Monday, December 17, 2007

Recent volumes in the Aries Book Series

Wouter Hanegraff, Amsterdam

The Aries Book Series: Texts and Studies in Western Esotericism was launched by Brill last year as a companion series to the journal Aries. The editor-in-chief is Wouter J. Hanegraaff, and the Editorial Board presently consists of Jean-Pierre Brach and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.

Volumes in this series can be bought by members of ESSWE at a 25% discount.

Five volumes have been published so far:
  1. Urszula Szulakowska, The Sacrificial Body and the Day of Doom: Alchemy and Apocalyptic Discourse in the Protestant Reformation (2006).
    This study positions Paracelsian alchemy, medicine and medical physiology within the apocalyptic discourse of the Protestant Reformation, with special attention to the role of alchemical engravings notably in the work of Heinrich Khunrath, Stefan Michelspacher, Jacob Boehme, Abraham von Franckenberg and Robert Fludd.

  2. Katherine Barnes, The Higher Self in Christopher Brennan’s Poems: Esotericism, Romanticism, Symbolism (2006).
    This is the first major study of the important Australian poet Christopher Brennan, whose Poems were published in 1914. This study shows how Brennan melded Western esoteric currents such as alchemy and rosicrucianism with Romantic literature and French Symbolist theory.

  3. F.M. van Helmont, The Alphabet of Nature (annotated translation with annotations, Allison P. Coudert & Taylor Corse) (2007).
    This volume contains the Latin text of Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont’s Alphabeti vere Naturalis Hebraici (1667), with a annotated facing-page English translation. Van Helmont’s Alphabet of Nature is an important text for the debate on natural versus artificial or conventional language in the early modern period.

  4. Renko D. Geffarth, Religion und arkane Hierarchie: Der Orden der Gold- und Rosenkreuzer als Geheime Kirche im 18. Jahrhundert (2007).
    This is the most comprehensive study so far of the 18th-century Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross. On the basis of extensive archival research, it traces the history of the Order, its hierarchical and initiatory system, and its relation to the churches in the era of the Enlightenment.

  5. Paracelsus, Essential Theoretical Writings (edited & translated, with introduction and commentary, by Andrew Weeks) (forthcoming).
    This is the first English translation of some of the major writings of Paracelsus, alongside a critical edition of the German originals according to the authoritative 1589 Huser edition. Almost one thousand pages long, it makes this central figure in the history of Western esotericism available to the anglophone world.

  6. Olav Hammer & Kocku von Stuckrad (eds.), Polemical Encounters: Esoteric Discourse and Its Others (2007).
    This volumes engages the polemical structures that underlie both the identities within and the controversies about esoteric currents in Western history. Contributions by Konstantin Burmistrov, Dylan Burns, Renko Geffarth, Olav Hammer, Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Titus Hjelm, Boaz Huss, Brannon Ingram, Hanns-Peter Neumann, Peter Hanns Reill, Kocku von Stuckrad, and Steven M. Wasserstrom.

Among planned forthcoming volumes are Brendan French’s definitive study of the Theosophical Masters, and an updated edition of J.E. Fletcher’s classic but so far unpublished dissertation on Athanasius Kircher.

Appointments in research into Freemasonry

Andreas Önnerfors, Ph. D., has been appointed the new director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield.

Önnerfors received his Ph.D. at Lund University, Sweden in 2003. The centre was established in 2000 as the first centre in a British university devoted to the study of Freemasonry. Önnerfors is succeeding Professor Andrew Prescott as the director of the centre.

Malcolm Davies, Ph.D., has been appointed as Professor of "Freemasonry as an intellectual current and a socio-cultural European phenomenon", Faculty of Theology (Godsdienstwetenschappen), University of Leiden, The Netherlands. Davies is succeeding Prof. Dr. Anton van de Sande in this post.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

SNASWE blog opens

SNASWE, the Scandinavian Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism, a regional subgroup of ESSWE, has launched a blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More from the EPHE...

The following are preparing theses for the diplome of the EPHE :

  • B. Barret, « L. Lenain et sa ‘Science Cabalistique’ (1823). Sa vie et son œuvre magique d’après des inédits ».
  • D. Clairembault, « La correspondance de Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin et Nicolas-Antoine Kirchberger (éd. crit. d’après les ms.) - Esotérisme et théosophie sous la Révolution ».
  • J. Iozia, « C. Jinarajadasa : sa vie, son oeuvre au sein de la Société Théosophique (1902-1953).
  • M. Kreçmar, « Edition et commentaire de la ‘Lettre hiéroglyphique’ de F. Barent Coenders van Helpen (1683 ; ms. Lyon) ».

Monday, December 10, 2007

New theses at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes

Three new theses were started at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris, Sorbonne) in 2006-07:
  • B. Bérard, "Un philosophe et théologien occultisant au XIX° siècle : l’abbé P.-F.-G. Lacuria (1806-90)."

