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THE MAGUS OF FREEMASONRY The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole – Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society
INNER TRADITIONS, VERMONT, 2006
as MAGUS The Invisible Life of Elias Ashmole
REVIEW by Dr CHRISTOPHER MCINTOSH from esoterica website run by Arthur Versluis, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Professor in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University
Magus: The Invisible Life of Elias Ashmole
Reviewed by Christopher
Surprisingly this towering figure has had relatively few books devoted to him, the main previous one being C.H. Josten’s massive edition of Ashmole’s writings, published in five volumes by Oxford University Press in 1966, which Churton builds on and acknowledges as “the masterpiece of Ashmole studies”. Perhaps this scarcity of biographies is due to the difficulties of encompassing such a many-faceted figure, “a Renaissance man”, as Churton puts it, “in an era that was slip-sliding away from the limitless ambition of the Renaissance philosophy of human dignity”. Another reason may be a tendency in certain circles to denigrate Ashmole’s contribution to learning. “Ashmole ‘gets in the way’ of a neat classification of eras of knowledge. He is a Renaissance magus-type yet still a rational mathematician and founder member of the Royal Society. He is historically ‘inconvenient’.”
It is clear from
these quotes that the author passionately admires Ashmole and the world
view that he represents. Churton also has certain things in common with
his subject. Both went to Brasenose College, Oxford, and both grew up
in Lichfield in Staffordshire – Ashmole was a generous patron
of Lichfield’s great cathedral and managed to save part of its
library from destruction by Cromwellian vandals during the Civil War.
Churton believes that Ashmole has much to teach the present age, which
he clearly regards as a decadent one and frequently says so in his eloquent,
sometimes abrasive and often witty manner.
Readers who find
Churton’s particular style refreshing, as I do, will also appreciate
the unusual format and presentation of the book. The pages are unusually
large for a book of this kind (27 by 21cm) with wide margins to accommodate
the many black-and-white photographs and illustrations. As the author
Churton traces Ashmole’s rise from saddler’s son in Lichfield to one England’s greatest luminaries in a way that brings him vividly to life and makes us share the author’s admiration for him. The book is written from a deep understanding of the Hermetic, alchemical, masonic and Rosicrucian traditions that are so important for a full understanding of Ashmole, who emerges as a seminal figure in many different areas. His alchemical magnum opus, the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, “would become Isaac Newton’s most heavily consulted alchemical text when he came to search for the single divine principle through a thorough working of alchemical experiments”. Churton also throws much light on Ashmole’s important role in the history of Freemasonry – he was one of the earliest recorded initiates into a lodge in a non-operative capacity (at Warrington, Lancashire in 1646). Then of course there is the achievement for which he is probably best known, namely his creation of the Ashmolean Museum, which was partly inspired, as Churton argues, by the notion of a repository of universal knowledge as described in the Rosicrucian writings and in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. As the inscription on Ashmole’s tomb in St. Mary’s church, Lambeth, says “so long as the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford endures he will never die”. With these words Tobias Churton concludes this valuable and thought-provoking study of Ashmole’s life.
Invisible Life of Elias Ashmole
(now available as: THE MAGUS OF FREEMASONRY – The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole, INNER TRADITIONS, Vermont)
who dips even a little into masonic history will read that on October
16th, 1646, Elias Ashmole, was 'made a Freemason at Warrington in Lancashire.'
This is the earliest recorded initiation of an English mason. And there
the interest seems to stop. Masonic history is notoriously satisfied
with its shopping lists of events and notoriously ignorant about the
lives and societies these events represent. But in 1646 Ashmole was
initiated into an existing lodge which was clearly well established.
Where did it come from? What was its context in the society of the time?
And Ashmole himself - often dismissed as a dilettante by masons who
should know better - was a man with wide interests, impressive knowledge
and a rich life where his curiosity was avidly pursued: he was an antiquarian
and a Hermetic philosopher of insight and accomplishment. We need to
know more. Churton obliges.
in Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, still exists; we begin there. The
Ashmoles were a prominent family in the city, Elias' grandfather was
twice mayor. From this small town in an ancient landscape Ashmole moved
out into the world. During the Civil War he supported the King; he also
studied in Brasenose College, Oxford where he made a particular investigation
of astrology (he was a friend of the prominent astrologers, William
Lilly and George Wharton) and Hermetic wisdom. Magus provides a particularly
welcome study of Ashmole's astrology - it looks like he later provided
astrological advice to King Charles II - and his later interest in Freemasonry
ScribD review by Mogg (Oxford):
Invisible Life of Elias Ashmole
'Elias Ashmole is
a particularly striking case of someone who did well out of the Restoration
through his flair at 'remembering' a largely apocryphal golden Stuart
past before the civil war. His lasting fame and 'name' rest (in the
title of the Ashmolean Museum) upon his dubious acquisition of another
man's lifetime collection of rarities, and his subseqent gifting of
them to the University of
The above quote
from Jardine provides the raison d'être for Churton's less eloquent
but arguable more informed study of the life and impact of the famous
antiquarian Elias Ashmole. The house that Elias built as a repository
of one of the world's' first museums, is still Oxford's small but wonderful
treasure house of scientific history. Recent work to extend the basement
turned up Ashmole's alchemical laboratory complete with instruments
and human and animal remains. The main exhibit is now divided between
the Bodleian library, and the founders room of the new Ashmolean in
Broad Street - surely one of the world's great museums. Tradescant's
original collection of curiousities is still on display - along with
Churton's excellent redaction of the life is only made possible by the five volume compilation of Ashmole's diaries, autobiographies and related notes published by OUP in 1966. The author, Conrad Hermann Hubertus Maria Apollinaris (Kurt) Josten (Pheeww! you don't get names like these very often these days) solved Ashmole's cipher and was thus able to do the work. Awarded an honorary DLitt by the university for his troubles, after his retirement as curator of the science museum, he become curator emeritus.
Which all goes to
show that Jardine has probably got it wrong and Ashmole was no Hasolle
and does deserve his fifteen minutes of fame. If you need more persuasion
read Churton's book. Perhaps aimed more at the museum bookshop than
the serious contemporary magi, it does nevertheless contain some gems,
especially concerning his struggles to remake himself after the defeat
of the royalist cause (hurrah) during the protectorate of Cromwell (booo).
Ashmole tells how he "went to Maidstone assizes to heare the Witches
tryed, and tooke Mr Tradescant with me." The six witches were hanged,
accused of bewitching nine children, a man and a woman and £500
worth of cattle lost and corn at sea by witchcraft.' Or account of his
relationshp with otherwise puritan ministers who nevertheless had a
perchant for 'sorcery'. Mrs John Pordage, whom he was amazed to see
'Clothed all in white Lawne, from the crown of the head to the sole
of the Foot, and a white rod in her hand. She was hailing as a prophetess
by those dancing country dances about her 'making strange noises".
Explaining that they were rejoicing because they had 'overcome the Devil.'
Dr Pordage then appeared 'all in black
This is a lively
picture of the times. I could have had more information on the magic
l work but I learnt a hell of a lot from this densely illustrated and
well made book. If you've an interest in the times then buy it. - mogg
A Worthwhile Read, 8 Jan 2007
This review is of:
The Magus of Freemasonry: The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole
- Scientist, Alchemist and Founder of the Royal Society (Paperback)
My interest was mainly in the book as a biography, and as I reached the end of it I felt that I had an understanding not only of what Ashmole did and where he spent his life - the sort of information provided by other shorter missives - but because the author attempts to draw sensible conclusions about Ashmole's reasoning as he deals with the various challenges in his life, I also obtained a feeling for his personality. This is not easy to do and the author is to be congratulated on this achievement.
At a time when some of the wealthy had their private "cabinets of curiosities", Ashmole created the world's first public museum, and the book provides an intriguing insight into Ashmole's motivation for doing this.
If I'm really critical,
one aspect that was not so good and that I found annoyed me as I read,
was the use of too many metaphors, some of them excruciating - "While
Ashmole's wisdom was well rooted and watered in the past, he delighted
in the flora of futurity". Or possibly worse, when the author describes
something that "...provided the golden thread in the velvet of
his life". There are more, but I can't bring myself to repeat them.
However this is minor detail and probably only annoying to me because excessive metaphor usage is a pet hate of mine!
Overall a very worthwhile read about a significant seventeenth-century personality who has been neglected in favour of better-known individuals.
I am a thirtyish
software developer living and working in Maine. I am married with two
This is a law which I feel compelled to break. Work is terribly busy right now, so I have to work on this flight, but my take-off and landing book is "The Magus of Freemasonry" written by Tobias Churton. I have mentioned this author a number of times in my blog, since he impressed me with his book "The Golden Builders: Alchemists, Rosicrucians, First Freemasons." While at Borders last year I purchased Magus and sat it on my reading queue. What a shame...
The work is a biography of Elias Ashmole, the first man to record his own becoming an Accepted Mason, called today a speculative Freemason. The distinction between so-called "Free" and "Accepted" Masons makes for a pointless inter-jurisdictional debate today, but it meant a great deal during the 17th and 18th centuries. Bro. Ashmole was a famous man in his day as a founding member of the Royal Society, antiquarian and general lover of history, science and alchemy.
At this moment I am in the air over Massachusetts having read about 10% of the book while on the runway and through takeoff. Though I have hundreds of pages yet to read I must strongly recommend this work to all Masons interested in a search for knowledge and understanding of our real 17th and 18th century history. To the general reader, I offer this quotation from the book which, like the stone itself, fell on me and is still blossoming in my brain:
[Ashmole] inhabited a world where science and magick were still handmaidens to religion and philosophy. He was one of the last men of learning to enjoy that world before the family broke up. All too soon, science would leave home to plow her own furrow independently and at times in contempt of her troubled parents. Nevertheless, Ashmole was a founding member o the Royal Society - a harbinger of that fateful parting - and was himself unconcerned with theological disputes. The philosophy he espoused stood above them; and so did he.
If I were wiser
and more skilled with words, I might be able to explain the powerful
picture those words create in my head. Imagine the history of the Enlightenment
period and the eventually antagonistic relationship between science
and religion as a painting illuminated by fluorescent lighting. With
these few sentences, Churton turns off the lights and opens a window
allowing the work to be illuminated by pure sunlight. A new depth and
character appears in the work, which was never noticed before.
posted by Christian
Ratliff @ 6:49 AM 2 Co