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ARCE-PA Presents: 

October 25, 2014
Room 345 
Penn Museum

Steve Vinson, PhD
Associate Professor, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University-Bloomington

"Unwrapping Egyptology and the Occult: The Curious Case of Battiscombe Gunn and Aleister Crowley"

The late Victorian period was the time in which the modern world as we know it took shape. The industrial revolution was in full swing, scientific and technical discoveries were coming at dizzying pace, and the many scholarly disciplines that deal with the human cultures became recognizable in their modern forms: anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and of course Egyptology, among others. But at the same period, particularly in Britain, there was also an explosion of interest in the occult, the paranormal, and the esoteric interests that developed directly into what is now often described as “New Age” philosophy.
Ancient Egypt was one area in which modern scholarship and esotericism overlapped, and even converged. It is not often remembered today that in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, a number of mainstream scholars of antiquity were interested in esoteric or occult subjects. One very interesting case is that of Battiscombe Gunn (1883-1950), still remembered as one of the most insightful Egyptologists of his generation. What is less well known is that Gunn was associated, apparently in more than a casual way, with Aleister Crowley. Crowley, of course, was and remains the most notorious British occultist of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries – an individual who was known to his detractors as the “wickedest man in the world,” and who proudly proclaimed himself to be the “Beast 666.” We will first lay out the evidence for the “friendship” –  if that is what it was – between Gunn and Crowley. We will go on to discuss how and why Gunn, and a number of his scholarly contemporaries, were interested in the esoteric and the occult. And we will discuss the reasons why esotericism and mainstream Egyptology eventually went their separate ways.

Steve Vinson is currently an associate professor in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University-Bloomington. After earning an MA in nautical archaeology at Texas A&M University in 1987, he went on to finish his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1995, writing a dissertation on the economics and sociology of ships and shipping on the Nile in the Ramesside and Graeco-Roman periods; he is the author of the Shire Egyptology volume Egyptian Boats and Ships and the monograph The Nile Boatman at Work. More recently, Vinson has turned to the study of ancient Egyptian literature, and is currently completing a study of literary and historical approaches to the Egyptian literature of the Graeco-Roman period, using the Demotic “First Tale of Setne Khaemwas” as a case study. Because “First Setne” is a ghost story and was adapted many times by gothic authors in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, Vinson’s study led him to investigate the relationship between Egyptological scholarship and the occult in the early periods of Egyptology. This led him to his discovery of the strange and enigmatic friendship between Battiscombe Gunn, one of the most esteemed Egyptologists of the first half of the Twentieth Century, and Aleister Crowley, a notorious British occultist who called himself the “Beast 666.”


October 18, 2014 is International Archaeology Day! 

Join folks from around the world and celebrate archaeology and 
ancient cultures!

To find an event near you, please visit: http://www.archaeological.org/archaeologyday


*Unless otherwise noted, all lectures are held at the Penn Museum at 3:30 PM*
*Entrance fees are $10 for the general public, $7 for University Museum members and UPenn Staff & Faculty, $5 for Students with ID, and FREE for ARCE-PA members and children under 12

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