Frontispiece: "A magnetic Habsburg eagle. The Latin inscription around the eagle’s feet “Et Boreae et Austri-acus” is a play on words linking the compass needle (“the needle of both North and South” to the house of Austria (“Austriacus”)."
"Other inventions of Kircher’s also appear to have come under suspicion of demonic magic, including the magnetic anemoscope that he built in Malta, while he was supposed to be providing spiritual guidance to Landgrave Ernst of Hessen-Darmstadt, relied, like many Kircherian machines, on a hidden magnet. The magnet, rotated by a wind-vane, caused a figure of Aeolius, the god of winds, suspended in a glass sphere, to point to the direction of the wind marked on the outside of the sphere. Some of the Knights of Malta who witnessed Kircher’s machine apparently suggested that it must contain a real demon, and Kircher, yet again, had to take pains to demonstrate that his brand of magic was entirely natural."
The Magnetic Oracle"Kepler, expanding on Gilbert's speculation, described the sun as a huge magnet, whose rotation on its axis caused the earth and planets (themselves smaller magnets) to move around it in orbits. Kircher disproved this by experimenting with actual magnets, and observing that rotation of a large central magnet actually caused a sympathetic axial rotation in its otherwise stationary satellites. On the basis of this phenomenon, Kircher devised a device for 'magnetic hydromancy' in which small wax figures, embedded with magnets and suspended in water-filled globes, could be made to spell out specific messages or forecasts from symbols and letters printed on the surface of their vessels. Controlled by a hand-cranked rotating central magnet, this mechanically simulated divination device, bearing the Hermetic motto 'Nature Rejoices in Nature', epitomizes Kircher's unique blend of skepticism towards paranormal activities and delight in the underlying mysteries of seemingly mundane reality."
Sunflower clock"To illustrate his belief in the magnetic relationship between the sun and the vegetable kingdom, Kircher designed this heliotropic sunflower clock by attaching a sunflower to a cork and floating it in a reservoir of water. As the blossom rotated to face the sun, a pointer through its center indicated the time on the inner side of a suspended ring. Kircher claimed that it didn't work well because enclosing it in a glass case would block the sun's attractive force, and that it was 'therefore susceptible to inaccuracies due to the wind'."
In the 16th and 17th centuries (mostly), one of the strangest known medical or psychological illnesses manifested in Southern Italy, centred around the coastal town of Taranto. A syndrome known as tarantism (or dancing mania) in which victims (often young women) displayed unusual symptoms that were attributed to a bite from a tarantula (actually, a wolf spider: Lycosa tarentula) was first reported in the 14th century. Once bitten, a person became lethargic and dizzy with feelings of anguish, strangely mixed with an increased libido and a bizarre frenzied dance compulsion.
Although it has been fairly described as a form of mass hysteria (the spider was more of a symbolic accessory) relating to the mix of traditional pagan-religious culture of the local area and periodic suppression orders against some earth magic practices, it is still known to occur today and wasn't even properly studied until the mid-20th century. Anyway ... Athanasius Kircher and others saw specific dance music (good magnetic vibrations) as being the cure and he includes in this picture part of a score - 'Antidotum Tarantula' - of the recommended tarantella - I believe he expands on this later in his 'Musurgia Universalis' tome. [I can see emergency bracelets with "In case of spider bite, play music" or ambulance vans ferrying musical quartets]
Can there be too much Athanasius Kircher? I don't think so. And particularly not when more of his original works come to be accessible online in good quality page image format. They are just so well stocked with eclectic and perplexing images. There will undoubtedly be more.
- 'Magnes Siue De Arte Magnetica Opvs Tripartitvm' 1643 is online at Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel. (It's the 2nd edition of his original 1631 book known as 'Ars Magnesia', essentially his first published book)
- The above images (plus a bunch more not seen) were saved to this Webshots album. A few of them are the large versions but most are just of regular dimensions. The page numbers are in the alt-tags above (right click the image: properties).
- Biographies: here and here.
- 'Between the Demonic and the Miraculous: Athanasius Kircher and the Baroque Culture of Machines' by MJ Gorman (there's a reason I keep linking to this).
- 'Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything', 2004 Ed. Paula Findlen - there are some reasonable chunks viewable at google books.
- Previously: Sampling Kircher; Musurgia Universalis; Connecting with China; Artificial Magic.