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The Rosicrucian enlightenment by Frances…
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The Rosicrucian enlightenment (original 1972; edition 1996)

by Frances Amelia Yates

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5341027,706 (4.25)6
Member:earneson
Title:The Rosicrucian enlightenment
Authors:Frances Amelia Yates
Info:Barnes & Noble (1996), Hardcover, 269 pages
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The Rosicrucian Enlightenment by Frances A. Yates (1972)

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The book describes in detail an oft-underlooked aspect of the Italian Renaissance period: Hermeticism. In Yates’ previous books she introduced the idea that Hermeticism had a much larger role to play than many scholars suggest – this mainly appears in her book Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition published in 1964, and The Art of Memory published in 1966.

TRE is the third in that series and, without having read the first two, I can only suppose that it is a continuation of the same themes espoused therein.

The most fascinating aspect of Yates’ book is undeniably how she links Hermetic thinkers such as John Dee, Johann Valentin Andreae, Michael Maier, Elias Ashmole and Isaac Newton all together under the banner of Hermeticism.

Now all the aforementioned figures no doubt practiced some form of occultism – whether it be in the form of alchemical transmutation, or in the consorting with angels, or simply in the practise of healing another with medicine. All of these things were, in the time of the period being spoke about in the book, seen as blasphemous and heretical behaviour. Many have been burnt at the stake for less.

Where Yates’ book goes that most others don’t in their history of the Renaissance period is to delve deep into the mystery of Rosicrucianism. From an in-depth reading of the book one can surmise that Yates is pointing us toward the idea that the idea of a secret society has its roots in the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross, and in Francis Bacon’s idea of a New Atlantis promulgating the Advancement of Learning.

Yates helpfully includes an English translation of the two most important Rosicrucian documents: the Fama (published 1614) and the Confession (published 1615). Both documents were anonymously published in the early 17th century and caused quite the stir among the local peoples of the Germanic country they were published in.

The book gives an incredible history of the Rosicrucian movement with its beginnings in Germany, its eventual outlawing after the beginning of the Thirty Years War – its gradual spread to France eventually to England.

Frances Yates hits the nail right on the head when she supposes that the history of this period cannot be discussed without first addressing the magical and mystical backgrounds which many of the figures who were later to advance the scientific principles had their humble beginnings in. Yates’ chronicling of many of these figures and the way in which the Hermetic ideals surfaced themselves again and again throughout this period give anyone with a basic understanding of the Renaissance much pause to reflect on what they have been told by their teachers in history classes.

A fantastic read which, for anyone who is interested in these topics, will be an absolute gold-mine of information.
  kingaaronz | Aug 29, 2018 |
The suggestion of hidden knowledge, which all sorts of secret societies thrive on, is deeply fascinating to me. I am a perfect target for the suggestion of knowledge, the hints and cryptic allusions. And I'm an academic, an atheist, a sometime cynic. I know it is nonsense. But the fascination lies in the stories. And I'm a sucker for a good story.

At the centre of all the mystical posturing of the Freemasons, and all the others of the same ilk, is the myth of the Rosicrucian Society. It is tantalising in its vagueness and its reference to harmonies, orders and secret knowledge. But the trouble with allusions to vast secret knowledge is that when you look at it more closely it inevitably turns hollow, boring -- all silly ritual and vagueness.

This is where Frances A. Yates comes in. And I love her for it. She retains the excitement of finding out "what it is all about" by cutting through the high-flying nonsense and grounding it in real historical development. I am aware that the illusion of getting to the Truth of the matter is again illusory, but I much prefer this illusion to the intangible secret society one; and since I am not reading this academically but in order to learn something for fun, I am not unhappy with her turning the birth of the Scientific Revolution into a Grand Narrative. It is a much better one than the myth that Science grows whole and pure, based in Rationality alone, from the Deep Dark of the Middle Ages.

