The Socialist Roots of Occultism

Marx satan

Caution: This illustration is highly misleading. (Image by Ross Wolfe, The Charnel-House blog)

We’ve grown accustomed to exciting titles that announce “the occult roots” of anything from Nazism to electronic music. While there’s certainly a lot of attention-grabbing hyperbole in such claims, it is true that much of the vaguely deviant, oppositional, and radical segments of Western culture has a touch of the occult – for reasons we are starting to understand quite well (tag: cultic milieu, occulture, rejected/stigmatized knowledge).

But what about the roots of modern occultism itself? In the (educated) popular imagination, occultism is generally considered an atavistic phenomenon, an anomalous and anachronistic flowering of irrationalism belonging to a bygone age. Some scholarship has continued in this vein, whether we think of the brand of intellectual historians that get embarrassed by its rational and scientific deficiency, or left-leaning, progressive academics who, like Adorno, see only a reactionary tendency that must eventually lead to a mysticized political irrationalism of the kind erupting in Germany in the 1930s.

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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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On choosing between alternative futures (and the solution to a luxury dilemma)

The future: "Occult Minds"

The future: “Occult Minds”

2013 has been a very busy year on my end, characterised by several relocations, the opening and closing of projects and the managing of very different possible futures. By the end of the year I will have worked on 5-6 different contracts (depending on how you count), in three different countries. Right now I am in the middle of the final great transition of the year, which is the main reason why not much new material is turning up here these days. Let me, at least, let you in on the developments.

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The Magus of Silicon Valley – multiple afterlives of a conference paper

Transhumanism and religion proves a popular topic.  I started exploring some aspects of the transhumanist movement from the perspective of a scholar of religion and esotericism earlier this year, in connection with a conference.  I have never had more responses from so many different audiences to a conference paper. After uploading my “Magus of Silicon Valley” paper to Academia.edu this summer, I’ve had private messages, emails, reblogs and comments (including a few annoyed transhumanist reactions) – several requests for spinoffs. First of this was a public lecture in the occulturally oriented Forum Nidarosiae in Trondheim. There’s also been interest from more old-fashioned humanists (the type that’s not too impressed by flashy prefixes such as trans-, post-, or neo-). Thus, a spin-off article is underway with the Norwegian secular humanist magazine Humanist, while another has just now been published in the Australian online magazine MercatorNetdescribing itself as being of “dignitarian” orientation, which I take to be a non-confessional, non-partisan, cross-worldview form of humanism (the editor in chief, Michael Cook, is open about his Catholic leaning – while justifications appear to be classic European Enlightenment: no revelation, just reason, evidence and critical practice).

So if you haven’t read it yet, “The Magus of Silicon Valley” is now relaunched in a new medium – slightly edited and modified for the occasion (the jargon should be a little less Academese this time around). They also added a link to a very recommendable documentary on Ray Kurzweil: “Transcendent Man”. Watching it a few years back contributed to my interest in doing something on the movement from a religious studies perspective.

It’s time to sit back and await the first accusations of being in league with this or the other vested interest, dissing the transhuman visionary movement – or perhaps even supporting the coming Inquisition against it.

 

 

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This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Open-access publishing and Western esotericism: Greeting Correspondences Vol. 1.1

Correspondences journal header

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.

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The (all too) secret history of Vril

Julian Strube's first book, Vril, becomes a standard reference for knowledge about this peculiar concept and its even more peculiar history.

Julian Strube’s first book, Vril, becomes a standard reference for knowledge about this peculiar concept and its even more peculiar history.

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).

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Faking it

Bad science is normal. Outright fabrication and fraud is luckily less normal, but much more wide-spread than it ought to be. Results may be fabricated entirely to support desired conclusions; conversely, inconvenient results may be challenged by fabricated doubt – whether the fabricators are payed by tobacconists fearing the consequences of cancer research, or oil companies afraid of climate taxes and infrastructural changes. The result is false knowledge and fabricated ignorance – both serious threats to a complex global risk society that needs decisions to be made on the best possible foundation.

While industrial interests and funding structures in the sciences are no doubt accountable for much bad science, they are far from the only reasons. There is of course the personal factor; but even the inevitable moralizing discourse on frauds – the black sheep of the academic flock, who act on egoistic intentions, manipulating colleagues, friends, students to their benefit with a lack of conscience that borders on the psychopathic – is ultimately unconvincing. Especially considering that bad science is normal, while psychopathy is not.

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Nazi-occultism on the ContERN website

Floor mosaic from Wewelsburg castle – from decorative item to occult world domination…

Next up in the cyberproceedings from the Contemporary Esotericism conference is a paper by Eva Kingsepp on Nazi/SS occultism, the changing perceptions of it in “official memory culture”, and its reception and influence on contemporary occulture. The primary focus is on the heavily mythologized symbol of the “Black Sun”, and the SS’  Wewelsburg castle, alleged to be the magical centre of the Third Reich,  where Heinrich Himmler gathered his SS “knights” and performed sinister rituals under the occult sign of the Black Sun.

Or not. As Kingsepp shows, myths of this kind have by now been properly debunked by real historiography. That, however, does not diminish the effect of the Nazi-occult mythology in popular culture and occulture.

From the introduction:

The aim of this paper is twofold, both related to the uses of history. The first concerns the basic assumptions about Nazi occultism as a phenomenon in itself. -What are the discursive relations between official memory culture and popular culture regarding Nazi occultism? The second is to look at the Temple of Set, more specifically its Order of the Trapezoid, as an example of how an esoteric group relates to Nazi occultism and puts this, as it is being conceived by leading members of the Order, into magical use. -From where do practicing occultists working with elements from National Socialism get the theoretical basis for what might be called their magical ideology

Go read the whole thing here.

Circus Breivik

It is time for the circus of the century, when the trial against Anders Behring Breivik starts in Oslo this week. His defence is scheduled to begin on Tuesday (April 17), and even though the court has decided that no audio or video recording will be allowed, we can expect a theatre without its parallel in Norwegian juridical history.

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Update: Paganism and European Identity Politics at “Regimes of Religious Pluralism” Conference

The conference on “Regimes of Religious Pluralism” is now only a week away. The final programme has just been released, and you can check it in pdf here: Regimes of Religious Pluralism Conference Programme.

As announced here earlier, we will be having a workshop on “European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism” on Friday, April 20. This panel/workshop will take place at 14.30 in the afternoon, and we will be hearing about the “pagan” emphasis of the European New Right, the occultist and pagan-revivalist influences on early-twentieth century Irish nationalism, and, not least, about contemporary New Age Nazism and the Aryan Jesus from outer space.  In short, a perfectly satisfying way to spend an afternoon.