Second Annual Report of the SHWEP

Dear Friends,

It’s been another year doing this project – we started some time mid-November 2017 – so let’s see what’s up. First of all, huge thanks are due to a few folks.

Big up the ILK, as always, without whom &c.

Huge thanks to Alan, a prince among the men of middle earth.

Big up every single member of the SHWEP, old and new. We’ll talk about membership and how it’s going in a bit, but for now – thank you for your support! It means a lot, and it means the coffee keeps flowing here at SHWEP HQ. Shout out to Stephen R. for being cool. Special thanks to our group members, the University of Exeter Magic and Esotericism Research Group and the Junto Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Thanks to all the scholars who have generously donated their time and expertise this year.

The Year in Output

Now, then; the bad news first. Episodes. As you know, the SHWEP is meant to be a roughly-weekly affair. This year shewed a certain – ahem – freedom with the term ‘weekly’. Last year ended with episode 48 on Neopythagoreanism. We started up year 2 with 49, Second Temple Judaism, and have just posted 77 on the PGM. That’s only 29 episodes! However, we add 7 members’ episodes and 6 blog posts (5 of which are solid interviews, and one of which is a discussion of the ESSWE conference in Amsterdam, so I’ll count that as an ‘episode’ of sorts) which gives us 42. So we are ten episodes short of our target of 52.

In Year Two we’ve had a book under contract and a full-time academic research-position. This year, 2019-2020, we still have the job, but the book is out the door, so in principle things will ease up a bit. At any rate, our resolution is to get a solid 52 episodes done this coming year, ideally with some extras to make up for the present shortfall. Many thanks, again, to all our patient members. We have about ten episodes recorded that aren’t out yet, so this gives us a nice head start (especially nice when you realise that we have talked to leading authorities on alchemy, esoteric Christian patristics and the Hermetica, among others. There is some gold waiting to drop).

The Year in Community

Now for the good news. We’ve had an increasing amount of feedback from listeners – the comments sections have started to mushroom, which is (usually) great, and it soon became clear that SHWEP listeners often have more of a mini-essay in mind than a comment when they sit down to reflect on an episode, so we have added a collapse-feature to comments above a certain length to cut down on scrolling. Shout out to Johannes Drever, who has set up a reddit page for discussions around the SHWEP – I don’t think there’s much action there yet, but I suspect it will come into its own; the main website itself didn’t get any real comments for the first year, until someone broke the ice. Do get involved!

There have been some humbling instances of listener feedback and collaboration. We hit the academic conferences last summer, and met some SHWEP-listeners along the way, which is of course a delight. But some folks are using the SHWEP as assigned material in undergraduate teaching-syllabus; that’s the business. In the non-academic world there is appreciation, too, with a few folks getting in touch saying that they’ve been looking for a historicising, primary-research-based approach to this material for a long time (or words to that effect — they probably didn’t say ‘historicising’), which I guess is kind of a vindication of the original idea, that there wasn’t anything exactly like that out there, and thus a hole waiting to be filled. We’ve made some friends in this process, which can’t be overvalued, and hooked back up with some old faces that we haven’t seen in too long.

My official favourite listener feedback from 2019, however, comes from the number of Freemasons who have gotten in touch, whose interest in the podcast comes from the fact (I’m sort of summarising here) that they joined a Masonic lodge looking to connect with an ancient tradition of spiritual thought and ended up in a bowling-club surrounded by some symbolism that no one really bothered about. There seems to be an up-and-coming wave of younger Masons who are interested in the western esoteric traditions, and – although they like bowling, and who doesn’t? – want to get into what all these square-and-compass motifs &c. are really about, and are finding the SHWEP useful for some background information. We’ve also encountered some more freewheeling esoteric practitioners of various sorts who also dig the SHWEP, which is great (yes, I’m talking to you, magicians). And so far we’ve had only one complete and total nutter get in touch, which is surprising and heartening. We may be too boring for the eso-lunatic fringe; our strength is in the Lord and our armour is the droning, monotonous fact-based narrative.

The Masonic connection has led to the first instance of somebody interviewing us for a change – I got to chat with a bunch of fellas from Pennsylvania who do the Masonic Lite Podcast. We’ll link to that conversation when it appears. We mostly talked about ascent and descent symbolism. Thanks guys; I appreciate you taking time off from your busy schedule of running the New World Order to interview me!

Last but not least in this section, Membership. Folks, I love the model of community-sponsored scholarship. In terms of numbers (is it declassé to talk about this? Too bad), we are a little more than half way to a membership that would provide a basic income upon which one could quit the rat-race and do the podcast full time. Again, humbling. As we near the end of our current paid research-gig we might try to figure out how to do a subscription-drive of some kind (probably we’d just do a blog-post saying ‘Please get a mate to sign up’ – we definitely will not be putting little begging-letters at the beginning of episodes, as that is wack as hell). I will say now that a few more Group Memberships would really set us up properly, so if anyone out there has access to university or other organisational purse-strings, get in touch; we can do a deal where your whole undergraduate class (or Masonic Lodge or Theosophical study-circle, or Coven, or Knitting Bee, or whatever) gets full membership – obviously there’s a discount (in proportion to how much money you can get away with giving).

Going Forward

Last year we wrote:

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.

Mwahaha indeed. This is pretty much how things have turned out and, although Episode 100 is still a ways away, we already have a BIG interview recorded for that one, so hurrah. We haven’t yet really seen any Gnostics, but they are waiting in the wings – we shall be meeting the dreaded term ‘Gnosticism’ in short order, along with some important early Gnostics like Basilides and Valentinus. Oh, and Clement, a Christian who is always going on about the importance of being a Gnostic.

So let’s risk some predictions for the coming year. 2019-2020 will see some crucial strands of western esotericism brought into the conversation, including Gnosticism, alchemy, early esoteric Christianity, and a few other major developments. On the current SHWEP Provisional Timeline, we will in fact be well into late antiquity by the end of the year, talking about the great Proclus the Successor! However, some intervening material, such as the epochal work of Plotinus, will definitely expand beyond its current single-episode format, so we might not make it to Proclus, although we should be well on our way.

Mwahaha. Stay esoteric.