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Draft ASE 2020 Conference Schedule

ASE Ninth International Conference

May 14 – 17, 2020, at the University of California, Davis

n.b.: This is only a draft schedule and subject to change.

5/15 Thursday

5:00 – 6:00 PM            Registration

6:00 – 7:00 PM            Reception

7:00 – 8:30                   First Keynote Lecture(Alpha Gamma Rho Hall, henceforth AGR)

Cathy Gutierrez, “Unnatural Selection: Eugenics and the Spirit World”

The Father of Modern Eugenics, Sir Francis Galton, was first cousins and close friends with Charles Darwin.  He was deeply involved in the Spiritualist movement and brought cousin Darwin to his first séance.  This friendship triangulated with Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder of the theory of natural selection and also an avid Spiritualist.  I will discuss Spiritualist misreadings of Darwin that projected evolution into the highest heavens.  The concept of natural selection almost immediately became an imperative of progress and Spiritualists, whose life and endless afterlife were coterminous with progression.  The idea that perfection could be hastened was too tantalizing for many and calls for social engineering and outright eugenics campaigns became a Spiritualist platform for some. 

6/17 Friday

9:15 – 10:45 AM          Plenary Round Table (AGR Hall)

Christopher G. White, Vassar College

During the Second Boer War, the British officer J. W. Dunne realized that the only way to see and understand enemy defenses would be to rise above the field of battle and see everything from above.  At the time there was not a way to achieve this transcendent angle of vision, but after the war Dunne began designing, building and test-piloting airplanes for the British War Office.  Dunne’s monoplanes and biplanes would bring the UK enormous strategic advantages in the coming decades.  But these new technologies also helped Dunne examine problems that were more personal. During the war he had begun to have unusual experiences in which he rose above his body and saw invisible things. In addition, during both waking visions and nighttime dreams he saw earthquakes, train crashes and other catastrophes that later happened in real life. In 1927 he published a bestseller about these experiences called An Experiment with Time, a book that drew on the awesome experience of flying to talk about how human consciousness might be able to transcend the world of everyday perceptions.  In this paper I examine Dunne’s unusual spiritual experiences, his test flights, and the ways that new flying technologies made possible a new, more expansive type of subjectivity.  If Dunne’s flying machines made possible a new way to see everything-at-once on the flat surface of the earth, they also seemed to make more plausiblethe idea that some part of human consciousness could rise up and see all things at once, including events in the future. Though early aviators sometimes said flying led to feelings of awe and a sense of transcendence, Dunne took this a step further.  He used flying as a way of making plausible and more scientific the idea that we could all overcome the secular limits of space and time

 Andreas Kilcher, ETH, Zürich, “The Scientification of Esotericism: The Knowledge Claim of Modern Occultism”

Modern esotericism is commonly understood to have emerged in opposition to the processes of disentchantment and scientification in the 19th century: It not only was “rejected knowledge“ by the predominant scientific discourse, but it itself, in turn, rejected the contemporary sciences. On closer inspection, however, this rejection-thesis is highly questionable. With its strong knowledge claim and affirmative adaptation of scientific methods and techniques, modern occultism asserted itself as a decidely scholarly endeavor at the center of the contemporary sciences. It is therefore the thesis of this lecture that modern occultism can be understood as scientification of esotericism. As a consequence of this, I furthur suggest that we need to  revise the common understanding of the history of knowledge as a linear and homogeneous process (e.g. the narrative of progress) by replacing it by a more complex picture.

Peter Bebergal, Author of Strange Frequencies, “Enchanting Technology”

In this paper I will examine how states of enchantment can and often have existed at the intersection of occult beliefs and technology.  In this ambiguous and liminal space deep wells of meaning can be found, and this is where magic is, has been, and continues to be an important tool to activate the imagination.  Technology can bring us to the threshold, where the possibility of enchantment begins as a creative and psychological experience immune to religious fundamentalism and hardened atheism.  Esoteric spiritual practices and technology both use tools to shape reality into new forms and gain control over nature and consciousness. John Dee’s speculum and Joseph Smith’s seeing stones, magic lanterns used in masonic rituals, spirit photographs, and ghost boxes, all are examples of our capacity to reengineer our spiritual lives. These,and other kind of occult practices require experimentation, breaking boundaries, and using devices in ways they might not be originally intended.The magician and the hacker both attempt to break open conventional ways of working with our imaginations. Magic–and other occult methods– are indeed, kinds of spiritual hacking: They are attempts to open the to reveal the marvels of the universe as it unfolded in ever new and astonishing waysto understand how it works and bend it towards a new purpose. Alongside the increased interest in the occult is the DIY and maker culture, all of whom are seeking enchantment and wonder. And when magicians and artists use technology to explore the occult imagination, they reveal new ways to enchant our lives.

10:45 – 11:00 AM        Coffee Break

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM  First Session

EUGENICS(Allewlet Conference Room)

Della Campion, “Religion, Science and the Perfected Person: Spiritual Ascension and the Eugenics at the Oneida Community”

Collette Walker, “Toward the Transparents Race: Esotericism and Eugenics in the International Mazdaznan Movement”

George Sieg, “NO TITLE”

SUBCULTURE (Founders Board Room)

Ehler Voss, “Searching for Science: The Paranormal On Trial in California”

Stephanie C Shea, “Identity, (Altered) Consciousness, and the Imagination: Other-than-Human Subcultures and the ‘Esoteric’”

Eliott Edge, “Human Cultural and Scientific Inspiration vs Modern Extra-Terrestrial Telepathy Experiences”


John MacMurphy, “Scientific and Occult Influences on Jewish Kabbalah”

Sam Glauber-Zimra, “In Search of the Unexplained: Religious Readings of Parapsychology and the Paranormal among Interwar Hasidic Rabbis”

12:30 – 2:15 PM         Lunch

2:15 – 2:30 PM            Coffee Break

2:30 – 4:00                   Second Session

EAST ASIA(Allewlet Conference Room)

Cody Bahir, “Energeticism, Ancestor Veneration, and Esoteric Buddhism”

Geoffrey Redmond, “The Metaphysics of Multiple Worlds: Views from the Modern West and Ancient China”

DRUGS(Founders Board Room)

Morgan Shipley, “Psychedelic Technology and Esoteric Wisdom”

Shannon McRae, “Mixing Medicine and Magic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Cocktail Culture”

P.D. Newman, “Alchemically Stoned: Freemasonry and Ethnogens” 


Mark Roblee, “The Laws of Science, Knowledge Production, and Other Queer Fish”

 Joshua Gentzke, “Speculative Realism and the New Dark Platonism”

Ted Hand, “Was the Hypnerotomachia Polyphili an Esoteric Text?” 

5/16 Saturday

9:15 – 10:45 AM          Third Session

EARLY MODERN SCIENCE(Allewlet Conference Room)

Joscelyn Godwin, “Esoteric Roots of the Quadrivium”

M.E. Warlick, “Vessel’s and Furnaces: Gendering of the Alchemical Laboratory”

Tom Willard, “Why is the Chymist so Sceptical? Robert Boyle Between the Esoteric and the Exoteric Trends in Early Modern Chemistry”

TECHNOLOGY(Founders Board Room)

Bradley J. Wiles, “Up the Pyramid: Bridging the Esoteric and Scientific in Information Studies”

Christopher Senn, “Hyperdimensional Minds: The Magic and Mysticism in the Writings of Ioan Coulianu are out of this World”

Melvyn Lloyd Draper, “Radio Waves, Wizards, and Black Boxes: Radionic Healing and the Electrical  Reactions of Albert Abrams”


Angela Xia, “Crystals Beyond the New Age: Minerals and the Work of Esoteric Knowledge Making”

Sasha Chaitow, “Scientific Branches with Esoteric Roots: The Long Journey of Integrative Manual Therapies”

Christa Shuska, “Science of Self, Science of Love, Eleanor Kirk’s Astrology,”

10:45 – 11:00 AM        Coffee Break

11:00 AM  – 12:30 PMFourth Session

PSYCHOLOGIES(Allewlet Conference Room)

Daniel Albert Joslyn, “Karezza and the Occult in the Emergence of Sexology”

Elizabeth Lowry, “Boundary Work in the Late Nineteenth Century: Considering the Legacy of PSI Research in the University”

Richard Brzustowicz, “Obverse and Reverse: Some Strands of the History of Psychology and Esotericism”

SUBTLE ENERGY(Founders Board Room) 

Melissa Salm, “On the Smell of Trapped Souls: Putrefying Pneuma”

Paul Eli Ivey, “Force, Fohat, is the Energy of the Supreme: Electricity and Electro-Therapeutics in the Anglo Occult Imagination”

Geoffrey McVey, “The Story of an Eye: Esoteric Theories of Vision and Occult Agency”

THE ARTS (AGR Hall. This panel goes to 12:40 PM.)

