How not to write occult history
The history of the occult is an interesting topic, especially for scholars of Rudolf Steiner. To someone new to esotericism who encounters Rudolf Steiner first, it may seem as if he originated everything. This is not to undervalue Steiner's substantial original contributions; however Steiner himself was the first to acknowledge that he was working in a tradition with a long history. And Steiner made many references to earlier concepts – as often to disagree with them as to declare them correct. Steiner took individual positions on literally thousands of different points within the occult tradition, which poses a considerable challenge to anyone who would like to easily pigeonhole him into an easy category of this or that type of occultist. And one path that will almost invariably go wrong is to identify one position that Steiner held, compare it to one position another occultist held, and if it is similar, subsequently conclude that they therefore must have held identical positions on every other question of major or minor significance.
Occultism is by definition an obscure topic, and one that has a long history of sensationalist publicity. When pursued as a historical subject, it demands at least the same level or rigor in sources as any other area of history. Writing rigorous, carefully documented history is tedious, but the tedium is what separates history from, say, the sensationalism of an outlet like the Weekly World News.
Now if there is one common tendency in occultism (both the legitimate and fraudulent kind) it is that of obscuring sources. The mysterious, secret source of wisdom is a common trend in most all occult revelations. And in many instances, when a careful investigator meticulously researches the claims, they can discover fraud of some sort or other. Some frauds are essentially a form of plagiarism, where one "teacher" is discovered to be teaching almost verbatim the teachings of an unrelated obscure mystic when they claim to have invented or discovered the teachings themselves. Other times gurus invent biographies, saying they were studying in Tibet during an earlier period of their lives when in fact they were studying at a Midwestern community college. In fact, Steiner is almost unique in that his biography in all its details is verifiable, and he is nothing more or less than he claims to be. Steiner is further unusual in that he repeatedly claimed that his source for his occult knowledge was only his own insight, his own clairvoyance, and no teacher, guru, master, or Great White Lodge had instructed him in either teachings or tasks. He alone assumed responsibility for everything he said and did.
When occult history is written, it is often either hagiography or exposé. The hagiographies tend to be poorly documented, the exposés meticulously so. (The one curious reversal of this trend seems to be Steiner, whose hagiographies are meticulously documented, by whose investigative exposés tend to be missing any real documentation.) A neutral history, if it is really a history, needs to be meticulously documented, because that is what is required of a historian.
This discussion brings us to an interesting website that I discovered recently, http://www.sociologyesoscience.com/esoterica/. At first glance it appears to be a goldmine of information on occult movements and trends. It ranges broadly over personalities and trends, and mentions virtually anyone of any significance. Steiner even merits a few paragraphs. And most of it seems pretty accurate. As I read through, I eagerly bookmarked it. Then I came across a point that I decided I would like to look into, and came across the problem: No footnotes! I clicked through a dozen or more articles, tens of thousands of words. No footnotes. No citations. None. In vain I looked for a references page, a list of works consulted. From a historical perspective, the site is useless. Because without citations, you can't trust a single thing the author says.
Out of curiosity I poked around until I found the author's name: Eric P. Wijnants. Clicking around some more, I found even more articles. One in particular caught my eye. It was an article on the connection between Alistair Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard, at http://sociologyesoscience.com/crowleyscientology.html. Because I had previously read something on the subject, I looked it over. Sure enough the story was quite familiar. Substantial portions were taken from Russell Miller's Bare Faced Messiah. The source pages are even on the web, at http://www.clambake.org/archive/books/bfm/bfm07.htm. Did Eric give any acknowledgement to where he got his information? No, not a word.
The irony is immense. For someone who purports to unearth the hidden truth about the occult, he is behaving exactly like the occultists he exposes. Mountains of secret truth are revealed, and all must be taken on faith, faith that Eric P. Wijnants has properly understood and presented the information that he posts in semi-anonymity (none of the occult pages have his name on them). And faith it must be, because there is no way to verify any of it.
Further, there is no way any of these articles would be accepted in an academic context, because without sources, they are all essentially plagiarized.
And finally, the probably unauthorized use of several professional quality photographs of the interior of Steiner's second Goetheanum to illustrate his esoterica page is another indication of how much respect Eric P. Wijnants has for other people's work. Neither the photographer, nor the architect, nor the place is mentioned! They are just used out of any context for the mood they convey. (See: http://www.epwijnants-lectures.com/rosen.html). How like a fraudulent occultist!