Lux in Tenebris, 4



Agrippa's Cosmic Ladder

Noel Putnil


pp. 82-3 cohaerent cosmological framework for re-establishing "magic" (Mageia) as the true religion

p. 82

"The weight of Agrippa's interpretation is precisely in providing an all-encompassing cosmological and theological framework for what had reached his time as a jumble of heterodox philosophies, odd practices, obscure beliefs, superstition, and strange literary reminiscences. [fn. 5 "For some of the arguments of the scholars advocating the coherence of Agrippa's views see Van der Poel ... [1997], 263-268 ... ."]

p. 83

The main intention of the author of De occulta philosophia is to rehabilitate and re-establish magic in its original, incorrupt form, as Agrippa declares in a letter to Trithemius attached to the first book of his work. He views

magic as the most sublime ancient form of philosophy and religion

{When regarded as an organized religion, Mageia is aequated with the doctrine and practice of the Magoi, to wit, the priests of the religious order based at S`iz (EI, q.v.) in Az^barbaiz^an; named for GANZ^ak (GANJ^a =`iys`). The word Maga < *Magha is further related to Skt \MEGHa\, and thus to \MICturate\, perhaps referring to an entheogenic drug recoverable from urine of a person ingesting its herb.}

which had degenerated due to the misuse and ignorance of those who applied it."

{"The magoi were a conspicuous religious caste ... among ... the Medes. The ... religion which these priests preached and practiced was known as mageia." (D-S&DC, p. 68)} {"The Medes discovered the art of magic [te`n magei'an] first" ("MC6C", p. 227).} {"The Hebrew and Assyrian form of the word Media is mdy (Madai)" (SHW, p. 322), corresponding to Samskr.ta \Madhya\ 'middle'.}

Poel 1997 = Marc van der Poel : Cornelius Agrippa the Humanist Theologian and His Declamations. Leiden : Brill.

EI, s.v. "S̲h̲īz".

D-S&DC = Cesidio Ruel Simboli : Disease-spirits and Divine Cures Among the Greeks and Romans. NY, 1921.

"MC6C" = J. Nimmo-Smith : "Magic at the Crossroads of the Sixth Century". In :- Elizabeth M. Jeffreys (editrix) : Byzantine Style, Religion and Civilization : In Honour of Sir Steven Runciman. Cambrige Univ Pr, 2006. pp. 227-37.

SHW = Laura Knight-Jadczyk : The Secret History of the World and How to Get Out Alive. Red Pill Pr, Grande Prairie (Alberta), 2002.

{Zara-THUSTra (named, mayhap, for the TUS.iTa heaven whence proceed the buddha-s) "is known to have gone from Shiz, to the Mt. Zebilan in the cave whither proceeded the Initiates or the Magi; and upon emerging from it to have returned with the Zend-Avesta" ("EIZ"). \Zebilan\ is the Median form of Sumerian city-name \Zabalam\, praesumbly cognate with Skt \Jambhala\, a name of Ku-bera, who (PE, s.v. "Kubera 3)", p. 434b) is empowered by god Varun.a, the oceanic asura-god who is conventionally compared with Ahura (*\Asura\) Mazda.}

"EIZ" = "Esoteric Insights into Zoroastrianism".

PE = Vettam Mani : Puran.ic Encyclopaedia.

p. 83 the avowed purpose of Cornelius Agrippa's writing [cf. Freake 1997, p. 3]

"Seeing that there is a threefold world,


{astral [from Skt \astra\ 'missile'] plane, the locus of instinct and of emotion}

celestial, and

{causal plane (for, causation is in accordance with universal plans, governed from distant worlds)}


{mental plane, the locus of intellectuality}

and that every inferior is governed by its superior and receives the influence of the virtues thereof, so that ... of all ... angels, heavens, stars, elements, animals, plants, metals, and stones ..., for ...,wise men conceive ... that it should be possible for us to ascend by degrees through each world, ... but also besides these, to draw new virtues from above."

