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Old Masters of Academia


Compiled by George Knowles

If you have ever done research into ancient history then you will no doubt have seem references to some of the old time masters of academia, the writers, poets and artists whose knowledge, wisdom and foresight have inspired so many.  Those whose works live on, collected on shelves in dusty old museums, where they continue to be referenced by academic's, historians and others.  But have you ever wondered who these old masters are?  Here is my attempt to find out about some of them:

Pliny the Elder (AD. 23-79)

Gaius Plinius Secundus was better known as “Pliny the Elder” and was a Roman historian and scientific encyclopedist.  Many of his works have been lost to history, but his main work the “Historia Naturalis” (Natural History) remains almost complete.  In it Pliny states that he has covered 20,000 subjects of importance drawn from selected writers of his time, to whose observations he added many of his own.  Botany, agriculture and horticulture appear to have been of particular interest to him.  To him the world consisted of four elements:  earth, air, fire and water, he also considered that the lighter substances were prevented from rising by the weight of the heavier ones, perhaps the earliest theory of gravity.  On astrology he recorded that seven stars surrounded the earth:  the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  He also considered the Moon to be larger than the Earth since it obscured the Sun during an eclipse.  Of his other works only a few fragments remain, such as a biography of Pomponius Secundus, a history of Rome, a study of the Roman campaigns in Germany, and a book on hurling the lance. 

Pliny was born in Como a commune in northern Italy in AD 23.  He was descended from a prosperous family and educated, completing his studies in Rome.  At the age of 23 he began a military career serving in Germany, rising to the rank of cavalry commander.  While there he made the acquaintance of Vespasian who would later become Emperor of Rome, (Titus Flavius Vespasianus - AD 9-79, became the Roman emperor in AD 69-79 as successor to Aulus Vitellius.  Vespasian restored order to the empire and set an example for simple living.  He built the Coliseum a place where gladiators fought in combat and the arena for Christian martyrdom.  It was completed in AD 80.  He also founded the Flavian dynasty).

Returning to Rome, Pliny is thought to have studied law while living in semiretirement, studying and writing until the end of Nero's reign.  In AD 69 when Vespasian was made emperor, Pliny took up various public offices such as the procurator of Spain.  In AD 79 Pliny was in command of a fleet of ships in the Bay of Naples, when a volcano on Mt. Vesuvius erupted.  Curious about this natural phenomenon he went ashore to ascertain its cause and to reassure the terrified citizens, but was overcome by poisonous fumes and died on August 24 - AD 79. 

His “Historia Naturalis” (Natural History) is divided into 37 books and was probably completed in AD 77.  In the preface to the book, which he dedicated to Titus (most probably Vespasian), Pliny justifies the title as a study of "the nature of things that is life".  He adopted a plain writing style and took especial care to name his sources, more than 100 of which are mentioned.  Book I is in fact a summary of the remaining 36 books, listing the authors and sometimes the titles of the books (many of which are now lost) from which he derived his material.  The series is devoted to a great variety of subjects such as:  cosmology, astronomy, geography, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine and mineralogy etc.  He also recorded many of the Latin synonyms of Greek plant names, making most of the plants mentioned in earlier Greek writings identifiable. 

The Natural History properly begins with Book II, which is devoted to cosmology and astronomy.  Here as elsewhere he demonstrates the extent of his reading, especially of Greek texts.  By the same token however, he was sometimes careless in translating details with the result that he distorted the meaning of many technical and mathematical passages.  Books III through VI are on the physical and historical geography of the ancient world, in which he paid a deal of attention to major cities, some of which no longer exist. 

Books VII through XI are a study of zoology, beginning with humans (VII), then mammals and reptiles (VIII), fishes and other marine animals (IX), birds (X), and insects (XI).  Pliny derived most of the biological data from Aristotle, while his own contributions were concerned with legendary animals and unsupported folklore.  In Books XII through XIX he works on botany, in which he came closest to making a genuine contribution to science.  Although he drew heavily upon Theophrastus, he reported some independent observations, particularly those made during his travels in Germany.  He is one of the chief sources of modern knowledge of Roman gardens, early botanical writings and the introduction into Italy of new horticultural and agricultural species. 

The book XVIII is about agriculture and is especially important for agricultural techniques such as crop rotation, farm management, and the names of vegetables and other crop plants.    In one article he describes an old ox-driven grain harvester in Gaul, which was long regarded by scholars as imaginary, however it was confirmed by the discovery in southern Belgium in 1958 of a 2nd-century stone relief depicting such an implement. 

Books XX through XXXII focus on medicine and drugs.  His random comments on diet and on the commercial sources and prices of the ingredients of costly drugs, provides valuable evidence relevant to contemporary Roman life during his time.  The subjects of Books XXXIII through XXXVII include minerals, the precious stones and the metals used by Roman craftsmen.  In describing their uses he referred to famous artists and their creations, also to Roman architectural styles and technology. 

Pliny's influence on academia is based on his ability to assemble in a methodical fashion a number of previously unrelated facts, his perceptiveness in recognizing details ignored by others, and his readable stories with which he linked together both factual and fictional data.  Along with his unsupported claims, fables and exaggerations, his belief in magic and superstition never the less helped to shape scientific and medical theory through future centuries.  Perhaps the most important of the methods advocated by him was his doctrine of signatures.  The resemblance between the external appearance of a plant, animal or mineral and the outward symptoms of a disease, were thought to indicate the therapeutic usefulness of the plant. 

With the decline of the ancient world and the loss of many Greek texts on which he had so heavily depended, his Natural History became a substitute for general education.  In the European Middle Ages many of the larger libraries possessed copies of the work; these and many abridged versions ensured Pliny's place in the history of literature.  At the time his authority was unchallenged partly due to a lack of more reliable information and partly because his assertions were not and in many cases could not be tested. 

It wasn’t until 1492 in Ferrara, Italy, that his theories were brought into question when Niccolò Leoniceno published a treatise on the errors of Pliny.  Thereafter his influence diminished, as more writers questioned his statements.  By the end of the 17th century his Natural History had been rejected by many of the leading scientists.  Up to that time however, his influence especially on non-scientific writers was undiminished, he was for example almost certainly known to William Shakespeare and John Milton.  Although his work was never again accepted as an authority in science, his “Historia Naturalis” remains as one of the greatest literary monuments of classical antiquity.  Today it is still of value and referenced by those who wish an honest résumé of 1st-century Rome.



Yet to be posted.

Best Wishes and Blessed Be.


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Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras





A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich KramerIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /   Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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