Cover image for Rewriting Magic: An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk By Claire Fanger

Rewriting Magic

An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk

Claire Fanger

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232 pages
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2015

Magic in History

Rewriting Magic

An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk

Claire Fanger

Rewriting Magic is a deeply interesting book. It gives the reader a sense of the personal immediacy of scholarly discovery as well as a deep sense of the intimate interior practice of a remarkable monk. The book takes you into the heart of medieval magic and its complex visionary experience. I know of no other book like it.”

 

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In Rewriting Magic, Claire Fanger explores a fourteenth-century text called The Flowers of Heavenly Teaching. Written by a Benedictine monk named John of Morigny, the work all but disappeared from the historical record, and it is only now coming to light again in multiple versions and copies. While John’s book largely comprises an extended set of prayers for gaining knowledge, The Flowers of Heavenly Teaching is unusual among prayer books of its time because it includes a visionary autobiography with intimate information about the book’s inspiration and composition. Through the window of this record, we witness how John reconstructs and reconsecrates a condemned liturgy for knowledge acquisition: the ars notoria of Solomon. John’s work was the subject of intense criticism and public scandal, and his book was burned as heretical in 1323. The trauma of these experiences left its imprint on the book, but in unexpected and sometimes baffling ways. Fanger decodes this imprint even as she relays the narrative of how she learned to understand it. In engaging prose, she explores the twin processes of knowledge acquisition in John’s visionary autobiography and her own work of discovery as she reconstructed the background to his extraordinary book. Fanger’s approach to her subject exemplifies innovative historical inquiry, research, and methodology. Part theology, part historical anthropology, part biblio-memoir, Rewriting Magic relates a story that will have deep implications for the study of medieval life, monasticism, prayer, magic, and religion.
Rewriting Magic is a deeply interesting book. It gives the reader a sense of the personal immediacy of scholarly discovery as well as a deep sense of the intimate interior practice of a remarkable monk. The book takes you into the heart of medieval magic and its complex visionary experience. I know of no other book like it.”
“Claire Fanger, now having established how it is appropriate to write about magic, rewrites her rules. And this is what makes Rewriting Magic a really exciting read, the central theme being not only the medieval monk and his visionary book, but also a historical inquiry that lasted nearly two decades, involv[ing] a lot of colleagues, archives, and manuscripts.”
“A pithy and intellectually enriching exploration, not of a strange intellectual outlier, but of a profoundly imaginative and quintessentially medieval mind.”
“Fanger’s book deeply complicates our understanding of late medieval ritual magic, while opening up new vistas on monastic devotional practices. It is a must-read for scholars of medieval religion as well as for those working on the history of magic.”
“[Rewriting Magic] represents a refreshingly honest account of a scholar’s attempt to overcome the problem of understanding and analysing a form of medieval religiosity that relied upon lived experience.”

Claire Fanger is Assistant Professor of Religion at Rice University. She is the editor of Invoking Angels: Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries (Penn State, 2012) and Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic (Penn State, 1998).

CONTENTS

List of Figures

Preface

Structure and Referencing System for the

Liber florum New Compilation / xiii Introduction: Lost and Found Knowledge

Part 1 Foundation

Chapter 1 Like Stones of fire: I Encounter the Book of Visions

Chapter 2 A Mysticism of Signs and Things: The Ars Notoria and the Sacraments

Chapter 3 Penance: The Sacrament of the Middle of Life

Part 2 Restoration

Chapter 4 Errors of Intellect, Errors of Will: I Encounter the Book of Figures

Chapter 5 Magical Objects of Knowledge: Categorizing the Exceptive Arts

Chapter 6 Visionary Exegesis and Prophecy: Milk and Meat

Conclusion: Future History

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Index

introduction:

lost and found knowledge

[A]sk yourself whether our language is complete;—whether it was so before the symbol- ism of chemistry and the notation of the infinitesimal calculus were incorporated in it; for these are, so to speak, suburbs of our language. (And how many houses or streets does it take before a town begins to be a town?) Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods.

—Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

“We’ve got to start by finding a ruined city of giants,” said Jill. “Aslan said so.”