Elizabeth Abbate, “An Esoteric Prototype for the Science of Musical Serialism: Webern’s Op. 24 as a Goethean Model”

Emily Leon, “Spiritual Flora: Abstraction, Spiritualism, and Botany in Seance Drawings”

Amy Hale, “Penetrating Hidden Worlds: Ithell Colquhoun’s Extra Dimensional Portals”

Melinda Weinstein, “Leonardo da Vinci and the Golden Window”

12:30 – 2:00 PM                      Lunch

2:00 – 3:30 PM            Fifth Session


Sandra Pryor, “Lynn Thorndike’s Historiography of Included Knowledge and History as a Social Science”

Aaron French, “Mythos as Modern Rationality”

Aaron Chavez, “Esoteric Thought and Biology: How Hidden Knowledge Informed Biological Explanation”


Olga Louchakova-Schwartz, “Symbolic Forms in Esoteric and Scientific Mind: Alastair Reynolds and Beyond”

Thea Wirsching, “Hermetic Magic in Poe’s Cosmology”

Arthur Versluis, “Esoteric Literature and the Limits of the Scientific Imagination”

3:30 – 3:45 PM            Coffee Break

3:45 – 5:00 PM            Sixth Session


Richard Kaczynski, “Magicians among the Infidels: British Secularism and the Birth of Thelemic ‘Magick’”

Nathan Bjorge, “What is Aleister Crowley’s ‘Skeptical Theurgy’? Decoding the Methodology of ‘Scientific Illuminism”

SWEDENBORG(Founders Board Room)

Keith Schuchard, “From the Bowels of the Earth to the Clouds of Heaven: Emanuel Swedenborg’s Theories of Telepathy from Natural Minerals to Human Minds”

Jim Lawrence, “The Arc of Scientific Soul Searching: From Swedenborg’s Mediations to Modern Consciousness Studies”

5:30 – 8:30 PM            Dinner Banquet

5/17 Sunday

9:00 – 10:15 AM         Final Keynote (AGR Hall)

Christopher McIntosh, “Fifty Years of Western Esotericism”

Christopher has been studying and writing about the western esoteric traditions since the mid-1960s, producing such acclaimed works as Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult RevivalThe Rose Cross and the Age of Reasonand the first reliable translation of the Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis(together with his wife Dr. Donate Pahnke McIntosh). In this lecture he will look back over the past half century of the study of esotericism and will talk about key scholars and developments in the field as well as about his encounters with people in various esoteric movements.

10:15 – 11:30 AM        Open Business Meeting (AGR Hall)

ASE 2020 Paper Abstracts


             A fundamental assumption of many esoteric systems is the existence of multiple realities beyond the ordinary world that can be perceived by the senses. Such are integral to shamanism, tantra, channeling the dead, Theosophy, and many other esoteric cosmologies. Despite their rejection by both common sense and positivist science, this paper will discuss arguments for plural worlds that resist refutation. Two such conceptions are those of analytic philosopher David Lewis and the ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi.

 Lewis’ most striking claim is that multiple worlds can be taken as existing because there is no basis for assuming otherwise. These other worlds have no particular spatial or other relation to our own. Despite many criticisms, no philosopher has been able to develop a convincing refutation for this. The implications of Lewis’ work for some of the alternate realities described in esoteric thought will be explored. Zhuangzi (莊子 fl. late 4th c. BCE), one of the founders of philosophical Daoism, invites us to “try wandering with me to the Palace of Not-Even-Anything…” Additional passages address the question of transworld travel, while his famous butterfly dream is about the metaphysical issue of transworld identity. Several implications are of interest. First, plural worlds are as plausible as a solitary one. Second, the difference between imagination and reality is more problematic than common sense suggests. Further, alternative worlds are not prima facie non-existent. These conceptions help to account for the persistence of esotericism into modern times.

2. ESOTERIC ROOTS OF THE QUADRIVIUM, Joscelyn Godwin, Colgate University

             The sciences of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy long predate their advocacy in Book VII of Plato’s Republic and their consequent place among the Seven Liberal Arts. This appears from material and mathematical evidence published since the 1960s by Professors Alexander Thom, Ernest McClain, and Keith Critchlow, and the independent scholars John Michell, Richard and Robin Heath, and John Neal. The evidence points to a prehistoric expertise in geodetic and astronomical measurement, and a preoccupation with metrological units, calendrical and musical systems, prime numbers, and the problem of incommensurables in geometry and harmony. These appear to have been the concern of a pre-literate but highly numerate elite, with a proto-scientific view of reality as grounded in number, as distinct from the theistic or superstitious beliefs of the majority. This elite incorporated their principles in the earliest stone structures, both in the Old and New World, and later ensured their survival through myths and sacred texts. Whether or not the tradition itself continued through esoteric channels, as some occultists (but not these authorities) claim, its practical applications were certainly lost to science until the early modern period.


Information studies explores the connection between humans, information, and the existential questions brought up by technology and our collective desire to lead meaningful lives. As such, it offers a variety of theoretical and conceptual models that suggest the workings of a grander intellectual design that enables and reveals close connections between esoteric thought and modern science. This paper examines distinctive esoteric elements of traditional and contemporary Information Studies as a scholarly and applied discipline, particularly how it conceives of the increasingly relevant role of information and technology in facilitating human agency and consciousness. The paper frames the discussion around the Knowledge Pyramid, a flawed but flexible schematic used represent the relationships between various gradations of human cognitive ability. Ultimately, the paper considers the possibility of epistemological common ground for esotericism and science in Information Studies and some of its key sub-disciplines.


             Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) spent much of his life working for the Swedish Board of Mines, which led to his effort to reconcile his scientific studies of earthly minerals with his esoteric studies of “supernatural” psychic states and capacities. He believed that minerals and metals emit “tremulations” (waves or rays) that can be investigated and exploited by the well-trained scientist, as in the use of the divining rod. While he studied the meditation and breathing techniques of the Kabbala, in which intense concentration on Hebrew numbers and letters can produce trance and prophetic states, he linked both scientific and psychic techniques to the decipherment of the tremulations of membranes in the human brain and body. The sensitive observer could receive the tremulations from another person, no matter the distance, on his own membranes and thus achieve mental telepathy: “a person falls into the thought of another… his membrane trembles from the other person’s cerebral membranes.” The illuminated observer could even receive tremulations from angels and spirits. Because one’s brain tremulations were physically expressed, he could also decipher the interior thinking and intentions of another person by physiognomical interpretation of the mind as expressed in the face, hands, and body posture. Swedenborg shared the belief of his scientific mentor, Christopher Polhem, that thought is material and functions mechanically: “just as hearing can go through a wall, and sight through the hardest diamond,…nothing can hinder the passage of thoughts.” Swedenborg’s political mentors determined to utilize his boasted “scientific” skills in telepathy and physiognomy in secret intelligence operations and experiments, much like those maintained today by artificial intelligence advocates, CIA agents, airport security scanners, and academic think-tanks.


Art and culture in fin de siècle Europe was shaped by scientific progress and new religious, philosophical and ideological currents that formed and arguably validated many theories the European avant-garde and spiritual leaders had about the world. The intellectual avant-garde was attracted to mystery schools from Freemasonry to Anthroposophy. The dynamic relationships between science, religion, and visual culture mutually transformed the varied fields. Yet, the religious beliefs and practices are underplayed in histories of modern art, and, specifically, the language of esotericism is often eliminated from traditional art historical pedagogy. Although the European avant-garde’s interest in esotericism is now widely accepted, it is still most often considered arcane subject matter in the history of art. New scholarship examines the social, spiritual, and theoretical more critically in the history of art. Recent symposiums held at the Guggenheim in NYC to The Lenbachhaus in Munich, Germany both highlight the important role science and spirituality played in the subsequent development of much visual art during the turn of the century. As such, I am interested in exploring two institutional contexts: art history’s canon formation and the museum’s curatorial practice. Might an analysis of canon formation, categorical boundaries, and the terms abstract and spiritual and their myriad interpretations be reexamined more broadly in order to reframe an understanding of spirituality and modern art? Examining abstraction and spirituality in a broader context of modernism can help us understand the important influence and often eliminated connection between science, spirituality, and art in European modernism. My paper will explore two institutional contexts in regard to the history of interpreting the relationship of esotericism and abstract art: art history’s canon formation and the museum’s curatorial practice. I will argue that examining abstraction and spirituality in a broader context of modernism can help us understand the important influence and often eliminated connection between science, spirituality, and art in European modernism. How do the museum and the canon approach non-mimetic representations of nature? Might a reexamination of spiritual flora afford us a better understanding of how female artists during the turn of the century employed the medium of visual art to depict scientific and spiritual themes? Thus, abstracted representations of nature might be considered as not only a universal science of experience, but also as an intentional de-familiarization of space that operates as both a mode of experience and of knowledge production insofar as these images provide us with an alternative understanding to traditional interpretations of nature. The method, medium, and serial nature of these drawings depict flora and nature in a non-representational way that interact with physical and psychical spaces during a specific moment in time. This approach to understanding and engaging with nature can tell us something more about science, spirituality, and modernism that mis-align with the museum and canon’s affinity to categorize such imagery as purely abstract. Thus, conventional interpretations negate the need for a deeper understanding of how spirituality and science interact with one another and the ability of the image to act as a didactic and alternative model of expression that engages with nature and the world in new ways.


             In the influential dialogues published as The Sceptical Chymist (1661), Robert Boyle (1627-1691) brought together the various strands of chemical and alchemical thought represented in early modern books. The fashionably long subtitle indicated that Boyle’s major target was the teaching of Paracelsus, for his book promised “Doubts & Paradoxes, Touching Experiments Whereby Vulgar Spagirists Are wont to Evince their Salt, Sulphur and Mercury, to be the True Principles of Things.” Nevertheless, Boyle took great interest in alchemy. His contemporary John Aubrey said, “he will not spare for cost to get any rare Secret,” and his best recent biographer, Lawrence Principe, has called him The Aspiring Adept (1998). Boyle was the first to call what became the Royal Society of London “the Invisible College,” but that Society ruled the philosophers’ stone to be, like perpetual motion, a forbidden subject (Sprat, History, 318). To get beyond the common division of seventeenth-century science into “magical” and “mechanical” camps, this paper will explore a suggestion made by the British historian Charles Webster. In his lectures From Paracelsus to Newton (1982), Webster noted that the dichotomy of esoteric and exoteric magic found in the High Middle Ages continued into the early modern period. He warned that failure to recognize the dialectic of esoteric and exoteric claims has limited the histories of both the occult and the modern sciences. The proposed paper will offer a summary reading of The Sceptical Chymist and its companion volume Experiments and Notes (also 1661). It will trace the middle way that Boyle sought between the private or “natural secrets” of earlier times and the very public “natural knowledge” of the Royal Society.


