Category Archives: History

Jos. Raemaekers

I am always on the hunt for new leads on Farwerck and so I once again bumped into the name “Jos. Raemaekers”. I connect the name to a writer with similar subjects as Farwerck (from folklore to esotericism), but never really looked into the man. Then I was rereading Bouwsteenen a Masonic periodical that also published texts by Farwerck and my eye fell on two texts of Raemaekers in a volume from 1928. One is called “Kinderspelen” (‘children’s games’), the other “Citroen” (‘lemon’). Especially the first is quite Farwerck-like. Many, many details, going from folklore to mythology and he even mentions guilds. Could Raemaekers be a/the inspiration for Farwerck? read more

Pictish symbols

Is it because the next holiday will be Scotland or some other reason, but I recently find myself fascinated by the so-called “Pictish stones”. The first time I saw the strange Pictisch symbols was about a decade ago in the fascinating book “Noord-Europese Mysterieën En Hun Sporen Tot Heden” (‘North-European mysteries and their traces to the precent’) (1970) by the Dutch author Frans Eduard Farwerck (1889-1969). He displays several stones, but the Golspie stone is the most fascinating. It not only contains (virtually) every Pictish symbol that we know, but also supports Farwerck’s theory about the symbolism. A theory that I have not found on the world wide web yet, so I figured my scribblings might add something to the information about the Pictish stones that is already available on the web, which is not little to begin with.

A little bit of history
When the meanings of the symbols are disputed, even the history of the Picts is! It looks like the Picts were the original inhabitants of Scotland. They must have been around in the first or at least second century CE, because when the Romans invaded the British isle in the third century, the Picts were already a force to take into account. They were not such a large society, but this came later. From about 600 to 800 some people speak about a “Pictish nation”. After that the Picts were troubled by the Viking invasions and overrun (or perhaps they just merged with) the neighbouring Gaelic tribes. After 800 there seem to have been no more Picts.

from “The New Antaios” : Frans Eduard Farwerck

This text was written for The New Antaios online journal in 2010 or so. The website has been taken down since, so I decided to publish it here for ‘archival reasons’.
Go here for a much larger text about Farwerck

Some 8 years ago I met my girl­friend. We were both involved in a short-lived Dutch ‘spir­i­tual mag­a­zine’ that liked to treat con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects. Through the edi­tor of the mag­a­zine my girl­friend got acquinted with a Flem­ish ‘Asatru’ group and later so did I. At the time my inter­est still mainly laid at Renais­sance eso­teri­cism, Medieval magic, etc. This was already a bit closer to home, since before I had an inter­est in more exotic, East­ern sub­jects. In any case, meet­ing Asatru excelled my shift towards even more domes­tic inter­ests, the old reli­gion of North­ern Europe. While becom­ing active in the group I ini­tially sticked to my inter­ests, but I heard a lot of inter­est­ing new paths.

Kinship, gift-exchange, honour and feud in Medieval Frisia and Iceland

In this article I want to say a thing or two about a few interrelated ‘processes’ in the Medieval Germanic society. How groups form and how they are maintained and how ‘mechanisms’ such as honour and feud work. These at first sight varied subjects will prove to be interwoven.
For this article I have used a few books that you will find listed at the bottom. All authors more or less treat parts of the whole, but from different perspectives and speaking about different societies. It seems as if all of these kinds of works owe a great deal to Willam Miller’s Bloodtaking and Peacemaking which is one of the books that I used. Miller is mostly concerned with Medieval Iceland. Another author I consulted is Jos Bazelmans who dived deeply into the Beowulf story and therefor Anglo-Saxon culture. Another Dutch author, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld wrote a book about gift-giving mostly concerning people and the Church in the late-medieval Netherlands, a period in which little empires started to arise and this lord-civilian bond is also very present in Bijsterveld’s book. Further I used two articles and last but not least, the inspiration to start this little investigation came from Han Nijdam’s excellent Lichaam, Eer en Recht which is about Medieval Frisian society, with many references to Medieval Iceland.

The Renaissance in national context

by Roy Porter and Mikulás Teich (editors) (1992 cambridge university press * isbn 0521361818)

Cambridge like the Dutch publisher Brill is one of these publishers publishing books by and for scholars. The books are usually extremely expensive, hard to get and only available via your library. Yet, sometimes interesting investigations come forth from the world of universities and it is worthwhile to try and locate such books (not too hard if you know your ways) and read them. Instead of just reviewing this book, I decided that there is information in it that deserves to be written about at length, so the review became an article.

