Lure of the Arcane: The Literature of Cult and Conspiracy by Theodore Ziolkowski

By Theodore Ziolkowski

Fascination with the arcane is a driver during this accomplished survey of conspiracy fiction. Theodore Ziolkowski strains the evolution of cults, orders, motels, mystery societies, and conspiracies via a variety of literary manifestations—drama, romance, epic, novel, opera—down to the thrillers of the twenty-first century.

Lure of the Arcane considers Euripides’s Bacchae, Andreae’s Chymical Wedding, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, between different seminal works. Mimicking the genre’s quest-driven narrative arc, the reader searches for the importance of conspiracy fiction and is rewarded with the author’s cogent reflections within the ultimate bankruptcy. After a lot research, Ziolkowski reinforces Umberto Eco’s proposal that the main strong mystery, the magnetic heart of conspiracy fiction, is actually "a mystery with no content."

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Moreover, however ill a mortal may be, he cannot die for a week after he has beheld the stone. Anyone who should look regularly at the stone in the course of two hundred years would keep a complexion 36 Lure of the Arcane as fresh as in his youth. The marvelous power of the stone is restored each year on Good Friday, when a dove descends from heaven with a small wafer, which it deposits thereupon and by virtue of whose power the stone produces all food and drink that the earth bears—but of paradisal excellence.

He reasons that, although initiated into the cult of Isis, he is not yet a member of the order of Osiris, which requires an entirely different ceremony. He goes to a priest of that order, who tells him he had been notified of the visit of a “poor man from Madaurus,” whom he should initiate into the mysteries. Lucius, impoverished from the costs of his first initiation in Cencreae, sells what little remains to him and makes some extra money by arguing cases in the law courts. 28: principalis dei nocturnis orgiis).

As the age of chivalry along with the Crusades waned in the course of the thirteenth century, the order lost its raison d’être. The criticisms led ultimately in 1312 to its suppression, and two years later the last Master, James of Molay, was burned at the stake—ostensibly for blasphemy but in actuality for reasons of realpolitik: King Philip IV wanted to seize the order’s vast resources to cover his enormous debts. ) In the meantime, and in subsequent centuries, the secrecy surrounding the order fostered rumors and generated the lure of the arcane: among others, the association of the Templars with another mystery of the age, the Holy Grail.

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