Friday, May 11, 2007

Snake Oil Saint

This is a bit hard to swallow.
Up to one million people are set to gather in Brazil to watch Pope Benedict XVI canonise the country's first home-born saint, Friar Galvao.Friar Galvao, an 18th Century monk, is still a hugely influential figure. He is best remembered for producing Latin prayers written on tiny balls of paper that, when swallowed, had the apparent effect of curing a range of ailments.

Until you realize that this is the practice of Kabbalistic Magick developed during the Renaissance, whereupon the Jewish physicians would use Kabbalistic talismans as part of their healing practice. The medical texts and practices used were Islamic and introduced by Jewish scholars into Europe.

Once again the Catholic Church proves it's religious syncretic nature, in Brazil it blends Voodoo with Christianity and appoints a Saint who used Christian Kabbalistic magick.

Snake oil is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat joint pain. However, the most common usage of the words is as a derogatory term for compounds offered as medicines which imply they are fake, fraudulent, or ineffective. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing but questionable or unverifiable quality. In short, it refers to a product sold as one part of a hoax.

"Snake oil." The expression has come to be synonymous with a quack remedy. But questions about the origins of the term provide the basis for an interesting investigation.

Although considered quintessentially American, patent medicines actually originated in England. The recipient of the first royal patent for a medicinal compound is unknown, but the second was granted to Richard Stoughton's Elixir in 1712. By the mid-eighteenth century an incomplete list included 202 "proprietary" medicines-those protected by patent or registration. Relatively few of the ready-made medicines were actually patented-which required disclosure of their ingredients-but rather had their brand name registered. Nevertheless, the term patent medicine has become a generic term for all self-prescribed nostrums and cure-alls.

Shipments of patent medicines were halted by the Revolutionary War, and American entrepreneurs took the opportunity to meet the demand. Post-war nationalism and cheaper prices of the non-imported medicines helped American vendors maintain their lead over English suppliers (Munsey 1970).

Snake Oil and Holy Water Richard Dawkins,

In 1996 the Vatican, fresh from its magnanimous reconciliation with Galileo, a mere 350 years after his death, publicly announced that evolution had been promoted from tentative hypothesis to accepted theory of science. This is less dramatic than many American Protestants think it is, for the Roman Catholic Church has never been noted for biblical literalism--on the contrary, it has treated the Bible with suspicion, as something close to a subversive document, needing to be carefully filtered through priests rather than given raw to congregations. The pope's recent message on evolution has, nevertheless, been hailed as another example of late-20th-century convergence between science and religion. Responses to the pope's message exhibited liberal intellectuals at their worst, falling over themselves in their eagerness to concede to religion its own magisterium, of equal importance to that of science, but not opposed to it. Such agnostic conciliation is, once again, easy to mistake for a genuine meeting of minds.

In any case, the belief that religion and science occupy separate magisteria is dishonest. It founders on the undeniable fact that religions still make claims about the world that on analysis turn out to be scientific claims. Moreover, religious apologists try to have it both ways. When talking to intellectuals, they carefully keep off science's turf, safe inside the separate and invulnerable religious magisterium. But when talking to a nonintellectual mass audience, they make wanton use of miracle stories--which are blatant intrusions into scientific territory. The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children. Every one of these miracles amounts to a violation of the normal running of the natural world. Theologians should make a choice. You can claim your own magisterium, separate from science's but still deserving of respect. But in that case, you must renounce miracles. Or you can keep your Lourdes and your miracles and enjoy their huge recruiting potential among the uneducated. But then you must kiss goodbye to separate magisteria and your high-minded aspiration to converge with science. The desire to have it both ways is not surprising in a good propagandist. What is surprising is the readiness of liberal agnostics to go along with it, and their readiness to write off, as simplistic, insensitive extremists, those of us with the temerity to blow the whistle. The whistle-blowers are accused of imagining an outdated caricature of religion in which God has a long white beard and lives in a physical place called heaven. Nowadays, we are told, religion has moved on. Heaven is not a physical place, and God does not have a physical body where a beard might sit. Well, yes, admirable: separate magisteria, real convergence. But the doctrine of the Assumption was defined as an Article of Faith by Pope Pius XII as recently as November 1, 1950, and is binding on all Catholics. It clearly states that the body of Mary was taken into heaven and reunited with her soul. What can that mean, if not that heaven is a physical place containing bodies? To repeat, this is not a quaint and obsolete tradition with just a purely symbolic significance. It has officially, and recently, been declared to be literally true. Convergence? Only when it suits. To an honest judge, the alleged marriage between religion and science is a shallow, empty, spin-doctored sham.

Homeopathy and other popular therapies demonstrate ancient and universal principles of magical thinking, which some recent research suggests are fundamental to human cognition, even rooted in neurobiology.

Paracelsus rejected Gnostic traditions, but kept much of the Hermetic, neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies from Ficino and Pico della Mirandola; however, Hermetical science had so much Aristotelian theory that his rejection of Gnosticism was practically meaningless. In particular, Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Agrippa and Flamel; Paracelsus did not think of himself as a magician and scorned those who did, though he was a practicing astrologer, as were most, if not all of the university-trained physicians working at this time in Europe. Astrology was a very important part of Paracelsus' medicine. In his Archidoxes of Magic Paracelsus devoted several sections to astrological talismans for curing disease, providing talismans for various maladies as well as talismans for each sign of the Zodiac. He also invented an alphabet called the Alphabet of the Magi, for engraving angelic names upon talismans.

How old is Kabbalah?

The earliest documents which are generally acknowledged as being
Kabbalistic come from the 1st. Century C.E., but there is a suspicion
that the Biblical phenomenon of prophecy may have been grounded in a
much older oral tradition which was a precursor to the earliest
recognisable forms of Kabbalah. Some believe the tradition goes back
as far as Melchizedek. There are moderately plausible arguments that
Pythagoras received his learning from Hebrew sources. There is a
substantial literature of Jewish mysticism dating from the period
100AD - 1000AD which is not strictly Kabbalistic in the modern sense,
but which was available as source material to medieval Kabbalists.

On the basis of a detailed examination of texts, and a study of the
development of a specialist vocabulary and a distinct body of ideas,
Scholem has concluded that the origins of Kabbalah can be traced to
12th. century Provence. The origin of the word "Kabbalah" as a label
for a tradition which is definitely recognisable as Kabbalah is
attributed to Isaac the Blind (c. 1160-1236 C.E.), who is also
credited with being the originator of the idea of sephirothic

Prior to this (and after) a wide variety of terms were used for those
who studied the tradition: "masters of mystery", "men of belief",
"masters of knowledge", "those who know", "those who know grace",
"children of faith", "children of the king's palace", "those who know
wisdom", "those who reap the field", "those who have entered and

History of Kabbalah

The word Kabbalah, simply means "tradition". Its root is the Hebrew word for "receive". It implies a received tradition. There have been traditions handed down, orally and in writing, throughout the three thousand and more years of Jewish history. From its very inception Judaism had different paradigms of leadership that sometimes overlapped and sometimes conflicted. Moses gave way to Joshua, who was succeeded by judges, and then kings. The priesthood was initially the repository of the religious tradition, but it sometimes failed in its role and either judges or prophets stepped in to fill the gap. There have been alternative, mystical traditions, too, from the period of the prophets--those spiritual outsiders who railed against the betrayals of the established religious structures. Mysticism has always been an essential part of the Jewish spiritual tradition. Some even suggest the mystical goes back to Abraham. A fascinating Midrash suggests that the Wisdom of the East originated from the teachings he passed on to the sons of his concubines.

Academic convention assumes that the technical term "Kabbalah" applies exclusively to a body of esoteric literature that emerged in Medieval Spain, and Provence in France, and went on flourishing from there. It is true that two thousand years ago the rabbis of the Talmud did not use this word but rather spoke about "nistar", the secret world of Torah that paralleled the "niglah", the revealed. But I believe the roots of what is called Kabbalah go back to the very beginning of the Jewish tradition.

As the Christian world based itself on Greek philosophy, and its power and influence spread, in general, within Judaism too, alternative approaches were sidelined. Sefer Yetzirah, the first book that defines mainstream Kabbalah, appears somewhere between the third and the fourth century. It is referred to in the Midrash . However, many academics argue that the text we have today is another one of later provenance.

