e g r e g o r e s

"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

>Ronald Hutton, Reincarnation, and the Renaissance

>0.
“As for reincarnation … it is not a western idea at all, though some confusion has been created among English-reading occultists by the American mystic Edgar Cayce….”

[From “Dion Fortune and Wicca”, a talk presented by Ronald Hutton to the 2009 Dion Fortune Seminar]

1.
“Defenders of Plato [during the Renaissance] maintained that Plato’s belief in individual immortality and in the creation of the world by a divine Demiurge made his philosophy more easily reconciled with Christianity, but critics noted the difficulties posed by Plato’s belief in the transmigration of souls and by the fact that the creation described in the Timaeus was not a creation ex nihilo but rather from preexisting matter.”
[Natural Philosophy by Ann Blair, which is Chp. 17 of The Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 3 (2006). The quote is taken from p. 374. In this and all quotes below, emphasis in bold has been added.]

2.
“To counter such arguments [in favor of Platonism], the Byzantine scholar and fanatical Aristotelian, George of Trebizond, in 1458 wrote A Comparison of the Philosophers Aristotle and Plato …. The rise of Platonism, in George’s view, was a greater threat to western civilization than the advance of the Turks, not least because Plato’s philosophy, in striking contrast to Aristotle’s, was completely incompatible with Christianity. Plato’s doctrine of immortality, George contended, was undermined by his belief in the pre-existence and transmigration of souls; and in the Timaeus he did not describe a creation ‘out of nothing’, as in Christian theology, since it is clear that the ‘receptacle’ was already in being.”
[The legacy of ancient philosophy by Jill Kraye, which is Chp. 12 in The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (2003). The quote is from p. 333.]

3.
The most renowned of the early [pre-Socratic] Greek philosophers, however, was Pythagoras … In addition to the biography [of Pythagoras] in Diogenes Laertius, there were various works on Pythagoras by Iamblichus, which some humanists certainly read — Ficino even made a Latin translation, though it never got into print … and a Neo-Pythagorean treatise ascribed to Timaeus of Locri, the principle speaker in Plato’s Timaeus, carried sufficient weight to accompany the dialogue in the Greek editions of Plato published in Aldus in 1513 and Estienne in 1578.

“It was this close connection between Pythagoreanism and Platonism, underscored in many Neoplatonic works, which gave Pythagoras a special significance for Renaissance Platonists from Ficino to Patrizi. Pythagoras, for them, was the philosopher who bequeathed to Plato the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, among the best advertisements for Christian Platonism — though this did not prevent them from using him as a convenient fall guy for Plato’s embarrassing belief in the transmigration of souls.”
[Jill Kraye, ibid, pp. 341-342]

4.
“Plato’s philosophy … also contained elements profoundly troubling to the larger Christian culture of the early Renaissance. It is true that Plato had (arguably) held something like a Christian doctrine of creation, and he had undoubtedly believed in the immortality of the soul. But increassing familiarity with the dialogues would disclose other doctrines less easy to reconcile with orthodoxy. Though Plato had believed in immortality, he had also apparently believed in the preexistence and transmigration of souls. A determined Christianizer could, studying the account of creation in the Timaeus, identify the demiurge with Christ and the Forms with Ideas in the mind of God. But it was difficult to know what to do with the “receptacle”, the chaotic matter which was explicitly stated (52D) to have existed from all eternity, in direct contradiction of the Christian ex nihilo.”
[Plato in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 1 by James Hankins, pp. 10-11]

5.
“This leads to the third group of charges against Plato: that his theological views were incompatible with Christian truth. The humanists, quoting a famous passage in Augustine’s De civitate Dei, had argued that Plato’s belief in individual immortality and creation made his theology closer to Christianity than Aristotle’s. Plato’s critics replied that, whatever his merits as a theologian, they were outweighed by his defects. They attacked his heterodox views on the pre-existence and transmigration of souls. They noted that, even if Plato had believed in creation, he had not believed in creation ex nihilo; in the Timaeus it seemed that the ‘receptacle’ (or ‘prime matter’, as it was called by Renaissance interpreters) was already in being at the moment of creation.”
[Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy, entry for “Platonism, Renaissance”, p. 442]

To the above I will just add three brief footnotes:

(1) One of the charges against John Italos that was not mentioned by Anna Comnena, was that Italos had rejected the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo in favor of the Pagan view that the material out of which the Cosmos is fashioned has existed for all eternity.

