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Title: Magical revival : occultism and the culture of regeneration in Britain, c. 1880-1929
Author(s): Walters, Jennifer
Supervisor(s): Byron, Glennis
Keywords: Occultism
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis is a cultural study of the Magical Revival that occurred in Britain, 1880-1929. Magical Revival denotes a period in the history of occultism, and the cultural history of Britain, during which an upsurge in interest in occult and magical ideas is marked by the emergence of newly-formed societies dedicated to the exploration of the occult, and into its bearing on life. Organisations discussed are the Theosophical Society, the Golden Dawn, and the less well known Astrum Argentum. ‘Magical Revival’ has further significance as the principal, but overlooked, aim of those societies and individuals was regeneration. Scholarship on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century occultism is influenced by a longstanding preference for the esoteric over the exoteric aspects of occultism. It has tended to emphasise themes of abstraction, the psychological, and the esoteric, and has promulgated a view of occultism as static and impervious. From the outset, however, this thesis argues that approaching the Magical Revival from the purview of the esoteric is limiting, and that it screens its own significant themes and affinities with mainstream culture. It suggests that what needs to be prepared is a study which reads occultism with a close attention to its own terms of engagement and description. This is the aim of this thesis. The thesis offers a way of reading the occult activity of the period that privileges its exotericism. It seeks to pursue the links between an identifiable culture of occultism and conventional cultural discourses and activities towards an understanding of the movement as one actively constituting itself and producing, rather than obscuring, knowledge in relation to the social and cultural moment from which it arose. The occult topics and tendencies identified include evolution; ceremonial magic and astral travel; the body in occultism; and the nature of the occult experience. Others include the life and medical sciences; the philosophy of religion; and physical culture. The following questions underpin the thesis: In what ways did the Magical Revival connect with contemporary concerns? What does its activities, written records, literary and other material productions reveal about the nature of those connections? What does a closer attention to the textual and lived culture of the Magical Revival contribute to existing understanding of its place in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century culture? In answering those questions the thesis proposes that, in its systematic identification and addressing of cultural and social needs, general and specific, the Magical Revival should be viewed as closer to the social mainstream than is presently appreciated. Moreover, that the occultists’ efforts towards individual and cultural regeneration, take place within a broader cultural movement away from social thought dominated by degeneration, towards thinking directed towards regeneration.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Literature and Languages

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