Wines for Esotericists

The Alchemist, a blended red from the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.

What has been happening over at the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, down in Cañon City, Colorado? They have gone hermetic!

M. and I celebrated equinox season today by attending the winery’s Harvest Festival. It was packed. SInce the focus is on wine, many attendees turned it into a picnic in front of the music stage.

It’s not the first time we have attended this festival as an alternative to the much bigger Chile & Frijoles fest in Pueblo. (The latter was much shrunken in 2020, but back this year with beer, bands, and vendors — and some excellent roasted Pueblo chiles in there somewhere.)

But this year we were ready for something smaller and leisurely, more focused on the grapes than the grain and hops — but with roasting green chiles too, of course!

Picnickers at the 2021 Harvest Fest, the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City, Colorado.

I was wandering though the tasting booths and craftspeople’s booths when I saw one tasting booth labeled “As Above, So Below.”  Every occultist knows that phrase, but what was it doing at a wine-tasting? Had I stumbled into a John Crowley novel?

This was the sort of event where you pay your money, get a glass and some tickets, and trade tickets for tastes. And I was out of tickets.

No matter, I asked some questions, then went to the “express” tent and bought a bottle of The Alchemist: “Perfectly balanced and sustainable, as the universe intended. Syrah and Verona grapes come together for a wine that is sure to enlighten. Have a drink, it’s your destiny.”

I might have been just as happy with The Theurgist: “Fun and approachable – magically delightful.” Well, no one ever called the Emerald Tablet “fun and approachable,” but wouldn’t “Emerald Tablet” be a good name for a vinho verde?

The Astrologist, meanwhile, is a riesling-sauvignon blanc blend: “Fun and refreshing in a way Nostradamus would never have predicted.” But M. and I drink more reds, so . . .

I should point out that despite the name and the cross on the label, it’s the Winery AT Holy Cross Abbey, not OF.

“The abbey,” as everyone in the area calls it, was indeed started by Benedictine monks in the 1920s. They operated a respected high school for boys, both day students and boarders, until the 1980s, when it closed due to the lack of vocations — not enough new monks, and the existng brothers all elderly. It’s the same problem that hit many Roman Catholic institutions around then. Eventually the order sold the whole complex after renting out the school buildings for a while for a satellite community college campus and other uses.

So no monk ever touches the wine today — although the Benedictines planted the first grapes. Here is the current management team. But apprently some esotericists do enter the picture. I need to follow up on this. Research might begin at the winery shop, where I can buy The Theurgist for research purposes.

New Collection on Western Esotericism, Downloadable

Quick, while it’s free, you can download New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem (he has published in The Pomegranate) and Julian Strube.

The blurb:

This volume offers new approaches to some of the biggest persistent challenges in the study of esotericism and beyond. Commonly understood as a particularly “Western” undertaking consisting of religious, philosophical, and ritual traditions that go back to Mediterranean antiquity, this book argues for a global approach that significantly expands the scope of esotericism and highlights its relevance for broader theoretical and methodological debates in the humanities and social sciences.

That final sentence could be applied to Pagan studies too, which has the potential to upset a lot of comfortable thought about “religion.” But we need to do more.

New: the “Rejected Religion” Podcast

Stephanie Shea

The number of high-quality Pagan and esoteric podcasts continues to grow, and I am listing some in the right-hand column.

Today’s add is Rejected Religion, created by Stephanie Shea. She writes,

I hold a Research Master in Religious Studies from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My resesarch interests are located in the areas of Western esotericism, and emergent identity groups. During the course of my studies, I realized that there was a gap between the plethora of information being produced by academics and the mainstream public. This platform acts as a bridge, with the goal to bring these two spheres closer together by offering podcast interviews, YouTube videos, blog posts, book reviews, plus a wide array of information that focuses on the ways that ‘the esoteric’ is found within popular culture. My motto is “illuminating the obscure”  — I strive to provide a historical viewpoint that aims to share information and to highlight misconceptions surrounding all things ‘esoteric’ or ‘occult’ in an engaging and entertaining way — no stuffy, boring lectures, but instead, down-to-earth discussions about topics that are often vague and therefore misunderstood

If you do not see the blog-and-podcast roll to the right, that is because you are not on the home page. Click the banner at the top — or here — to go there.

