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Dr. P.J. (Peter) Forshaw

Western esotericism
Faculty of Humanities
Capaciteitsgroep Geschiedenis van de Hermetische filosofie en verwante stromingen
Photographer: onbekend

Visiting address
  • Kloveniersburgwal 48
  • Room number: D1.08A
Postal address
  • Postbus 94201
    1090 GE Amsterdam
  • Profile


    If you are interested in learning more about the courses that I teach here at the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy, in discussing projects, in advertising an academic event, or for any other purpose, please do feel free to contact me: . The best day to catch me in the office is Monday when I'm usually in for meetings, catching up on admin tasks, or preparing for the week's classes.

    Professional Information

    Peter Forshaw studied Sanskrit, Tibetan and Indian Philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1982-86). After years spent working in France, India, Thailand, and Japan, he returned to the UK to take an MA in Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, where he subsequently researched his doctorate in Early Modern Intellectual History, on the complex hieroglyphic and theosophical figures and the interplay of alchemy, magic and cabala in the  Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae - Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (1595/1609) of Heinrich Khunrath of Leipzig (1560-1605), 'doctor of both  medicines and faithful lover of Theosophy'.
    On the successful completion of his PhD, Peter was then awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship for research into the History of Ritual Magic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This period of research was then followed by fellowships at the universities of Strathclyde and Cambridge, where he worked on projects related to early modern alchemy and astrology.
    In 2009 Peter was appointed Universitair Docent (Senior Lecturer/Assistant Professor) for History of Western Esotericism in the Early Modern Period at the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam.
    Peter is also Honorary Fellow at the University of Exeter, where he contributes to the MA in Western Esotericism at EXESESO: The Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London.
    From 2004-2011 Peter was elected council member and webmaster of the SRS (Society for Renaissance Studies). He has been performing the same functions for SHAC (Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry) since 2007 and for ESSWE (European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism) since 2009.

    Editorial Activities

    Editor in Chief of Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism .

    Editorial Board Member:

    • Ambix, Journal for the Society of the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
    • Universal Reform: Studies in Intellectual History, 1550-1700 (Ashgate)
    • Apocalypticism: Cross-Disciplinary Explorations (Peter Lang)
    • Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism (Oxford University Press)
    • Correspondences: Online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism
    • História Revista




    Below (in no particular order) are links to various organisations, libraries, archives, and journals that I have found useful for my own research. I hope that they may be inspiring for you too.

    If you're searching for funding, for example, for short research trips, fellowships for short-term and medium-term research, sources of conference funding, or information about essay prizes, be sure to visit ESSWE's Bursaries page, SHAC's Awards and Prizes page, the Society for Renaissance Studies' Funding pages, and so forth.

  • Courses


    Together with Prof. Dr. W. J. (Wouter) Hanegraaff and Dr. M. (Marco) Pasi , I am responsible for the Bachelor Minor "Westerse Esoterie" and the Master trajectory "Mysticism and Western Esotericism", which are both part of the Religious Studies program. The University of Amsterdam is currently the only academic institution in the world that offers a complete program in this field. International students are welcome to apply for admission to the Master program, which is offered as a 1-year and a 2-year (research) option.
    In the bachelor program I teach "Western Esotericism in the Early Modern Period" and in the Master I run the "Renaissance Esotericism" seminar.
    Together with Prof. Dr.G.A. (Gerard) Wiegers I also teach the core module "Polemics and Politics of Religious Identity" as part of the Research Master Religious Studies. I also contribute a session to Dr U.L. (Ulrike) Popp-Baier 's Research Master course on "Religious Experience" and a session on Christian Cabala for Gemma Kwantes ' BA course on Kabbalah.
    General course descriptions and regularly updated programs can be found at the subdepartment's website (see link below, sections "Prospective Students" and "Current Students"). For practical information about admission etc., contact the Graduate School for Humanities (see link).

    Study Guides (2012-2013)

    Research MA Tutorials

    Students on the Research MA also have the option of arranging individual tutorials with a supervisor, for which they engage in a personal research project and then write an essay that contributes to the final grade.

    Two recent examples include:

    1) a student for whom I arranged an informal semester at the University of Cambridge, with the possibility to attend lectures and seminars, have access to university archives, and generally have the opportunity to meet other students and scholars interested in the history of early modern alchemy.

    2) a tutorial/reading group on the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung's final book on psychology and alchemy,  Mysterium coniunctionis . For this I invited students and also practising Jungian therapists, in order to establish some dialogue between academic theory and psychological practice. The format of this tutorial is a series of Friday evening meetings spread out over a period of months, with a different member of the group presenting a section of the book each time.

  • Research

    General Research

    My research interests are in the intellectual and cultural history of learned magic and its relation to religion, science and medicine in early modern Europe; occult forms of communication, the interplay between text and image, and the whole question of symbolic representation by means of emblematic figures, hieroglyphs, cabalistic notae, and so forth. More generally, all forms of occult philosophy (alchemy, astrology and Christian Cabala, in particular) and ritual activity, from activity to the early modern period. See below for descriptions of my current research projects.

    Christian Cabala in the Early Modern Period

    The goal of this project is to write a study of Christian Cabala in the early modern period that will provide a soundfoundation for students unfamiliar with the subject and at the same time be of interest to specialists in the history of esotericism. From a brief introduction to Jewish Kabbalah, the work then investigates, for example, the Genesis of Christian Cabala; the presence of Cabala in occult philosophy and practical magical treatises; the impact of Cabala on alchemical theory and practice; the new wave of Lurianic Kabbalah; Kircher's Saracenic Cabala; critical responses, including Colberg's condemnation of Cabala as 'Fanatic Theology' and Brucker's ruminations in Historia critica philosophiae . Projected outcome of this project: a monograph, articles on Early Modern Christian Cabala, plus a Christian Cabala Reader, providing translations of new material from early modern books and manuscripts.   

    Ora et Labora: Alchemy and Religion

    The 'New Historiography of Alchemy' rejects a monolithic view of the subject, recognising the rich variety of approaches by which practitioners from many schools of thought competed and coexisted. In the process of challenging earlier representations of alchemy, however, there has been a reaction against late nineteenth- and twentieth-century spiritualised or psychologised interpretations of alchemical endeavour. This project investigates the relations between alchemical and religious thought in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. The focus is on the Christian West, though, as alchemical texts contain a great deal of material from earlier periods, the intended monograph and articles will include a fresh historical-critical appraisal ofevidence from the middle ages and antiquity, including relevant Greek, Arabic and Hebrew sources. Research themes include: exegesis, images, vision and revelation,confessional identities, 'spiritual', 'supernatural' and 'theosophical' alchemy and 'the experience of transmutation'.


    Peter is currently preparing a monograph on Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605) for Brill's Studies in Intellectual History: The Mages Images: Heinrich Khunrath, Occult Theosophy and the Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom .
    He is also working on a parallel-text translation of the 1609 edition of Khunrath's Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom), to be published in Brill's Aries Book Series.
    He is co-editing, with Boaz Huss, a collection of articles, Lux in Tenebris: The Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism , to be published by Brill.

    The Word and the World: Biblical Exegesis and Early Modern Science , edited by Kevin Killeen & Peter J. Forshaw (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

    The Word and the World explores the significant impact of biblical reading practices on the scientific thought of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, engaging not only with canonical figures such as Bacon, Brahe or Galileo, but also with less well-known figures, including Bruno, Browne and Khunrath. It addresses the idea that early modern natural philosophers forged their new disciplines despite, rather than because of, the pervasive bible-centredness of early modern thought. The essays in this volume challenge this critical presumption and offer substantial evidence for thecentrality of scriptural interpretation forscientific thinkers of the period. It ranges across the early modern scientific landscape, as well as attending to a wide spectrum of religious confessions across Europe. In addition, the contributions display mulidisciplinary interests and appproaches, drawing from backgrounds in Theology, the History of Science, Intellectual History, Literature and the Humanities.

    Laus Platonici Philosophi: Marsilio Ficino and his Influence , edited by Stephen Clucas, Peter J. Forshaw, & Valery Rees (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

    This collection of essays honours Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) as a Platonic philosopher. Ficino was not the first translator of Plato in the Renaissance, but he was the first to translate the entire corpus of Platonic works, and to emphasise their relevance for contemporary readers. Thepresent work is divided into two sections: the first explores aspects of Ficino's own thought and the sources which he used. The second section follows aspects of his influence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The papers presented here deepen and enrich our understanding of Ficino, and of the philosophical tradition in which he was working, and theyoffer a new platformfor future studies on Ficino and his legacy in Renaissance philosophy.

    Selected Articles and Chapters in Edited Collections

    • '"Possibly the most obscure work ever written by an Englishman?": The Early Alchemical Reception of John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica ', in Stephen Clucas (ed), Ambix: The Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, Volume 52, Part 3 (November 2005), 247-269.
    • 'Alchemy in the Amphitheatre': Some consideration of the alchemical content of the engravings in Heinrich Khunrath's Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (1609), in Jacob Wamberg (ed.), Art and Alchemy (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006), 154-176.
    • 'Curious Knowledge and Wonder-working Wisdom in the Occult Works of Heinrich Khunrath', in R. J. W. Evans & Alexander Marr (eds), Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 107-129.
    • 'Vitriolic Reactions: Orthodox Response to the Alchemical Exegesis of Genesis', in Peter J. Forshaw & Kevin Killeen (eds), The Word and the World: Biblical Exegesis and Early Modern Science  (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007),111-136.
    • 'Alchemical Exegesis: Fractious Distillations of the Essence of Hermes', in Lawrence M. Principe (ed.), Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2007), 25-38.
    • Essay Review: 'Two Occult Philosophers in the Elizabethan Age', History Workshop Journal 64 (Autumn) 2007, 401-410.
    • 'Subliming Spirits: Physical-Chemistry and Theo-Alchemy in the Works of Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605), in Stanton J. Linden (ed.), "Mystical Metal of Gold": Essays on Alchemy and Renaissance Culture (New York: AMS Press, 2007), 25-38.
    • 'Enthusiastic Revelation: The Corpus Hermeticum in Early Modern Occult Philosophy', in Robert Gilbert (ed.), Knowledge of the Heart: Gnostic Movements and Secret Traditions (London: The Canonbury Papers, 2008), 109-116.
    • '"Paradoxes, Absurdities, and Madness": Conflict over Alchemy, Magic and Medicine in the Works of Andreas Libavius and Heinrich Khunrath', Early Science and Medicine 13 (2008): 53-81.
    • 'Astrology, Ritual and Revolution in the Works of Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639)', in Andrea Brady and Emily Butterworth (eds), The Uses of the Future in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 2010), 181-197.
    • "Oratorium-Auditorium-Laboratorium: Early Modern Improvisations on Cabala, Music, and Alchemy," Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, New Series, Vol. 10: 2 (2010): 169-195.
    • "Robert Fludd, Philosophia Sacra et Vere Christiana Seu Meteorologia Cosmica & Anatomiae Amphitheatrum Effigie Triplici," in Gérard d'Andiran (ed.), La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles  (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010), 543-545.
    • 'Marsilio Ficino and the Alchemical Art', in Stephen Clucas, Peter J. Forshaw, & Valery Rees (eds), Laus Platonici Philosophi: Marsilio Ficino and his Influence (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 249-271. 
    • '"Behold, the dreamer cometh": Hyperphysical Magic and Deific Visions in an Early-Modern Lab-Oratory', in Joad Raymond (ed.), Conversations with Angels: Essays Towards a History of Spiritual Communication, 1100-1700 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011), 175-200.
    • '"Chemistry, that Starry Science": Early Modern Conjunctions of Astrology and Alchemy', in Nicholas Campion and Elizabeth Greene (eds), Sky and Symbol (Lampeter: Sophia Centre Press, 2013), 143-184.
    • 'Cabala Chymica or Chemia Cabalistica - Early Modern Alchemists and Cabala', Ambix 60:4 (Nov. 2013): 361-389. 
    • 'The Genesis of Christian Cabala: Early Modern Speculations on the Work of Creation', in: Susanne Scholz and Caroline Vander Stichele (eds), Hidden Truths from Eden: Esoteric Readings of Genesis 1-3 (Atlanta: Semeia Studies, 2014), 121-144.
    • 'Concealed Mysteries and Unheard-of-Curiosities: Jacques Gaffarel's Defence of Celestial Writing and Divine Kabbalah', in: Hiro Hirai (ed.), Jacques Gaffarel: Between Magic and Science (Bruniana & Campanelliana Supplementi, XXXIX. Studi 17, Pisa: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2014), 13-26.
    • 'Geheime Figuren: Sophia', in: Jose Bouman and Cis van Heertum (eds), Divine Wisdom - Divine Nature: The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth Century (Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2014), 154-157.
    • 'Kabbalah', in: Christopher Partridge (ed.), The Occult World (London: Routledge, 2015), 541-551.
    • 'The Occult Middle Ages', in: Christopher Partridge (ed.), The Occult World (London: Routledge, 2015), 34-48.
    • '"Morbo spirituali medicina spiritualis convenit": Paracelsus, Madness, and Spirits', in Steffen Schneider (ed.) Conceptio spiritus. Interaktionen von und mit Geistern in der Frühen Neuzeit (forthcoming)
    • 'Magical Material & Material Survivals: Amulets, Talismans, and Mirrors in Early Modern Europe', in Dietrich Boschung and Jan Bremmer (eds) The Materiality of Magic (Munich: Fink Verlag, forthcoming)
    • 'Christian Cabala', in: Glenn Magee (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)

    Conferences, Seminars, Lectures (Recent and Upcoming)

    • 'Heinrich Khunrath and the Tabulae Theosophiae Cabbalisticae ', Topic and Tradition (Freieuniversität, Berlin, 20 May 2011). 
    • 'Artist and Athlete of Fire: Heinrich Khunrath on the Symbolic Harmony of Christ and the Philosophers' Stone', ESSWE 3, Lux in Tenebris: The Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism (Szeged, 6-10 July, 2011).
    • 'As Above, So Below: Medieval and Early Modern Conjunctions of Astrology and Alchemy', EMPHASIS  (London, 4 February 2012).
    • 'Professing Esotericism? Scholars, Students, Practitioners and the Idea of a Holistic Curriculum', 4th Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Spiritualities (Haifa, 20 March 2012).
    • 'Chymical Cabala: Early Modern Permutations in the Book of Nature', 2nd Annual INASWE Conference, Lux et Tenebrae: Scientific and Demonic Dimensions of Western Esotericism  (Haifa, 22 March 2012).
    • '"Utterly unphilosophically, they separate the Oratory and Laboratory!": An early modern Theosophical Alchemist on Christ and the Philosophers' Stone', From Alchemy to Chemistry (Galway, 13 April, 2012).
    • 'Amulets, Seals and Talismans in Early Modern Europe', The Materiality of Magic (Cologne, 23-25 May, 2012).
    • ESSWE Magic Thesis Workshop Organiser (Amsterdam, 6 July 2012).
    • '"Morbo spirituali medicina spiritualis convenit": Paracelsians, Madness, and Spirits', Purgatio spiritus: Banishment and Purification of the Spirits in the Sixteenth Century (Tubingen, 5-7 October, 2012). 
    • 'Early Modern Alchemy and the Hermetic Worldview', Alchemy on the Amstel (Amsterdam, 19 November 2012).
    • 'Why study Western Esotericism - and how should we do it?' (Gothenburg, 27 November 2012).
    • 'Astrological Image Magic in Early Modernity', Celestial Magic: The Eleventh Annual Sophia Centre Conference (Bath, 22-23 June 2013).
    • '"Medicina Hermetica": The Early Modern Promotion of a Hermetic Way to Health', ESSWE 4, Western Esotericism and Health (Gothenburg, 26-29 June, 2013). 
    • 'From Occult Ekphrasis to Magical Art: Transforming Text into Talismanic Image in the Picatrix', Methodical Reflexions about the Relationship between Magical Texts and Images (Heidelberg, 9 July, 2013). 
    • 'Sigillum Dei/Aemeth - Seal of God and Truth', John Dee and the Search for Truth (London, 9 November, 2013).
    • 'Man as a Spiritual Being from a "Hermetic" Perspective' (Bilthoven, 7 December, 2013).
    • 'Speaking Pictures and Seeing Words', Illustere School Workshop (Amsterdam, 7 February 2014)
    • 'A Theo-Alchemical Androgyne: The Union of Alchemy and Religion', Scientiae 2014: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern World (Vienna, 23-25 April, 2014)
    • 'Opus Visionis: The Magician in Search of Truth', Scripted Forms of Magic Knowledge: Grimoires in the Matrix of Western Cultures (Jerusalem, 8-11 June, 2014) 
    • 'Alchemy in the Context of Boehme's Work', Jacob Boehme and His World (Görlitz, 4-6 July, 2014)
    • 'Transmissions and Transmutations of Alchemical Texts', SHAC Postgraduate Workshop: Geographies of Alchemy and Chemistry (Amsterdam, 24 October, 2014)
    • 'John Dee and the Stars (Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy)', The Alchemist and the Royal Typographer: John Dee and Willem Sylvius (Antwerp, 26 October 2014)
    • 'Kabala, Magia, Alchymia Coniungendae: Necessary Combinations in Heinrich Khunrath's Theosophy', Um 1600: Konstellationen zwischen Schulmetaphysik, Konfessionalisierung und hermetisher Spekulation (Munich, 19-20 November, 2014)


  • Media Contributions

    The Ritman Library Infinite Fire Webinar Series 1: The Alchemy of the Amphitheatrum

    The first webinar features  dr. Peter J. Forshaw , who shares his knowledge on  Heinrich Khunrath  or dr. Henricus Khunrath as he was called, who was a physician and Hermetic alchemist. In the webinar a focus is put on Khunrath's  Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae  - The Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (originally published in 1595), which has traditionally been considered to be a strange mix of Christianity and magic. Peter elaborates on the alchemical symbolism of 4 circular and 5 rectangular engravings integrated into the Amphitheatrum

    The Ritman Library Infinite Fire Webinar Series 2: The Emblemata of the Atalanta Fugiens

    The second webinar is online featuring   dr. Peter J. Forshaw , who shares with us his knowledge on Michael Maier (1568-1622), a Renaissance alchemist, composer, physician and counsellor to Habsburg Emperor   Rudolf II Habsburg . The webinar focusses in particular on Maier's   Atalanta Fugiens  (1618), a multimedia work containing 50 engraved emblems visualizing the alchemical stages and including corresponding epigrams, discourses and musical symphonies 'fugues', which he composed himself. Nothing is known about Maier's ideas on how to perform the fugues, though some believe they serve as auditory support during corresponding to alchemical work in the laboratory. Since Maier served as counsellor to Rudolph II, it might even be the case that the music was performed at his court. Besides discussing a selection of the emblemata of the Atalanta Fugiens at length, Peter Forshaw also highlights other works by Michael Maier, as well as other related sources.

    The Ritman Library Infinite Fire Webinar Series 3: John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica 

    Welcome to Dr. Peter J. Forshaw's third webinar in the Infinite Fire series. Today he introduces the early modern mathematician, natural philosopher and magus, John Dee (1527-1608/9), another significant figure in the history of science, esotericism and Hermetic Philosophy. Dee is a fascinating example of a thinker deeply engaged with both orthodox and unorthodox fields of knowledge, judged by the standards of his own period or today. This webinar provides some information about his scholarly interests, his travels in continental Europe, where he came into contact with influential thinkers, like the cartographer Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), fellow occult philosophers like Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605), and powerful aristocrats like Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612).

    BBC Radio 3, Night Waves, Ripley Scroll and Alchemy

    A short discussion between the presenter of BBC Radio 3's Night Waves, Philip Dodd, Jennifer Rampling (Cambridge University) and Peter Forshaw (University of Amsterdam) on "the resurgence of alchemy's reputation," due to the opening of London Science Museum's new exhibition 'Signs, Symbols, Secrets: an illustrated guide to alchemy' on 27 April 2012 (NB. "Alchemy" is the second item and starts at 16:16).

    BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, 'The Music of the Spheres'

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the music of the spheres, the elegant and poetic idea that the revolution of the planets generates a celestial harmony of profound and transcendent beauty. In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice the young Lorenzo woos his sweetheart with talk of the stars: "There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins; Such harmony is in immortal souls; But whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it." The idea of music of the spheres ran through late antiquity and the medieval period into the Renaissance and its echoes could be heard in astrology and astronomy, in theology, and, of course, in music itself. Influenced by Pythagoras and Plato, it was discussed by Cicero, Boethius, Marsilio Ficino and Johannes Kepler It affords us a glimpse into minds for whichthe universe was full of meaning, of strange correspondences andgrand harmonies.

    BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, 'Renaissance Magic'

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Renaissance obsession with Magic. In 1461 one of the powerful Medici family's many agents carried a mysterious manuscript into his master's house in Florence. It purported to be the work of an ancient Egyptian priest-king andmagician calledHermes Trismegistus. When Cosimo de Medici saw the new discovery, he ordered his translations of Plato to be stopped so that work could begin on the new discovery at once. Hermes promised secret knowledge to his initiates and claimed to have spoken with the spirits and turned base metal into gold. His ideas propelled natural magic into the mainstream of Renaissance intellectual thought, as scholars and magi vied to understand the ancient secrets that would bring statues to life and call the angels down from heaven. But why did magic appeal so strongly to the Renaissance mind? And how did the scholarly Magus, who became a feature of the period, manage to escape prosecution and relate his work to science and the Church?

    BBC Radio 4, In OurTime, 'The Court of Rudolph II'

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the coterie of brilliant thinkers gathered in 16th century Prague by the melancholic emperor Rudolph II. In 1606 the Archdukes of Vienna declared: "His majesty is interested only in wizards, alchemists, Kabbalists and the like, sparing no expense to find all kinds of treasures, learn secrets and use scandalous ways of harming his enemies...He also has a whole library of magic books. He strives all the time to eliminate God completely so that he may in future serve a different master." The subject of this coruscating attack was the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, and his court at Prague. Rudolph had turned Pragueinto a collector'scabinet for the wonders and curiosities of the age - the great paintings of Northern Italy were carried to him over the Alps, intricate automatons constructed to serve drinks, maps and models of the heavens were unwound and engineered as the magnificent city of Prague itself was rebuilt in the image of its dark and thoughtful patron in chief. But Rudolf's greatest possessions were people - the astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, the magus John Dee and the philosopher Giordano Bruno had all found their way to his city. Far from the devilish inquisitor of the archdukes' imaginations, Rudolf patronised a powerhouse of Renaissance ideas.

    BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, 'Renaissance Astrology'

    MelvynBragg and guests discuss Renaissance Astrology. In Act I Scene II of King Lear,the ne'er do well Edmund steps forward and rails at the weakness and cynicism of his fellow men: This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, - often the surfeit of our own behaviour, - we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity. The focus of his attack is astrology and the credulity of those who fall for its charms. But the idea that earthly life was ordained in the heavens was essential to the Renaissance understanding of the world. The movements of the heavens influenced many things from the practice of medicine tomajor political decisions.Every renaissance court had its astrologer including ElizabethIst and the mysterious Dr. John Dee who chose the most propitious date for her coronation. But astrologers also worked in the universities and on the streets, reading horoscopes, predicting crop failures and rivalling priests and doctors as pillars of the local community. But why did astrological ideas flourish in the period, how did astrologers interpret and influence the course of events and what new ideas eventually brought the astrological edifice tumbling down?

    BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, 'Alchemy'

    At the end ofthe 16th century, the German alchemist Heinrich Khunrath wrote: "Darkness will appear on the face of the Abyss; Night, Saturn and the Antimony ofthe Sages will appear; blackness, and the raven's head of the alchemists, and all the colours of the world, will appear at the hour of conjunction; the rainbow also, and the peacock's tail. Finally, after the matter has passed from ashen-coloured to white and yellow, you will see thePhilosopher's Stone". The language, which sounds fantastical, is cryptic, encoded, symbolic and secretive. It is worth bearing in mind that Isaac Newton wrote more manuscripts on alchemy than on anything else and Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, described himself as an alchemist. What was the essence of alchemy, its history and legacy? And how much more was it than a rapacious desire to turn base metals intogold?

    BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, 'Merlin'

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the legendary wizard Merlin. He was sired by an incubus and born of a virgin; he was a prophet, a shape-shifter, a king-maker and a mad man of the woods. Before Gandalf there was Merlin: the power behind Arthur and a literary sensation for centuries. In a literary career spanning 1500years,Merlin, or originallyMyrddin, put theswordin the stone, builtStonehenge, knew the truth behind the Holy Grail and discovered the Elixir of Life. "BewareMerlin for he knowsall things by the devil's craft" saythe poisoners in Malory's Morte D'Arthur; but he is also onthe side of the good and isalmost Christ-like in some of the versions of his tale, and his prophesies were poredover by the medieval Church. Who was Merlinus Ambrosius, as he is sometimes known? Where does his legend spring from and how has it been appropriated and adapted over time?

    BBC Radio 4, The Material World, 'Paracelsus'

    In this episode of Material World, Quentin Cooper is joined by science writer Philip Ball and Peter Forshaw, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, to discuss the myth, life and legacy of Philip Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, or Paracelsus, the 16th Century medic on the border between the medieval and modern.
    He was both army surgeon and alchemist, and was rumoured to have made a Faustian bargain with the devil to regain his youth. It was said that he travelled with a magical white horse and stored the elixir of life in the pommel of his sword.
    But who was Paracelsus and what did he really believe and practice? Quentin unravels the story of a man who wrote influential books on medicine, surgery, alchemy and theology, whileliving a drunken, combative, vagabondlife.

    Channel 5, The Philosopher's Stone - The True Story (2007)

    Documentary examining the medieval myth of the Philosopher's Stone, a Holy Grail-type relic which supposedly held the key to alchemy and immortality. Many noted alchemists and adventurers searched obsessively for the artifact hoping to learn its powerful secrets, a quest which allegedly drove some to madness and others to celestialencounters.

    Discovery Channel, Nostradamus - The Truth (2006)

    BBC4, The Voynich Mystery (2006)

    The Voynich manuscript was discovered in an Italian monastery in 1912 but its meaning has eluded experts and code-breakers alike.
    This film explores the various theories surrounding its mixture of strange language and drawings of plants and anatomical figures. Is it an astrological guide, herbal glossary, religious heresy or map of the galaxy? No one knows.

  • Publications



    • Forshaw, P. J. (2016). Christian Kabbalah. In G. A. Magee (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism (pp. 143-155). Cambridge University Press. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2016). Introduction: The Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism. In P. J. Forshaw (Ed.), Lux in Tenebris: The Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism (pp. 1-17). (Aries book series : texts and studies in Western esotericism; Vol. 23). Brill. [details]


    • Forshaw, P. (2015). Alchemy. In R. A. Segal, & K. von Stuckrad (Eds.), Vocabulary for the Study of Religion (Vol. 1, pp. 49-52). Brill. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2015). 'Morbo spirituali medicina spiritualis convenit': Paracelsus, Madness, and Spirits. In S. Schneider (Ed.), Aisthetics of the Spirits: Spirits in Early Modern Science, Religion, Literature and Music (pp. 287-305). Göttingen: V&R unipress.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2015). Kabbalah. In C. Partridge (Ed.), The Occult World (pp. 541-551). Abingdon: Routledge.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2015). Magical Material & Material Survivals: Amulets, Talismans, and Mirrors in Early Modern Europe. In D. Boschung , & J. Bremmer (Eds.), The Materiality of Magic (pp. 357-381). Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2015). The Occult Middle Ages. In C. Partridge (Ed.), The Occult World (pp. 34-48). Abingdon: Routledge.


    • Forshaw, P. (2014). Concealed Mysteries and Unheard-of Curiosities: Jacques Gaffarel's Defence of Celestial Writing and Divine Kabbalah. In H. Hirai (Ed.), Jacques Gaffarel: Between Magic and Science (pp. 13-26). (Bruniana & Campanelliana: Supplementi; No. 29). Pisa/Roma: Fabrizio Serra Editore. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2014). The Genesis of Christian Kabbalah: early modern speculations on the work of creation. In S. Scholz, & C. Vander Stichele (Eds.), Hidden truths from Eden: esoteric readings of Genesis 1/3 (pp. 121-144). (Semeia studies; No. 76). SBL Press. [details]


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2013). Cabala Chymica or Chemia Cabalistica - Early Modern Alchemists and Cabala. Ambix, 60(4), 361-389. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (Accepted/In press). 'Chemistry, that Starry Science': Early Modern Conjunctions of Astrology and Alchemy. In L. Greene, & N. Campion (Eds.), Sky and Symbol (pp. 143-184). Lampeter: Sophia Centre Press.


