Critical Reactions to the Occult Sciences During the Renaissance

  • Brian Vickers
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 146)


The revival of the occult sciences — astrology, alchemy, numerology and natural magic — during the Renaissance used to be an embarrassment to historians. Some preferred to address themselves to the Scientific Revolution and simply ignore the occult leanings of Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, John Dee, Robert Fludd, and others. If one scholar changed this conspiracy of silence it was Lynn Thorndike, in his History of Magic and Experimental Science, published in eight volumes between 1923 and 1958. This vast survey — as Eugenio Garin described it, “a catalogue and index rather than a history” (Garin 1983, 133, n. 8)1 — is much more reliable on magic than on science; indeed, as his work progressed, Thorndike came to identify rather with the occult tradition, and could barely bring himself to discuss its opponents with either objectivity or fairness. Thorndike’s unrivaled knowledge of manuscript materials and his indefatigable researches certainly laid a new scholarly foundation for studies in the occult sciences; and his work, together with the tradition established by Eugenio Garin in Florence (including Paolo Rossi and Cesare Vasoli), can be seen as both an inspiration and a reference point for the sudden popularity of magic in the English-speaking world in the 1960s and 1970s. One other source of influence was the Warburg Institute, whose library and teaching staff reflected the full range of Aby Warburg’s interests, including astrology and magic. D. P. Walker, whose Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Fieino to Campanella (1958) was a key work in this tradition, moved from the Department of French of University College, London, to the Warburg Institute in 1961, while Frances Yates had been a Research Fellow of the Institute since 1938.


Seventeenth Century Scientific Enterprise Critical Reaction Binary Opposition Hellenistic Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


Ancient and Renaissance Sources

  1. Allen, J., 1659. Judicial Astrologers Totally Routed, and their Pretence to Scripture, Reason & Experience, Briefly, yet Clearly and Fully Answered. London.Google Scholar
  2. Calvin, John, 1560. An Admonicion against Astrology Iudiciall, trans. Goddred Gilby, London; new “Edition critique,” Avertissement contre l’Astrologie Judiciaire, ed. O. Millet. Geneva, 1985.Google Scholar
  3. Cardanus, H., 1658. Metoposcopia libris tredecim. Paris.Google Scholar
  4. Chamber, John, 1601. A Treatise Against Judicial Astrologie, together with Astronomiae Encomium, in Latin and English. London.Google Scholar
  5. Croll, Oswald, 1609. Tractatus de signaturis in tern is rerum..., Frankfurt; trans. in Royal and Practical Chymistry. London, 1670.Google Scholar
  6. Dodart, Denis, 1679. Memoires pour servir it l’histoire des Plantes, Seconde Edition. Paris.Google Scholar
  7. Firmicus Maternus, 1975. Matheseos Libri VIII, trans. J.R. Bram as Ancient Astrology. Theory and Practice. Park Ridge, N.J., 1975.Google Scholar
  8. Forget, Jean, 1633. Artis Signatae Designata Fallacia. Nancy.Google Scholar
  9. Fulke, William, 1560. Antiprognosticon, that is to saye, an Invective agaynst the vayne and unprofitable predictions of the Astrologians. London.Google Scholar
  10. Gassendi, Pierre, 1659. The Vanity of Judiciary Astrology. Or Divination by the Stars. London; from Gassendi’s Opera omnia. Paris, 1658.Google Scholar
  11. Geminus, Eisagoge, ed. and trans. G. Manitius. Leipzig: Teubner, 1898.Google Scholar
  12. Geree, John, 1646. Astrologo-Mastix, Or A Discovery of the vanity and iniquity of Judiciall Astrologie. London.Google Scholar
  13. Gilbert, William, [1600] 1893. De Magnete, trans. P. Fleury Mottelay. London; repro New York, 1958.Google Scholar
  14. Howard, Henry, 1583. A Defensative agaynst the poyson of supposed Prophecies.... London; rev. ed., 1620.Google Scholar
  15. Kepler, Johannes, 1610. Tertius Interveniens, cit. and trans. E. Rosen, in Vickers 1984a, 258.Google Scholar
  16. Lemery, Nicolas, 1686. A Course of Chymistry, trans. from the fifth French edition by W. Harris. London.Google Scholar
  17. Manilius, 1980. Astronomica, ed. C. P. Goold. London: Loeb Classical Library, 1980.Google Scholar
  18. More, Henry, 1680. Tetractys Anti-Astrologica, Or, The Four Chapters in the Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness, Which contain a brief but solid Confutation of Judiciary Astrology.... London.Google Scholar
  19. Perkins, William, 1585. Foure Great Lyers. London.Google Scholar
  20. 1—, 1592. A Golden Chaine, in: Workes, Vol. 1. London, 1612, 42–44.Google Scholar
  21. 2—, 1604. A Commentarie[on]Galatians, in Workes, Vol. 2. London, 1617, 285–87.Google Scholar
  22. Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni, 1496. Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem, Bologna; ed. E. Garin, I-II. Florence, 1946, 1952.Google Scholar
  23. 3—, [1948]. “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” trans. E. L. Forbes, in: The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. E. Cassirer, P. O. Kristeller and J. H. Randall, Jr. Chicago, 215–54.Google Scholar
  24. Porta, Joannes Baptista, 1588. Phytognomonica octo libris contenta. Naples.Google Scholar
  25. Ptolemy, 1970. Tetrabiblos, trans. F. E. Robbins. London: Loeb Classical Library, 1977.Google Scholar
  26. Ray, John, [1660] 1975. Catalogus Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium (Cambridge); ed. and trans. A. H. Ewen and C. T. Prime as Ray’s Flora of Cambridgeshire. Hitchin.Google Scholar
  27. Rowland, William, 1652. Judiciall Astrologie Judicially Condemned. London.Google Scholar
  28. Sennert, Daniel, 1662. Chymistry Made Easieand Useful. Or, The Agreement and Disagreement of the Chymists and Galenists, trans. N. Culpeper and A. Cole. London.Google Scholar
  29. Spiegel, A., 1606. In rem Herbarium Isagoge.Google Scholar
  30. Swift, Jonathan, 1941. The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift, ed. H. Davis, 14 Vols. (Oxford, 1939-1968), Vol. XI: Gulliver’s Travels.Google Scholar
  31. Van Helmont, John Baptist, 1662. Oriatrike or Physick Refined, trans. J. Chandler, London, from Ortus Medicinae. Amsterdam, 1648.Google Scholar

Modern Sources

  1. Aiton, E. J., 1976. “Johannes Kepler in the Light of Recent Research,” History of Science 14:77–100.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, D. C., 1941. The Star-Crossed Renaissance. The Quarrel about Astrology and its Influence in England. Chapel Hill, N.C.; repr. New York, 1966.Google Scholar
  3. Larkey, S. V., 1935. “Astrology and Politics in the First Years of Elizabeth’s Reign,” Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine 3:171–186.Google Scholar
  4. Amand, D., 1945. Fatalisme et Liberté dans l’Antiquité Grecque. Louvain.Google Scholar
  5. Arber, A., 1938. Herbals. Their Origin and Evolution, 2nd ed. Cambridge; repr. Darien, Conn., 1970.Google Scholar
  6. 1—, 1953. “From Medieval Herbalism to the Birth of Modern Botany,” in: Science, Medicine and History, ed. E. A. Underwood, 2 vols. London, 1:317–36.Google Scholar
  7. Baron, H., 1927. “Willensfreiheit und Astrologie bei Marsilio Ficino und Pico della Mirandola,” in: Kultur und Universalgeschichte. Festschrift für W. Goetz. Leipzig and Berlin, 145ff.Google Scholar
  8. Bauckam, R., 1975. “Science and Religion in the Writings of Dr. William Fulke,” British Journalfor the History of Science 8:17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bidez, J., and F. Cumont, 1938. Les Mages Hellenises. Zoroastre, Ostaneset Hystape d’apres la Tradition Grecque. Paris.Google Scholar
  10. B-L, see Bouché-Leclerq 1899.Google Scholar
  11. Bleker, J., 1976. “Chemiatrische Yorstellungen und Analogiedenken in der Harndiagnostik Leonhard Thurneissers (1571 und 1576),” Sudhoffs Archiv 60:66–75.Google Scholar
  12. Boll, F., 1894. Studien über Claudius Ptolemüus. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  13. Boll, F., C. Bezold, and W. Gundel, 1926. Sternglaube und Sterndeutung. Die Geschichte und das Wesen der Astrologie, 3rd ed. Leipzig; 5th ed., with bibliographical appendix by H. G. Gundel. Darmstadt, 1966.Google Scholar
  14. Bouché-Leclerq, A., 1899. L’Astrologie Grecque. Paris; repr. Brussels, 1963.Google Scholar
  15. Chapman, A., 1979. “Astrological Medicine,” in: Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, ed. C. Webster. Cambridge: 275-300.Google Scholar
  16. Clagett, M., 1957. Greek Science in Antiquity. London.Google Scholar
  17. Coopland, G. W., 1952. Nicolas Oresme and the Astrologers. Liverpool.Google Scholar
  18. Cumont, F., 1912. Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans. New York.Google Scholar
  19. De Yirville, D., 1957. “De I’influence des idées préconçues sur le progrés de la botanique du XVe au XVIIIe siécle,” Revue de I’Histoire des Sciences 10:110–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dick, H. G., 1939. “The Authorship of Four Great Lyers (1585),” The Library, 4th Ser., 19:311–14.Google Scholar
  21. 2—, 1944. “Intellectual Background: the War againstJudicial Astrology”, in: Tomas Tonkis, Albumazar: A Comedy, ed. Dick. Berkeley and Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  22. 3—, 1946. “Students of Physic and Astrology. A Survey of Astrological Medicine in the Age of Science,” Journal of the History of Medicine 1: 300–315,419–33.Google Scholar
  23. Festugière, A., J., 1944. La Révélation d’Hermés Trismégiste. I: L’Astrologie et les Sciences Occultes. Paris.Google Scholar
  24. Field, J. Y., 1984. “A Lutheran Astronomer: Johannes Kepler,” Archivefor History of Exact Sciences 31:189–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fitzgerald, D. J., 1969. “Some notes on Pico’s Dispute with Astrology,” in: Arts Liberaux et Philosophie au Moyen Age. Montreal and Paris:1049–55.Google Scholar
  26. Garfagnini, G., 1982 (ed.). Scienze Credenze Occulte Livelli di Cultura. Florence.Google Scholar
  27. Garin, E., 1937. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Florence.Google Scholar
