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Peter Forshaw - The Early Alchemical Reception of John Dee Monas Hieroglyphica (680.0 Kb)

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Brian Vickers once described John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica as "possibly the most obscure work ever written by an Englishman," asking whether there were even ten references to it in the seventeenth century. This article considers Dee's reputation as an alchemist, in particular the reception of his Monas Hieroglyphica, in Latin, French, and German texts published in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and examines two themes: first, discussion of the Monas Hieroglyphica in the context of cabbalistic calculations an... More >>>
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Author:      Peter Forshaw
Format:      eBook
Brian Vickers once described John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica as "possibly the most obscure work ever written by an Englishman," asking whether there were even ten references to it in the seventeenth century. This article considers Dee's reputation as an alchemist, in particular the reception of his Monas Hieroglyphica, in Latin, French, and German texts published in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and examines two themes: first, discussion of the Monas Hieroglyphica in the context of cabbalistic calculations and Pythagorean symbolic numbers and second, references to, and appropriations of, the hieroglyphic monad in the context of chemical notation. It shows how Dee's work was read by alchemists influenced by Trithemius's exposition of the Emerald Tablet, including major promulgators of Paracelsian thought such as Gerard Dorn, Oswald Croll, Joseph Duchesne, and Heinrich Khunrath. The article also notes how the Monas Hieroglyphica appealed to purveyors of both physical and more theosophical forms of alchemy, such as the Rosicrucian Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. It concludes with a discussion of the somewhat surprising approval of Dee's enigmatic work from one who was utterly antagonistic to Paracelsian and Rosicrucian philosophy, the chemist Andreas Libavius, who openly admitted to using the hieroglyphic monad as the basis for the ground plan for his ideal laboratory.

About Author:

Peter Forshaw studied Sanskrit, Tibetan and Indian Philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1982-86). After years spent working in France, India, Thailand, and Japan, he returned to the UK to take an MA in Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, where he subsequently researched his doctorate in Early Modern Intellectual History, on the complex hieroglyphic and theosophical figures and the interplay of alchemy, magic and cabala in the Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae - Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (1595/1609) of Heinrich Khunrath of Leipzig (1560-1605), 'doctor of both medicines and faithful lover of Theosophy'.

On the successful completion of his PhD, Peter was then awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship for research into the History of Ritual Magic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This period of research was then followed by fellowships at the universities of Strathclyde and Cambridge, where he worked on projects related to early modern alchemy and astrology.

In 2009 Peter was appointed Universitair Docent (Senior Lecturer/Assistant Professor) for History of Western Esotericism in the Early Modern Period at the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam.

Peter is also Honorary Fellow at the University of Exeter, where he contributes to the MA in Western Esotericism at EXESESO: The Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London.

From 2004-2011 Peter was elected council member and webmaster of the SRS (Society for Renaissance Studies). He has been performing the same functions for SHAC (Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry) since 2007 and for ESSWE (European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism) since 2009.