The On Dreams of Synesius of Cyrene is one of the finest pieces of esoteric writing to survive from antiquity. It preserves fragments of the Chaldæan Oracles, conveys fully fleshed-out theories of veridical imagination, dream-divination, and magic based on kosmic correspondence, and gives us other valuable details of antique occult lore. It is also self-consciously an esoteric piece of writing, and seems to be suggesting that it is a polytheist message-in-a-bottle to be read by future generations, once the dark times of Christian persecution have passed. So we read it.
Podcast Episodes Themed "Magic"
Episode 174: Noble Lies and Philosophic Silence: Hypatia, Synesius, and the New Esotericism in the Fourth Century
Fear, loathing, violence, and persecution. How does the philosopher operate under such circumstances? We look at the case-studies of Hypatia of Alexandria and her student Synesius of Cyrene, for some pointers.
As we near the end of our Julian and his Amazing Friends series, we dive back into the text of Eunapius of Sardis to excavate Maximus of Ephesus, the wonder-worker who became Julian's closest friend and advisor. What happens when the Roman empire is guided by the insights of a theurgist, his gods, and the stars? We find out in this episode.
We discuss the extraordinary late-antique novel of the early Christian church at Rome, known as the Pseudo-Clementine literature. Gnosticism, Jewish-Christianity, esotericism, scriptural and other forgery, and the problem of authenticity itself loom large as we quite improperly discuss a text meant only for true initiates.
Episode 153: Korshi Dosoo on Early Christian Magic
With papyrologist Korshi Dosoo as our guide, we explore the world of first-millennium Christian magic as it is found in the papyrus-records, both published and unpublished. Along the way we learn more about Christianity than we expected.
Episode 152: Prolegomena to Christian Magic
We set the stage for an examination of early Christian magical traditions, starting from the authoritative writings of the church fathers, who deny that there is such a thing as Christian magic, and insist that polytheist religion is the real sorcery. Then it turns out that there is lots and lots of Christian magic from late antiquity.
We explore the astral-demonic lore, the angelic medicine, and the many legendary stories recorded in the Testament of Solomon, and some of the manifold traditions which flow out from this legendary corpus. Come for the Testament, stay for the Pentagram!
Episode 147: Daniel James Waller on the Jewish Incantation-Bowls
We dive more deeply into the enigmatic corpus of late-antique Jewish ‘incantation bowls’ from Mesopotamia with the help of researcher Daniel Waller. We discuss the bowls as material objects, functional technology, and their place in late-antique Jewish culture.
Episode 146: Gideon Bohak on Late-Antique Jewish Magic
Gideon Bohak provides us with a superb introduction to the evidence for late-antique Jewish magic and to what that evidence tells us. Introducing the essential book of Jewish magic, the Sefer ha-Razim.
Episode 122: Radcliffe G. Edmonds III on the ‘Mithrasliturgie’
We discuss PGM IV 475-824, the famous ‘Mithrasliturgie’, with Radcliffe G. Edmonds III. Come for the immortalisation, divinisation, and visionary cosmic ascent, stay for the magical crocodile-surfing.
Episode 105: Other Hermetic Worlds: The Asclepius and Korê Kosmou
We discuss two world-building Hermetic texts from antiquity, the Latin Asclepius and the Korê Kosmou. We have seen Hermes as visionary pupil of the divine consciousness; now we see him as ancient esoteric sage, prophet of doom, and cosmic planetary deity.
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 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.
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.
Episode 65: Graeme Miles on Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana was a first-century wandering philosopher-sage, famous in later tradition as a great Pythagorean and wonder-working holy man. We look at the man himself and at his powerful myth.
In a three-part episode, we explore the writings known as the New Testament, looking for traces of the esoteric. As it turns out, this collection is full of promising material for developing an esoteric religious movement. We start with the Gospel of Mark and its theme of the ‘Messianic secret’.
The Jews in antiquity were busy doing rituals of all sorts, many of which scholars want to call magical. They were also seen by their neighbours as especially skilled at various ritual arts which the neighbours called magical. Naomi Janowitz discusses Jewish magic and the ‘Jewish Magi’ in antiquity.
Judaism starts to get seriously esoteric in the time known as the Second Temple period. This episode gives some basic historical points of reference for this era of Jewish antiquity, setting the stage for the visionary journeys, apocalyptic revelations, and magic to come.
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.
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.