             In the summer of 1939, in the shadow of a deepening war, British Surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford rented a chateau in Western France where a number of Surrealists met for work, play and to let big ideas germinate.  André Breton, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Roberto Matta, Ithell Colquhoun and Esteban Frances all flowed through the chateau that summer.  It is after this retreat that Ithell Colquhoun’s Surrealist practice becomes increasingly defined and centered in automatism, synthesizing Matta’s “psychological morphology” with her developing esoteric theories, including Paul Foster Case’s Cube of Space and Charles Hinton’s work on the fourth dimension.  This influence is evident in her art throughout much of her artistic life.

Colquhoun’s interest in the tesseract and extra dimensional portals spanned several decades of her life, and cross cuts her engagement with esotericism, science and art theory.  The first concrete evidence of her interest in the fourth dimension appears as early as 1940-41 with sketches of tesseracts, human figures in cubes of space, and sacred landscapes as interdimensional portals.   By the 1950s, likely influenced by architect and fourth dimension enthusiast Claude Bragdon, we see Colquhoun undertaking artistic experiments which combine dimensional theory and platonic solids with her studies of the Kabbalah and the Golden Dawn.  In the late 1970s we see her revisit the tesseract, perhaps theoretically supporting the production of her late esoteric automatisms, her 1977 Taro (sic) deck, and The Decad of Intelligence (1978-79). This Illustrated presentation will focus on these three different periods of Colquhoun’s occult artistic experiments demonstrating her engagement with theories of the fourth dimension and their intersection with both her occult interests and her Surrealist practices.


             In the books he published in English, Ioan Coulianu explored the ways that modern science and technology should not be thought of as contradictory to spiritual pursuits but in reality represent a continuation or even a fulfillment of mystical and magical forms of religion. For Coulianu, the twentieth century discoveries of dimensions that transcend the classical three by physicists and mathematicians provided a way to think of the otherworldly journeys of mystics and shamans throughout history as mental travel through these realms. He also suggests that the human mind is able to shape its experiences of these hyperdimensional aspects of reality according to simple sets of instructions found in religious rituals and texts. In his discussion of Renaissance magic, Coulianu proposes that, far from disappearing with the advent of modern science, applied forms of specialized knowledge such as psychology, sociology, espionage, and public relations can be considered “sober and legal guises” for what early modern magi knew as phantasmic magic. Furthermore, his work points out that contemporary technology may be produced by chemical and physical engineering processes that were unknown until relatively recently, but the capabilities they allow the public at large to enjoy were considered long ago. Traditionally, it was magicians who dared to believe themselves capable of having immediate access to nearly all the world’s information while seeing distant lands and traveling through the air. This paper will consider how Coulianu explored these ideas and postulate what he might have to say about some of the further developments in these areas since his untimely passing. Then it will offer a few reflections on the important ethical question he asked about such matters: “Is the Western state, in our time, a true magician, or is it a sorcerer’s apprentice who sets in motion dark and uncontrollable forces?”


             In this paper, I will follow changes in the understandings of one form of occult influence, namely the power of active or extramissive vision, as it shifted from an accepted scientific theory in its early forms to one that relied on esoteric principles in its more modern interpretations. What stands out in this transformation over time is that the evidence used to support both naturalistic and esoteric understandings of vision remained remarkably consistent: belief in the evil eye and the legendary power of the basilisk to kill with a glance. When the dominant theory changed from that of active to passive vision, authors did not abandon their belief in the reality of these forces; they simply adapted their understanding of their mechanisms to incorporate the less tangible powers of imagination and the personal will. The basilisk makes an appearance as late as Ebenezer Sibly’s A Key to Physic, and the Occult Sciencesat the beginning of the nineteenth century. The evil eye remains a noteworthy topic for Helena Blavatsky even in 1888. My purpose in tracing this history is to argue that the persistence in the belief that the personal gaze has some active power in the world is, at least in part, a response to an understanding of nature in which the individual is increasingly a passive participant. That is, rather than accepting that something so fundamental to our lived experience as vision is the result of external forces, there is an effort to use increasingly esoteric theories to preserve the importance of the self as active agent. This argument, I suggest, can lead scholars of Western esotericism to investigate broader questions about what need underlies the search for unifying forces in the universe (whether correspondences, sympathies, astral rays, or a great chain of being) and whether that need is more the result of a sense of personal alienation than of certainty in the existence of those forces


             This presentation considers the legacy of “psychical research” as an academic pursuit and discusses how it contributed to the field we now recognize as psychology. Between 1888 and 1889, the Seybert Commission, a group of professors at the University of Pennsylvania, were tasked with an investigation to determine whether or not spirit mediums were truly communicating with spirits of the deceased or whether they were achieving such alleged communications through sleight of hand. Ultimately, the Commission found that the mediums’ claims of communicating with the dead were fraudulent, but the so-called “psychical research” performed by the Commission, and also by their liaison, William James, raised salient questions about disciplinarity, and the separation between qualitative and quantitative analysis. 

Drawing on the work of Jeffrey Kripal, Carlos Alvarado, and Heather Wolframm, I discuss how–unexpectedly–the findings of the Seybert Report, or more specifically, the actual process of attempting to ascertain whether or not mediums were communicating with spirits of the dead, eventually made significant contributions to various fields in the social sciences. I conclude that The Seybert Report, the Seybert Commission’s publication on its findings, becomes emblematic of a nineteenth century exploration of the boundary between science and pseudoscience, and the subsequent “scientization” of psi research, that is, its shift from the parlor into the laboratory. A shift that gave rise to questions not only about psi phenomena itself, but about what it means to create empirical knowledge.

11. THE LAWS OF SCIENCE, KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION, AND OTHER QUEER FISH, Mark Roblee, University of Massachusetts Amherst

             In Apuleius of Madauros’ second century courtroom defense against the accusation of magic, Apologia, we are presented with a queer fish. When his accusers, the relatives of his much older widowed wife who stand to lose a hefty inheritance, accuse Apuleius of bewitching their mother Pudentilla, he rejects the claim by placing himself in the line of natural philosophers like Aristotle whose works included anatomical studies of fish. Besides, he reminds the court, coming dangerously close to revealing more knowledge of maleficent magic than perhaps he should, “fish aren’t good for magic anyhow” (which he knows, as a student of esotericism himself, is false). While in his lifetime Apuleius was praised as a Platonic philosopher, in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, he was considered a magician being best known for his Middle Platonic work, On the God of Socrates, a daemonology that received much airplay in Augustine’s City of God. And yet, when “we” (i.e. Western, secular, materialist, masculinist) look back on Apuleius’s fish, we are tempted to see the nascent expression of empiricism chasing away the shadows of superstition, a celebration of the rational man (sic) on his way to Modernity. Through a close reading of Apuleius in the context of classical and late antique natural philosophy and science, this paper will challenge the modern whiggish view of the fish scene in Apologia, suggesting that Apuleius’s fish, and the boundaries of science, philosophy, and magic are queerer in the past and the present than many modern scholars like to think. Further, using Apuleius as a model, this paper will propose how and why students of esotericism are (and should remain) “queer fish.”


The alchemical experiments referred to in the writings of the 12th-century physician Salernus led to both the first-recorded distillations of alcohol and the development of pharmaceutical science.  The resultant medicines, and the magical belief in the doctrine of signatures that shaped their making, informed pharmacological practice until well into the 19th century, in the form of patent medicines and bitters—the latter a primary component of what came to be called cocktails. This paper argues that the rise of cocktail culture in the early 20th century transported into modernity the historic fusion of science, religion, and magic that defines the esoteric. Beginning with a discussion of the pre-Enlightenment beliefs regarding the natural world that determined the formulation of both botanical medicines and intoxicating spirits, it moves next to the rum-producing Caribbean to examine how colonial drinking protocol served simultaneously as medicine and magic. Ingredients such as tonic and citrus protected against the physical dangers posed by tropical diseases. The exclusionary rituals of preparation served to ward off the existential dangers posed by an over-fascination with the enslaved bodies whose forced labor produced the ingredients. The discussion moves to 19th-century patent medicines, the magical beliefs regarding their efficacy encouraged through the nascent advertising industry, and the simultaneous rise of prohibition and the federal regulation of patent medicines establishing social regulation as a matter of purported public interest within a rigorous Protestant frame. It concludes with a discussion of racialized primitivism that drove Prohibition-era cocktail excursions into Harlem and Cuba, positing the cocktail as a fetish object in the terms outlined by Anne McClintock: a fiction of primitivism from which emerged the “sciences of man” that defined modernity: philosophy, Marxism, and psychoanalysis, all organized around notions of race.


Based in Davis, CA, I did one year of anthropological fieldwork in Northern California in 2014/15. I followed the controversy about mediumism – i.e. the testing of the capabilities and potentials of both technical media and human mediums – as a shared “boundary object” between interacting religious and secular, scientific and magical, medical and aesthetic interests that can be traced back to debates in Europe and the US during the long 19th Century and I ended up in a deeply intertwined network of parapsychologists, spiritualists, ghost hunters, and skeptics who are all occupied and concerned with proving or disproving “paranormal” claims, and thus with negotiating what counts as science and evidence – in California as a region where many mediumistic trials of the 20th and 21st Century received crucial impulses. In applying a perspective on history inspired by Science and Technology Studies, I show how current practices and debates on the testing of mediumism are variations of a theme that regularly bring about new debates and controversies and that inspired other modern institutions such as neuroscience, psychiatry, parapsychology, mind research, consciousness studies, esotericism, anthropology, art, and the skeptic movement. Combining current anthropological fieldwork on mediumism with its historical background from a symmetrical point of view it is possible to revise the common historiographical narrative depicting nineteenth-century mediumism in Europe simply as a “prehistory” of contemporary institutions.

