Western esotericism (also called esotericism or esoterism), also known
as the Western mystery tradition, is a term under which scholars
have categorised a wide range of loosely related ideas and movements
which have developed within Western society. These ideas and currents
are united by the fact that they are largely distinct both from
Judeo-Christian religion and from Enlightenment rationalism.
Esotericism has pervaded various forms of Western philosophy,
religion, pseudoscience, art, literature, and music, continuing to
affect intellectual ideas and popular culture.
The idea of categorising a wide range of Western traditions and
philosophies together under the rubric that we now term "esotericism"
developed in Europe during the late seventeenth century. Various
academics have debated the precise definition of Western esotericism,
with a number of different options proposed. One scholarly model
adopts its definition of "esotericism" from certain esotericist
schools of thought themselves, treating "esotericism" as a
perennialist hidden, inner tradition. A second perspective sees
esotericism as a category that encompasses world-views which seek to
embrace an "enchanted" world-view in the face of increasing
de-enchantment. A third views
Western esotericism as a category
encompassing all of Western culture's "rejected knowledge" that is
accepted neither by the scientific establishment nor by orthodox
The earliest traditions which later analysis would label as forms of
Western esotericism emerged in the
Eastern Mediterranean during Late
Antiquity, where Hermetism, Gnosticism, and
Neoplatonism developed as
schools of thought distinct from what became mainstream Christianity.
Renaissance Europe, interest in many of these older ideas
increased, with various intellectuals seeking to combine "pagan"
philosophies with the
Kabbalah and with
resulting in the emergence of esoteric movements like Christian
theosophy. The 17th century saw the development of initiatory
societies professing esoteric knowledge such as
Freemasonry, while the
Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century led to
the development of new forms of esoteric thought. The 19th century saw
the emergence of new trends of esoteric thought that have come to be
known as occultism. Prominent groups in this century included the
Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which
influenced the development of Thelema.
Modern Paganism developed
within occultism, and includes religious movements such as Wicca.
Esoteric ideas permeated the counterculture of the 1960s and later
cultural tendencies, from which emerged the
New Age movement in the
Although the idea that these varying movements could be categorised
together under the rubric of "Western esotericism" developed in the
late 18th century, these esoteric currents were largely ignored as a
subject of academic enquiry. The academic study of Western esotericism
only emerged in the late 20th-century, pioneered by scholars like
Frances Yates (1899-1981) and
Antoine Faivre (born 1934). Esoteric
ideas have meanwhile also exerted an influence in popular culture,
appearing in art, literature, film, and music.
2 Conceptual development
3.1 Esotericism as a universal, secret, inner tradition
3.2 Esotericism as an enchanted world view
3.3 Esotericism as claims to higher knowledge
3.4 Esotericism as "rejected knowledge"
4.1 Late Antiquity
4.2 Middle Ages
Renaissance and Early Modern period
4.4 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries
4.5 Later 20th century
5 Popular culture
6 Academic study
6.1 Emic and etic divisions
7.3 Further academic reading
8 Further reading
9 External links
The adjective "esoteric" first appeared in the second century AD as
Ancient Greek term esôterikós ("belonging to an inner circle"),
with the earliest known example of the word appearing in a satire
authored by Lucian of Samosata.
The noun "esotericism", in its French form of "l'ésotérisme", was
first used in 1828  by fr: Jacques Matter (1791-1864) in his work
Histoire critique du gnosticisme (3 vols.). At this time the term
"esotericism" was being used in the wake of the Age of Enlightenment
and its critique of institutionalised religion, during which
alternative religious groups began to disassociate themselves from the
Christianity in Western Europe. During the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, the term "esotericism" came to commonly be seen
as something that was distinct from Christianity, and which had formed
a subculture that was at odds with the
Christian mainstream from at
least the Renaissance. The term was popularized by the French
occultist and ceremonial magician
Eliphas Lévi (1810-1875) in the
1850s, and was introduced into the English language by Theosophist
Alfred Percy Sinnett
Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840-1921) in his book Esoteric Buddhism
(1883). Lévi also introduced the term l'occultisme, a notion that
he developed against the background of contemporary socialist and
Catholic discourses. "Esotericism" and "occultism" were often
employed as synonyms until being distinguished by later scholars.
'Western esotericism' is not a natural term but an artificial
category, applied retrospectively to a range of currents and ideas
that were known by other names at least prior to the end of the
eighteenth century. [This] means that, originally, not all those
currents and ideas were necessarily seen as belonging together:... it
is only as recently as the later seventeenth century that we find the
first attempts at presenting them as one single, coherent field or
domain, and at explaining what they have in common. In short, 'Western
esotericism' is a modern scholarly construct, not an autonomous
tradition that already existed out there and merely needed to be
discovered by historians.
— The scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff, 2013.
The concept of "Western esotericism" is a modern scholarly construct
rather than a pre-existing, self-defined tradition of thought. In
the late seventeenth century, several European
presented the argument that certain traditions of Western philosophy
and thought could be categorised together, thus establishing the
category that is now called "Western esotericism". The first to do
so was de: Ehregott Daniel Colberg (1659-1698), a German Lutheran who
Christianity (1690–91). A hostile
critic of various currents of Western thought that had emerged since
Renaissance — among them Paracelsianism, Weigelianism, and
Christian theosophy — in his book he labelled all of these
traditions under the category of "Platonic-Hermetic Christianity",
arguing that they were heretical to what he saw as true
Christianity. Despite his hostile attitude toward these traditions
of thought, he was the first to connect these disparate philosophies
and study them under one rubric, also recognising that these ideas
linked back to earlier philosophies from late antiquity.
In Europe during the eighteenth century, amid the Age of
Enlightenment, these esoteric traditions came to be regularly
categorised under the labels of "superstition", "magic", and "the
occult", terms which were often used interchangeably. The modern
academy, which was then in the process of developing, consistently
rejected and ignored topics coming under "the occult" and thus
research into them was largely left to enthusiasts outside of
academia. Indeed, according to historian of esotericism Wouter J.
Hanegraaff (born 1961), rejection of "occult" topics was seen as a
"crucial identity marker" for any intellectuals seeking to affiliate
themselves with the academy.
