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Hermes Trismegistus – John van Schaik & Jacob Slavenburg (2020)

For the gift-giving month of December I had to come up with a present and I remembered that Slavenburg had a new book.

Co-authored with John van Schaik, Slavenburg made an overview of Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetism throughout the ages. Who was he? What are the texts? What do these texts say? How did these texts come to us? Who took inspiration from these texts? There is extra focus on Hermes in the Netherlands.

Having been familiar with the subject for a long time, the book does not bring me much news. What is a pro about the book is that the authors used the most recent information, so in a few details I did learn something new.

From people clearly inspired by Hermes / Hermetism, the book continues with subjects in which this gets thinner and the authors more move towards general esotericism with Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Theosophy, Rudolf Steiner, OTO, etc. We close off with the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica and the Hermetic chair at the University of Amsterdam.

The most interesting parts are those in which the authors quite a variety of texts to show something about different subjects. The more general parts are ‘catching up’ or perhaps rather: information for those for whom the subject is new.

The book is in Dutch by the way.

2020 Walburg Pers, isbn 946249486X

Philosophia Symbolica * Cis van Heertum (2005)

A decade and a half or so ago, I was very interested in Hermetism, (Christian) Kabbalah and the like. I travelled to the Amsterdam Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) every once in a while. That has been quite a while. Some time ago I wondered if the library would have publications that I do not have yet and I noticed this book about Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). Wondering why I never came to get it (or why I did not visit the exhibition!) I got this well-printed book for only € 10,-. Actually it is an exhibition catalogue, but at the BPH, a catalogue is never just a dry summing up of the items on display.

The book is about A4 in size and counts just over 100 pages. As with other BPH exhibition catalogues, there is a lot of information in the book. From the book you can learn how Reuchlin was in contact with people such as Marcilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius and many more of the interesting people of his time. Pico acquainted Reuchlin with the Kabbalah and he had yet another branch to add to his quickly growing library. Hebrew books, and Kabbalistic books in particular, were very hard to find in these days.
There is quite a bit of focus on Reuchlin’s role in the situation of the forbidding of Jewish books. He had a standpoint that brought him quite a bit of trouble. He did not want all Jewish books destroyed.
You will also learn about Reuchlin’s library and what happened to the books after he passed (most were only destroyed during WWII!), what else he wrote about and how his works inspired people who came after him.
You will not learn too much about his Kabbalistic ideas though.

Like I said, the book is actually the catalogue of an exhibition that the BPH had on Reuchlin in 2005/6 to celebrate the 550th anniversary of his birth. The BPH has a massive collection of ancient esoteric books, many originals and first or early prints. Still they had some works come from other libraries for this exhibition. The items on display included works of Ficino, Pico, Eusebius, Pythagoras, Agrippa, Trithemius, Gikatilla, Khunrath, Böhme and Fludd. Of course many works of Reuchlin himself were displayed.
Each displayed item gets a shorter or longer explanation.

There are not a whole lot of images in the catalogue (too bad), but the catalogue makes a very nice read about an interesting person living in an interesting time.

2005 In De Pelikaan

Symposionreeks 18 De Wijsheid van Hermes (2007)

There was a time that I visited the Lectorium Rosicrucianum every now and then and especially I went when they had an interesting “symposion”. Somehow this watered down, I dropped off the newsletter mailing list and now I see that I missed a couple of symposia that I would have liked to attend… I will have to confine with just buying the little booklets that are still available.

This “Wisdom of Hermes” symposion was held at 12 May 2007. How time flies! Speakers were no less than Roelof van den Broek and Joost Ritman (among others). The first translated all known Hermetic texts to Dutch and he wrote other titles about the subject. Some of his works are published by In De Pelikaan, the publishing house of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica founded by the second named speaker. Both are getting of age, so should they speak somewhere again some time, I better not miss it.

