SASHA CHAITOW Ph.D.
Cultural historian / Artist / Author: University of Essex
Saving the lives of angels: Joséphin Péladan’s Vision for Redemption Through the Arts
Sasha Chaitow, PhD, is a British-Greek scholar, author, and artist. She completed her doctoral research on Joséphin Péladan’s life and work in 2014 at the University of Essex. She initially trained in figurative art at Vakalo College of Art (Athens, Greece), and she holds two MAs in Western Esotericism (University of Exeter, 2008), and English Literature (University of Indianapolis, 2004).
Now an independent scholar, she is interested in the interdisciplinary study of the intersection between esotericism and art and is currently exploring the symbolism of Greek icons, both artistically and from a scholarly perspective. She has published a monograph on Péladan (Salonica, 2013), several academic articles on Péladan and other topics in Western Esotericism for international academic journals, and has published internationally on related topics for the general reader. She has delivered numerous academic and public lectures on related subjects, and is currently revising her PhD dissertation for publication with Brill Academic Press in 2017.
Sasha is also a prolific visual artist and runs a gallery specialising in sacred art and heraldry in Corfu, Greece, representing over 30 artists as well as some of her own work. Since 2000 she has exhibited in Greece, the UK, Sweden and Spain, and her artwork has been included in international cultural publications. Her work is found in private collections worldwide.
During the artistic explosion marking the Parisian Belle Époque, the Salons de la Rose et Croix (1892-1897), though short-lived, were perhaps one of the most ambitious artistic undertakings seen by 19th century French art world. They sought to unite the arts into a revival of initiatory drama, with philosophical foundations rooted in Western occultism and idealist thought.
The Salons were the brainchild of one of the enfants terribles of the French Occult Revival; esoteric philosopher and author Joséphin Péladan (Sâr Merodack, 1858-1918), a key figure in the inception and development of fin-de-siècle French Symbolism. His ultimate goal was a revolution against realism and the re-enchantment and spiritual regeneration of what he saw as a disintegrating and decadent society. Influenced by Platonic philosophy and Luciferian theology, his grand vision comprised an imaginal world in which artist-initiates would form the inner circle, designed to ignite a collective awakening in society and replace religion with art. The artist-initiates would raise the souls of the masses to ecstasy through aesthetic bombardment with symbolic images that would simultaneously stimulate the intellect and the soul. The ultimate end of this awakening would be restitution for the Fall of man and angels through human creativity.
Péladan’s work attempts to dissolve boundaries on several levels. He broke with esoteric “secrecy” and published self-initiation manuals proclaiming his message; he used every artistic communication channel available to disseminate his message; inspired scores of artists to take up his cause; and produced a vast literary oeuvre to support and explain his philosophy. Very much the product of his time, his work reflects the birth of Modernism and the growing social turmoil during the early 20th century.
After a brief introduction to Péladan’s life and times and a contextualisation of his core message, this paper focuses on his concept of the role of art and artists and their power to effect individual and social change according to his esoteric-aesthetic philosophy.
One of Péladan’s key premises was that art should speak to both the intellect and the soul, spurring viewers to cultivate their understanding of the underlying symbolic messages, and to grasp esoteric truths that could not be as effectively expressed in words.
This collection of original oil paintings by Sasha Chaitow, created especially for the Trans-States Conference, illustrates key esoteric concepts from Péladan’s work that are also discussed in the conference paper. Using Peladan’s own symbolic stories and concepts, she builds symbolic compositions encapsulating various aspects of his esoteric philosophy, demonstrating how he intended art to become a portal into self-awareness and esoteric awakening.