T HE S YNCRETIC E SOTERICISM OF THE R ENAISSANCE : Historical and Thematic Congruencies in Cabala and Alchemy


1. 2. 2.1 2.2 3. 3.1 3.2 4. 4.1 4.2 4.3 5. 6. 7.

Introduction The Historical Development of the Cabala, Alchemy and Syncretism The Lurianic Cabala Divine Potentiality Origins and Thematic Comparisons Alchemy and Cosmological Perfectionism Egyptian and Hebrew Traditions and the Philosophia Perennis The Keys to the Temple: The Pentagrammatron and the Philosopher‟s Stone The Kabbalah Denudata Conceptions of Knowledge and the Dispera Intentio The Aperta Arca, Arcani Artificiosissimi Conclusions and New Paradigms Illustrations Bibliography


For such an extensively studied and influential theological phenomenon, the Cabala, (transliteration of the Hebrew , also spelt Kabbalah, Qabalah, Gabalia) is still largely

misrepresented, ill-defined and relatively obscured. One can see in searching for texts that compare the two arts of Cabala and alchemy, it is an area that have been explored even less. To quote Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), „regarded as one of the greatest figures in Western

2 SAMUEL GARRARD culture in our generation‟1 and author of Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1946), the Cabala „represented a theological attempt, open to only a relative few, whose object was to find room for an essentially mystical world-outlook within the framework of traditional Judaism and without altering the latter‟s fundamental principles and behavioural norms.‟2

Loosely defined as a cosmology and esoteric theosophy, the Cabala claims to illuminate the relationship of mankind to intermediaries, an infinite, transcendental Godhead and His various levels of revelation. The whole system has of course been developed, reinterpreted and redefined in the centuries since its inception. The confluence of Cabala and alchemy provides much scope for study and deserves further research. For the purpose of this essay I will focus on the syncretic approach to the Lurianic Cabala by Christian writers in the Renaissance and its parallels with alchemy, providing a historical account of the thematic similarities of the two disciplines and by looking at the alchemical themes and motifs employed in a few primarily Cabalistic texts.


The Cabala is rooted in the ascent mysticism of ma’aseh merkabah, based around the understanding of the throne of the chariot as described in the first chapter of Ezekiel.3 What endured in the transition of the early Jewish Cabala to the modern Cabala were the basic principles of the power of language and the word, and the theory of concordance between the microcosm and macrocosm.

1 2

Yosef Ben Shlomo, „The Spiritual Universe of Gershom Scholem‟, Modern Judaism, 5 (1985), 21-38 (p. 21). Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah: A Definitive History of the Evolution, Ideas, Leading Figures and Extraordinary Influence of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Penguin, 1974), p. 190. 3 Ibid., pp.10-15.

5 The Early Kabbalah. 34-36. in Johann Reuchlin. p. . v. pp. 7 Paul Fenton. The Western Esoteric Traditions (New York: Oxford. „Some Judaeo-Arabic fragments by Rabbi Abraham he-Hasid. by Martin and Sarah Goodman (Lincoln. p. 1993). 9 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. 6 'Lurianic Cabala' Audio file. This act was seen as a hierohistorical symbol of divine exile. The doctrine of shevirat-ha-kelim (breaking of the vessels) and tikkun (restoration) explained how evil is impermanent and called for humanity to restore perfection to the cosmos through observation of ritual Mitzvot practice. author of Ars Generalis Ultima or Ars Magna (The Ultimate General Art) (1305). 26 (1981). revitalised Cabala with the theory of tsimsum . trans.1. 1250-1305) author of the Sefer Zohar (the Book of Splendour). NE: University of Nebraska Press. 47-72.9 2.3 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E The thirteenth century saw the emergence of the first example of the tree of life. the first account of the Cabala readable by western scholars and the first printed illustration of the sefirot and highly formative of Johann Reuchlin‟s (1455-1522) knowledge of the Jewish Cabala. centred around the brothers Isaac and Jacob Kohen who were influenced by Sufiism. based on the Zohar. 2008). Figure 1. He was in contact with Raymon Llull6 (1232-1315). the Jewish Sufi‟. THE LURIANIC CABALA Lurianic Cabala was created by Isaac Luria (1534-1572) and. 58.4 At that time there were two Cabalist schools. 8 See Illustrations. implying that evil is an intrinsic creative force not solely attributable to humanity. it called for Jews to be part of 4 Moshe Idel. the concept of the power of shemot (divine names) and influential on Rabbi Moses de León (c. Abulafia‟s Cabala was ecstatic. This is significant because of humanity‟s active role in redemption. and the ten sefirot or emanations. Journal of Semitic Studies. which expounded a system of logic often referred to as the origin of information science. On the Art of the Kabbalah: De Arte Cabalistica. 5 The other school was that of Abraham ben Samuel and Abulafia of Saragossa. translated by Paul Riccius as Portae Lucis8 (1516). „Introduction to the Bison Book Edition‟. with a focus on breathing techniques. the theosophical Gerona circle and the „Gnostics‟ of Castile.7 Abulafia taught Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla (1248-1325) author of Sha’ are Orah.God‟s withdrawal from himself.

