Magical Words – a review of Visions of Enchantment and The Occult Conference

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.

Know thyself

Know thyself

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.

Organ bank

Organ bank

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.


10 thoughts on “Magical Words – a review of Visions of Enchantment and The Occult Conference

  1. Pete Carroll says:

    Ha, yes indeed, no wizard’s incarnation would seem complete without a night or two spent at The Covenstead and breakfast in it’s over the top Illuminati style dining room. I slept somewhat fitfully in the temple, comfortable amongst the soaring piles of exotic esoteric paraphernalia but slightly disturbed by what seemed either a gravitational anomaly or a very strangely angled floor.
    With all the assembled secret societies at The Conference taking some care to reveal as little as possible about their traditions during their one hour lecture slots one could only get a general feel for the flavour of each.
    The current flavour of the OTO rather surprised me. The louche debauchery that allegedly characterised the revived order in the past seems to have given way to something more akin to Scientology, all sharp suits and short haircuts and a Jesuitical fervour for The Articles of Thelemic Faith. Just how well this will all go down in Glastonbury long term we will see, it seemed a bit like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons setting up a stall at a Hippy Commune.
    Still, as many from Ray Sherwin onward have noted, Thelema and Scientology have common ground and ancestors. E.g. True Will and Operating Thetan, and Hubbard studying with Parson’s OTO.
    Perhaps fortunately the assembled Thelemites did not have the opportunity to scan the text of the EPOCH at length as the delivery of the actual books to us has become delayed till this Friday. It contains some pointed criticism of Crowley’s less admirable characteristics and scholastic lapses. However they do seem to currently assert the odd beliefs that their messiah was flawed, but that his message remains utterly perfect.

    • Sef says:

      If the offer is still extended, I would very much like to come up and inspect the text after delivery, and to save you on postage I’ll happily run the editions for Labyrinth Books and others down for delivery.

      Maybe we are sharp suits and short haircuts, but I’m not convinced this is a bad thing. The idea of the Order, and the idea of everyone being free to do their Will, is something I freely admit to fervour over. But thank you for coming and displaying the EPOCH – I’m quite looking forward to seeing where we can learn and adapt if necessary.


  2. Pete Carroll says:

    Thanks for the offer Sef but fresh indeterminacies have entered into the delivery date of the books and cards from the printers, it seems that even offers of full payment in advance cannot speed up their delivery, and I’ve already got a contract delivery service in place at my works.
    Further debate with you sounds like a productive idea though, and perhaps we should consider inviting an audience.
    I’d like to have followed up on a few of the provocative issues you raised at the speakers dinner but the pub of our gracious host seemed an inappropriate setting for such weighty matters, as did the Conference itself, and besides I had a cold which I hope I haven’t passed on to you.
    As you may know, Chaos Magic partly defined itself by its opposition to Thelema and also to the excesses of the Darkside current. Yet that leaves us both competing in friendly rivalry for what you might call the Off-White current in esoterics.
    Thus I propose a debate, ‘Thelema & Chaos.’
    5 questions each. Each question to consist of not more than 100 words.
    Answers to each question in not more than 1,000 words.
    Each question and answer cycle to take about a week.
    I can host this on my Specularium Blog, some posts there have attracted 200K hits, a number have attracted over 50K. We may well get 100K people following this debate.
    The debate will of course proceed with the highest standards of civility, and I shall on my Wizard’s Honour post all of your questions and answers as presented. (Specularium doesn’t take guest posts or comments.)
    As an example of what I’d like to ask, you said at dinner that you frequently opened a conversation with a stranger with the words ‘Do you think that you are here for a purpose?’ It would interest me to know how you respond to anyone who replies ‘Absolutely not, random events underlie my manifestation here, nothing has any purpose unless we choose to ascribe one to it.’
    I shall also have some questions about the literal or metaphorical meanings of Liber Al.
    You can ask me whatever you like.
    Interested? Regards, Pete.

    • Sef Salem says:

      Dear Pete.

      I believe this could be an immensely valuable experience, and am honoured that you see a worthy opponent – I hope moreso than an easy target..!

      Thank you for your concern, I am mercilessly cold-free at the moment, and I hope you are feeling better soon.

      It would be churlish to refuse such an offer, and I accept with the following terms:

      -I reserve the right to discuss technical points such as literal or metaphorical meanings of Liber AL with others before presenting my answer to you, as I do not claim to be the greatest scholar on Thelemic scripture in the world.

      -It is made very clear and plain that I will express my opinion as a Thelemite, and a member of Ordo Templi Orientis, but I am not representing anyone other than myself, and certainly not OTO UK Grand Lodge.

      -We are both respectful of magical oaths, privacy of members (especially living members), and as you say each other above all.

      -That this is a learning and growing experience for us both, where we take on new ideas and differ where necessary, but with the aim of increasing the understanding between our traditions and those who associate with our practices.

      -And to host it on neutral ground such as the Blog of Baphomet, and reproduce it as we Will where we Will.

      All the best,

  3. Edit – “mercifully” instead of mercilessly in the above – JV

  4. Pete Carroll says:

    Dear Sef, that all sounds fine to me if BoB don’t mind hosting us, I can foresee potential issues of a lot of third party replies appearing.
    I too shall speak only for myselfs, not for the IOT. Whilst I used to function as a pillar of said order I now function rather as a flying buttress, supporting it from the outside as it were, (and making an occasional nuisance of myselves). I too may consult with some selected chaoist philosophers.
    I’d prefer to delay kick-off till 14th April as I’ll soon depart for a spring break on a natural history tour of Portugal and hopefully a visit to the Templars last castle.
    Regards, Pete.

  5. Sef Salem says:

    Dear Pete,

    I think we have come to an accord. April 14th will be a most interesting time, as my next initiation in OTO is scheduled for April 26th! Perhaps we will also be able to measure any step change as the debate evolves.

    I shall speak to the BoB curators to see if comments can be turned off for these, and I shall busy myself in preparation. Have a wonderful trip.

    All the best,

  6. Pete Carroll says:

    Sef, we arrive at the 14th April, so herewith my first question, I await yours: –
    Sef, you said at dinner that you frequently opened a conversation with a stranger with the words ‘Do you think that you are here for a purpose?’ It would interest me to know how you respond to anyone who replies ‘Absolutely not, random events underlie my manifestation here, nothing has any purpose unless we choose to ascribe one to it.’ I note that Crowley himself wrote “It is pure chance that rules the universe; therefore and only therefore, life is good” (Book of Lies)

    • Sef says:

      Thank you Pete – my response is complete and awaiting publishing as we type! I hope you have enjoyed a very good holiday, and look forward to our discussion.

      • The publication of the response from Sef is awaiting the imminent return of the writer of the ‘Introduction to the discussion’, from his Easter holiday family commitments. Apologies to all for the slight delay.

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