  28. 4—, 1965. Italian Humanism. Philosophy and Civil Life in the Renaissance, trans. P. Munz. Oxford.Google Scholar
  29. 5—, 1983. Astrology in the Renaissance. The Zodiac of Life, trans. of La Zodiaco della Vita, Bari, 1976, by C. Jackson, J. Allen, and C. Robertson. London.Google Scholar
  30. Geertz, C., 1956. “Religion as a Cultural System,” in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, ed. M. Banton. London: 1–46.Google Scholar
  31. Godwin, J., 1979. Robert Fludd. Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds. London.Google Scholar
  32. Graubard, M., 1968 “Astrology’s Demise and its Bearing on the Decline and Death of Beliefs,” Osiris 13:210–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gundel, H. G., 1968. Weltbild und Astrologie in den griechischen Zauberpapyri. Munich.Google Scholar
  34. 6—, 1972. Zodiakos. Der Tierkreis in der antiken Literatur und Kunst, Munich, with section on the Zodiac in the ancient orient by Robert Boker; a separate issue of Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopiidie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Band XA, cols. 461–710.Google Scholar
  35. Gundel, W., 1936a. Dekane und Dekansternbilder. Gluckstadt and Hamburg.Google Scholar
  36. 7—, 1936b. Neue astrologische Texte des Hermes Trismegistos. Munich.Google Scholar
  37. Hammer, F., 1971. “Die Astrologie des Johannes Kepler,” Sudhoffs Archiv 55:113–35.Google Scholar
  38. Juttner, G., 1971. “Die Signature in der Pflanzenabbildung.” Pharmazeutische Zeitung 51:1998–2001.Google Scholar
  39. 8—, 1978. “Alchemie und Signaturenlehre in der Therapie der fruhen Neuzeit,” in: Der Übergang zur Neuzeit und die Wirkung von Traditionen. Göttingen, 130–140.Google Scholar
  40. King, L. S., 1973. “Metoposcopy and Kindred Arts,” Journal of the American Medical Association 224:42–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kocher, P. H., 1953. Science and Religion in Elizabethan England. San Marino, Ca.; New York, 1969.Google Scholar
  42. Lauer, H. H., 1966. “Zahl und Medizin,” Janus 53:161–93.Google Scholar
  43. Larkey, S. V., 1935. “Astrology and Politics in the First Years of Elizabeth’s Regine,” Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine 3: 171–86.Google Scholar
  44. Leclercq, H., 1918. “La Medecine des Signatures magiques,” Janus 23:5–28.Google Scholar
  45. Lemay, R., 1962. Abû Ma’shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century. Beirut.Google Scholar
  46. Lloyd, G. E. R., 1961. Polarity and Analogy. Two Types of Argumentation in Early Greek Thought. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  47. 9—, 1970. Early Greek Science, Thales to Aristotle. London.Google Scholar
  48. 10—, 1973. Greek Science after Aristotle. London.Google Scholar
  49. 11—, 1979. Magic, Reason and Experience. Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  50. 12—, 1983. Science, Folklore and Ideology. Studies in the Life Sciences in Ancient Greece. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  51. Long, A. A., 1982. “Astrology: Arguments Pro and Contra,” in: Science and Speculation. Studies in Hellenistic Theory and Practice, ed. J. Barnes, J. Brunschwig, M. Burnyeat and M. Schofield. Cambridge, 165–92.Google Scholar
  52. Madkour, I., 1969. “Astrologie en terre d’Islam,” in: Arts Liberaux et Philosophie au Moyen Age. Montreal and Paris, 1041–47.Google Scholar
  53. Müller-Jahnke, W.-D., 1982. “Zum PrioriHitenstreit urn die Metoposkopie: Hajek contra Cardano,” Sudhoffs Archiv 66:79–84.Google Scholar
  54. 13—, 1984. “Ordnung durch’ Signatur’. Analogiedenken und Arzneischatz im 16. und 17. Jarhundert,” Deutsche Apotheker-Zeitung 124:2184–89.Google Scholar
  55. Neugebauer, O., 1957. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, 2nd ed. Providence, R. I.Google Scholar
