The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern
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In answering this question for the first time, The Place of Enchantment breaks new ground in its consideration of the role of occultism in British culture prior to World War I. Rescuing occultism from its status as an "irrational indulgence" and situating it at the center of British intellectual life, Owen argues that an involvement with the occult was a leitmotif of the intellectual avant-garde. Carefully placing a serious engagement with esotericism squarely alongside revolutionary understandings of rationality and consciousness, Owen demonstrates how a newly psychologized magic operated in conjunction with the developing patterns of modern life. She details such fascinating examples of occult practice as the sex magic of Aleister Crowley, the pharmacological experimentation of W. B. Yeats, and complex forms of astral clairvoyance as taught in secret and hierarchical magical societies like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Through a remarkable blend of theoretical discussion and intellectual history, Owen has produced a work that moves far beyond a consideration of occultists and their world. Bearing directly on our understanding of modernity, her conclusions will force us to rethink the place of the irrational in modern culture.
taken by the Golden Dawn. Westcott was primarily interested in creating a society for the promulgation of Rosicrucian knowledge; MacGregor Mathers was later instrumental in developing the Second Order as a training ground for magicians. Together they brought to the endeavor a wide and erudite knowledge of arcane matters. However, the two men were very different. William Wynn Westcott, who was born in , studied medicine at University College, London, became a Deputy Coroner in the early s,
allied. Although occultism could be directed towards ends other than mystical union with the divine, both occultism and mysticism were predicated on the authenticity and broader relevance of the manifestations of interiority. In the case of occultism, however, individuals underwent a training in the apprehension and negotiation of occult phenomena, and subjective claims were tested and measured against clearly established criteria. It was understood that an experience that was so intimately bound
tired.14 Crowley had taught Neuburg that he was to use his astral experiences in part to gain knowledge, both of himself and of occult planes, and had shown him the magical signs necessary for a productive reception. Neuburg apparently understood how to give the correct magical response to an astral challenge, a kind of astral “Who goes there?” and was thus able to extract from astral beings the knowledge he sought. The value of this knowledge, however, could be guaranteed only by testing the
immediately upon awakening from an important dream. Again, aware that some of this seemed uncomfortably close to spiritualist practice, which relied heavily on the mediumistic trance, Kingsford was concerned to know what distinguished her experiences from those of the medium. In the same communication of February she was informed that “the Spirit of the Prophet beholdeth God with open eyes. If he fall into a trance, his eyes / Chapter Five are open, and his interior man knoweth what
externalized manifestation of the agent’s actual conception of himself at such a scene.66 For Gurney, as he complained in a letter to William James, this smacked too much of “a hopeless attempt to present a frankly material view of ghosts.”67 Although he was not completely happy with his own analysis of collective cases, Gurney held more closely than did Myers to the creative, empathetic, and hallucinatory model. Reciprocal cases he regarded somewhat differently. Reciprocity must presumably