Arguing with Angels (SUNY Press, 2012)

Arguing with Angels book cover

Arguing with Angels: Enochian Magic & Modern Occulture (SUNY Press, 2012)

Arguing with Angels is my first book. It grew out of work for an MA dissertation on the “Enochian” system of magic, associated with the Elizabethan natural philosopher John Dee. The book documents how Enochian magic, while rooted in Dee’s famous angel conversations, has taken on a life of its own in the reinterpretations and adaptations of later generations of occultists. It focuses particularly on how modern magicians, from the Victorian Golden Dawn to groups presently active online, have struggled to defend the legitimacy and authority of their particular esoteric interpretations. Thus, the book is also a contribution to ongoing debates about the shaping of ritual magic in modern society.

Here is what the publisher (State University of New York Press) says about the book:

This fascinating work explores John Dee’s Enochian magic and the history of its reception. Dee (1527–1608/9), an accomplished natural philosopher and member of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, was also an esoteric researcher whose diaries detail years of conversations with angels achieved with the aid of crystal-gazer Edward Kelley. His Enochian magic offers a method for contacting angels and demons based on secrets found in the apocryphal Book of Enoch.

Examining this magical system from its Renaissance origins to present day occultism, Egil Asprem shows how the reception of Dee’s magic is replete with struggles to construct and negotiate authoritative interpretational frameworks for doing magic. Arguing with Angels offers a novel, nuanced approach to questions about how ritual magic has survived the advent of modernity and demonstrates the ways in which modern culture has recreated magical discourse.

And this is what Dr. Henrik Bogdan, author of Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation, says in his endorsement:

Arguing with Angels is a major contribution to the study of Western esotericism in general, and to the study of Enochiana in particular. It places the history and reception of the Enochian tradition within the broader context of Western esotericism, thereby making Enochiana relevant. Egil Asprem not only shows a thorough familiarity with relevant theories, but also relates to them critically and argues convincingly for his own interpretations and conclusions.”

The book was published on May 1, 2012. I will post excerpts of reviews and links to discussions here as they appear. I’d be happy to hear from you if you have come across a discussion of this book, whether in print or online. Any other feedback is of course also greatly appreciated.

Reviews and responses:


Wouter Hanegraaff: “Enochiana”. Blog post at his Creative Reading blog

Dan Harms:On the Shelf Review – Arguing with Angels: Enochian Magic and Modern Occulture‘. Papers Falling from an Attic Window.

This review sparked a short debate on four different blogs, above all concerning the place of the Enoch figure in Dee’s angel conversations:

– My response to Harms: On Enoch, metal, and lonely girls: a response to Dan Harms’ review of Arguing with Angels‘.

– Sara Veale: ‘Who put the “Enoch” in Enochian magic?”. Invocatio response to Harms and me)

– Harms: ‘Arguing about Arguing with Angels‘. Papers Falling from an Attic Window (Dan answers Sarah and me. This post was later updated to respond also to the following post:)

– ‘On Enoch reception and Dee reception‘. Heterodoxology (Clarifying my point about how Enoch has been made to be more important for Dee than he really was, by later interpretors and magical practitioners.)

– Jim Davila: ‘More on John Dee and OT Pseudepigrapha‘. (Ancient Judaism scholar Jim Davila’s response on Dee’s actual knowledge of ancient Enochian literature.)

Other posts at Heterodoxology:

“W. J. Hanegraaff on Arguing with Angels” (November 22, 2012)

“Arguing with Angels – another book you should get next year” (August 16, 2011)

“Arguing with Angels – first chapter available for free” (April 6, 2012)

Published on May 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm  Comments (3)  

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I keep hoping that the kindle version will drop below $60. 🙂

    • That would’ve been good, but frankly, I think we must conclude that the Kindle edition is purposefully overpriced. Luckily, the paperback will be coming out soon, making it possible to get the book without going bankrupt!

  2. […] century until today, nor has the practitioner’s literature on magic been more diverse (cf. Asprem 2012). The poor selection of modern and contemporary magical texts reinforces an unfortunate impression […]

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