Below is information from the StoryMap slides on the Overview of Occult History:
Highlights from antiquity to the modern era.
This Story Map will allow you to travel through the ages and see where the most important ideas, people, and texts originated.
(All images are from Wikimedia Commons and in the Public Domain unless otherwise noted. Map from Equal-Earth.com edited by me.)
c. 570 BCE – c. 495 BCE
While almost nothing is known about his life and none of his writings survive, Pythagoras was a hugely influential philosopher and thinker. Ideas credited to him later inspired Western esotericism, occult philosophy, numerology, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry in various ways.
c. 428/3 BCE – c. 348/7 BCE
384 BCE – 322 BCE
Greek Philosopher<br><br>Student of Plato
c. 204/5 CE – 270 CE
Progenitor of what is now called “Neoplatonism”.
Born in Egypt, lived in Alexandria, travelled to Persia, and taught in Rome
c. 234-c. 305 CE
Born in Tyre (then part of the Roman Empire, currently in Lebanon)
Died in Rome, Italy
A student of Plotinus, Porphyry recorded and edited his teacher’s work as “The Enneads”. He is considered an early Neoplatonic writer and philosopher. He was a pagan and a critic of early Christianity.
c. 245 – c. 325 CE
An Arabic, Neoplatonic Philosopher from Syria.
Student of Porphyry.
Born in Constantinople, studied in Alexandria and eventually settled in Athens. (Not to be confused with Proclus of Constantinople, a saint in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, or other figures with the same name.)
circa 5th to 6th century
Possibly from Syria
An anonymous author claiming to be the biblical figure “Dionysius the Areopagite”, his collection of theological writings were highly influential up through the fifteenth century.
c. 801-c. 873
Was born and died in the Abbasid Caliphate (Modern day Iraq)
An Arabic philosopher, theologian, physician, and polymath during the Islamic Golden Age
c. 872- c. 950
Spent most of his life in Baghdad and died in Damascus
Famed Islamic philosopher who is credited with preserving the Greek texts of Plato and Aristotle through the Middle Ages via his treatises and commentary on their work. A profoundly influential thinker in his own right, he is often known by the title of “the Second Teacher” after “the First Teacher”, Aristotle.
Ibn Sina (known to the western world as “Avicenna”) was an innovator in medicine and one of the most important philosophers in history.
Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm (The Goal of the Sage)
An arabic work from approximately the 11th century, it is commonly referred to in the west by its Latin name “Picatrix”. It is likely a composite of older works on magic, astrology, alchemy, and other topics.
Oldest extant manuscript circa 1360
Images are from the Latin “Krakow Manuscript” from the Biblioteka Jagiellońska, BJ Rkp. 793 III
Moses ben Maimon
The most influential Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, Maimonides is sometimes cited as an early Kabbalist despite predating the movement.
c. 1200 – 1280
Saint and one of Catholicism’s 36 Doctors of the Church
An important theologian in the Catholic Church, later legends attribute a number of alchemical texts and discoveries to him although there is no historical precedent for him being an alchemist.
c. 1260 – c. 1328
German Dominican Preacher
A complicated figure alternately labeled as a mystic or a heretic, Eckhart was largely ignored for centuries until being revitalized by German Romantics. His writings were later taken up by Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society.
The historical Flamel was a wealthy French scribe with no known connection to alchemy. Starting in the 17th century, however, rumors began to spread that Flamel was a gifted alchemist who discovered immortality via the mythical philosopher’s stone.
Founder of the Florentine Academy, an attempt to recreate Plato’s Academy, Ficino was one of the greatest contributors to the Italian Renaissance. His translation and commentary of Plato as well as the Corpus Hermeticum were foundational to later western philosophy and occultism.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
Philosopher of the Italian Renaissance
A popular and controversial figure in his own time, Pico is best known for his various philosophical treatises and for co-opting Jewish Kabbalah for his own esoteric Christian version.
