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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
The perfect environment
Located in the heart of Oxford, CMRS was the perfect environment for the pursuit of erudite learning and personal improvement.  When I was not studyi...
Garrett Fehner, Autumn Semester 2008, St Mary's College of Maryland