Thelema, New York, and Esoteric Publishing: A Quick Review of “In the Center of the Fire”


James Wasserman, In the Center of the Fire: A Memoir of the Occult 1966–1989 (Lake Worth, Fla.: Ibis Press, 2012).

(In the cover photo, Wasserman is in back and his business and magickal partner Bill Breeze in the foreground.)

Before I found my first Wiccan coven, a friend connected me with (an) Abby of Thelema, a little group of 20-something magicians living in a run-down old house in a run-down neighborhood of Colorado Springs. Three or four other members lived elsewhere but came over for study and ritual. [1]They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and … Continue reading There was a certain amount of drug use and not always enough food, but someone was the “imperator.”

I learned some things there, but the combination of high-flown titles, material poverty, and self-delusion was pretty strange. The “abby” hit the rocks before long, and I moved on to a more compatible path.

But yes, Thelema. Here, pre-O.T.O., is our protagonist at (the old) Antioch College in Ohio: “This [academic] quarter was particularly laced with drugs, women, and spiritual seeking. School was simply off the radar.” The first quarter of the book, in fact, is a classic Seventies melange of road trips, dope, spiritual teachers, sexual relationships, and more road trips. (Wasserman and I could have passed on the street in Portland — or maybe in Taos.)

Finally Wasserman is in New York City, working at Weiser’s, a pre-eminent metaphysical store, and meeting other esotericists with whom he shares memorable experiences: “How many mornings we later spent on the pier on Hudson River across from my Greenwich Street loft, greeting the dawn with a hit of speed.” After a time, he shifts to the book-publishing side of the business, where he finds a home.

Aleister Crowley’s magickal heirs are deeply involved with texts — and some of the best tales of this memoir involve books, manuscripts, correspondence, and libraries, complete with international court battles over rights, burglaries of occult libraries, leadership struggles within the O.T.O., and Wasserman’s own adventures in magickal pubishing and with heroin. Some times I wonder if you can have Thelemic magic without heroin; Crowley himself certainly could not.

Wasserman’s recounting of his highs and lows through the Seventies and Eighties are brutally honest. A lot of what he tried, e.g. open marriage and the heavy drinking, simple did not work. They usually do not work long-term. Maybe what carried him through so many destructive periods was the magick — and yet, I have seen others on the same path sink to the depths and never rise. He sank, but he rose. In the Center of the Fire is an honest book, and it stands in contrast to many occult memoirs I have read where I felt the author was hiding all the unpleasant stuff and making his or her life look like a sequence of triumphs.

It should interest anyone interested in the late-20th century history of the O.T.O. (including how more of a place was made for women than Crowley had anticipated) in the American esoteric publishing and bookselling scene, and in the bohemian life in New York in the late Seventies and Eighties. You could put in the same shelf as Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan or even with Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (Smith makes a brief appearance in Wasserman’s book.)

Maybe witches, magicians, and esotericists of the future will look at 1980s New York the way that would-be Hemingways and Fitzgeralds regard the Paris of the “Lost Generation.”.

Notes

Notes
1 They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on.

Marco Pasi on Sex and Esotericism

Scholar of esotericism Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam) speaks at a conference in Estonia. Or is that Esoteronia?

If that video does not play for you, try this link: “The Social and Cultural Aspects of Esoteric Sex.”

The Tarot of Dior

Dior handbag incorporating the Motherpeace “Judgement” card.

Boston: November 17, 2017: A group of Pagan studies scholars are walking through a shopping mall adjacent to the Boston Marriott Hotel when suddenly heads swivel to the left.

Our attention subconsciously attracted,  we are looking at images from Vicki Noble‘s  Motherpeace Tarot Deck — in the window of a Dior store.

It turns out the Dior has licensed the images for a line of handbags (full story behind paywall).

It’s another example of using esoteric imagery to sell products, right up there with Prada’s use of the Gnostic text “Thunder, Perfect Mind” more than a decade ago.

(If you can’t get to the video there, go here. Twelve years is a long time in Internet years, and links decay.)

 

Quick Review: Sex, War, and the Tarot

That is the subtitle I mentally add to Alan Richardson’s novel The Lightbearer.

It starts with the landing of Allied paratroopers in Normandy just after midnight on June 6, 1944, a meticulously planned operation that ended up scrambled by Murphy’s Law.

