The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment
May 21, 2013
440 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
24 b/w illus.
The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of science and reason. But in this illuminating book, Paul Monod reveals the surprising extent to which Newton, Boyle, Locke, and other giants of rational thought and empiricism also embraced the spiritual, the magical, and the occult.
Although public acceptance of occult and magical practices waxed and waned during this period they survived underground, experiencing a considerable revival in the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of new antiestablishment religious denominations. The occult spilled over into politics with the radicalism of the French Revolution and into literature in early Romanticism. Even when official disapproval was at its strongest, the evidence points to a growing audience for occult publications as well as to subversive popular enthusiasm. Ultimately, finds Monod, the occult was not discarded in favor of “reason” but was incorporated into new forms of learning. In that sense, the occult is part of the modern world, not simply a relic of an unenlightened past, and is still with us today.
Paul Monod is A. Barton Hepburn Professor of History at Middlebury College. He lives in Weybridge, VT.
'A major pioneering work into a hitherto largely lost and important aspect of both the history of the occult and that of the Enlightenment.' - Ronald Hutton, author of The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles
‘In this fully-researched and lively book, Paul Monod gives a brisk survey of what he calls “occult thinking” from the mid- seventeenth century to the period of the French Revolution, reaching a climax with lengthy accounts of some extraordinary figures who flourished in the years around 1800.’ – Michael Hunter, author of Boyle: Between God and Science
'Paul Monod’s lively and engaging study of the occult impresses in its breadth of coverage, and provides a clever and timely revision of the nature of the British Enlightenment.' - Owen Davies, author of Grimoires: A History of Magic Books
"A definitive document of its material."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“[A] serious yet lively work, chockablock with facts, anecdotes, and original research.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“[A] well-researched and wide-ranging study in intellectual history . . . that materially contributes to the growing acknowledgement that modernity and magic can – indeed, often do – go hand in hand.”—William Whyte, Church Times
“A first-class study of the pursuit of the occult in England from the Restoration through 1815.”—Library Journal
“[T]his thoroughly researched and interesting survey succeeds in understanding the ambivalences of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment in Britain. It highlights the slippery and contested character of these movements and compels us to rethink their relationship with intellectual traditions that they marginalised.”—Alexandra Walsham, History Today
"...[T]he book contains a wealth of information that adds to the ongoing scholarly conversations regarding the dynamics of the shifting fortunes of alchemy, astrology, and magic (both natural and ritual) in the early modern period."—Lawrence Principe, Chicago Journals
“[A] broad and sweeping survey that will be seen as a landmark in the study of Western Esotericism and its place in western culture.”—R. A. Gilbert, Nova Religio
“One of the book’s best strengths is its use of diverse primary sources, which show the breadth of the period’s occultists”—Ryan J. Stark, Scriblerian