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Robert Fludd Essential Readings * William H. Huffman (1992)

Earlier I reviewed three titles in the series Western Esoteric Masters. Of Robert Fludd (1574-1637) I got the book second hand, but apparently in an earlier version. The book is called Robert Fludd, essential readings. The 2001 version says nothing of an earlier version, but it does have the 1991 introduction of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and the table of contents is the same, so I suppose it really is the same book, perhaps slightly reworked (the essential readings series also has titles about Dee and Boehme of the same authors and those of the Western Esoteric Masters series.) The texts featured are Fludd’s defense of the Rosicrucians, a few bits from his Utriusque Cosmi, Declaratio Brevis, his ‘philosophical key’, Fludd’s parts of his public discussions with Keppler and Foster, Truth’s Golden Harrow and Mosaicall Philosophy. I was mostly looking forward for Fludd’s history of the macrocosmos and the microcosmos from which the beautifull frontispiece is depicted on the the cover of the new version of Huffman’s book. This more esoteric writing is, together the also more esoteric Mosaicall Philosophy with distance the more interesting read in this book. The rest of the texts are more philosophical or even ‘mundane’. I understand how Huffman tried to give a broad view of the last real Renaissance man, but my personal interest is not so much in the life of Fludd, but rather some of his ideas. The writings about early science are amusing too sometimes though, such as the article about the “weatherglass” which is presented as some sort of thermometer, while it is actually more of a barometer. But especially the lengthy texts of Fludd defending himself against accusations of practising magic are not all that interesting. Just as with the other books in the series, this title is an alright book with some nice chapters. I like the idea of being able to read something of these persons, rather than about them and I understand that a comprenhensive view is given, but my interest lays only in a part of the authors. The version of the book that I have, has some not-too-good-looking images inside, it could be that the new version has better printing and certainly (some) other images, since the ‘look inside this book’ of Amazon already has the cover of Utriusque Cosmi on the opening pages. There is a big difference in the number of pages by the way, 272 for the old version, 150 for the new!
1992 Aquarian Press, isbn 1855381427
2001 North Atlantic Books, isbn 1556433735

Marsilio Ficino Essays

A while ago I ran into this book in an antiquarian bookshop on one of the Dutch islands. It costed only 4 euros. I knew about this publication, the local library has/had two of these, one with translated letters, one with essays. The special thing about these translations is that they are hand written. I have not been able to find out in what year these books were published, but many years later, the Rosicrucian society Lectorium Rosicricianum published a little book also hand written by ‘members of the school of philosophy of Amsterdam’. The book contains Ficino’s five keys to Platonic wisdom and the ‘introduction to the Platonic theology’, quite like the 2005 Dutch translation published by the same publisher as the little commemoration book, but the translations differ obviously. The handwriting is done by different people. This is not visible in the written characters, but it is in line-endings. One writer managed to create filled-out lines, while another writer’s right side of the text is more wobbly. The publication is beautiful and the translations inspiring. When you can read Dutch and wanted to read something of Ficino anyway, I suggest you try to find one of these beautiful books. They are not too hard to find nowadays it seems. Somehow it is often listed as “uit het brievenboek van Marsilio Ficino” (“from the letterbook of Marsilio Ficino”). I do not know where that title comes from, but perhaps it has something to do with the other book with letters. Strangely enough it seems that there are no English translation of Ficino’s five keys and introduction, while there are complete translations of Ficino’s Platonic works and several other publications.
Uitgeverij de Driehoek, isbn 9060302907

En Mijn Tafelheer Is Plato * Rob Wijnberg (2010)

