Sold Out

Periodical Occulture and the Occult Public Sphere

Event Information

Share this event

Date and Time

Location

Location

Birkbeck, University of London

Keynes Library, School of Arts

43 Gordon Square

London

WC1H 0PD

United Kingdom

View Map

Friends Who Are Going
Event description

Description

Limited tickets are available for the second of three themed workshops on the influence of occult beliefs, themes, and figures on British popular culture between 1875-1947. This workshop is led by Prof. Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck), and concentrates on periodical occulture and the occult public sphere.

All are welcome, but spaces are limited. If you have any specific dietary or access requirements, or general queries, please email the team at popocculture@stir.ac.uk.


Schedule:

09.30 - 9.45: Introduction and Welcome

09.45 - 11.45: Panel I: Defining and Mapping the British Occult Press

Chair: Christine Ferguson

  • R.A. Gilbert (Independent Scholar), “Thinking Sideways: Pitfalls in the Periodical Labyrinth and How to Avoid Them”

  • Michael Shaw (University of Glasgow), “The Theosophical Press in Scotland”

  • Egil Asprem (Stockholm University), “Science in the Early Twentieth-Century Occult Public Sphere: The Case of H. Stanley Redgrove”

11.45 - 12.45: Lunch Break

12.45 - 14.15: Panel 2: Tabloid Sensation and Mail-Order Magic

Chair: Roger Luckhurst

  • Nick Freeman (Loughbrough University), “The Daily Beast: Black Magic and the Popular Press”

  • Marc Demarest (IAPSOP), “Latent Powers, Latent Demand: A Look at the Mail-Order Occult in Anglo-American Culture, 1895-1920|

14.15 - 14.30: Coffee Break

14.30 - 16.00: Panel 3: Public Privacies

Chair: Andrew Radford

  • Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck, University of London), “Negotiating the Public and Private in The Ghost Club”

  • Catherine Anyango (Konstfack), “Beyond the Border: Visualizing Ghosts from Spirit Photography to CCTV”

Abstracts:

R.A. Gilbert (Independent Scholar), “Thinking Sideways: Pitfalls in the Periodical Labyrinth and How to Avoid Them”

Researching the ‘occult press’ of the period appears deceptively simple, but the problems arise from the outset: what are the parameters of ‘occultism’, and what constitutes an ‘occult periodical’ ? How do we identify relevant titles, and locate and access surviving files? And once we have them in our hands, how do we survey and assess the contents (which are rarely indexed, and just as rarely digitized)?

These problems are daunting, but they can be solved and armed with the answers we can proceed – cautiously and carefully – to consider the aims, motives and complex inter-relationships between all of the people involved in creating these periodicals: the editors, contributors, publishers, printers, advertisers, booksellers and readers, and their potential and actual affiliation to specific occult communities.

Thus informed we can begin to draw meaningful conclusions about the role of the ‘occult press’ in creating, promoting and perpetuating a culture of occultism.

Michael Shaw (University of Glasgow), “The Theosophical Press in Scotland”

This paper discusses the Theosophical periodical press in Scotland c.1880-1920, and it argues that these periodicals reveal a particular Theosophical culture in Scotland. Focussing on two titles that were unique to Scotland, Theosophy in Scotland and Occult, Scientific and Literary Papers Read at the Scottish Lodge, I demonstrate that these Theosophical periodicals contributed to Scottish artistic movements, including the Scottish Celtic Revival, and promoted Theosophy in Scotland by consistently speaking to Scottish events and affairs. I argue that Scotland’s Theosophical press echoes the (successful) movement to establish a distinctive Scottish ‘National Section’ of the Theosophical Society, as well reflecting the intersection between Theosophy and the Home Rule movements at the turn of the century – commenting on Annie Besant’s support for Scottish Home Rule. The paper highlights the amorphous nature of Theosophy and the Theosophical press across the British Isles and reveals the deficiencies of Anglo-centric and metro-centric approaches.

Egil Asprem (Stockholm University), “Science in the Early Twentieth-Century Occult Public Sphere: The Case of H. Stanley Redgrove”

This talk will examine the reception of scientific discourse in the occult public sphere through the case of H. Stanley Redgrove’s (1887–1943) extensive notes, letters, essays, and book reviews in The Occult Review. Redgrove was a prolific, well-read, and often perceptive participant in the British occult public sphere of the early twentieth century. He contributed no fewer than 244 items to The Occult Review alone between 1908 and 1940, on topics as diverse and wide-ranging as the history of alchemy, mathematics, modern physics and chemistry, contemporary philosophy (he reviewed Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1923), and standard occult topics such as Rosicrucianism, hermeticism, mysticism, ritual magic, astrology, psychical research, and spiritualism. A chemist by training, Redgrove also published textbooks in mathematics and physical chemistry, authored the influential Alchemy: Ancient and Modern (Rider & Sons, 1911), and a work of amateur neo-Baconian and idealist philosophy entitled The Magic of Experience: A Contribution to the Theory of Knowledge (1915). On top of this, Redgrove was also a founding member and president of the short-lived Alchemical Society (1912–1915), significant for its blended membership of historians, occultist practitioners, and scientists.