The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century: The Life and Thought of Francis Mercury von Helmont (1614-1698) (Leiden: Brill. professor of Religious Studies at the University of California. 2. p. pp. „Gershom Scholem's Ten Unhistorical Aphorisms on Kabbalah: Text and Commentary‟. Allison P.10 The magical implications of this are evident in the popularity and controversy that surrounded the Cabala in the preceding centuries. 13 Gershom Scholem. Kabbalah. reformative Judaism that followed and was „one of the most powerful forces ever to affect the inner development of Judaism. In seeking to reveal paradoxically „what is by definition hidden‟14 the followers of the Cabala performed their own act of transmutation by transforming a dogmatic law to a symbolic one.4 SAMUEL GARRARD the cosmic process. . placing them heretically among the semi-divine. stood in opposition to the Christian doctrine of the fall and original sin and provides a link with the tradition that began with the translation by Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447–1500) of the Corpus Hermeticum. giving humankind divine potential. 67-93 (p. discusses the specific restorative and salvational role of this activist Cabalism as comparable with the art of alchemy and contributory to the “Rosicrucian Enlightenment” as explored by Frances Yates (1899-1981). Allison P. with its messianic or utopian dimension. 74-76. Coudert. 190.2. p.‟13 The Cabala was directly responsible for the abolishment of the halakhah law. 13. 5 (1985). Kabbalah. 121. Coudert. 12 Ibid. originally written in the second and third 10 11 Gershom Scholem.. 1999). 14 David Biale.11 Tikkun bears a very similar semblance to the alchemical idea of transmutation and Coudert draws a parallel between alchemist physicians and Cabalists in their role as creative and even redemptive agents. DIVINE POTENTIALITY The theme of potentiality. interacting with the cosmic scheme and divinity itself.12 Scholem asserted that the Lurianic Cabala. p. Modern Judaism: Gershom Scholem Memorial Issue. both horizontally and in depth. 82). was the driving force behind the Sabbatian movement which was formative of secular. borne by both Lurianic Cabala and alchemy.

18. 124. namely correspondences. are rooted in this Judeo-Christian contact. 19 Ibid. European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 338. theorising that the revival of Pelagianism was formative of the scientific approach. imagination and mediation. p.‟20 noting Jonathan Israel‟s (1946-) challenge and re-assesses Judeo-Christian interaction in a positive light suggesting that the twin pillars of progress and toleration . by Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman (London: SCM Press.. p. 17 Frances Amelia Yates.16 Frances Yates proposed the theory that this divine potentiality in the individual human was responsible for the confidence and determinism behind the enlightenment and scientific thrust that was to follow. alchemy. 1993).15 The theme of Hermetic potentiality it apparent in the monadic Gnostic tradition and. 1985).22 This sets Cabala and 15 16 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. p.17 Coudert provides further speculation on Frances Yates‟ theory that Hermeticism and Renaissance occult philosophy provided the sine qua non for modern science. 21 For example Lurianic Cabala and alchemy approach spirit and matter as part of a spectrum rather than having separate and independent existences. both alchemy and Cabala share broader “esoteric” traits such as the ones defined by Antoine Faivre (born 1934 ). The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 21 Modern Esoteric Spirituality ed. 22 The Impact of the Kabbalah. 336-337. 31. 342. Elaine Pagels. 1972). Jonathan Israel. The Impact of the Kabbalah. as trumpeted by modern society. Cabala and alchemy were formal means by which one could interact directly with God. pp. p. p. rooted in the approach of medieval alchemy and strengthened in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. xv-xix. (New York: Random House. 339. 18 The Impact of the Kabbalah.18 One can detect in Hermetic texts. p. . 1979). 20 The Impact of the Kabbalah. living nature. Coudert contests Scholem‟s „internalist view of Jewish history.5 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E centuries AD. 163-172. cf.”19 a Gnosticism with no mediator between humanity and God. Cabala (in particular Lurianic Cabala) and in Neoplatonism a “monadic Gnosis. The Gnostic Gospels. cf. pp. As well as the trait of divine potentiality. p. the transmutation and concordance.

and had already been “Hermeticised. Jewish communities moved into the new intellectual revolution. Saadia and Gra versions and expounds a speculative. as compiled in The Western Esoteric Traditions (2008). Platonic and 23 'Lurianic Cabala'.6 SAMUEL GARRARD alchemy within the framework of a specific cultural tradition. emphatic of the importance of the thirty-two paths of wisdom . cosmogonical. It was in 1552 that the first Latin edition of the Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Creation) was published and in 1548 Guillaume Postel (1510-1581) translated the Zohar. Audio file. An example of the syncretic. namely the long. It focussed on system of the ten sefirot (emanations or literally enumerations) and the importance of the twenty-two Hebrew letters. The syncretism that these theses initiated in European philosophical and scientific circles is given a thorough evaluation by Stephen A. The Yetzirah exists in multiple versions. It is possible that the Yetzirah was composed in the multicultural milieu of Alexandria in first few centuries AD. His approach was messianic and syncretic. who wrote 900 Theses (1486). Farmer in the first four chapters of his Syncretism in the West: Pico’s 900 Theses (1486): The Evolution of Traditional Religious and Philosophical Systems (1998). .” which gives a possible explanation for the text‟s concordance with Renaissance Neoplatonism and Hermeticism. esoteric philosophy. short. ORIGINS AND THEMATIC COMPARISONS In Renaissance Venice. Hermeticised Renaissance Cabala can been seen in the works of Francesco Giorgi Veneto (1466-1540) who wrote the De Harmonia Mundi Totius Cantica Tria (1525). assimilating the European Renaissance and revitalising the previously traditional esoteric knowledge. combining Hermetic. 3.23 A Renaissance revival of the Cabala began with the research of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494).

40.28 Practical alchemy is concerned with the transmutation of base metals into gold and spiritual alchemy with the inner transformation of dense attributes to subtle ones. Throughout his work he deployed an outlook implicitly similar to that of alchemy. „the framework of practical magic. demonstrating the veracity and productivity of Renaissance thought in marrying various traditions.7 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E Cabalistic ideas whilst expounding theories such as the correspondence between the microcosm and macrocosm and a harmonious cosmology. M. The Cabala has been interpreted as a means of understanding the cosmos. 1990). In the works of Dion 24 25 Frances Amelia Yates. 26 Torsten Bock. ALCHEMY AND COSMOLOGICAL PERFECTIONISM Antoine Faivre traced the origins of alchemy to the Greek myth of the golden fleece. 25-34 (pp. chronicled by John of Antioch in 7 BCE. p. 27 Peter Marshall. p. Toison d'or et Alchimie (Milan: Arche. History of Alchemy from Early to Middle Ages (Saarbrücken: Verlag.1. His alchemical interests have been presented by writers such as David Brewster and J.27 Great scientific figures such as Sir Isaac Newton (16431727) held an active interest in alchemy. ME: Weiser. 1972). 29 Israel Regardie. cf. alchemy sought after the philosopher‟s stone that could transform base metals into gold and give immortality. „Isaac Newton's Alchemical Notes in the Royal Society‟.‟29 but also as a psychological technique. . Young. NY: State University of New York Press.25 Forming the basis of modern chemistry. 1993). The Tree of Life (York Beach. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge. 41. The Golden Fleece and Alchemy. Keynes and his Hermetic stance formally acknowledged if epistemologically devalued. for example in the sponsoring of alchemy by Rudolf II in Prague. the emanations of God. 60 (2006).26 alchemy received a welcome revival in the sixteenth century.24 3. with a Foreword by Joscelyn Godwin (Albany.12. The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague (New York: Walker. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. Antoine Faivre. 1997) p. 1979). Antoine Faivre. 2006) 28 John T. This is further discussed by Frances Yates in her highly influential The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979). Having previously been banned in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 25-26).

Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 21. 1989). In this sense these two esoteric disciplines are magical methods of returning material to its absolute source.31 The modern occult revival saw a reintegration of Cabalistic elements into modern ritual magic by members and offshoots of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.narratives and the critiques of absolute knowledge by writers such as Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). and integral to the system as a whole. Exemplified by syncretic texts such as Voarchadumia (1550) Cabala and alchemy are comparable in their methods of manipulation. 32 Israel Regardie. 1998). This considered. Structural Idealism: A Theory of Social and Historical Explanation (Waterloo.‟30 Both traditions have external and internal processes.8 SAMUEL GARRARD Fortune (1890-1946). a doctrine rejected by the likes of Henry More (1614-1687) and helpful in understanding the reception and rejection of the Cabala in different historical periods. In his role in the Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. p. The Mystical Qabalah (London: Society of the Inner Light. The idea of an absolute spiritual source relies on the presupposed doctrine of cosmological perfectionism. p. Rites and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Stella Matutina). the latter elemental. Mathers echoed Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) in emphasising a strong Egyptian element in the ritual work of the order. both practically and spiritually. Doug Mann. the former lexical. MN: Llewellyn. The transmutation of letters to their prime state can be seen as parallel to the alchemical discipline of transmutation of metals to their base elements. Samuel Liddell Mac Gregor Mathers (1854-1918) translated parts of the Kabbalah Denudata (1678) by Baron Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636-1689). the Tree of Life is „an attempt to reduce to diagrammatic form every force and factor in the manifested universe and the soul of man. sixth edition (St Paul. 2002).181. comparable yet distinct. The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings. one might speculate that the renewal of Cabalistic interest in the modern occult revival and New Age movement might be a reaction against the collapse of meta. .32 30 31 Dion Fortune.

. 1887). 'The Kabbalah‟.org. 37. 35 Athanasius Kircher. 1653) in Bill Heidrick's Cross References <http://www. 2010]. 36 Paula Findlen.84. p. Hermes Trismegistus is said to be a contemporary of Moses. 1925). Ginsburg.biblebelievers. 2010]. p. p. The Kabbalah Unveiled (London: George Redway.Egypt connection is mentioned when according to its (unnamed) followers. An example of this can be found in Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1654) in which Kircher focusses on the Bembine Tablet drawing parallels between Arabian alchemy and the Cabala. 37 Gershom Scholem. 2004). Platonism. ceremonies and sacred disciplines of the Egyptians that I am fully persuaded that either the Egyptians were “Hebraicising” or the Hebrews were “Egypticising.htm> [accessed 10 June.38 Despite historical debate. cf.au/kabbalah.33 Interestingly Mathers seems to have borrowed his phrasing from a reading by Reverend Ginsburg some twenty-four years earlier without acknowledging him. Ginsburg. 5.37 In many accounts. Kabbalah.35 He writes: „The Hebrews have such an affinity to the rites. and the Hebrew Cabala. Christian D. It is said that the Cabala was given as part of the Oral Law received by Moses at mount Sinai.billheidrick. what can be deduced is a similarity in approach. EGYPTIAN AND HEBREW TRADITIONS AND THE PHILOSOPHIA PERENNIS In The Kabbalah Unveiled the Hebrew. 209-399)‟ (Rome. 38 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Kabbalah: Its Doctrines. p. such as those of Ficino. Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man That Knew Everything (New York: Routledge. (1863) in Bible Believers <http://www. Development and Literature (London: Routledge. the works of Proclus. 5. a crossover that aligns both traditions 33 34 Samuel Liddell Mac Gregor Mathers. „Oedipus Aegyptiacus: Tom IIA (all) and "Cabala" from Tom IIB (pp. p.”‟36 Historically the Egyptian pantheon has been shown to be a source of Zoroastrianism and Orphic wisdom.2. passed on to Pythagoreanism. 143. pointing to a direct correlation between the Hermetic and Hebrew traditions and the idea of a philosophia perennis.htm> [accessed 3 June. sacrifices.34 This affinity between Hebrew and Egyptian culture shows a connection evident at the root of both alchemy and Cabala.com/index.9 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E 3. Abraham „allowed a portion of this mysterious doctrine to ooze out‟ into Egypt. Christian D.

