Saturday, January 8, 2011
Changing my Mind about Renaissance Magic
Another huge influence on the genesis of this paper was the work of Noel Brann, who has given us a powerful theory of the "Magical Theology" of Trithemius, but also seems to rely on a theurgic interpretation of Pico as in some way implying angel magic. I'm still not sure how to read angel magic in later Christian Cabala, but I'm fairly certain that Trithemian magic is not what Pico intended. Scholars who have criticized the occultist or theurgic interpretation of Pico have pointed to the painstaking clarity of Pico's Apology, in which he defends himself against accusations of sorcery and heresy. It wasn't until years into the project that I began to question whether post-Yates were correct that Pico is implying some kind of angel magic. Craven says "no hint of theurgy," but do I want to go that far? Not before doing the kind of study that the present paper is but a foundation for...
While I was involved with all that heavy duty philosophical theology at the Dominican school, I did not neglect the more magical and Kabbalistic studies in favor of a narrow scholasticism. Also I had the chance to learn about real Jewish Kabbalah. I studied Jewish Mysticism with a skeptical scoffer who fortunately was also a badass historian, the excellent rabbi Lawrence Kushner who has many excellent books on Kabbalah and Jewish spirituality, and an expert on medieval Jewish Philosophy. This prepared me for reading Idel and Wirszubksi whose intensive study of Pico's translations and interpretations of Kabbalistic material debunk many of the theurgic interpretations I'm worried about. Studying the theurgy of Iamblichus as an influence on Dionysius helped me understand that Pico while he was doing mystical ascent leaves out many of the ritual and liturgical elements of theurgical praxis and theory.