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Rethinking Esotericism

Aug 02, 1996 01:21 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

There are many possible uses of the term "esotericism," and if
I had Antoine Faivre's Access to Western Esotericism at hand, I
could give you an academic definition.  But the sense in which
I meant it when assuring Eldon that most Theosophists were
keenly interested in the subject may not have been what he
meant when he said they were not.

What I meant by the term was "doctrines from spiritual
traditions that have historically been preserved in esoteric
contexts, withheld from all who were not initiated into the
traditions."  And, secondarily, "teachings about aspects of
humanity or the cosmos which are hidden or secret, not
accessible to ordinary methods of study."  But I suspect Eldon
means "doctrines *now* preserved within secret initiatory lineages,
accessible only to those who meet the special requirements"-- which is
quite a different matter.  And in that sense, no, most
Theosophists are probably not interested in esotericism.

I feel that part of the significance of the Aquarian Age is the
end of esotericism in the sense of deliberate concealment and
restriction of access to spiritual teachings.  The age of
Pisces was about devotion and service, self-sacrifice and
commitment, which easily plays into a master/slave
relationship.  Chela, after all, means slave.  Whereas the
Aquarian energies are about *public access* (e.g. the Internet)
and equality and independence-- none of which fits in with the
tradition of esotericism as a modus operandi.

Maybe I should own up proudly to being "just anybody off
the street" rather than being offended by Eldon's use of such a
phrase.  As with Rich's appelation of "plebeian New Ager,"
sometimes things that are meant to be disparaging can be
embraced as honorable instead.  There is a real division
between those of us who are enamored of the whole ideal of
secret transmission and those who are not.  One can look upon
HPB as Boris de Z. did, "the greatest occultist in the history
of Western civilization."  Or, one can look upon her as the
greatest disseminator to a mass audience of things that were
guarded by occultists prior to her coming.

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