“Got to start by finding it, have we?” answered Puddleglum. “Not allowed to start by

looking for it, I suppose?”

—C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

John of Morigny, the man whose work is the principal target of my investiga- tion here, was a fourteenth-century Benedictine attached to the Abbey of Morigny near Étampes. He was highly educated, a monk and priest with an advanced degree in canon law from the University of Orléans, whose writing reflects deep acquaintance with the most important literature, poetry, art, and theology of the later Middle Ages. The extant book through which we princi- pally have access to him, the Liber florum celestis doctrine or Flowers of Heav- enly Teaching, is a complicated and polyvalent work that John wrote in installments and circulated to an expanding audience of ritual operators over many years. Until very recently there have been no printed editions of this text, which is one reason it has remained unknown and inaccessible since the early sixteenth century. Over the past two decades, I have been one of the pri- mary vectors for transmission of information about John’s Liber florum, so when I write that “we” have access to John through this work, the pronoun

2 rewriting magic

includes a much smaller range of readers and knowers than is usual even for the authorial “we” in scholarly writing.

John’s book deserves to be better read and more widely understood; it is a serious, impassioned, and original work that was important to a readership across Europe for over two hundred years. While its most interesting features resist easy analysis, the overarching structure is clear: the Liber florum in its finished form breaks down into three principal parts. Part I is a visionary autobiography and apologia for the work, explaining its personal background and divine delivery (the Book of Visions); part II is a lengthy liturgy addressed to God and the angels for infusion of divine and curricular knowledge (the Book of Prayers, culminating in a set of ritual instructions called the First Procedure); and part III contains more visions and a set of figures designed to work with and enhance the ritual process (the Book of Figures, whose opera- tions are sometimes called the “second procedure”).

In the Book of Visions, John confesses to experimentation with both necro- mancy (nigromancia, or black magic) and a widely used and broadly con- demned angel magic text called the ars notoria, a ritual aiming to gain heavenly knowledge of the liberal arts, philosophy, and theology, which John’s own Book of Prayers is clearly structured to imitate. But John’s work is no lay or partially learned dabbling in magic; it flaunts its erudition unabashedly. Using a biblical trope well known from the writing of Saint Augustine, John explicitly plunders the ars notoria, pulling its “sacred and divine words” into his own book “as the Hebrews plundered the Egyptian treasure.” And even as it reflects John’s knowl- edge of late medieval magic texts, the whole work also records the process of its own composition under the guidance of the virgin Mary; its prayers, visualiza- tions, and figures are geared to enable the same sort of visionary communica- tion with the Virgin, Christ, and the angels that John himself experienced.

John’s literate intertextual references, layered composition, and interweav- ing of visions, rituals, and autobiography all add to the complexity of his book. However, a further complication was introduced when the book was, in effect, broken in the middle by a condemnation in 1315 from certain “Barking Dogs,” who are not named but must have had professional knowledge of canon law. The Book of Figures, which had already been circulating for some years, con- tained figures which, to the Barking Dogs, too much resembled “necromantic” figures. The scandal ensuing from this condemnation effectively blocked fur- ther use of the original Book of Figures. John could not very well recall the condemned part of the text from his community of operators (after all, it had been approved and confirmed by the Virgin to begin with, and in all probabil- ity consecrated by individual operators when they copied it, too). Rather, he elected to add a new installment that offered an alternative model for the ritual

and spiritual processes described in the first version. In great haste he rewrote the last part of his book, leaning even more heavily than before on the divine guidance and prophetic dreams that he describes to us as he goes along. The process of composition that resulted in the Flowers of Heavenly Teaching is thus partly represented as a rewriting of magic, but it is equally represented as a “delivered” text, a divinely inspired record of sacred communication that is mapped onto the work of the sacraments.