(2) In Witches, Druids and King Arthur, Ronald Hutton actually makes several references James Hankins’ work on Platonism in the Renaissance.

(3) I apologize for the repetitive nature of these selections. The point, however, is to demonstrate that this stuff is not difficult to find, at least not so long as one actually looks for it.


Ronald Hutton & Reincarnation:

  1. Part One: Dion Fortune, Ronald Hutton, Wicca & Reincarnation
  2. Part Two: Ronald Hutton, Tertullian, John Italos, Anna Comnena & Reincarnation
  3. Part Three: Ronald Hutton, Reincarnation & the Renaissance
  4. Part Four: “Renaissance & Rebirth: Reincarnation in early modern Italian kabbalah”
  5. Part Five: Ronald Hutton,Vergil, Ovid & GradeSaver.Com
  6. Part Six: Ronald Hutton, Voltaire, and Metempsychosis
  7. Part Seven: Erotic Metempsychosis

5 responses to “>Ronald Hutton, Reincarnation, and the Renaissance

  1. Apuleius Platonicus January 31, 2011 at 10:31 am

    >Siegfried: "So even if it was not a majoritarian heathen belief, it certainly was a significant enough folk belief to require mentioning in a heroic context…."The point about "majoritarianism" is crucial. There is now extensive data from Europe, the US and sub-Saharan Africa showing that belief in reincarnation is resilient and ubiquitous in societies where it is not the majority belief. Therefore, even if one were to demonstrate that reincarnation was not a mainstream or majoritarian belief in some past Celtic or Nordic society, this in no way excludes it from ancient Celtic and Nordic religious traditions generally.

  2. SiegfriedGoodfellow January 30, 2011 at 9:29 am

    >http://www.voluspa.org/helgakvidahundingsbana246-51.htm :" Þat var trúa í forneskju, at menn væri endrbornir, en þat er nú kölluð kerlingavilla.""It was believed in ancient times, that men were born again, but that is now called a wives' tale." As my friend Carla pointed out to me, "villa" actually has a stronger connotation than mere falsehood. It is strongly used in an ecclesiastical context to refer to heresy or false doctrine, thus rendering the final phrase something like, "but that is now called a woman's heresy".http://www.voluspa.org/helgakvidahjorvardssonar41-43.htm :"Helgi ok Sváfa, er sagt, at væri endrborin.""Helgi and Svava, it is said, were born again." This prose follows a poem describing the adventures of these two, the former of whom has just died.These Eddic examples are often pooh-poohed and explained away in heathen circles by those who wish to deny a Northern belief in reincarnation, but there it is in black and white within Eddic poetry, and where did the prose scribes get this concept from? Certainly not the Church! So even if it was not a majoritarian heathen belief, it certainly was a significant enough folk belief to require mentioning in a heroic context, and furthermore to require explaining away as a wives' tale. The information was considered significant in and of itself because it really adds nothing to the story.I want to add, from the first poem cited," Helgi ok Sigrún, er kallat, at væri endrborin. Hét hann þá Helgi Haddingjaskati, en hon Kára Hálfdanardóttir, svá sem kveðit er í Káruljóðum, ok var hon valkyrja.""Helgi and Sigrun, it is said, were born again. He was then given the name of Helgi Haddingjaskati, and she Kara, the daughter of Halfdan, as is chanted in the Lay of Kara, and she was a Valkyrie."I include this lest anyone think this has anything to do with the Christian concept of being born again. Here it is very clear that they were reborn as different people with different names. Moreover, this is attested to in a no longer extant Eddic lay that the author knew of, which brings the number of Eddic poems mentioning the concept up to three. Considering how many Icelandic documents burned in Arni Magnussen's collection in the early 18th century Fire of Copenhagen, there may have been more ; and strong support for Eddic notions have been built on a smaller number of citations. The fact that it is not discusses more in the literature of the time may have to do with the fact that it was called a "villa" or false doctrine, and thus not to be discussed unless absolutely necessary.These two poems are in the Codex Regius, the main manuscript of Eddic poetry, placing their date no later than the 1270s, and of course, since this is the end point of their inscription, probably considerably early. So here is strong, if terse, evidence for the belief in rebirth in the North ; it might also be noted vis-a-vis witchcraft beliefs that this became considered specifically a heresy of women. Did witches pass on the tradition? I can provide strong evidence in later Norse customs for the survival of this belief even up into the 1800s, in country farm districts in Norway, places where folks did not read Blavatsky or much of anything else, for that matter ; significantly for the kind of reincarnation Gardner attested, this kind of rebirth attested in later customs was supposed to occur solely within the family or kindred.

  3. SiegfriedGoodfellow January 30, 2011 at 9:29 am

    >http://www.voluspa.org/helgakvidahundingsbana246-51.htm :" Þat var trúa í forneskju, at menn væri endrbornir, en þat er nú kölluð kerlingavilla.""It was believed in ancient times, that men were born again, but that is now called a wives' tale." As my friend Carla pointed out to me, "villa" actually has a stronger connotation than mere falsehood. It is strongly used in an ecclesiastical context to refer to heresy or false doctrine, thus rendering the final phrase something like, "but that is now called a woman's heresy".http://www.voluspa.org/helgakvidahjorvardssonar41-43.htm :"Helgi ok Sváfa, er sagt, at væri endrborin.""Helgi and Svava, it is said, were born again." This prose follows a poem describing the adventures of these two, the former of whom has just died.These Eddic examples are often pooh-poohed and explained away in heathen circles by those who wish to deny a Northern belief in reincarnation, but there it is in black and white within Eddic poetry, and where did the prose scribes get this concept from? Certainly not the Church! So even if it was not a majoritarian heathen belief, it certainly was a significant enough folk belief to require mentioning in a heroic context, and furthermore to require explaining away as a wives' tale. The information was considered significant in and of itself because it really adds nothing to the story.I want to add, from the first poem cited," Helgi ok Sigrún, er kallat, at væri endrborin. Hét hann þá Helgi Haddingjaskati, en hon Kára Hálfdanardóttir, svá sem kveðit er í Káruljóðum, ok var hon valkyrja.""Helgi and Sigrun, it is said, were born again. He was then given the name of Helgi Haddingjaskati, and she Kara, the daughter of Halfdan, as is chanted in the Lay of Kara, and she was a Valkyrie."I include this lest anyone think this has anything to do with the Christian concept of being born again. Here it is very clear that they were reborn as different people with different names. Moreover, this is attested to in a no longer extant Eddic lay that the author knew of, which brings the number of Eddic poems mentioning the concept up to three. Considering how many Icelandic documents burned in Arni Magnussen's collection in the early 18th century Fire of Copenhagen, there may have been more ; and strong support for Eddic notions have been built on a smaller number of citations. The fact that it is not discusses more in the literature of the time may have to do with the fact that it was called a "villa" or false doctrine, and thus not to be discussed unless absolutely necessary.These two poems are in the Codex Regius, the main manuscript of Eddic poetry, placing their date no later than the 1270s, and of course, since this is the end point of their inscription, probably considerably early. So here is strong, if terse, evidence for the belief in rebirth in the North ; it might also be noted vis-a-vis witchcraft beliefs that this became considered specifically a heresy of women. Did witches pass on the tradition? I can provide strong evidence in later Norse customs for the survival of this belief even up into the 1800s, in country farm districts in Norway, places where folks did not read Blavatsky or much of anything else, for that matter ; significantly for the kind of reincarnation Gardner attested, this kind of rebirth attested in later customs was supposed to occur solely within the family or kindred.

  4. Apuleius Platonicus January 29, 2011 at 9:37 am

    >Hail, Siegfreid! All of your points are very good ones. For modern Pagandom it is especially important to get rid of the notion that reincarnation is alien to Celtic and Germanic cultures, as well as Baltic and Slavic. In fact, modern day Baltic and Slavic countries have very high levels of belief in reincarnation. But for now I am sticking to written sources in order to obliterate any legitimacy for the claim that reincarnation "is not a western idea at all."

  5. SiegfriedGoodfellow January 29, 2011 at 2:40 am

    >Excellent rebuttals. Let us add all the evidence of Celtic belief in reincarnation, along with the Norse belief (which although frequently denied, certainly existed, and we have some limited documentation to show it). This is all important for establishing a folk substrate, which clearly blossomed with the Cathars and other heretical sects who taught the notion of reincarnation. Their ability to take hold so quickly proves out the substrate theory. Moreover, Kabbalah formed in Cathar areas, and thus may have been stimulated by discussions about reincarnation which were in the air, and which had been a part of France for some time. Catharism lodged itself in Southern France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy, all classic Celtic areas. Since Neo-Platonism was so strong in the Roman Empire, we can literally demonstrate centuries long continuity from Gaul to Roman Empire to Heresies to Renaissance and beyond. Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries established the belief as well.

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