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The Philosophy of Natural Magic

Henry Cornelius Agrippa


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Originally published in 1531-1533, De occulta philosophia libri tres, (Three books of Occult Philosophy) proposed that magic existed, and it could be studied and used by devout Christians, as it was derived from God, not the Devil. Agrippa had a huge influence on Renaissance esoteric philosophers, particularly Giordano Bruno. This edition is a pastiche of a portion of a translation of Agrippas' libri tres by an unidentified translator; excerpts from a book on Agrippa by Henry Morley with extensive background; and some self-promotional material by the publisher, L. W. de Lawrence.

This book has 285 pages in the PDF version. This edition was originally published in 1913.

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Excerpt from 'The Philosophy of Natural Magic'

At Cologne, on the 14th of September, 1486, there was born into the noble house of Nettesheim a son, whom his parents called in baptism Henry Cornelius Agrippa. Some might, at first thought, suppose that the last of the three was a Christian name likely to find especial favor with the people of Cologne, the site of whose town, in days of Roman sovereignty, Marcus Agrippa's camp suggested and the colony of Agrippina fixed. But the existence of any such predilection is disproved by some volumes filed with the names of former natives of Cologne. There were as few Agrippas there as elsewhere, the use of the name being everywhere confined to a few individuals taken from a class that was itself not numerous. A child who came into the world feet-foremost was called an Agrippa by the Romans, and the word itself, so Aulus Gellius explains it, was invented to express the idea, being compounded of the trouble of the woman and the feet of the child. The Agrippas of the sixteenth century were usually sons of scholars, or of persons in the upper ranks, who had been mindful of a classic precedent; and there can be little doubt that a peculiarity attendant on the very first incident in the life here to be told was expressed by the word used as appendix to an already sufficient Christian name.

The son thus christened became a scholar and a subject of discussion among scholars, talking only Latin to the world. His family name, Von Nettesheim, he never latinised, inasmuch as the best taste suggested that—if a Latin designation was most proper of a scholar—he could do, or others could do for him, nothing simpler than to set apart for literary purposes that half of his real style which was already completely Roman. Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim became therefore to the world what he is also called in this narrative—Cornelius Agrippa.

He is the only member of the family of Nettesheim concerning whom any records have been left for the instruction of posterity. Nettesheim itself is a place of little note, distant about twenty-five miles to the southwest of Cologne. It lies in a valley, through which flows the stream from one of the small sources of the Roer. The home of the Von Nettesheims, when they were not personally attached to the service of the emperor, was at Cologne. The ancestors of Cornelius Agrippa had been for generations in the service of the royal house of Austria; his father had in this respect walked in the steps of his forefathers, and from a child Cornelius looked for nothing better than to do the same.

It is proper to mention that among the scholars of Germany one, who before the time of Agrippa was known as the most famous of magicians, belonged to the same city of Cologne; for there, in the thirteenth century, Albertus Magnus taught, and it is there that he is buried.

Born in Cologne did not mean in 1486 what it has meant for many generations almost until now—born into the darkness of a mouldering receptacle of relics. Then the town was not priest-ridden, but rode its priests. For nearly a thousand years priestcraft and handicraft have battled for predominance within its walls. Priestcraft expelled the Jews, banished the weavers, and gained thoroughly the mastery at last. But in the time of Cornelius Agrippa handicraft was uppermost, and in sacred Cologne every trader and mechanic did his part in keeping watch on the archbishop. Europe contained then but few cities that were larger, busier, and richer, for the Rhine was a main highway of commerce, and she was enriched, not only by her manufacturers and merchants, but, at the same time also, by a large receipt of toll. Commerce is the most powerful antagonist to despotism, and in whatever place both are brought together one of them must die.

Passing by the earlier times to about the year 1350 there arose a devilish persecution of the Jews in many parts of Europe, and the Jews of Cologne, alarmed by the sufferings to which others of their race had been exposed, withdrew into their houses, with their wives and children, and burnt themselves in the midst of their possessions. The few who had flinched from this self-immolation were banished, and their houses and lands, together with all the land that had belonged to Cologne Jews, remained as spoils in the hands of the Cologne Christians. All having been converted into cash, the gains of the transactions were divided equally between the town and the archbishop. The Jews, twenty years later, were again allowed to reside in the place on payment of a tax for the protection granted them.

In 1369 the city was again in turmoil, caused by a dispute concerning privileges between the authorities of the church and the town council. The weavers, as a democratic body, expressed their views very strong and there was fighting in the streets. The weavers were subdued; they fled to the churches, and were slain at the altars. Eighteen hundred of them, all who survived, were banished, suffering, of course, confiscation of their property, and Cologne being cleared of all its weavers—who had carried on no inconsiderable branch of manufacture—their guild was demolished. This event occurred twenty years after the town had lost, in the Jews, another important part of its industrial population, and the proud city thus was passing into the first stage of its decay.

In 1388 an university was established at Cologne, upon the model of the University of Paris. Theology and scholastic philosophy were the chief studies cultivated in it, and they were taught in such a way as to win many scholars from abroad. Eight years afterwards, churchmen, nobles, and traders were again contesting their respective claims, and blood was again shed in the streets. The nobles, assembled by night at a secret meeting, were surprised, and the final conquest of the trading class was in that way assured. A new constitution was then devised, continuing in force during the lifetime of Cornelius Agrippa.

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