Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

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Correspondences: an online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism

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Correspondences. An online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism.

Call for papers. Deadline: feb. 28, 2013.


Correspondences seeks to create a public academic forum devoted to discussion and exposition of issues and currents in the field commonly known as ‘Western Esotericism.’ The editors acknowledge that the use of “Western esotericism” as an umbrella term for a widely variant field of alternate scientific and religious ideas is problematic. Thus, articles related to esoteric currents from other global cultural centers may be accepted if a connection to “alternative” currents in “western culture” is implicitly established.

The following list of areas of study is provided for clarification: Alchemy, Anthroposophy, Astrology, Eco-spirituality, Esoteric art, literature, and music, Freemasonry, Geomancy, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Illuminism, Initiatory secret societies, Kabbalah, Magic, Mesmerism, Mysticism, Naturphilosophie, Neo-paganism, New Age, Occultism, Occulture, Paracelsianism, Rosicrucianism, Satanism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Traditionalism, Ufology, Witchcraft.

Correspondences encourages submissions from a variety of methodological and disciplinary approaches, such as: History of Religions; Sociology; Art History; Philosophy; History of Science; Literature; ; and Cultural Studies, just to name a few.


Jimmy Elwing, rMA student, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Aren Roukema, rMA student, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Editorial Board

Egil Asprem, MA, Researcher, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Dr. Henrik Bogdan, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Dr. Juan Pablo Bubello, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Dr. Dylan Burns, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Dr. Peter Forshaw, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Christian Giudice, PhD student, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Dr. Amy Hale, St. Petersburg College, United States.

Prof. Boaz Huss, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Prof. Birgit Menzel, Universität Mainz, Germany.

More Information, please contact us at


CONFERENCE: Charming Intentions – Occultism – Magic and the History of Art

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This two-day graduate conference will investigate the intersections between visual culture and the occult tradition, ranging from the material culture of ‘primitive’ animism, through medieval and Renaissance depictions of witchcraft and demonology, to the contemporary fascination with the supernatural in popular culture.

The conference aims to provide a stimulating arena for the presentation of innovative research in this field as well as to offer a vibrant and thought-provoking forum for scholarly discussion and exchange. We welcome papers from current and recent graduate students from all disciplines, provided their research engages with material, visual or symbolic aspects of magic and occultism.

Acceptable topics include, but are by no means limited to, the following areas:

* The sacred and the profane;

* The material culture of magic, ritual and sacrifice;

* Objects of totemic, apotropaeic or fetishistic character;

* Aspects of mysticism in Jewish, Christian and Islamic art and architecture;

* Satanism, witchcraft and demonology; * Sacred geometry, numerology and cosmology;

* The arcane sciences (including astrology, alchemy and the tarot game);

* Art-theoretical discussions of the spiritual, the sublime, the marvellous, the numinous and the uncanny;

* Artistic investigations of myth, fantasy and utopia;

* Visual aspects of occult movements such as Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Mesmerism, Spiritism and New Age Spirituality;

* The supernatural and the spiritual in modern and contemporary art; * Occultism and magic in contemporary popular culture.

N.B.: Presentations should not exceed a maximum of 20 minutes and will be followed by a 10-minute Q&A session. The sessions will be chaired by senior scholars within the University of Cambridge’s History of Art Department. We also hope to publish selected conference papers in a book of proceedings.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to:

alongside a CV of 1-2 pages.

Deadline for submission is the 30th of September 2012.

All abstracts will be peer-reviewed and successful applicants will be notified about acceptance of their papers before the 15th of October 2012.

Early applications are strongly encouraged.

The Conference Committee

Josefine Baark, PhD Candidate, Homerton College Gabriel Byng, PhD Candidate, Clare College Imma Ramos, PhD Candidate, Pembroke College Daniel Zamani, PhD Candidate, Trinity College.




Day 1: Monday, 3 December 2012

09.30 – 10.00 Registration at

History of Art Department’s Graduate Centre on 4A Trumpington Street


10.00 – 10.05 Welcome address (Daniel Zamani & Dr Alexander Marr)


10.05 – 11.00 Keynote Lecture

Dr Urszula Szulakowska (University of Leeds)

The Sexualisation of the Virgin Mary: Hieratic Religious Art in an Alchemical Context


11.00 – 11.30 Coffee Break


11.30 – 1.00 Panel 1: The Christian Middle Ages Convenor: Dr Anna Gannon


Emily Goetsch (University of Edinburgh)

Demonising the Other”: Spanish Apocalyptic Images of Evil as a Way of Promoting Christianity in Tenth-Century Beatus Manuscripts


