Western Esotericism Work
As I mentioned in my previous post, I finished my independent study paper for Western Esotericism on Sunday. I got that turned in via e-mail on Sunday evening. This paper was summarizing a definition of “Western Esotericism” based on some of the current scholarship. It largely focused on the work of Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff.
Amusingly (or not), the day after I turned in my paper, I ran into a criticism of Faivre’s model on the Society for the Academic Study of Magic e-mail list. One of the fellows there who is a professor on the east coast and who has written a scholastic treatment of Agrippa discussed the problems that he had with Faivre’s definition. He did acknowledge that large numbers of people use it (and he even discussed it in a chapter of his book) but he finds it very problematic. He gave me pointers to some alternative work. (I was wondering “Where the fuck were you last week before I turned in my paper?!?” but that’s how it goes).
One of the works that he suggested was Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge by Kocku Von Stuckrad. Stuckrad offers an alternative methodology for examining esotericism. The funny thing is that I had this book in my Amazon.co.uk basket for purchase for the last month. I hadn’t bought it because it was yet another book on esotericism and I had plenty already. It had been recommended to my vaguely once but was it really worth purchasing a $40, 250 page book and shipping it from England? Apparently, the answer is “yes.” Luckily, Amazon.com in the U.S. has it now so I was able to order it locally. I was also pointed to an article that Stuckrad wrote in the journal, Religion, this last fall. Through my graduate school’s online library access, I was able to get a PDF file of this so I’ve downloaded it for reading.
I was also point towards Catherine Bell’s work on ritual and some work, drawing from drama, on interpreting ritual as performance, which seems promising.
I’ve been considering of moving away from my previous idea of examining post-Golden Dawn religious groups in the 20th century for my thesis and simply picking one or more of the Golden Dawn rituals and doing some sort of analysis of them. The question is whether I have much to say. I would do the Neophyte ritual since I have an unpublished original manuscript copy of a ritual booklet for the Neophyte ritual from Whare Ra but the Neophyte ritual seems to be the one ritual from the Golden Dawn that has been examined a bit. I’d be better off examining a different one. I may really need to track down those Allan Bennett and Fuller texts from the Ransom Center in Austin in order to do those since that would give me primary source material without intervening editing (besides the above authors who copied them directly).
I’ve also considered some sort of analysis of the original Golden Dawn’s training program (or even that of the A.’.A.’.) but I have no idea of a good methodology to use for doing so. It does seem like an analysis of the personal ritual work of practicing Western magicians hasn’t been done. People, when they rarely look at this material academically at all, seem to focus more on initiation rites. There is also the possibility of examining motifs or implicit theology in the Golden Dawn material with its esoteric focus on fall and redemption. There’s probably a few articles there if not a thesis or two.