Gustave Doré's illustration of the Rosa Celeste for Dante's Paradiso.

The Light Invisible – Towards a Manifesto of the Church Magical

The Light Invisible is a blog that will touch on diverse traditions of Christian Esotericism — traditional Rosicrucianism, Christian mysticism, Christian Hermeticism and Cabala, European alchemy, Renaissance magic, the Golden Dawn tradition, the legends of the Holy Grail, and folk magical traditions. The lens through which I will reflect on these esoteric traditions is primarily orthodox — in other words, I affirm the traditional theology of orthodox Christianity, specifically the creedal, liturgical, apostolic Christianity of the Roman Catholic Church, Anglo-Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy (I myself am a practicing Catholic who spent a long time in the Anglican church before confirmation as a Roman Catholic, my family’s tradition).

The title of this blog, The Light Invisible, is based on the title of a collection of theological short stories by Robert Hugh Benson, a Roman Catholic priest and writer of the early twentieth century. Benson moved in a milieu that included figures such as the young Austin Osman Spare, Decadent writers Father John Gray and Marc-André Raffalovich, and Dr. Robert William Felkin, Father J. Fitzgerald, and other Christian members of the Stella Matutina, many of whom knew Benson from his Anglican days as a member of the Community of the Resurrection (indeed, The Light Invisible was one of Felkin’s favorite books).

This time period–the heyday of both the Catholic revival and the occult revival in England and Continental Europe, and the period during which the major esoteric orders of the 20th century all found their genesis–was the final era in which the ecclesiastical world and the world of the occult went hand in hand, and it was common to find Christian priests and lay people as participants in all the most important esoteric, occult, and spiritualist movements of the day.

Yet before the late nineteenth century and the advent of the Theosophical Society, most European occult and esoteric movements were implicitly Christian, many heterodox Catholic–the Elus Cohen of Martinez de Pasqually, the Martinists, the Rosicrucians of the Parisian occult revival, and even many members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the twentieth century, A.E. Waite, Dion Fortune, Gareth Knight, and many other figures continued the Christian esoteric current. But the modern focus on the Pagan revival, Thelema, postmodern Chaos Magic and other movements–combined with the triumph of the Christian evangelical movement in becoming the image of Christianity in many people’s minds–has obscured the long tradition of Christian esotericism.

In my opinion, this has also damaged the capacity of occultists and esotericists to understand their own history. Whether from a lack of theological knowledge that was once commonly known prior to the secularization of Western society, from hostility to Christianity on the part of those in the esoteric community, or from misleading appropriation of certain sources by figures like Aleister Crowley, modern occultists frequently accept wildly inaccurate narratives of occultism, magic, and church history, or argue for a “crypto-paganism” that misunderstands the work of important esoteric sources like Marsilio Ficino, John Dee, or the Golden Dawn tradition.

As an esotericist and occultist who is a practicing Christian, academically trained in church history and Christian theology, and involved with a number of esoteric orders, the goal of my work is to contribute to a better understanding of Christianity on the side of esotericists and occultists, and to view occult topics through a Christian theological lens–something few theologians are willing to engage in due to their biases against occultism and magic. In this work I hope to honor the legacies of figures like Ficino, Francesco Giorgio, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, A.E. Waite, Frater Achad, and Gareth Knight, among the many others who could be said to belong to that darkly glittering institution, the Church Magical.

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