Freake 1997 = Cornelius Agrippa (transl. by James Freake; ed. by Donald Tyson) : Three Books of Occult Philosophy. St Paul : Llewellyn Publ.

pp. 84-5 great chain of beings : the magician's cosmic ladder

p. 84

"the three postulated worlds are structured hierarchically as a result of the process of divine emanation ... which flows down continuously through the ... chain of beings, starting from angels and stars and ending with metals and stones. ... divine virtues

p. 85

are distributed vertically, in such a manner that every preceding level ... rules the one below."

p. 84, fn. 11

"The "great chain of being" ... was introduced by Arthur O. Lovejoy in his classic The Great Chain of Being. It was further developed by S. K. Heninger in his Touches of Sweet Harmony and The Cosmographycal Glass ... . For a discussion ... more particularly applied to Renaissance Platonists see Szo``ny, John Dee's Occultism, 24-34, and Hanegraaff, 'Under the Mantel of Love', 178-182."

Arthur O. Lovejoy : The Great Chain of Being : a Study in the History of an Idea. Cambridge (MA) : Harvard Univ Pr, 1964.

S. K. Heninger in his Touches of Sweet Harmony : Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics. San Marino (CA) : Huntington Library, 1974.

S. K. Heninger : The Cosmographycal Glass : Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe. San Marino (CA) : Huntington Library, 1977.

Gyo:rgy E. Szo``ny : John Dee's Occultism : Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs. State Univ of NY Pr, 2004.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff, "Under the Mantel of Love : the Mystical Eroticisms of Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno". In :- Wouter J. Hanegraaff & Jeffrey J. Kripal (edd.) : Hidden Intercourse : Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism. Leiden : Brill, 2008. pp. 175-207.

p. 85 the goal of magic

"Thus Agrippa proclaims the goal of his magic : to return to the [Neo-Platonic] One ... and to share in ... omnipotence. In other words, the aim of Agrippa's magician is ... to become 'capable of ...' gaining divine powers."

p. 86, Fig. 4.1 world-types corresponding to magic-sorts

__ World

__ magic







p. 87 influence of inhaerent sympathies in the natural universe

"Different aspects of the ... world are interrelated ... (however, on different levels of subtlety) ... being pervaded by the "occult virtues", which are termed so, in Agrippa's words, 'because their causes lie hidden, and man's intellect cannot in any way reach and find them out'. ... a skilled person, a magician, is able to track the occult relations between things and use them to exert a certain influence upon ... something outside themselves.

Agrippa speaks of these relations in terms of natural sympathies and antipathies, or "friendship" and "enmity"."

{For Empedokles, "the forces are Love and Strife. These ... forces are eternal and equally balanced, although the influence of Love and of Strife waxes and wanes ([Aristoteles] B6 and B17, lines 14–20)." (SEPh, s.v. "Empedocles 1.")} {"Empedocles also posits two cosmic forces which ... he personifies as Love (Philia) - a force of attraction and combination – and Strife (Neikos) – a force of repulsion and separation." (IEPh, "Empedocles 3b.").}

SEPh, s.v. "Empedocles".

IEPh, "Empedocles".

p. 88 occult virtues of things

"Agrippa begins with natural magic, seeking the occult virtues of things in the realms of herbs, animals, stones ..., and then ... the celestial sphere, ... by means of celestial images ... and astrology.

Finallyhe reaches the intellectual sphere, in which he employs forms of magic ... : attaining to ritual purity, deriving angelic and demonic names, their characters and seals, summoning spirits ... ."

pp. 89-90 caelestial writing in a structured universe

p. 89

"On finds ... celestial harmony ... and examples of "celestial writing" -- appear throughout ... . However, ...

p. 90

representing Agrippa's vision of the hierarchically structured universe, ... ascension acquires its logical -- and even visually perceptible and and representative -- justification ... ."

p. 90 "Great Chain of Being"

"One such diagram ... comes ... from Fludd ... . The Great Chain of Being is represented by its explicit physical metaphor, linking ... with man through the medium of

Anima Mundi (World Soul {Psukhe toio Kosmoio}).

{"The head of Anima mundi, whose feet are firmly placed on earthly soil, penetrates the realm of intelligences." (SACA, p. 97)}

Man {i.e., mankind} is represented in an ape-like form as the imitator of Nature or the so-called "lesser world"."

SACA = Noel Putnil : The Spiritual Anthropology of Cornelius Agrippa. PhD diss, Central European Univ, Budapest, 2017.