THE KEYS TO THE TEMPLE: THE PENTAGRAMMATRON AND THE PHILOSOPHER‟S STONE In De Verbo Mirifico (The Wonder Working Word) (1494) Reuchlin presented a sacralised magic able to empower and energise religious ritual and ceremony. 104-138 (p. echoing authors such as Porphyry (c. 7.116). „Reuchlin‟s De Verbo Mirifico and the Magic Debate of the Late Fifteenth Century‟. p. His art of the wonder-working word can be distinguished from magic in its technique.305) whilst remaining cautiously ambivalent in his personal stance on magic.10 SAMUEL GARRARD philosophically and a place in the esoteric initiatory idea of an ancient theology or prisca theologia. As an interesting modern parallel. viewing the work as an exploration of the divine.40 Charles Zika. Françoise Bonardel. in line with the prisca theologia. soliloquia. provides his revealing insights of the workof 39 40 Ibid. This is unsurprising given the historical context when Christian authorities were still very much severely resistant towards any theory that might have pagan undertones. hidden properties of language as instrumental.39 4. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. names sixteenth century historian Ludwig Geiger (1848-1919) as the root cause for the lack of a critical response to De Verbo Mirifico interpretations of it as „personal mystical gropings. or demonic magic. However.104. .‟41 Zika contests this interpretation. p. as distinct from goetia. Reuchlin‟s fourth science of wonders.. object and effect. 39 (1976). 41 Ibid. Charles Zika. professor of religion at the University of the Sorbonne. not just to internal mystical experience but external miraculous achievement.232-c. or religious magia. He defends divine theurgy. professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne. the method of obtaining what one asks for through prayer. is very much an alternative working thesis for operative magic.

He wrote the Kabbalah Denudata in 1684. 71-100 (p. 1684) in Bill Heidrick's Cross References <http://www. . pp.‟45 At the beginning of the Kabbalah Denudata is a dedication „to the lover of Hebrew.1. Kabbalah. He describes their work as ontological alchemy.11 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E French poets Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) and Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). YHSVH.billheidrick. Germany. drawing comparisons with the Cabala and asserting that man holds dominion over nature and achieves miraculous deeds „by the one name. intrinsically involved with “the Word.135. 46 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth. where he spread the doctrine of Lurianic Cabala. and Philosophy. p. is akin to the philosopher‟s stone in alchemical theory because both hold power and divine animating potentiality. In line with Pico and Reuchlin.‟43 The divine word is the word that has the potential to actualise and animate man‟s philosophies and the divine names.com/Orpd/KRKD/index. which by knowledge and exploration can be harnessed. 416. Chemistry.. 92). sive Doctrina Hebræorum Transcendentalis et Metaphysica Atque Theologia (Sulzbach. Kabbala Denudata. p. he applied a Christian interpretation of the Cabala.44 In this way the wonder-working word. 44 Ibid. privy councillor and advisor educated in Wittenburg and Leibzig who settled in Sulzbach. liminal disciplines. 4. THE KABBALAH DENUDATA Rosenroth was a polyglot.42 In this way both the Cabala and alchemy are ars liminæ. p. Scholem wrote that the Kabbalah Denudata „served as the principal source for all non-Jewish literature on Kabbalah until the end of the 19th century.‟46 typical of the cultural syncretism of the era. 43 Charles Zika. „Alchemical Esotericism and the Hermeneutics of Culture‟. in Modern Esoteric Spirituality.” but essentially alchemy may be described as lying somewhere between science and religion and in contrast the Cabala may be seen as lying between religion and language. 42 Françoise Bonardel.111.htm> [accessed 20 April 2010]. 45 Gershom Scholem. Reuchlin advocated Pythagoreanism. presented by Reuchlin and other early Christian esotericists as the pentagrammaton.

Audio file. there are six sentences: She looks to the heavens and recognizes the Trinity in its ten names. She enters the innermost sanctuary and surveys the hidden chamber. 48 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth.‟ Could this not be translated alternatively as „she changes the abstruse course in the heart of minerals. This claim. 177). a palace and other 47 Allison P. 177. „Alter at abstrusos minerarum in corde meatus‟. Coudert. / Edomat internos. CONCEPTIONS OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE DISPERA INTENTIO Coudert notes the similarities between the frontispiece of Kabbalah Denudata and that of Abraham Yagel‟s (1553-c. She disentangles the confused minerals in the heart. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth. an Iron mining town that attracted alchemists. „Explicat ambiguos utroque in Fœdere sensus. Illuminating with a spiritual light.12 SAMUEL GARRARD On the third page of the text. would have appealed to those alchemists in Sulzbach. denoque notat cognomina Trinum. .‟48 which would imply some kind of alchemical transmutation. & secreta palatial lustrat‟. 39 (1976) 171-189 (p. 47 Most telling of these descriptions is „she disentangles the confused minerals in the heart. /Alta videt.1623) Gei Hizzayon (A Valley of Vision). in minerals as well as in the psychological constitution. she dispels pagan darkness She calms the internal turbulence aroused by passions. / Intrat in Arcana. Both illustrations give similar representations of the Cabala. „A Quaker-Kabbalist Controversy: George Fox's Reaction to Francis Mercury van Helmont‟. 50 „A Quaker-Kabbalist Controversy. / Alter at abstrusos minerarum in corde meatus. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes.50 4. Audio file. as well as the dedication. queis spumat Passio fluctus. using women. 'Lurianic Cabala'. aroused by the passions‟ in the fourth sentence giving the Cabala the potential to transform externally and internally. cf. in reference to the virginal figure in the frontispiece. p. cf. perhaps symbolising the „internal turbulence. 49 Next to the woman in the image is a tempestuous sea.2. / Lucens Pneumaticae. the tree of life. 49 'Lurianic Cabala'. paganas dificutit umbras.

Those who study the Qabalah without reading the novels will get an interesting intellectual jig-saw puzzle to play with. author of the anonymous last treatise of the Kabbalah Denudata. or hiding meaning within an argument is a hermeneutical technique employed throughout ancient esoteric writing through to the present day. 5 (Leiden: Brill. pp. This is the dispersa intentio referred to by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) in the conclusion of his De Occulta Philosophia54 and discussed by Vittoria Perrone Compagni. The Sea Priestess (York Beach. seemed to contradict this symbolic reference to the ancient conception of knowledge in prolifically discussing his own ideas with everyone for fear that they would not be known. p. 55 Vittoria Perrone Compagni.13 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E symbols to create a syncretic vision in which the familiar modern distinctions between science.53 In addition to the ancient notion of knowledge as a secret gem. Dion Fortune employs the same technique. The Impact of the Kabbalah. Those who read the novels without having studied the Qabalah will get hints and a stimulus to their subconscious.‟56 51 52 See Illustrations. 54 Cornelius Heinrich Agrippa. 51 In using the image of a palace .one can deduce a reference to the ancient conception of knowledge as secret and exclusive. 53 Ibid.” Magic and Scepticism in Agrippa‟. 2000). (Leiden: Brill. noting to her readers The Mystical Qabalah gives the theory but the novels give the practice.a standard alchemical motif for secret and exclusive wisdom . 2003). . but those who study The Mystical Qabalah with the help of the novels get the keys of the Temple put into their hands. hidden for those willing to search.‟52 It is interesting to note that van Helmont. In the introduction to The Sea Priestess (1935). there is a certain coding of language discernable in both alchemical and Cabbalistic texts. Figure 2. 1992). „“Dispersa Intentio. p. p. alchemy and religious ideas are nonexistent. This stands in contrast to the modern conception as a „commodity that can be packaged and distributed and thus made available to anybody. 160-177. xiii. 56 Dion Fortune.55 Coding. ME: Red Wheel/Weiser. 150. 599-600. Early Science and Medicine. 151. De Occulta Philosophia.. in his later years. magic.

I would conclude that the textual technique mentioned corresponds with the revelatory nature of esoteric knowledge by way of emulation. cf. 59 Bernard Pick. natural magic and gives instruction on preparing the philosopher‟s stone.)לבק‬to receive. Aperta Arca. pp. the author describes a divine revelation. Arcani Artificiosissimi: Oder: des Grossen und Kleinen Bauers (Hamburg: Freidrich Conrad Greflinger.59 4. p.levity. Arcani Artificiosissimi: Oder: des Grossen und Kleinen Bauers (1617) by Johann Grasshoff. can be seen in the writings of Ficino.3. „The Natural Round Physick or Philosophy of the Alchymical Cabalistical Vision: Transcribed from British Library MS.57 Knowledge perceived as divine revelation. dispersa intentio is particularly prevalent in alchemical and Cabalistic literature. Within a carefully worded Christian context he justifies the theories of higher and lower astrology. ARCANI ARTIFICIOSISSIMI In Aperta Arca.html> [accessed 11 June]. Wouter J. MT: Kessinger. <http://www. combining imagery from both alchemical and Cabalistic lore. It is interesting to note that the word “Cabala” comes from the verb “qibbel” (‫ .com/alchemy/alchcab. 117 – 126. Pico. 19. „On the Construction of Esoteric Traditions‟. This argument for magia naturalis. 60 Johann Grasshoff. Hanegraaff (Leuven: Peeters. 1705).58 is evident in many esoteric texts and specifically in Cabalistic literature. 9. The Cabala: Its Influence on Judaism and Christianity (Whitefish. 1998) p. by Antoine Faivre and Wouter J. as justified within the orthodox Christian hierarchy but subservient to God. Hanegraaff. Agrippa. .60 57 58 Vittoria Perrone Compagni.163. not from a rational process. by Jon Evans‟ in The Alchemy Web Site. emphasised that magic originated from divine revelation. ed. 2003) p. In this way the reader becomes more personally involved in the reading. in Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion. He continues to explain his vision. Reuchlin and other esoteric writers of the period. influenced by Reuchlin. yet behind this careful wording one discerns a rich fusion of alchemical-Cabalistic ideas. Sloane 3639. deftly justifying Hermetic sciences. and connected to the cultural tradition of “gnosis” originating in Alexandria in the first few centuries. This was necessary considering the grave personal danger in disclosing heretical material. This considered.14 SAMUEL GARRARD Though apparent in much of the esoteric corpus. It is a non-linear textual technique that involves the reader in an active process of discovery. THE APERTA ARCA.

„da ershien über Sonn und Mond und dem Firmament ein Stern der Schien so hell / daß ich ihn night recht ansehen konte‟. the earthly and divine realm. p. Grasshoff begins by describing a star. 603-604). earth and light surrounding the figure. symbolic perhaps of the Cabala in general or the wonder-working word. In the first illustration the figure holds a set of keys.15 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E Grasshoff‟s vision is also depicted as an illustration and bears a striking resemblance to that in the frontispiece of the Kabbalah Denudata.61 In both images there is the illuminating star. It is noted that the star was created by God. in any case the key to Cabalistic mysteries which is parallel to the one key of alchemy – the philosopher‟s stone. and he is to be blessed for making it. One could draw a parallel here with the star as the first 61 62 See Illustrations. possibly symbolising the confluence of the spiritual and telluric. and the need to be connected to both. in the four stages of alchemy. a figure. This may be implied in Figure 2 where the figure has one foot on the ground and one in the air. moon and firmament. 64 Susan Campanini. edging tactfully away from pagan pantheism. Figure 3. or maybe that one needs to accrue a knowledge of the keys to discern which one will fit. and the shape of the sefirot. Figure 2. 50 (1977). she doesn‟t hold one key but a set of keys and there is only one lock on the door. 119. associated with the unification of the finite and infinite. the infinite. 602609 (pp. p.. and mankind. the finite. .62 He continues to describe it as redder than the sun and eventually explaining that it is the Star of Wisdom and Lord of Nature. „der Stern der Weisheit / und das ewige Licht‟. 117.63 The emphasis on the redness of the star may hint at the rubedo64 stage. shining so brightly that he could not look at it. The French Review. In both images we also see the earth and vegetation. 63 Ibid. above the sun. Johann Grasshoff. cf. This seems to fit as it was made by God and so is a mediator between him. In Figure 2 the sefirot are seen within the illuminating light and in Figure 3 they are in the stars. and also in the Figure 3 where his feet are on the ground whilst his head is amongst the heavenly bodies. Perhaps this suggests that there are many paths. „Alchemy in Pieyre de Mandiargues' "Le Diamant"‟. However.

.68 In a syncretic sweep of the quill the author gives the divine word the properties traditionally associated with the philosophers stone. 66 Gershom Scholem. 121. Arcani Artificiosissimi. Kabbalah. 70 See Illustrations. (ie. p.16 SAMUEL GARRARD effect of the first creation (but under the creator.. pp. p. recalling always the spiritual dimension and duty to God. animating power of the divine word is given emphasis and reiterated throughout the Aperta Arca. . 121. the first cause. not a human. distinct from ein sof. 68 Johann Grasshoff.) 65 and the first sefirot.66 This essential distinction was expressied in Lurianic Cabala. or one‟s higher divine self as essential to the transmutatory operation. „Da aber diese trafftige Worte dennd gefallen / hat die Sonne den Saamen empfangen sich zu verjungiren und zu reinigen’. 79-80. imitating the the great red star and channelling it‟s purifying power in the manifest world. giving wording to an anti-pantheistic understanding of nothingness.. p. and how the connection to the Red Star. „dieses Feuer die erste Erschaffung gewesen ist [. „durch diesen Spruch hat dieses unsichtbahre Feuer angefangen zu dominiren‟. 67 David Biale. 88-96. Kether.69 In the text he presents an astrological cosmos where the stellar forces constantly impregnate the earth with potentiality.70 This reiterates the Cabalisticalchemical theme of potentiality within the body of the human and the earth.67 A distinctly Lurianic cosmology and hierarchy is described in Grasshoff‟s vision. is at the heart of the Cabala and alchemy. compatible with the ideas of Renaissance Hermeticism. as seen in the image where the star is at the centre of his body and the earth. 69 Ibid. Figure 3. and to purify.. or essential force of nature. rejecting fate-determining astrology. He promotes alchemy as the process of nourishing one‟s relationship with the Lord of Nature. 123.) albeit to the Sun. The author continues in the last chapters to give instructions on preparing the philosopher‟s stone. described by Luria as the first effect. the ability to make one young again. The text is a brilliant example of the 65 Ibid. in which a transcendental divinity emanating a first effect bears a strong resemblance to Hermetic-alchemical ideas. The potential. pp.] hatte es doch seinen Schopffer müssen Geshorfam leiften‟.

