What Is Esotericism? Esotericism describes a multi-disciplinary field of spiritual knowledge within all religions that concerns the principles or qualities of magic and Mysticism.
No matter what religion (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.), all spiritual paths have an esoteric aspect that focuses on an interpersonal connection with the Spirit, God, the Divine, or whatever you choose to call it.
In essence, I’d say all religion has two components within its make-up, regardless of the denomination, and it’s exoteric and esoteric.
The exoteric perspective is the more public persona of religious practice: its community, ceremonies, and liturgic practices. The esoteric facet of religion views the inner world, the more intimate, and arcane factors.
Pinpointing an accurate definition of esotericism is challenging. However, an understanding can be reached by describing its two main components: Magic and Mysticism. Let’s start with the latter.
What is MYSTICISM?
One of the most distinguished scholars of esotericism in the 20th Century, Sir Manly P. Hall, wrote about Mysticism in his work The Mystical Christ:
“Mysticism is not a sect or creed; it is a conviction, deriving its authority from the natural instincts of the human heart. […] Mysticism teaches the imminent availability of the divine power. It transforms, by process of interpretation, all doctrines from codes into qualities of conviction.”Manly P. Hall (p.1, 8)
Manly P. Hall says that Mysticism removes institutions’ hierarchy in established religion and makes the religious experience personal.
Mysticism indicates that a true spiritual walk needs not be based on formalities but based on a person’s passion for connecting with the Divine source. Through that, he discovers a life of conscience can blossom; rather than the opposite.
What is MAGIC?
When someone hears the word “magic,” his mind is likely to urge images of Merlin, the magician shooting fireballs from his hands.
As exciting as that picture is, it is a far cry from the real application of magic in the esoteric disciplines. To summarize many of the most celebrated magicians in history (Dion Fortune, W.E. Butler, Aleister Crowley, etc.), magic is simply the art of causing changes in consciousness – at will.
In many cases, there is nothing supernatural about it.
In reality, magic is a practice that, through symbols and rituals, connects to the human subconscious mind and creates a deliberate change in perspective, action, and both in the conscious mind.
Some would even say that magic is a superior form of psychology, which is why I cover both Nu Age Psychology and Occult practices in this blog. In fact, psychoanalysts have employed their techniques for over a century now, including in the most famous of all — Carl Jung.
What Is Esotericism? TERMINOLOGY
Sometimes the word “esotericism” is used in combination with or synonymous with the word “occult.”
Sadly, the application of the term “occult” has been corrupted over time and is now generally referred to as the implications of Devil-worship or destructive cults.
This could not be further from the truth.
The word “occult” itself comes from the Latin word occultus, which means “hidden” or “secret.”
It was used (originally) to describe that field of knowledge that dealt with the invisible realities, i.e., God’s spiritual presence.
Since God is invisible and remains hidden, and any knowledge of God is considered “hidden”.
This is the basis of so-called “secret societies” – they do not retain secrecy in support of plot against their fellow man, but to preserve the fragile body of spiritual understanding and wisdom that they practiced.
I frequently use the word “esoteric” and “occult” interchangeably, as do many authors and researchers. However, in order to share my own thoughts and ideas with the public, I have explained the term “esoteric” when discussing this distinct subject matter on my blog.
What Is Esotericism in practice?
Most of the words we speak today have an esoteric meaning, but what about esotericism? Before it became a preference label, it produced terms that were rather confusing and intimidating.
The term mysticism is now blurred, and it is often impossible to distinguish between the use of the word for visionary experiences and for non-visionaries. Indeed, there is debate among those who seek a definition of “mysticism” that is broad enough to include all those who are called mystical. The term esotericism is so widespread that it has been used in many different contexts, where it is applied to secret spiritual teachings reserved for certain elites or hidden from the masses.
There is still no consensus on how best to define the main features of “Jewish mysticism,” let alone a comprehensive and flexible taxonomy. There has been a lot of effort on the part of scientists to find the key terms to use in the study of human culture, and there is still disagreement among scientists as to which of these taxonomies is best suited for research.
