The first issue of a new peer-reviewed journal for the study of Western esotericism has just been released. There aren’t too many of those around to begin with, so Correspondences is (as announced previously) a welcome newcomer to a small field. The first issue already shows much promise with four articles covering a broad span, even breaking some new ground (read them here). But what makes this journal a particularly important newcomer is that it is entirely open-access. Everything is published openly online (after editorial selection, peer review, copy-editing and typesetting, of course), and shared through social media under a Creative Commons license. Without compromising anything on the side of peer-review (a broad editorial board has helped the editors-in-chief find competent reviewers), and with typesetting that completely matches what the paywall-protected publishers typically can muster (let’s face it: it was never anything too fancy to begin with), the result is fully fledged, quality-approved academic articles that are completely free, open to everyone, and published without the often considerable lag of subscription journals.
There’s a new blog out in the esotericisim/hist-sci neighbourhood. Praeludia Microcosmica brings microcosmic preludes from the PhD research of Mike Zuber (University of Amsterdam). In particular, we should look forward to “occasional notes on chymistry, theosophy and religious dissent in the early modern period”. The blog is named after a curious book, the Microcosmische Vorspiele Des Neuen Himmels und der Neuen Erde - the contested authorship of which you can read a bit about in the blog’s opening post.
It starts good, with a follow up post on Johann Conrad Dippel (1673-1734) – who has not only been falsely held as the author of the Microcosmische Vorspiele, but also possesses a questionable reputation as an alchemical counterfeit gravedigger snake-oil & horoscope salesman with a connection to the castle Frankenstein near Darmstad, which have made him a candidate for the “real” Victor Frankenstein, the model of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s hubristic doctor.
But Dippel’s “Real Frankenstein Potential” is not so obvious when exposed to historical methods. For starters, the most questionable thing about reputations like that of Dippel is, usually, their provenance. Mike (who is trained as a historian of science and now doing the PhD at the History of Hermetic Philosophy centre in Amsterdam) shows that most of the rumours surrounding Dippel – and especially those involving grave-digging – are highly dubious. What’s left is a radical pietist convert doing work in chymistry and medicine, who may been born near to the Frankenstein castle.
Personally I look much forward to the promising second installment on Dippel:
“I hope to explore more of it in the near future—including Dippel’s shifting fortunes as an alchemist, a reading list he partially shared with Victor Frankenstein, his reputedly all-curing animal oil, his attempt to gain possession of Castle Frankenstein in exchange for an alchemical arcanum late in life, and his mistaken prophecy that he would live until 1806. So stay tuned and watch this space!”
Watch out for the next generation of esotericism scholars! We’re already here; and, according to Wouter J. Hanegraaff, the volume on Contemporary Esotericism that appeared on Equinox earlier this year, edited by Kennet Granholm and myself, is the shape of things to come. We hope he’s right, of course.
The 20 chapters of that volume covered much ground, but, as Wouter comments:
On the 29th of May there will be an evening of gnosis at the Spui25 venue in Amsterdam. A group of scholars, some known as world-leading specialists of gnosticism and ancient Christianity will meet to discuss the latest book by Roelof van den Broek, Gnostic Religion in Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2013 – essentially an English version of his 2010 book in Dutch, mentioned previously at Heterodoxology). At the centre of discussion is the primary sources of “gnostic” religion: what’s really in there? How does the content of these sources relate to recent understandings of gnosticism, whether by scholars, educated laypersons or among contemporary spiritual practitioners?
Roelof van den Broek himself is joined by the Nag Hammadi scholar Matthew Dillon (Rice University), the specialist of religions in antiquity Albert De Jong (Leiden University), and Wouter Hanegraaff and Jacqueline Borsje from the Religious Dynamics and Cultural Diversity research group at the University of Amsterdam.
The event is free, but requires registration (see website).
The ESSWE4 conference in Gothenburg is only a month and a half away, and judging from the conference website it is looking quite promising. As previously mentioned, there will be a ContERN panel session at the conference. We are happy to announce that a time for this event has now been confirmed: June 28, at 13.00-14.00. A full description of the panel event follows below.
It is astonishing how much of modern occultism is dependent on works of fiction. The machinations of secret societies, the malicious rituals of satanic cults, and the magicians’ adventures on the astral plane have all been portrayed in great detail in works of fiction, which have in turn directly influenced the creation of real organisations and inspired new ritual practices among self-styled occultists. The entire current of Rosicrucian initiatory societies even had its main impetus in a text considered by its authors to be a playful ludibrium - although no doubt one that expressed deep convictions. This dynamic of fiction turning to fact is itself perhaps nowhere better explored than in Umberto Eco’s work of fiction, Foucault’s Pendulum. In recent years there has been quite some interest in such dynamics among contemporary scholars of religion as well – focusing on what they call “invented”, “hyperreal”, or “fiction-based” religions. While these scholars tend to focus on relatively recent cases – Jediism, Tolkien-spirituality and the sort – we have every reason to believe that this is a much older process. Particularly, it would seem, in the Western esoteric context.