In Sefer Yetzirah we find the first clear statement of an alternative way of looking at the world, life, and God, based on the Sephirot and the Hebrew alphabet. (Incidentally, the symbolic power of letters and numerology, was something Pythagoras had already written about.)

New writings--Sefer Raziel ("The Book of Raziel, the Angel"), Sefer Bahir ("The Book of Enlightenment"), and then the Zohar ("Bright Light")--emerged into the public domain. The Zohar was discovered, some say written, by Moses De Leon (about 1290 in Spain) but attributed to Shimon Bar Yochai. It is a multi-volumed collection of monologues and commentaries on the Torah that creates a totally different atmosphere from the rational commentators. It became the most widespread and accepted book of the Kabbalah.

As life under Christian monarchs in Spain became unstable and God seemed to retreat from the Jews, a non-rational world became both an escape and a comfort. Mystics such as Abraham Abulafia (born in Spain at the end of the thirteenth century) preached messianism and a new world order. They courted danger. (Abulafia was imprisoned by the Pope, and Shabbetai Zvi, much later, in Constantinople, was imprisoned by the Sultan.)

The expulsion of Jews from Spain caused great chaos and upheaval. But the establishment of a "city of refuge" in Safed in Galilee created a dynamic centre for a new wave of Kabbalistic innovation. Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, and Chayim Vital, all expanded the ideas found in Sefer Yetzira and Sefer Bahir, and combined them with ecstatic mystical practices and experiences. They popularized Kabbalah as a way of reaching God and living a fuller, more spiritual life.

The fact that they did, indeed, encourage a wider, non-academic audience to join them, and the fact that they elevated experience over scholarship, drew down opposition from the mainstream rabbinate. To make matters more confusing, many of the other marginal, magical, superstitious, esoteric and fringe movements of Jewish life pinned their colours to Kabbalah. The excesses of some of these movements led to a campaign to uproot and expunge mystical writings from Jewish life, particularly in Europe after the rationalism of the seventeenth century began to spread.

Shabbetai Zvi was a highly charismatic mystic who was born in Turkey in the seventeenth century. He succeeded in convincing most of the Jewish world that he was the Messiah. But when he got to Istanbul he converted to Islam and the whole movement collapsed. The Shabbetai Zvi debacle discredited Kabbalah. Indeed, Moshe Hagiz, from Jerusalem, went on a voyage around the Jewish world campaigning against the Sabbatean heresy, and as a result Kabbalists were all but driven underground. The Enlightenment also led to the marginalization of Kabbalah.

It was Chassidism, the eighteenth century charismatic revolution in Eastern European Jewry that popularized, and to some extent legitimized, the Kabbalistic approach to life and brought it back towards the mainstream. The early Chassidic masters drew inspiration, both in prayer and ideology, from Lurianic Kabbalah. Initially the free, experimental mood of Safed mysticism suffused the Chassidic masters of the second and third generation. But then, like many revolutionary movements, it lost its anti-establishment and innovative character and became part of the structured religious life of Orthodoxy. It lost its creative identity.

Harvey Hames notes that Elijah del Medigo (1440–ca. 1490), the teacher of Pico della Mirandola and a much sought-after translator of Averroes's works into Latin, composed his theological treatise only after he returned to his native Crete where he could more freely critique the rise of Christian kabbalah and the blending of Neoplatonism, Christianity, and magic he encountered in Florence.

Avicenna (al-Husain, b. Abdallah Ibn Sina, d. 1037), Avicennae canonis libri

Avicenna (al-Husain, b. Abdallah Ibn Sina, d. 1037), Avicennae canonis libri
In Latin
Translated from Arabic by Gerard of Cremona
Fourteenth century

The papal library also acquired copies of standard medical works used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Portions of the twelfth-century Latin translation of Avicenna's medical encyclopedia were used as textbooks in universities, and the work as a whole served as a medical reference tool. In this copy, numerous miniatures vividly depict patient problems with which the medical practitioner was likely to be confronted. Here a patient has hemorrhoids.