As the title suggests, the book is about the Renaissance in different countries, not about the Renaissance as a whole. This interests me, because I am still looking for information about what happened during the Renaissance in Northern Europe. The book consists of essays of different writers, each speaking about one country. A few of these articles are highly interesting, so I will deal with them at length, while others are only shortly written about. Similar books have been published by the way, such as The Enlightenment In National Context, Revolution In National Context and Romanticism In National Context.

Introduction by Roy Porter and Mikulás Teich

The editors open with a short introduction which sets the tone for the book. The Renaissance is not as much a ‘thing’ coming from Italy with other lands taking over customs, art and literature, but the Renaissance is a movement or flow which caused every country to have its own Renaissance.

The uses of Italy by Peter Burke

The first essay is probably the best of the book, answering to my every supposition about the Renaissance. Italian culture became fashionable under aristocrats who from all over Europe came to Italy to see what architecture they make, what art is being produced, what literature is like, etc. But “Spain, Switzerland and Scotland all participated in the Renaissance, but their local renaissances were very far from carbon copies of one another.” “…different national enlightenments [were adapted] to local circumstances or even new creations, rather than as mere mechanical copies of a model made in France.” (p. 6). This seems most logical, but the fact alone that scholars have to write a book about this, proves that most people still think that in the Renaissance the whole of the Western world only became copies of a few countries.

Burke is not happy with the expression: “the reception of the Renaissance outside Italy”, because this suggests that other countries passively received what came from Italy and copied their customs and art. Even the “Italian Renaissance” is a weird way of describing the situation in Italy, because the Renaissance was different in Rome, Florence, Venice or Naples. Also the view of the ‘passive North’ is something Burke cannot agree with, because it were Flemish and Dutch painters who learned the Italians to paint on canvas and also German and Dutch architectures had their influence abroad and what to think about people such as Erasmus, Johannes Reuchlin, Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples, etc. who had a massive influence on the thinking of the Renaissance.

Burke gives a lot of names of people who had influence or who could be regarded as true Renaissance people outside Italy, even towards Muslim countries and both Americas. Then comes another problem, when speaking about national Renaissances, then what is a nation? If I only look to my own country. It has changed several times in history, from being 17 provinces including nowadays Luxemburg and Belgium to the country like it is today. Slowly but surely some kind of ‘nationalism’ took root in different areas, but it is more correct to say that this was mostly ‘regional nationalism’. Inspite of the fashionable “Italophilia” with courts in Poland and England where people spoke Italian, there was also an anti-Italian movement. “Italophobia was stonger among Protestants […] than among Catholics”, but in both circles there were people opposing the ‘aping’ of Italian ways. In various country language-purists appeared and here and there was even spoken about pride of the nation. Histories were written, often about Middle Age, heroes who fought against the Romans (such as the Gallica Historia by Robert Ceneau (1589); Germania by Jacob Wimpheling (1501); the History of All the Kings of the Goths and the Swedes by Johannes Magnus (1554); Franco-Gallia by François Hotman (1573) or Restitution of Decayed Intelligence by Richard Verstegen (1605)). Also texts were written about ancient people in a nation’s past, such as the Druids, the kings of the past,.Countries gave their colonies names from their past (such as the Dutch had Batavia in India). Tacitus and Grammaticus were often published and reprinted. Also people started to look for their roots: “The French acclaimed descent from the Franks and the Gauls, the English from the Angles and Saxons, the Dutch from the Batavians, the Swedes and Spaniards from the Goths, the Jutes from the Cimbrians, the Poles from the Sarmatians, the Hungarians from the Huns.” (p.14). Histories were written about countries as well. Still “nationalism is a modern idea, essentially the creation of the age which followed the French and Industrial Revolutions, and depending on the political, social and cultural changes of that period, from the abolition of aristocratic privilege to the rise of the railways, and above all on the centralised, unified, bureaucratic state.” (p.16). “…the sense of kinship with the inhabitants of other regions within the same kingdom was weak. National identity was less closely associated than today with the ‘state’ whcih was in any case a new concept in the sixteenth century, one which had not had time to take root. (p.17). It was more a feeling of unity of people of some region. “There was civic or regional identity. […] The myths of eponymous heroes like Brabo the founder of Brabant or Friso the founder of Friesland hindered rather than helpend the formation of a ‘national ‘ identity for the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic, or the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands taken as a whole.” (p. 17) On an even smaller foot, there seemed to have been some kind of ‘nationality of a city’.

The conclusion of Burke is that in order to understand the Renaissance, you must know about the social, political, etc. situation of every region where the Renaissance took root. This will be done per country by the authors to follow.

Florence by Robert Black

I will shortly speak about this article. It stresses on the importance of Florence and of course the people coming from this city who made such a big stamp on the Renaissance in Italy and abroad, The De Medicis, Ficino, the Platonic Academy, most of this you can find in other articles of mine.

