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Its three main objectives are to promote the Academic Study of Western Esotericism by offering flexible and accessible study options via online learning, and courses designed to provide accurate information at entry-level. Secondly, to comprise a scholarly think-tank dedicated to developing an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to these topics, and thirdly, to explore the practical implications of esoteric models of thought for modern society in terms of their educational potential. The Demons in the Academy session was convened due to our perception that issues relating to methodology in the study of esotericism called for further dialogue. Integrated approaches have been long established in many other areas of the humanities and social sciences, from art and performance to ethnographic and behavioural perspectives. Thus the proscription of all but the most critical and rational methodologies necessarily fails to do justice to such a topic of study. Our premises and objectives are threefold: I. To open channels of dialogue between the academic and practitioner communities in the hope that it will be of mutual benefit. II. Currently the study of Western Esotericism is only available at the highest academic strata. We wish to make it available and accessible to individuals for whom it is a way of life, or an area which they wish to learn more about without being obliged to attain the highest academic levels. In addition we wish to work towards promoting its reintegrstion in the overall corpus of cultural and historical study in the educational mainstream. III. Given the multiple interconnections between the esoteric traditions and a number of disciplines, spanning both the arts and the sciences, it is our conviction that they can offer new paradigms and perspectivess from which to view multiple, societal, and other issues. Hence the need for interdisciplinary dialogue which we wish to facilitate.
DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY, AAR 2011
This document contains the majority of the papers presented at the Demons in the Academy session in November 2011, and accompanies the videos of that session. It may be freely distributed but copyright remains with the individual presenters and should be attributed at all times.
p. 3.........................................Abstracts and Biographical Notes p.10....................................... Prof. Lee Irwin: Methodology in Western Esotericism p. 12.......................................Dr Angela Voss: The Gnostic Scholar: Integrating Reason and Revelation p. 19.......................................Dr Jason Winslade: Alchemical Scholarship; Esotericism in Motion at the Festival Fire p. 25.......................................Sasha Chaitow: Esotericism in a Brave New World p. 37.......................................Samuel Garrard: The Limitations of Rationalist Epistemology, the use of Analogy and the Value of Revealed Knowledge p. 40.......................................Kirk Templeton: Towards an Imaginal Methodology in the study of Western Esotericism p. 43.......................................Peter Duchemin: Fountainheads: tapping visionary experience in an academic setting p. 46........................................Dr. Hereward Tilton: Enthusiasms Sacred and Profane: Phenomenology vs. Empiricism in the Study of Western Esotericism
DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY, AAR 2011
Abstracts and Speaker Bios
Amy Hale: I Am Not a Spooky Weirdo! The Contexts and Consequences of Methodology in Esoteric Studies
I am an Anthropologist specializing in contemporary Celtic cultures, with an emphasis on modern Cornwall and contemporary Esoteric culture and history. I received my PhD in 1998 from UCLA in Folklore and Mythology and my dissertation was on the intersections between various constructions of Celtic identity in Cornwall, both ethnic and spiritual. I have worked with the Cornish since 1994, and have also undertaken comparative research in Ireland, Wales, and the U.S. In terms of Western Esoteric Studies I have particular interests in the intersections between esoteric movements and intellectual history, identity politics, research methods and also in Pagan and esoteric spiritual tourism. My recent projects have focused on a study of the life and work of Surrealist artist Ithell Colquhoun where I seek to understand her position within the development of several different streams of British intellectual and spiritual culture in the mid to late 20th century.
The notion that the texts and artifacts of that which we call “Western Esotericism” can be empirically separated from the people who created them is deeply flawed. As with esoteric practices in the rest of the world, Western Esotericism is deeply connected to world views and bodies of practice that run the gamut from mainstream to resistant. Ethnographic methodologies integrate, in fact demand, subjectivity and reflexivity (though not necessarily insider status) of the researcher in order to produce valid results. Ethnographers also know that you can produce valid research regardless of your status as in insider or your beliefs. In short, to try to insist that every scholar of religion be a detached atheist is not only impossible, we miss out on good data if we do that. This is not to say that all “ways of knowing” are considered methodologically acceptable within academic frameworks, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them. So if we can demonstrate the use and validity of a range of well established subjective methods that are perfectly applicable to the study of Western Esotericism, what is the real issue here? This paper will address the history of the fear of academic engagement with practitioners of Western Esotericism, rooted in the construction of an inherent western rationalism, and which has some uncomfortable consequences for how we define “self” and “other” regarding esoteric practice. I will contrast this with the, also flawed, emerging discipline of Pagan Studies where the focus on establishing religious legitimacy also, ironically, excludes many practitioners of Western Esoteric traditions. In the end, both approaches actually serve to further marginalize Esoteric Studies.
DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY, AAR 2011
Hereward Tilton: Enthusiasms Sacred and Profane: Phenomenology vs. Empiricism in the Study of Western Esotericism.
I am a specialist in the history of esotericism in early modern Germany, having published work on early Rosicrucianism, alchemy, Paracelsianism and magic, most notably my book 'The Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier (1569-1622)'. I currently teach on the Western esoteric traditions at the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism at the University of Exeter; I have also taught courses in this field at the Center for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam and the Institute for Renaissance Intellectual History and Philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. My professional career began at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where I lectured on psychoanalysis, parapsychology and the history of mysticism.
This talk will examine the dominance of the empirical paradigm within the contemporary study of the history of Western esotericism with recourse to 1) its relation to associated post-modern critiques of the phenomenology of religion, 2) its more recent historical origins within the academic study of religion in the Netherlands, and 3) its broader historical situation within a Protestant antienthusiast tradition. Challenging the claim of empiricists to profess a methodological agnosticism, it will be argued that empiricism in the study of Western esotericism possesses an essentially partisan nature vis-à-vis the object of study which compromises its value as a tool for analysis. Looking beyond the history of ideas to consider esoteric forms of practice and modes of corporeal being, the purpose of this talk will be to seek out a methodological path beyond phenomenological essentialism on the one hand and the scientism and historicism of empirical method on the other.
Angela Voss: The Gnostic Scholar: Integrating Reason and Revelations
For the past ten years Angela has lectured in Religious Studies in the School of European Culture and Languages at the University of Kent, where she directed the MA in the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination, and is also a member of faculty at the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO). She is developing new collaborations while also teaching distance learning courses with Phoenix Rising Academy.
In this presentation I want to address the role of wisdom in learning and teaching. The author of the Platonic Epinomis asks the question “what is wisdom?” and concludes that it is impossible to define, but that “the soul has a confident trust, a prophetic divination, that she possesses such a native capacity, though what it is, when come by, or how, she can hardly discover.” Wisdom is not to be discovered through gaining knowledge of a particular art or science, or from a stance of detached, objective analysis. Wisdom implies experience, insight and a mysterious intuitive grasp of meaning. I will suggest that, in terms of Iain McGilchrist’s triumphant metaphor of brain hemispheres,
DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY, AAR 2011
wisdom is about a continual and fertile interplay between the observational and discriminatory skills of the left hemisphere and the capacity for symbolic—and religious—vision of the right. In terms of the study of esotericism, I want to draw attention away from the question of what is studied and how it is studied, to the researcher or teacher themselves and how, inevitably, their own degree of wisdom will be reflected in the approach they take to their studies. As Jeffrey Kripal has suggested, there are researchers who demonstrate an understanding of their subject which is “at once passionate and critical, personal and objective, religious and academic”. I will argue that this sacred marriage of rational clarity and passionate participation can inspire a truly transformative engagement—for both teachers and students—with texts and traditions which themselves arise from a deep sense of the spiritual necessity of unity between the divine and human aspects of the psyche. Jason Lawton Winslade: Alchemical Scholarship: Esotericism in Motion at the Festival Fire
Jason Lawton Winslade is scholar of occultism, popular culture, and performance, having received his PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. At DePaul University, he teaches courses on occultism, comic books, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as composition and rhetoric. He has published articles on Pagan festival culture, cult television, and comic books in various journals and anthologies. His most recent work includes a co-authored chapter on Alan Moore’s Promethea, featured in Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels from Continuum Press, as well as a chapter on fandom and pedagogy in Buffy in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching the Vampire Slayer, an anthology from McFarland Press. He is also on the faculty at Cherry Hill Seminary and Phoenix Rising. In his spare time, he is a musician and recurring member of the musical project, Faebotica, performing regularly on the festival circuit, and is a festival drummer.
The study of Western Esotericism often seems tethered to historical texts and accounts rather than the living practice of those who actually perform magic and engage in communal ritual and service. In this statement, I will address the issues of subjectivity and authenticity in performance theory and ethnography, concentrating on my recent work studying fire culture at Pagan and Thelemic festivals. Specifically, I will briefly outline associations commonly made between initiation and ethnography, and present instances of genuine insight that can occur from encounters around the fire and conversations with practitioners that engage with their spiritual beliefs in performative ways. Unlike ethnographies of specific magical groups, in which the ethnographer either initiates or remains outside the group, I would offer festival ethnography as a way to avoid specific insider/outsider dichotomies, since anyone can attend these festivals, where intense and intimate actions, within a magical context, can occur. I will examine the ways in which the field of Western Esotericism has rejected these paradigms and attempt to determine if we are speaking two different languages or if a bridge is possible. I will particularly address notions of “methodological atheism” that scholars of Esotericism have supported, comparing these to recent ethnographic approaches to festival culture, such as Lee Gilmore’s Theatre in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man. Ultimately, I wish to consider the question of whether we can engage the present and future of Western occultism and esotericism as a practice, rather than as
DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY, AAR 2011 5 www.phoenixrising.org.gr
and their ‘objects’ of study. the world – not just the classroom – are in need of new models and ideas. its sister organisations. tested. their new-found respectability and the increased availability of both academic and good quality mass market literature have burgeoned in response to a growing social need for alternatives to tried. When they are so inclined. commentary and translations – and thus far. need to leave their ivory towers and talk both to their more positivist colleagues. The field of Western Esotericism is a vast. Exeter. ritual and initiation. and the worldviews belonging to them. mind and consciousness. Her current area of study focuses on the French Occult Revival and French Symbolism in the 19 th century. it has to start with awareness and dialogue. and still largely unexplored domain. The significance of disinterested academic scholarship is self-evident. whether from the eye of the storm or the sidelines. moral and existential crisis that we are all experiencing. Sasha Chaitow: Esotericism in a Brave New World Sasha is currently conducting doctoral research in Western Esotericism and Myth Studies at the University of Essex. For something like this to be considered on a practical scale. We need valid documentation. and her MA thesis (awarded with distinction) focused on the alchemical emblems in Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens. the entrance of Western Esotericism into academe and the development of related disciplines such as Pagan Studies hold wider implications on a number of levels. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the modern rediscovery of these subjects. Her research interests include art and esotericism. and is an experienced speaker in both academic and public fora.a relic of the past.gr . whether in academia or popular culture.org.phoenixrising. and the chairs and scholars in these fields have achieved a monumental task and provided younger scholars with invaluable resources. are embedded models and ideas that we can learn from and which can offer practicable and pragmatic ways in which to counter the social. scholars in particular. Within the history of Western Esoteric currents.peladan. is far more than just some fad fuelled by Harry Potter and Dan Brown. The potential applications are infinite. However.phoenixrising. the Greek special-interest journals Avaton and Fainomena. and failed approaches to critical social questions. For more see: http://www.gr/en/academy/teachers/sasha-chaitow/ and www. AAR 2011 6 www. The popularity of these subjects.org. 2004). She holds an MA in Western Esotericism (EXESESO. disseminate and discuss these models and their potential applications. Sasha is the founding director of Phoenix Rising Academy of Esoteric Studies and Creative Arts. Scholars who have the privilege of understanding how these concepts work. 2008) and an MA in English Literature (Indianapolis-Athens. (London and Athens). She writes for academic journals. Practitioners need to root philosophical and enchanted ideals in modern reality. and Greek esoteric history. and now more then ever. have a duty to communicate. an independent academic institution for the promotion of the Academic Study of Western Esotericism and Art. from sustainable development to sustainable economies. the admirable efforts of scholarly societies such as ESSWE.org. It is DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY.
org. specialising in transcendentalism. and holds a BA (Hons) in English. the Self and the Metaphysics of Light in the Medieval Western. psychoanalysis and literary theory. The concept of imaginal knowledge was re-introduced into Western Academic discourse by Henry Corbin. Suhrawardi’s methodology integrated methods of reason (baḥth) with methods based upon direct intuitive apprehension (ta’alluh).phoenixrising. while of sufficiently wide scope. are nonetheless based upon sound noetic knowledge and practice ( ta’alluh). the Tarot. who derived it from the Hikmat al-Ishraq or Wisdom of Illumination of the great 12th century Persian philosopher Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī.D. This will in turn set the stage for the inevitable Kuhnian struggle of employing skilled and resolute rational discourse to shift the paradigm (ba ḥth). candidate in Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Samuel Garrard: The Limitations of Rationalist Epistemology. we need fruitful dialogue. A valuable first step in the development of imaginal methodologies is to investigate them at their source. AAR 2011 7 www. from there on. as well as that of the role of this area of study. Kirk Templeton: Towards an Imaginal Methodology in the study of Western Esotericism Kirk Templeton is a Ph. the Kabbalah. native American histories. must be constantly reexamined. and I will also attempt to propose potential ways of doing so. a center for contemporary Shamanism. the use of Analogy and the Value of Revealed Knowledge Samuel Garrard is studying for his MA in Western Esotericism from the University of Exeter . There are those mandated by the canons of the Western Academy and those mandated by the canons of the imaginal as such. Iran) in which the radical separation of the rational and noetic did not occur. and Hindu Tantric traditions. China. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. In this paper I will outline some of the main reasons for which we feel that both the methodological question. Kirk’s involvement with Western Esotericism goes back to the late 1960s when he was a member of a research consortium in Thelemic Magick and Computer Science at the Portola Institute in Palo Alto. the psychologisation of magic. Imaginal methodologies for the study of Western Esotericism must meet two sets of criteria. This approach is all the more appropriate given the profound formative influence of the Islamic Esoteric tradition upon the Western. Since that time he has served as core faculty at Transformative Arts Institute. a center for integral studies. Islamic. this suggests a program of first setting our own house in order by developing canons and protocols of legitimate imaginal practice which.gr .esotericism that can provide a common vocabulary and vision. and as Director of Wind Mountain Institute. This task will be facilitated by the increasing global prominence and influence of intellectual cultures (India. natural magic and witchcraft. His interests include psychoanalysis. His primary area of research is comparative studies involving Consciousness. This provided access to the ‘alam al-mithal or imaginal world (Corbin’s mundus imaginalis) in a process of hermeneutic (ta’wil) which was thus validated by For Western Esoteric Studies.
