The Chemical Wedding of Art and Science, the Secular and Sacred

I still do not know quite what to think of the relationship between Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson and the occult. His fifth solo album “Chemical Wedding”, the single “Man of Sorrows” and his hand in writing the recent film also titled “Chemical Wedding”. The songs on the album are harder than the pieces he worked on with Iron Maiden, but they do evince more than a passing familiarity with occult thought and symbology. I have yet to see his film, but my most respected esoteric friend seems very critical of it. Still, I remain curious.

The occult has had a long and productive relationship with art, which is intriguing for the divide between the esoteric and exoteric demands of the tradition. Yet they both function through similar, metaphorical channels and ways of thinking, and, like Goethe’s claim in Faust, can be hidden openly in the artistic work. Not only hidden, I contend, but addressed and developed as well. Representative of the divide between Newtonian and Goethean alchemy, it has been the primary mode of esoteric exploration in the west since the Enlightenment. Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Birkhäuser, Achille-Claude Debussy, William Blake, and many more besides. At the end of the 19th century the Newtonian interest in the occult, that is to say, the experimental, physical emphasis, looked to be reviving in the work of the London Society for Psychical Research, with William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace, Oliver Lodge and the journalist W.T. Stead’s efforts at the scientific popularization of esoteric research. Unlike many other modes of thought, it seems likely that this realm of exploration benefits equally from artistic and scientific exploration, for both its psychological and physical effects on human knowledge, and the primary place of pattern recognition in its myriad manifestations.

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2 thoughts on “The Chemical Wedding of Art and Science, the Secular and Sacred

  1. John Wright says:

    There are some interesting connections between art and the occult. Arthur Machen was involved in the occult for a while (the Golden Dawn, I think) though he later went on to join the Anglican Church. Blackwood took a variety of interests in it throughout his life, though he was never married to a formal doctrine.

    On the other hand, though art and the occult both have their metaphors, occult thought tends to be burdened by system, by ponderous and somewhat tedious “correspondences.”

    Years ago, I read a novel by Aleister Crowley, called Moonchild. It’s been so long, I wouldn’t like to give a rating, but I don’t remember being much impressed with it.

    Anyway, the occult blends at several points into philosophical speculation and religious mysticism. I’m not sure, for example, that Blake was more an occultist than, say, Emanuel Swedenborg who was by his own account a Christian. But if there’s a distinction to be drawn between occultism and mysticism, it may be that occultism is characterized by the attempt not only to discover and know but to manipulate–which is probably what gives it its oddly mechanistic, formulaic or quasi-technical style.

    • Dear John,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the Starry Messenger. I’m sorry I haven’t written back sooner.

      Aye, as luck would have it I’ve recently been reading a lovely book called “The Place of Enchangment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern” by Alex Owen, and both Machen and Blackwood are mentioned as members of the Golden Dawn.

      I myself am not so certain that the correspondences of occult thought are that different from artistic metaphors, allusions, compositions, etc. In both cases it seems to be the working out of patterns and interrelated connections working towards some never-yet-achievable-completion. The only major differences is that for many occultists the interrelatedness of the mind to the elements of the world is much more direct, rather than a product of appearance. But I could be wrong. Though its true, as anyone who has tried to work out Kabalistic numerology can testify, that the systematizing can be exhausting, it seems no different than how pedantic art critics dissect their choice of subject.

      I’ve actually never read anything by Crowley, but I think by anyone’s measure he was a rather unique case.

      The point you make about the distinction between mysticism and the occult is well made, and I had never quite worked out that nuance until picking up Owen’s book, which lays out how it was a major tension in some late Victorian circles, so I suppose I did use the terms rather loosely in this posting.

      Thanks again for this comment, and if you haven’t already read it I’d strongly recommend Owen’s book if your interested in this sort of thing.

      With Respect,

      ~Edmund Siderius

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