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The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic seems to encompass a social media debate, possibly resulting in emotional contagion and the need for novel surveillance approaches. In the current study, we aimed to examine the flow and content of tweets, exploring the role of COVID-19 key events on the popular Twitter platform.
Using representative freely available data, we performed a focused, social media-based analysis to capture COVID-19 discussions on Twitter, considering sentiment and longitudinal trends between January 19 and March 3, 2020. Different populations of users were considered. Core discussions were explored measuring tweets’ sentiment, by both computing a polarity compound score with 95% Confidence Interval and using a transformer-based model, pretrained on a large corpus of COVID-19-related Tweets. Context-dependent meaning and emotion-specific features were considered.
We gathered 3,308,476 tweets written in English. Since the first World Health Organization report (January 21), negative sentiment proportion of tweets gradually increased as expected, with amplifications following key events. Sentiment scores were increasingly negative among most active users. Tweets content and flow revealed an ongoing scenario in which the global emergency seems difficult to be emotionally managed, as shown by sentiment trajectories.
Integrating social media like Twitter as essential surveillance tools in the management of the pandemic and its waves might actually represent a novel preventive approach to hinder emotional contagion, disseminating reliable information and nurturing trust. There is the need to monitor and sustain healthy behaviors as well as community supports also via social media-based preventive interventions.
Quite a few things, in fact. Sex has always been an important component of Western esotericism, even if not necessarily the most conspicuous one. But what do we mean by it? Sex is, of course, a very generic term, which can refer to different aspects in what is a broad area of human experience. First of all, it can relate to the concept of “eros” as a universal law of attraction (which usually implies also the opposite balancing force of repulsion). Starting especially with Plato, love understood in this general sense has often been perceived as a key factor not only in human relations, but also in the structure of the universe as a whole. In this sense, the universe is believed to function according to the same basic principles of attraction and repulsion that regulate human life, even if they are applied to a loftier level of reality. It is easy to find developments of this basic idea in important authors of the Renaissance, such as Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), for whom the erotic principles of attraction, the occult powers of magic, and the dynamic structure of the universe, are all part of a single continuum. Similarly, the myth of the primordial androgyne, which in Western culture also has its roots partly in Plato and partly in the Biblical narration of Genesis, would be used to explain the origin of erotic attraction between men and women and the polarised nature of sexuality and even of the universe as a whole.
Another important aspect is the use of sexual symbolism in esoteric literature and visual culture. This may or may not imply a sexualised vision of the universe as I have just described. To give just one example, alchemical literature is replete with images that have an erotic connotation, such as the union of female and male principles represented by an androgynous figure or the depiction of actual sexual intercourse. These images can be interpreted as referring to particular aspects of alchemical practice (for instance, the combination of chemical elements or metals).
A third aspect of the presence of sex in Western esotericism concerns not so much sex as a subject, but rather as an object.
Ten years ago the Centre for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (HHP) of the University of Amsterdam celebrated its first decennial anniversary by publishing a memorial volume. Paying playful homage to the legendary Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus, who stands at the origin and symbolic centre of the field of research nowadays known as “Western esotericism,” it was titled Hermes in the Academy. Hermes had finally arrived! Never before, at any university worldwide, had there been a teaching program and a research group devoted specifically to the large and enormously complicated field of interrelated historical currents in Western culture known by such terms as hermetism, gnosticism, neoplatonic theurgy, astrology, alchemy, natural magic, kabbalah, rosicrucianism, Christian theosophy, illuminism, occultism, spiritualism, traditionalism, neopaganism, new age, and contemporary occulture. Since the beginning of this century, scholars in the humanities have become used to an unprecedented flood of scholarly literature in these domains, and this makes it easy to forget how innovative and controversial it still was for academics to study such topics seriously at the time when HHP was created in 1999.
With hindsight it is evident that the Amsterdam Centre came exactly at the right moment. Riding a new wave of scholarship that had been gathering energy since the early 1990s, HHP was able to assume a leading position in establishing new paradigms for the study of Western esotericism in the academy and stimulating its professional development on an international scale. During the twenty years of its existence, new teaching programs have developed at various universities in Europe and the United States; a European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) was established in 2005 and keeps generating new semi-autonomous networks focusing on specific regions and themes; alternating with its American counterpart, the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE), the ESSWE has already organised seven international biannual conferences, of which the latest one (Amsterdam 2019) coincides with the twenty-year anniversary of HHP and the publication of this volume; two peer-reviewed academic journals have been running successfully since 2001 and 2013 respectively; various major academic publishers now have their own monograph series in the study of Western esotericism; and more generally, it is simply no longer possible for any scholar today to keep up with all the literature, all the conferences, and all the other academic initiatives that are devoted to this field and the various aspects of it.
Few fields of academic research are surrounded by so many misunderstandings and misconceptions as the study of Western esotericism. For twenty years now, the Centre for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (University of Amsterdam) has been at the forefront of international scholarship in this domain. This anniversary volume seeks to make the modern study of Western esotericism known beyond specialist circles, while addressing a range of misconceptions, biases, and prejudices that still tend to surround it. Thirty major scholars in the field respond to questions about a wide range of unfamiliar ideas, traditions, practices, problems, and personalities that are central to this area of research. By challenging many taken-for-granted assumptions about religion, science, philosophy, and the arts, this volume demonstrates why the academic study of esotericism leads us to reconsider much that we thought we knew about the story of Western culture.
(W. B. Yeats, letter to Lady Gregory, 28 April 1900)
In this chapter, I will retrace the salient moments in the life of Aleister Crowley. But first I would like to make a few remarks about sources, which are made necessary by the peculiarity of the subject. Crowley has attracted the attention of a good number of authors, and in the last sixty years a good number of biographies and monographs devoted to him have been published.
John Symonds (1914–2006), whom Crowley himself designated as his literary executor, is the author of the biography considered by many as the “standard” one. Crowley, before his death, allegedly asked Symonds to take care of the publication of his unpublished works and of preparing new editions of those published during his life, also giving him the task of making sure that his wishes concerning the revenues from the copyright would be respected. By virtue of this, after Crowley's death, Symonds had the opportunity to look through all his manuscripts, original documents, diaries and letters; and his reconstruction was based on this material. Between 1951 and 1997, Symonds's biography went through several editions, often with changes and added material. Practically everyone who has taken any kind of interest in Crowley has referred to Symonds's work. However, it certainly has its critics – sometimes very harsh, too, and usually from “Crowleyan” milieus.
One of the conclusions this study does not reach, and against which the reader must be warned, is the idea that Crowley's doctrine was inherently linked to an extreme right-wing or pro-Nazi political ideology. It is true that analogies and connections do exist between the doctrine of Thelema, as Crowley presented it, and certain elements of the radical politics of the interwar period. Nevertheless, the differences between the two are no less significant. First of all, Thelema presents itself as a universalistic message, despite its elitist component. It does not postulate intrinsic differences between people on the basis of their birth, sex or ethnicity. For all that Crowley may have had some idiosyncrasies in this regard, it appears that he more or less consistently endeavoured to keep these personal attitudes separated from the universal value of his religious message. It should therefore be emphasized that, even if it is not too difficult to find sexist or racist statements in Crowley's writings, there does not seem to be an intrinsic anti-Semitic or racist component in Thelema.
Certainly, there is a substantial difference between those who have discovered their True Will and those who remain “asleep”, not knowing their existential trajectory; but this is true for all doctrines of an initiatic or gnostic type, to which Thelema obviously appears to be related. Surely, the motto “Do what thou wilt” can be more easily interpreted by Thelemites today as the basis of an anarchist or libertarian doctrine than of a totalitarian one.
An occult tactic guides, to a single end, the most decisive international conflicts; Jewish finance secretly arms militarism; while on the other hand the Jewish–Masonic ideology of liberalism and democracy prepares convenient battle arrays.
(Julius Evola, in his introduction to the 1938 Italian edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion)
But in a while suspicion grows.
“This fellow, now, by Jove, who knows?
Perhaps he too is in the Plot.
I like Scotch Whisky: he does not.
He prefers Job to Second Kings.
We disagree on many things.”
(Aleister Crowley, “The Suspicious Earl”, in Konx Om Pax)
In this chapter I will tackle a subject that has hitherto been almost completely ignored by scholars of Crowley: namely, the interest that conspiracy theorists and traditionalist circles took in him. I use the term “conspiracy theory” to indicate those theories that spread throughout Europe especially between the late eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, postulating the existence of an international conspiracy arranged by an unknown and mysterious elite, the purpose of which is to gain power over the whole world. As Joscelyn Godwin has pointed out, “conspiracy theory is anathema to the historian, but indispensable to the history of occultism”. This is undoubtedly true, given that conspiracy theories have so often germinated and developed in esoteric and occult circles.
Crowley was a wanderer not only in the physical sense, as a traveller and explorer, but also – perhaps above all – in the intellectual and spiritual sense. In him we find, for example, the influence of several Oriental mystical and religious traditions, particularly yoga and Buddhism. We find the influence of the Decadent movement and of positivism, or, more correctly, scientific naturalism, coming in both cases from his Cambridge days. Through the curriculum of the Golden Dawn, he familiarized himself with various currents or aspects of Western esotericism, including ceremonial magic, alchemy, astrology, Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, the Tarot. All this contributed to forming a highly complex and perhaps not always consistent whole. We should also consider the fact that, although Crowley was generally interested in politics, this interest remained always subordinate to his magical and metaphysical preoccupations. He was undoubtedly a man who lived in the present and had his own opinions about the social and political situation of his era, but for the most part he could not separate these aspects from the transcendent framework postulated by his world view. Crowley always interpreted his ideas and behaviour in the light of metaphysical considerations.