The Gateway to Eternal Wisdom
this version dates M.DC.II (1902)
But wait, it is older still! From here:
The following caption, conveniently accompanied by a translation of the diagram in mention, we get:
"This symbolic figure, representing the way to everlasting life, is described by Khunrath in substance as follows: "This is the Portal of the amphitheatre of the only true and eternal Wisdom--a narrow one, indeed, but sufficiently august, and consecrated to Jehovah. To this portal ascent is made by a mystic, indisputably prologetic, flight of steps, set before it as shown in the picture. It consists of seven theosophic, or, rather, philosophic steps of the Doctrine of the Faithful Sons. After ascending the steps, the path is along the way of God the Father, either directly by inspiration or by various mediate means. According to the seven oracular laws shining at the portal, those who are inspired divinely have the power to enter and with the eyes of the body and of the mind, of seeing, contemplating and investigating in a Christiano-Kabalistic, divino-magical, physico-chemical manner, the nature of the Wisdom: Goodness, and Power of the Creator; to the end that they die not sophistically but live theosophically, and that the orthodox philosophers so created may with sincere philosophy expound the works of the Lord, and worthily praise God who has thus blessed these friend, of God." The above figure and description constitute one of the most remarkable expositions ever made of the appearance of the Wise Man's House and the way by which it must be entered."
From the conclusion in this masterful piece of work we learn that the diagram is most literally an invitation by the philosophers into the House of the Mysteries, harking back to the time of Aristotle and even earlier. It is not known to me that Dr. Carl Jung had direct knowledge concerning the Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom, or he would have immediately seen a correlation between the diagram and the transforming power of the soul, that being the house in which we dwell.
The Emerald Tablet
A 17th century depiction of the Tablet by Heinrich Khunrath, 1606
Author: Heinrich Khunrath Work: Amhitheatrum sapientae aeternae Date: 1606
This work is over 400 years old, in the public domain.
|I quote a
passage in a thread
Date: Mon Aug 19 09:54:29 1996
In response to Josh Senyek and Jon Marshall here is the text of the talk I gave in Ceski Krumlov to the Frances Yates Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited conference.
"A work often dragged into the Rosicrucian camp is the Amphitheatrum (the Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom) of Heinrich Khunrath. This was written before 1604 and a version containing the four circular diagram without the extensive text was issued in 1595, though only a few copies seem to have been printed. Only three copies of this edition appear to have survived (one in Basle, one in Wisconsin and a version with only two plates in the British Library.) The full work was published in 1609, with some additional large rectangular plates bearing symbolism which some writers have perceived as echoing that of the Fama - the heptangular fortress, the college of the mysteries, the gate of the Amphitheatre with a structure echoing the seven-sided vault."
|This is the
In response to questions about
Date: Mon Aug 19 09:54:29 1996
In response to Josh Senyek and Jon Marshall here is the text of the talk I gave in Ceski Krumlov to the Frances Yates Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited conference.
* * *
Although at first sight Rosicrucianism may appear to have sprung unannounced into the world of early 17th century Europe (like Pallas Athene born in her full wisdom and maturity from the head of Zeus) creating a furore of speculation and fascinated interest among the learned, it becomes obvious on deeper investigation that the people who shaped Rosicrucian ideas drew heavily for their inspiration from the stream of the hermetic tradition.
Frances Yates attempted to understand Rosicrucianism as arising out of the political, social, philosophical and religious currents of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Some elements of the Yates thesis, as it became known, now look decidedly shaky - she really did not give enough attention to the German origins of Rosicrucianism - and perhaps she rather expanded the term 'Rosicrucian' in her book, beyond its more narrow focus on the group of texts and writers that we can recognise as forming the early Rosicrucians, to encompass the wider pan-European hermetic current in the early 17th century, so that it became impossible for her to give a solid Rosicrucian history. Much of what she said would not be questioned if we substituted the word 'hermetic' in her book the Rosicrucian Enlightenment, for the word 'rosicrucian'.
