Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Neurotheology Team Proves “God Helmet” Is Real, Eliciting Mystic States, Visions & God-Like Presence



A team of neurotheology researchers have replicated and confirmed the results of the iconic “God Helmet” experiment. The apparatus, originally developed by renowned neuroscientists, Stanley Koren and Michael Persinger, generates weak magnetic fields around the test subject’s temporal lobes, and elicits a distinct set of experiential phenomena in the participant’s brain, including: altered mystic states, visions of God, and the feeling of a sensed God-like presence. This new independent study confirms that the effects from the God Helmet experiment are not due to suggestion or suggestibility in subjects, and provide the first scientific verification of the technique’s direct influence on the brain. 80% had feelings of a “sensed presence”, and the other 20% had either minor effects or none.
The authors of the study, which was published in the Journal Of Consciousness Exploration and Research, write, “The God Helmet places four magnetic coils on each side of the head, above the temporal lobes. Some subjects exposed to these fields reported having ‘spiritual experiences’ during our tests. These subjects included atheists, as well as religious believers. 80% of the subjects reported the ‘presence’ of ‘nonphysical beings’ in the room where the experiments were conducted, including the ‘presence of God’ in a small number of subjects.”
“Thus far, about 20 or so people have reported feeling the presence of Christ or even seeing him in the chamber (The acoustic chamber where the experimental sessions took place),” says Koren in a recent interview. “Most of these people used Christ and God interchangeably. Most of these individuals were older (30 years or more) and religious (Roman Catholic). One male, age about 35-years-old (alleged atheist but early childhood Roman Catholic training), saw a clear apparition (shoulders and head) of Christ staring him in the face. He was quite ‘shaken’ by the experience. I did not complete a follow-up re: his change in behavior. [What] we did find with one world-class psychic, who experiences Christ as a component of his abilities, was we could experimentally increase or decrease his numbers of his reported experiences by applying the LTP pattern (derived from the hippocampus) over the right hemisphere (without his awareness). The field on-response delay was about 10 to 20 sec. The optimal pattern, at least for this person, looked very right hippocampal. By far most presences are attributed to dead relatives, the Great Forces, a spirit, or something equivalent. The attribution towards along a devil to angel continuum appears strongly related to the affect (pleasant-terror) associated with the experience. I suspect most people would call the ‘vague, all-around-me’ sensations ‘God’ but they are reluctant to employ the label in a laboratory. The implicit is obvious. If the equipment and the experiment produced the presence that was God, then the extrapersonal, unreachable and independent characteristics of the god definition might be challenged.”
You can read the new study’s results in full by CLICKING HERE. You can also read the original study’s results by visiting the National Center for Biotechnology Information, published by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. For more remarkable stories about the human brain be sure to visit The Human Brain on FEELguide. (Feature image courtesy of Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research; Volume 5, Issue 3; C. A. & Ortiz, J.P.L., Magnetic Stimulation of the Temporal Cortex: A Partial “God Helmet” Replication Study)
SEE ALSO: New Study Published In The Journal SCIENCE Reveals How Analytical Thinking Erodes Belief In God
SEE ALSO: The Accidental Mystics: Listen To How NYU’s Extraordinary Psychedelics Study Is Curing Death Anxiety
SEE ALSO: This Is Your Brain On God: Reflecting On God’s Love Decreases Neurophysiological Responses To Errors
SEE ALSO: Inside The Godhead X-FILES: The Univ. Of Virginia Has A Prestigious Paranormal Lab Just Like X-MEN
SEE ALSO: Dr. Oz. Performs LIVE Brain Scan On Medium Theresa Caputo & Turns From A Skeptic Into 100% Believer
SEE ALSO: Close Encounters Of The Mindblowing Kind: Watch Anita Moorjani’s Account Of Her Near Death Experience



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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

An Introduction to the Seven Planes

10a -

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A "plane" refers to all the matter in the universe that is formed from a particular type of atom. For example, the mental plane is the sum total of all the matter that is formed out of 3-atoms. In contrast, a "world" refers to the portion of matter of a particular plane that is associated with a planet. For example, the mental world is the sphere of mental matter that surrounds and interpenetrates the Earth. This chapter describes the subtle worlds that surround the Earth, but much of the information can also be applied to the subtle planes in general.
Chapter 3 stated that a galaxy is a series of 49 interpenetrating spheres of matter from all 49 planes, and that a solar system is a series of 7 interpenetrating spheres of matter from 7 planes. Continuing along the same lines, a planet is a series of 3 interpenetrating spheres of matter from 3 planes (physical-etheric, emotional and mental-causal).
Like human beings, the Earth has five bodies (or worlds) composed of five types of matter (causal, mental, emotional, etheric and physical). The other visible planets in the solar system are all similarly constructed, but there are also invisible planets that are in the process of "incarnating" and don't have a "physical body" yet. It is strange to think of planets as living entities but they are; they just belong to a different evolutionary path than ours. The Earth is the only planet in the solar system that is, has been, or ever will be, home to physical life, but all planets (physical and non-physical) are home to subtle life-forms at some time or another – that is why they exist.
When a planet "dies" its bodies dissolve just as ours do. The Moon is a dead planet and the ball of rock we see in the night sky is its dead physical body, which will take billions of years to breakdown. Planets are spherical because their various grades of matter are concentrically arranged around the ensouling monad. Our physical world includes the solid planet, the liquid oceans and the gaseous atmosphere. The subtle worlds interpenetrate the physical world just as water interpenetrates the soil, but each successively higher subtle world also extends further out into space, beyond the atmosphere. The emotional world is known to extend half way to the Moon, and the mental and causal worlds considerably further.
The lower subplanes of the subtle worlds are nearer to the surface of the Earth and the higher subplanes are farther out. The Earth's subtle bodies are largely contained within its physical body, as are our own. The lowest emotional subplane (2:1) is in alignment with the lowest physical subplane (1:1), which corresponds to solid physical matter. All of the Earth's solid matter (1:1) is below our feet, and so is most of the 2:1 matter. The lowest emotional subplane (2:1) is known as the "underworld" because it is literally underneath the world. So "hell" is literally inside the Earth – more on that later in the chapter.
Figure 10a shows the Buddhist names and characteristics for the subplanes of the physical, emotional and mental planes. I wouldn't take the bodily heights or life-spans too literally, but they do give an idea of the increased spatial dimensions and faster perception of time associated with the higher planes. The word "dhyana" means meditation, indicating that certain advanced beings on the mental plane create and sustain "forms" using the power of their minds. The levels of "focus" (21 to 35) are the terms Robert Monroe used to identify the various subplanes he explored in his out-of-body experiences. There are seven subplanes within each plane, yet only six are accessible to human beings. This is because our subtle bodies only contain molecules (e.g. 2:1–2:6) and not atoms (e.g. 2:7), so we can't perceive the seventh subplane. Consequently, we experience brief periods of unconsciousness when we pass through the seventh subplanes of the etheric and emotional worlds (either during sleep or after physical death). Purgatory, Paradise and Heaven are realms that we pass through after physical death, and these will be explained later in the chapter.

10a Astral, Mental and Causal Planes

Figure 10a - The Worlds of Human Endeavour


Alternative Names for the Seven Planes or Worlds

The emotional plane (2) is often incorrectly called the "astral plane". The term "astral" was first used in the 19th century to describe the fact that three times as many stars are visible with "higher sight". But night does not exist in the emotional world because emotional-plane light can pass through the Earth unhindered, so no stars are visible. It is etheric sight that allows three times as many stars to be seen, so the "astral" plane actually refers to the etheric plane. The divine plane (6) is often incorrectly called the monadic plane, because Theosophists mistakenly believe the third triad to be the monad. Figure 11b lists some of other names that the seven planes of the solar system are known by. These subtle worlds are not "places" that exist somewhere else; they are all around us, all the time.

Names of the Seven Planes
Figure 10b - Various Names for the Seven Planes

Esoteric Science 12a - Esoteric Knowledge of Sleep

12a -

States of Consciousness

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Before we begin this section, here is a quick reminder of a few relevant terms:
  • The meta-conscious is the totality of the monad's (self's) consciousness. It includes the waking conscious, the sub-conscious and the super-conscious.
  • Waking consciousness is the small part of the monad's consciousness that operates through the physical brain and is further restricted by the body's etheric web.
  • The sub-conscious is the consciousness within the physical-etheric, emotional and mental bodies that does not have sufficient power to make its presence felt in the waking consciousness. The subtle bodies are independent living entities in their own right but the monad gradually learns to take full charge of them. Consequently, sub-conscious activity is partly directed by the subtle bodies and partly by the monad – the proportions of which depend on the monad's level of development. The monad controls the three triad units (1:7, 2:7 and 3:4), and they control the subtle bodies. The subtle bodies sub-consciously communicate with each other via their chakra systems.
  • Unconsciousness is the state the physical-etheric body is said to enter when the self (monad) is not present. Actually the inherent consciousness of the physical-etheric being remains and takes care of all the involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, circulation, energy replenishment, the immune system, cell repair and growth. It takes care of these functions day and night, whether the monad is present or not, but it can carry out its tasks more efficiently when the monad is absent. The monad's consciousness is far more advanced than that of the physical-etheric being, which allows the monad to wilfully control the physical body. When the monad is absent, e.g. during deep sleep, the physical-etheric being is able to wilfully control the physical body, but its low level of consciousness can only perform simple tasks such as rolling over, pulling up the sheets or sleepwalking.
  • Objective consciousness is not possible in subtle bodies "above" the one in which the monad resides. For example, humanistic people are incapable of objective causal consciousness because their monads are centred in the 3:4-molecule, civilised and developed people are incapable of objective mental consciousness because their monads are centred in the 2:7-atom, and primitive people are incapable of objective emotional consciousness because their monads are centred in the 1:7-atom. Objective consciousness is not possible on the upper subplanes of a particular world if the higher molecular types in the subtle body have not been activated. For example, a person whose emotional body contains 2:1 to 2:5-molecules cannot objectively perceive anything beyond the 5th subplane of the emotional world.

Waking Consciousness

All of our subtle bodies are aligned around our physical body when we are awake (refer to Figure 12b). The monad (self) resides in one of the permanent atoms of the first triad (1:7-atom, 2:7-atom or 3:4-molecule) and simultaneously perceives activity from the physical-etheric, emotional and mental bodies. The consciousness thread links the permanent atoms of the etheric, emotional and mental bodies to the soul. The life thread connects the heart chakras of the etheric, emotional and mental bodies to the soul. The waking consciousness is restricted by the body's etheric web so that most activity within the emotional and mental bodies remains sub-conscious. The Objective perception of this activity is blocked by the etheric web, but subjective perception is possible through the interconnected chakra systems of our subtle bodies. Waking consciousness relies on the consciousness thread being connected to the physical-etheric brain – without it the monad cannot sense or control the physical-etheric body. When the consciousness thread is disconnected (i.e. the monad is absent) the physical-etheric being has control of the physical-etheric body, but it usually just allows it sleep. When the consciousness thread is connected (i.e. the monad is present) the monad has full control of the physical-etheric body because its consciousness is far more powerful than that of the physical-etheric being. However, the physical-etheric being always manages the involuntary body functions (circulation, metabolism, cell repair, etc.), whether the monad is present or not.

Subtle Energy Bodies
Figure 12b - The Arrangement of the Subtle Bodies in the Waking State

Falling Asleep

When we fall asleep the monad (in the triad) detaches the consciousness thread from the physical-etheric brain and leaves the physical-etheric body, usually via the solar plexus or heart chakra, causing the physical body to become unconscious. The monad's consciousness becomes whole (meta-conscious) when it is free from the etheric web. The monad remains conscious or semi-conscious in the remote emotional-mental body (which is enclosed in the lesser causal body). The life thread remains connected to the etheric-physical body to sustain it with life energies and to guide the remote subtle bodies back. If you have ever been drifting off to sleep and suddenly felt your body jolt or jump; it is your emotional-mental body trying to leave before your physical-etheric body is relaxed enough, so it snaps back in to place. A similar thing wakes us from dreams in which we are falling – the falling is symbolic of our return to the physical body and the jolt (when we hit the ground in the dream) is our emotional-mental body reconnecting with our physical-etheric body. There are two main phases of sleep, each of which will be discussed separately:
  • Deep sleep – the monad (self) has no contact with the physical body or physical world.
  • Dream sleep – the monad (self) is connected to the physical-etheric brain (via the consciousness thread) but the physical body remains in a highly relaxed state.
The monad's consciousness is internally focussed (away from the physical world) so it becomes more sensitive to subjective impressions from the subtle bodies. These perceptions are somewhat random, so the monad's consciousness attempts to make sense of them by compiling them into a linear "story".

Deep Sleep

Figure 12c depicts the arrangement of the subtle bodies during deep sleep – the physical body sleeps but the etheric, emotional and mental bodies remain active. The main purposes of deep sleep are:
  • To give the physical-etheric being time to recharge, maintain and repair the physical-etheric body.
  • To give the monad and higher subtle bodies a break from the physical.

Subtle Energy Bodies in Deep Sleep
Figure 12c - The Arrangement of the Subtle Bodies in Deep Sleep

The Recuperative Effect of Sleep

During the waking state the physical body must be constantly ready to act, and this state of readiness depletes the body's energy reserves faster than they can be replenished. Day and night the etheric body continually works to recharge itself and the physical body, but the process is far more efficient when the body is resting completely. Throughout the day the etheric body collects subtle energy from the environment and stores it up for processing and distribution at night. When the physical body is sleeping the nerves and muscles relax, which greatly reduces the energy expenditure and allows the physical body to be fully recharged with vital energy. The following day, the physical body uses up the energy that the etheric body processed the night before. The same process occurs during short power naps, which accounts for their strong recuperative effect. Deep sleep is also a time for growth and healing, which is evident from increased levels of growth hormone and changes in immune function.

