Theosophical Enlightenment

By Joscelyn Godwin

Subjects: Esotericism And Gnosticism
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9780791421529, 462 pages, October 1994
Hardcover : 9780791421512, 462 pages, November 1994

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. The Worship of the Generative Powers

2. The Cult of the Sun

3. The Blasphemers

4. The Shoemaker and the Squire

5. Magicians and Revolutionaries

6. Neophytes and Initiates

7. Artists and Astrologers

8. Animal Magnetism

9. Visions in the Crystal

10. Hydesville and After

11. From the Orphic Circle to the Golden Dawn

12. The Way to Christ

13. Rosicrucian Pretenders

14. Enter Madame Blavatsky

15. Wisdom from the East

16. The Hermetic Reaction

17. The Parting of East and West

Appendix A Letter from Rammohun Roy to Robert Dale Owen

Appendix B Letter from Hargrave Jennings to Bulwer-Lytton


Bibliography of Works Cited



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