Orsolya Mednyanzky (Tufts University, Medford)

Protecting the Sacred Script: A Cross in Glory in a Late Medieval Armenian Gospel Book


Monika Winiarczyk (University of Glasgow)

‘Homo Signorum’: Looking to God or Looking to the Stars? The Role of Astrology in Medieval Christianity


1.00 – 2.00 Lunch Break


2.00 – 3.30 Panel 2: Islam and Hinduism Convenor: Rachel Parikh


Anja R. Dreiser (University of Bamberg)

Magic Mirrors from the Islamic World


Alexandra Plesa (Leiden University)

Pots That Bless: Pious Inscriptions on Samanid Pottery in Dutch Collections


Shandra E. Lamaute (University of Edinburgh)

A Printed Islamic Amulet


Imma Ramos (University of Cambridge)

Impurity, Auspiciousness and Power: The Tantric Transformations of Lajja Gauri at Kamakhya


3.30 – 4.00 Coffee Break


4.00 – 5.00 Panel 3: Early Modern Europe I Convenor: Prof. Jean Michel Massing


Liliana Leopardi (Hobert and William Smith Colleges, NY)

Renaissance Magic Precious and Semi-Precious Stones: the Fetish as a

path to Pyschological Integrity


Nikola Piperkov (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Et procul in tenuem ex oculis euanuit auram: Natural Magic and Divine Word in Giambologna’s Statue of Mercury


Day 2: Tuesday, 4 December 2012


10.00 – 11.00 Panel 4: Early Modern Europe II Convenor: Dr Alexander Marr


Alexandra Marraccini (University of Chicago)

Open Secrets: Alchemical-Hermetic Iconography in the Ripley Scrolls


Marthe Kretzschmar (Technische Universitaet Hamburg)

Waxwork. Aby Warburg’s “Bildzauber” between materiality and resemblance


11.00 – 11.30 Coffee Break


11.30 – 1.00 Panel 5: Great Britain Convenor: Josefine Baark


Stephanie Churms (Aberystwyth University)

Drawn by the Magician’s Wand”: The Occult Culture of Revolutionary Caricature

Lauren Greer (University of Saint-Thomas, MN)

Glamour: A Dissection of John Anster Fitzgerald’s Fairyland


Heather Carroll (University of Edinburgh)

Art not without ambition’: Lady Melbourne, the Duchess of Devonshire and Mrs. Damer as The Three Witches from Macbeth


1.00 – 2.00 Lunch Break


2.00 – 3.30 Panel 6: Surrealism Convenor: Dr Karolina Watras


Daniel Zamani (University of Cambridge)

Alchemy & Empowerment in Victor Brauner’s Appropriation of the Tarot Magician


Kristina Rapacki (Courtauld Institute, London)

Deicide, Regicide, Suicide: Bataille, Acephale and the Sovereign

Victoria Camblin (University of Cambridge)

Ritual and the Wagnerism of Acéphale (1936-1939)


3.30 – 4.00 Coffee Break


4.00 – 5.30 Panel 7: The 20 th Century Convenor: Elizabeth Upper


Adele Gardener (University of Bristol)

Art, Invocation and Alchemy: The Tarot Paintings of Lady Frieda Harris


Lisa Hanstein (Art-Historical Institute, Florence)

Unseen Spirits? Occult Aspects of Italian Futurist Art & Theory


Judith Noble (Arts University College, Bournemouth)

Ritual and Invocation: Occultism in the Films of Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger


5.30 – 5.35 Closing Remarks (Gabriel Byng)


5.35 – 7.00 Wine reception


Close of conference





AUGUST 27-29, 2012


Keynote Speakers

Wouter J. Hanegraaff,

Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam

Christopher Partridge, Religious Studies, Lancaster University

Kocku von Stuckrad, Study of Religion, Groningen University

Deadline for Abstracts: March 30, 2012

Submit your abstract (approx. 200 words) along with a brief academic CV (approx 1 page) to:

The academic study of Western esotericism has blossomed in recent years; University departments and MA programs have been established, book series and journals launched, academic societies founded, and several international conferences and panels are organized every year. There is, however, still a major gap in scholarship on esotericism: very little research exists on contemporary phenomena. While some present-day phenomena related to esotericism, such as ‘New Age spiritualities’ and (neo)paganism, have been the focus of scholars in other fields, scholars working in the field of esotericism have largely neglected such developments. With a focus on early modern phenomena, scholarship in the field of Western esotericism has been predominantly historiographical in its approach, with a common reluctance to incorporate social scientific approaches. In recent years, however, serious attempts have been made to develop sociological approaches to the study of the esoteric/occult which are both compatible with historical approaches and forgo the biased presumptions of yesteryear. A fundamental challenge for the study of contemporary esoteric phenomena is that it is not sufficient to simply transpose theories, definitions and methodologies developed for the study of e.g. Renaissance magic to later manifestations of the esoteric. Studying contemporary phenomena poses intriguing possibilities, such as the opportunity to study esotericism in lived contexts, which unavoidably also introduce new problems. In general, several theoretical and methodological concerns need to be addressed if a proper study of contemporary esotericism is to succeed.

