Courses Overview >> Short courses >> Western Esotericism

Western Esotericism

Course dates: 
Monday, 14 May, 2018 to Friday, 1 June, 2018
pagan totems

How can we re-enchant the world? Where can we find narratives to guide us through these troubled times? Must we always look to the spiritualities of the East, or to the shamanisms of the Arctic and the Amazon, or does the West yet have something to offer?

In this short course, we will study the tradition of Western Esotericism. Though rejected by mainstream Western epistemologies, esoteric practices stretch back to Hellenistic Egypt in an unbroken if complex tradition. Though varied in their expression, they suggest that we are fundamentally and inextricably connected to a living cosmos, and that in the end we can achieve gnosis, or true knowledge of the world. No picture of Western culture is complete without them: Shakespeare’s plays are full of magical and astrological references, while the epitome of Western scientific rationalism, Sir Isaac Newton, was an alchemist.

We will examine the origins of Western Esoteric thought in the NeoPlatonic philosophy that flourished in Late Antiquity and gave birth to the Renaissance, and explore the difference between ‘High’ or learned magic and ‘Low’ or folk magic. We will cover the developments in magical practice that occurred in the Nineteenth century, most notably through the Order of the Golden Dawn and the controversial figure of Aleister Crowley, and see how magical thought gave rise to contemporary Paganism and Chaos Magic in the Twentieth. We will examine the traces of our own indigenous paganism, to see what, if anything, can be recovered of our lost esoteric connection to the land.

Above all we will ask what is the relationship between magical thought and practice and ‘legitimate’ epistemologies and ontologies (science and materialism), and critically assess what relevance they have to the ecological crisis.

This will be an intensive that brings together theory and practice, critical thinking and direct experience. You will be joined by a number of students from Schumacher College's postgraduate programme in Ecology and Spirituality which will allow for rich interaction and discussion.

In week one, Dr Angela Voss will introduce us to the origins of Western Esotericism in Platonic and NeoPlatonic philosophy, especially via the writings of Plotinus and Iamblichus. She will explain the practices of theurgy and telestike (statue magic) and reveal how the ancient use of the imagination for magical ends has been revived in the ‘active imagination’ of Henry Corbin, Carl Jung and James Hillman.  She will explore how the rediscovery of the so-called Corpus Hermeticum led to the emergence of Renaissance natural magic, and examine the magical legacy of Marsilio Ficino.

At the end of the week, Dr Katya Nosyreva will lead a day workshop in sacred geometry, providing a hands-on opportunity for participants to construct some simple and complex figures from esoteric tradition using only compass, ruler and pencil.

In week two, Julian Vayne will bring the story up to date by examining British ‘occulture’ from the Nineteenth Century to the present. He will cover areas such as The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; the emergence of neo-Pagan spiritualities such as Wicca and Druidry; Twentieth century occultism, especially Thelema and Chaos Magic; and Paganism, ecology and radical politics.

In week three, Angharad Wynne turns our attention back to the land, asking what, if anything, can we learn about the esoteric practices of our distant ancestors. Through deep listening, intuition, ceremony and storytelling, she will lead us into an enquiry about our earlier pre-Christian beliefs and practices, both in the classroom and in the immediate landscape. Can we find a way of working that is beneficial for self and community, and that supports and encourages a greater sense of guardianship of place and responsible relationship with our corner of the earth?

Dr Andy Letcher

Dr Andy Letcher is writer, performer and scholar of religion who began life as an ecologist, completing his D.Phil in Ecology at Oxford University. After a spell as an environmental activist during the 90s, especially during the anti-roads protests, he moved across to the humanities, completing a PhD at King Alfred’s College Winchester. He is an expert on contemporary alternative spiritualities, especially modern Paganism, neo-shamanism and psychedelic spiritualities. A writer known for his critical approach, he is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom and a range of academic papers on subjects as diverse as fairies, animism, folklore, bardism and Druidry. He wrote the companion volume to The English Magic Tarot. A folk musician, he plays English bagpipes and Dark Age lyre, and for ten years fronted psych-folk band, Telling the Bees.

Dr Angela Voss

Dr Angela Voss

Angela Voss is the Programme Director for the MA in Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred at Canterbury Christ Church University. She wrote her PhD on the astrological music therapy of the Renaissance magus Marsilio Ficino. Her chief area of interest is the imagination as a path of spiritual or gnostic knowledge, and she has immersed in Hermetic, neoplatonic and esoteric philosophies and traditions in the West for many years. Her current research projects include: astrological symbolism in the music of Claudio Monteverdi; the theurgic symbol in 16th century music; and a methodological comparison of Wouter Hanegraaff and Jeffrey Kripal's approaches to the study of religion. Her latest publication is Re-enchanting the Academy, co-edited with Simon Wilson, Rubedo Press 2017.

Katya Nosyreva

Dr Katya Nosyreva

Following her undergraduate studies at Camberwell College of Arts, where she specialised in ceramics, Katya Nosyreva went on to undertake several informal apprenticeships with a number of accomplished British studio potters. Her interest in traditional arts brought her to the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts where she discovered geometry, both as a design tool and a visual symbolic language, and continued working with ceramics, focusing on porcelain and its translucent qualities. After completing her MA, she undertook a number of research trips to Uzbekistan, India, Spain and Egypt which served as a starting point for her doctoral studies. Her PhD research  project used the designing and making of an architectural space for a sufi lodge in India as the point of focus for addressing larger questions in relation to contemporary traditional art and spirituality. Katya lives with her family on Dartmoor and continues to bring the craft and philosophy of sacred geometry into her studio practice.

Julian Vayne

Julian Vayne

Julian Vayne is a British independent scholar and author with over three decades of experience engaging with and writing about esoteric culture: from Druidry to Chaos Magick, from indigenous American shamanism through to Freemasonry and Wicca. A regular speaker at conferences on the subject of contemporary occultism and magic, Julian is a also a museum educator, supporting the curiosity of visitors to museum and other heritage locations. In this capacity he has worked with The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, and has developed training programmes to enhance visitor engagement for the National Trust. He is Chair of The Friends of The Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft.

Angharad Wynne

Angharad Wynne

Angharad Wynne spent much of her youth exploring her Welsh homeland by foot and delving deeply into the western magic, healing and spiritual traditions in order to piece together the lost parts of her own indigenous culture. Connection and dialogue with with nature and landscape is central to her work as is the magic of everyday, the creation for meaningful ceremony for our lives today and sharing the spirituality and mythology of her homeland with others.

A published author and poet, Angharad is also a storyteller who uses story as the starting point for deep enquiry and a source of timeless wisdom and healing. She regularly runs spiritual and creative retreats including the Return to Centre series for women, In the Footsteps of Ancestors, an annual pilgrimage following ‘Songlines’ across the sacred landscapes of Britain, and Dreaming the Land which she co-runs with partner and collaborator, Eric Maddern. She speaks widely about finding ‘the dreaming’ of place; of working with intuition, knowledge and landscape to draw together threads of spiritual practice which are connected and meaningful to and arise from specific geographical and cultural landscapes.

£ 2 200.00
NOTE: Course fees include all vegetarian meals, field trips, materials and all teaching sessions. The programme will run from Monday of the first week to Friday afternoon the last week, and includes twenty nights private accommodation from the first lunchtime you arrive through until the lunchtime before your departure. This course is an elective on Schumacher College's MA Ecology and Spirituality postgraduate programme. It is open to external participants who would like to deeply explore this subject material and can join us for the whole three-week programme.