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The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (Routledge Classics)

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It is hard to overestimate the importance of the contribution made by Dame Frances Yates to the serious study of esotericism and the occult sciences. To her work can be attributed the contemporary understanding of the occult origins of much of Western scientific thinking, indeed of Western civilization itself. The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age was her last book, It is hard to overestimate the importance of the contribution made by Dame Frances Yates to the serious study of esotericism and the occult sciences. To her work can be attributed the contemporary understanding of the occult origins of much of Western scientific thinking, indeed of Western civilization itself. The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age was her last book, and in it she condensed many aspects of her wide learning to present a clear, penetrating, and, above all, accessible survey of the occult movements of the Renaissance, highlighting the work of John Dee, Giordano Bruno, and other key esoteric figures. The book is invaluable in illuminating the relationship between occultism and Renaissance thought, which in turn had a profound impact on the rise of science in the seventeenth century. Stunningly written and highly engaging, Yates' masterpiece is a must-read for anyone interested in the occult tradition.


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It is hard to overestimate the importance of the contribution made by Dame Frances Yates to the serious study of esotericism and the occult sciences. To her work can be attributed the contemporary understanding of the occult origins of much of Western scientific thinking, indeed of Western civilization itself. The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age was her last book, It is hard to overestimate the importance of the contribution made by Dame Frances Yates to the serious study of esotericism and the occult sciences. To her work can be attributed the contemporary understanding of the occult origins of much of Western scientific thinking, indeed of Western civilization itself. The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age was her last book, and in it she condensed many aspects of her wide learning to present a clear, penetrating, and, above all, accessible survey of the occult movements of the Renaissance, highlighting the work of John Dee, Giordano Bruno, and other key esoteric figures. The book is invaluable in illuminating the relationship between occultism and Renaissance thought, which in turn had a profound impact on the rise of science in the seventeenth century. Stunningly written and highly engaging, Yates' masterpiece is a must-read for anyone interested in the occult tradition.

30 review for The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (Routledge Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jigar Brahmbhatt

    Starting from Hermes Trismegistus, this book traces the path of occult philosophy as it entered the Renaissance world in the form of Christian Cabala, largely by attempts made by Pico Della Mirandola and others to introduce Christian symbolism into the Jewish Cabala . They showcased the semblance as the highest kind of learning and tried to remove any dark/devilish interpretations from the practices to make them pristine. Frances Yates argues that it is this form of Christian Cabala that managed Starting from Hermes Trismegistus, this book traces the path of occult philosophy as it entered the Renaissance world in the form of Christian Cabala, largely by attempts made by Pico Della Mirandola and others to introduce Christian symbolism into the Jewish Cabala . They showcased the semblance as the highest kind of learning and tried to remove any dark/devilish interpretations from the practices to make them pristine. Frances Yates argues that it is this form of Christian Cabala that managed to leak into Elizabethan England and came to influence the mood of the period, so much so that its ripples can be felt in the works of Shakespeare. It explains how the expulsion of Jews from Spain and the resulting refuge in other European regions suddenly introduced the scholars in different countries to the relatively unknown practice of the Cabala, and that is how Pico Della Mirandola and later the infamous Cornelius Agrippa chanced upon such a knowledge. Agrippa's book De Occulta Philosophia would emerge as the main source for the later Elizabethan scholars to carry forward their work. Here is Frances Yates in her own words: "The Elizabethan world was populated, not only by tough seamen, hard-headed politicians, serious theologians. It was a world of spirits, good and bad, fairies, demons, witches, ghosts, conjurers. This fact about the Elizabethans, reflected in their poetry, is too well known to need elaboration. The epic poem in which the aspirations of the age found expression evolved around a ‘fairy’ queen; one of the most significant figures in the poem is an enchanter (Spencer's The Faerie Queene). And the greatest plays of the greatest poet of the age are suffused in the atmosphere of the occult. Macbeth meets witches; Hamlet is haunted by the ghost. Was this preoccupation with the occult derived solely from popular traditions or influences? Or did it have some deep-seated connection with the philosophy of the age?" She suggests the influence of John Dee on the Elizabethan age, who was in turn inspired by the likes of Agrippa: "He appears as truly a man of the late Renaissance developing Renaissance occult philosophy in scientific directions, involved in the religious and reforming side of the movement, but overtaken by the reaction of the later sixteenth century." The reaction she talks about are the attempts to link occult with witchcraft by many a gentlemen of that age, prominently among them was Marlow whose Doctor Faustus is looked upon as propagandist literature, which suggested harsh punishment for those involved in the occult, considering it a dark art. The Faust figure was a subtle dig at Agrippa according to Yates. Passionate defenses were produced as well, Chapman's Shadow of night among them, and surprisingly The Tempest, which is seen in a completely new light in this book: "In The Tempest, written after Dee’s death and during the period of ‘the Elizabethan revival within the Jacobean age’, Dee is shadowed through Prospero in this most daring play which presents a good conjurer at a time when conjuring was a dreaded accusation of the propaganda of the reaction." Calling this book an attempted history of the Christian Cabala, the writer acknowledges that whereas a lot of Hebrew historians have attempted a proper study of Jewish Cabala, very little is written on the subject she addresses in this book and believes that it is just the beginning of a long line of work that can be followed up by later historians. In the epilogue she writes: "The subject is of immense importance, nothing less than the new approach to the Judeo–Christian tradition made in the enthusiastic revival of Hebrew studies at the Renaissance. In its profoundly religious approach, Christian Cabala almost repeats the original situation from which Christianity derived. The early Christians appropriated a Christianised form of the Jewish religion. Similarly, the Christian Cabalists of the Renaissance appropriated Jewish mysticism or Cabala and used it for their own religious ends." What Frances Yates produces here is a thrilling work of scholarship, and I am in no position to comment on it. The way it works for me is to help me understand the many ways in which history works, and how different ways of looking produces different meanings. Given my fascination for the esoteric, this book was quite interesting to read. I am sure something like this cannot be achieved without hours and hours of systematic research. It makes me respect genuine scholars because when they think they are sure about something, bloody hard-word has gone into it. Shouldn't harm us to spare a thought about it, especially in the "social media" milieu where every tom, dick, and harry has something to say about everything.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan Berger-jones

    I wanted to read this book but delayed because it seemed too dry. No. couldn't put it down. The relationships between Alchemy & Shakespeare was the best part of the book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    Dame Frances Yates’ work is a study of Christian cabalism as it was understood in Elizabethan England. She argues that “occult” philosophy was the dominant philosophy and sees Cabala as “supposed esoteric tradition passed down from Moses through the ages. It includes the ‘Sephiroth,” “intermediaries or emanations of the divine” (Yates 2).” Cabalism didn’t arise in a vacuum but was mediated through several countries, religious groups, and wandering philosophers (Bruno et al). These men gave us the Dame Frances Yates’ work is a study of Christian cabalism as it was understood in Elizabethan England. She argues that “occult” philosophy was the dominant philosophy and sees Cabala as “supposed esoteric tradition passed down from Moses through the ages. It includes the ‘Sephiroth,” “intermediaries or emanations of the divine” (Yates 2).” Cabalism didn’t arise in a vacuum but was mediated through several countries, religious groups, and wandering philosophers (Bruno et al). These men gave us the idea of the Magus. A magus is “a lofty figure, endowed with powers of operating on the world” (21). The Renaissance magicians thought of themselves as “white magicians.” Angels and not demons. Angelic influences pour down through the Sephiroth (77). Lull’s Theory “Everything in the natural world is composed of the four elements...to [which correspond] the elemental qualities--cold, moist, dry, hot” (12). Lull doesn’t believe in astrology in the sense of horoscope. Rather, he holds that the planets correspond to Neo-Platonic powers (very similar to CS Lewis in That Hideous Strength). These forces weren’t evil per se. They are good (as all of God’s creation is). Rather, they can be used for evil purposes and in that sense can become a terror to the wielder (29). While respectable academics might scoff at any “occultism,” few doubt the Neo-Platonism of the time as seen in Spenser and others. The Neo-Platonic poets posited a mystical, Arthurian side of the British Empire (93). And Yates’ genius is able to make sense of otherwise difficult moments in the Spenserian tradition. By positing a hermetic undertone, Yates opens up mysteries in why Spenser opted for 12 Books when there are not 12 Aristotelian virtues. Yates suggests that for Spenser the “12” is a combination of both 12 Aristotelian virtues and the sign of the Zodiac (119). Yates advances the conclusion that Spenser’s poem is not only a Neo-Platonic manifesto (which is true and rarely disputed) but one that is based on the Christian cabala of Giorgi and Agrippa (123). As always, Yates gives us top-notch scholarship. There are only a few minor qualms. Parts of the book repeat itself and other parts don’t appear immediately relevant.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Odile

    Yates' last book is a great read, touching upon essential points in the philosophy of a great many central figures of the esoteric renaissance. She makes a case for Christian Qabbalah being one of the most important uniting strains of thought in the works of these figures (Giorgi, Pico Della Mirondola, Dee, etc.), and does so convincingly. At the same time, the works of such authors are linked to the literature and mythology of the Elizabethan age, which adds fascinating parts of art and literary Yates' last book is a great read, touching upon essential points in the philosophy of a great many central figures of the esoteric renaissance. She makes a case for Christian Qabbalah being one of the most important uniting strains of thought in the works of these figures (Giorgi, Pico Della Mirondola, Dee, etc.), and does so convincingly. At the same time, the works of such authors are linked to the literature and mythology of the Elizabethan age, which adds fascinating parts of art and literary history to this book. Add to that that the book's written in a clear and well-paced style, and you end up with one of the essential works of the history of renaissance philosophy and culture. Highly recommended!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maan Kawas

    An excellent book by Fraces Yates which examines the occult philosopy (Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Christian Cabala, magic, and the Rosicrucian) in the Elizabethan age and the Renaissance! The book also examines the works of great men of letters (e.g. Spenser, Sidney, Marlow, Johnson, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, John Dee, Aggripp, Marsilius, and della Mirandola). through that philosophic lens! I found the book so enlightening and interesting, though difficult in some places. However, the book sho An excellent book by Fraces Yates which examines the occult philosopy (Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Christian Cabala, magic, and the Rosicrucian) in the Elizabethan age and the Renaissance! The book also examines the works of great men of letters (e.g. Spenser, Sidney, Marlow, Johnson, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, John Dee, Aggripp, Marsilius, and della Mirandola). through that philosophic lens! I found the book so enlightening and interesting, though difficult in some places. However, the book shows the importance of understanding the historical, cultural, and intellectual context of a literary or artistic work if one whishes to understand and appreciate it appropriately. I would also recommend reading Yates' book "Giordano Bruno" and the Hermetic Tradition".

  6. 4 out of 5

    A.J. Jr.

    This is a book worth reading if you're at all interested in the time period and subject matter. It's really quite fascinating!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Plaisance

    In this followup to her paradigm changing, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Frances Yates explores the influences such disparate themes as the emergence of Christian Cabala, the influence of Cornelius Agrippa's (1486-1535) transvaluation of the Saturnine upon Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the complex relationship between the Continental Reformation and the Hermetic revival, and John Dee's (1527-1608) influence on Elizabethan culture and literature. In all areas analyzed, Yates treats the In this followup to her paradigm changing, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Frances Yates explores the influences such disparate themes as the emergence of Christian Cabala, the influence of Cornelius Agrippa's (1486-1535) transvaluation of the Saturnine upon Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the complex relationship between the Continental Reformation and the Hermetic revival, and John Dee's (1527-1608) influence on Elizabethan culture and literature. In all areas analyzed, Yates treats the subjects with enough depth to make this study stand up as a worthy successor to her prior work. Of particular interest to me was the treatment of John Dee as an English Neoplatonist par excellence. Provided Yates' analysis is correct, Dee's influence upon the intellectual landscape of Elizabethan England, in particular the phenomenon of British Imperialism, was tremendous—a fact I was wholly ignorant of prior to reading this book. While not as tightly focused as other books of hers, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, weaves a tightly argued picture of previously unexplored areas of esotericism in the Renaissance.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leonardo

    Éste es un libro literalmente seminal que ayudó a ampliar la visión que se tenía de la época isabelina y la interpretación de algunas de las obras literarias más representativas de esa época. A través de su amplia, pero no por ello menos detallista, recreación del ocultismo en la época de Isabel I, Yates nos presenta una época en que la filosofía, las religiones y la política se entrelazaban de manera fascinante, aunque no siempre amistosa. La primera parte del libro es una excelente y erudita i Éste es un libro literalmente seminal que ayudó a ampliar la visión que se tenía de la época isabelina y la interpretación de algunas de las obras literarias más representativas de esa época. A través de su amplia, pero no por ello menos detallista, recreación del ocultismo en la época de Isabel I, Yates nos presenta una época en que la filosofía, las religiones y la política se entrelazaban de manera fascinante, aunque no siempre amistosa. La primera parte del libro es una excelente y erudita introducción a la filosofía neoplatonista y el cabalismo cristiano de Europa continental. Una excelente introducción para los neófitos y un delicioso manual de referencia rápida para los expertos. La segunda parte explora las manifestaciones del cabalismo cristiano y el iluminismo rosacruz en Inglaterra, centrándose en la figura "maldita" del Doctor Dee. Finalmente, Yates explora las influencias filosófica en la literatura de la época, desde las obras "retrógadas" de Marlowe, hasta las cambiantes visiones sobre los judíos, las brujas y los magos en las obras de Shakespeare.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    I have said elsewhere that occultism is nonsense but often it can be beautiful nonsense. The late middle ages and the Renaissance inherited classical Neo-Platonism from the Christian tradition of the middle ages, from Moorish Spain it inherited both classical pagan philosophy and Christian, Jewish and Muslim mysticism. The ornate cosmology of the middle ages with numerology, astrology, the four elements and other arcana which was thought to be the best understanding of the universe at one time b I have said elsewhere that occultism is nonsense but often it can be beautiful nonsense. The late middle ages and the Renaissance inherited classical Neo-Platonism from the Christian tradition of the middle ages, from Moorish Spain it inherited both classical pagan philosophy and Christian, Jewish and Muslim mysticism. The ornate cosmology of the middle ages with numerology, astrology, the four elements and other arcana which was thought to be the best understanding of the universe at one time became the literary material and symbolism of later ages like the Elizabethan age and through them our modern literature. This obscured arcana is built into some of our greatest works of literature and philosophy as science it is nonsense (in that it is nothing like a description of the physical world). As literature it is quite exquisite the symbols and metaphors pointing to spiritual (psychological) truths is highly valuable. This book is a good introduction into long buried but influential undercurrents to western culture. a real treat.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    In this book, Frances A. Yates connects the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492 to a search for a Christian Cabala, a synthesis to find a way of blending Judaism with Christianity. Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Cornellius Agrippa, and John Dee are prominent here. She also describes the pushback in England, fueled by Christopher Marlowe's anti-Semitic play, "The Jew of Malta." Marlowe's play fomented anti-Semitic riots. It is her assertion that Shakespeare wrote "The Merchant of Venice" In this book, Frances A. Yates connects the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492 to a search for a Christian Cabala, a synthesis to find a way of blending Judaism with Christianity. Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Cornellius Agrippa, and John Dee are prominent here. She also describes the pushback in England, fueled by Christopher Marlowe's anti-Semitic play, "The Jew of Malta." Marlowe's play fomented anti-Semitic riots. It is her assertion that Shakespeare wrote "The Merchant of Venice" as a counter argument to Marlowe. Shakespeare's uses of spirits and witches were not fantasy; rather, the population of that time believed witches were in their midst. It was a very interesting read, and will lead me to search out other works of Elizabethan plays and poetry.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I picked this up more for the Elizabethan connection than anything else. I think it would help to have a good background in occult studies, something I do not have. I found her connection of certain Elizbethan occult beliefs to Cabbla intersting. My comments are on the literature connection. I just have to say - Bassanio as a Jew? Nope, sorry. Don't buy it. I'll grant you, Dr. Yates, you made a good agrument. But no, as much as I love Shakespeare; I don't think Merchant was a love poem in ode of I picked this up more for the Elizabethan connection than anything else. I think it would help to have a good background in occult studies, something I do not have. I found her connection of certain Elizbethan occult beliefs to Cabbla intersting. My comments are on the literature connection. I just have to say - Bassanio as a Jew? Nope, sorry. Don't buy it. I'll grant you, Dr. Yates, you made a good agrument. But no, as much as I love Shakespeare; I don't think Merchant was a love poem in ode of Jews. You might be one to Spenser's strutuce of the fairy queen, and the connections you made between royalty and alcmeny were somewhat interesting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Meeg

    Fascinating! The Importance of Christian Kabbalah and other occult philosophies in the development of Renaissance thought and their role in the Reformation. Exploring works by Durer, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton from an "occult philosophy" perspective. I could go on. Reading this book, one gets the impression that this incorporates (sometimes summarizing, sometimes drawing new connections) material Yates wrote about in previous books and articles. That makes it seem like a great intr Fascinating! The Importance of Christian Kabbalah and other occult philosophies in the development of Renaissance thought and their role in the Reformation. Exploring works by Durer, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton from an "occult philosophy" perspective. I could go on. Reading this book, one gets the impression that this incorporates (sometimes summarizing, sometimes drawing new connections) material Yates wrote about in previous books and articles. That makes it seem like a great introduction to her scholarship.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    The first part of Yates' book is devoted to reviewing the most important thinkers of "the occult philosophy." I found this the most interesting section of the book. I felt that her interpretations of Elizabethan literature in light of the occult philosophy (which most of the rest of the book was devoted)were rather a stretch and not always believable. But as she herself notes, she uncovers enough of value to make the topic worth pursuing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kreso

    Nophoto-m-25x33 So if you thought the melancholic is the most boring of the 4 types of personality (other being phlegmatic, sanguinic, choleric) you're wrong. Melancholic Saturn weathers all obstacles with stamina and memory. Descartes fought protestants as a soldier 1620., near White Mountain, and had a vision (Angel coming and saying that nature shall be conquered by number.) 1637. he printed Discours sur la method, renouncing occultism.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Malini Sridharan

    Very interesting analysis of John Dee's occultism and its effects on Elizabeth's foreign policy and propaganda. Also includes a concise but informative review of the hermetic and occultist traditions that came before and may have influenced Dee. Yates goes so far in her interpretations that sometimes it reads almost like an umberto eco novel, but that is kind of a good thing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    Really excellent work by one of the greatest writers on the occult I've ever read. Her mastery is superb and especially helpful when trying to understand works by the likes of Gershom Scholem. Chapter by chapter she elucidates her theory of the development of a Christian Cabala. Cannot recommend it enough.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Graham

    I found this in the gift shop of Shakespeare's Globe of all places, and took me the best part of a year to get around to reading it. Readable, fascinating and incredibly illuminating. As useful for the purpose of serious academic learning as it for satisfying an idle curiosity. Glorious.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eunice

    Handy book if you are interested in the occult philosophy and its development through time.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    http://web.me.com/g.b.freeman/Reads/B...

  20. 5 out of 5

    LOL_BOOKS

    LOL I GET DRUNK AND SPEND THE TIME DL'ING NERDY BOOKS. I SHOULD PROBABLY GO INTO THE WORLD AND FUCK SOME PEOPLE INSTEAD.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul Baldowski

    Interesting treatment of religion, society, and the occult, marred by Yates' flights of fantasy and tenuous connections in the second part of the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Daemon Peterson

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaso

  24. 5 out of 5

    Miss Havisham

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lestsariel Chan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andy Magnusson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  28. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Brooks

  29. 5 out of 5

    Verdandi

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vicki-Marie

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