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Magic. The occult art or science which teaches how to do things which are beyond human powers.

Magic , considered as the science of the first mages, was nothing but the study of wisdom; for at the time it was well-taken. But it is rare that Man is satisfied with the limits of knowledge, it is too simple for him. It is nearly impossible that a small number of learned people, in one era and in a country subject to a crass ignorance, would not quickly succumb to the temptation to appear greater than human. Thus, the mages of Chaldea and all the East, or rather their disciples (because it is with the latter that ideas are usually degenerated), attached themselves to astrology, divination, enchantment and curses; and soon the term “ magic ” became odious and inapt to designate a science equally illusory and contemptible. The daughter of ignorance and pride, this science stretches back into the depths of time. It would be difficult to determine its date of origin; intending to reduce the pains of humanity, it was born at the same time as our miseries. As a dark science, it is honored in countries where barbarism and coarseness reign. The Lapps and, in general, savage peoples cultivate magic and make a great deal of it.

To write a complete treatise on magic , to consider it in its fullest sense, that is to say, in all the good and evil that it can do, one must distinguish between divine magic , natural magic and supernatural magic .

First, divine magic is nothing but the particular knowledge of the plans and visions of sovereign wisdom that God (in his grace) has revealed to holy men filled with his spirit; the supernatural power that He enables them to predict the future, to make miracles and to read, so to speak, the heart of those to whom they have been sent. We must believe they had such gifts; even if science, clarified by faith, has no better idea, it reveres it in silence. But is it still so? I do not know and I believe that it may be doubted. It does not depend on us acquiring this desirable magic , which does not comes neither from ordinary life nor from the will; it is a gift from God.

Second, by natural magic , we mean the in-depth study of nature and the amazing secrets that we find there; the inestimable benefits that this work has brought to humanity in nearly all the arts and sciences. These include physics, astronomy, medicine, agriculture, navigation, mechanics and, I would say even eloquence; because it is for the knowledge of nature and the inspiration which it fires the human spirit in particular, that the great masters are due for the impact which they had on their students, the passions which they have excited in them and the tears they have drawn from them.

This magic , praiseworthy in itself, was developed far back in antiquity. It is evidenced by Greek fire and some other discoveries made by those writers of which we have spoken. In several areas, the ancients have surpassed us in this type of magic , but the invasions by the northern peoples proved to have the most disastrous consequences for our Europe, including the shocking blows from which science and the fine arts have had such pain in overcoming.

Thus, for many centuries after Archimedes’ glass sphere, Architras’ flying wooden dove, the Emperor Leo’s singing golden birds, Boetius’ singing and flying bronze birds, hissing bronze serpents and other things, there was a country in Europe (but of neither of Vaucanson’s century nor country), there was, I say, a country in which came to the point of burning Brioché and his puppets. A French knight who would walk around and see in the fair a mare who was clever enough to respond exactly to his signals, as we have seen as much in what follows: was saddened in Spain to see an animal subjected to the Inquisition who used all his resources to escape its clutches. There are innumerable examples of natural events which, through ignorance, were treated as black magic and evil. How were those who first spoke of the Antipodes and the New World treated?

But we are gradually recovering from this former attitude and one can say that the awareness of this so-called natural magic is, even in the eyes of the multitude, continually retreating. Under the light of science we are, happily, continuously discovering the secrets and systems of nature, supported by many sound experiences which show humanity of what it is capable itself and without magic . Thus, we see the compass, the telescope, the microscope and, in our own time, polyps and electricity. In chemistry and physics, the most beautiful and useful discoveries will immortalize our era and if Europe were to fall back into the barbarism from which it has finally emerged, we will seem like magicians to our barbarous successors.

Third, supernatural magic is which is properly called magic . This black magic , that always takes offense, that leads to pride, ignorance and the rejection of science; it is this which Agrippa included under the labels “celestial” and “ceremonial” . It had no science but the name and nothing but a confused heap of obscure, ambiguous and inconclusive principles, practices which were generally arbitrary and childish, the uselessness of which is shown by the nature of things.

Agrippa, who was also a philosopher as well as a magician , used the term celestial magic to describe judicial astrology which attributed to spirits some domination over the planets, and to the planets some domination over men. He also claimed that different constellations influenced the tendencies, destiny and good or bad fortune of men. On these weak foundations, he built a ridiculous system, which does not dare appear these days except in the Liege Almanac and other similar books. These pathetic collections of material nourish popular errors and prejudices.

Ceremonial magic , according to Agrippa, is incontrovertibly the most odious of these fruitless sciences. It consists of the invocation of demons who respond according to an express or tacit agreement made with the powers of darkness. He claims they have the power to harm their enemies, to produce evil and pernicious effects which the unhappy victims of their furor cannot avoid.

Magic is divided into several branches, according to its differing objects and operations: cabals, spells, enchantment, evoking the spirit of the dead or of evil spirits, discovery of hidden treasure; as well as the greater secret arts: divination, prophecy, healing the most stubborn illnesses by mysterious means, attending a witches Sabbath, etc. Of what failings is the human mind not capable! It is shown in all these dreams.

Philosophy’s ultimate task is to finally disabuse humanity of these imaginary humiliations. It has fought superstition, even joining with Theology (with which it has rarely made common cause). But finally in countries where people think, reflect and doubt, demons play a small role and diabolical magic remains discredited and held in contempt.

But let’s not flatter our style of thinking here: we are a bit late for that; open the records of the smallest court of justice and you will find immense register of proceedings against sorcerers, magicians and enchanters. That the judiciary enriched themselves from the spoils and the confiscation of goods relating to alleged sorcerers is perhaps more illuminating than a funeral pyre. At least it is true that often the passion of the people often overwhelmed their credulity and led them to regard as a sorcerer or doctor of magic those who they would have not otherwise paid attention to. Similarly, according to the judicious remark of Apuleius (who had previously been accused of magic ), “this crime,” he said “ is not believed by those who accuse others, because if a man was quite convinced that another man could kill by magic , he would be afraid to irritate him by accusing him of such an abominable crime.”

Leonora Galigaï , the wife of the famous Marshal of Ancre, provides a memorable example of a disastrous accusation of an imaginary crime, fomented by a secret passion and born out of a dangerous court intrigue. But there are few examples of this type better known than that of the famous Urbain Grandier, the priest and canon of Loudun, who was burnt alive as a magician in the year 629. It is appalling that a philosopher who was merely a friend of humanity would have to suffer the pain of being an unhappy sacrifice to the simplicity of some and the barbarism of others! How are we to understand someone cold-bloodedly condemned as a magician to perish in the flames, judged by the statement of Astaroth, devil of the order of seraphim, of d'Easas, de Celsus, d'Acaos, de Cédon, d'Asmodée, devils of the order of the throne ; d'Alex, de Zabulon, Nephtalim, de Cham, d'Uriel, d'Ahaz, of the order of princes? How are we to understand the unhappy canon judged unmercifully on the word of those monks and nuns who said that he had raised the legions of infernal spirits? How is one not discomfited by seeing someone burned alive who is alleged to be magical , chased and defamed as a magician to the same pyre where a black fly of the order of those who call themselves bumblebees and who practiced on the head of Grandier were led by a monk who doubtlessly had read in the Council of Quieres that devils came to tempt a man at his death; taken, I say, for Beelzebub, lord of the flies, who flew around Grandier in order to take his sould to Hell? A puerile observation perhaps, but in the mouth of the monk, it was one of the least bad arguments that a barbarous mob could use to justify its excess, resulting from the absurd stories imposed on the disastrous credulity of simple people. What Horrors! Where will the human spirit not descend when it is blinded by the unhappy passions of envy and vengeance? One must certainly respect Gabriel Naudé for having generously undertaken the defense of great men accused of magic , but I think that they owe more to the rise of science which highlighted the vanity of the accusations than to the zeal of their advocate who, perhaps, had more courage than the cleverness or force of his arguments. If Naudé could have exonerated the great men from an imputation which evaporated in the light of common sense and reason: in spite of all his zeal, he had clearly failed. If he had undertaken to clear the wise men of antiquity entirely in this regard, then all their philosophy could not have sheltered them from the outrageous superstition of the magic they embraced.

I will not cite another example, save that of Cato. He had the idea that one could heal the most serious maladies by magic words. Here are those barbarous words, which, at least according to him, were a certain recipe to restore his ailing patients: Incipe cantare in alto S : F. motas danata dardaries astotaries, dic una parite usque dum coeant, etc. [Begin to chant over the affected areas, “dardaries, astotaries,” and repeat until they come together.] This is from Alde Manuce’s edition, since that of Henri Estienne, revised and corrected by Victorius, was considerably changed to the point that its obscurity became greatly attacked by the critics.

Everyone knows that the ancients put great significance to the magical word abracadabra. Q. Serenus, a famous doctor, claimed that a meaningless word written on paper and hung around the neck was a sure remedy for quarte fever. Undoubtedly, with such principles, this superstition was a complete pharmacy and the faith of the patient was his own best resource.

It is to this faith that one can and one must attribute the reports of remarkable recoveries that seemed to come from magic , but which, underneath, were nearly always pious frauds or the results of this superstition that could not triumph too frequently over good sense, reason and even science. Our prejudices, errors and follies help each other. Fear is the daughter of ignorance; the latter produces superstition, which is, in its turn, the mother of fantasy, a rich source of error, illusion, phantoms, an over-heated imagination which creates imps, werewolves, ghosts and demons, which all jostle together. How can any mind in this state not believe all the fantasies of magic ? If fanaticism is pious and devout (and it is nearly always shown this way), it will see magic as part of the glory of God; at the least it will attribute to magic the privilege of saving and damning without appeal. There is no worse magic than that of the falsely devout. In conclusion, once could as well call the Sabbath the empire of the subterranean Amazons; at least there have always been more witches than wizards, we rightly attribute magic to the weak spirit or excessive curiosity of women. Daughters of Eve, they would lose their souls in order to know. But an anonymous writer ( See Alector ou le Coq, Book II of the adepts) who would persuade the public that he is one of Satan’s closest confidantes, attributes to demons a lewd spirit which justifies their predilection for sex and the favors which they are granted. But this rationale would justly apply to part of the human race for whom, ordinarily, one cannot win for losing.



Title: Magic
Original Title: Magie
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), p. 852
Author: Unknown
Translator: Steve Harris [San Francisco State University,]
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): "Magic." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Magie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): "Magic." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Magie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:852 (Paris, 1765).
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