Nocturnal Out-of-Body Activity

The emotional and mental bodies are virtually incapable of fatigue – emotional and mental fatigue are caused by the physical body becoming exhausted from excessive emotional or mental activity. Even so, the monad and the higher subtle bodies are happy to get a temporary release from the confines of the dense physical body. This temporary freedom allows the monad to lead another life, completely independent of the physical life. It can go almost anywhere it wants to at great speed. The emotional body can travel at about half a million miles per hour, and the mental and causal bodies can travel faster still. However, most people don't actually go anywhere; their emotional-mental bodies passively hover over their sleeping physical bodies while they indulge in the same self-centred emotional thoughts that occupy their waking consciousness. If a person has no interest in the true nature of reality when they are awake, it stands to reason that they will have no interest in such matters when they are asleep.
The monad can leave the physical-etheric body by one of three exits: the solar plexus chakra, the heart chakra or the crown chakra. Primitive and civilised people use the solar plexus chakra, developed and humanistic people use the heart chakra, and enlightened people use the crown chakra. The solar plexus and heart chakras correspond to the lower (2:1–2:3) and upper (2:4–2:6) emotional plane so are obvious points of exit to the emotional world. Exiting through the crown chakra ensures that the consciousness thread is not detached, which not only allows the waking consciousness to remember the monad's out-of-body activities but to actually experience the events as they occur. This is an ability that naturally develops at (or just prior) to enlightenment, but it is possible for fairly well developed individuals to acquire the ability early through the use of specific yogic and meditative disciplines.
Once the emotional body has separated from the physical-etheric body, humanistic and enlightened people can then leave their emotional-bodies behind whilst they explore the mental world in their mental body. Enlightened people can also leave their mental bodies behind and explore the causal world in their greater causal bodies. Deep sleep is therefore a very important opportunity for humanistic and enlightened people to receive teachings from the planetary hierarchy to help them progress to the fifth kingdom.
Primitive people's monads are centred in their physical atoms (1:7), so they are incapable of clear objective consciousness in the emotional world. The physical atom (1:7) cannot comprehend the 4-dimensional nature of the emotional world, but being a part of the first triad it is capable of subjective dream-like perceptions of that world. Everyone else is capable of objective consciousness in one or more of the subtle worlds when their physical bodies are sleeping deeply but just don't realise it. There are four ways in which this awareness can be aroused:
  • The slow but natural course of human development.
  • Persistent wilful effort to hasten the natural development of this faculty, e.g. taking an active interest in "astral travel" (out-of-body experiences) or spiritual practices.
  • Accidental damage to the subtle bodies resulting from the use of magic or witchcraft.
  • The emotional-mental body is purposely "awakened" by someone who is already self-aware in theirs.
When we are active in the subtle worlds we can visit friends or relatives that have passed on, acquire knowledge, develop new skills or help people that are lost and confused following a traumatic or untimely death. We are only able to perceive the subplanes that correspond to the level of molecular activation in our subtle bodies. For example, a person with 2:1–2:5 molecules activated in their emotional body will not be able to objectively perceive anything beyond the 5th subplane of the emotional world. Figure 12d shows which subplanes of the emotional, mental and causal worlds can be perceived by humans at the five stages of development. Note that higher levels of consciousness can perceive all the subplanes below them.

Development of Human Consciousness
Figure 12d - The Development of Human Consciousness

Sleepwalking (Somnambulating)

Sleepwalking occurs in deep sleep, and is caused by the consciousness of the physical-etheric being (body) acting out patterns of behaviour that it learnt from the ensouling monad (us). Sleepwalkers have no recollection upon waking because their monad (self) was not present at the time of the activity. More complex sleep behaviours, such as sleep-sex, are not caused by the physical being. They are caused by another entity temporarily possessing the etheric-physical body to satisfy its lustful desires. These other entities are usually discarnate people with earthly desires they can't satisfy without a physical body. This usually only happens in people who are slightly mediumistic, i.e. with loosely connected subtle bodies.

Introduction to the Works of Henry T. Laurency

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Henry T. Laurency is the pseudonym of an esoteric philosopher who lived and worked in Sweden. He was a prolific writer; it is estimated that his collected works run to some four thousand pages.
The name of Laurency is inseparably connected with Pythagoras’ esoteric teaching, which is called hylozoics (this term being preferred to hylozoism). Laurency considered that in the new world-epoch now dawning, esoteric knowledge formerly reserved for certain secret schools will be widely diffused, popularized, and so distorted. Nevertheless, the need for such knowledge will be more intensely felt as traditional religion is dying out and the physicalist outlook based on natural science proves increasingly untenable as a world view. (Physicalism, a term used by Laurency, refers to the erroneous notion that there is only physical reality.)
In Laurency’s opinion, the presentations of esoteric knowledge made hitherto (by Blavatsky, Leadbeater, and Bailey, to mention the three most important ones) are not very well suited to Westerners with a philosophic and scientific education. They present some difficulties in the matter of systematic presentation as well as in the terminology and symbolism used.
Laurency thought the presentation of a Western school better suited to Westerners, and that was why he started from Pythagorean hylozoics. He scrapped the symbols and put a modern, lucid terminology in their stead. Most notably, he introduced a mathematical nomenclature, numbering things rather than naming them. He can be somewhat severe in his criticism of things that he thought obstruct clear understanding and human progress.
The Henry T. Laurency Publishing Foundation was formed in 1979. Its stated purpose is to promote the best possible spread of the works of Laurency. Its finances are based on revenues from the selling of books and donations from friends of the cause. All financial help received is used exclusively for publishing the works of Laurency.
To study hylozoics and esoterics as presented by Laurency you could start with The Knowledge of Reality, where the most central text is the first section, The Problems of Reality, Part One. Another possibility is to begin by studying The Explanation by Lars Adelskogh, which is an elementary introduction to hylozoics and general esoterics written for use in study groups.
The Philosopher’s Stone is intended for intermediate students, and The Way of Man for the advanced. If you find this system of knowledge worthwhile to study, you will probably feel the need to reread all the three books from time to time.
A useful tool in your study is Basic Esoteric Dictionary. It explains some five hundred terms used in esoterics, mainly those found in Laurency but also the most important terms used by such prominent esoteric writers as Blavatsky, Besant, Leadbeater, and Bailey.
Works of Henry T. Laurency completely translated into English:
The Philosopher’s Stone (available as book and on line)
The Knowledge of Reality
(available as book and on line)
The Way of Man (available on line only)
Knowledge of Life One (available on line, some of the essays are available as booklets)
Knowledge of Life Two (available on line only)
Knowledge of Life Three
(available on line only)
Knowledge of Life Four (available on line only)
Knowledge of Life Five (available on line only)
All of the above works were written in Swedish from 1930 to 1971. The Swedish editions were published in Sweden from 1950 to 1998.
The first English edition of a work of Laurency was The Knowledge of Reality, in 1979. The Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1985. The Way of Man and the volumes of the Knowledge of Life series are as yet available on line only.
The on-line versions of The Knowledge of Reality and The Philosopher’s Stone have been revised. Errata found in the book versions have been corrected, and translation errors have also been rectified. Therefore, where the text on line deviates from the corresponding text in a book, the on-line text takes precedence over the book text. Needless to say, we are very grateful for remarks which readers of this site may submit in the intention of improving it.
Visitors to this website are free to load down any of the Laurency texts or other texts available and use them for their own study purposes. However, any unauthorized use for wider circulation (save short quotations for reference or review purposes) or other commercial exploitation of these texts is strictly prohibited by international copyright law. All texts by Henry T. Laurency are copyrighted by the Henry T. Laurency Publishing Foundation, which is a non-profit educational organization based in Sweden. The Explanation by Lars Adelskogh is copyrighted by the author.
The Philosopher’s Stone
contains the following three sections:
Exoteric World View and Life View (40 chapters)
Esoteric World View (62 chapters)
Esoteric Life View (73 chapters)
The Knowledge of Reality
contains the following seven sections:
The Problems of Reality, Part One (43 chapters)
The Problems of Reality, Part Two (18 chapters)
The Origin of the Knowledge and the Fictions (9 chapters)
The Three Questions of the Sphinx: Whence? How? Whither? (11 chapters)
An Esoterician’s View of the History of European Philosophy (51 chapters)
Anthroposophy: Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Science (13 chapters)
Yoga in the Light of Esoterics (23 chapters)
The Way of Mancontains the following eighteen sections:
Introductions (72 chapters)
The Monad Ladder (11 chapters)
The First Self (47 chapters)
The Physical Being of the First Self (21 chapters)
The Emotional Being of the First Self (52 chapters)
The Mental Being of the First Self (34 chapters)
The Causal Being (19 chapters)
Augoeides (30 chapters)
The Second Self (221 chapters), in the Internet version divided into two parts:
The Causal Self (24 chapters)
The Essential Self (16 chapters)
The Superessential Self (4 chapters)
Protogonos and the Third Self (14 chapters)
The Submanifestal Self (3 chapters)
The Manifestal Self (6 chapters)
The Planetary Hierarchy (30 chapters)
The Planetary Government (19 chapters)
Terminology and Symbolism (27 chapters)
Knowledge of Life One
contains the following ten essays:
Meditation (24 chapters)
Gnostics (14 chapters)
Gnostic symbols (13 chapters)
Discipleship (25 chapters)
The Planetary Hierarchy (24 chapters)
Identification and Liberation (6 chapters)
Education (18 chapters)
The Conception of Right (16 chapters)
The Law (71 chapters), divided into eight subsections:
- Laws of Life
- The Law of Freedom
- The Law of Unity
- The Law of Development
- The Law of Self-Realization
- The Law of Destiny
- The Law of Reaping
- The Law of Activation
The Secret of the Sphinx

