This is an intellectual history of occult and esoteric currents in the English-speaking world from the early Romantic period to the early twentieth century. The Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky, holds a crucial position as the place where all these currents temporarily united, before again diverging. The book's ambiguous title points to the author's thesis that Theosophy owed as much to the skeptical Enlightenment of the eighteenth century as it did to the concept of spiritual enlightenment with which it is more readily associated.
The author respects his sources sufficiently to allow that their world, so different from that of academic reductionism, has a right to be exhibited on its own terms. At the same time he does not conceal the fact that he considers many of them deluded and deluding.
In the context of theosophical history, this book is neither on the side of the blind votaries of Madame Blavatsky, nor on that of her enemies. It may, therefore, be expected to mildly annoy both sides.
Joscelyn Godwin is a Professor at Colgate University. His previous works include Arktos; Robert Fludd; Athanasius Kircher; Mystery Religions in the Ancient World; Harmonies of Heaven and Earth; The Mystery of the Seven Vowels; and L'Ésotérisme musical en France.
"As in all his former books, Godwin's style is not only elegant but clear and understandable. It lends itself to a pleasant reading by any person who, though being a layman in the field, has a minimal breadth of culture. " — Antoine Faivre, Sorbonne
"This is a wonderful work: witty, charming, erudite, profound. It demonstrates on the basis of extraordinary research and scholarship that the theosophical, spiritualist, and esoteric movements of the nineteenth century were significant in many ways we are only now in a position to realize. " — Christopher Bamford, Lindisfarne Press