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Mircea Eliade

From Magic to Myth


Moshe Idel

Mircea Eliade: From Magic to Myth addresses a series of topics that have been neglected in scholarship. First and foremost, the book looks at the early Romanian background of some of Eliade’s ideas, especially his magical universe, which took on a more mythical nature with his arrival in the West. Other chapters deal with Eliade’s attitude toward Judaism, which is crucial for his phenomenology of religion, and the influences of Kabbalah on his early work. Later chapters address his association with the Romanian extreme right movement known as the Iron Guard and the reverberation of some of the images in the post-war Eliade as well as with the status of Romanian culture in his eyes after World War II. The volume concludes by assessing the impact of Eliade’s personal experiences on the manner in which he presented religion. The book will be useful in classes in the history of religion and the history of Eastern European intellectuals.
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My first encounter with Mircea Eliade’s books was sometime in 1964 or 1965, when I attempted to improve my English by reading books written in an easy style that also had some interest for me. Strangely enough, it had nothing to do with the obviously Romanian name of the author. However, the interest in Jewish thought took me in another direction, and I returned to read Eliade again only later in the mid-seventies, when preparing my Ph.D. thesis. However, it was only much later that I discovered that Eliade was actually the friend of Mihail Sebastian, my favorite Romanian playwright, about whose life I did not know anything while in Romania. Toward the end of the seventies, I heard some rumors about the possible affiliations of Eliade with the extreme right, and spoke briefly with Gershom Scholem about them in 1979. However, it was only a month after the death of Eliade, in a conversation with Prof. Wendy Doniger in Jerusalem, that I repeated these rumors, which she vehemently denied. I decided then to read much more systematically and investigate the problem. For this reason I met with Sebastian’s younger brother Benjamin Andrei (Beno, Benu/Bimbirică) in the summer of 1986 in Boulogne, and he confirmed Eliade’s affiliation with the Iron Guard, though he had a rather reconciling attitude toward what he nevertheless described as an affiliation. Some months later I became acquainted with Leon Volovici’s plan to write a book on interwar nationalism in Romania, and it was...

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