Thaumaturgy (from the Greek words θαῦμα thaûma, stem thaumat-, meaning "miracle" or "marvel" and ἔργον érgon, meaning "work") is the capability of a saint or magician to work miracles. It is sometimes translated into English as wonderworking. A practitioner of thaumaturgy is a thaumaturge.

In Christianity

In original Greek writings, the term thaumaturge is used to describe several Christian saints. This usage carries no associations with magic, and is usually translated into English as "wonderworker". Famous ancient Christian thaumaturges include Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea, also known as Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Saint Ambrose of Optina. The Carmelite Bishop of Fiesole, Saint Andrew Corsini (1302-1373), was also called a thaumaturge during his lifetime.

In Magic

In the 16th century, the word thaumaturgy entered the English language meaning miraculous or magical powers.

The word was first anglicized and used in the magical sense in John Dee's book Mathematicall Praeface to Euclid's Elements (1570). He mentions an "art mathematical" called "thaumaturgy... which giveth certain order to make strange works, of the sense to be perceived and of men greatly to be wondered at."

In Dee's time, "the Mathematicks" referred not merely to the abstract computations associated with the term today, but to physical mechanical devices which employed mathematical principles in their design. These devices, operated by means of compressed air, springs, strings, pulleys or levers, were seen by unsophisticated people (who did not understand their working principles) as magical devices which could only have been made with the aid of demons and devils.

(By building such mechanical devices, Dee earned a reputation as a conjurer "dreaded" by neighborhood children. He complained of this assessment in his "Mathematicall Praeface": "And for these, and such like marvellous Actes and Feates, Naturally, and Mechanically, wrought and contrived: ought any honest Student and Modest Christian Philosopher, be counted, & called a Conjurer? Shall the folly of Idiotes, and the Malice of the Scornfull, so much prevaille... Shall that man, be (in hugger mugger) condemned, as a Companion of the hellhoundes, and a Caller, and Conjurer of wicked and damned Spirites?")

Thus thaumaturgy means making and operating physical devices, based on early engineering principles, to produce an effect. However, some who used the title thaumaturge related thaumaturgy to theurgy, a Greek term for a branch of magic concerned with spiritual matters. In this view, the material effect produced by a thaumaturgical device was considered to actually be caused by a spiritual ritual (theurgy), which influences the material sphere by way of the more subtle, ethereal realm.

In the Hermetic Qabalah

For example, in the Hermetic Qabalah mystical tradition, a person titled a Magician has the power to make subtle changes in higher realms, which in turn produce physical results. For instance, if a Magician made slight changes in the world of formation (Olam Yetzirah), such as within the Sefirah of Yesod upon which Malkuth (the material realm) is based and within which all former Sephiroth are brought together, then these alterations would appear in the world of action (Olam Assiah).

In Islam

In Sunni, Shia and Sufi Islam, Tay al-Ard (literally "folding up of the earth") is a term used to describe a saint miraculously teleporting, or "moving by the earth being displaced under one's feet". In translations, these miracles have been described as thaumaturgical.

In Philosophy

In his book, The Gift of Death, deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida refers to philosophy as thaumaturgy. His reading is based on a deconstruction of the origin of the concepts of responsibility, faith, and gift.

In fiction and popular culture

The term thaumaturgy is used in various novels and games as a synonym for magic, or a particular sub-school (often mechanical) of magic.

  • Thaumaturgy is often used as a name for the magic in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.
  • Magic is almost always referred to as thaumaturgy in China Miéville's Bas-Lag books.
  • In the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, thaumaturgy means manipulating small images (such as a 'voodoo doll') to create larger effects.
  • In Type-Moon's games and visual novels, thaumaturgy is used to describe magical effects that could possibly be created by science given sufficient time and resources. It is contrasted with "true" magic, miracles beyond the capabilities of scientific knowledge.
  • In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson, Kasreyn of the Gyre is called a thaumatugist (sic).
  • In Lyndon Hardy's Magics trilogy, thaumaturgy is one of the five disciplines of magic. It figures most prominently in the first book, Master of the Five Magics.
  • In Melusine, The Virtu and The Mirador by Sarah Monette, thaumaturgical architecture and architectural thaumaturgy are two distinct classes of magic.
  • In the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons the thaumaturgist (sic) is a prestige class which specifically summons outsiders. ('Thaumaturgist' was the class title of a 5th level magic user in the original, 1st ed. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 'Player's Handbook'.)
  • Thaumaturgy is a magical discipline in White Wolf's role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade.
  • In the roleplaying game GURPS and Isaac Bonewits' roleplaying aid Authentic Thaumaturgy thaumaturgy is defined as the physics of magic.
  • In Magic: The Gathering there are creatures named "Dwarven Thaumaturgist" and "Merfolk Thaumaturgist" who can temporarily flip other creatures' power and toughness values.
  • In the Elder Scrolls games Daggerfall and Battlespire, thaumaturgy is a character skill, which is loosely defined as "focus[ing] on manipulating known forces and objects within their natural laws."
  • In Ultima VIII: Pagan, thaumaturgy is one of four magics that can be learned.
  • In EverQuest, thaumaturge is a title granted to a magician who has completed his epic weapon, proving the mage's mastery of the elements.


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