The symposia of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum consist of several lectures. These are printed in the booklets that visitors get and that the less fortunate can buy later. They are usually around 80 pages, as is this one. Roelof van den Broek spoke about the message of Hermetism. A nice text with many quotes nicely put in perspective. Anneke Stokman and Peter Huijs speak about The Definitions Of Hermes a (then) recently discovered text which is also printed in the booklet (and available in Van den Broek’s Hermes Trismegistus). Next up is Ritman who puts Hermetism in a larger cadre of modern science and Eastern thought. What follows then is a text of Jean-Pierre Mahé (was he a speaker? damn) on hymns in Hermetic texts. To close off follow the earlier mentioned Definitions and the texts that accompanied the exhibition. Ritman always brings a few pieces from his library.

It has been a while since I read Hermetic texts and I must say that they still inspire me greatly. Perhaps I should pick up the subject again.

2007 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9067323381

Divine Wisdom Divine Nature * Cis van Heertum & José Bouman (2014)

The Bibliotheca Philsophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) published a wonderfull book about “The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth Century”. The book has 168 pages, is beautifully put together and nicely informative. The first part is about the Rosicrucian manifestoes and their reception. The second part more lives up to the subtitle and highlights some works of the Renaissance and shows the reader (some of) the details of the images. Detailed information is given about works of Heinrich Khunrath, Daniel Mögling, Stephan Michelspacher, Robert Fludd and Michael Maier. The book is a bit larger than most books and however the images are printed in high quality, sometimes the details are too small to see what the authors write about. Fortunately this is not a problem in most cases. Also often details are taken out of the images and displayed separately.
The texts do not go into any depth I have not encountered yet, but I especially enjoyed the information about details in the images that have escaped my eye so far. Also the authors put details in larger contexts giving explanations that I would not have thought of myself.
A beautiful book to have on the shelf and a nice read if you are interested in the period of the Rosicrucian manifestoes.
2014 In De Pelikaan, isbn 9789071608339

Hermes In The Academy * Hanegraaff & Pijnenburg (editors) (2009)

1994. I leave secondary school not knowing what to do after. I did not find anything that I wanted to study, so I did not have much intention to continue with an education that could be a step-up for university. I decide to aim lower with a two-year ‘middle level’ education and just start to earn money to allow myself to buy the things I want and do my own studies. 2002 I meet my girlfriend who is about to finish to two university studies and has some time in the scholastic year left. I had heard of the “Hermetic chair” in Amsterdam which she indeed attended for a short while.
Hermes In The Academy, ten years’ study of Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam edited by main man Wouter J. Hanegraaff and one of his students Joyce Pijnenburg is the celebrating publication of that “Hermetic chair”. In this thin book (162 pages) you can read about the history of the chair (which was actually founded by a single woman!), how it grew rapidly, early and current problems of the field of investigation, experiences of cooperators and student, world-wide connections and influences, the connection to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (but mentioning nothing of the problems that were also there in 2009) and also some of the investigations that are performed there. It is a nice little book to read through to learn more about this black sheep in the global scholarly milieu. What would have come of me when this chair was there when I still had the choice to aim for university? Would I have went for it? Would I have had the skills for that level of education? A fact is that whatever is taught there, I have dealt with myself before the chair even existed, but certainly more scientifically sound. No need to ponder about all that too long. It is good to read how many students attend the chair for the “Geschiedenis van de Hermetische Filosofie en verwante stromingen; GHF” (“History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents”) and how many new investigations are started. I might have to look for the publications that came from under its wings, but not everything published at univesities is easily accessible for people outside that milieu.
2009 Amsterdam University Press, isbn 9789056295721

Adulruna Und Die Gotische Kabbala * Thomas Karlsson (2007)

