Initiatory Materials

An Ethnography of Contemporary Alchemy in Sweden

Olivia Cejvan

This article is an ethnographic study of spagyric alchemical practice, sometimes referred to by my informants as “the wet path,” which is centred on the making of elixirs. This article begins with an ethnographic vignette of how alchemy was taught in a group setting and then describes how the author became an alchemist’s apprentice during the course of an evening. Analytical perspectives on this ethnographic material lead to a discussion of the benefits of an ethnographic approach to esotericism. Finally, methodological issues pertaining to the qualitative study of contemporary esotericism are discussed. The article’s main argument is that the ethnography of contemporary esotericism can discern the practical aspects of esotericism that cannot be discovered or studied through textual studies alone, which is why ethnography can be a fruitful complement to the dominant historical focus on esotericism.  

Contemporary esotericism; cultic milieu; alchemy; esoteric practice