This is the second book of Wijnberg that I review. The first one I got as a present, this one I bought myself. Wijnberg is a young (1982), Dutch philosopher and active column-author who writes about current events and current society, mostly the Dutch. The title of this new book translates something like “and my host is Plato”, it is a reference to the author’s appearance on television and how he hopes things might be some time. This new book is again filled with essays that he wrote before, many of which are also available on his website. They are ordered a little and a relatively lengthy introduction preceeds them. Wijnberg likes to write about the Dutch politics of today and the populistic politician Geert Wilders in particular, but the scope of subjects is wider in this book, especially towards the end. Scientology, raising children, the ‘sexualising society’, technology and Darwin’s theories, to name a few. All essays are about 5 pages. In these 5 pages Wijnberg manages to put a subject in an historical perspective and give an alternative way of looking at it. Since he has done that hundreds of times, he is (as noone I know) able to do that. This makes this book again a very easy and very thoughtprovoking read. Since there are way too many subjects here, it is impossible to give you an idea of what this book is like, so let me just very shortly summerise one of the essays. The essay “Obama and the tyranny of the weak” starts with Obama’s right on health insurance. The gigantic discussion this bill rose, is ununderstandable for a European because here health insurance has been secured for many many years. Wijnberg uses this subject to explain the fundamental difference between the American Democrates and the Republicans. Republicans base themselves on philosophers as Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755) and think that the government has to interfere with the lives of individuals as little as possible. The obligation to have a health insurance is an illicit interference of the government, since freedom for a Republican is freedom from force. Democrats, on the other hand, think that freedom of the individual increases when the government helps them, with a health insurance that they would normally be denied for example. Taken to the extreme, for the Republicans the norm are the strong/rich, for the Democrates the weak. There is more to say about it, but just to show how the author explains things and gives something to think about.
Only available in Dutch though and one thing that would be nice for a future book is a real book with subjects not touched in 5 pages, but rather something more in depth.
2010 De Bezige Bij, isbn 978023458418

Jacob Boehme * Robin Waterfield (2001)

The third book in the Western Esoteric Masters series that I read is about the famous German author Jacob Boehme (1575-1624). My girlfriend was much interested in Boehme when we met. We even spent a holiday in the place where Boehme was born and died and we have several books about him and a few of him on the shelve. However Boehme appeals to me too, for some reason I did not start to read him before I bought a book myself… Waterfield has created an anthology of texts and letters, but does not give the sources. The texts are both in depth and more personal in letters. Some texts are very interesting esoterically Christian, many are simply piously Christian. Waterfield spends quite a few pages to Boehme’s alchemical, astrological and Kabbalistic imaginary and in the appendix there is a more schematic version of Boehme’s ‘system’. All in all a nice read and while waiting for the book about Robert Fludd, I am going to read some Boehme from our own library.
2001 North Atlantic Books, isbn 9781556433573

Marsilio Ficino * Angela Voss (2006)

It has been quite a while since I studied Renaissance esotericism. A while ago I reread a book of Yates and decided to see what is available nowadays. I noticed this “Western esoteric masters” series of North Atlantic Books and ordered four of them. I plan to read them chronologically (by birthdate), so I started with Ficino (1433-1499). I have read some things about and of Ficino already, but the series offer anthologies of different authors. Of Ficino Angela Voss presents parts of his letters and parts of books such as On Obtaining Life From The Heavens, Three Books On Life and The Book Of The Sun. The lenghty and interesting introduction of Voss suggests more esoteric content than I read in the texts myself. Ficino seems to be mostly a philosopher (neoplatonic) with indeed some esoteric edges, but overall too philosophical to me. A lot of stress is laid on Ficino’s ambigious nature on astrology. He both seems to put a lot of faith in it, but otherwise says he does not because he might fall victim to the witchhunt. Ficino also proposes some kind of ‘natural magic’ with which with certain requirements the force of heavenly bodies can be used by man. Ficino brings this under the guide of medicine though. Astrology remains a Leitmotiv in the texts that were chosen. This 250 page book (not all in the series have that length) was a nice read, but I think I hoped for something more interesting.
2006 North Atlantic Books, isbn 9781556435607

Nietzsche En Kant Lezen De Krant * Rob Wijnberg (2009)

I got this book as a holidays-present. Good, because I would probably have never heard of it otherwise. It is a philosophy book about modern politics and society, not really my subject. Wijnberg is a young man, seven years younger than myself, but with an impressive carreer already. This book is his third and the copy I got is 7th printing only half a year after the first publication. Wijnberg used to be an editor at the ‘opinion section’ of one of our major newspapers in which role he declined a pamphlet of the most famous Dutch politicians: Geert Wilders. Currently Wijnberg writes a column each week in the same newspaper, a speed at which he is apparently able to fill books too. “Nietzsche and Kant read the newspaper” is built with such essays. The title is rather cheesy but the subtitle “thinkers of the past about dilemmas of the present” is a bit more promising. When I started to read the book, I was immediately captured by this young man’s eagle eye regarding modern society and politics and his ability to describe his findings critically razorsharp and with the use of old and recent philosophers. The prologue alone is worth buying this book. The variety of subjects are bundled to ‘chapters’ about freedom, truth and power, God and faith, sex and love, identity, equality and the state. Very basic discussions such as the opening essay “why more choice leads to less freedom to choose” or freedom of speech come together with thoughts about journalism, animal rights, “why a believer is hurt so easily”, terrorism and homosexuality. A lot of space is used for current Dutch politics, of course mostly the popular right thinkers Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk, but also established parties from left to right (but mostly of the right) are carefully dissected. Our beloved systems of democracy and capitalism are spoken of, but also the last two American presidents and the war in Iraq. No matter what subject Wijnberg chooses for his ponderings, in easy to read terms he places the subject in history and current society and he finds philosophers from every corner who said something about it. The book is as impressive as it is easy to read and Wijnberg manages to write both critically and constructive without taking sides or passing judgement. Both my own and the previous generation should read this book to learn something about themselves and the world that we live in. I always enjoy fingers on the sore spots of modern living and Wijnberg shows that a philosopher is more than able to do that. Suggested reading, unfortunately as of now, only available in Dutch.
2009 De Bezig Bij, isbn 989023440864

