New blog at Occult Minds

When I launched the website of my current postdoctoral research project (“Occult Minds: Esotericism as Cognition and Culture”) last August, it was with the intention of keeping a research blog that would be updated fairly regularly. Not much has happened on the blog front the past six months (let’s just say that I needed to prioritize my writing tasks), but now I have updated it with a post that looks at some precursors for the aim of the project: which is to bring together the study of esotericism and the cognitive science of religion. Spoiler: There really isn’t much to find – but esotericism scholars can learn from some of their colleagues studying Gnosticism.

I hope to update the Occult Minds blog more frequently in the coming months, so stay tuned for further updates.

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Want to host an ESSWE conference in 2017?

This post is in the category “doing my duty as board member of ESSWE”, but it might also be of some interest to general readers. The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism is, as you should know by now, holding it’s fifth biannual conference this spring, in Riga, Latvia. You can read about how to sign up for it here; and, of course, ESSWE members get a discount, so this is also a great opportunity to renew your membership or become a member.

There is no rest for the wicked, however, and we already need to look ahead to ESSWE6 in 2017. Therefore, the Society is currently calling for applications from scholars who might be interested in hosting the next conference at their institution. As we wish to discuss these proposals at the Board meeting in Riga, it’s strongly advised that those who may wish to do so contact the Secretary, Mark Sedgwick, as soon as possible (preferably by the end of January).

End of semi-official communication.

Published in: on January 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Esotericism in Antiquity: An Aries special issue

TauroctonyThere is much exciting work going on in the area of esotericism and the religions of antiquity at the moment. One of the people who have been instrumental in lifting the focus on antiquity within the study of esotericism (and bringing esotericism to a sometimes unwilling crowd of Gnosticism and ancient Christianities specialists – kudos for that!) is Dylan Burns, currently of the University of Leipzig. I’ve written about Dylan’s work previously, and of course, there’s been mention of the ESSWE Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity (NSEA) which he co-founded with Sarah Veale.

Now, fresh off those unobtanium-coated Brill printers (more…)

The Occult World – a new reference work for heterodoxologists

Occult World coverWith publication date set to December 24, 2014, this massive volume was a nice Christmas present for scholars of esotericism. Edited by Christopher Partridge and published on Routledge, The Occult World is a reference work for esotericism and the occult that should be useful to students as well as scholars and other readers interested in the topic. It consists of 73 chapters that are arranged both according to historical periods and thematic considerations, with a clear prevalence of modern and contemporary material.

One of the admirable feats (more…)

Correspondences third issue and statement on publishing strategy

Game of Thrones addict? No new series yet, but you can read about its representation of paganism in the latest Correspondences.

Game of Thrones addict? No new series yet, but you can read about its representation of paganism in the latest Correspondences.

Those who follow esotericism scholarship online will already know that Correspondences Vol. 2.2 has now been published, and is available for download at the journal’s website. It’s a healthy third issue from the young journal, with three research articles on topics ranging from representations of European paganism in the popular TV shows Game of Thrones and Vikings (Robert A. Saunders), to the question of how modern “modern ritual magic” really is (Christopher Plaisance), to a look at esoteric ideas forged in the context of Fascist Italy (Roberto Bacci). This selection makes it the most distinctly “modern and contemporary” issue to date – although there is certainly stuff in there for those interested in the broad historical lines as well, especially in Plaisance’s article on the continuities in European magical ritual practice.

Besides, there are five substantial book reviews this time, on some important recent volumes that span topics from Gnosticism and Theurgy to Aleister Crowley, Anthroposophy, and modern Satanism.  For a couple of these books, this may even be their first published review.

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Rosicrucian quadricentennary at the BPH

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“Divine Wisdom – Divine Nature” (BPH; van Heertum & Bouman eds., 2014)

This spring marked four hundred years since the publication of the first Rosicrucian manifesto, and as I have noted earlier, this has been an opportunity for scholars to publish new editions of primary sources and new reports on scholarship into the Rosicrucian heritage. But even the briefest review of how scholarly and cultural institutions are marking the anniversary year would be incomplete without mention of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam – which still houses one of the largest and most significant collections of Rosicrucian and related material in the world. What makes BPH special is that it’s not only a repository of material, an archive, but also an institution that seeks to embody the Rosicrucian heritage today and spread its philosophical, religious, visual and material culture. This dual agenda of the scholarly, curatorial and the evangelizing, missionary, has its roots in the vision of the collection’s founder, Joost Ritman, who was taken by these traditions at a young age and has been dedicated to promoting them ever since.

