The Esoteric (which is a polite way of saying ‘the occult’ or ‘magick’) is now a subject which Academia is prepared to address. Sure it’s many years since ethnographic works such as Persuasions of the Witches Craft, but it’s taken a long time for the cultural influence of magick to be acknowledged by polite society. The excellent academic conference in Cambridge recently, Visions of Enchantment marks the latest step-change in the ability of scholars to successfuly engage with occultism. At this conference papers ranged widely around the relationship between mysticism, magick and the visual arts. There were presentations exploring the role of Theosophical artists in anti-colonial politics, occult symbolism in the work of Lady Gaga, through to a close analysis of gender symbolism in medieval alchemical illustrations. A heady brew indeed, and while a very few ingredients were a little tricky to chew on (especially to deligates who were magical practitioners) the overall blend was nourishing and delightful.
This was explicitly not a conference for practitioners of magic and so the insights gained through academic study sometimes seemed to go little further than the stuff that we all (ie the tiny number of occultists in the western world) know. However there was plenty of occulture here, and much penetrating analysis, which I’d never encountered before. My overall impression was a very valuable and entertaining event. Topped off with some excellent touches, such as the lecture by Prof. Antoine Faivre (one of the founding fathers of modern esoteric studies), through to the fabulous dinner after the first day in the Great Hall of Hogwarts.
Visions of Enchantment was also the launch pad for the Black Mirror Research Network which looks set to do some great things in years to come, bringing a world-class academic discourse to bear on esoteric arts. I’m also hopeful, especially since Black Mirror research will be published through Fulgar Press, that space will remain for the practitioner voice in this new-found relationship with the Academy.
By the weekend Nikki and I were at The Occult Conference in Glastonbury. An excellent chance to meet magical siblings of all stripes; Druids, Hermeticists, Oriental Templars, Wiccans and the rest. Well managed and prepared, the venue was full, for a day which included lectures, workshops, the formal launch of The Epoch, an evening ball and, of course, a raffle.
As part of the total experience we were fortunate enough to stay at The Covenstead which is, in so many ways, the most wonderful place from which to soak up the magic of an event like this. I seriously cannot recommend it highly enough. Imagine somewhere that is both homely and utterly impressive, a kind of total esoteric environment turned up to 11, hosted by a charming and formidably intelligent landlady. Perfect!
What did I learn? Well once again I learnt that it’s the people not the style of magick that matters. Some are fabulous, many are fine, a few are right twats. But by and large, successful magicians tend to be relaxed, intelligent, compassionate, take-no-shit sort of people and that’s all right with me.
A very fine week of watching the connections between things grow, as spring spreads into the land. May all these new shoots grow strong and true.