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…)

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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 The crucible and athanor had been replaced by cloud chambers, spectroscopes, and ionization chambers,  but there was a nagging feeling that the ancient and modern alchemists ultimately shared the same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.

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Blind Spots of Disenchantment (2/3)

Following up the previous post about Weber’s notion of disenchantment, and its normative implications, this second part of the installment provides some snapshots of episodes in the early 20th century – that is, of Weber’s contemporaries – which all seem to be in conflict with the disenchanted perspective of science. We start by considering some episodes in physics, then move on to the life sciences, before ending with some remarks on the controversial borderland which is psychical research.

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Frederic W. F. Myers and Gothic Psychology

F. W. H. Myers

“Frederic Myers will always be remembered in psychology as the pioneer who staked out a vast tract of mental wilderness and planted the flag of genuine science upon it.” With these words the far more famous American psychologist and philosopher, William James, concluded his 1901 obituary of British classicist, amateur psychologist and founding member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Frederic W. F. Myers (1843-1901). According to James, Myers’ work would set a new standard for the psychological sciences of the 20th century. More than a decade into the 21st, the name is mostly remembered by parapsychologists and historians with an interest  in the quirkier twists that psychology could have taken.

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