Scholars established this category in the late 18th century after
identifying "structural similarities" between "the ideas and world
views of a wide variety of thinkers and movements" which prior to this
had not been placed in the same analytical grouping. According to
the scholar of esotericism Wouter J. Hanegraaff, the term provided a
"useful generic label" for "a large and complicated group of
historical phenomena that had long been perceived as sharing an air de
Various academics have emphasised the idea that esotericism is a
phenomenon unique to the Western world; as Faivre stated, an
"empirical perspective" would hold that "esotericism is a Western
notion". As scholars such as Faivre and Hanegraaff have pointed
out, there is no comparable category of "Eastern" or "Oriental"
esotericism. The emphasis on
Western esotericism was nevertheless
primarily devised to distinguish the field from a universal
esotericism. Hanegraaff has characterised these as "recognisable
world views and approaches to knowledge that have played an important
although always controversial role in the history of Western
culture." Historian of religion Henrik Bogdan asserted that
Western esotericism constituted "a third pillar of Western culture"
alongside "doctrinal faith and rationality", being deemed heretical by
the former and irrational by the latter. Scholars nevertheless
recognise that various non-Western traditions have exerted "a profound
influence" over Western esotericism, citing the prominent example of
the Theosophical Society's incorporation of Hindu and Buddhist
concepts into its doctrines. Given these influences and the
imprecise nature of the term "Western", the scholar of esotericism
Kennet Granholm has argued that academics should cease referring to
"Western esotericism" altogether, instead simply favouring
"esotericism" as a descriptor of this phenomenon. This attitude
was endorsed by Egil Asprem.
The historian of esotericism
Antoine Faivre noted that "never a
precise term, [esotericism] has begun to overflow its boundaries on
all sides", with both Faivre and Karen-Claire Voss stating that
Western esotericism consists of "a vast spectrum of authors, trends,
works of philosophy, religion, art, literature, and music". There
is broad agreement among scholars as to which currents of thought can
be placed within a category of "esotericism", ranging from ancient
Hermetism through to
Rosicrucianism and the Kabbalah
and on to more recent phenomenon such as the
New Age movement.
Nevertheless, "esotericism" itself remains a controversial term, with
scholars specialising in the subject disagreeing as to how it can best
Esotericism as a universal, secret, inner tradition
A colored version of the 1888 Flammarion engraving
A definition adopted by some scholars has used "Western esotericism"
in reference to "inner traditions" which are concerned with a
"universal spiritual dimension of reality, as opposed to the merely
external ('exoteric') religious institutions and dogmatic systems of
established religions." According to this approach, "Western
esotericism" is viewed as just one variant of a worldwide
"esotericism" which can be found at the heart of all world religions
and cultures, reflecting a hidden esoteric reality. This usage of
the term "esotericism" is closest to the original meaning of the word
as it was used in late antiquity, where it was applied to secret
spiritual teachings which were reserved for a specific elite and
hidden from the masses. This definition was popularised in the
published work of nineteenth-century esotericists like A. E. Waite,
who sought to combine their own mystical beliefs with a historical
interpretation of esotericism. It subsequently became a popular
approach within several esoteric movements, most notably
This definition — originally developed by esotericists themselves
— became popular among French academics during the 1980s, exerting a
strong influence over the scholars Mircea Eliade, Henry Corbin, and
the early work of Faivre. Within the academic field of religious
studies, those who study different religions in search of an inner,
universal dimension to them all are termed "religionists". Such
religionist ideas also exerted an influence on more recent scholars
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and Arthur Versluis. Versluis for
instance defined "Western esotericism" as "inner or hidden spiritual
knowledge transmitted through Western European historical currents
that in turn feed into North American and other non-European
settings". He added that these Western esoteric currents all
shared a core characteristic, "a claim to gnosis, or direct spiritual
insight into cosmology or spiritual insight", and accordingly he
suggested that these currents could be referred to as "Western
gnostic" just as much as "Western esoteric".
There are various problems with this model for understanding Western
esotericism. The most significant is that it rests upon the
conviction that there really is a "universal, hidden, esoteric
dimension of reality" that objectively exists. The existence of
this universal inner tradition has not been discovered through
scientific or scholarly enquiry; this had led some to claim that it
does not exist, although Hanegraaff thought it better to adopt a view
based in methodological agnosticism by stating that "we simply do not
know - and cannot know" if it exists or not. He noted that, even if
such a true and absolute nature of reality really existed, it would
only be accessible through 'esoteric' spiritual practices, and could
not be discovered or measured by the 'exoteric' tools of scientific
and scholarly enquiry. Hanegraaff also highlighted that an
attitude which seeks to uncover an inner hidden core of all esoteric
currents masks the fact that such groups often contain significant
differences from one another, being rooted in their own historical and
social contexts, and expressing ideas and agendas which are mutually
exclusive. A third issue was that many of those currents widely
recognised as esoteric never concealed their teachings, and in the
twentieth century came to permeate popular culture, thus
problematizing the claim that esotericism could be defined by its
hidden and secretive nature. Moreover, Hanegraaff noted that when
scholars adopt this definition, it shows that they subscribe to the
religious doctrines which are espoused by the very groups that they
Esotericism as an enchanted world view
The Magician, a tarot card displaying the Hermetic concept of "as
above, so below." Faivre connected this concept to 'correspondences',
his first defining characteristic of esotericism
Another approach to
Western esotericism has treated it as a world view
that embraces 'enchantment' in contrast to world views influenced by
post-Cartesian, post-Newtonian, and positivist science which have
sought to 'dis-enchant' the world. Esotericism is therefore
understood as comprising those world views which eschew a belief in
instrumental causality and instead adopt a belief that all parts of
the universe are interrelated without a need for causal chains. It
therefore stands as a radical alternative to the disenchanted world
views which have dominated Western culture since the scientific
revolution, and must therefore always be at odds with secular
An early exponent of this definition was the historian of Renaissance
Frances Yates in her discussions of a "Hermetic Tradition",
which she saw as an 'enchanted' alternative to established religion
and rationalistic science. However, the primary exponent of this
view was Faivre, who published a series of criteria for how to define
"Western esotericism" in 1992. Faivre claimed that esotericism was
"identifiable by the presence of six fundamental characteristics or
components", four of which were "intrinsic" and thus vital to defining
something as being esoteric, while the other two were "secondary" and
thus not necessarily present in every form of esotericism. He
listed these characteristics as follows:
"Correspondences": This is the idea that there are both real and
symbolic correspondences existing between all things within the
universe. As examples for this, Faivre pointed to the esoteric
concept of the macrocosm and microcosm, often presented as the dictum
of "as above, so below", as well as the astrological idea that the
actions of the planets have a direct corresponding influence on the
behaviour of human beings.