Islamic Medical Manuscripts, Magical/Astrological Medicine 5

The first item (fols. 1b-38a) contains the anatomical sections from the Qānūn of Avicenna (MS A 27, item 1); the second item (fols. 38b-39b) is Kashf ba‘d al-lughah min al-Qānūn wa-ghayrihi, an anonymous commentary on terms in the Qanun (MS A 27, item 2); and the third item on fol. 41a is a short anonymous essay on oxymel (MS A 27, item 3). The fourth item (fols. 41b-75a) is an anonymous treatise on prognostics (MS A 27, item 4), and the final item (fols. 75b-76b) contains magical procedures and invocations useful for illness here catalogued. Folios 40a is blank, and fol. 40b is blank except for an owner's note. Fol. 77 is a very different, more recent, paper, and is blank except for some owner's annotations.

The Exodus of a Medical School -- Nevins 123 (12): 963 -- Annals ...

During the fifteenth century, Padua became a haven for hundreds of Jewish medical students from all over Europe, but the first did not graduate until 1409 [4]. As the Renaissance progressed, the social climate became more hospitable and, particularly in Italy, Jewish physicians found it easier to integrate into the general community. These physicians were still excluded from most other occupations and from public office, and their success in medicine was an example of taking advantage of opportunity despite societal intolerance.

Kabbalistic Physiology: Isaac the Blind, Nahmanides, and Moses de Leon on Menstruation

Sharon Koren a1

a1 Hebrew Union College, New York, New York

Science and faith were inextricably intertwined in the Latin Middle Ages. Clerics would attend to both spiritual and physical needs because the need to care for the body coincided with the need to care for the soul. Until the rise of universities in the twelfth century, monasteries were the centers of scientific knowledge. And, even after the professionalization of medicine in the thirteenth century, Christian physicians continued to look to the Bible, in addition to their license, as the source of their authority. Indeed, many Christian physicians who received medical degrees went on to pursue higher degrees in theology. It is therefore not surprising that several Christian theologians used medical theories in the service of theology.

Jews and Healing in the Middle Ages

Indeed, practical texts often show the interaction between members of Jewish and Christian communities in actual practice. For example, Christian and Jewish women appear to have shared similar knowledge and have used the same techniques regarding childbirth. It has been shown by historians that despite the differences with regard the use of plants (used according local availability), the techniques found in Western Hebrew texts were not different to those included in Latin texts (and Arabic). The similitude in remedies and techniques might be explained if we consider that, while the theory and notions in physiology are in general textually transmitted, techniques and recipes are more likely part of actual experience and belong largely to the province of orallity. In fact, there is evidence – for example - that Jewish midwives attended Christian women in labour, and vice versa, despite the prohibitions of the Church. This kind of interaction was a sure source of exchange of healing knowledge, and it is in the origin of the common substratum that we often discover in magic formulae and other healing methods and procedures included in sources of different provenance. Jews integrated these common practices, but it seems that they maintained their religious and cultural identity through the resource to Hebrew and to their own cultural background, as show the continuous allusions to practical Kabbalah in magic healing.

Our Sephardic Medical Roots

When I first began to study my Jewish medical roots, I presumed naively that I could start in Eastern Europe where my grandparents had come from and then work backwards. To my surprise, I soon learned that Jewish doctors were scarce in pre-Revolutionary Russia and that such medical care as existed most likely was delivered by a melange of healers, empirics, magicians, bath-house attendants and the like. If a 19th century Jewish mother proudly spoke of "my son the doctor", more likely she was bragging about a partially trained paramedic (feldsher), than a physician in the modern sense.

Except for purveyors of folk medicine, prior to the middle of the last century Jewish medicine substantially was a Sephardic enterprise, its practitioners either personally or spiritually descended from the erudite rabbi-philosopher-physicians who practiced in Medieval Spain and Portugal. Luminaries such as Judah Halevi, Maimonides and Nachmanides were among the first outflow of Jewish physicians from Spain during the 12th through 14th centuries and after the Expulsion of 1492, the trickle became a deluge. The emigres first went to Portugal and from there fanned out to Amsterdam, Hamburg, Italy, Poland, Greece, the Ottoman Empire, Goa and the Americas. Although their lives were not uniformly comfortable, many Conversos resumed practicing their former religion in these less hostile lands. They were an intellectual elite, and adept at integrating into the new societies in which they found themselves. Many were professionally successful, but with very few exceptions they were not in the forefront of emerging new medical ideas being exponents of the prevailing Galenic old-school.

