Tarot cards from the Golden Dawn tarot deck

Lifting the Veil, or, How the Stars Aligned for Isis, Hermes, and Diana to Vanquish Satan and Usher in the Aquarian Age

Mon, 09/12/2022 - 9:00am to Fri, 06/16/2023 - 4:00pm
Special Research Collections

This exhibition will use works from UCSB Library's American Religions Collection to follow several occult threads, such as astrology, ceremonial magic, and Theosophy, as they weave their way from the world of secret societies into the fabric of mainstream life in the United States.

Western esotericism, the collection of “hidden” traditions and practices such as kabbalah, alchemy, astrology, Hermeticism, and magic, gained the attention of scholars during the Renaissance. Kept alive through the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment by the lodges of Freemasonry, these ideas found fertile ground once again in the Romanticism of the 19th century. Fueled by emerging ideas in science and cosmology and the addition of beliefs and practices from Hinduism and Buddhism, an occult revival was in full swing by the 1890s.

Three new and influential traditions had formed in this revival: spiritualism, Theosophy, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Throughout the 20th century, ideas and teachings formed in these circles would move from the relatively obscure to the mainstream of American culture. As Western esotericism gained popularity, the emphasis moved from understanding and mastering the cosmos, to understanding and mastering the self, with through lines apparent in such diverse heirs as feminist theology, the New Age movement, nature spirituality, modern yoga, the prosperity gospel, and the bestselling self-help book The Secret.

This exhibition shows how the transmission of esoteric knowledge, once exclusively bestowed from master to disciple, often through a series of initiations, moved into the realms of publishing, correspondence courses, and other media, inventing new traditions and creating controversies along the way.