Magic and the Neoplatonic Academy of Athens

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Neoplatonism is a funny word. It generally refers to the writings of Plotinus, the third century AD Hellenistic philosophy who crafted a mystical Platonism. Neoplatonism via Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola also is known as the philosophical underpinning of Renaissance art and culture. This Renaissance Neoplatonism mutated later into German idealism and Romanticism and its bastard child Theosophy and Occultism of the early 20th century and finally into the New Age Movement of today.

As your humble author has been uncovering, Neoplatonism after Plotinus took a magical form when Iamblichus and Proclus introduced Orphic teaching (already latent in some of Plato’s writing) but more importantly Chaldean (or Babylonian) and Egyptian magic known as theurgy.

However, while I had known that magic was taught in the Platonic academy, I have just discovered that the (Neo?) Platonic academy in the fourth century had the teaching of Orpheus (magical chants, etc.) and the Chaldean Oracles (chanting, shamanism, possession, meditation, etc) as the culmination  of the schools curriculum. That is to say, it was not that magic had infected the Academy; rather, magic became the highest art and teaching of the school that had birthed Western thought.

If magic continued as the culmination of or at least was a central aspect of NeoPlatonic teaching (and there is even some reason to believe that it was the culmination of earlier Platonic teaching), then all of the many references to magic in Renaissance thought and Romanticism (and they are many) are not simply literary allusions, but are indications of the direct and literal presence of magic in these works.

Thus Renaissance paganism and Romanticism (or at least certain currents in these schools of thought) acted as vessels for Egyptian and Babylonian magic, which were later opened and developed by occultists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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