In the novel, a transport aircraft carrying some of the pathfinders goes astray (as some did) causing one Private Michael Horsett to land far off-target. Horsett is taken in by a group of French Thelemite magicians — all female.

Complications ensue. The Thelemites have their own agenda. Local Resistance fighters have another agenda. Private Horsett, new to war, wants to prove himself as a soldier. And there is a Tarot puzzle built into the text. It is not easy to combine occultism with a thriller plot, but Richardson pulls it off.[1]Military historians may note some oddities. For example, Wehrmacht helmets (as with other armies) came in only one size, with the adjustment in the harness.

Notes

Notes
1 Military historians may note some oddities. For example, Wehrmacht helmets (as with other armies) came in only one size, with the adjustment in the harness.

Remembering Ed Steinbrecher and His Esoteric School

Ed Steinbrecher (1980s?)

Looking for something in the bedroom Craft/astrology/Tarot/magick bookshelves this morning, I ran across a copy of Edwin Steinbrecher’s The Guide Meditation. (It’s still available from Samuel Weiser and it’s good.)

I checked with Dr. Google and discovered that Steinbrecher, an astrologer and occult teacher, had passed away in 2002 — here is an obituary from the Los Angeles Times. 

What the obituary does not say is that in between founding his DOME (Dei Omnes Munda Edunt) astrology and meditation center in Santa Fe in 1973 and moving to Los Angeles in 1984, he and co-founder/partner David Benge lived in Colorado Springs for a time.

Imagine a typical 1970s split-level house, with what would be the living room and dining room filled with bookcases — and all the books organized by zodiacal sign, so that gardening, for instance, would be in the Virgo section. So much more mystical than my habit of putting, say, all the books on Colorado and New Mexico history together! (What Sun sign would encompass them?)

M. and I attended various talks and workshops at the DOME house. Ed was passionate about astrology, and this was the time in my life when I was deepest into it. Later, under pressure of graduate school, etc., I decided that something had to give, and that something was astrology, so I stopped doing people’s charts — these days, I might manage to check my transits once in a while. The last astrology lecture I heard was by Liz Greene (who is one of the best Jungian astrologers) in 2004.

But his Inner Guide Meditation system has a Tarot connection, and that is drawing me back to it. It will be intriguing to re-read the book.

CFP: Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism

(Extended) DEADLINE APPROACHING

In association with the Study of Religions Department, University College Cork

To be held on Friday, 31st March 2017

We are pleased to invite scholars to take part in the launch and first workshop of the Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism (INSEP), a multidisciplinary research network for scholars working on any aspect of Esotericism (historical or contemporary) or Contemporary Paganism that relates to the Irish context. Its mission is to provide a forum for networking and collaboration among scholars who are based in Ireland and those based abroad who have research interests in the subject areas of esotericism and contemporary Paganism as they relate to Ireland. A general goal of the network is to establish a forum for academics — whether established researchers, postgraduate students, early career researchers or independent scholars — to communicate with each other, share information on relevant conferences and other events, and to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among those researching in the areas of Irish esotericism and Pagan Studies. The Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism is a Regional Network of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism: http://www.esswe.org/Regional

The INSEP invites papers and contributions on the subject of esotericism and Contemporary Paganism that relate to the Irish context, as well as the study of Contemporary Paganism and Western Esotericism in general, including areas such as:

• Esotericism, political change and social movements
• Ethnography and Western Esotericism
• Contemporary Pagan Studies in Ireland and/or international connections
• Media representations
• The notion of Celtic Spirituality
• Theoretical frameworks/changing paradigms in the academic study of religions

Call for papers: Please submit your proposal in the form of a title and an abstract (max. 250 words), stating institutional affiliation (or independent scholar) to Dr Jenny Butler: j.butler[at]ucc.ie by Friday 13th January 2017. Please put ‘INSEP Proposal’ in the subject line.

Thinking How the Tarot Smuggled Paganism to the Present

In my twenties, the Tarot was about the most “occult” thing around that I could bring out in public settings. I learned to read the cards semi-competently and had some adventures thereby. When I made it through an evening of reading for casual strangers in a nightclub, I figured that I was probably at my pinnacle.[1]I told a woman that she was pregnant althought it did not show. I was right—she already knew.