15. KAREZZA AND THE OCCULT IN THE EMERGENCE OF SEXOLOGY, Daniel Albert Joslyn, Independent Scholar

My talk will explore the occult and scientific roots of Karezza within American spiritualism and follow its rise into the center of debates over the professionalization of the science of sexology, looking at how the institutionalization of sexology appropriated and excluded earlier female scientific theorists of sex and how and why Karezza briefly unleashed an international sexological crisis. Anglophone sexology emerged as a discipline in the early 1900, with the writings of the British scientist Havelock Ellis. Ellis, widely remembered for his socialist politics and exploratory use of the hallucinogen Mescaline, is perhaps significantly less remembered for his early excited advocacy of “Karezza,” the spiritual-sexual practice of coitus reservatus. Ellis not only wrote approvingly of the practice, but advocated it in his circles, introducing, among others, Margaret Sanger (the future founder of Planned Parenthood) to it. Even though Ellis did much to popularize it, Karezza came from the writings of the American eclectic physician and spiritualist Alice Bunker Stockham, who, with the 1896 publication of Karezza, and her previous Tokology, Stockham cemented herself as perhaps the most famous and well-regarded sexologist in the United States, before that was a professionalized job. Indeed, at the turn of the twentieth century, this practice, which emerged out of a blending of the utopian socialist theories of the Oneida commune with occult theories of divine unity and the “creative powers” unleashed by retaining sperm, became wildly popular. The pamphlet sold tens of thousands of copies across the United States and was published in six languages, with a Russian translation by Leo Tolstoy, and four German translations by eclectic and occult doctors. It even contributed to a deep controversy among physicians, psychoanalysts and sexologists, with dozens of writers alleging that “coitus reservatus” caused causing everything from “nervousness” to Cancer. In fact, none other than Sigmund Freud fretted that coitus reservatus was a leading cause of nervous diseases among the middle classes


Throughout the long evolution of alchemical theory and practice, laboratory substances and operations have been described in gendered terms. With the rise of alchemical imagery, the two main components of physical matter, Sulphur and Mercury, appear as the Sun and the Moon, or as a man and a woman in a variety of symbolic personas. Best known are the graphic depictions of the “Chemical Wedding” when the couple makes love to produce their child, the Philosophers’ Stone, a catalyst for transformation. Less known, but also abundant, are images of vessels, furnaces and other laboratory equipment that also reference sexuality and human reproductive processes. Within the erotically-charged environment of the alchemical vessel, the progress of the work is observed. Images of vessels and furnaces often reinforced the sexual metaphors of their contents. This paper will chart the evolution of alchemical equipment, focusing primarily on the relationship of alchemical vessels and their contents to the female body. Selections from a variety of medieval manuscripts and early printed texts will be discussed, including the Ripley Scrolls, Donum Dei and the Crowning of Nature series as well as printed texts on distillation operations published Hieronymus Brunschwig. Alchemical laboratories in seventeenth-century paintings are filled with the descendants of some of the earliest alchemical vessels, while others are imaginative follies, meant to poke fun at this ancient science, amidst the rise of the Scientific Revolution.


What is Aleister Crowley’s “skeptical theurgy”? Decoding the methodology of “scientific illuminism.” With the publication of the first ten volumes of The Equinox from 1909-1913 C.E., Aleister Crowley launched his modernist reformulation of the magical system of the Victorian Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn under the slogan “the method of science, the aim of religion.” In this paper, I set out to answer the question of what precisely Crowley’s “method of science” consists of. In particular, I will examine his use of ancient skepticism as a model for scientific method, comparing and contrasting the procedures of Cicero’s Academy and Sextus Empiricus’ version of Pyrrhonism with Crowley’s modern practice of Magick, and I will look at the similarities and differences between the ancient skeptic’s cultivation of aporia, or liberating doubt, with the concept of the “True Will” as the goal of Magick.

Additional information: I intend to show how the doctrines of ancient Pyrrhic skepticism inform the methodology underlying Crowley’s theory of magical practice. I will use the texts of Sextus Empiricus, and to a lesser extent Cicero, to show the elements of congruence between Crowley’s version of modern skepticism and his ancient predecessors. William James’ pragmaticism, particularly as deployed in The Varieties of Religious Experience will also serve as a point of mediation between the two systems of discourse. Basically, I will be arguing against a persistent popular misreading of Crowley’s texts that he is a spiritualistic positivist, holding that belief in the supernatural is a condition of magical practice, in favor of a more nuanced reading of the self-critical valences of his texts.


             The history of physics is replete with examples of the influence mysticism and esoteric thought has had not only on the figures who spearheaded entire scientific movements, but on the communities in which those historical figures were embedded. For example, it is well-known that Isaac Newton—apart from co-developing the infinitesimal calculus and contributing to the progress of celestial mechanics, both used to this day—was devoted to alchemy and discovering the nature of transmutation which, incidentally, may have led to his death. Yet another example of the influence of esoteric thought can be seen in Ptolemy’s lesser known Prognostics, in which he lays out astrological principles as they concern matters on earth. Although physics is well represented in the literature, biology has traditionally received less attention. In the following, I trace a historical lineage from Kepler’s model of the Solar System to Darwin’s views on evolution of species and explore how the esoteric thought that influenced the astronomers led to developments in physics and mathematics which ultimately figured into explanations of gradualism in evolutionary biology.

19. MYTHOS AS MODERN RATIONALITY, Aaron French, University of California Davis

             This presentation has two main objectives. The first is to introduce a partial conceptual history of the idea of disenchantment using a Kosselleckian Begriffsgeschichte perspective. Beginning with Kosselleck’s proposed Sattelzeit periodization—a time in European history out of which the “modern era” emerged—I track the idea of disenchantment to the early twentieth century and Max Weber’s famous usage in “Wissenschaft als Beruf.” I come from a perspective that has not received enough attention, namely the discarding of mythology. This is important because the disenchantment of the world idea is generally believed to refer to the loss of spirits or magic or mystery from the world, and perhaps less with the idea of the decline of religion or monotheism. It seems to refer, at least in part, to gods in the plural. Therefore, reassessing the notion of a decline of belief in mythology seems especially instructive. The second objective offers a unique window into the cultural and social processes of disenchantment and re-enchantment by comparing two German contemporaries, Max Weber and Rudolf Steiner, and focusing on their assessment of a now forgotten system of “Sociological Energetics” that was developed by Wilhelm Ostwald. The goal is to show that central to disenchantment is a belief in the gradual emergence and ascendency of rationality over other ways of knowing, implying a transition from one state of consciousness which speaks for the whole of humanity to another. This assumption continues to characterize an ostensibly superior effectiveness awarded to rationality over alternative forms of cognition. The controversy over Wilhelm Ostwald’s social “energetics,” which both Weber and Steiner commented on, seen as part of the debate between an enchanted (or subjective) and disenchanted (or objective) science, will show that science can become a type of replacement for mythology in the modern world.


             Enlightenment era esotericist Emanuel Swedenborg [d. 1772] contributed to natural philosophy in ways now assessed as major by historians of science. He strove in his final science study of anatomy to prove existence of a soul to an increasingly disbelieving intelligentsia. Though failing to find the soul in a laboratory, through empirical research he produced the first correct brain location theories and the first accurate description of the brain’s syncopated relationship with the lungs (i.e., breathing). Some say he found the soul in his subsequent spiritual visions and experiences, and his subsequent religious writings have been identified as the first spiritualist literature. Dubbed both a scientist and a seer, his career proved foundational for nineteenth-century enthusiasm for seances and belief in the immediate presence of a spiritual realm of departed souls, and the London-based Society for Psychical Research (1882) and the American Society for Psychical Research (1884) both frequently referenced Swedenborg as a case study. The quest for proving the soul’s immortality found new footing in the last quadrant of the twentieth century through Raymond Moody’s 1975 clinical study of near-death experiences, Life After Life, a work suggesting clinical evidence weights toward a soul ultimately independent of a physical body. Swedenborg is given a section in a short-list of history “parallels” of Moody’s incipient research. A donnybrook has since unfolded between sceptics and enthusiasts on scientific methods and findings in near-death research, which has fed the ongoing consciousness studies debate between physicalists and idealists. This paper will frame briefly the history of the scientific search for the soul, present the state of the question on current research, and argue that while the matter remains unsettled the research focus is valuable for philosophical questions.


             In recent centuries, strides in scientific discoveries have been built upon the works of polymath innovators such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727), whose involvement with occult knowledge, in particular, Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s (1636-1689) Kabbala Denudata, has been well attested by prominent scholars such as Allison Coudert, Brian Copenhaver and more recently Elad Lison. Following this line of research, this paper aims at exploring the scientific and esoteric milieu of the medieval and early modern periods as a source of inspiration for the Vitalian school of Lurianic Kabbalah – one of Rosenroth’s main influences. Moreover, by examining sources such as Sefer ha-Techuna (The book of Astronomy), one of Chayim Vital’s (1543-1620) least studied works, Sefer Hachmoni (The book of the Wise), the enigmatic astrological commentary on Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Formation) by Shabtai Donolo (912/3-after 982) and Sefer ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendor), one of the most prolific efforts in the kabbalistic oeuvre, this study also explores how these foreign ideas were able to insinuate themselves into this seemingly impenetrable secretive Jewish tradition.


