Because Yates was best known for introducing the public to some strange and unstudied historical topics, it's hard to separate her from her fascinating material. Still, I think her genius was that of a Glass Bead Game Master, in that she didn't just catalog the facts and figures -- she synthesized! When I read her books, she gives me a deep intuitive feel for the sweep of connections between those facts and figures. Who else could help you learn how Shakespeare's plays were connected to the plight of the Jews across Europe? Or how people being thrown out of windows were related to the dawn of modern magic, or to the very first encyclopedias, or to the first scientific societies?
A lot of Yates' research involved the Renaissance polymath Giordano Bruno, who is known for being an early adopter of Copernican heliocentrism, and an even earlier pioneer of the idea that there are other worlds in the cosmos teeming with life. Bruno also wrote a lot about the ancient "Art of Memory," a set of mnemonic techniques that help people remember large quantities for later regurgitation. Yates revealed that the Renaissance fascination with these memory techniques had a deep meditative and mystical vein running through it. About Bruno's 1591 book De Imaginum, she wrote:
"There is genius in this book, as of a being of great brilliance working at a white heat of intensity at a problem which he believes to be more important than any other, the problem of how to organize the psyche through the imagination. The conviction that it is within, in the inner images which are nearer to reality than the objects of the outer world, that reality is grasped and the unified vision achieved, underlies the whole. Seen in the light of an inner sun, the images merge and fuse into the vision of the One."We're into deep territory, here, and Dame Yates is the psychopomp leading us along. When I look at the topics she chose to study, I see a forward-looking optimism that can be applied to our own futures, just as much as it was applied literally to the optimism of people in the past, like the Rosicrucians...
"New discoveries are at hand, a new age is dawning. And this illumination shines inward as well as outward; it is an inward spiritual illumination revealing to man new possibilities in himself, teaching him to understand his own dignity and worth and the part he is called upon to play in the divine scheme."
We're almost to the end of the alphabet, but we're ever at the beginning of our journey.