and is working on a Ph. Methodologically. on DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. But is it possible to practice esotericism while engaging in these researches? While sympathetic investigators may tap into the gnosis. Time. technology. an M. I will argue that knowledge that emphasises the value of relationship as opposed to isolated truth. imaginal psychology. I will consider the implications of symbolic and revealed forms of knowledge as valuesystems that support individuality and personal expression. the thinker must be absorbed into the magical life itself and cease. rather than social control and limited experience. especially as they bear upon the emergence of modernity.org.phoenixrising. Academically. In order to engage authentically.gr . and the Circus Arts". can have positive ethical implications for both the individual and society. from the level of embodied performances by professional artists to the the archetypal and mystical meanings of the symbols themselves. explored three performance figures: the Fool. I will explore the notion that Western science has vested sociological interests in emphasising materiality due to the support it gives to materialist culture and argue that many academic disciplines have managed to gain acceptance and support by aligning themselves with Eighteenth-century materialist paradigms and in doing so neglected more progressive epistemological approaches. magic shows. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Carleton University. His MA Thesis "The Enchanted Circus: Language. sociology. seeking to examine the full spectrum of these roles. and participated in ceremony. and philosophical realism. anthropology. and the means by which values are by influenced by the imagination. philosophical and spiritual exploration.Phil in Humanities from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Using various Neoplatonic portrayals of symbolic reality (such as Robert Fludd’s mnemonic illustrations). His current work extends this investigation further: into the mediating nature of enchantment understood in a broad sense. He advocates experience-based. and the Juggler. I will briefly describe the developments in science.H. circuses. Hon. I hope to highlight the socio-political concerns that inform the basic premises and principles underlying rationalist epistemology. Peter Duchemin: Fountainheads: tapping visionary experience in an academic setting Peter G. religious studies. and classics. operating in terms apart from literal comprehension. and assumes that we can understand esoteric discourses. and discourse analysis. His travels have taken him worldwide to sacred sites. from the mechanist philosophy to the work of modern cosmologists and neurologists who admit that the unstable semantic qualities of academic epistemology undermine the principles with which one attempts to understand nature. looking at how analogy is used as a tool to impart a wisdom. rigorously intuitive.In this paper I will consider possible reasons why academic value-systems cling on to Enlightenment ideals despite the progressive work of certain post-structuralist theorists who have highlighted the limitations and corruptibility of this approach. across philosophy. The academic approach to esotericism is grounded in history..D in Interdisciplinary Studies. the Magician. he holds a B. Duchemin combines physical practice.A. and shamanic rituals. Esoteric study is a balance between intellectual reflection and intuitive contemplation. it remains a dangerous sea to navigate. where he has traded magic.A Duchemin is engaged in questions of mediation. AAR 2011 8 www.
extending.some level. that both engages and produces discourses that can be assessed but not exhausted by analysis. et al. In the wake of this process there lies a residual awareness that sustains intuition as a primary epistemic source. that when engaged with energetically. to be a thinker. on the terrain opened up by Yates.gr . assists in developing. Gilles Deleuze. I will discuss visionary contemplation as an experimental field.org. Rossi. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. I will draw from Henri Bergson. and esotericists themselves. AAR 2011 9 www. Faivre.phoenixrising. & Michel Serres. but it IS possible for a thinker to be academically fruitful and draw on the intuitive roots of the esoteric experience itself: Formal rigor is re-engaged with intuition in the process of translation into discursive expression: The fountain of intuition flows through and over an architecture of criticism. My aim is to present a methodological blueprint for the critically engaged occultist. and supporting that flow.The temptation to divorce practice from analysis marks a divide between scholars OF esotericism.
Among these the most prevalent discipline was Religious Studies. commonly shared methodologies gave some emphasis to three approaches: historical development.org. A fundamental characteristic of esotericism is the attempt by practitioners to actualize and embody visionary worlds whose contents are subtle. Lee Irwin. however. primary textual analysis. and the impact of encounter on the mind and heart of the individual practitioner. the demand for authentic scholarship requires an epistemological engagement that moves from the literal and historical into the imaginal worlds of esotericism by recognizing a deeper symbolism beyond simple. A striking feature of the conference was the tendency of scholars to treat the subject matter with respect and appreciation while offering interpretive perspectives that pushed beyond any literal interpretation of contents.Methodology in Western Esoteric Studies © Prof. diagrams. The blunt fact of psychic or subtle claims. accurate representation. enactive paradigms – cannot be comprehended from a strictly “objectivist” position that would deny the ontological significance of both practice and theory among esotericists. we had over 50 presentations representing 13 different academic disciplines. AAR 2011 10 www. to the transrational nature of human discovery. and various forms of ritual practice. and its transformative. mature esotericists claim authentic engagement with being that is. its subtle psychism. Underlying this diversity of interests was a sophisticated use of theories that reflected transdisciplinary thinking and analysis. The participatory nature of esotericism . transformative and non- DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. for them. even among those in Religious Studies there was a wide range of methodological approaches. Elder Scholar Religious Studies Department College of Charleston At the last international meeting (May 2008) of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE). requires sophistication in symbolic thinking that preserves the integrity of the claim while simultaneously exploring the ramifications of symbolic processes reflective of broader fields of meaning. of magical practices or alchemical transformations.gr . and embedded in ontological claims that cannot be reduced to rational schemes and social or cultural contexts.phoenixrising. American scholars tended to be comparative and also to express great interest in non-verbal “texts” such as images.its gnostic and mystical depths. Because the area of study is relatively new in academia. Much like the enactive and participatory aspects of traditional religions. art. and various forms of symbolism. music. By “ontological significance” I refer to participatory being. Without doubt. elusive.
artistic. The interpretation of esoteric beliefs or practices is additive when it acknowledges a methodology that recognizes an open horizon in human potential. imaginal. and a compassionate desire for discovery that allows for significant growth in the scholar and practitioner alike. by scholars and practitioners alike.phoenixrising.be it verbal. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. and individual characteristics may influence such claims. deep appreciation of diversity as an expression of a profound mystery that is transrational. serious way of life by practitioners. and to offer models of interpretation that fully involve an often imaginal epistemology as embodied in a dedicate.gr . In walking the middle road. or fictive . creative inquiry.is reliance upon expressive media that seek to embody in some meaningful ways. AAR 2011 11 www. this transrational. and ontologically vast and complex. but the further deepening of human knowledge in the face of being – that is a task truly worthy of our full and complete dedication. it is imperative that we do not reduce the human potential to a false image of rationalism nor to an inflated sense of grandeur.org. what is required is respect. What is required. the more substantive goals of esotericism extend beyond the immediacy of historical circumstances to embrace a deeper human potential than what local context usually offers.reductive to local context or to a specific cultural psychology. Our work is a form of partnership and our goal is not simply the creation of an academic discipline. to respectfully and critically examine its transrational engagement with being. a sense of respect for differences. transformative encounter. is a sense of humility in the face of being. And practitioners should strive to overcome enclosure in a specific discourse that would deny the validity of comparative study or place their own practice as superior to the practices of others. If we hope to develop a fully robust field of scholarly inquiry. The scholarly goal should be to engage the full scope of esoteric claims. and a genuine. deep. And thus the heart of the symbolic nature of esoteric discourse . imaginal. locality. While context.
that “if what we learn does not change us then we have not really learned anything at all”. “the human as two is not just an ancient mystical doctrine. Kripal has also suggested that there is a particular kind of scholar or researcher who is able to achieve an ‘interpersonal communion’ with what they are studying. it can inspire both an informative and transformative engagement with texts and traditions which deserve such attention precisely because they themselves arise from a deep sense of the spiritual necessity for psychic unity. insight and a mysterious intuitive grasp of meaning. or how. but that “the soul has a confident trust. a prophetic divination. In terms of McGilchrist’s metaphor. reason and imagination.phoenixrising. AAR 2011 12 www. with one foot in the rational or empirical analysis of the outer objective form or historical context of their source material. I mean the scholar as an amphibian. when come by. The author of the Platonic Epinomis asks the question “what is wisdom?” and concludes that it is impossible to define. and also with Jeffrey Kripal . He argues that these two ways of knowing. wisdom is about a continual grounding of the factual. and how such a methodology may itself give rise to that indefinable quality. she can hardly discover. personal and objective.gr . are not mutually exclusive but vitally connected and inter-dependent. not in the regurgitation of dead concepts. observational and DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. resulting in a kind of knowing which is gnostic in the sense that it unites the soul of the researcher with a deeper ground of being encountered through the very process of studying. I would agree with the recent assertion by John Carey.The Gnostic Scholar: Integrating Reason and Revelation © Dr Angela Voss In this Phoenix Rising panel on ‘Demons in the Academy’ I want to address the question of how the academic study of esoteric traditions could benefit from an approach to teaching and researching which embodies an integrative methodology.” We would all agree that wisdom is not to be found through gaining knowledge of a particular art or science from a perspective of detached assimilation of information. wisdom. as has in fact been confirmed by Ian McGilchrist’s recent research into the right and left brain hemisphere functions. that she possesses such a native capacity. and that this kind of scholar can bring together the opposing qualities of head and heart. it is a universal neurological fact”. who has suggested that there are teachers and researchers of religious subjects who demonstrate an understanding which is “at once passionate and critical. I suggest that if this sacred marriage of rational clarity and revelatory insight can be achieved. By integrative. which we find rooted at the heart of Pythagorean and Platonic traditions. Wisdom implies hands-on experience. and the other in a passionate engagement with the meaning of that form and its capacity for inner transformation.org. It is sought in humility through encounter with living ideas. As Kripal states. though what it is. religious and academic”.
Other scholars of esotericism have also approached the question of sympathetic engagement. which has become disengaged from all imaginative or religious understanding. The soul thus embodies both the eternal unchanging. finds its roots in Plato’s Pythagorean creation myth in his Timaeus. a way of reading which goes back to Plato and could be said to constitute the very ‘initiatory’ function of esoteric philosophy. this metaphor has interesting resonances with McGilchrist’s assessment of the role of the right brain hemisphere as ‘master’ to the left’s ‘emissary’. and thirdly the imaginative participation in mythological narrative.org. sowing essences of the Ideas in the world as hidden baits or lures – its ‘occult properties’ . clarify and interpret the kind of revelatory insight which precedes all quantitative analysis.phoenixrising. and the human world of matter. he says. discloses its meanings. secondly the application of rational thinking through critical analysis. where they are understood to reveal a hidden truth but do not necessarily impinge on the reader’s own inner life. Tim Addey has shown how three stages of philosophical discourse are embodied in Plato’s dialogues: firstly.discriminatory skills of the left hemisphere in the essentially symbolic—and religious—vision of the right. AAR 2011 13 www. “One returns to the field of the imagination”. where texts and images are seen as purely historical or cultural objects of study. unified quality of divinity. Furthermore. With this observation he is affirming the power of the symbolic to awaken hidden or dormant powers of perception. Spiritual intelligence is then at the heart of the material world. the collection of information through sense perception. ‘esoterically’. And we must remember that by ‘reason’ we do not mean the kind of disembodied rationality of post-Enlightenment discourse. The distinction between human reason and divine revelation which was to become a chief theological concern of medieval Christianity. and the changeable. who has posited a threefold categorisation of ways in which esoteric material may be read: firstly ‘exoterically’. the soul substance itself is described as threefold. secondly ‘mesoterically’. being compounded of three different substances. “because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive”. time-bound nature of DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. Plato was said by his followers to have had three eyes which corresponded with these three types of vision. but a cognitive tool which is used to mediate. and forms it. “as its ruler and mistress”. and which were associated with three philosophers: Heracleitus . the ‘different’ and a mixture of both.which then continue to attract it. Socrates and Pythagoras – the most important point being that sense perception and reason were always in service to a more primordial and integrated faculty of knowledge which Plato calls the intuitive intellect. notably Arthur Versluis. Incidentally. and thirdly. Plotinus describes the anima mundi as continually mediating between the divine world of the immaterial Ideas. Now Versluis concludes that it is the imagination which allows the reader to connect the material studied with their own life and experience. Here we are told that the Demiurge creates the world soul or anima mundi prior to the physical world as its informing essence or vital principle. “as if” it were true. and allows the soul to be transformed. It is described as being inserted into the centre of the world and diffused throughout its body. the ‘same’.gr . where the scholar finds the material inspiring their own spiritual awakening in some way.
for it allows that which has the images to have knowledge of what it has experienced”. noetic function of the intuitive intellect by the reason which mediates between the two. I want to move now to the neoplatonically inspired Sufism of the medieval mystic Ibn Al ‘Arabi. AAR 2011 14 www. where sense perception. ready to be rescued from the underworld through the rebirth of the liberal arts. But for Plato this mediating function is not yet termed the imagination. In other words. this fundamental idea of two distinct modes of intelligence – the divine and the human . associated with the goddess Sophia in her various guises as Isis.phoenixrising. they have the possibility of accessing and cultivating either part. the imagination takes on a cognitive function and is not to be confused with the kind of fantastical images which originate from the unreliable realm of human opinion. “imagination has consciousness of what is external to it. where the idea of the soul having ‘two eyes’ is given great emphasis in the exaltation of the power of the creative. It is more like an influx of divine power into the soul which allows it to discard the shadows and illusions of everyday consciousness and apprehend the truth that lies behind them.org. and since this same soul also forms the animating force in human beings. According to Plotinus.as mirror images which need to be brought into a single focus. Plato then elaborates the two modes of existence into a complex epistemology in his Divided Line metaphor in the Republic. In this way the human being unites the opposing tendencies within him or herself through imagebased. visionary imagination to the status of divine revelation. The two eyes of Reason and Revelation are given distinct functions and capacities. like a lesser light merging into a greater”. but it is not associated with phantasia. In the medieval period. Platonic wisdom itself was characterised as the nymph Eurydice. It is only with the neoplatonist Plotinus that the word ‘imagination’ (phantasia) is given to that part of the rational soul which acts as an intermediary between the spiritual or noetic power of sacred texts and images and their sense-perceptible forms in the world. and must work together to DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. By the time of Marsilio Ficino in 15th century Florence. visionary revelations and oracles. Thus Plotinus’ ‘higher’ imagination could be seen metaphorically as the solar light of gnostic understanding reflected through the lunar rays and finding form in the arts. and the two imagining faculties do not stand apart. Plotinus uses the metaphor of two ‘imaginations’ – lower and higher . contemplative exercises which strengthen the connection between the intuitive intellect and the image making art of the soul. but that of the superior soul is dominant. His notion of divine frenzy certainly acknowledges artistic and poetic inspiration.gr . fantasy and opinion as human and unstable faculties are separated from the stable. Artemis or the Virgin Mary.was seen to be reflected cosmologically in the realms above and below the moon. in dreams. then a single image only is perceived. hence the moon became a powerful symbol for the mediating function of the soul and embodied a feminine wisdom. through a shattering of the veil between this world and the next. the less powerful being like a shadow on the other. The chief characteristic of this feminine wisdom is its role as a portal to spiritual knowledge through images which evoke deep intuitive resonances with the Divine Ideas deep within the soul. He says: “When the two souls are in harmony.divided existence.
