[NB] Transmissions: Pansophism, Comenius, and the English Americas

Following the ancestor nudging that kicked off an earlier post, I found myself flipping open a book that has been sitting on my shelf. It’s got some useful material about the different ways of conceiving spiritual and intellectual transmission. A little notebooking, then?

First, there is the reminder about the importance of Jan Comenius’s pansophism in the seventeenth century, which arguably provides an under-acknowledged contribution to spiritualism. Pansophism took an interest in the peoples of the world, especially the Indians of the Americas, expressed concern for public enlightenment and education, and offered a fusion of science and faith for its era:

“Pansophia was the key ‘whereby the hearts of all men may be opened unto all things; and universal assent won to the truth; likewise victory over whatever is of darkness from sheer lack of knowledge, such as prevails among the races.'”—Woodward, Prospero’s America (59)

That sets Pansophism apart from its contemporarues:

“Whereas utopian movements were speculative and the Rosicrucian brotherhood secretive, pansophism invited natural philosophers to collaboratively examine how they might implement meaningful, science-based reformation.”—Ibid. (71)

Without putting too much weight on the terminology, I wonder about the possibility of drawing a distinction between the keeping of secrets and the study of hidden mysteries. Secrets here being one of the ways that you preserve a specific shape and style of knowledge, whereas the mysteries themselves are instructive in their unfolding. Product vs. process. It isn’t quite in this material, but…well, I’ve been thinking a little about secrets and transmissions, haven’t I?

The question of secrecy shows up elsewhere, too, in a discussion of early American legal debates around witchcraft:

“He [Gershom Bulkeley] took care to create a clear distinction between knowing things ‘which are indeed secret’ and therefore diabolical, and knowing that which was only hidden, or occult.”— Ibid. (249)

In this case, ‘secret’ often came down to knowledge gained through prognostication. That issue of the diabolical being connected to the future…hmm. I continue to find it fascinating that there are a subset of spirits (like the spirits of the goetic grimoires) associated with the teaching of science. There is something vital in that, the notion that there is a spiritual current whose disruptive potency derives from its ties to a future that could come to be.

If what we call progress derives in part from the imposition of a future that is not a present, akin to the past that is not a present, then we have yet one more reason to take seriously the ethical dimension of the now, as a choice not just of pasts, but of futures, too. The forever towns rooted in a temporality adjacent to ours. Blocks of time like tectonic plates, a spirit world that cannot collapse into our own, that cuts across it past, present, future, all at once.

5 thoughts on “[NB] Transmissions: Pansophism, Comenius, and the English Americas

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