My colleague in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Dr Carlos Gilly, has been researching the background to the Rosicrucians for the past ten years and has been given the opportunity to visit many European libraries in a quest for source documents and writings relevant to Rosicrucianism. Carlos Gilly has taken an entirely different approach, focussing upon the exclusively Rosicrucian material and he has now exhaustively documented the 'Rosicrucian phenomenon', showing the various personalities and the key texts that constitute the core of historical Rosicrucianism. Little of this material was available to Frances Yates in the late 60's and early 70's when she wrote 'The Rosicrucian Enlightenment'. Carlos Gilly's work will provide a sure foundation on which future explorations of Rosicrucianism can proceed. A multi-volume work documenting all this source material will soon be issued by the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. I might just mention that the Bibliotheca has this year (1995) organised two major exhibitions of Rosicrucian source material. Earlier this year at the Herzog-August Bibliothek Wolfenbuttel, and presently at the University Library in Amsterdam. A catalogue of the Amsterdam exhibition, written by Carlos Gilly with the title Cimelia Rhodostaurotica (the Treasures of the Rosy Cross) has been issued in the past fortnight.
The earliest document of the Rosicrucians the 'Fama fraternitatis' was published in 1614, though copies were circulating in manuscript as early as 1610. In this key work the image of the secret order of the Rosicrucians is carefully sculpted and revealed in the exciting story of its foundation.
The Fama implies that the
Rosicrucians had been around
as a secret order hidden for over a century and
whose work was immediately
to be revealed. The Fama uses two allegories to
illustrate its foundation
in the hermetic tradition. The first is the story of
how the founder C.R.
got his wisdom on a journey to the East to North
Africa and the middle
East, which he takes back to Europe. There is thus
here the now commonplace
idea of the transmission of ancient hermetic wisdom
through the Arabic
philosophers and scientists into medieval
We all know that the promises to reply to letters from potential members of the new order were ignored and that after the clamour of the manifestos proclaiming the existence of the order and promising much to all of good will who replied, there was complete silence.
The focussing of the learned of Europe on the question of the Rosicrucians during the second decade of the 17th Century led many creative minds to explore the potentials of the hermetic philosophy and produced an explosion of hermetic/Rosicrucian publication, revitalising and expanding the domain of hermetic ideas. Thus alchemy grew into an extended philosophical system and a hermetic mysticism came to maturity in the writings of Jacob Boehme.
We can view the appearance of the Rosicrucian manifestos acting as a kind of lens focussing the hermetic ideas of the 16th and early 17th centuries into a new synthesis which seemed to the learned of the times to address the problems of their age. It is a tribute to the power of the archetype that was there unfolded that we can, four centuries later, still see Rosicrucianism in a similar way as holding potential for a rebirth of ancient hermetic ideas in our present age.
The Fama mentions texts found in the vault which one supposes to contain or encapsulate the Rosicrucian wisdom. Thus the authors of the Fama clearly intended that their renewal or revitalising of the arts and sciences should be seen to based upon an earlier hermetic tradition preserved in writing. The story in the Fama even emphasises that the third row of successors, supposedly writing the Fama, had little knowledge of the original Rosicrucian wisdom except through writings "otherwise we must confess, that after the death of the said A. none of us had in any manner known anything of Brother R.C. and of his first fellow-brethren, than that which was extant of them in our Philosophical Bibliotheca". They even gave especial prominence to Paracelsus, whose writings are positively identified as being in harmony with the Rosicrucian ideals, though simultaneously they strove to distance themselves from his methods and mannerisms.
So the Rosicrucians did not want to be seen as mere iconoclasts and revolutionaries, but intended rather to be perceived as preservers of a tradition of wisdom from past centuries. A parallel can be made with the early 17th century publication of the alchemical works of Basil Valentine. During the first two decades of the 17th century an important group of alchemical writings were published under the editorship of Johan Tholde. Although these innovative pieces of alchemical literature could easily stand on their own, they were given a mystical charge by the claim that they were written two centuries earlier by a Benedictine Monk called Basil Valentine and hidden under a marble tablet behind the high altar of the Cathedral of Erfurt, and recently uncovered. This idea clearly parallels the discovery of the vault of Christian Rosenkreutz. At this time other writers were using the same device. Dee and Kelly tell of their discovery of a red transmuting tincture at the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and it was this very tincture which they used to produce transmutations at Prague and Trebona.
At this time, the late 16th and first decades of the 17th century, the idea of something from the past being sealed and buried and newly uncovered, somehow resonated with the spirit of the times and proved a heady recipe for capturing and focussing people's attention.
Thus Rosicrucianism in its foundation pays homage to and draws upon the hermetic tradition of previous centuries. Many of the works that were later to be published during the explosion of hermetic publication in the wake of the appearance of the Rosicrucian manifestos, were inspired by the symbolism and texts of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Let us now look at some of these texts.
There are to my knowledge only a handful of incunables directly relevant to hermeticism (Ficino's translation of parts of the Corpus Hermeticum of course, some works of Geber, Lull and Lactantius, and the allegorical mentions of alchemy in the Roman de la Rose and the Hypnerotomachia), so before 1500 alchemical ideas were transmitted only by means of manuscripts.
There are a few works in manuscript
which appear to
go back to Arabic source material which was
translated into Latin from
about the twelfth century onwards. There are a
number of manuscripts surviving
from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries which
have definite Arabic
precursors. Here we meet the names of Morienus,
Avicenna, Calid, Alphidius,
Geber, Rhases and works like the Turba
philosophorum. This layer of hermetic
material, however, remained rather small, associated
with works on astrology,
magic and medicine.
One of the most important of these is surely the Buch der heiligen Driefaltigkeit (the book of the Holy Trinity) written in German in about 1415. It contained a series of emblematic coloured drawings which among other things drew parallels between Christ and the philosophers' stone. I know of 15 copies of this work in manuscript (not all from this early period). The images were later printed as a series of woodcuts in Reusner's Pandora of 1582.
Another early work of alchemical symbolism is the Pretiosissimum Donum Dei (the most precious gift of God). This has a series of 12 or 13 flasks in which the evolution of the white and red stones is described. This is pictured by the appearance of a white queen with a white rose and a red king with a red rose in the final two flasks. This work appears in the 15th Century and is sometimes ascribed to George Aurach and dated 1475. The series of flasks were also printed in the Pandora of 1582. I have been able to find over 60 manuscripts of this work.
The Aurora consurgens is another early manuscript, possibly late 14th century (though certainly not later that the early 15th century). This has a series of 38 or so magnificent allegorical coloured drawings and some 16 manuscripts have survived that I know of. The text consists of a series of parables and links together alchemical and Christian ideas. The text was later printed (without the illustrations) in two compendia the Artis auriferae (the art of making gold) of 1572 and 1613, and the 'Harmoniae inperscrutabilis chymico-philosophicae' (the inscrutable chemical philosophical harmony: or the concordance of the ancient philosopher's, hitherto indeed most desired, but not yet sent out into the public light) published by Lucas Jennis in 1625.
The final work we shall have time to consider, is the Splendor Solis. This German manuscript appears in about 1532 and consists of a series of 22 illustrations. (The copy in the British Library, though perhaps the best known, is a later copy dated to 1582.) 20 manuscripts of this work are known to me (not all of an early date). This work was ascribed to Salomon Trismosin, supposed to be the teacher of Paracelsus, but most likely, like Basil Valentine, an invented adept. (The Splendor solis is sometimes credited to Ulrich Poysel.) It was later printed with woodcuts of the illustrations in the Aureum Vellus (the Golden Fleece) of 1598 (which was reprinted and reissued in a series of different editions till about 1610).
Thus we can see that, in the last two decades of the 16th century and the first decade of the 17th century, many key works of hermetic symbolism from the manuscript tradition of a century or more earlier were made public in printed versions. In a sense this parallels the allegorical tale in the Fama of the uncovering of spiritual wisdom of the past. The appearance of this material in the closing decades of the 16th century must have been like the opening of a time capsule. Perhaps it was this that led the authors of the Fama to frame their allegory. At any rate this idea resonated with the learned of Europe and with the announcement that there was a society of philosophers who appeared to hold the key to unlocking this mass of symbolism, many seriously tried to make contact with the Rosicrucian Brotherhood.
Of course there was silence. How could any group have satisfied this clamour for enlightenment. Perhaps the authors of the Fama actually planned to form such a society and changed their minds when they were overwhelmed with the response, or it may be that they only ever intended this as an allegorical statement of the principle of the renewal of knowledge.
With the publication of the Fama in 1614 whose conclusion requested people to join with the Brotherhood and in the first instance to write to them, there appeared many pamphlets and books fuelling the Rosicrucian frenzy. Carlos Gilly has documented many hundreds of responses to the Rosicrucian manifestos in the form of answers, missives, replies, epistolae, reports, evidences, examinations, elucidations, defences, apologia, discourses, warnings, judgments, deliberations, justifications, considerations, contemplations, prognostications, prophecies, echoes, instructions, advertisements, etc. - for the most part in German or Latin - some under the name of a real author, others pseudonymous, and others entirely anonymous.
However this was not all, for the decade following the appearance of the Rosicrucian manifestos saw a massive increase in hermetic publication, no doubt stimulated by the increased public appetite for this material. Many writers who had experienced difficulties in getting their works published now found sympathetic printers. Take the case of Robert Fludd. Shortly after he had his Apologia Compendiaria (a brief apology for the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross) published in 1615, he found it easy to get published his vast tomes on the Macrocosm and Microcosm which he had written some years earlier, but had not been published due to no printer being willing to cover the cost of engraving the numerous illustrations necessary for this work. At the same time we see that another Rosicrucian apologist Michael Maier had no difficulty in getting his stream of 17 titles published between 1614 and 1625.
With the benefit of this perspective that I have sketched, of the making public in print the hermetic material from a century or more earlier, we can look at some of the books which appeared in the wake of the Rosicrucian manifestos.
First let us try to place the Chymical Wedding into this picture. Although we can recognise that the Fama had a definite allegorical structure, it appears that many people at the time took it quite literally. This may have dismayed the writers of the Fama. The appearance of the Confessio a year later in 1615, only seemed to muddy things further, as it appeared rather to be a policy statement of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, a more 'secular' work as opposed to the spiritual allegory and high inspiration of the Fama. Indeed the Confessio is rarely analysed or quoted from in present day writings on this subject - it is the Fama which still holds our attention and fascination. The issuing of the Chymical Wedding, which is a profound extended alchemical allegory, wrapped up in an amusing and in places gripping story, was perhaps intended to re-focus attention back to the allegorical nature of the Rosicrucians. It even uses the device of appearing to have some pages missing at the end (though in fact the author had already made sure the story is entirely told). This echoes the Fama's incompleteness through its failure to keep its promise made in its closing paragraph, "nor any body shal fail, who so gives but his name to speak with some of us, either by word of mouth, or else if there be some lett in writing". Andreae, supposed to be the author of the Chymical Wedding, later dismissed it as a "ludibrium", a playful work of fancy (which could even be translated as 'allegory').
Many people have tried to
deconstruct the events and
motivations of those caught up in the Rosicrucian
furore and endeavoured
to find a historical interpretation of the
Rosicrucian phenomenon. My own
impulses are to stand aside from this and instead I
have tried to comprehend
and appreciate the works which were issued during
this period for their
own content, rather than the context in which they
are seen. Some of these
are extremely well constructed and many we have to
recognise as allegorical
and symbolic masterpieces.
"Know you not Outis? Then you know
The fact that Jonson referred to
this image clearly
shows that he was confident that many of the courtly
audience, had knowledge
enough of this illustration to get the joke. Like
him I have sufficient
confidence in this audience's knowledge of the
symbolism of the engraving
to dispense with the showing of a slide at this
Some years ago I uncovered in
Edinburgh a Christmas
card, a large sheet of parchment, written from
Michael Maier to King James
I, late in 1611. At the center of this card is the
symbol of a Rose set
on a pedestal of three steps. There are eight petals
to this rose, and
it has Latin text set out so as to form eight
concentric petals inside
it. Robert Fludd used a similar image in his Summum
Bonum of 1629. This
famous seven-fold Rose, was in fact copied from an
emblem book (illustrated
by Mathieu Merian) of 1615. When I discovered this
Maier manuscript and
its rose symbol, I wrote to Frances Yates and sent
her a photocopy of my
drawing. She told me that while she was researching
the Rosicrucian Enlightenment
a colleague had told her of the existence of this
document and given her
an idea of its contents, but she had not been able
to locate it and consequently
decided reluctantly not to mention it in her book.
This has been dismissed
as of no relevance to Rosicrucian history, but no
one to my knowledge has
made a detailed study of it. I am still perplexed by
A similar thing can be said for Robert Fludd's vast encyclopaedic survey of the knowledge of the Macrocosm and Microcosm. Someone on first reading the Fama, might be excused for jumping to the conclusion that Fludd's work came out of the very vault itself, so to speak. But we now know that much of it was written by 1610 before the Rosicrucian manifestos apparently were even conceived.
A work often dragged into the Rosicrucian camp is the Amphitheatrum (the Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom) of Heinrich Khunrath. This was written before 1604 and a version containing the four circular diagram without the extensive text was issued in 1595, though only a few copies seem to have been printed. Only three copies of this edition appear to have survived (one in Basle, one in Wisconsin and a version with only two plates in the British Library.) The full work was published in 1609, with some additional large rectangular plates bearing symbolism which some writers have perceived as echoing that of the Fama - the heptangular fortress, the college of the mysteries, the gate of the Amphitheatre with a structure echoing the seven-sided vault.
There are many works of great significance published during the Rosicrucian period - The great alchemical compilation the Theatrum Chemicum of 1602 - Siebmacher's Waterstone of the Wise, a very influential work first printed in 1619 - Steffan Michelspacher's Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur, another much reprinted work first issued in 1615 - and the writings of Daniel Mylius. Mylius' works attempt a reformation of philosophy, and he particularly focussed upon emblematic symbolism. His works contain many important series of symbolic figures, both original emblems and reworked material from earlier manuscripts and printed sources (the Rosarium philosophorum, the Donum Dei and the Azoth series of Basil Valentine.
So one can see that many of the key works of this period cannot be directly associated with Rosicrucianism, but emerge out of the revitalising of hermetic publishing during the decade or so following the announcement of the Rosicrucians in the Fama.
I think we can see that in pursuing the Rosicrucian phenomenon we can take one of two interpretations. A "strong" view of Rosicrucian history where we seek exact documentation to establish links between a writer or his work with the Rosicrucian stream of material - and a "weak" interpretation in which we allow our concept of Rosicrucianism to defocus and apply the term more loosely to the renewal of hermeticism in the early 17th century. It may even be, as I suggested earlier in this talk, that the authors of the Rosicrucian manifestos actually held this "weak" view of their own activity. I find myself often shifting from one viewpoint to the other, I haven't really resolved the different perspectives within myself, and I suspect this applies to others who have tried to investigate historical Rosicrucianism. Indeed, this talk itself embodies both of these viewpoints. Knowing this we should realise that, although Frances Yates' thesis proclaims itself as a strong interpretation, in fact it takes a weaker line, expanding the term Rosicrucian too loosely to capture sufficient history to make it tenable to scholars of the present generation.
So although we can criticise Frances Yates' Rosicrucian Enlightenment, her thesis interpreted weakly still remains a powerful and persuasive tool to investigate this period. I suspect we really have to be able to work with these different interpretations simultaneously. Perhaps Rosicrucian history can be seen through a quantum metaphor - the more one focusses on the exact history the more one loses the general view of the spiritual cohesion of the hermetic revival of that time, and the more one relies on conspiracy theoretical speculation and undocumented associations between individuals, the more one feels ones feet slipping away from a foundation in real historical events. Depending on your temperament the problem of balancing and resolving these polarities has either been the bane of the study of Rosicrucianism or its main delight.
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