Maier, Michael

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(b. Rensburg, Holstein, Germany, ca. 1568; d. Magdeburg, Germany, 1662)


Maier was probably the son of Johann Maier, an official of the duchy of Holstein. He studied first in either Rensburg or Kiel, and in 1587 he was studying at the University of Rostock. He owed his career to a relation of his mother’s, Severin Goebel, a well-known physician of Gdańsk. and Königsberg, who financed his studies. In 1589 Maier was in Nuremberg, and he was in Padua with the son of Goebel from 1589 to 1591. He began practicing surgery in 1590 without an academic degree. In 1592 he was at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, where he had the title of poeta laureatus caesareus. He wrote elegant Latin verse, under the anagram “Hermes Malavici.”

Next, Maier practiced at Königsberg under the supervision of Severin Goebel. On 24 May 1596 he was enrolled in the University of Bologna as magister, and in the same year enrolled himself at the University of Basel and received the doctorate in medicine after presenting his “Theses de epilepsia.” It is not known where Maier took his doctorate in philosophy. It seems that before 1600 he was a courtier of Rudolf II and a writer in the German chancellery.

In 1601 Maier was in Königsberg, and on 11 September entered his name on the university rolls as “Michael Meierus Philosophiae et Medicinae Doctor Honoris Gratia,” apparently in an attempt to obtain the status of professor of extraneus at this university. Obviously this did not occur, for in December 1601 he went to Gdańsk, where in the White Horse Inn he started medical practice, advertising his own remedies, such as frogs dried and then soaked in vinegar.

Before 1612 Maier had returned to Prague as a doctor. He became physician-in-ordinary to Rudolf II, although probably only in an honorary capacity, since his name does not figure in the court accounts. His family coat of arms was augmented, by the grace of the emperor, to include on one half a tree trunk with three branches, and on the other a toad bound by a chain to a flying eagle. The latter symbolized volatile and nonvolatile substances and in all likelihood was taken from an alchemical treatise ascribed to Ibn Sīnā, as can be gathered from Maier’s Symbola aureae mensae. He was also named comes palatinus by the emperor. (A count palatine was an imperial official who exercised a sort of supervision over the universities and had the right to grant doctorates and the title of poet laureate.)

In 1611 Maier was in various cities of Saxony—Torgau, Leipzig, and Mühlhausen—where he met the landgraves Maurice of Hesse and Christian of Anhalt, both of whom shared his passionate devotion to music. During the period 1612–1614 Maier was in England, where he met Robert Fludd, William Paddy, Thomas Smith, and Francis Anthony and translated into Latin a treatise by Thomas Norton under the title of Crede mihi seu ordinale. Maier was not favorably impressed by England, as he stated in Symbola aureae mensae.

After his return to Germany, Maier helped to organize the publication of the works of Fludd in Frankfurt am Main. He became court physician to Landgrave Maurice, without, however, giving up his private practice. In 1618 he traveled to Stockhausen, where he attended a wealthy nobleman named von Eriedesel. Maier had a house in Frankfurt am Main, where his wife lived, and he bought alchemical works for the landgrave’s library at the Frankfurt book fairs. In 1618 Maier moved to Magdeburg to become the physician of Duke Christian Wilhelm. He died there four years later.

Maier is an extremely puzzling figure, both in his works and in his very unsettled life. Without question, as a count palatine he was a political agent of the emperor. Maier was an ardent alchemist, a follower of Paracelsus and neo-Hermetic ideas. He was an implacable enemy of the Roman Catholic church, a defender of the Rosicrucian movement, and probably had a hand in the publication of the Fama fraternitatis (1616). Many of his works are written in a very Rosicrucian spirit.

All of Maier’s treatises are written with great erudition and display substantial knowledge of mythology and ancient history. They are classic examples of the neo-Hermetic manner, having no clear chemical sense. Yet there appear in his writings sentences and considerations that are sometimes astonishing, as in Viatorum…de montibus planetarium, in which he deliberates why lead and copper weigh more after being roasted (as Lazarus Ercker had observed). In Examen fucorum pseudochymiorum Maier gives examples of the possibility of alchemical fraud and states that it is possible to estimate transmutation truly only by means of docimasy, that is, chemical analysis.