Introducing this work to a modern audience, even an audience of medieval- ists, is something of a challenge. This is not only because of its internal reflexiv- ity and its erudite frame, but also because of how recently it was discovered in extant manuscripts. Until 1987, when the French scholar Jean Dupèbe briefly noticed one of the Munich copies of Liber florum in an article on the ars noto- ria, the work had been referenced in modern times only through the record of its condemnation. The first extended notice of this condemnation occurs in an entry for the year 1323 in the Grandes Chroniques de France, where it is written that a certain monk of Morigny had wanted to “inspire and renew a condemned heresy and sorcery called in Latin ars notoria.” The ars notoria is described, in a way conventional for the time, as a science that bestowed different branches of knowledge when its figures were contemplated with fasting and prayers, but which involved the invocation of “little known names which were firmly believed to be the names of demons.” According to the writer of this account, the monk, who himself condemned the ars notoria, nevertheless had com- piled a book filled with images in honor of the Virgin, the use of which pro- cured for the operator not only all branches of knowledge but also “any riches, honours or pleasures one wanted to have.” In the end, the book was declared “false and evil, against the Christian faith, and condemned to be burned and put on the fire.”

To any interested and serious reader of the text, aspects of this description will appear in some respects inaccurate, if not unfair (Liber florum is explicitly not concerned with earthly honors or pleasures, for example), but at least it makes clear that John’s book is a work distinct from the ars notoria. Later paraphrases of this entry, however, blurred the distinction, eliding John’s Liber florum ever more closely with the ars notoria itself. A much-compressed ver- sion occurs already in the fourteenth-century chronicle of Guillaume de Nan- gis, in which the invocation of names “firmly believed to be the names of demons” are cited as part of the description not of the ars notoria, but of the anonymous monk’s own book. Later, in a notice in the sixteenth-century Antiquitez, croniques et singularitez de Paris, the still anonymous monk of Morigny is falsely credited with inventing the ars notoria itself. And later still, in a single, hastily compressed sentence in the compendious history of the

introduction 3

4 rewriting magic

inquisition by Henry Charles Lea, published in 1887, John is not credited with writing anything at all: “A monk was seized at Paris in 1323 for possessing a book on the subject; the book was burned, and he probably escaped with abju- ration and penance.”

Thus a loose chain of quick paraphrases over six hundred years gradually effaced any mention of the long, complicated, and difficult text constructed and reshaped over more than a decade by John himself. The trail that might have led back to John’s work was sufficiently cold that even Lynn Thorndike did not catch its scent, though he may have held a copy of John’s work in his hands (the same Munich manuscript later identified by Dupèbe). Thorndike alluded to condemnations or to manuscripts of John’s book several times in his History of Magic and Experimental Science (noting in passing a reference to the work in the Augustinian Jacques le Grand’s 1405 encyclopedia Sophologium, which also represents the text as a version of the ars notoria) without connecting these references to the Grandes Chroniques account, or to one another.

It was not until the early 1990s that independent discoveries of manuscripts containing full and complete texts of John’s New Compilation Liber florum by Sylvie Barnay in France, and Nicholas Watson and myself in Canada, made it clear that this work survived the burning. Indeed, by now it has become clear from ongoing discoveries of manuscripts across Europe that it had a vigorous life and was not nearly so successfully repressed as the Chronicle suggests. The spread of the Liber florum—at least in part via Benedictine monks travel- ing from monastery to monastery—may have begun before 1323, but it certainly did not end there. Predictably (in terms of normal manuscript distribution rates, which tend to increase with time as manuscripts proliferate), all known copies postdate the burning. Manuscripts have been located in England, Ger- many, Austria, Italy, and Spain. Several of the copies still reside in Benedictine monasteries in Austria, and others were known to have been in the possession of religious houses at one time. It is clear, too, that most of the existing copies were made for use. John instructs that the book should be personalized and consecrated, and the majority of known copies are so personalized, with indi- vidual names in the prayers, and, where figures still exist, in the figures as well. All of these are men’s names, so far: Albert, Andreas, Bernard, Erasmus, Geof- frey, Jacob, Peter, Rupert, Ulric. Copies that do not contain personal names are exemplars, at least in two cases held in monastic libraries for monks to copy and personalize for themselves.