{On the denominational affiliation of Cornelius Agrippa (SACA, pp. 51-2) :- [SACA, p. 51 :] "In her pioneering work on the fragmentary Dialogus de homine, Zambelli focuses on ... his religious convictions ... . ... According to Zambelli's main thesis Agrippa maintained close personal relations and shared certain doctrinal views with various members of the Radical Reformation ... . ... [SACA, p. 52 :] In support of her thesis that Agrippa was a "Nicodemite" ... Zambelli has analyzed his views on the doctrine of psychopannychism (the so-called "sleep of souls") indicating ... a secret follower ... ." [SACA, p. 51, fn. 99 :] "Zambelli's argument can be found in her important paper "Magic and Radical Reformation in Agrippa of Nettesheim," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 39 (1976):69-103."}

pp. 91-2 publicizing of occult emblems via printed books

p. 91

"Agrippa managed to have his De occulta philosophia printed only in 1531 (the first book) and 1533 (the integral edition).

{"It took him almost a quarter of a century to bring his life's work to the printing press." (SACA, p. 43)}

Given the manifold difficulties accompanying Agrippa's attempts to publicise his life work

(such as his incarceration or the famous condemnations by the theologians of Sorbonne and Louvain),

[fn. 26 "See Nauert ... [1965], 104-115."]

it would be difficult to imagine ... searching for a suitable artist to decorate his work with illustrations

p. 92

even if he wanted to. ...


Andeas Alciato's Emblemata, the first emblem book of all, appeared in 1531 ... . Its influence is ... seen in the practice of illustrating new editions or translations of old books, such as Petrus Bonus's Pretiosa margarita novella (1546) or the first French translation of Horapollo's Hieroglyphica (1543) ... ."

Nauert 1965 = Charles G. Nauert : Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought. Urbana : Univ of IL Pr.

{The condemnations by the theologians of Sorbonne and Louvain were the result, while he was serving in Antwerp as her historiographer, of requaests to them by Margaret of Austria, Habsburg governoress of the Netherlands. (SACA, p. 42)} {The brief imprisonment was on account of debt, in 1531. (SACA, p. 43)}

pp. 92-3 rhetorical devices in writing by Cornelius Agrippa

p. 92

"a gradual shift of scholarly attention from what Agrippa wrote to how he did it ..., from the content of his writings to the literary devices and rhetorical strategies he employed in shaping and articulating it. This change of perspective has opened up a number

p. 93

of new interpretive possibilities for old dilemmas. For instance, the scrutiny ... has considerably reduced the previously perceived ... "contradictory" ... position. Thus, by examining Agrippa's De vanitate as part of the Renaissance genre of paradox,

in which the author intentionally changes tonal registers and creates different authorial voices,

{Thus, Cornelius Agrippa was, in effect, quoting contradictory opinions without providing any evaluation of them. This was also the practice advocated by Pyrrhon and by Arkesiades (ShATh, pp. 453-4), and likewise in Madhyamika philosophy (ShATh, pp. 454-6).}

Barbara Bowen downplays this old interpretive conundrum as a "false problem" [1972, p. 256]. In a similar vein, Eugene Korkowski [1976] approaches this work as an example of mock-epideictic literature, showing that Agrippa's meticulous use of irony and other literary devises characteristic of Menippean satire

helped to articulate a multilayered, polyphonous message intended for various types of readers.

{The numerous gross contradictions amongst the various books of the New Testament can be accounted for in a similar fashion : to wit, that these various books were intended to have different readerships (viz., to be read in distinct Hellenic-speaking provinces of the Roman empire) and therefore reflect various beliefs and notions already accepted by denizens of those respective provinces.}

Michael Keefer [1988] analyzes Agrippa's

apparently deliberate custom of misquoting his biblical sources as a way of legitimizing his heterodox views by what appears to be verbal manipulation. ...

