A cult leader in the (royal) family

Astarte Inspiration bannerWorking as a historian of religion/esotericism/”pseudoscience” one often has to deconstruct misleading and sensational tabloid headlines. They could look a bit like the title of this post. Sensationalistic appeal notwithstanding, this time around I assure that the title is entirely appropriate and accurate for the topic.

There are several people that this title could have referred to – one might think of Prince Charles, or perhaps the Dutch Princess Irene, whose abilities to communicate with trees and dolphins bring her closer to the cultic fringe of the environmentalist movement. But as most Norwegian readers may have guessed, it refers to a princess closer to home.


The esoteric in modern art

Bauduin occultation of surrealismOver the last few years, there appears to have been an increased interest, at least from academics and curators, in the relationship between esotericism and art. A couple of my colleagues have spent considerable research time investigating this relation, and I want to use this post to recommend their work. This seems particularly relevant given certain recent publications, which I will get to in a second.


Cyberproceedings from the Contemporary Esotericism conference

The ContERN website is slowly becoming active. Today we have published the first papers of the cyberproceedings from the Contemporary Esotericism conference in Stockholm this August. The first four papers to appear include two on Freemasonry and initiatic societies (J. Scott Kenney and Aslak Rostad), one on methodological issues in the study of contemporary Satanism (Jesper Aa. Petersen), and one on occulture in Brazilian pop music (Francisco Santos Silva). All of them should offer a lot of food for thought, so I suggest you go check them out: Is fraternalism a form of “moral elitism”? How do Masons experience the influence of joining the craft on the direction of their  lives? How are we to draw boundaries between different types of “Satanism“? And what does Aleister Crowley have to do with Brazilian pop music of the 1970s? Read and find out.

Arguing with Angels in paperback

Arguing with Angels book cover

Arguing with Angels – now in paperback

My first book, Arguing with Angels: Enochian Magic and Modern Occulture, is about to be released in paperback. This means that one can finally get it at a more reasonable price: $24,95.  The paperback is officially released by the publisher on January 1, so just a little too late for a Christmas present, but it can already be pre-ordered from the SUNY website.

For more information about the book, with links to  reviews and discussions online, go here.

A violent turn in 2012 apocalypticism

2012: Doomsday (2008) – another forgettable film in a cultural imaginary that is closing in on its final doom.

Finally it has happened: the first report of a 2012-apocalypse movement turning violent. The so-called “2012 phenomenon”, an occultural apocalyptic mythology with roots in the psychedelic gnosis of Terrence McKenna, the New Age prophesies of José Argüelles, and creative fringe-archaeological interpretations of the Maya “Long Count” calendar, has for the most part been oriented towards peaceful prophecies of a “global change in consciousness” or a “massive awakening”. But with countless improvisations on the theme by UFO-logists, conspiracy theorists, survivalists, and other denizens of the  darker segments of occulture, grimmer visions are hardly difficult to come by. Often enough, the boundaries between “positive”  expectations of global consciousness change (or the messianic arrival of friendly ETs) and the “negative” expectation of polar shifts, massive geological destruction, or the final enslavement of humanity by evil aliens, is not that easy to draw. What happens if the promised change for the better does not occur? What are the strategies of rationalizing such an (after all, realistically anticipated) theodicy? Could it be that the evil aliens are already here, and always were, working  in secret with the Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Bilderbergers and the world’s shadow governments to thwart the promised salvation?


Contemporary Esotericism conference drawing close – full programme ready

The 1st International Conference on Contemporary Esotericism is drawing close. Kennet and I have been working hard the past two weeks on putting together a program schedule, editing the book of abstracts and collating other  useful information. Those who are already registered for the conference will already have received the schedule by email. Now it is also available online at the conference website. Better yet, the complete book of abstracts can be found as a pdf here. I add a copy of the schedule below as well. If you want to find more about a particular paper, you can go to the book of abstract. And of course: If this looks tempting, you are still welcome to join the conference! Registration is open continuously online.


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

Arguing with Angels book cover

A first review of Arguing with Angels

Dan Harms, a well-known scholar of Western magical traditions, has recently published a brief review of my book, Arguing with Angels. Harms will perhaps be best known as a connoisseur of Lovecraftiana, having co-written  The Necronomicon Files with John Wisdom Gonce III, and published the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia a few years ago.

You can read the review for yourself on Harms’ blog. It is generally positive:

 “the book is well-written and comprehensively [and] covers the area in question in ways that are helpful for both scholars and more casual readers. … It does an admirable job of covering the complexities of Enochian magic, both in regard to the system itself and the textual transmission thereof.”

