Monday, December 22, 2008

Holy Inspiration: Religion and spirituality in modern art

World religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, are the subject of sometimes fierce debate at all levels of the global community. Religion is accordingly once more at the centre of public discussion. The exhibition Holy Inspiration. Religion and spirituality in modern art reflects this situation, with outstanding works from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum by Mondrian, Malevich, Chagall, Schnabel, Rothko, Bacon, Gilbert & George, Mike Kelley and Marlene Dumas among others.

Stedelijk Museum in De Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 13 December 2008 - 19 April 2009, daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Thursday to 10 pm.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Conference at Leiden University

Following on from the appointment of Professor Malcolm Davies to the Chair for the Study of Freemasonry at the University of Leiden, a large international conference has been planned. 17 researchers from various fields connected with European and American universities will be discussing ‘The Expression of Freemasonry: its ritual, oratory, poetry, music, literature, art and architecture’.


Freemasonry blog

The OVN newsletter has now become a blog. See (or for the Dutch version).

Monday, September 29, 2008

Swedenborg symposium

Announcing a Swedenborg symposium at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden, Monday through Wednesday, June 7–9, 2010: "Emanuel Swedenborg–Exploring a “World memory”: Context, Content, Contribution."

In 2006 UNESCO designated Emanuel Swedenborg’s (1688–1772) archive to be preserved as part of their “World Memory” program. In the following year the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences started the project of producing a modern catalogue of the Swedenborg archive, in digital and bound formats. The Swedenborg Symposium in 2010 will celebrate the completion of this catalogue project.

The three-day Symposium will explore:

  • The 18th Century Swedish and European contexts of Swedenborg’s writings
  • The contents and form of his texts: scientific, philosophical, religious and linguistic aspects.
  • The contribution of his thoughts: cultural and religious.

Call for Papers: original contributions investigating some aspect of the themes listed above are invited for oral presentation at the Symposium. Deadline for abstracts (approx. 250 words) is January 31, 2009. Abstracts should be sent to

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New discussion group on Facebook

With the aim of promoting the study of Hermetism, Western Esotericism, and related currents, Iván Elvira has created a new discussion group on Facebook, called Studia Hermetica like the website

If you want to participate, you have to create a Facebook account, and send Iván Elvira a message with your request. The languages of this new discussion group are Spanish, English and French. The discussion group is aimed at students and enthusiasts of Hermetism and Esoteric thought. The questions that will be dealt with are wide, and nothing will be avoided. People who profess a Hermetic or Esoteric belief are welcome, but are warned that "Studia Hermetica" is an academic discussion group. Bibliographical references and a correct way of expression are obligatory.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ESSWE PhD Thesis Prize

Nominations are invited for the first biennial ESSWE PhD Thesis prize, awarded by the board of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism. The prize will be given for an outstanding European PhD thesis completed between 1 January 2007 and 1 March 2009 on any aspect of Western Esotericism (broadly conceived). The thesis may be European in the sense of having been submitted at a university in Europe, or in the sense of having been submitted by a European citizen at a university anywhere in the world. The thesis must have been approved formally by the nominee's thesis committee, but the degree need not have been formally awarded.

The prizewinner will be notified in May 2009 and will receive an award of €500 and a certificate, to be presented at the ESSWE conference in Strasbourg, 2-4 July 2009. The thesis will also be recommended for publication in the ARIES Book Series, though the final decision on publication will be taken by the ARIES Book Series editorial board, not the Prize Committee. If it deems that no thesis reaches an appropriate standard, the Prize Committee will not award a prize.

Nominations must be made by electronic mail to the Chair of the Prize Committee, Mark Sedgwick (Aarhus University, Denmark, by 1 March 2009. The nominator must be a faculty member at the institution that awards the nominee’s PhD degree, or a member of the nominee’s thesis committee. Each nominator may make only one nomination. The applications should consist of pdf files of the following material:
  1. A letter of nomination
  2. The nominee's thesis
  3. A separate summary of the thesis, written by the nominee, of no more than ten pages (double spaced)
  4. A brief biographical sketch of the nominee
  5. Documentation to show that the thesis has been approved
Items 1, 3 and 4 must be in English. Item 2 may be in any one of the following languages: English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish. Item 5 may be in any language, so long as a translation into English is provided if it is not in English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish.

The Prize Committee consists of:
  • Mark Sedgwick, Aarhus (Chair)
  • Andreas Kilcher, Zurich
  • Jean-Pierre Brach, Paris

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Mysteries and Philosophy of Antiquity

International scholars, writers and artists will gather on Samothrace for the seventh in the New York Open Centerʼs series of conferences on the Western Esoteric Tradition. Entitled "The Mysteries and Philosophy of Antiquity," the conference will take place between September 3rd-8th 2008. For a thousand years, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace was one of the most famous mystery centers of the ancient world, rivaling Delphi in stature and fame. The exploration of the roots of esoteric traditions will include plenary lectures, a variety of workshops and guided tours of sites of interest.

The conference will be followed by three optional journeys. Two will go to Turkey, the first to Istanbul and the second to Ephesus, Miletus and the Anatolian Coast. The other journey will visit Mystery Centers of Mainland Greece.

Featured lectures include:
  • Christopher Bamford: "The Samothracian Mysteries"
  • Scott Olsen: "Plato, the Mysteries, and the Golden Section"
  • Leonard George: "A Gift of Vision: Iamblichus and the Sanctification of the Senses"
  • Stanley Sfekas, Ph.D.: "Aristotle's Concept of God"

For information about all the lectures and registration visit

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sufism and Transnational Spirituality

PhD and Postdoc positions within research group on “Sufism and Transnational Spirituality,” Aarhus University

Applications are invited for one PhD position and one Postdoc position within a new research group on “Sufism and Transnational Spirituality” at Aarhus University, Denmark. Founded in 1928, Aarhus University is now the second largest university in Denmark, with approximately 35,000 students and a staff of about 9,000.

The research group has not yet received funding, and any appointment is therefore subject to funding being received. Successful applicants will be encouraged to develop an individual research project dealing with Sufism in both the West and the Muslim world (not just the West or just the Muslim world). The positions involve some teaching duties, but these are not onerous, and will start (subject to funding) in August 2009 or August 2010.

Applications are invited from any relevant disciplinary background, but candidates with a background in anthropology, Middle East/Islamic studies, or religious studies are especially encouraged to apply. Knowledge of Arabic or another appropriate language used in the Muslim world will be a distinct advantage. Knowledge of Danish is not required, and there are no restrictions concerning citizenship. Successful applicants will be expected to base themselves in Aarhus for the duration of their research, in either the Department of Anthropology and Ethnography or the Department of the Study of Religion. Residence and employment permits will be arranged by the university if necessary. Remuneration will be in accordance with the appropriate Danish Universities scale, and fieldwork expenses will be covered.

Applicants should email by August 22, 2008 a covering letter of no more than two pages describing in outline a possible research project, a full CV, and up to one writing sample, to Dr Nils Bubandt, Department of Anthropology and Ethnography, University of Aarhus, 8270 Hojbjerg, Denmark. Up to three letters of recommendation may also be submitted, but given the short time available before the deadline, such letters are not required. Any enquiries may be sent in advance of application to either Dr Bubandt ( or Dr Mark Sedgwick (

Sunday, July 6, 2008

American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Kathryn LaFevers Evans, Independent Scholar

During March 2008, in Portland Oregon, I participated in two Sessions on esoteric subjects at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), an interdisciplinary meeting of eighteenth-century scholars.

The first of the two esoteric sessions, “The Use of the Supernatural,” included a paper by Kris Pangburn, recent doctoral recipient at UCLA, “The Science of the Supernatural: Late Enlightenment Vitalism and the ‘True’ Appearance of Johann Karl Woetzel’s Wife after her Death.” This dealt with Woetzel’s difficulties as a scholar of the supernatural within the Academy of his time. That marginalization demanded a good portion of Pangburn’s scholarship in our time as well, which he utilized as an argument for parity in the current Academy. Pangburn captivated the audience when reporting the satirical rebuttals written in response to Woetzel’s proof of his wife’s supernatural presence after her death, describing how Enlightenment authors had rebutted Woetzel’s claim with such satirical stories as, “The True Appearance of my Poodle after Death.”

During questions, Pangburn answered that there is support for esoteric studies at UCLA, through his doctoral advisor Peter H. Reill and the UCLA Center for Seventeenth- & Eighteenth-Century Studies.

The other presenters had equally impressive impacts. I will mention Bruno Forment’s (USC) paper, “Qual oracol tremendo! Operatic Responses to the Supernatural in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Berlin,” was presented in no less than five languages: his native German, English, Latin, French, and Italian. Truly a Renaissance man in that regard, Bruno Forment demonstrated the depth of scholarship that esoteric studies requires.

UCLA professor Dr. Peter H. Reill commanded the greatest respect in a session on “Symbols and Signs: The World of the Occult in Early Modern Europe,” presenting a paper on the Hermeticism of Johann Salomo Semler. Reill explained that one purpose of Semler’s Hermetic chemistry was to produce “air gold,” specifying the belief that Hermetical science could not be taught publicly, instead requiring a certain type of person to practice a science that deals not with the corporeal but with the imperceptible; creates a universal solvent; and probes the depths of nature through personal involvement. Occult issues of the day included: toleration; nature and theology; invisible nature; God as Logos; God as Will; subtle matter and perceptible matter; primary matter throughout all matter; emerging outer form; and embryonic substances. Practitioners sought true toleration for their research into “private religion,” versus joining organized religion.

Daniel Lupton, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, broke the spell of high seriousness with his animated delivery of “Wine, Women and Satan: Occult Rhetoric in Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hell-Fire Club.” This clandestine organization parodied religion through their satirical descriptions of sex, violence, baby-eating, and anti-Catholic erotica as allegedly found in Tantrism, Kabbalah, Paganism, and Magic. Lupton proposed the idea that perhaps the Hell-Fire Club was not merely a parody of religion, but instead we might wonder if its participants were indeed occultists.

Following this, my own performative reading of “Rabelais, Boehme, Rosicrucians, and Sterne: Hexagrams and Military Hobby Horses” was well-received. I closed with a food-for-thought comment that scholars of esotericism are choosing to utilize the term “esoteric” in Academia, rather than “supernatural” or “occult,” in part because of the negative connotations those terms have accrued in past Academic paradigms. Current scholars of esotericism strive for balance between subjectivity and objectivity, considering satirical constructs such as the true apparition of the poodle after death, Dashwood’s Hell-Fire Club, and Sterne’s Demoniacs for what they are—the esoteric satire of learned wit, a subject of serious study.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Crowley in Paris

Just time to visit if you are in Paris: the paintings of Aleister Crowley!

Until June 29 at the Palais de Tokyo, as part of the general exhibition "Traces du sacré" at the Centre Pompidou until August 11.

Aleister Crowley settled at Cefalù (Sicily) in the 1920s. There he founded the Abbey of Thelema, the site of social experiments and research into the field of the occult. The series of paintings exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo was discovered a few years ago in a nearby village. Some of them of course conjure up the “Abbey”, or its wider context. The series makes explicit the importance of the image and symbol in the occult field. Recent study of the series demonstrates its connection to the Thoth Tarot cards, a form of the game devised by Crowley 20 years later (1938-1942).

Between oneiric visions, psychotropic hallucinations and the utopia of a primitive paradise, the whole of his work has influenced the counter-culture and pop music to an equal extent. The discovery of these paintings provides an opportunity to question the complexity of this heritage.

Alternative Expressions of the Numinous

The Esoteric Studies Research and Teaching Group
in conjunction with the
School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the
University of Queensland

presents the

3rd annual
Alternative Expressions of the Numinous Conference

Friday 15 – Sunday 17 August 2008, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus, Brisbane, Australia

Keynote Speakers

  • Doug Ezzy – ‘Religion as the Etiquette of Relationships’
  • Nevill Drury – ‘Black Magic, White Magic and the Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton’

Abstracts (250 words, by Monday 30 June 2008) are invited for, but not limited to, the following strands:

  • Esotericism
  • Mysticism
  • Alternative expressions of major religions
  • Religions of re-enchantment
  • Popular culture religions
  • Indigenous religions
  • Paganism and Neo-Paganism
  • New Religious Movements
  • Personalised religion
  • Alternative methodologies

Papers are also invited for a session to run in Second Life, to be run in parallel with the real life sessions.

Conference Website:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Expression of Freemasonry

Call for Papers and Preliminary Conference Announcement

The Expression of Freemasonry:
Its ritual, oratory, poetry, music, literature, art and architecture

27-28 November 2008, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Proposals for papers before 11 July 2008 (details below) to:

For centuries freemasons have led a separate creative existence behind closed doors. The rituals, orations and poetry used in the lodge use words to express the society’s hopes, aspirations, philosophy and approach to religion and society. The music of the lodge includes songs and larger scale cantatas. Many lodges had an orchestra or at least and organist and a choir. Orchestral and piano pieces without words but incorporating Masonic symbolism have also been composed for lodge use. As well as musicians actors have always found a home in the lodge and some masonic plays even found their way onto the public stage as did some operas. These songs, poems, musical works and dramas range from the amusing to the serious, from the occasional to the esoteric, from bawdy to deeply religious.

Freemasonry and esoteric themes have been widely used by authors in the 19th century in Germany and elsewhere for literary works as well as in our own time in e.g. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Masonic and esoteric influences are also to be seen in the visual arts; for example paintings and theatre scenery. Freemasonry has exerted an important influence on architecture in general and in the design of lodge buildings in particular. A perhaps unexpected influence is to be seen in garden design where some gardens take the visitor on a journey past masonic or esoteric symbols.

All of these various aspects of Masonic culture need to be recorded and interpreted. And when this vast creative effort by members of a closed brotherhood is set in the wider context of the time, place and the society in which masons wrote and created it sheds light on the evolving place of freemasonry in society as a whole. This causes us to ask questions such as ‘did freemasonry influence social development directly or indirectly or was it itself led by the great upheavals of the Enlightenment, revolutions and wars that have beset the last centuries?’

The conference is organized by the Chair for the Study of Freemasonry as an Intellectual Current and a Socio-cultural Phenomenon at the Leiden University in the Netherlands. Speakers will be scholars and students from several academic disciplines. The conference has the support of The Order of Freemasons under the Grand East of The Netherlands, The Cultural Masonic Centre ‘Prince Frederik’ (CMC), The Foundation for the Advancement of Academic Research into the History of Freemasonry in The Netherlands (OVN), The Leiden Institute for the Study of Religions (LISOR), The Sub Department History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (Univ. of Amsterdam) and departments in other universities.

Call for papers and registration
A summary of potential papers is invited, not exceeding 400 words. Papers on the cultural heritage of movements similar or related to freemasonry including esoteric groups are also welcome. A short CV of 250 words or less must be added. The closing date for submissions is Friday 11 July, 2008. The Conference committee will inform speakers if their concept for a paper has been accepted by 1 August 2008.

The conference will take place in the Lipsius Building of the Leiden University in the Netherlands. The event will be accessible to all who are interested in attending, but due to a limited number of seats registration will be required. Registration fees will be announced shortly. For more information or preliminary registration, please contact the conference organizers at:

The conference will be preceded by the inaugural lecture of Professor Malcolm Davies, Chair for the Study of Freemasonry (as an Intellectual Current and a Socio-cultural European Phenomenon) at the University of Leiden on 25 November 2008. Scholars who are considering attending both events may also be interested in visiting (at their own opportunity) the important major historical collections for the study of freemasonry and western esotericism in The Netherlands: the Cultural Masonic Centre ‘Prince Frederik’ (The library of the Dutch Grand Lodge) in The Hague and/or the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam. Seating at the inaugural lecture is limited. If you would be interested in attending the lecture please contact:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Conference Rapport: Western Esotericism at the 2008 CESNUR Conference

Kennet Granholm, University of Amsterdam

On April 16-19, 2008, a conference entitled “Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and the New Spirituality” was held at the London School of Economics.

The conference was arranged by CESNUR (Centre for Studies on New Religions) in cooperation with INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) and ISORECEA (International Study of Religion in Eastern and Central Europe Association), and signalled the twentieth anniversary of both CESNUR and INFORM. The conference was large, involving over 150 speakers (with some delivering more than one paper) and an even larger audience. The Centre for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam, was well represented, as werethe Nordic countries. This increased interest in Esotericism in the Nordic countries is also reflected in the 2007 founding of the Scandinavian Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism.

The prominence of esoteric subjects in the programme was a drastic change from the CESNUR/INFORM conference arranged in London in 2001.
  • Of the 46 sessions at the conference (including three plenary sessions, a film screening and a discussion with a survivor of the 1993 Branch Davidian-tragedy) twelve dealt with matters related to Western Esotericism. This included sessions on neopaganism, “New Age”, Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism in general.
  • The focus of the vast majority of the papers presented was on contemporary expressions of esoteric spirituality, interesting since the study of Western Esotericism has largely focused on historical manifestations of the phenomenon.
  • Many papers introduced social scientific theory and methodology to the existing historical perspectives.
  • The concept of Western Esotericism, as well as related theory and methodology, elicited substantial discussion.

The sessions with Esoteric subject matters were:

  • From Witchcraft to Wicca
  • 20 Years of Pagan Movements and Studies – 1
  • Western Esotericism and New Religiosity – 1
  • 20 Years of Pagan Movements and Studies – 2
  • Western Esotericism and New Religiosity – 2
  • 20 Years of Studies on Pagan and Entheogenic Movements
  • 20 Years of Studies on Western Esotericism
  • From Ancient Wisdom and Freemasonry to New Age
  • 20 Years of Studies on Aleister Crowley
  • 20 Years of Theosophical Studies
  • 20 Years of Studies on the New Age and Spiritual Communities
  • If Not New Age, Then What?

Although esoteric subject matter was the theme in over a fourth of the sessions, this was perhaps not fully acknowledged by the conference organizers. During the last plenary session, which had as its aim to conclude draw together central themes discussed, Esotericism was barely mentioned. None of the speakers chosen for the plenary panel were researchers with a specific interest in Western Esotericism. Although Western Esotericism has become an acknowledged discipline in its own right, and is increasingly popular amongst young scholars, it seems that there is still a long way to go before the discipline attains the official scholarly status of issues such as religion and law or religion and conflict.

Those interested in knowing more can visit the homepage of CESNUR, where a large number of the papers presented are published in the cyberproceedings of the conference.

New Religiosity; If Not New Age, Then What?

Kennet Granholm, University of Amsterdam

A report on three sessions at CESNUR 2008....

Two sessions on “Western Esotericism and New Religiosity” at CESNUR 2008 included papers dealing with everything from contemporary Satanism to terrorism with New Age undertones in Chechnya.

