The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy

The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy

The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy

The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy


This is the first modern study of Agrippa's occult philosophy as a coherent part of his intellectual work. By demonstrating his sophistication, it challenges traditional interpretations of Agrippa as an intellectual dilettante, and uses modern theory and philosophy to elucidate the intricacies of his thought. It also argues for a new, interdisciplinary approach to magic and its place within early modern culture, using a transhistorical conversational model to understand and interpret the texts. The analysis walks the reader through the text of De occulta philosophia, Agrippa's 1533 masterpiece, explicating the often hidden structure and argument of the work. This volume will especially interest early modern intellectual historians, historians of religions, and scholars interested in the history of linguistic philosophy.


'Tis Magic, Magic that hath ravished me.
Then, gentle friends, aid me in this attempt;
And I …

Will be as cunning as Agrippa was,
Whose shadows made all Europe honour him.
—Christopher Marlowe

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), as befits a great magician, left behind him a number of mysteries for posterity. in two letters to his friends, in which he discussed the progress of his great treatise on magic De occulta philosophia libri tres [Three Books of Occult Philosophy, hereafter DOP], Agrippa wrote of a “secret key” to the occult philosophy, a key which would be revealed only to his closest friends. in the latter half of the sixteenth century, it was commonly believed that this “key” referred to a text of black magic spuriously attributed to Agrippa, thus lending credence to the legends of Agrippa the black magician, which in turn led to Agrippa's importance as a source for the Faust legends. But if the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy was certainly a spurious work, what was Agrippa's secret key to the occult philosophy?

Agrippa, one of the most influential magical thinkers of the Renaissance, was for the next two centuries continually cited (positively or negatively) along with Paracelsus as a founding thinker of the magical

De occulta philosophia libri tres (Cologne, 1531/33); see Abbreviations (page ix above)
for complete details of references to dop.

“Clavis reservare.” Epistolae, 3, 56 (22 January, 1524), 759–60; and 5, 14 (24
September, 1527), 873–75. See also Marc Van der Poel, Cornelius Agrippa, the Humanist
Theologian and his Declamations
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997), 81–2.

Henrici CorneliiAgrippae liber quartus de occulta philosophia, seu de cerimoniis magicis.
Cui accesserunt, Elementa magica Petri de Abano, philosophi
, Marburg, 1559; in Opera 1,
527–61 this is De Caeremoniis Magicis liber, sed, ut putatur, spurius: qui Quartus Agrippae
de Occulta Philosophia habetur.

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