The Fifth Annual Report of the SHWEP

Solstitial greetings, friends of the SHWEP!

Yes, it’s that time again: time for the annual report, when we reflect on the year that was and make incorrect predictions about the year to come. I officially give up: 2023 is upon us, and we’ve still not got to the great Proclus, never mind The Emperor and others we blithely mentioned in our retrospectively-hilarious prediction from last year, to wit:

“2022 should get us – here we go, making predictions again – comfortably into the fifth century. In fact, the Proclus-prediction of two years ago looks like finally coming true! “

No, gentle readers, Proclus is still not here. Three years and counting. I’m beginning to feel that Proclus is some kind of asymptotic goal on an ever-receding SHWEP-horizon.

What did we do this year that was so important that the SHWEP is still teetering on the brink of the fourth century? Well, one thing we did was go back and do four members’ episodes on the esoteric in the New Testament; that had to be done, we should have done it at the time, and now it’s done, so that’s good (except for the promised episode on the question of early Christian esotericism, which is still to come). We also put out eleven or so episodes on aspects of Iamblichus’ thought, theurgy, and so on; no one will blame us for that. That led to arithmology, and we did a round-up of that stuff in late antiquity, accompanied by an Oddcast interview with Juan Acevedo on alphanumericism au go-go, which is the bomb.

We then got into the late-antique magic material, and here there is suddenly a whole lot of stuff to go on – incantation-bowls, curse-tablets, magical manuals like the Sefer ha-Razim and Testament of Solomon – so we spent a bunch of time there. I started out doing this podcast not really all that interested in magic, but in covering this late-ancient material (and speaking to some inspiring experts like Korshi Dosoo and Gideon Bohak) I have gotten seriously interested in magic, to the point that we are organising a series of special magic-oriented interviews on different aspects of magic for 2023. There’s a prediction I can stand by, because, barring disasters, the first episode in that series – discussing the relationship between magic and illusion – is scheduled to go down today! So there.

One of the best things that happens to me doing this podcast is organising an interview and then the interview is ten times more interesting than I could have expected, and my mind is blown repeatedly in the process. This happened to me twice very recently: our interview on early Syriac asceticism with Paul Pasquesi is, in my opinion, one of the best we have ever done, and features a bunch of sound, but creative and bold, thinking on the subject which you won’t find anywhere in print. Superb stuff from Pasquesi. Then there is the two-part interview with Charles Häberl on the Mandæans, part one of which goes live today; this stuff is well-published, but not particularly well-known outside the (shockingly) small group of specialist scholars who study the Mandæans, and of course outside of the Mandæans themselves. This latter fact – the fact that the Mandæans are alive and well and Gnostifying in a late-antique way a millennium and a half after the Gnostics are meant to have disappeared, and the fact that a few epic scholars like Charles Häberl are engaging with them as a living Gnostic tradition – this just makes me very, very happy.

Also, the Satan-unicorn interview with Korshi Dosoo was unforgettable.

Not too many collaborations happened this year here at SHWEP HQ, but there is one I can’t wait to hear: a fellow called Craig Brewer does an occasional podcast called Weird Christmas, covering all manner of lore and weirdness to do with the first global holiday, and he reached out to me a few years ago to see if I’d like to do something on the eso side of Christmas. I couldn’t think of anything to do, so a couple years went by, but then this year we realised that, since I am knee-deep in the Christianisation of the Roman empire, in solar cult, in all that good stuff, maybe we should do an interview on the whole idea that ‘Christmas is actually a pagan holiday that the Christians stole’. I hit the books, discovered a lot of stuff I didn’t know before (like the fact that, just like with Christianity itself, we don’t really know where Christmas comes from), and Craig and I talked for a long while about how, while Mithras, sadly, isn’t the reason for the season, there is an awful lot of telling circumstantial evidence that puts the imperial cult of the Unconquered Sun, with its solar birthday-celebration of 25 December, at the heart of the matter. [and voilà, here is the podcast!]

Coming soon (we promise): Zosimus of Panopolis, where alchemy gets really interesting, and you start to see why they call it the Hermetic Art. The Cappadocian fathers, Evagrius of Pontus, and the whole Origenistic strain within fourth-century Christianity, which lies right at the root of ‘Christian mysticism’. A sprinkling of astrology. The Emperor, of course (we went ahead and posted our epic two-parter on Julian with heavy metal classicist Jeremy Swist over in the Oddcast, but there is more to say about late antiquity’s most heavy metal emperor). Sallustius. Synesius. And maybe, just maybe, Proclus.

Get thee behind me, Proclus!

Huge thanks to our contributors. Huge, huge thanks to each and every SHWEP member; you make this project possible.

Much love, and peace to all for an esoteric 2023