  • A reccurring theme was the critical assessment of different theories and perspectives on Western Esotericism, something included to some extent in almost all of the papers.
  • Of particular interest were
    • Openings for Power-Oriented Conceptualizations of Western Esotericism” by Nina Kokkinen (doctoral student, University of Turku, Finland). This drew on critical studies of religion where the understanding of religion as a demarcated social institution is strongly criticized, and endeavoured to employ similar mechanisms in conceptualizations of Western Esotericism. In short, Kokkinen suggested that Esotericism should not be construed as a strictly separated domain, but rather a human undertaking which has close connections to material, political and social dimensions of human life.
    • “New Age Terrorists from Chechnya and Anthroposophist Presidents from Georgia: How ‘Western’ is Western Esotericism?” by Eduard ten Houten’s (University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands). This discussed the important issue of what “Western” means in conceptualizations of Western Esotericism. This is a question which too frequently remains overlooked, with the focus most often being on the second word of the concept, Esotericism.
    • Other interesting papers were
      • Gordan Djurdjevic (University of British Columbia, Canada), "The mage Aleister Crowley and his Thelema as a postmodern religion."
      • Fredrik Gregorius (University of Lund, Sweden), "The reawakened interest in 'tradition' as a legitimating tool in esoteric new religious movements."
      • Thomas Karlsson (University of Stockholm, Sweden), "The political implications of the worldview of the Rune-Gild."
      • Jesper Aagaard Petersen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), "Contemporary Satanism and the interplay between the secular and the esoteric."

In a session on “If Not New Age, Then What?” George D. Chryssides (University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom), Steven Sutcliffe (Edinburgh Divinity School, United Kingdom), Liselotte Frisk (Dalarna University, Sweden) and I discussed the “to be or not to be” of the New Age concept.

  • Whereas Chryssides defended the continuing use of the term, the rest of the speakers were more critical.
  • In my own opinion, New Age is in essence a “non-category” which brings with it far more problems than it has any chance of ever resolving. One of the central problems with New Age is that scholars have been generally unsuccessful in defining it in any satisfactory manner. This, in turn, has often resulted in the creation of cumbersome and all too inclusive lists of “Wittgensteinian family resemblances,” through which basically anything could be defined as being New Age. My suggestion for solving the problem is to forgo the term and concept altogether and instead shift the focus to the mass-popularization of esoteric discourse and themes. This shift of perspective to processes of religious change would provide many benefits, not least of which would be the discarding of the necessity to posit the coming into being of a “new” form of spirituality in the West.
  • One of the points in Steven Sutcliffe’s presentation was the critique of extensive, essentially normative, categories. For example, he discussed the problematic categories of "World Religions," and illustrated how they are the result of power relations where certain forms of religiosity are valued more highly than others. In addition, large categories such as these tend to have the effect of downplaying differences between phenomena while at the same time overstressing similarities (and at times even inventing non-existent similarities). Instead of being consumed by the allure of constructing categories we should focus on specific religious phenomena.
With the massive amount of papers on esoteric subject presented at the conference, it is impossible to provide even brief accounts of everything that was discussed. The above therefore focusses on three sessions that I convened.

      Thursday, May 8, 2008

      Esoteric Migrations into the American Comparative Literature Association

      Kathryn LaFevers Evans, Independent Scholar, Chickasaw Nation

      Esotericism has migrated—by invitation—from its erstwhile subterranean literary haunts into mainstream Comparative Literature, manifesting front-stage-and-center in two seminars at the ACLA 2008 Annual Meeting “Arrivals and Departures,” Long Beach, California.

      This well-established international conference took place last year in Puebla, Mexico, where an intriguing professor from UNAM in Mexico City, Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington, organized a Seminar entitled, “Magia y Literatura.”

      The 2007 bilingual Seminar was devoured by attendees with an intellectual thirst for esoteric scholarship. Great interest was expressed amongst our Hispanic colleagues for continued dialogue, but from my own experience at least, channels of communication are inoperative. Undaunted, Carrington reports that, likewise this year, his “Magic Lands” seminar was well-received.

      My own presentation on the role of the esoteric intellectual took place within the “Prophetic Migrations” seminar, organized by Walid A. El-Khachab of York University and co-chaired by Frank Runcie of Université de Montréal. The dynamic of this seminar, also bilingual, was propelled by the participants having read each other’s papers beforehand. Constructive comments after each presentation were focused, and helpful in formulating future presentations on esotericism. Again from an experiential perspective, the Seminar organizers and participants embodied a level of erudite presence that facilitated the exchange of scholarship on esoteric topics from Islam’s Prophet the figure, to a practicing Sufi’s architectural exploration entitled “Bridges and Channels: The Travels of Prophets,” to the suggestion, by a Religious Studies émigré into Comp Lit, of a “‘traveling theory’ continuum” as framework for understanding ideas associated with prophetic migrations, migrants, message and messenger. Of particular resonance with my paper, Mathieu E. Courville spoke of “increasing the existential charge” of knowledge through “initiato or transmission” and of “taking ideas that pre-exist us and using them to further free us,” to “take the resources and begin again from the ground level,” rather than settle for Religion’s normative model. Another presenter envisioned the Middle Eastern cosmology as the world of symbols and images—intermediary between East and West.