In this brief essay, I offer four points that I suspect are not widely known. The first is that the University of Padua in northern Italy was a particularly receptive locale where Sephardim joined with exiles from France and Germany to participate in the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance. In this melting pot, hundreds of students not only learned medicine, but partook of the new humanistic ideas of the day. As Professor David Ruderman has described, when they returned to their countries of origin, they served as a vanguard for the Jewish Enlightenment that would emerge in the 18th century. Some of these Paduan graduates were exponents of Maimonides' rationalistic approach to medicine, others were enamored with astrology or the magic of Kabbalah, while still others attempted to reconcile traditional Jewish teaching with secular ideas which were heady and seductive. Indeed, one famous Jewish physician, Toviah Cohen, warned that before tasting the new science, a Jew first should fill his belly with Torah.

A second point worth noting is how frequently Sephardic expatriate physicians were sought after by the politically powerful. Kings and Popes, nobles and commoners, all favored Jewish doctors. Even in the 16th and 17th centuries when Jewish fortunes were in eclipse, the Queens of France, Russia, England and Sweden were attended respectively by Drs. Elijah Montalto, Antonio Ribera Sanches, Rodrigo Lopes and Benedict de Castro. How can we explain the remarkable acceptance by Christian society of this generally despised remnant? It's unlikely that their appeal can be attributed merely to medical acumen or to superior ethical principles. More likely it was that the Jews were perceived by Christian Europe as having skills greater than those of their gentile competitors.

Astrology, Astral Magic, & The Quest for Good Health
© 2002 Lauran Fowks
The longing for health and vitality is timeless. Whether to cure an existing illness or to ensure one’s continued good health, a great variety of methods have been employed over the ages. This paper will explore those techniques used by health practitioners in Medieval and Renaissance Europe that drew on astrology and astral magic - the manipulation of astrological influences - for their healing power. Particular attention will be given to the underlying principles and use of talismans for health and healing

Medieval Ceremonial Magic - The Gnostic Society ...

The term "magic" is etymological derived from an ancient Indo-Aryan root, which we find both in Greek and Latin, consisting of the three letters M, A, and G, or mag, meaning greatness or the bringing about of greatness. We discussed that many attempts have been made to define magic in the past. Entire volumes of anthropological writings have grappled with parsing the distinctions between magic, religion and science. But in the Medieval Period of Europe, these distinctions were not very clearly drawn. For the purposes of our discussion (that is, understanding the tenuous transmission of the Gnostic Tradition over an immense span of history) we defined magic as a particular ecstatic spirituality which seeks the expansion of consciousness through various sacred means. In particular, we are concerned with Theurgy (from Greek: θεουργί α, meaning "divine-working"), which describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action of God (or other personified supernatural power), especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself. This was contrasted with other magical practices of the period, many of which may be seen as vestiges of pagan folk magic, and concerned with such issues as fertility, healing and protection from sorcery. Medieval Christianity coopted or assimilated many of these practices and promoted its own forms of magical thinking through the transformation of pagan deities and heroes into saints, adoption of pagan festivals and holidays as holy feast days, claiming sacred sites for cathedrals and pilgrimages, the Cult of Relics, and assigning of certain mystical powers to the Holy Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. However, in the minds of the people of this period, these would not be viewed as magical practices in the same way we may view them today. Dr. Karen Louise Jolly writes in her introduction to Magic in the Middle Ages: A Preliminary Discussion:

"Within Medieval Christendom, magic was the opposite of religion, and therefore defined by those who were in a position to define Christianity: church leaders and religious authors. In that sense "medieval magic" is whatever practices church leaders condemned as not of God. These authorities usually associate magic with the devil, paganism, heresy, and witchcraft or sorcery...."

Sorcery or malific forms of magic, were often called witchcraft or necromancy by people of the Middle Ages, though both terms had somewhat different meanings in Late Antiquity and in modern anthropology. With pressures from reformist and anticlerical groups intensifying during the Late Medieval Period, the Church increasingly equated magic and witchcraft as the most extreme forms of heresy, and was a frequent charge against those whom it sought to eliminate. This view would of course intensify later during the Reformation and Counter Reformation Periods, among both Catholic and Protestant religious and civil authorities. However, despite this negative association with magic, other forms of esoteric practice such as alchemy and astrology were tolerated during this period and received royal and papal patronage.

