Agrippa was born in Cologne in 1486. In 1512, he taught at the University of Dole in the Free County of Burgundy, lecturing on Johann Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico; as a result, Agrippa was denounced, behind his back, as a "Judaizing heretic." Agrippa's vitriolic response many months later did not endear him to the University.
In 1510, he studied briefly with Johannes Trithemius, and Agrippa sent him an early draft of his masterpiece, De occulta philosophia libri tres, a kind of summa of early modern occult thought. Trithemius was guardedly approving, but suggested that Agrippa keep the work more or less secret; Agrippa chose not to publish, perhaps for this reason, but continued to revise and rethink the book for twenty years.
During his wandering life in Germany, France and Italy he worked as a theologian, physician, legal expert and soldier.
He was for some time in the service of Maximilian I, probably as a soldier in Italy, but devoted his time mainly to the study of the occult sciences and to problematic theological legal questions, which exposed him to various persecutions through life, usually in the mode described above: He would be privately denounced for one sort of heresy or another. He would only reply with venom considerably later. (Nauert demonstrates this pattern effectively.)
There is no evidence that Agrippa was seriously accused, much less persecuted, for his interest in or practice of magical or occult arts during his lifetime, apart from losing several positions. It is impossible of course to cite negatively, but Nauert, the best bio-bibliographical study to date, shows no indication of such persecution, and van der Poel's careful examination of the various attacks suggest that they were founded on quite other theological grounds.
It is important to mention that, according to some scholarship, "As early as 1525 and again as late as 1533 (two years before his death) Agrippa clearly and unequivocally rejected magic in its totality, from its sources in imagined antiquity to contemporary practice." Some aspects remain unclear, but there are those who believe it was sincere (not out of fear, as a parody, or otherwise). Recent scholarship (see Further Reading below, in Lehrich, Nauert, and van der Poel) generally agrees that this rejection or repudiation of magic is not what it seems: Agrippa never rejected magic in its totality, but he did retract his early manuscript of the Occult Philosophy - to be replaced by the later form.
According to his student Johann Weyer, in the book De praestigiis daemonum, Agrippa died in Grenoble, in 1535.
My favorite magical encyclopedia, Man, Myth and Magic, adds the following:
Much of his career is shrouded in mystery and even before his death he became the centre of stories in which he figured as a master black magician. Goethe drew on some of these stories for the title character of his play Faust.
Agrippa says that everything which exists has a 'soul' or spiritual component, pat of the total world soul, which shows itself in magical properties of herbs, metals, stones, animals and other phenomena of Nature.
Agrippa builds up a system of the universe in which everything is part of a great spiritual whole, which is God. Magic is the way of investigating this system but magic is only for the initiated few, for men like Agrippa himself -- as most of them were, in fact -- of secret societies. He does not press the point fully home but his conclusion that man 'containeth in himself all things which are in God' is well in line with the magical theory that the magician can make himself God and wield the supreme power of God in the universe.
Here are some suggested formulas for each of the basic planets as based on the recommendations of Agrippa, for his simple planetary magical incenses:
MARS (made from woods)
Oak, Hickory and Mesquite.
VENUS (made from flowers)
Rose, Balm of Gilead Buds and Clove Buds.
MOON (made from leaves)
Patchouli and Clary Sage.
MERCURY (made from barks and peels)
Orange Peel, Cinnamon and Mace.
JUPITER (made from fruits)
Vanilla or Tonka Bean, Nutmeg and Allspice Berries.
SATURN (made from roots)
Calamus, Vetiver and Mandrake.
SUN (made from resins)
Dragon's Blood, Frankincense and Gum Arabic.
Man, Myth and Magic also includes the following little rumor about Mr. Agrippa:
...He went out one day, leaving the key of a secret room with his wife. She foolishly lent it to the lodger, a student, who went into the room and found a huge book of spells, which he began to read. After a while he looked up and found a demon standing in front of him, asking why it had been summoned. He gaped at it in horror and the demon strangled him.Agrippa returned and, fearing a charge of murder, made the demon restore the student to life for a few hours. The young man was seen walking in the street but when the demon's magic wore off, he collapsed.