The art of memory has been a popular subject for occultism and academicism throughout the centuries. The subject deals with our incredibly flexible human intelligence with its general multipurpose learning strategies that can work wonders if the doors of imagination are opened to the mystery of the knowledge without constraints of religiosity and fears of the unknown territories of human possibilities. Of the intellectual trailblazers of the craft of memory, none other than the figure of Giordano Bruno stood out blazingly even at the burning stake as an accused wizard. For it was akin to a witchcraft of perfect knowledge as expounded in his Thirty Seals & the Seal of Seals, the book banned by the Church in fear of losing the faithful to the Power of Knowledge.
The book illustrates a set of “basic” rules that reads more like Euclid’s Elements or Pythagorean Theorem, which means it is not written for general readers. This is because the book was part of a job application for a teaching post at the Oxford in the Elizabethan England, demonstrating his admirable erudition, superb command of the English language as a foreigner, and naked flattery to the academics at the university. Bruno got a few lecturing opportunities at the Oxford, but his cerebral mind devoid of wit in addition to his short, unprepossessing appearance was regarded as far-fetched and unfavorable to the attainment of the sought-after position at the Oxford. In fact, this book does not provide the reader with special spells for obtaining perfect memory but gives the method of encoding letters or syllables of the name of the thing into a set of predetermined images. It is magic in the sense that if this method is perfected, it works wonders. It’s a psychological mind game, the magic of psychology per se.
This magical book, this banned book will betray anyone who expects it to be something of magical Rosetta Stone for obtaining the secrets of perfect or better memorization. But that doesn’t mean the book is entirely abstruse to enjoy; the idea of the intellectual trinity comprised of Pallas Athena (The Senses), Vulcan (Imaginations), and Mars (Judgment/Reason), all of whom are overseen by Jove (the Soul) is quite intriguing and related to Socrates’s idea of reasoning. As a matter of fact, this book is not so much an esoteric book as deeply psychological literature that boasts Bruno’s indomitable intelligence and recalcitrant individualism that stigmatized him as a renegade. Maybe that’s the reason this illustrious intellect was burned at the stake as a dangerous pagan.
Witchcraft as popular belief system may sound anachronistic, if not extinct, in our age of the Internet, Satellite TVs, and planned colonization of the Moon, in the same way that people in Renaissance regarded the Medieval times culturally backward and religiously superstitious. Yet, it has survived the leaps of time and waves of persecution, withstanding like a flickering candlelight in hours of stormy dark nights and remains in modern landscapes of buildings, cars, airplanes, and people with mobile phones on their hands.
Thomas Waters in his Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times tells us how this ancient belief system of faith-based healing at its lightest and of maleficent bewitching at its darkest has kept its vitality from the rural areas of provinces to the bustling streets of cities in Great Britain throughout the centuries based on his extensive research of historical documents and scholarly analysis on the uncanny but very real phenomena that grips your attention on every page of this fascinating book.
If you are keen on historical facts and anthropological evidence of human nature in relation to the ancient esoteric knowledge that looks so appealing and tempting, this is an excellent book.
He was a formidable agent provocateur: a blasphemous rebel, a proud atheist, a counterfeit, and a sybaritic seeker of tobacco and boys and an alleged spy for the government with his literary arsenal and daredevil machismo toward life. It was no less a dramatist, playwright than Christopher Marlowe, who introduced the concepts; a man whose life was staged so mysteriously and controversially that even his death was enveloped in a provocative imbroglio of factoids. In a case of life imitating art, Marlowe’s life was an epic tragedy for a literary enfant terrible struggling to mark his name in the Elizabethan England, where his literary genius and individualism were something of irreligious decadence to be reckoned with. Marlowe’s version of Dr. Faustus was his testimony against conventional absurdities of life in defense of his existential meaning of life, and there’s his outcry of existential dilemma spreading through the mind of the reader and connecting to the world of Marlowe.
Dr. Faustus is a collective model of existential dilemma of Marlowe and his educated poor peers boxed in clerical positions with paltry sustenance in the Church of England. In fact, the strains of daily life of an educated poor is inculcated in the figure of Dr. Faust in retribution of their social confinement unparalleled to the scholarship and academic achievements. Marlowe saw poverty obstructing the progress of gifted minds, and consequently, it became his literary and psychological stratagem of fictional world populated with characters terminated by inner conflicts set in the background against the class divisions and religious dogmas intractably entrenched in Elizabethan England. Thus, Marlowe carried out his poetic justice by making Dr. Faustus able to fulfill his materialistic objectives by the agency of magic from the demonic power, even though it required of him a spiritual as well as physical quid pro quo in this story laden with super abundance of religious tenets and morals that all seemed a pompous, sanctimonious hokum.
Marlowe used Dr. Faustus as his literary artifact, a psychological and spiritual medium through whom he made parallels with his own life, measuring himself against the burgeoning careers of his peers of his time. Dr. Faustus was in a way Marlowe’s mirror image that reflected all things about himself in the peculiar alchemy of literature. It all seems to me that Marlowe was a way ahead of his time because the contextualization of inner conflicts of the characters and the thematic substratum strike the chords of readers of post-enlightenment, post-Second Vatican Council and post-modernism. His behemoth contemporary peer William Shakespeare said, “Some are born great, others achieve greatness.” I like to think that Marlowe was both in the canon of English literature.
The great city of London was burning. The noble and the humble were all in together in the face of furious fires that looked something of the eternal flames of Inferno. It took from September 2 to September 6, 1666 for Old London – Shakespeare’s London- to disappear into the past. It was a scene to behold, it was a scene to record. The medieval City of London inside the old roman city wall became a gray detritus of ashes and more ashes, which changed the face of London forever – in a far better way that improved the conditions of living in the scandalously popular city, the city that had no regards for the lowly and the lowest. For out of the detritus of the devastation, came a phoenix hoovering over the gray skies of London with golden opportunities for the contemporary Londoners and even better for the progeny and the citizens of the world as magnificently illustrated in this telling book by Walter George Bell.
It all happened on the morning of Sunday, September 2nd, 1666 at the shop and house of one Farynon, King Charles II of England’s baker, stood in Pudding Lane, ten doors from Thames Street due to his lack of due care of the oven. Although the baker later vehemently disavowed such negligence that caused the Inferno, Bell confirms the tortious act on the part of the baker on the ground of “a calm consideration of the evidence” collected afterwards. However, at the time of and the immediate aftermath of the Fire, the public fueled by the demotic uproar of the angry mob decided that it resulted from a concerted plot of the Roman Catholics and Frenchmen. In fact, the unanimous vengeance upon Catholics and subjects of any Catholic countries was all the rage under the misbelief that they set fire on the city as punishment for the impudent English heresy against the Papacy. Even the supposedly judicious members of the Council were prejudiced against foreigners and Catholics in London despite the King’s speech to the homeless in effort to assuage such outrageous public agitation. In consideration of the ethos of the period, the speculated causes of the Fire related to religious motivations that all called for God’s punishment for heresy (especially Catholicism) and other cardinal sins that looked particularly rampant in “sinful London”. Nevertheless, the Council finally relented by proclaiming that the cause of fire was no other but “God’s will, a great wind and the seasons so very dry.”
What seemed to be a scourge of God turned out to be a seismic labor pain of birth of a new city that was beneficial to those at the low rungs of a social ladder because the ecclesiastical city of bell towers and spires would be transformed into a commercial city of work and more work in new salubrious environment. Bell expounds that post-Fire London was a new breed of commercialism, making London culturally vibrant and famously cosmopolitan as a uniquely quaint city where modernity and traditionality were fashionably blended. Moreover, Bell points out that rebuilding of London after the Fire also improved living qualities of the inhabitants in terms of unhealthy housing and inconvenient pavement conditions with the reconstruction of the streets of London designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It also generated a plethora of trades that contributed to the betterment of economic conditions of people living in and coming to London for better life.
This book is at its most compelling when assessing the consequential events of the Fire drawn on a multitude of historical records and the author’s calm objective analysis of the Fire without a hint of religious proclivity or partisan social commentaries. It doesn’t turn out to be a stuffy history book that the topic indicates but an engaging nonfiction narrative that combines Orwellian journalistic perspectives with Thucydides’ standard of historical realism, all in the perspicacious use of plain English communicative to all. All in all, if you are curious about post-Shakespearean London or want to know about the history of London, this book will not disappoint you.