"Living Nature": Faivre argued that all esotericists envision the
natural universe as being imbued with its own life force, and that as
such they understand it as being "complex, plural, hierarchical".
Imagination and Mediations": Faivre believed that all esotericists
place great emphasis on both the human imagination, and mediations –
"such as rituals, symbolic images, mandalas, intermediary spirits" –
as tools that provide access to worlds and levels of reality existing
between the material world and the divine.
"Experience of Transmutation": Faivre's fourth intrinsic
characteristic of esotericism was the emphasis that esotericists place
on fundamentally transforming themselves through their practice, for
instance through the spiritual transformation that it alleged to
accompany the attainment of gnosis.
"Practice of Concordance": The first of Faivre's secondary
characteristics of esotericism was the belief – held by many
esotericists, such as those in the
Traditionalist School – that
there is a fundamental unifying principle or root from which all world
religions and spiritual practices emerge. The common esoteric
principle is that by attaining this unifying principle, the world's
different beliefs can be brought together in unity.
"Transmission": Faivre's second secondary characteristic was the
emphasis on the transmission of esoteric teachings and secrets from a
master to their discipline, through a process of initiation.
Faivre's form of categorisation has been endorsed by scholars like
Goodrick-Clarke, and by 2007 Bogdan could note that Faivre's had
become "the standard definition" of
Western esotericism in use among
scholars. However, in 2013 the scholar Kennet Granholm stated only
that Faivre's definition had been "the dominating paradigm for a long
while" and that it "still exerts influence among scholars outside the
study of Western esotericism". The advantage of Faivre's system is
that it allows varying esoteric traditions to be compared "with one
another in a systematic fashion". However, criticisms have also
been expressed of Faivre's theory, pointing out its various
weaknesses. Hanegraaff claimed that Faivre's approach entailed
"reasoning by prototype" in that it relied upon already having a "best
example" of what
Western esotericism should look like, against which
other phenomenon then had to be compared. The scholar of
esotericism de: Kocku von Stuckrad (born 1966) noted that Faivre's
taxonomy was based on his own areas of specialism – Renaissance
Christian Kabbalah, and Protestant Theosophy – and that
it was thus not based on a wider understanding of esotericism as it
has existed throughout history, from the ancient world to the
contemporary period. Accordingly, Von Stuckrad suggested that it
was a good typology for understanding "
Christian esotericism in the
early modern period" but lacked utility beyond that.
Esotericism as claims to higher knowledge
Somewhat crudely, esotericism can be described as a Western form of
spirituality that stresses the importance of the individual effort to
gain spiritual knowledge, or gnosis, whereby man is confronted with
the divine aspect of existence.
— Historian of religion Henrik Bogdan, 2007.
As an alternative to Faivre's framework, Von Stuckrad developed his
own variant, although argued that this did not represent a
"definition" but rather a "a framework of analysis" for scholarly
usage. He stated that "on the most general level of analysis",
esotericism represented "the claim of higher knowledge", a claim to
possessing "wisdom that is superior to other interpretations of cosmos
and history" and which serves as a "master key for answering all
questions of humankind". Accordingly, he believed that esoteric
groups placed a great emphasis on secrecy, not because they were
inherently rooted in elite groups but because the idea of concealed
secrets that can be revealed was central to their discourse.
Examining the means of accessing higher knowledge, he highlighted two
themes that he believed could be found within esotericism, that of
mediation through contact with non-human entities, and individual
experience. Accordingly, for Von Stuckrad, esotericism could be
best understood as "a structural element of Western culture" rather
than as a selection of different schools of thought.
Esotericism as "rejected knowledge"
An additional definition was proposed by Hanegraaff, and holds that
"Western esotericism" is a category representing "the academy's
dustbin of rejected knowledge." In this respect, it contains all
of the theories and world views that have been rejected by the
mainstream intellectual community because they do not accord with
"normative conceptions of religion, rationality and science". His
approach is rooted within the field of the history of ideas, and
stresses the role of change and transformation over time.
Goodrick-Clarke was critical of this approach, believing that it
Western esotericism to the position of "a casualty of
positivist and materialist perspectives in the nineteenth-century" and
thus reinforces the idea that Western esoteric traditions were of
little historical importance. Bogdan similarly expressed concern
regarding Hanegraaff's definition, believing that it made the category
Western esotericism "all inclusive" and thus analytically
A later illustration of Hermes Trismegistus
The origins of
Western esotericism are in the Hellenistic Eastern
Mediterranean, then part of the Roman Empire, during Late Antiquity, a
period encompassing the first centuries of the Common Era. This
was a milieu in which there was a mix of religious and intellectual
traditions from Greece, Egypt, the Levant, Babylon, and Persia, and in
which globalisation, urbanisation, and multiculturalism were bringing
about socio-cultural change.
One component of this was Hermetism, an Egyptian Hellenistic school of
thought that takes its name from the legendary Egyptian wise man,
Hermes Trismegistus. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, a number of
texts appeared which were attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, including
the Corpus Hermeticum, Asclepius, and The Discourse on the Eighth and
Ninth. Although it is still debated as to whether
Hermetism was a
purely literary phenomenon, or whether there were communities of
practitioners who acted on these ideas, it has been established that
these texts discuss the true nature of God, emphasising that humans
must transcend rational thought and worldly desires in order to find
salvation and be reborn into a spiritual body of immaterial light,
thereby achieving spiritual unity with divinity.
Another tradition of esoteric thought in
Late Antiquity was
Gnosticism, which had a complex relationship with Christianity.
Various Gnostic sects existed, and they broadly believed that the
divine light had been imprisoned within the material world by a
malevolent entity known as the Demiurge, who was served by demonic
helpers, the Archons. It was the Gnostic belief that humans, who were
imbued with the divine light, should seek to attain gnosis and thus
escape from the world of matter and rejoin the divine source.
A third form of esotericism in
Late Antiquity was Neoplatonism, a
school of thought influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Plato.