      Thursday, April 3, 2008

      ESSWE at the EASR--Calls

      ESSWE has no conference in 2008. Instead, ESSWE is organizing two panels for the 2008 conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (which will be held in Brno, Czech Republic from 7 to 11 September 2008).

      Two calls for papers have been prepared for two panels:

      Click on either link above for the Call for the panel in question.

      Proposals for papers should be emailed to Osvald Vasicek, accompanied by a short personal description of the author with academic affiliation etc. Deadline for proposal submission is 24 April 2008.

      Saturday, March 29, 2008

      2nd ESSWE conference--Call for Papers

      2nd International Conference of the

      European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE)
      Strasbourg, Thursday 2-Saturday 4 July, 2009

      Maison interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme-Alsace

      Capitals of European esotericism and transcultural dialogue

      International Conference organized by the University of Strasbourg (Equipe d’accueil d’Etudes germaniques, EA 1341/UDS) and the Maison interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme-Alsace (MISHA) in partnership with the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE).

      During recent decades, the role and impact of esoteric currents within western culture has elicited a growing number of scholarly works. This study brings into play a complex pattern of intellectual discourses and historical phenomena, in close relationship not merely with political and religious spheres, but also with different fields of knowledge and their processes of elaboration.

      In 1998, an international conference on the theme “Mystics, Mysticism and Modernity” was organized by the Marc Bloch University of Strasbourg with the aim of studying the impact of esoteric currents on the construction of modernity in society, art and literature at the start of the twentieth century. Following on this research into the connections between esotericism and culture, the present conference aims to make a lasting contribution to the writing of a “different” cultural history, integrating a detailed analysis of the part that esoteric currents have played in the building, development and interactions of national and of cross-national identities.

      Esotericism and Spatiality
      Scholarship in the field of esotericism has hitherto often been dominated by a “monographic” bias, a tendency to privilege the study of individual authors or specific currents considered particularly relevant to a given context or period, and therefore stressing the chronological dimension of the topic. Without forsaking historical methods, the conference on “Capitals of European Esotericism and transcultural dialogue” proposes a somewhat different approach, underlining the importance of geographical and intellectual patterns, networks, interactions and exchanges, with the purpose of illustrating the relevance of the “spatial” dimension of culture.

      The goal of this conference is, thus, to contribute to the delineation of a landscape of Western esoteric currents by sketching a transhistorical map of their places of emergence and their main centers of diffusion. Following the inaugural conference of the ESSWE held in Tübingen in July 2007 and devoted to “The Construction of Tradition”, it has been decided to dedicate the conference in Strasbourg–itself an important “capital of European esotericism”–to the complementary themes of locality and spatiality.

      The concept of “Capitals of European esotericism” finds support–inter alia–in research integrating the “spatial turn” in cultural sciences and history, as well as in geocritical approaches to the study of discourse, more particularly envisaged in their spatio-cultural rooting. The birth and development of a plurality of Western esoteric currents will accordingly be considered as essentially linked to certain privileged loci, where a number of diverse traditions, influences and activities have converged and crystallized, for complex historical and cultural reasons which it will be our task to investigate.

      Focus-point: the city as a crucible of cultural identity for European esoteric currents.
      The various threads of Western esotericism have evolved from and around a number of intellectual centers linked, on the one hand, to local and/or national cultures and, on the other hand, also subject to cultural transfers and exchanges involving elements belonging to foreign horizons, notably oriental ones. Urban communities have been shown to play a major part in these processes of cultural interaction. Certain capitals or cities have acted–sometimes over prolonged periods of time–as diffusion centers for specific currents or disciplines, such as alchemy or Freemasonry (for example, Venice, Avignon, and Marseilles ). Of particular relevance in this perspective is the case of “border-towns”, bearing the stamp of a dual culture or acting as intercultural foyers, which appear for these reasons to qualify even better as places of emergence of such currents (for example, Trieste, Strasburg, Prague, and Cordoba).

      Interest may also focus on the common trajectories of economic centers and high places of esoteric thought and activity, and on their social imbrications, as well as on the related topic of patronage which, simultaneously attracting and stabilizing persons and activities in certain spots, nonetheless stimulates the circulation of people and ideas between them (the Medici in Florence, Gonzague in Mantua, Rudolf II in Prague, etc). In the same way, major printing and publishing centers (such as P. Perna’s office in Basel, the Beringos Brothers in Lyon, Diederichs in Munich), or the intellectual exchanges between rival cultural poles (such as Venice and Florence at the turn of the sixteenth century), also deserve attention.

