Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cornelius Agrippa on "Witchinge Magick", according to James Sanford's 1569 English translation of "De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber"

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber was first published (in its original Latin) in 1527. In 1569 an English translation by James Sanford (or possibly Sandford) was published in London under the title of The Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences.

The word "Witch" actually only appears three times in the passage below (Chapter 44), and one of these is in the title. Twice "Witch" is used to translate the Latin "venefica", and once to translate the Latin "magas". While it is true that "venefica" is often (erroneously) thought of as referring unambiguously to malefic magic (and poisoning in particular), Agrippa makes clear that the "Witchinge Magick" to which he refers is often put to beneficial (or at least non-malefic) use, such as "charmed drinckes for love, and ... medicins ... whereby happy and fortunate childerne maye be begotten," or even to bestow upon a person the ability to "understand the voices of birdes." Shape-shifting is another power attributed, very prominently, by Agrippa to the "pocions" of the Witches, and in doing so he makes explicit reference to the celebrated Metamorphoses of Apuleius. And as Raven Grimassi points out in his essay My View On Italian Witchcraft, "It is among the Romans that we encounter common views of the era regarding the Witch [he is referring to those designated by the Pagan Romans as "Veneficae"]. The Roman poet Horace depicts her as calling upon the goddess Diana, and of working rituals and magic in connection with the moon. Ovid and Lucan broaden this view, and we come to see the Witch figure as a priestess of a triformis goddess: Hecate, Diana, Proserpina. I view this literary tradition as being rooted in actual forms of Witchcraft."

And now let us turn to the passage in question. You can read the original directly here: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=witch;cc=witch;idno=wit005;seq=128.

Of Witchinge Magicke. Cap.44.  [De Magia Venefica]
There is another kinde of naturall Magicke which is termed, Witchinge [veneficam] or Medicinall which is done with pocions, charmed drinckes for love, and divers poysoninge medicins suche a one as Democritus is reade to have made, whereby happy and fortunate childerne maye be begotten, and an other whereby we maie well understand the voices of birdes, as Philostratus and Porphyrius do recompte of Apollonius. Virgill also speakinge of certayne herbes of Pontus, sayde: With these, o Merim, have I seene, ofte times a man to have; The feareful shape as wilde wolfe, and him selfe in woodes do save. Ofte times the ghastly ghostes to leave, theire deape graves grown with grasse: And I have seene the sowen seede. to place from place to passe. And Plinie saithe, that one Demarchus Parrhasius in a sacrifice of mans bodie, whiche the Arcadians offered to Jupiter Liceus, tasted the inwardes of a sacrificed childe was turned into a Wolfe, for the whiche transformation of men into Wolfes, Augustine thinketh that Pan was called with an other name Liceus, and Jupiter Liceus. The same Augustine doth recompt, that when he was in Italie, certaine women witches [foeminas magas], like Circes: when they had geven inchauntmentes in chéese to straungers they trásformed them into horses, and other beastes of cartage and when they had caried the burdens, that they listed, againe they turned them into men: and that this chauced at that time to one Father Prestantius. But bicause any maye not thinke that these be dotages, and thinges impossible, let him remember that which the holy scriptures do declare That the Kinge Nabuchodonosar was transformed into an Oxe, and lived seven yéeres with heye, at length through the mercie of God became a man againe, whose body after his death, Euilmoradath his sonne gave to the ravens to be devoured, leste at any time he might rise from death, who of a beaste became eftsoones a man. And Exodus sheweth many thinges of this sorte, of Pharoes Inchaunters. But yet of these Magitians or Inchaunters the Wise man speaketh, when he saithe: Thou haste hated them O God, because with inchauntmentes they did horrible woorkes. Furthermore I will have you understad this, that the Magitians do not onely searche out naturall thinges, but them also, whiche accompanie nature, and after a sorte do spoyle her, as are the movinges, numbers, figures, soundes, voices, tunes, lightes, affections of the mind and woordes. Thus did the Psilies, and the Marsies call Serpentes, other chased them awaye: in this wise did Orpheus with a hymne asswage the stormie tempest of the Argonautes Jasons cópanions: and Homer saithe that Ulysses bloude was stented with woordes: and in the lawe of the twelve tables a paine was appointed for them, that had inchaunted corne: so that it is no doubt, that Magitians alone also with woordes and affections, and other lyke thinges oftentimes doo bringe foorthe some marveilous effect not onely in themselves, but also in straunge thinges: all whiche operations they suppose to spredde adroade upon other thinges the force engraffed in them and to drawe these unto them, or to put these from them, or to give them vertue by some other meanes, as the lode stoane draweth Iron, and amber strawes, or as the Diamante and Garlike take away the vertue of the lode stoane: and so by this orderly and lincked composition ofthinges Iamblichus, Proculus, and Sinesius, accordinge to the opinion of the Magitians doo confirme that not onely the naturall and celestiall giftes but the intellectuall and heavenly also maie be receaved from above: the whiche Proculus confesseth in the booke of Sacrifice, and Magicke, to witte, that by suche consent of thinges Magitians were wonte to binde sprites. For some of them are fallen into so greate a madnesse, that they beleve, that with divers constellations of Starres rightly observed by distaunce of time, and with a certain order of proportions, by the consent of heavenly sprites, an image made maie receave the sprite of life, and understandinge, whereby he giveth answeare to them that will demaunde and thing, and reveleth the secretes of hidden verity. Hereby it is manifest, that this naturall Magicke sometimes enclineth to Geocie, and Theurgie, oftentimes it is entangled in the craftes and errours of ye devils of hell.