Advocated by such figures as Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and
Neoplatonism held that the human soul had fallen from its
divine origins into the material world, but that it could progress,
through a number of hierarchical spheres of being, to return to its
divine origins once more. The later Neoplatonists performed
theurgy, a ritual practice attested in such sources as the Chaldean
Oracles. Scholars are still unsure of precisely what theurgy involved,
although it is known that it involved a practice designed to make gods
appear, who could then raise the theurgist's mind to the reality of
After the fall of Rome, alchemy and philosophy and other aspects of
the tradition were largely preserved in the Arab and Near Eastern
world and reintroduced into Western Europe by Jews and by the cultural
contact between Christians and Muslims in
Sicily and southern Italy.
The 12th century saw the development of the
Kabbalah in southern Italy
and medieval Spain.
The medieval period also saw the publication of grimoires, which
offered often elaborate formulas for theurgy and thaumaturgy. Many of
the grimoires seem to have kabbalistic influence. Figures in alchemy
from this period seem to also have authored or used
Renaissance and Early Modern period
During the Renaissance, a number of European thinkers began to
synthesize "pagan" (that is, not Christian) philosophies, which were
then being made available through Arabic translations, with Christian
thought and the Jewish kabbalah. The earliest of these individuals
was the Byzantine philosopher
Plethon (1355/60–1452?), who argued
Chaldean Oracles represented an example of a superior
religion of ancient humanity which had been passed down by the
Plethon's ideas interested the ruler of Florence, Cosimo de Medici,
who employed Florentine thinker
Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) to
translate Plato's works into Latin. Ficino went on to translate and
publish the works of various Platonic figures, arguing that their
philosophies were compatible with Christianity, and allowing for the
emergence of a wider movement in
Renaissance Platonism, or Platonic
Orientalism. Ficino also translated part of the Corpus Hermeticum,
although the rest would be translated by his contemporary, Lodovico
Another core figure in this intellectual milieu was Giovanni Pico
della Mirandola (1463–1494), who achieved notability in 1486 by
inviting scholars from across Europe to come and debate the 900 theses
that he had written with him.[clarification needed] Pico della
Mirandola argued that all of these philosophies reflected a grand
universal wisdom, however
Pope Innocent VIII
Pope Innocent VIII condemned these actions,
criticising him for attempting to mix pagan and Jewish ideas with
Pico della Mirandola's increased interest in Jewish kabbalah led to
his development of a distinct form of
Christian Kabbalah. His work was
built on by the German
Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522) who authored a
prominent text on the subject, De Arte Cabbalistica. Christian
Kabbalah was expanded in the work of the German Heinrich Cornelius
Agrippa (1486–1535/36), who used it as a framework through which to
explore the philosophical and scientific traditions of Antiquity in
his work De occulta philosophia libri tres. The work of Agrippa
and other esoteric philosophers had been based in a pre-Copernican
worldview, but following the arguments of Copernicus, a more accurate
understanding of the cosmos was established. Copernicus' theories were
adopted into esoteric strains of thought by Giordano Bruno
(1548–1600), whose ideas would be deemed heresy by the Roman
Catholic Church, eventually resulting in his public execution.
The Masonic Square and Compasses.
A distinct strain of esoteric thought developed in Germany, where it
came to be known as Naturphilosophie; although influenced by
Late Antiquity and Medieval Kabbalah, it only
acknowledged two main sources of authority:
Biblical scripture and the
natural world. The primary exponent of this approach was
Paracelsus (1493/94–1541), who took inspiration from alchemy and
folk magic to argue against the mainstream medical establishment of
his time which, as in Antiquity, still based its approach on the ideas
of the second-century physician and philosopher, Galen, a Greek in the
Roman Empire. Instead,
Paracelsus urged doctors to learn medicine
through an observation of the natural world, although in later work he
also began to focus on overtly religious questions. His work would
gain significant support in both areas over the following
One of those influenced by
Paracelsus was the German cobbler Jacob
Böhme (1575–1624), who sparked the
Christian theosophy movement
through his attempts to solve the problem of evil. Böhme argued that
God had been created out of an unfathomable mystery, the Ungrud, and
God himself composed of a wrathful core, surrounded by the forces
of light and love. Although condemned by Germany's Lutheran
authorities, Böhme's ideas spread and formed the basis for a number
of small religious communities, such as Johann Georg Gichtel's Angelic
Brethren in Amsterdam, and
John Pordage and Jane Leade's Philadelphian
Society in England.
From 1614 to 1616, the three
Rosicrucian Manifestos were published in
Germany; these texts purported to represent a secret, initiatory
brotherhood which had been founded centuries before by a German adept
Christian Rosenkreutz. There is no evidence that Rosenkreutz was
a genuine historical figure, nor that a
Rosicrucian Order had ever
existed up to that point. Instead, the manifestos are likely literary
creations of Lutheran theologian Johann Valentin Andreae
(1586–1654). However, they inspired much public interest, with
various individuals coming to describe themselves as "Rosicrucian" and
claiming that they had access to secret, esoteric knowledge as a
A real iniatory brotherhood was established in late 16th-century
Scotland through the transformation of Medieval stonemason guilds to
include non-craftsman: Freemasonry. Soon spreading into other parts of
Europe, in England it largely rejected its esoteric character and
embraced humanism and rationalism, while in France it embraced new
esoteric concepts, particularly those from
18th, 19th and early 20th centuries
Hypnotic séance. Painting by Swedish artist Richard Bergh, 1887
Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment witnessed a process of increasing
secularisation of European governments and an embrace of modern
science and rationality within intellectual circles. In turn, a
"modernist occult" emerged that reflected varied ways in which
esoteric thinkers came to terms with these developments. One of
the most prominent esotericists of this period was the Swedish
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), who attempted to
reconcile science and religion after experiencing a vision of Jesus
Christ. His writings focused on his visionary travels to heaven and
hell and his communications with angels, claiming that the visible,
materialist world parallels an invisible spiritual world, with
correspondences between the two that do not reflect causal relations.
Following his death, followers would found the Swedenborgian New
Church, although his writings would influence a far wider array of
esoteric philosophies. Another major figure within the esoteric
movement of this period was the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer
(1734–1814), who developed the theory of Animal Magnetism, which
later came to be known more commonly as "Mesmerism". Mesmer claimed
that a universal life force permeated everything, including the human
body, and that illnesses were caused by a disturbance or block in this
force's flow; he developed techniques which he claimed cleansed such
blockages and restored the patient to full health. One of Mesmer's
followers, the Marquis de Puységur, discovered that mesmeric
treatment could induce a state of somnumbulic trance in which they
claimed to enter visionary states and communicate with spirit
These somnumbulic trance-states would heavily influence the esoteric
religion of Spiritualism, which emerged from the United States in the
1840s and spread throughout North American and Europe. Spiritualism
was based on the concept that individuals could communicate with
spirits of the deceased during séances. Although most forms of
Spiritualism had little theoretical depth, being largely practical
affairs, full theological worldviews based on the movement would be
Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910) and Allan Kardec
(1804–1869). Scientific interest in the claims of Spiritualism
resulted in the development of the field of psychical research.
