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The Theosophical Enlightenment (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions) (Suny Series, Western Esoteric Traditions) [Paperback]

by Joscelyn Godwin
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 28, 1994 079142152X 978-0791421529
This is an intellectual history of occult and esoteric currents in the English-speaking world from the early Romantic period to the early twentieth century. The Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky, holds a crucial position as the place where all these currents temporarily united, before again diverging. The book's ambiguous title points to the author's thesis that Theosophy owed as much to the skeptical Enlightenment of the eighteenth century as it did to the concept of spiritual enlightenment with which it is more readily associated.

The author respects his sources sufficiently to allow that their world, so different from that of academic reductionism, has a right to be exhibited on its own terms. At the same time he does not conceal the fact that he considers many of them deluded and deluding.

In the context of theosophical history, this book is neither on the side of the blind votaries of Madame Blavatsky, nor on that of her enemies. It may, therefore, be expected to mildly annoy both sides.

"As in all his former books, Godwin's style is not only elegant but clear and understandable. It lends itself to a pleasant reading by any person who, though being a layman in the field, has a minimal breadth of culture." -- Antoine Faivre, Sorbonne

"This is a wonderful work: witty, charming, erudite, profound. It demonstrates on the basis of extraordinary research and scholarship that the theosophical, spiritualist, and esoteric movements of the nineteenth century were significant in many ways we are only now in a position to realize." -- Christopher Bamford, Lindisfarne Press

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The Theosophical Enlightenment (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions) (Suny Series, Western Esoteric Traditions) + Western Esotericism: A Concise History (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions) + The Secret Doctrine
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Joscelyn Godwin is a Professor at Colgate University. His previous works include Arktos; Robert Fludd; Athanasius Kircher; Mystery Religions in the Ancient World; Harmonies of Heaven and Earth; The Mystery of the Seven Vowels; and L'Esoterisme musical en France.

Product Details

  • Series: Suny Series, Western Esoteric Traditions
  • Paperback: 462 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press (October 28, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 079142152X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0791421529
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,213,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book of all time . . . honest! December 27, 2004
This book was published over ten years ago and yet, as I write this, it has gotten only two reviews here on Amazon. It deserves far better than that, although I respect and agree with the reviews that precede this. But let me say a bit more.

The 19th century was a pivotal time, especially in the field of religion, spirituality, and inner experience. The beginnings of anthropology and the theories of Darwin threw conventional religion for a loop and induced many seekers to pursue the twilight zones of Spiritualism, the Occult, Theosophy, and Magic. Godwin takes the reader on a tour of the highways and byways of this milieu and does so in a delightfully droll manner. We are introduced to a marvelous cast of eccentric thinkers -- including those who were inclined to think that all religion could be traced back to "worship of the generative organs" as the Victorians put it.

Despite all my reading about the 19th century occult revival, I don't think I ever really got a handle on it in its totality until I read Godwin's book. I've found it invaluable ever since. In fact, I pull this book off the shelf every year or two and read it through again -- finding new things every time.

Were I forced to choose ten "desert island books" to take with me, this would head my list. No doubt this is not true for everyone, but if the names of Godfrey Higgins, Bulwer Lytton, Anna Kingsford, Emma Hardinge Britten, Madame Blavatsky, or Cagliostro ring a bell, then this is the book for you.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique work on an important topic March 4, 2000
This is an as yet unequalled study on an aspect of the cultural history of the West (and in particular of the English-speaking world) which has up to now been under-rated. The so-called occult, despite its important place in the dynamics of cultural interaction, has not been granted its proper place in history, not so much because of any particular "conspiracy" but rather due - paradoxically - to a "Victorian" view by which "history" is mainly or exclusively limited to political, military and economic problems. The early aspects of the impact of the Theosophical movement on Anglo-American culture have been documented here, and it is to be hoped that it will stimulate other researchers to explore this many-faceted topic.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A History of Occult Ideas and Personalities July 9, 2000
Godwin's work is vital for those who truly wish to understand Anglo-speaking occultism. While the book claims that the Theosophical Movement is more influenced by the skeptical Enlightenment, I do not find the evidence for that point compelling, since for Godwin what he means by "the Enlightenment" is really anti-Christian resentment. The book should be read as a history of occult ideas in the 18th and 19th centuries of Britain and America, not as a judge on the Theosophical Movement as a whole. As a history of that subject, it is wonderful, and no other books like it exist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Treat for Scholars of the Esoteric April 30, 2011
By 3.14pi
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While the scholarship of polyglots such as Godfrey Higgins, author of Anacalypsis, Bryant of Mythology fame, Blavatsky and many other industrious authors is as highly suspect as the conclusions drawn, it would be a mistake to dismiss them as outdated amateurs or outright charlatans. In such works as Anacalypsis, Furlong's Rivers of Life, and Isis Unveiled the reader finds epic achievements of the imagination. Aside from being invaluable collections of fragments from earlier authors, these books present a world view that attempts to include all knowledge in one logical system. Such works are the origin of classic Borges tale "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." Professor Godwin is a detective and an entertaining guide as he recovers threads of truth behind the rumors and exaggerations, the sworn secrecies of generations of seekers after light including not only rogue scholars but also practitioners of arcane arts such as the founders of the Order of the Golden Dawn.
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