  • F. Buzzeta, "Aspects de la Magia naturalis et de la Cabala practica dans les premières œuvres de J. Pic de la Mirandole (avec éd. & trad. de sources hébraïques)" (co-directed with Professor G. Palumbo, University of Palermo).

  • S. Salzani, "Histoire, thématiques et enjeux critiques d’une lecture « ésotérique » de Dante: l’oeuvre de Luigi Valli (1878 -1931) et ses continuateurs " (co-directed with Professor A. Cavarero, University of Verona).

Five theses started between 2003 and 2005 are still in progress:

  • F. Baroni, "Tommaso Palamidessi (1915-1983) et son école initiatique ‘archeosophica’ : recherches sur l’ésotérisme chrétien dans l’Italie contemporaine (thématiques, sociabilité)."

  • J.-C. Boucly, "Magnétisme, mystique et ésotérisme chrétiens chez quelques disciples de N.-A. Philippe (1849-1905)."

  • D. Jardin, "La construction d'une "tradition" maçonnique au XVIII° siècle : emprunts «opératifs», religieux et ésotériques dans les rituels et l'iconographie des Tableaux de Loge des systèmes français à ‘hauts-grades’" (co-directed with Professor P.-Y. Beaurepaire, University of Nice).

  • B. Barthet, "Les jésuites et les principaux courants ésotériques en France (1680-1750) : problématiques et enjeux."

  • E. Kreis, "Occultisme, antijudaïsme et antimaçonnisme en France, 1864 – 1939 : les enjeux d'un amalgame idéologique."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Why Esotericism? The Importance of a Newly Emerging Field

The Western Esotericism Group of the American Academy of Religion is seeking proposals addressing the topic “Why Esotericism? The Importance of a Newly Emerging Field” for the AAR International Meeting, Auckland, New Zealand, July 6-10, 2008.

The study of Western Esotericism has developed rapidly over the past decade. It now has significant institutional support and two journals dedicated to research, Esoterica and Aries. The field, however, has yet to enter into the academic mainstream. It is the purpose of this panel to contribute to a broader appreciation of the scope and importance of Western Esotericism as a force in western history and religion.

We invite papers dealing with the ways in which the study of Esotericism has challenged mainstream historiography both in terms of methodology and by providing a more nuanced picture of major developments in western history as well as an understanding of the complex strands of esoteric thought in the work of key historical figures. Proposals should be sent by e-mail to Prof. Allison Coudert,

American Academy of Religion 2007

Cathy Gutierrez, Professor of Religion, Sweet Briar College, Virginia

The Western Esotericism Group of the American Academy of Religion had its most successful year at the 2007 meeting in San Diego, California.

In two sessions, one focused on esotericism as an act of transgression and the other jointly sponsored with the New Religious Movements Group, well over 100 people were in attendance at panels over the weekend.

The first session, chaired by Allison Coudert, presented papers ranging from the early fourteenth-century writings of Marguerite Porete, condemned as heretical by the Catholic church and ultimately leading to her execution, to contemporary fieldwork in Oregon on an Ordo Templi Orientis lodge. The five papers presented were all well-received and developed themes related to the interplay of transgression and hegemony in the creation and growth of esoteric currents.

While each incorporated the theme of transgression differently, the creation of a different definition of correct practice while maintaining the necessity of some boundary was a common motif throughout the panel. White versus black magic, esoteric versus exoteric, and antinomian versus orthodox, were among the topics examined that reflected on the creation of alternative practices and beliefs. One scholar discussed the process by which an experimental or marginalized religious expression becomes mainstream in relation to the Swedenborgian church in nineteenth-century America. Another argued that the cultural shift from seeing mysticism pejoratively to viewing it as a normal if not normative form of religiosity should be replicated in esoteric studies. The benefits and desirability of bringing the marginalized to the center were explored, and some concluded that at least for the purposes of academic study, such a move would both expand the academy’s field of vision and serve as a theoretical reflection on the function of boundaries in both lived experience and in scholarship. A lively discussion followed that touched on linguistic differences in relation to the history of terms like “mysticism” and whether esotericism easily lent itself to binary formations like insider and outsider distinctions.

The session jointly sponsored with the New Religious Movements Group was also extremely successful, with over seventy attendees for the panel chaired by Sarah Pike. Focusing on “exchange and innovation” in new religions, the four papers presented ranged from the melding of Asian enlightenment traditions with American psychological discourse to the esoteric underpinnings of Fourierist socialism. Another discussed the creation of Halcyon, an intentional community in California in the early twentieth century that was based on Blavatsky’s theosophical teachings in conjunction with speculation on the religious possibilities of electricity. Lastly, a paper was given on the suitability of the terms “outsider” or “visionary” art in relation to the work of Edith Tenbrink: the author argued that “initiatory” art was a more apt category and delineated what may usefully be considered initiatory in esoteric art forms.

