Secret Wisdom of the West Coast: Esoteric and Occult practice in British Columbia

From August 1-31, 2012 please visit UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections exhibition entitled Secret Wisdom of the West Coast: Esoteric and Occult practice in British Columbia. Curated by Karen Meijer-Kline, a graduate of the Universiteit van Amsterdam with a Master of Arts degree in Mysticism & Western Esotericism and a current student in the Masters of Library, Archival, and Informations Studies program at UBC, this exhibition will introduce you to a world many of you probably never dreamed existed here in our very own rainy city.

The historical and sociological study of esotericism and occultism is a growing field, as is shown by the emergence of academic programs, conferences and journals focussed on the subject all over the Western world. Close to home, Simon Fraser University’s department of Humanities has recently offered a course on the history of Western Esotericism. Study in this field looks at topics such as magic, alchemy, astrology, Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Spiritualism, New Age, Neopaganism, and the like. These topics, and the people that studied and practiced them, have been and are very influential in history, even though in the past they have been rarely studied. Here at Rare Books and Special Collections, we realized that there are many works in our collection that are related to these topics, and yet: almost no-one knows about them. We decided to delve deeper into the history and practice of esoteric currents in British Columbia, in order to show you some of the very intriguing things that have happened, and still happen in our province!

For many years, Vancouver has been home to several prominent figures in esoteric history, and centre for many esoteric and occult groups. For example, the North Shore was home to Charles Stansfeld Jones, better known as Frater Achad, who was considered the magical child of Aleister Crowley: the most notorious magician of the 20th century. Jones and Malcolm Lowry were friends, and Lowry’s personal library held many fascinating esoteric works, many by Jones or Crowley.
On display at Rare Books and Special Collections will be works that are fundamental to esoteric thought, and esoteric works that have an interesting connection to major figures or organizations in British Columbia. Many might know that Malcolm Lowry had a long standing interest in the occult, and that Robin Skelton was a practicing witch. But did you also know that Alexander Maitland Stephens, the prominent Marxist and poet, was the head of a Theosophical lodge in downtown Vancouver? That there was a Rosicrucian temple in Vancouver? Or that there have been thriving Freemasonic lodges in British Columbia since 1860?

If you would like to see the exhibition, located in the reading room, you can do so until August 31st, from Monday to Friday 10am-4pm. The exhibition is free and open to all members of the public.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition, a pdf version of the exhibition guide is available.

2 responses to “Secret Wisdom of the West Coast: Esoteric and Occult practice in British Columbia”

  1. David R. Jones

    Sadly the pdf version of the exhibition guide seems no longer to be available.

  2. cshriver

    So sorry for the delay, but I’ve updated the link and you should be able download the exhibition guide now.

Leave a Reply