Somnambulism also exerted a strong influence on the early disciplines
of psychology and psychiatry; esoteric ideas purvey the work of many
early figures in this field, most notably Carl Gustav Jung, although
with the rise of psychoanalysis and behaviourism in the 20th century,
these disciplines distanced themselves from esotericism. Also
influenced by artificial somnambulism was the religion of New Thought,
founded by the American Mesmerist
Phineas P. Quimby
Phineas P. Quimby (1802–1866) and
which revolved around the concept of "mind over matter", believing
that illness and other negative conditions could be cured through the
power of belief.
Pentagram of Eliphas Levi
In Europe, a movement usually termed "occultism" emerged as various
figures attempted to find a "third way" between
positivist science while building on the ancient, medieval, and
Renaissance traditions of esoteric thought. In France, following
the social upheaval of the 1789 Revolution, various figures emerged in
this occultist milieu who were heavily influenced by traditional
Catholicism, the most notable of whom were
Eliphas Lévi (1810–1875)
Papus (1865–1916). Also significant was René Guénon
(1886–1951), whose concern with tradition led him to develop an
occult viewpoint termed Traditionalism; it espoused the idea of an
original, universal tradition, and thus a rejection of modernity.
His Traditionalist ideas would have a strong influence on later
Julius Evola (1898–1974) and Frithjof Schuon
In the Anglophone world, the burgeoning occult movement owed more to
Enlightenment libertines, and thus was more often of an anti-Christian
bent that saw wisdom as emanating from the pre-
religions of Europe. Various Spiritualist mediums came to be
disillusioned with the esoteric thought available, and sought
inspiration in pre-Swedenborgian currents; the most prominent of these
Emma Hardinge Britten
Emma Hardinge Britten (1823–1899) and Helena Blavatsky
(1831–1891), the latter of whom called for the revival of the
"occult science" of the ancients, which could be found in both the
East and West. Authoring the influential
Isis Unveiled (1877) and The
Secret Doctrine (1888), she co-founded the
Theosophical Society in
1875. Subsequent leaders of the Society, namely Annie Besant
Charles Webster Leadbeater
Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854–1934) interpreted
modern theosophy as a form of ecumenical esoteric Christianity,
resulting in their proclamation of Indian Jiddu Krishnamurti
(1895–1986) as world messiah. In rejection of this was the
Anthroposophical Society founded by Rudolf Steiner
New esoteric understandings of magic also developed in the latter part
of the 19th century. One of the pioneers of this was American Paschal
Beverly Randolph (1825–1875), who argued that sexual energy and
psychoactive drugs could be used for magical purposes. In England,
the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an initiatory order devoted to
magic which based itself on an understanding of kabbalah, was founded
in the latter years of the century. One of the most prominent
members of that order was
Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), who went on
to proclaim the religion of
Thelema and become a prominent member of
the Ordo Templi Orientis. Some of their contemporaries developed
esoteric schools of thought that did not entail magic, namely the
George Gurdjieff (1866–1949) and his Russian
P. D. Ouspensky
P. D. Ouspensky (1878–1947).
Emergent occult and esoteric systems found increasing popularity in
the early 20th century, especially in Western Europe. Occult lodges
and secret societies flowered among European intellectuals of this era
who had largely abandoned traditional forms of Christianity. The
spreading of secret teachings and magic practices found enthusiastic
adherents in the chaos of Germany during the interwar years. Notable
writers such as
Guido von List
Guido von List spread neo-pagan, nationalist ideas,
Wotanism and the Kabbalah. Many influential and wealthy
Germans were drawn to secret societies such as the Thule Society.
Thule Society activist
Karl Harrer was one of the founders of the
German Workers' Party, which later became the
Nazi Party; some
Nazi Party members like
Alfred Rosenberg and
Rudolf Hess were listed
as "guests" of the Thule Society, as was Adolf Hitler's mentor
Dietrich Eckart. After their rise to power, the Nazis persecuted
occultists. While many
Nazi Party leaders like Hitler and Joseph
Goebbels were hostile to occultism,
Heinrich Himmler used Karl Maria
Wiligut as a clairvoyant "and was regularly consulting for help in
setting up the symbolic and ceremonial aspects of the SS" but not for
important political decisions. By 1939, Wiligut was "forcibly retired
from the SS" due to being institutionalised for insanity. On the
other hand, the German hermetic magic order
Fraternitas Saturni was
founded on Easter 1928 and it is one of the oldest continuously
running magical groups in Germany. In 1936, the Fraternitas
Saturni was prohibited by the
Nazi regime. The leaders of the lodge
emigrated in order to avoid imprisonment, but in the course of the war
Eugen Grosche, one of their main leaders, was arrested for a year by
Nazi government. After
World War II
World War II they reformed the Fraternitas
Later 20th century
Sculpture of the Horned
Wicca found in the Museum of Witchcraft
in Boscastle, Cornwall
In the 1960s and 1970s, esotericism came to be increasingly associated
with the growing counter-culture in the West, whose adherents
understood themselves in participating in a spiritual revolution that
would mark the Age of Aquarius. By the 1980s, these currents of
millenarian currents had come to be widely known as the New Age
movement, and it became increasingly commercialised as business
entrepreneurs exploited a growth in the spiritual market.
Conversely, other forms of esoteric thought retained the
anti-commercial and counter-cultural sentiment of the 1960s and 1970s,
namely the techno-shamanic movement promoted by figures such as
Terence McKenna and
Daniel Pinchbeck which built on the work of
anthropologist Carlos Castaneda.
This trend was accompanied by the increased growth of modern Paganism,
a movement initially dominated by Wicca, the religion propagated by
Wicca was adopted by members of the second-wave
feminist movement, most notably Starhawk, and developing into the
Wicca also greatly influenced the development
Pagan neo-druidry and other forms of Celtic revivalism. In
Wicca there has also appeared literature and groups who
label themselves followers of traditional witchcraft in opposition to
the growing visibility of
Wicca and these claim older roots than the
system proposed by Gerald Gardner. Other trends which emerged in
western occultism in the later 20th century were satanism as exposed
by groups such as the
Church of Satan
Church of Satan and Temple of Set, as well
as chaos magick through the
Illuminates of Thanateros
Illuminates of Thanateros group.
In 2013, Asprem and Granholm highlighted that "contemporary
esotericism is intimately, and increasingly, connected with popular
culture and new media."
Granholm noted that esoteric ideas and images could be found in many
aspects of Western popular media, citing such examples as Buffy the
Vampire Slayer, Avatar, Hellblazer, and His Dark Materials.
Granholm has argued that there are problems with the field in that it
draws a distinction between esotericism and non-esoteric elements of
culture which draw upon esotericism; citing the example of extreme
metal, he noted that it was incredibly difficult to differentiate
between those artists who were "properly occult" and those who simply
utilised occult themes and aesthetics in "a superficial way".
Writers interested in occult themes have adopted three different
strategies for dealing with the subject: those who are knowledgeable
on the subject including attractive images of the occult and
occultists in their work, those who disguise occultism within "a web
of intertextuality", and those who oppose it and seek to deconstruct
Main article: Academic study of Western esotericism
Warburg Institute was one of the first centres to encourage
the academic study of Western esotericism
The academic study of
Western esotericism was pioneered in the early
20th century by historians of the ancient world and the European
Renaissance, who came to recognise that – although it had been
ignored by previous scholarship – the effect which pre-
non-rational schools of thought had exerted on European society and
culture was worthy of academic attention. One of the key centres
for this was the
Warburg Institute in London, where scholars like
Frances Yates, Edgar Wind, Ernst Cassirer, and D. P. Walker began
arguing that esoteric thought had had a greater effect on Renaissance
culture than had been previously accepted. The work of Yates in
particular, most notably her 1964 book
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic
Tradition, has been cited as "an important starting-point for modern
scholarship on esotericism", succeeding "at one fell swoop in bringing
scholarship onto a new track" by bringing wider awareness of the
effect that esoteric ideas had on modern science.
At the instigation of the scholar Henry Corbin, in 1965 the world's
first academic post in the study of esotericism was established at the
École pratique des hautes études in the Sorbonne, Paris; named the
chair in the History of
Christian Esotericism, its first holder was
François Secret, a specialist in the
Christian Kabbalah, although he
had little interest in developing the wider study of esotericism as a
field of research. In 1979 Faivre assumed Secret's chair at the
Sorbonne, which was renamed the "History of Esoteric and Mystical
Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe". Faivre has since
been cited as being responsible for developing the study of Western
esotericism into a formalised field, with his 1992 work
L'ésotérisme having been cited as marking "the beginning of the
Western esotericism as an academic field of research".
He remained in the chair until 2002, when he was succeeded by
Prominent scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff
Faivre noted that there were two significant obstacles to establishing
the field. One was that there was an engrained prejudice towards
esotericism within academia, resulting in the widespread perception
that the history of esotericism was not worthy of academic
research. The second was that esotericism is a trans-disciplinary
field, the study of which did not fit clearly within any particular
discipline. As Hanegraaff noted,
Western esotericism had to be
studied as a separate field to religion, philosophy, science, and the
arts, because while it "participates in all these fields" it does not
squarely fit into any of them. Elsewhere, he noted that there was
"probably no other domain in the humanities that has been so seriously
neglected" as Western esotericism.
In 1980, the U.S.-based Hermetic Academy was founded by Robert A.
McDermott as an outlet for American scholars interested in Western
esotericism. From 1986 to 1990 members of the Hermetic Academy
participated in panels at the annual meeting of the American Academy
Religion under the rubric of the "Esotericism and Perennialism
Group". By 1994, Faivre could comment that the academic study of
Western esotericism had taken off in France, Italy, England, and the
United States, but he lamented the fact that it had not done so in
In 1999, the University of
Amsterdam established a chair in the
"History of Hermetic
Philosophy and Related Currents", which was
occupied by Hanegraaff, while in 2005 the University of Exeter
created a chair in "Western Esotericism", which was taken by
Goodrick-Clarke, who headed the Exeter Center for the Study of
Esotericism. Thus, by 2008 there were three dedicated university
chairs in the subject, with
Amsterdam and Exeter also offering
master's degree programs in it. Several conferences on the
subject were held at the quintennial meetings of the International
Association for the History of Religions, while a peer-reviewed
journal, Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism began
publication in 2001. 2001 also saw the foundation of the North
American Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE), with the
European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) being
established shortly after. Within a few years, Michael Bergunder
expressed the view that it had become an established field within
religious studies, with Asprem and Granholm observing that
scholars within other sub-disciplines of religious studies had begun
to take an interest in the work of scholars of esotericism.
Asprem and Granholm noted that the study of esotericism had been
dominated by historians and thus lacked the perspective of social
scientists examining contemporary forms of esotericism, a situation
that they were attempting to correct through building links with
scholars operating in
Pagan studies and the study of new religious
movements. On the basis of the fact that "English culture and
literature have been traditional strongholds of Western esotericism",
in 2011 Pia Brînzeu and György Szönyi urged that English studies
also have a role in this interdisciplinary field.
Emic and etic divisions
Hanegraaff follows a distinction between an “emic” and an
“etic” approach to religious studies. The emic approach is that of
the alchemist or theosopher as an alchemist or theosopher. The etic
approach is that of the scholar as an historian, a researcher, with a
critical look. An empirical study of esotericism needs “emic
material and etic interpretation”:
Emic denotes the believer’s point of view. On the part of the
researcher, the reconstruction of this emic perspective requires an
attitude of empathy which excludes personal biases as far as possible.
Scholarly discourse about religion, on the other hand, is not emic but
etic. Scholars may introduce their own terminology and make
theoretical distinctions which are different from those of the
Arthur Versluis proposes approaching esotericism through a
Esotericism, given all its varied forms and its inherently
multidimensional nature, cannot be conveyed without going beyond
purely historical information: at minimum, the study of esotericism,
and in particular mysticism, requires some degree of imaginative
participation in what one is studying.
