Henry Cornelius Agrippa

Henry Cornelius Agrippa (c1486-1535) is another person often claimed to have been a handreader by those unversed in handreading history.  Agripps was indeed a renowned esotericist but the claim made by many that he was an exponent of the art of chiromancy seems very doubtful.

The occult arts and sciences were a major interest of his all through his life; he was a strong devotee of alchemy and the cabala from his student days in Paris and certainly composed several treatises on geomancy, numerology and judicial astrology. To a large extent though, he seems to have been a bit of a dabbler. Cardan viewed his writings as trifles that were full of falsehoods merely demonstrating that Agrippa knew nothing about the things of which he wrote. Thorndike (History of Magic and Experimental Science vol.V) describes Agrippa as someone who had "... a troubled and chequered career marked by no particular distinction but poverty and bickering". Agrippa seems to have been something of an itinerant, wandering all over Europe through Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland and Thorndike suggests that this is at least in part because he was not able to hold down any university or lecturing post on a permanent basis. Although he was at one time a municipal physician in Freiburg, Thorndike doubts that he was ever actually medically qualified.

His two primary works stand in direct contrast to one another. The first of these 'De Occulta Philosophia' of 1531 was actually not published until after the second work 'De Incertitude et Vanitate', a work in which he completely recants the views he expresses in The Occult Philosophy! 'De Occulta Philosophia' however is not a practical manual on occult practices, nor is it even a general theory of the subject. Rather it is more a literary review on occultism, divided into three sections to correspond with the cabalistic division into the three worlds of elemental, celestial and intellectual. Two of these deal with numerology and astrology, but none of these books actually discuss chiromancy. The book was later listed on the Index Expurgatorius of Pope Paul IV in 1559.

In 'De Incertitude' Agrippa lists Antiochus, Cocles, Corvus, Tricasso and Indagine as authors on chiromancy, amongst others, but in the same passage actually says of chiromancy: "Notwithstanding, it is not needful for us to strive against the error of this art with any other reason than this, to wit that they have not in them any reason." He refutes that the widely quoted biblical passage from Job 37:7 has anything to do with chiromancy and, moreover, says of chiromancers that they are: "...most certainly mad and drowned in error that will undertake to foretell by such signs as these the complexion of the body and the natural disposition... which that these can be known by those arts is not so much incredible as it is impossible". For chiromancers are "...idle sorts of people (who) dote and frame chimeras to themselves by the instinct of the devil who by that means leads them from error into superstition and from superstition into infidelity".

Not only does it seem that he has not actually written a chiromancy, it also seems he is not favourably disposed towards the art at all! Thorndike sums up his estimation of Agrippa by describing him as a wayward genius, an intellectual vagabond and a semi-charlatan. Whatever else he may have been, it does not seem that he was actually a practising handreader.


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