cover image Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Epoque

Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Epoque

Tobias Churton. Inner Traditions, $29.95 (528p) ISBN 978-1-62055-545-3

In a massive, focused exploration of the relationship between the mystical and the creative, esoteric historian Churton (Jerusalem! The Real Life of William Blake) delights in tracing out the detailed social and intellectual relationships in the more obscure reaches of French culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Churton proves to be profoundly organized and marvelously synthetic while explaining the maelstrom of Symbolists, Decadents, Hermetics, and Catholic heretics that met in venues like Edmond Bailly’s bookshop and the Salon de la Rose + Croix. Redeeming the reputations of Josephin Peladan and Stanislas de Guaïta, and combining account of visionaries not always considered together—such as Victor-Émile Michelet, Georges Seurat, and Eric Satie—Churton recontextualizes the work of these underappreciated figures while showing how beloved images, such as the androgyne, the magus, the hierophant, and the quest for the lost, reappear in different contexts. In occasional outbursts of emotion, Churton’s passion for the ideas of the period resonates: “What a tragedy this wisdom was not absorbed by the socialist and communist movements in time for the twentieth century—how much misery might have been spared the human race, then and now!” This entertaining volume will please fans of esoterica and the City of Light. 33 color plates, b&w illus. (Nov.)

Correction: a previous version of this review spelled the author's name incorrectly.