The overwhelming success of all of the papers was the highlight of the AAR this year. The Western Esotericism Group had its first business meeting where the topic for next year and the length of terms for membership on the steering committee were discussed. The particular interest sparked by the discussion of esoteric art led the steering committee to dedicate its Western Esotericism session to the visual imagination and the call for papers for the 2008 meeting in Chicago has been submitted with this focus. Thanks to the quick diligence of Allison Coudert, several other groups have already expressed interest in jointly sponsoring an additional session at that meeting and at this writing the decision about which additional sessions will be offered has not yet been made. However, the success of this year’s panels and the multiple groups that have expressed an interest in working with the Western Esotericism Group suggest that it will continue to thrive at the AAR for the immediate future.

The Demarcation of Western Esotericism in Theory and Practice

Sara M. Thejls, Amsterdam

When Western esotericism was established as an independent field of research it was necessarily much more clearly demarcated than is the case today. As a new field, it had to be positioned clearly in relation to other academic categories, so as to place the academic study of esotericism on solid foundations.

Since then the situation has gradually changed. More and more scholars have found a fruitful framework for their own studies in the concept of Western esotericism. One consequence of this is that the specific historical category that Western esotericism once was has been opened up. As Michael Stausberg noted in his response to Wouter Hanegraaff’s posting on the Tübingen conference, the borders of the field of Western esotericism are increasingly blurred. The definition of the field has been contested both explicitly and implicitly--explicitly in the theoretical discussions flourishing within academia, and implicitly by the research carried out under the umbrella of Western esotericism.

It is evident when looking at the wide range of topics and approaches presented at the Tübingen conference that the classic definition of Western esotericism as suggested by Antoine Faivre is challenged by the actual research presently carried out in the field. Borders were crossed in time, in space, in approaches and concepts and thus in the subjects studied and presented at the conference under the term Western esotericism. These included such diverse themes as Sufism, ancient platonisms, ancient Jewish magic, Chechen traditionalism, kabbalah in various guises, neo-paganism and contemporary magical orders. Of course, more traditional topics of Western esotericism were also covered, including theosophy, Christian kabbalah, rosicrucianism and alchemy.

That the “fringe” topics were central is by no means a surprise considering the age of Western esotericism as a more or less accepted academic field of study. Now that the field has been quite solidly consolidated in academia, we, as the students and scholars of Western esotericism, have an opportunity to turn our focus inwards and look at the state of the field itself. As is also happening all the time with the broader concept of religion, the limits of the concept of Western esotericism are being explored and challenged. And it is not only the term “esotericism” which is being evaluated, stretched, deconstructed and reassembled. Just as important is the question of what the ambiguous concept of “Western” denotes. Is it a cultural category, a geographical? And what does it imply?

To me at least, it is obvious that we cannot uphold the earlier christocentric demarcation of Western esotericism. Definitional problems are an essential part of the evolution of an academic field, without which a field would stagnate. Paradigms are there to be challenged in order to fruitfully develop and continually revisit the academic pursuit.

Viewed this way, the broadness of topics at Tübingen is indeed promising. It reflects the enthusiasm and curiosity which is necessary for a field to flourish. It is important, however, that we do not only challenge and explore the boundaries of our field in empirical research. We have to explicitly reconsider the premises for maintaining Western esotericism as a field in its own right. Whether one perceives Western esotericism as a historical or a typological category, the theoretical foundations should be considered and explicitly elaborated.

Retrospectively, it is difficult to see any obvious unifying factor for all the different papers presented at the conference. Then again, I am in no doubt that it all belongs to the field of Western esotericism. I wonder whether we are able to actually find a unifying definition, or whether the case is similar to that of the problem of defining religion--that either the definition is so broad that too much is included, or so narrow that borderline topics get excluded.

Nonetheless, the discussion itself is far more important than the eventual conclusions. Maybe it is possible to find some common denominator by considering the central topic of the conference: tradition and transmission. Can we trace a certain way of constructing tradition and transmitting knowledge which is different from religious movements in general? Revelation is too general a way of claiming religious authority to be of special significance for esotericism; initiation too. However, it seems there is a certain discourse involved in the transmission of knowledge--a dialectic of secrecy and revelation, and a claim to supremacy with regard to the knowledge transmitted. Though not necessarily elitist in the exact sense of the word, there is an air of elitism surrounding esoteric knowledge, making the possessor of knowledge feel privileged to have obtained that knowledge.

The special mode of transmission and the proclaimed secrecy and supremacy of esoteric knowledge is by no means enough for a proper definition of Western esotericism. For instance, it does not even address the problem of defining "Western." However, it might prove useful in the process. Furthermore, it is important that the concept of esotericism becomes more precise in the general study of religion, as in many instances it is used as a mere synonym for secrecy.

