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metals into gold. However, on a deeper level, this and other practices were actually a highly symbolic means of achieving spiritual wholeness. Jung, who studied alchemy in great depth, insisted that it was the one form of esotericism which bridged the medieval gap between the disappearance of the Late Classical philosophies of the Greco-Roman world and their revival during the Renaissance.


Theurgy is magic, the techniques of manipulating hidden (occult) powers for the sake of achieving the magician’s ends and purposes. These may be benign or malignant. It is universal and takes on innumerable forms, but has been best described by Sir James Frazer in his monumental, multi-volume The Golden Bough. Frazer coined the term “sympathetic magic,” by which he meant the impact on a distant or vast reality of manipulating symbolic objects. Thus Navahos formerly made rain by rolling stones on a floor and dousing them with water. The most famous form of sympathetic magic (in this case black magic) is doing injury or slaying a distant enemy by sticking pins in a doll which represents the victim.


Divination, or scrying, is fortune telling, foretelling the future and also having influence over it by ritualistic and symbolic means. Familiar examples of divination in our culture are crystal-ball-gazing, tarot cards, teacup reading, and palmistry [cheiromancy]. All of these techniques, as well as other aspects of esotericism, are based on belief in the unity of reality: that symbolic clues abound in our own bodies and those of animals, in rocks, plants, weather patterns and all other aspects of nature. Those able to read the signs claim to be able to interpret future events as well as to determine present realities.

Other Influences

In part, western esotericism and occultism also derives from what is alleged to be “paganism” but is actually the recent invention of individuals such as Gerald Gardner, a British colonial official, who, after his retirement to England, invented Wicca or “witchcraft,” based largely on the writings of Margaret Murray. The latter was a woman Egyptologist who became fascinated with the witch mania of late medieval and early modern times. Her study of the evidence presented in witchcraft trials convinced her that the witches were the adherents of a widespread and well-organized movement which she called the “Dianic Religion,” allegedly a pre-Christian cult which was stamped out by the end of the seventeenth century. Gardner claimed to have met certain individuals who were secret adherents of this religion. When the dated Witchcraft Act of 1715 was finally abolished in Britain in 1958, Gardner openly published a book entitled Witchcraft Lives. Along with Murray’s now discredited The Witch-Cult of Western Europe (1924), the writings of the novelist Robert Graves, those of the English occultist Aleister Crowley, and others, a predominantly British school of esotericism arose during the 1960s which continues to flourish as Wicca or Neo-Paganism.

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