Terje Sparby

Terje Sparby

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Eros and Thanatos. Love and Death in Western Esotericism and Its Relation to Tibetan Tantra

Love and death are central concepts of Western Esotericism. Starting with Plato’s Symposium, this lecture will trace the development of the idea of love, and it’s counterparts destruction, inertia or death, through Neoplatonism and the Renaissance, to Freud and Bataille. A related question is whether spirituality is properly conceived of as ascending or descending. Is the divine to be found in transcendent realms, on earth, or in hell? In eros, in death, or some combination of both? A practical answer to this question can be found in Buddhist or Tibetan Tantra, and may be cast in the terminology of Western Esotericism like this:  Heightened eros leads to a transformative death process that unveils the one. Yet Buddhism challenges one of the central concepts of Western Esotericism, namely that of the self, and related ideas such as the daimon, the higher self, and the holy guardian angel. This challenge may be met by conceiving the self as the unity of eros and thanatos.


Terje Sparby studied philosophy, the history of religion, and the history of ideas, at the University of Oslo. He received his PhD in philosophy at Heidelberg University. He has been a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Institute, and was a postdoc at Humboldt University in Berlin and at the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging (University of Giessen). In recent years he has worked at Witten/Herdecke University, focusing on phenomenology, first-person methods, and meditation. He is currently a professor of philosophy and research director at Steiner University College in Oslo, where he leads the contemplative research group in Europe. In 2021 he co-founded an independent practitioner-run organisation called United Mind Arts, publishing books on magic and meditation.

Currently, Terje is a professor of philosophy at the Steiner University College in Oslo.