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2011). 'Behold, the dreamer cometh': hyperphysical magic and deific visions in an early modern theosophical lab-oratory. In J. Raymond (Ed.), Conversations with angels: essays towards a history of spiritual communication, 1100-1700 (pp. 175-201). Basingstoke [etc.]: Palgrave Macmillan. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2011). Marsilio Ficino and the chemical art. In S. Clucas, P. J. Forshaw, & V. Rees (Eds.), Laus Platonici philosophi: Marsilio Ficino and his influence (pp. 249-271). (Brill's studies in intellectual history; No. 198). Brill. [details]


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2010). Astrology, ritual and revolution in the works of Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639). In A. Brady, & E. Butterworth (Eds.), The uses of the future in early modern Europe (pp. 181-197). (Routledge studies in Renaissance literature and culture; No. 12). Routledge. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2010). Oratorium - auditorium - laboratorium: early modern improvisations on cabala, music, and alchemy. Aries, 10(2), 169-195. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2010). Robert Fludd. Philosophia Sacra et Vere Christiana Seu Meteorologia Cosmica & Anatomiae Amphitheatrum Effigie Triplici. In G. d' Andiran (Ed.), La médecine ancienne, du corps aux étoiles (pp. 543-545). Coligny/Paris: Fondation Martin Bodmer/Presses Universitaires de France.


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2008). Enthusiastic Revelation: The Corpus Hermeticum in Early Modern Occult Philosophy. In R. A. Gilbert (Ed.), Knowledge of the heart: gnostic movements and secret traditions: transactions of the eighth international conference 4 & 5 November 2006 (Canonbury papers; No. 5). Hersham: Lewis Masonic.


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2007). Alchemical Exegesis: Fractious Distillations of the Essence of Hermes. In L. M. Principe (Ed.), Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in theHistory of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry (pp. 25-38). Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2007). Introduction: The Word and the World. In P. J. Forshaw, & K. Killeen (Eds.), The Word and the World: Biblical Exegesis and Early Modern Science (pp. 1-22). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2007). Vitriolic Reactions: Orthodox Response to the Alchemical Exegesis of Genesis. In P. J. Forshaw, & K. Killeen (Eds.), The Word and the World: Biblical Exegesis and Early Modern Science (pp. 111-136). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2006). Curious Knowledge and Wonder-working Wisdom in the Occult Works of Heinrich Khunrath. In R. J. W. Evans, & A. Marr (Eds.), Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (pp. 107-129). Aldershot: Ashgate.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2006). Subliming Spirits: Physical-Chemistry and Theo-Alchemy in the Works of Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605). In S. J. Linden (Ed.), "Mystical Metal of Gold": Essays on Alchemy and Renaissance Culture New York: AMS Press.
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2006). ‘Alchemy in the Amphitheatre’: Some consideration of the alchemical content of the engravings in Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom'. In J. Wamberg (Ed.), Art and Alchemy (pp. 154-176). Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2016). Unexpected in the Octagon: Heinrich Khunrath’s Presentation Copy to Erasmus Wolfart. In H. T. Hakl (Ed.), The Quest for Wholeness: Mirrored in a library dedicated to religious studies, philosophy and esotericism in particular (pp. 71-89). (Octagon; Vol. 2). Scientia Nova. [details]


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2021). Het Amfitheater van de Eeuwige Wijsheid: Een theosofische prent. Allard Pierson magazine, 123, 16-17. [details]



    • Forshaw, P. J. (2012). [Review of: P. J. Grund., P. J. Grund. (2011) Misticall Wordes and Names Infinite: An Edition and Study of Humfrey Lock's Treatise on Alchemy.]. Isis, 103.


    • Forshaw, P. (2009). [Review of: B.T. Moran (2005) Distilling knowledge: alchemy, chemistry, and the scientific revolution]. Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, 4(1), 123-124. [details]
    • Forshaw, P. J. (2009). [Review of: B.T. Moran (2007) Andreas Libavius and the transformation of alchemy: separating chemical cultures with polemical fire]. Isis, 100, 394-395. [details]


    • Forshaw, P. J. (2007). [Review of: J. Shackelford (2004) A Philosophical Path for Paracelsian Medicine: The Ideas, Intellectual Context, and Influence of Petrus Severinus: 1540-1602]. Ambix, 54, 98-99.

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    • University of Exeter (dpt. of History)
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