Rome by Nicholas Davidson and Venice by Richard Mackenny

Much of the Italian Renaissance seems to have come from Florence. I don’t know most of the names in these essays, but since I don’t want to focus on Italy, I will leave these essays by saying that they are nicely written and informative, so if you do have interest in the Renaissance of Rome and Venice, you might want to read this essay.

The Low Countries by Elsa Strietman

And here we come to my own region, Dutch history from the University of Cambridge. Stietman starts by writing that nowadays Belgium and the Netherlands “share a medieval political past and a linguistic and cultural heritage. Paradoxically it is easier to point at shared political, social and cultural developments in the medieval history of the motley, disunited provinces and regions which were known as the Low Countries than it is to find much in common in their Renaissance and post-Renaissance development.” (p.68) The Renaissance of this region starts in he middle of the fifteenth century and ends halfway the seventeenth. Strietman writes about the cultural and political situations that go hand in hand and about the uniqueness of the fact that what was once one country, would become two (actually three, Strietman says nothing about Luxemburg). A few words follow about the sea-sailing of the Low Countries and then you can read about sculpture and painting that initially did not develop very ‘Renaissance-like’, but would later become a style in other countries as well. Many painters and sculpturers travelled to other countries, to see what their are were like there, but they would also have a major impact on those styles themselves. Literature remained a bit behind, but Strietman sees striking developements in the time between the Peace of Münster (1648, the end of the struggle with Spain) and the death of Joost van den Vondel in 1679.
Then follows some information about the development of the state. Under the reign of Philip the Bold (1342-1404), but especially under Philip the Good (reighning between 1419 and 1467) the losely connected seven provinces of the Northern Netherlands were “forced into a federation, which was only completed however in 1543”. Then Strietman writes about the feeling of nationality which was mainly based on the ruling house of Burgundy, but actually was more region-centered. While the Low Countries were becoming powerfull sailing countries, Protestantism came up, dividing the Low Countries in a Protestant North (the nowadays Netherlands) and Catholic south (nowadays Belgium). Eventually things developed towards the split of the Netherlands and Belgium in 1830. After this both new countries started to look for their own identity resulting in some sort of nationalism with xenophobia towards foreign influences.

Then follows a chapter about humanism in the Low Countries. Of course you can’t get around of the most prominent humanists of the Renaissance: Desideriis Erasmus (1466/9-1536). There were other humanists in this region, but Erasmus by far had the most influence and reputation both interior and abroad. Besides humanistic writing several scientific publications came forth from the Netherlands. Also the revolt against the Spanish rule resulted in the (earlier mentioned) feeling of nationalism with a national anthem and songs about the glorious past. Also histories of the country and separate regions started to be published. About the national language Strietman writes: “This is the miracle of the Dutch Renaissance: that out of the plodding sixteenth-century language reform and the mixture of imported Flemish and Brabant dialects with native Hollands dialects, some mysterious process of alchemy was at work to create a new language, subtle, efficient and capable of heart-aching beauty”. (p.85/6). Then follows another part about Dutch literature with Oldenbarneveld and Vondel.

This is a nice essay to read some time. I find that there is a bit too much stress on the political history and here and there the writer wants to show she reads Dutch which does not prevent her from making a few strange mistakes, but here we at least have a nice history of my native country from an ‘outsider’. However… Strietman could be a Dutch name of someone who (or whose family) moved to Brittany.

Germany by James Overfield

This essay starts with “the arch-humanist” Conrad Celtis (1459-1508) who realised that Germany would soon follow Italy and enter a new period in history. This new period is gravely influenced by the upcoming of the Reformation which -for example- caused the development in the architecture of churches and cathedrals to stop. There was some direct influence from Italy, but mostly classicism reached Germany via England and France. First painting and sculpture mostly slumbered with only a handfull of positive exceptions, but with the coming of people such as Dürer, Holbein the younger, Grünewald, Burgkmair the elder and Altdorfer new standerds were set for the entire continent. Some of the people I named travelled to Italy and there was (like with the Dutch painters) mutual influence. Painting and sculpture appeared with antiquity themes, but also with themes from the German history. About the same developments you can see in literature. A whole part about German humanism follows, a story that you may know because it is closely alligned to the Reformation. On page 110 some people that you can read about elsewhere at Monas.nl are shortly mentioned, Trithemius, Reuchlin and Agrippa. This is the only reference to magic and occultism in the entire book.
The end of humanism in Germany follows when the interests in the occult are shuffled away and “German humanism had been effectively tamed and made respectable.” (p.116)

France by Donald R. Kelley

France is of course with Italy the major cause of the Renaissance in Europe and I think enough can be found about it so I will only write this article in short. Of course the article speaks about the rapid rise of the bombastic king’s courts ending in ‘vulgarisation’. Also some things are said about different arts, humanism, influences from abroad and the influence France had abroad.
Actually it is a nice article which you may want to read if you have an interest in the Renaissance of France.

