The Sixth Annual Report of the SHWEP

Solstice greetings!

It is that time again, when we look back on the old year of doing the podcast and look forward to the next year, while cracking jokes about never getting to Proclus. But things are changing here at the SHWEP, as you shall see, Gentle Reader, and the old Proclus-jokes are perhaps finally coming to an end.

2023 was an incredible year for the academic study of magic. Two, count ‘em, two new graduate-level programmes were set up in the study of magic and occult sciences – one at the the University of Exeter, one at the University of South Carolina – and we were unfathomably fortunate to have Emily Selove and Matt Melvin-Koushki in the studio together to talk about these programmes, which they were instrumental in bringing into existence. The academic study of magic is also in the air in terms of vaultingly-ambitious, well-funded, serious collaborative research-projects at major European universities. We have interviews scheduled with key investigators on these initiatives early in the new year. The ‘scholar/practitioner divide’ is visibly cracking, and I doubt it will really outlive the next few years in serious scholarship in the field of western-esotericism studies, although it will doubtless limp on, in a zombielike half-life, for decades to come.

2023 saw us discuss some wonderful things. We covered Zosimus of Panopolis – not the first alchemist, but the first alchemist with the whole package, from chemistry to metaphysics and lots of occult lore filling the cracks between the two. We were especially fortunate to have some of the leading specialists on Zosimus on the show. We covered the third-and-fourth-century polytheist intellectual resistance to the rise of Christianity as well as a bunch of fascinating Christians. There are these ‘sides’ being drawn in late antiquity, and then, when you read the works of the foremost proponents of either faction, the boundaries either dissolve entirely or are not in the places you thought they’d be. Where does Synesius of Cyrene stand on the ‘pagan/Christian divide’? Synesius blew my mind this year, incidentally, and if I could recommend to listeners that they go and read one work that we covered this year, and it had to be just one work, it would definitely be Synesius’ On Dreams, available for free online through the good offices of Mohr Siebeck in a sweet English translation, so do yourself a favour and check out that masterpiece. We just finished with Augustine of Hippo, a man who maybe did more to make esoteric Christianity suspect for later generations than any other writer, and in many other ways just ruined things for everyone in western Europe forever, but then there is so much more going on in Augustine than that sentiment would indicate, and the kind of societal collapse he was living through makes people do extreme things in the interests of trying to salvage anything at all.

Some stand-out interviews for me this year (aside from the Melvin-Koushki-Selove tête-à-tête) were Mathieu Ossendrijver, who showed me around the research-HQ of the ZODIAC project in Berlin and explained the path-breaking research they are getting up to, and Karin Valis, whose work on artificial intelligence and magic is astonishing. Noah Gardiner on al-Buni and not-al-Buni was another standout piece. Joel Kalvesmaki on Evagrius was disgustingly good. I loved Michæl Motia on Gregory of Nyssa. If listener-responses are anything to go by, Stephen Cooper on Marius Victorinus was maybe the favourite interview of the year; or it might be a dead heat with Jason Storm on disenchantment and its discontents. I loved speaking with both those gentlemen.

We’ve invested a bit of time in going back and filling some gaps – we covered Cicero’s Dream of Scipio a few weeks ago; our series on Latin Platonists of various stripes is up to the great Macrobius, but the text we really want to cover is Macrobius’ Commentary on Cicero’s Dream, and how can you do that without introducing the Dream itself? We have covered Plato’s Myth of Er in the Republic, Cicero’s Dream, and now, hopefully, Macrobius’ intervention at the end of antiquity will make sense in terms of the vast scope of tradition he is drawing on. After Macrobius, we will be covering the incredible Martianus Capella (we have a great interview already in the can with Martiana Maisel, devotée of Capella’s late-antique world of philosophic grammar and kosmic ascent). The Cicero piece raised another nagging hole in our coverage, and so we also have gone back and revisited Poseidonius of Rhodes, a ‘Middle Stoic’, and tried to tease out his importance for the history of western esotericism, another one I’ve been meaning to do for years and only now got around to, when forced by Macrobius. That should be out next week.

[By the way, there is a technical reason that all of these ‘back in time’ episodes are members’ only episodes, in case anyone is wondering. Normally we put anything which is kind of of ‘essential basics of the esoteric traditions’ in the available to all section of the podcast, and save the members’ episodes for more detail-y, more technical and jargonistic, more nerdcore material, or excursus on weird points of controversy of interest to only a small subset of our already pretty self-selected listenership. However, once a numbered episode has gone out in the RSS feeds (whatever they are – some kind of servitor-daimōn, I believe), you can’t go back and mess with the numbering; there can be no Episode 65.5 between Episodes 65 and 66, nor can Episode 65 abide any presumptuous usurper taking his number, so that there are two Episode 65s side by side. So I have perforce made a few more members’ episodes than I would have liked. The answer in an ideal world would be better planning in the first place, but ….]

And this brings us to the dreaded Quæstio Procleana. Will the SHWEP ever cover Proclus? Well, long-suffering listeners, the answer is, really, for the first time with total certainty, yes, this year we shall be covering Proclus if the Good Lord spares us for the task. How can I be so sanguine, when in so many previous annual reports I have vainly prognosticated like an astrologer with a textually-corrupt set of Handy Tables? In Episode 100 we introduced Hermes and the Corpus Hermeticum, long-time listeners will recall; we have a similarly-momentous – and post-Proclean – topic set aside for Episode 200. We are about to post Episode 181 on Macrobius; we thus need to fit in a number of crucial thinkers, including Proclus, Damascius, and the Pseudo-Dionysius, into the next twenty episodes. Proclus and the Pseudo-D are going to need multiple episodes. Then there are many important late Platonist thinkers whom we must cover, even if only in a single episode: Plutarch of Athens, Syrianus, Hierocles, Olympiodorus, Simplicius, Philoponus, and more. Then there are late-antique esoteric Christians aside from the pseudo-D. We shall do our best to cover all of these currents and more between now and Episode 200. We shall need to up our conciseness game.

Speaking of deadlines, for a few years now people have been asking for the SHWEP ‘merch’. I thought, yes, let’s give the people what they want, but instead of going to one of these generic ‘’ type firms, I decided to limber up the old squeegee, set up a screen-printing workshop with a friend, get a press, make some screens, and print 150 t-shirts. The plan was to have a web-shop up by now so as to sell these esoteric sartorial delights in this yuletide season of consumption-frenzy; in reality everything was in place except the web-shop, due to unforeseen hiccups. SHWEP t-shirts do exist, both the standard ‘stay esoteric’ model and two limited-edition runs of 15 shirts each, design to be disclosed in due course. All are old-school, hand-printed t-shirts that will remind anyone who lived through punk rock in the ‘nineties of many great nights out. As soon as the web-shop is up they will be on sale, and if you want to be sure not to miss it, feel free to click the ‘subscribe by email’ button at the bottom of the SHWEP homepage, and you’ll get the announcement in your inbox. Hopefully we can use the web-shop going forward as a venue for selling some creative things which may arise as they come into our heads.

It remains only to thank all those who contributed interviews to the show, and, of course, to thank our members from the bottom of my esoteric heart. Believe me when I say I know how much the inflation is pinching, and so I appreciate all the more the incredible community of folks getting behind community-supported scholarship. Stay with us.

Wishing all our listeners a superb and esoteric new year.