I did not attend these conference sessions on the study of esotericism in Stockholm, alas, but several blogging friends did attend. One of them, Sasha Chaitow of the Phoenix Rising Academy, has already posted an initial report, so go read it.
The current newsletter of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism is available for download. In it, some of the members discuss their current doctoral work. It is always interesting to see how new scholars are formulating just exactly what “esoteric studies” covers.
Like Pagan studies — there is some degree of overlap — esoteric studies (if I may personify it) struggles to find out who it is. Egil Asprem, doctoral candidate and blogger, writes,
On the one hand, you often hear that the field has now matured, but when you look for some of the signs that characterise a mature academic field it is hard to see them in practice. I am particularly thinking of the lack of agreement on fundamental issues, such as ”what is it”, ”how do we study it”, ”what’s its importance”, and ”how is it related to the broad spectrum of human activity”. If you pick up the three most popular introduction books to the field, you’ll find three very different ways of handling these fundamental questions.
Kocku von Stuckrad, an established scholar but still “younger” in academic terms, makes the comparison:
It is a kind of identity work that I perceive in the study of esotericism, but also in ”pagan studies” and related fields of research. This identity work often leads to a neglect of critical methodological reflection, which I find problematic. What we need is an active collaboration with as many colleagues as possible, no matter whether or not we like their definitions of esotericism, in order to build up networks that can make research into these historical and cultural dynamics sustainable for the future. If we study these phenomena as part of the cultural history of Europe and North America, in an increasingly globalized perspective, we will be able to integrate the field of Western esotericism” in larger research structures and critical scholarship. This will also help students who enroll in our programs to find a job after their studies.
More resources in the newsletter about courses and research opportunities, chiefly in Britain and the Netherlands.
• At The Allergic Pagan, a three-part series on Neopaganism in America (link goes to the third part) with a lot of “whatever happened to?”.
• Jason Pitzl-Waters uses the reunion of the band Dead Can Dance (one of my favorites) to look back at the history of Pagan music.
• A new blog devoted to the history of Chicago occultism has me excited, since I will be there in November.
A fairly lightweight article on Freemasonry in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph produced this classic response in the comments:
All MPs are Freemasons. So are all civil servants. It’s too late to do anything about it. We’re in control and you better keep quiet and get used to the fact.
By the way, do you know where your kids are? Shouldn’t they have been home by now? If I was you I’d phone the police immediately. Make sure and tell them you’re a widow’s son. It’ll help.
The unrelated headline was to a news story about African witchcraft and the “witchcraft torture murder” of a 15-year-old boy in a family of African immigrants to the United Kingdom.
So we can presume that no subeditor at the Telegraph was thinking “Crone, Mother, Maiden” at the photo of Queen Elizabeth, her daughter-in-law, and granddaughter-in-law. (Is there such a term? The Duchess of Cambridge, to those people who keep track of aristocratic titles.)
Thanks to Jenny Blain for the photo.
Some recent publications in or related to Pagan Studies:
• The first issue of Goddess Thealogy: An International Journal for the Study of the Divine Feminine is available for download (PDF, 3.17 MB)
• Videos and PDF files of lectures from the “Demons in the Academy” session at the recent American Academy of Religion meeting are available at the Phoenix Academy website.
• With author Eric Steinhart’s permission, I have uploaded his series of posts on atheism and Wicca as one PDF file.
Here is where I will be in a week, if all goes well: the Phoenix Rising Academy’s “additional meeting ” on esotericism in the academy at the AAR meeting in San Francisco.
Seven or eight years ago, it was the Pagan Studies people holding our own meeting because we did not official program status. We got that status in 2005, and for a time had an “additional meeting” as well for grad-student presentations and other forms of discussion, but that is not happening this year.
There is a Western Esotericism program unit now, so it is interesting that there is enough additional material for this meeting too.
In this essay from 2006, R.J. Stewart discusses some of his teachers in occultism, particulaly Ronald Heaver (that’s Mr. Heaver to you), also known by the pen name of “Zadok.” (Bill Gray also figures in the essay, hence the plural.)
Before recounting my meetings with Ronald Heaver, I would like to share some brief insights regarding the teaching methods and general consciousness of the older generation of mentors in Britain. I am referring to those who, like Ronald Heaver, had come through both the 1st and/or 2nd World Wars. Few of them are left now. Many people today do not understand how different their methods were from those familiar to us in the last 20 years of spiritual, pagan, and New Age revival. There is, as a result, romanticizing, even fantasizing, about some of the founders of our spiritual and magical revival, and especially that powerful branch that relates so strongly to Glastonbury and the Sacred Mysteries. . . . .
Some of the methods of that older wartime generation of spiritual mentors may seem strange to us, but were essential to them in their day. This background, both individual and cultural, is helpful to our understanding of Ronald Heaver’s life and work, as he was of that generation, though in many ways he rose above it, despite a most difficult and dramatic life.
Firstly, many of these older generation teachers, mentors, and mystics of the British inner tradition, be they known or unknown, would teach different, even contradictory things, to different students. Therefore, students learning individually from one teacher, would each receive variations or even contradictions of the core teachings. This method was widespread, and was not as frivolous as we might think. Another method, which was well known, though supposedly secret, was to give an initiation or a confirmation of spiritual power, then tell the recipient that only he or she had received it. Years later, the recipients (plural) would find others who had had the same experience! There are typically certainly key secret phrases and dramatic unique subtle sensations, so no one (but no one) can fake receiving such spiritual empowerments.
In other words, you didn’t download the “Glastonbury” app and have instant knowledge, apparently. (Grumble grumble.)
Interesting stuff, worth reading.
Egil Asprem, a Norwegian scholar of esotericism and contemporary Paganism (he has published in The Pomegranate on Norse Paganism and Kabbalah) has a blog post up: “Counterjidhadist Templar Terrorism,” on Anders Behring Breivik’s use of Western esoteric language and symbols. Worth reading.
It is as if an ideological critique of (or revolt against) modernity which seeks to incorporate a religious dimension hardly ever escapes the esoteric – whether the revolt comes from the left or the right.