“Occult Paris” Looks at Magick in the Belle Epoque

Late last year, Tobias Churton — author of Aleister Crowley: The Biography — released his latest book Occult Paris, an in depth of the occult revival during the Belle Epoque. Here’s Publishers’ Weekly’s review:

“If you’re interested in the City of Light, or the history of the esoteric, or European history, or if you just like a weird and persuasive story, then you’ll enjoy Tobias Churton’s Occult Paris.

“Occult Paris aims to fill the gap in cultural knowledge that ignorance and materialist hostility to the category of the spiritual has created.” Within this frame Churton presents an alternative, ‘unjustly forgotten’ side of European art history. Forming in the late 1880s in contrast to Impressionsim, the Symbolists are the center of his story–those who thought art and the developments of technology didn’t come at the expense of spirituality. Tracing the life and philosophy of Josephin Peladan–a writer and art critic who formed an alternative ‘Salon’ based in gnostic Catholicism–the book resuscitates a line of artistic inclination different from the “smooth ‘progressive’ transmission of genius from Impressionism and post-Impressionism to the full force of twentieth-century modernism occupied by expressionism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism.

“Make no mistake, the book is dense and well-sourced. Churton makes a full (often conjectural) analysis of why this alternative movement came about when it did and why it deserves to be considered. Situated around Edmond Bailly’s bookshop in Paris’s 9th arrondissement, the book is also a love story to France and the Belle Epoque. Churton is effusive on every page, whether trudging through 19th century European history or recontextualizing medieval ideas of the Magus and the Hierophant. His story, however bizarre, is a great antidote to what we think we know.”


Aleister Crowley visited S.L. MacGregor Mathers in Paris several times at the end of the 19th century when he was an active member of the Golden Dawn. He took up residence in Paris a few years later and travelled in art circles and wound up being the inspiration for Somerset Maughm’s 1908 novel, “The Magician” (not a flattering depiction!). Crowley and Victor Neuberg an apartment in Paris in 1914 that was the site of the “Paris Working.” Again in the 1930’s, Crowley was noticeable figure on the Paris arts scene and turns up in Anais Nin’s diaries of that era. During the 1930’s the most prominent occultist was Russian emigre Maria de Naglowska who held lectures and sexualy charged rituals as part of the function of her “Fleche d’Or” group.

With the rise of Fascism in Europe a significant part of the European arts community, including the leading Surrealists, fled for the United States, a lot settling in New York City where they’d be encountered by the likes of American magus Harry Smith.

You can purchase Occult Paris via Amazon or other fine book sellers https://www.amazon.com/Occult-Paris-Magic-Belle-%C3%89poque/dp/162055545X

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