Monday, November 24, 2014

a note on the "Ancient Egyptian" magical text

This magical text that's going around is very interesting and sheds light on its 8th century-ish context, but it ain't "Ancient Egyptian," which refers to a period thousands of years earlier. It's funny to me that it's being shared by folks who are excited by the idea of "Ancient Egyptian Magic" but doesn't actually have anything to do with that topic. And it's sad that the interesting historical context that it actually does shed light on--which is in need of great sources!--is being left out of the excitement. I find this frustrating but from an educator's point of view frustrating in a good way. Headlines mislead and nobody really cares, journalists who should reall know better are spamming us with historical misinformation: that's a worthy challenge.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Reading List

here is a list of the ten books that got me into what I'm working on/researching:
1. Theurgy and the Soul, Gregory Shaw
2. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Ioan Couliano
3. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Frances Yates
4. Thinking with Demons, Stuart Clark
5. Promethean Ambitions, William R. Newman
6. John Dee's Conversations with Angels, Deborah Harkness
7. Conjuring Spirits, Claire Fanger
8. Esotericism and the Academy, Wouter Hanegraaff
9. Trithemius and Magical Theology, Noel Brann
10. The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, Christopher Lehrich

A follower on Twitter has requested a more general list for occult newbies, so I'm working on that next, but I'll have to look into what books are now available.

Friday, September 12, 2014

CFP: Medieval Angelology for Kalamazoo

Title: Still seeking papers on Medieval Angelology for ICMS at
       Kalamazoo 2015
    Location: Michigan
    Date: 2014-09-15
    Description: I am still seeking papers from all disciplines on the
       topic of Medieval Angelology. There is a rich and multifaceted
       tradition of study and representation of angels and angelic
       messengers during the Middle Ages, crossing geographical space
       and cultural time and incorporating spiritual and religious,
    Announcement ID: 216215

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Esoterica discussion with cyberpunk legend John Shirley on Facebook

This is from a thread about "top ten books that influenced me"

Ted Hand 1. Theurgy and the Soul, Gregory Shaw
2. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Ioan Couliano
3. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Frances Yates
4. Thinking with Demons, Stuart Clark
5. Promethean Ambitions, William R. Newman
6. John Dee's Conversations with Angels, Deborah Harkness
7. Conjuring Spirits, Claire Fanger
8. Plotinus and the Simplicity of Vision, Pierre Hadot
9. Trithemius and Magical Theology, Noel Brann
10. The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, Christopher Lehrich

John Shirley The weird thing about Ted Hand there is he actually reads stuff by Agrippa, Dr Dee, and "Conjuring Spirits"--but Richard Smoley has you beat, he read stuff in the original Latin and Greek... one of the most interesting and, I find, exasperating and pretentious and annoying but also frequently insightful of esoteric writers presently going at it is Kingsley, eg his "Reality"

Ted Hand Kingsley is interesting. Along those lines I really dig Algis Uzdavinys, who gets into spiritual aspects of ancient philosophy in a way that's less difficult. I'm working on the Latin! Did a UCB summer intensive, could list classical texts that I like... But I have less greek. Languages are hard and require a lot of funding. Perhaps I should do a Kickstarter to help me study them

I'm probably guilty of reading too many secondary sources and not enough of the primary. But my project right now is more about understanding what people mean when they talk about esotericism, so I'm trying to get as wide and general a sense of the variations as possible. Luckily there's a lot available in English, but I'm well aware that I'd profit a great deal by being able to read the great stuff in French, Dutch, Italian, etc. As well as the originals. It's nice that we have a solid Latin critical edition of Agrippa, and Reuchlin needs a better translation... Sometime if you want I could show you my ten boxes of printouts...

John Shirley Ted Hand I don't think it's necessary to read primary sources *really*. It's just necessary to have a good reliable translator.
18 mins · Like

John Shirley Ted Hand I go with the assumption that some schools and paths are dead ends and have little or nothing to offer except...color. To me what matters is what one can validate, and finding paths that offer actual experience, and not just elaborate magical thinking, folklore, and the poesy of myth (or hallucination on "soma"). We can turn to Jung and some of his colleagues for good interpretation of myth. I want the real goods. Some paths/traditions/schools have the ring of truth and verisimilitude, and can be parsed and can prove out. Most can't. Same old metaphor--looking for diamonds when it's mostly quartz.