The Renaissance and Christian Kabbalah

Kabbalah was a growing force in Judaism throughout the late medieval period and by the beginning of the Renaissance had gained general acceptance as the true Jewish theology, a standing it maintained (particularly in the Christian view) into the eighteenth century.18 Only in the last several decades of the twentieth century, however, have historians begun to recognize the importance of Kabbalah in both the history of religion and in the specific framework of Renaissance thought. Frances Yates, one of this century's preeminent historians of the period, emphasized "the tremendous ramifications of this subject, how little it has been explored, and how fundamental it is for any deep understanding of the Renaissance." She continued,

Cabala reaches up into religious spheres and cannot be avoided in approaches to the history of religion. The enthusiasm for Cabala and for its revelations of new spiritual depths in the Scriptures was one of the factors leading towards Reformation. . . . The Cabalist influence on Renaissance Neoplatonism . . . tended to affect the movement in a more intensively religious direction, and more particularly in the direction of the idea of religious reform.19

Yates has delineated how understanding Kabbalah and its penetration into Christian culture are essential not only for comprehending Renaissance thought but also for studies of the Elizabethan age, Reformation religious ideals, the seventeenth-century Rosicrucian Enlightenment, and much that followed, including the emergence of occult Masonic societies in mid-seventeenth century England.

From its early medieval development in Spain, Jewish Kabbalah existed in close proximity to the Christian world and inevitably aroused notice among gentile observers.20 During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Kabbalists increasingly established a presence in several areas of Europe outside Spain, the most consequential of these perhaps being Italy, where Kabbalah soon touched the vanguard of Renaissance life. Then in 1492 came one of the great tragedies in Jewish history: the violent expulsion of Jews from newly unified Christian Spain. Forcibly expelled from their homeland, they fled to Italy, France, Germany, to the England of Henry the VII, and to Turkey, Palestine, and North Africa. With them went Kabbalah.

European culture in the fifteenth century had been animated by explorations, sciences, and bold visions reborn. Man stepped out from the shadow of the Creator and found himself master of worlds, capable of knowing God's handiwork. He discovered himself: the jewel of creation, the measure of all things. Perhaps no place was ablaze in this creative fire more than the Florentine courts of Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici. Cosimo had assiduously collected the rediscovered legacies of Greek and Alexandrian antiquity (an effort facilitated by the exodus west after the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453). But most important, in 1460 he acquired and had brought to Florence the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of fourteen ancient religious treatises on God and man. Authoritatively mentioned in the early Christian patristic writings of St. Augustine and Lactantius, these "lost" texts were thought to have been authored in antiquity by one Hermes Trismegistos ("Thrice Great Hermes"), an ancient Egyptian prophet older than Moses, a knower of God's ancient but forgotten truths, and a seer who foretold the coming of Christ.21 Though eventually dated to the Gnostic milieu of the second century C.E., sixteenth-century scholars believed that Hermes Trismegistos and the Hermetica were an occult source that nurtured true religion and philosophy from Moses to the Greek philosophers of late antiquity.22

The influence of the Corpus Hermeticum was remarkable, its diffusion among intellectuals immense; it epitomized the Renaissance world view, a reborn prisca theologia, "the pristine font of ancient and Divine illumination." In a variety of ways, Renaissance thought was radically transformed by the Hermetic doctrine that man was infused with God's light and divinity: "You are light and life, like God the Father of whom Man was born. If therefore you learn to know yourself . . . you will return to life."23 Man was a divine, creative, immortal essence in union with a body, and man reborn "will be god, the son of God, all in all, composed of all Powers."24