We must thus be very cautious in accepting the “final” feel of the Chronicle account, with its suggestion that whatever illicit practices the monk of Morigny may have been dabbling in, they were nipped in the bud. The evidence of wide- spread transmission and ritual use of the Liber florum in the milieu of literate

monks after 1323 challenges the widespread belief that book condemnation constitutes effective censorship. As far as John himself is concerned, we must remember, too, that the Paris burning was not the first condemnation his work suffered. Evidence of John’s continued work on the Liber florum after the initial condemnation in 1315, eight years before the sensational account in the Grandes Chroniques, challenges the static conception of categories like heterodoxy and orthodoxy by showing how, even in the face of condemnation, magic texts may continue to be consciously drawn into and engage with learned Christian dis- course and practice. John’s own work offers us a detailed account of how he negotiated the categories of magic and heresy, and how, in collaboration with Christ and the Virgin, he evolved, from the basic principles supplied by the ars notoria, a lived theology of liturgical and paraliturgical practice. The continued popularity of his book through the fifteenth century suggests that this was seen as a successful negotiation by its readers, many of them religious men suffi- ciently well educated to read and grasp the ritual force and theological claims of John’s work, and thus in a reasonably good position to make judgments about its orthodoxy.

The story told about the Liber florum in the Chronicle account of its con- demnation is a simple and recognizable story about a monk punished for the use of illicit magic. The Liber florum itself tells a story about a monk punished for the use of illicit magic, but it is about much more than that, too; as I will argue here, it is in a larger and more important way a story about knowledge acquisition—in particular about the personal process of John’s own intellectual formation, but in a larger way about learning in general. It has theological and ethical ramifications that make it considerably more complicated than the story found in the condemnation account.

How to present the knowledge-arc of John’s story to twenty-first-century readers remains a puzzle, however. Prima facie it might seem as though John’s own extensive knowledge—his embeddedness in the intellectual contexts of twelfth-century Chartrain literature, liturgy, exegesis, and canon law (all rela- tively familiar turf to medievalists, at least in theory)—ought to give an advan- tage to modern readers in finding access to his work. Yet in fact, while his literate background provides important starting points for study, John inte- grates devotional, exegetical, and natural knowledge in ways that are somewhat unusual. His use of the angel magic of the ars notoria to gain knowledge of the liberal arts—indeed, the remarkable witness he offers to its popularity in his milieu—is both striking and so alien to modern intellectual practices as to make the grounds for condemnation of his text perhaps a little too easy to accept. The fact that his knowledge derives from a store of other magic texts, too, many no longer available to us in any form at all, makes certain aspects of

introduction 5

6 rewriting magic

his experience quite hard to get at. In the end, the Liber florum has been lost on several levels at once. It was lost in one way because the allegation of magic that is the inevitable reference point for history even now creates in readers a pre- disposition of disbelief in John’s own claims for the text’s sacred delivery; lost in another because the knowledge practices John engages are so much further from the practice of history than they used to be; and lost in a third way because history (by which I mean the interpretation of the record of events, not the stream of events as such) actually does have a tendency to repeat itself when the record of an original local memory disappears.

Rewriting Magic is part of a project shared with the handful of other schol- ars now engaged with John’s work to restore more of the local memory of the book under condemnation. The Latin edition of the Liber florum is an impor- tant piece of that work, the product of almost two decades of interpretive labor, but the access it provides to the Flowers of Heavenly Teaching is necessarily somewhat specialized. Rewriting Magic aims to tell a story that will open the work up further, embedding the knowledge-arc that governs John’s narrative in an account of its medieval sacramental and magical background, so that readers—especially readers completely new to John’s work—will have a stron- ger base for understanding the quest for knowledge that drove him to the study of magic and beyond it.

An inevitable part of that story is my own quest for knowledge about John, my search for manuscripts of his text, and my personal involvement in the labor of piecing together evidence for the layered composition and transmission of his work. The way in which John’s Liber florum comes into being as knowledge in the twenty-first century cannot, at least for me in this book, be divided from the way I came to know it. For even as John was aware of being a medium that transmitted, to the best of his ability, the words of Mary, first-century mother of Jesus, to a fourteenth-century audience, I am aware of being a medium trans- mitting, to the best of my ability, the words of John of Morigny, fourteenth- century Benedictine, to an audience of twenty-first-century readers.

