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Marsilio Ficino
Christopher Warnock, Esq.
Ficino's Theories of Astrological Magic

Marsilio Ficino

Astrological Magic
Marsilio Ficino: Magic, Astrology
& the Planetary Hours
Ficino: Venus Talisman Example
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Introduction to Astrological Magic
Angela Voss' Article
The Astrology of Marsilio Ficino:
Divination or Science?
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  1. Introduction
  2. The Anima Mundi
  3. The Great Chain of Being
  4. Magical Causality
  5. Conclusion


First it is important to see Ficino as both a sincere and thoughtful Christian as well as the heir to the Neoplatonic and Hermetic traditions. For Ficino, as for other Renaissance magi, Giordano Bruno being the most notable exception, there was no conflict between the classical philosophy and Judeo-Christian teaching and revelation.
For Ficino, the sympathy and correspondence of the Cosmos was the key to both astrology and magic. "Most important, the cosmos is itself an animal more unified than any other animal, the most perfect animal..." Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, trans. Kaske & Clarke (MRTS, 1998) p. 251. The connections seen by Ficino are not only psychological and material, but celestial and spiritual.
Ficino starts with the implicit concept of the Macrocosm, the Great World or Cosmos, and the Microcosm, man as the corresponding lesser world. Just as man has a soul, so does the World,
Medieval Depiction of Cosmos
"If there were only these two things in the universe-on one side the Intellect [Spirit] and on the other the Body [i.e., Matter]-but no Soul, then neither would the Intellect be attracted to the Body...nor would the Body be drawn to the Intellect...But if a Soul which conforms to both were placed between them, an attraction will easily occur to each one on either side...[Soul] is the mean of all things, in her fashion she contains all things and is proportionally near to both. Therefore she is equally connected with everything, even with those things which are at a distance from each other, because they are not at a distance from her."
Ficino, Three Books on Life, Bk. III, Chap. 1, p. 243.

The Anima Mundi


Thus just as humans have a physical body, a divine spirit and a soul as intermediary between them, so does the Universe, being composed of the divine spirit of God, physical matter and the World Soul or Anima Mundi.
"In addition, the World-soul possesses by divine power precisely as many seminal reasons of things as there are Ideas in the Divine Mind. By these seminal reasons she fashions the same number of species in matter. That is why every single species corresponds through its seminal reason to its own Idea...And if in the proper manner you bring to bear on a species or on some individual in it, many things which are dispersed but conform to the same Idea, into this material thus suitably adapted you will soon draw a particular gift from the Idea, through the seminal reason of the Soul..."
Ficino, Three Books on Life, Bk. III, Chap. 1, p. 243. "[L]et no man wonder that Soul can be allured by material forms, since she herself has created baits of this kind suitable to herself, to be allured thereby, and she always and willingly dwells in them." Ficino, Three Books on Life, p. 244-5.

The Great Chain of Being


Yet for Ficino the Anima Mundi is but one link in the great chain of being:
Detail of the Allegory of Spring
"I have said elsewhere that down from every single star (so to speak Platonically) there hangs its own series of things down to the lowest...Under the celestial Serpent or the entire constellation of the Serpent-bearer, they place Saturn and sometimes Jupiter, afterwards daemons who often take on serpent's form, in addition men of this kind, serpents (the animals), the snake-weed, the stone draconite which originates in the head of a dragon, and the stone commonly called serpentine...By a similar system they think a chain of beings descends by levels from any star of the firmament through any planet under its dominion. If, therefore, as I said, you combine at the right time all the Solar things through any level of that order, i.e., men of Solar nature or something belonging to such a man, likewise animals, plants, metals, gems and whatever pertains to these, you will drink in unconditionally the power of the Sun and to some extent the natural powers of the Solar daemons."
Ficino, Three Books on Life, Bk. III, Chap. 14, p. 311. Note that Ficino refers to daemons rather than demons, indicating the use of spirits that are potentially good or at least neutral, rather than necessarily evil.

Magical Causality


This raises an interesting issue as Ficino was not dogmatic about the nature of the medium used for magic. Discussing astrological/magical influences Ficino says, "...he undergoes this influence not only through the rays of the star and the daemons themselves, but also through the very Soul of the World everywhere present." Ficino, Three Books on Life, page 245. Here Ficino alludes to the theories of the Arabic philosopher Al-Kindi which utilized stellar rays for magical causality. See Al-Kindi, On the Stellar Rays available on Robert Zoller's excellent web site. In addition, Ficino also employs the concept of the World-Spirit, "...just as the power of our soul is brought to bear on our members through the spirit, so the force of the World-Soul is spread through all things through the quintessence, which is active everywhere, as the Spirit inside the World's Body..." Ficino, Three Books on Life, page 247.
Thus while Ficino employs multiple concepts to explain magical causality, The Anima Mundi, the World-Spirit, daemons & rays, all depend on sympathy and correspondence. Not only do natural substances like gems or herbs have this quality of correspondence, but also numbers and figures:
"...[S]ince in the order of being mathematical forms precede physical ones, being more simple and less defective, then deservedly they claim the most dignity in the primary-that is, the celestial-levels of the cosmos...the figures and numbers of natural parts possess a property peculiar to a given species and inseparably linked to it; they have been appointed in the heavens along with the species."
Ficino, Three Books on Life, Bk. III, Chap. 17, p. 329.



In Three Books on Life we see a remarkable synthesis
Detail of the Birth of Venice
of Neoplatonic and Hermetic magical thought by a sincere Christian priest. Ficino's system is one of great beauty, giving us a vision of cosmic harmony and correspondence between the Macrocosm, the Great World and the Microcosm, the little world of each individual.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!
Hamlet, Scene 5.
We are aware that the Renaissance was characterized by great beauty and achievement in literature, art and architecture. What we now realize is that this is also true of its magic and astrology.


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Copyright 2000, Christopher Warnock, All Rights Reserved.
Portions of this page previously appeared in The Mountain Astrologer