Many scholars of esotericism have come to be regarded as respected
intellectual authorities by practitioners of various esoteric
traditions. Although many scholars of esotericism have sought to
emphasise that "esotericism" is not a single object, practitioners who
are reading this scholarship have begun to regard it and think of it
as a singular object, with which they affiliate themselves. Thus,
Asprem and Granholm noted that the use of the term "esotericism" among
scholars "significantly contributes to the reification of the category
for the general audience – despite the explicated contrary
intentions of most scholars in the field."
^ Brian Morris,
Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction,
Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 298.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 80; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 3.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 2.
^ a b Hanegraaff 1996, p. 384.
^ a b c Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 80.
^ Strube 2016a; Strube 2016b.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 1996, p. 385.
^ a b Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 3.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 88; Bogdan 2007, p. 6; Hanegraaff
2013a, p. 3.
^ Hanegraaff 2012, p. 78.
^ Hanegraaff 2012, p. 107.
^ Hanegraaff 2012, pp. 107–108.
^ Hanegraaff 2012, p. 230.
^ a b Hanegraaff 2012, p. 221.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 17.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 6; Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 14–15.
^ Asprem 2014, p. 8.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 13.
^ Bogdan 2007, p. 7.
^ Bogdan 2013, p. 177.
^ Granholm 2013a, pp. 31–32.
^ Asprem 2014, p. 4.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 3.
^ Faivre & Voss 1995, pp. 48–49.
^ a b Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 79.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 10–12.
^ a b c d e Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 11.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 10.
^ Hanegraaff 2012, p. 251.
^ a b Hanegraaff 2013b, p. 178.
^ a b Versluis 2007, p. 1.
^ Versluis 2007, p. 2.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 11–12.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 12.
^ Hanegraaff 1996, p. 385; Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 81.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 5.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 7.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 6–7.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 3; Bogdan 2007, p. 10; Hanegraaff
2013a, pp. 3–4.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 10; Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 4; Bergunder
2010, p. 14; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 3.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 10; Hanegraaff 1996, p. 398; Von Stuckrad
2005a, p. 4; Versluis 2007, p. 7.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 10–11.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 11; Hanegraaff 1996, p. 398; Von Stuckrad
2005a, p. 4; Versluis 2007, p. 7.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 12; Hanegraaff 1996, pp. 398–399; Von
Stuckrad 2005a, p. 4; Versluis 2007, p. 7.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 13; Hanegraaff 1996, pp. 399–340; Von
Stuckrad 2005a, p. 4; Versluis 2007, p. 7.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 14; Hanegraaff 1996, p. 400; Von Stuckrad
2005a, p. 4; Versluis 2007, p. 8.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 14–15; Hanegraaff 1996, p. 400; Von
Stuckrad 2005a, p. 4; Versluis 2007, p. 8.
^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008, pp. 7–10.
^ Bogdan 2007, p. 10.
^ Granholm 2013b, p. 8.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 4.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 5; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 3.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 4–5.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 5.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 83.
^ Bogdan 2007, p. 5.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 93.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 88.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 89.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005b, pp. 91–92.
^ Bergunder 2010, p. 18.
^ a b Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 4.
^ Bogdan 2007, p. 15.
^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008, pp. 3, 15; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 18.
^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 13; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 18.
^ Versluis 2007, p. 24; Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 16–20;
Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 19.
^ a b Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 16–20; Hanegraaff 2013a,
^ Faivre 1994, p. 53; Goodrick-Clarke 2008, pp. 27–29;
Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 19–20.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 52; Goodrick-Clarke 2008, pp. 20–27.
^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 25; Hanegraaff 2013a,
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 25.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 26.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 58; Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 26–27.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 27.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 27–28.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 28–29.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 29.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 30.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 31.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 61–63; Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 30–31.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 63–64; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 32.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 32–33.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 64–66; Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 33–34.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 35–36.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 36.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 72; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 37.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 76–77; Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 37–38.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 38.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 87; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 38.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 38–39.
^ a b Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 39.
^ Strube 2016a; Hanegraaff 2013a.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 40.
^ Faivre 1994, pp. 93–94; Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 40–41.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 41.
^ Faivre 1994, p. 91; Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 41.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 41–42.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 42.
^ Hermann Gilbhard: Thule-Gesellschaft.
^ Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke: The Occult Roots of Nazism. London: Tauris
Parke Paperbacks 2005, p. 149.
^ Corinna Treitel: A Science for the Soul:
Occultism and the Genesis
of the German Modern. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press
2004, p. 220.
^ Corinna Treitel: A Science for the Soul:
Occultism and the Genesis
of the German Modern. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press
2004, p. 215f.
^ Wouter Hanegraaff: "The most important magical secret lodge of the
20th century in the German-speaking world." "Fraternitas Saturni" at
Wouter Hanegraaff (ed). Dictionary of
Gnosis and Western Esotericism.
Brill. 2006. pg. 379
^ Stephen E. Flowers. Fire & Ice: The History, Structure and
Rituals of Germany's Most Influential Modern Magical Order: The
Brotherhood of Saturn. St Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1994 page 23-24
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 43.
^ a b c Hanegraaff 2013a, p. 44.
^ Robert Cochrane and the Gardnerian Craft: Feuds, Secrets, and
Mysteries in Contemporary British Witchcraft Ethan Doyle White. The
Pomegranate: The International Journal of
Pagan Studies. 2011. pp.
^ "Satanism" at Wouter Hannegraaff (ed). Dictionary of
Western Esotericism. Brill. 2006. pg. 1035
^ Nevill Drury. Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western
Magic.Oxford University Press. 2011. pg. 251
^ Colin Duggan. "Perennialism and iconoclasm. Chaos magick and the
legitimacy of innovation". Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm (eds).
Contemporary esotericism. Equinox Publishing. 2013
^ Asprem & Granholm 2013, p. 6.
^ Granholm 2013a, p. 31.
^ Granholm 2013b, pp. 8–9.
^ Brînzeu & Szönyi 2011, p. 185.
^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008, pp. 4–5.
^ a b Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 3.
^ Faivre 1994, p. ix; Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 3; Von Stuckrad
2005b, p. 81; Bergunder 2010, p. 11.
^ Faivre 1994, p. x; Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 3; Von Stuckrad
2005b, p. 81; Bergunder 2010, p. 12.
^ Versluis 2007, p. 6; Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 5.
^ Hanegraaff 2013b, p. 179.
^ a b Faivre 1994, p. ix.
^ Faivre 1994, p. ix; Versluis 2007, p. 6.
^ Hanegraaff 2013a, pp. 1–2.
^ Hanegraaff 2013b, p. 198.
^ a b Faivre 1994, p. x; Faivre & Voss 1995, p. 59.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 3; Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 81;
Bergunder 2010, p. 12–13.
^ Von Stuckrad 2005a, p. 3; Versluis 2007, p. 7.
^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 3.
^ a b Von Stuckrad 2005b, p. 81.
^ Versluis 2007, p. 6.
^ Bergunder 2010, p. 9.
^ Asprem & Granholm 2013, p. 1.
^ Asprem & Granholm 2013, pp. 3–4.
^ Brînzeu & Szönyi 2011, p. 184.
^ Wouter J. Hanegraaff,
Religion and Western Culture.
Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1998, 6.
^ Arthur Versluis, “Methods in the Study of Esotericism, Part II:
Mysticism and the Study of Esotericism”, in Esoterica, Michigan
State University, V, 2003, 27-40.
^ Asprem & Granholm 2013b, p. 44.
^ Asprem & Granholm 2013b, pp. 43–44.
^ Asprem & Granholm 2013b, p. 45.
Asprem, Egil (2014). "Beyond the West: Towards a New Comparativism in
the Study of Esotericism". Correspondences: An Online Journal for the
Academic Study of Western Esotericism. 2 (1): 3–33.
Asprem, Egil; Granholm, Kennet (2013). "Introduction". Contemporary
Esotericism. Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm (editors). Durham:
Acumen. pp. 1–24. ISBN 978-1-317-54357-2.
Asprem, Egil; Granholm, Kennet (2013b). "Constructing Esotericisms:
Sociological, Historical and Critical Approaches to the Invention of
Tradition". Contemporary Esotericism. Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm
(editors). Durham: Acumen. pp. 25–48.
Bergunder, Michael (2010). Kenneth Fleming (translator). "What is
Esotericism? Cultural Studies Approaches and the Problems of
Definition in Religious Studies". Method and Theory in the Study of
Religion. 22: 9–36. doi:10.1163/094330510X12604383550882.
Bogdan, Henrik (2007). Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation.
New York: SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0791470701.
Bogdan, Henrik (2013). "Reception of
Occultism in India: The Case of
the Holy Order of Krishna".
Occultism in a Global Perspective. Henrik
Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevic (editors). Durham: Acumen.
pp. 177–201. ISBN 978-1844657162.
Brînzeu, Pia; Szönyi, György (2011). "The Esoteric in
Postmodernism". European Journal of English Studies. 15 (3):
Faivre, Antoine (1994). Access to Western Esotericism. New York: SUNY
Press. ISBN 978-0791421789.
Faivre, Antoine; Voss, Karen-Claire (1995). "Western Esotericism and
the Science of Religions". Numen. 42 (1): 48–77.
doi:10.1163/1568527952598756. JSTOR 3270279.
Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2008). The Western Esoteric Traditions: A
Historical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Granholm, Kennet (2013a). "Locating the West: Problematizing the
Western in Western Esotericism and Occultism".
Occultism in a Global
Perspective. Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevic (editors). Durham:
Acumen. pp. 17–36. ISBN 978-1844657162.
Granholm, Kennet (2013b). "Ritual Black Metal: Popular Music as Occult
Mediation and Practice" (PDF). Correspondences: An Online Journal for
the Academic Study of Western Esotericism. 1 (1):
5–33. [permanent dead link]
Hanegraaff, Wouter (1996).
Religion and Western Culture:
Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden: Brill.
Hanegraaff, Wouter (2012). Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected
Knowledge in Western Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hanegraaff, Wouter (2013a). Western Esotericism: A Guide for the
Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 978-1441136466.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2013b). "Textbooks and Introductions to Western
Esotericism". Religion. 43 (2): 178–200.
Strube, Julian (2016a). Sozialismus, Katholizismus und Okkultismus im
Frankreich des 19. Jahrhunderts: Die Genealogie der Schriften von
Eliphas Lévi. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
Strube, Julian (2016b). "Socialist
Religion and the Emergence of
Occultism: A Genealogical Approach to
Socialism and Secularization in
19th-Century France". Religion.
Versluis, Arthur (2007). Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to
Western Esotericism. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Von Stuckrad, Kocku (2005a). Western Esotericism: A Brief History of
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (translator). Durham:
Acumen. ISBN 978-1845530334.
Von Stuckrad, Kocku (2005b). "Western Esotericism: Towards an
Integrative Model of Interpretation". Religion. 35 (2): 78–97.
Further academic reading
Faivre, Antoine (2010). Western Esotericism: A Concise History.
Christine Rhone (translator). New York: SUNY Press.
Giegerich, Eric (2001). "Antoine Faivre: Studies in Esotericism". The
San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal. 20 (2): 7–25.
Granholm, Kennet (2013). "Esoteric Currents as Discursive Complexes".
Religion. 43 (1): 46–69. doi:10.1080/0048721x.2013.742741.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J., ed. (2005), Dictionary of
Gnosis and Western
Esotericism I, Leiden / Boston: Brill
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2015). "The Globalization of Esotericism"
(PDF). Correspondences: An Online Journal for the Academic Study of
Western Esotericism. 3. pp. 55–91.
Tweed, Thomas A. (2005), "American
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vol. I: Regional, Critical, and Historical Approaches, Berlin / New
York: Walter de Gruyter, 2004, 497 p.
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Roelof van den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach, Dictionary of
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p. ISBN 90-04-14187-1.
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Einweihung. Basel: Edition Oriflamme, 2010, 118 p. illustrated
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pour l'Auto-initiation. Basel: Edition Oriflamme, 2011, 120 p.
illustrated ISBN 978-39523616-3-4
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An Esoteric Archive
Center for History of Hermetic
Philosophy and Related Currents,
University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
The Western Esoteric Tradition Research Site
Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE)
European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE)
Center for History of Hermetic
Philosophy and Related Currents,
University of Amsterdam
University of Exeter
University of Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO)
Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism
Esoterica. A peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to the
transdisciplinary study of Western esotericism
Amsterdam Center for Study of Western Esotericism
Research & BA/MA programs in Western esotericism.
University of Exeter
University of Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO)
ESSWE European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, with many
links to associated organizations, libraries, scholars etc.
Association for the Study of Esotericism
What Is Esotericism?
Philosophy of religion
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Karl C F Krause
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W. K. Clifford
J L Mackie
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Dewi Z Phillips
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