The innate light is received from God by the soul immediately after it is born. In his Commentary on Plato’s Symposium. Ficino was concerned with synthesis and concordance between the two traditions. there is a great difference between a ‘participatory turn’ to a deeper level of consciousness and an ‘infra-subjective’ reduction of the transpersonal to the personal. Interestingly. The Islamic scholar Henry Corbin explains that the allying of philosophical study to inner spiritual experience is a way to achieve this harmonious relationship. brighter spark with which it is able to ‘see’ heavenly things also. But after a while. a period which McGilchrist sees as demonstrating a particularly harmonious interplay between brain hemispheres. The former is characterised by the gathering of ‘external’ facts and information. He deliberately chose the day of their conjunction in 1484 to publish his complete translations of Plato. it falls into the material world and loses sight of its divine origins. When we come to the Renaissance. which together constitute the intelligence of the soul. as the truthfulness or verity of the text or image is ‘revealed’ in accordance with the soul’s own level of consciousness or awareness. it deprives the earth of its divinity. and indeed he demonstrates this in his own writing. which in his astrological imagination were associated with the symbolism of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. innate and infused. whereas the latter concerns realisation. and presents an image of the two lights of the soul. If it neglects the divine light. in his Philebus Commentary Ficino refers to the right eye as the eye of divine wisdom. so the right eye is under the guidance of the left hemisphere of DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. As a Christian Platonist. Related to this dual vision. Ibn ‘Arabi distinguishes between second-hand and first-hand knowing.achieve optimum cognitive breadth and synthesis.gr . We now know that it is in fact the opposite brain hemispheres that control the eyes. we find Ficino speaking of the imperative of uniting the rational and revelatory modes of vision in his quest to marry philosophy and religion. which will happen if an exclusive attachment to either one takes hold. which divides and abstracts. thus effecting a ‘realisation’ of the symbolism in an earthly event. If the eye of reason. Conversely. he draws on both Plotinus’ idea of the two kinds of soul-vision and Thomas Aquinas on the distinction in Christian thought between reason and revelation. and the left as the eye of human knowledge. resulting in an inflated materialist rationality immune to the knowledge of the soul. if the eye of revelation is left to its own devices. it will lose the ability to discriminate and clarify between conditions of being and will tend to conflate the infinite into the finite in an unreflective solipsism characteristic of much ‘new age’ material. then it may exile the divine from the world and push it into total transcendence if not oblivion. the soul is able “to fly through the heavenly region”. or learning through tasting for oneself. AAR 2011 15 www. cuts itself off from the eye of myth and imagination. if it neglects the light of reason. each at its own task. Armed with both human and divine sight fused together. it receives another. He is here giving a literal physiological location for what in Plotinus and Ibn ‘Arabi remains pure metaphor. William Chittick has commented on the consequences of either eye over-reaching itself and gaining dominance. As Jorge Ferrer has observed. and it becomes “proper and natural to it”.phoenixrising.org. The perfect sage or enlightened man however can allow the two eyes to work together. enabling it to see itself and “things inferior to it”.
‘the world according to the right hemisphere’ of the brain. “Spiritual reality”. Furthermore. “is not ‘in the where’. He points out that “the divided nature of our reality has been a consistent observation since humanity has been sufficiently self-conscious to reflect upon it”. which was produced under the influence of the Platonic Academy in the 1480s. the ‘Master’. McGilchrist has shown that the dimension of experience we are calling ‘revelatory’ or ‘intellectual’ in the Platonic sense is in fact. through the form-giving imagination. but that their co-operation and cross-fertilisation are essential for healthy brain activity.” and as a “precise order of reality. because I believe that he has provided a ‘way in’ to the imperative of cooperation and interplay between the two modes through appealing to a model of tremendous authority. In his wide-ranging book. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. it is the rightful function of the right hemisphere to be primary. and starting with the results of medical research into hemisphere imbalance.rational thinking. to the perfect harmony of the three Graces on her right. I don’t have time today to discuss Ficino’s symbolism in detail. I hope it is now becoming clear why I would advocate the metaphor of the two eyes as helpful for the scholar or researcher of esotericism. according to a precise mode of perception” which is more coherent that the empirical world perceived by the senses.gr . he investigates the implications of what happens both in the individual and in societies when the two modes of cognition become disconnected and at odds with each other. Corbin describes this intermediary world as “a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect.org. imaginative aspect of the rational soul given form in the central figure of the Lunar goddess. This order of reality is primary .phoenixrising. and for the left hemisphere to act as emissary – Just as Plato describes the functions of the Divine Mind in relation to human reason. he says. giving rise to all that the human ‘eye of reason’ then seeks to understand. it is the ‘where’ that is in it”. but I will draw your attention to his neoplatonic scheme of the rational soul as mediatrix between the human and divine modes of understanding by reference to Botticelli’s painting Primavera. I would like to contextualise this metaphor more fully in McGilchrist’s work.enveloping and containing the external and visible world. In his exhaustive study of the functions of the two hemispheres and the expressions of these functions throughout Western culture. who is directing the circuit of spiritual energy from the human realm of sensuality on her left. rooted as it is in the physical dimension of empirical observation and experiment. Here we find the feminine. as they negotiate between the necessary historical contextualisation and philological analysis and the initiatory power of the texts and images they are studying. where spirit and matter meet in an alchemical union. but in the days before neurological research Ficino has grasped the same underlying principle. Botticelli is here depicting what Henry Corbin calls the mundus imaginalis or the visionary realm of the cognitive imagination. he has shown how the two cognitive modes in humans are autonomous. Finally. to be returned to the stars by the caduceus of Mercury. This imaginal world can be seen as the visible manifestation of the anima mundi. AAR 2011 16 www.
Here we find a physiological metaphor for the interpretation of the symbolic image or divinatory sign. In fact the right hemisphere’s mode of understanding IS primarily through symbol and metaphor.org. McGilchrist concludes that it is the function of the left hemisphere to unfold through explication the implicit understanding of the right. as receiver rather than initiator. and for the Mercurial act of returning meanings back to their origins in the divine minds of the cosmos. It is all too easy for us to see the effects of a purely left hemisphere approach to knowledge. and can always “find quite plausible. explanations for the evidence that does not fit is version of events”. constantly informing the world of the senses with insights from another order of reality altogether. for the right hemisphere mode resonates with the aims of esoteric teachings. In subjecting the intuitive understanding of the right hemisphere to the analysis of the left.gr . but bogus. intuitive understanding of this whole. which enables us to take things back from the world of the left hemisphere and make them live again in the right.” McGilchrist’s model confirms that of neoplatonic epistemology. now transformed by the process that it has undergone”. for it dominates our institutions and can result in both fundamentalist and scientistic tyranny. McGilchrist echoes Plotinus. It is in this way. that things are made truly new once again. and this is where we return to the role of initiation. suggests McGilchrist. detailed analytic understanding. to a new. It thus engenders a dynamic. he says there must be progress from “an intuitive apprehension of whatever it may be via a more formal process of enrichment through conscious. should be the basis of education. In the act of returning. that consciousness has a continual existence.phoenixrising. But for such a synthesis to occur. We see this all the time in relation to the esoteric and occult in our society. AAR 2011 17 www. As McGIlchrist wryly observes. Jung and the entire strand of Western esoteric theory and practice when he states “it is the faculty of imagination which comes into being between the two hemispheres. as he says. and if the left does not act in accordance with it. new insights and understandings come into being. it will tend to see all that the right stands for as intellectually deluded in some way. enhanced. in grounding it in a literal metaphor (if there can be such a thing) of scientific empiricism and causal mechanism then returning it to the wider perspective of historical and cultural conflicts and ideologies. “transforming itself as it travels upwards until it becomes high level awareness”. and this whole process. the left hemisphere has to be ‘awakened’ to the possibility of realms beyond its own limited boundaries. Only the right hemisphere is in touch with primary experience. unfolded vision can then be re-integrated with the ‘bigger picture’ of the right hemisphere. Corbin. mobile process of never-ending renewal and transformation.To cut a very long story short. he is himself forging a DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. the left hemisphere produces a rationality divorced from reason. In all creativity and in the development of a religious sense. Ficino. with their emphasis on metaphoric understanding. so that the clarified. So where does this leave our gnostic researcher? I would suggest that McGilchrist himself demonstrates the very qualities he is advocating and presents us with a model for the integrated mode of research I advocated at the beginning of this paper. not by meretricious novelty.
DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. Scholars of esotericism are presented with the opportunity of engaging directly with this vitality and transmitting it through academic forms.org.coniunctio between the two hemispheres through a brilliant engagement with the symbolic.phoenixrising. and I will conclude with the thought that in so doing they may be contributing to a redemption of the anima mundi that the world so urgently needs.gr . AAR 2011 18 www. I would argue that this is exactly what the best writing on esotericism also achieves: taking a standpoint in the awareness. it finds a language in which to contextualise and interpret the symbolic vision via rational discourse. understanding and above all presence of a transpersonal cognitive dimension. who laments that in the absence of such a two-way process. I will give the final word to Corbin. mere ‘theoretical models’ are transmitted and the intellectual vitality of the traditions is lost.
I concentrated on initiation rites and the language of magic as it involved both discourse theory and ritual performances. the early modernist scholars. But the fact remains that these are the conversations I engaged with and witnessed. and may not accurately represent the breadth of both fields. Hermetic philosophy. could easily be considered as a discourse that allows for the interweaving of magic and nature. one of which. the slightest hint of practice in the discussion was dismissed somewhat disparagingly. only) path to a spirituality that sacralizes nature.org. while what they study is anthropology. My dissertation fieldwork mostly took place at festivals and among groups I worked with in Chicago. Yet.Alchemical Scholarship: Esotericism in Motion at the Festival Fire © Dr Jason Winslade (I’m a Pagan Hermetic scholar interested in ritual performance. My original reaction was that Hermetic philosophy. both as an academic and as a magical practitioner/ritualist/performer. I was pleased to see that groups existed for both Western Esotericism and Pagan Studies. It was as if Pagan Studies scholars were ignoring the possibilities even within the magickal community. Kabbalah. What was cut from the dissertation involved those same kind of performances in popular media and occulture. including a particular group that brought together Gardnerian Wicca with Golden Dawn – style ritual. In my dissertative work.) When I first attended the AAR conference in 2006. AAR 2011 19 www. This was the home of the medievalist. Nowhere in these panels was there any mention of the fact that people today were actually doing this stuff. two areas that I was deeply invested in. I do understand that these impressions may be somewhat limited and reductive. the stage. along with a standard Eurocentric attitude that what Western Esotericism scholars study is history of religion. for instance. On the other hand. Pagan polytheism. and on the streets. featured an elaborately designed garden based on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and Hermetic planetary correspondences. especially when Pagan Studies was mentioned. I was even more taken aback by the Western Esotericism panels that focused exclusively on historical scholarship and textual exegesis. and Chinese medicine-influenced healing modalities and herbalism. The following are my impressions of how the fields of Pagan Studies and Western Esotericism were framed within the AAR conferences I attended. Further.gr .phoenixrising. The Pagan Studies panels only seemed to deal with magic peripherally. The Christian biases were blatantly on display. I saw this potential constantly in Chicago and the Midwestern festival sites. Enochian evocations. occulture and rhetoric (which includes performance theory and speech-act theory). somewhat uncritically valorizing Paganism as the best (and by implication. something that was left out of these discussions entirely. rather focusing on issues surrounding the intersection of nature religion and politics. in the temple. Even DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. I was immediately struck by the sharp divisions.
participatory. if not settled. This scholar further suggested that Pagan Studies. were completely ignored here. members of countless esoteric categories acted under a broad umbrella of magical practice and occulture. dynamic. Granted. AAR 2011 20 www. but in AAR itself – that they would not achieve group status if they didn’t shift their emphasis away from a scholar/practitioner approach. tensions and preconceived notions existed. contingency and ideology. as well as an attendee and participant at many Pagan or occulture-based festivals. as with any eclectic group of individuals. but for the most part. Second. where Pagans.phoenixrising. ritualized and celebrated together with little fanfare. or Thelemite. Elyse Pineau frames the discipline as one that “argu[es] that sensuous engagement and kinesthetic empathy between researchers and subjects can best illuminate the experiential complexities of human interaction. As a graduate of a PhD program in Performance Studies at Northwestern University. In the anthology Teaching Performance Studies. Needless to say. polytheist. Wiccans. This was true in my own group at the time. the Hermetic Order of Chicago. Ceremonials. At one of these panels. As a practitioner and member of several groups and social circles. whether as a Hermetic.gr . and danced alongside each other. the strict division between these groups did not reflect my reality on the ground in any way. without abandoning the participatory methodology of many of its scholars. Burners and Fire Tribe members. a consultation at the time. these strict divisions didn’t even reflect my academic reality. at least about the AAR.org.” Similarly.worse. precarious and embodied experience grounded in historical process. spiritual and religious belief. Santerians. and a sense that participation was key to understanding and critically addressing the experiential nature of practice and. Performance Studies itself has several threads – the more well known iteration of the field emerges from the productive but problematic partnership between anthropologist Victor Turner and theatre scholar and practitioner DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. the notion that some Pagan Studies scholars were actually practitioners was downright reprehensible. First. thoroughly vetted in anthropology and sociology. Further. would have to follow suit if they wanted legitimacy not only in the academy as a whole. I was constantly in situations where various magical practitioners of the Pagan and the Ceremonial variety mingled. even members of the Church of the Sub-Genius played. as Pagan Studies achieved group status a year later.” This sensuous engagement pervaded coursework and texts that dealt with ethnography in my program. discourses of hybridity. I had been immersed in interdisciplinarity. but also at festivals. Thelemites. Dwight Conquergood offers “the performance paradigm” as one that “privileges particular. the contemporary ceremonial magician. The classic insider/outsider debates that have been. Vodun initiates. one of the most prominent scholars in Western Esotericism made the case that scholars in his field had very judiciously practiced a kind of methodological atheism that allowed for their hard-won acceptance in the European rationalist academy and that any whiff of practice in the scholarship might be construed as apologia. drummed. My problems with both these academic niches were several. this assertion didn’t prove true. was left out of the equation altogether by both groups. in my case. intimate. the texture of a living moment.
living cultures. in outlining Performance Studies methodology. New York University’s Performance Studies.org. In his groundbreaking 1991 essay. AAR 2011 21 www. by noting the complicated ways in which the researcher and his subject meet and interact in a discursive field. “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics.gr . in his book The Occult Mind. And while Schechner and Turner’s work is seminal for performance studies scholars. Here. many in the discipline have thoroughly critiqued the Eurocentric and colonialist approaches in Schechner’s work. When I was in coursework in the mid-90s. postmodern and postcolonial discourses.” This approach could offer a way out of Lehrich’s dilemma. language. Researching Paganisms). where Schechner taught.” he asks questions that can be directly applied to the issues surrounding the study of magical practice. Performance Studies also encompasses a different track. and the performativity of text.phoenixrising. as [an] unfolding performative invention instead of a reified system. “What are the methodological implications of thinking about fieldwork as the collaborative performance of an enabling fiction between observer and observed.” a notion strongly associated with the natural philosophy at the heart of Renaissance occultism. so they might even agree with Lehrich. knower and known?” Inherent to these question are the ways that the performance paradigm shifts the emphasis from “the world as text. of course. “What are the conceptual consequences of thinking about culture . while Northwestern’s Performance Studies program. It is this incarnation of Performance Studies that esotericism scholar Christopher Lehrich. often within an avant-garde context. . DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. was more focused on ethnography. in debates about insider and outsider scholarship. It is this thread that often includes considerations of JL Austin’s performative theory of language and various versions of speech-act theory. However. and those that “radically defamiliarize” the object. in which clinging too strongly to either side of the participant/observer equation is equally problematic (such as the edited volume. it is that latter aspect of performance theory that he adapts in his analysis of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica. This dynamic has. under the auspices of the late Dwight Conquergood. Conquergood asks. Similarly. Dwight Conquergood emphasizes engagement with those being studied while maintaining a critical eye. been played out in Pagan Studies. First. quickly dismisses as naïve when he considers cross-cultural approaches to the study of ritual. and the body. to “the world as performance. so that the object itself is impenetrably other. when they explored connections between theatre and various rituals particular to the cultures that both scholars studied. reducing the object merely to context and construct. oddly enough by drawing an analogy with Japanese No theatre. approached performance as live art. Even though Chris Lehrich dismisses the performance studies approach to ritual. which ostensibly argues for the Monas as a performative text. arguing against analytical approaches that either “radically familiarize” the object of study. . particularly building on the work of Wallace Bacon and the study of Speech and Rhetoric that had its home at Northwestern University in the mid 20th century. structure. or variable?” and as a corollary.Richard Schechner. Lehrich critiques his colleagues in religious studies who eschew cross-cultural comparisons.
and learning.” My own study of ritual practice evolved from Pagan and esoteric initiation rites. without taking into consideration what the evaluative criteria of the performers themselves might be. and writing genres. and especially problematic for practitioners. My years of teaching composition and rhetoric have introduced me to the theory of the discourse community. But when critiquing the scholarship of Western Esotericism. I included analyses of historical discourse and ritual. the focus of my dissertation. Conquergood’s third question.What is produced cannot be fully self or fully other. These dancers use the body as a site for expression. In my dissertation. Magical Selves. she critiques performance theorists that “tend to secularize ritual and evaluate it as an act of artistry. a method of critical inquiry. “it is removed from its context in the embodied world of ritual praxis. where anyone who pays can attend DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. performance. Sarah Pike certainly emphasizes bodily knowing when she writes about celebrants at various Pagan festivals who dance around the fires in Earthly Bodies. As Sarah Pike has pointed out. in her study of Wiccan initiation rites from the position of a high priestess. these studies emphasize ritual as “disembodied text” rather than as a bodily. simply applying performance theory to research does not fulfill the potential of Conquergood’s paradigm.” the notion that the activities are somehow inauthentic. Esoteric language and rhetoric should also be addressed. some researchers studying contemporary magical practice are taking seriously the experiences of practitioners and critically addressing their own experiences while in ritual space. a mode of understanding?” reflects a growing emphasis on bodily knowledge in analyses of magical ritual and magical practitioners’ language and identity formations. Further. This avoids any tendency to simply impose what we as scholars consider valuable criteria. exploration. specifically because of an association with “play-acting. Theatrical metaphors are inadequate for the study of magickal ritual. makes claims. the problem of insider/outsider scholarship is largely a non-issue at festivals. At festivals. Ritual is not the only modality through which to critically frame magical practice and magical practitioners.gr . AAR 2011 22 www. and receives feedback through certain speech. “What kinds of knowledge are privileged or displaced when performed experience becomes a way of knowing. laments that when religious studies and folkloristics address ritual performance. Bado further suggests “it might be more productive to… examine the criteria by which a religious community determines the authenticity or inauthenticity of its religious performances.phoenixrising. Nikki Bado. conflict resolution. However. healing. Pike herself writes of her participation in the fire circle as a performance space where she awakens “sensual memories embedded in my body” (Earthly Bodies 189). what’s missing is not just the study of ritual. According to Bado. visceral experience that “feels real” to the participants. prayer or other discourse of faith” (8). such as can be found around festival fires. a moment of religious theater” (19). to other more diffuse and unstructured performances. As is suggested by the work of Susan Greenwood and others. a group that communicates. It is duly cleansed of any reference to the transformative power of magic.org. a researcher can observe and interact with discourse communities who enact these discourse genres daily (and nightly).
scantily clad and in makeup. Pagan Spirit Gathering.org. however. Even here. Participants are said to transform the lead of their lives into gold through their enactments at the fire. Babalon Rising. I interviewed several practitioners at the DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. Spinner and their compatriots borrows both from alchemy and popular selfactualization. the Rites of Spring festival. The circle is designed using alchemical symbolism (crucible. Some of these festivals have a more “pagan” bent. in favor of an identity as part of a Fire Tribe. embodied by a 34 year old active duty soldier. Sirius Rising. dance and ritualization. Sirius Rising. the importance of sacred touch. planetary track) and participants’ available roles are also defined through alchemical processes. this eclectic Fire Tribe takes on many forms. this man. vessel. The general bent of Babalon Rising is towards those interested in ceremonial magick and sacred sexuality. a synecdoche for the potential ideals of both the festival itself and the version of Thelema being practiced by individuals I encountered in my studies. and an initiate of the OTO. and esotericism in general. danced. AAR 2011 23 www. or Babalon Rising. sung and chanted throughout the night.and participate at whatever level he or she feels comfortable. Elf Fest.phoenixrising. It is here that I encountered the god Pan. among many others. represented an opportunity for both men and women to reclaim an edgier. to the degree that the triumphant sunrise the following morning. While some consistency exists among various festivals and fire circles. like Starwood. dance. but also a performative cipher. This is especially the case at the Babalon Rising festival in Indiana. At the festival. embodied not only the Pan of Aleister Crowley’s provocative lyrical poem. or work with the fire. more provocative sacred sexuality. In more loosely structured fires. I wrote of a growing subset of festivalgoers who eschew traditional religious labels. songs. and alchemy. Egyptian mythology. after participants have drummed. represents their gold. such as Pagan. enticing women and men to engage with him through dance and flirtatious game playing around the fire. My own attendance has been mostly at mid-western events. chants. creating talismans. Thelemic approaches to Tarot cards. ranging from discussions of polyamory. Fires Rising. Thelema. participants simply immerse themselves in ecstatic experience where the emphasis is on drumming and dancing. In my chapter on festivals in the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. so much that the workshops offered at the festival are along these two tracks. such as the daily ritual at these sites where participants shout Aleister Crowley’s Liber Resh at the rising sun. while others. one of the few festivals in the country dedicated to ceremonialists and followers of Thelema. with many of the attendees and organizers being OTO members. music. At events organized by stage magician Jeff McBride and his partner Abbi Spinner. using BDSM scenes as ritual. magic. particularly represented by performers who took on the role of Babalon and the Beast in the climactic ritual of the festival. The discourse created by McBride. For me. As part of an essay on festivals and sexuality. such as Starwood. where anyone can drum. emphasize a general occulture or counterculture aesthetic. such as Starwood.gr . and in the east. the fire circle is constructed and framed as an alchemical ritual in which participants work through various stages of the alchemical process in their own selfdirected performances with drumming. participants adapt some of the discourses of esotericism.
Further. knower and known. I could approach this embodiment of contemporary practices from several different disciplinary angles – through the lens of ethnography.gr .festival. AAR 2011 24 www. “when you’re doing the right thing. several years) and he was surprisingly articulate about what he does in terms of gender roles and sexuality in our culture. performance theory. and as an observer who would watch his interactions around the fire and note how women especially responded to instances in which their boundaries were pushed. came together and that his performances were expressions of his True Will. and everything else falls into place. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. culture. One participant. how various parts of his life. and several women who had portrayed Babalon. and in the practitioner’s terms. including his OTO initiation. discourse. Not everyone imitates or even understands or acknowledges what the man embodying Pan is doing at the festival. or else the field risks becoming irrelevant and ghettoized. As an interdisciplinary academic. The interview only came later (in fact. delving into the ritualizations and performances at Babalon Rising has helped illuminate problematic but potentially transgressive approaches to sexuality and gender. I would argue for Western Esotericism to sustain itself as a vibrant field that can actually have an impact on the broader academic scene. just to name a few. who is making his own claims about magic. not only for scholars. who took on the role of the Scarlet Woman for a number of years. or religion. Regardless. but as a participant in the fire circle who engaged with Pan.” Further. but these considerations of gender roles and sexuality matter. of becoming hermetic in the wrong sense. discourse theory. it was not as a researcher. but for practitioners.” But why do scholars of Western Esotericism pursue their work? While legitimacy within the academy is important. describes how her performance with her male counterpart as the Beast assuaged the “fear and dread that I had come to associate with desire. which can be further discussed and implemented into the communities that practice.org. what is the point of studying these strange subjects if it doesn’t engage with or is not relevant to the actual practice or to actual practitioners? What’s truly at stake in this study? For me. the man who embodied Pan talked of the evolution of his relationship with the persona he created for the festival.” Likewise. and undeniably spiritual practice. Practitioners embody history. these discussions are important to have.phoenixrising. in Thelemic terms. and gender. intellectual and magical pursuits. So here you have an instance in which a contemporary practitioner of Western esotericism is engaging in a performative. and culture.” When I initially encountered this manifestation of Pan. the ability to frame these notions in different ways and to study magical practice through different lenses is essential for the longevity of this field. including Pan. But my encounter with Pan could certainly be framed as “the collaborative performance of an enabling fiction between observer and observed. scholars must embrace interdisciplinarity. Perhaps more festivalgoers who often stumble through awkward or potentially oppressive social encounters can learn from these considerations. emotional. or even the actual world of practice. her interaction with Pan within the fire circle space “swept me into a place where I was this magician who represented the lust for life and showed my companions the way into revelry.
blod.gr/default. My reasoning lies in the second issue that I wish to raise and which is so beautifully represented by the mission statement of the Bodossakis foundation as well as many of the conference topics that it features: If these topics are only discussed in conference halls and 1 http://www. and in its mission statement. it notes that its ambition is to form a true crossroads of interdisciplinary dialogue. AAR 2011 25 www. beg to differ.” The reason for my excitement at discovering the content of this website was because it embodied precisely the concept driving Phoenix Rising Academy and which brought us here today. Two items in particular caught my eye: The first was a collection of talks from an international conference that took place in Athens this summer. Politics.” and “Techniques for Contemplative. entitled “Philosophy.” and featured a number of discussions of Platonic thought vis-a-vis modern political dilemmas.Western Esotericism in a Brave New World © Sasha Chaitow Recently I was very excited to come across a website owned by the Bodossakis foundation 1.aspx DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. or whether they are in danger of stifling or truncating the very subject they were designed to illuminate by keeping the experiential aspect and epistemology belonging to the esoteric traditions firmly outside the scope of exploration. I .phoenixrising.gr Although many scholars may believe that we are tilting at windmills by quixotically reopening a subject that many consider to have been resolved long ago. we wish to take a fresh look at whether the methodologies we utilize are sufficient. Creative. The questions we're here to discuss are twofold: Firstly. The website hosts international academic lectures and conference videos from across the spectrum of the sciences and the humanities. and Linguistic motivation of students through the arts: theoretical and practical approaches. a high-profile educational charity based in Greece. as well as comparative analyses of Confucian thought from Platonic perspectives.” Two lecture titles that stood out were entitled “Do you speak Music in your classroom? Conditions and Ideas for solid teaching and learning. and Finance in the Era of Globalisation. and to offer the insights gleaned in closed conference halls and classrooms to a broader public audience.org. A third conference was called “Art and Education: Creative ways of teaching languages.” and another was called “Leadership and Management in a Changing World: Lessons from Ancient Eastern and Western Philosophy.
