Another great work from Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. This time they investigate the history of the esoteric systems of the West, in particular the Hermetic tradition. The writers also give some background of their own beings as children of the 60’ies ‘occult revival’ and their youthfull interest in the modern forms of Hermeticism in literature, poetry, art, etc.
The story more or less begins in Alexandria, the Greek city that Alexander the Great founded after the take-over of Egypt around 330 BC. Alexandria soon became the meeting place and hotbed for numerous philosophical, religious and occult people, movements and groups. This resulted in a high state of tollerance and interest of the inhabitants in different viewpoints and philosophies and Alexandria became the cultural capital of the world with two libraries of which the largest contained 500.000 book-rolls and the smallest 40.000. These not only had works of Pythogoras and Plato, also translations in different languages, but even much of what would later become the ‘corpus’ of the Hermetic writings and translations of texts that much later were discovered to be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
For a long time everything seemed perfect, but of course there were other cultures at hunt for land and power and Alexandria was attacked several times and eventually taken over and torn down. Many of its treasuries were lost.
The Alexandrian culture didn’t die out just like that and later many of its inhabitants found a new home among the upcoming followers of the Islam which was a very tollerant and openminded religion. Hermeticism even became a part of the Islam when the main movement took over elements from the suffists who were very much influenced by the Hermeticists that lived in the area. Hermeticism even became a ‘religion’ when Muslim leaders were travelling through their empire to see if the different movements among their inhabitents were “people of the book” (meaning, having a religion based on a revelation like the Koran, the Bible or the Vedas) and a group of Hermeticists named books like the Corpus Hermeticum, the Picatrix, etc. which were found legitimite by the Muslims.
Under Muslim flag Spain eventually became the most tollerant and diverse part of Europe regarding philosophy, religion and occultism. This was about 715 AD.
Of course in the end also Spain was taken back, the Muslims were stopped in their rise for the rest of Europe and eventually fought back to about the regions where it is still the main religion today.
Then the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are dealt with and a whole range of great names pass the revue. Names like Cosimo, Ficino (who both founded universaties in Italy), Reuchlin, Dürer, Paracelcus, Trithemius, Agrippa, emperor Rudolph II (the ‘hermetic’ emperor who protected many ‘heretics’ in his kingdom), Da Vinci, Shakespeare, John Dee, Bruno and many more. Some more in depth than others.