Giordano Bruno: What Led The Renowned Friar and Astrologer to a Burning Stake?
A monumental statue of Giordano Bruno stands in the heart of Rome as a reminder of the remorse of the people who accused him and sentenced him to death. Although he may look like a monk dressed in a hooded coat, his clothes are those of a mysterious man, perhaps even a magician. Despite many works related to Christianity suggesting something different, there is conclusive evidence that shows Giordano Bruno was an influential male witch and a magician that terrified Christians.
A Man Whose Mind Terrified the Church
Giordano Bruno was born on January 1st, 1548 in Nola as Filippo Bruno. His full name in Latin was Iordanus Brunus Nolanus. He was very young when he discovered his passion for science. As a philosopher, cosmological theorist, mathematician, and poet, he was very controversial for the people of his time.
The earliest depiction of Bruno is an engraving published in 1715 in Germany. (Public Domain)
Giordano believed that a bright mind could change the world. Apart from this, he was Neoplatonist and followed Renaissance Hermeticism and Averroes. Bruno wasn't interested in an average quiet life, but he wanted to explore, analyze, and understand many issues that were forbidden by the Catholic church.
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He studied books that were both new and exciting and those that were old and covered with the dust of the religion that dominated Europe. Bruno always followed his own ways and ideas. He became a Dominican friar, but at the same time he practiced disciplines that were forbidden to any good Christian. According to Karen Garvin:
''Bruno’s philosophy was an unusual one, to say the least. Pagan at its core, he drew on a mix of ancient knowledge, including the works of Lucretius, Pythagoras, and the Hermetic tradition, as revived by the Italian humanist Marsilio Ficino and the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Hermeticism was a religious philosophy based upon the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, which Renaissance scholars believed to have been authored by Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient Egyptian priest, who may or may not have been a real man. Because Renaissance scholars sincerely believed that the past was a golden age, and that “progress was revival, rebirth, renaissance of antiquity,” and also because the existence of Hermes Trismegistus was “implicitly believed” by Church fathers Lactantius and Augustine, the scholars took the Hermetic writings at face value. What perhaps made the writing more palatable to those Christians was that the first part of the fifteen volumes comprising the Corpus Hermeticum, called the Pimander, included a creation story that resembled that of Genesis. Bruno was one of these believers. However, unlike Ficino and Pico, who attempted to blend Hermetism and Christianity, Bruno “discarded the Christian elements in his own philosophical system (eventually called “Nolanism”) and replaced them with the “full-blown pagan magic” of Hermes Trismegistus. Hermetic beliefs included astrology and the occult sciences; “the secret virtues of plants and stones” and the sympathetic magic of such things; and the “making of talismans for drawing down the powers of the stars,” among other things. Bruno’s philosophy was, in fact, a form of pantheism. His anti-Aristotelianism belief system held that truth was “neither orthodox Catholic nor orthodox Protestant truth,” but instead had its roots in ancient “Egyptian truth, magical truth.”
Giordano Bruno wrote about magic, which wasn't a typical topic for people connected to the church. As a Dominican friar, he was expected to be against all supernatural beliefs, but he created a book, that could be called his manifesto, discussing the magic he believed in. He believed magic was based on phantasmic images and bonding or enchaining. He also thought that he was an artist of memory, whose images of the planets could be considered as poetry for the visual arts.
Woodcut illustration of one of Giordano Bruno's less complex mnemonic devices. (Public Domain)
Bruno believed that the images he created would penetrate into pneuma, the astral body or spirit. According to Bruno's writings, he was practicing the creation of bonds or chains called vincula. In magic, they had a meaning while casting spells, but also, for example, in creating an erotic bond that is known as supreme. He believed that all affections and bonds are related to love, desire, or both. His practice made him conclude that there are three gates that a person must pass through to become skillful in the field of metaphysical powers.
Another of his major fields of interest was astronomy. He was interested in the theories of Copernicus and many others. One of his greatest achievements was extending the conceptual theories of the Copernican model in cosmology. According to him, the stars are nothing more than suns that are a further distance from Earth and surrounded by specific exoplanets. Bruno also believed that the universe is infinite and it has no center.
Illuminated illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric conception of the universe. The outermost text reads "The heavenly empire, dwelling of God and all the selected" (Public Domain)
These controversial beliefs brought Bruno many problems. In 1593, he was accused of heresy by the Roman Inquisition. His teachings were considered dangerous to the Catholic religion so he was sentenced to death. Was he accused without evidence though? It is hard to believe that he wasn't aware what his fate would be when the Church realized his strong fascination with the power of memory, astronomy, and magical knowledge. He was obviously incredibly intelligent and open-minded, but the discussion about his magical powers is still open for debate.
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The trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition. Bronze relief by Ettore Ferrari, Campo de' Fiori, Rome. (Public Domain)
Giordano Bruno was killed by the Holy Inquisition on February 17, 1600, in Rome. He was burnt at the stake and the ashes of his body went with the winds of change.
The monument to Bruno on the place he was executed, Campo de' Fiori in Rome. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
However, the spirit of the mystical man was too strong to disappear. Even now, his works are very popular among researchers and his ideas have many followers. The Catholic Church’s intention to damage his memory failed.
Top image: A statue of Giordano Bruno in Rome. (theappendix.net)
Astrology & Magic of Giordano Bruno, available at:
Giordano Bruno, available at:
Giordano Bruno: Magic, Theology, and Heresy by Karen Garvin, available at:
Giordano Bruno and the Rosicrucians. A mystery unveiled, among magic, alchemy and philosophy by Guido del Giudice, available at: