Occult Science & Philosophy in the Renaissance

January 22nd, 2010 by Leah Wood Jewett

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Grand Rosicrucian Alchemical Formula, 1678

Since the first book in the series was published in 1997, millions of readers around the world have been captivated by J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  A new exhibition at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library (Special Collections), explores the real-life history that inspired Rowling. Occult Science & Philosophy of the Renaissance will be on display in the library’s lecture hall from Jan. 25 through Mar. 6.      

Visitors will be able to view original copies of books printed as early as 1536. Highlights include a 17th-century edition of the works of Geber, the medieval Persian alchemist who is thought to have initiated the search for the “philosopher’s stone.” Other works related to alchemy include Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum and a book published in 1662 by Isaac Newton’s colleague Robert Boyle, who, like Newton, secretly practiced alchemy. William Lilly’s Monarchy or No Monarchy in England introduces visitors to Renaissance astrology and prophecy. Other books explore monsters and magical creatures. A book by Joseph Glanvill, intended to be a “scientific” case history of ghosts and witches, influenced the Puritan minister Cotton Mather, whose Wonders of the Invisible World (1693) was written to justify the Salem witch trials.

A book by the Italian scientist Giambattista della Porta will be of interest to nature lovers. Della Porta’s ideas about plants and astrology were so strange that his books were temporarily banned by the Catholic Inquisition. The Swiss zoologist Konrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium, published in 1551, contains large woodcuts of various animals, including a unicorn, which was thought to have medicinal value. Two items on display even explore the relationship between Louisiana, pelicans, and a 17th-century secret society called the Order of the Rose Cross.

Special Collections is open Mon.- Fri. from 9-5, Tues. 9-8, and Sat. 9-1. For more information, contact Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books, at (225) 578-6547. This exhibition is being produced in conjunction with a traveling exhibition, Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine, sponsored by the National Library of Medicine and on display at LSU’s Middleton Library, also from Jan. 24 to Mar. 6. For information on that exhibit, contact Peggy Chalaron, Education Resources Librarian, at (225) 578-2349.

6 Responses to “Occult Science & Philosophy in the Renaissance”

  1. That makes a lot of sense I never though that J. K. Rowling got her ideas from these publications thanks will have a read.

  2. I also didn’t knew that about JK Rowling but it’s positive to get inspiration from this kind of books

  3. Conust says:

    ahhhhhh very good, bookmarked :-) keep it up, JusyKassy.

  4. Thomas says:

    Very interesting, I didn’t know that about JK Rowling.

  5. Fewo says:

    It is fascinating to see where J.K. Rowling got her inspiration from. But if she got inspired from these old books then many others also might get inspired as well. I was actually also not aware that Isaac Newton secretly practiced alchemy. It seemed that it was widespread even among top scientists.

  6. Sagive says:

    Harry Potter grabbed my heart..
    finally a good dream to dream highly detailed
    so..

    i think i might drop by the new exhibition at LSU’s Hill Library

    Thanks :)
    Cheers, Sagive

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