England by David Starkey

However you may expect an article about the English Renaissance to be about writers such as Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, etc. and early scientists, this article mostly focusses on politics and political writings. Interesting in a sense, but not too much the field I hoped to read about.

Hungary by Tibor Klaniczay

This is one of the most interesting essays in the book, but I will only write about it shortly, my focus lays more on Northern Europe. Hungary did make a marvelously interesting country during the Renaissance, just not within the borders of my current interests. During the Renaissance Hungary zealously followed the Italian example and Hungarian merchants who visited Italy imported ‘inspiration’. Buda (now combined with the city of Pest to Budapest) became the centre-point of a true Italian Renaissance in Hungary with typical architecture, art, philosophy and under protection of king Matthias Corvinus (1440-1490) a true ‘Platonic Academy’ was formed in the Bibliotheca Corvina. Many texts were translated, some written in Hungary, but when the Turks invaded the country around 1540 Hungary was split in three countries for 150 years to come. In some parts of the country the Renaissance continued until halfway the 17th century, but it always remained ‘Italophile’.

Poland by Antoni Maczak

In this nice essay you can read how the Polish Renaissance developed from a typical Italian Renaissance with heavy Dutch and German influences to a rebirth of its own. Poland would become one of the few ‘true Renaissance states’. The Reformation didn’t have as much influence here as the counter-Reformation and Catholicism would become closely entwined with ‘Polishdom’. Also here many foreign texts were translated a some written within the country itself.

Bohemia and Moravia by Josef Mace

Whoever has visited the city of Praha/Prague knows that the Renaissance didn’t skip the Czech republic. Still Mace describes that the Renaissance brought sharp contradictions in this area. The Reformation wasn’t just a copy of the German example and also Humanism wasn’t necessarily Catholic. The ‘normal’ and ‘Czech’ camps often stood on hostile foot. The same goes for literature, poetry, architecture and art, typical Renaissance expressions that didn’t quite develop in Czechia as abroad. All this leads the writer to conclude that Bohemia and Moravia didn’t really have a Renaissance in the usual meaning of this term, but a fast development influenced by the Reformation more than by foreign Renaissances.

conclusion

I realise that I really cut this book short, because I read it with a certain underlying idea, being to investigate the Renaissance of Northern Europe. Still I really enjoyed reading about other countries as well, but I find it too bad that there is nothing about the Scandinavian countries. I can certainly suggest this book to anyone who wants to study the Renaissance more in depth or different from the usual approach saying that the Renaissance started in Italy and was copied in other countries. The influence may have been there, but every region definately had its own Renaissance which you can read about in detail in this wonderfull book. All essays are relatively short, well written and understandable, also for the layman.

The origins of old Germanic studies in the Low Countries

Cornelis Dekker (1961-) has something with Latinised names, just like during the period he wrote about. He writes about Dutchmen, but almost every single one of them is named with a Latin name so even a fellow Dutchman like myself sometimes has to think who Dekker writes about. But this is of course not what I am writing aout. Dekker made a superb study of the study of Germanic languages during the Renaissance, a subject that highly interests me. When I was writing my article about the Northern Renaissance I have been looking for a book like this, but it came too late. Well… never too late! It is almost incredible how much information Dekker compiled about people interested in native history and especially native and old languages. There is so enormously much information in this book that I decided not to rewrite my Northern Renaissance article, but just make a very long book review giving the information that I find of interest.

The book is actually about Jan van Vliet (or Janus Vlitius, 1622-1666) “who studied Old Germanic languages during the last decade of his life.” (p.1). Van Vliet owned a large number of books by people from the past and his own day who had similar interests and Van Vliet always wrote his own thoughts in the marigins of those books. Dekker located as many books owned or written by Van Vliet, including his correspondence to find a staggering amount of information resulting in a very different view on the time than we usually get. Van Vliet himself was an interesting person. He wrote much like a scholar would nowadays, even referring to his sources so that they are traceble even in the present day. Van Vliet was not alone in his interests, Dekker writes about a great many other people that were influenced by Van Vliet, who influenced Van Vliet or who were just in the same ‘business’. Van Vliet named several of them himself. Van Vliets acknowledged the vast influence of Francis Junius (1591-1677) on his work. In a letter Van Vliets names “Vulcanius, Vossius, Pontanus, Mylius, Schottus, Scaliger and Casaubon as important sources Becanus; Schrieckus and Boxhorn are “phantasms or sphinxes” and Hugo Grotius, Beatus Rhenanus, Sigismund Gelenius and Hadrianus Junius “unsuccessfull scholars”. Just after Van Vliet came Nicholas Heinsius (1656-1718). Many more people are written about in this book, some at length, their systems and ideas compared to those of Van Vliets, sometimes only mentioned.

Personally I have more interest in some of the information that Dekker gives ‘surrounding’ his own subject.

One of these ‘little facts’: “The editio princeps of the Germania [of Tacitus] was published by Fanciscus Puteolanus in Bologna in 1472.” (note 31, p.16). This must be somewhat of a starting time of renewed interest in native history. In my article I write about how Icelandic manuscripts where moved to Denmark and Sweden because people there found out that these texts could tell them something about their past. This was in the 17th century. According to Dekker similar interests were present on the continent much earlier: “The Italian example of searching for ancient manuscripts in monastic collections and storing them in public libraries was followed in the sixteenth century by scholars from various countries north of the Alps. Among the first to go in search of historical manuscripts were Germans, encouraged by Emperor Maximilian I (1449-1519) to trace and copy manuscripts, not only of classical authors but also of vernacular texts. They included Jakob Wimpfeling (1445-1528), Franciscus Irenicus (Franz Fritz) (1495-c.1550), and Conrad Celtis (1459-1508), whose many discoveries included the works of the nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim, and the Tabula Peuteringiana, an ancient map. Their researches quickly led to the discovery of the first vernacular material. Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), abbot of Spanheim, was the first to mention the Old High German paraphrase of the Gospels by Otfrid von Weissenburg and the Old High German translation of Tatina’s Harmonia evangelica.” (p.18). Etcetera! Dekker mentions a Goldast, a Joachin von Watt, a John Leland, all names that are new to me who seemed to have been searching for old manuscripts from their countries’ pasts. Kings ordered the collection of libraries about the nation’s pasts and even the writing of grammar books and dictionaries seems to have taken a flight. Also ancient law-texts such as the Frisian and Carolingian laws where discovered and published.

In the Low Countries people such as Johannes Smetius (1598-1651) and Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) started to write about the past based on Tacitus’ writings. Also local history was combined with current affairs. Lipsius compared the revolt of the Batavians against the Romans with the current affairs with the occupying country Spain. Histories were written in this area too. “Hugo Grotius” (Hugo de Grote, Hugo the Great 1583-1645) wrote a history of Belgium called Annales et historiae de rebus Belgicis and Pieter Cornelisz Hooft (1581-1647) translated Tacitus. Both works were published post-mortem.

Many people seemed to have had an interest in ancient texts and ancient scriptures. According to Dekker no one else than Johannes Trithemius (1562-1516) gave two “Viking alphabets” in his Polygraphia (1508) and Wolfgang Lazius (1514-1565) “presented a complete runic alphabet, which was also printed by Melchior Goldast in 1606.” (p.23). Also in the Netherlands the runes where known. The “Leiden professor Bonaventura Vulcanius in De literis et linguis Getarum sive Gothorum (Leiden, 1597). Besides Gothic, Vulcanius also included three runic alphabets.” (p.41).

Van Vliet did something similar. He made glossaries (that were never published) of a wide variety of languages: “Breton (Celtic), Danish, Dutch, English, German, Gothic, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, French, Latin, Middle Low German, Old Frisian, Old High German, Old Flemish, Old Franconian, Old English, ‘Runic’, and Spanish” (p.149), also runes as you can see. Many glossaries and lexicons where printed in that time, Dekker mentioned quite a number of them.

Van Vliet mostly got his knowledge of the runes from someone we got familiar with before: Ole Worm. In 1636 (Amsterdam) Worm published his RUNIR, seu Danica literatura antiquissima, a runic dictionary and Van Vliet owned a copy of it. Our other runic investigator of that time, Johannes Bureus is only mentioned in the book as Johannes Buraeus, but apparently Van Vliet never heard of the man.

A subject that you can read about in my Northern Renaissance article too is the discussion of the origin of languages and which is the original language. In De lingua Belgica (Leiden, 1612) by Abrahamus Mylius or Abraham van de Mijle (1563-1637) is said that Dutch was the mother language of the Teutonic peoples. Similar remarks where said about the Frisian language was was not a Germanic language but descended from Greek and Hebrew and Hebrew was -of course- the first and holiest of languages. Van Vliet joined the discussion when he got interested in his native tongue after the discovery of the Nehalenia (a Celtic goddess) temple in Walcheren (one of the islands of the province of Zeeland) in 1647. According to Ole Worm Germanic languages come from Greek, others trace them back to Scytian, Van Vliet makes the line: Scythian, Gothic, Anglo-Saxon, ancient Frisian, Dutch (and the runes come after Gothic and splits into Icelandic, Danish and Swedish). Van Vliet was of the opinion that the Germanic languages should be ‘elevated’ like the Italians did with their language in this time.

