Esotericism or esoteric beliefs is the state or quality of being esoteric obscure and only understood or intended to be understood by a small number of people with special (and perhaps secret) knowledge. Esotericism often involves knowledge that’s only intended to be revealed to people who have been initiated into a certain group.
It’s a fancy word for having a niche interest or a specific understanding of something. The term esoteric has been adopted in the spiritual community in a more philosophical sense, it is used to describe a practice or a person who seemingly has a deep knowledge of the universe and the lessons within it and actively works to connect with those things.
What Is The Meaning Of Esotericism?
Esotericism refers to the doctrines or practices of esoteric knowledge or the quality or state of being obscure. Esoteric knowledge is that which is specialized or advanced in nature, available only to a narrow circle of “enlightened,” “initiated,” or highly educated people. Typically, esoteric knowledge is contrasted with exoteric knowledge, which is well-known or public knowledge perceived as informally canonic in society at large. Items about esotericism may be known as esoteric.
Esotericism largely involves an element of initiation such as the requirement that one be tested before learning the higher truth. However, such knowledge may be kept secret not by the intention of its protectors, but by its very nature for example, if it is accessible only to those with the proper intellectual background.
Some overlap may exist between esotericism and mysticism; but many mystical traditions do not attempt to introduce additional spiritual knowledge, but rather seek to focus the believer’s attention or prayers more strongly upon the object of devotion. A mystic is thus not necessarily an esotericist. A variety of traditions could be classified as forms of “esotericism” due to their “inner” focus as well as their “selective” and “secretive” nature.
Is Esoteric a Religion?
Esotericism has pervaded various forms of Western philosophy, religion, pseudoscience, art, literature, and music and continues to influence intellectual ideas and popular culture.
esoteric (inner) religion, the God within, finding the truth within the human heart (since humanity is divine). involving (as it may) perceived eternal verities regarding humankind’s ultimate nature, often contrasts with the temporal, with the material, or with the worldly.
The term “exoteric” may also reflect the notion of a divine identity that is outside of, and different from, human identity, whereas the esoteric notion claims that the divine is to be discovered within the human identity.
Esoteric elements are found in many religions, including major world religions such as Christianity (e.g., Gnosticism) and Judaism (e.g., Kabbalah), and small, occult NRMs such as the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Golden Dawn.
The History Of Esoteric and Esoteric beliefs:
Esotericism is not a single tradition, but a vast array of often unrelated figures and movements. Nevertheless, the following examples provide an overview of some of the most prominent esoteric movements and figures throughout history:
In the ancient Graeco-Roman world, “Mystery religions,” or simply “Mysteries,” were belief systems in which full admission was restricted to those who had gone through certain secret initiation rites.”The term “Mystery” derives from Latin mysterium, from Greek musterion (usually as the plural musteria μυστήρια), in this context meaning “secret rite or doctrine.” An individual who followed such a Mystery was a mystic, “one who has been initiated,” from myein, “to close, shut,” perhaps a reference to secrecy or that only initiates were allowed to observe and participate in rituals.
The Mysteries were thus belief systems in which all religious functions were closed to the non-inducted and for which the inner-working of the religion were kept secret from the general public. Although there are no other formal qualifications, mystery religions were also characterized by their lack of orthodoxy and scripture. Religions that were practiced in secret only to avoid religious persecution are not, by default, Mysteries.
The old meaning of “mystery” is also preserved in the expression “mystery play.” These stage performances of medieval Europe were known as such because the first groups to perform them were the craftsmen guilds, entry to which required initiation and who zealously protected their trade secrets.
The Mysteries are frequently confused with Gnosticism, perhaps in part because Greek gnosis means “knowledge. The gnosis of Gnosticism is however distinct from the arcanum, the “secret wisdom” of the Mysteries: While the Gnostics hoped to acquire knowledge through divine revelation, the mystery religions presumed to have it, with mystics of high rank revealing the possessed wisdom to acolytes of lower rank.
The term “mystery religion” applies to a few of the numerous belief systems of the eastern Mediterranean of late classical antiquity, including the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Orphic Mysteries, and the Mithraic Mysteries. Some of the many divinities that the Romans nominally adopted from other cultures also came to be worshiped in Mysteries, such as the Egyptian Isis, Thracian/Phrygian Sabazius, and Phrygian Cybele.
“Plato, an initiate of one of these sacred orders, was severely criticized because in his writings he revealed to the public many of the secret philosophic principles of the Mysteries” (Hall).
The mystery religions are possibly one of the origins of Western mystery tradition, but the two should not be confused with one another.
After Christianity became the state religion of Rome, dissident Christian groups became persecuted as traitors to the state. Pagan groups came to be suppressed as well. The terms “Gnosticism” and “Gnosis” have been challenged as coherent categories, but refer to a family of ancient Jewish, Christian, and pagan religious movements which often claimed to possess secret teachings relating to the spirit world, as opposed to the ordinary world which they tended to denigrate. Another important movement from the ancient world was Hermeticism, sometimes called Hermetism to distinguish it from post-Renaissance appropriations of it. Separately, ancient Babylon provided the basis for Western astrology. Some see Christianity, with its ritual of baptism, as a mystery religion.
During the Middle Ages, such things as astrology, alchemy, and magic were not distinct from the standard subjects of the curriculum of an educated person. While some people assume esotericism to be opposed to the Bible or Christianity, as a historical matter this tension did not arise until later. Indeed, Christianity contributed its esoteric imagery, notably the Holy Grail from Arthurian literature.
While many esoteric subjects have a history reaching back thousands of years, these have generally not survived as continuous traditions. Rather, they have benefited from various antiquarian revival movements. During the Italian Renaissance, for example, translators such as Ficino and Pico Della Mirandola turned their attention to the classical literature of neo-Platonism, and what was thought to be the pre-Mosaic tradition of Hermeticism.
European esotericism was reformulated in the seventeenth century as Rosicrucianism, and later entered various strands of Freemasonry. In the nineteenth century, a notable French revival, in turn, gave way to the Theosophy of H. P. Blavatsky. In the twentieth century, Theosophy was reformulated by Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, Alice Bailey, Rudolf Steiner, and many others. Theosophy is also considered a major influence on the many current varieties of esotericism in metaphysical organizations, “Ascended Master Activities,” and within the New Age groups. Yet, another notable esoteric strain stems from the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky.
Rudolf Steiner, who broke with theosophy to found his anthroposophy, spoke of a disagreement between esotericists at the close of the nineteenth century; one branch wanted to open up esoteric knowledge to the general public, while another group wished to maintain secrecy. Steiner himself claimed to stand in the lineage of those who wanted to make the esoteric an accepted part of mainstream culture. His first books, written in the nineteenth century, avoided any reference to esoteric themes, but he saw the twentieth century as the dawn of a new age when spirituality would be increasingly central to human development. Thus, he began to publish works such as Theosophy and Occult Science and to lecture on esoteric themes both to select audiences (members of the Anthroposophical Society or his esoteric school) and to the general public. All but the most esoteric of these lectures were already being published during his lifetime, and in the last decades, even the most esoteric material has been made available by the Rudolf Steiner Archive and Press, by Steiner’s wishes.
In contemporary English usage, the term “esoteric” does not necessarily refer to “esotericism” per se in the sense of “inner” knowledge, disciplines, or practices. The term “esotericism” has come to informally mean any knowledge that is difficult to understand or remember, such as theoretical physics, or that which pertains to the minutiae of a particular discipline, such as “esoteric” baseball statistics.
What is esoteric thought?
An esoteric subject is a subject that is known to a select group of people rather than the population at large.
Esoteric schools of thought are schools, currents, or movements which have an occult system of thought based on esoteric knowledge. They aid to prepare the individual for spiritual evolution.
Connotations Of Esoteric or Esoteric beliefs:
“Esotericism” as selective
A prime example of a historically highly selective category of Esoteric beliefs teaching is within the academic discipline of philosophy, (in particular, philosophy of mind), whose teachers maintain selectivity by limiting their scope to colleges and universities. This discipline has not focused entirely on esoteric thought, but enough that the term “philosophical knowledge” can generally be used in the place of “esoteric knowledge” when referring to knowledge about the same “inner” aspects listed above. The Oxford English Dictionary lists as its prime definition of esoteric, “Of philosophical doctrines,” although modern philosophers generally avoid the term “esoteric” due to its negative associations with the occult as described below.
In the late 19th to early 20th Century, the discipline of psychology branched off from philosophy a reaction away from the “inner” nature of philosophy towards the more empirical, practical, exoteric nature of science and medicine. Ironically this was spearheaded by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, both of whom privately showed great interest in the occult and esotericism, including psychic phenomena, although it would be difficult in the time of Darwin and Einstein to appear unscientific in their professional lives. From the 20th Century to the present day, there have been various subsets of psychology that were more esoteric or spiritual than behavioral or scientific in basis, such as Gestalt therapy, although these subsets generally avoided the term “esotericism” due to its negative connotation with “the occult” and “New Age” authors such as Alice Bailey, who wrote a series of books in the early 20th Century entitled Esoteric Psychology. Many esoteric Eastern teachings, or Eastern esotericism, are also referred to as Eastern philosophies, although if they are taught, practiced, or reformulated by Westerners, they are often considered New Age, a term Bailey coined.
