We explore the polemics and counter-polemics of Origen's Contra Celsum, with a particular eye toward the use (and abuse) of the esoteric as a strategy of tradition-building, exclusion, and totalising interpretation.
SHWEP is a roughly-chronological historical narrative: it starts way-back-when and moves forward from there. However, Episodes 0-4 are introductory materials. If you are a newcomer to the podcast, Episode Zero introduces the concept behind it. If you are a newcomer to the history of western esotericism, check out Episodes One, Two and Three, which provide a lot of useful background. If you want to skip the intro and start exploring the nitty-gritty of the history of western esotericism, start with Episode Four and go from there.
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An almost-unknown Middle Platonist philosopher named Celsus wrote the first-known anti-Christian polemical pamphlet some time in the later second century. This is The True Account. It is esoteric.
Members only: Claire Hall on Prophecy in Origen
Origen's theory of prophecy – what it is, how it works, who constitutes a prophet, and so on – is fascinating, but he never lays it out in a straightforward way. For that you need Dr Claire Hall and Jaffa Cakes.
Professor Reppmann delves into Origen's self-castration (yes, really), anathematisation, and reappearance as the quintessential Christian esotericist.
Episode 97: Aron Reppmann Introduces Origen of Alexandria
Professor Aron Reppmann introduces the life, thought, and esotericism of Origen of Alexandria, one of the greatest church-fathers, Platonist theologian par excellence, and revolutionary scriptural exegete.
Members only: Speaking the Silence: On Reading Apophatic Language
We explore the difficulties inherent in interpreting apophatic language if we take it really seriously. Expect roughly half an hour of complete silence.
As antiquity progressed, certain esoteric religious thinkers and philosophers came increasingly to doubt whether the nature of the highest reality could be expressed in words. They developed a new form of language to deal with the problem of talking about the ineffable: apophasis. We discuss speaking the silence in late antiquity.
Episode 95: The Third Century and (the Long) Late Antiquity
As the podcast enters the third century, we discuss the parameters of ‘late antiquity’, and what makes something ‘late-antique’. Special bonus material: the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire!
It may be that it is possible to have too much serious metaphysics, highbrow esoteric science, and all that sort of thing. Before entering late antiquity in full earnest, listeners may wish to pause for a moment with Lucian, antiquity's great debunker. We are guided by Professor Karen ní Mheallaigh, a great lover of the great lover of lies.
We discuss Clement's endgame, where the Gnostic encounters god face-to-face after a lengthy transformative evolution into higher and higher spiritual forms. Things get seriously esoteric.
Episode 93: Henny Fiskå Hägg on Clement’s Apophatic Writing
We speak with Professor Henny Fiskå Hägg about the apophatic theory and writing-practice of Clement of Alexandria, one of antiquity's finest exponents of the art of writing about that-about-which-nothing-can-be-written.
Members only: Storytime: Exploring Book V of the Stromateis, Part I
In the first of a two-part episode, we read through Book V of Clement's Stromateis, which contains, among other things, perhaps the fullest surviving exposition on types of esoteric discourse from antiquity. Come for the ainigmata and symbola, stay for Abraham the astrologer.
Clement stays esoteric. We examine the esoteric wisdom-lineages constructed by Clement, how he reads them, in the context of how he hides his reading of them. Plus, there seems to have been some genuine, contemporary esotericism going on in early Christianity.
We explore the esoteric writing methodologies of Clement's Stromateis – the innovative ‘public secrecy’, the reasons for Clement's esotericism, and the evocation of the mysteries and of the ineffable as aspects of esoteric rhetoric.
Members only: The Writings of Clement of Alexandria
The surviving oeuvre of Clement of Alexandria hides some complicated textual issues. In this episode, not for the fainthearted, we discuss the various lost works, fragments, and alleged forgeries.
We introduce the life and thought of Orthodox Christianity's favourite in-house Gnostic, the great Clement of Alexandria. Come for the philosophical, esoteric Christianity, stay for the progressive postmortem deification.
Episode 89: The Astrology of Vettius Valens
We examine the life, work, and legacy of Vettius Valens, second-century Roman astrologer and author of the Anthologies, the most hard-core practical handbook of astrological practice which survives from antiquity.
Episode 88: Claudius Ptolemy and the Tetrabiblos
We discuss Claudius Ptolemy (no relation), synthesiser of Hellenistic astronomy/astrology to the mediæval world and beyond, and his two great works, the Almagest and the Tetrabiblos. Come for the naturalistic account of astral causation, stay for the planetary talismans.
Episode 87: Numerical Mysteries: Nichomachus of Gerasa, Arithmology, and Second-Century Neopythagoreanism
Speculations about the properties of number have been a major constituent of some western esoteric traditions. In this episode we examine the most important source of much of this tradition of arithmological thought, first- and second-century Neopythagoreanism, and the writings of one crucial thinker in particular: Nicomachus of Gerasa.
Episode 86: Matteo Martelli on the Pseudo-Democritus
In the previous episode we surveyed alchemy from its beginnings to the present day; in this episode we go back to the roots. Matteo Martelli has produced the first critical edition of the fragments of the Pseudo-Democritus, our earliest-known work of alchemy. We discuss the secrets found within its pages.