As you can see, a few Renaissance interests come together in the person of Van Vliet also some interests that I never really knew excisted in this time. Van Vliet had an interest in history and languages, old languages and their origins and he studied them in depth. Nice to know that this was actually a field of investigation in that time, because this is something you don’t hear much about. Too bad that Dekker doesn’t say anything about (possible) esoteric sides to this subject, so please allow me to end with…

A few thoughts of my own

There are a few interesting things about this story. As mentioned before, the famous German occultist Trithemius had an interest in ancient scriptures under which the runes. It would be interesting to see if he ever combined these two interests.

Lipsius had some of his works published by the printer Plantin from Antwerp, a printer that also published works of Agrippa and who was the spider in a web of (radical) religionists and magicians. He printed works by Hendrik Niclaes (founder of the ‘Huis der Liefde’), David Joris (from the same group, but later split off), Christopher Plantin was in contact with Guillaume Postel and probably with John Dee, so this may suggest that each and every of these persons could have been aware of the investigations of languages and ancient writing. At least Postel and Dee had an interest in finding the original language, so it is not unlikely that they found some of Plantins printings of high interest.

On page 35 Sebastian Franck (1499-1542) is mentioned. Franck is also one of these radical reformists like Niclaes and he is often regarded as one of the predecessors of the Rosicrucian uprise that would take place in Germany around 1600.

Of course just snippets. A lot of highly interesting information in the minituous investigation of Dekker brings just vague references to what I am mostly interested in, a connection between Renaissance occultism and the interest in native language and history. So far I only found this in Johannes Bureus about whom you can read at length within these pages.

Conclusion

Kees Dekker has chosen a higly interesting and (as far as I know) largely uninvestigated subject with a more than interesting work. The book itself is unobtainable or extremely expensive. Engaging your library to get this book is worth it, because the book is definately worth to study. If you have an interst in the person of Van Vliet you will find a staggering amount of information such as an inventarisation of Van Vliet’s correspondences and a list of publications. When you just want to learn more about the field of investigation of Van Vliet and people with similar interests, this book is a must-read too. Now I only hope that someone with an interest in esotericism will take up the task of investigating the link between the two fields.

I noticed that the English Wikipedia has a short text on Van Vliet, which you may want to read.

A history of Freemasonry

This article about the history of Freemasonry is based on the book De Kinderen Van Hiram (‘the children of Hiram’) by Andries van den Abeele. This book is not only out of print, but it seems to have never been available in English either. It was published in 1991, so probably written / finished in 1990.

The writer claims to give the history of Freemasonry for the first time based on the latest scientific findings. “The result is stirring: myths fall, accepted history becomes legend, exorbitant stories are brought back to their actual proportions.”

The book actually deals with the history of Freemasonry in Belgium, but because it isn’t an exclusive Belgian phenomenon, the history of Freemasonry in general is dealt with to give a wider picture. I will make a short summery of the findings.

The official history of Freemasonry, says that ever since the time of Adam secret knowledge has been passed from generation to generation and many great names from the bible and history in general were “Macons” with lodges and “grandmasters”.
On 24 june 1717 the secret tradition got a new impulse when a group of stately civilians formed the “Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Rightfull Fraternity of the Free-Masons”. The group originated from the guild of masons, that was originally only accessible for masons (architectures, contruction workers, contractors, etc.), but later when the guilds started to disappear and everybody could start with any craft he liked, people from outside the craft were let it and slowly the guild of masons grew into an esoteric group with the secrecy and symbolism of the masonic guild.

This -at least- is the ‘official’ version of the origin of the society, but Van den Abeele has his doubts.
It is only in 1723 that the first sign of Free-Masonic life was detected with a little book from the hand of James Andersson (1662-1739) claiming to give the history, duties, regulations, etc. of Freemasony. The book names historical “Freemasons” in the form of a great many historical and often biblical figures going back to Adam himself, but excluding Jesus of Nazareth. Actually this is the history as we mostly still know it today and that is shortly sketched above.
Abeele finds this history unsatifying and even accuses Freemasons of making up their own history to make their movement seem more valueble. He came to other conclusions during his year-long investigation and his version is as follows.

