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 23: Miguel Herrero de Jauregui on Ancient ‘Orphism’

The elusive 'Orphics' of antiquity continue to present a puzzle to scholars after several centuries of debate and the discovery of amazing new evidence. Dr Miguel Herrero helps us to navigate the fascinating question of ancient 'Orphism'.

Episode 22: Severed Heads and Cosmic Eggs: Orpheus and Esotericism

The greatest musician of antiquity was also the founder of mystery-rites, the author of curious theological poetry, and the most famous man to make the journey to the underworld while still alive. In this episode we examine the myth of Orpheus and the Orphic myths.

Episode 21: Elementary: Empedocles and the Secret History of the Elements

Empedocles: the last great poetic philosopher of antiquity, and a cosmic thinker of mind-blowing ambition. This episode looks at his influential theory of the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – but magic, reincarnation, exiled gods, and cosmic catastrophe come into the discussion as well.

Episode 20: All for One, and One for All: Parmenides of Elea

Parmenides is the original philosopher of pure Being. And he learned all about Being from a goddess on a trip through the underworld. Philosophy used to be really interesting.

Episode 19: Riddle Me This: Heraclitus of Ephesus

Heraclitus was a combative, obscure, grumpy philosopher who thought everyone was stupid. He was also a pioneer in esoteric modes of discourse, being the earliest philosopher to write in 'riddles', and made several crucial contributions to western esotericism.

Episode 18: Don’t Spill the Beans: Pythagorean Silence

One of the key legacies of ancient Pythagoreanism is its mystique of esoteric silence. We examine the figure of the late-antique 'Pythagorean' philosopher, whose silence is a higher form of speech, and the dynamics of esoteric discourse which cannot, by definition, be revealed.

Episode 17: The Enigma of Pythagoreanism

The historical journey from a holy man specialising in soul-manipulation to a fertile philosophic movement innovating in advanced mathematics, astronomy, and harmonic theory is one of the stranger stories of western intellectual history. In this episode we tell it.

Episode 16: The Enigma of Pythagoras

Pythagoras of Samos is revered in the western esoteric traditions as the founder of mathematical mysteries, the discoverer of musical harmony, and the esoteric philosopher par excellence. We survey the earliest evidence and examine the ancient mystagogue and psychagogue who may have founded philosophy.

Episode 15: For the Love of Wisdom: The Birth of Philosophy

When we look at the origins of Greek philosophy, we rightly emphasise man's desire to understand the world and his place in it. But there was much more to it than that. Western philosophy begins with revelation, myth, and poetry.

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.