John Shirley ...otherwise it's just round in circles...and no the circle is not the point and no the journey is not the point...

Yeah, I feel the same way about not necessarily needing a translation. But in academia they're kinda snooty about getting to the sources. For the sort of work I'm doing, I can rely on a lot of great work in English, and more is coming out recently. So much good stuff in the last ten years. Finally saw a Bruno text I'd been waiting on just a year or two ago! And the author is sending me a review copy! I can relate to what you're saying about "dead ends" for sure. I hope that I'm not wasting too much of my time trying to understand what's problematic about the funky ones, and trying to start labor unions for quartz miners. Being critical while doing a comparative project is an important corrective to a lot of the bad religious studies out there. I agree that Jung is very useful for showing how myth engages the deeper mind, absolutely. We can be like alchemists questing after a stone we're not gonna find. But I don't mean to indicate that looking at all this esoteric stuff involves chasing after the "dead ends" as my only spiritual path! And I don't think that my serious spiritual interest in the good paths can be separated from my academic or popular nonfiction type writing approaches, either. Kripal said something great in his comments on Philip K. Dick's Exegesis about how reading and writing was a sorta path for PKD, and that may be a nice way of hinting at what I get out of the research as a gnostic quest.
7 mins · Edited · Like · 1

Ted Hand For me the best thing about learning a language is that you can better get to the music of a text. But if you're talking about straight up expository writing, translation is fine. It gets tricky in philosophy, but you can explain the untranslatables. I like that I've been forced to learn a lot of terms from a lot of different languages, without necessarily needing to learn the whole language, to understand various philosophers from whatever era.
5 mins · Like

Ted Hand "The circle/journey is not the point," oh goodness yes. If I'm advocating anything it's to drain all those kinda New Age bromides and make things much more "boring," if that makes sense. I do think it's important to understand the tricks that get people moving in those circles, but at a certain point one gets the message and can hang up the phone. I'm working on a lot of mysteries in my particular field that I can explain the interest of in detail, fortunately, although I don't know if I would want to spin it as all being relevant to anybody's particular spiritual quest. Some of this stuff from Renaissance intellectual history of magic etc. is interesting even if you're not a true believer in some sense of "esotericism," and can be applied to spirituality, creativity, philosophy, psychology, design, or other fields. But the magic works too.

BTW John Shirley I think I may have told you this before, but I talked about Kingsley with Smoley the first time we met, at an afterparty in a hotel room for the Davis ASE conference, 2005 or 6 IIRC. He related an anecdote of seeing Kingsley speak to a conference of philosopher, and being amused at the sorta hostile knee-jerk reactions from those who didn't get it, which he described with a satirical quote along the lines of "what, were these ancient philosophers MEDITATING?" That was a formative moment in my development as a scholar, especially in the dimension of being critical of the ways that academics approach this stuff and seeing how better critics like Smoley laugh at that stuff, having experienced more.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Call for Papers - Twin Peaks!

CFP: The Owls Are Not What They Seem: Essays on the Mysterious World of Twin Peaks

Essays are invited which examine themes of the mysterious and weird in the TV series Twin Peaks and David Lynch’s follow-up film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Almost a quarter of a century since it was first aired, Twin Peaks has a special place in television history and an enduring mystique that has resulted in a cult following that is growing even today. The Owls Are Not What They Seem: Essays on the Mysterious World of Twin Peaks is a collection that proposes to explore those strange and uncanny aspects of the show that give it such lasting appeal. Such analyses will add new perspectives and insights into the longevity of the show’s impact on popular culture as well as expand our scholarly understanding of the Twin Peaks phenomenon.

