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!)
Rosicrucian Quadricentennial: 400 years of secret brotherhoods, universal reformation, and conspiracy theories
The INASWE [Israeli Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism] has done it again. Videos from a workshop held last December on the theme of “Theosophical Appropriations: Kabbalah, Western Esotericism, and the Transformation of Traditions” are now online, and they show an impressive number of great scholars talking about intriguing aspects of modern esotericism, angled through the Theosophical current one way or another. The conveners Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss have done a great job putting together this group. One of the nice aspects of this collection is the global scope, giving a panoramic view of Theosophical groups across a number of different countries.
As in previous years, it is wonderful that all of this is made available online. So go and watch Karl Baier talk about how the chakras were introduced into Theosophy, John Patrick Deveney lecture on Theosophy as Lesenmysterium, Moshe Idel pontificate on Theosophy and Kabbalah in Romania, Massimo Introvigne entertain on the topic of Canadian Theosophy, and let Marco Pasi enlighten you on the role of the Theosophical movement in Italian esoteric milieus. And much, much more.
I have made a habit out of making the pre-print versions of some of my book reviews available here at Heterodoxology. I was recently reminded of one that I had completely forgotten about: a review of the excellent volume Kabbalah and Modernity: Interpretations, Transformations, Adaptations (Brill, 2010). It is edited by three good colleagues of mine (Marco Pasi, Boaz Huss, and Kocku von Stuckrad), and features contributions by many other friends and acquaintances, but hopefully my review is not too biased. Moreover, symptomatic of the extreme delay in academic publishing, I should say that this review was written in 2010, and only appeared in print last year. The review was published in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft (summer 2012).
The first half of 2012 has been a great year for research on modern Western ritual magic. I have already mentioned the publication of my own book, Arguing with Angels, which deals with that obscure system of angel magic known as “Enochian”. I have also mentioned the forthcoming thesis workshop on magic, co-hosted by the ESSWE and the Chair for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents here in Amsterdam. There are however a couple of other publications that have appeared so far this year as well, which I have been meaning to mention for a while. Let’s get to it.
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.
Following up the last post, here comes a report on the esotericism panels at the IAHR in Toronto, organized by Marco Pasi. As you can read about below, they go straight into a central debate in the field of esotericism studies at the moment.