Regan (2019 Congress)

Vajra Regan
(Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto)

Not Underground:
Learned Lapidaries and the Reformation of Ritual Magic”

Abstract of Paper
Presented at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2019)

Session on
“Embedded in the Mainstream:  Ritual Magic Incorporated in ‘Legitimate’ Texts”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Societas Magica

Organized by Vajra Regan
2019 Congress Program

[Published on 2 April 2019]



The lapidary genre, that is, books purporting to reveal the marvelous properties of stones, was one of the most popular forms of literature in the Late Middle Ages; yet, at the same time, many of these works trespassed overtly on the domains of ritual magic as defined by such authorities as Augustine and Isidore of Seville.  Despite these apparent transgressions, lapidaries were rarely censured; on the contrary, they were frequently read at court and studied in the universities.  By examining the Latin lapidary tradition in the period 1100–1400, this paper seeks to complicate our understanding of medieval magic (more properly necromancy) as a predominately marginal or transgressive activity.

I begin with a brief survey of late medieval authors such as Gervase of Tilbury, Thomas of Cantimpré, and Albertus Magnus, and show how they provided a theological and philosophical justification for ritual magic within the context of a science of stones.  I then focus on a thirteenth-century lapidary hitherto overlooked by scholars.  Known as the De lapidibus of Bartholomeus de Ripa Romea, this lapidary enjoyed a pan-European circulation, and its author is named as an authority on gems alongside Albertus Magnus in at least two early modern printed books.  Significantly, the De lapidibus is one of the oldest Latin texts to assimilate a work of Solomonic ritual magic without actually naming the biblical king.  In presenting the De lapidibus, I analyze the way its author negotiates the language and conventions of the lapidary genre, so as to reconfigure, and thus legitimize, a number of condemned books of magic.  Finally, I argue that late medieval and scholastic lapidaries were one of the main conduits for the transmission of occult beliefs.