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F.A. Yates

Lull & Bruno * Frances Amelia Yates (isbn 0710009526)

As ironic as it seems, the last book of Frances Yates (1899-1981) was not made available to the larger audience. This book is a so called “library binding” which you can get from Amazon, but for a price of $120,-! This was the first volume of a series in which Yates wanted to collect essays that she had written over the years. As the title suggest the essays here are about Ramon Lull and Giordano Bruno with a lengthy preface by Yates herself. She didn’t live to see the other volumes being released.
There are four essays taling a time of several decades. First there are two very long and very in-depth articles about Ramon Lull and his Art (“Lullism”) which definately filfulled my wish to not only read something about interesting occultists of times past, but also about what they had to say. These articles were about the first efforts ever undertaken to find Lullist ‘doctrines’ in his many writings. Quite a perilous undertaking by the way, because when Yates wrote her first article, there wasn’t even a list of all known writings by Ramon Lull, let alone books publishing them, translations, a place where she could find a lot of them together or anything in that vein. Yates travelled back and forth through Europe to visit public and private libraries to read the texts that she could find in the original languages (often we only have a translation left and Lull wrote in different languages). Of course she didn’t even read a small portion of the entire material. The first two articles are as said long, difficult (even though Yates has a nice writing-style), but very interesting and with quite a lot of pictures and as Yates wrote, they are more a starting point for Lullist-investigators than a comprehensive and final investigation.
The second part are four shorter articles about Giordanu Bruno’s life and work. A whole article about Bruno and the Oxford University of his time, one about a long poem of his, a not too interesting article about Bruno’s poetry in general and a very nice and short article about Giordanu Bruno and John Dee as contemporaries.

However Yates’ books were mostly written before I was born her books are still of the more interesting that I know. Her writing style is pleasent, her subjects interesting if you are interested in the occult history of the West and in contradiction to for example books of Baigent/Leigh, there is not only history, but also information about what the people described has to say, which makes her books a ‘must-read’.
If you are not yet familiar with Bruno and Lull, I wouldn’t recommand this book as an introduction. Read some of Yates’ more public books first. If you are lucky enough to have a library around which has this title and you are familiar with Yates and the Renaissance occultists, be sure to read this one too!

Giordano Bruno And The Hermetic Tradition * Frances Amelia Yates (isbn 0226950077 )

Strange that I forgot to review this book. I have read it a long time ago and I bought it when writing my article about the philosophical Renaissance. In this book Yates places Giordano Bruno in the Hermetic Tradition of the Renaissance. This was started by Marsilio Ficino who not only translated the Corpus Hermeticum but also had a system of natural magic. A student of Ficino, Giovani Pico, combined these with Kabala, thus forming a Christian Cabala. And so a new magical tradition comes forth combining the teachings of Hermes, Christian Cabala, alchemy and neoplatonism and other classical teachings. All but one magician say to be good Christians, all but Giordano Bruno who was of the opinion that the world was better off with the religion of Hermes Trismegistus. Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600. Of course you learn a lot about Bruno, but also other main figures in the Hermetic Tradition in the Renaissance. This makes this books THE reference book for the subject. Yates (1891-1981) was an historican and the first who wrote about this and similar subjects for a larger audience. Most of her writings are historical but sometimes you do get an overview of the ideas of the people she writes about. In her time she had to travel all over the world to read original documents in their original languages. A pioneer whose works are still of the best to get if you are interested in material like this.

