Ioan P. Couliano: The Glass Bead Game and Reality Engineering


A game fascinates the human mind because the mind recognizes in it its own functioning… – Ioan P. Couliano

Ioan Petru Culianu or Couliano (5 January 1950 – 21 May 1991) was a Romanian historian of religion, culture, and ideas, a philosopher and political essayist, and a short story writer. He served as professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago from 1988 to his death, and had previously taught the history of Romanian culture at the University of Groningen.

An expert in gnosticism and Renaissance magic, he was encouraged and befriended by Mircea Eliade, though he gradually distanced himself from his mentor. Culianu published seminal work on the interrelation of the occult, Eros, magic, physics, and history.

Culianu was murdered in 1991. It has been much speculated his murder was in consequence of his critical view of Romanian national politics. Some factions of the Romanian political right openly celebrated his murder. The Romanian Securitate, which he once lambasted as a force “of epochal stupidity”, has also been suspected of involvement and of using puppet fronts on the right as cover.

The Game of the mind

The first book I ever read by Couliano was Eros and Magic in the Renaissance which dealt with the underpinnings of political manipulation. He would explore renaissance magic which he showed was a scientifically plausible attempt to manipulate individuals and groups based on a knowledge of motivations, particularly erotic motivations. Its key principle was that everyone (and in a sense everything) could be influenced by appeal to sexual desire. In addition, the magician relied on a profound knowledge of the art of memory to manipulate the imaginations of his subjects. In these respects, Couliano suggests, magic is the precursor of the modern psychological and sociological sciences, and the magician is the distant ancestor of the psychoanalyst and the advertising and publicity agent.

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