be it through the restorative process of tikkun. by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor. the two ars liminæ. MI: The University of Michigan Press. . Jean Baudrillard.71 In contrast. The disciplines of the Cabala and alchemy sought an absolute truth. 5. perhaps the doors to the Palace of Secrets are reopening once more. with esoteric interest on the rise. of Cabala and alchemy. with the new “www” (world-wide web) which puts the power in the body of the machine. enjoys a centrality.72 the manifesting potential of these temple keys has become the potential of a digital screen. Hanegraaff. instead of the human figure. available for critique from feminist. Nevertheless. 1994). CONCLUSIONS AND NEW PARADIGMS Although the esoteric traditions displayed a phallocentric-anthropocentricity. 73 The Cabala and alchemy are theologies of potentiality and cosmic perfectionism – ideas that seem outdated by a modern culture still affected by years of domination by industrialism. as discussed earlier. replacing Reuchlin‟s “WWW” (“Wonder-Working Word”) that put the power in the body of humanity and the earth. if still disputed by scholars in its demarcation.all transcendental in their claim to divine potentiality. scientific positivism and materialism. 73 Wouter J. 1. In modern Western culture it could be argued that the human body and divine potential is displaced. it is a different anthropocentricity that places humankind at the centre of the spiritual and physical universe. or the wonder-working word . trans. devalued and replaced by simulacrum. the search for the philosopher‟s stone. and magic is replaced by the rattling of plastic buttons. pp. Simulacra and Simulation. within the Industrial Age the monetary figure. We can also see internal stylistic and thematic congruencies in both arts 71 72 See Zoographies (2008) for a fascination revaluation of Western anthropocentric values. p.18-19.17 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E connection seen in the potentiality. animal-studies and post-humanist stances.

In looking at these syncretic texts. on the importance of humankind in playing a central role in the cosmic plan.18 SAMUEL GARRARD stemming back to the syncretic Hebrew-Egyptian culture of Alexandria that not only illuminate the nature of these ancient forms of esoteric spiritual expression but raise questions concerning our contemporary weltanschauuung and methods of ontological analysis and valuation. what is illuminating is the emphasis placed. the potential of the microcosm realising its affinity with the macrocosm and the essential divinity within the heart of humanity. sometimes very subtly. .

(1519) in Cologne University of Applied Sciences <http://www. as Portae Lucis (1516). The illustration shows the first depiction of the Cabala with the ten sefirot.verwaltung.fhkoeln.74 74 Paul Riccius.de/imperia/md/images/dez5/pressefotos/2008/portahebraicorum_buch_portae_lucis. . Portae Lucis.jpg> [accessed 08 May 2010]. ILLUSTRATIONS Figure 1 Photo showing the title page of the Latin translation of the Sha’arei Orah by Paul Riccius.19 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E 6.

divine light and the keys to the temple in her hand. a temple.75 75 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth. representing the Cabala. The illustration depicts a virginal woman.20 SAMUEL GARRARD Figure 2 Photo showing the frontispiece and title page of the Kabbalah Denudata (1678). .

. 76 76 Johann Grasshoff.21 T H E S Y N C R E TIC E S O TER IC IS M Figure 3. O F TH E R E NA IS S AN C E A page from Aperta Arca. p. 116. Arcani Artificiosissimi (1617) depicting a syncretic Cabalisticalchemical cosmological image.

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