The Art Of Memory * Frances Amelia Yates (071265545X)

Yates was THE investigator of the occult in the Renaissance, especially the magic of Giordano Bruno. When writing the book about Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (see elsewhere) she felt she needed to dig into another subject first, being the art of memory. This was used since classical times and Yates recognises three sources. 1, the anonymous “Ad Herennium” which for a long time had been thought to be by Cicero. 2, Cicero himself, especially in his “De Oratoria” and 3, Quintillian. Other classical writers have thouched upon the subject such as Aristotle who was already very influential in the Middle Ages. Yates tells us about the history of the art and the major contributors. For me the most interesting chapters are that about ‘the art of Ramon Lull as an art of memory’ and the various chapters about Giordano Bruno. Yates shows how the classical art of memory gets an Hermetic and Cabalistic twist in the Renaissance and ‘that other tradtion’ founded by Ramon Lull too. The art
of memory becomes the basis of the magical systems of the Renaissance and however Yates us usually strictly historical, in this book the investigates the subject very thoroughly! Without a doubt, this is the book in which Yates enlightens us most about the systems and ideas themselves! A wonderfull book with a couple of unmissable chapters if you are interested in the occult Renaissance.

The Occult Philosophy In The Elizathan Age * Frances Amelia Yates (1979 * isbn 071000320X)

I have had this book in my hands numerous times visiting the library, but always another title came first. When my eyes fell on it again last time, I remembered that Baigent/Leigh quoting Yates a lot and I decided to try here once.
As it seems this is the last book of Francis Amelia Yates, first published in 1979 and being her eigth book since 1964. The books may be a bit hard to get after all these years. They are all about western occultism by the way.

The title suggests that the book is fully dedicated to “The Occult Philosophy In The Elizabethan Age”, but in fact this covers only half the book.
As introduction and to make the reader understand the what and why of “The Occult Philosophy In The Elizabethan Age”, the book starts with earlier occultists who precede “Elizabethanism”.
Those occultists are: Ramon Lull (who develloped some kind of Kabalistic kind of philosophy without using Hebrew and who is often regarded as forerunner of the Christian Kabbala) and Giovani Pico della Mirandola (who had a huge occult university in Italy and who is usually regarded as the ‘inventor’ of the Christian Kabbala) in the Renaissance. Johannes Reuchlin and Francesco Giorgi (student of Ficino who was again a student of Pico) in the Reformation. Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nittesheim (the medieval ‘black sorcerer’) and then a chapter about Agrippa’s theory of ‘inspired melancholy’ which inspired Albrecht Dürer to make the engraving that decorates the cover of the book. The last chapter of part I is about the witch craze.
The second part lives up to the title, but it is the least interesting part. The first chapter about John Dee is still interesting, but the analysation of Edmund Spenser’s poem “The Fairie Queene” and Shakespears, Chapmans and Miltons writings are not too appealing to me.
Again more interesting is part III in which Yates investigates what happened with “Elizabethanism” and detects it in Rosicrucianity, which was the continent version of the philosophy of Robert Fludd (a thinker in the Giorgi-Agrippa-Dee tradition) and Puritanism (a form of Protestantism).
In part II and III also the role of the Jews in England is dealt with.

All in all an alright book. It is thin, but what is better than with for example Baigent and Leigh is that it is not purely historical, but there is also some information about what the occultists actually had to say, however not too much still.

The Rosicrucian Enlightenment * Frances Amelia Yates (isbn 0415267692)

This book is part of a ‘series’ by Yates including “The Art Of Memory”, “Giordano Bruno And The Hermetic Tradition” and “Theatre Of The World”. The last one is the only book by Yates which I haven’t read, the others are reviewed on these pages somewhere. “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment” is purely historical again and in the time Yates wrote this book several things were unclear or even unknown. She did some groundbreaking investigations though. The Rosicrucian manifests were not written by a Rosicrucian society, since this was non-existant and a “ludibrium” (‘joke’ is not the best translation, but still) according to the writer of the manifests Johann Valentin Andrea. Yates does think that there was at least something behind the ideas, but on the other hand, the manifests breathe the occult traditions of the Renaissance. The writer tells us about the influence of the English occultist John Dee on the Rosicrucian writings, the most prominent people who associated themselves with the invisable Rosicrucian society the German alchemist Michael Maier and the Brittish Paracelsian doctor Robert Fludd. When Rosicrucianity became something you didn’t want to be associated with Andrea more severely took distance from his earlier writings, but did found a real Christian society. Anyway, a nice history of the Rosicrucian history, but I think you do have to read a more recent one too.