             In the theosophical imagination of the past three centuries, electricity has held a special place of appeal, seeming to exist as an energy operating between the material and the spiritual.  Cosmic energy or Fohat was to Helena Blavatsky the “Light of the Logos,” universal Prana, and the progenitor of electricity on the earthly plane.  Indeed, it was the animating spirit and life principle of the divine Mind. Fohat was cosmic electricity, the driving power or vital life force of the universe as substance and emanation. A number of clerics and scientists debated electricity and its vitality as a route to the divine and as a medical life-generating therapy.  John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was an early practitioner of electricity healing, and a whole range of theorizations about “vital forces” emerged from new experiments in electricity and magnetism.  Examples include Anton Mesmer’s animal magnetism, John Bovee Dods’ “electric psychology,” Carl con Reichenbach’s “Odic force,” Wilhelm Reich’s “Orgone,” and Golding Bird’s Benjamin Franklin-inspired “electric baths.” It was commonplace by the early twentieth century to recognize that underlying principles in natural science were being overturned. The discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895, Antoine Henri Becquerel’s work with uranium rays in 1896, and the elucidation brought about by Marie and Pierre Curie’s experiments with radium and radioactivity shattered the idea that matter was inert and eternal. In 1897, Sir Joseph John Thomson’s theorization that there were smaller particles or “corpuscles” that made up the atom created an atmosphere of brilliant creativity and experimentation in physics, in what became known as elementary or subatomic particles. Thomson, who theorized and discovered the electron, was also an early member of the Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1882, indicating the broad interest in connections between psychic phenomena and physics.  Some scientists believed that the presence of X-rays portended the discovery of even finer rays that might explain the psychic phenomena being studied by the society. Chemist and physicist William Crookes, who experimented with cathode rays and popularized the vacuum tube (Crookes tube), was once president of the group. At one time, he claimed that the X-ray even “offered a possible physical explanation of telepathy.” Edmund Edward Fournier D’Albe’s The Electron Theory (1906) popularized the new theories of electricity and magnetism, but by 1908, his New Light on Immortality presented novel ideas on the physical possibility of immortality based on radioactivity and the electrical theory of matter. Theosophists as a group were caught up with the possibilities that electron theory offered for proving their theosophical ideas. Blavatsky wrote in 1888 that it was on the “doctrine of the illusive nature of matter, and the infinite divisibility of the atom, that the whole science of Occultism” was built. My paper will explore the impact of new discoveries in electricity and magnetism on so-called occult sciences, and the imaginative ways in which occult scientists theorized therapeutic practices based on electricity, x-rays, and electron theory.


             In 1921, the Swiss-German Expressionist artist and Bauhaus instructor Johannes Itten became an enthusiastic convert of Mazdaznan, a new religious movement with teachings that, he believed, could correct the downward spiral of European society and trigger the next stage of human evolution. Mazdaznan, founded in Chicago by Otoman Zar-Adusht Hanish at the turn of the century, offered a comprehensive system of health practices—including dietary guidelines, inner and outer bodily cleansing, and movement, breathing, and sound exercises—intended to purify and bring increased vitality to the body, in turn paving the way for spiritual development. As has been noted by numerous scholars, Itten incorporated many of these practices at the Bauhaus, the iconic German modernist art and design school, beginning his classes with breathing and movement exercises, and converting the school’s cafeteria to a Mazdaznan-approved vegetarian diet. These physical practices, however, were not the whole of Mazdaznan teachings, as one might conclude from the art historical treatment, but rather served to prepare dedicated practitioners for the movement’s advanced teachings. The latter, presented in Hanish’s Inner Studies, published in 1902 (titled Wiedergeburtslehre or “Rebirth Teachings” in German translation beginning in 1906), consisted of a system of esoteric sexual and prenatal exercises intended to help practitioners radically “spiritualize” their bodies in order to give birth to spiritually, physically, and intellectually advanced offspring. While many of the introductory as well as advanced exercises corresponded closely with practices espoused by other life-reform and spiritual movements of the day, Mazdaznan Inner Studies additionally reflect ideologies of the burgeoning eugenics movement, which gained an international following during the early decades of the twentieth century and sought “the self-direction of human evolution” through selective breeding initiatives. Additionally, while eugenic ideology was already present in the 1902 edition of Inner Studies, the movement began to espouse overtly racist rhetoric by 1914, embracing the theory that human races had evolved separately and that the so-called white or “Aryan” race was the most advanced—a theory shared by many scientists and esotericists at the time and soon to be taken to lethal extremes by the National Socialists. The Aryan race, Mazdaznan taught, would in time bring forth the so-called “transparent race,” a spiritually advanced people who would constitute the fulfillment of human evolutionary potential, an eventuality that Mazdaznan practices—both introductory and advanced—were meant to hasten. Although this aim is clearly spelled out in the revised German translations of Inner Studies published from 1916 forward, and despite evidence that Itten practiced and even lectured on the Wiedergeburtslehre at the Bauhaus before his departure in 1923, these Mazdaznan advanced teachings and their roots in ideologies of eugenics and “scientific racism” have received no attention in art historical treatments, and only slightly more within religious studies scholarship, an oversight I wish to correct in the present paper.


             The coining of the terms “secularism” by George Jacob Holyoake in 1851 and “agnostic” by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869 helped define the British movement to remove religion from civic and public life, in favor of governance based on reason and scientific evidence. A generation later, in the first years of the twentieth century, this movement gave voice to three esoterically-minded agnostics railing against religion in the public sphere: the aspiring author/poets Aleister Crowley, John Frederick Charles Fuller, and Victor Benjamin Neuburg. These three, while still in their twenties, met through the secularist movement, and soon carried its ideals into the heart of an emerging branch of Western esotericism which espoused “scientific illuminism” as “the method of science, the aim of religion.” This paper will explore how British secularism and rationalism brought these three important figures together, influencing everything from Crowley’s publishing house (the Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth) to the philosophy of Thelema, the practice of “magick,” and the foundational tenets of the secret society A∴A∴.


             Founded in London in 1717, the Masonic fraternity was described by the Scottish Freemason, William Preston, as a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” One of those symbols is the sprig of acacia, said to have marked the grave site of the Masonic Grand Master, Hiram Abif, who was the allegorical chief architect and master of works at the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. As the Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist, Stephen István Szára, discovered in 1956, many species of acacia are possessed of the powerful hallucinogenic compound, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, better known as DMT, the so-called “spirit molecule.” In this paper, we’ll examine how, over two centuries prior to the discovery of the psychedelic effects of DMT, the Royal Society’s fascination with the occult activities of Elizabethan advisor, Dr. John Dee, and his alchemist assistant, Sir Edward Kelley, led to the creation of an entheogenic brand of alchemical Freemasonry, where candidates for initiation were administered psychedelic doses of DMT via a psychoactive species of acacia.

26. SCIENCE OF SELF, SCIENCE OF LOVE, ELEANOR KIRK’S ASTROLOGY, Christa Shuska, York College of Pennsylvania

             On December 26, 1897, the New York World Magazine featured a story titled “Making Love by the Signs in the Heavens, New Society Formed in New York to Promote the Happiest Marriages—To Put an End to Divorce, Consult the Circle and Learn a New Idea of How to Select a Husband or a Wife.” This Zodiac Club’s “new idea” of consulting the zodiac to determine relationship compatibility was inspired by the Club’s honorary president, suffragist, newspaperwoman, and author Eleanor Kirk. Kirk’s 1894 book The Influence of the Zodiac Upon Human Life would serve as the Club’s “textbook,” guiding the “character readings” that helped individuals improve themselves as well as guiding them towards ideal romantic partners. In the history of astrology, the emphasis on “character readings”—and especially on the ways that such character readings might influence social and romantic relationships—is fairly recent. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, astrology transitioned from an occult science used primarily for event prediction to an occult science emphasizing reflection on inner character and character development. While the astrologer Alan Leo (1860-1917) is typically listed as the primary progenitor of this transition, I argue that Eleanor Kirk (1831-1908) was a major developer and popularizer of such ideas, with works pre-dating many of Leo’s publications. Kirk would especially innovate the use of astrology to determine relationship compatibility—which continues to be a feature aspect of popular astrology into the twenty-first century. This paper particularly seeks to contextualize Kirk’s astrological innovations within the late nineteenth century contexts of women’s suffrage and burgeoning psychological sciences.


27. ON THE SMELL OF TRAPPED SOULS: PUTREFYING PNEUMA, Melissa Salm, University of California Davis

             The term ‘atmosphere’ is modern. It is a neologism coined in the 17th century for translating the Latin vaporum sphaera, or what Galileo referred to as regio vaporosa, a vaporous realm. Earlier in the same century, the pneumatic chemist J.B. von Helmont, coined the term ‘gas’, which was derived from the Greek word kaos (chaos). By the 18th century, scientists like Lavoisier used the word as a general replacement for ‘air’, the vital breath that animated earth.  In this paper, I discuss the pervasiveness of airs (gas, atmosphere, wind, vapor, pneuma, ferments, phlogiston, ether, miasma) in theories of contagious disease, specifically during the transition from the medieval to the modern periods. As early as the 15th century, physicians and alchemists like Paracelsus viewed disease as exogenous and environmental. This particular understanding of disease – as corresponding to the relation between man and his cosmos – was inherited by many Renaissance scientists, namely: JB von Helmont, Joseph Black, Robert Boyle, and Joseph Priestly, each of whom experimented (al)chemically with air’s qualities and substances. Miasmata, for example, was conceptualized as contagious particulate matter that animated and corrupted the airs, ultimately causing illness in humans. For centuries, notions of miasma drew the spread of disease together with malodorous effluvia and exhalations emitted in processes of putrefaction and the decomposition of living matter. Interestingly, death and decomposition were thought only to occur after the soul left the body. An esoteric element of the German scientist Georg Stahl’s understanding of decomposition includes this following: if a body were exhumed and not fully decomposed, it was thought that the soul hadn’t left the body; and it was thought that these trapped souls fed upon the bodies of the living to sustain themselves, causing and spreading disease. How did notions of contagion as corrupted airs correspond to phenomena of partial decomposition? In this paper, I frame miasma as an aesthetic of metempsychosis; doing so breathes life anew into esoteric notions of air as a radical mixture (of purification/pollution, form/substance, matter/medium, life/death). These concoctions rendered the universe into a reality that was permeable and immersive; the world was a perpetual contagion.

