Thursday, October 14, 2010

Giordano Bruno chapter 12

12. Giordano Bruno in England and the hermetic reform.

58. First steps in England - Bruno's first publication in England, dedicated to the French ambassador, was a reprint from the Cantus Circaeus combined with 2 new works: the 'Explicatio Triginta Sigillosum' and the 'Sigillis sicillorum'. The book is a further development of memory as a major tool in the formation of the magus. Bruno hoped to recieve similar attention in England as he had acheived in France by elaborating on his complex combination of kaballah, Lullism and the art of memory.
59. Oxford - It appears Bruno wasn't satisfied by his reception in Oxford in 1583. In a protestant reply to a catholic argument, George Abbott described the scene to the disadvantage of Bruno. He was described as a juggler, delivering lectures which he had stolen from Ficino. Abbott probably meant to attack the catholics and the allegedly miraculous nature of their faith by ridiculing Bruno and his 'good magick'. In later writings Bruno showed his disgust for the academic pedants of Oxford and preferred the attitude of the old oxfordian (catholic) friars. During his lectures there, he linked Ficino's 'De Vita Coelitus Comparanda' to Copernicus' new theory of heliocentrism.
60. Spaccio della Bestia Trionfante - Bruno's work most obviously describing Egyptian magick was 'Spaccio della Bestia Trionfante', published in England in 1584. As the divinity descends, communicating through the planets with nature, the inverse ascend of nature towards the divinity is possible through the divine light permeating all creation. The ancients were able to create domestic gods who gave counsel though voices coming out of votive statues. This refers to the god-making passage in the Asclepius.
61. Idolaters - Then follows a diatribe by Bruno against the idolaters who triumphed and ridiculed the Egyptian cult. In dialogue Momus says 'The worst of it is that they hold it for certain that they are the light'.
62. Animals - Bruno goes on to state that in Egypt, animals and plants were only worshipped insofar the Egyptians sensed the one divinity through them, shining through and adapting its way of communicating to the form it embodies.
63. Duality - The two main bodies through which the divinity communicates, the sun and the moon, are also the most influential to life on earth. All of life separates according to these two original principles. The next differentiation in nature takes place according to the 7 stars: all things and creatures are further distributed according to 7 species.
64. Catching the light - The divinity communicates itself in innumerable ways. One can catch this intellectual light through wisdom and judgement. The Egyptians knew how to receive the benefits of nature through ideas or archetypes (the different divinities), all of which referred to the one deity. Here Bruno abandons Ficino's efforts to christianize the original pagan magick. He deplores the destruction of the Greek and Egyptian religions by Christianity and quotes litterally from the Asclepius' Lament in which it is said the Egyptian religion will return and its morality will replace the current chaos.
65. Types of magick - This revelation is called magick, when directed towards supernatural principles, it is called divine magick; when towards contemplation of nature, natural; when towards the reasons of the soul, mathematical. There is the influence of Cornelius Agrippa's 'Occulta Philosophia' in this classification of magick.
66. Reform - Bruno openly claims his Egyptianism with a neoplatonic basis and advocates a moral reform. In the Spaccio, this reform starts when Jupiter summons the gods to a conclave meant to cleanse the constellations.
67. Koré Kosmou - The idea that change starts by rearranging the stars (meaning: to change the celestial images) which brings forth transformation into the lower world might find its origin in a little know treatise named 'Koré Kosmou' or 'Minerva Mundi', meaning the daughter of the world. In this book Isis describes the creation to Horus. In an early stage, the celestial images on which all forms below depend were fixed. Then the lower world was created but deemed unsatisfactory. Then god created man, each planetary god offering him distinctive gifts. But it still wasn't good enough and god called upon a general assembly of the gods. Ignorance was cleansed and the elements received a second efflux of divine nature. The treatise ends with a praise to Osiris and Isis who restored justice and keep things below in sympathy with things above.
68. Similarities with 'Spaccio' and other influences - Similarly in Bruno's 'Spaccio', an assembly of the gods is called upon to reform the celestial images. There's a conversation between Sophia, Isis and Momus in both books as well. If the 'Koré Kosmou' was an influence on the 'Spaccio' as it is supposed here, Bruno might have read it in the original Greek in the 'Anthologium', a compilation of hermetic texts by Stobaeus in 500 AD.
In the 'Spaccio, Jupiter addresses a council of the gods to prepare the reform. He refers to the 48 constellations and how they currently either take on the ugly form of animals or remind of shameful actions of the gods. All constellations must be reviewed and cleansed. As every image is discussed, the vices associated with it are deplored and the opposite virtues are praised. Most of the shameful mythological associations come probably from 'Fabularium Liber' by Hyginos (1578).
69. The Triumphant Beast returns - In the end the gods cast out the vices and rfeplace them with virtues and the 'Triumphant Beast', the sum total of all vices is expelled. Clearly part of a mnemonic system, the order describing the constellations is the same in which the corresponding virtues are described. The reform of the heavens described here is the fullfillment of the end of the Lament in the Asclepius: the Egyptian religion is reinstated and morality reinstored through the ascend of the virtues. This can also be compared to book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, where the Decade of Powers replace the Dodecade of the Vices, associated with the negative influence of the stars.
70. As above so below - In his dedication, Bruno explains that the gods who attend the council (Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury, Saturn, Mars, Venus, Diana, Juno, Minerva, Neptune and Isis) represent the virtues and powers of the soul, and since in every man there is an universe, the reform of the heavens also transforms the personality. Reform starts in the minds of the gods and is reflected in the 48 constellations. The 'Spaccio' actually describes the formation of a personality. In it predominates Apollo for the solar passion of magick, Jupiter for benevolence, Venus for love and friendship. It seems the negatrive influence of some gods (Mars, Saturn) is tempered by the virtues of some others. The personality learns to master the stars, hence his destiny.
71. Deus in Rebus - By choosing out their gifts for the reformed personality, the virtues predominate and the beast is expelled. Celestial images in animal form sometimes seem to represent vices, but on the other hand the Egyptians had built channels to the divinity through the natural forms of animals, representing Deus in Rebus. The ethical reform drives the beast, considered an allegory of all the vices, out of heaven; but the religious reform reinstates it for Egyptian animal worship. Hence the double meaning of 'Expulsion of the triumphant beast'.
72. Zodiacus Vitae - Another book influenced Bruno to write the 'Spaccio': the Latin poem 'Zodiacus Vitae' by Palingenius (1534). In here the 12 signs are described with their moral teaching. Epicurus is introduced as the supreme moral teacher. His doctrine of pleasure is approached by Palingenius with the gravity of Epicureanism, combined with Neoplatonic influences. The poem was also a satire on the moral depravity in the Catholic church, hence its popularity in Protestant countries. Bruno's Egyptian reform is also partly Epicurean and non-ascetic. On the other hand, the religious satire in the 'Spaccio' is mainly anti-Protestant.
73. A hidden message - It seems the book also carries a message of peace from the French king Henry III for England, advocating the old spiritual union of Europe.
74. Religious hermetism - In the late 16th century different forms of religious hermetism reached their climax. Most tried to offer a palliative for the religious differences, but always from a Christian (catholic or protestant) perspective. Only Bruno suggested Egyptian magick as the core of hermetism, although he placed his prophecy for the return of Egyptianism within a catholic framework.
75. Bruno's confessions - The librarian of the abbey of St. Victor wrote down his conversations with Bruno. Bruno admired Thomas Aquinas but condemned his scholastics, particularly concerning the sacraments; as in the beginning of Christianity, these subtleties were unknown. For Bruno, most religious troubles would disappear if the church were able to return to its original values. He despised what he called the heretics of both France and England; the catholic religion pleased him better than any other but had become corrupted and was in dire need of reformation. He put his hopes in the French king Henry III. It seems although his main attention pointed toward magick, Bruno felt he had a religious mission as well.
76. Picatrix - Maybe the secret intention of the Spaccio was to let the magus manipulate celestial images on which all things below depend, in order to make the reform happen. This reminds us of the 'Picatrix', the treatise on sympathetic magick and in there the story of the city of Adocentyn, which Hermes Trismegistus had surrounded by engraved images, ordered in such a way that their virtue made the inhabitants virtuous. Here HT appears in both his roles, as a magus and as a lawgiver to the Egyptian citizens. Here one also sees a parallel with the double reform in the 'Spaccio'. In the 'Picatrix', HT is also said to have built a temple of the sun, which can be linked to the passage in the Asclepius: "The gods who exercised their dominion over the earth will be restored one day and installed in a city at the extreme limit of Egypt, a city which will be founded towards the setting sun and into which will hasten, by land and by sea, the whole race of mortal men".
77. City of the Sun and Utopia - This also remind of Campanella's 'City of the Sun' with its astral religion. Yet another obvious parallel is with Thomas More's 'Utopia'. The Utopians had very large, dark churches, with priests clothed in bird feathers, which sound like conjuring garments. Utopia also shows notions of religious reform long before England's break with Rome.
78. Elizabethan Renaissance - The 'Spaccio' offered to secretly disatisfied Elizabethans a new outlet for their yearning - with the Asclepius at its core, it might have been essential in the formation of Elizabethan Renaissance.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Giordano Bruno Chapter 11

11. Giordano Bruno: First visit to Paris

44. First years - Bruno was born in Nola next to Mount Vesuvius in 1548. He entered the Dominican order in 1563, got in trouble for heresy in 1576 and fled through Europe. After residing among Calvinists in Geneva he went to Paris in 1581 where he gave public lectures and published his first two books on the magickal art of memory.
45. Ars memoria - The classical Roman art of memory is described in the Ad Herennium and is refered to by both Cicero and Quintilian. It consists basically of memorizing a series of places in a building and attaching images to it in order to memorize points of a
speech. During the speech, the orator imagines walking around in the building. In the Renaissance this ancient art became fashionable among hermeticists but received an extra dimension as a way to know the universe through the experience of the cosmic order as a spatial system. Ficino described how the planetary images, if memorised through painted images on the ceiling of the bedroom, organised all the events of the day. At the basis of Renaissance magick is the hermetic experience of reflecting the universe in the mind, where instead of architectural elements and household objects, magickally activated archetypes are imprinted. The magus so intended to gain power and universal knowledge.
Nota - Maybe the principle of psychogeography found its origin in the hermetic Renaissance of the Ars Memoria. In the latter one sets up nodes and paths in an imaginary space to induce transformation of the consciousness, in the first one links real paths and nodes to an imaginary, often literary space, to induce a different experience of reality. In both the world is consciously reflected through symbols.

11.1. De Umbris Idearum
46. The Shadows of Ideas - The adaptation of the Ars Memoria reached its culmination in Bruno's philosophy. His De Umbris Idearum was published in Paris in 1582. In the introduction it is said how hard it is to study this book but that it promises a great reward. The reader is warned not to attempt to enter this work unless he is ready for it.
47. Trialogue - The book start with a conversation between Hermes Trismegistuus, Philothemus and Logifer. Hermes describes the illumination as a rising sun, banishing the creatures of the night. The book he holds is called 'On the Shadows of Ideas' and he's a bit reluctant to share it. Philothemus points out that the great work could never be achieved if those hesitations prevailed. Logifer cites learned doctors who do not believe in the art of memory and mentions medical recipes for memory increase. It is obvious from his reactions that Logifer should not discuss things beyond his understanding. This structure of trialogues between an master, a disciple and a pedant will become a formula in Bruno's later books.
48. Dedication - Bruno writes about the Egyptian solar religion which penetrated the intellect, but was overthrown by the Christian suppressors, whom he calls 'false Mercuries', and how he wants to revive it, as it is mentioned in the Lament of the Asclepius. For Bruno this book is an attempt to penetrate a little further into the shadows of ideas. But obviously not anyone has the ability to integrate this philosophy: in the dedication is a poem attributed to Merlin, about the inability of pigs to fly.
49. Structure of the book - The first 30 short paragraphs concern the intention to seek for illumination. Then come 30 short chapters on what ideas are, referring to Plotinus and indirectly to Ficino's De Vita Coelitus Comparanda. It was in a time when Christian Hermeticism florished that Bruno came up with a deeply magickal hermeticism, rejoicing in the talismanic magick of the Asclepius through Ficino. Then comes the biggest part of the book, thirty groups of celestial images upon which the magickal memory system is based. Every group is divided into 5 images. The images taken from Ficino are used without the Christian inhibition.
50. The images - First comes the images of the 36 Decans, based on Cornelius Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia. Then come 7 images of each of the 7 planets. E.G. 'A man with a stag's head on a dragon holds an owl eating a snake from his right hand'. Then comes 28 images for the mansions of the moon, corresponding to Agrippa's. Finally Bruno gives 36 images associated with the 12 houses of the horoscope; these images are probably genuine.
Nota - The hermetic use of archetypes to memorize deeper truths might be at the ontogeny of all religions (see Joseph Campbell)

51. Wheels within wheels - The 150 magickal images were placed on the wheel of the memory system, corresponding with the wholesum of human knowledge. Another wheel shows 150 great men and inventors in 30 groups with 5 subdivisions for each vowel. When the wheels are set out in concentric circles, one has a complete system reflecting the whole universe and the whole human mind. This is clearly a hermetic system, as the universe is considered through a gnostic reflection in the mind. As it is written in the Corpus Hermeticum: "Unless you make yourself equal to god you cannot understand god (…) make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure (…) believe that nothing is impossible for you, think yourself immortal (…) draw into yourself all sensations of everything created".
52. Gnostic experience - By engraving into memory the archetypal images, shadows of the ideas in the divine Mens, Bruno hopes to achieve the gnostic experience of becoming the Aeon. When the parts of this system are sensed in relationship to each other, the underlying unity can be known. By conforming one's imagination to the archetypes, the reality behind the multiplicity becomes clear to the magus. This is basically a neoplatonic paradigm but carried out to the extreme.

11.2. Cantus Circaeus
53. Incantation to the sun - in this book published in 1583 the hero is the sorceress Circe, daughter of the sun. Bruno's main source for this book was Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia as well. The text starts with a long incantation to the sun by Circe. From time to time her assistant Moeris (sp.?) checks the sun rays to see if the incantation is working. The sun is a metaphor for the vehicle of inscrutable powers reaching from the world of ideas into the soul of the world. Following this Circe makes shorter incantations towards Luna, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. She holds secret magickal formulas on a plate.
54. Imprints - The Circean incantations are followed by an art of memory. It appears the first part was meant to bend the imagination in order to become receptive to imprints of planetary images. The adept would then proceed to the second part, the art of memory, with an imagination already prepared with celestial images.
55. Circean magick - Circe asks where the justice of the Golden Age is gone and calls on the gods to restore virtue. As a result of her magick, men are turned into beasts, which is considered a good thing as wicked men are less harmfull in their animal form.
56. Praising the king - The cock represents the French monarchy and is praised for his qualities. Bruno might have been influenced by a court festival called 'Le Ballet Comique de la Reine' from 1582 during which Circe was represented as the evil of the French religious wars, turning men into beasts, but ends up finally handing over her magickal wand to the king.
57. Protected by the king - The French king Henry III once sent for Bruno and asked whether his memory system was natural or magickal. Bruno claimed later on he proved it was the former. Yet given his own interests and his mother's passion for astrology, it seems improbable that the king would not have known a great deal about magick; it seems even probable this was the cause for inviting Bruno. Later on Bruno would claim he had received letters of introduction from the French king when he travelled to England. During his stay there although he wrote several controversial books, the French ambassador protected him. All this strongly suggests he was under personal protection of the French king, who might even have given him a secret mission during his stay in England, giving him the opportunity to expand his philosophy overseas.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Giordano Bruno Chapter 2

2. Ficino's Pimander and the Asclepius

16. A collection of individual reports - In order to understand the attitude in the Renaissance towards magick in the Asclepius, one must first consider the piety the Pimander seemed to reveal. The hermetic writings are by different unknown authors and of varying dates. Even the individual treatises are composites. Never were they intended as a coherent system. They are basicaly individual records of souls seeking for revelation through a religious approach of the world. This religious approach is the only unity between the texts.
17. Governors - In gnosticism, the laws of nature are astrological: the material world is ruled by the stars and the planets. There are two types of gnoostic texts though: dualist and optimist. For the dualist gnostic, the material world is evil and must be escaped from through ascese. For the optimist gnostic, matter is impregnated with the divine and all parts of the world are parts of god.

2.1. The Egyptian Genesis: Pimander.
18. Ontogeny - Pimander, the Nous or divine Mens appears to Hermes Trismegistus in a dream. He sees infinite light, then darkness, then light leaps into the darkness. Pimander: "That light is I, Nous, thy god. And the luminous word, issuing from the Nous is the son of god." HT then sees in his own Nous the light and the limitless. Pimander: "The Nous-Father brought forth a second Nous, the Demiurge who fashioned the 7 governors who envelop the sensible world." The Nous-father brought forth a man similar to himself. Man received full power in the demiurgic sphere and participation in the nature of the 7 governors. He showed nature below the beauty of the divine form. To unite with nature, he took on a mortal form. Although in essence immortal and and having power over all things, through his mortal coil man became slave of the destiny of the 7 spheres. From the union of nature and man came 7 hermaphrodites corresponding to the nature of each of the 7 governors. These were the elements. Man transformed from life and light into soul and intellect. At the end of this period, man all animals separated into 2 sexes and started to multiply.
19. Gnothi seauton - Pimander tells HT how to live in the knowledge of what he was told: he is to know himself, as he who knows himself knows his true nature. "If you learn to know yourself as made of light and life… you will return to life". Man can know himself through intellect and purity.
20. The Ascension - HT asks Pimander about the Ascension. After dying, the spiritual man ascends through the 7 spheres, leaving at each level a part of his mortal nature and the evil it contains. When finally denuded of everything that the spheres imprinted on him, he enters his ogdoadic nature and mingles with the powers.
21. Preaching -"Trismegistus engraved within himself the benefit of Pimander" and started to preach to people.
22. Commentary by Ficino - Ficino is struck by the similarities with Genesis. For him the importance of HT for the Egyptians is comparable to Moses for the Jews. In a later book, the 'Theologica Platonici" Ficino wonders whether HT and Moses might have been one and the same. Ficino was a major help to give HT an odour of sanctity.
23. Differences - Nevertheless the Pimander and Genesis differ as to the nature of man and the conditions of his fall. In the Mosaic Genesis, Adam wasn't created as a divine being with creative powers as it is said in the Pimander. And when he desired to become god-like by eating from the tree of knowledge, this was considered blasphemous and the fall was his punishment. Not so in the Pimander: when man wished to create something similar to the 7 governors his wish is granted.
24. The Fall - The fall of the hermetic man sounds more like the fall of Lucifer, as he first dwells amongst the star daemons or governors; he is even said to be the brother of the Demiurge or the Verb. His fall is an act of his power: by his own free will, moved by his love for nature and through his voluntary participation in the nature of the governors. As man recognises himself in nature, nature recognises the power of the 7 in him and they are united. He looses something in the bargain: his mortal part gets ruled by the stars and he is split in two sexes. Only by contemplation of the divine mens can man realize this is also his own essence.

2.2. The secret discourse on the mountain of HT to his son Tat.
25. Regeneration - Tat wishes to be taught on the doctrine of regeneration. HT tells him that according to his own experience, the regenerated man will be god, son of god and composed of all the powers.
26. Truth - Tat asks what truth is. HT: "That which can only be apprehended by itself". It cannot be apprehended by the senses and demands that a person first must be capable of understanding birth in god. Shut down the activity of the bodily senses and a divinity will be born.
27. Ultores and Potestates - One must first be purified from the 12 main punishments (Ultores) of matter:
Ignorance, Sadness, Incontinence, Concupiscence, Injustice, Cupidity, Deceit, Envy, Fraud, Anger, Precipitation and Malice. Every time these are inflicted on the body, man suffers through his senses. The 12 punishments originate in the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Tat experiences how the 10 powers (Potestates) can drive out the 12 punishments:
Knowledge, Joy, Continace, Endurance, Justice, Generosity, Truth, Good, Life and Light.
28. Destiny and free will - Symbollically, during this event, Tat was lying down under a tent, metaphor for the material realm. When regeneration is completed HT lead his son out of the tent. This could be compared to Pimander, where 7 vices are left with each corresponding planet on the upward path. So the material burden comes from the influence of the stars, counterbalanced by the divine powers which help the soul regenerate into the Word. Gnostic experience seems to cancel the predestination by the stars.

2.3. Reflections on the universe.
29. Death - In this book, the Mens or mind is adressing HT. Nothing in the world will ever perish. All is one. The change we call Death is mere a breaking of bonds, not the destruction of the elements. The soul is non-local and can go anywhere under will.
30. Becoming god - To understand god one must become equal to god. "Make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure, by a bound free yourself from the body; raise yourself above all time, become eternity; then you will understand god. Believe that nothing is impossible for you, think yourself immortal and capable of understanding all, all arts, all sciences, the nature of every living being. Mount higher than the highest height; desend lower than the lowest depth. Draw into yourself all sensations of everything created, (...) imagining that you are everywhere, (...) that you are not yet born (...). If you embrace into your thought all things at once, times, places, substances, qualities, quantities, you may understand god."
31. Thinking and creating - The intellect makes itself visible through the act of thinking. God makes itself visible through the act of creating.
32. Optimist and dualist gnosis - This is an optimist type of gnosis, as compared to the dualism in book 2 above, where regeneration consist of escaping matter; here, all is needed is a reflection of the world through the mind. In dualist gnosis the vision frees the adept from the evil forces in matter. In optimist gnosis the world is full of the divine and gnosis consists of fully grasping this. Of course for the Renaissance man this distinction would be blurred.

2.4. the common intellect.
33. Intellect - HT addresses Tat on the subject of the intellect. In some men, the intellect is god. So some men are gods. Unguided by intellect, man falls into animal state. All are subjected to destiny but those in possession of the Word are not ruled by it as others. If a man makes the right use of the both gifts of intellect and the Word, he becomes immortal.
The world too is god, hence indestructible. Living beings do not die but their mixture is simply dissolved. The energy of life is movement. The earth itself is in movement as it gives birth to all things. In the all there is nothing that is not god; gnosis consist of re-becoming god.

2.5. The perfect world.
34. Divine flow - HT, Asclepius, Tat and Hamaon meet in an Egyptian temple. The divine love starts speaking through HT. The divine doctrine flows down from heaven and can be attended through full application of the divine intellect. Matter is receptacle of all forms and nature imprints the forms with the 4 elements, extending them up to heaven.
35. Magnum Miraculum - Of all races, man comes from high where it had commerce with daemons and is related to the gods. Only the men gifted with the faculty of the intellect can unite back with the gods. Man is a Magnum Miraculum, he despises his human part and puts his hope in his divine part. All other creatures are bound to him.
36. Double nature - Man is condemned to a double nature. When god created the Demiurge he loved him as his son. But he needed another being to contemplate the creation on the material plane as well, so he created man and gave him a material enveloppe, so he could admire both the celestial world and take care of the material one.
37. Types of gods - There are different kinds of gods; intelligible and sensible. The ruler of heaven, dispenser of life is the god of air Jupiter. The Sun is the rigin of all light. Next in order are the 36 horoscopes: fixed stars whose chief is Pantomorph (also called Omniform). These 36 gods or Decans represent the divisions in 10 degrees of the Zodiac. They impose their individual forms on each individual; hence no 2 individuals are born the same. Finally comes the 7 spheres whose master is Destiny.
38. Two creators of gods - There is a similarity between god and man: as god is the creator of the gods in heaven, and man is the creator of the gods who reside in the temples. The statues are full of spiritus and can accomplish many things. Man was able to discover the nature of the gods and and to reproduce it. The ancestors invented the art of making gods by introducing the souls of daemons into idols through the use of divine rites.

2.6. The Lament (the early part of the Asclepius).
39. Apocalyps - There will come a time when worshipping divinities will become useless. The gods will leave earth. Strangers will invade Egypt and forbid by law to practice the cults. Nothing of religion will survive, save engraved stones. Egypt will become a desert. Wars will be fought, earth will loose its balance and the divine voice will be silenced.
40. Recorso - Then the one god will erase all evil by deluge or fire and bring back the worls to its first beauty. Men shall again live in continual hymns of praise.
41. Commentary - The commentary, attributed to Ficino is really by Lefèvre d'Etaples from 1505. Before translating the Corpus, Ficino wrote that Asclepius was a divine work on the Will of god. The Pimander for him then deals with the Power of god.
42. Rehabilitation and Initiation - The Renaisance man, reading Ficino, would rehabilitate the Egyptian religion of the Asclepius through the piety of the Pimander. In the light of the last he could see the first as the final initiation into the the Egyptian cult. It became a legitimate practice, even to the most devout philosophers, to try out sympathetic sacral magick. The rehabilitation of the Asclepius through the discovery of the Corpus Hermeticum was one of the main reasons for revival of magick in the Renaissance. As opposed to Augustine, it became fashionable to believe that the destruction of the Egyptin cult was the cause of the decay of ethics, hence its return was hoped for.
43. Hermes considered as a contemporary of Moses - Entering the cathedral of Sienna one first sees the portrait of Hermes Trismegistus surrounded by the Sybils announcing the coming of Christ. Next to him, a figure who might represent Moses holds a book on which is written: 'Take up thy letters and laws O Egyptians', which might be a supplication to revive the ancient Egyptian piety and morals.

Giordano Bruno Chapter 1

I'm reading Frances Yates' tantalizing "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic tradition".
My biased synthesis of chapter 1.

1. Hermes Trismegistus

1. Recorso - The great forward movement of the Renaissance derived its vigour from loking at the past. Man's history was seen as a perpetual cycle of golden, brazen and iron ages and back. The word Renaissance itself meant that progress was only possible through revival.On the one hand, the classical humanist longed for the return of the golden age of civilization. On the other, the religious reformer wanted to recover the pure gold of the original gospel. Yet the focus on a golden age of magick was based on an error in dating.
2. 3rd century AD - The works which inspired de magii were not the source which inspired Plato but were really from the 3rd century AD. The alleged writings of Hermes Trismegistus were written by unknown authors in the Gnostic culture of early Christianity. Cicero wrote there were five meruries, the last one killed Argos and consequently fled to Egypt where he took the name of Thoth. A large body of Greek litterature developped under the name of Hermes Trismegistus. Some texts were philosophical, others magickal. The most famous works linked to this name, the Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum were probably written between 100 and 300 AD. Although cast in a pseudo-Egyptian framework they were not written by an Egyptian priest but by various unknown Greek authors. The main philosophy is Platonic and Stoic, with some Jewish and Persian influences.
3. Asclepius and Pimander - The Asclepius describes how Egyptians cast down the powers of the universe into statues of their gods. The Pimander, the first of the 15 boks in the Corpus Hermeticum, gives an account of the creation of the world. The Corpus itself was probably combined later on from several loose texts.
4. Failure of reason - The world in which these were written was the peaceful environment of the Pax Romana. Bureaucracy was very efficient and culture was based on the 7 liberal arts. Greek philosophy had stalled, maybe because it had never come around to an experimental verification of it hypotheses (a paradigm starting in the 17th century). The old Platonic, Stoic and Epicurean theories were being repeated without progress. So the scholar world turned to other methods of cognition. Reason had failed, so the Nous or intuition was cultivated.
5. Path to illumination
- Philosophy had to be used as a path to reach an intuitive gnosis of the world and the divine. Hermetic treatises often took the form of a dialogue between a master and a disciple and culminated in the illumination of the adept. Illumination here is usually reached through contemplation of the cosmos as reflected in one's own Nous or Mens. This undercurent of Platonic and Stoic thought became a cult without temples nor liturgy: a philosophical religion.
6. Recorso bis - In the second century, just as in the Renaissance later on, people were convinced the earliest thinkers walked closer to the gods than their contemporary counterparts; hence the Pythagorean revival.
7. Egypt - Oriental cults were also considered more holy than the Greek. Above all, the Egyptian cult was revered. Pilgrimages to remote Egyptian temples were organised. The belief that Greek philosophers received their knowledge from and Egyptian source, predominant amongst Greek scholar in the first century AD, is reflected in the Asclepius.
8. Illusion - The hermetic writings fostered the illusion of the Renaissance magus that he had discovered in them an account of ancient Egyptian wisdom, recorded by a real person named Hermes Trismegistus. This huge historical error was to have enormous consequences.
9. Lactantius - The main authorities who accepted him as a real person were leading church fathers, mainly Lactantius in the 3rd century and Augustine in the 4th. Mentions in the (original Greek and lost version of ) Asclepius of 'the one true god' were quoted by Lactantius, who considered HT an admirable scholar and hereby used pagan wisdom to support Christianity. In the same book the Demiurge is named 'the son of god' which was read as a prophecy. Lactantius also cites the Sibylline oracles (really of Jewish origin, and manipulated by early Christians) to testify of the coming of Christ. Obviously, in order to work as a prophecy, these hermetic writings had to predate the coming of Christ.
10. Apuleius - The Latin translation of the Asclepius was attributed erroneously to Apuleius of Madaura, a highly educated scholar born in 123 AD in Carthage who saught salvation in the Egyptian occult lore. He is famous for his novel 'the golden ass' in which a man is transformed by witches into an ass, and after many sufferings has an epiphany in a dream of goddess Isis. He turns human again and becomes a priest of Isis in Egypt.
11. Augustine - Augustine on the other hand condemned HT in his De Civitate Dei. He refers to the Latin translation of the Asclepius where false idols are revered by the Egyptians. For Augustine, Apuleius was a Platonist, and Plato was impious because of his benign view on daemones. He criticizes the god-making passage in the Asclepius where daemones are cast magickally into Egyptian statues. Still, for Augustine too, HT was a prophet, albeit inspired by demons. In the Asclepius' description of the end of the Egyptian religion, augustine sees the end of idolatry and the start of Christianity.
12. The pious 16th century - Several pious hermeticists of the 16th century adopted the view that the idolatrous passages in Asclepius came from the alleged translator, Apuleius. Bruno took a bolder course in maintaining that that the ancient Egyptian religion was the only true one, obscured later on by the Jewish and Christian fallacy. The similarities between Genesis and Pimander urged hermeticists to try to date HT in relation to Moses.
13. Corpus Hermeticum - In 1460 a monk employed by Cosimo de Medici to collect manuscripts brought an incomplete Greek copy of the Corpus Hermeticum to Florence. Cosimo ordered his translator Ficino to stop at once working on Plato and translate this manuscript first. For the first time the complete works of Plato had been collected and were ready for translation, yet absolute priority was give to this collection of hermetic writings. Both Cosimo and Ficino knew the Latin Asclepius, which they believed to be much older than Plato. Renaissance's respect for the old as being closer to truth demanded that the Corpus Hermeticum should be translated before the Republic.
14. Pimander - Ficino gave the title 'Pimander' meaning 'divine mind' to the complete corpus. In his dedication he describes HT as an Egyptian priest, the nephew of Mercury, himself a nephew of Prometheus, a physicist contemporary of Moses. HT taught Orpheus, who taught Aglaophemus, who taught Pythagoras, who taught Philolaus, the teacher of Plato. In this genealogy of wisdom HT comes first. Further on, Ficino claims HT revealed arcane mysteries in his prophecies. Ficino tried his best to circumvent Augustine's condemnation and emphasized the views of Lactantius. Ficino ends his introduction by claiming that by reading Pimander, you could learn to rise above the deceptions of the senses and the clouds of fantasy, so the divine mind might flow into yours and illuminate; a view which was accepted throughout the Renaissance. The piety found in the Corpus Hermeticum confirmed the high opinion of HT by Lactantius and rehabilitated the Asclepius.
15. The Renaissance Magus - Ficino's Pimander had an enormous distribution. In contrast to the medieval sorcerer, the Renaissance magus was often highly respected as a philosopher, probably under the influence of the flood of Byzatine literature which made people realize how much early Christianity mingled with the occult. HT's literature wasn't the onnly one to be badly misdated: Zoroaster's 'Chaldean oracles', also considered a parangon of wisdom in the Renaissance, actually was written in the 2nd century AD.
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