Knowledge of Life Two

contains the following ten essays:
Hylozoics (19 chapters)
The Hylozoic World View (36 chapters)
Esoterics (57 chapters)
The Motion Aspect (23 chapters)
The Consciousness Aspect (21 chapters)
The Matter Aspect (27 chapters)
Consciousness Development (18 chapters)
The Stages of Human Development (21 chapters)
Esoteric Philosophy (46 chapters)
Esoteric Psychology (25 chapters)
Knowledge of Life Three
contains the following eighteen essays (a few short essays are not divided into chapters):
Esoteric Knowledge Orders (13 chapters)
Symbols (27 chapters)
Esoteric Terminology (22 chapters)
Alice A. Bailey and D.K. (2 chapters)
Theosophy (30 chapters)
Occult Sects (26 chapters)
Yoga (17 chapters)
Mysticism (21 chapters)
Life Between Incarnations (8 chapters)
Reincarnation (15 chapters)
Health (5 chapters)
The Seven Departments (23 chapters)
Centres in the Envelopes of Man (11 chapters)
Magic (4 chapters)
Astrology (13 chapters)
Our Epoch (10 chapters)
Knowledge of Life Four
contains the following seven essays:
Laurency (52 chapters)
Culture (46 chapters)
Religion (39 chapters)
Theology (53 chapters)
Literature (40 chapters)
Art (6 chapters)
Philosophy (113 chapters)
Knowledge of Life Five
contains the following twenty-three essays (many of which are rather short texts, being reviews of books; such texts are not divided into chapters):
Goethe as an Esoterician
Reality Ideas in Rousseau
Krishnamurti and the Law of Development (10 chapters)
The Path to Knowledge and Unity (16 chapters)
Efficient Philosophy (21 chapters)
On the Reappearance of the Christ
The Emancipation of Man
Hindu Psychology
Vera Stanley Alder (4 chapters)
Poul Bjerre (2 chapters)
Yoga and Western Psychology
Studies in Emerson (2 chapters)
Fröding’s Theosophy
Dag Hammarskjöld
The Initiate in the New World
The Real H. P. Blavatsky
On Things Human
In Tune with the Infinite
Science (26 chapters)
Psychology (68 chapters)
History (26 chapters)
The Black Lodge (32 chapters)
In the works of Laurency, references are never made to pages, since pagination varies in different editions, but to sections, chapters, and paragraphs. Single numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) refer to sections; double numbers separated by full stops (1.1, 1.2, 1.3), to chapters or essays; triple numbers separated by full stops (1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, etc.), to paragraphs. In the case of essays not divided into chapters, double numbers of course refer to paragraphs. This will be directly obvious to you when you start reading the texts.



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Hylozoism is the philosophical point of view that the universe is in some sense alive. This may include the view that "inanimate" matter has latent powers of abiogenesis. The concept dates to the Milesian school of pre-Socratic philosophers and was introduced in English as a term by Ralph Cudworth in 1678.

Distinction from similar theories[edit]

Although there is a distinction between possessing a mind (panpsychism) and possessing life (hylozoism), in practice this division is difficult to maintain, because the ancient hylozoists not only regarded the spirits of the material universe and plant world as alive, but also as more or less conscious. Whereas animism tends to view life as taking the form of discrete spirits, and panpsychism tends to refer to strictly philosophical views like that of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, hylozoism refers largely to views such as those of the earliest Greek philosophers (6th and 5th centuries BC), who treated the magnet as alive because of its attractive powers (Thales), or air as divine (Anaximenes), perhaps because of its apparently spontaneous power of movement, or because of its role as essential for life in animals. Later this primitive hylozoism reappeared in modified forms. Some scholars[who?] have since claimed that the term hylozoism should properly be used only where body and soul are explicitly distinguished, the distinction then being rejected as invalid. Nevertheless, hylozoism remains logically distinct both from early forms of animism, which personify nature, and from panpsychism, which attributes some form of consciousness or sensation to all matter.

Ancient hylozoism[edit]

Some of the ancient Greek philosophers taught a version of hylozoism, as they, however vaguely, conceived the elemental matter as being in some sense animate if not actually conscious and conative (a directed effort, a striving or tendency; a nisus).[1] Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus all taught that there is a form of life in all material objects,[2] and the Stoics believed that a world soul was the vital force of the universe. It is important to note that these philosophies did not necessarily hold that material objects had separate life or identity, but only that they had life, either as part of an overriding entity or as living but insensible entities.

Hylozoism in Renaissance and early Modernity[edit]

In the Renaissance, Bernardino Telesio, Paracelsus, Cardanus, and Giordano Bruno revived the doctrine of hylozoism.[citation needed] The latter, for example, held a form of Christian pantheism. [according to whom?] God is the source, cause, medium, and end of all things, and therefore all things are participatory in the ongoing Godhead. Bruno's ideas were so radical that he was entirely rejected by the Roman Catholic Church as well as excommunicated from a few Protestant groups, and he was eventually burned at the stake for various heresies. Telesio, on the other hand, began from an Aristotelian basis and, through radical empiricism, came to believe that a living force was what informed all matter. Instead of the intellectual universals of Aristotle, he believed that life generated form.
In England, some of the Cambridge Platonists approached hylozoism as well. Both Henry More and Ralph Cudworth (the Younger, 1617–1688), through their reconciliation of Platonic idealism with Christian doctrines of deific generation, came to see the divine lifeforce as the informing principle in the world. Thus, like Bruno, but not nearly to the extreme, they saw God's generative impulse as giving life to all things that exist. Accordingly Cudworth, the most systematic metaphysician of the Cambridge Platonist tradition, fought hylozoism. His work is primarily a critique of what he took to be the two principal forms of atheism. i.e. materialism and hylozoism.
Cudworth singled out Hobbes not only as a defender of the hylozoic atheism "which attributes life to matter", but also as one going beyond it and defending "hylopathian atheism, which attributes all to matter." Cudworth attempted to show that Hobbes had revived the doctrines of Protagoras and was therefore subject to the criticisms which Plato had deployed against Protagoras in the Theaetetus. On the side of hylozoism, Strato of Lampsacus was the official target. However, Cudworth's Dutch friends had reported to him the views which Spinoza was circulating in manuscript. Cudworth remarks in his Preface that he would have ignored hylozoism had he not been aware that a new version of it would shortly be published.[3]
Spinoza's idealism also tends toward hylozoism. In order to hold a balance even between matter and mind, Spinoza in fact combined materialistic with pantheistic hylozoism, by reducing both to the rank of mere attributes of the one infinite substance. Although he specifically rejects identity in inorganic matter, he, like the Cambridge Platonists, sees a life force or living force within, as well as beyond, all matter.