28. LEONARDO DA VINCI AND THE GOLDEN WINDOW, Melinda Weinstein, Lawrence Technological University

             Many scholars have attempted to find hidden patterns in art works based on numbers. Studies of golden sections in medieval cathedral ground plans, for example, show that for centuries, artists and architects have used the “divine proportion” or “golden ratio” (1.618…) in their designs. For Rudolf Arnheim, in Art and Perception, proportional relationships based on the golden section are satisfying for the viewer “because of its combination of unity and dynamic variety, whole and parts are nicely adjusted in strength so that the whole prevails without being threatened by a split, but at the same time, the parts retain some self-sufficiency” [1]. While many studies exist of how Renaissance artists used the golden section to determine proportional relationships in paintings and sculptures, I move beyond formal explanations of phi to consider the semantic implications of phi as referencing infinity in a Neoplatonic sense in these works. In “Dendrography and Art History,” presented at ASE 2018, and now published in Digital Humanities Quarterly, (vol. 13.3), I showed how Paul Cézanne uses “golden windows” to emphasize certain themes in his Bather series [2].. The “golden window” is defined by the axial center of a painting (its vertical and horizontal bisecting lines) and the rectangle created by golden ratios on the upper and left sides of the square picture plane. I argued that Cézannes’ alignment of figures along vertical or horizontal phi, as determined by the square frame of his paintings, is a way of referencing “infinity.” In this way he makes his paintings “noumenal,” objects for the purposes of union or spiritual contemplation. In this presentation, I seek a potential source for Cézanne’s Neoplatonic compositional structures in the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, also an ardent Neoplatonist. In a slide presentation, I show how golden windows feature in several da Vinci works, such as The Last Supper, Bacchus, Ginevra de Benci, and The Annunciation. I show how Leonardo potentially makes visible vertical phi marks in his studies for the Adoration of the Magi, and I show how many of his sketches and paintings, when upright and reversed, show potential orientation of figures toward horizontal and vertical phi.


             Serial composers of the 1960s, including Boulez, Babbitt, and Stockhausen, were determined to write music that had been conceived as scientifically and mathematically as possible, with Babbitt calling serialism “the most influential hypothetic-deductive system in the history of music.” The composer they most often named as their predecessor and model was Anton Webern, with particular notice given to his entirely symmetrically constructed Op. 24 Concerto for Nine Instruments of 1934. Webern also considered his work to be rooted in science—but, as he made clear in his Path to the New Music lectures, for him this meant Goethean science, in which microcosm reflects macrocosm and both nature and art function according to immutable natural laws. Or, as Rudolf Steiner put it, the Goethean artwork conveys the mystical unity of the cosmos. The highly unified pitch organization of Op. 24 is in fact a perfect example of a composition constructed according to Goethe’s natural laws. Additionally, Webern modeled its tone row on the SATOR magic square that figured prominently in scholarly discussions at the time. A five-word Latin palindrome (SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS), the square is often translated as “the sower Arepo works the wheel/plow.” Webern interpreted the square’s meaning from a Goethean standpoint, commenting to his colleague Hildegard Jone, “The sower controls the work and the work controls the sower.” He remained fascinated with the SATOR square for the rest of his life and must have been aware of at least some of its magical associations, yet his works constructed according to its principles were precisely what the later serial composers drew from as the basis of their perfectly scientific music. At the time of Op. 24’s composition, discussions of Goethean principles and the SATOR square took place in both scholarly and scientific circles, as demonstrated by a 1932 article in the history of science journal Isis, in which Ernst Darmstaedter (chemist, historian of science, and author on alchemy) enumerates historical, philosophical, and astronomical associations with the SATOR imagery, and then links the saying to the hermetic dictum “As above, so below.” Today, the science practiced by Goethe is believed by many to have been “pseudo-science,” but its microcosm/macrocosm concept continues to be applied to pieces created at the boundaries of music and science, including in electro-acoustic music of Xenakis and in “spectralist” musics.

30. HERMETIC MAGIC IN POE’S COSMOLOGY, Thea Wirsching, Independent Scholar

             Edgar Allan Poe’s lengthy scientific treatise, Eureka (1848), has long been an object of curiosity to literary historians.  Poe completed this cosmology in the year before his death and was so bold as to compare its significance to that of Newton’s Principia.  He wrote in a letter to a family member, “I have no desire to live since I have done Eureka.  I could accomplish nothing more.”  In spite of Poe’s sense of Eureka’s importance, his contemporaries dismissed the book as a bastard mix of science and theology.  Poe borrowed liberally from Alexander von Humboldt and reached back to Johannes Kepler to construct a sort of “unified field theory” to explain both the origin of the Universe and the existence of God.  But while Eureka’s debt to secular science has been exhaustively analyzed by contemporary critics, some of whom argue (not without justification) that Eureka predicts such 20th century benchmarks as Einstein’s theory of relativity and the Big Bang, Poe’s esoteric sources have been largely ignored.  My paper will reveal the Hermetic works that shaped Poe’s cosmology, from the Corpus Hermeticum and the Picatrix to Jung-Stilling’s Theory of Pneumatology. Time permitting, I will close by commenting on how Poe’s literal and scientific understanding of the Hermetic worldview led to Eureka’s being dismissed as the ravings of a fevered brain, while Emerson’s more poetic but far less ambitious treatment of Hermeticism, Nature, has endured as an American classic.

31. LUDIC ENCHANTMENT OF THE VIRTUAL WORLD , Mikael David Filip Sebag, University of California Irvine

            The virtual world has always been an enchanted one. Apart from the fact that a vast web of symbolic correspondences constitutes the very bedrock of nearly all computing in the form of code, fantasy gaming has played an important role in the history and development of networked information technologies. In 1974, the PLATO system at Southern Illinois University enabled users of the ILLIAC II supercomputer to play a game called dnd, one of the first computerized adaptations of the popular tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. By 1978, the explosion of PLATO-based fantasy adventure games contributed to marked improvements in user interface design, early 3D graphics, and led to the creation of the MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), which enabled multiple users to play simultaneously in a text-based virtual world, made possible through significant strides in early computer networks. Even the unforeseen popularity of the paper-based fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering’s led to the creation of Internet subforums in the early days of USENET messageboards, which we recognize today in the shape of “subreddits.” In addition to the evident desire for the virtual world to be an enchanted one on the part of its users, however, the magic systems of fantasy games themselves demonstrate a remarkable affinity for the principles by which we may judge historical and contemporary currents to be esoteric. In this paper, I argue that the magic systems of fantasy games—and those of their analog predecessors—broadly adhere to Antoine Faivre’s criteria for esotericism as a form of thought (in Access to Western Esotericism, 10-14), thus (re)enchanting the virtual worlds in which they exist, as alluded to by Wouter J. Hanegraaff in Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (5-7) . I assess the usefulness of Faivre’s definition of the esoteric by applying it as a critical lens to the magic systems of three digital fantasy games and three analog fantasy games that have had a documented influence on the development of their computerized descendants. In doing so, I hope to reveal that magic systems in digital games serve as sites of enchantment for their users, gesturing at the continued relevance of affective enchantment in spaces created by—and largely dominated by—scientific enterprise.


             In this paper, I use the framework of Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms to uncover the foundational  level of thinking common to science and esotericism. This deep and autonomous level of mental life gives rise, on one hand,  to mythical and esoteric thought, and on the other, via natural language, becomes actualized as  theoretical science.  I will concretize this abstract proposition through the phenomenological analysis of symbolic forms and idea-relationships in Alastair Reynold’s novel “Absolution Gap”, including his images of flotation tank/ scrimshaw suit,  gas giant planet which serves as an entrance into another physical brine (i.e., demonic realms), environmental protection developing into an apocalyptic end of mankind etc.  Stripped of attributed ontological validities (fact of science vs. imagination), these forms display a remarkable ability to move between science and esoteric fiction.

Time permitting, I will trace a similar relationships] in the examples of contemporary “energy medicine”, in the development of  analytic theology out of cognitive science (e.g. in the work of J. Cockayne), in the science-religion “dialogue” conducted by the Templeton Foundation (e.g. in the analyses of thematics of their research projects), etc. All such analyses demonstrate a presence of essential structures of relationships, i.e., certain formal ideas underlying the corresponding ”incarnations” of these ides (i.e. symbolic forms) in both scientific insights and concepts of creative imagination. This leads to rather disturbing conclusions that a) what Cassirer termed the highest significative function of the symbol,  pure relationships, duplicates itself from science to esotericism and vice verse, and b) scientific progress indeed presents a great chain of self-actualizing structures of human consciousness, and not a discovery of truly novel facts.


             The Oneida Community was a 19th century American religious utopia. Remarkable for its prosperity, and social practices including a form of open marriage, this “Biblical Communism” boasted another feature unique to the community: its own eugenics program.  Founder John H.Noyes placed a high value on education and encouraged members to embrace scientific theory and discovery of the time, to include the rising popularity of the notion of engineering better human beings. His own pet eugenics program at Oneida (“stirpiculture”) was an experiment designed to breed  superior people from the couplings of the most “spiritually  ascended” and tempermentaly ideal people in the Oneida community. This talk will investigate how Noyes’ unique community of religious “free lovers” was a pragmatic reflection of the scientific and political thought of the time, and, how Noyes’ programmed blending of later 19th century science with his own religious philosophy was an experiment designed for societally altruistic ends.