Yates' thesis is that the Rosicrucian Manifestos (which she analyses in some detail) are allegories about, or at the very least allude strongly towards, the Palgrave (or Elector Palatine) Fredrick V, based in Heidelberg, who married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James I (and VI, mustn't forget Scotland), and made a bid for the throne of Bohemia (which he gained, and then lost again in 1620, which earned him the name of ``Winter King'', as that was how long he had reigned). Those vaguely familiar with the Thirty Years War will recognise the importance of this. It then goes further, and combines dynasty politics with intellectual history and scientific development. Heidelberg was, after all, once of the great centres of European learning.

I freely admit that part of the reason why I love this book is that it is based in precisely the type of history-writing I adore. I don't want to read about farmers and fishermen. I want kings and queens, dynasty politics, religious intrigue, great thinkers and stories. There are limits to the stories you can tell about the farmers and fishermen. And, perhaps more importantly, it is all about the pleasure of recognition. Part of the appeal is the connection made between two parts of history which I have always approached separately.

I tend to compartmentalise history. I think of James I/VI and I think Macbeth and Shakespeare, Gunpowder Plot, Francis Bacon and his position between Elizabeth I and Charles I. Thinking of the movements in Europe at the same time, my mind runs to the religious conflicts, the Habsburgs, Bohemia, the (second) Defenestration of Prague and the Thirty Years' War. Similarly, Scandinavian history in my mind has got its own separate box, and there is another for the Mediterranean. I always get a rush when I get to join them up and see how they fit together. I suppose that makes me a geek.

Yates envisions the Palatinate as a link between the developments in England and those in Bohemia. She makes a very convincing case for this link, basing much of it in the figure of John Dee, a major English mystic. This book is only one in a number of studies she has made of the esoteric tradition(s) in Europe in combination with the seeds of the Enlightenment. The weak point, I suppose, is that tendency to want to make the whole of it into one tradition. The influences she traces are very persuasive, and while I sometimes felt that she read too much into a detail, the thesis as a whole is terribly seductive. Certainly to me.

It could be that her way of writing appeals to me so much because it is reminiscent of literary interpretation. In fact, much of it is literary interpretation. She traces references to Spenser (after grounding him in the Order of St. George), and this mix of literature and history not only triggers a number of my intellectual pleasure points, it paints a delicious swirl of colour around what is too often presented as a black and white, dreary story of Progress of Mind, bringing Kepler, Newton, Descartes and the like down to history from the rarefied heights of scientific development. All the while tracing the development of the story of the Rosicrucian Order (or the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross) in its changing manifestations.

I love it. ( )
3 vote camillahoel | Nov 8, 2010 |
For someone seeking to understand both the concepts and the transmission of symbolism, this is an excellent primer. For those with black and white mirrors, it's a bit of tough sledding at times but Yates ties things together quite nicely to give a well-reasoned explanation for so many things that we don't understand today. For the symbolically uninitiated, there will be a lot of "Aha!" moments. ( )
1 vote minfo | Oct 1, 2009 |
Interesting and straightforward look at an oddity of European History. ( )
1 vote AuntieCatherine | Apr 26, 2009 |
It's difficult to find a trustworthy, scholarly work on Rosicrucianism, but here it is for those who are interested. Frances Yates spent her career studying occult philosophy with the aim of improving our understanding of the intellectual climate of the Renaissance. She was ahead of her time in seeing the Rosicrucian craze as an intellectual movement of a sort, instead of simply a weird conspiracy theory.

Incidentally, anyone interested in fiction that is heavily influenced by Yates' work should find John Crowley's AEgypt series very interesting. ( )
  tom1066 | Nov 22, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0415267692, Paperback)

A history of the role that the occult has played in the formation of modern science and medicine, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment has had a tremendous impact on our understanding of the western esoteric tradition. Beautifully illustrated, it remains one of those rare works of scholarship which the general reader simply cannot afford to ignore.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:03 -0400)

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