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About us Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies Organization Staff PhD Research Comparative Study of Religion

Chris Plaisance

Skrying in the Spirit Vision: Esoteric Discourse in the Writings of Benjamin Rowe
Sigillum Dei Aemeth

The focus of this project is Benjamin Rowe (1951–2002), who was one of the primary late 20th century exponents of ‘Enochian magic,’ a current of esoteric discourses genealogically rooted in accounts of a series of visions claimed to have been received by John Dee (1529–1608/9) and Edward Kelley (1555–1597) from various angels during a period extending from 1582 to 1589, and transferred into modernity through the intermediacy of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Rowe’s distinctly postmodern interpretation of Dee and Kelley’s original material is at once characterized by a confluence of profound respect for the 16th century source material, as well as an intensely innovative spirit which manifested itself both in the reception of new angelic visions as well as in the creative reinterpretation of historical material. Within a broadly Foucauldian methodological perspective of historical discourse analysis, my plan is for this project to function as an intellectual archaeology of Rowe, which will take the shape of a discursive genealogy of several key themes found within his corpus. At its core, this project is concerned with exploring the transfers between Elizabethan and postmodern discourses, and the strategies used to negotiate these distances, which served to shape the Rowe corpus.

Amidst this broad questioning of the discursive transfers that underlie the Rowe corpus, there are several specific questions I intend to address. First, as Rowe was a key participant in the so-called ‘purist turn’ away from eisegetical interpretations of Dee and Kelley’s material towards reconstructive exegesis, I would like to explore this participation within the contexts of both the broader reconstructionist currents that rose to prominence within late 20th century esoteric discourse, as well as postmodern trends in contemporary academic discourse. Second, I intend to address the question of experimentation within Rowe’s magical practice, to investigate whether or not Rowe’s negotiation with science tends more towards its treatment as the esoteric’s significant Other, or if his discourse demonstrates a more honest encounter with the scientific method. Third, in examining the epistemological ‘localism’ which the Rowe corpus presents, I would like to uncover the specific genealogy of this transfer, charting connections to both the Discordianism of the late 1960s as well as broader trends towards epistemological relativism and individualism which have come to characterize many late modern and postmodern esoteric discourses. Fourth, I plan on inquiring into the origin of the technical innovation of transforming the two-dimensional tablets of Dee and Kelly into three-dimensional temples that Rowe presents in his 1988 monograph, Enochian Temples — to investigate a potential genealogical origin in Giordano Bruno’s (1548–1600) esoteric adaption of the Renaissance ars memorativa. Fifth, in examining the connections Rowe draws between contemporary conceptions of extraterrestrials and pre-Enlightenment notions of angels and planetary spirits, I would like to investigate the networks of transfers between scientific and esoteric discourses at play in the Rowe corpus. And sixth, I propose to examine the ambivalence present in Rowe’s discourse pertaining the revelation contained in his 1986 monograph, The Book of the Seniors, concerning his position both as the incarnation of the god Set and as the prophet of a new age.

In resolving these questions, I hope to produce a study whose novel contribution to the field of Religious Studies is twofold. One, it will present a thorough analysis of a figure who is all but absent from contemporary secondary literature on the subject of Enochian magic and is deserving of more attention from scholars of contemporary esotericism. Two, in obtaining an accurate picture of the transmissive processes which shaped Rowe’s discourse on the esoteric, we may deepen our understanding of the larger esoteric currents to which he belonged.

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Last modified:20 November 2019 7.28 p.m.