34. No TITLE, George Sieg, Independent Scholar

In comparison to the significant literature addressing Spiritualism’s contributions toward widespread enthusiasm for eugenics in America (, less attention has been paid to the extent to which not only Spiritualism, but also esoteric and occult movements, contributed to this circumstance.  Similarly, while the specific extent to which esoteric and occult factors set the stage for, and contributed to, the formation of explicit (and ultimately state-imposed) eugenic beliefs in Germany has been examined in detail, the assessment of these factors in its predecessor — American eugenics, particularly as practiced in California — remains incomplete.  This is a significant omission in the analysis of this expression of the scientific imagination, particularly given the ideological and evangelical character of many approaches to eugenics.  This paper will explore the intersections of the American eugenics movement with esotericism and occultism practiced in the United States from the early nineteenth century through the inter-war period.  I will also identify significant antecedents, particularly in context of the relevance of these antecedents to other aspects of American society in and prior to this period, assessing the extent to which American eugenics differed from its German successor in its scientific and/or scientistic individualism in contrast to the collectively volkische ideologies.  I will contend that the comparative absence of esoteric anti-Judiaism in America significantly  alters the development and expression of its eugenic “science.”


             “Today they call them angels and demons, tomorrow they will call them something else.” – Aleister Crowley Academic and credentialed interest in UFOs and alien encounters reached a new zenith in 2018 and 2019 with the New York Times coverage of declassified video footage of UFO encounters filmed by Navy airships, as well as with the publication of Diana Walsh Pasulka’s (professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina) new book American Cosmic. Pasulka’s book is a study of pseudonymous yet respected scientists who believe that they are receiving telepathic messages from ETs regarding technological breakthroughs. The idea that ETs are seeding human civilization with novel ideas is not a new concept, but it a concept that has typified the 20th century. Colonel Philip J. Corso claimed in his 1997 book The Day After Roswell, that he was charged by his military superiors to convince private companies to back-engineer supposed debris from the 1947 Roswell crash under the guise of the Army’s Research and Development’s Foreign Technology Desk. The 2016 book, The Dual Soul Connection – the Alien Agenda for Human Advancement, authored by Suzy Hansen and Dr. Rudy Schild (Emeritus Astrophysicist, Harvard/Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics) offers a dizzying catalog of examples of technologies that Hansen claims she was exposed to during her own abduction experiences in the 1970s. She claims that these alien tools became the common human medical technologies that we use today. In the 2017 book, Tuned-in: The Paranormal World of Music, author Grant Cameron offers case after case of rock and roll musicians who apparently were inspired telepathically by ETs to write certain—now famous—rock songs. In 1917, the notorious occult magician Aleister Crowley made telepathic contact with an entity he called Lam, which Crowley’s drawing of bares a striking resemblance to the Gray aliens of popular culture and alien abduction literature today. Since then, the 20th Century has been marked by the slippery and enigmatic presence of UFOs and so-called aliens; both physically and telepathically-channeled. The growing body of research and literature surrounding these topics, as well as their claimed intervention in every aspect of human life from science, to art and culture has led the likes of academics like Pasulka to claim that the UFO obsession is nothing short of religious in its collective features; and, much like religions at large, includes examples of otherworldly beings with a seemingly supernatural ability to guide human progress. 


This paper focuses on how U.S.-based crystal healers source, collect, consume, and teach about the minerals central to their practice. Since the 1970s, crystal healing in the United States has largely been attributed to New Age, witchcraft, and ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ groups, or else lumped together with other non-biomedical therapies under the rubric of ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ (CAM). In more recent years, crystals, both in solid form or incorporated into products ranging from water bottles to aromatherapy sprays, have become popular not only in healing contexts, but also among wellness enthusiasts who purchase their crystals in specialty stores or online. How and to what ends, I ask, do contemporary crystal practitioners hone their craft? What concepts – of crystals, of bodies, of knowledge, of the relationship between aesthetics and experience – do crystals mobilize? And what can a focus on crystals offer the study of religion and its relationship to science? Drawing on analysis of crystal reference manuals, online mineralogical discussion boards, and interviews with healers, crystal shop-owners, and mineral dealers – including those operating in South America, Southeast Asia, and in diaspora communities in the United States – my paper moves away from understanding crystals solely as instruments of New Age healing or appropriation and argues instead for analyzing them as objects long imbricated in practices of collection, extraction, display, and knowledge-making, scientific or otherwise.


The terms Otherkin and Fictionkin refer to people who intrinsically identify as non-human and fictional (human or non-human) beings, respectively. The term plural system refers to those people who have more than one identity/mind/person residing in the same body, the best-known example being tulpas, i.e. autonomous entities that are intentionally created by the host personality, called a tulpamancer. While these subcultures have a fairly long, albeit obscure, history, the contemporary expressions of these identities find their place in various online communities. This paper will show, by using qualitative research data gained over the past five years, how Otherkin, Fictionkin, and tulpamancers use various metaphysical concepts such as magic and reincarnation, as well as an adaptation of scientific theories such as quantum mechanics (found in fictional worlds, spiritual worlds, and alternate worlds/dimensions) to support and explain their non-human or alter-human identities. It will also show how the esoteric notion of the Mundus Imaginalis (found in Sufi teachings and later developed by Henry Corbin) as well as psychological notions (developed by James Hillman and D. Steven Nouriani) that have expanded out of this concept, could perhaps elaborate how the Internet could act as a framework that allows these subcultures access to a virtual world that is experienced as being ‘real’. The faculty of the imagination could perhaps be seen as the binding factor of all of these phenomena.


Notions of holism, vitalism, and polarity have been central to certain alternative therapeutic practices for centuries. The terminology, nomenclature, and scientific conceptual framework have undergone paradigm shifts in past decades, yet what was once dubbed “the zoodynamic life force”, an interconnected physical matrix whose distortion could lead to disease, now finds credence in modern fascia research. The early roots of manual treatments used in osteopathic and other bodywork therapies are embedded in vitalistic thinking, later overlaid with treatments variously inspired by Ayurveda, and Theosophical readings of yogic teachings with a smattering of Paracelsian alchemy and Rosicrucian mystery.

Osteopathic medicine was founded by Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) in the 19th century, with strong principles of holism and vitalism at its core. Later practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic evolved and integrated his approaches in relation to other understandings of health and disease. In the 1930s and 1940s, Dewanchand Varma (life dates unknown, active c.1920-1950) and Randolph Stone (1890-1981) respectively influenced diverging branches in the evolution of manual therapies. Varma taught his Ayurvedically inspired “pranatherapy” based on the principle that disease is caused by obstructions to the free flow of the internal vital force, and developed manual techniques to release them. Subsequent work by Stanley Lief (1892-1963), Boris Chaitow (1907-1995), and the eventual application of modern scientific methods by Leon Chaitow (1937-2018) and colleagues led to the development of European Neuromuscular Technique, a subtle manual therapy for musculoskeletal dysfunction whose efficacy has since been largely scientifically validated and is taught worldwide. The branch developed by Stone, on the other hand, led to explorations of energy medicine within the framework known as Polarity Therapy, less well accepted by modern science, and still bearing the hallmarks of its esoteric origins.  This paper traces the evolution of these therapies from their early roots in the Counter-Enlightenment, highlighting the impact of Western esoteric thought on their development and exploring the insights that can be gained from an understanding and critical examination of the conceptual shifts in scientific understanding during the 20th and 21st centuries. In it, I query what epistemological insights and implications for modern science may be gleaned from a better understanding of the roots of such therapeutic practices.


The strange novel Hypnerotomachia Polyphili (The Strife of Love in a Dream) contains many elements beloved to enthusiasts of esoterica. It takes place in a dream, contains allegorical characters named for the parts of the soul, seems to reference the Dominican tradition of the art of memory, and reflects on the aesthetics of architecture using a Neoplatonic theory of beauty that places the text in a context of Renaissance pagan revival. I will draw on recent research on marginalia to copies of the Hypnerotomachia that has revealed how it was used by contemporary knowledge professionals, including a copy that was owned by an alchemist. This was a text rich in esoteric significance that was intended to be contemplated and used. However we might place it in the context of esotericism, this practical dimension must be accounted for.


The interwar years in Europe and North America saw the emergence of parapsychology as an alternative paradigm to scientific materialism. The widely publicized studies of parapsychologists and psychical researchers were commonly perceived as constituting an “enchanted science,” one which affirmed the existence of hidden forces and unexplainable phenomenon. This paper is concerned with the religious reception of parapsychology among Orthodox Jewish readers in early-twentieth-century Eastern Europe. In particular, the appropriation and interpretations of parapsychology offered by several Hasidic rabbis in the interwar years are examined as test cases pointing to the broader significance of perceived scientific affirmations of occult phenomenon within religious discourse. The rabbis in question studied reports of parapsychological research and paranormal occurrences published in European newspapers, offering their interpretations as pertaining to the nature of miracles, prophecy, the soul, and other religious phenomena. They likewise prowled newspapers in an effort to compile lists of wondrous accounts echoing those of Charles Fort, all recorded in Hebrew or Yiddish for the benefit of a Jewish religious readership not literate in European languages. In this manner, the scientific veneer of parapsychology, as well as reports of the paranormal published in newspapers of record, served these rabbis as tools to boost religious faith in the miraculous, form novel conceptions of various religious phenomena, and present their readers with an image of science supportive of traditional religious beliefs.