John Theophile Desaguliers (1683-1744) was a brilliant French student with a Calvinistic upbringing. On the university of Oxford (UK) he quickly promoted from student to teacher, following up John Keill (1671-1721) who taught the revolutionary theories of Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Desaguliers took over Keills manner of teaching with philosophical and mathemetical approaches to the new sciences.
With a swift flight Desaguliers was not only recruted in Newton’s “Royal Society Of Sciences” in 1714, but he also became an Anglican clergyman, wrote and translated countless books, invented a lot of usefull equipment and travelled all around the world.
During his many visits to the duke of Chandos (James Brydges 1673-1744) he met a great many of the big names of his time (George Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), Jonathan Swift (1677-1745), Alexander Pope (1688-1744) to name a few) of which many were Freemasons.
However it is not a proven fact, it is almost certain that Desaguliers was there when the order of Free-Masons was formed. In 1719 he became the third Grandmaster and during his travels around the world, he founded numerous lodges. The four gentlemen clubs that first formed the “Grand Lodge…” in 1717 had become 25 by 1723, but the real growth came after 1725.

In the motionfull periode in which the “Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Rightfull Fraternity of the Free-Masons” was formed, a great many kindred societies were founded in London all looking for a background to use for their symbolism and (made up) history. Most of them didn’t survive and only a handfull flourished like the Freemasons.

When Irish and Scottish lodges found that the rituals drifted away too much from the medieval traditions, that the lodges didn’t differ all that much from sociabillity clubs and that the society went back too much to the Christian faith, they decided to found their own “Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institutions” in 1739. From 1751 they called themselves the “antients” while the original “Grand Lodge” were called the “moderns” trying to throw them back to the second position.
Many other lodges also separated themselves from the original “Grand Lodge” forming their own grand lodges with long and important-sounding names. That is how theistic, deistic, agnostic and atheistic lodges came into being.

Freemasonry in France was also founded by Britons. Some of them were banished, others left Britany freely, but they formed their own small society in France. When they read about the foundation of the “Grand Lodge Of Freemasons” in the newspaper, they decided to found their own lodge in Paris. This was in 1725 or 1726. All members were Catholic and politically supporters of the Brittish opposition (‘Stuart-minded’ or ‘Jacobites’) which made the first French lodge very different from the ones on the Brittish isles.
Also in France lodges popped up everywhere, but only in 1732 the first French lodge was officially recognised by the English “Grand Lodge”. It was the 90’est recognised lodge in total. Recognition means that the “Grand Lodge” approves with the regulations, goals and objectives of a lodge which is then allowed to be a part of the greater whole. A lodge recognised by the “Grand Lodge Of England”is called “regular”.
Around the same time, the first publications about the new order were written by non-masons.

In 1736 the first lodges were founded in France that did not consist only of noblemen and ‘statues’ civilians and for the first time there was freemasonry for the people. Still a nobleman had to be ‘protector’ of the lodges, but they were often no active members and mostly for protection against authorities and status to the outside world.
The lodges for the common man flourished and their number increased rapidly.

1737 Was the year of the first pursecutions by the authorities in the man of René Hérault (1691-1741) under command of cardinal De Fleury (1653-1743) who suspected the new sect of political and religious conspiracies. For the second time a woman was hired to filch the secrets of Freemasonry from one of its followers. This resulted in the book “Mystérieuse réception des membres de la célèbre des franc-maçons” (1738 Hérault) which instead of causing a pursecution by the folk, resulted in a gigantic interest in this mysterious organisation.
On 4 may of the same year (1738) pope Clemens XII issued a bull in which he condemned Freemasonry and introduced the punishement of excommunication for Catholic members of the sect. This was more succesfull.

Both caused by efforts to make French freemasonry more according to the Brittish model, a more Catholic approach and the internal quarrels that all this caused, the French “Grande Loge” almost perished but was saved by Anne-Charles, duke of Montmorency-Luxembourg (1737-1803) who replaced the “Grande Loge” by the “Grand Orient de France” in 1773. The “Grand Orient” flourished until the beginning of the French revolution around 1787. However Freemasons are often accused of being the driving force behind the revolution, most of them always were taught to be loyal supporters of the crown and they were totally surprised by the events and many masons who hadn’t been quick enough to leave the country, died under the guillotine.

Chapter IV of the book deals with the higher grades. “Blue Freemasonry” only has the three original and mostly symbolic grades of “apprentise”, “workman” and “master” (I hope I got the English names right), but with and after Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686-1743) many masons formed the craving to put extra elements to their masonic concept. One of these elements were the higher grades, however they were invented in France, they were called “Scottish grades” because l’abbé Perau wrote in 1744 that Scottish freemasonry is more elevated than normal freemasonry. Still today the (regular) grand lodges are the highest institution of “blue freemasonry” and the higher grades are under jurisdiction of (for example, but mostly) the “High Council of the ancient and agreed Scottish Rite”. This is also called “Red Freemasonry”. The number of grades varies from 3 extra up to 39.

