There is in Man the power and apprehension of
all divination, and wonderful things, seeing we have a complete system in ourselves,
therefore we are called Microcosm or little world, for we carry a heaven in
ourselves from our beginning...
While the onsent of the Enlightenment at the beginning
of the Eighteenth Century meant the end of the serious study of astrology, alchemy
and magic a few brave scholars, including Francis Barrett, carried on the occult traditions
of the Renaissance.
Little is known of Barrett's early life, but he appears
to have been born in London between 1770 and 1780. He made several ill-fated attempts
at balloon ascents in the Summer and Fall of 1802, but is best known as the
author, or more accurately, the compiler, of the Magus.
Barrett also appears to have formed a school of occult
studies. The following advertisement appears in The Magus,
"The Author of this work respectfully informs those who are
curious in the studies of Art and Nature, especially Natural and Occult Philosophy,
Chemistry, Astrology, &c.&c. that, having been indefatigable in his researches into
those sublime Sciences, of which he has treated at large in this Book, that he gives
private instructions and lectures upon any of the above-mentioned Sciences; in the
course of which he will discover many curious and rare experiments. Those who
become Students will be initiated into the choicest operations of Natural Philosophy,
Natural Magic, the Cabala, Chemistry, the Talismanic Art, Hermetic Philosophy,
Astrology, Physiognomy, &c.&c. Likewise they will acquire the knowledge of tthe Rites,
Mysteries, Ceremonies, and Principles of the Ancient Philosophers, Magi, Cabalists,
The Magus Book II, page 140.
Barrett ends by saying that, "Those that feel themselves
thoroughly disposed to enter upon such a course of studies...may speak with the
Author upon the subject, at any time between the hours of Eleven and Two o'clock at
99 Norton Street, Mary-le-Bonne." The Magus Book II, page 140.
It is possible to trace Barrett's influence through
his student John Parkins who practiced as a magician and cunning man in Lincolnshire,
England in the early 19th century. In a 1802 manuscript entitled, Directions for the
Invocations of Spirits, Parkins is mentioned as a pupil of Barrett. Parkins appears
to have practiced horary astrology, crystal gazing, geomancy,
herbal medicine, the construction of
astrological talismans and ceremonial magic.
Thus, through the efforts of a few studious and determined practitioners the traditional
occult arts and sciences continued despite the deleterious effects of the "Enlightenment".
Barret is best known for authoring or more accurately,
for compiling the Magus. Published in London in 1801 it consists of selections
from Cornelius Agrippa'sThree Books of Occult Philosophy, the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy
attributed to Agrippa and the Robert Turner's 1655 translation of the Heptameron
of Peter of Abano. Barrett made a few modifications and modernized the spelling and
syntax of these selections.
Nevertheless, as the modern scholar of religion and
magic, D. Michael Quinn notes the Magus had a great influence despite only
"Barrett's book was not reprinted until 1875. Nonetheless, Francis King's study of the
Western tradition of magic noted that the first edition of the Magus, 'played
an important part in the English revival of magic'. Antoine Faivre has also emphasized
Barrett's book in the general European revival of magic during the first decades of
D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Signature, 1998)
Here is a selection from the Magus on the
Lunar Mansions which closely follows
that of Cornelius Agrippa.
Barret's book also played a significant role in one of the
most interesting discoveries and subsequent controversies involving Joseph Smith,
the founder of the Mormons or Church of Latter Day Saints.
In 1974 Dr. Reed C. Durham,
a Mormon and noted scholar of Mormon history gave a lecture entitled,
"Is there no help for the Widow's Son?".
Durham revealed a medal worn by Joseph Smith and long thought to be a Masonic emblem
was, in fact, a talisman of Jupiter. Smith's talisman appears to left.
What is interesting to note is that Smith's Jupiter
talisman is almost identical to the example given by Barrett above and to the right.
This format is not provided in either Agrippa's Latin original nor the English translation
of 1651 by John Freake. The illustration in the English translation appears below to right.
Note the break in the seal which seems to be a printer's error and does not appear
in the Latin original though it is faithfully copied in the Magus and Smith's
Renaissance Astrology offers authentic
Joseph Smith Jupiter Talismans cast, not only with the same design, but with the appropriate astrological
Not surprisingly this discovery caused an immense amount
of controversy as opponents of Mormonism seized on it to attack the LDS Church with
charges of occultism and magic and LDS adherents attempted to undermine the significance
and provenance of the talisman. As a practitioner of occult philosophy I had a somewhat
different reaction to the talisman. Rather than seeing the use of magic and astrology
as evidence against Joseph Smith I had greater respect for him and the coherence of his
world view. Here are some additional articles on Joseph Smith and esotericism by Lance Owen,
Joseph Smith: America's Hermetic Prophet and
Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection-Part 1 ,
Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection-Part 2 ,
Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection-Part 3 .
That being said I have no desire to be drawn into
the battle that still rages concerning Joseph Smith, occult philosophy and
the Church of Latter Day Saints. My interest here is in the diffusion and
survival of talismanic magic after the Enlightenment.