{It is most thoroughly evident that intended (wished, though he may not have written down this wish of his in any of his published writings : and any private memoranda -- wherein he may have written it down -- have long-since perished) that the official Bible be rewritten so as to accord with his own notions-and-conceits. This is praecisely what the Church of Latter-Day Saints hath done : it constraineth all members to accept a rewritten Bible, textually divergent from the one traditionally transmitted. Indeed, antique manuscripts of the Bible are replete with many thousands of textual variants, mostly (if not all of them) very deliberate alterations, made perhaps largely by abbots and abbesses, or at the behest of abbots and abbesses (who were in a position to be able to force monks and nuns to accept absolutely anything).}

Finally, Christopher Lehrich offers [2003] a radically new interpretation of De occulta philosophia by basing his analysis on critical theory and modern philosophy of language." {Do see, furthermore, the later (2007) book by Ch. I. Lehrich : OMMTh&P.}

{A radically different understanding of De occulta philosophia can be obtained simply by depending on the 4th book thereof (4BOPh). Similarly as in the case of Carl Gustav Jung's Red Book (and with similar reasons for the delay), it was not published until decades after its author's demise.}

fn. 34

"Chris Miles ... [2008] ... follows Lehrich's line of interpretation, but with a tendency to overinterpret him.

{"Lehman ... examines ... epistemologies in the works of Bruno, Dee, Kircher, and, finally, Derrida." Lehman thus furnisheth "a reading of Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica that is nothing short of astounding" (Miles 2007, p. 199).}

Relying on a rhetorical analysis of a few selected passages from De occulta philosophia he attributes Agrippa a belief in the nonexistence of the relation between language and the world, resulting in fundamental mistrust in any human language's ability to convey truth."

{This sort of attribution is characteristic of commentators on the writings by Wittgenstein. It would appear that Miles was merely endeavouring to demonstrate that Agrippa is a forerunner of Wittgenstein.}

ShATh = Thomas MeEvilley : The Shape of Ancient Thought : Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. Allworth Pr, NY, 2002.

Bowen 1972 = Barbara C. Bowen : "Cornelius Agrippa's De Vanitate : Polemic or Paradox?" BIBLIOTHE`QUE D'HUMANISME ET RENAISSANCE 34(1972).2:249-56.

Korkowski 1976 = Eugene Korkowski : "Agrippa as Ironist". NEOPHILOLOGUS 60(1976).4:594-607.

Keefer 1988 = Michael Keefer : "Agrippa's Dilemma : Hermetic "Rebirth" and the Ambivalences of De vanitate and De occulta philosophia". RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY 41(1988):614-53.

Lehrich 2003 = Christopher I. Lehrich : The Language of Demons and Angels : Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy. BRILL'S STUDIES IN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY, Vol. 119. Leiden : Brill, 2003.

4BOPh = Henry Cornelius Agrippa, His Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy. London : Printed by J.C. for John Harrison ..., 1655. Time-Line of Events Leading to Publication of This Book in 1655 :

Miles 2008 = Chris Miles : "Occult Retraction : Cornelius Agrippa and the Paradox of Magical Language". RHETORIC SOC QUARTERLY 38.4(Autumn 2008).433-56.

Miles 2007 = Chris Miles : "Book Review of Christopher I. Lehrich's The Occult Mind". POMEGRANATE : THE INTERNAT J OF PAGAN STUDIES 9(2007).2:198-9.

OMMTh&P = Christopher I. Lehrich : The Occult Mind : Magic in Theory and Practice. Cornell Univ Pr, 2007. (Brief epitome of the book)

{The same observation (as concerning "meticulous use of irony and other literary devises characteristic of Menippean satire") must apply to the Homeric texts : they abound in irony (the Illiad seeming to praise mutual slaughter among nobility, but intended, instead, to turn into crude jokery the land-titled nobility's claim to refined culture excelling the landless merchant-class in polite manners -- the Illiad having been commissioned by the Aiolian-and-Ionian merchant-guild, to be composed by epic-reconteurs to slander the typically commerce-restricting land-based Akhaian nobility, in the severest of slander-terms), which if not recognized will result in absurd misunderstanding of their significance. Julian Jaynes, who was attempting to understand them from an extremely superficial point-of-view, jumped to the conclusion that the authors must have been "unconscious" : whereas, actually they were writing in a highly litterary style of a refinement most subtlely ironic. When this is well understood, it is clearly recognized that Julian Jaynes made a gross fool of himself in everything he ever wrote concerning antique litterature.}

pp. 94-5 modes of communication in Cornelius Agrippa : magical speech

p. 94

"The first book, which deals with natural magic ..., ends ...

p. 95

with a series of chapters, from 69 to 74, treating speech, both oral and written, the power of letters, words, sentences and names ... . ... Such a nature of language ... enables ... the summoning of various supernatural agents." (Agrippa 1992, p. 389)

