Spirits & Talismans

I don't intend to write the posts outlined on this page very soon.
However, as the topic is quite obscure, I thought that even an
overview of this kind could be useful to some readers.

A Note on Spirits.

Around the 9th century, Arabic-language writers drawing on a variety of sources (including translations from Greek, Syriac, Persian, and Sanskrit) developed a novel genre of what could be called ritual texts or, less neutrally, magical instructions. Rather than addressing the planets or other pagan gods; the Abrahamic God; angels; or demonic beings, the contained prayers directed at a "spirit" (rūḥ) or a "spirituality" (rūḥānīya), often the spirits of/ruling over the planets. These prayers were often combined with suffumigations of various incenses specific to the planet or the spirit, and aimed at the creation of talismans (Arabic ṭilasm), called imagines ("images") or prestigia ("tricks") in Latin translation. Not all of these texts are alike, and the prayers or even any reference to spirits could be left out, depending on the theories adopted by the author or copyist.

The posts linked to here discuss such medieval books of spiritual and/or talismanic "magic", but cf. the series on The Mesopotamian Planetary Gods for some historically related texts which are focussed on the planets themselves, rather than their "spirits".

Late-antique precedents in Greek literature

:: Pneuma in Greek philosophy, including the Corpus Hermeticum
:: Spirits in Greco-Roman lapidaries
:: Pneumata (spirits) in the Greek Magical Papyri and Porphyry of Tyre
:: Spirit and the Spiritual in Christian theology
:: Damascius on Pneuma:: The Talismanic Book of Wisdom attributed to Apollonius of Tyana
:: Roman/Byzantine traditions about Apollonius

Spirits in Semitic languages, other than Arabic


Major theoretical accounts in Arabic literature

:: Pseudo-Aristotle's Secretum secretorum (long and short version)
:: The so-called Theology of Aristotle
:: Al-Kindī's Liber de radiis stellarum ("Book on the Rays of the Stars", 9th century)
:: Al-Kindī's unedited treatises about the rūḥānīya of the planets (MS Sbath nr. 48; 9th century)
:: Qusta ibn Lūqā's De physicis ligaturis (De incantatione)
:: (?) Qusta ibn Lūqā's Liber de differentia anime et spiritu
:: Ibn al-Nadīm on sir ("magic"; 10th century)
:: The Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm (a.k.a. Picatrix) on spirits and on talismans (11th century)
:: Shahrastānī's 11th-cenury polemic against the "Proponents of Spiritual Beings"

The Arabic Hermetica
- have almost nothing to do with the Greek Corpus Hermeticum, and the paths by which they do draw on Greco-Roman thought are extremely obscure, and will remain so until the Arabic texts are edited, translated, and dissected in scholarship. At present, a group of related Arabic Hermetica with faux-Greek titles seem to be the essential source of the spiritual/talismanic ritual genre. -

:: Liber Antimaquis (a version of K. al-Isṭamākhīs)
:: Excerpts from Arabic Hermetica in the Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm
:: Kitāb al-Isṭamākhīs (unedited; MS Bodl. I 515, and others)
:: Kitāb al-Isṭamātīs (unedited; MS Berlin 4908 = Pet. I 66)
:: Kitāb al-Ustūṭās (unedited; MS Paris 2577 = Ancien fonds 1167; Leiden 1168 = Cod. 1235,4 :: Schult.)
:: Kitāb al-Madīṭīs (Bodl. I 1015,1 = Marsh 556, fol. 4-110)
:: Kitāb al-Hādīṭūs (unedited; MS ?)

Pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana's Book of the Secret of Creation
- drawing, it seems, on material in the Arabic Hermetica as well as other sources, this Islamicate (but Christian?) work gives an encyclopedic cosmology based on Greek philosophy. Hugo of Santalla translated it as De secretis naturae. Pseudo-Apollonius or Bālīnūs, who had several more works ascribed to him, was known as Belenus in the West until Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) made the identification with the Roman-period philosopher Apollonius. -

:: Balīnūs, Kitāb sirr al-khalīqa

Other Arabic works attributed to Apollonius
- here I can only give a list, as there are no translations (or even editions). -
Another often-quoted work attributed to Apollonius bears the title Kitāb al-khawāṣṣ (“The book of occult properties”) (Kraus, 2:292; Weisser, Das “Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung,” 39; GAS 4:163). Other works by “Balīnūs” extant in manuscript include the Kitāb ṭalāsim Bālīnās al-akbar li-waladihi ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (“The great book of Apollonius on talismans for his son ʿAbd al-Raḥmān”; Kraus, 2:293), Muṣḥaf al-qamar fī l-ṭilasmāt (“The book of the moon on talismans”; Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaft, 380), and Kitāb al-aṣnām al-sabʿa (“The book of the seven idols”; Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaft, 173). There is doubt as to whether Apollonius is meant by Balanyās, a figure to whom two other books are ascribed: Risāla fī taʾthīr al-rūḥāniyyāt fī l-murakkabāt (“Letter about the impact of the spiritual beings on the composed things”) and Kitāb al-mudkhal al-kabīr ilā risālat al-ṭalāsim (“The great book of introduction to the epistle on talismans”) (Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaft, 380f.; Weisser, Das “Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung,” 35–7). Yet more pseudepigraphic writings are preserved in Syriac (Gottheil), and Hebrew (Steinschneider), as well as in Latin translations from Arabic (Carmody; [...]). (Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, s.v. Apollonius of Tyana)
Sources cited: Francis James Carmody, Arabic astronomical and astrological sciences in Latin translation. A critical bibliography, Berkeley 1956;  Richard Gottheil, Apollonius of Tyana, ZDMG 46 (1892), 466–70; Paul Kraus, Jābir Ibn Ḥayyān. Contribution à l'histoire des idées scientifiques dans l'Islam (Cairo 1942), 2:270–303; Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher, Berlin 1893; Manfred Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaften im Islam, Leiden 1972;  Ursula Weisser (ed.), Das ”Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung” von Pseudo-Apollonios von Tyana, Berlin and New York 1980 (cf. the review by Manfred Ullmann in Journal for the History of Arabic Science 5 (1981), 121–6).
Arabic books on talismans
- almost none of these works have been edited. Cf. the (similarly under-researched) Arabic lapidaries (under construction). -


The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity

:: Ep. 52: On Magic (short version)
:. Ep. 52: On Magic (long version)

Liber Razielis (adaptation-expansion of the Hebrew Sepher Raziel haMalakh)
- this compilation combines what are often imprecisely called 'Hermetic' and 'Solomonic' magic, that is to say, Arabic and Hebrew sources, respectively. -

Seven books

:: Liber clavis
:: Liber ale
:: Thymniama
:: Liber temporum
:: Liber mundicie et abstinentie
:: Liber Sameyn (quod vult dicere Liber celorum)
:: Liber magice or Liber virtutis

Nine appendices

:: Liber Semiphoras
:: Zadok of Fez's Glosae Semiphoras
:: Abraham of Alexandria's Verba in operibus Razielis
:: Mercurius of Babilonia's Flores
:: Capitulum generale sapientium Aegypti pro operibus magicae
:: Tabulae et karacteres et nomina angelorum gradium
:: Theyzolius/Theysolius' Liber super perfectione operis Razielis
:: Liber ymaginum sapientium
:: Ymagines super septem dies ebdomade et sigilla planetarum

The Picatrix (Arabic Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm)
- Gems & idols and The Mesopotamian Planetary Gods will also feature excerpts from this vast compilation of (primarily astral) magic. -

:: The Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm (a.k.a. Picatrix) on spirits and on talismans (11th century)

Alfonso X's Libro de astromagia


Treatises of image magic
- these are generally short works, of unknown date of origin, translated from Arabic or drawing on materials in Arabic, which in turn represent a development of Greco-Roman lapidary traditions. As far as I'm aware, their Arabic originals have not been identified, but this is in part due to the lack of editions (in both languages). In the Latin West, they were regarded as a (dubious) kind of natural magic, and copied alongside astrological and scientific works. "The collection of image magic in the old Scholastic modes ... virtually ends around 1500." (Klaassen, The Transformations of Magic, p. 262) After this point, texts of image magic, to the extent that they are copied at all, become absorbed into the sphere of so-called ritual magic (see below), as was the hitherto relatively little-known Picatrix. -

The current confused state of this section will be rectified by and by, using:
Trithemius, Antipalus Malificiorum
Thorndike, Traditional medieval tracts concerning engraved astrological images, 1947
Carmody, Arabic Astronomical and Astrological Sciences in Latin Translation, 1956
Dalmas, Médailles astrologiques et talismaniques dans le midi de la France, 1971
Shatzmiller, In Seach of the 'Book of Figures', 1983
Pingree, The Diffusion of Arabic Magical Texts in Western Europe, 1987
Lucentini, L'ermetismo magico nel sec. XIII, 2000
Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici di Ermete nel Medioevo, 2001
Perrone Compagni, «Studiosus incantationibus». Adelardo di Bath, Ermete e Thabit, 2001
Weill-Parot, Les «images astrologiques» au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance, 2002
Lucentini, Parri & Perrone Campagni, Hermetism from Late Antiquity to Humanism, 2004
Boudet, Entre science et nigromance, 2006
Pingree, Learned magic in the time of Frederick II, 2014

(Thābit's On Talismans is arguably the most important representative of this genre.)

:: Hermes' De quindecim stellis, etc., and Tractatus Enoch (ed. Delatte, Textes ... relatifs aux Cyranides)
:: Liber orationum planetarum septem (ed. Compagni, Una fonte ermetica)
:: De viginti quattuor horis (ed. Lucentini, L'ermetismo magico nel secolo XIII)
:: Pseudo-Ptolemy's De imaginibus (ed. Boudet, in: Natura, scienze e società medievali)
:: De septem figuris septem planetarum (ed. Sesiano, in: Studies in the History of the Exact Sciences; and Lidaka, in: Conjuring Spirits)
:: Liber lune (ed. Lucentini)
:: Hermes' Liber imaginum lunae*
:: Glossulae super Librum imaginum lunae (Page, Magic in the Cloister, App. I)
:: De imaginibus diei et noctis† (Corpus Christi 125, fols. 63-66v)
:: De quattuor imaginibus magnis† (Corpus Christi 125, fols. 66v-67r)
:: De discretione operis differencia ex iudiciis Hermetis† (Corpus Christi 125, fol. 67r)
:: Techel's De imaginibus (also Thetel, Ethel, Zael, Chael, even Solomon)
:: Toz Graecus' De stationibus ad cultum Veneris (MS Venice, Bibliotea Nazionale Marciana, lat. XIV. 174 (4606) (s.xiv), fol. 22v [fragment])
:: Toz Graecus' Liber imaginum Veneris
:: Hermes' De imaginibus (sive/et annulis) septem planetarum (Vat. Pal. 1375, 15c, 270rv)
:: Hermes' Liber Saturni* (MS Firenze, BNC, II.III.214, fols. 33r-38r, which also includes sections on Jupiter and Mars)
:: Theorica Girgith de arte magica
:: Azareus' De lapidibus pretiosis et sigillis eorum
:: Liber septem planetarum ex scientia Abel**
:: Hermes' Liber solis vel de imaginibus et horis
:: Belenus' De imaginibus [= Belemith's De imaginibus septem planetarum? (Vat. Pal. 1375, 14c, 270rv; Vat. Pal. 1445, 15c, 157r)]
:: De annulis Salomonis (Sloan 3847, fols. 66v-81)
:: Hermes' Tractatus de sigillis septem planetarum et anuli(s?) (MS London, Society of Antiquaries, 39)
:: De duodecim imaginibus Hermetis (MS Corpus Christi 125)
:: Operatio lune (Vienna 11381, 17c, 176rv)
:: Liber Solis(Florence BN II III 214, 15c, 20r-23v; Vatican 1375, 270v seq.)
:: Septem tractatus in operatione Solis et Lune (Bologna 139/105, 14c, 281-309; Florence Ricc. 1165, 134r-136v)
:: Liber Mercurii(Florence BN II III 214, 1c, 24v-26v)
:: De imaginibus Saturni (Palermo 4 Qq A 10, 46; Vat. Pal. 1340)
:: Liber Iovis*
:: De imaginibus et horis (Florence BN II III 214, 15c, 8v-9v; Vat. 4085, 95r; Wiesbaden 79, 16c, 51r-53r)
:: De 24 horis [part 2. De nominibus angulorum; part 3. De anulis] (LondonBM Arundel 342, 14c, 78v-; Vat. Pal. 1116, 15c, 115v)
:: De septem annulis septem planetarum (?)
:: Germath (Germa, Iorma) of Babylon
:: Belenus or Balenuz' De horarum opere (?)
:: Belenus or Balenuz' De quatuor imaginibus ab aliis separatis (?)
:: Hermes' Tractatus octavus in magisterio imaginum (?)
:: De capite Saturni (?)
:: Toz Graecus' De quatuor speculis (?)
:: A work attributed to Aburabez (lost?)
:: De imaginibus Martis* (lost)

* parts of the Hermetic Liber septem planetarum
** is this the same as Hermes' Liber septem planetarum?!
† translated as a group, known as Liber imaginum lunae; two different translations of this compendium exist.

The Summa Sacrae Magicae


Latin works discussing image magic

:: Dominicus Gundissalinus' De divisione philosophiae
:: William of Auvergne on magic (13th century)
:: (Pseudo-?)Albertus Magnus' Speculum astronomiae ("Mirror of astronomy"; 13th century)
:: (?) Thomas Aquinas' De occultis operibus
:: Trithemius' Antipalus malificiorum

Other Latin works on astral magic or astral medicine


Spirits in Latin philosophy

:: The Liber de essentiis spirituum (Page, Magic in the Cloister, App. II)
:: Hermann of Carinthia's De essentiis
:: Spiritus and daemones from the School of Chartres to Marsilio Ficino
(see e.g. Saif, "Celestial Souls and Cosmic Daemons", in: The Arabic Influences on Early Modern occult Philosophy; also Hamesse, "Spiritus chez les auteurs philosophiques", in Fattori & Bianchi: Spiritus: IV Colloquio Internazionale del Lessico Intellettuale Europeo)
:: World Soul and (Holy) Spirit from the School of Chartres to Marsilio Ficino
:: The question of 'neutral' spirits and the development of Scholastic demonology
:: Spiritual beings and the problem of spiritual matter
:: Early Modern Pneumatology (philosophy of spirits)

Spirits & Talismans in Latin ritual magic
- 'ritual magic' is somewhat of a misnomer, as natural magic, especially image magic, could also feature ritual operations. Typically, the term refers to texts and practices involving angels and demons, also called theurgy and necromancy.

Theoretical observations

:: On the word 'Theurgy'
:: On the word 'Necromancy'
:: Ambiguous spirits in medieval ritual magic
:: The influence of astral magic on medieval ritual magic
:: The appearance of fairy spirits in English Renaissance magic

Practical texts
(cf. the series on The Magical Arts [under construction])

:: (?) Solomon's De quatuor annulis
:: Necromantic version of De annulis Salomonis (e.g. Firenze, Biblioteca nazionale centrale di Firenze, II.iii.214, fols. 26v-29v)
:: Untitled first text of MS London, Society of Antiquaries, 39
:: "Anulus mercurij, etc." (MS Rawlinson B, fol. 80r-v; Klaassen, Transformations of Magic)
:: Liber runarum (English translation at The Digital Ambler)
:: Three texts on spirits edited in Page, "Speaking with Spirits in Medieval Magic Texts"
:: "When the spiryt is apperyd, etc." (MS Rawlinson B, fol. 65; Klaassen, Transformations of Magic)

Printed image magic in the Renaissance
- see the page on Humanist magic (under construction). -

:: Image magic in Ficino's De triplici vita
:: Image magic in Camillus Leonardus' Speculum lapidum ("Mirror of Stones")
:: Image magic in Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia

Later (reception of) image magic

:: John Dee on image magic

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