The writings of Maier were highly valued and popular among alchemists. In the history of chemistry they represent a certain regression, however, for Maier was a fervent believer in the transmutation of metals, which was for him a synonym of the word “chymia.”


I. Original Works. Incomplete bibliographies of Maier’s writings are in D.J. Duveen, Bibliotheca alchemica et chemica (London, 1965), p. 380; J. Ferguson, Bibliotheca chimica (Glasgow, 1906), II, 66; and N. Lenglet du Fresnoy, Histoire de la philosophie hermétique (The Hague, 1742), III, 225–230.

Among his works are Arcana arcanissima (n.p., n.d. [London, 1614?]); De circulo physico quadrato(Oppenheim, 1616); Apologeticus quo causae clamorum seu revelatiorum Fratrum Rosae Cruis (Frankfurt, 1617); Atalanta fugiens (Oppenheim, 1617); Examen fucorum pseudochymiorum (Frankfurt, 1617); Jocus severus (Frankfurt, 1617); Lusus serius (Frankfurt, 1617); Silentium post clamores (Frankfurt, 1617); Symbola aureae mensae (Frankfurt, 1617); Themis aurea (Frankfurt, 1618); Tripus aureus (Frankfurt, 1618), repr. in Musaeum Hermeticum (Frankfurt, 1749);Viatorum hoc est de montibus planetarium (Frankfurt, 1618); Verum invectum (Frankfurt, 1619); De volucri arboreum (Frankfurt, 1619); Septimena philosophia (Frankfurt, 1620); Civitas corporis humani (Frankfurt, 1621); Cantilenae intellectuales de Phoenice redidivo (Rostock, 1622); Tractatus posthumus sive Ulysses (Frankfurt, 1624); and Viridarium chymicum (Frankfurt, 1688).

II. Secondary Literature. The literature on Maier’s life is scanty. Most of the data in this article are the result of the author’s research in various European libraries and archives. The best biography is considered to be J. B. Craven, Count Michael Maier (Kirkwall, Scotland, 1910; London, 1968), which really describes the contents of Maier’s writings. H. M. E. De Jong, in the new ed. of Atalanta fugiens (London, 1969), elucidates the sources of the emblems and allegories in Maier’s books. See also L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York, 1958), VII, 167, 171–173, 213, and VIII, 113, 194.

A list of older literature on Maier’s life and work is in Ferguson (see above), loc. cit.

Wlodzimierz Hubicki

Maier, Michael (ca. 1568-1622)

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Maier, Michael (ca. 1568-1622)

German alchemist, born at Rensburg in Holstein. He was one of the principal figures in the seventeenth-century Rosicrucian controversy in Germany and the greatest adept of his time. He diligently pursued the study of medicine in his youth, then practiced at Rostock with such success that Emperor Rudolph II appointed him as his physician.

Some adepts eventually succeeded in luring him from the practical work he followed into the complex and tortuous paths of alchemy. In order to confer with those who he believed possessed the transcendent mysteries, he traveled all over Germany. The Biographie Universelle states that in pursuit of these "ruinous absurdities" he sacrificed his health, fortune, and time. On a visit to England he became acquainted with Robert Fludd, the Kentish mystic.

In the controversy that convulsed Germany on the appearance of his Rosicrucian manifestos in the early 1600s, he took a vigorous and enthusiastic share and wrote several works in defense of the mysterious society. He is alleged to have traveled in order to seek members of the "College of Teutonic Philosophers R.C.," and, failing to find them, formed a brotherhood of his own, based on the form of the Fama Fraternibus. There is no adequate authority to support the opinion held by some that toward the end of his life he was initiated into the genuine order (there being serious doubt that any such genuine order ever existed).

A posthumous pamphlet of Maier's called Ulysses was published by one of his personal friends in 1624. There was added to the same volume the substance of two pamphlets already published in German but which, in view of their importance, were translated into Latin for the benefit of the European literati.

The first pamphlet was entitled Colloquium Rhodostauroticum trium personarium per Famem et Confessionem quodamodo revelatam de Fraternitate Rosoe Crucis. The second was an Echo Colloquii by Hilarion on behalf of the Rosicrucian Fraternity. From these pamphlets it appears that Maier considered himself a member of the mystical order.

He became the most profuse writer on alchemy of his time. Most of his works, many of which are adorned with curious plates, are obscure with the exception of his Rosicrucian Apologies.

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