      The study of such cultural phenomena may be conducted at different levels:

      • On a regional or national scale, emphasizing the many links existing between local cultures, prevailing political conditions, and the historical development of esoteric currents.

      • On a cross-cultural and supranational scale, taking into consideration the successive phases of the process of globalization of esotericism, notably relations between East and West.

      Another important issue is the literary activity fostered by these “capitals of European esotericism” throughout history, whether they have specifically given rise to a body of literature directly influenced by esoteric speculations and/or practices, or whether they are themselves the object of mythical/literary representation(s) in works of fiction dealing with, or influenced by, esotericism.

      Contributors to the conference are invited to use various scholarly methods and approaches from different disciplines: cultural history, art history, history of ideas and of Western esotericism, investigation of the socio-economic conditions of the production of fictional and literary works, etc.

      Examples of themes on which contributions will be welcome

      • Mapping of Western Esotericism: identification of greater or lesser urban cultural centers linked with one or more specific currents of European esotericism: “masonic capitals”, centers for the diffusion of theosophical doctrines and writings (such as Amsterdam, Berleburg, London, Dornach), etc.

      • Economic and cultural exchanges, esoteric currents and the city: investigation of the interactions between commercial, intellectual, artistic and publishing activities as linked to the presence, development and productions of European esotericism (Lyon, Venice, Berlin, Florence, Paris). Some attention should also be given to the role and operation of esoteric periodicals or journals per se, as well as-more generally-to the presence of esoteric themes or events in cultural media.

      • Capitals of European esotericism and multi-cultural dialogue: Western esotericism and the reception of oriental literature and traditions (New York, Paris, Cairo, London).

      • Esotericism, fictional imagination and the City: artistic and literary works which display an intimate connection between esoteric themes and the (fictional or real) depiction of a given (or imaginary) city (such as Prague in G. Meyrink’s The Golem, or London in A. Machen’s The Three Impostors).

      Approaches combining several of these themes and/or perspectives are of course welcome.

      It should also be kept in mind that “Western esotericism” is by no means construed as limited to Christianity, but includes esoteric speculations and practices belonging to other religious cultures (such as Jewish Kabbalah and Neo-Sufism), whose complex (often long-standing and influential) interactions with Christian culture make them an integral part of “European esotericism”.

      • Working languages: French, German & English.

      • Conference Committee: Jean-Pierre Brach (Ecole pratique des Hautes-Etudes, Vème section, Paris, vice-president of ESSWE), Sylvain Briens (UDS), Aurélie Choné (UDS), Christine Maillard (UDS).

      • Conference Chairman: Christine Maillard

      • Proposals (title and short abstract) should be send to Christine Maillard,, with your name, academic position, and titles of major publications.

      • Submission deadline : June 15th, 2008.

      Monday, March 24, 2008

      Conference: Alternative Expressions of the Numinous

      The Esoteric Studies Research and Teaching Group in conjunction with the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland presents the 3rd Annual Alternative Expressions of the Numinous Conference. Friday 15–Sunday 17 August 2008, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus, Brisbane, Australia.

      Abstracts (250 words, by Monday 30 June 2008) are invited for, but not limited to, the following strands:

      • Esotericism
      • Mysticism
      • Alternative expressions of major religions
      • Religions of re-enchantment
      • Popular culture religions
      • Indigenous religions
      • Paganism and Neo-Paganism
      • New Religious Movements
      • Personalised religion
      • Alternative methodologies

      New MA at the University of Kent

      New MA in the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination at the University of Kent

      The study of contemporary astrology and the interpretation of astrological symbolism form a central part of this MA programme which involves taught and research elements, including four modules, a learning journal and a dissertation. It may be taken full-time (1 year) or part-time/modular (2+years).

      Core modules on Thursdays, optionals Wednesdays or Fridays. Modules are:
      • Interpreting the Heavens: theories and methods (core)
      • The Imaginal Cosmos: interpreting symbolic texts & images (core)
      • Cosmology and the Arts (optional)
      • The Intelligible Cosmos (optional)
      • Nature, Culture and Religion (optional)

      Themes include Egypt & alchemy, I Ching & Chinese philosophy, Renaissance astrology & magic, literature, art, music & cosmos, enchantment, tarot and the divinatory narrative.

      For further information, contact Dr Angela Voss (director).

      Tuesday, January 29, 2008

      Dutch Masonic and Esoteric Archives

      By Andréa Kroon

      The OVN, a Dutch foundation for the advancement of academic research into the history of freemasonry in the Netherlands, has published a guide to Masonic archives and documents in public collections in the Netherlands, Archiefwijzer maçonnieke archieven. Overzicht van historische archieven van Nederlandse vrijmetselaarsorden in openbare collecties, Den Haag 2007. ISBN 978-90-807778-4-2, 114 pages, 1st edition free while stocks last (stocks now exhausted); 2nd edition available March 2008, € 10,- excl. postage fees.

