We examine the Ascension of Isaiah, an important Jewish-Christian apocalypse of the second century with a long history in later esoteric Christianities. The text gives us important insights into the struggles within the early church for authority between visionary, prophetic inspiration and hierarchical canonicity, and the ways in which the early church dealt with the inconvenient fact that the Rapture hadn't happened according to schedule. It also presents a deluxe terrain of angelic palaces and thrones, themes of descent and ascent, and some juicy details relating to ascent as a spiritual practice in antiquity.
The main SHWEP podcast 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.
If you want to explore further, be sure to check out the SHWEP Oddcast, which features interviews with specialists that have not yet been integrated into the main SHWEP chronology.
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We take a deep breath before diving into detailed discussions of early esoteric Christianities to consider a few key terms and their historical development. What was orthodoxy? What was heresy? Who were the heresiologists, and what were they doing?
Members only: Michael Williams on Early Christian Heterodoxies
We put a number of impossible-to-answer questions about ancient demiurgic traditions in proto-Christianity to Professor Williams, and receive some fascinating answers.
Professor Michael Williams leads us on a tour of ‘Gnosticism’, both as a term (used and misused by ancient heresiologists, Reformation-era polemicists, modern scholars, and even modern ‘Gnostics’) and as a group of late-ancient religious texts which are very, very interesting, but which should probably not be called ‘Gnostic’.
Episode 79: Alone with the Alone: Numenius’ Metaphysics
We explore the philosophy of Numenius, in which we see the stirrings of a new type of apophatic discourse of transcendence which will come to be definitive of late antique metaphysics and theology.
We investigate the esoteric practice of one of Middle Platonism's most enigmatic figures, the great Numenius of Apamea.
Members only: Korshi Dosoo Papyrologises Magically
We let the tape roll and get deeper into the world of ancient magic in Egypt. How secret was this stuff? And what really went on when you invoked a god to visible appearance? κρύβε!
We speak with papyrologist Korshi Dosoo about the history, interpretation, and makeup of the body of documents known nowadays as the Greek Magical Papyri. It all starts in ancient Egypt, but it doesn't stop until Aleister Crowley and the Mormons have made an appearance.
Members only: Sarah Iles Johnston on Hekatē
In a special interview with Sarah Iles Johnston, expert on ancient Græco-Roman religion, relations between the living and dead, and theurgy, we discuss Hekatē, a fascinating goddess at the centre of the theurgic theory and practice of the Chaldæan Oracles and beyond.
Episode 76: The Chaldæan Oracles and Theurgy
We have looked at what kind of world the Chaldæan Oracles set forth. We turn now to the ways in which the adept navigates that world – through ritual, epiphanic visions, cognitive disciplines, talismans, and by leaving the body through breathing. This is theurgy, and esoteric religion in antiquity would never be the same again.
Episode 75: The Chaldæan Oracles
We introduce one of the most extraordinary and influential texts of antiquity for the history of western esotericism: the Chaldæan Oracles. We discuss questions of authorship (Julian the Theurge, the Gods, or the Soul of Plato?) and the mythic metaphysics found in the text.
Episode 74: I’m Not Sorry: The Apology of Apuleius
In this episode we discuss the defense-speech of Apuleius against charges of having used magic to make a wealthy widow fall in love with him. Roman law, sorcery, and philosophy collide in a rhetorical tour-de-force, and we discuss whether fish are magical or not.
Members only: Storytime: The Tale of Cupid and Psyche
At the heart of Apuleius' occult novel, the Metamorphoses, is one of the most influential esoteric allegories of the western tradition, the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. Join us in the wonderful literary place where fairy-tales meet metaphysical allegory.
Apuleius was a great Latin-language Middle Platonist writer, whose works preserve some fascinating esoteric materials which had a major impact on the development of western esotericism in the Latin middle ages and beyond. We introduce the man and his famous occult novel, the Metamorphoses, or Golden Ass.
We examine one of the strangest records of personal religious experience and divine epiphany from antiquity, the Hieroi Logoi of Ælius Aristides. Come for the incubation, dream-initiations, and miraculous powers, stay for the interminable descriptions of dyspepsia.
Members only: Daniel Harris-McCoy Lives the Dream
Further discussion of Artemidorus and his dream-divination in context and in practice. We talk about Artemidorus' relationship to other forms of divination, the political implications of dreams, and much more.
With an expert guide, we enter the labyrinth of second-century divinatory dream-interpretation. Artemidorus' Oneirocritica is the west's earliest surviving manual of dream-interpretation, and it's amazing.
Episode 70: Gil Renberg on Incubation
In antiquity the gods sometimes communicated with mortals through dreams. But sometimes the gods can be fickle; in cases like this, you need to head to the sanctuary and go see the god at home. You need ritualised dreaming, or incubation.
Episode 69: Plutarch’s Myths of Cosmic Ascent
In this episode we look at three different homemade myths found in Plutarch's writings. All of them deal with the fate of the soul after death, all of them put the land of the dead in the sky, and all of them are exceedingly difficult to interpret. We have seen Plutarch interpret a myth esoterically; now we see him making his own esoteric myths.
Episode 68: Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris
We look at Plutarch's tour de force of esoteric hermeneutics, the On Isis and Osiris. Egyptian myth meets Greek esoteric Platonism, and something new is born.