The book only shortly touches upon a certain subject that I want to bring under your attention, namely the subject of “Judeo-Masonry” and in particular “the Protocolls of the elderly Brothers of Sion”.
In Europe both the Jews and masons were often blamed for many things that went wrong. Especially after 1933 this was united to one group of enemies: Judeo-masons. An often used weapon or prove that the accusations were justly were “the Protocolls of the elderly Brothers of Sion”. This document is said to be a coverage of a meeting of the “Wize men of Sion” in which they discuss preparations for the international Jewish community for world domination. One of the ways to walk was the use of Freemasonry.
Even in that time it appeared soon that this supplement to the book “The Antichrist as prospective political possibility” that was published in 1903 in Russia, was nothing more than a slightly reworked version of the little book “Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu” from the hand of Maurice Joly and which was published in Brussels in 1864. This rework was done by the “Ocrana”, the secret service of the Tsar for means of harming the Russian Jewish society and the Bolsjeviks that after Marx and Engels conspired against the Holy Russia.
The “Protocolls” are still used as evidence for a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy to the present day. The best-known episode herein is of course WWII.

Further the book (of course) deals for a large part with Freemasonry in Belgium. In a way this is rather interesting, because the Belgians have always been a side-slip in the international masonic community.
Since the beginning they have had the twist of aiming for a more latitudinarian / liberal approach of freemasonry, not according the original English version. Also politics have played a great part in Belgian masonry, even resulting in the forming of political parties that became part of local and national governments. Originally it was not allowed to discuss relgious and political subjects in the temples, but the Belgian walked a completely different path around 1870.
Also severe arguments with the Church (especially about the eduction system) caused a break in 1835, resulting in an anti-religious approach that you still find in many Belgian lodges today.
Belgian freemasonry has had several extremely difficult times, and the grand lodges often scratched themselves on the heads to find the most suitable path to walk, varying from extremely political to anti-political and a ‘regular’ Christian to an anti-religious approach.
Also the quest for regularity has played parts in Belgian Freemasonry. This has always been a hard struggle, because many Belgian masons want a more liberal kind of masonry, while the “Grand Lodge Of England” prescribes more Christian elements in order to make a (Grand) lodge ready for recognition. Many internal quarrels, the forming of new grand lodges and orients, seperate lodges leaving and joining these different grand lodges and orients and going back after a few years in the end resulting in Belgium being one of the few countries in which Freemasonry is for the largest part irregular. 29 Regular to 204 irregular lodges (1000 vs 14900 members) in Belgium when the book was written, while in most countries this is the other way around.

Also the a large part the book consists of facts and figures, which are not too interesting, because they are probably outdated since the book is almost 10 years old.

Many different subjects are dealt with in depth, which makes the book a very good reference book, so it is a shame that it is out of print and that it has never been available in another than the Dutch language. In my opinion they should update and revise the book a little and publish it again.

And should you wonder, no the writer is not a mason! In the beginning of the book (and especially the introduction) I had the feeling that he is very anti-Masonic and wanted to take off the movement’s mysticism and legendary, but in the end it proves that Andries van den Abeele highly respects the masonic movement, but he did want to give an objective view of the historical facts which indeed takes away quite a lot of the mysticism of freemasonry. It seems that it isn’t a link in the ever present continuing passing of Ancient Knowledge from generation to generation nor part of the Gnostic (western esoteric) tradition of the Cathars, Knight Templars, etc. and not even inheritant of the secret parts of the craft of medieval masonry who granted us the gothic cathedrals and architecture in general.
Still freemasonry has always has its place in society hiding and bringing forth many great names, having a vast influence on society and history (we all know the one dollar bill, right?), bringing fear to the established authorities. Also their art (painting, sculpture, etc.) is often beautiful and full of symbolism, so there definately must be some knowledge there.
Besides, I don’t know if you believe the ‘myth of the Mahatmas’ who are said to (have) work(ed) behind the screens of the Theosophical Society, but from their letters to A.P. Sinnett I understand that they not only worked with the Theosophical Society, but also the freemasons and rosicrucians, so what was started as a social club of well off civilians, may have later been injected with genuine occultism.
The completely opposital version can be read in the book review of “The Temple And The Lodge” by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

– added note 1/10/03. Andries contacted me. he is thinking about updating the book. further he noted that the Dutch text is available from his page and a French version will be soon! visit www.andriesvandenabeele.cjb.net
-6/1/01-