Religion Radical and Supernatural in Early Modern Europe

This seminar was given at Tel Aviv University in the 2011-2012 academic year.  I will probably repeat it in 2014-2015.

Freemasons: Tracing Boards

posted Dec 26, 2011, 1:30 PM by Professor Katz


The Book of Revelation: A Diagram by Joseph Mede (1586-1638)

posted Dec 11, 2011, 11:12 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Dec 11, 2011, 11:12 AM ]


The Monas Hieroglyphica

posted Dec 10, 2011, 8:16 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Dec 10, 2011, 8:18 AM ]

You can read John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica (1564) and try to figure out what that crazy symbol really means:

The End of Days, according to John Martin (1789-1854)

posted Dec 8, 2011, 11:33 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Dec 8, 2011, 11:35 AM ]

Depicting the Last Days is's where the sublime becomes the merely beautiful.  John Martin (1789-1854) was more successful than most.  In the Tate Collection | John Martin's most famous apocalyptic paintings can be found.  Here is his representation of "The Great Day of his Wrath", oil on canvas, 3 metres wide and 2 metres high:


Francis Bacon, the Royal Society, and the Rosicrucians: A Conspiracy Theory

posted Dec 8, 2011, 11:21 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Dec 8, 2011, 11:22 AM ]

According to F.W.C. Wigston, Bacon, Shakespeare, and the Rosicrucians (London, 1888), p. 105, we should pay careful attention to the first published English translation of the Fama and the Confessio, which appeared as Eugenius Philalethes [Thomas Vaughan], The Fame and Confession of the Fraternity of R: C: Commonly, of the Rosie Cross (London, 1652):


A serious believer in the Rosicrucian conspiracy theory could also point to the official history of England's premier scientific organization, published at London in 1667, Thomas Sprat's The History of the Royal-Society of London.  A striking engraving appears there as the frontispiece, designed by the diarist John Evelyn and executed by a Bohemian exile named Wenceslas Hollar.  If we look carefully at the figure of Francis Bacon depicted there as one of the forefathers of the Royal Society, we notice that he is shown under an angel's wing...which puts us in mind of the closing words of the Fama, 'sub umbra alarum tuarum Jehova' ('under the shadow of thy wings Jehovah'):

It is not impossible that the founders of the Royal Society were trying to disassociate themselves from the earlier magical tradition, and build up Bacon as their inspiration, while at the same time giving an esoteric hint about the occult tradition which formed part of their background.

In the official Sprat history, the Royal Society is said to grow out of quiet meetings at Wadham College, Oxford, from about 1648, which ran until 1659 when the group moved to London and founded the Royal Society (1660).  Nevertheless, John Wallis, an early founder, claimed that the origins of the Royal Society were in meetings organized at London in 1645, which included Theodore Haak, a German refugee from the Palatinate, and John Wilkins, then chaplain to the eldest son of the Winter King.  Robert Boyle mentions an 'Invisible College' in letters written 1646-7, which may be the Haak group.  Also involved in these meetings was Samuel Hartlib, another German, who settled in England in 1628 after the Roman Catholic conquest of his city of Elbing in Polish Prussia, and who in 1641 sent the Long Parliament a utopia he had written.

Even more striking was the participation of Jan Amos Comenius, a Bohemian Brethren (Hussite) pastor who was present in Prague Cathedral when the Winter King was crowned emperor.  Comenius fled to Poland and then to England in 1641 after imperial forces burned his house, books, and manuscripts; he also lost his wife and a child.  Comenius also wrote a utopia in which the Rosicrucians appear, but it is a dark work, depicting a labyrinth in which everything is wrong and all efforts lead to nothing.

Fama Fraternitatis, Or, a Discovery of the ... Rosy Cross

posted Dec 4, 2011, 9:20 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Dec 4, 2011, 9:22 AM ]


Let's pretend that we found the Fama on a park bench and started to read it, and became excited about joining this society of Rosicrucians ...... and then noticed that the call to join did not include (for some reason) an address (or even a telephone number!).
You can find the text in seventeenth-century English at  If you want to see scans of the original English edition (from which our version is taken), look at

Joining the Rosicrucians

posted Dec 4, 2011, 3:20 AM by Professor Katz

In 1614, everyone wanted to join the Rosicrucians but couldn't figure out how.  Nowadays, there is even a membership form.  See attached.

Turner's 'The Golden Bough'

posted Dec 4, 2011, 3:16 AM by Professor Katz

The opening sentence of J.G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, is: 'Who does not know Turner's picture of the Golden Bough?'

Answer: probably you.  Click for more information about J.M.W. Turner's The Golden Bough.

Joachim of Fiore (c.1135-1202): His Plan

posted Nov 9, 2011, 4:49 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Nov 9, 2011, 4:50 AM ]



posted Oct 5, 2011, 5:18 AM by Professor Katz

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