While I am far from resolving all the problems or answering all my own questions about his book (questions naturally proliferate at a greater rate than answers), I do have a great deal more to connect it to than I did when I started— an array of memories, ideas, other manuscripts, other texts, and other histori- cal and theological writings that are connected, or might be connected, to the way John thinks and writes. The sheer volume of detail, the very intimacy of my view of John’s work, has, to use the modular image of my epigraph from Wittgenstein, gone from being something like a model home to something more like a model city. And not a finished model, either; it is not that kind of thing. Wittgenstein’s metaphor allows knowledge to be viewed simultaneously

as a genuine whole system and an unfinished aggregate of historically striated regions. Like memory, it is also, and simultaneously, crumbling and being rebuilt, reinventing itself not as a whole, but in pieces. Yet the sense of identity— of being one thing (as a city is one thing through successive rebuildings)— remains. Thus, mutatis mutandis, my grasp of John’s work has built itself into a construct that has its newish parks and subdivisions, its historic districts, its condemned and burned-out husks of buildings, its neighborhoods where cab- bies would refuse to drive you if this city were real—a model so extensive, with so many bits trailing here and there off the edge of the cultivated land, paths winding up in great rutted heaps and piles of uncultivated data edging the vir- gin forest where the precise topography under the arboreal canopy is still only dreamt of, that this knowledge becomes increasingly difficult to hand on to new readers.

The problem is genuinely acute. It cannot now, if indeed it ever could, be unloaded all at once. In our collaborative edition of Liber florum, Nicholas Watson and I offer John’s text with an apparatus that is something like a map of the central area, with various keys, tables, indices, and other legenda that guide readers to interactions between different parts of John’s system, and between John’s system and other systems. The edition, of course, is designed for a fairly advanced user, a reader of Latin, a knower and consumer of infor- mation about medieval manuscripts. In this volume, I am attempting some- thing different. I am writing here something more like a memoir of a journey, which is not just about my knowledge of John of Morigny but also my learning of him; it is about the way he has taken shape in my mind (acquired a personal- ity, behaviors, tricks of speech, traits I recognize when he performs them), but also the way he has shaped me, made me who I am, which cannot be entirely disentangled from the way I know him. My book is thus part ethnography, with John as a primary informant. It is part exegesis, as I try to glean from his book, with the aid of my own slowly accrued knowledge of medieval exegesis and liturgy (a knowledge that was truly not there at all at the point of encoun- ter), a picture that might suggest a shape for what is missing. It is part intel- lectual history, and it is also a meditation on magic and religion. The object of this book is to map my own journey in a way that others might be able to fol- low it.

The exercise of thinking of the book as a journey-memoir suggests itself because John of Morigny’s Liber florum is a journey-memoir of the kind I am trying to describe. His book is about knowledge acquisition: it represents both a ritual means of acquiring knowledge and a narrative of that acquisition, and these two things influence each other. At the same time, he is engaged in rep- resenting his own knowledge process in such a way that the reader/operator

introduction 7

8 rewriting magic

may follow in his footsteps. His book resembles Wittgenstein’s language-city, in being composed of some old and some new regions, some being built and some decomposing; it also resembles a great many poems, in the way that it records and actualizes its own process. It attempts not to tell about an experi- ence in language other than that experience, but rather to create an experience in language for us—one that must transform us if we engage it, for it is also a work of conversion.

Underlying my exposition of John’s Liber florum, and part of the purpose of the memoiristic parts of this book, is an argument that the sacral knowledge process that John lays bare is a fundamentally familiar one, for it is still possible to perceive knowledge acquisition experientially as a transformation of self that is integrated with the transformation of knowledge in a larger communal sense. In the Liber florum, this transformation is conceived on a cosmic scale, as part of a divine transformation of the order of the universe in the work of human creation and redemption. The experience of internal transformation that is involved in this process is actually part of an external transformation that is tied to the entire community of the Christian faithful, and thereby also to the dispensation that maps a divine telos for this process. These inner and outer things are not merely parallel or analogous, but one single process in which John is always consciously and dynamically engaged.

