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Western Esotericism

A Concise History

Antoine Faivre, Christine Rhone

Publication Year: 2010

A survey of Western esoteric currents since late antiquity, with an emphasis on the last six centuries. Widely received in France, this brief, comprehensive introduction to Western esotericism by the founder of the field is at last available in English. A historical and pedagogical guide, the book is written primarily for students and novices. In clear, precise language, author Antoine Faivre provides an overview of Western esoteric currents since late antiquity. The bulk of the book is laid out chronologically, from ancient and medieval sources (Alexandrian hermetism, gnosticism, neoplatonism), through the Renaissance up to the present time. Its coverage includes spiritual alchemy, Jewish and Christian Kabbalah, Christian theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Illuminism, ‘mystical’ Free-Masonry, the Occultist current, Theosophical and Anthroposophical Societies, the Traditionalist School, and ‘esotericism’ in contemporary initiatic societies and in New Religious Movements. Faivre explores how these currents are connected, and refers to where they appear in art and literature. The book concludes with an annotated bibliography, which makes it an essential resource for beginners and scholars alike.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-24

In 2010, historian Monika Neugebauer-W

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1 Ancient and Medieval Sources of the Modern Western Esoteric Currents

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pp. 25-34

Scattered works, partly lost, written in Greek in the region of Alexandria, constitute a heterogeneous mass known as the Hermetica. Composed over several centuries at the dawn of our era, these treatises deal with astrology, alchemy, the philosophy of Nature, cosmology,...

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2 Esotericism in the Heart of the Renaissance and the Flames of the Baroque

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pp. 35-52

Toward 1450, in Florence, Cosimo de Medici entrusted Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499; section I, 3) to create a Platonic Academy, and about a decade later he asked him to translate, even before any of the works of Plato, the Corpus Hermeticum (CH, see chapter 1,...

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3 Esotericism in the Shadow of the Enlightenment

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pp. 53-68

Translated into German in 1706 (with a Paracelsian commentary), the Corpus Hermeticum (CH) also was the subject of scholarly presentations in late Germanic humanism (Bibliotheca Graeca of J. A. Fabricius, 1708–1727). However, it also had recently been the subject, along with the neo-Alexandrian current, Rosicrucianism, and...

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4 From Romantic Knowledge to Occultist Programs

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pp. 69-88

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, a new manner of approaching the study of Nature emerged, which lasted about fi fty years and barely reappeared thereafter. This is Naturphilosophie, which is especially part of German romanticism in the broad sense. In several of its representatives, it takes an aspect that pairs it...

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5 Esotericisms of the Twentieth Century

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pp. 89-110

Surviving in the form of activities as much speculative as operative, practiced inside initiatic associations or by individuals, the so-called “traditional” sciences (i.e., especially astrology, alchemy, and “magic”) directly touched a broad public. The most popular is evidently astrology, “queen” of the divinatory Arts. What big...


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pp. 111-118

Index of Names

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pp. 119-128

E-ISBN-13: 9781438433790
E-ISBN-10: 1438433794
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438433776
Print-ISBN-10: 1438433778

Page Count: 136
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1