Then I moved into other things more and more, including other types of divination. [2]For some good short essays on divination, read John Michael Greer on “The Speech of the Stars” and “Foundations of Magical Practice: Divination.” I did write a little on the history of the Tarot, then pretty much shelved my cards.[3]They are now unshelved, however. At one point I had thought of collecting Tarot decks — that was right about when the number of decks exploded! From the short list (Marseille, Waite-Smith, Crowley’s Thoth deck, Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot, and few others), we went to practically a “Tarot Deck of the Week.” U.S. Games Systems has a few. “The Undersea Tarot,” anyone?

Some months back, I was reading something that Thorn Mooney had written on Tarot, maybe her Tarot Skeptic blog. We see each other at long intervals; otherwise, it’s email, so I wrote and asked her what historical books on Tarot she would recommend. One was out of my price range.[4]It might as well have been published by Brill. The other was The History of the Occult Tarot by Roanld Decker and Michael Dummett.

I bought the book. I read through 200-plus pages of Rosicrucians, Freemasons, ceremonial magicians, astrologers, Western Qabbalists, etc.[5]Overlapping categories, yes. trying to force the Tarot to mesh with these other systems, such as the Hebrew alphabet. If it did not mesh, they hammered on it until some sort of fit was achieved, as in A. E. Waite’s switching of the Strength and Judgement cards to fit his scheme.

It all seemed part of Western esotericism’s ongoing demand for a system Where Everything Fits Together and Corresponds with Everything Else — a demand that seems informed by a quasi-monotheistic or Platonic outlook.

But what if it will not all fit together? The Tarot deck itself is a mashup. You have the four symbolic elements, which are also social groups, as favored in the Indo-European tradition:[6]Other  cultures get along with three, five, or whatever. Air/spades/swords/aristocracy; Fire/wands/clubs/farmers; Earth/pentacles/diamonds/merchants & craftsmen; Water/cups/hearts/priesthood.[7]If you follow George Dumézil’s “trifunctional hypothesis”, you might think of this as 3 + 1, with merchants being the 1 split of from class 3, the commoners.

Built on top of that is an upper story derived from “the Pagan dream of the Renaissance,” to borrow the title of Joscelyn Godwin’s excellent book on “the almost untold story of how the rediscovery of the pagan [sic], mythological imagination during the Renaissance brought a profound transformation to European culture.”

As Decker and Dummett write in their section on Tarot-writer Eden Gray, her interpretation of Tarot symbolism was “based not on occult fantasy, but on themes well known to art historians.”[8]Still she could not stop trying to glue on some “Cabalism, astrology, and numerology.” Art historians have more to offer here than do correspondence-obsessed magicians, I suggest.

Consider the observations of William Lindsay Gresham, who wrote a preface to one editing of Charles Williams’ Tarot-based novel The Greater Trumps and created his own Tarot-influenced noir novel, Nightmare Alley. He wrote,

The Tarot is not a mnemonic device for a set doctrime, it would seem, but a philosophical slide-rule on which the individual can work his own metaphysical and religious equations.

So forget the Hebrew alphabetic correspondences. Think instead of the Tarot as the product of some (probably aristocratic and/or clerical) creative dreamers living in (most likely) northern Italy in the 15th century. They were not Pagan as such, but they might have been what we could call “Pagan re-enactors,” trying intellectually and artistically to reinhabit the world of Greco-Roman Paganism.

They took artistic and philosophical themes of their time and grafted them onto a pre-existing card game. Among the pages of this “book” the old gods and archetypes snuggled in for a journey of five or six centuries.

Notes

Notes
1 I told a woman that she was pregnant althought it did not show. I was right—she already knew.
2 For some good short essays on divination, read John Michael Greer on “The Speech of the Stars” and “Foundations of Magical Practice: Divination.”
3 They are now unshelved, however.
4 It might as well have been published by Brill.
5 Overlapping categories, yes.
6 Other  cultures get along with three, five, or whatever.
7 If you follow George Dumézil’s “trifunctional hypothesis”, you might think of this as 3 + 1, with merchants being the 1 split of from class 3, the commoners.
8 Still she could not stop trying to glue on some “Cabalism, astrology, and numerology.”