By the end of the last chapter we had arrived at a state of equilibrium in western European society. The paroxysms of the witchcraze had been put to rest in a new dispensation that at least temporarily guaranteed serenity at the surface of the social order. If we look to each of the three threads of historical change marked out in the introduction, we see mutually reinforcing resolutions. On the matter of science, which of course for us has also implicated a sizable element of learned magic, we have witnessed two periods of ideological innovation, punctuated by attempts either to reconcile magic with science by seeing them both as legitimate efforts to discover the truth or to turn science against magic as an inveterate source of error and usually a font of evil as well. Here, a tipping point was reached in the thirteenth century, when the accumulation of works laying out the practical details of magic, especially of a ceremonial sort, occasioned a soon-to-be-dominant response on the part of self-styled defenders of scientific truth that magic was meretricious and contingent in its performance on the connivance of demonic powers. Even the resurgence of learned magic in the sixteenth century could not shake the grip of what had become the standard scientific attitude. It was only with the second of the periods of ideological change in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century that this pattern of warfare changed. For the mechanical philosophy not only rendered magic’s attempts to explain natural phenomena false, but it also undermined the claim that there actually were such things as magical actions. Driven from the field, magic would soon disappear from the realm of serious learned discourse. Not, however, until after having bequeathed several important insights to early modern natural philosophy.
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Steven P. Marrone
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