This is the first of three parts in my study of Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. I hope to give a brief overview of Agrippa’s metaphysical beliefs about God, the nature of human beings and the world we live in by extracting them from the above mentioned text.
According to Agrippa, there is a threefold world in which every inferior thing is governed by its superior, and in which God is the maker and first cause. Everything is governed by the thing above it, as we will see later, this is what is meant by superior and inferior things. The three divisions of the world are elementary, celestial, and intellectual.
All regulative philosophy is divided into natural, mathematical, and theological. Natural philosophy teaches us about the things that are in the world, their aspects, as in whole or part, causes and effects, times and places of things natural. In the text Agrippa is quoting a poem it seems, and credits it to Virgil, though the editor says a few lines are from somewhere else. These lines are probably from the Georgics, and further states that he can not place most of it. The poem talks about the elements as well as lightning, comets, earthquakes, and metals. Mathematical philosophy teaches us about the quantity of natural bodies as extended into the threefold world, also about the motion and course of celestial bodies. Agrippa seems to be using the same poem as he did earlier in the chapter to discuss mathematical philosophy. Theological philosophy teaches us what God is as well as what the mind is. It teaches us to know what the soul, angel/devils, religion and its faculties are. Agrippa says it is these three things that magic comprehends, unites and puts into motion. No magic is done without the understanding of these three faculties. The three books included in this work are split in the same divisions and correspond accordingly to the above divisions. The first book is about the elementary division and explains natural philosophy the second and third correspond with the second and third divisions of the world and the types of philosophy used to work inside these divisions. For the rest of this paper I will be discussing that which is in the first book, the elementary world and natural philosophy.
Agrippa tells us that there are four elements which are earth, air, fire, and water. All things earthly and heavenly/celestial are made up of these four elements. These elements create everything by transmutation and everything goes back to these four elements when it is destroyed. These four elements, according to Agrippa, are wholly changeable, each into the other and back again.
The elements are the first of all things, and what all things are made of. Everything in the universe is made of compounds of these four elements. The elements are in all things, even in our soul. Agrippa uses Saint Augustine to explain this. In the soul understanding is the representation of fire, reason to air, imagination to water, and the senses to the Earth.
Agrippa refers to Platonic Ideas to discuss forms as Ideas. He explains how an Idea is a form, that is indivisible, pure, eternal, and incorporeal, further stating the nature of all Ideas to be the same. He then splits the form into two places for Ideas. It seems to me that he has taken Plato’s dichotomy and added to it and kind of cut and pasted his own theories into it. First Ideas are placed in goodness i.e. God, by way of cause. These Ideas are only discernable from one another in relative considerations and they agree in essence, according to Agrippa. Secondly Ideas are place in the intelligible, the Soul of The World. Here Ideas differ by absolute forms. All Ideas of God are one form in the mind of God, but in the Soul of the World they are many and are distributed from here. Agrippa goes on to say that there are as many seminal forms in the Soul of the World as there are ideas in the mind of God.
Henry Agrippa is constantly talking about virtues of all kinds throughout this book. For the most part he is speaking of the aspects and/or properties of things. He goes into great detail about the nature of said virtues in various places, but here I am only going to identify the basics of virtues and not the individual specifics, as it would be a larger commitment then this class can harbor. He says that form and virtues come first from the Ideas (of God), then from the intelligences, are carried through heaven and distributed through the elements. He says elsewhere in the chapter that God is the beginning and end of all virtues.
Agrippa says, according to Democritus, Orpheus, and many Pythagoreans, that the soul is the first movable thing and is moved of itself, but the body or physical matter is not movable in and of itself. According to the text there is a need of a medium by which the soul is connected to the body; Agrippa says this is the Spirit of the World. This is a fifth thing not of the elements, and is called the quintessence, described by the editor as being the aether of the Pythagoreans.
Agrippa says we have two kinds of senses, the external senses of which there are five, and are the senses of sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. We also have internal senses which are common sense, imaginative power, fantasy or power of judging, fantastical intellect. The first of these, common sense is explained as being what we collect, i.e. the representations gotten through our external senses. This basically means what we see hear taste touch or smell. The imaginative power is what retains these representations and introduces them to the third internal sense, which is fantasy, or power of judging. This sense perceives and judges as well as commits these representations received from the external senses to the memory. Now, the fourth internal sense I think is called fantastical intellect thought Agrippa is very vague and obscure when discussing it. I understand it as being able to see the future through our dreams as Agrippa writes it, though I think he also means the ability to string ideas together and predict a correct outcome as well as the ability to have prophetic dreams. He places the organs of internal senses in the head as parts of the brain. He does mention here that Aristotle places common sense in the heart but does not seem to agree with him on this aspect. Agrippa explains that the external senses give us the ability to know corporeal things and internal senses give the ability to know representations of bodies and also things which are abstracted by the mind and the intellect. Agrippa seems to use mind and soul synonymously in this chapter, as well as in others, that being said we shall move onto the three divisions of the powers of the soul. They are natural, animal and the will, though we will only be concerning ourselves with the third: the will. Agrippa says that humans have free will, or more specifically the will is free by its very essence. He (of course) has a division for the will as well, but this time there are four “passions”. He says the body can sometimes be affected by way of the will through these four passions. They are oblectation, effusion, vaunting and loftiness, and envy.
Agrippa talks about the passions of the mind/soul here and states that they are nothing more then certain motions or inclinations from the apprehension of anything. There are of course three sorts of these apprehensions, which are sensual, rational, and intellectual. Now there are three sorts of passions of the mind/soul according to which apprehension they follow. When they follow the sensual apprehension they respect temporal good or evil and are called natural or animal passions. When the passions of the soul/mind follow the rational apprehension they respect good and bad under the notion of virtue and vice, and are called rational or voluntary passions. When they follow the intellectual apprehension they respect good or bad under the notion of just/unjust and truth/falsehoods and they are called intellectual passions or synderesis. According to Agrippa, there are eleven passions of the soul/mind. They are love, hatred, desire, horror, joy, grief, despair, boldness, fear and anger. It is through these passions that outward displays of magic are manifest. In chapter sixty-three, Agrippa talks about how great anger made it possible for Alexander the Great to send lightning from his body during one of his battles in India. It is through his focused emotions that this effect came forth. This is how the passions of the soul/mind are manifest into physical displays of magic.