Suggested Topics

The primary aim of this conference is to place contemporary phenomena on the agenda of the study of esotericism. Thus we welcome papers dealing with contemporary and recent developments in “classic” esoteric currents – e.g. within Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and ritual magical currents – as well as esoteric developments of particular relevance today – e.g. Chaos Magick, Satanism, and (neo)paganism. We also strongly encourage papers dealing with theoretical and methodological issues that are particularly pertinent to the study of contemporary esotericism, as well as papers dealing with the societal, cultural, political, religious etc. contexts of esotericism today. This can include discussions on the role played by the esoteric in modern politics (e.g. the new right), grassroots activism (e.g. deep ecology and the animal rights movement), science (e.g. parapsychology, neurotheology, “New Age physics”), healthcare (e.g. alternative medicine), popular culture (both entertainment media and in broader contexts such as kitsch, consumer, and fan culture), and modern interactive communications media (e.g. mediatization and the effects of changing modes of mediation), as well as the simultaneous influence of these and other fields on esoteric notions, beliefs, and practices. General theoretical discussion on the potential usefulness of sociological terms and concepts such as globalization, secularization, and the post-secular in the study of contemporary esotericism is also encouraged. The conference should function as an interdisciplinary meeting place where scholars from a multitude of disciplines and with different approaches and perspectives can come together to learn from each other.

Additional information

The conference is arranged in conjunction with the 2012 EASR conference, also arranged in Stockholm, Sweden (at Södertörn University, August 23-26). Panels on esotericism, both historical and contemporary, are planned for the EASR as well, thus providing the opportunity to engage in extended discussion on these subjects, and of course lessening travel expenses.

More detailed information, including conference fee, will be made available at a later stage.

Conference organizers

Egil Asprem, PhD Research Fellow, Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam

Kennet Granholm, Assistant Professor, History of Religions, Stockholm University

Forthcoming volume on Contemporary Esotericism

The conference will function as the launching party for Contemporary Esotericism, the first volume specifically dedicated to the study of esotericism in the present day. The volume is published by Equinox Publishing and includes eighteen articles by well-established scholars as well as innovative younger researchers in the field. For more information, see the publisher’s webpage.

FACE OF THE DIVINE: the esoteric roots of physiognomic photography

Sculpture of Hercules, Athens

Greek Sculpture, Diadomenes

Sculpture by Arno Brecker Official Sculptor of the Third Reich

Hans F. K. Günther

This paper, given at the CCWE conference 11 October 2008, is something of a combination project for me – I have been examining photography and its relationships to esoterica for some years (for example spirit photography). In addition I have also examined, as a separate area of research, the use of photography as a definer of race in colonial contexts. Recently I have begun to draw aspects of the two areas a little closer together. This paper is concerned with an examination of the visualisation of an esoteric idea become exoteric as photograph; a visualisation of racial and physiognomic types culminating in the image of the so-called Nordic master race and its antithesis, photographic (and ultimately racial) constructs of what was termed miscegenated and Jewish-types. Although many of these images were made more latterly under the banner of science, part of the hypothesis behind their creation has strong esoteric roots in both divinatory physiognomy, i.e. the art of judging character and fortune from facial characteristics and Pan-German Ariosophy an early twentieth century movement that mixed occult and racist ideas.


Schopenhauer stated:

‘That the outer man is a picture of the inner, and the face an expression and revelation of the whole character, is a presumption likely enough in itself, and therefore a safe one to go on…Photography…offers the most complete satisfaction of our curiosity.’

This paper briefly explores the application of photography (a product of both art and science) to recording the shape and form of the human face in order to create catalogues of knowledge. This journey includes an esoteric connectivity to a mystical ideal or understanding of the self through to an early twentieth century search for a (mystical) purity of race and type in the comparative photography of German scientist and eugenicist Hans F. K. Günther.

