Hermes Explains

Esotericism Redefined

By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | July 2020

Book Title: Hermes Explains: Thirty Questions about Western Esotericism
Editors: Hanegraaff, Forshaw, and Marco Pasi
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Pages: Hardback, 320 pp
ISBN: 9789463720205

This collection of thirty essays, predominantly concerning the relatively new academic field of Western Esotericism, commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the creation of a center for Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. The actualization and materialization of this center was made possible by the efforts of Mrs. Rosalie Basten, and ever since the formalization of this venture, the field has proudly witnessed the proliferation of numerous publications, book series, conferences, and other modes of scholarship, not just within Europe but across the globe.

The introduction creatively notes that just as Morpheus gave Neo a choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill in The Matrix (the blue led to a mainstream, more mundane existence; the red towards arguably greater awareness), the essays can be regarded as a red pill each, that (separately as well as collectively) address questions about the field in order to promote greater awareness within the reader as to what this discipline primarily entails. No book review can do full justice to so many essays, but I hope the handful that I choose to dwell on will provide an academically enticing picture.

Emeritus Professor of Music at Colgate University, Joscelyn Godwin, outlines the fundamentally close relationship between music and esotericism. The essay is a joy to read, primarily because Godwin expertly underscores the mathematical aspects underlying musical harmony. He synoptically presents the classical concept of the music of the spheres and the significance of planetary motion, as evinced by the work of several major composers. Naturally, those who were imbuing their compositions with esoteric codes did not intend for just anyone to be able to appreciate this, but a highly skilled singer or musician would have been able to get a sense of the implicit symbolism. I should add that Godwin has made enormous contributions to the humanities branch of esotericism — most of the field’s major scholars are affiliated with religious studies.

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