Book Review: Occult Paris by Tobias Churton

28688064Title: Occult Paris

Author: Tobias Churton

Genre: Nonfiction, Historical

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How fin-de-siècle Paris became the locus for the most intense revival of magical practices and doctrines since the Renaissance

• Examines the remarkable lives of occult practitioners Joséphin Peladan, Papus, Stanislas de Guaïta, Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Jules Doinel, and others

• Reveals how occult activity deeply influenced many well-known cultural movements, such as Symbolism, the Decadents, modern music, and the “psychedelic 60s”

During Paris’s Belle Époque (1871-1914), many cultural movements and artistic styles flourished–Symbolism, Impressionism, Art Nouveau, the Decadents–all of which profoundly shaped modern culture. Inseparable from this cultural advancement was the explosion of occult activity taking place in the City of Light at the same time.

Exploring the magical, artistic, and intellectual world of the Belle Époque, Tobias Churton shows how a wide variety of Theosophists, Rosicrucians, Martinists, Freemasons, Gnostics, and neo-Cathars called fin-de-siècle Paris home. He examines the precise interplay of occultists Joséphin Peladan, Papus, Stanislas de Guaïta, and founder of the modern Gnostic Church Jules Doinel, along with lesser known figures such as Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Paul Sédir, Charles Barlet, Edmond Bailly, Albert Jounet, Abbé Lacuria, and Lady Caithness. He reveals how the work of many masters of modern culture such as composers Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, writers Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, and painters Georges Seurat and Alphonse Osbert bear signs of immersion in the esoteric circles that were thriving in Paris at the time. The author demonstrates how the creative hermetic ferment that animated the City of Light in the decades leading up to World War I remains an enduring presence and powerful influence today. Where, he asks, would Aleister Crowley and all the magicians of today be without the Parisian source of so much creativity in this field?

Conveying the living energy of Paris in this richly artistic period of history, Churton brings into full perspective the characters, personalities, and forces that made Paris a global magnet and which allowed later cultural movements, such as the “psychedelic 60s,” to rise from the ashes of post-war Europe.

I’m not convinced I entirely believe what Occult Paris is trying to sell, but I did learn a lot of new elements about this era, Paris’s Belle Epoque from 1871-1914, and I do believe there might be some connection. The book tries to establish how occult activity influenced cultural movements, like Symbolism, the Decadents, Impressionism, Art Nouveau. While I don’t entirely buy it, I think there might be some truth in that.

The author does a good job describing the era, the feel of it, the way the characters are described and brought to life. It’s a special kind of book, and hard to rate – it does make one wonder about things, but it’s not exactly an entertaining read. It makes one question, makes one think and connect dots, and it’s not exactly relaxing reading materials either. It’s definitely not for everyone but it does have a certain mysterious, almost magical feel to it, and I quite enjoyed reading it.

Speak Your Mind

*