From its inception in 1839 the medium of photography was quickly associated with the genesis of an extension of the self, as a fragment of the soul, extended and captured in the silver. Indeed the very process of allowing any image to be produced as likeness was linked to the concept of soul replication. As Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) pointed out in The Golden Bough many peoples believed the soul to lie in the shadow or reflection. The nineteenth-century travelling photographer often discovered as a result that photography was considered a dire threat to the lives of those photographed and the photographer’s reception was often hostile. For example:

When Dr. Catat and some companions were exploring the Bara country on the west coast of Madagascar, the people suddenly became hostile. The day before the travellers, not without difficulty, had photographed the royal family, and now found themselves accused of taking the souls of the natives for the purpose of selling them when they returned to France.

Nor were such ideas confined to the non-western ‘other’. Photography wielded a deep psychological power over those photographed and for those in possession of photographs. This power stems from the fact that rather than the image being a simulacrum – a sketch – the photograph is perceived to be the very image of the sitter, their reflected shade even to the point of bearing a dangerous occult power over the subject.

The apparent veracity that the photographic image provided absorbed nineteenth and twentieth century users and consumers of images and lent it an unprecedented (and often unquestioned) credibility. The camera’s ability to accurately reproduce the world on a two-dimensional surface seemed to stand as proof that the manner in which a subject was recorded was definitive and unquestionable. Despite its shrunken, (often) monotone and two-dimensional appearance, the photograph was held in a position of unparalleled importance as a piece of factual evidence. Even today in this digital age of electronically created and manipulated images, we are still inclined to give credence to an event or subject if there is a lens based record (whether photograph or moving image) that can be presented as evidence of such a situation.

When photography arrived as a culmination of chemistry and optics, it was long anticipated and much desired. From the Renaissance onwards the urge to provide greater and greater accuracy drove artists to use devices like the Camera Obscura.

Giovanni Battista Della Porta, the Renaissance polymath, wrote the first description of the Camera Obscura in his text Natural Magic published in 1558:

If you cannot draw a picture of a man…draw it by these means…Let the Sun beat upon the window, and there about the hole, let there be Pictures of men, that it may light upon them, but not upon the hole. Put a white paper against the hole, and you shall so long sit the men by the light, bringing them neer, or setting them further, until the Sun cast[ing]a perfect representation…shall describe the manner of the countenance.

From around the end of the fifteenth century artists began using optics to gain ever greater accuracy. Utilising more and more accurately made lenses and mirrors, simple devices like the Camera Obscura, allowed artists to produce more realistic depictions of perspective and likeness demanded in an age where empirical measurement was in the ascendancy.

For the newly wealthy and emergent middle classes, there was also a desire to have an image making process that did not rely on the expensive and select process of painting. Devices such as the Camera Obscura led to other machines that could provide simple likenesses such as the shadowgraph, the physionotrace and the Camera Lucida.

In the nineteenth century the ability of the camera to take (as opposed to make) a likeness quickly became enormously popular. Within a year of the invention being announced photographers had begun travelling the globe with their photographic paraphernalia recording all manner of subject areas but most of all, despite the length of exposure often requires, portraits.

The timing of the invention coincided with the ascendance of science. Emergent sciences such as anthropology lived alongside established concepts such as physiognomy where the outer likeness could be read as a measure of the inner man.

Until quite recent times, physiognomy and its descendent ‘sciences’ such as anthropometrics were generally assumed to be true sciences which could, by careful study of physicality, reveal something about the inner person.

The Swiss pastor Johann Casper Lavater is perhaps the most famous of apologists for physiognomy and he helped to revive it as a credible study after it had fallen somewhat into disrepute during the middle ages and Renaissance when it became associated with palmistry and other divinatory practices (Della Porta himself had been hauled before the inquisition after over enthusiastic Neapolitans hailed him as magus). Lavater published his influential essays on physiognomy in German in 1772. Lavater assured his readers that: “The physiognomy is often a sermon on the goodness of God.”

Lavater’s work described how, after careful training, the physiognomist could make such a reading. But Lavater was drawing on a broad tradition. He saw his ideas as confirmed by, and part of, a tradition that included works by Della Porta who had amongst his other publications had also published De Humana Physiognomia in 1586.

Della Porta’s work makes a comparative study between the external characteristics of humans and animals. As with many of the nascent sciences of the Renaissance, Della Porta’s worldview was intrinsically spiritual and magical, a kind of spiritual metaphysics.

Della Porta subsequent investigation by the Inquisition was partly due to the fact that the work was perceived to border too closely on divination.

Many studies followed Della Porta’s such as Richard Saunder’s physiognomy published in 1671 which relates shape and form to planetary influences and readings.

Sir Thomas Brown published his Religio Medici in 1642. Brown stated: “For there are mystically in our faces certain Characters which carry in them the motto of our Souls, wherein he that cannot read A.B.C. may read our natures.”