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Rosicrucian Quadricentennial: 400 years of secret brotherhoods, universal reformation, and conspiracy theories

The Temple of the Rosy Cross, figure designed by Theophilius Schweighardt (1616). This version courtesy of Ouroboros Press (2012).

The Temple of the Rosy Cross, figure designed by Theophilus Schweighardt Constantiens (Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum, 1618). This version courtesy of Ouroboros Press (2012).

This year marks the 400th anniversary of one of the most influential mythemes in the history of Western esotericism: that of the Order of the Rosicrucians. More precisely, it is now 400 years since a mysterious pamphlet entitled Fama Fraternitatis was published in Kassel. Purporting to be a communication from an unknown society founded by a medieval German monk, Christian Rosenkreutz (after travels in the Orient, of course), the Fama sparked a great furor across Europe about a powerful brotherhood working in secret to push a universal reformation of religion, science and philosophy that would usher in a new age. While the text made clear that no true Rosicrucian would ever admit to being one, the publisher immediately started receiving letters asking about where to sign up. True to their word, however, the real Rosicrucians failed to step up. But by the end of the century, people started forming their own Rosicrucian Orders, and the story of the secret society was stepping out of the realm of fiction and into the realm of fact. By now such societies  are counted by the dozens. (At least – I haven’t actually counted them, but be my guest!)

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Launching “Occult Minds”: official website of my postdoctoral research project

Occult Minds: New website on esotericism and cognition

Occult Minds: New website on esotericism and cognition

It has been more than six months since I left Amsterdam for California, and some have maybe been wondering what I’m up to. To finally prove that I’m not just surfing all day, here, at long last, is the website of my postdoctoral research project, Occult Minds. The website contains quite a bit of information already, about the project itself and some of the directions it is taking. It also includes a blog, where I will be posting updates on the project as well as reviews and reflections on relevant studies. The first post contains some reflections on a book with a title very close to my project: Christopher Lehrich’s The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice (Cornell UP, 2007). With a music metaphor, it is a form of counterpoint to what I am aiming to do: there are harmonies between the two, but the rhythms and structures of the individual melodies are so different they could belong to separate musical genres.

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“Materialization: Occult Research on the Soul” – an esoteric lecture with Andreas Kilcher at UCSB

Kilcher lecture

This summer, the President of ESSWE, Andreas Kilcher, has been located at Stanford University. With me being based at UC Santa Barbara, we found a great opportunity to arrange a small esotericism event at the UCSB Religious Studies Department and the Religion, Experience and Mind Lab group that I am working with. So if you are in the area, consider this event on August 6th: Andreas Kilcher lectures on “Materialization: Occult Research on the Soul”. Scroll down for the abstract (or download the flyer here):

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New Antiquities – conference review at Albion Calling

New AntiquitiesThere was a conference in Berlin last month that I would have loved to visit: New Antiquities: Transformations of the Past in the New Age and Beyond. This event conceived by Dr. Dylan Burns and Dr. Almut-Barbara Renger is on a topic that I think deserves a lot more attention than it’s being awarded: the diverse uses of the historical past to construct new forms of practice, tradition, aesthetic and worldviews.

Well, we know a great deal already about the invention of tradition, of course. What would be really cool is to get archaeologists, classicists, historians, philologists and other experts of “what really happened” (or the best current approximations, anyway) to talk with those who study the imagined past (what’s sometimes called “mnemohistory” – the history of how the past is remembered). Something along those lines is what this conference aimed to do. One of the reasons why the task is crucial is that, unavoidably, the access that those who construct the past have to the past, goes eventually through scholarship – often, to be sure, outdated scholarship, and often, too, scholarship that has been filtered through other channels such as popular culture – or the less than reliable akashic records. Getting experts of the contemporary and the ancient to talk together thus seems a mutually enriching opportunity, especially for theorizing the role of scholars in the discursive production of the past and of invented traditions.

For those of us who missed that opportunity this time, there is a nice little review of the conference over at Albion Calling. Ethan Doyle White gives a good summary of the speakers and the topics they treated, with a specific focus on issues relating to contemporary paganism. Go read it.