It is hardly surprising that since the onset of the financial crisis.tanea. A heretical notion. is more self-evident. In the sciences. might be to all those graduates not destined for or inclined towards an academic career. Latin and Greek are being phased out of secondary schools. The reasons for its rejection are manifold and anything but uniform.phoenixrising. then what precisely is their purpose. the lines are more blurred. a practical mind might wonder just what use a degree in philosophy. beyond a very small. but I can speak of the tens of thousands of unemployed and underemployed humanities graduates in Greece (Eurostat). engineering. or rejected aspect – and a very broad one at that – of our cultural history. to be sure.html?ref=edlife&fb_source=message DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. and represent a neglected. it is the humanities that have been hardest hit.nytimes. focusing more and more on “useful” areas of history that may be combined with politics or sociology. AAR 2011 26 www. Esoteric traditions form a third current in the development of Western thought. despite often enough being governed by utilitarian rules. In the UK.3 Figures for 2010 showed that more than half of all undergraduates in North America were opting for degrees in business. I cannot speak for many other European countries. and apart from teaching. while simultaneously frowning on the participation of the very people who make these traditions what they are. or Western Esotericism. avoiding liberal arts 2 http://www. presented in language based on a referential framework that only scholars are actually privy to. and if they provide only the most sanitised perspectives on these topics. and of the humanities in particular. the media & publishing industries.gr . at least in the humanities. in technical specialisations. and financial disciplines the inherent “usefulness” of such topics in terms of the world we live in.org. special interest niche in academic scholarship? It has become a well established truism that the W. and in the political.classrooms at advanced and theoretical academic levels. or nursing. or self-employment of one sort or another. 2 and of the rhetoric of more and more American higher educational establishments which are simultaneously focusing on marketable degrees and cutting Philosophy. but that does not necessarily mean that that pattern ought to be continued. we rarely pause to wonder at its practical value from a utilitarian perspective.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03careerism-t. history courses are being cut and truncated. business. We are so convinced of the intrinsic value of academic learning and knowledge that. or religion. and other humanities courses. With the humanities. Behind these issues lies the more elusive question of the purpose of academic study.gr/ellada/article/?aid=4555933 3 http://www. Classics.
as another report on student experience has attested. had the following to say about liberal arts schools in relation to the demand for immediately marketable skills: “We . and in truth the way the question has been framed is not terribly helpful.. and critical and creative thinking. It would be irresponsible and inaccurate of me to insist on one or the other interpretation. as noted by John Neuhauser. the ability to see the “big picture” and think laterally. to be able to gather information and to determine the validity of that information themselves. especially at entry-level when these skills are newly acquired. the public survey tells a different story: 55% of Americans viewed higher education as preparation for a career. allow for creative problem-solving. turning away financially needy students.phoenixrising. the ability to multitask. Most tellingly of all. intellectual development. and from this perspective. but not necessarily career building.nytimes. give [students] the tools to be analytical.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03careerism-t. a recent survey carried out by Pew Research Centre for The Chronicle of Higher Education. the fact of the matter is that the humanities subjects being cut. “these colleges also say they have the hardest time explaining the link between what they teach and the kind of job and salary a student can expect on the other end. Michael's Liberal Arts College in Vermont. “The humanities tend to educate people much farther out.html? pagewanted=2&fb_source=message&ref=edlife DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY.com/article/Its-More-Than-Just-the/127534/ 6 http://www. Where three quarters of Americans polled felt that higher education was too expensive.com/article/A-Crisis-of-Confidence/127530/ . the latter being a crucial skill in any workplace. or as saying that knowledge and growth are more important than career building. reveals the disparity between the perspective of higher education leaders and presidents. However.programs and colleges in order to focus on subjects with guaranteed career trajectories. but an overwhelming 74% said that it was more useful for knowledge and intellectual growth. 5 Dr Mary Sue Coleman. are the ones most conducive to the life of the mind.. presidents and administrators have to worry about balance sheets and student numbers. I think we can all agree that the analytical and critical skills one acquires when faced with the demands of humanities topics. they are rapidly losing ground. this is certainly true. particularly in this world where people don’t filter for you anymore.. and that of the general public.gr . president of the University of Michigan. and some are nearing bankruptcy. Where colleges prepare marketing campaigns based on employability and watch their student bodies swell with the recently unemployed and overqualified seeking retraining. with a further 69% saying that it was important for personal growth and maturity.com/article/Colleges-Transform-theLiberal/64398/ 5 http://chronicle.org. However. and despite the decision of many liberal art colleges to add professional programmes to their curriculum. how to defend an argument.. http://chronicle.” 6 In the modern world. it is not surprising that technocratic governments have not succeeded in coming up with sustainable solutions for the issues currently plaguing both sides of 4 http://chronicle. to make a choice. They’re looking for an impact that lasts over decades.” and as noted by Times reporter Kate Zernike. president of St.We want to teach them how to make an argument.. AAR 2011 27 www. 4 We can read these figures in two ways: either as saying that college offers opportunities for knowledge and growth.” But.
hopefully attracting more people to invest in the humanities. particularly when we are talking about real-life applicability of skills. AAR 2011 28 www. even though it is they who need it the most.the Atlantic.nytimes. makes define the following point themselves did the 50 about MBA railroad ago. I cannot help but wonder what scale of difference might emerge were they historians with considerable life-experience behind them. I think David Bejou 7 http://roomfordebate.Yet. a powerful anti-intellectualism is observed across the media and public life. not only will it be on its way into the mainstream.” Of the attempts to change and modernise MBA degrees.then who is? It is hardly surprising then. programs way companies some years Theodore Levitt (past professor of Harvard Business School.gr . the situation is not necessarily the same. 1925-2006) believes that organizations that narrowly define themselves and focus on their products become myopic and fail along with their myopic products..phoenixrising. and who even consider that if individuals who cannot grasp such complex concepts have no place in the dialogue. I am not suggesting that we should dumb down. degrees: “Today. the narrowing of one's sights. In that way. but I am calling for us to translate and condense our information into a language that can be accessible to all. if all but a few scholars place themselves out of the reach of the layperson. David Bejou. The ability to effectively transfer knowledge is an underrated.. With regard to advanced degrees. he has this to say: “ Unfortunately for the most part. and less educated individuals cannot be blamed for what they do not know. many M.org. they did not engage the students in a holistic approach that would positively impact the individual students.blogs. Once one has crossed into MA and PhD territory. Time and time again I have encountered senior scholars who are quite shocked by this observation.A.com/2010/01/03/are-they-students-or-customers/ DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. but it would also be in a position to demystify the academic eyrie of ivory towers and marble halls. it becomes increasingly harder to retranslate that perspective into a language accessible by those on a lower educational level. the business world and the global society. that frequently enough.B. matter and of particularly the methodology. By this point you may be wondering what all this has to do with the study of esotericism. yet invaluable skill. Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Elizabeth City State University in Virginia.”7 One of the key issues of study at advanced levels is the degree of focus and inevitably. if they are not the students of tomorrow. by any means.
a vocabulary.co. expression. and objective a method of research as possible are well-established and defended. especially if we reconsider that survey of the public. many of which are in existence and continuing to evolve.” Her successor.telegraph. Esotericism is an indisputable part of Western culture. in some cases.phoenixrising. and with various strands that can be shown to be intimately interconnected with social and political developments on larger and smaller scales. When it comes to Western Esotericism. Professor Dame Alison Richard. with unique dynamics informing its complex interrelationships with the discourse. It is also a set of currents. the scholars who have dedicated themselves to exploring and establishing this fascinating field in Western Academia. even as we speak. 8 http://www. and the trouble begins with some of the elements that I have outlined thus far. documentary.” 8 As I have already mentioned. while also establishing a series of continental and transnational networks for the support of the growing academic community. and in all cases approaches that conform to as empirical.gr . I would venture that there may be trouble in paradise. best tackled by people whose education enables them to integrate different fields of knowledge and work across conventional academic boundaries.uk/education/8838679/Universities-need-Pepys-as-much-as-Newton.” we need to take a broader view and look to the long term if we are to find workable solutions to today's problems. Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz points out that. Yet. the existing options for study are aimed mainly at students planning to pursue an advanced academic path. W. The field is constantly growing. AAR 2011 29 www. or.org. particularly the point raised by the survey of higher education administrators juxtaposed with the needs and desires of the general public. and development of said culture. In terms of methodology. and not just MBAs. as well as a way of life.could have been talking about any number of advanced academic qualifications. far from simply perceiving subjects belonging to the humanities and liberal arts as “knowledge for its own sake. the options are also fairly straightforward.html DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. He also notes that “the case for a broader outlook centres on the proposition that the greatest challenges facing the world today are of huge complexity and global scope. with new departments and courses springing up in both European and American universities. and which for many people are living traditions. students simply wishing to pursue it for their own personal interest. and a set of tools for younger scholars such as myself to work with. Over the last few decades. former chancellor of Cambridge University in England has noted that: “the dichotomy between useful and not-useful is itself increasingly not-useful. and numerous invaluable publications and studies appearing every few months. have done wonders in terms of developing a structure.
or speak a language comprehensible to the general public. based on my involvement with this field. will. in some circles it is believed that scholars can DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. eventually. Firstly. and on my understanding of education in general. that adhering to this approach for the field to the exclusion of all others. In other cases. is seen as damaging to the overall perception of esotericism.org. a considerable number of individuals and groups who self-identify as practitioners of various esoteric paths have not only argued that the academic approach is a mistake. and thus feel that an unambiguously academic approach in its current form cannot do justice to these subjects. rests on the premise that it is almost impossible to understand esoteric concepts without the referential framework of the enchanted worldview from which they sprang. and secondly. I am not in any way challenging this. because in restricting these studies to an academic level which does not make allowances for entry-level students. on my own teaching experience. it is inevitably narrowing the scope for intake and spread. like a railroad company worrying about the colour of the trains. However. AAR 2011 30 www. this approach is alienating the very people who could and should be the most passionate and able to carry this field forward. ourselves included. From this perspective. jeopardise the very field itself. it must be noted that a key argument used by many independent scholars or practitioners of esotericism. have called for more interdisciplinary perspectives to be introduced within the bounds of acceptable scholarship. The reasons are twofold. and that quality standards need to be met and maintained is a given. Some. That the field needs to be demarcated. on dialogue resulting from addresses I have delivered and articles I have written aimed at the general public rather than academic peers. it is my strong conviction. much like the MBA programs discussed by David Bejou. but are quite hostile towards it.gr .phoenixrising. and not the efficient service of the passengers.However. as the intellectual rigour it demands and the lack of flexibility allowed in terms of empathetic engagement.
meaning the Gate of the Arts by the Romans. the first lesson of the Trivium. AAR 2011 31 www.phoenixrising. Grammar. that we also hope might go some way toward healing the often quite forceful animosity that appears to emerge whenever these views are aired. I speaking revivalist tradition. This brings me not to a romantic revisioning of the past. The foundation for these suggestions is that the form of thought that we now call esotericism. am When not speaking of some of an appropriate environment and worldview. and to do that. These issues are becoming an ever larger proverbial elephant in the room. To begin to bridge the perceptual divide. though it appears that no two people can agree on just how this should take place. we need to look at the worldview within which these traditions emerged and evolved.org. is very very similar indeed to the ancient Philosophia of the Liberal Arts educational model. Although we wouldn't for a moment claim that we at Phoenix Rising Academy have THE answer. and for as long as the leaders of the field neglect to respond to it. the larger the elephant will grow. we need to begin by fostering an environment within which these ideas can regain their meaningfulness. and the longer the controversy will be perpetuated. much less be in a position to label themselves as experts in the field. was first developed by poets in ancient Greece in order to help speakers of the common tongue understand the poetic language of Homer.never truly understand exactly what esotericism is. the concept of DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. lectures and courses in esotericism. as do practitioners of various kinds. and later called “Janua Artum”. since even academics disagree amongst themselves. what we do have is a handful of suggestions and a strong desire to bridge these disparate views.gr . or respond by simply excluding themselves from this dialogue. but of a mental and intellectual environment. but to the model of classical education. while scholar-practitioners are frowned on in academia. Known as the “Art of Grammar”. And all of these perspectives are emerging in response to a burgeoning demand for books.
if we were to advocate some kind of return to the glorious past. pp. which would represent the “first naiveté” of Paul Ricoeur's system of hermeneutics. or of a particular type of discourse. all four of the quadrivium subjects inherently incorporate the philosophical and metaphysical bases for what we now call the esoteric traditions. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Seculr Thought (Leiden: Brill. and beyond the actual skills it imparts – including the use of allegory and metaphor .Grammar was always closely related to the creative arts. as well as for its harmonic and mathematical properties.org. and geometry.” 9 This is absolutely true. and from which they are now being forced to move away. but then I would not presume to argue with Plato and Socrates! But is it utopian? It might be.it is an exercise in consciousness. perhaps. Yet. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. recorder. 9 Wouter Hanegraaff. Philosophist. Plato himself had a warning carved above the entrance to his Academy: let no-one enter here without geometry – since for Plato philosophy. As a form of education. or the art of speaking. But does that mean that my call for a reexamination of the Liberal Arts as a model of education underpinning the core esoteric notion of self-awareness and self-determination is just one more religionist and utopian dream? Hardly religionist. Mathematics and abstract mathematics inherently include a philosophical component. curiously. at once observer. Logic at this level sets the ground rules for the study of philosophy – we could say that logic is to philosophy what grammar is to language. apart from noting that of all the art forms it was considered the most ethereal and magical – both because it was considered able to move. cosmology. And finally astronomy served to place Man in the universe. and it is also true of our educational system. Of music I shall say little.gr . and analytical thought and expression. that what they present as enchanted alternatives turn out in fact to be products of the secularization process. selfawareness. There is still a dissonance and a fatal flaw in my argumentation that I have not yet addressed. takes note of the differentiation between written and spoken expression. as it provided a frame of reference to exercise and expand the mind toward its creative possibilities. 1996). because we are continuing to take a rationalist approach to material which is patently irrational. But in that case.phoenixrising. were inseparable – and reading Plato without geometry may leave more gaps in our understanding than we know. I would venture. Naturally these are the best tools for the historiography of esotericism. imbued with the spirit of rationalism. Rhetoric. this is the model and set of principles that liberal arts colleges were founded on. 520-1. but scholars of a specific historical niche. we are not scholars of esotericism at all. AAR 2011 32 www. creator and guardian of nature. and choose instead to use the academic tools at our disposal. which has been aptly identified by Professor Wouter Hanegraaff as the profoundest of ironies: the fact that “the 19th and 20th century representatives of Western Esotericism are largely so deeply influenced by the very worldviews to which they object. Then. if we accept this. as well as for discourse analysis. we do in fact remain at the first naïveté.
we remain part of the problem. scholars in particular. Practitioners who wish to join this dialogue need to root philosophical and enchanted ideals in modern reality. and armchair occultists continue to disseminate misperceptions. in some respects unable to fully do them justice. from there on.phoenixrising. then all together. are slow. have a duty to communicate. need to leave their ivory towers and talk both to their more positivist colleagues. whether from the eye of the storm or the sidelines.So here's the basic conundrum: We have a set of neglected cultural currents. So in all cases. practitioners remain fixated on high-minded discussion and defence of their individual belief systems. The first of these models is that of education that I have already raised. are embedded models and ideas that we can learn from and which can offer far-reaching practicable and pragmatic ways in which to counter the social. It is also my conviction that when they are so inclined. that we are agreed that right now the world could use some improvement. in others more damaging than good.assuming of course. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. particularly when these topics are only made available at advanced academic levels – although they belong in undergraduate classrooms alongside history.gr . AAR 2011 33 www. art as well as science. Keeping its study in the highest echelons of academia fuels accusations of elitism. moral and existential crisis that we are all experiencing. as well as their 'objects' of study and the uninitiated (pardon the pun). and supports calls for anti-intellectualism and the shunning of academic perspectives altogether. privilege of Scholars who have how the these understanding concepts work. outside mainstream academia as a kind of “other”.org. Academic attempts to explore and reinstate them in our collective corpus of knowledge. I see two ways out of this conundrum. If scholars remain ensconced in libraries and conference halls. and are often likely to lack method or to reflect more subjective or solipsistic interpretations. without which our general understanding of Western history and culture is essentially incomplete on several fundamental levels. It is esotericism that can provide a common vocabulary and vision. the 'esoteric traditions' remain grouped outside of mainstream culture. in a situation that is perpetuated by the way of thinking that divided these worldviews from each other in the first place. painstaking. Practical and individual approaches to these topics are unlikely to have a great influence on their being understood on a broader level. and they are both based on the premise that within the history and the content of Western Esoteric currents. disseminate and discuss these models and their potential applications. we need to talk to each other . literature.
