Dark Tourism and Thanatourism at the Crossroads of the Occult : special panel in Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic at Southwest Popular/American Culture Association, Feb 21-24, Albuquerque, New Mexico

deadline for submissions: 
November 14, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Southwest Popular/American Culture Association
contact email: 

Dark Tourism and Thanatourism at the Crossroads of the Occult

The heritage of numerous sorcerous and mystical traditions is replete with explorations, visitations, and
journeys to forbidding and ominous localities and sites of baleful and baneful provenance. Dark Tourism,
a category of travel well established thanks to the pathbreaking work of its founding tourism scholars
Foley and Lennon (1996) has been historically defined as “a type of tourism that encompasses the
presentation of real and commodified death and disaster zones, and their consumption by visitors." In the
same year, A.V. Seaton explored the background of Dark Tourism in thanatopsis and defined the related
concept of Thanatourism as “travel to a location wholly, or partially, motivated by the desire for actual or
symbolic encounters with death, particularly, but not exclusively, violent death, which may, to a varying
degree be activated by the person-specific features of those whose death are its focal object.”
Relevant examples of esoteric, occult, and magical engagement with grim locales appear in traditions as
diverse as archaic shamanic and initiatory ordeals, Graeco-Egyptian sorcery, early Christian thaumaturgy
and exorcism, antinomian tantra, medieval necromancy, occult-revival spiritualism, and contemporary
sinister esotericism. Exemplary sites include gravesites, graveyards, cremation grounds, mausoleums, and
so forth (sometimes also being considered sacred and mystical sites) as well as locations of public
execution, martyrdom, calamity, massacre, and death. The legendaria of specific traditions, often
interwoven with their fictional representations in popular culture, has produced concepts that have been
literalized in diverse variations, one example being the “Black Pilgrimage.” Modernity has proliferated
the number and variation of sites associated with atrocity from the personal level to the industrial scale,
along with associated occult mythos. Increasing availability of information and ease of travel has made
such sites accessible and often commodified.  Contemporary popular representations have further blurred
the already tenuous boundaries between the stereotypical ‘ghost tour’ and ‘haunted site’, and the morbid
attraction of infamous sites of murder, assassination, and the appeal of fame and celebrity, which has
continued to extend to the infamously wicked, depraved, and deranged.   

Nevertheless, both Dark Tourism and Thanatourism may simultaneously include and exclude travelers,
sites, infrastructures, and histories associated with esotericism, the occult, and magic. What is the
boundary, if any, between the practitioner instrumentalizing such sites, the guides that commercialize and
commodify them, and the consumers who engage with them as a form of entertainment, escape, or
exploration?  In what way is the esoteric, occult, and magical interaction with these sites comparable to
the broader activity of commercialized and commodified pilgrimage, whether spiritual or secular? Within
the layers of travelers’ interest in psychic phenomena, spiritual events, and the paranormal, Dark Tourism
and Thanatourism may be the intersection within popular culture at which tropes of the dark and the
hidden and tropes of the occult overlap most deeply.
This panel seeks to engage and challenge existing concepts, assumptions, and definitions of Dark Tourism
and Thanatourism through the examination of travel, pilgrimage, and tourism in the context of the study
and practice of esotericism, occultism, and magic. Crossroads of inquiry may include: The haunted
heritage of the American Southwest; authenticity claims and metafictional historicity (American Horror
Story filming locations in New Orleans, the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the LaLaurie Mansion); celebrity
grave tourism, particularly deified figures who died in youth and/or tragic circumstances (Jim Morrison,
Dionysian hero); the layering of historical memory within the popularization of folklore (Romania, Vlad
the Impaler, Dracula); the roles of social media in shaping the ecology of esoteric, occult, and magical
tourism; ritual, repetition, praxis and travel; neocolonialism and cultural appropriation within esoteric, occult, and magical tourism; and depictions of esoteric, occult, and magical tourism in media (The Wicker Man, Midsommar).
Considering the intersections of Dark Tourism and Thanatourism with esoteric, occult, and magical
praxis, particularly in light of their reflection in popular culture, how do we explore and explain these
journeys that are neither pilgrimage nor prurience, neither curiosity nor investigative inquiry, and also not
escapist entertainment? What aspects of these journeys are beyond the commodification and
commercialization entrenched in Dark Tourism and Thanatourism?

To propose a paper presentation or to receive more information regarding this special panel in the Area for Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference this February 21-24 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, please directly contact the Area Chair, Dr. George J. Sieg, at georgejsieg@gmail.com as soon a possible.