from ‘On Magic’ – meanings of ‘magic’

by Giordano Bruno

As with any other topic, before we begin our treatise On Magic, it is necessary to distinguish the various meanings of the term, for there are as many meanings of ‘magic’ as there are of ‘magician’.

   First, the term ‘magician’ means a wise man; for example, the trismegistes among the Egyptians, the druids among the Gauls, the gymnosophists among the Indians, the cabalists among the Hebrews, the magi among the Persians (who were followers of Zoroaster), the sophists among the Greeks and the wise men among the Latins.

   Second, ‘magician’ refers to someone who does wondrous things merely by manipulating active and passive powers, as occurs in chemistry, medicine and such fields; this is commonly called ‘natural magic’.

   Third, magic involves circumstances such that the actions of nature or of a higher intelligence occur in such a way as to excite wonderment by their appearances; this type of magic is called ‘prestidigitation’.

  Fourth, magic refers to what happens as a result of the powers of attraction and repulsion between things, for example, the pushes, motions and attractions due to magnets and such things, when all these actions are due not to active and passive qualities but rather to the spirit or soul existing in things. This is called ‘natural magic’ in the proper sense.

  The fifth meaning includes, in addition to these powers, the use of words, chants, calculations of numbers and times, images, figures, symbols, characters, or letters. This is a form of magic which is intermediate between the natural and the preternatural or the supernatural, and is properly called ‘mathematical magic’, or even more accurately ‘occult philosophy’.

The sixth sense adds to this the exhortation or invocation of the intelligences and external or higher forces by means of prayers, dedicationsincensings, sacrifices, resolutions and ceremonies directed to the gods, demons and heroes. Sometimes, this is done for the purpose of contacting a spirit itself to become its vessel and instrument in order to appear wise, although this wisdom can be easily removed, together with the spirit, by means of a drug. This is the magic of the hopeless, who become the vessels of evil demons, which they seek through their notorious art. On the other hand, this is sometimes done to command and control lower demons with the authority of higher demonic spirits, by honouring and entreating the latter while restricting the former with oaths and petitions. This is transnatural or metaphysical magic and is properly called ‘theurgy’.

   Seventh, magic is the petition or invocation, not of the demons and heroes themselves, but through them, to call upon the souls of dead humans, in order to predict and know absent and future events, by taking their cadavers or parts thereof to some oracle. This type of magic, both in its subject matter and in its purpose, is called ‘necromancy’. If the body is not present, but the oracle is beseeched by invoking the spirit residing in its viscera with very active incantations, then this type of magic is properly called ‘Pythian’, for, if I may say so, this was the usual meaning of ‘inspired’ at the temple of the Pythian Apollo.

  Eighth, sometimes incantations are associated with a person’s physicalparts in any sense; garments, excrement, remnants, footprints and anything which is believed to have made some contact with the person. In that case, and if they are used to untie, fasten, or weaken, then this constitutes the type of magic called ‘wicked’, if it leads to evil. If it leads to good, it is to be counted among the medicines belonging to a certain method and type of medical practice. If it leads to final destruction and death, then it is called ‘poisonous magic’.

  Ninth, all those who are able, for any reason, to predict distant and future events are said to be magicians. These are generally called ‘diviners’ because of their purpose. The primary groups of such magicians use either the four material principles, fire, air, water and earth, and they are thus called ‘pyromancers’, ‘hydromancers’, and ‘geomancers’, or they use the three objects of knowledge, the natural, mathematical and divine. There are also various other types of prophecy. For augerers, soothsayers and other such people make predictions from an inspection of natural or physical things. Geomancers make predictions in their own way by inspecting mathematical objects like numbers, letters and certain lines and figures, and also from the appearance, light and location of the planets and similar objects. Still others make predictions by using divine things, like sacred names, coincidental locations, brief calculations and persevering circumstances. In our day, these latter people are not called magicians, since, for us, the word ‘magic’ sounds bad and has an unworthy connotation. So this is not called magic but ‘prophecy’.

   Finally, ‘magic’ and ‘magician’ have a pejorative connotation which has not been included or examined in the above meanings. In this sense, a magician is any foolish evil-doer who is endowed with the power of helping or harming someone by means of a communication with, or even a pact with, a foul devil. This meaning does not apply to wise men, or indeed to authors, although some of them have adopted the name ‘hooded magicians’, for example, the authors of the book De malleo maleficarum (The Witches’ Hammer). As a result, the name is used today by all writers of this type, as can be seen in the comments and beliefs of ignorant and foolishpriests.

   Therefore, when the word ‘magic’ is used, it should either be taken in one of the senses distinguished above, or, if it is used without qualifications, it should be taken in its strongest and most worthy sense as dictated by the logicians, and especially by Aristotle in  Book  of the Topics. So as it is used by and among philosophers, ‘magician’ then means a wise man who has the power to act. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the word, when unqualified, means whatever is signified by common usage. Another common meaning is found among various groups of priests who frequently speculate about that foul demon called the devil. Still other meanings are to be found in the common usages of different peoples and believers. Given these distinctions, we will deal generally with three types of magic: the divine, the physical and the mathematical. The first two of these types of magic necessarily relate to what is good and best. But the third type includes both good and evil, since the magician may direct it towards either.

  Although all three types agree on many principles and actions, in the third type, wickedness, idolatry, lawlessness and charges of idolatry are found when error and deception are used to turn things which are intrinsically good into evil. Here, the mathematical type of magic is not defined by the usually mentioned fields of mathematics, i.e., geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, optics, music, etc., but rather by its likeness and relationship to these disciplines. It is similar to geometry in that it uses figures and symbols, to music in its chants, to arithmetic in its numbers and manipulations, to astronomy in its concerns for times and motions, and to optics in making observations. In general, it is similar to mathematics as a whole, either because it mediates between divine and natural actions, or because it shares or lacks something of both. For some things are intermediates because they participate in both extremes, others because they are excluded from both extremes, in which case they should not be called intermediates but a third species which is not between the other two but outside of them. From what has been said, it is clear how divine and physical magic differ from the third type.

door Giordano Bruno


tekstbron: GIORDANO BRUNO Essays on Magic, transl. ed. R.J. Blackwell
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