Introduction to Marsilio Ficino by Angela Voss
Western Esoteric Masters series, California: North Atlantic Books, 2006
The importance of the work of Marsilio Ficino of Florence (1433-1499) in the awakening, transmission and dissemination of esoteric knowledge in the West cannot be overestimated. By ‘esoteric’, we mean a tradition of religious philosophy which embodies an initiatic mode of teaching – a promise of access to hidden meanings deep within the fabric of the world which will eventually lead the searcher to a condition of gnosis or unity with the source of all being. In the Renaissance, this wisdom was assumed to originate with the Persian Zoroaster or the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, and to be passed down via Pythagoras and Orpheus to the ‘divine Plato’ and his interpreters. We now know that it was chiefly fostered in the fertile climate of Graeco-Egyptian Alexandria in the early centuries BC, where the merging of Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian and Jewish cultures gave rise to a syncretic spirituality which is usually distinguished from – and often opposed to – ‘exoteric’ religion and science, being dependent on
a quite different epistemology. We might call it an imaginal, visionary knowledge, arising from the revelation and insight of individual experience, not imposed from without via institutionalised dogma or objective criteria. The traditions which have embodied esoteric learning in the West have chiefly been Platonism, Hermeticism and esoteric Judaism, with their practical aspects of magic, alchemy, astrology and cabbala.
Portrait of Marsilio Ficino, bronze medal by Niccolò di Forzore Spinelli (Wikimedia commons)