On “Scientific Illuminism” and the Psychologisation of Magic

There is a post up at the tyromanteia blog, which offers a nice criticism of my article on Aleister Crowley’s negotiation of magic with science and psychology (“Magic Naturalized?”, published in Aries back in 2008). Tyromanteia draws on the work of Alex Owen (which I briefly reviewed last year) to place three 20th century magicians, Crowley, Israel Regardie, and Dion Fortune, within a broader “crisis of subjectivity” and a process of psychologisation. In this connection, the author finds opportunity to deal with my criticism of the “psychologisation thesis” on the survival of magic. I largely performed this criticism on the basis of Crowley, arguing that in this case, an attempted naturalisation of magic is more important than psychologisation. To this, Tyromanteia objects that Crowley largely anticipated the psychological and even psychotherapeutic interpretations which Regardie and Fortune later emphasised in their teachings. As I think this criticism points out an ambiguity in the original article, I will take this opportunity to make a brief response.



Review: Mark Morrisson’s “Modern Alchemy”

(The following is my review of Mark Morrisson’s Modern Alchemy. The final version was published in Aries 11.1).

In 1901 physicist Ernest Rutherford and chemist Frederick Soddy, tucked away in a laboratory at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, were struck with amazement as they watched the element thorium transform into an inert gas. Soddy, exclaiming that they had witnessed nothing less than transmutation, was warned by his more temperate colleague: “For Mike’s sake, Soddy, don’t call it transmutation. They’ll have our heads off as alchemists”.

Alchemy would, however, be invoked frequently during the decades to come; not with reference to obscure occultists in the secret vaults of hermetic societies, but in connection to new discoveries concerning radioactive decay. Indeed, in its the early decades, what would become nuclear physics was commonly labelled “modern alchemy”. The crucible and athanor had been replaced by cloud chambers, spectroscopes, and ionization chambers,  but there was a nagging feeling that the ancient and modern alchemists ultimately shared the same goal: the transmutation of elements.