The present paper is devoted to the phenomenon of changeability in the history of ‚Western learned magic‘ and focuses on a particular – conceptual as well as ritual – shift which took place, so the paper argues, at the turn of the 20th century. The paper is derived from a lecture I gave during a Ringvorlesung on the topic of ‚Perfektionierung des Menschen‘ earlier this year. It will appear in a volume that assembles selected lectures of said Ringvorlesung, and thus stands next to papers on genetics, embryo screening, or transhumanism.
The paper first sketches out my current understanding of ‚Western learned magic‘ (ch. 1), and therafter (ch. 2) attempts at outlining the relationship between ‚Optimierung‘ and ‚Perfektionierung‘ in the pre-modern ‚learned magic‘ discourse (I mainly operationalize these two concepts on the level of ritual goals: inner-wordly Kontingenzbewältigung vs. self-deification or apotheosis). Chapter 3 provides the main part of the analysis: the three discussed examples – the Hermetic Order oft he Golden Dawn; Aleister Crowley; and the so-called ‚moonchild experiments‘ by Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard – are intended to illustrate the presumed shift from ‚Optimierung‘ to ‚Perfektionierung‘ in the 20th century ‚learned magic‘ discourse. The final chapter (ch. 4) attempts to provide a range of explanations for this seemingly crucial shift in the history of ‚Western learned magic‘.