In scholarly discourse now there are philosophical and social-scientific models for the way knowledge works that may be useful to certain readers for translating John’s theological process, because they also cast knowledge as processual, dynamic, simultaneously local and general, inner and outer, indi- vidual and communal. The theoretical approaches nurtured by Wittgenstein’s work on language games and by Bourdieu, with his terminology of “field” and “habitus,” offer related models of knowing as a constituent part of learned self- hood that is communally shared, produced and reproduced in the experienc- ing subject who is fluent in the rules of a specific knowledge practice, habitus, or language game. The term “language game” identifies a sphere of knowledge in practice that overlaps with (but is not identical to) the idea of habitus. Both terms rest on an assumption that when we seek to understand knowledge in its local manifestations, the target of our attention cannot be static abstract refer- ents for knowledge bodies, nor specific rules of play, but rather must be knowl- edge as dissolved in the medium of practice (the “game”). Obviously a “game” is not the rule card, nor the game board, nor the playing pieces, nor even the players, but the processual engagement with the rules in the forward motion of “play.” Knowledge occurs in the state of play at the interface between the inte- rior self or subject and the outer (communal and social, but also elemental) world. The body of theory underlying these knowledge models lacks the direc-

tionality governed by divine telos that exists in John’s model, but as soon as you begin seeking to locate ethical action in the matrix, a certain directionality, a kind of shadow of an eschatology, begins to appear.

But we do not really need social theory to grasp the dynamic, inner and outer, forward motion of knowledge; it is experientially available in other ways. When we write books, we settle into a habitus that may rest at the nexus of a plurality of fields (in the common sense), and we engage a game that, if well played, may show fluency (or expertise) in several areas. The book, once pub- lished, is a material object that comes into being as knowledge when it is engaged by others, becoming communal in the forward motion of play. In discussions of habitus and practice theory generally, for the most part simpler examples are used than writing books, for the same reason that Wittgenstein provided sim- pler examples of language games to establish what he meant by them. (The “builder’s game” is the critical topos, and comes up in most discussions of language games, but it is not the only example, and perhaps not even the best one, of what a language game can be.) Knowledge practices need not be engaged through books, but I point out that they can be, and that the writing of a schol- arly book is a valid example of how, embedded in a complex intersection of habitus, we pursue historical language games.

I place this example strategically here, because, though it is not simple, the writing of books is something that I expect many of my readers will under- stand fluently, expertly, and viscerally as experts in its practice, though many readers may not have as expert a familiarity with the other knowledge practices that John engaged (whether the lettered practices, like canon law, liturgical composition, or exegesis, or the contemplative practices like praying the hours, using the ars notoria figures, or conversing with the virgin Mary). A few may know what it is like to pray the hours, but more of us will know what it is like to write a book. Composing a book, like praying the hours, is something that rests on daily habits. Any seriously written book changes the writer. Any given moment in the writing of a book is also engagement with a dynamic communal knowledge that we are trying to push on, to manipulate, to authorize changes in. At the same time, depending upon our initial position, we may be trying to change our status in a given field (in both the common sense and Bourdieu’s). In writing, we seek not merely to produce a material object—that least of all, perhaps, especially in this digital age—but really to adjust the knowledge system in which the written object is about to take its place. All writers are familiar with the extent to which, in doing this, we live in the book’s imagined future even as we lick it into shape.

My investigation of John’s theology, and the entwined role of magic and the sacraments in his book, is at its basis an attempt to describe his engagement

introduction 9

10 rewriting magic

with certain language games. After this introduction I will limit my direct engagement with the vocabulary of Bourdieu and Wittgenstein because this is not a book about the ways they construct knowledge, but about the ways John of Morigny constructed it, the apparatus of meaning-making constituted in the Latin theological tradition that was the substrate of habitual daily knowl- edge for him. For we do have the potential to engage any language games we choose, including medieval ones, where a sufficient record is left of how they were played in the first instance. Learning the rules of these older and more recondite games—learning how to play them, and even to play them well—is really what all historians do, and I am not doing anything very different here, except that in certain places I try to lay my own writing a little more open to expose its process.