It has been quite a while since I investigated the interesting Swede Johannes Bureus. There seems to be quite an interest in the man, since my articles and book reviews are relatively popular and I even got two comments in a few days time on an article speaking about Bureus. One of these comments notified me about this book. I guess I missed it, otherwise I would have bought it earlier, but if I remember correctly this is the dissertation of Karlsson and was only available in Swedish in the time I wrote my articles. Karlsson is one of the founders of the Dragon Rouge order and this German translation is published by the Edition Roter Drache. It is good that this little book has been translated to a language that is mastered by more people. First of all Karlsson is more extensive and in-depth than Stephen Flowers, but mostly, Karlsson has visited all the libraries that have writings of Bureus, so the information about for example Adalruna is not based on one version, but on all seven. Then, of course, there is quite a lot of material about Bureus and his system available in Swedish and Karlsson used all these sources too, so now we have more insight in what has been investigated already than when a non-Swedish author picks up the subject. Having written this book on college, Karlsson dived into the current scholarly field of the investigation of Western esotericism, of course including our Amsterdam chair and the Sarbonne in France.
Karlsson wanted to put Bureus in a larger perspective and therefor he starts with information about Western esotericism and the scholars in this field and he continues with a rather long chapter about gothicism and what is meant and what it means. There is little information about the life of Bureus himself, but all the more about his Kabbalistic use of his runes and his shady figures such as the cubic stone and the rune cross. What I mostly enjoy about the larger perspective is that Karlsson says a thing or two about Bureus’ predecessors and how and why his system had such little influence on later generations. Indeed, Karlsson’s book definately adds something to the subject and I would suggest an English edition to expand the readership a bit more.
2007 Edition Roter Drache, isbn 9783939459040
See here for my Bureus articles.

The Occult Mind * Christopher I. Lehrich (2007 cornell university press * isbn 9780801445385)

The Occult MindI don’t often get books to review, but the publisher of this book contacted me. According to the description this books holds the middle between my ‘old interests’ (magic and Western occultism) and more recent interests (comparative religion) so I decided to have a copy sent and see what this scholarly book on magic is all about. The writer (who earlier wrote a book on Agrippa) wrote an interesting preface in which he explains his new way of approaching the subject; not with one scientific discipline, but using several of them in order to get a wider picture. For this purpose he says a few things about scholars such as Frances Yates and Mircea Eliade who both he slays in a few lines, but still find their ideas “usefully incorrect”. Yates is of course the famous (popular) scholar on Western esotericism, Eliade the most famous scholar in the field of comparative religion and mythology. According to Lehring both have fallen victim to ‘wishfull thinking’ theories on fragile basis and dubious connections and further theories thereon.
The book opens with the idea of ͆gypt (not Egypt) which somehow acts like “Ultima Thule” or the “Philosophia Perennis” as the source of (magical) thinking. Then Lehrich uses great names from the magical past of the West to expose his ideas; Giordano Bruno and his art of memory and John Dee (further dealing with Yates’ theories) and Athanasius Kircher to investigate the idea of encylopedianism (is it about collecting or seeking connections?) and daring theories built on quicksand. Further dealt with (sometimes separately, sometimes as a (lenghty) sidepath) are Ley-lines, Nō (the traditional Japanese puppet play) and Tarot and music. From Yates and Eliade in the beginning, Lehrich shifts towards the famous anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and later the (also French) philosopher Jacques Derrida, but numerous other writers are referred to and quoted as well.

Having read the book, the promising preface and the nice last part are interesting, because the writer puts different ideas and theories next to eachother and tells something about it. The rest of the book seems to me like lenghty digressions on small parts of the larger picture. I know this is done to underbuild his idea, but in this way the book can hardly be called a book about (Western) magic. As a matter of fact, the book more appears to be a book on the method of investigating the subject, a new methodology for scholars in the field and (as a non-scholar) I totally miss the methodology that Lehrich proposes (other than using approaches from different disciplines). Therefor the obviously well investigated texts about the systems of Bruno or Kircher may be interesting for the little information given, but they are not what the book seems to be about. Long sidepaths with nice interpretations and explanations suddenly end, because they were only meant as an example for the proposed methodology. For these reasons I have the idea that this little book (182 pages of text, the rest is bibliography, index, etc.) aims for students and scholars who (want to) investigate the subject of magic, rather than the average man who is interested in the subject, the person like myself. Therefor it is hard to say if the book is good or not. I certainly enjoyed parts of it, Lehrich’s critical view at ideas that are almost regarded as normal (even though he is harsch towards thinkers that I admire myself) and to the historical characters that he describes. Also I praise him for trying to take the scholarly investigation of magic out of the cellars of science, but overall the book seems not to be written for the reader like myself.

