Tag Archives: theosophical society

Fifth International Conference of the ASE on Jun 19-22nd, 2014 at Colgate University

The Fifth International Conference of the Association for the Study of Esotericism on June 19th–22nd, 2014 at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. The conference schedule has recently been posted and you will find quite a few presenters and presentations of interest including a couple by Hermetic library fellows:

· Mark Stavish, Israel Regardie and the Theory and Practice of the Middle Pillar Exercise
· Joscelyn Godwin, Esotericism in a Murky Mirror: Strange Practices in Central New York.

Do check out the whole schedule, but a selection of the other presentations, that catch my eye, includes:

· John L Crow (Thelema Coast to Coast), The Theosophical Shift to the Visual: Graphical Representations of the Human Body in the Literature of Second and Third Generation Leadership in the Theosophical Society
· Simon Magus, The fin de siècle magical aesthetic of Austin Osman Spare: Siderealism, Atavism, Automatism, Occultism
· David Pecotic, Building Subtle Bodies — Gurdjieff’s esoteric practice of conditional immortality in the light of Poortman’s concept of hylic pluralism in the history of religions
· Richard Kaczynski, Inventing Tradition: The Construction of History, Lineage and Authority in Secret Societies
· Wouter Hanegraaff, The Transformation of Desire in Machen’s & Waite’s House of the Hidden Light
· Sarah Veale, Disenchantment of the Vampire: Balkan Folklore’s Deadly Encounter with Modernity
· Gordan Djurdjevic, “In Poison there is Physic”: On Poisons and Cures in Some Strands of Esoteric Theory and Practice.

H P Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews H. P. Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology and Contradiction by Gavin Callaghan, from McFarland.

Gavin Callaghan H P Lovecraft's Dark Arcadia from McFarland

Gavin Callaghan’s Dark Arcadia is a capable and engaging critical treatment of the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. He brings an interesting combination of methods to this material. Recognizing Lovecraft’s professed interest in classical literature, he examines the allusions to antiquity and the possibility of satirical method in HPL’s stories. As a complementary tactic, he invokes psychoanalytic appraisals of Lovecraft’s authorial motives (strongly indulging Jungian approaches) to account for significant tropes in his output.

Although the publisher’s jacket copy praises Callaghan for “ignoring secondary accounts and various received truths,” he is clearly well-read in the existing body of Lovecraft criticism. While he brings some new ideas to the field, his most significant contradiction of “common knowledge” about HPL and his work is to consider the “cosmicism” of Lovecraft’s horror to be ornamental rather than essential. Callaghan asserts that the various instances of cosmic scenarios and phenomena in Lovecraft’s stories (actually rather outnumbered by more conventional gothic horror tropes and contexts) are simply grandiose exaggerations of the author’s familial mise-en-scène, and vehicles for his ambivalent antagonism toward the cultural decadents of his parents’ generation and his own. The “Old” and the “Elder” to which HPL attribute a veneer of deep time were, according to Callaghan, in living memory in the fact of their inspiration. The extra-dimensional hugeness of Lovecraft’s monsters simply reflects the subjective enormity of parental figures.

Callaghan also opposes the notion that there was in any sense a “mellowing” or relaxation of Lovecraft’s social and cultural conservativism in his later fiction. In the interpretive context Callaghan provides, he makes a persuasive case in this regard. Callaghan’s own value-position relative to Lovecraft’s ideological stances is not made especially clear. While he does indict HPL for his racism and misogyny, he also repeatedly implies sympathy for Lovecraft’s right-wing “acuity” (8). Callaghan notes with evident distaste, for example, the fact of “some branches of the modern Wicca movement finding allies and common cause with environmentalist, feminist, luddite, leftist, gay liberation, and other radical organizations” (207), and he refers to “the insanity of the sexual revolution” (8, 58).

The volume is divided into six loosely-interlinked essays, three longer and more general, and three shorter and of narrower scope. It opens with the long “Dark Arcadia,” in which the focus is on Lovecraft’s preference for Roman over Greek antiquity, and his satirical intent directed at the decadent culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chapters three and six are the other long pieces, and they address the principal psychological materials that Callaghan discerns in the HPL oeuvre: “Behind the Locked Door” is about the paternal image with classical allusion to the myth of Theseus, and “HPL and the Magna Mater” provides an analysis of the Lovecraftian feminine. The smaller essays address Lovecraft’s use of apiary imagery, his trope of the “moon-ladder,” and an interpretation of the “coda” that concludes “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

Callaghan dedicates a section of his bibliography to an odd assortment of six works on occultism. His insightful remarks on Lovecraft’s antagonism for the Theosophical Society show that this reading was not wasted, but he generally hews to popular derision for modern occultists such as Aleister Crowley. (In this contempt, he probably tracks with Lovecraft, who appraised Crowley as a “queer duck.”) Callaghan’s gloss on the monumental Etidorhpa of John Uri Lloyd is quite superficial, but he deserves a point for mentioning it at all.