Topics could include, but are not limited to:
  • Occult and mystical symbology
  • Dreams and visions
  • Liminal spaces and binaries
  • Otherworldly and supernatural influences
  • Death and dying
  • Religion and/or spirituality
  • Paranormal ability
  • Fairytale motifs
  • Twin Peaks tourism (e.g. themed restaurants), fan culture and memorabilia

Essays are invited from scholars in the disciplines of folkloristics, cultural studies, study of religions, film studies, philosophy, psychology, and related disciplines. Cross-disciplinary analysis is welcome.

Proposals should take the form of an approximately 500-word abstract, a provisional title, as well as a short biography (50-100 words). All proposals must be received via email by October 31, 2014. The word count of essays accepted for inclusion in the collection should be between 3,500 and 4000 words.

Please send all proposals and questions to the editor, Dr Jenny Butler at and cc. to

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quick thought on John Allegro (from an LJ commenting responding about his rep in gnostic studies/philological circles)

My understanding is that Allegro's work is a mix of serious scholarship and mental illness. I'd be curious to see a breakdown of what's real philology and what's now regarded as fantasy or just incorrect, especially in terms of the speculative stuff about altered states of consciousness. Could be he turned up a lot that will be useful to future study of ancient language describing ASCs, even if he had the wrong approach trying to get to "religion's origin is mushrooms."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tori Amos interview excerpt on Gnosticism

Q: What does your father say to you when you use your art, which you learned in church, for something as profane as rock music?

T: Of course he wanted me to compose church music. In the meantime he learned, but I can’t bring him to read the Gnostic writings. That’s the border he will never cross.

Q: He is only consistent with the church, the Gnostic writings don’t belong to the bible’s canon.

T: Instead of saying, okay, we accept the Gnostic writings as the lost son of the Bible’s canon, he defends this decision. That is why on the cover of Boys for Pele I was breastfeeding a piglet. Because the piglet is not kosher.

Q: Above all it is the worst kind of blasphemy.

T: It is the best kind of blasphemy.

Q: You’re not welcome in Catholic countries.

T: But I’m not a Catholic, I am a Gnostic. In early Christianity, I would have followed the Gnostic direction. But I live today and therefore I believe in the power of the myths, in what Joseph Campbell called “the power of the myths”. In American schools you won’t learn much about these myths.;id=3;url=http%3A%2F%2Fgnosisandknowledge%2Eblogspot%2Ecom%2F2007%2F08%2Fexcerpts-from-her-fansite-undented%2Ehtml

Monday, July 14, 2014

Swedenborg on faith as collage

"The beauty and grace of a lucid faith, composed of many truths, may be compared to the beautiful colour scheme of various objects, forms, and pictures; also to the precious stones of various colours in Aaron's breast-plate."
'The True Christian Religion' (London, -) by Emanuel Swedenborg.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Adorno's Theses Against the Occult


Theses against the occult. – I. The penchant for the occult is a symptom of the regression of consciousness. It has lost the energy to think what is unconditional and to withstand the conditional. Instead of determining both, in unity and difference, in the labor of the concept, it heedlessly mixes them up. What is unconditional turns into a fact, what is conditional becomes immediately essential [wesenhaft]. Monotheism crumbles into a second mythology. “I believe in astrology, because I don’t believe in God,” responded an interviewee in an American social psychological study. The juridically-minded [rechtsprechenden] reason, which raised itself to the concept of a god, seems to be caught up in the latter’s fall. The Spirit [Geist] dissociates itself into spirits [Geister: spirits, ghosts] and thereby forfeits the capacity to recognize, that the latter no longer exist. The veiled tendency of calamity of society cons its victims in the false revelation, in the hallucinatory phenomenon. They hope, in vain, that its fragmentary obviousness will enable them to look at the total doom in the eye and withstand it. Panic breaks out once again after millennia of enlightenment on a humanity, whose domination over nature as domination over human beings surpasses in horror whatever human beings had to fear from nature.
II. The second mythology is even more untrue than the first. The latter was the precipitate of the state of cognition of its epochs, each of which showed its consciousness of the blind natural context to be somewhat freer than the previous one. The former, disturbed and entangled, throws away the cognition it once achieved of itself in the middle of a society, which eliminates through the all-embracing exchange relationship even what is most elementary, which the occultists claim to control. The gaze of the mariner at the Dioscuri [twin guardian deities of sea-voyagers in ancient Greece, rendered as statues on the ship’s prow], the animism of trees and streams, in all the delusory bedazzlement at what is inexplicable, were appropriate to the historical experiences of the subject vis-à-vis its action-objects. As a rationally utilized reaction towards the rationalized society, however, in which the booths and consultation rooms of the spirit-seers of all grades, the reborn animism denies the alienation to which it testifies and on which it lives, and surrogates a nonexistent experience. The occultist draws the most extreme conclusion from the fetish-character of the commodity: threateningly objectified labor springs at them from objects in the guise of countless demons. What is forgotten in a world which has turned into products, its producedness [Produziertsein] by human beings, is recalled in divided, inverted form, as something existing in itself which is added to and equated with the in-themselves of objects [An sich der Objekte]. Because these latter have frozen under the light of reason, losing the appearance [Schein] of being animated, that which animates them, its social quality, makes itself something naturally-supernaturally independent, a thing among things.
III. The regression to magical thinking under late capitalism assimilates thought to late-capitalist forms. The dubious-asocial marginal phenomena of the system, the ramshackle institutions which squint through the cracks in its walls, indeed reveal nothing of what would be outside, but manifest the energies of disassembly [Zerfalls] in the interior that much more. The small-time sages, who terrorize their clients in front of a crystal ball, are toy models of the big-time ones, who hold the destiny of humanity in their hands. The obscurantists behind “Psychic Research” [in English in original] are as quarrelsome and conspiratorial as society itself. The hypnosis exerted by occult things resembles totalitarian terror: in contemporary processes, both converge with each other. The smile of the augury has overgrown itself into the scornful laughter of society; it feeds on the immediate material exploitation of souls. The horoscope corresponds to the directives of bureaus on nationalities [Völker: literally peoples or nations, but meaning a homogenous ethnic group], and number-mysticism is preparation for administrative statistics and cartel prices. Integration proves in the end to be the ideology of the disintegration into power-groups, which exterminate each other. Whoever casts their lot with them, is lost.
IV. The occult is a reflex-movement of the subjectification of all meaning, the complement of reification. When the objective reality seems more deaf to the living than ever before, they seek to worm out its meaning through an abracadabra. Meaning is indiscriminately ascribed to the next worse thing: the rationality of what is real, which is no longer quite convincing, is replaced with dancing tables and rays from heaps of earth. The refuse of the world of phenomena [Erscheinungswelt] turns into the mundus intelligibilis [Latin: world of intelligible realities] of the ailing consciousness. It comes close to being the speculative truth, just as Kafka’s Odradek would almost be an angel, and is nevertheless, in a positivity which leaves out the medium of thought, only barbaric error, the subjectivity which has relinquished [entäusserte] itself and thereby fails to recognize itself in the object. The more complete the disdainfulness of what is passed off as “Spirit” [Geist] – and in anything more animated the enlightened subject would of course recognize itself – the more the meaning sensed there, which in fact is totally absent, turns into the unconscious, compulsory project of the historically – if not necessarily clinically – disintegrating [zerfallenden] subject. It would like to make the world similar its own disassembly [Zerfall]: that is why it deals with stage-props and malicious wishes. “The third reads out of my hand / It wants to read my misfortune!” In the occult, the Spirit [Geist] groans under its own bane [Bann] like those caught in a bad dream, whose torment increases with the feeling, that they are dreaming, without being able to wake up.
V. The violence of the occult, just like Fascism, to which it is linked by thought-schemata of the sort which purvey anti-Semitism, is not only pathic. It consists rather of the fact that in the lesser panaceas, cover-pictures, as it were, the consciousness hungry for truth thinks it can grasp the dimly present cognition, which official progress of every type assiduously withholds. It is that society, by virtually excluding the possibility of the spontaneous recoil, gravitates towards total catastrophe. The real absurdity is the model for the astrological one, which puts forward the impenetrable context of alienated elements – nothing is more foreign than the stars – as knowledge about the subject. The threat which is read out of the constellations, resembles the historical one, which rolls on in unconsciousness, in what is subjectless. They can bear the thought that everyone is a prospective victim of a whole, which is merely formed from themselves, only by transferring that whole away from themselves onto something similar, something external to it. In the miserable idiocy which they propagate, the empty horror, they allow themselves to let out the clumsy misery, the crass fear of death and nevertheless to continue to repress it, as they must if they wish to continue to live. The break in the life-line which indicates a hidden cancer is a fraud only in the place where it is asserted, in the hand of the individual [Individuums]; where it would not give a diagnosis, in the collective, it would be correct. Occultists rightly feel drawn to childishly monstrous natural-scientific fantasies. The confusion they create between their emanations and the isotopes of uranium, is ultimate clarity. The mystic rays are modest anticipations of the technical ones. Superstition is cognition, because it sees all of the ciphers of destruction together, which are scattered on the social surface; it is foolish, because in still clings to illusions, in all of its death-drive: glossing the answer, from the transfigured form of society, displaced into the heavens, which can only be provided by the real transfiguration of society.
VI. The occult is the metaphysics of knuckleheads. The subalternity of mediums is no more accidental than the apocryphal nature and triviality of what is revealed. Since the early days of spiritism, the beyond has announced nothing more portentous than a greeting from a dead grandmother next to a prediction, that a journey is in the offing. The excuse that the spirit-world cannot communicate to feeble human reason any more than this latter is able to take in, is just as silly, the auxiliary hypothesis of the paranoid system: the lumen naturale [Latin: “natural light,” in the sense of everyday human reasoning] achieved greater things than the trip to the grandmother, and if the spirits do not wish to acknowledge this, then they are mannerless kobolds, with whom one had better break off all contact. The obtusely natural content of the supernatural message betrays its untruth. While it hunts outside for what is lost, what it runs into there is only its own nothingness. In order not to fall out of the grey prosaicness, in which they feel right at home as incorrigible realists, they adjust the meaning, on which they refresh themselves, into what is meaningless, before which they flee. The phoney magic is nothing other than the phoney existence, which the former illuminates. That is why it makes itself at home with what is down to earth. Facts, which differ from what is the case, only in that they are nothing of the sort, are worked up into the fourth dimension. Their qualitas occulta [Latin: hidden quality] is solely their non-being. They deliver the world-view of idiocy. Abruptly, drastically, the astrologists and spiritists issue a response to every question, which does not even solve the latter, but cancels any possible solution through crude suppositions. Their sublime realm, conceived as analogous to space, no more needs to be thought than chairs and flower-vases. It thereby reinforces conformism. Nothing pleases the existent more, than the position that existence, as such, is supposed to be meaning.
VII. The great religions have either, as in the Jewish one, kept in mind the salvation of the dead, after the ban on graven images, with silence, or taught the resurrection of the flesh. They have their gravity in the inseparability of what is spiritual [Geistigen] and what is corporeal. There is no intention, there is nothing “intellectual” ["geistiges"], which would not somehow be grounded in corporeal perception and demand corporeal fulfillment. To the occultists, who consider themselves above the thought of resurrection and do not at all wish for actual salvation, this is too crude. Their metaphysics, which even Huxley can no longer distinguish from metaphysics, rests on the axiom: “The soul swings high into the air / the body rests on the couch over there.” The feistier the spirituality, the more mechanistic: not even Descartes separated it so cleanly. The division of labor and reification are driven to the extreme: body and soul are cut from each other in a perennial vivisection, as it were. The soul is supposed to dust itself off, in order to continue, in lighter regions, its eager activity right at the point it was interrupted. In such a declaration of independence, however, the soul turns into the cheap imitation of what it was falsely emancipated from. In place of the reciprocity, which even the most rigid philosophy upheld, the astral body sets up shop, the ignominious concession of the hypostatized Spirit [Geist] to its opponent. Only in the allegory of the body is the concept of the pure Spirit [Geists] is to be grasped at all, and the former simultaneously sublates the latter. With the reification of the spirits, the spirits are already negated.
VIII. Occultists fulminate against materialism. But they want to weigh the astral body. The objects of their interest are supposed to simultaneously surpass the possibility of experience and be experienced. Everything is supposed to be done strictly scientifically; the greater the humbug, the more carefully controlled the test arrangement. The pomposity of scientific controls is taken ad absurdum [Latin: to the point of absurdity], where there is nothing to control for. The same rationalistic and empiristic apparatus which put an end to the spirits, is employed to mandatorily foist them off on those who no longer trust in their own ratio. As if any elementary spirit would flee from the trap of the control over nature, which is posited by their fleeting essence [Wesen]. But even this the occultists make use of. Because the spirits don’t like controls, a door must be held open to them in the middle of security precautions, so that they can make their appearance undisturbed. For the occultists are practical types. They aren’t driven by idle curiosity, they seek tips. Things go in a jiffy from the stars to futures trading [Termingeschäft: future transactions, futures, options]. Mostly the information amounts to ill tidings for some acquaintance, who was hoping for something.
IX. The cardinal sin of the occult is the contamination of Spirit [Geist] and existence, the latter of which turns into an attribute of the Spirit [Geistes]. This last originated in existence, as an organ designed to preserve life. Since existence is reflected in the Spirit [Geist], this latter turns at the same time into something else. What exists negates itself as the memorialization [Eingedenken] of itself. Such negation is the element of the Spirit [Geistes]. To ascribe it once more to positive existence, even if it were that of a higher social order, would deliver it to that which it stands against. Later bourgeois ideology had made it once more into what it was in pre-animism, something existing-in-itself according to the measure of the social division of labor, of the break between physical and intellectual labor, and of the planned domination over the former. In the concept of the Spirit [Geistes] which exists in itself, the consciousness ontologically justifies and eternalizes privilege, by making it independent of the social principle, which constitutes it. Such ideology explodes into occultism: the latter is an idealism which has come into itself, as it were. Precisely by virtue of the rigid antithesis of being and Spirit [Geist], this latter turns into a department of being. If idealism had promoted the idea solely for the whole, that being would be Spirit [Geist] and this latter would exist, then the occult draws the absurd consequence from this, that existence means determinate being: “Existence is, according to its becoming, above all being with something non-being, so that this non-being is taken up in simple unity with being. The non-being thus taken up in being, the fact that the concrete whole is in the form of being, of immediacy, comprises the determination as such. “ (Hegel, Science of Logic I, ed. Glockner, Stutgart 1928, page 123). The occultists take not-being as a “simple unity with being” literally, and their kind of concreity is a fraudulent abbreviation of the path from the whole to the determinate, which can claim that the whole, as something once determined, is thereby nothing of the sort anymore. They call to metaphysics, hic Rhodus hic salta[Latin: here is Rhodes, here is where you jump]: if the philosophical investment of Spirit [Geist] with existence can be determined, then, they feel, any random, scattered existence must ultimately justify itself as a particular Spirit [Geist]. Consequently, the doctrine of the existence of the Spirit [Geist], the most extreme exaltation of bourgeois consciousness, would already teleologically bear the belief in spirits, its utmost denigration. The transition to existence, always “positive” and justification for the world, implies at the same time the thesis of positivity of the Spirit [Geist], its arrest as a thing [Dingfestmachung], the transposition of what is absolute into the phenomenon [Erscheinung]. Whether the entire tangible world, as “product,” is supposed to be Spirit [Geist] or any sort of thing any sort of Spirit [Geist], becomes irrelevant and the world-spirit turns into the highest spirit [Geist], to the guardian angel of what exists, of what is de-spiritualized. The occultists live on this: their mysticism is the enfant terrible [French: scandalous young guard] of the mystical moment in Hegel. They drive the speculation to defrauding bankruptcy. By passing off the determinate being as Spirit [Geist], they subject the objectified Spirit [Geist] to the test of existence, and it must turn out negatively. No Spirit [Geist] is there.