Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

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Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (/əˈɡrɪpə/; German: [aˈgʀɪpa]; 14 September 1486 – 18 February 1538) was a German polymath, physician, legal scholar, soldier, theologian, and occult writer. Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy or magic published in 1533 drew heavily upon Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and neo-Platonism. His book was widely influential among occultists of the early modern period, and was condemned as heretical by the inquisitor of Cologne.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa


Three Books of Occult Philosophy (De Occulta Philosophia) (1651)
Pentagram and human body (Agrippa)

Three books of Occult Philosophy or Magic (1531 - 1533)[edit]

Translated from Latin by John French (1616–1657)
(full text)

  • Cornelius Agrippa to the reader
  • I do not doubt but the title of our book of Occult Philosophy, or of Magic, may by the rarity of it allure many to read it, amongst which, some of a disordered judgment and some that are perverse will come to hear what I can say, who, by their rash ignorance, may take the name of Magic in the worse sense and, though scarce having seen the title, cry out that I teach forbidden Arts, sow the seed of heresies, offend the pious, and scandalize excellent wits; that I am a sorcerer, and superstitious and devilish, who indeed am a Magician: to whom I answer, that a Magician doth not, amongst learned men, signify a sorcerer or one that is superstitious or devilish;' but a wise man, a priest, a prophet that the Sybils were Magicianesses, and therefore prophesied most clearly of Christ; and that Magicians, as wise men, by the wonderful secrets of the world, knew Christ, the author of the world, to be born, and came first of all to worship him; and that the name of Magic was received by philosophers, commended by divines, and is not unacceptable to the Gospel.
  • The supercilious censors will object against the Sybils, holy Magicians and the Gospel itself sooner than receive the name of Magic into favor. So conscientious are they that neither Apollo nor all the Muses, nor an angel from heaven can redeem me from their curse. Whom therefore I advise that they read not our writings, nor understand them, nor remember them. For they are pernicious and full of poison; the gate of Acheron is in this book; it speaks stones—let them take heed that it beat not out their brains. But you that come without prejudice to read it, if you have so much discretion of prudence as bees have in gathering- honey, read securely, and believe that you shall receive no little profit, and much pleasure; but if you shall find any things that may not please you, let them alone and make no use of them, for I do not approve of them, but declare them to you. But do not refuse other things, for they that look into the books of physicians do, together with antidotes and medicines, read also of poisons,
  • I confess that Magic teacheth many superfluous things, and curious prodigies for ostentation; leave them as empty things, yet be not ignorant of their causes. But those things which are for the profit of men — for the turning away of evil events, for the destroying of sorceries, for the curing of diseases, for the exterminating of phantasms, for the preserving of life, honor, or fortune—may be done without offense to God or injury to religion, because they are, as profitable, so necessary.
  • If any error have been committed, or any thing hath been spoken more freely, pardon my youth, for I wrote this being scarce a young man, that I may excuse myself, and say, whilst I was a child I spake as a child, and I understood as a child, but being become a man, I retracted those things which I did being a boy, and in my book of the vanity and uncertainty of Sciences I did, for the most part, retract this book But here, haply, you may blame me again, saying, "Behold, thou, being a youth, didst write, and now, being old, hast retracted it; what, therefore, hast thou set forth? " I confess, whilst I was very young, I set upon the writing- of these books, but, hoping that I should set them forth with corrections and enlargements— and for that cause I gave them to Trithemius, a Neapolitanian Abbot... a man very industrious after secret things. But it happened afterwards that, the work being intercepted, before I finished it, it was carried about imperfect and impolished, and did fly abroad in Italy, in France, in Germany, through many men's hands; and some men, whether more impatiently or imprudently I know not, would have put it thus imperfect to the press, with which mischief, I, being affected, determined to set it forth myself, thinking that there might be less danger if these books came out of my hands with some amendments than to come forth, torn and in fragments, out of other men's hands.
  • Moreover, I thought it no crime if I should not suffer the testimony of my youth to perish! Also, we have added some chapters and inserted many things which did seem unfit to pass by, which the curious reader shall be able to understand by the inequality of the very phrase, for we were unwilling to begin the work anew and to unravel all that we had done, but to correct it and put some flourish upon it. Wherefore, I pray thee, courteous reader, weigh not these things according to the present time of setting them forth, but pardon my curious youth if thou find any thing in them that may displease thee.
  • Trithemius to Agrippa
  • (after writing this book, Agrippa sent it to Trithemius, who after reading the manuscript and then answered Agrippa)
  • John Trithmius...to Henry Cornelius Agrippa... Your work, most renowned Agrippa, entitled Of Occult Philosophy, which you have sent by this bearer to me, has been examined. With how much pleasure I received it no mortal tongue can express nor the pen of any write. I wondered at your more than vulgar learning—that you, being so young, should penetrate into such secrets as have been hid from most learned men; and not only clearly and truly but also properly and elegantly set them forth... Your work, which no learned man can sufficiently commend, I approve of. Now that you may proceed toward higher things, as you have begun, and not suffer such excellent parts of wit to be idle, I do, with as much earnestness as I can, advise, entreat and beseech you that you would exercise yourself in laboring after better things, and demonstrate the light of true wisdom to the ignorant...
  • Neither let the consideration of idle, vain fellows withdraw you from your purpose; I say of them, of whom it is said, " The wearied ox treads hard, " whereas no man, to the judgment of the wise, can be truly learned who is sworn to the rudiments of one only faculty... Yet this one rule I advise you to observe that you communicate vulgar secrets to vulgar friends, but higher and secret to higher and secret friends only: Give hay to an ox, sugar to a parrot only. Understand my meaning, lest you be trod under the oxen's feet, as oftentimes it falls out.
  • Book One, Natural Magic
  • How Magicians Collect Virtues from the Three-fold World, is Declared in these Three Books. Seeing there is a Three-fold World: Elementary, Celestial and Intellectual — and every inferior is governed by its superior, and receiveth the influence of the virtues thereof, so that the very Original and Chief Worker of all doth by angels, the heavens, stars, elements, animals, plants, metals and stones convey from Himself the virtues of His Omnipotency upon us, for whose service He made and created all these things.
  • Wise men conceive it no way irrational that that it should be possible for us to ascend by the same degrees through each World, to the same very original World itself, the Maker of all things and First Cause, from whence all things are and proceed; and also to enjoy not only these virtues, which are already in the more excellent kind of things, but also besides these, to draw new virtues from above. Hence it is that they seek after the virtues of the Elementary World, through the help of physic, and natural philosophy in the various mixtions of natural things; then of the Celestial "World in the rays, and influences thereof, according to the rules of Astrologers, and the doctrines of mathematicians, joining the Celestial virtues to the former.
  • Moreover, they ratify and confirm all these with the powers of diverse Intelligences, through the sacred ceremonies of religions. The order and process of all these I shall endeavor to deliver in these three books: Whereof the first contains Natural Magic, the second Celestial, and the third Ceremonial. But I know not whether it be an unpardonable presumption in me, that I, a man of so little judgment and learning, should in my very youth so confidently set upon a business so difficult, so hard and intricate as this is. Wherefore, whatsoever things have here already, and shall afterward be said by me, I would not have anyone assent to them, nor shall I myself, any further than they shall be approved of by the universal church and the congregation of the faithful.