I think we should start by defining esotericism quite clearly as a term that refers to cosmological, metaphysical, religious, and spiritual knowledge that is limited or intended for a limited group, not society in general.
A related word is esoteric, which literally means “to be understood by the privileged few” or “to enlighten, awaken, or initiate people.” I have decided to define mysticism as a kind of gnosis, of which it is precisely what is “exoteric” in itself. It is much better to add this descriptor to the term “gnosis,” which refers to spiritual insights directed to the cosmos’ hidden aspects and transcendence.
Then, in view of the confusion that mysticism creates, one could speak of visionary or negative grace, but I realize that these terms precede the “gnosis” in question, and I have decided to define them as precisely that, that is, as esoteric.
The word “exoteric” means simply “inward” and is contrasted with externally or exoterically. The word esoteric simply means “exterior” or “exoteric,” as opposed to “interior,” and it is both internal and ex-esoteric.
It is not to be confused with something that is very specialized, technical, or difficult to master, such as in relation to a certain type of art, music, philosophy, religion, science, literature, etc. It is used to simply designate a type of knowledge that exceeds the general public’s knowledge or even of other people in the same field of study.
Esoteric esotericism – what’s that?
The term esotericism refers to esoteric, but it is believed that phenomena that are classified as mysticism cannot be excluded from this definition. For this reason, esoterics generally chooses more specific terms that refer to a certain type of knowledge, such as esoteric philosophy, philosophy of the mind, etc. In other words, the word “esotericism” refers not only to secret knowledge but also to secrets that are deliberately guarded, including cosmological and metaphysical gnosis.
Esotericism is used to designate a certain kind of secret or deliberately kept secret of distinguishing between the initiated and the uninitiated since the former are supposed to respect the so-called disciplines of the arcane.
What Is Esotericism? And what is Western esotericism? It’s is a distinct and useful categorization of beliefs and practices. It deserves to be a serious scholastic study, which is today recognized as one of the most important research areas in the field of esoteric philosophy.
When theosophical literature applies the term to a branch of esoteric philosophy, it usually refers to those who belong to a group of people who hold these teachings as part of their philosophy of the spirit. The word “esotericism” generally refers to what is known and accepted by a limited number of peoples, as opposed to “exoteric.”
Nevertheless, it is the esoteric elite of philosophical Sufism that is generally defined as such in Western literature. The analysis of what is esoteric and why should not be limited to more or less cosmological forms of esotericism. Another problem with the definition of Western esotericism is that scholars and non-scholars traditionally hold some esoteric themes. In Orthodox Islam, which was conceived at the time as a philosophy of the spirit and as an independent form of esoteric philosophy, Sufism is understood, for example, as an esoteric interpretation of its teachings.
A little crudely, esotericism can be described as a Western form of spirituality that emphasizes the need to gain a deeper understanding of the divine aspect of existence with which man confronts it.
Eastern philosophy refers to the idea that when Westerners teach, practice, or reformulate the teachings of ancient religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, they should be considered New Age, a term coined by Bailey.
What is Esotericism? – Conclusion
The term is often used as a near-synonym in a fairly broad sense – again, but that can simply mean that knowledge is secret or confidential. The terms gnosis and gnosis challenge this coherent category and refer to ancient Jewish, Christian, and pagan religious movements, which often claim to possess secret doctrines that are in opposition to the spirit world as opposed to an ordinary world that we tend to denigrate.
O’sis, esotericism, or “esotericism” is understood as the kind of knowledge that emphasizes a deeper understanding of the divine aspect of existence and its relationship to human existence. To use “ESOTERism” in the general sense can mean “knowledge of knowledge” as easily as it can simply mean “secret and confidential knowledge.”
I hope this clears up some definitions for readers. I look forward to any comments or questions, or conversations about this topic in the comments below.