Esoterica - Volume VII: Special Political Issue
June 27, 2005 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Select insiders will apppreciate Volume VII of Esoterica, this one being a Special Political Issue which leads with Religion and Secrecy in the Bush Administration: The Gentleman, the Prince, and the Simulacrum. Previous issues have featured articles like Sun Ra: From Ephrata (F-Ra-Ta) to Arkestra, Magic and Cyberspace and The Western Quest for 'Secret Tibet'--to name but a very few. And check out the Image Library, too. Via Other Voices
posted by y2karl (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A good overview of this "new" interdisciplinary field: What is Esoteric? Methods in the Study of Western Esotericism

Basically from what I gather, it purports to reject the approach of looking at "esoteric" fields, like alchemy, as backwards or inferior in relation to our, and rather try to get into the minds of the practitioners and understand it from their perspective.

".. to reveal the kinds of consciousness esotericism entails, that seek to bring us into new ways of seeing and knowing. It is here, I am convinced, that the most vital and profound contributions of this emerging field will be."
posted by stbalbach at 11:10 PM on June 27, 2005

Studied esoterica once. Thrust seemed to be that knowledge reaches it's crown in christian belief.

Much laughter ensued.
posted by telstar at 12:01 AM on June 28, 2005

A good overview of this "new" interdisciplinary field: What is Esoteric? Methods in the Study of Western Esotericism is what you meant, I think.

Until comparatively recently, there was very little scholarship on Western esotericism as a field. There were, of course, various articles and books on aspects of Western esotericism like alchemy or Rosicrucianism, but there was virtually no sense in the scholarly world that these disparate tributaries of thought formed a larger current of Western esotericism as such. One finds landmark studies in the mid-twentieth century by authors like Frances Yates, but no one who demarcated “Western esotericism” as a field for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary study. This situation was to change with the work of Antoine Faivre (1934-) who, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, with numerous major books and articles defined an entire field of inquiry.

Faivre holds a chair in the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne in the “Histoire des courants ésotériques et mystiques dans l’Europe moderne et contemporaine,” and his work represents the first strictly academic overview of Western esotericism. In his view, it is best to speak of Western esotericism in terms of “forms of thought” rather than in terms of “occult tradition” or similar terminology. He is interested in delineating the elements that make up particular ways of thinking we can mark as “esoteric,” and this methodological approach has been widely accepted. In his definitive book Accès de l’ésotérisme occidental, (1996), he demarcates four primary and two secondary characteristics that he sees as common to all the various currents of Western esotericism.

Faivre’s six characteristics are, again, as follows:

1. Correspondences & Interdependence
2. Living Nature
3. Imagination
4. Transmutation
5. Praxis of Concordance
6. Transmission.

Of course, these same elements can be found in other traditions, as various scholars have pointed out, which has led some scholars to question the utility of these six characteristics. If they can be found in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, for example, or indigenous religious traditions, then are these characteristics not too broad to be of definitive use? Correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm, living nature, the use of the visionary imaginative faculty, and the possibility of transmutation as well as transmission are certainly not unique to Western esotericism. One might well wonder whether, drawing on Faivre’s characteristics, one might be actually fashioning a larger framework for analyzing esoteric traditions both Asian and European in origin.

posted by y2karl at 1:08 AM on June 28, 2005

I'm not sure I follow the central thrust of the argument. The author says that Bush, and members of his administration, are very religious but also very secretive, as if these were mutually exclusive. Was there a 'Thou shall not keep secrets for the sake of national security' commandment that I missed?
posted by PurpleJack at 3:27 AM on June 28, 2005

Sun Ra and Taoist Alchemy! I am so there!
posted by kozad at 4:54 AM on June 28, 2005

Esoterica is indeed best of the web.
posted by sonofsamiam at 5:15 AM on June 28, 2005

kozad: you might also enjoy The Golden Elixer, a very extensive site on Chinese Alchemy.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:45 AM on June 28, 2005

Thanks for this, y2karl, it adds a lot to some of my own speculations about this administration. For some interesting historical insight into what the Times called the strain of irrationalism in American society you might want to have a look at The Occult Establishment, by James Webb if it's still in print.
posted by donfactor at 9:46 AM on June 28, 2005

Wow. I just finished the Sun Ra piece, and am struggling to hold all the strands together in my head. I'd heard of the Ephrata community but didn't know much about it; what an effervescent time the 1740s were in American religious culture! All sorts of people convinced they had the direct word of God, going around upsetting the established church and getting people out in the street or into new communities... It would never have occurred to me to put Le Sonny in that context, but it makes for an intriguing angle of approach. I certainly know a lot more about his wacky worldview than I did before! A couple of sentences that struck me:

In 1934 he took over an Alabama territory band that briefly made it as far as Chicago; known as the Sonny Blount orchestra, it lasted for a decade.

Man, I wish I could hear a recording of that band!

“Anglo-Israelites, Pyramidologists, Edomites, Pre-Adamites, Khazars, Pentecostalists—it was a maelstrom of rival ideologies like out of William Blake’s time,” observes Ra biographer and anthropologist John Szwed.

I roll my eyes when I read the doctrines of groups like that, but at the same time I'm fascinated, and they've inspired some great art. Go listen to Sun Ra, people! Join the Space Age!

And (of course) thanks for the post, y2karl.
posted by languagehat at 9:52 AM on June 28, 2005

Of course, no thread mentioning Sun Ra can go without a link to
Ridin' The Dog by Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb.
posted by y2karl at 10:56 AM on June 28, 2005

wow. this is really amazing stuff.

telstar and purplejack, you seemed to have missed me point (which i suppose is the purpose of esotericism in the first place).
posted by es_de_bah at 7:06 AM on June 29, 2005

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