Contemporary hylozoism[edit]

Immanuel Kant presented arguments against hylozoism in the third chapter of his Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaften ("First Metaphysical Principles of Natural Science," 1786) and also in his famous Kritik der reinen Vernunft ("Critique of Pure Reason," 1783). Yet, in our times, scientific hylozoism – whether modified, or keeping the trend to make all beings conform to some uniform pattern, to which the concept was adhered in modernity by Herbert Spencer, Hermann Lotze, and Ernst Heinrich Haeckel – was often called upon as a protest against a mechanicistic view of the world.[4]
In the 19th century, Haeckel developed a materialist form of hylozoism, specially against Rudolf Virchow's and Hermann von Helmholtz's mechanical views of humans and nature. In his Die Welträtsel of 1899 (The Riddle of the Universe 1901), Haeckel upheld a unity of organic and inorganic nature and derived all actions of both types of matter from natural causes and laws. Thus, his form of hylozoism reverses the usual course by maintaining that living and non-living things are, essentially, the same and by erasing the distinction between the two and stipulating that they behave by a single set of laws.
In contrast, the Argentine-German neurobiological tradition terms hylozoic hiatus all of the parts of nature which can only behave lawfully or nomically and, upon such a feature, are described as lying outside of minds and amid them – i.e.., extramentally. Thereby the hylozoic hiatus becomes contraposed to minds deemed able of behaving semoviently, i.e.. able of inaugurating new causal series (semovience). Hylozoism in this contemporary neurobiological tradition is thus restricted to the portions of nature behaving nomically inside the minds, namely the minds' sensory reactions (Christfried Jakob's "sensory intonations") whereby minds react to the stimuli coming from the hylozoic hiatus or extramental realm.[5][6]
Martin Buber, too, takes an approach that is quasi-hylozoic. By maintaining that the essence of things is identifiable and separate, although not pre-existing, he can see a soul within each thing.
The French pythagorean and rosicrucian alchemist, Francois Jollivet-Castelot (1874-1937), established a hylozoic esoteric school which combined the insight of spagyrics, chemistry, physics, transmutations and metaphysics. He published many books, one of which was called "L’Hylozoïsme, l’alchimie, les chimistes unitaires" (1896). In his view there was no difference between spirit and matter except for the degree of frequency and other vibrational conditions.
The Mormon theologian Orson Pratt taught a form of hylozoism.
Alice A. Bailey wrote a book called The Consciousness of the Atom.[7]
Influenced by Alice A. Bailey, Charles Webster Leadbeater, and their predecessor Madame Blavatsky, Henry T. Laurency produced voluminous writings describing a hylozoic philosophy.[8]
Influenced by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, the English philosopher and mathematician John Godolphin Bennett, in his four-volume work The Dramatic Universe and his book Energies, developed a six-dimensional framework in which matter-energy takes on 12 levels of hylozoic quality.
Ken Wilber embraces hylozoism to explain subjective experience and provides terms describing the ladder of subjective experience experienced by entities from atoms up to Human beings in the upper left quadrant of his Integral philosophy chart.[9]
Physicist Thomas Brophy, in The Mechanism Demands a Mysticism, embraces hylozoism as the basis of a framework for re-integrating modern physical science with perennial spiritual philosophy. Brophy coins two additional words to stand with hylozoism as the three possible ontological stances consistent with modern physics. Thus: hylostatism (universe is deterministic, thus “static” in a four-dimensional sense); hylostochastism (universe contains a fundamentally random or stochastic component); hylozoism (universe contains a fundamentally alive aspect).
Architect Christopher Alexander has put forth a theory of the living universe, where life is viewed as a pervasive patterning that extends to what is normally considered non-living things, notably buildings. He wrote a four-volume work called The Nature of Order which explicates this theory in detail.
Philosopher and ecologist David Abram articulates and elaborates a form of hylozoism grounded in the phenomenology of sensory experience. In his books Becoming Animal and The Spell of the Sensuous, Abram suggests that matter is never entirely passive in our direct experience, holding rather that material things actively "solicit our attention" or "call our focus," coaxing the perceiving body into an ongoing participation with those things. In the absence of intervening technologies, sensory experience is inherently animistic, disclosing a material field that is animate and self-organizing from the get-go. Drawing upon contemporary cognitive and natural science as well as the perspectival worldviews of diverse indigenous, oral cultures, Abram proposes a richly pluralist and story-based cosmology, in which matter is alive through and through. Such an ontology is in close accord, he suggests, with our spontaneous perceptual experience; it would draw us back to our senses and to the primacy of the sensuous terrain, enjoining a more respectful and ethical relation to the more-than-human community of animals, plants, soils, mountains, waters and weather-patterns that materially sustains us.[10]
Bruno Latour's actor-network theory, based in the sociology of science, treats non-living things as active agents and thus bears some resemblance to hylozoism. This work has spawned a movement called Object-oriented philosophy which promotes the idea of a "democracy of objects".[11]

Hylozoism in popular culture[edit]

  • Hylozoic Series: Sibyl, an interactive installation of Canadian artist and architect Philip Beesley, was presented in the 18th Biennale of Sydney and was on display until September, 2012. Using sensors, LEDs, and shape memory alloy, Beesley constructed an interactive environment that responded to the actions of the audience, offering a vision of how buildings in the future might move, think and feel.[12]
  • In mathematician and writer Rudy Rucker's novels "Postsingular" and "Hylozoic," the emergent sentience of all material things is described as a property of the technological singularity.
  • The Hylozoist is one of the Culture ships mentioned in Iain M. Banks's novel Surface Detail - appropriately, this ship is a member of the branch of Contact dealing with smart matter outbreaks.
  • The monster "Hylozoist" (sometimes spelled "Heirozoist") in the MMORPG Ragnarok Online is a plush rabbit doll with its mouth sewn shut, possessed by the spirit of a child. Although hylozoism has nothing to do with possession, it is clear that the name was derived from this ancient philosophy.

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ Oxford English Dictionary ((CD-ROM ver. 3.0) 2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2002. 1. An effort, endeavour, striving. 2. transf. A force, impulse, or tendency simulating human effort; a nisus. 
  2. Jump up ^ J.Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, Introduction, VIII, note 29
  3. Jump up ^ The True Intellectual System of the Universe: The First part; wherein, All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is Confuted; and Its Impossibility Demonstrated. By Ralph Cudworth, D.D. London, Printed for Richard Royston, 1678
  4. Jump up ^ Hylozoism and Dogmatism in Kant, Leibniz, and Newton
  5. Jump up ^ Comment l’ hylozoïsme scientifique contemporain aborde-t-il la sélection naturelle du parenchyme neurocognitif? (French)
  6. Jump up ^ "On Minds' Localization". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  7. Jump up ^ Bailey, Alice A. The Consciousness of the Atom—1922
  8. Jump up ^ "Introduction to the Works of Henry T. Laurency". The Official Website of the Henry T. Laurency Publishing Foundation. Henry T. Laurency Publishing Foundation. 12 July 2009 <>
  9. Jump up ^ Wilber Ken A Brief History of Everything, 1st ed. 1996, 2nd ed. 2001: ISBN 1-57062-740-1
  10. Jump up ^ Abram, David The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, Pantheon, 1996; Vintage 1997: ISBN 978-0-679-77639-0 and Abram, David: Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology Pantheon, 2010; Vintage 2011: ISBN 978-0-375-71369-9
  11. Jump up ^ Latour, Bruno Pandora's Hope: Essays on the reality of Science Studies, 1999: ISBN 0-674-65335-1
  12. Jump up ^ "Sibyl by Philip Beesley". Inspir3d. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  13. Jump up ^ "Untitled Document". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 

External links[edit]

Esoteric Geometry


by Dionysos Thriambos
Diagrams by Phillip X Dick Blogger Ref

Vesica Pescis | Right Triangle | Hyperbola

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Perhaps the most prominent figure in esoteric geometry is the vesica pescis. The name means "fish's bladder," and alludes remotely to the ability of the figure to represent the vagina--"fish" having been a common circumlocution for women's genitals in the ancient Near East. The most venerable and precise description of the vesica is given in Euclid's Elements I:1. The figure is formed by the intersection of two circles so that the periphery of each touches the center of the other. The vesica is the two-pointed shape formed by the area common to the two circles.
The entire figure with the two circles has been considered an important symbolic representation of the principle of the Trinity by Christian esotericists. Each circle intercepts exactly one third of the circumference of the other, so that the sum of the two edges of the vesica is equal to the circumference of each circle remaining. Furthermore, the rectangle defined by the major and minor axes of the vesica is capable of being divided into three rectangles, each of which is proportionally identical to the original rectangle, and capable of being similarly subdivided. This process can be carried on indefinitely, and the property is unique to this particular rectangle.
Of course, neither the notion of the Trinity nor the symbol of the fish is exclusively of interest to Christians. But Christianity is tied especially to the procession of the equinoxes through the sign of Pisces, the Fish. And the vesica has been used as a Christian insignia and the basic form for a wide variety of seals and ornaments since apostolic times. It has been particularly used as a symbol of the Virgin and in reference to the wound in the side of the crucified Savior. Elaborated with an additional crossing of the lines at one end, the vesica is used to directly depict a fish, and by implication indicates the Greek formula ICQUS ("fish"). Given the synthetic character of early Christianity, that formula may have had a previous significance in one of the many mystery cults popular at that time. But the official Christian notarikon of the word became the Greek phrase for "Jesus (I) Christ (C) God's (Q) Son (U), Savior (S)." The modern vulgarization of this elegant formula is the word "JESUS" in a cross-tailed horizontal vesica plastered to the rear end of an automobile. (A more lucid updating might instead display the English word "FISH" as a notarikon for "Fashionable Idiots Still Hope," in reference to the doctrinal perspective of the sort of people who put those things on their cars.)
The form of the vesica pescis permits the perfect inscription of two equilateral triangles in the relationship that is designated as the Hexagram of Air in the practice of ceremonial magick. The two triangles of the hexagram are generally attributed to the human and the divine, and their conjunction in the hexagram is representative of the Great Work.
The vesica can in turn be perfectly inscribed within an elongated hexagram which is a flattened image of the double cube, the typical shape of the altar used in ceremonial magick. The double cube, formed by stacking one cube on top of another, represents the universal decad because its outer surface can be divided into ten equal squares, with Kether on top and Malkuth on the bottom.
Furthermore, overlapping the two figures just described will result in the overall geometrical basis of the qabalistic Tree of Life, perfectly proportioned, with only a few paths out of place.
This demonstration is only one of many ways in which the vesica might fulfill the reference to it in Liber VII (VI:2) that "We made us a temple of stones in the shape of the Universe, even as thou didst wear openly and I concealed." The Tree of Life glitters with examples of another key figure of esoteric geometry: the right triangle. This triangle is first and foremost symbolic of knowledge. It will be seen that two right triangles are required to cover the area of a single equilateral triangle. Where the equilateral triangle may represent the complete human or deity, the half covered by a right triangle is that which is known about the subject, and the half uncovered is that which is unknown. For the entirety of the Osirian Aeon, the study of right triangles, or Trigonometry, was the basis of virtually all of the quantitative sciences. As Thomas Paine explained in his Age of Reason,
Trigonometry [. . . ] when applied to the study of the heavenly bodies, is called Astronomy; when applied to direct the course of a ship on the ocean, it is called Navigation; when applied to the measurement of any portion of the surface of the earth, it is called Land-surveying.
This general potency of Trigonometry derives from the theorem attributed to Pythagoras, the founder of the ancient mystery school that bore his name. Euclid included the theorem as the forty-seventh proposition in Book I of his Elements.
Trigonometry rests on the application of the Pythagorean theorem to triangles inscribed in a unit circle, i.e. a circle with a radius measured as "one." Typically, this circle is shown with rectangular axes positioned on its center, thus presenting the mystical emblem of the Rosy Cross. The hypotenuse of the right triangle, i.e. the side opposite the right angle, is given a constant measure of one, permitting the proportional application of the Pythagorean theorem to the measurements of the angles as well as that of the sides of the triangle. The Pythagorean theorem states that the sum of the squares of the legs of a right triangle are equal to the to the square of the hypotenuse. Thus the length of one side can always be determined if the other two are known. Trigonometry expands the principle to apply it to measures of the angles (which must vary in proportion to the sides that they oppose), and to combinations of sides and angles. In keeping with the Pythagorean theorem, the right triangle also represents the principle of generating a resultant (the hypotenuse) from complementary terms (the legs). It is a geometric expression of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Thus esotericists have repeatedly attributed the legs of the right triangle to Isis (base) and Osiris (perpendicular), and the hypotenuse to Horus. The right triangle has also been used as an illustration of how matter and spirit (the legs) combine in human life (the hypotenuse). To return to the Tree of Life, note that there are only two right triangles that can be drawn for which each side is a whole path, and one path only. Other attempts require that a side consist of a partial path or of two paths run together. Both of these special triangles share a hypotenuse in the path of gimel, or the High Priestess running between Tiphareth and Kether.
On the side of Mercy, with its right angle stationed in Wisdom, the triangle has legs of heh (the Emperor) and aleph (the Fool). The letters gimel, aleph and heh spell the Hebrew word for "became powerful, grew high." On the side of Severity, with its right angle stationed in Understanding, the triangle has legs of zain (the Lovers) and beth (the Magician). The letters gimel, zain and beth spell a Hebrew word for treasure or wealth. The conic sections of ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola were first related to the Tree of Life in Appendix B of Crowley's Book of Thoth. He attributes them to the "three Veils of the Negative," but the Diagram I which purports to give the specifics appears to be incorrect. In light of the explanation of the Naples Arrangement given on page 32 of the same text, the ellipse should be Ain Sof Aur--as the Veil most proximate to Kether. Thus Ain Sof is still represented as the parabola; and the hyperbola becomes the symbol of Ain, the absolute qabalistic zero. Certainly the hyperbola seems at first to be a more fit glyph of "absence of extension in any of the categories." The little parabola that we use to represent zero is after all a boundary distinguishing inside and outside; thus it is a one, defining two, and becoming a third, far from zero. But the hyperbola itself is a distinction, though not a closed boundary. Like the parabola, the curve of the hyperbola is unlimited in extent, and distinguishes a space inside the curve, from one outside it. A more surprising feature of the hyperbola does not appear in "Figure I" of the Book of Thoth appendix. In analytical geometry, hyperbolic functions are seen to describe two disjunct curves, similar in form and opposite in direction. Thus the "inside" of the curves is the "outside" of the space between the two--highly suggestive of the 0 = 2 formula. The same progression of conic sections can be used to illustrate the transition from the Aeon of Osiris to that of Horus. The ellipse is the Egg of Blue in which is the babe Hoor-pa-kraat, whose minister Aiwass delivered the Law. The parabola is the arch of the heavens, Nuit, across whose body the Equinox precesses, entering the sign of Aquarius and leaving the sign of Pisces. The hyperbola is itself the two curves of the glyph of the astrological sign of Pisces, the fish which became associated with Jesus/Osiris partly through the auspicious symbol of the vesica pescis. With the return of the vesica, this essay comes full circle, and the contented Geometer sets down his compass.
Love is the law, love under will.

Vesica Pescis | Right Triangle | Hyperbola

What is Esoteric? Methods in the Study What is Esoteric?