The study of the human face and body as indicator of links between the macrocosm and microcosm placed men at the centre of creation and his physicality, derived from God, was linked to the cosmos itself.

Brown and Della Porta certainly played a part in influencing Lavater and Lavater ensured the continuing popularity of such understanding through likeness. Nor should the extent of his influence be underestimated. When Lavater died in 1801 the Scots Magazine called him: “For many years one of the most famous men in Europe.”

For Lavater the likeness was a derivation of the mark of the creator, a mystical connection to a higher ideal that through moral degradation led to visual ‘types’.

In his work Lavater claimed that:

The human countenance, that mirror of Divinity, that noblest of the works of the Creator – shall not motive and action, shall not the correspondence between the interiour and the exteriour, the visible and the invisible, the cause and the effect, be there apparent?

Photography and science in the nineteenth century
The empiricist nineteenth century sciences that sought reason over superstition and evidence over faith, nevertheless explored processes of visual examination linked to and born out of Lavater’s understanding of physiognomic reading. Thus when photography was invented it was quickly assimilated as a tool for making such assessments. Certainly by the end of the nineteenth century photography was being applied prolifically throughout emergent scientific fields of study.

Thomas Henry Huxley suggested that by understanding and measuring every aspect of the physical exterior of the body something of the inner man and his history might be revealed. If knowledge could be gleaned from looking then it followed that such measurement and documentation would lead to understanding. As a device of moralising and comparison the photograph was unsurpassed – for as it was so closely linked to reality belief followed. Scientific Naturalism demanded objective study that was independent of the bias of the observer, photography, lenses and chemistry, the product of a machine, was regarded as objective, real. Photography was embraced by emergent social sciences as the epitome of the kind of scientific device that could reveal without interference. But their science was often grounded in ideas which seem rather incredible today.

British scientist Sir Francis Galton, perceived photography to be a scientific and veracious tool and using the medium he sought to study physiologies and understand aspects of their race, class and social position through complex photographic composites.

By making such combination photographs, overlaying images, Galton sought to understand the evolution of the human species and the negative aspects or unhealthy elements to the evolution. Galton coined the phrase ‘eugenics’ in 1883. Galton was most concerned about inaction and the decline through miscegenation of the dominant aspects of the human race (primarily Caucasoid) and specifically the British race. In a lecture given in 1902 Galton argues for the new science of eugenics:

The faculties of future generations will necessarily be distributed according to the laws of heredity….we cannot doubt the existence of a great power ready to hand and capable of being directed with vast benefit as soon as we shall have learnt to understand and to apply it. To no nation is a high human breed more necessary than to our own, for we plant our stock all over the world and lay the foundation of the dispositions and capacities of future millions of the human race.

Esoteric undercurrents and derivations – the mystical Aryan ideal in National Socialist photography

In Mein Kampf (1925) Adolf Hitler wrote: “All great cultures of the past perished only because the original creative race died out from blood poisoning.”

Hitler had become familiar with the concept of an endangered racial heritage through reading texts such as Human Heredity by the German eugenicists Baur, Fischer and Lenz (published 1921), and through his early influences during the wilderness years of his life in Vienna particularly the work of Ariosophist (Aryan occult wisdom) thinkers such as Guido von List and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels.

The image of the other, the relevance of the difference between groups, became accentuated throughout the nineteenth century as scientific ideas became appropriated and adapted as evidence of a racial problem and as a clarion call to mystical racists who saw a time of coming struggle and survival for the dominant European races.

In central Europe this appropriation occurred as influential elements of emergent Pan-German nationalist groups developed concepts that combined contemporary trends of race science into the ‘Völkisch’ cannon of thought towards the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Primarily Ariosophists such as von List and von Liebenfels adapted ideas from a broad range of influences including Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy, and notions of Aryan racial history as espoused by figures such as Arthur de Gobineau (The Inequality of the Human Races, 1855). Effectively the Social-Darwinian concept of a coming biological struggle for survival of the fittest was accepted and amalgamated with the notion of the inevitable dawn of a mystical and supreme root-race, the Nordic-Aryan.

German race scientist Hans F. K. Günther made extensive use of photographic source materials to make comparisons and collections of ‘types’ in order to substantiate his text as in The Racial Elements of European History (1927).

The use of photography as a comparative means of assessment and identification became paramount during this period not only in scientific documentations but also in popular publications that contained photographs of racial types from around the world displayed in photographic charts.

But what these studies highlighted was not only the geography and range of race but also the admixture and miscegenation that, according to scientists like Günther, posed a threat to German and Nordic race society.