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.

symposion booklet Karl von Eckartshausen: Hoe De Reden Ons God Verklaart (2006 * isbn 9067323276)

I don’t go to every quarterly ‘symposion’ of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, but when I heard that there was one about the German occultist Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803), I again went to one of these pleasent days. After about half a year, you always get a booklet with the texts of the lectures and some extras. Rozekruis Pers, the publishing brand of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum has published a few Dutch translations of Eckartshausen texts. Some of them are reviewed elsewhere. For more information about the man, I want to refer to these reviews. At the symposion there were lectures by Eckartshausen and his time, his teachings and how he fits in the larger picture of Western esotericism. As always the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica took care of a nice display of genuine books by Eckarthausen and contemporaries and information screens. The (accompanying) texts of both can be found in the nice booklet too.
The design of the symposion-series has changed with this publication, but the content remains the same: informative, easy to read and about interesting persons from the past; also many images you will find in the booklet. The price is always nice too: E 11,-. Other symposion booklets are reviewed too.

Giordano Bruno – Italiaanse Dialogen * Boeke/Kronen/Lamoen (isbn 9026316372)

For the first time scriptures of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) are available in Dutch. Bruno was an influential philosopher from Italy. In Italy he lived during the late Renaissance, when he started to travel Europe (Paris, London, Prague, etc.) he was involved in the early renaissance, since the renaissance started in Bruno’s own country. Bruno was fanatically anti-Aristotle and pro Copernicus. He wrote esoteric texts in Latin and more philosophical in Italian. Most of the Italian texts were written during his stay in London and it is these from which an anthology is taken. Unfortunately no mnemonic, Lullian or magical writings, but more easthetical, philosophical ones. Not all texts (that are written as conversations between different people) are translated, but the translaters (Boeke and Krone) took the texts so that all typical ‘Brunian’ standpoints are dealt with. The texts are elucidated by Lamoen who did a fine job. The texts aren’t very easy to read, though well-translated. Bruno uses numerous layers of mythology with seemed to have been relatively normal in his days, but doesn’t make things very easy in our own time. Further the whole book is fairly academical. It is one of the first times that Bruno is available for a wider audience, so I suppose we have to see this book as a transition and hope that even more accessible books will appear in the near future.

Anyway, the publisher Ambo made a very beautiful book with a tastefull minimalistic layout. The texts are (as mentioned) translated very well, are explained, there are notes, an extensive index, all you need for a proper book. Fairly expensive, but worth the money if you are interested in this controvertial Italian thinker who ended at the stake. Hopefully his magical texts will be available in an understandable version sometime soon as well.

De Brieven Van Marsilio Ficino – deel 1 + Geef Vrijelijk Wat Vrijelijk Ontvangen Is – brieven deel 2

Letters of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) have been available ever since he died. Ficino wrote with a lot of people all across the world and held copies of every single letter he wrote. A few years before he died he even wrote an introduction to his combined letters himself! Soon after his death the first publishing of his letters was a fact. Being such a high amount, the letters were made available in 12 parts!

Also in English many letters of Ficino are available and I discovered translations in Dutch which are actually handwritten and published by a group of philosophers from Amsterdam. This book is no longer available it seems. Anyway, the Dutch Rosicrucian society Lectorium Rosicrucianum has two books with letters of Ficino and a nice introduction, which are the two titles here.

Besides letters Ficino wrote essays and a massive amount of books. Some are available in other languages than latin, others are yet unpublished in any way. A nice thing about the letters is that they are arranged by subject so you can read Ficino’s short explanation on a wide variety of subjects, going from everyday life to highly spiritual subjects.

For some reason these little books are not available from regular booksellers, while other books by “Rozekruis Pers” are, so you will have to contact them. I don’t know other available translations in Dutch, and for English ones you can of course check Amazon.