Succour for a Fallen World: Magic and the Powers of Spirit in Johann Nikolaus Martius’s Unterricht von der Magia Naturali (1717)
Copyright (c) 2020 Michael Pickering
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
This article considers the intellectual currents within an under-examined text by the Braunschweig physician, Johann Nikolaus Martius. Ostensibly a medical text about the ways in which sympathetic magic could be marshalled to provide remedies for common ailments, I suggest that we might read the document as a cosmological treatise that positions its author within a religiously heterodox milieu. Research to date has not yet considered the central importance of Christian Thomasius’s pneumatology for Martius’s theory of matter, his understanding of spirit and his anthropology. Indeed, when Martius’s text is considered in this context, what emerges is a worldview in which magia naturalis represents the outer layer of a deeper, spirit core of nature. While this inner divine light embedded within all things in nature is for Martius, I argue, vitally important for unlocking the spirit potential buried within the individual – to bring about spiritual rebirth, and through this, to develop a form of magia divina allowing one to control and manipulate nature through the will alone – it’s awakening does not represent the chief aim of the medicus. Indeed, for Martius, such an ideal is counter-balanced by a pragmatic awareness of the post-Lapsarian context in which people live and suffer. The chief aim of the physician should therefore be to manipulate, however manually and imperfectly, those hidden properties of nature, both studied and revealed, to provide succour to one’s fellow men and women.