavouring to impose his point of view upon members of medical faculties and of the medical profession by reproof or advice. For instance, he censured a physician of Montpellier for employing an astrological image. Gerson became Chancellor of the University of Paris in 1395, and three years later its theological faculty condemned twenty-eight errors connected with the magic arts. Popular superstitions, whether magical or religious, were opposed in a number of fifteenth-century works, of which may be here mentioned the De superstitionibus of Nicholas Jauer, Jawor, or Gawir, composed in 1405 and extant in a large number of manuscripts but often ascribed to other authors, and the later Contra vitia superstitionum of Dionysius the Carthusian (1402-71), which was printed in 1533. Other names are Thomas Ebendorfer of Haselbach and Henry Gorichem. The work of Franciscus Florentinus, which has already been mentioned, also contains much material concerning popular superstitions, among which this inquisitor classed the observance of birthdays other than those of Christ and the saints. These later discussions of popular superstition were apt to borrow a good deal from the thirteenth century work of William of Auvergne. Noteworthy, however, is the defence of vulgar superstition ascribed by Gerson and others to its practitioners. They insist, we are told, that similar practices may be found in medical and other learned books, and that the Church tolerates similar usages in its rites. Our authors deny that the Church does so officially or as a whole, but are inclined to grant that many practices, which it would be better to omit, have been introduced under the guise of religion among the laity and have even been permitted or sanctioned by some of the clergy.

Despite the Extravagans of John XXII, Spondent quas non exhibent, which decreed that alchemists must give as much real gold to the poor as they had produced of the artificial variety, while those who coined it into money were to suffer severer penalties, treatises on alchemy continued to multiply during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Nor were the alchemists, any more than the astrologers, exclusively laymen. John XXII, in his decretal, had been careful to provide that if the offenders were clerics, they should in addition to the other penalties lose their benefices and be disqualified from holding any in the future. As Brother Elias, one of the first Generals of the Franciscans, had been charged with alchemy in the thirteenth century, so to another Minorite, John of Rupescissa, noted also for his prophecies and imprisonments by his Order and the Popes at Avignon in the middle of the fourteenth century, is ascribed a work of some importance on the fifth essence. In some manuscripts the text is simple, direct, practical, and business-like; in others and even more in the late printed versions it has grown verbose, rhetorical, fuller of pious cant, and in general sounds less genuine. Other interesting fourteenth-century alchemical writings are the letter of Thomas of Bologna, father of Christine de Pisan, to Bernard of Treves—not Trevisan, or of the march of Treviso, as the printed editions represent him—and the latter’s longer reply. In this and other late medieval alchemical treatises may be traced the influence of philosophical and scientific conceptions and phraseology then current among the schoolmen. There is also much citation of previous medieval literature on the subject. A favourite theory at this time was that the elixir was to be obtained from mercury alone. There was much speculation as to the constitution of the four elements from the first four qualities and as to their relative weights, and much experimentation seeking to separate them. There are many anonymous works and many authors, presumably of this period, whose names have as yet scarcely been identified: for example, Jacobus de Garandia, Geraldus de Morangia of Aquitaine, Friar Osbertus de Publeto, Tankardus, Antonius de Abbatia. This is even true of some of those whose works were printed in the alchemical collections of early modern times, like Petrus de Silento or Zelento or Zeleuce. Two frequently-encountered English names in alchemy are John Dastin in the fourteenth, and George Ripley in the later fifteenth century. For the most part the fourteenth century seems more productive of alchemical writing in Latin than the fifteenth, but the numerous alchemical treatises current under the name of Raymond Lull are found almost exclusively in manuscripts of the fifteenth century or later and seem to have been composed long after his death.

