The Life and Times of Cornelius Agrippa, Master of Black Magic

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The very learned Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa was one of the greatest magicians of Europe during the sixteenth century. But he always got himself in trouble and was chased from one city to another…

Born at Cologne in 1486, in the noble and ancient family of Nettesheim, Cornelius Agrippa wanted to walk in the footsteps of his ancestors. For many generations they had been employed by the house of Austria, so he entered into the service of Emperor Maximilian, first as a Secretary, later and for seven years as a soldier in Maximilian’s Italian army. He was created knight in the field because of his brave actions, but he soon added some academical honours to the military and became doctor of laws and physic.

Cornelius Agrippa had a wonderful genius and a great talent to obtain knowledge in almost all arts and sciences. He was a diligent researcher, fascinated by the mysteries of nature, and obsessed by the Philosopher’s Stone. Agrippa was recommended to a princess as a Master in the Art of Alchemy, but his temper once again got him in trouble. He read lectures at Rome, Pavia, Turin and his work raised the indignation of the Pope. Because the people of those days suspected whatever they could not understand, he had to flee from various cities in France – where he defended a country-woman, accused of witchcraft – and Spain.

Agrippa had a wife who was very handsome and by whom he had one son. He lost her in 1521, but the next year he married again, in Geneva. His second wife gave him two sons and a daughter. He went to Fribourgh in Switzerland to practise physic there and in 1523 he was in Lyon. A princess asked him now to enquire by the rules of astrology how the affairs of France would be doing and when he expressed his disapprobation – his mistress should not employ him in such a vain curiosity, she should use his abilities in more important matters! – he fell in disgrace once again.

He cast his eyes on the Low Countries and in the month of July, 1528, Cornelius Agrippa arrived at Antwerp. Here the King of England sent him a kind invitation, but at the same time he was invited by an Italian marquis and by Margaret of Austria, governess of the Netherlands. His treatise on the Vanity of the Sciences and another work of his hand, the Occult Philosophy, afforded his enemies a pretence to defame him. In 1531 he was imprisoned at Brussels and when he got released, he was chased by his many creditors. He returned to Cologne, lived some time in Bonn and Lyon again, was imprisoned a second time, now for something he had said against the mother of the French King, was released at the request of some friends and went to Grenoble, where he died in 1535.

Martín Antonio Del Rio, the Jesuit theologian who was partly responsible for the witch-hunts in the Southern Netherlands, taught for several years theology in the Flemish city of Louvain when Agrippa lived there. He accused the Magister of practising diabolical magic, the awful Black Art. For instance, Agrippa would have paid at inns with pieces of horn and casted an illusion over the senses whereby those who received the pieces took them for real money.

It also was Del Rio who told the story of theDemon of Louvain, raised in Agrippa’s study:

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