Despite being generally positive, Harms also finds that the book had a larger potential which it did not fulfill, and he points to a few  omissions that he would have liked to see addressed. I will allow myself a brief response, as I find that Harms’ questions are important and likely to be addressed by other attentive readers with some background knowledge of the topic.

Arguing with Angels is, to begin with, a book that covers a pretty long time span, and deals with a number of different historical contexts, so it shouldn’t be surprising that some readers will be left wanting for more in certain cases. Harms mentions two cases in particular, one, so to speak, in each end of the historical narrative.

To begin with the earliest example, Harms would have liked to see a proper discussion on the Enoch figure, which could “have helped the reader with regard to the Biblical roots of Dee’s project”. The Biblical figure of Enoch, the patriarch in the seventh generation after Adam, who according to Genesis was taken to heaven and “walked with God”, and according to the apochryphal Book of Enoch acted as a mediator between God and the fallen angels, and, who according to certain Jewish mystical traditions was apotheosised by transforming into the archangel Metatron, does indeed constitute a context for Enochian magic. Besides that, he is a fascinating mythological figure in his own right. However, the most fascinating material about Enoch was simply not available to Dee: the Book of Enoch did not survive in the West, and only became available to European scholars in 1773, when Scottish adventurer James Bruce returned with three copies translated into Ethiopian that he had presumably plundered  from a monastery in Abyssinia.

Not adding a longer discussion of Enoch was, however, a conscious choice. Why? Because the relation between Enoch and Dee & Kelley’s angel conversations has typically been made into something that it was not – a trap which I wanted to avoid. In fact, the argument could be made that the term “Enochian” is a bit of a misnomer for the magical systems, language, and metaphysical speculations they “received”. While discussions of Enoch appear in the angel diaries, he is only one exotic reference among many others. Enoch was rumoured to have been the previous person to have known the secrets that were revealed to Dee and Kelly, for example, but their ultimate source was divine. The language, furthermore, had also been known to Enoch’s great-great-great-great grandfather: Adam. At any rate, in the first chapter on Dee and Kelley’s conversasions, it is more pertinent to focus on the actual immediate historical contexts, and what is known about Dee’s intensions, agendas, and use of sources. In that context, a preoccupation with Enoch is not all that important, except as a mythological example of someone who had achieved an unusual communication with God and the angels. Enoch was, however, far from alone in that achievement: other Biblical examples include Jacob, Esdras, Daniel, and Tobit. Ultimately, the contexts of natural philosophy and “low-culture” catoptromantic practices are much more important for understanding where Dee’s angel conversations come from.

The second omission Harms points to concerns contemporary references to Enochian in popular occulture. There are, for example, a number of bands in genres spanning metal, goth, and electronica that have used the Enochian language or other references to the system in their music and lyrics. Some might also remember the mystery youtube phenomenon “Lonelygir15”, who was seen cramming the Enochian alphabet in preparation for a mysterious and sinister ceremony.  The popcultural significance is indeed important and interesting, and again, it was seriously considered for inclusion (the extremely careful reader will even find me excusing myself on this very point in footnote 11 to the introduction). In the end I decided not to write about this as it diverged too much from the general argument and drift of the book as a whole. It should be remembered that Arguing with Angels is, above all, a contribution to the slowly emerging academic literature on the reinterpretation and legitimacy of ritual magic in the modern world, with the history of Enochian as a convenient case. Of course, interplay with popular culture is immensely important also for this type of research, and much remains to be done. In the present work, however, emphasis was put on internal debates and conflicts among those who truly practice magic, and less with the broader pop-occultural landscape which has been forming approximately since the 1970s.


For other readers who may have missed the same things as Harms did, I hope this response helps to fill the picture slightly.

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

Contemporary Esotericism – a pre-production advertisement

One of the reasons for not writing here very often this spring is that I am co-editing a major volume in my “spare time”. Last week I visited my good friend, colleague and co-editor Kennet Granholm at Stockholm University, to discuss some final issues. This weekend, we ship the manuscript off to Equinox Publishing – a full 689  pages – ending a period with much editorial work. To celebrate this, I’ll kick off some pre-production advertising of the volume, which bears the title Contemporary Esotericism.


New Age televangelists?

In the very first blog post I noted in passing that contemporary media are more than happy to place a spotlight on heterodox religion and heterodox science. Well – in the latest issue of the Norwegian journal for culture- and religious studies, Din, there is an interesting article on alternative spirituality and television. Anne Kalvig focuses on the presence and function of alternative religiosity in Norwegian television media. What’s particularly interesting about it is her analysis of the sister TV channels, TV Norge and Kanal FEM as basing themselves on an “alternative-theological agenda”.


Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 11:32 am  Comments (4)  
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