It is my hope that there will be many more discussions of this important issue and that our work contributes to the clarification of esotericism in general, and of Western esotericism in particular.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Intellectual Stendhalism in Tübingen

A personal account of the Tübingen conference from Joyce Pijnenburg, Amsterdam

Together with a few fellow students of the MA in Mysticism and Western Esotericism, I arrived in Tübingen from Amsterdam by train. I had never been in the city before, and because I had been working so feverishly on my paper, I had not taken any time at all to dive into its rich history. I knew hardly more about it than its having been a centre of origin for Rosicrucianism, as well as of the scholarly tradition of the ‘Tübinger Schule’ – (in-)famous in the world of classical philosophy for its Plato-interpretation. These facts, added to the fame and age of the city’s university, would have been ample reason to hold the very first conference of the ESSWE in Tübingen. The first glances allowed to us of the city, during our walk from the station to the hotel, told me that it might be an even more fitting site for this event than I could have imagined. The park was quiet, the houses on our way up the hill were charming, and the streets full of students like ourselves. A sensation of scholarship dominated the atmosphere.

The conference started off with a lecture by the renowned Egyptologist Jan Assmann. Notwithstanding the evident relevance of his work for our field, I had not expected Assmann to expound on esotericism as such. But he did, in a clear and balanced elaboration on the Egyptian and also the Greek features of early esotericisms. Assmann was one of the few people to present on ancient esoteric discourses. This lecture was an appropriate start, not only because of the historical antecedence of its subject matter.

This was only the beginning of three inspiring days. Perhaps it was because this was the first get-together of so many scholars of esotericism in Europe for decades that, outside the keynote lectures, I myself, as well as almost everyone I met, seemed to have difficulties in choosing which presentations to attend. Yet we had to decide, and so, after having marked in my program the lectures I definitely did not want to miss, I sneaked in and out of halls, sometimes at the risk of disturbing a presentation. Luckily, this turned out to be possible, despite the squeaking floor of the middle room and notwithstanding the extremely tight conference schedule – or perhaps, rather, thanks to it.

Three days filled with lectures of generally high quality could not but lead to a form of intellectual Stendhalism: we learned very many, very interesting facts, in very little time. Let me freshen our memory in a brief overview of a number of presentations.

We were informed about the “double bind of secrecy” in the construction of esoteric traditions; about the role the concept of mnemohistory might be able to play outside the history of Egypt; about young Pico’s recognition of (non-traditional beauty) in discordia concors; about yet another inversion, the female side of Kabbalah as active principle; about the role of light and love in Ficino’s cosmology, as well as the role of Orphism in his discussions of love; about the reception history of the Giants of Genesis; about Kabbalah as contemplation in Reuchlin; about the westernness or non-westernness of western Sufism; about dolphins and sexual practice of Kabbalah; about the way in which Blavatsky connected the future to the past; about the esotericism of Hermes Trismegistus; about the rationale behind the order of saints of the Crowleyan Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. And we also learned that Islam means nine mountains and thus stands for Chechnya; that the scarab with the human head is the key to knowledge of the world; that the four stands for Christ and for materialization; that English myths serve the construction of tradition of the Dutch goddess movement; that the writings of the Dutch novelist Couperus are full of esotericism; that the hierarchy of the Left Hand Path is based on kabbalistic demonology; that Leadbeater possibly took his information from Bailey rather than from a hidden master; that the mysterious Konx Om Pax originally marked the end of a mystery ritual; that esoteric constructions of tradition, in their pointing beyond the present, can be understood as divination. Most of the time these presentations did not only provide information, but also much food for thought and stimulus for discussion.

These discussions went on, albeit in a more leisurely pace, in the Biergarten amongst crowds of Tübinger students. Happy about the success of the conference, our symptoms of Stendhalism decreased while we relaxed over some pints of home-brewn Weizen (the nectar of the Neckar) and a plate of Spätzle or Knödel. Until the early mornings, young and established scholars merged in the merry-making, while we animatedly reflected on the rapid development of the field, on our various study projects and on the future of publishing.

All in all, the conference was a splendid official start-off ceremony of our society.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Esotericism in Scandinavia

Olav Hammer, Professor of History of Religions, University of Southern Denmark

Report on the Conference on Western Esotericism held in Åbo/Turku, Finland, August 15-17, 2007

A sure sign of the vitality of esotericism studies is the fact that it was possible to attract scholars to two separate conferences on this topic, held within three weeks of each other. Almost immediately after the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism had completed its first conference in Tübingen, the Donnerska Foundation hosted a conference on Western esotericism in Åbo/Turku, Finland (Åbo is the Swedish name, and Turku the Finnish name; the Donnerska Foundation uses Swedish).

The theme of the conference was linked to its geographical location. Besides accepting papers on any aspect of the study of Western esotericism (as exemplified by contributions on subjects as diverse as Christian theosophy, the legacy of Rudolf Steiner and new religious movements in Russia), the organizers particularly encouraged participants to present papers that dealt with esotericism in the Scandinavian countries. Papers on Freemasonry in Sweden and Finland, on symbolist art in Finland, on kabbalah in Sweden, on the theosophical movement in Denmark and on Swedish queen Christina’s esoteric interests are just a few examples of the latter.