The influence of the Jewish spirit, and influence won through economic predominance, brings with it the very greatest danger for the life of the European peoples and of the North American peoples alike. For what is here at stake is the unhindered development of the bearers of the highest culture of mankind who, if the process of amalgamation with these emissaries of the East goes further, run the risk in mind and body of wandering off these paths which their own genius has marked out for them.

When the National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933, Günther, who had been a member since 1932 became a leading figure in developing National Socialist racial scientific thought receiving the Goethe medal from Alfred Rosenberg in 1941 for his anthropological work. Rosenberg stated: “Your work has been of the utmost importance for the safeguarding and development of the National Socialist Weltanschauung.”

Rosenberg was convinced that the so-called Aryan peoples had, as a mystical Über-race, advanced into Europe from an Atlantis-like continent in the north and northwest of the European mainland again assimilating Theosophist and Ariosophist ideas. He stated:

“The geologists show us a continent between North America and Europe…[which Rosenberg refers to as Atlantis] on which a creative race raised a mighty wide-ranging culture….[this race] spread out from the North over the entire world…[its culture] borne by a blue-eyed, blond race which, in several massive waves, has determined the spiritual physiognomy of the world…”

I would like now to explore a little further how this racist mystical ideal (and its antithesis) became enshrined in physiognomic photographic images produced in Germany during the National Socialist era images which ultimately emerge from concepts that are both pseudo-scientific and esoteric.

Photography like other modern inventions and ideas was readily utilised in the promulgation of National Socialist thinking. Certainly in terms of the definition of the ideal racial type it was seen as indispensable. Journals such as Volk und Rasse used photographic covers to highlight the ‘ideal’ type.

Nor were such interventions confined to mainland Europe. Like Rosenberg, Heinrich Himmler was fascinated by the concept of a mythical Aryan race that had originated in some northern Ultima Thule.

Under the auspices of Himmler’s Ahnenerbe (Research and Teaching Community of Ancestral Heritage) study projects included an expedition to Tibet, to locate the racial relics of this migratory Aryan elite race.

Artists that remained in the Reich after the National Socialist accession to power in 1933 generally complied with the doctrinal values of the regime. Photography was no exception and photographic artists such as Leni Riefenstahl and Erich Retzlaff made images that promulgated in their work the mystical qualities of an idealised German type.

The pure racial German identity was that of a mystical Volk who like Tacitus’s Germanic barbarians were not simply in the land but were part of it, a Volkish peasant race. Simultaneously the dangers posed by so-called lesser races were also illustrated:

And the representation of the antithesis of the Nordic racial ideal was again based upon a mythological idea of the Jew as the great enemy, the racial descendent of Blavatsky’s Lemuria, the parasitical racial poisoner.

In 1937 an exhibition took place in Munich entitled the Der Ewige Jude or the Eternal Jew. A film of the same name was then commissioned by Goebbels in 1940 which ’demonstrated’ the problems of the Jewish question for Germany.

But in addition to such films and exhibitions photographic slide shows were made that used images such as this in order to demonstrate difference and to aid in identification of unwanted physical traits.

Ominously Hans Günther wrote that in order to avoid what the historian Spengler termed the ‘Fall of the West’ the German race had to decide: ”…whether we have the courage enough to make ready for future generations a world cleansing itself racially and eugenically.”

In the nineteenth-century, the photograph seemed to affirm that science could transcend the confines of raw nature and that through man’s ingenuity photography would be the medium that allowed nature to record itself unfettered by the imperfect mark making of the human hand. Thus captured an image could then be studied as a truthful account of the thing that had been before the lens of the camera.

The connection between the camera obscura space and the uncanny has been prevalent since the inception of the medium. The earliest experiments used terminology such as miraculous, marvellous and magical. The transmutational state where light, the fleeting trace of life, could be codified into image-icon still has echoes of the marvellous even in the twenty-first century. Photography has a history of associations through to the photographic period with its ghosts, soul stealing and evidential structures. The photographic space was credited with the ability to ‘see’ where the human eye could not. It is this power which was applied as both a scientific rationalising tool and a divinatory medium of assessment.

According to Marina Warner in her excellent book ‘Phantasmagoria’:
“When the biological sciences of the enlightenment converge[d] with the quest to grasp the knowledge of the secret life…[there was]…a new emphasis on the face as the repository of individuality…This…[led]…eventually to realistic photography becoming the most convincing available record of the soul, and ultimately the usurper of other material relics. The distinctiveness of the countenance was established as the seat of the individual…”

Thus for a short period at least the scientific ‘truth’ of the medium of photography was applied in a defining search for a mystical-racial and ultimately an esoterically derived, reading of the human face. Photography became a marker by which a specific ‘type’ might be codified in order to set it apart from the so-called inferior races that were perceived to threaten its hegemony.

