“Varieties of Magical Experience” – a new article on Crowley, magic, and psychologisation

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft (Penn Press)

The November issue of Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft ran an article by my colleague Marco Pasi, titled ”Varieties of Magical Experience: Aleister Crowley’s Views on Occult Practice”. It may safely be characterised as the most complete academic treatment of Crowley’s magical thought and practice that has so far been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It also ties in neatly with a discussion here at Heterodoxology and a couple of other blogs earlier this year (Tyromanteia and Invocatio), namely the question of the “psychologisation of magic”. A review is definitely in order.



Who was Fräulein Sprengel? New evidence on the origin of the Golden Dawn, or: “Vale Soror! Ave Frater!”

"Sapiens Dominabitur Astris". From 17th century emblem, by George Wither, A collection of emblemes.

In the history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the supremely most influential esoteric and magical orders in modern occultism, the question of origins has been a matter of much dispute. This is, of course, a common story for esoteric orders, or even for religious movements more broadly. If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that their founders and their followers will tend to invent mythologies, lineages, and exotic provenances to bolster their group’s sense of importance.

In the case of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1887 by a group of London based high degree Freemasons and occultists, the emic historiography has centred upon a claim to Rosicrucian lineage. The direct link was a mysterious Fräulein Sprengel of Stuttgart, also known under her magical motto Sapiens Dominabitur Astris (“the wise will rule the stars”). The evidence for this lineage was a letter communication between Sprengel and the G.D. co-founder, coroner William Wynn Westcott, which ostensibly ensued after Westcott found her address on a sheet of paper tucked together with the mysterious “cipher manuscript” on which the G.D. rituals would later be based (for the uninitiated: there’s a brief overview of the controversy around them on Wikipedia). The notorious “Sprengel letters” that ensued, and the possible background of the order have been discussed for decades by scholars such as Elic Howe and Robert A. Gilbert – the general consensus being that the letters were forged and Sprengel a fiction. In the latest issue of Aries, Christopher McIntosh publishes brand new evidence in this mystery, evidence which has been there all along but curiously overlooked by all previous investigators.

The discovery is surprising, and makes an already confusing story even more so.


Aries 11.2 – new articles and book reviews in the field of esotericism

The autumn edition of Aries has just been released. This issue’s research articles deal with topics as diverse as “New Age Christianity” in Italy (Francesco Baroni), 19th century physics as context for occultism (yours truly), a report on a 15th century Christian text on magic (Damaris Gehr), and an article on Max Théon, Sri Aurobindo and “the Mother” (Peter Heehs). Perhaps the most interesting to many readers of Heterodoxology will be Christopher McIntosh’s short article, which announces a surprising discovery concerning the enigmatic “Fräulein Sprengel” and the origins of the Golden Dawn.


Aries 11.1

Heterodoxology has aimed to establish the practice of reviewing new publications and releases in the field of esotericism, particularly notifying about current issues of the journal Aries. Aries 11.1 has been out for a couple of months already, so this comes somewhat late.


Breaking the silence – and some news

Summer time has been upon me and Heterodoxology has been dead silent for a while. Unfortunately, when I look at the pile of things to do these coming months I fear it may stay that way. This is nevertheless an honest attempt at getting things rolling again. I’ll just kick off with some whimsically chosen (perhaps relevant) news:


Plato the Pythagorean – a possible revolution in Plato research?

I must admit to feeling a sceptical gut reaction when I first read about J. B. Kennedy’s brand new article on Pythagorean number theories being embedded in the structure of Plato’s dialogues – a possible key to his unwritten doctrine. I first read about it in The Guardian‘s rather popularizing account. After doing some more searches, and finally checking  the original paper published in Apeiron, I am happy to say it looks much more solid than one first expects when hearing something along the lines of “lone scholar x cracking codes in the works of legendary intellectual hero y“.


Published in: on June 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm  Comments (5)  
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