The geographical focus was particularly reflected in the choice of keynote addresses. Scandinavia has throughout the centuries been a recipient of esoteric currents coming from the European continent. In the early modern period, Hermetic and Paracelsian ideas and practices were highly influential in Scandinavian intellectual milieus. Jole Shakelford has for years been researching the influence of Paracelsian medicine in Denmark and Norway, and presented some of his findings in a paper entitled “Western Esotericism and the History of European Science and Medicine in the Early Modern Period”.

The Scandinavian countries have also contributed original building blocks to the esoteric discursive repertoire. The best-known example is Emanuel Swedenborg, the topic of a paper by Jane Williams-Hogan entitled “The Place of Emanuel Swedenborg in the Spiritual Saga of Scandinavia”. Other figures may be of lesser international fame, but have nevertheless decisively influenced the course of religious history in Europe. Mark Sedgwick’s paper "Ivan Aguéli, Europe’s first Sufi shaykh" introduced the arguably first neo-Sufi in European history, as well as one of the formative influences on René Guénon.

Paracelsian, mystic and neo-Sufi currents such as these constitute just some of the many alternative and partly marginalized aspects of the larger European religious landscape. This is an ecology of coexisting and competing voices which has traditionally but erroneously been described as if one set of religious actors–mainstream, theological Christianities–had established an unquestioned hegemony. Kocku von Stuckrad’s paper “Esoteric Discourse and the European History of Religion: The Emergence of a New Interpretational Framework” served as a topical reminder that Western esotericism inscribes itself in the broader field of a plural European history of religions.

The study of Western esotericism has in the last decades developed from a narrow field dominated by a handful of scholars, to being a major area of research. Esotericism outside the geographical and linguistic centre of Europe, however, still remains an understudied area. Olav Hammer’s and Henrik Bogdan’s paper “On the Current Status of Research into Western Esotericism in Scandinavia” surveyed the existing literature on esotericism in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and pointed out some of the main lacunae in the field. One reason for the scarcity of research has to do with the concentration of research activities on a few historical currents and the almost complete neglect of others. Another reason is the fact that Scandinavian scholars have tended to publish their findings in local languages, making them virtually inaccessible to their colleagues in other countries.

Hammer and Bogdan, however, also presented two initiatives that will go a considerable way toward improving this situation.
  • On the one hand, they have taken the initiative to edit a volume that will present state-of-the-art research on all major currents in the four Scandinavian countries, historically spanning from the late 16th century up to the present day.

  • On the other hand, researchers involved in the study of Western esotericism will become more aware of each others’ work and will be able to network more efficiently, thanks to a Scandinavian affiliate of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, the Scandinavian Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism (SNASWE).

Olav Hammer’s closing address noted that the study of esotericism over the last three decades has unearthed a mass of historical data, but that scholars have with few exceptions been much more reticent to place these data in broader theoretical frameworks. Even the nature and identity of the very label ‘esotericism’ is far from settled. As this young field matures, the study of esotericism will no doubt continue to grapple with these and other truly fundamental theoretical issues.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Jubilee Symposium of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

While riding his bike over the Amsterdam canals in the autumn of 1957, 16-year old Joost R. Ritman conceived the idea of founding a library devoted to the Hermetic tradition. Fifty years later, on October 26, 2007, the now famous Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica celebrated its 50-year jubilee with a splendid exhibition, Jacob Boehme’s Way into the World, preceded by a two-day conference for invited guests.

There was indeed much cause for celebration, for not only did the BPH survive a serious crisis during the 1990s when the invaluable collection of incunabula and other early prints risked being put up for auction, but it has emerged from those difficult years more strongly than ever before. The library staff was expanded, many new exhibition and research/publishing projects were initiated, and perhaps most spectacular of all, the BPH’s founder recently acquired one of the most famous monumental buildings from the 17th century Dutch Golden Age: the “Huis met de Hoofden” (House with the Heads), located on one of the Amsterdam canals, which will become the library’s future home.

The Huis met de Hoofden (image, right, courtesy of carries special significance for the BPH both historically and symbolically. In 1634 it was acquired by the Dutch merchant Louis de Geer, whose collection of books on heterodox religious traditions showed many similarities with the present collection of the BPH. In the same house, de Geer offered hospitality to Jan Amos Comenius, whose beliefs and aspirations of spiritual reform strongly resonate with those that inspired the present library’s founder. It was therefore appropriate that the participants in the BPH’s Jubilee Symposium were received on this historical spot.

Speakers at the symposium were:

  • Roelof van den Broek (Professor emeritus, University of Utrecht)
  • Antoine Faivre (EPHE, Paris)
  • Katya Genieva (Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow)
  • Carlos Gilly (Senior Researcher, Ritman Institute)
  • Frans A. Janssen (former director of the BPH)
  • Jean-Pierre Mahé (EPHE, Paris)
  • Johannes van Oort (University of Nijmegen)
  • Esther Oosterwijk-Ritman (Director/librarian of the BPH)
  • A.W. Rosenberg (Librarian Ets Haim/Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam)
  • Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann (Freie Universität, Berlin)
  • The BPH’s founder Joost R. Ritman (honorary speaker).

