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.
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?
[2020 Note: Now that there has been a resurgence of interest in the work of Frater Achad, especially with the upcoming publication of The Incoming of the Aeon of Maat by Starfire Publishing, I’ve been revisiting this essay. I’ve learned a great deal about Frater Achad, the Universal Brotherhood, and the Maatian current since the …