Three Books of Occult Philosophy
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa 1486-1535
First printed 1531-3
Swiss Physician and Alchemist
An important figure in the history of western medicine, Paracelsus (born Theophrastus von Hohenheim) is considered the father of toxicology and marked a divergence from the antiquated Galenic philosophy of medicine.
His influence on the history of the occult derives from his underlying hermetic philosophy and his later adoption as a prophet by the Rosicrucian movement in Germany.
Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I
Occultist, astrologer, diviner, and progenitor of Enochian magic, John Dee looms large in occult history. His techniques for conversing with angels and spirits, his massive personal library, and the mysterious tools he used in his magic rituals are but a few highlights from his long and tumultuous career.
His scryer, Sir Edward Kelley (or Kelly) 1555-1597/8, is often discussed alongside Dee.
Italian Dominican Friar
Burned at the stake for heresy, Bruno was the subject of Francis Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. The book, published in 1964, was instrumental in bringing scholarly attention to magic, esotericism, and hermeticism during the Renaissance (though not all of Yates’ analysis is fully accepted by academics).
Key of Solomon
Image from the British Library Harley MS 5596
c. 14th or 15th century
Possibly originated in the Italian Renaissance
A grimoire attributed to the biblical King Solomon, Clavicula Salomonis was likely inspired by Jewish, Arabic, and Greco-Roman ritual magic. It describes various spells and curses as well as how to bind and command spirits and demons. It was a source for later grimoires, notably the Lesser Key of Solomon.
Student of Agrippa
An influential occultist, particularly in the realm of demonology, Weyer actually argued against the persecution of witches as he considered the devil and demons to exert their influence by other means. His most prominent work is Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, an appendix to his De Praestigiis Daemonum, which lists a number of demons and directly inspired later grimoires.
English Physician and Occultist
A follower of Paracelsus, Fludd had a number of interests both natural and supernatural.
Three Rosicrucian Manifestos
Published between 1614 and 1617 in Germany by an anonymous author/s
The three texts, Fama Fraternitatis, Confessio Fraternitatis, and Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, were the genesis of the Rosicrucian movement. Hermetically inspired, esoteric, and purportedly ancient, the founders and members of the Order of the Rosy Cross were as mysterious as they were powerful and as powerful as they were mysterious. The general consensus was if you claimed to be a Rosicrucian you were lying to sound important and if you denied being a member you must certainly be one.
Lesser Key of Solomon
Image from the British Library Sloane MS 1712
Dated to the mid 17th century
Consists of five books: Ars Goetia, Ars Theurgia Goetia, Ars Paulina, Ars Almadel, and Ars Notoria
A popular occult text also known by the pseudo-Latin Lemegeton, it is derived from earlier works such as the Key of Solomon and particularly Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum from which it acquired its list of demons.
Swedenborg is best known for his visions of the afterlife in his book Heaven and Hell.
Count of St. Germain
c. 1691/1712 – 1784
Man and Myth
Little is known about the historical figure as he went by many names and origins. Later myths claimed he was immortal and an alchemist. Members of the Theosophical Society even claimed to have met him hundreds of years after his death.
French Occult Author and Practitioner
Born Alphonse Louis Constant, his best known work is Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie with his illustration of the allegorical occult figure of Baphomet.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875
Travelled to the United States, India, Tibet, and Europe promoting herself and Theosophy. She was considered by some to be a wise spiritual leader and by others a fraud.
Arthur Edward Waite
Poet, scholar, and mystic
Co-creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck
Founder of Thelema, self described prophet, and known as the most wicked man in the world, Crowley was a prolific author and infamous occultist.
Austin Osman Spare
English Artist and Occultist
Spare produced a number of grimoires based on his own occult philosophy and symbolist style artwork.
Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan
Founded the Church of Satan in 1966
Author of The Satanic Bible and founder of LaVeyan Satanism, LaVey embraced Satan as an archetype and not a supernatural force or being. He combined performance of rituals and magic with pragmatic and atheist philosophies.