The symposium was followed by the official opening of the exhibition on Jacob Boehme, with a presentation of the first copy of the exhibition catalogue to the Dutch minister of Education, Culture & Science, R.H.A. Plasterk. This catalogue is in fact much more than a catalogue: it is also an important collection of scholarly essays on the history of the transmission of Böhme’s work and the crucial role that was played in this regard by the Dutch Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland.

The exhibition – including a unique collection of Böhme manuscripts – is open to visitors, and is warmly recommended to members of the ESSWE. Further information can be found at the BPH’s website.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff

Jacob Böhme’s Way into the World

Just published in connection with the Jubilee Symposium of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica:

Jacob Böhmes Weg in die Welt: Zur Geschichte der Handschriftensammlung, Übersetzungen und Editionen von Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland (Jacob Böhme’s Way into the World: On the History of the Manuscript Collection, Translations, and Editions of Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland). Edited by Theodor Harmsen and published by In de Pelikaan, Amsterdam.

Apart from the extensive documentary part, the volume contains fourteen articles, most of which are of considerable scholarly interest.

Translated into English, they are as follows:
  • Joost R. Ritman, "The Vision of Jacob Böhme"
  • Carlos Gilly, "On the History and Transmission of Jacob Böhme’s manuscripts"
  • Gerhard Wehr, "Jacob Böhme, Life and Work"
  • Carlos Gilly, "Ways of Transmission of Jacob Böhme’s writings in Germany and the Netherlands"
  • Carlos Gilly, "On the Emergence and Influence of Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland’s Manuscript Collection"
  • Frank van Lamoen, "With the Eyes of the Spirit: Backgrounds to the Translations of Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland"
  • Govert Snoek, "Abraham van Beyerland’s Library according to his Widow’s Inventory"
  • José Bouman & Frank van Lamoen, "Beyerland’s Manuscripts owned by Willem Gozewijn Huygens"
  • Frans A. Janssen, "The First Edition of Böhme’s Collected Works 1682"
  • Frank van Lamoen, "The Unknown Illustrator: Michael Andreae"
  • José Bouman & Frans A. Janssen, "Mercurius Teutonicus in Amsterdam"
  • Carlos Gilly, "On the History of Abraham van Franckenberg’s Böhme Biographies"
  • Günther Bonheim, "Johann Wilhelm Überfeld and the Community of the Angelic Brethren and Sisters"
  • Matthias Wenzel, "The Fate of the Linz Böhme Archive from 1941 to the Present"

Wouter J. Hanegraaff

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Brill launches new Journal of Religion in Europe

The academic publisher Brill (Leiden, The Netherlands) is launching a new journal that responds to the recent development in the study of religion and culture in Europe. From 2008 onwards, the Journal of Religion in Europe (JRE) will publish articles, book reviews, and thematic issues that address historical and contemporary issues related to religion in Europe from various disciplinary perspectives. For scholars of western esotericism, this will create a forum of interesting exchange of thoughts and interpretations. For instance, the question "what is 'western' in 'western esotericism'" is directly linked to problems of definition of 'Europe.'

The JRE, which will consist of three issues per year, has the following scope:

“The peer-reviewed Journal of Religion in Europe (JRE) provides a forum for multi-disciplinary research into the complex dynamics of religious discourses and practices in Europe, both historically and contemporary. The Journal’s underlying idea is that religion in Europe is characterized by a variety of pluralisms. There is a pluralism of religious communities that actively engage with one another; there exists a pluralism of societal systems, such as nation, law, politics, economy, science, and art, all of them interacting with religious systems; finally, in a pluralism of scholarly discourses religious studies, legal studies, history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and psychology are addressing the religious dynamics involved.
The JRE encourages new kinds of publications that respond to the changing European dimension of social and cultural studies.”

As Editors-in-Chief are serving Prof. Dr. Hans G. Kippenberg, University of Erfurt, Germany (, and Dr. Kocku von Stuckrad, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands ( Reviews Editor is Prof. Dr. Olav Hammer, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark ( The Editorial Board consists of distinguished scholars from various disciplines, including Mark Sedgwick and Lawrence Principe, two well-known scholars in the study of esotericism.

For details see the Journal's website at

To submit an article for the Journal of Religion in Europe, please send your paper as a Word file per email to the Editors-in-Chief or to Ms. Regine Reincke, Acquisitions Editor Social Sciences and Religious Studies at Brill’s ( For guidelines on submitting an article to the JRE, please contact the Editors-in-Chief or see the Journal's website.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

ESSWE membership heavily concentrated

November 2007 membership statistics, just released, show that the ESSWE membership is heavily concentrated in the Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

In November 2007, the ESSWE had 217 members, of whom 52 (24%) were resident outside Europe (29 in the USA, and 23 elsewhere).

More than 5o% of the members resident in Europe came from just two countries: the Netherlands (44) and the United Kingdom (42). Adding three further countries (Germany, France, and Denmark) accounts for 80% of the European members. 12 other countries, with between 1 and 5 members each, made up only 20% of the membership.

