Gillis Hogan (2023 Congress)

Samuel P. Gillis Hogan
(University of Exeter)

“Philosophy is the Child of Contention:
The Accretion of Theory
in Instructional Chiromantic and Fairy-Summoning Texts
as a Response to Hostile Criticism”

Abstract of Paper
presented at the 58th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2023)

Session on “Moving Parts and Pedagogy, Parts I–II”
Part I: Teaching Magic and Other Occult Arts

Organized by David Porreca

Co-Sponsored by the RGME and the Societas Magica

2023 Congress Program



While chiromancy and fairy summoning rituals are distant branches of magic, they are linked by their transition from fairly basic instructions to more theoretically sophisticated texts over the course of several centuries. Between 1160 and 1500 chiromantic texts transformed from rudimentary, almost point-form instructions to comparatively sophisticated manuals that incorporated astrological theory and elements of scholastic thought. This clearly framed chiromancy as being justified by contemporary understandings of how the non-demonic natural world worked. These additions were primarily added in response to official censure of the practice as being one of the “dark arts” – comparable to necromancy (the summoning of spirits, especially demons).

Likewise, between 1400 and 1700 fairy-summoning spells were elaborated with material from influential Renaissance occult philosophers such as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) and Paracelsus or Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493–1541). While this has several causes, one appears to be the response to both orthodox Christian thought (which identified fairies as demons who tricked the ignorant into letting their guard down) and early materialism/physicalism (which denied the existence of fairies – or even spirits in general).

By comparing these two very different examples we can see a common process (evident in the late Middle Ages and repeated in early modernity) by which once utilitarian ritual/operational instructions became more elaborate and theoretically articulated in response to hostile critiques as to their efficacy or morality. In these examples theory is used defensively to present cosmological justifications for contentious magical practices.


We thank Samuel for his contribution also previously to a co-sponsored RGME/Societas Magica Session at the ICMS: