Recent Acquisitions

Jean Mallinger, Les secrets esotériques dans Plutarque, Paris and Brussels, 1946

The Ritman Library recently acquired the first – and only, according to Worldcat – edition of Les secrets esotériques dans Plutarque by Jean Mallinger (1904-1982), who was ‘Avocat près la cour d’appel de Bruxelles’, lawyer at the Court of Appeal in Brussels, as appears from the cover of this and another work by him which came out that same year: Notes sur les secrets ésotériques des pythagoriciens. Both works were jointly published and distributed by Editions Niclaus in Paris and by Librairie Veuve H.F. van de Graaf in Brussels. By 1946, Mallinger had already published an edition of La Table d’Emeraude, being the Latin text of The Emerald Tablet provided by Heinrich Khunrath with a French translation by Mallinger (Brussels, C. Platounoff, 1932) and Pythagore et les mystères (Paris, Editions Niclaus, 1944). A work announced in 1946, Les lumières d’Alexandrie (on Plotinus, Porphyrius and Jamblichus) apparently remained unpublished.

Plutarch, Mallinger wrote, is mainly known as an historian and a moral philosopher, but this is not the Plutarch he was interested in: ‘Mais ce n’est point l’historien ni le moraliste que nous saluerons en ces pages; Plutarque est bien plus que cela pour l’occultiste’ (p. 8.) – But it’s hardly the historian or the moralist we encounter here; to the occultist, Plutarch is more than that. Plutarch was a Pythagorean initiate, according to Mallinger, who noted that some of Plutarch’s precepts were obviously inspired by Pythagoras. In the preface, Mallinger elaborates on Plutarch’s advice to his fellows to turn their gaze to the marvels of the heavens and the earth.

To know, not only to watch but to see… Know how to perceive, admire, understand… Read without errors the magnificent Book of Nature manifested, which is the first, the purest of revelations… To have eyes and not to appear like those blinded ones stigmatized in the Scripture: ‘They have eyes but they do not see’. All you have to do is turn your eyes to the Heavens. Is not this the essential secret of Plutarch? (p. 10)

The lawyer Jean Mallinger was himself also an initiate. As ‘Sar Elgrim’, he was a leading member of the neo-Pythagorean ‘Ordre Hermétiste Tetramégiste et Mystique’ which had been founded by his friend Emile Dantinne (‘Sar Hieronymus’) in 1927. The covers of Mallinger’s works mentioned above all show a typographical ornament of four small black squares, which is already to be found on the front cover of La table d’émeraude, published in 1930. The back cover of this work has a motto: ‘Savoir | Oser | Agir | Se Taire’ (‘know, dare, act, keep silent’), which according to Robert Falconnier in Les XXII lames hermétiques du tarot divine (1896) are the four forces of human will (‘les quatre forces de la volonté humaine’, p. 29). Constantin Platounoff, the publisher of La table d’éméraude, also provided a ‘symbolical woodcut’ for the work. Platounoff himself was a Grand Master of FUDOSI, a short-lived federation of mystical orders founded in Brussels in 1934 and disbanded in 1951.

La table d’éméraude was issued under the auspices of the elusive ‘Institut des Hautes Études Psychologiques’, though not Mallinger’s later works. His later works are all dedicated to fellow neo-Pythagoreans, whose portraits are included in the works: Pythagore et les Mystères to François Soetewey (‘Sar Succus’), Grand Master of the lodge of the Perfect Square in Belgium from 1926-1938 and Mallinger’s ‘instructeur et maître’; Notes sur les secrets ésotériques des pythagoriciens to Luis Fitau (‘Sar Ludovicus’), consul of Chile in Brussels and Les secrets esotériques dans Plutarque to Nicolas Wolff (‘Sar Ignis’), whom Mallinger in the caption refers to as a political prisoner who was murdered by the SS on 22 April 1945 at the age of thirty. Nicolas Wolff had been arrested by the Gestapo on 5 March 1943 and died in concentration camp Flossenbürg after lengthy tortures. Mallinger himself, though never arrested, was frequently harrassed by the Gestapo. During the occupation, the Ordre Hermétiste Tetramégiste et Mystique was banned by the Nazis along with many other occult societies. Ironically, Mallinger’s tribute to his fellow Pythagorean Nicolas Wolff was published at a time when as a lawyer and his friend, he was probably still defending Émile Dantinne (1884-1969) against charges of having collaborated with the Germans.

Source: Marcel Roggemans, Geschiedenis van de occulte en mystieke broederschappen, 2008

Western Esotericism. A guide for the Perplexed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff

Western esotericism has been a pervasive presence in Western culture from late antiquity to the present day, but until recently it was largely ignored by scholars and surrounded by misconceptions and prejudice. This accessible guide provides readers with the basic knowledge and tools that will allow them to find their way in this bewildering but fascinating field.

What is it that unites phenomena as diverse as ancient gnosticism and hermetism, the “occult sciences” of astrology, alchemy, and magic, rosicrucianism, as well as Christian theosophy, occultism, spiritualism, and the contemporary New Age spiritualities? What can the study of them teach us about our common cultural and intellectual heritage, and what is it that makes them relevant to contemporary concerns? How do we distinguish reliable historical knowledge from legends and fictions about esoteric traditions? These and many other questions are answered clearly and succinctly, so that the reader can find his way into the labyrinth of Western esotericism and out of it again.

Western Esotericism


René Guénon, Founder of the ‘Traditional School’

The BPH recently managed to acquire some fifteen works by René Guénon to add to its collection of works by this French occultist. Among these works, which were written in the years 1909-1947, is an almost complete run of a periodical edited by Guénon, La Gnose (1909-1912). Guénon also published his first work in La Gnose. The Western Esotericism collecting area now holds some 50 titles by Guénon.

René Guénon (* Blois 1886 – † Cairo 1951) started out as a follower of Gérard Encausse (better known under his pseudonym Papus), the foremost figure of the French occultist movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Guénon attended lectures at Papus’ ‘Ecole hermétique’ (Hermetic School), and also joined a variety of occult organisations in which Papus was actively involved, such as the ‘Ordre Martiniste’ (a gnostic movement inspiring its members to achieve an inner transformation). In 1908 he turned away from Papus and attached himself to the ‘Église gnostique’ (Gnostic Church) which had been founded in 1890 by Jules-Benoît Doinel after a spiritist séance in the home of Lady Caithness, herself the founder of the Société Théosophique d’Orient et d’Occident, a theosophical society independent of though inspired by Madame Blavatsky. During the séance, the spirit of Guilhabert de Castres, the thirteenth-century Cathar bishop of Toulouse, manifested itself, calling for the new foundation of a gnostic church. Doinel was convinced that he was elected to become the successor of this Cathar-Gnostic line of church leaders and appointed himself as the head of the ‘Nouvelle Église Gnostique Universelle’ (the New Universal Gnostic Church). In effect, the movement constituted a rather elitist form of freemasonry under a gnostic banner. Meanwhile ties with the Martinists continued to exist. La Gnose, which appeared from November 1909 to February 1912, was the official organ of the church. The periodical was founded by Léonce Fabre des Essarts and directed by Guénon working under the name of Palingenius. The first issue presented the views and statutes of the Gnostic Church (for these documents go to Guénon himself was clearly not devoted to spiritism and the reincarnation theories that had spawned the movement and made no secret of it. The Gnostic Church continued to exist until 1960 when its last leader, Robert Ambelain, incorporated the movement into his own ‘Église gnostique apostolique’ (Gnostic Apostolic Church).

In 1912 Guénon became an ardent enthusiast of Islam and found a master willing to instruct him to be initiated into a Sufi sect. At first he remained in France, only leaving for Egypt in 1930 where he easily found his own way and became a practising Sufi. In 1923 he had already abandoned the practice of occultism and modern spiritualism (see L’erreur spirite, one of the works recently acquired), devoting himself from then on to the field in which he obtained lasting fame: the ‘Tradition primordiale’ (metaphysics). From 1925 he became the chief contributor to the periodical Le voile d’Isis (complete in the BPH), writing articles on this specific field. In spite of the numerous articles he published in a number of periodicals, Guénon is best known for the books he published on a wide range of subjects falling under the headings of ‘world religions, esotericism and metaphysics’. His first book, published in 1921, Introduction générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues (General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Teachings), and one of the new acquisitions, was intended to be presented as a doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne , though it was rejected by the Faculty. His two most important works are La crise du monde moderne (The Crisis of the Modern World) and Le règne de la quantité et les signes des temps (The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times); both deal with the vicissitudes of Modernity in the West and the inversions of metaphysical truths that according to Guénon form the structure of modern culture. The two works are on the shelves of the BPH. Most of Guénon’s work, incidentally, were only published in French; only a few were translated into English.

After having emigrated to Egypt, Guénon came in touch with Ananda Coomaraswami, the learned curator of the Indian and Asian collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Coomaraswami had published on the philosophia perennis, a term more or less interchangeable with Guénon’s Tradition primordial. A new movement grew out of their cooperation, the ‘Traditional School’ of esotericism and metaphysics in the 20th century, which also included amongst its members someone like Frithjof Schuon. The great significance of René Guénon lies in the development of this Traditionalist forum.

The following issues of La Gnose are available for consultation in the BPH: year 1 (1909-10) issues 2, 4, 6-10; year 2 (1911) issues 1-8; year 3 (1911) issues 1 and 2 (= all published that year). For a concise discussion – in English – on the life and work of Guénon see William Quinn in Dictionary of Gnosis and Esotericism, ed. W. Hanegraaff et al., Leiden 2005.

L'Erreur Spirite

La Vie Simple

Doctrines Hindoues

La Gnose

La Gnose



Julius Sperber, Kabalisticae praecationes, das ist ausserlesene schöne Gebet, aus des Autoris lateinischem Exemplar ins Teutsche versetzt. Amsterdam, ‘für gute Freunde’ [s.n.], 1707

Although Julius Sperber (ca. 1540-1616) wrote works with a theological and mystical slant he was not a professional theologian: he acted as physician and counsellor to the court of Christian von Anhalt in Dessau. He is now best remembered for his association with the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. Writing under the pseudonym of Julianis de Campis, he threw himself into the controversy surrounding the publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in 1614-1616. He presented himself as a true Rosicrucian and even went so far as to call himself the spiritual father of Rosicrucian thought: 18 years before the Rosicrucian Manifestoes were published, he already wrote a treatise calling for the foundation of a brotherhood to foster the ideals espoused by the Rosicrucians. (Here he probably alluded to his Ein geheimer Tractatus von den dreyen Seculis oder Haupt-Zeiten, von Anfang biss zum Ende der Welt , a treatise which he wrote in 1596, but which was only published for the first time in 1660).

In his preface, Sperber explained to his readers why he chose to call the prayers collected in this volume ‘praecationes kabalisticae’: kabbalistic lore is sent from heaven straight into the hearts of the ‘holy folk’, the ‘heilige leute’, by God. It is a revelation which is confirmed by heavenly words and testimonies. Examples of the latter are texts from the Old and the New Testaments, although he does not provide any kabbalistic commentaries to these texts himself. The contents of the book or the nature of the prayers, which at first sight do not seem to be remarkable or unusual, will not be discussed here. What is special, however, are the two engravings used to illustrate this edition. These seem to be unknown in the literature, something which is partly due to the fact that only very few copies of this edition appear to have survived.

Kabalisticae praecationes, ed. 1707


The first Latin edition of this work dates from 1600; the first German translation, which was published by Henricus Betkius in Frankfurt and in Amsterdam in 1675, is unillustrated. The translator is anonymous though it is certain that it was not Sperber, who had died many years before. The same publisher must have issued a reprint in 1685, and it is this edition which for the first time contains illustrations. Its existence is only known from secondary sources: Christoph Geismar (see below) mentions having seen a copy in a private collection though he does not mention the name of the collector. He describes the illustrations, which are greatly similar to the edition of 1707, the topic of this blog. No other copy has been traced in any of the library catalogues which are accessible via the Internet, nor are there any to be found in printed bibliographies or in special catalogues. Although it is not altogether certain, therefore, that they are identical to the prints included in what was already the third edition of this work in 1707, it is nevertheless highly likely because the reprint was published by the same publisher, Betkius. If we assume that the prints must have been made in or around 1685, by an engraver unknown to us, they acquire an extra dimension still: we only need to compare them to the illustrations below!

Seraphinisches Blumen Gärtlein

Welruikende krans van Lelyen en rosen

These illustrations were printed in two works by Böhme, the Seraphinisch Blumen-Gärtlein (Amsterdam, n.n. 1700) and the Welruikende krans van Lelyen en rosen (Utrecht, G. Muntendam 1704) respectively. The names of the engravers are also unknown, but they make use of the same iconography to be found in the illustration in Sperber: the all-seeing eye and the heart on the cross. It is almost certain that we have now found the original source of these illustrations (it would seem that the engraver of the Welruikende krans had before his eyes the Blumen-Gärtlein rather than the Kabalisticae praecationes ). This iconographical link between Sperber and Böhme also suggests that Sperber was an author well known and well read by followers of Böhme. If the edition of Kabalisticae praecationes of 1685 happens to be a ‘ghost’, which would imply that the prints were not made before 1707, the source of inspiration is obviously the other way around: in that case the illustrations in the Böhme editions clearly served the illustrator of the works of Sperber as a model. Whatever the case may be, followers of Böhme saw a clear relation between their favourite mystical author and Sperber.

The edition of 1707, incidentally, appears to be as rare as the elusive edition of 1685: apart from the copy in the BPH there is only one other copy in a public collection, in the University of Oxford collection. The copy recently acquired by the BPH came from the private collection of Friedhelm Kemp (1914-2011), a literature specialist and a translator, especially of poetry, more specifically German spiritual poetry.


Christoph Geismar, Das Auge Gottes. Bilder zu Jakob Böhme.
Wiesbaden 1993, p. 74, n. 235.



Jörg Völlnagel, Alchemie. Die königliche Kunst. München, Hirmer, 2012.

The library recently acquired Vollnägel’s work on the royal art of alchemy, published by Hirmer Verlag. It is a beautiful and colourful book taking the reader on a journey through the Royal Art of Alchemy and its visual treasures. In the book you will find explanations about alchemical symbolism, the Splendor Solis Series, but also modern artworks with a marked alchemical touch.