Place of Enchantment

Bok av Alex Owen
Exploratory sex magic. Experimentation with mind-altering drugs. Astral travel. Alchemy. Alex Owen's new book, The Place of Enchantment, situates these seemingly anachronistic practices squarely alongside revolutionary understandings of rationality in a compelling demonstration of how a newly psychologized magic operated in conjunction with the developing patterns of modern life. By the end of the nineteenth century, Victorians sought rational explanations for the world in which they lived. The radical ideas of Charles Darwin had shaken traditional religious beliefs. Sigmund Freud was developing his innovative models of the conscious and unconscious mind. And anthropologist James George Frazer was subjecting magic, myth, and ritual to systematic inquiry. Why, then, in this quintessentially modern moment, did late-Victorian and Edwardian men and women become absorbed by metaphysical quests, heterodox spiritual encounters, and occult experimentation? In answering this question for the first time, The Place of Enchantment breaks new ground in its consideration of occultism in British culture prior to World War I. Rescuing occultism from its status as an "irrational indulgence" and placing it at the center of British intellectual life, Owen argues that an involvement with the occult was a leitmotif of an intellectual avant-garde. She details such fascinating examples of occult practice as the sex magic of Aleister Crowley, the pharmacological experimentation of W. B. Yeats, and complex forms of astral clairvoyance as taught in secret and hierarchical magical societies like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Through a remarkable blend of theoretical discussion and intellectual history, Owen has produced a work that is far more than a social history of occultism. Her conclusions bear directly on understandings of modernity and force us to rethink the place of the irrational in modern culture.
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