a View of Western Esoterism

Discussion in 'Eastern Religions and Philosophies' started by Thomas, Dec 10, 2020.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Foreword:
    To me, 'the esoteric' pervades all forms of 'philosophy' in its original definition. The distinction between eso- and exo- says more about us than it does about the object in question. All religions have a more or less discreet esotericism, but it should be understood that 'the esoteric' is neither the object nor goal of authentic religion, and a religion that claims to be exclusively esoteric (as certain 'Gnosticisms' do, for example) are also exclusively elitist. Religions appeal to, and enable, all people to aspire to and attain that religion's stated goal. Esoteric then becomes a subsidiary, a component, and not at all necessary for the believer to draw back the veil, as it were, nor necessary in enabling the believer to participate in what lies beyond it.

    +++

    The earliest traditions can be grouped into two schools, the Mythopoeic, such as Hermeticism, Hebraic mystical speculation, and the Logoic, of Aristotle, Plato et seq.

    As an aside, gnosis, a mode of intellection, is a component of every Religious Tradition, whereas 'Gnosticism' or 'the Gnostics' commonly refers to a 2nd century syncretism, a sort of Christian counter-culture which continues to emerge periodically. Generally speaking they were excoriated by both Hellenic philosophers and Christian orthodoxy. There is a sharp distinction between 'Christian esoterism' and 'esoteric Christianity'.

    Renaissance Europe saw an increase in interest in many of these older ideas, arising from the influx of knowledge from the Islamic countries, such as the appearance of Greek philosophical texts long been lost in the west. Various intellectuals combined 'pagan' philosophies, the Kabbalah (perhaps itself a mix of newfound Greek and preserved Hebraic speculation) and orthodox Christian philosophy, resulting in the emergence of movements like Christian theosophy.

    The seventeenth century saw the development of secret and initiatic societies professing to possess such knowledge, such as Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and later the Enlightenment led to new forms of esoteric speculation deriving from Mesmerism, for example, or New Thought ideologies.

    The nineteenth century saw the emergence of new trends: an interest in occultism, and the appearance of groups like the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Modern Paganism developed with with movements such as Wicca.

    What should not be ignored, nor indeed underestimated here, is the impact of the Romance Movement as a reaction to Industrialisation, and the opening up of distance continents with all their exotic appeal.

    Nor, something which keeps nagging at me, is the dabblings of the 18th/19th century upper middle classes as 'the old order' of wealth and entitlement was slipping away, notably their eccentricities — again this includes occultisms, spiritism, the fascination with Egypt and other exoticisms, etc. In so many cases, heroes of the various movements have common origins, born into religious households, a degree of wealth and therefore independence, a rejection of familial and normative values ... There is a Very English Tradition here, running through the veins of English society, traced right up until current times.

    Esoteric ideas permeated the counterculture of the 1960s and later cultural tendencies, from which emerged the New Age phenomenon in the 1970s with its Cults, on through the more materialist and consumer-oriented interests in Yoga, meditation, TM etc., through to, on the other hand, flat-earthers, anti-vaxers and various 'conspiracy theories' which are the contemporary secular expression of the 'religious superstitions' of yore.
     
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  2. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic) Admin

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    Nice historical cross-section.

    So how does the perennialist view fit in with with the time axis you've worked out here, Thomas?
     
  3. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Hi Cino —
    Might be being a bit thick here, but could you elucidate on the question?

    (If you're still interested, that is ...)
     
  4. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic) Admin

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    I think what I meant to ask was: Western Esotericism has entertained perennialist ideas to various degrees, I believe.

    At which times do you see perennialism having move influence, historically, in your timeline? Were there ups and downs?
     
  5. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Greetings Thomas, I've been away for a bit.

    Quick observation regarding:
    If by "tradition" you imply widespread and long standing repetitive observance or rituals, would not the cave dwellers far more accurately be ascribed as the "earliest?" Over and over again across millennia and continents we find the same and similar handiwork in cave after cave after cave....
     
  6. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    I think Thomas is categorizing the cave dwellers along with what he calls the Mythopoeic.
     
  7. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    I'm not so certain.

    "the Mythopoeic, such as Hermeticism," et al, suggests quite a different direction to me. Perhaps I am mistaken? I am certain Hermeticism has nothing to do with the cave dwellers, and I've seen nothing in the anthropological research to suggest cave dwellers had anything to do with Hermeticism, let alone the rest mentioned.
     
  8. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    I guess we'll have to wait and see with Thomas' reply.
     
  9. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Gotcha. Yes, ups and downs ... I'll compose something ...
     
  10. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Yes, that's a good point.

    On reflection, it also seems perhaps a tad inaccurate to suggest that Hermeticism stands as an example of the mythopoeic narrative. Perhaps Hermeticism stands between the purely mythopoeic, from the cave art through to contemporary (as regards early Hermeticism) Mystery Religions, and the Philosophical Religions of later Hellenism?

    The link, if such be the case, I would take as the use of symbol and imagery.
     
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  11. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Indeed. Symbolic thinking surely sets humanity apart. Without symbols to reason with, we reason with images, which I think would correlate in greater and lesser degree among all animals. It was the development of symbols that gave rise to alphabets and numbers and in-depth reasoning I would think, even consciousness (in combination with grain consumption at the agricultural revolution).

    I can picture in my mind a band of forebears scratching on the ground how to take down a Mammoth for supper (many suppers). It would require recognized and agreed to symbols and reasoning.

    Scattered among the well known cave paintings are "positive" and "negative" ochre handprints, and various scratches, thought by some to be an early form of writing...basically "Kilroy was here" I've long found it intriguing, the masterful effort to display the various animals that had relevance to their lives, but the people were all stick figures. Some of the Venus figures have exaggerated proportions, but those are closer to "real" than the stick figure people among the animal images. Clearly, they didn't feel humans worth the effort to portray accurately, but the animals they went to great lengths to do so with what they had.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2021

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