  56. North, J. D., 1980. “Astrology and the Fortunes of Churches,” Centaurus 24:181–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pagel, W., 1958. Paracelsus. An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance. Basel.Google Scholar
  58. Parr, J., 1953. “Sources of the Renaissance Englishman’s Knowledge of Astrology. A Bibliographical Survey and a Bibliography,” in: Tamburlaine’s Malady and Other Essays on Astrology in Elizabethan Drama. Alabama: 112–50.Google Scholar
  59. Pruckner, H., 1933. Studien zu den astrologischen Schriften des Heinrich von Langenstein. Leipzig and Berlin.Google Scholar
  60. Quecke, K., 1955. “Die Signaturenlehre im Schrifttum des Paracelsus,” Beiträge zur Geschichte der Pharmazie 1:41–52.Google Scholar
  61. Raven, C., E., 1942. John Ray, Naturalist. His Life and Works. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  62. Reeds, K. M., 1976. “Renaissance Humanism and Botany,” Annals of Science 33:519–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rice, E. F., 1958. The Renaissance Idea of Wisdom. Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  64. Rossi, P., 1965. “Considerazioni suI declino dell’ astrologia agli inizi dell’ eta moderna,” in: L’opera e il pensiero di Giovanni Pico della Mirandola nella storia dell’ Umanesimo, 2 vols., II. Florence, 315–31.Google Scholar
  65. Schmitt, C. B., 1969. “Experience and Experiment: A Comparison of Zabarella’s View with Galileo’s in De Motu,” Studies in the Renaissance 16:80–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Schneider, W., 1950. “Über die Signaturenlehre in Medizin und Chemie,” Die Pharmazie 5:355–59.Google Scholar
  67. Shumaker, W., 1972. The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance. A Study in Intellectual Patterns. Berkeley and Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  68. Simon, G., 1979. Kepler, astronome astrologue. Paris.Google Scholar
  69. Thiele, G., 1898. Antike Himmelsbilder. Berlin.Google Scholar
  70. Thomas, K., 1973. Religion and the Decline of Magic, rev. ed. Harmondsworth.Google Scholar
  71. Thorndike, L., 1923-1958. A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8 vols. New York.Google Scholar
  72. Van der Waerden, B. L., 1954. “History of the Zodiac,” Archiv fur Orientforschung 16:217–30.Google Scholar
  73. 14—, 1965. Science Awakening. Groningen.Google Scholar
  74. Vickers, B., 1973. Towards Greek Tragedy. London.Google Scholar
  75. 15—, 1979. “Frances Yates and the Writing of History,” Journal of Modern History 51:287–316.Google Scholar
  76. 16—, 1984a (ed.). Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  77. 17—, 1984b. Review of Garfagnini 1982 in: English Historical Review 390:114–18.Google Scholar
  78. 18—, 1984c. “Bacon’s So-Called’ Utilitarianism’: Sources and Influence,” in Francis Bacon. Terminologia e Fortuna nel XVII Secolo, ed. M. Fattori. Rome, 281–313.Google Scholar
  79. 19—, 1988. “On the Function of Analogy in the Occult,” Hermeticism and the Renaissance. Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe, ed. I. Merkel and A. G. Debus. Cranbury, N.J., 265–90.Google Scholar
  80. Walker, D. P., 1958. Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Hcino to Campanella. London.Google Scholar
  81. Wedel, T. O., 1920. The Medieval Attitude towards Astrology. New Haven.Google Scholar
  82. Yates, F., 1967. “The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science,” in Art, Science, and History in the Renaissance, ed. C. S. Singleton. Baltimore, 255–74.Google Scholar
  83. 20—, 1972. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London.Google Scholar
  84. Z, see Gundel 1972.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Vickers

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations