Criticism of Dante and the occult sciences and secret societies

In this entry we will counter argument the contents of the entry Dante and the occult sciences and secret societies

 I-Rene Guenon L’Esoterisme de Dante

I quote from Sophia Perennis

“In the middle of the nineteenth century two scholars, Gabriele Rossetti and Eugene Aroux, pointed to certain esoteric meanings in the work of Dante Alighieri, notably The Divine Comedy. Partly based on their scholarship, Guénon in 1925 published The Esoterism of Dante. From the theses of Gabriele Rossetti and Eugene Aroux, Guénon retains only those elements that prove the existence of such hidden meanings; but he also makes clear that esoterism is not ‘heresy’ and that a doctrine reserved for an elite can be superimposed on the teaching given the faithful without standing in opposition to it. In the present volume, along with its companion volume Insights into Christian Esoterism (which includes the separate study Saint Bernard), Guénon undertakes to establish that the three parts of The Divine Comedyrepresent the stages of initiatic realization, exploring the parallels between the symbolism of the Commedia and that of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Christian Hermeticism, and illustrating Dante’s knowledge of traditional sciences unknown to the moderns: the sciences of numbers, of cosmic cycles, and of sacred astrology. Guénon also touches on the all-important question of medieval esoterism and discusses the role of sacred languages and the principle of initiation in the Christian tradition, as well as such esoteric Christian themes and organizations as the Holy Grail, the Guardians of the Holy Land, the Sacred Heart, the Fedeli d’Amore and the ‘Courts of Love’, and the Secret Language of Dante.”

I couldn’t find anything about Gabriele Rossetti, but there is a lot about Eugene Aroux. The medal mentionned by Hernani Donato, based on Edmundo Cardillo is the following:

From Dante and the Fede Santa


Guénon states that the medals he saw were found in Vienna’s Historische Museum. However, a search of this museum’s current online catalogue does not return any of the two medals. The medal representing Pisanello, does appear in a Catalogue of bronzes and ivories of European origin shown by the Burlington Fine arts club in 1879. That catalogue ascribes the medal to Pisanello (1360-1415). Both Morelli and Gruyer believe that the medal is genuine; however, Milanesi and Lenormant believe that the medal was made by Francesco Corradini, not Pisanello, hence the inscription “Franciscus Korradini Pictor Fecit” (from the Lives of Painters by Giorgio Vasari, Blashfield and Hopkins edition, volume II).

Luigi Valli, in his study Studi sui fidele d’amore, I, 1933, suggests that the inscription could refer to the seven virtues, Fides, Spes, Karitas, Justitia, Prudentia, Fortitudo, Temperantia. In his view, this could have held some initiatic meaning.

It is hard to derive a clear cut conclusion from the study of this medal as to whether Dante was a Templar or not. Dante’s work suggests that he might have had knowledge of Kabbalah and other esoteric practices, but there is no hard evidence for it.

From  Was Dante Alighieri a mason

The article explores Arturo Reghini and Eugène Aroux and not Gabrielli Rossetti. From the article, I quote the criticism:

Aroux’s study is very detailed and supported by extensive research. His argument would appeal to those who believe that the roots of freemasonry go back to the Middle Ages or even to Egyptian times. However, one would need to bear in mind two points.

First, we assume that any Hermetic manual would have been written in either Greek or Latin. Canto XXVI of the Inferno, where Dante meets with Ulysses, suggests that Dante might have had no knowledge of Greek and his Latin might have been limited.

In this Canto, fraudulent councilors such as Ulysses are enveloped in a tongue of fire. The type of punishment might have been chosen because of a misinterpretation of the Latin words: calliditas(astuteness) and caliditas (heat). Unlike the hero of the Greek Odyssey, who returns to Ithaca after his voyage, Dante’s Ulysses convinces his crew to push past Hercules’ columns and dies by falling off the edge of the world. This story is based on Ovid’s version of Ulysses’ quest in Metamorphosis XIV.

Dante looks at the fires in the circle of fraudulent councilors:


Second, the Scottish rites used in Aroux’ study were only first organized in the 1500s and there is no evidence that they were based on medieval chivalric rites of initiation. Dante, obviously, would have had no access to them when he drafted the Divine Comedy.

Therefore, while Dante uses a great deal of symbolism, we find that there is a much higher chance this would have come to him from medieval philosophers or even from a lay interest in the Kabbalah (which flourished in Southern Europe just after the fall of Jerusalem), than from direct contact with the Masons (as Aroux argued) or the Cathars (as argued by Reghini).

From The Templar Knights in Dante Alighieri’s Commedia – I

dante walls Jerusalem

This is the first of two installments, where we look at the knights Templar in Dante’s work.

The Templars first appear in the Inferno, Canto XIX, when Dante and Virgil descend to the third pocket of the Eighth Circle, which punishes one of the key crimes of the thirteenth century: Simony. A simoniac sold pardons or holy offices for personal enrichment. In this Canto, Dante criticizes Rome’s nepotism and the Church’s corruption. Popes are being punished in this circle for simony.


One of the Popes Dante meets, Nicholas III, announces that he awaits the arrival of two other Popes: Boniface VIII (who died in 1303, three years after Dante’s fictional journey into Hell) and Clement V (who died in 1314, one month after the last Master of the Temple, Jacques de Molay, was executed). Pope Clement V, previously the archbishop of Bordeaux, was elected Pope in 1305, backed by King Philip IV of France and by French Cardinals in the conclave. Dante calls him a “pastor sanza legge”, because of his connection to the king of France (in line 108, Dante refers to Popes as being the emperor’s ‘prostitutes’ “puttaneggiar coi regi”).

Here is the key of the Canto: the Church’s ‘prostitution’ to the Empire, for money and power. The separation of temporal and spiritual power was a key aspect of medieval society since Carolingian times. The two roles were to co-exist in balance. Philip IV and Clement V overthrew this balance. This was the political backdrop to the Templars’ demise. As a ‘hybrid’ military order, they did not report to the King. In fact, in 1139 Pope Innocent III declared the knights were independent from any lay and church authority: they would report directly to the Pope. However, Philip IV saw himself outside the Pope’s authority. His predecessor, Charles of Anjou, had even plotted to kidnap the Pope (then Boniface VIII, who Dante places in the same circle as Clement V) and transfer the papacy to France.

By 1307, Jerusalem was lost to Saladin. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Temple had become a powerful organization, and in France the knights had virtually become the kingdom’s bankers. Two key political events led to 1307. First, Clement V tried to revive Nicholas’ IV plan to merge the Hospitallers and the Templars into one order, reporting to a European king and not to the Pope. Jacques de Molay was opposed to this plan, believing that a king would use the new order for political aims and the Holy Land’s cause would be lost. Second, Templar castles in Armenia reported that the French army might have an interest in marching through that country, to take it over. When Philip IV asked permission for his troops to march through Armenia, the Templars refused to grant them hospitality. The king had also come close to bankruptcy, after having funded the last Crusade.

On Friday, October 13th, 1307 (which is the origin of Friday the 13th tradition), the French army arrested all Templars in France on account of heresy and the king launched an investigation into the order, which would eventually cause its demise, with Jacques de Molay’s death in 1314.

Why did Philip IV terminate the Templars? Whatever the reason, Dante’s invective against both Clement V and the King of France remind the reader that their actions were criticised even during their times.

Dante might have been a Templar

Conclusion: Neither Rene Guenon or Eugene Aroux had a clear case. There was something, but it is not what they want us to believe

II – Numerology – Tree of Life

The Tree o Life and Numerology explanation was placed here (press the title) to give perspective to such kind of interpretations. The article is dialectic in itself.

I quote from Was Dante a Rosicrucian?

As in the case of the rose, why resort to this very obscure and overly complex interpretation when standard Christian numerology will suffice? For example, we all know that 3 is a symbol of the Trinity, 12 of the Apostles, 5 of the wounds of Christ, 9 of the Beatitudes, 7 the virtues, etc. But let us take the number 33 – Purgatorio and Paradiso each contain 33 cantos; in traditional Christian symbolism, 33 has stood for the number of years our Blessed Lord was on the earth. This is common knowledge. But here is the Kabbalistic spin:
So what does 33 mean? Obviously, it alludes to the age of Christ at his crucifixion and resurrection…However, 33 also alludes to the kabalistic Tree of Life. There are 32 internal paths on the Tree and then there is the external 33rd path that leads to God.  
Now, is 33 “obviously” alludes to Christ, then why invoke the “32 internal paths” of the Kabbalist “Tree of Life”? Why search for occultic Jewish explanations when Dante’s classical Christian numerology is well known and well attested? At some point, Ockham’s Razor has to come into play – why multiply these obscure explanations for Dante;s number schemes when conventional Christian numerology satisfactorily explains them all and fits in much better with what we know about Dante and his faith? Like the case with the rose, I think many fail to realize that medieval Christianity had its own very complex economy of symbols – numbers, flowers, animals and even rocks all had symbolic meanings relating to Christ and the Church (see here for an introduction to medieval “Bestiaries and Lapidaries”). This knowledge would have been intuitive to the medieval; perhaps with the strong iconoclastic reaction against symbolism that occured in the 16th and 17th centuries during the Protestant upheaval. In an effort to cleanse the church of statues, symbols and icons, many of these medieval symbols have passed into obscurity.

Summing up:

 3 is the most significant because
  • The Divine Comedy is divided in to three sections (Inferno, Purgatio and Paradiso)
  • The poem takes place over three days, between Good’s Friday and Easter Sunday, which is an utmost significant period of time in Christianity, for after three days Christ was crucified, he rose from the dead
  • The Catholic Church believes in the Holy Trinity
  • All three poems of Dante are divided into 33 Cantos, written in terza rima (three line stanzas with a rhyme scheme)
  • At entrance of Hell Dante faces three beasts representing three temptations which lead people to the “dark wood of error”
  • Number 9 is a multiple of three which features the 9 circles of Hell. In the 9th circles Satan rules holding three of the worst sinners and traitors in three mouths (Brutus, Cassius and Judas)
  • Number 10 is a holy perfect number. Works as opposite to the Threes, associated with evil (despite being associated with Trinity)

These associations were expected to happen in the middle ages

III – The Celestial Rose

From the same Blog

On to the alleged presence of Rosicrucian symbolism in the Divine Comedy.
In the first place, what is considered Rosicrucian symbolism? Both Rosicrucians and those who make an effort to find Rosicrucian or Masonic conspiracies behind everything basically assert the presence of Rosicrucian symbolism anytime a rose shows up, or more damningly, a rose and a cross together. Thus, if some tomb, monument, illustration or literary piece makes use of the rose as a symbol, Rosicrucians will often claim that there was a Rosicrucian connection This very well could be true of many things; for example, the Masonic and esoteric leanings of many of our Founding Fathers is well documented and I have no doubt that many of these Revolutionary era monuments in Washinton D.C. probably do contain Masonic-Rosicrucian symbols.
But this method of discerning Rosicrucian influence breaks down when we attempt to apply it to the Middle Ages, which was thoroughly Catholic and had its own rich symbolism apart from later Enlightenment era thought and influenced by Christian allegory. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Paradiso Canto XXX, Dante beholds the throngs of the blessed surrounding the throne of God arranged in the shape of a great white rose, memorably portrayed in the famous 1868 engraving by Gustave Dore:
celestial rose G. Dore
The Rosicrucians are quick to point out that this presence of the rose so close as the climax of Dante’s vision indicates that he subscribed to Rosicrucian thought, as Rosicrucians were known to insert the symbol of the rose liberally throughout their works of art.
Well, first off, as I said before, Dante simply could not have been a Rosicrucian for chronological reasons.
Second, are we to assume that just because Rosicrucians utilize the rose that everybody else who does so must also be a Rosicrucian? Did anybody out there have rose shaped frosting on their wedding cake? Get their spouse roses on any occasion? Say the rose if your favorite flower? Just because we find Dante utilizing the symbol of the rose to explain a heavenly mystery need not imply he is a member of an esoteric secret society. Let us not forget, the rose also appears as a symbol of love in the Bible itself in the Song of Songs: “I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley” (S.of S. 2:1). Many Fathers interpreted this to be a reference to Christ Himself.
Third, the celestial rose is not the climax of Dante’s vision, as any fan of Dante would recognize; that comes in Canto XXXIII when Dante is escorted into the presence of the Trinity with St. Bernard,  where Dante says that his powers of speech failed him in describing the glory he beheld.
Fourth, the Rosicrucian explanation for the presence of the celestial rose is not necessary because Dante gives us his own internal reason for why he has the blessed arranged in the form of a rose as he does. A cursory look at the introduction to the Dorothy Sayers translation of Paradiso has a very helpful graph showing the logic of Dante’s placing of the saints in a rose formation. Here is the illustration taken right from the Sayer’s translation of Paradiso:
The center of the rose, of course, is the Trinity, around which all of the saints are gathered in worship. When we read why Dante placed these saints as he did, we see that his arrangement is entirely theological, steeped in Catholic tradition and has nothing whatsoever to do with any Rosicrucian mumbo-jumbo. It comes down to this – if Dante’s symbolism can be explained easily in Christian theological terms, why appeal to an esoteric secret society to explain them? Unless of course someone will say, “But Boniface, if there was a secret Rosicrucian society in the 14th century, that is exactly how one would expect them to act – hiding occult symbols in Christian veils.” In that case we simply fall into the fallacy whereby the lack of evidence for something is twisted to become evidence in support of it.