and the more self-aware they are. Then again. I think we can take advantage of the fact that we can approach our object of study at many different levels of analysis and take up the challenge of figuring out how we might relate explanations generated at different levels of analysis. another author notes the following point.' 11 I am not proposing that we should use Ricoeur's method of hermeneutics as he used it. '”Religion” in the Humanities and the Humanities in the University. in an article entitled 'Embodied research and writing: A Case for Phenomenologically Oriented Religious Studies Ethnographies. emic and etic boundaries. a sufficient reason to avoid reexamining them from new perspectives. published in this summer's Journal of the AAR. 287-314 (p. June 2011. and that we should not explore germane ways to make use of the insights gleaned from a closer interaction with these ideas. and I do believe that matters of personal spirituality and belief have no place in academia. and we would not think twice about a musicologist who is also a musician using her performance experience to clarify elements of 10 Ann Taves. or precedents belonging to a different time. AAR 2011 34 www. However.' Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Ann Taves makes the following point: “Rather than simply borrowing theories and methods from other disciplines and turning our departments into fragmented microcosms of the larger university. All teachers inevitably bring their life-experience to bear in the classroom. at times transcending. p. 11 Kristy Nabhan-Warren.': The body can be a vehicle for complicating. To ignore our embodied interactions with others in the field when we write is to occlude lived experience and how our bodies are epistemological sites that allow us privileged access into our interlocutor's worlds. We would not bat an eyelid at an art historian who is also an artist bringing his own aesthetic perspective or artistic imagination to bear in the classroom.org.phoenixrising. 79:2. 293). 79:2.gr . the better teachers they tend to be. (378-407). 'Embodied Research and Writing: A Case for Phenomenologically Oriented Religious Studies' Journal of the AAR. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. 378. whether they are aware of it or not. neither do personal politics.” 10 In the same issue of the same journal. June 2011. nor as it was adapted for use in theological hermeneutics. Nor is the fear of this occurring.In her 2010 presidential address to the AAR. that doesn't mean they should not be talked about.
The approach of each of these professions incorporate a legitimate epistemology: the theoretician's is based on psychological. Likewise in the medical field. It is the experienced teacher who must be able to translate theoretical models and practical concerns into a classroom setting. A naïve approach would quote the Republic verbatim and possibly call for synarchic rule by philosophers. Passed through a critical lens while maintaining the essence of Platonic DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. administrators. they can only perform half their task. If anything. in which both theoreticians. and of management. the latter basing their expertise on their classroom experience. serves both as quality control and as a constant learning tool for medical practitioners seeking to develop and improve their field.composition. but she does need to learn from experience and implement that experience in the future. which has a bearing both on the further development of theory. whose valuable work. pedagogical. and I dread to think of the bedside manner of clinicians. Finally. while Greece is in the throes of financial and sociopolitical crisis. Multiple conferences on education are organised annually. it is hardly surprising that. their practice of these intangible arts of the imagination will make them better teachers. and both administrators and theoreticians must hear that experience if they are to help. and the teacher's is experiential first and foremost. it is the practitioners who know what no meta-analysis can demonstrate. AAR 2011 35 www. on the other hand.phoenixrising. especially when teaching younger age-groups. the educational process – which is often enough like being on stage without a script. Alone. A good teacher need not be a good theorist. and communicate that classroom reality back to the theoreticians hidden in offices and libraries. the Athens School of Economics summoned political philosophers to attempt to redefine the possible applications of Platonic thought to the current situation. coming full circle to the Bodossakis Foundation website with which I started. Nor is there a problem with using the language and hermeneutic devices of diverse philosophical perspectives in order to explore aesthetic nuances. and not hinder. Likewise with literature and concepts ranging from the post-modern sublime to the semiotics of poetry.gr . both clinicians and practitioners frequently gather to exchange findings – and there is a tension between them. since although the findings of clinicians may rest on empirical bases. as well as teachers discuss and exchange ideas. The administrator's is based on mainly practical considerations such as finance and logistics. and statistical research.org.
org. and education in general. Firstly. Fifthly. Therefore. is in danger of becoming ever more commercialised. that esotericism belongs in the corpus of cultural knowledge just as much as any other branch of the humanities. as well as for the acceptable acknowledgement and use of experiential learning alongside theory. or as a way of life and worldview. it will be the practitioners. ever more an elite luxury. Secondly. that take social cohesion and the human element into account. the result was a series of presentations that produced thoughtful and applicable suggestions for management.phoenixrising. in summary. provided that they are viewed through a combined lens that takes their full nature into account.” and may well eventually wither as an academic field if the state of the humanities continues to devolve as it is currently doing. If that occurs. we have a duty to bring this area of study to a wider audience. that the humanities. I hope that I have clarified the proposal being made here.gr . Thirdly. and it is in this spirit that we hope to continue. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. and for all those of us who care about esotericism. if for no other reason than to counterbalance the continuing misconceptions that led esotericism to be stigmatised in the first place. and not the scholars. whether as an object of study. to sit down at the table and talk about what we can learn from each other. And finally. we are calling for dialogue. AAR 2011 36 www. It is to this end that today's session was organised. governance and economic protocols. and adapted to modern considerations. Fourthly. who keep these currents alive. It is for this reason that at Phoenix Rising Academy. it is necessary to reach out and to translate “academese” into a more accessible kind of language. not least because if it remains shut away in the ivory towers of academia.philosophy. and how we can make our collective knowledge count for something. that esotericism as a corpus of knowledge is in a position to offer models and paradigms that can be of use in a modern setting. and all of which made abundantly clear that technocratic number-crunching is not the way forward when governing people rather than numbers. that as scholars. that as a field. it will also remain “other. that there are numerous precedents in other areas of the humanities that support the case for both interdisciplinary borrowing.
An example of this approach can be felt in the syncretic works of the Seventeenth-Century esotericist. In many esoteric modes of though analogy is used to impart knowledge and emphasises the value of truth in relationship. a natural holism and dynamism as perceived from within the human experience. This is a paradigmatic approach different to an Empirical approach whose ideals such as mechanism and compartmentalisation of truth would in contrast appear abstracted. 1989). by Harold Aram Veeser (London: Routledge. AAR 2011 37 www. the absence of size in the universe before the Big Bang and string theory.. they also are informed by many more years of research into related currents of thought. Joyce Appleby et al. I’d like to start by comparing the methodological approach in Academia compared to attitudes of acquiring knowledge within certain esoteric traditions. 13 12 Other examples of approaches may be found in The New Historicism. Generally speaking the values of Academia are based on Empiricism. one that perceives it as holistic. embodying a positivistic. Graham Burnett. Graham Burnett explains. This is a brief. mechanistic view of nature. MN: University Of Minnesota Press. criticise and outright disagree with. condensed statement of a much larger set of ideas sitting meekly within a larger discussion on methodology in Esotericism. It is my sincere hope that there will be a point or two that will cause the listener to make links with other ideas. revealed knowledge may be seen to represent. The Postmodern History Reader. W. Jean-François Lyotard.org. 13 D. to contemporary cosmological theories such as the works of cosmologist Sean Carroll who has explored ideas such as ‘cosmic forgetfulness’. In Defense of History (New York: W.gr . ed. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (Minneapolis. Robert Fludd. This was not mere analogy. rightly constructed and rightly dramatized. Norton & Company. 2002). ‘The Cosmogonic Experiments Of Robert Fludd: A Translation With Introduction And DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. to question. 1997).phoenixrising. reliant upon a distancing of subject from the mode of phenomenological analysis and gives value to truth in isolation. 12 His work presents an enchanted view of nature. We might also compare the relative fallacy of this approach when applied. 1967). and the value of revealed knowledge © SAMUEL GARRARD Before I begin I would like to assert that whilst the ideas presented in this paper are resultant of research within my current Masters in Western Esotericism. Edward Hallett Carr. for example. In contrast. ed. analogy as rhetoric. regarding the work of Robert Fludd: certain analogies. parallel universes. Richard Evans. Norton & Company. W. by analogy. What is History? (New York: Random House. concepts unelaborated on and attitudes that will not be fully explained or related to academic and authoritative sources. As historian of science D. the use of analogy. but rather analogy raised to the status of a tool for knowledge of the true nature of things. 1995). full of generalities. became powerful explanatory instruments. Telling the Truth about History (New York: W. by Keith Jenkins (London: Routledge. interconnected and dynamic.The limitations of rationalist epistemology. 1989).
pp. that. has the tendency not only to reduce much of the esoteric corpus to historical curiosities and eccentricities. and briefly outline one or two of the ethical implications of a methodology that takes into account phenomenological viewpoints of certain esoteric modes of thought such as in the works of Robert Fludd.org. engendering a framework of the same values with which to interpret the experience of being. New Series. why Empiricism supports materialism. pp. In addition. He calls for a consideration of the epistemological limitation to scientific understanding in order to avoid ‘psychological or sociological prescriptions put forward by those who allege that they have already managed to gain a scientifically validated understanding of man’. In line with this argument Jocelyn Godwin has noted the convenient overlooking of modern science of every level of being but the material. I would like to depart from the two debates of firstly. 1057). a methodology based on this. AAR 2011 38 www. theorists such as Jacques Derrida. 126-127).Furthermore. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. Niels Bohr. Stent ‘Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man’. time. 113-130 (pp. New Series.1055) 16 Joscelyn Godwin. Therefore. This is but one of the examples of the unstable semantic quality of language that undermines the very basic principles with which one attempts to understand nature. 14 Gunter S. 1979). in essence. Science.16 However. From this. I suggest. Science. in this statement. one could argue that Empirical methodology is biased to support the culture from which it was conceived: one that relies on a materialist outlook. the late Gunther Stent. Stent ‘Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man’. which approach is ‘truer’ to the human experience of reality and secondly whether and if so. notes that in many areas modern science has not assimilated the Post-Structuralist standpoint that illuminates the limitations of positivism.phoenixrising. 18. Robert Fludd: Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds (London: Thames and Hudson. 46 (1999). Commentary’. p. the positivistic attitudes informing Empiricism represent reality in terms of isolation and separation. Stent points out the insufficiency of daily language to communicate certain Kantian a priori concepts which conversely may be grasped intuitively by ‘every child in the course of its normal intellectual development. Pierre Macherey. 14 Citing the work of Danish physicist. Graduate Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California. 15 The problem is when attempting to cognise events at subatomic or immense cosmic scales. 10521057 (p. Jean Baudrilliard and JeanFrançois Lyotard argue have asserted that language is corruptible and is used subtly to impose particular agendas and biases.gr . 187 (1975). space and causality appear bent out of shape from the intuitive understanding we have of them as generalized concepts. 10521057 (p. 15 Gunter S. Ambix. 187 (1975). without the need to attend physics classes’.
This is what I would define as a practical ethics – in the face of the relativism of truths as set out by Post-Structuralist and Postmodern thinkers and at a time of environmental and social crisis. grand narratives.gr . like travellers who must carry everything in their arms. transcends essentialist. these values can only be a positive force at the present. In appreciation of the concerns of this conference and the noble aims of the Phoenix Rising Academy I would like to end by quoting Tom Stoppard who describes the process of the acquisition of knowledge optimistically as a continual process. we would be at a loss for a corkscrew? DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. or be written again in another language. where there is an overwhelming abundance and simultaneous lack of humanity. revealed knowledge uses analogy to impart knowledge that works in terms apart from and. AAR 2011 39 www. may help society and the individual in understanding ways towards a more cooperative and sustainable future. positivistic claims. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece. He says: we shed as we pick up. In my opinion. the values of which.] that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria. positivism may be seen to propagate an outlook of disparity. environmental and sociological attitudes in general.phoenixrising.org. ultimate truths and is prone to a reduced ethics of abandonment and violence to the natural world and humanity. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The procession is very long and life is very short. In contrast. and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. it could be argued. You do not suppose [. We die on the march. the post-modern condition that sees a lack of relationship. Finally I would like to re-iterate my invitation for criticism and response to these ideas in hope that this brief statement might in its own and small way add to the discussion surrounding the current approach to Esotericism in and out of academia.but in a wider sense also to encourage attitudes such as the isolation of the self. Briefly. using analogy not as a rhetorical device but as a valid representation of the nature of reality.. It is a form of knowledge that emphasises the value of relationship as opposed to isolated truth. principles. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. detachment from the natural world and a reduced ethics of violence and separatism that have come to negatively define the shape of the modern world. it is a framework for understanding the human experience. I assert that an approach to esotericism that takes these values into account may not only provide a less reductive picture of the historical field of esotericism but also have positive effects on phenomenological.. I would argue.
While the Islamic tradition cannot and should not be taken as a model for a resurgent Western Esoteric tradition. as did the Western tradition at the end of Renaissance. In the time available to me for this statement. First and foremost is the recognition of the metaphysical reality of the imaginal world. There is also the historical fact that the Islamic intellectual tradition as a whole is a sister tradition to the Western.Towards an Imaginal Methodology in the study of Western Esotericism © Kirk Templeton Imaginal methodologies for the study of Western Esotericism must meet two sets of criteria. who derived it from the Hikmat al-Ishraq or Wisdom of Illumination of the great 12th century Persian philosopher Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī. . There are those mandated by the canons of the Western Academy and those mandated by the canons of the imaginal as such. it can for these reasons perhaps offer valuable contributions for the process and recovery and reconstitution in which the Western Esoteric tradition is currently engaged.org. I can of course only indicate in broad outline what some of these contributions might be. Yet. The concept of imaginal knowledge was re-introduced into Western Academic discourse by Henry Corbin. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY.phoenixrising.gr . This is all the more appropriate given the profound formative influence of the Islamic Esoteric tradition upon the Western. it developed out of the same sources: Abrahamic religion and Greek philosophy. So the Islamic Illuminationist tradition provides us with an example of a living tradition that continues to be fundamentally rooted in imaginal theory and practice and that is derived from the same historical sources as the Western Esoteric tradition. A valuable first step in the development of imaginal methodologies might be to investigate them at their primary source in this Islamic Illuminationist tradition. the Illuminationist tradition never abandoned direct inner intuitive apprehension of imaginal forms as a valid means of knowledge. That is. AAR 2011 40 www.
