Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

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The Unitarian Church From Christ’s PiecesThe Unitarian Church From Christ’s PiecesThe Unitarian Church From Christ’s PiecesCAMBRIDGE CENTRE FOR WESTERN ESOTERICISM

CCWE is independent of any academic or esoteric communities, the co-ordinators share an interest in the need for a wider dialogue between scholars and practitioners in the field of Western Esotericism and in the establishment of a secular space in which an interdisciplinary network can thrive (see people).



The conference will be held in the Church Hall, entrance in Victoria Street to the left of the church as you see it here, see Map and Accommodation.


Academics and practitioners with an interest/involvement in the field of Western Esotericism are invited to this conference, see also Home and Aim pages.

Speakers and programme below:


PRESENTERS and their papers

is the minister of the Memorial Church (Unitarian), Cambridge and is one of the chaplains to the University, Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge Regional College. His research interests centre on liberal Christianity, its self identity and relationships with other faith traditions. He is also a musician and has recently contributed entries on Unitarian hymnody to The New Julian Dictionary of Hymnody (ed. J. R.Watson, Canterbury Press/Eerdmans, forthcoming 2007).

In keeping with the underlying aim of the conference, this paper draws on two complementary perspectives. The first is academic and historical; the second is theological and is offered from the perspective of a minister of religion who has responsibility for a contemporary liberal Christian church.

The paper begins with a brief overview of the recent work of scholars such as Allison Coudert, Stuart Brown and Victor Nuovo who have begun to explore the influence of the Kabbala upon key enlightenment ideas (especially religious toleration and the development of science) and upon important individual figures (such as John Locke 1632-1704, Lady Anne Conway 1631-1679 and Gotfried Wilhelm Leibniz 1646-1716). As Coudert has shown in The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century (Coudert 1999), one important aspect of this process was the Kabbalistic philosophy of Francis Mercury van Helmont (1614-1698)
Van Helmont had been influenced by the Lurianic form of Kabbala (see Scholem 1955, Chapter Seven) and such a philosophy, with its optimistic world view that the world could be restored to its original perfection through human effort and its doctrine of the revolution of the human soul through many lives, naturally appealed to certain Christians who found the Calvinistic doctrines of predestination and eternal damnation (irrespective of a person’s actual moral life) detestable. This philosophy offered one solution to the problem Christianity had with regard to the salvation of all those who came before Christ as well as all those in the present who, for various reasons, had not (or, for whatever reason, could not have) encountered Christ. As we shall see, Van Helmont’s Kabbalistical philosophy made a contribution to the development of a doctrine of universal salvation which, in the intervening centuries, has become central to many forms of modern-day liberal Christianity.

Informed by this historical study the paper’s concluding, and major, section takes its initial cue from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 1937 publication, Nachfolge (Eng. trans. The Cost of Discipleship, 1948). In this book Bonhoeffer attacked what he called the “cheap grace” being preached in Protestant (especially Lutheran) churches of his day where an unlimited offer of forgiveness was being made which merely allowed the covering up of the real ethical and moral laxity that existed within the church. This section of the paper will argue that in a similar way much modern day liberal Christian universalism has (for a number of reasons which will be explored during the course of the paper) badly misunderstood and marginalised key religious ideas which originally gave genuine ‘bite’ to this doctrine and so, today, is simply offering up a “cheap universalism.”

Conway, Anne (ed. Allison Coudert and Taylor Corse)
1996: The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)

Coudert, Allison P.
1999: The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century – The Life and Thought of Francis Mercury van Helmont, 1614-1698 (E. J. Brill, Leiden, Boston and Koln)
1995: Leibniz and the Kabbalah (Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht and London)

Israel, Jonathan I. Israel
2001: Radical Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, Oxford)

Nuovo, Victor
2002: John Locke – Writings on Religion (Oxford University Press, Oxford)
Two unpublished papers: Dubia circa Philosophiam Orientalem and Reflections on Locke’s Platonism

Popkin, Richard H.
1992: The Third Force in Seventeenth-Century Thought (E. J. Brill, Leiden, New York, Kobenhavn and Koln)

Stuart, M. A. (editor)
1997: Studies in Seventeenth-Century European Philosophy (Oxford, Clarendon Press)

van Helmont, Francis Mercury:
1682: A Cabbalistical Dialogue (London)
1684: Two hundred queries moderately propounded concerning the doctrine of the revolution of humane souls, and its conformity to the truths of Christianity (London).
1685: The Paradoxical Discourses (London)


is Lecturer and Deputy Director in the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex. He is the editor of Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal (Routledge, 1997) and author of The Rupture of Time: Synchronicity and Jung’s Critique of Modern Western Culture (Brunner-Routledge, 2004) and Revelations of Chance: Synchronicity as Spiritual Experience (SUNY, 2007).

Jung as a Modern Esotericist
C. G. Jung (1875-1961) was deeply interested in and influenced by the western esoteric tradition, including mystery religions, Gnosticism, astrology, and especially alchemy, and a strong case can be made for viewing Jung, in at least one facet of his identity, as a modern esotericist. Antoine Faivre, in his classic formulation, identifies four essential and two non-essential characteristics of esotericism. The four essential characteristics are: a world-view based on correspondences; an account of nature as living; the importance of imagination and mediations between a seen and an unseen world; and the experience of transmutation. The two non-essential characteristics are ‘the praxis of concordance’, that is, establishing connections between different traditions and fields of knowledge; and transmission—the passing on of knowledge from teacher to disciple, often by means of initiations. Subsequently, Wouter Hanegraaff suggested that by the end of the nineteenth century western esotericism, as defined by Faivre, had been transformed by its reflection in what he calls the ‘four “mirrors of secular thought”: the new worldview of “causality”, the new study of religions, the new evolutionism, and the new psychologies’. In this talk I will consider the extent to which Jung’s psychological model, especially including his theory of synchronicity, exhibits these essential, non-essential, and secularised characteristics of esotericism. I will also evaluate Hanegraaff’s suggestion that Jung’s distinctive way of updating traditional esotericism through his theory of synchronicity makes him a unique figure in the historical study of esotericism. Finally, I will note how Jung’s status as both a scholar and, in his way, a practitioner of esotericism has influenced the reception of his work in academic, clinical, and esoteric contexts.


taught Buddhism, the bhakti tradition, new religious movements, and altered states of consciousness at Lancaster (UK) and Berkeley and Santa Barbara (California). He is the author of ‘The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions’ (Open Court, 1997) and is currently writing a book on the Hit (with special reference to rock’n’roll). He lives in France.


The essential principle of human consciousness is transposition: (re)creating something in another form.
‘Gong’ is a woody word not a tinny one (even though gongs can be made of tin);
Evelyn Ashford, the great American sprinter, running like a mountain stream and molten lava (at the same time);
Loneliness in a song not by an ache in the voice (which would be emotional acting) but in the spaces between the notes (Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘One For My Baby’);
When my five-year-old granddaughter explains something in her concentrated, calm way, it’s like large snowflakes falling.
These could be seen as correspondences (in the esoteric sense) but I’m not happy with the mechanical sense of this term (as in Hesse’s Glass Bead game), when we can read off one set of ‘arrangements’ against another. Transposition is re-enactment, not looking things up in an index.
When we transpose in this way, we have a realization of simultaneous realities: that ‘this’ is also ‘there’ in another ‘form’. And it’s this realization that is the origin of the notion of level because the connection between these ‘forms’ is not causal like a seed and a flower. It’s an awareness that what we’re ‘seeing’ is not confined to its form – it has other forms. And moving from one form to another is what we do: we jump levels. It’s the fundamental human experience.
Transposition is thus a kind of metaphor – and that’s where meaning comes from. Something is meaningful when we realize that it goes beyond its ‘form’ – that it is, in a sense, already in other forms. Babies can laugh before they can talk – and that’s because they ‘get’ the movement from one level to another (which is the basis of all meaning, linguistic or not). To transpose in this way is to be human.
Esotericism is that set of principles that govern the ‘modes’ of transposition. The three gunas, the four elements (which feed into alchemy and astrology), the five tattvas, are one set, as it were.
Jung’s four types: intuition, thinking, feeling, sensation. (That’s why I put ‘seeing’ in scare quotes above. All four types are modes of being aware. ‘Seeing’ is the sensation mode of transposition but it’s not the only one – or perhaps it would be better to say that ‘seeing’ has a different sense in each of the four types);
The five virtues and their equivalent vices; Buddhism’s three defilements (kleshas).
All of these modes are also ways of being: how we engage with reality, and embody it and transmit it. (All transposition is a form of transmission.) They are the laws – the means of expression – that govern the active/creative imagination. (And we’ve all got it. It’s not a special gift. It’s what allows us to be stupid and mean, for example.)
Reality is itself transpositional and has created something – the human race – which approximates to itself. In the very process of being alive, we encounter the same principles.
Esotericism is traditionally understood as the ‘deep’ explanation of the human condition: both our own make-up and how the world/reality is governed. I agree. All I’m saying is that the principles that operate are to be found in what we do most naturally: language, laughing, quarrelling, being lost. That’s why we can’t see them.

DR PATRICK CURRY is a lecturer in the MA programme for the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination at the University of Kent and the author, with Roy Willis, of Astrology, Science and Culture (Berg, 2004) as well as various papers. He is currently organising a conference on the subject of divination in early October 2007.

I will discuss the problem of trying to understand a phenomenon such as divination with a set of views (both values and concepts) which start off from – and thus invariably end up returning to – the wrong ‘place’ . The mismatch turns on significantly different concepts of truth: one that is ‘participatory’ (perspectival, contextual, embodied, etc.) – the diviner’s – as against one that is ‘causal’ (universal, single, purely discursive, etc.), which tends to be the scholar’s. But our job as scholars is surely to do justice to our subject(s), not to convert it/them into instances of what we putatively already know. I will suggest a remedy. (I might also mention the peculiarity of astrology as the Western form of divination par excellence.)

is director of a Lighthouse Editions, a small independent company see publishing books related to G. I. Gurdjieff. Her publications are; Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales, Solar Bound, 2002, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, Routledge, 2003, Gurdjieff’, The Astrology Book: an Encyclopedia of Heavenly Influences. Ed., James R. Lewis, Detroit: Visible Ink, 2003

How did membership of the Gurdjieff Society in London from 1962-1975 influence my academic research?
How do changing attitudes of educational institutions to practitioners of esoteric disciplines influence teaching and research and Dialogue?

I would like to offer some brief notes on both of these topics, beginning with thoughts on how membership of the Society has influenced my academic research in relation to the two books I have published.

The first one is Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales, this is my analysis of Gurdjieff’s major text, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950) in terms of astrological correspondences. I will look at:

• how the text has been generally been regarded by academics, how it is read by practitioners and how pupil readers
seek to analyse the text.

• the complexity of the teaching in relation to the structure of the Tales

• how being a practitioner helped me

• the advantage of a scholarly approach

• impediments to dialogue

The second and quite different book is a dictionary of Gurdjieff’s teaching terms. Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts Routledge, 2003, I will say how my practitioner and scholarly experience influenced my understanding and writing.

And lastly an open question:

academics who are practicing the esoteric teaching or discipline they are teaching/researching are now employed in University departments, how does this affect the dialogue between scholar and practitioner?



FRIDAY evening,
get together for those already in Cambridge from 7.00PM at Browns’ Restaurant and Bar, 23 Trumpington Street, CB2 1QA t. 01223 461655

Registration and coffee

10.00 – 11.00 (15 minutes presentation and forty-five minutes discussion for all sessions)

How did membership of the Gurdjieff Society in London from 1962-1975 influence my academic research?
How do changing attitudes of educational institutions to practitioners of esoteric disciplines influence teaching and research and Dialogue?

12.00 – 1.00

1.00 -2.00

2.00- 3.00


4.00 – 4.15

Plenary session

Close of Conference

£25.00 for the day includes light lunch with glass of wine, coffee and tea.
(£20 if paid before June 2007) student concessions £15.00.

Please make your cheque out to CCWE and send
c/o Sophia Wellbeloved, 13, Brandon Court, CB1 1DZ



The CAMBRIDGE CENTRE for the study of WESTERN ESOTERICISM is independent of any academic or esoteric communities, the co-ordinators share an interest in the need for a wider dialogue between scholars and practitioners in the field of Western Esotericism and in the establishment of a secular space in which an interdisciplinary network can thrive (see people).


July 14, 2007 at 11:43 am

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