Publication details [#11406]

Winslade, Jason L. 2008. Thinning the veils: Initiation and the performance of occultism. Evanston, Ill.. 410 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


Initiation is a performative model that dictates the participation of individuals in the various traditions of Western occultism, locating that individual within a nexus of practices and discourses that facilitate the transmission of occult teachings to that individual. While the act of initiation may be represented by a single performed rite, the paradigmatic aspects of initiation pervade the entirety of Western occultism, so that practitioners' encounters with textuality and language, history, magical action, ritual performance, and political activism are interpreted as initiatic experiences. The initiation rite itself is a structured performance in which practitioners actively engage with these aspects of occult knowledge. Correspondingly, the process of initiation also becomes a descriptive metaphor for a candidate's training in these knowledges. Accordingly, the dissertation identifies these occult knowledges as initiatic discourses, in which the use of initiatory metaphor is crucial to a practitioner's understanding of occultism. Initiatic discourse refers to a particular way of engaging with knowledge, language, symbols, and experience that actively emphasizes the practitioner's ability to respond to and mold these discourses. In turn, these discourses are said to transform the practitioner through gnosis, defined by esotericism scholar Arthur Versluis as "experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos" ( Restoring Paradise 1-2). I argue that this engagement with occult discourse and practice is at its core a performance experience, in which practitioners make various performative moves that enhance their participation in the nexus of occultism. Further, I maintain that the academic study of occultism itself is imbued with notions of the performative through an initiatic paradigm. Therefore, the dissertation identifies occultism as a field of inquiry that can be significantly illuminated through the application of performance studies. (Dissertation Abstracts)