The Middle Ages had always been given to visions, revelations, and prophecies, especially of the coming of Antichrist, but these seem to have reached their height, both in number and fantasticalness, in the troubled times of the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and the Great Schism. Were these revelations authentic and orthodox, it would not be appropriate to mention them here. But if they were considered as the work of evil spirits, they might have a close relation to magic and to prohibited divination. There was much doubt on this point in the minds of men at the time, so that Henry of Hesse wrote an Epistle concerning False Prophets and another treatise De discretione spirituum. Gerson composed a work with a similar title, De probatione spirituum and Joan of Arc was regarded as a witch by her enemies. When brother Theolophorus based his Book of Great Tribulations in the Near Future in part upon the prophecies of Merlin, he might be regarded as treading close to magic ground. John of Bassigny claimed no divine afflatus but based his prediction of ills, especially political, to come in the years 1352 to 1382, on reading of the Bible and other previous predictions and upon information picked up during his travels: what a Syrian had told him in Cadiz and a Chaldean in Bethsaida—both through an interpreter—as to events to happen in 1336, and what a Jew had prognosticated about the year 1342. It is not clear whether John’s forecast had any astrological basis, but Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly believed that the coming of Antichrist could be foretold astrologically. He also predicted a great change for the year 1789, and vast alterations in the Church within a century. John Nannis or Nannius of Viterbo, a Dominican friar who is better known for his forgery of the lost Annals of Fabius Pictor, in 1471 or 1481 combined an interpretation of the Apocalypse, whose first fifteen chapters he held applied to the period before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, with ten conclusions derived from astrology as to future triumphs of the Christians over the Saracens. He addressed his predictions first to Cardinal Niccoló Forteguerra and subsequently to Pope Sixtus IV and various States of Europe.

This combination of divine revelation and astrology would not seem incongruous at that time, since the advocates of astrology held that it was one form of divine revelation, and since it was not uncommon in medieval classifications of the sciences to rank astronomy next to theology. Cardinal d’Ailly’s Vigintiloquium had for the rest of the wording of its title, “Of the Concord of Astronomical Truth with Theology,” while Gerson in 1429 addressed to the dauphin his Trilogy of Astrology Theologized. But the best illustration for our purpose is the treatise of Curatus de Ziessele near Bruges, who composed a Compendium of Natural Theology Taken from Astrological Truth.

Astrology was also strongly entrenched in the universities. In those of Italy it was the practice for one of the professors, either of astronomy or medicine, to make an annual forecast for the ensuing year. A number of these are extant. Often the prediction was divided into four parts, treating separately each of the four seasons of the year. The arrangement was furthermore topical, taking up one after the other such matters as the weather for the coimng year, any general catastrophes like earthquakes and floods, the diseases and pestilences that would be prevalent, economic matters such as crops and prices, the lot of the clergy and other social classes, the prospects for war and peace, and particular political pronouncements for the leading States of Europe and cities of Italy. Sometimes the author gave the astrological grounds for his conclusions in each case, sometimes not. If the University of Paris did not go to such lengths of astrological prediction of human affairs as this, we at least have evidence of a controversy there in 1437 as to what days were favourable for bloodletting and the taking of laxatives. Roland Scriptoris and Laurens Muste, the one master of arts and medicine, the other master of arts and bachelor of theology, had disagreed on this matter, and the university authorities appointed two arbitrators, John de Trecis, master of theology and minister of the Order of the Holy Trinity, and Simon de Boesmare, prior of St Jean Beaumont, to review the astrological arguments of both parties and decide between them. In general these umpires took middle and conciliatory ground. But they further insisted that every physician and every surgeon should possess an astrolabe and a copy of the large Almanac and not merely the small one, in order that he might observe with accuracy the exact position of the moon in the signs. One more example may be given of the place of astrology in the universities in the fifteenth century. The great mathematician Regiomontanus, when called in 1467 to a chair in the new university about to be established at Pressburg in Hungary, was commissioned with a colleague to select a horoscope or favourable moment of foundation for the university which would assure it a splendid future. However able an astronomer Regiomontanus may have been, he proved an indifferent astrologer on this occasion, since the new university was of brief duration and a failure almost from the first. Astrology was also made the theme of their lays by learned poets, such as Pontanus and Lorenzo Buonincontri of San Miniato.

How scant success Oresme’s treatise had in dissuading monarchs from astrology may be inferred from this precept of the humanist Aeneas Sylvius, later Pius II, in his De liberorum educatione: “A prince must not be ignorant of astronomy, which unfolds the skies and by that means interprets the secrets of Heaven to mortal men.” Nor was this attitude limited to Italy. In the later fifteenth century Louis XI of France, Henry VII of England, and Frederick III of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire were all patrons of astrology. An interesting example of the court physician and astrologer was Conrad Hemgarter or Heingarter of Zurich, whence his further appellation of Thuricensis. His writings, as represented by five distinct manuscripts in the Bibliothéque Nationale of Paris, comprise a commentary upon the Quadripartitum of Ptolemy addressed to John, Duke of Bourbon; a nativity and treatise of astrological medicine written in 1469 for Jean de la Gutte, an official at the Bourbon court; another work of astrological medicine composed in 1477 for the Duke of Bourbon himself; and a Judgment for the year 1476 addressed to Louis XI. In print by him is a treatise on comets.

Simon Phares was another astrologer who was in the service of John of Bourbon until the duke's death, but preferred botanising in the mountains of Savoy and Switzerland to entering the service of Louis XI. Charles VIII none the less visited him at Lyons, where his successful predictions had attracted much attention. But then he was condemned by the archiepiscopal court for the superstitious practice of astrology, and appealed to the Parlement of Paris. That body referred the two hundred odd volumes of his library to the theological faculty of Paris for examination. The faculty condemned some of them and took up a very strict attitude towards astrology. That this condemnation was not very effective may be inferred from the fact that some of the treatises condemned are still well-known incunabula; that the king’s physician presented a manuscript of one of them to one of the colleges of the University of Paris; and that Simon himself is found in the last year of Charles’ reign composing and addressing to the king his Recueil des plus celebres astrologues, an important source for the history of astrology, in which he implies that his accuser had been put to shame and confusion.

Meanwhile what was the attitude towards magic? Michele Savonarola, medical writer of the middle of the fifteenth century and uncle of the Florentine reformer, had a favourable opinion of magic. Ficino, who revived Neo-Platonism at Florence, was a believer in both astrology and natural magic. Benedetto Maffeo addressed to Lorenzo de’ Medici a treatise on agriculture filled with belief in signs and astrology, and with bits of agricultural magic. In 1482 Bernard Basin, a canon of Saragossa, arguing against a vesperiatus at the University of Paris who had contended that the study of magic arts aided the salvation of the faithful, referred to the audience as “most attentive in listening to discussions of the magic arts.” But Basin urged that magic was diabolical and should not even be studied. Presently the youthful Pico della Mirandola promulgated his nine hundred theses at Rome. A number dealt with magic and the Jewish cabala; several were favourable to natural magic; perhaps the most startling was the proposition that no science yields more certainty of Christ’s divinity than magic and the cabala. Innocent VIII, who in 1484 had issued his bull against witches, condemned certain of Pico’s theses. When Pico attempted to defend and explain his position, he further excited the ire of the Pope, and it was only under Alexander VI that Lorenzo de’ Medici succeeded in having his disabilities removed. Meanwhile Peter Garsia, Bishop of Usellus (Ales) in Sardinia, had addressed to Innocent a reply to Pico’s Apology which was printed in 1489. Garsia insisted that all magic was alike evil and diabolical, and explicitly censured the views of such past Christian authorities as William of Auvergne and Albertus Magnus, to say nothing of Peter of Abano.

Pico, much upset by his difficulties with the Church, devoted the latter years of his brief life to devout meditation, asceticism, and the composition of an elaborate work in twelve books against astrology* Thus he who began proudly by defending magic and cabala ended penitently by attacking even astrology, but one cannot escape a feeling that this onslaught was something of a tour deforce. The reformer Savonarola was so pleased with the work that he composed a popularisation, abbreviation, and paraphrase of it in Italian. Defenders of astrology replied to Picon’s attack, and the pseudo-science had by no means as yet received its death-blow. But further consideration would carry us beyond our period. Let us merely add that natural magic, which Garsia had flouted, found an exponent in a representative of the Christian Renaissance, Jacques Lefevre of Staples, whose treatise on natural magic sometimes approaches closely to incoherent occultism.

The witchcraft delusion, with its holocausts of victims, extending as it did from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, lies in large part beyond our period. Only in the closing decades of the fifteenth century, by “Popes of the Renaissance” such as Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII, was cognisance taken of the supposed existence of witches as a sect in parts of Germany. Only in the opening decades of the sixteenth century did Alexander VI and Leo X recognise the spread of witchcraft into northern Italy. The historian Hansen had difficulty in comprehending how such a degradation of the human intellect and so prolonged and cruel a persecution could coincide in time with Renaissance, Reformation, and the rise of experimental science. He tried to explain it as a survival of the medieval spirit, Church control, theology, and Inquisition. But his argument is unconvincing and is sometimes contradicted by facts uncovered by his own researches. It is possible to over-emphasise the somewhat tenuous connexion between magic and heresy. The witch was probably to some extent a scape-goat for the ills which then oppressed society. When we reflect that by the fifteenth century medieval culture was declining; that economic prosperity, political freedom and self-government, chivalry, and public charity were waning; that the fourteenth century had been marked by the terrible Black Death which demoralised society and never ceased its visitations thenceforth during the entire time of the witchcraft delusion, and by the perhaps worse pest of mercenary soldiers who, aided by artillery and fire-arms, made all wars from the Hundred Years’ to the Thirty Years’ so cruel, devastating, and financially exhausting—when we consider this, we may incline to regard the witchcraft delusion as in congenial company, and to view it as a sociological rather than theological or intellectual phenomenon, produced largely by popular fear and superstition, and by an undiscriminating wave of “law-enforcement” which swept over the secular more than the ecclesiastical courts, and raged in lands where the Inquisition had hardly functioned.

According to Hansen’s own findings, the collective conception of witchcraft prevalent during the delusion did not yet exist in the thirteenth century, indeed is still absent from early fifteenth-century works on magic, and inquisitors of that century were surprised at the existence of this new sect. Hansen found no case of a magician’s being charged with sexual relations with demons until the thirteenth century. The German word for witch, Hexe, rarely appears in literature until the fourteenth century. In secular trials nothing is said before 1400 of demon lovers, transportation of witches through the air, and the sabbat. Among the many records of early trials by the Inquisition which have been preserved there are practically none for magic until Pope John XXII (1316-34), alarmed by attempts against his life made through sorcery and wax images by Hugh Geraud, Bishop of Cahors, the Visconti, and others, started the persecution of magicians in southern France which was continued by Benedict XII. But before this Philip the Fair had preferred charges of abominable magic against the Templars; Guichard, Bishop of Troyes, had been imprisoned in the Louvre for years on like grounds; and sorcery had been among the accusations trumped up against Hubert de Burgh in England under Henry III; so that there is no reason for giving the Papacy precedence in magic-baiting. During the years from 1230 to 1430 the number of trials for magic before secular judges was large and ever growing. That malicious and diabolical magic was increasing during the fourteenth century was the opinion of John XXII and his anonymous commentator at its beginning, of an Archbishop of Cologne and a Bishop of Utrecht in its mid-course, and of the theologians of Paris at its close. One French writer ascribed its growth to the many foreigners whom the Hundred Years’ War had brought into France. There were numerous trials of persons, often of high rank, who had made wax images of others with intent to injure them. We may agree, however, with Hansen that in so far as the witchcraft delusion was led up to by previous writings, it received countenance from works of theologians, canonists, and inquisitors rather than from medieval writers on nature or medicine, who were far more inclined to account for the supposed magical activities of demons by natural causes or human imagination.