Podcast episode

So What is Western Esotericism, Anyway?

This episode introduces the SHWEP project, designed to be a tool for anyone wishing to explore the often misunderstood or overlooked byways of western culture; the aim is to be accessible to anyone with an interest in the history of ideas, while maintaining a standard of evidence-based, reliable, and balanced scholarship which will make the podcast useful to high-level academic specialists as well. The SHWEP is a long-form historical investigation, starting from as far back in history as we can go and attempting to trace the genealogies of important streams of esotericism all the way from the beginning to the present day. By engaging in dialogue with leading experts and specialists in every branch of the amazing field of western esoteric studies, SHWEP aims to provide the most complete, detailed, and up-to-date resource for studying these currents available anywhere outside of formal academe.

This episode also discusses some of the dynamics of what we call ‘secret history’ by asking, and then answering, the question ‘What’s so “secret” about The Secret History of Western Esotericism Podcast?’ It also features a somewhat silly quiz on western esoteric history which makes a serious point about the ways in which inconvenient, unfashionable, or dangerous ideas can be erased from popular historical discourse.


Stop press! When researching history, we have to check our facts. Alert listener Steve has pointed out that my blithe reference in this episode to the derivation of the name of the Easter holiday from the Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess ‘Eostre’ may be a piece of modern folklore, as this Guardian article contends. The evidence is certainly sketchy, being based on a single reference in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Please accept as compensation the uncontroversial etymologies of the days of the week, derived from the names of heavenly bodies (Sunday and Monday) and pre-Christian Germanic gods Tîw (Tuesday), Woden (Wednesday), Ꝥunor (Thursday), and Friġ (Friday).

Works Mentioned in this Episode

  • Pound, Ezra, 1968. Guide to Kulchur. New Directions, New York, NY.
  • Yates, Frances A., 2003. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Routledge, London.
  • Idem, 2014. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Routledge, London.

Recommended Reading 

For an introduction to what’s out there, see Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Textbooks and Introductions to Western Esotericism. Religion, 43(2):178–200, 2013. The following are among the best surveys of western esotericism as a whole:

  • A. Faivre. Western Esotericism: A Concise History. State University of New York Press,
    Albany, NY, 2010.
  • Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction.
    Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.
  • W. J. Hanegraaff. Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum, New
    York, NY, 2013 [a solid introductory survey].
  • Idem. Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge and Western
    Culture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2012 [An important work that looks at the historical evolution of ‘western esotericism’ as an idea, locating it in the history of philosophy and post-Reformation religious debates in western Europe].
  • Glenn Alexander Magee, editor. The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and
    Esotericism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016 [A fine collection of essays on various topics which might be considered ‘weso’. Not exhaustive, but covers a lot of cool territory].
  • Kocku von Stuckrad. Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge. Equinox, London, 2003. Translated by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke [A discourse-analytic approach to the subject].


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