“Esotericism” as secretive or “occult”
On the other hand, there are many examples of the highly secretive category of esoteric teachings, which are usually referred to as occult (from the Latin for hidden). The category of “the occult” is broad and encompasses many exoteric teachings as well, such as alchemy, particularly if those teachings may have also had an esoteric aspect. Further, efforts by certain religions to identify and warn against heretical teachings have added a highly pejorative connotation to “occult,” and by extension, “esoteric.” This is so prevalent that many non-religious sources now consider “occult” and “esoteric” to mean the same thing, and it has also led to religions like Voodoo, Sufiism, and Wicca to be grouped with Satanism, cults, and Dungeons and Dragons, regardless of how “hidden” or “inner” the concerns of any of these may be, or even if they are religions at all (but merely games that do not attempt to be secretive). Historically, “occult” (i.e. secretive and hidden) forms of esotericism (“inner” teachings) included magic, freemasonry, and certain monastic and ascetic traditions. In Eastern societies, however, such as Tibet, esoteric knowledge was more generally known and was not suppressed by those in power. As well, today in modern Western societies, due to the separation of church and state, the suppression of “inner” teachings has generally subsided, to the extent that formerly secret groups such as the Theosophical Society and the Rosicrucian Fellowship may teach freely to anyone, often without cost.
“Esotericism” in current usage – Esoteric beliefs
In Western, English-speaking societies today, the term “esotericism” is commonly used in the sense of “the occult,” though it carries fewer pejorative connotations. The descriptive term “esoteric,” in slight contrast, has come to mean any knowledge that is difficult to understand or remember, such as theoretical physics, or that pertains to the minutiae of a particular discipline, such as “Esoteric beliefs” baseball statistics. The term “esoteric” does not necessarily refer to “esotericism” per se in the sense of “inner” knowledge, disciplines, or practices, and for this reason, “esotericists” generally choose to refer to themselves by a more specific term related to their discipline (such as Gnostic, Kabbalist, Sufi, Mystic, etc.).
Some present-day teachings choose to term themselves as forms of “esotericism” due to their focus on the “inner” aspects of experience (such as self-transformation) or the “inner” meanings of religious texts (such as Esoteric Christianity and “the Work” of G.I. Gurdjieff). A variety of traditions could be classified as forms of “esotericism” due to their similar “inner” focus as well as their “selective” and “secretive” nature, for example, Martinism, which was (arguably) one of the most influential “occult” movements since the Enlightenment.
What are the esoteric practices?
I see a lot of what I do and what I preach to be grounded in Esoteric beliefs. Everything I do from a spiritual perspective aims to help me grow as a person and develop a deeper knowledge of the universe and my place within it. This gives me more clarity, confidence, and understanding around what I’m put on this planet to achieve.
Some of the most popular modern-day esoteric practices are:
There are a lot of esoteric theologies and doctrines that go into the Tarot, from Kabbalah to Astrology. If you continue to dig into the many areas of tarot, you’ll be able to uncover a whole new world within the cards.
Meditation in esoteric beliefs
Used by Buddhist monks to find enlightenment, this is a practice that helps you to delve inwards and explore the inner psyche and subconscious. It has its roots in religion and spirituality, but it has since been adapted into a westernized form of mental health management.
This is growing in popularity in the western world, however, it originated in Japan. It involves laying hands on key energy centers within the body, basically along the same lines as chakra balancing and healing.
The Akashic Records are said to be a collection of universal thoughts, words, emotions, and intent to have ever happened, happening, or will happen. People who access the Akashic Records can look into the life of a soul and see its history, present, and future.
Astrology in esoteric beliefs:
You probably know your star sign already, but you are made up of more than one. We have a moon sign, a sun sign, and more. Astrology is a pseudoscience that divines information around who we are as humans, based on the positions and movements of celestial objects, such as the stars and planets.
Growing in popularity (just take a look at WitchTok on TikTok) Witchcraft contains multiple esoteric practices all rolled into one neat package. From alchemy to astrology, divination to astral projection, it’s a great way to add more esotericism to your life.