      The presentation of this guide took place in the National Library at The Hague on Friday 25th January 2008. The presentation was accompanied by an afternoon of lectures on the theme ‘Geheime kennis. The bijzondere archieven en bibliotheken van maconnieke en esoterische organisaties’ (‘Secret knowledge: the unique archives and libraries of Masonic and esoteric organizations’).
      • Prof. Dr Ton van de Sande spoke about the history of the most important collection for the study of freemasonry: the historical archives, library and object collection of the Orde van Vrijmetselaren onder het Grootoosten der Nederlanden (Order of Freemasons under the Grand East of the Netherlands), located in the Cultureel Maçonniek Centrum ‘Prins Frederic’ in The Hague. The archive consists of the archives of the Grand Lodge from 1756 onwards, and the added archives of c. 50 lodges under its jurisdiction. The core of the library is the famous Kloss library, formed by George Burckhardt Kloss, a physician with a passion for the history of freemasonry. The Kloss Library was bought and donated to the order by former Grand Master Prince Frederik in the 19th century. The original collection was lost during the Second World War, but reformed and expanded through the efforts of curator Beitj Croiset van Uchelen after 1945. It is now one of the most important collections for the study of freemasonry in the world.
      • Prof. Dr Wouter Hanegraaff discussed the history and contents of the Bibliotheca Philosophioca Hermetica in Amsterdam. This private collection was formed in 1957 by Joost Ritman, whose interest in Hermetic philosophy and related subjects stems from his personal beliefs as a member of a Rosicrucian organization. The collection has been open to the public since 1984. In 1993 the collection was recognized as important national heritage under the Dutch Law for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and in 2005 the core collection was acquired by the State. It is now one of the most important collections for the study of western esotericism in the world. The library is expanding its academic and research activities, and will be relocating to the ‘Huis met the Hoofden’, a 17th century monumental building in the heart of Amsterdam.
      • Drs Elly Verzaal, academic consultant for the collection on Esoteric Sciences of the National Library in The Hague, spoke about this collection. Although it is not yet widely known, it is of importance to students of western esotericism for its diversity. It contains pamphlets, written manuscripts and printed works on topics ranging from witchcraft, divination and superstition to 19th century occultism and current academic research on western esotericism. Especially relevant for those interested in the history of spiritism or spiritualism, for instance, is the subcollection on parapsychology, which contains the Zorab archive. A small but important collection on freemasonry was acquired from the legacy of Beitj Croiset van Uchelen, former curator of the Cultureel Maçonniek Centrum. The collection on Theosophy was formed in cooperation with the Library of the Theosophical Society in Amsterdam.
      • Drs Andréa Kroon, chairwoman on the OVN Foundation, discussed the results of the archive project which resulted in the publication of the Archiefwijzer. In 2006, the OVN approached all public archives in the Netherlands with a questionnaire. Based on the data received and on additional research, the OVN counted 57 relevant collections, containing the complete archives of 22 Dutch lodges and hundreds of documents from individual freemasons (both men and women), dated from the 18th to the 20th century. The Archiefwijzer also lists contact addresses of relevant private archives, specialized libraries and academic organizations, a total of 75 organizations. Thanks to the support of several cultural funds, the whole first edition can be distributed amongst students and scholars free of charge.

      Drs Kroon also made a strong plea for stocktaking of the remaining archives of esoteric organizations in private ownership on a national level. Many (small) esoteric organizations find their historical collections a burden rather than a blessing. They are frequently contacted by students and scholars, as well as their own members, with requests for access to their archives. Although most organization wish to allow such access, they are forced to refuse because they lack the means, experience and personnel to accommodate visitors. Lack of storage space, conservation issues, lack of professional heritage-management skills, a lack of manpower and funds are some of the most frequently encountered problems. Donating an archive to a municipal archive can seem an ideal solution, but archives can then remain inaccessible for several years, as they await inventorying. And as the OVN project showed, there is so little knowledge of esoteric currents in the archive sector that simply identifying documents is a problem, let alone advising scholars.

      This is why the OVN aims to coordinate a new project, aimed at preservation and accessibility of esoteric archives. Two mixed Masonic orders and one spiritualist organization in the Netherlands have already agreed to actively participate. Other Dutch esoteric organizations who wish to join in are welcomed. But the problem is one of a national, if not international scale. This is why cooperation between academic, heritage and esoteric organizations is necessary, if we want to ensure the preservation of esoteric archives, libraries and object collections for future generations.

      Orders and more information: OVN, PO Box 92004, 1090 AA Amsterdam, the Netherlands,