Redgrove’s production showcases the fluid borders between the “occult” and the “popular-intellectual” public sphere of the period, but it also draws attention to internal skirmishes in the occult discourse on “science”. On the one hand, there is often little that separate the authors of occultist periodicals from esteemed scientists and philosophers who write for a bigger audience in terms of the issues that interested them (the nature of life and mind, the relation between mind and matter, the possibility of life after death, supernormal abilities, and so forth). On the other, participants in occult discourses often sought legitimacy by aligning ideas with the prestige of “cutting-edge science” – a risky strategy at a time when the bar of scientific literacy was rapidly rising. Often performing the role of the critic, Redgrove’s voice in occultist debates over science highlights both the controversial nature of science in the occult sphere, and the connections with mainstream intellectual discourses.

Nick Freeman (Loughbrough University), “The Daily Beast: Black Magic and the Popular Press”

This paper looks at the ways in which the British tabloid press represented occultism, particularly ‘black magic’, from the early 1900s to the outbreak of the Second World War. Its central focus will be the representation of Aleister Crowley in the Sunday Express and elsewhere, but it will go beyond him in exploring how journalistic accounts of occult practices provided the reading public and popular novelists with a hotchpotch of rumour and half-truth that quickly mutated into a new strain of gothic fiction. Investigating the intersection between Fleet Street, fiction, and fantasy, the paper will also briefly consider the enduring legacy of the black magic bogeyman, a figure who, as Wiltshire police’s recent investigation, ‘Operation Conifer’ demonstrates, is still very much with us.

Marc Demarest (IAPSOP), “Latent Powers, Latent Demand: A Look at the Mail-Order Occult in Anglo-American Culture, 1895-1920"

The enterprise of the Anglo-American occult, from the 1820s until the 1890s, was significantly involved with the search for a scalable business model: a way to make the occult pay its practitioners a living wage, or better. By the end of the 1880s, occult practitioners had, for the most part, failed to find that scalable business model, and their raw materials – occult knowledge and practices – had been at least partially appropriated by normal science as an object of increasingly formalized study, much of it implicitly hostile.

Beginning in 1895 or so, a loose network of occult practitioners and promoters – many of them graduates of newer business colleges – began exploiting the scientific professionalization of the occult, the emerging schools of psychology, and novel techniques in mail-order demand creation and demand fulfillment, to build massively scalable occult businesses focused on the development of the latent powers of the individual, that reached millions of potential buyers globally, and that made their founders both wealthy and, ultimately, socially valorized.

In this talk, Marc Demarest looks at the businesses of three of these mages – E. S. Prather (E. E. Knowles), Sidney Weltmer, and E. Virgil Neal (X. Lamotte Sage) -- providing an overview of the social network that spread these innovative commercial practices, and some examples of the ways these businesses were created, and scaled.

Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck, University of London), “Negotiating the Public and Private in The Ghost Club”

This after-dinner society was set up in 1882 by Spiritualist Stainton Moses and occultist A. A. Watts. In the 1890s, it was dominated by the chemist and Spiritualist, Sir William Crookes, a long-serving president. For 54 years, the ‘Brother Ghosts’ met in West End restaurants during the season. The expectation of membership was to narrate a ‘true’ ghost story at least once a year. Being a society of gentleman, it appointed a secretary and every meeting was carefully minuted, leaving behind 5000 pages of records and a unique insight into this London social circle.

The Club was expressly designed to offer a private sphere for uncontested belief, and was thus a counter-strike against the scientific, empirical and very public thrust of the Society for Psychical Research. The Club’s members and guests included Conan Doyle, W. B. Yeats, Sir Harry Johnstone, Sir William Richmond, and many others. I am interested in tracking the interaction of the private performance of ‘true’ ghost narratives in the context of the occult public revival.

Catherine Anyango (Konstfack), “Beyond the Border: Visualizing Ghosts from Spirit Photography to CCTV”

In July 1893 W T Stead established the quarterly review of psychic phenomena Borderland, in order to reach an audience made up of ‘the great mass of ordinary people.’ This is the space in which forensic science finds itself today - democratised by popular media and existing in a time where the public space of crime is recorded not only by official channels but by the great mass of ordinary people on mobile devices.

This paper considers the influence of psychical research and spirit photography on my drawing practice which deals with the effects of emotional disruption of public space through violent deaths. My drawing series Last Seen documents the last recorded image of a person before their disappearance or death, based on CCTV, police photography, and the records of passersby. Spirit photography and drawing are forms of ‘evidence’ - a way of rendering events with realism, while also portraying a hidden dimension. In these drawings, pencil is used to literally distress the surface of the paper until it disintegrates, creating a subjective reconstruction of the event. In this way, like spirit photography, they portray ghosts, but also other dimensions of the seen and unseen: the systemic oppressions that lead to these violent encounters, the characters who until their deaths have been marginalised and underrepresented.

Share with friends

Date and Time

Location

Birkbeck, University of London

Keynes Library, School of Arts

43 Gordon Square

London

WC1H 0PD

United Kingdom

View Map

Save This Event

Event Saved