Ever since my first encounter with Thelema in my teenage years, it has served for me as the ur-text of occultism, the standard by which I compare and contrast all other occult and esoteric systems.
Some readers of The Light Invisible know that I’ve been working on a book project — I’m happy to report that The Inner Church is the Hope of the World: Western Esotericism as a Theology of Liberation has now been released! The book has encompassed most of my thinking about esotericism and theology since I graduated from Union Theological Seminary …
The radical French philosopher Georges Bataille and the English magus Aleister Crowley at first seem to have much in common—both explored the darker sides of eroticism and their links to spiritual experience, both were evocative writers expressing philosophical standpoints considered beyond the pale of polite early twentieth-century society, and both sought a rapturous mystical dissolution of the ego-bound self, a union with what traditional mystics would call the One or the All. But their understandings of the end of the mystic’s quest differ greatly—even to the point that, according to orthodox Thelema’s conception of the magician’s supreme goal of “crossing the Abyss,” Bataille could be labeled a member of the vilified Black Brotherhood, that society of Dark Adepts who ultimately fail in their spiritual task.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” — through the leadership of the poor and the rejected in this new movement, may we continue to hew the rough ashlar of our broken society, so that it may become the perfect stone fit for its place in God’s Temple, restoring that divine estate in which “all men by nature were created alike.”
In a time when articles in the mainstream press highlight Steve Bannon’s occultism, what is the relationship between esotericism and politics? Can esotericism support human rights and social change, or is it inherently conservative — or inherently apolitical? Or does esotericism have the potential to undergird a liberating populist spirituality?