Dr Christopher Webster
Prifysgol Aberystwyth University
School of Art/Ysgol Gelf



Saturday to Saturday
18th – 25th October 2008
The Wisdom of the Sages
Venue: Centro Morosini
Via Alberoni 51, Alberoni 30126 Venezia, Italy
Tel: 041-731070-731076

For further information and to request a registration form please contact –
Mrs Ingrid Eberhard-Evans
Benglog, Llanddeiniol, Aberystwyth SY23 5AW Wales UK
Tel & Fax: + 44 (0) 1974 202958

Dr Joscelyn Godwin
was was born in England and came to the USA in 1966. Educated at Cambridge and Cornell Universities, he is known for his writings, translations, and editions in two fields: Speculative Music and the Western Esoteric Tradition. His many books include Harmonies of Heaven and Earth, The Theosophical Enlightenment, The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, and most recently The Golden Thread: the Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions, published by Quest Books. Since 1971 he has taught at Colgate University in New York State, where he is Professor of Music and Medieval & Renaissance Studies.

Referring in its title to Godwin’s recent book, The Golden Thread, this lecture highlights some continuities and discontinuities in the history of the Western Esoteric Tradition.

THE MAHATMA LETTERS AS A DOCUMENT OF THE “THEOSOPHICAL ENLIGHTENMENT”How do atheism and occultism mix, as expressed in the letters from Mahatmas Koot Hoomi and Morya? This lecture examines the Mahatmas’ sympathetic revision of the program of the European Enlightenment.

A non-technical guide to the mathematical and symbolic principles behind the musical system, and the worldview that emerges from them.


This lecture focuses on the Gruppo di Ur of the 1920s, its ties with Theosophy and Anthroposophy, and its teaching of pagan wisdom and practical magic.


Dr. Edi Bilimoria

This talk will explain the trials and tribulations of the earnest aspirant walking the thorny path. H. P. Blavatsky’s Warning about the Strange Law in Occultism where a person’s true character is brought to the surface and he can no longer assume a mask and pretend to be what is not will be elucidated. (2 lectures)

– The Scientific Position, Its Interface with the Esoteric, and the Occult Doctrine.
The whole question of evolution and the powers latent in man devolves on the inquiry into what is Consciousness and Intelligence: Is it primordial and the primary in us? Or is it an epiphenomenon manufactured by brain electrochemical processes – a by-product of matter? These two lectures are designed around this central inquiry as regards evolution; and the ramifications of our discoveries. Firstly, we explain the scientific position, make clear its limitations and assumptions and then point up the mass of anomalous evidence that is undermining orthodox Darwinian theory and alluding towards the esoteric doctrines. Then we describe the grand occult doctrine of Anthropogenesis through the Root Races. (2 lectures)
Michael Gomes
is well-known for his writings on the modern Theosophical movement, having spent the past forty years researching the field. He has edited a number of Mme. Blavatsky’s writings, including an abridgment of her first book, Isis Unveiled. He was made an Honorary Director of the EST in 2007. He is also on the editorial committee for the Collected Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, part of her Collected Writings series, and a contributor to the forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism. He is Director of the Emily Sellon Memorial Library in New York.

“Follow the law of analogy,” the Masters teach.’ So HPB reminds the student in the Secret Doctrine. Using the lore surrounding the legendary teacher Hermes Trismegistus, we will, following the law of analogy, see how it enlightens us as to the function of Buddhi, the divine intuition latent in all, and provides a key to its workings. (2 lectures)


Figures of cosmic Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and divine teachers, are part of the story of creation put forward in the writings of HPB and the Mahatmas. We will look at this schema in detail and see how it relates to individual development.
Harold Tarn.
The ‘ self ‘ of Wagner is well documented, but what riches his ‘ Self ‘ has passed on to us! He studied Buddhism and towards the end of his life his thinking was very much in line with what was being published by the T.S during the same period. Writing in 1986,Robbins Landon had this to say of the Ring cycle – (it) ” becomes more important to humanity every year…and….like Mozart’s music, becomes increasingly an essential part of our lives” This surely echoes Edouard Schure in 1910 : “his music has become one of the most active occult agencies of the present time” (2 lectures)
Colin Price.

Beyond the physical noise of our lives and the inner voice of our restless minds there is a world of spiritual awareness and consciousness. Entry into this world is only possible when the aspirant fulfils certain very demanding conditions. There is a reality compared with which our present lives are an illusion.