Hermes Trismegistus * Roelof van den Broek (transl.) (2006 in de pelikaan * isbn 9071608220/9789071608223)

After the magnificent publications of the Corpus Hermeticum in Dutch (1990 Quispel and Van den Broek) and Asclepius (1995 Quispel), Van den Broek now offers smaller Hermetic texts in Dutch translation with lengthy and informative explanations. This book even contains some Hermetic texts that I didn’t have yet. You will find the Stobaeus fragments, the two short and heavily damaged fragments of Wien/Vienna, the Oxford Hermetica (Bodleian Library, Clarkianus 11), Greek and Latin “testimonia” (other writers refer to or quote Hermes Trismegistus) of Tertullianus, Julius Romanus, Lactantius, pseudo-Cyprianus, Jamblichus, Zosimus, Marcellus of Ancyra, Julianus ‘the deserter’, Didymus the Blind, pseudo-Didymus the Blind, Cyrillus of Alexandria, Hermias of Alexandria, Johannes (John) Lydus, Johannes (John) of Damascus and Symphonia; then we also have the Hermetic Definitions and the text about the eight and ninth heavenly sphere (or about the Octoade and the Enneade) from the Nag Hammadi library. Stobaeus has shorter and longer fragments, the Vienna and Oxford fragments are rather short, but the Hermetic Definitions is almost an ongoing text in which Hermes speaks to Asclepius. “About the octoade and the enneade” is the famous text that proved that Hermetica wasn’t just dry philosophising, but that it also had magical and initiatory sides. Van den Broek has written an enormous introduction with old, but also new information. Every translation is introduced and full of notes (with a strange referring system). The close off, there is a gigantic bibliography. Also I have to note that Jean-Pierre Mahé, the famous French publisher of Hermetic texts, has helped with the Armenian texts. An essential compilation of Hermetic texts in size far exceeding both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius. Not all quotes and texts are interesting, but especially the “Hermetic Definitions” are again beautiful. Also Van den Broek has some theories about the strings of vocals, which I am going to add to some articles in which this subject is touched upon.
(17/1/07 -4-)
Read Hermetic quotes here.

De Alkmaarder Cornelis Drebbel (2005)

In 2004 the Dutch city of Alkmaar celebrated its 750th year of existence. The organisation asked the Rosicrucian society ‘Lectorium Rosicrucianum’ to organise a symposion about the famous Alkmarian inventor Cornelis Drebbel (1572-1633). There was more about Drebbel than science. He was asked to join the court of the Hermetic emperor Rudolf II of Prague, he has Rosicrucian friends and his famous booklet about his Perpetuum Mobili (on the cover of this booklet) was followed by the first Dutch translation of the Corpus Hermeticum.

So on 19 september 2004 we drove to the Alkmaar library to attend this interesting symposium (or ‘symposion’ in Lectorian words). There were two lectures and afterwards the audience was asked if it was interested in the texts of these lecture. Of course we were! So after almost a year it proves that the Lectorium Rosicrucianum decided to make a complete symposion-bundle like they do with their own symposions. Because there were only two lectures (Lectorium symposions take a whole day, this Drebbel symposion only a few hours), not only a Drebbel chronology was added, but also a fascimile printing of the famous text about the Perpetuum Mobile with the first Dutch translation of the Corpus Hermeticum!! This not only makes this bundle the thickest thusfar (128 pages), but I also got myself another translation of the Corpus! Much recommended!
2005 Lectorium Rosicrucianum, isbn 9067323160

Terug Naar De Bron – symposion booklet (isbn 9067322660)

Here we have the most interesting booklet in the Lectorium Rosicrucianum “symposion”-series. First the Kabbalah Philo of Alexandria of Henk Spierenburg, then the home Sancti Spiritus ((pre-)Rosicrucian organisations) by Frans Smit, a magistral article by Jacob Slavenburg about the Hermetic path of initiation based on the Nag Hammadi text “The 8th and 9th (Celestial) Spheres” and information from the “Corpus Hermeticum”. The last article is of Rachel Ritman in which she speakes about the gnostic foundation of Christianity.