While it is widely known that 20th-century occultists utilized energeticism as propagated by Freidrich Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932; 1919 Nobel Prize for Chemistry) to bridge science and the ‘supernatural,’ the role that energeticism played in East Asian Esoteric Buddhist circles has largely gone unnoticed. This paper explores the role energeticism played in 20th-century Buddhist discourse while paying special attention to how this theory was used to portray traditional popular religious practices related to Ancestor Veneration, exorcism, and mediumship as scientifically sound by promoting an energetic understanding of karmic causality. This paper begins by detailing the East Asian reception of energeticism, which was initiated by the Japanese chemist famous for discovering the flavor umami, Ikeda Kikunae (1846-1936), who studied under Ostwald in Germany and later promoted energeticism within Japanese Buddhist intellectual circles. From there, we will discuss how the key paragons of Japanese and Chinese Buddhism, Inoue Enryo (1858-1919) and Taixu (1890-1947) utilized energeticism to present Buddhism as the religion most suited to the modern world. From there, we will analyze the writings of Wuguang (1918-2000), the Taiwanese monk famous for ushering in an Esoteric Buddhist revival that has spread throughout Chinese-speaking communities in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Data were collected via analyzing 19th and 20th-century Japanese and Chinese Buddhist texts as well as fieldwork conducted in Buddhist communities in Taiwan from 2011-2017.


In 1924 Scientific American concluded its exhaustive, year-long investigation into the controversial black box therapeutic system invented by Dr Albert Abrams (1863-1924). Coinciding with the boom in wireless radio technology and advances in scientific and medical understanding of radio waves Abrams, a California-based physician, announced that “the spirit of the age is radio,” and suggested that “we can use radio in diagnosis.” He invented two purpose built machines, the Dynamizer and Oscilloclast. These detected bioelectrical imbalances in the human body and used electron-wave vibratory transmission to cure illness, a process he termed “the Electrical Reactions of Abrams” or ERA. The Scientific American report, however, was scathing, describing Abrams “electronic technique” in no uncertain terms: “at best, it is all an illusion; at Worst, it is a colossal fraud.” For the authors of the report Abram’s machines were a worrisome example of the threat posed by unorthodox and esoteric ideas, lamenting that “this electronic development has caused a sad state of affairs in this world of ours. It has been a renaissance of the black magic of medieval times.”

 Albert Abrams died before the report was published but, in spite of the debunking and subsequent attempts to prohibit ERA, his theories persisted, eventually coalescing into the pseudoscientific field of Radionics/Radiesthesia. By amalgamating Mesmer’s concept of animal magnetism with the vibratory language of New Thought and new ideas about radiation and radio waves, Abrams and his successors exemplified the on-going influence of esoteric ideas in an age of so-called disenchantment. The disputes surrounding ERA and Radionics also epitomize a parallel feature of the often-fraught relationship between the prevailing mode of scientific knowledge and fringe or divergent practices. This was the persistent exchange between science and esotericism over epistemological legitimacy. My paper will examine the shifting ideas about what constitutes “science” during this period of tremendous flux, when developments in psychology and parapsychology such as Reich’s orgone theories and the various kinds of electric therapy continued to blur the lines between science and esotericism. I shall consider why Abrams and his radio wave therapy was subjected to such intense scrutiny and criticism when during the same period equally avant garde theories such as quantum mechanics and relativity were embraced as legitimate “science.” Ultimately I shall inquire as to why “science” as a reified paradigm remains, for many, the benchmark for authenticity while esotericism is assigned a lesser credibility in western culture and society

43. PSYCHEDELIC TECHNOLOGY AND ESOTERIC WISDOM, Morgan Shipley, Michigan State University

This proposed presentation details psychedelics as a technology of/for gnosis and as both a reflection of and inspiration for digital understandings. Drawing from the psychonautic reflections of Aldous Huxley, the cyberdelic intervention of Timothy Leary, and the fantastical science unpacked by Terrence McKenna, this presentation considers how psychedelic voyagers break down the barrier between the scientific and the mystical, between the material and the immaterial. Psychedelics, when used with intention for purpose, that is, when used scientifically, function as a form of technology for advancing human knowledge beyond the restrictions of the physical senses or the boundedness of rational thought. Psychedelics, in other words, transport the experiencer from one state of awareness to another, creating the conditions to both encounter gnosis and return to waking consciousness with new understandings. Psychedelics, in connecting one to insights found throughout western esotericism, inspire progressive—and increasingly digital—modes of applying knowledge. These progressive modes connect intimately to technological advancement, demonstrating how the esoteric wisdom of the psychedelic encounter reimagined what was possible and thereby pushed the boundaries of what technology could do and reflect. From the “web” of the internet to the mapping of the contingent mind to projects like the cave automatic virtual environment (an immersive virtual reality environment reflecting Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in that it allows participants to contemplate perception, reality, and illusion), psychedelics return modern individuals to foundational truths of existence—like the technology that produced LSD and the technology inspired by LSD consciousness, both allow individuals to overcome traditional limits, to liberate and transcend space, time, and the body to encounter what Plotinus called the “One,” when “vision is such that seeing and seen are one; object and act of vision have become identical” (Enneads, 38:6:35; in Porphyry, Life Of Plotinus, Turnbull, 1936; p. 204).


Over the past twenty years, contemplative pedagogy, contemplative studies and consciousness studies have become established at a wide range of public and private institutions, including Brown University, Williams University, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Southern California, and numerous others. These initiatives go beyond mindfulness as it is usually understood, and include new approaches to working with esoteric or mystical literature, sometimes termed “deep reading.” While many authors and genres can be approached in this way in the classroom, in this short paper, after a brief survey of this developing field, we will look at some specific instances of contemplative pedagogy (in particular, looking at esoteric dimensions of selected texts from the Cloud of Unknowing, Thomas Traherne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson) that call into question the materialistic premises of the “hard problem” of consciousness and reveal some limits to the contemporary scientific imagination.


A frequent concern of various scientific fields is to specify what distinguishes the field as a specifically scientific one – as distinct from various non-scientific (e.g., folk) versions of similar enterprises. This problem has been particularly important for the field of psychology (and its close relatives, psychological medicine, medical psychology, psychiatry, and so on), not only because their subject matter does not fit well with the Cartesian concept of a natural science, but also because they share their subject matter, and even methods,  with approaches long regarded as unscientific. For those fields it has been an especially delicate matter to distinguish between science and esotericism, or even occultism, since so many figures on the scientific side of the distinction had a very definite presence on the other side as well. This paper looks at several figures involved in the history of psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy who were also linked in various ways with the Golden Dawn, among them Dr. Lillias Hamilton, Dr. Elizabeth Severn, and Dr. Alexander Cannon. This paper will indicate some unresolved questions, and discuss how issues arising from the mutual involvement of esoteric and scientific enterprises can affect attempts to do clarify the history of both the scientific and the esoteric projects involved.

46. SPECULATIVE REALISM AND THE NEW DARK PLATONISM, Joshua Gentzke, Michigan State University/ Stanford University

Much has been written about the anti-Platonic thrust of late modern thought. In the wake of poststructuralism, Platonism has been branded as a pernicious “metaphysics of presence” that promotes a thoroughgoing dualism. Today, in light of critical theory’s engagement with the ecological crisis, philosophies suspected of promoting transcendence stand accused of complicity. Neoplatonism then, a tradition seen as far removed from the sobriety of Socratic thought, appears as an archaism at best, and a malevolent ghost at worst. But this reading is reductive: it reifies its subject and thereby obscures its historical diversity and continued vitality. My paper explores the resurgence of Neoplatonic thought in in light of its entanglement with contemporary ecocriticism and the new speculative realism proffered by the Dark Ecology and Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) movements. I demonstrate that continental philosophy’s retrieval of the tradition of “apophatic” mysticism, mediated through Pseudo-Dionysius, conjoined with a tradition of esoteric speculation on the Platonic notion of khôra (χώρα), which runs through Jacob Böhme and F.W.J. Schelling, has paradoxically afforded a conceptual language that informs these poststructuralist approaches to ecocriticism. I argue that a newly vibrant form of “Dark Platonism,” which draws upon the indeterminacy of apophatic mysticism and Neoplatonic speculation, has emerged in alliance with the project of reimagining immanence and materiality, as well as the denial of the culture/nature binary that defines the age of the Anthropocene.


In recent decades, the history of esotericism has been considered a study of excluded knowledge. However, such was not always the case. Between 1923 and 1958, American medievalist Lynn Thorndike produced a monumental eight volume work entitled A History of Magic and Experimental Science a study of magic, astrology, alchemy, and science from the ancient cultures through the seventeenth century, with a penultimate chapter on Isaac Newton and his alchemical imagination and experiments . As the title implies, Thorndike believed that magic and experimental science developed alongside one another, and that insights could be gained by studying them together; noting that some form of magic was practiced in all cultures,  he believed that magicians may have been the first to experiment. My purpose in writing this paper is twofold. First, In many ways, Thorndike’s work has been supplanted by more recent scholarship. In this paper, I will argue that actually his research pioneered the theory and practice of history as a social science explore how Thorndike was, in reality, a pioneer in the theory and practice of  history as a social science as well as an art; for example, he incorporated folk beliefs as well as high magic. As a case study in his methods, I will discuss the mutual influence of astrology and astronomy in the fourteenth century i As case study of his methods, I will describe his analysis  of use of astrology in fourteenth century Latin treatises on attempts to predict floods, crop yields, and pestilences, and the creation of comprehensive weather observations, as well as predictions, in the work of William Merlee and Evno of Wurzenberg, John of Eschenden, John de Murs, and the contrasting views of Nicholas Orseme, a critic of astrology.