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Access To Western Esotericism by Antoine Faivre (review)

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 55, 1998
pp. 354-356 | 10.1353/frc.1998.0026

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354BOOK REVIEWS description of these various communities was given through the use of obituaries, personal and communal histories, photographs, and listing of dowries. The three Poor Clare communities of Rouergue were: Millau (founded in 1291); Granayrac-(1326-1677) moved to Villefranche-deRouergue (1677-1792); and Mur-de-Barrez (founded in 1653). Villefranche began as a rural contemplative monastery, but later moved to the city where they taught young girls and allowed elderly women to live with them. Through the stormy history of the Calvinist revolt and the French Revolution, the Poor Clare communities were dispersed more than once, but they are re-established in Millau and Mur-deBarrez today. Besides the political struggles, the Poor Clares of Millau had a long history of religious controversy and intrigue as well as glory. Presentations are also given on the Annunciationists, another branch of the Poor Clares founded by Jeanne of France and the Franciscan, Gabriel-Maria. These women came to Rodez in 1519. Third Order religious congregations were the first to return to Rouergue after the dispersion of the French Revolution. Saint Claire en Rouergue, well researched, adds another helpful fragment to the multi-faceted history of the followers of Francis and Clare. Monasîère Ste.ClaireSR. PACELLI MILLANE, O.S.C. Valleyfield, Quebec Antoine Faivre. Access To Western Esotericism. Binghamton: State University of New York Press, 1994. ? + 369 pp. $19.95. "These two volumes of unequal length, originally published in French" (p. x), provide the reader with a rich (if often haphazard) analysis of a difficult, complex subject. Even the term "esotericism" is difficult to define, and is often confused or identified with occultism. Faivre wisely restricts his study to western esotericism, whose focus, he argues, is "essentially on the BOOK REVIEWS355 articulation between metaphysical principles and cosmology" (p. 8). He further refines the concept by insisting that the following four components must be intrinsic to every esoteric work: a system of correspondences (both fancied and real) among the various parts of the universe; an animated view of nature; an imaginative and meditative approach to its subject matter; and an actual experience of transmutation, a kind of second birth through "gnosis," a personal form of knowing that erases the distinction between wisdom and faith. These attempts at definition are followed by a brief history of western esotericism. Not surprisingly, examples of esoteric thought abound in the occult or pseudo-sciences: theosophy, alchemy, astrology, Hermitism, cabalism, rosicrucianism, and magic. Unfortunately , in his attempt to counter the smug scientism of the twentieth century, Faivre sometimes gives the impression of being an advocate rather than simply a chronicler of these suspect disciplines. Astrology, for example, may be "queen of the arts of divination," but one remains skeptical that "it is on its way to obtaining its own status at the heart of the humanities" (p. 95), or that "alchemy enjoys good standing in Western culture" (p. 96). This historical epitome contains Faivre's only reference to Franciscan thought, which he views as a continuation and fulfillment of the analogical view of Nature that characterized the twelfth century: "If this Roman period favors esotericism because of the importance of correspondences, imagination, mediations, Nature, and pathways of spiritual transformation, the Franciscan spirit in the thirteenth century reinforces this tendency through its love of Nature" (p. 53). The second part of the book is comprised of specific studies of esoteric thought, including the activities of the Masonic order, and the esoteric movement in Germany. Particularly impressive is the chapter on nineteenth-century German esotericism, "Love and Androgyny in Franz Von Baader" (pp. 201-74), which posits many interesting readings of the account of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. A second essay on Baader (pp. 113-33) focuses on the nature of belief, and a third (pp. 135-46) on Baader's concept of God as an alchemist who enlists human aid in restoring Nature's perfection. Other essays discuss the Temple of Solomon (pp. 147- 356BOOK REVIEWS 62), the pilgrimage motif in Rosicrucian thought (pp. 163-75), and the impact of the heroic, chivalric ideal on eighteenth-century alchemists, Freemasons, and romantic writers (pp. 177-199). Access to Western Esotericism concludes with fifty pages...