Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, the Arts and the American West
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“It is in America that the transformation will take place, and has already silently commenced.” With these words, written in The Secret Doctrine in 1888, occultist philosopher Helena Blavatsky drew a direct connection between the Theosophical Society and the dynamic energy of 19th-century Americanism.
Blavatsky and her successors identified the American West as the perfect site for a rebirth and re-enchantment of humanity, drawing those seeking spiritual fulfilment outside of organized religion to the dramatic landscapes of California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico—places which have long beckoned searchers of all kinds. The syncretic nature of Theosophy allowed for and even encouraged individualism in belief, making Theosophy a good fit for the notions of freedom and personal agency that characterized the American West in the popular imaginary.
Through a series of color plates, contextual essays, interviews and interpretations of individual works by artists such as the Dynaton group (Wolfgang Paalen, Gordon Onslow Ford, Lee Mullican), Oskar Fischinger, Emil Bisttram, Lawren Harris, Raymond Jonson, Agnes Pelton, Wolfgang Paalen, Beatrice Wood, Dane Rudhyar and Jess, Enchanted Modernities explores the role of Theosophical thought in redefining the relationship between enchantment and modernism, and fostering lively cultural networks in a region that that has long captured the world’s imagination.