- Paperback: 404 pages
- Publisher: Open Court Publishing Company (December 19, 1974)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812690737
- ISBN-13: 978-0812690736
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,361,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Occult Underground Paperback – December 19, 1974
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Webb begins by discussing the various movements which arose out of spiritualism. Spiritualism which made the claim to be able to communicate with the deceased had a fascinating prehistory beginning with mesmerism (of Franz Anton Mesmer), magnetism, and the teachings of the Swedish mystic Swedenborg. Spiritualism developed in America to include such figures as the Fox sisters, who notoriously engaged in spirit rappings and other activities supposedly making contact with discarnate spirits, and Andrew Jackson Davis, an early mesmerist. An important influence on spiritualist circles is the Society for Psychical Research, developed to emphasis a scientific approach to supernatural phenomenon. Following the discussion of spiritualism, Webb turns his attention to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 at Chicago, a World's Fair featuring representatives from the world's great religious traditions. This encounter between the various traditions gave the West a unique opportunity to imbibe the teachings and traditions of the East. Webb notes how Chinese participants viewed this as an opportunity for "self-strengthening" of their beliefs and traditions, while Japanese participants sought to reassert national independence. Webb also notes the presence of Indian participants, particularly the Swami Vivekenanda who played an important role bringing the Advaita Vedanta to the West. Webb also distinguishes these religious traditions from Christianity, which sought to proclaim its unique spiritual truth above other religions. Webb also turns his attention to various further developments within the world of religion, including the creation of the Baha'i faith, Mormonism, and Christian Science. Next, Webb turns his attention to the Theosophical Society of Madame Blavatsky. Webb explains the mysterious career of Blavatsky as well as mentioning the roles of others including Annie Bessant and Charles Leadbeater and the role of Krishnamurthi as a coming messiah (the Maitreya or "world teacher"). Webb next turns his attention to various apocalyptic movements that developed within Protestant Christianity as well as the Roman Catholic reaction, emphasizing papal infallibility and devotion to Mary. Webb also explains the problematic relationship between Roman Catholicism and freemasonry in particular. Webb also discusses various developments out of Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism in which individuals sought a return to tradition often at the fringes of their churches. Webb subsequently traces out the development of occultism in the Bohemia of nineteenth century Paris. He notes the occult practices of such individuals as Josephin Peladin (heavily influenced by the Catholic reaction as well as the Cabbala and Rosicrucianism), Stanislas de Guita, Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, and various decadent writers, poets, and artists including Baudelaire and Huysmans. Webb next devotes a substantial discussion to the history of the secret tradition, emphasizing its roots in primitive mystery cults, early Christianity, Greek philosophy including Plato and Aristotle, neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, medieval heresy and witchcraft, and culminating in the achievements of such Renaissance thinkers as Ficino. Webb also shows the conflict that arose between the underground and the establishment as well as the role of the druids and other primitive secret societies in the formation of the occult tradition. Webb next turns his attention to various figures in the occult revival including especially the emphasis on Poland and Polish Messianism. Such figures as the Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz, his spiritual master Andrei Towianski, and the mathematician-philosopher Hoene-Wronski came to play an important role in the development of Polish occultism. Under the influence of the Cabbala and Jewish belief, Poles came to regard themselves as a specially chosen people and to regard Napoleon as an important savior figure. Other occultists thoroughly discussed by Webb include the Abbe Constant (who was later to write under the name Eliphas Levi), an esoteric Christian socialist who wrote on magic and the Cabbala, Papus, Fabre d'Olivet, and Saint-Yves d'Alveydre. Webb also discusses the role of the Artist as a self-proclaimed elect. Webb next turns his attention to the spiritual in politics, including discussion of various pretenders to the throne following the period of the French Revolution. Webb also discusses the role of the occult in politics within England including discussion of the Celtic revival with particular emphasis on Irish, Scottish, and Welsh nationalisms. In this discussion, Webb mentions particularly the poet and Irish nationalist W. B. Yeats, who wrote on the "Celtic Twilight", as well as the Scottish nationalist Lewis Spence, who wrote on Atlantis. Finally, Webb turns his attention to various utopian schemes which played an important role among occultists. In particular, the figures of Saint-Simon and Fourier, both of whom advocated spiritual utopias, play an important role in this discussion. For Webb, utopianism represents an attempt by the occultist to translate the transcendent into the material world.
This book offers an excellent study of various occult individuals and their philosophies which played an important role in the development of the late nineteenth century. It offers the reader a rare opportunity to glimpse into the world of these figures who challenged materialism and rationalism during their time.