IV – Perception of Reality and Beliefs turned to Symbols

Not only to Secret Societies or in the works of Occult Sciences, but spread all over the Middle Ages and even before there were some beliefs which played a lot in the imagery involved to express such perception. Here are some of them:
I quote from Matilde Battistini, in Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

 Magic Portals

 “In ancient times, the cave was believed to be a membrane for passing from the sub lunar world to the heavenly dimension and vice versa, the door through which gos or immortals souls could reach the Earth. Many archaic myths place the birth of the initiatory gods inside or near a cave, whose esoteric function was also retained in Christianity in the image of the Bethlehem grotto. Leonardo da Vinci, in his Virgin of the Rocks, draws upon that tradition, associating directly the mystery of the birth of Jesus with the infernal and aquatic world of caves and minerals. Among the ancient Greeks, the solstices were two heavenly gateways (Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn) that allowed communication between the human and divine spheres and the sous that were destined to be reincarnated in a body with those that had been released from the process of earthly  rebirths. In The Odyssey, Homer locates these esoteric passages in a cave on Ithaca, attributing to Odysseus the initiatory role of the solar hero capable of joining the temporal to the eternal dimension. Traces of these astral cults were retained in the Christian summer solstice feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and the winter one of the Nativity (December 25th), for both dates were believed to be times of passage between the different dimensions of nature and existence. In the Hebrew Kabbalah, the magic door is the original point, a synthesis of light and darkness that gave birth to the universe.”
The highlighting is mine. This whole thing sounds like a description of what Dante had in mind at the opening gate of Hell. Let’s see Hell, canto I

The Divine Comedy opens with Dante lost in a dark wood in a fearful valley. Finally he sees a hill on which the sun is shining, and his heart fills with hope. But as he starts his climb, he is confronted by three beasts.

First comes a leopard, that, while not really frightening him, does block his path. Then comes a ferocious, ravenous lion followed by a she-wolf. Dante is terrified and is losing all hope of climbing the hill when a man appears. It is Virgil, the Roman epic poet. He has been sent by Beatrice (the woman Dante loved and who inspired him to write) to lead him on a journey of discovery through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

To explain the allegory: Dante, busied about the affairs of the world, has wandered from the path of righteousness. He tries to find the path back but is diverted by worldly pleasure (the leopard), worldly ambition (the lion), and by avarice (the she-wolf). Virgil, who represents reason, has come to lead Dante to Beatrice, who represents Divine revelation and the state of grace.

Notice the Christ-like pose and appearance (diaphanous robes, flowing locks) of Virgil, and the exaggerated ‘terror pose’ of the fleeing Dante. Notice also that the three beasts hardly look terrifying at all. Blake, in fact, seemed to have difficulties depicting wild animals.

Magic Portals play a very important role in initiatic ceremonies for secret societies, being crucial for Templars and Rosicrucians. In England and in America there are several examples.

Royston cave

Cave of Kelpius Philadelphia

V – Secret Societies

Again, I quote from Matilde Battistini, in Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

“Secret societies and esoteric circles were born for the purpose of fostering the spiritual renewal of restricted elites through the recovery of arcane forms of knowledge and a total ban on divulging the principles and the alphabet of the secret doctrines to the asses. The Knights Templar, whose secret goal was to rebuild the Temple of Solomon, were one of the first esoteric orders of the Christian Wes. The Rosicrucian Society, derived from the Fedeli d’Amori (Faithful Lovers) to which both Dante Alighieri and the author of Le Roman de la Rose belonged, intended to free the spirit of the adept from slavery to earthly temporal powers (the senses and passions, public ambition, and political institutions). The mystical flower of this sect, the rose, symbol of beauty, love and live, in fact, expresses striving toward spiritual elevation and yearning for a return to a natural religion founded on the knowledge of the harmonious correspondences that fill the many realms of reality. Finally the Free masons worshiped light, equality, and the brother hood of man. During the Renaissance, many cultural and political circles, such as the Florentine Neoplatonic Adacemy and the court of Elizabeth I, queen of England, also hid esoteric interests.”

A more complete list of all secret societies should be as follows:

In a book, published in 1897, The Secret Societies of all agaes and countries , by Charles William Heckethorn, there were then 160 Organizations as such in the world,  which  he classified as follows:

  1. Religious – such as the Egyptians or Eleusinian Mysteries 78, 79, 185
  2. Military: Knights Templars 9,11,51, 47-50, 208, 302, 303
  3. Judiciary: Vehmgerichte 328
  4. Scientific: Alchymists missing
  5. Civil: Freemasons 8, 9, 73, 100- 105, 106-109, 116,
  6. Political: Carbonari 157-177
  7. Anti social: Garduna missing

In the pages above, you can see by then what the author thought about it.  If you press on, you can see how it shows up at Internet today.

He warns, though, that the line of division is not always strictly defined, some that had scientific objects combined theological dogmas therewith – as Rosicrucians, for instance; and political societies must necessarily influence civil life. We may therefore more conveniently range secret societies in the two comprehensive divisions of religious and politic.

Rosicrucians are explained, as the author saw then at the end of the 19th century, as extremely influential in the past, but finished by then. (Page 219).

Again, it must be said that Dante might have been a Templar

The timing is crucial to determine Dante’s participation in any secret society, simply because they didn’t exist, as in the case of the Rosicrucians, or, in the case of the Templars, they were exterminated.


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