By Arthur Versluis/ Blogger Ref

Until comparatively recently, there was very little scholarship on Western esotericism as a field. There were, of course, various articles and books on aspects of Western esotericism like alchemy or Rosicrucianism, but there was virtually no sense in the scholarly world that these disparate tributaries of thought formed a larger current of Western esotericism as such. One finds landmark studies in the mid-twentieth century by authors like Frances Yates, but no one who demarcated “Western esotericism” as a field for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary study. This situation was to change with the work of Antoine Faivre (1934-) who, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, with numerous major books and articles defined an entire field of inquiry.
Faivre holds a chair in the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne in the “Histoire des courants ésotériques et mystiques dans l’Europe moderne et contemporaine,” and his work represents the first strictly academic overview of Western esotericism. In his view, it is best to speak of Western esotericism in terms of “forms of thought” rather than in terms of “occult tradition” or similar terminology. He is interested in delineating the elements that make up particular ways of thinking we can mark as “esoteric,” and this methodological approach has been widely accepted. In his definitive book Accès de l’ésotérisme occidental, (1996), he demarcates four primary and two secondary characteristics that he sees as common to all the various currents of Western esotericism.
Faivre’s six characteristics are, again, as follows: 1. Correspondences & Interdependence 2. Living Nature 3. Imagination
4. Transmutation 5. Praxis of Concordance 6. Transmission. Of course, these same elements can be found in other traditions, as various scholars have pointed out, which has led some scholars to question the utility of these six characteristics [1]. If they can be found in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, for example, or indigenous religious traditions, then are these characteristics not too broad to be of definitive use? Correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm, living nature, the use of the visionary imaginative faculty, and the possibility of transmutation as well as transmission are certainly not unique to Western esotericism. One might well wonder whether, drawing on Faivre’s characteristics, one might be actually fashioning a larger framework for analyzing esoteric traditions both Asian and European in origin.
With questions like these in mind, in his work on Christian theosophy, Arthur Versluis outlined six different characteristics, not of Western esotericism more generally, but of Christian theosophy alone. These characterics, outlined in Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (2000), are as follows:
1. Focus upon the figure of divine Wisdom or Sophia, the “mirror of God,” generally conceived of as feminine;
2. an insistence upon direct spiritual experience or cognition, meaning both insight into the divine nature of the cosmos and metaphysical or transcendent gnosis;
3. non-sectarianism, and self-identification with the theosophic current;
4. a spiritual leader who guides his or her spiritual circle through letters and spiritual advice.
5. Reference to the works and thought of Jacob Böhme; and perhaps
6. visionary insight into nature and non-physical realms, though 6. is actually a subset of 2. I have yet to find a single figure in the theosophic current who does not exemplify at least four of the first five characteristics listed here [2].
The chief benefit of focussing on particular currents like theosophy is that one can achieve a reasonable degree of precision in determining whether a particular figure or school of thought belongs to the theosophic current by seeing whether it corresponds to these six characteristics. Using these characteristics, we can see, for example, that the “Theosophy” of Helena Blavatsky, though it includes some of these elements (for instance, an emphasis on cosmological gnosis and a notion of spiritual leadership), does not belong to the current represented in the theosophy of Jacob Böhme and subsequent theosophers. It is, in brief, considerably easier to discern characteristics that join theosophers and separate them from other groups than to find characteristics that join all forms of Western esotericism, let alone characteristics of transcultural esotericism.
The most important element missing from Faivre’s list of the characteristics of Western esotericism is gnosis. This concept he did not include most likely because it introduced something inconvenient: what often goes under the rubric of “mysticism.” Now the term “mysticism” is fuzzy; one often can’t discern whether the word is being used to refer to visionary experiences, to non-visionary via negativa experiences, or to something else. Much preferable are descriptors added to the term “gnosis,” which refers to direct spiritual insight either into hidden aspects of the cosmos, or into transcendence. Then one may speak of “visionary gnosis,” or of “via negativa gnosis,” without the confusion that “mysticism” generates; the kind of gnosis in question becomes clearer by the term preceding it.
I am using the word “gnosis” to refer to 1. knowledge or direct perception of hidden or esoteric aspects of the cosmos (cosmological gnosis) as well as to 2. direct spiritual insight into complete transcendence (metaphysical gnosis). Cosmological gnosis still entails a subtle dualism of subject-object, to some extent belongs to the realm of knowledge, and reveals correspondences between subject and object, or between humanity and the natural world. These correspondences may be drawn upon to achieve some aim, as in alchemy, astrology, or magic. Metaphysical gnosis is non-dualistic spiritual insight, as one finds in the work of Meister Eckhart or in that of the contemporary American author Bernadette Roberts. This distinction, Lee Irwin points out, is comparable to that found in the Corpus Hermeticum between “lower” and “higher” gnosis, “lower” referring to philosophic learning, “higher” to direct insight into the Nous.
Faivre is keen to separate “mysticism” from “Western esotericism,” but such a division is artificial, and indeed, impossible in practice. A case in point is the seminal work of Jacob Böhme, central to which is his spiritual insight, or gnosis. I do not think Böhme can be properly understood without reference to the pivotal concepts of ungrund and nichts, the via negativa gnosis at the heart of his visionary gnosticism [3]. My point is that if one cannot understand such a central esoteric author as Böhme without reference to gnosis, then how can one exclude this term from the list of characteristics entirely? One must take gnosis into account [4].
Of course, when one takes gnosis into account as a characteristic of the larger current of Western esotericism, one has to acknowledge not only its presence in the works of Böhme and the theosophers and in such alchemical treatises as those in the 1675 collection entitled The Hermetic Museum, but also in the works of figures like Bernadette Roberts or Franklin Merrell-Wolff. Figures like these two would certainly be excluded from a Faivrean overview of Western esotericism and classed as “mystics,” yet their work is without question esoteric (not for the masses), and “Western” in origin, belonging to the Catholic line of Eckhart and the American line of Emerson respectively.
Naturally, we could exclude such figures, but then we would also have to exclude the various individuals known as “Gnostics” in antiquity, Dionysius the Areopagite, John Eriugena, Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, aspects of Jacob Böhme and the theosophic school, and indeed, nearly all those who represent apophatic (or, in the case of Böhme, hybrid visionary-apophatic) gnostic currents. If we include in “Western esotericism” broadly speaking these gnostics, who also do have representatives in the period from 1575 to the present, then we have another central characteristic of Western esotericism to deal with. And in fact I would suggest that without the concept of gnosis, the concept of Western esotericism is itself impoverished, so central is this idea in many of these various currents of thought.
Faivre’s six characteristics describe well what we may call the cosmological domain to which many currents of Western esotericism do belong, incorporating as it does such disciplines as practical alchemy, astrology, geomancy, and other forms of divination, as well as secret or semi-secret societies like that of the Rosicrucians, various magical lodges or orders, and so forth. All of these depend upon the doctrine of correspondences. What is more, much of Böhmean theosophy belongs to the cosmological domain—one thinks of the doctrine of signatures, the triadic nature of the Böhmean cosmos, and so forth. Böhme too offers a profoundly esoteric view of nature. But to acknowledge the primacy of the cosmological dimension in what has come to be known as Western esotericism must not entail denying the presence of a metaphysical gnostic dimension at least in some of the same currents of thought. This said, the basic principle behind Faivre’s methodology—a strictly historicist approach seeking primary definitive characteristics of esotericism—is a necessary one. We need definitions of terminology and of primary concepts, and even if Faivre’s listed characteristics may be in need of revision, the conceptual and historicist framework informing them is of great value in construing the new field.
