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Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation * Hendrik Bogdan (2007)

“Hendrik Bogdan teaches in te Department of Religious Studies and Theology at Göteborg University in Sweden.” Apparently he has an interest in the new field of Western esotericism on universities, because he refers to scholars such as Antoine Faivre, Wouter Hanegraaff. In this book Bogdan describes Western rituals of initiation, which are (almost by definition) Masonic, Masonically related or derived from Masonic ritual. Or the other way around, Bogdan places Freemasonry and its rituals in the larger context of Western esotericism and that makes an interesting starting point.

The first chapter is dedicated to Western esotericism in general and the scholarly investigation thereof. The author refers a lot to Frances Yates, the first to approach the subject scholarly, but who is not taken too seriously in the current scholarly milieu I have the idea. Bogdan gives her the credit she deserves.
Towards the end of chapter one, the author explains what he means with rituals of initiation, contrary to rites of passage. Here he uses Mircea Eliade.

What follows next is an introduction into the subject of Masonic rituals of initiation (chapter 2), a history of Western esotericism (chapter 3) and then he starts to analyse some Masonic rituals, linking elements to Western esotericism and seeing if there is continuity. Bogdan does not differentiate between “regular” and “irregular” Freemasonry, neither does he touch upon the subject if iniation in any of the organisations that he describes is valid in the ‘Guénonian sense’. Bogdan is only interested in the texts of the rituals. He makes purely textual comparisons.

After Freemasonry we get two other ‘organisations’, the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn and Wicca. The rituals of initiation, the degree system, etc. of both groups heavily lean on Freemasonry, so naturally Bogdan finds a lot of similarities.

The book makes a nice read. I like the approach to place Freemasonry in a larger (scholarly) field which peels off the myths that Freemasonry created for itself, but still places it in a ongoing ‘current’. The book might not be a recommended buy for people who intend to join any of the discussed organisation, since he does not shy to quote texts with grips and passwords and he describes the rites in quite some detail here and there. This will decrease the element of surprise if you want to undergo such an initiation.
For people interested in the growing field of scholarly investigations of Western esotericism, here we have one that places the largest organisation within the field within that very subject.

2007 State University of New York Press, isbn 0791470709

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