Icons of Modern Esoterica: A Six-Part Online Class with Mitch Horowitz

Thursdays, February 22 – March 28 (6 classes), 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. CT  
 TS Members: $100 • Nonmembers: $125

Modern Occultism: History, Theory, and Practice by Mitch Horowitz (optional): $25 includes free shipping within the continental U.S.

Icons of Modern Esoterica A live, six-session online class on the iconic figures who shaped modern occult and esoteric philosophy, from Madame Blavatsky to Manly P. Hall — taught by historian Mitch Horowitz.

In six live Thursday evening Zoom sessions of 90 minutes each, Mitch explores the careers and ideas of six distinct figures who shaped esoteric and occult philosophy in modern life: 1) Madame H.P. Blavatsky; 2) Annie Besant; 3) Rudolf Steiner; 4) G.I. Gurdjieff; 5) Jiddu Krishnamurti; and 6) Manly P. Hall. Mitch leaves ample time for exchange and provides weekly key terms and readings. Registrants receive recording links for each session to rewatch favorites or catch missed classes.

icons YTSession 1: Modern Sphinx: Madame H.P. Blavatsky

The 20th and 21st centuries would look radically different without the impact of world-traveled Russian occultist and Theosophy cofounder H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891). A seismic force in the modern occult revival and an influence on figures ranging from Mahatma Gandhi and Henry A. Wallace to W.B. Yeats and Hilma af Klint, Blavatsky’s fingerprints appear on nearly every aspect of modern life, from art and science to spirituality and politics. Mitch explores H.P.B.’s writings and outlook, her enigmatic persona—and directly addresses controversies and canards associated with the seeker’s life and legacy. Mitch also considers the intriguing “hidden hand” theory of Blavatsky’s career.

Session 2: Reformer and Refiner: Annie Besant

A British political reformer and protégé to Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant (1847-1933) brought “the secret doctrine” onto the world stage, playing a vital, hands-on role in India’s independence movement and, through the 1905 volume Thought Forms, the germination of abstract art. Besant’s nurturing of Jiddu Krishnamurti (who is explored in session five) and her indirect but no less crucial impact on the revival of Wicca/witchcraft make her the godmother of today’s alternative spiritual scene. Mitch explores not only Besant’s social impact but also her own iteration of esoteric and Vedic philosophy, her relation to Blavatsky’s outlook — including the question of hidden Masters or adepts — and her progress as a spiritual leader and thinker.

Session 3: Philosopher of the Infinite: Rudolf Steiner

An early scion of the Theosophical Society but later a radically independent voice, esoteric scholar Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) crafted what many philosophers attempt but few attain: a totalizing analysis of life. Steiner’s genius was his sheer breadth of insight in areas ranging from eternal recurrence and karma, individual purpose and destiny, pedagogy and human development, art and architecture, environmentalism (biodynamics) and health, community and the individual, ancient history, and current life. As Mitch explores, Steiner’s work and legacy—sometimes maligned and misunderstood — make the esotericist one of modernity’s few voices to meaningfully combine humanism and spirituality.

Session 4: Warrior Against Sleep: G.I. Gurdjieff

It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of spiritual philosopher and esotericist G.I. Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949). Gurdjieff’s analysis, explored through philosophy, group meetings, dances, music, writing, and teaching, is that humanity is asleep and that we are no more than animated robots. “Man cannot do,” Gurdjieff said — and meant it in the plainest sense. Mitch explores this most challenging of esoteric philosophers as well as the teacher’s writings, including his confounding, magisterial epic Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. Like Blavatsky and Steiner, Gurdjieff presented a massive cosmology — and humanity’s frustrated place within it. Mitch considers the extraordinary range and power of the teacher’s thought.

Session 5: Pathless Explorer: Jiddu Krishnamurti

Few voices have so extolled the possibility of the individual as Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), one-time ward to Annie Besant and posited “world teacher” of the second-generation Theosophy movement. Following a much-publicized — but neither fully understood nor fully complete — split with the Theosophical Society, Krishnamurti emerged on the world stage as a truly unclassifiable spiritual figure whose message for humanity was one of unknown potential, provided the individual could break with conformity, category, and conditioned limitations to discover his or her true nature. Mitch explores the remarkable drama around Besant and Charles Leadbeater’s “discovery” of a child Krishnamurti in India, attempts to raise him as a messianic instructor, and his breakaway and evolution. Mitch pays special attention to Krishnamurti’s seasoned outlook and resounding philosophy of human freedom.

Session 6: Fitful Scholar: Manly P. Hall

Upon publication of his now-legendary Secret Teachings of All Ages in 1928, a young Manly P. Hall (1901-1990) emerged as the century’s foremost exponent of occult wisdom and symbolical philosophy. Who was the preternaturally gifted 27-year-old who produced modernity’s unsurpassed compendium of esoteric and mythical learning? Mitch probes the background, career, and controversial death of the occult scholar, exploring the arc of his learning, key works, efforts to devise a personal philosophy, and myriad achievements. Mitch finally considers what the life of Manly P. Hall reveals about the nature and barriers of the contemporary search for us all.

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Mitch HorowitzMitch Horowitz is a historian of alternative spirituality and one of today’s most literate voices of esoterica, mysticism, and the occult. Mitch is the PEN Award-winning author of books including Occult America, One Simple Idea, The Miracle Club, Daydream Believer, Uncertain Places, Modern Occultism, and the forthcoming Happy Warriors. The Washington Post says Mitch “treats esoteric ideas and movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness that is too often lost in today’s raised-voice discussions.” Filmmaker Magazine calls him “a genius at distilling down esoteric concepts.” A former vice president at Penguin Random House, Mitch has written on alternative spirituality for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Time, Politico, and a wide range of zines and scholarly journals. Mitch’s writing has called attention to the worldwide problem of violence against accused witches, helping draw notice to the human rights element of the issue. Mitch’s books have been translated into French, Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Korean, and Portuguese. His work is censored in China.

Program Format

This is a live, interactive online program that will also be recorded. Our goal is to send the recording to you within two business days, often sooner. The recording will be available for on-demand viewing for two weeks following the program date.

Software Platform

Zoom for Windows, Mac, or mobile device; minimum recommended network bandwidth 1.5 Mbps. Please download Zoom for free at zoom.us/download, and test your connection at zoom.us/test. New to Zoom? Check out www.theosophical.org/FAQ. Please email webinars@theosophical.org for further information.