The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction

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Overview


Western esotericism has now emerged as an academic study in its own right, combining spirituality with an empirical observation of the natural world while also relating the humanity to the universe through a harmonious celestial order. This introduction to the Western esoteric traditions offers a concise overview of their historical development.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke explores these traditions, from their roots in Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, and Gnosticism in the early Christian era up to their reverberations in today's scientific paradigms. While the study of Western esotericism is usually confined to the history of ideas, Goodrick-Clarke examines the phenomenon much more broadly. He demonstrates that, far from being a strictly intellectual movement, the spread of esotericism owes a great deal to geopolitics and globalization. In Hellenistic culture, for example, the empire of Alexander the Great, which stretched across Egypt and Western Asia to provinces in India, facilitated a mixing of Eastern and Western cultures. As the Greeks absorbed ideas from Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia, they gave rise to the first esoteric movements.

From the late sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, post-Reformation spirituality found expression in theosophy, Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. Similarly, in the modern era, dissatisfaction with the hegemony of science in Western culture and a lack of faith in traditional Christianity led thinkers like Madame Blavatsky to look East for spiritual inspiration. Goodrick-Clarke further examines Modern esoteric thought in the light of new scientific and medical paradigms along with the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. This book traces the complete history of these movements and is the definitive account of Western esotericism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fine, concise summary of Western esoteric traditions from ancient Hellenic and Egyptian sources to the contemporary era. ...Excellent chapter-end bibliographies, detailed notes, and fine summaries make the key elements in this important but opaque tradition understandable to newcomers to the topic."

--Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195320992
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 1,208,057
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

1 Ancient Hellenistic Sources of Western Esotericism 15

2 Italian Renaissance Magic and Cabala 33

3 Planetary and Angel Magic in the Renaissance 49

4 Alchemy, Paracelsus, and German Naturphilosophie 71

5 Jacob Boehme and Theosophy 87

6 Rosicrucianism 107

7 High-Grade Freemasonry and Illuminism in the Eighteenth Century 131

8 Emanuel Swedenborg 155

9 Mesmerism and Spiritualism 173

10 Ritual Magic from 1850 to the Present 191

11 Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society 211

12 Modem Esotericism and New Paradigms 229

Notes 251

Index 279

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