The Podcast

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 OneTwo 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.

Showing all episodes | View members-only episodes

Episode 14: Methodologies for the Study of Mysticism

How can we even talk about mysticism, if we define mysticism as a phenomenon involving ineffable experiences? This episode negotiates the mind-bending terrain of the study of mystical texts with the aim of getting our terminology straight.

Episode 13: From Mystery to ‘Mysticism’

What is the relationship between the ancient initiatory rituals known as mystery-cults and the modern concept of 'mysticism'? In this episode we survey the strange story of the conceptual development of the terms ‘mystic’, ‘mystical’, and ‘mystery’ down the ages.

Episode 12: Richard Seaford on the Mysteries

With the inimitable Prof. Seaford as our mystagogue, we explore the world of the ancient Greek mystery-cults, the crucial source for western esoteric tropes of secrecy, silence, initiation, and much more.

Episode 11: The Long Secret History of Judaism, Part I

The Jews and Judaism are at the very core of western cuture and of western esotericism. This episode touches on the history of the early Jewish peoples, introduces biblical criticism, and discusses some of the key contributions of Judaism to western esotericism.

Episode 10: Prayer to the Gods of Night: The Near-Eastern Roots of Astrology

The earliest known science of astrology developed in Mesopotamia as one and the same science as the first known astronomy. We chart the earliest known texts and their development.

Episode 9: Esoteric Orientalism Part II: The Greeks are Always Children?

The ancient Greeks tell us that they acquired their knowledge of disciplines like philosophy, geometry, and astronomy from their near-eastern neighbours. Were they right? This episode examines the evidence and some of the modern debates about the evidence.

Episode 8: Esoteric Orientalism Part I: Ancient Barbarian Sages

In part one of a two-part discussion of the roots of 'esoteric orientalism', we look at what we mean by 'orientalism' and introduce some of our favorite barbarian sages, including Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, and ... Moses.

Episode 7: We’re Together In Dreams: Dreaming and Western Esotericism

Dreams are perhaps the most important point of access to the otherworlds, and everyone has them. But they are especially important for the history of western esotericism. In this episode we talk about dreams, their relation to myths, and ancient theories about dreaming.

Members only: Daniel Ogden on Three Ancient Mages

Professor Ogden gets personal, discussing three wonder-working mages of antiquity whose legacy has reverberated down the ages: Apollonius of Tyana, Jesus of Nazareth, and Alexander of Abonuteichos. Come for the itinerant holy men, stay for the talking snake-god.

Episode 6: Magicians, Ghosts, Amulets, and Spells: Daniel Ogden on Græco-Roman Magic

Before there was the high magic of the western esoteric tradition, there was good old western magic. Daniel Ogden, a specialist in all things magical in antiquity, leads us through the labyrinth of magical practice in the Græco-Roman world.

Episode 5: Methodologies for the Study of Magic

So what is magic, anyway? If you think the way magic works is mysterious and occult, try defining what the word ‘magic’ means! This episode discusses some methodological problems with the term ‘magic’, and what we can (and can't) do about them.

Members only: Robert Bolton on the (Immaterial, Immortal) Soul

The idea of a soul, a unified centre of consciousness, arises at a specific time and in specific places which we can locate historically. But what if this was not an invention, but a discovery of what had always been there? Dr Robert Bolton discussed the a priori reasons which might lead one to know that the soul is real.

Members only: Seaford on Soul, Ritual, and Money

Professor Seaford gets serious.

Episode 4: Richard Seaford on the Origins of the Soul

The idea of an inner self, a soul, arises more or less simultaneously in Greece and India in the sixth century BCE. Why? Richard Seaford has a theory.

Members only: Kocku von Stuckrad on Western Esotericism

Kocku von Stuckrad, Professor of Religious Studies at the Universiteit van Groningen, reflects on the methodological issues involved in the study of (what is called) western esotericism, and on the academic field devoted to it in the larger academic context.

Members only: Matthew Melvin-Koushki on ‘The West’

What do we mean by 'the west' when we talk about western esotericism? In this special episode we discuss what a cogent model of the west might look like, in terms of the history of ideas, and arrive at a radical reorientation (or rather reoccidentation).

Members only: Wouter Hanegraaff on Western Esotericism

Professor Wouter Hanegraaff expands on the history of Renaissance Hermetism and gives an insider account of the history of the modern academic study of western esotericism.

Episode 3: Wouter Hanegraaff on Western Esotericism

Professor Wouter J. Hanegraaff, head of the Centre for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam, on researching western esotericism, the history of the field, and ‘rejecting the rejection of rejected knowledge’.

Episode 2: A Secret History of Secret History, Part II

We continue our survey of the history of western esotericism, from the medieval era to modern times. More esoteric cocktails are mixed and, in the process, we gain some insight into the contours of the later western esoteric traditions.

Episode 1: A Secret History of Secret History, Part I

A lightning summary of key major elements of western esotericism from late antiquity up to the middle ages, featuring a foray into the esoteric art of imaginal cocktail-mixing.