Callaghan gives a great deal of attention to a number of Lovecraft’s “lesser” stories and collaborations, such as “The Green Meadow,” “The Moon-Bog,” and “Medusa’s Coil,” suggesting that in those instances where the writer’s technique is less polished, his methods and motives may be more exposed. His insistence on the abiding Puritan character of Lovecraft’s orientation, as well as the polemical intent of stories that seem so focused on evocative mood, is tied together quite convincingly with a study of the psychological conditions that could inspire such polemics. The book is, on the whole, a fascinating read for anyone familiar with Lovecraft’s work. [via]

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Inside the Occult

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Inside the occult: The true story of Madame H. P. Blavatsky by Henry Steel Olcott:

Henry Steel Olcott's Inside the Occult

 

Inside the Occult is a 1975 reprint of the first of six volumes from Henry Steel Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves, in which he provides a memoir of the Theosophical Society, for which he was a founder and the first president. Although Daniel Grotta-Kurska (better known as a Tolkien biographer) provides a new introduction for this reprint, Olcott’s original foreword is omitted. This volume covers the period of 1874-1879, and might have been titled “H.P.B. and Me: Origins of the Theosophical Society.”

Old Diary Leaves was written after the death of H.P. Blavatsky, the famous sybil who had been Olcott’s chief collaborator in the creation of the Theosophical Society, as well as their most conspicuous link to the Masters, Adepts, or to use the later-standard Theosophical jargon, Mahatmas. Olcott and Blavatsky had had some disagreements in the period between the events described in this volume and her later death, but his memories of her here are highly complimentary. She is presented as noble in intention, if flawed in character, and certainly in possession of supernatural powers, although these are employed in strange mixtures with trickery for purposes that are inscrutable often even to herself. Olcott suggests that he and Blavatsky’s other close associates at the time may have had their perceptions routinely altered by post-hypnotic suggestions of her devising.

Olcott discusses the manner in which H.P.B. served as a vehicle for a variety of adepts who were understood to have guided the creation of the Theosophical Society and the authoring of Isis Unveiled, that erratic compendium of lore that was such a touchstone for the occultism of its era. It is important to note that Blavatsky did not profess herself, nor was she viewed by Olcott as, a passive trance medium for spirits of the dead after the fashion of the Spiritualism of the time. Spiritualism had provided the setting for these two to encounter each other initially, but their own later Theosophical occultist reading of Spiritualist phenomena held such operations to be misunderstood and misrepresented by their advocates. The “spirit controls” were actually “elemental and elementary” spirits being given undeserved free rein among human dupes. Blavatsky’s possession by her Masters was in contrast a conscious collaboration with still-living humans of supernatural puissance.

In a somewhat tentative passage, that is still one of the most striking in the book, Olcott goes so far as to hypothesize that the woman Helena Blavatsky may have actually died a violent death in Europe before he met her, and that during the entire period of their association, she was animated by the combined efforts of a group of adepts who were using her as their worldly instrument.

Not all of the book is about H.P.B., however. The essential narrative is that of the creation of the Theosophical Society, from its initial combinations of Spiritualist and occultist milieux and eventual addition of Eastern (i.e. south Asian) philosophies, up until the establishment of the British branch of the Society and the departure of Olcott and H.P.B. from New York to found the new headquarters in India. A full chapter gives an accounting of the “first cremation in America,” as engineered by the founding Theosophists. And there is a great deal of anecdote and description regarding the New York apartment “Lamasery” where H.P.B. wrote Isis Unveiled, and where Olcott presided over their “little Bohemia” of Victorian esotericism. Also, Olcott discusses his own experiences of astral projection, encounters with adepts, and other phenomena from which he exempts H.P.B. as an actor.

There is just no getting around the Theosophical Society in the history of modern esoteric movements, and this firsthand account of its origins is both entertaining and revealing. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality

Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality by Gary Lachman, who also authored Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas, through by Tarcher, has recently been published and which may be of interest.

 

“Pioneer. Visionary. Provocateur. Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—mystic, occult writer, child of Russian aristocrats, spiritual seeker who traveled five continents, and founder (with Henry Steel Olcott) of the Theosophical Society—is still being hailed as an icon and scorned as a fraud more than 120 years after her death. But despite perennial interest in her life, writings, and philosophy, no single biography has examined the controversy and legacy of this influential thinker who helped define modern alternative spirituality—until now.

Gary Lachman, the acclaimed spiritual biographer behind volumes such as Rudolf Steiner and Jung the Mystic, brings us an in-depth look at Blavatsky, objectively exploring her unique and singular contributions toward introducing Eastern and esoteric spiritual ideas to the West during the nineteenth century, as well as the controversies that continue to color the discussions of her life and work.” [via]