A Rosicrucian Ramble

September 9, 2011

There sometimes seems to be a kerfuffle about ‘real’ identities on the internet. Google seem keen on it. You can always find an article or two suggesting that people would be better behaved if they used their irl identities, whatever they may be. But reading today about Rosicrucian & anti-Rosicrucian pamphleteering in the early 17th century reminded me afresh how much publishing of any sort has always been enmeshed with the shadow world of non or pseudo identities.

I wouldn’t want to give up the anonymous work of 1623 entitled Horrible Pacts made between the Devil and the Pretended Invisible Ones, in the name of bogus ‘authority’.

And frankly, excerpts like the following from Frances Yates’ The Rosicrucian Enlightenment get me really hot:

Theophilus Schweighardt published in 1618, with no name of place of publication or printer, a work with the following title: Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, Das ist: Weilauffige Entdeckung des Collegii und axiomatum von sondern erleuchten Fraternitet Christi-Rosen Creutz. This is a typical example of a Rosicrucian title, with its mixture of Latin and German. In this work Theophilus Schweighardt, who may be one Daniel Mögling, or may be the same as ‘Florentinus de Valentia’, who may be Andreae himself, is enthusiastic about the ‘Pansophia’ of the Brotherhood and their threefold activities, which he classifies as (1) divinely magical (2) physical or ‘chymical’, and (3) ‘Tertriune’ or religious and Catholic.

While I’m on Rosicrucians – the combination of them being required to heal the sick for free, and their red cross symbol made me wonder if this was where the Red Cross got its symbol from. Their webpage assures me that it’s an inversion of the Swiss flag, thus referencing their neutrality and the Geneva convention but I think I prefer my theory.

Despite its tendentiousness and the occasional whiff of the hobby horse there’s all sorts of good stuff in Yates’ book – Descartes showing himself to his friends in Paris to assure them he was not one of the invisible Rosicrucians (although his travels and indeed life are weirdly cognate with the trail of that phantom organisation – in fact I started dozing off and hazily imagined him on a mystical search across Europe for the secret of Thomas Hariot’s algebra…)

Then there’s this dizzying sentence:

The ‘Rosicrucian furore’ which arose in response to the stirring announcements of the manifestos soon became inextricably confused through the large numbers who tried to join in without inside knowledge of what it was all about, being merely attracted by the exciting possibility of getting in touch with mysterious personages possessing superior knowledge or powers, or angered and alarmed by the imagined spread of dangerous magicians or agitators.

A non-existent organisation, a ludic dream-fantasy of the Reformation, a ghostly reflection of Ignatius Loyola’s Jesuit shock troops, present only in publishing history, exists in its most concrete form in people who knew nothing about ‘what it was all about’? Those closest to the centre, the Paracelsist physicians Robert Fludd (from Bearstead, Kent – go Bearstead!) and Michael Maier regularly sending out pleas for this organisation to reveal itself, the ‘inside knowledge’ to which they were privy an allegorical structure of alchemical and mathematical mystical symbols? Madness, I tell you, madness:

The Invisible College of the Rose Cross Fraternity (from the Speculum Sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum)

Leave it, Tom, she’s not worth it.

August 15, 2011

This is a really long, really boring post. That isn’t some kind of aporia, intended to seduce you into marvelling at the polished excellence of what follows. It’s just really long. There is a song about halfway through though.

Read the rest of this entry »

Argued where? Linked how? Extended when? Why won’t you ANSWER these questions?

August 13, 2011

“It will be argued here that there are merits in considering the Reformation not merely as a movement that extended forwards into the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also as one umbilically linked with impulses rooted in the preceding period.”

The Reformation of the Landscape – Alexandra Walsham

I’m looking forward to reading this book, but this sort of academic writing makes me scream. I think some of he stuff that annoys me – the This Study Will stuff for instance – probably has good motivations to do with setting out your stall clearly. It doesn’t feel a particularly natural way to do it though and makes me cringe away from the page.

The adverbial stuff feels more pernicious though, trying to sneak in assumptions behind the verbs doing the logical work of the argument. At the very least they feel redundant. (A model is “firmly embraced” in the previous paragraph. A theoretical model that is, not a clothes one).

Not particularly pernicious tautologies like ‘extended forwards into the late 17th and 18th Centuries’ do something to undermine your trust in the writer, or at least create an unwelcome noise and a feeling that you are listening to the inherited cadences of academia rather than fresh thought. That may well not be true, and the substance of this particular book looks very interesting, but mental alertness is needed in order not to be lulled by the tones of its institutionalised writing styles.

Leave the Capitol! Exit this Roman shell!

April 28, 2011

The view south-eastish from the Capitoline Hill, from which the auspices of the flight of birds in the skies were taken by the augur from the Auguraculum.  It also held, *gazes down quickly at a book held beneath table level*, a Temple of Juno famous for its sacred geese, who had raised the alarm when the Gauls tried to attack the citadel one night in 390 BC and were thence looked after at State expense, carried each year on litters with purple and gold cushions in a ceremony at which dogs were crucified as a terrible reminder of the guard dogs who  had failed to bark.

So, birds basically. On the Capitoline Hill. Look, I can’t help it if it’s boring, I just wanted to use that Fall line.

Anyone drunk Fernet? It’s utterly revolting and rather more-ish. Here’s the wikipedia list of ingredients:

Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and coloured with caramel colouring. Ingredients rumored to be in fernet include codeine, mushrooms, fermented beets, coca leaf, gentian, rhubarb, wormwood, zedoary, cinchona, bay leaves, absinthe, orange peel, calumba, echinacea, quinine, ginseng, St. John’s wort, sage, and peppermint oil.

The effect of taking it down in one was once memorably described by Kingsley Amis as being like ‘throwing a cricket ball into an empty bath’.

The way it works is this: you take a sip and think ‘that’s disgusting, it’s just like black mouthwash’. Then you put it down, vowing never to drink any more. Then you think, after a suitable interval, ‘There was something else there, I wonder what it was’. Whereupon you take another sip. ‘No,’ you say to yourself, not mouthwash, what’s that bitter taste?’





‘Or, wait, is that … marjoram?’



‘Surely that can’t be…’




‘My tongue’s gone numb! That’ll be the wormwood! Pour me another!’ (crawl to kitchen singing Twa Recruiting Sergeants)

Because I was reading Wallace Stevens while drinking Fernet, and my mind couldn’t stagger too far from the immediate set of stimuli, it occurred to me that the way the flavours both mingle and rub abrasively up against each other was a little like the sonic effects of Wallace Stevens’ poetry. There’s little of the Fernet’s murkiness of course, the precision of the way the sounds explore each other is part of the appeal:

Insinuations of desire,

Puissant speech, alike in each,

Cried quittance

To the wickless halls.

The Ordinary Women

The way ‘insinuations’ and ‘speech’ each fight over/seduce/tug at the word ‘puissant’, so that a sort of exploration of the mouth, an articulation of unusual sound flavours akin to reading the perfumed auspices of the Fernet, occurs in the mind of the reader. The way also ‘quittance’ and ‘wickless’ have clearly been chosen for each other, their comparative obscurity, not least so close together, making them look like choices of sound more than whatever sense, which in turn paradoxically leads the reader to a greater secondary emphasis on meaning than might otherwise be the case…

So my mind ran drunkenly on.


I searched for some more or less satisfactory formula: The way in which his poetry revels and toys with the specific sounds of words tests the meaning of those words… maybe. ‘Tests’ isn’t quite right, ‘weighs’ or ‘proves’ maybe. I read Sunday Morning several times. It’s more lyrical than many of his poems, and I felt that at least part of the mystery was described  in lines given the woman of the piece:

She says, ‘I am content when wakened  birds,

Before they fly, test the reality

Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;’

Fields are words, poetry the sweet questioning of their reality. The lines continue:

‘But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields

Return no more, where, then, is paradise?’

Several more or less trite paradises are sketched before a half-answer given:

There is not any haunt of prophesy,

Nor any old chimera of the grave,

Neither the golden underground, nor isle

Melodious, where spirits gat them home,

Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm

Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured

As April’s green endures; or will endure

Like her remembrance of awakened birds,

Or her desire for June and evening, tipped

By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

By following the analogy of poetry’s sweet questionings above not too hard, these lines contain I think at least some sort of sense of the importance of poetry. Very often the paradise of a poem is found just after the poem has been finished, in its remembrance. Of course the lines in themselves contain a greater sense of the power of poetry than any half-assed drunken analogy drawing.

But birds, you see, birds again… and you thought I was just rambling.

Pass the Fernet.


The Cologne School of Ear Wiggling School

February 5, 2011

Concerning the physical features of the head in man, pygmy, and ape, he [Albertus Magnus] observes that these three are the only animals incapable of wiggling their ears.

Apes and Ape Lore – Horst Woldemar Janson

Albertus Magnus Trying to Wiggle His Ears

I can picture it now – Albertus Magnus hurrying across The Stone Bridge in Regensburg, being barracked by a young layabout, ‘Oi! Bert! Look! – *weke-weke – weke-weke* – Where’s yer innovative not to say revolutionary synthesis of diffuse Aristotelian anatomical information and current animal psychological and moral data via the form of religious exempla and encyclopedic aggregation, now! Eh! Your anti-Augustinian stance that reason is in fact, to a degree, linked with physical form, is not only potentially a most dangerous heresy, but at least partly based on a dodgy datum! Eppur si muove!’ (Big Bert could, I suppose, have answered that although incapable was perhaps rather strong, he was in fact referring to the comparatively small accessory nucleus, responsible for an ability to move the ears in humans, apes, and pygmies, in the brain stem. Furthermore, young fella-me-lad (he might have continued),what’s your name? Aquinas? Furthermore young Aquinas, I’ll have you know that although the data in my works of aggregation and synthesis may eventually be revealed to be on occasion somewhat shaky not to say backasswards, the processes by which I go about such works of synthesis and aggregation will maintain. My discoveries, although not always ‘true’ by the lights of a future age, will nevertheless break fruitful ground, which is to say the ground I break will be the ground in which much of the seeds of the development in the thought of man will be sown, something those responsible for the Scientification of Culture in the 21st century, with their near-deification of the Enlightenment, would do well to remember.)

Go on, give it another go, Albertus:

Nope? D’aw.