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Stasis and Innovation in Western Esotericism

Panel Chair: John MacMurphy | Monday, August 24, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

One of the most intriguing phenomena in the field of Western Esotericism is the adaptation of long-discarded systems of belief into new modern currents. This panel examines the reasons esoteric traditions go back to their roots, the selection process and methodology by which these heritages conform to their new forms and the ways in which these systems of beliefs are classified in modern scholarship. Focus will be placed on Kabbalah, Magic, and Satanism.

John MacMurphy

Sefer Ha-Zohar As An Ecstatic Text

Current academic research in the field of Prophetic Kabbalah (Idel, Wolfson and Hames) – which explores the kabbalistic practices for inducing altered states of consciousness, gnosis or divine union – revolves almost exclusively around the school of Abraham Abulafia (1239–1291), sometimes called the 'Father of Ecstatic Kabbalah'.  Up until now, Sefer ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendor), the largest and the most influential kabbalistic corpuses, has been associated primarily with the theosophical lineage - with the ecstatic aspect receiving little to no scholarly attention. By examining the zoharic literature, the Abualfian corpus as well as works by other kabbalists such as the Lurianic texts, this paper argues that ecstatic elements not only exist in the Zohar, but were also recognized as such by other kabbalists

Albert J. Lenowicz

Lust for Result: The Book of Abramelin, the Holy Guardian Angel, Process and Innovation

The interaction with one’s “Holy Guardian Angel” is an important principle in various magical systems and especially in systems influenced by Aleister Crowley’s system Thelema. Since the publishing of the original edition of the book in the 16th century the ritual has undergone translation and interpretation that radically altered the methods by which the operation is performed though the end result remains the same. The paper aims to demonstrate mechanisms of transformation and innovation by showcasing the operation through three different lenses related to time and technology; the original 16th century manuscript, the late 19th century/early 20th century versions of S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley, and finally the method proposed by contemporary esotericist Jason Augustus Newcomb in the early 21st century. The paper also examines what the innovations mean for Thelemic communities and the ambivalences in a system that honors both orthodoxy and individual innovation.

Carl Karlson-Weimann

Anti-Cosmic Kabbalah: Esoteric Re-Interpretations in Contemporary Left Hand Path Satanism

This paper analyzes the uses and interpretations of Kabbalah in contemporary esoteric and anti- cosmic Satanism. In the introduction to the recently published The Book of Sitra Achra: A Grimoire of the Dragons of the Other Side, the author N.A-A.218 explicitly states that the book owes much to the writings of ‘some of the adepts’ of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as well as to the teachings of Rabbi Nathan of Gaza, the prophet of Sabbatai Zevi. These references indicate not only a desire to be associated with the Occultist Kabbalah of 19th and early 20th century occultism, but also with Jewish Kabbalah of the 17th century. My paper will present the system of thought applied in the innovative kabbalah of N.A-A.218, relate it to the sources mentioned, tracing transformations and re-interpretations of kabbalistic and other esoteric elements, and also place it in the wider Left Hand Path milieu.

Kateryna Zorya

The Magical Restoration: Pre-XIX Century Sources in XXI Century Magical Practices

In an attempt to improve their magic, contemporary occultists often employ ideas and concepts borrowed from modern philosophy and science. In the spirit of post-Enlightenment innovation, antiquated schematics are replaced by less complex ones, stemming from a largely contemporary view. Some contemporary occultists, however, believe that post-XIX century occultism is a decline rather than a modernization and turn to earlier sources in their practices. This paper examines published editions of pre-XIX century sources made by occultists, such as the True Grimoire in the interpretation of Jake Stratton-Kent, and reports of using such sources in magical practice by such contemporary occultists as Christopher Warnock, whose focus is on Renaissance astrology and magic. The paper will examine reasons for disregarding later occultism, modern interpretations of classical works of magic, and adaptations of classical works to a new intellectual environment.


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