Blog opened

The access rules have been changed so that anyone can read this blog.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Esotericism in Jewish Thought

New book:

Moshe Halbertal, Concealment and Revelation: Esotericism in Jewish Thought and its Philosophical Implications. Trans. Jackie Feldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

The Introduction may be downloaded from the publisher's website.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Announcing a forthcoming offline edition of the ESSWE Newsletter

For archival purposes and for the sake of those members of the ESSWE who have not registered for this blog, an offline PDF Newsletter will be published in 2008, containing an edited selection of the most noteworthy articles that have been published here, on the online version of the Newsletter.

Change to submission procedures

For reasons of efficiency, submission procedures have been changed. In future, members of the ESSWE should submit announcements and articles directly to the editor, Mark Sedgwick. Members of the board of ESSWE may still make posts to this blog directly for announcements of events, books, etc.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Grail legends

I am moving here a discussion which started under a request for Feedback on this blog (not the right place--please, everyone, comments should relate to the original post. If you want to start a new topic, email the text to someone on the board so they can start a new post).

Nil wrote on September 28, 2007:

I should like to ask for views on whether we can regard the grail legends as esoteric? They seems to me to fall within Faivre's definitions. I'm thinking chiefly of the Mabinogien collection of Welsh stories and the many attendant mythic histories of Arthur of Britain. The grail procession itself may indicate practical magic and certainly the whole corpus comes under the order of signs...

IFAstudent responded on October 7, 2007:

With reference to Nil’s question, I am also interested in how the Grail legends could be classified. It would be useful to keep in mind not only their classic formulations, but also their development by modern writers, some of who are particularly sensitive to their dialectic of concealment and revelation, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series, Deepak Chopra in The Return of Merlin, Stephen Lawhead in the Warlords of Nin, and thinkers in the modern esoteric tradition who have appropriated them, such as Katherine Maltwood’s work on Glastonbury and Dion Fortune's Society of the Inner Light.

The legends embody the notion of the coexistence of concealment and revelation, central to much esoteric thought[by the way Moshe Halbertal has just brought out what promises to be a fascinating book with that title in relation to esotericism in Jewish thought]The physical vessel becomes a hierophany for something beyond itself. The vessel also enables an initiation into possibilities of existence in the person who beholds or holds it which would otherwise have remained concealed. Again, the opening into something present but concealed. The Grail quest also operates at two levels-the basic level of a physical journey and the deeper level of an initiatory quest, where the events on the journey become symbolic doors that prepare one for perceiving the ultimate mystery. Perhaps this effort at characterising their esoteric character is rather general but could serve as a starting point. I am developing a blog at which compares the use of Arthurian lore by Maltwood with a similar cosmographic effort in Africa which uses a different inspirational source.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Student networks

As well as this blog, two discussion groups or ‘virtual hangouts’ have been created this year that are relevant to our field, on the website
  • One is a group for students and former students of the MA Mysticism and Western Esotericism in Amsterdam (Western Esotericism MA).
  • The other, playfully called The Grand Lodge, is for scholars of Western Esotericism more generally, excluding university teachers and professors (for reasons of social ease and liberty of speech).

Both groups are accessible through facebook friends.

Those interested in joining one of the groups must have or create a facebook account. Then they can send a friend request to someone who is already a member, such as Ward (Eduard) ten Houten or myself, including a brief message stating they would like to join the particular group. You can find us in the facebook search engine under our full names.

Joyce Pijnenburg

Monday, October 1, 2007


Giovanna Costantini posted a comment to an earlier post which included the sentence

As an Art Historian, I would be interested in identifying others within my discipline working internationally on subjects related to esotericism and in a sub-affiliation/listserv of such scholars.
Would any others be interested? In Art history or in any other discipline/sub-field of the study of Western esotericism? Please reply by comment to this post.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Welcome! Please leave feedback

I was glad to see that three members had signed up for the blog before I'd even finished sending out the invitations.

When you've had a look at the blog, please leave any feedback as a comment to this post.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Caucasian Esotericism

As someone currently researching esotericism in the Caucasus I often wonder where Western esotericism is supposed to 'end.' That esotericism in the Caucasus exists needs little proof. Just take the Armenian Hermetic texts or the Georgian neo-Platonic school founded at the Gelati monastery in the 11th/12th century by Ioan Petritsi.

Contemporary examples of Caucasian esotericists are Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Orthodox-Christian Anthroposophist who was also Georgia's first post-Communist president, and Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev,the Chechen nationalist who turned to Traditionalism and the neo-Eurasianism of Aleksandr Dugin. These two examples especially arefairly unproblematic, since both men openly adopted and adapted esoteric currents with clear Western-European backgrounds. They are simply examples of Western esotericism imported to the Caucasus.

Petritsi's neo-Platonism is already much more difficult to judge -- if only because of the language barrier. Petritsi was a student at Psellus' academy before returning to Georgia. His translation of Proclus was a landmark in Georgian literary culture and gave rise towhat is called the Georgian Renaissance.

