The Occult Revival and Its Theatrical Impulses

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


From the spiritualist mediums who apparently secreted ghostly ectoplasms from their bodies to members of secret societies who practiced ceremonial magic with pentagrams, candles, and swords, theatricality was central to the Occult Revival that flourished in Europe and the United States between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The boundaries between occultism and theatre blurred during the Occult Revival. During this time ritual, theatre and other forms of performance came to be viewed as part of a sacred tradition of mystery dramatics through which esoteric wisdom had been passed down to initiates for centuries. It was that idealized tradition of esoteric theatre that many spiritual leaders of the Occult Revival claimed to be reviving. This rise of interest in theatre during the occult revival was no random occurrence: it was a response to ideas about theatre and occultism that were incorporated into the teachings of some of the most famous leaders of the Occult Revival. In particular, Eliphas Lévi, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and Edouard Schuré did much to promote the idea of a sacred tradition of occult theatre that could be revived for the spiritual benefit of human beings.


Great Work Initiatory Theatre Greek Tragedy Physical Incarnation Divine Knowledge 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ronald Hutton, Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraf, paperback edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 70.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Eliphas Lévi, Dogme et ritual de le haute magie (Paris: Germer Baillière, 1856).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Eliphas Lévi, Transcendental Magic: It’s Dogma and Ritual, translated by A. E. Waite (1856; reprint, York Beach, MA: Weiser, 1986), 5, 10, 14.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 187.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Roland Edighoffer, “Rosicrucianism I: First Half of the 17th Century,” in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 1009.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Lévi, Secrets de la Magie (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2000), 205; See also Levi, Transcendental Magic, 249.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    R. Andrew White, “Stanislavsky and Ramacharaka: The Influence of Yoga and Turn-of-the-Century Occultism on the System,” Theatre Survey 47 (May 2006): 77.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, 2 vols. (1888; reprint, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Maria Carlson, “No Religion Higher Than Truth”: A History of the Theosophical Tradition in Russia, 1875–1922 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 118.Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, 2nd ed. (1889; reprint, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1995), Scholar
  11. 30.
    Wouter J. Hanegraaff, “Tradition,” Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 1126.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Edouard Schuré, The Great Initiates: A Study of the Secret History of Religions (1889; reprint, Hudson, NY: Steinerbooks, 1989), 337Google Scholar
  13. 49.
    Edouard Schuré, The Genesis of Tragedy and The Sacred Drama of Eleusis (New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1936), 245.Google Scholar
  14. 52.
    Edouard Schuré, “Le Thêatre de L’Ame,” in Les Enfants de Lucifer (Drame Antique) & La Soeur Gardienne (Drame Moderne) (Paris: Librarie Académique, 1922), xv.Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    Marvin Carlson, Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 316.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Edmund B. Lingan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations