Indices in the Dark

Towards a Cognitive Semiotics of Western Esotericism, Exemplified by Crowley’s Liber AL

in Aries
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A cognitive semiotics of Western Esotericism is proposed with reference to the opaque aspects of esoteric discourse and texts, exemplified by Crowley's Liber AL and the tradition of Thelema. Such discursive opacity (leading to failed interpretation) is a semiotic problem, as it would hardly be tolerated in ordinary communication due to expectations of relevance (i.e. that the discourse will be intelligible and informative). It is argued that this is different when the context is religious, i.e. that in religious contexts, opaque signs/texts will effect a shift in interpretive strategy from linguistic interpretation (to understand the text’s linguistic import) to indexical interpretation (intuitions about the text’s background), leading to a psychological effect, a motivating sense of relevance—the relevant index effect. Findings in the cognitive study of reading provide suggestive evidence in this vein. With reference to the relevant index effect, a model for the transmission of esoteric traditions is proposed. In conclusion, theoretical and empirical avenues are explored.

Indices in the Dark

Towards a Cognitive Semiotics of Western Esotericism, Exemplified by Crowley’s Liber AL

in Aries

Sections

References

3

FaivreSecrecy1059; Faivre draws partly on Umberto Eco’s Limits of Interpretation.

4

Ibid.1059.

6

Ibid.1058; Pape ‘Cryptography’.

13

Langacker‘Discourse’143; ‘Sources’.

20

CrowleyMagick220; ‘Genesis’ 291; Confessions 400.

26

Cf. Crowley‘Genesis’435.

29

Langacker‘Discourse’163.

31

Ibid.269.

33

Ibid.260.

37

Peirce‘Pragmatism’282.

42

Sperber‘Guru Effect’587.

44

Ibid.588.

49

McCarthy‘Reading Beyond the Lines’100.

50

Ibid.104.

51

Miall‘Emotions’334; McCarthy ‘Reading Beyond the Lines’ 103 f.

53

Miall‘Beyond Interpretation’149.

54

McCarthy‘Reading Beyond the Lines’122.

55

Ibid.123.

58

Ibid.105.

63

Sperber‘Guru Effect’588.

69

Deacon‘Memes as Signs’23.

75

Ibid.‘Religious Brain’260.

76

Ibid.262.

77

Ibid.263emphasis added (except on real which is in the original).

80

Bar ‘Proactive Brain’ 1239emphasis in original; 1235 f.

82

Ibid.46.

84

Ibid.125. Recently they have found similar trust effects in people’s evaluation of the credibility of Bible translations using eye tracking methods cf. Schjødt et al. ‘Source Credibility’.

Figures

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    Figure 1

    Langacker’s “current discourse space” (after ‘Interactive Cognition’).

  • View in gallery
    Figure 2

    (a) Semiosis. (b) Incomplete semiosis. (c) Index of something (X), i.e. the relevance of the signs and, by corollary, the religious authority.2a based on Hoffmeyer, Biosemiotics, 21

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