Agrippa 1992= Cornelius Agrippa (ed. by V. Perrone Compagni) : De occulta philosophia libri tres. Leiden : Brill.

p. 96 theologization through means of magic

"the author's intention to "theologize" his magic by linking it ... Not only in the De occulta philosophia, but also in some other works ..., the German humanist argues ... the foundation of divine-natural communication in magic ... . ... For a truly illuminated soul, Agrippa argues, it is only natural to perform works of magic and this is how the miracles of the prophets ... are to be explained."

fn. 43 ""if the leaders of the church are unable to perform miraculous works ..., it means they no longer possess the pure knowledge of the Revelation ; see ... Nauert [1959], 207."

Nauert 1959 = Charles G. Nauert : "Agrippa von Nettesheim in Renaissance Italy : the Esoteric Traditions". STUDIES IN THE RENAISSANCE 6:195-215.

p. 97 a great miracle : the pious magician

"referring to the famous statement from the Asclepios [3, f. 40v.] that "man is a great miracle" (magnum miraculum homo), Agrippa adds ... this well-known Hermetic idea".

fn. 47 "Agrippa [1992, 402] explains the result of a carefully{-}executed discernment of spirits : it is no less than becoming a pious and truly religious magus, 'who so far excells other men as he himself is distant from the immortal gods' ... ."

p. 98 to read divine vestiges into the world : immanent praesence

"It is indicated by the very postion of the magus as delineated in the De occulta philosophia [Agrippa 1992, 509] : he ... is entitled by a special dignification to decipher the divine vestiges encrypted into each and every segment of that world. The magus accomplishes this task through ... a sense of active ontological transformation achieved by magical operatio.

This is what Christopher Lehrich calls [2003, p. 98] ... 'a magic bound up ... with the immanent physical presence of ... the world, which grounds language in the material'."

p. 99 true light, sealing the soul

"If weremember a direct emanational connection ..., described by Agrippa as 'the first true light' (prima vera lux) and the physical phenomenon of light sensible by our eyes (visibilis claritas) with a whole range of intermediary stages in between, than {sic! read "then"} such a perspective becomes plausible with regard to the divine quality ... as well. ...

Having postulated an ontological duality of man by introducing a curious opposition between animus hominis and homo corporeus (literally "embodied man"), he goes on to ascertain that the human soul first had to be 'sealed ...' (... sigillatum) in order to be "clothed" (induere) with the material body."

p. 100 magic for deciphering the encrypted praesence

"Agrippa views magic as a form of communication. That this particular form of communication is made possible ... is stressed ... : [Agrippa 1992, 582] 'This is the power ... formed by the mind and received into a subject rightly disposed'. ...

Faith ... is thus instrumentalized for the purpose of discovering and deciphering the encrypted presence of ... the world."

{"For by the will of the light of the spirit they surrounded you {with code?}; they bound {encrypted?} you in faith. ... And faith will come to you. Her thought {concerning the code?} will be taken and given to you with a consciousness of light {ability to decipher?}." (Paraphrase of Shem, p. 452, in GB [fn. 42 "faith is Pistis ... . Faith may be personified and given the name Pistis throughout the Paraphrase of Shem."])} [written 27 July 2018]

GB = Barnstone & Meyer (edd.) : The Gnostic Bible. Shambhala Publ, Boston (MA), 2003.

{That which certain magic-oriented Renaissance authors may occultly indite, can be of utility for exegesis of antient Gnostic scriptures. Indeed, that Faith (Pistis {Strong's 1783 \Diynah\ = \diyn\ 'religion, faith' (DMWA, p. 353b)}) hath, for her function, bringing about an understanding of the material world is a Gnostic (but not a Catholic/Orthodox) theme : cf., e.g., how "Sophia pointed her finger and introduced light into matter" (Reality of the Rulers, p. 175 in GB), her finger pointing at the sublunary sphaire; contrasting with the finger of Indra pointing at the moon (thus extracting soma from the moon) in the C^>an/Zen koan.}

DMWA = Hans Wehr : Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic.


Peter J. Forshaw (ed.) : Lux in Tenebris : the Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism. ARIES BOOK SERIES : TEXTS & STUDIES IN WESTERN ESOTERICISM, Vol. 23. Brill, Leiden, 2017.