If the Universe really did begin with a big bang what preceded it? Did time as we know it begin then? Our earthly experience of time is like our being in the shallow end of the swimming pool. As we go deeper we discover that there is an esoteric philosophical view with concepts of duration and cyclicity that provide many answers to these questions.

Enjoy a day in Venice

Dr Joscelyn Godwin will design a detailed itinerary
with emphasis on symbolism and
spiritually significant sites.

To read a rview of Joscelyn Godwin’s The Golden Thread go to the John Robert Colombo Page at

EASR conference Brno, 7-11. September 2008


Brno, Czech Republic

Call for Papers

EASR conference Brno, 7.-11. September 2008

Panel: ‘Ex Oriente Lux: The Presence of Western Esotericism in Eastern Europe’

Convenors: Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam) and Osvald Vasicek (University of Amsterdam), on behalf of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE)

In recent decades the academic study of esotericism in the west (particularly France, the Netherlands, Germany and the Anglo-Saxon world) has experienced a rapid growth. In academic institutions in Paris, Amsterdam and Exeter, specific chairs have been created, while increasing attention is given to this area of research also from other fields of religious, cultural, historic, and sociological studies.

Due to several difficulties – mainly linguistic, but also political until 1989 – the status of research of esotericism in Eastern Europe is for the greater part unknown. For this particular panel we are therefore looking for papers that will discuss the development of the study of western esotericism in Eastern Europe and/or single topics related to the presence of western esotericism in the same geographical area. We would especially like to encourage Eastern European students and academics to share their research, knowledge and insight.

The academic study of esotericism has developed mainly in a historical perspective, but we will also consider proposals from others perspectives, such as sociology, psychology, and anthropology. Topics may likewise vary from alchemy, astrology, magic, hermetism, theosophy, spiritualism, occultism, and range from medieval sources to contemporary esoteric movements.

If you are interested to propose a paper for this panel, please send an e-mail with abstract to: Osvald Vasicek, MA ( Abstracts should be limited to 200 words and should be accompanied by a short personal description of the author with academic affiliation and/ or other academic qualifications. PhD, and exceptionally MA, students are also encouraged to submit a proposal.

Deadline for proposal submission is 24 April 2008.

For more information on the conference and registration see:
For more information on the academic study of esotericism see: and

Call for Papers

EASR conference Brno, 7.-11. September 2008
Panel: ‘The Political Temptations of Western Esotericism’Convenors: Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam) and Osvald Vasicek (University of Amsterdam), on behalf of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE)

The relationship between Western esotericism and politics is certainly not virgin territory. Just to mention two examples, Auguste Viatte in his classic work on illuminism (Les sources occultes du romantisme, 1928) had discussed the political significance of esoteric ideas in the period preceding the French revolution; and James Webb explored the interplay of esotericism and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries in two important books (The Occult Underground, 1974; and The Occult Establishment, 1976). Furthermore, since the mid-1980s the French academic journal Politica Hermetica has devoted its annual issues to this complex relationship. However, there is still much that academic research can say on this topic. One of the avenues which still have to be explored is the relationship that the research field itself may have with politics in the formation and the discussion of its object. How political is the study of esotericism? Which political assumptions may lead scholars to define esotericism in a certain way instead of another? How political is the choice of defining esotericism as specifically ‘western’, as opposed to ‘non-western’ in a cultural climate impregnated by discourses on the ‘clash of civilizations’? During the 20th century esotericism has been often associated to radical politics, both left- and right-wing, revolutionary and reactionary. If esotericism has been for a long time a suspect and sensitive field of research in the academia, its relationship with politics has often created an explosive mixture. Is it possible to study this relationship while avoiding the Scylla of apology and the Charibdis of sensationalist condemnation?
For this panel, we are looking for papers that will explore the politics of studying esotericism in all its possible aspects. Papers dealing with historical instances of the relationship between politics and esotericism will also be considered. Possible areas of interest may be, for instance, the use of esoterical themes in the construction of national identities in the 19th and 20th centuries or political theories of social regeneration based on esoteric thought.

If you are interested to propose a paper for this panel, please send an e-mail with abstract to: Osvald Vasicek, MA ( Abstracts should be limited to 200 words and should be accompanied by a short personal description of the author with academic affiliation and/ or other academic qualifications. PhD, and exceptionally MA, students are also encouraged to submit a proposal.

Deadline for proposal submission is 24 April 2008.

For more information on the conference and registration see:
For more information on the academic study of esotericism see: and

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