How should the Georgian neo-Platonic school be treated? As a priori part of Western esotericism? And why? Because it is Christian? Because it is neo-Platonic? Or perhaps for some other reason? (NB: Interestingly, Zviad Gamsakhurdia drew his inspiration not only from Steiner, but also from Petritsi.)

Ward ten Houten
[Posted by Kocku von Stuckrad for Ward ten Houten]

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sentimental thoughts on Tuebingen

I remember very well how in the first half of the 1990s, Antoine Faivre and I were talking about the necessity of getting Western esotericism recognized as a field of research, and of the absence at the time of all those things that belong to an established field, such as academic chairs, teaching programs, peer-reviewed journals, monograph series, scholarly organizations on a national and international level, interdisciplinary exchange with other disciplines, and so on and so forth. At the time, there was nothing, or almost nothing.

That was no more than 15 years ago. And now I suddenly found myself standing on a podium in Tuebingen looking at a crowded lecture room full of scholars, including many students and ph.d. students, from many countries, who all shared a real, serious and enthusiastic commitment to Western esotericism as a field of research, and for all or whom (at least, so I imagine) the question of its academic legitimacy is no longer an issue on which to waste one's time.

This is how far we have come in so short a period of time.

The presence of so many young people - students who had taken the trouble to travel all the way to an academic conference like this - was particularly inspiring: it means that Western esotericism is no longer a pursuit dominated by a relatively small circle of "usual suspects" belonging to the older and middle generations (although it was obviously fantastic that almost of them were there as well), but that it has taken root among those who will take the field into the future.

In short, it was a historical event indeed: the moment, as far as I'm concerned, when Western esotericism has definitively "come of age".

Wouter Hanegraaff

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sufis, Kabbalists and Christian Philosophers in Medieval Spain

The New York Open Center announces a conference entitled "An Esoteric Quest for The Golden Age of Andalusia: Sufis, Kabbalists and Christian Philosophers in Medieval Spain," to be held in Granada, Spain, September 15th to 20th, 2007.

Call for articles

The ESSWE Newsletter calls for short articles (500-2,000 words) on any topic relating to Western Esotericism.

All topics to Western Esotericism will be considered. Articles may, for example, discuss individuals, groups or practices, or address theoretical issues. They may also present work in progress, or summarize conclusions that will later be published in full elsewhere.

Authors are advised to look at the excellent articles published in the ISIM Review, a review of contemporary Islamic studies which pioneered this format. Articles from the ISIM Review are available on the ISIM website.

Review and comments
Editorial changes for style and clarity may be suggested before publication, but no formal peer-review will be carried out. Instead, other members of ESSWE will be invited to comment on articles published on this blog, so long as comments are constructive, relevant, and courteous.

Authors may either contact the editor in advance, or send unsolicited work. Authors must be full or student members of ESSWE, and should provide information concerning their institutional affiliation when submitting articles or enquiries.

  • Articles should include abstracts of no more than 80 words.
  • Titles should be short. Subtitles are not used.
  • Paragraphs should also be short. There should be several subheadings, usually one every three or four paragraphs.
  • Articles should be submitted either in Microsoft Word or as HTML text, with as little formatting as possible, save for italics for foreign words.
  • Bullet points may be used, sparingly.

Scandinavian network

A new network has come into being within ESSWE: SNASWE, the Scandinavian Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism.

SNASWE was launched at a recent conference held in Turku, Finland. Its purpose is to bring together Scandinavian scholars interested in Western Esotericism and non-Scandinavian scholars interested in esotericism in Scandinavia, to share relevant information, and to assist applications for funding within Scanadinavia. It will soon launch either a ListServ or a blog similar to this one.

All members of ESSWE are invited to join SNASWE if they wish: please contact the co-ordinator of SNASWE, Henrik Bogdan of Goteborg.

All those who wish to join SNASWE and are not members of ESSWE will be requested to join ESSWE first.

The board of ESSWE is enthusiastic about SNASWE, which might be the first of a number of other such networks--for Central and Eastern Europe, for example, or for PhD students.

Using this blog

Reading the blog
The blog is open to all to read.

Commenting on posts
All members of the ESSWE can comment on posts.

Making new posts
All members of the board of ESSWE may make posts to this blog for announcements of events, books, etc. Members of the ESSWE should submit announcements and articles to the editor, Mark Sedgwick.

Appropriate and inappropriate posts and comments
  • Announcements of conferences and books are normally made on the main ESSWE website. They may also be made on this blog if desired.
  • Short articles are especially encouraged, usually of about 1,000 words in length. Members might, for example, describe the nature and preliminary results of a current research project.
  • Discussions on any topic related to the objectives of the ESSWE are encouraged, so long as the tone is polite. Comments that are off-topic or impolite will be removed by the editor.
  • Questions concerning sources, information and so on are generally encouraged.


Postings and comments may be made in any language known to at least one member of the board. The use of English is encouraged in order to maximize the number of readers. The use of a spellchecker is also encouraged!