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Three Categories of Esotericism

Within esotericism there is a vast range of diversity. But these can very simplistically be divided into three categories: Religious, Occult, and Philosophical/Perennialist/metaphysical, which correspond to the Emotional Mental, Subtle Physical and/or Astral, and Rational Intuitive Mental being respectively (remember of course that these are really gross generalisations)

Religious Esotericism. Traditional forms of esotericism, such as Buddhism, Kabbalah, Sufism, and traditional Vedanta, were and are embedded in external literalist religious forms, and hence any experience, insights, and gnosis had to be interpreted within a theistic religious hermeneutic. Guenon-Schuon Traditionalism is a universalist interpretation of this.

Occult Esotericism. Shamanism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism and traditional Tantra and magical and alchemical Taoism, tend to involve elaborate and at times inflexible thoughtforms that mean that experience and self-transformation, while profound, has to be interpreted along these channels only. They are however superior to religious Esotericism in that they are based ultimately on pragmatic occult techniques and so do not have to conform to exoteric religious dogmas. Sant Mat, which is very similar to Theosophy and Gnosticism, would also go here, e.g. they have a specific series of planes the soul traveller has to pass through.

Philosophical/Perennialist Esotericism. Quietist Taoism, Neoplatonism, Neo-Vedanta, Theosophy, New Ageism, and Wilberism (the latter perhaps more exoteric) are instead based on philosophical mysticism that encourage greater freedom of individuality of thought and experience, although without the intensity of the religious and occult categories.

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 4 October 2009