Thus begins Pioneering Occult Scholar Sir James Webb's 2-volume,1000 page historical survey of the 19th and 20th centuries respectively succeeding one another in this book and its successor fittingly entitled: 'The Occult Establishment'---originally entitled as a single vast work: `THE FLIGHT FROM REASON'. The Flight From Accepted Reason to Willed Imagination, or the great Occult Difference in the survival of the fittest from the dangerous.
Both texts are strong enough to stand entirely on their own as much as an enduring boxer jabbing at the ghosts of history in the mirrors of magical conjurations. Webb has become an underground legend in academic circles as well as more underground occult ones; to both scholarly historians and practitioners and dabbling dreamers he has uncovered the many hitherto unknown and un-addressed masked faces of European, American, and Russian Occult history in a way most likely never to be surpassed; but at best merely equaled for sheer verve and mind-staggering revelations throughout every page. In fact, there is a good sense of mythographic Rumors in circulation regarding his early death (1946-1980), said to have ended in madness to the effect that such was the result of his historical discoveries driving him beyond a scope the mind can deal with. But legends will always spring up around such scholarly figures who have the daring and the wisdom to seek out the truth for themselves in a way not unlike some real-life Fox Moulder without any backing but that of their own intelligence and heart, of which Webb had plenty of both. He is skeptical in a humoring way to his own astonishments as well as the reader's fancies, and writes from the p.o.v. of a well-reasoned scientific mindset Like the best of several other modern-day independent occult scholars such as Joscelyn Godwin who is the closest to Webb in this respect of there being no cruelty or direct and laudable ridicule of the LIVES he studies; in fact, the two men just named have that admirable sense of immense responsibility springing from a belief in the integrity of the work they are pioneering in the best way possible by assessing ALL their findings with a respect inborn in those who love the work they are doing. The result is that Webb's works, though definitely Historical tomes, are writ in such an expressive poetic non-fictional guise full of ingenious metaphors and lightning-flash insights that they are able to stand critique according to their rare literary merits independent even of their fascinating subject(s) (as the brief opening lines above are to exemplify for those interested parties reading this brief, shallow review)...in which they are insightfully steeped in that realm of 'MAGIC' which as Northwest University Professor of History and Religion, Richard Kieckhefer so well put: "is the Crossroads of History"---where most every facet of a given culture (such as Religion, science, medicine, the Arts and Politics foremost) come together in one vast scenic expanse of a magical landscape in constant flux the more a viewer penetrate into its interior.
There abounds in print references to Webb's work in probably 7 or more out of 10 works dealing with Occultic matters on a serious, scholarly level, both academic and/or independent (by which I mean these are in NO Way 'Conspiracy Theory pulpous editions; as ALL Webb's sources are fully listed in extensive annotated bibliographical format for each chapter...and what could be more serious than endeavoring to fathom the history of the world in every matter occultic? "Occult History" interpreted as being applicable to all that has been hidden, ignored, misunderstood or misrepresented, unacknowledged, rejected, lost, buried and/or intentionally destroyed in History? Or, in the other words of the mystics: 'To rend aside the veil of Isis for once and for All').
James Webb's books cost a fortune in the used book market, and rightly so are in great demand amongst those in the know, as evidenced by his wide references in innumerable works of the past 20 years in the burgeoning field of Western Esoteric Studies, quickly growing to be one of the fastest rising schools of its own in many nationwide State Universities and not just the private academic sector...So I am glad to see Open Court Press has wisely re-printed at least the first work. 'The Occult Underground' deals mainly with the 19th Century European Occult Revival, especially in the realm of the Arts, and centering of course of the Symbolists, Decadents, Aesthetes, and Romantics who would make of Art a religion at last. The Symbolist generation(s) being the culmination of millennia of Art History leading up to that pivotal moment when the Artist would become High priest or Mage in his own right, beyond mere social commentator or recorder, or Propagndic posturing for whatever Empire, to instead claim Art existing for the benefit of the individual in the context of cosmological proportions embracing all of Human History, and not exclusively standing for any one single country. The 'Unacknowledged Legislators of the World' finally came into their own at the turn of those two centuries numbers 19 and 20. Even in the midst of Nationalism, Symbolist Art embraced all that was beyond the borders as well, in an Art that communicated across continents in a universal Language without barriers, corresponding easily as astral doubles in a dream before God tore up the Tarot card with that tower of Babel on it. Webb goes into great depth especially in France where Artists found their definition in the realm of Occultism with which it merged forever. Eventually coming to give birth to all that grows in the Advanced Gardens of the twentieth century Avant-Garde, which begins in the last lines and tail end of this book, and's taken up at the horns of its Demon brother of the much darker and far more sinister 20th century world of the Occult of the 'Illuminated politics.