Quotes about[edit]

  • At the beginning of his literary life Thomas Vaughan was influenced deeply by the works of Cornelius Agrippa and especially by THE THREE BOOKS OF OCCULT PHILOSOPHY. He drew much from this source, as any annotations are designed to shew; but the matter of Agrippa suffers a certain transmutation in the alembic of his own mind... Cornelius Agrippa mentions, on the authority of Cicero, a "sovereign grade of contemplative perfection" wherein the soul knows all things in the light of ideas. De Occulta Philosophia, Lib. iii, c. 50. He speaks also in the language of Plato and the successors of "ascending to the intellectual life" and so attaining "the first unity." Ibid. t iii, 55.
    • Arthur Edward Waite, The Works of Thomas Vaughan: Eugenius Philalethes, (1919) Anthroposophia Theomagica(1650) footnote p. 5
  • But shall I not be counted a conjurer, seeing I follow the principles of Cornelius Agrippa, that grand Archimagus, as the antichristian Jesuits call him? He indeed is my author, and next to God I owe all that I have unto him. He was, Reader, by extraction noble; by religion a protestant (5) as it appears... for his course of life a man famous in his person, both for actions of war and peace; a favourite to the greatest princes of his time and the just wonder of all learned men. Lastly, he was one that carried himself above the miseries he was born to and made fortune know man might be her master. This is answer enough to a few sophisters and in defiance of all calumnies thus I salute his memory.
    • Thomas Vaughan, The Works of Thomas Vaughan: Eugenius Philalethes, by Arthur Edward Waite, (1919), Anthroposophia Theomagica(1650), p. 50
  • As after the zeal of research and the satisfaction of learning displayed in a memorable pageant, Cornelius Agrippa became convinced that the sciences of his period were vain, including his own, so was he disillusionised in matters of official religion. But he did not become a protestant. His position is comparable to that of Paracelsus, who wished Luther and the chaos of reformers well, believing doubtless that something would evolve therefrom, but he did not join the reformers.
    • Arthur Edward Waite, The Works of Thomas Vaughan: Eugenius Philalethes, (1919)Anthroposophia Theomagica(1650) footnote #5, p. 50

See also[edit]

The Grand Inquisitor (short story) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

External links[edit]

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