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HIST 0140 Occult Sciences in the Middle Ages

Many medieval people held and practised beliefs which today we would label occult, magical or esoteric. At the learned level, Platonic, Hermetic, Islamic and Kabbalistic ideas were profoundly influential, but less intellectual inspirations and needs were also deeply at work.  The results are evident not only in ‘magical’, astrological and alchemical texts as such, but also in religious, philosophical, legal, literary and artistic works. Other disciplines are drawn on freely as required, but the core of students’ work in this course is in exploring the testimony of these rich and allusive primary sources (in translation) for themselves.

Sample Syllabus

  • Late Antique Roots: Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah
  • Occult Thought in the Universities
  • Popular Beliefs
  • Everyday Magic
  • Attitudes to Witches
  • Occult Byzantium
  • Beyond Christendom
  • Occultism and the Roots of the Renaissance


Introductory Reading

  • Kieckhefer, R.,  Magic in the Middle Ages.  Cambridge: Canto, CUP, revised edn, 2000
  • Maxwell-Stuart, P.G. (ed.), The Occult in Mediaeval Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
  • Flint, V., The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991
  • Maguire, H. (ed.), Byzantine Magic.  Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2008
  • Kennedy, E.S., Astronomy and Astrology in the Medieval Islamic World. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998
Over 25 years on
I attended CMRS over 25 years ago; now I live outside Washington, DC, where I practice law before the federal appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Cour...
Greg Castanias, Autumn Semester 1985, Wabash College