This presents challenges. This enables the imaginative faculty. the ‘alam al-mithal. are not separate nor are they are conflict. Yet. while of sufficiently wide scope. the Illuminationist tradition of Islam holds that there is a third world. a world that is as ontologically real as the empirical world of the senses and the intellectual world of abstract mathematics and theoretical physics. They reflect and illuminate each other. AAR 2011 41 www. In terms of meeting the methodological criteria of the Western Academy. a noetic function. this must be recovered and brought forward. This order of reality requires a faculty of knowledge a cognitive function that is appropriate to it. unlike the intellectual world it has extension and quality.In Western intellectual culture. Suhrawardi’s illuminationist methodology integrates methods of reason (baḥth) with methods based upon direct intuitive apprehension (ta’alluh). what are some things that taking the imaginal at its source imply for a revitalized imaginal methodology in the study of Western Esotericism? In terms of the imaginal as such. the active imagination. are nonetheless based upon sound noetic knowledge and practice ( ta’alluh). Between these two. So. They are co-ordinate. the Western Academy is alone and anomalous among the great intellectual traditions of our Planet in that it abandoned the imaginal world and imaginal modes of knowledge with the rise of modernity at the end of the Renaissance. the illuminationist tradition suggests a program of first setting our own house in order by developing canons and protocols of legitimate imaginal practice which. even when it is not fully articulated. In the West.org. and in particular the imaginal. accessed by the senses. to be firmly balanced between and coordinated with the two other cognitive functions. is one of ontological commitment to two orders of reality. The imaginal mediates between the other two orders of reality. in Corbin’s translation. the empirical world. accessed by the intellect. and the world of abstract mathematical objects. attributes it shares with the empirical world. And. the world of the imaginal. intellectual world it is immaterial. what is most DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. The second principle of the illuminationist tradition follows upon the first. and their appropriate means of knowing. the mundis imaginalis. that is as a real as the faculties of sensory perception and intellectual intuition that are appropriate to the other two orders of reality. for as the Muslim Persian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr points out.phoenixrising. Like the abstract. the predominant metaphysical position.gr . the esoteric. in broadest terms. The three orders of reality. as Nasr reminds us. depends by its very nature upon a living tradition of practice.
the undisciplined imaginal leads straight to Charlie Manson. The question is not whether or not imaginal epistemologies can meet requirements of methodological adequacy and objectivity. but as salutatory. The question is whether the Western Academy will return to recognizing that the imaginal world is a real world and that imaginal knowledge is real knowledge. AAR 2011 42 www.org. The West has forgotten this. in his terms the imaginatio vera—the true imagination—must be carefully distinguished from fantasy. as we discovered. for example.phoenixrising. anything goes. What distinguishes the illuminationist tradition from the Western is that it understands that the imaginal world exists and that it is just as real as the empirical and intellectual worlds.gr . The imaginative faculty functions in concert with the other two faculties. but one of ontological commitment. even auspicious. which he called the “cornerstone of madness.” As one who cut his teeth on the Western Esoteric tradition here in the Bay Area in the 1960’s I might point out that. it is the mediating relationship with both the intellectual and sensible worlds that distinguishes the imaginal world from the imaginary world of unbridled fantasy.important to learn from the Illuminationist tradition is that the question is not one of adequacy or soundness of methodology. To cite only one example from the pre-modern Western tradition itself. not as threatening. In Persia. They are calls for discipline. Standards of methodological objectivity have always been a feature of intellectual cultures that have featured imaginal epistemologies and remain so in those cultures where they still obtain. the great Renaissance alchemist Paracelsus was at great pains to emphasize that the imaginal. They can and do. and it is this coordinate action that prevents the imaginal from veering off into the strictly imaginary and this is what grants imaginal knowledge its objectivity. It is definitely not that case that in imaginal methodologies. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. It is in this sense that calls from the Western Academic mainstream for soundness and adequacy of methodology should be regarded.
an intimate and sophisticated form of hieroglyphic. As Foucault wrote: “Ever Since the Stoics. the system of signs of the western world has been a ternary one. in a sense. the arrangement of signs was to become binary. forgotten. Propositions flow from an intuitive source. A key difficulty in making this translation from a esoteric experience. In contrast. These two realms of immediacy. visions and sabbaths were simply brightly coloured representation of the lost. since it was to be defined. while the work of the academic is to present accounts that can be critically defended. disintegrated ruins of the sensible. Inspiration. intuitive thinking: non propositional. to an academically defensible account is the problem of the binary. the signifed and the 'conjuncture'. So let’s mark the distinction between the two domains: the work of the practical occultist is directed towards intensely personal.phoenixrising. into which a break has been inserted: a zone of meditated discursive conceptuality that uses concepts instead of sensations as its objects. writes: “What if fairy-tales. immediate. which are really one.H. or transcendental empiricism. but rather that it is of another order of sense altogether. Gnosis is non-propositional: it does not seek to make an argument. visionary gnosis. while its relationship with the spiritual intuition is dominated by the non-logic of inspiration or illumination. Visionary gnosis. Duchemin I have been asked to make a statement concerning the relationship of visionary experience to work in academia. they are in truth a single domain. on the other hand. or flimsy to criticism.. as the connection of 17 Michel Serres The Five Senses p 233. From the seventeenth century.org. but experiential. This marks the threshold between private.. It is as if there are two domains of direct experience. “wrap around” and come together.Fountainheads: tapping visionary experience in an academic setting © Peter G. and critically defensible arguments. one which is more akin to sensation than calculation. what might be called higher. The poet-philosopher Michel Serres. The task of crossing this gap is difficult for any occultist who has not been specifically trained in criticism. whose qualities our culture of language and religion of the word will no longer allow us to apprehend?” 17 Locating academic practice in this break-zone of conceptual mediation. Below the break is what we would call sensuous intuition. AAR 2011 43 www. This is not to say that gnosis is weak.gr .A. academic discussion must work with concepts that are debatable and can survive criticism. we can see how its relationship with the sensory intuition is a relationship dominated by the logic of science. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. for it was recognized as containing the significant. but it is equally difficult for a person who has been heavily trained in criticism to see that the language of the occult is not a set of truth propositional claims: it is in reality. is a form of empiricism. intensive intuition. and above the break is what we would call spiritual intuition. The macrocosm and the microcosm are not just mirrored.
subjective beliefs to others. For a claim of magical action to be strong. and to creative memory. Attempts to prove encounters with spiritual beings objectively are notoriously dismiss-able.gr . while the practitioner must dissolve themselves into experience. existing on the threshold of within and without. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. As long as one is describing esoteric practices from a historical. An absence of “hard evidence” of the physical existence of a Daemon is understood to dismiss its validity as objective. it must dissolve belief. and in doing so. and generating changes in the world in response. and in this way it can be regarded as merely subjective. Reports of experiences are taken as generalizable propositions. it must be re-cognized. it is encounter. Our knighted realism is a realism of the process of assigning name and form: of the threshold operation.phoenixrising. Occult gnosis is not belief. and stored in a hieroglyphic form. we are likely to run aground on the scylla or carybdis of “objectivity and subjectivity”. It is re-presented by the imagination. In making any such argument. Before a force existing in the real can be known to the intellect. what I call the Knighted Realism. and there is a skeptic's industry that feeds off of drawing all esoteric claims into a challenge for such proofs. Why realism? Because we are encountering forces.org. saying that the personal belief in magic becomes real by a kind of social contagion and that I can effect a space magically. or a result of freely chosen “beliefs”. The middle is excluded. 18Michel Foucault. Anticipating this line of attack. An encounter is neither “objective”. nor “subjective”: it cannot neither be separated from the experiencer nor isolated IN the experiencer. anthropological. Let us take the question of whether or not an encounter with a Daemon is a legitimate epistemic source. Sir Realism. for the most part because I can spread my own unaccountable. but as soon as one begins to engage in practice. we are assigning them names and images.”18 Something shifted in mainstream Western Culture that significantly diminished the esteem of this 'conjuncture'. and so is. We no longer ground arguments IN phantasmic sources. unless we are VERY careful. Mandalas. and they are dismissed. AAR 2011 44 www. But this is problematic because a purely subjective experience is usually considered to be isolated IN the subject. then the debunker still laughs: magic and the occult can now be seen as a play between deluder and deluded.a significant and a signified. a zone that corresponds to the faculty of the imagination. A strong magical claim. and as we do. Diagrams. one might take the position that these experiences are subjectively valid. If we seek to mitigate this “mere” by an appeal to inter-subjectivity. The occultist has a more than casual investment in their subjectivity: its intensity overflows into the real. requires an appreciation for the possibility that the “real” might be an inseparable case of entanglement BETWEEN the subjective and the objective: a Daemon may be a *real force*. signatures and schema. the needs of the two worlds collide: the academic must qualify their claims. designations and orders. named. or discourseanalytic point of view. that is directly perceivable by means of the intuitive faculty. The Order of Things p 46. dissolve the subject. Gnosis crystallizes on the surface of experience itself. annihilating subject-hood. these dangers are mitigated. and its signature read.
on the other. I believe that this is the process that much inspired knowledge comes from: not a re-ordering of preexisting knowledge. and incommensurable approaches. as a kind of dynamo of thought and experience.So the question of whether a Daemon is a legitimate epistemic source can be rephrased: “is an encounter. and the work of the occultist is such that it systematically establishes a pre-conceptual phantasmic terrain for the intuition to explore. at the heart of which one is completely naked. translate the intensity into a vision. a flaming sword around a garden. To collapse them is to lose the most precious elements of both: the purity of an intuitive and simple union with the sir-real on the one hand. distinct. In this respect. akin to an aesthetic experience. • Foucault. The esotericist in academia must live in two worlds and negotiate between them.Michel . The Five Senses. London. Margaret Sankey & Peter Cowley). that becomes unfolded into the discursive when it is expressed in terms of concepts. or self-proposing “beliefs”. the freer one is to play without restriction at its heart. in their respective centres. London: Tavistock. I think that there is something to gain by maintaining the two foci. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences.phoenixrising. parallel.org. but a direct interjection from non-discursive source. The better guarded the “garden” is. AAR 2011 45 www. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. In this coupled arrangement. New York. as if the intellect constructs a defensive barrier. and a powerful regulatory criticism meant to cut out the formation of static. and then translate the vision into concepts. we include the kinds of visionary experiences that an occultist might have. The encounter with the spirit is an epistemological fountainhead. Works Cited • Serres. one might well encounter that Daemon. a legitimate epistemic source?”. the more intense the moment of intuitive vulnerability and dissolution of the subjectivity becomes. while they are in trance: an encounter that is legitimate as a source of knowledge in the same way that any experience is. (Trans. but there is no doubt that they remain.gr . 1985. In answering in the affirmative. Michel. While one would not likely cite a Daemon in an academic paper. the greater the rigor of discursive thought is. the intuition can indeed be a source of novel ideas. broadly speaking. 1966.
The current paper is intended as a wholly constructive contribution to that proposed act of collective psychotherapy. Hopefully he will consider this session a modest form of homage. that quintessence of inferiority feelings whose hold over the psyche leads to a quasi-autistic relationship with our social environment. loathe or otherwise ignore within themselves. the primary methodological agent of that dominance had been the phenomenology of religion as represented by its chief Dutch exponent Gerardus van der Leeuw. thus challenging the very foundation of religious studies as a discipline distinct from history and the social sciences.Enthusiasms Sacred and Profane Phenomenology versus Empiricism in the Study of Western Esotericism © Hereward Tilton EXESESO. Wouter Hanegraaff asserts that mainstream Western culture has “construed its own identity” by consigning excluded ‘Others’ to a wastepaper basket tagged ‘esotericism’. perhaps we should recall that a standard means of demonising a perceived enemy is the production of caricature.org. and religion was to be studied as a cultural artefact rather than a sui generis phenomenon. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. Hanegraaff’s empiricism is a late expression of the secular reaction to the dominance of liberal Calvinist theology within the academic study of religion in the Netherlands. its chief advocate was Mircea Eliade.phoenixrising. where the level of secularisation was second in Europe only to the DDR. In his essay on “Forbidden Knowledge”.gr 46 . After all. both psychotherapists and teachers must occasionally bring our attention to precisely those things we do not wish to hear. Eliade and Corbin. University of Exeter As the theme of demonization forms a central concern of our meeting. today I would like to talk to you about integrating the shadow. the current state of discourse is nevertheless decisively informed by a scholarly debate that has been raging since the 1960’s. perhaps not as complimentary as the average Festschrift but nonetheless a testament to the influence of his work. AAR 2011 www. The most influential of Eliade’s critics were in fact anthropologists such as Edmund Leach. he advocates a “psychotherapy of academic research” integrating those excluded forms of thought to attain a more complex and nuanced cultural narrative. Carl Gustav Jung was not alone in remarking that humans are wont to project onto Others all that they fear. In place of the comparative phenomenological approach a new cohort of scholars promoted a methodology derived not from the humanities but from the natural and social sciences: hypotheses were to be formed by empirical analysis and submitted to inter-subjective testing. At that time the academic study of religion in the West was dominated by a phenomenological approach rooted in Romantic hermeneutics and the philosophies of Dilthey and Husserl. Hanegraaff’s chief methodological source. an empiricism promulgated in the Dutch academy first by van Baaren and then by Platvoet. i. and there could be no better place to formally commence treatment than a conference session convened as an act of resistance to Hanegraaff’s very own views. The most common forms of what Sasha has referred to as “imaginal epistemology” to be encountered in the contemporary academic study of esotericism derive from the phenomenology of religion. indeed. while supposedly invariant experiential structures such as the axis mundi came to be perceived as ahistorical templates finding endless and often unjustified confirmation in the complexities of historical data. who attacked what they saw as the crypto-theological underpinnings of the phenomenology of religion. who in his work of 1969 The Quest was already railing against the “empiricism” and “relativism” of “some fashionable sociological and historistic schools”. and principally the works of Jung. In the Netherlands this so-called “anthropological turn” in religious studies took on a form specific to the historical and socio-religious context of that country. Eliade’s notion of homo religiosus and his relation to an irreducible ‘sacred’ was rejected as an unfalsifiable speculation upon the inner life of religious believers. Before addressing specific aspects of the Dutch empirical approach. While our field is dominated by historians with varying degrees of tolerance for these thinkers. lest our resistance is in fact to a change necessary within ourselves. This paradigm was superseded with the rise in the late 1960s of the Groninger Working Group and its “Science of Religion”. the strength of emotional response gives us reason to pause for thought.e.
Hanegraaff follows this line of argument closely. these acts are of necessity intentional or directed towards an object. Again. qua scholars. he adds that the meta-empirical realm also encompasses “experiential dimensions” which can in fact be verified by employing non-empirical “spiritual techniques” lying beyond the domain of legitimate– i. the exclusion of pre-conceived assumptions allows the scholar to approach the religious object of study with “the gaze of the lover upon the beloved object… for all understanding rests upon self-surrendering love”.) but. Platvoet boldly states that “modern Westerners will agree – virtually unanimously – that the ‘spiritual’ realms. Dutch empiricism demonstrates a surprising congruity with the phenomenology of religion on precisely this assertion of our ability as scholars to divorce ourselves from our faculties of judgement: in short. If this curious second-person phenomenology leads to a type of mystical union with the object of study. AAR 2011 47 www. Indeed. as such their existence and operation cannot be verified or falsified by “a secular agnostic empirical science”. methodological agnosticism is the only proper attitude. or any claims made about it. be it real or hallucinated. In the hands of the phenomenologists of religion. leading to a focus solely upon the historically and culturally contingent nature of religious experience. he even employs the phenomenological term of “bracketing” for this empathic hermeneutic procedure. this assertion of shared and verifiable experiential dimensions already assumes the existence of essential structures of intersubjectivity – the concern of philosophical DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. In and of itself.gr . universally valid principles are – ostensibly – extrapolated from the inner life of others rather than an explicit philosophical introspection. The misappropriation of philosophical phenomenology is again evident in the work of Eliade. Quite the contrary: across a number of sensitive historical studies he has adopted what he himself describes as an “attitude of empathy”. they do not themselves have direct access to the meta-empirical. allowing a host of figures from Lazzarelli to Eliphas Lévi to speak to us from across the centuries. religion or ideology have instilled in him. leaving later scholars reliant upon biographical data to determine the personal sources of these putatively essential structures of religious experience. scientific – scholarly method. Because they can thus neither verify nor falsify its existence. the relation of the observing scholarly subject to the object of study is insufficiently problematised in both approaches. images.the exaggeration of certain elements of an Other’s being and worldview for the purpose of rendering them absurd. van der Leeuw cites Husserl as the source of his method. Despite this very different and distinctly Christian conception of bracketing. unreasonable or dangerous. behaviour etc. however. Equating the duality of profane and sacred with the visible and the invisible. while the sacred in that Other’s life is equated with “the real and meaningful” essence grasped through bracketing. the procedure of bracketing underwent a strange transformation: whereas the philosophical phenomenologists sought to extrapolate universally valid principles by illuminating the structures of their own inner world. Platvoet’s stated aim in the study of religion is to divest himself of all normative judgments which culture. In the course of Platvoet’s presentation of the dichotomy of empirical and meta-empirical realms – first proposed by the Dutch anthropologist Jan van Baal – it becomes clear we are dealing here not with empiricism per se. we must nevertheless strive for an accurate and wellinformed portrayal of those we imagine to be our antagonists. The practice of epoché or bracketing ultimately derives from the philosophy of Husserl. asserting that “scholars are dependent on believers expressing their awareness of a meta-empirical reality in empirically perceptible ways (words. On this count we should note that Hanegraaff does not insist upon an exclusion of “emic” perspectives from the study of Western esotericism. powers and qualities to which religions refer have never been seen”. but rather with a crude sensationalism or “sense empiricism” that confuses what is given to the scholar’s experience with a knowledge of external objects acquired through the senses. who directly equates the profane world of the religious object of study with Husserl’s “natural attitude” of unconscious everyday assumptions.e.” Yet Hanegraaff also seems to sense a critical flaw in Platvoet’s schema. for the Dutch empiricist the “bracketing” of assumptions opens up an abyss between the inner life of the scholar and that of the religious object of study. beings. for whom it referred to the exclusion of assumptions concerning the extra-mental existence of objects of consciousness in order to lay bare the essential structure of mental acts. and to remain methodologically agnostic towards the existence of non-perceptible ‘meta-empirical realms’ as they are expressed in the words and behaviours of religious believers.phoenixrising. for van der Leeuw the technique of bracketing was first and foremost a tool for entering into the inner lives of Others – in his words.org. While many of us gathered here today may have been marginalized by such caricatures.
In any case. conceived as the vehicle for receiving and expressing data from the so-called meta-empirical realms. for the hermeneut and the mystic alike that glass is clouded by the exigencies of worldly existence. and that he believes with Karl Popper that actual scientific communities only exist as more or less corrupt versions of it. One must assume that Platvoet’s portrayal of the academy is an ideal construct.phenomenology. if there ever were such a thing. However noble this vision of Platvoet’s may be. but through a glass darkly. the term “religionism” itself is highly polemical.gr . as such it partakes in what Culianu once portrayed as the post-Reformation suppression of the imagination. an organising idea of great explanatory power with a compulsive hold over its creator and his or her ‘disciples’. which Scheler once described as the most radical of empiricisms. Robert Merton. how much more so does institutional corruption? And we should make no mistake about this matter – the academy is profoundly corrupt. In the first place. If the weight of tradition militates against any aspirations to neutrality. through texts and behaviours we do not see face to face. This fact was tacitly acknowledged by Hanegraaff in a 2007 lecture on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Hanegraaff argued that these men represented “the two main theoretical approaches which are still competing within the contemporary study of Western esotericism”. One cannot fail to notice that. scholars are driven by a host of conscious and unconscious desires. This does not involve pure description. Quantitative data on the subject of corruption in the humanities are scarce. Through our research we not only enter into a dialogue with the traditions we study. all aspects of the inner world of an Other constitute a meta-empirical realm – yet it is precisely the task of work in the humanities to cast light upon that world. In these methods Platvoet sees the work of a powerful idée directrice. which he subsumes under the term ‘religionism’. as scholars of Western esotericism we cannot bootstrap ourselves beyond received discourse and divest ourselves of culturally conditioned judgments. as it were. who traces the origins of scientific empiricism and “organised scepticism” to seventeenth century Puritanism. intersubjectively testable) knowledge. Referring in its everyday sense to an “affected religious zeal”. hence in our field intellectual opponents falling loosely under the category of “religionists” have been marginalized with false accusations of racism. one cannot fail to remark upon the extreme naivety it displays. at least according to Platvoet’s source. Here I am not launching into a polemic against this antienthusiast tradition. who contrasts the Dutch empirical approach with the phenomenological methods of Eliade. sexual and other satisfactions it appears to bring. which causes empirical reality to be perceived in a selective and limited way. but the so-called hard sciences are hardly an exemplar for us: a 2009 metaanalysis of survey data found that 72 percent of scientists reportedly engaged in misconduct such as the fabrication of data or the modification of results due to pressure from funding sources.. banded together into democratic communities of organised scepticism for the purpose of achieving scientific (i. that ideal is decisively informed by Calvinism. Power lies in the mastery of certain forms of “discourse” and the suppression of others. Hence we are back on the slippery slope to the phenomenology of religion.org. Corbin. serving to exclude certain personalities and ideas from the realms of valid discourse – and conversely to elevate the status of those who wield it. albeit of an introspective nature. institutions and theories too often become vehicles for the promotion of egos rather than creative components of the transparent scientific network Platvoet envisages. Jung etc. There he referred to the conflict between the Pietist Gottfried Arnold and the anti-enthusiast Lutheran Ehregott Daniel Colberg on the subject of a “Platonic-Hermetic Christianity”. As I will argue. sometimes through caricature or the manipulation of politically charged symbols. Hence Dutch empiricism stands firmly in the lineage of a Protestant anti-enthusiasm. or Jung’s theory of archetypes. Like any other group of humans. The reference here is again to Platvoet. from the perspective of Platvoet’s sense empiricism. AAR 2011 48 www. In an increasingly competitive economic environment with dwindling resources and funding opportunities.phoenixrising. I am merely pointing out the fact that through our studies we are joining a later act in the very historical drama playing out in the texts before us. that is to say. we are of necessity contributing to those traditions for posterity. We might add that behind the ideal of scientific objectivity promoted by the Dutch empiricists lies not only an Enlightenment but a Protestant idée directrice. Those who utilise such methods are contrasted by Platvoet with so-called neutral scholars. homophobia and fascism. a God of pure spirit looking down upon Nature from a vantage-point DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. referring to Arnold as the first “religionist” author in our field and Colberg as the first “historian of Western esotericism”. Examples of such an idée directrice would be Eliade’s homo religiosus.e. not least being the quest for status and the emotional.
compromising the obedience of citizens and promoting resistance in the individual to the consensual force of sanctioned religious. By contrast the lowest part of the soul. this is closely associated with the psychiatric notion of apophenia.gr . from fasting and prayer to ritual magic. yet many traditions central to our study explicitly appeal to little-understood psychosomatic processes with implications for the mental health of the individual and the preservation of social order. imaginal factors and religious subtexts inevitably play a DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. which – deprived of its unique historical character – becomes a comforting mirror for our certainties or a mere slate for the projection of what Jung would have considered to be unconscious archetypal content. The currents of thought and practice we study posed – and continue to pose – a genuine threat to social stability as inspiring sources of authority lying beyond the control of Church and state. Hanegraaff argues that the intellectual wastepaper basket tagged ‘esotericism’ has been filled by ‘scholars’ seeking to “define their own identity”.infinitely removed from His antithesis. I mention these facts briefly to indicate once again that the exclusion of introspective “spiritual techniques” from the realms of scholarship has a history with which we are intimately involved through our studies. In his account of a “grand polemical narrative” marginalizing the esoteric Other. As I see it. set forth with varying degrees of clarity. As we are not and can never be disinterested observers divorced from our object of study. prompting nonsequiturs which call to mind that disinhibition of associative processes Eugen Bleuler identified as the key feature of schizophrenia. in which theories are applied to the defence of the scholar’s ego rather than any knowledge of nature and the divine. to insist upon a sense empiricism in our field is to become a partisan of what is essentially a process of social disciplining. state and civil institutions. which can be incited by the mere textual proximity of historically unrelated data. It is in this context that we should understand those somewhat neurotic concerns with sequestering the scholar from the object of study in our field today. as Klaus Conrad put it. Many of us will have encountered this phenomenon in the conflation of history and esoteric pseudohistory. our collective act of psychotherapy now requires an act of reintegration at a higher level. Having accomplished this separation. as if this process took place primarily according to the whim of intellectuals. In the early Rosicrucian milieu this critique possesses a Pauline emphasis on philautia – self-love. a passing similarity between words and numbers or the mistranslation of foreign terms. Christian Cabala. which responded to the corrupt or fallen knowledge of Scholasticism with the quest for an archetypal language at the fount of the pristine theology. Dutch empiricism has mounted a very legitimate challenge to scholars of the religionist persuasion (pejoratively so-called) and the stronger the affect in our response the more carefully we should examine our approach. and this achievement in itself has played a significant role in the growing prominence of our field. dreaming and the ingestion of entheogens. Meticulous discrimination between the many possible levels of textual interpretation is necessary to avoid a quasi-autistic relationship with the text. Yet as I have indicated in this talk. Hanegraaff has contributed greatly to the disentangling of Western esoteric history from pseudo-historical fantasy. bound to the material world by the senses. I am speaking here of Paracelsianism. is implicated in the methods of the Scholastic academy. As I have written elsewhere. To this end of attaining a wisdom untainted by worldly power we are presented with numerous techniques for transcending the ego. associated with the formation of the early modern and modern states. Hence our field of research affords contemporary society an analysis and surveillance of trends potentially threatening to its internal cohesion. the hyper-creative interpretation of patterns in random data accompanied by the “experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”. being “bound always to value what is his own more than what is true”. One sure sign of contagion is the phenomenon Umberto Eco referred to as over-interpretation. To his lasting credit. AAR 2011 49 www.phoenixrising. which Plato spoke of as “an evil.org. and with that fictionalisation of “the psycho-physical apparatus of man” to which Max Weber once referred. great above all others” and the “cause of all sins… for the lover is blind in his view of the object loved”. just as the field of anthropology emerged in the context of the external concerns of colonial administration (rather than from some armchair fascination with the lifestyles and beliefs of peoples deemed exotic). Rosicrucianism and other currents dominated by inspirationism and an introverted religiosity. which we find not only in the esoteric literature but also in the work of scholars and students. it is noteworthy that some central streams of thought and practice within Western esotericism emerged in response to the inertia of tradition and the corruption of scholarly institutions.
gr . To flatly refuse the admission of young scholars to the academy on the basis of their phenomenological orientation is to disregard the subtle historical and psychological relationship of scholarly textual interpretation to the “spiritual techniques” we study. Only this act of integration would constitute a true “psychotherapy of academic research”. For those who wish to employ them. scholars in a city like Amsterdam are free to conduct such informal research into the meta-empirical realms on a fairly regular basis. AAR 2011 50 www. the method of choice in these times is the Amazonian shamanic potion known as ayahuasca. Recognition of this fact requires careful reflection upon one’s own cultural and psychological dispositions rather than the iconoclastic zeal of the Aufklärer. these techniques offer significant insights into methodological issues. which amounts to a type of secular or profane enthusiasm. and which further complicates any pretensions Dutch empiricism has had to possessing the status of an objective science. While those scholars who believe social scientific methods are appropriate to research in the humanities should by no means be excluded. DEMONS IN THE ACADEMY. if not the inner lives of the men and women we study.role in the writing of history.org. Rather than leaving posterity to guess at the clandestine impact such forays might have had on a scholar’s ideas. even when our approach is ostensibly “neutral”.phoenixrising. scholarly rigour calls upon us to acknowledge and identify biographical data relevant to the formation of our conclusions. in my view the success of our field and the continued relevance of its contribution to society oblige us to maintain a creative tension between opposing yet complementary methods and personalities. On this count Hanegraaff confesses in a recent work that he has no particular talent for visualisation – a fact which fuels the suspicion that divisions in our field relate to distinct psychological types. As you can imagine.
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