Monday 25 February 2013

Rider Haggard and the Imperial Occult at Treadwell's

I first saw Hammer's Horror's Sheon Sunday afternoon TV back when I was young, and it blew me away. I loved the story of adventure, romance and mystery.

It was also my introduction to the concept of reincarnation. I remember discussing the movie with my Grandma, who was a Theosophist and so believed that we have all lived many lives before our current incarnation. Wow! I so wanted to find out that I had been an Egyptian queen in a past life.

Since then, I've done a little past life regression and, sadly, I do not think my past lives were anything quite so glamorous or romantic. Nevertheless, I do consider watching - and loving - She to have been among the formative experiences that led me to paganism.

It also led me to a talk at Treadwell's in London last week entitled Rider Haggard and the Imperial Occult. Rider Haggard was the author of the original novel She. The talk was by Simon Magus, who is currently doing a PhD on that topic. It turns out that Rider Haggard was certainly aware of Theosophy back when he was writing his romances in the late 19th century and early 20th century - although he wasn't actually a Theosophist himself.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was a prolific writer. Although many of his books were novels about English country life, he also wrote tales of romantic adventures and mystical quests, which are still very popular today.

His most famous books are Sheand King Solomon's Mines.These show Haggard's interest in the occult, ancient Egypt and Victorian ‘esoteric’ Buddhism. He was good friends with E A Wallis Budge, an English Egyptologist who worked for the British Museum and moved in esoteric circles.

Simon Magus explained that Haggard and Budge shared the idea that in Ancient Egypt there had been a mystery tradition that was the original monotheism. As well as being inspired by the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who introduced the monotheistic religion worshipping the Aten, Budge and Haggard believed there had been a cult of Osiris, in which Osiris was worshipped as a Christ figure - the one true god who had risen from the dead.

The influence of Spiritualism, which was popular in late Victorian and Edwardian times, and both Hindu and Buddhist concepts of reincarnation and the evolution of the soul, can also be seen in the Haggard's mystical romances. Ayesha, the ancient and beautiful priestess who is the central female figure in She and the sequel novel named after her,depicts the view that it is wrong to cling too much to worldly desires. True spiritual development was seen to come through a form of karmic redemption.

Haggard also believed that there was an "imaginary realm" which offered spiritual truths and that this could be accessed through such things as works of fiction. Pretty much everyone in the audience to the talk at Treadwell's last week seemed to agree that She had been an inspiration to them on their spiritual path - some evidence that Haggard got it right.

Simon Magus (pictured bottom right) has an MA in Western Esotericism from University of Exeter, where he is now reading for a PhD on esoteric ideas in Rider Haggard. Treadwell's booshop is at 33 Store Street, Bloomsbury London, WC1E 7BS. Telephone: 020 7419 8507.

Links and previous related posts
She (Oxford World's Classics)
Ayesha: The Return of She
King Solomon's Mines (Oxford World's Classics)
Complete Works of H. Rider Haggard (Illustrated)
She [1965] [DVD]

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