Conference 18 February 2017 – A Hermetic Reformation. The silent language of Alchemy, Magic, Christian Kabbala and RosicruciansFebruary 5, 2017
A Hermetic Reformation. The silent language of Alchemy, Magic, Christian Kabbalah and Rosicrucians
A conference held to mark the opening of The Ritman Library’s travelling exhibition ‘Divine Wisdom – Divine Nature. The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth Century’ on 18 February 2017 in the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. This conference pays tribute to the work of Prof. Dr. Balint Keserű.
A photo report of the opening of the exhibition on 17 February and the scholarly conference on 18 February was published on our Facebook page. You can view the photos there (no Facebook account required).
The travelling exhibition ‘Divine Wisdom – Divine Nature’, celebrating 400 years of Rosicrucian Manifestoes which first…
– – – Throughout his career Balint Keserű inspired and managed collaborative work as testified by the great number of his students (by now many of them professors themselves). The research fostered by him provided the Szeged Department (and associated units, such as the University Library, the Departments of German and English) a strong character in intellectual and cultural historical orientation.
Between 1964 and 1991 thirty-two monographs and twelve smaller studies have been published under his leadership, the subjects of which concerned the culture of Hungary and Transylvania in relation to Europe during the early modern period. The Ritman Library has collaborated with Prof. Keserű ever since his participation in one of the first scholarly conferences they have organized on the influence of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes, in Wolfenbüttel in 1994. – – –
Exactly four centuries years ago, a hundred years after Luther‘s reformation, a circle of freethinkers who called themselves Rosicrucians caused a sensation with the publication of three booklets. The so-called Rosicrucian Manifestoes, the Fama Fraternitatis, the Confessio Fraternitatis and the Chymische Hochzeit appeared in the years 1614-1615 1616. The Fama Fraternitatis, or the Call of the Brotherhood of the Laudable Order of the Rosy Cross, written to all the Learned Heads and Rulers of Europe, immediately fired the imagination of its readers. It urged nothing short of a reformation of the ‘whole wide world’. The reformation that was envisaged encouraged man to become aware of his divine origin, to understand that he was a microcosm, and to reconnect him with the macrocosm thanks to the tools offered by alchemy, magic and kabbalah.
This conference focuses on the visual language that developed out of this urge to achieve a hermetic reformation of the world and man’s place in it. This visual language is especially reflected in an extraordinary number of prints that appeared in Germany in the early seventeenth century. They partly originated in the direct environment of the circle in Tübingen that inspired the Rosicrucian Manifestoes, partly they were independent artistic expressions celebrating God and Nature, the macrocosm and the microcosm. The speakers at this conference want to introduce the audience to the wisdom contained in and conveyed by these ‘iconotexts’. They are consummate artistic expressions of the conviction that to investigate the Book of Nature is a sacred act, and creation itself proof of Divine Wisdom.
In the Chymische Hochzeit, Hermes Trismegistus is called the principal philosopher, who holds out the promise of restoration and regeneration to mankind:
After so much harm has been inflicted upon the human race, I, Hermes, being the primordial fount, flow forth here as a healing remedy, according to the divine decree.
And assisted by the art.
Let him who can, drink of me.
Let him who will, cleanse himself in me.
Let him who dares, stir me.
Drink brothers, and live.
The art referred to here is the alchemical art, which was believed to be able to cure mankind. The healing remedy is the elixir, which the alchemist strove to achieve. The Rosicrucian Manifestoes not only drew on alchemy, specifically the alchemical principles of Theophrastus Paracelsus (1493-1541), who urged alchemists not to make gold, but to make medicines. They also relied on magical and kabbalistic traditions, which had been rediscovered in the Renaissance and promulgated by such scholars as Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) and Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). The hermetic texts, too, were reintroduced in the Renaissance when what is now known as the Corpus Hermeticum was translated from Greek into Latin. Magic, Christian kabbalah and alchemy thus provided the elements for the hermetic reformation espoused by the Rosicrucian Brotherhood.
The conference features the following speakers and topics:
Róbert Kutsera – Aquarius Foundation
Introduction to the conference
Endre Ádám Hamvas, Gál Ferenc Főiskola
Some remarks on the problem of the term “Hermetic tradition’
During the last decades, the number of publications concerning Hermetic literature and related subjects, e.g. Hermetic Tradition, has increased in a considerable manner, which has been expanding our knowledge about the topic. However, the reader of these studies could be disturbed by the fact that many phenomena (rosicrucianism, alchemy, ceremonial magic, occult sciences) are treated in these studies seemingly separate. It seems that only one feature is common in these texts: they use the term „Hermetic” as their guideline.
In my presentation I will show by means of one example the problems of this method; my starting point will be Umberto Eco’s book, the The Limits of interpretation through which I will shed light on the problems when he uses the term ‘Hermetic tradition’ as a mode of infinite interpretation. I will argue that we have to go back to the original sources if we would like to understand that there is a coherent system, or worldview in Hermetica, and I will suggest that we should examine some eminently important Hermetic texts (Asclepius, Liber XXIV philosophorum) if we would like to understand the role of Hermes in western tradition.
Gábor Almási, MTA-ELTE Humanizmus Kelet-Közép-Európában Lendület Kutatócsoport
Johann Reuchlin and the Kabbala.
The paper presents the life of the great German humanist and Hebraist J R, and attempts to introduce his interpretation of the Kabbalah, the peak of which was his De arte Cabbalistica of 1517. Reuchlin, who bravely stood up for defending Jewish persons and culture, has been for long considered a forerunner of Reformation, an early champion of the Enlightenment idea of human equality, or the authentic German hero of Philo-Semitism. These interpretations obviously exaggerate aspects of Reuchlin’s story but reveal its extraordinary character and show R as an exception when compared to contemporaries, and finally suggest that we should take his cultural influence more seriously in consideration.
Márton Szentpéteri, Moholy-Nagy Művészeti Egyetem
Archelogia spagirica: Paracelsian aspects of Alsted’s trinitarian theory of cognition
The leading exponents of millenarian encyclopaedism, J. H. Alsted and his disciples, J. H. Bisterfeld and J. A. Comenius were the most influential exponents of the Herborn type trinitarian theory of cognition in Transylvania. This model distinguishes three fundamental sources of cognition: right reason, universal experience and the Holy Writ. Among these fundaments the Herborn scholars assumed such relations, which were operating between the three persons of the one essence God.
In my talk I intend to focus on universal experience. Particular attention will be given to archelogia spagirica which pictures the trinitarian nature of human experiences and the physical world in the light of speculative alchemy by means of the trinitarian understanding of Paracelsus’ theory of elements. The lecture highlights among others in what way could the combinatorial art of Ramon Llull and the Christian cabala of the early modern Lullists be combined with the alchemical speculations of the Paracelsians. Mutatis mutandis this had considerable influence on the later formation of Rosicrucian and Masonic symbolism as well.
Heinrich Khunrath and his Amphitheatre of eternal wisdom
One of the major figures in the exhibition ‘Divine Wisdom – Divine Nature’ is the sixteenth-century physician and theosopher Heinrich Khunrath of Leipzig (1560-1605). Khunrath is an important representative of various strands of early modern esoteric thought, with influences, for example, from the iatrochemistry and spagyria of Theophrastus Paracelsus, the occult philosophy of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, and the Christian Cabala of Johann Reuchlin. In this talk I shall introduce Khunrath and his writings with a focus on the complex verbal-visual engravings in his Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae, first published in a rare 1595 edition in Hamburg and then in a more widely available expanded edition in Hanau 1609. These images, more than anything, represent Khunrath’s complex interweaving of different traditions and his conviction that ‘cabala, magic and alchemy shall and must be combined and used together.’
Esther Ritman, Director General & Librarian Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica | The Ritman Library
The greatness of the human mind
The traveling exhibition ‘Divine Wisdom – Divine Nature. The message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth and the accompanying publication present extraordinary images from the environment of the authors of the Rosicrucian manifestoes. They are consummate artistic expressions of the conviction that to investigate the Book of Nature is a sacred act, and creation itself proof of Divine Wisdom. They show how inspired artists represented the relationship between God – Nature and the Macrocosm – Microcosm, offering paths of transformation for both mankind and society.
In this talk I will take you on a discovery tour through some of these images, focusing especially on those in Robert Fludd’s Utriusque cosmi…historia that visualize his ‘science of pyramids’ (piramidum scientia).
Sándor Fazekas, Kaposvári Egyetem
Michael Maier, his Atalanta fugiens and Symbola aurea mensae
This presentation would like to highlight a forthcoming volume that will present the alchemical mass ascribed to Nicolaus Melchior from Sibiu, and its reception. Michael Maier’s alchemical gallery, the Symbola aureae mensae duodecim nationum (Frankfurt, 1617) also devotes a separate chapter to Melchior, and this part is also translated in this Hungarian volume. After a brief presentation of this volume, which includes both sources and studies, the presentation aims to focus on the structure of Symbola and the alchemical and hermetic tradition mingled in this gallery, as well as on the important role of Melchior bears in the concept. The hermetic writings and the different ancient and medieval alchemical works can fit well within this concept with the works formed in the early modern era. The content of the Melchior-work emerge in Maier’s best-known work, in Atalanta fugiens (Oppenheim, 1617). Finally we will examine some elements of the conception of Atalanta and the links between these two important works of Michael Maier.
Magdolna Veres, University of Szeged (SZTE)
Comenius’ pansophia: all-wisdom for everyone
Győrgy Szőnyi University of Szeged (SZTE), Central European University (CEU)
John Dee and the Rosicrucian tradition
An archetypical experience of humankind is the Fall, the exclusion from the flow of Divine Wisdom because of some original sin. Equally archetypical is the desire to regain the privilege for direct contact between God and Man. This is what I call exaltatio which should be an illuminative ascension on high, but because of the human hybris it can go wrong and degrade into black magic. From Antique Hermeticism to Renaissance magic we can observe the tradition of seeking exaltatio by the help of various techniques. A typical example is the experiments of John Dee, the “Elizabethan Magus,” by constructing a symbolic-magical image, the hieroglyphical monad and later by developing a technology of angel magic.
The hieroglyphical monad became widely known in the 17th century and became used in works associated with the Rosicrucian movement. Although the connections between Dee and the Rosicrucians are debated, the ambitions of the Englishman and the Rosicrucian mentality show strong intellectual kinship. My talk will highlight these synergies.