The Western Mystery Tradition: An Introduction


The Western Esoteric Tradition is a tradition of spiritual and philosophical practices based on Platonic philosophy and on the practical experience of such craftsmen as medieval alchemists.  It formed the foundation of much Renaissance culture, and influenced philosophers such as Leibniz.

The course will be based on the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum, which are often viewed as the tradition’s founding documents.  After reading several of the Hermetic texts, we shall consider their interpretation by later authors: in particular, the great Renaissance philosophers, Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94).

The course will conclude with an examination of the Cambridge Platonists and Elias Ashmole (1617-92), who were some of England’s great exponents of the tradition.  The study week will include visits to the Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum, to look at manuscripts and artefacts.

Programme details

Session 1

Esoteric and exoteric: what’s the difference?

Session 2

The Neoplatonic tradition as the basis for Western esotericism

Session 3

The Corpus Hermeticum I

Session 4

The Corpus Hermeticum II

Session 5

The Corpus Hermeticum III

Session 6

The Mystery Tradition in the Middle Ages: Alchemy

Session 7

The Mystery Tradition in the Middle Ages: Kabbalism

Session 8

The Discovery of Ancient Truths: Marsilio Ficino

Session 9

The Discovery of Ancient Truths:  Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

Session 10

Christian Cabbalism

Session 11

Anne Conway and the Cambridge Platonists

Session 12

Elias Ashmole and the Continuation of Ancient Knowledge


* Please note that the cost of any fieldtrips is included in the course fee.


Description Costs
Programme Fee (No Accommodation - inc. Tuition, Lunch & Dinner) £850.00
Programme Fee (Standard Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1485.00
Programme Fee (Standard Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1245.00
Programme Fee (Superior Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1600.00
Programme Fee (Superior Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1345.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments (and refunds) are subject to exchange rates at the time of processing.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking

  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date

Cancellations and refunds

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to or by post to OUSSA, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid

  • Cancellations received up to and including 31 May 2021 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.

  • Cancellations received between 1-30 June 2021 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.

  • Cancellations received on and after 1 July 2021 - no refunds will be made.

    Important note: You need to take out travel insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs.


Dr Sarah Jane Boss


Sarah Jane Boss is a theologian who specialises in Mariology and Christian Neoplatonism.

Course aims

This course aims to convey an overview of the Western esoteric tradition, from antiquity to the early modern period, and to inspire students with the enthusiasm to study it further.

Teaching methods

All summer school courses are taught through group seminars and individual tutorials. Students also conduct private study when not in class and there is a well stocked library at OUDCE to support individual research needs.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be expected to understand:

  • The main tenets of Neoplatonism as they are found in the Christian culture of Western Europe
  • The broad outlines of the historical development of esoteric practices in Western Europe
  • Principal aspects of one esoteric tradition or author

Assessment methods

Students are assessed during the summer school by either a 1500 word written assignment or a presentation supported by individual documentation. To successfully gain credit (10 CATS points) students should attend all classes and complete the on-course assignment. There is also a pre-course assignment of 1000 words set. Although this does not count towards credit, it is seen as an important way of developing a student's ideas and therefore its completion is mandatory.


To enrol online, click 'Book Now', above.  To enrol by post, please see details of the application process.

Covid-19 guidance for summer school participants

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of participants is our highest priority. We've introduced a range of measures to protect you when you are in university and college buildings, in accordance with University and UK government guidelines. These measures may include: enhanced cleaning regimes and additional facilities for hand washing and hand sanitising; spaces adapted to support social distancing with clear signage and markings; a requirement for the wearing of face coverings during in-person teaching and in indoor shared spaces.

You'll be required to follow University and UK government guidelines whilst in Oxford, and to sign a ‘Student Responsibility Agreement’ in advance of the course, confirming that you will do so (this will be similar to the version for University students, which you can review online).  Further information is available at You should particularly review the University’s Face Coverings policy, which you will need to comply with at all times on University property.

If UK government regulations require you to quarantine on arrival in the UK, then you will need to arrange this yourself at your own expense. Unfortunately, we aren’t permitted to let you quarantine in University accommodation. Travel is not encouraged – and may not be permitted – if you are travelling from or through a country on the UK government’s ‘red list’.

If we have to cancel your course

Should it be necessary to cancel your course, we will make every reasonable effort to give you as much notice of cancellation as possible, and we will refund all course fees paid by you (including the cost of accommodation, if booked through us as part of your course). Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than in pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the date they are processed.

The Department cannot be held responsible for any costs you may incur in relation to travel or accommodation bookings as a result of a course cancellation, or if you are unable to attend the course for any other reason. You are advised to check cancellation policies carefully and to purchase travel insurance.