First Annual Report of the SHWEP

We have been putting out this podcast for just over a year now, and here are a few reflections on the process.

First of all, there are a number of shout-outs (or is that shouts-out?) to people without whom this thing would not exist. I’ll make it brief, but don’t doubt that I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks to the ILK for everything.

Alan Lee at the HQ and Simon at Lumpy Lemon for the unflagging technical support.

Wouter Hannegraaff voor innige ondersteuning, geestelijk en feitelijk.

My boys Bink and Sam for general enthusiasm, cool ideas, and suggestions.


The Conspiracy: dum conspiro, spero. et iam vero spero!

Thank you to each and every scholar who has contributed their time, insights, and bibliographies to make the podcast as good as it is (and to save me from my ignorance time and time again). Especial thanks to the ones who really get it (you know who you are).

Thank you to each and every SHWEP member. What can I say? We are working together, and we haven’t even met. Trust and commitment. Thank you. You are paying my family’s rent for nothing more that the promise that I will continue to do what I love and talk about it in mp3 form. Quite extraordinary.

So: one year of the SHWEP. How are we doing in terms of output? The idea was always to do an episode per week. It turns out that we have met this target if you count members’ episodes and the blog – we are currently about to produce episode 49 for the main podcast, we have 10 members’ episodes, and 1 interview in the blog, which I’m going to count because it’s top-notch. So that’s a grand total of 60 episodes in a year (more or less). I’ll take it, even though 52 regular episodes would be my ideal scenario. For those wondering about the future, having done this for a year now, I think this is about what to expect: in the rare event that I have no other commitments, I can do full-time research, write, record, edit, and do all the other stuff which makes the podcast on a weekly basis without the quality slipping. Assuming other commitments (and right now I am finishing a translation and commentary on a Plotinian text, starting a two-year research project, and still a dad), something more like 40-45 regular episodes a year is probably the realistic number, with lots of members’ material to get the numbers up to 52 episodes a year minimum.

How has the podcast evolved over the course of a year? On the boring technical side of things, we have improved sound quality a lot – some of those early episodes are really grim. There is a current settled plan to do two re-records of early material, and hopefully more will come up in future, so that the older stuff gets improved. I don’t want to erase my early fumblings, because it’s kind of interesting to listen to how a project like this develops, but, given the chance to replace some unlistenable, crackly, robotic-sounding skype interview with a well-balanced and somewhat-natural-sounding one, I’ll go for option two. Also, to be honest, there is at least one solo episode that just plain needs re-recording, since, though it’s not exactly full of errors, there is enough in it which is sort of vague and clumsy that I want to do it again. I reserve the right to maintain mystic silence as to which one(s), though.

It took a while to find the right rhythm for doing episodes, and I’m still not there yet. I definitely tried to fit way too much in in the early episodes: since our aim is to provide a resource for non-specialists, this was a failure. I’ve tried to slow down, learn to cover the basics more basically, and generally leave out some of the details. It’s short-story writing, not novel-writing. Also, as was pointed out to me by someone I trust, I need to shut up more in interviews and let my scholars do the talking on their specialisms. Nobody likes a know-it-all. So I’ve swallowed that pill and am trying to leave me out of it.

But another evolution has occurred which has been amazing: we launched the updated SHWEP format, with membership, and it has been a pretty wonderful experience. We’ve also launched this blog (which I’m not convinced anyone ever looks at, but that’s fine – I never read blogs either), and a few other bells and whistles like the ongoing SHWEP glossary, an FAQ page, a resource page (which aims eventually to be the single best source on the internet for quality research-materials on the history of western esotericism), and so forth.

For those totally unfamiliar, this is the deal with SHWEP membership: the idea is that the SHWEP will remain free for all in its main podcast incarnation, with something like weekly episodes (though see above for the reality), but that those who are into the idea of community-supported scholarship and have the means can sign up for a yearly membership. This supports us in our rather quixotic quest to continue this ridiculously-long project, and gives us an outlet for the extra material we often record after main interviews, which then become ‘members’ episodes’, along with other special material. Ideally, the members’ episodes are also where we dispense to some degree with our man-in-the-street approach, and let scholars go crazy, which is really cool, because a scholar of western esotericism going batshit bonkers is a wonderful thing indeed.

Thanks again to every single SHWEP member. My only complaint (but it’s not really a complaint, it’s a suggestion) is that so far people have been very shy about leaving comments on episodes. So if you are a member, please get stuck in. Please don’t bother saying that you like the episode or hate it, because no one cares, unless you have good reasons for this, in which everyone should know about it.

So: ‘This episode is fantastic!’

Thank you, but no one really learned much there.

However: ‘This episode really lacked any perspective on the genuine Egyptian material found in the Hermetica, as the work of Mahé, Fowden, and others has made abundantly clear that there really is an Egyptian core to these documents. I think Earl has succumbed to his own Hellenophile tendencies and ignored this stuff because he doesn’t understand it.’

Damn fine criticism! And true! Best of all, I can respond to it publicly, and potentially absorb it into a new-and-better than before episode, or do a supplementary episode, or what have you.

So please, members, do leave any musings about episodes in the comments section if there is an outside chance they might be interesting or provocative of debate.

What does the future hold for the SHWEP? There are some amazing interviews already in the bag and just awaiting their moment to pounce: alchemy afficionados will soon have their patience rewarded with a cracking interview on the Pseudo-Democritus; a series of episodes on dreams and other visionary states is fast approaching, featuring a number of amazing interviews; I plan to go back and add a ‘Western Esotericism for Absolute Beginners’ episode to accomplish what the introductory Episode 0 was supposed, but failed, to do, namely, give an overview of the subject to folks who really are hearing about this material for the first time. Episode 0 is way too crowded and assumes way too much knowledge of western history.

Looking at the SHWEP Provisional Timeline (yes, such a document does exist, under conditions of the utmost esoteric secrecy), in another years’ time we should be well into the Roman period and, in fact, stuck into Late Antiquity! There will be Jews, astrologers, we’ll start to see Christians, Gnostics, esoteric Platonist philosophy au-go-go, and lots more essential stuff, and it might be nice to celebrate episode 100 with a special episode introducing something BIG. I’ll let you guess what that might be. Mwahaha.

By the way, is anyone wondering how long the SHWEP project is going to go on for? Well, gentle reader, I’ll tell you: long enough that I sometimes ask myself, not if I can keep it up, but whether or not the current internet-infrastructure will survive that long (the podcaster in 2018 has to think seriously about the effect a sizeable civilisational shock would have on her project, because no one knows what the heck is going to happen in the near future, and that’s a fact). The current plan is about ten years, but new episodes keep getting added to the SHWEPPT (see above), and I think perhaps fifteen years might be the final tally. You are all invited to the party.

Until then, stay esoteric!