Magic and Divination in the Middle Ages: Texts and Techniques in the Islamic and Christian Worlds, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Magic and Divination in the Middle Ages

Texts and Techniques in the Islamic and Christian Worlds, 1st Edition

By Charles Burnett


384 pages

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9780860786153
pub: 1996-12-19
SAVE ~$39.00

FREE Standard Shipping!


After discussing the terminology of talismanic magic (or necromancy) and its position in divisions of science in the Middle Ages, this book traces the history of talismanic texts from the Classical period through the Arabic world to the Latin Middle Ages. The principal authorities are Hermes and Aristotle, and the search for the ’secret knowledge’ of these ancient sages is shown to have been a catalyst for the translating activity from Arabic into Latin in 12th-century Spain. The second half of the volume is devoted to examples of the kinds of divination prevalent in Arabic and Latin-reading societies: chiromancy, onomancy, scapulimancy, geomancy and fortune-telling. The book ends with advice on when to practice alchemy and a prophetic letter of supposed Arabic provenance, warning of the coming of the Mongols. Several editions of previously unedited texts are included, with translations.


'Burnett has no peer in this field. The transcriptions and translations…are careful, and the manuscript scholarship impeccable.' Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 34, No. 4 'Continuing its admirable series of collected studies, Variorum has gathered twenty previously published articles by a leading authority…Those interested in the influence of the Arabs on the medieval West should not ignore this volume.' Al-Masaq, Vol. 11

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Talismans: magic as science? Necromancy among the Seven Liberal Arts; Adelard, Ergaphalau and the science of the stars; Arabic, Greek and Latin works on astrological magic attributed to Aristotle; The translating activity in medieval Spain; The legend of the three Hermes and Abu Ma’shar’s Kitab al-Uluf in the Latin Middle Ages; Hermann of Carinthia and the kitab al-Istamatis: further evidence for the transmission of Hermetic magic; The kitab al-Istamatis and a manuscript of astrological and astronomical works from Barcelona (Biblioteca de Catalunya, 634); Scandinavian runes in a Latin magical treatise; The Conte de Sarzana magical manuscript; The earliest chiromancy in the West; Chiromancy: supplement. The principal Latin texts on chiromancy extant in the Middle Ages; The Eadwine Psalter and the western tradition of the onomancy in Pseudo-Aristotle's Secret of Secrets; Scapulimancy (divination by the shoulder blades of sheep); Arabic divinatory texts and Celtic folklore: a comment on the theory and practice of scapulimancy in Western Europe; Divination from sheep's shoulder blades: a reflection on Andalusian society; An Islamic divinatory technique in medieval Spain; The scapulimancy of Giorgio Anselmi's Divinum opus de magia disciplina; What is the Experimentarius of Bernardus Silvestris? A preliminary survey of the material; A note on two fortune-telling tables; The astrologer’s assay of the alchemist: early references to alchemy in Arabic and Latin texts; An apocryphal letter from the Arabic philosopher al-Kindi to Theodore, Frederick II's astrologer, concerning Gog and Magog, the enclosed nations and the scourge of the Mongols; Index.

About the Author

Charles Burnett is Professor of the History of Islamic Influences in Europe at the Warburg Institute, University of London, UK

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Michael Greenwood at

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General