I want to make clear here at the outset that my interest in the narrative of discovery is not the story for its own sake. The object of the game is actually to locate and articulate the functioning of the hinge between personal and insti- tutional knowledge processes. The location of this hinge is necessarily internal. I am not the only actor in the story of John’s discovery, not the sole or first reader of his work. The knowing of John of Morigny is a communal project, and all the people who have also been holders of, and contributed to, the infant body of knowledge about John of Morigny (most especially my collaborator in the editorial process, Nicholas Watson) are all the more important just now because they are still so few.

At the same time, it is really only my own story that I can tell. And because John’s work was almost entirely untouched by history, so nearly pristinely institutionally unknown at the point of my engagement with it, the story of my learning of John’s book offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate how new knowledge must begin interior to a self even as it engages what may sometimes appear as an institutional overdetermination, the preexisting, necessarily over- simplified grid of historical knowledge as it begins to be known in curricula and in textbooks. I am, finally, interested in how the creative play of meaning- in-use both uses and gains leverage from, and exerts force on, the institution whose rules it follows.

In uncovering this process, I am aware of myself as in some instances per- forming more or less Wittgensteinian operations, but I am also aware of doing what John of Morigny did in his Book of Visions and Book of Figures, showing how knowledge initially exterior to the self (whether first encountered in books or visions) becomes interiorized through reading and rereading, and through practice, and then transforms the systems it exists to uphold. Thus, I engage to preach about John’s practices by practicing his manner of preaching. If I have a single overriding goal, it is to make John’s work accessible, as much as possible

experientially available to my audience, to create an experience in language that is homologous with my own experience of coming to know John, con- densed into a smaller and more efficient format, a record of engagement with his text.

Because my readers are about to be plunged into this record of engagement at the deep end (because I began, as we all must, with a knowledge of John’s habitus that was partly missing, partly wrong, and generally inchoate, and I must set the reader in medias res), I here offer a brief overview of the book’s shape as a reassurance that there is in fact a path to knowing embedded in it. The book is divided into two parts of three chapters each, with similar pat- terns in both. The titles of the two parts, “Foundation” and “Restoration,” imitate the terminology of the two-part division used by Hugh of St. Victor to structure his work De sacramentis (On the Sacraments). John’s own book also reflects this structure, in the sense that his New Compilation Book of Figures offers a restoration of the world described in the Old Compilation Book of Figures, mapping John’s redemption onto an idea of sacramental supersession within his book.

Part 1, “Foundation,” primarily draws its evidence from John’s Book of Visions, although it touches base with things further on in the work. Its main external referent is the ars notoria. This part seeks to answer the question of why, even while he sought to destroy the ars notoria, John would re-create some of its most characteristic features in his own book. In pursuing my inves- tigation, I am mainly engaged with John’s visionary autobiography, but I do, particularly in chapter 3, touch on some of John’s prayers as well. This is neces- sary because of the way parts of John’s autobiography are fed into the prayers, where we see his life experiences refracted in different ways. The Seven Prayers in particular are so linked to the visions that it is all but impossible to limit the autobiographical discussion exclusively to the prose narrative.

Part 2, “Restoration,” primarily draws its evidence from John’s Book of Figures (in both the Old and New versions), although it engages with episodes earlier in the work. Its main external referent is necromancy. This part of the book aims to answer the question of how John succeeds in continuing to understand his work as divinely delivered even after it gets broken by the accu- sation of the Barking Dogs—a question that cannot be entirely disentangled from other, harder questions about what necromancy actually meant to John, and how it, too, might partake in the sacramental and dispensational under- standing that he begins with.

Both parts have a similar interior structure. The first chapter of each section is narrative and descriptive, the second chapters are broadly contextualizing, and the third chapters involve close reading. Chapters 1 and 4 open with personal

introduction 11

12 rewriting magic

narratives of my first encounters with John’s Book of Visions and his original Book of Figures, respectively. Chapters 2 and 5 zoom out to elaborate broader contexts that are meant to domesticate the contingencies of the language games in which the ars notoria and necromancy acquire their significance and mani- fest their rules of play. Chapters 3 and 6 offer close readings of crucial moments in John’s narrative, showing how John’s expertise in theology is crucially com- pounded of vision and prayer. These chapters highlight both the game and the game-changing qualities of John’s work, where the reader is invited to observe whole clouds of philosophy condensed into a few drops of grammar.