Kabbalah made a dramatic entry on the Renaissance stage at almost precisely the same time the rediscovered Hermetic writings were gaining wide dissemination in the elite circles of Europe. The initial impetus for study of Kabbalah as a Christian science and for its integration with Hermeticism came from Florentine prodigy Pico della Mirandola (1463-94). Pico's philosophical education was initiated under the Hermetic and Platonic influence of the Medici Academy and court, of which he became an intellectual luminary. About age twenty he began his studies of Kabbalah, a pursuit furthered by Jewish Kabbalists who assisted him in translating a considerable portion of Kabbalistic literature into Latin and then aided his understanding of their occult interpretations.25 In 1486 Pico penned the "Oration on the Dignity of Man"--one of the seminal documents of the Renaissance--as an introduction to the famous 900 theses which he intended to debate publicly in Rome that year. More than a hundred of these 900 theses came from Kabbalah or Pico's own Kabbalistic research.26 "The marrying together of Hermetism and Cabalism, of which Pico was the instigator and founder," notes Yates, "was to have momentous results, and the subsequent Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, ultimately stemming from him, was of most far-reaching importance."27

Hermeticism found a perfect companion in Kabbalah. Sympathies that can be drawn between the two occult sciences, both supposed ancient and divine, are remarkable, and it is easy to see how they would have impressed themselves upon sixteenth-century philosophers: Kabbalah originated with God's word to Adam and the ancient Jewish prophets after him; Hermeticism was the sacred knowledge of the ancient Egyptian Gnosis, the legacy of a thrice-great prophet, transmitted to the greatest pagan philosophers, and foretelling the coming of the divine Word (Logos). Both placed considerable interest in a mystical reinterpretation of the Creation; the Hermetic text Pimander, often called "the Egyptian Genesis," complimented the new vision gained from a Kabbalistic revisioning of the Hebrew Genesis.28 Each taught the great "Art" of Divine knowledge based on the tenet that man is able to discover the Divine, which he reflects within himself through direct perceptive experience. And both offered paths to God's hidden throne, the divine intellect, where humankind might find revealed the secrets of heaven and earth. Element after element of Renaissance thought and culture is linked to the force of a new religious philosophy born of these two Gnostic traditions intermingling in the cauldron of Western culture's rebirth. Indeed, Yates suggests that the true origins of the Renaissance genius may be dated from two events: the arrival of the Corpus Hermeticum in Florence and the infusion of Kabbalism into Christian Europe by the Spanish expulsion of the Jews.29

Christian Kabbalah advanced an innovative reinterpretation of the Jewish tradition. For Pico and many influential Christian Kabbalists after him this ancient Gnostic tradition not only was compatible with Christianity but offered proofs of its truth. Many early Christian Kabbalists were, like Pico, not only scholars but Christian priests investigating remnants of a holy and ancient priesthood, rife with power and wisdom endowed by God. Their cooptation of the tradition was of course disavowed by most Jewish Kabbalists--though some aided and encouraged the development and a few converted to Christianity. But to the Christian scholars and divines who embraced it, Kabbalah was

a Hebrew-Christian source of ancient wisdom which corroborated not only Christianity, but the Gentile ancient wisdoms which [they] admired, particularly the writings of "Hermes Trismegistus". Thus Christian Cabala is really a key-stone in the edifice of Renaissance thought on its "occult" side through which it has most important connections with the history of religion in the period.30

This was not just a speculative philosophy, but a new (though cautious and often occult) religious movement which radically reinterpreted normative Christianity. In some fashion it touched every important creative figure of the Renaissance. To an age seeking reformation and renewal, there had come forgotten books by prophets of old--pagan and Hebrew--who foresaw the coming of the Divine creative Logos, who knew the secret mysteries given to Adam, who taught that man might not only know God, but in so knowing, discover a startling truth about himself. These ideas reverberated in the creative religious imagination of the Western world for several centuries, perhaps even touching--though illusively and attenuated by time--the American religious frontier of the 1820s.

Jewish Magic Bibliography

The following bibliography is meant as an aid to the student of Jewish magic, ranging from biblical to modern times. It was compiled with the assistance of a Mary Gates Undergraduate Research Grant at the University of Washington and under the guidance of Prof. Scott Noegel. It is organized both chronologically and topically, with many entries repeated for ease of use. It is my hope that this bibliography will become a great asset in the further development of the study of Jewish magic. While this list is far from exhaustive, I have attempted to present the most up to date and relevant material for research in Jewish magic. Accordingly, I hope to continue to update this bibliography in order to make it as current as possible.

Alex Jassen and Scott Noegel

University of Washington


Kabbalistic Kommunism

Passover Song

My Favorite Muslim

For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing

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