A case in point is the concept of “vril” – an occult fluid or force that can be manipulated, controlled and directed by spiritually advanced initiates. It was invented by the the author and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) in his novel, The Coming Race (1871).
The Societas Magica (a scholarly society you should know about if you’re into the academic study of magic, esotericism, and related stuff) has been running a great and informative newsletter for many years. In fact, since the society was founded by Richard Kieckhefer and others back in 1995 (check out the back-issues here). In addition to informing about conferences and publications, it usually comes with a slightly longer essay. The 2013 Spring issue that has just been released runs a nice article by Laura Mitchell on academic blogging in the field of esotericism and magic. I was of course pleased to see the nice discussion of Heterodoxology there, but more importantly it is excellent that a scholarly society brings the question of blogs to the full attention of its membership. Mitchell discusses some of the advantages and possibilities of research blogging, and classifies different types based on how they are run and what sort of material they include (individual, group-blogs; research, personal experiences, academic life etc.). The blogs mentioned in the essay should all be familiar to readers of Heterodoxology: Invocatio, the Religious Studies Project, Whewell’s Ghost, the Hermetic Library, and the Ritman Library Blog are all old friends and virtual neighbours.
Somehow it is also a bit amusing that the virtues and potentials of these blogs are being discussed in the old medium of a newsletter – one that is digitized and distributed by hyperlink in addition to paper. One gets the feeling of standing somewhat hesitantly in between different forms of media. Thus another great piece of news in this issue is Claire Fanger’s announcement that the Societas Magica is about to launch a new blog of its own. Damon Lycourinos at the University of Edinburgh is going to take the first shift at running it. It’s something to look forward to (I previously commented on an esoterica blogpost of his here). It promises to be a valuable addition to the slowly growing number of academic blogs in this area.
Thanks to Sarah for bringing this to my attention.
There’s a conference in Amsterdam this coming Monday (April 29), on the relationship between esotericism and the sciences. And art, and music, and literature, and other things. “Synthesis: Esotericism & the Sciences” is described as a young scholars conference, which means that it has been organized entirely by a crew of enthusiastic and energetic MA students, and primarily caters to scholars at a very early stage in their careers (i.e. graduate and post-graduate students). Check out the exquisitely looking website for more information on the event, and an overview of the program. In addition to eight papers and several artistic and musical intermezzos, the show starts with a keynote lecture by yours truly. The title of my keynote is “A Nihilist’s View of Scientific Meaning-Making: Analytical Approaches to Synthesizing Minds“. I attach the abstract below:
The study of esotericism has been spreading in recent years. One of the often unacknowledged growth areas is eastern Europe, and in particular Russia. With the exception of a few Russian scholars who have attended ESSWE events in recent years, not much contact exists between scholarly communities across this old east-west divide.
This week, a major event takes place in Moscow, which can hopefully start to change all that. The Russian scholarly society, ASEM (Association for the Study of Esotericism and Mysticism), is organizing a major conference at the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature (LFL) in collaboration with a number of other educational agencies. The conference is entitled “Ways of Gnosis: Mystical and Esoteric Traditions from Antiquity to the Present Time”, and takes place on 10-13 April. A small number of Western European and North American scholars are participating in this event, which may hopefully lead to more international collaboration and dissemination of research across cultural spheres. An overview of the programme as well as English and Russian summaries of papers to be presented can be found below.
The fourth biannual international conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) is fast approaching. It’s focused on “Esotericism and Health”, takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden, and – it’s just gotten its own website. The website has all you need to know, from online registration and conference accommodation, to a list of all accepted papers and speakers. Do check it out!
The ESSWE conferences are big events in the relatively small community of esotericism scholarship. With about one hundred accepted papers, plus keynote lectures, roundtable events, and a secret surprise conference concert, this year’s is going to be a major one. So if you’re still on the fence about whether to go or not, take some time to browse the website. You might also want to keep track of developments, as more events might still be added to the programme. Taking on my ESSWE membership secretary hat, I should also remind you that there are substantial fee reductions for Full and Student members of the Society (application forms here)… In any case: Hope to see some readers in Gothenburg in June!