The second major author on methodology in Western esotericism is the Dutch professor Wouter Hanegraaff, who holds the first specially endowed university chair for the study of Western esotericism—in particular, for the study of Hermeticism and related currents—at the University of Amsterdam. In a series of major articles, Hanegraaff has not only outlined the major contemporary approaches to the study of esotericism, but also proposed his own methodological approach. Hanegraaff argues that an a priori typology might well be valid, but it should not be a foundation for understanding the field as a whole, and that indeed, “a fully-developed academic study of esotericism should give attention to all the dimensions which may be distinguished in religious traditions generally (social, ritual, experiential, doctrinal, mythic, ethical, and symbolic) [5].” Essential to Hanegraaff’s methodology is what he calls an “empirical” approach, meaning among other things that the empiricist scholar seeks as much as possible not to apply a priori ideological constructs to esoteric subjects, but rather to approach his or her subject with an informed, open, and, so much as possible, neutral mind.
Hanegraaff follows a distinction between an emic and an etic approach to religious studies. The emic approach is that of the alchemist or theosopher as an alchemist or theosopher; Hanegraaff also makes reference to a “religionist” perspective, meaning an emic perspective from within a particular religious viewpoint as opposed to a more neutral historical or etic approach. “Essential to the scholarly integrity of any etic interpretation is that scholars remain permanently open to criticism from colleagues, who may challenge the validity of their interpretations,” Hanegraaff writes [6]. For “as soon as a scholar shuts himself off from criticism, research begins to degenerate into ideology.” But, he continues—and this observation is critical—”A continuing and (self-) critical dialectics of emic material and etic interpretation, in contrast, is the indispensable foundation for an empirical study of esotericism which wishes to go beyond mere description.” For Hanegraaff, most important is an open-ended “process of understanding” “in which no interpretation may claim to have the final word” (13). One might misunderstand Hanegraaff’s emphasis on an etic, empiricist, historiographic perspective as giving rise to an anti-esotericism masquerading as a study of the subject, but in fact when one looks at Hanegraaff’s own work, one finds that he remains a studiously neutral commentator willing to understand and convey his subject in the best, most comprehensive way possible.
Still, one has to wonder about the implications of the sharp division he makes between a “religionist” perspective and an “empiricist” one. Let us consider, for a moment, the example of an alchemical treatise. It may well be that this treatise includes arcane allusions to alchemical work that only a practicing alchemist would recognize and understand. We could envision an etic approach to this treatise that completely fails to recognize what the treatise conveys on alchemical discipline, whereas an emic approach might very well be the only one that could get at what the alchemical work is actually about. In this case, as in a number of others I might also cite, a sympathetic empiricist perspective may well be indispensable for understanding the work one is investigating. And this, in fact, is the methodological approach that I am advocating here.
A quite relevant debate continues to take place in the field of Buddhist studies. The question is: can someone with no practical knowledge of Buddhist meditation, say, adequately or accurately convey a tradition to which meditation is central? Or does the best scholarship need to be informed by direct knowledge of the actual practices about which one is writing? I am reminded of a fairly prominent professor of Zen Buddhism who told me directly that not only was it not necessary to practice Zen meditation to answer koans, but what is more, he could answer correctly any koan through entirely rationalistic means! I doubt that his answers would meet with the approval of a Zen Buddhist master, but such remarks are a measure of the chasm between many Western academics on the one hand, and that which they purport to study on the other. Is it appropriate to presume to answer or pronounce upon koans as an academic who has not actually practiced Zen Buddhism? It is indeed a bizarre assertion to claim so, at least in my view.
By “sympathetic empiricism,” on the other hand, I am referring to an intermediate position that incorporates the best of both emic and etic approaches. In the field of Western esotericism, as in that of religious studies more generally, it is important to balance on the one hand the virtues of scholarship that strives to achieve a standard of objectivity, and on the other hand the virtues of an approach that seeks to sympathetically understand one’s subject, to understand it from the inside out, so to speak. Anthopologists have long understood the importance of balancing etic and emic approaches, of on the one hand entering into a culture in order to understand it while on the other hand retaining the status of observer and analyst. If the vice of a too emic position is that of becoming an apologist, the vice of a too etic position is if anything greater: a failure to understand and accurately convey what one is studying. If the vice of the extreme emic approach is too great a sympathy, that of the extreme etic approach is ignorance of and hostility to one’s subject, even if under the guise of a studied neutrality.
Western esotericism is a field in its formative years, and it is, I believe, vitally important that scholars in it remain aware of their methodology and in particular of the dangers inherent in approaching this delicate, subtle, and sophisticated field without a sufficient appreciation not only of their subject’s historical context, but also of its underlying premises, or to put it another way, of their subject’s metaphysical and cosmological self-understanding.
Dangers of Reductionism
There is, of course, continuing academic debate over the value of reductionism as an approach to religious studies [7]. As Wouter Hanegraaff has outlined in his important articles on methodology in the study of esotericism, approaches can be delineated into a number of categories, chiefly pro-esotericist, anti-esotericist, and an empirical-historical approach [8]. But I will here loosely characterize empirical-historical approaches to esotericism as in turn also existing on a spectrum from “internal,” meaning writing from within the perspective of the tradition itself, to “empiricist,” meaning a more or less neutral approach, to “reductionist,” meaning an effort to reduce a given religious subject to non-religious constituent parts—i.e., power relationships, social constructs, and so forth.
Now, given it is possible for someone to write from an empirical perspective—i.e., as a more or less neutral observer of historical figures, works, or events—one may still acknowledge and draw upon what I will here call a sympathetic or, as Hanegraaff puts it, an emic approach, drawing upon the perspective of the alchemist or theosopher without for all that presenting oneself as an alchemist or theosopher. Such an approach is, I believe, particularly important in the field of esotericism because otherwise one runs the very real risk of distorting one’s topic by attempting to reduce it to something else. A recent proponent of reductionism writes that opponents of reductionism fear “ontological reductionism,” so “the putative transcendent” will be lost, and adds that “we need to know what relevance this threat of reductionism would have for a serious analysis of the tea ceremony, or of the women’s movement, or of the Confucian civil service [9].” A more relevant question, however, would be what is lost if one finds a scholar attempting to approach, say, Böhme’s profound writings on the Ungrund and attempting to reduce or rather, to distort them to socio-political constructs (to give a hypothetical example). The real problem with reductionism is that it may well lead to profound misreadings or distortions of primary sources—in brief, I argue that some sympathy with the authors and works one is studying is necessary to understand them.
Hence I believe it is extremely important to attempt to remain faithful to the subject one is investigating. That comparative religion can lead one astray is obvious, and an example readily to hand is that of the early scholar of Tibetan Buddhism L. Austine Waddell, who argued that the ritual empowerment of pills (Mani-rimdu) in Buddhist Tantra resembles the Christian eucharist, and that therefore this tradition of ts’ewang could have originated in Nestorian Christianity [10]. As Geoffrey Samuels points out, in fact the two traditions only very superficially resemble one another, but this resemblance did lead Waddell and others to speculate on some sort of historical influence of Christianity on Buddhist Tantra [11]. Waddell’s work may be of some value as an example, but it is certainly marred by his incessant denigration of Buddhism as demonic in origin (hence his need to posit a Christian origin for a Tibetan Buddhism “eucharist.” His work thus can be seen as anti-esoteric, and as reductionist.
In recent years, the field of religious studies has sustained a number of controversies and even attacks from within concerning the nature of the field and the degree to which it is still indebted to its origins (within the Western university) in Christian theology. Such controversies are themselves often motivated by various kinds of reductionism. One argument, belabored at great length in recent books by Timothy Fitzgerald and to a lesser degree, by D.G. Hart, is that the entire field of religious studies is fundamentally flawed by what critics believe are its often hidden Judeo-Christian assumptions [12]. This argument, however, (if and when it is indeed a valid argument and not grossly overstated) applies to comparative religion and in particular to comparisons between monotheistic and non-monotheistic traditions—it does not apply to the field of Western esotericism inasmuch as the field exists largely (although by no means exclusively) in a Judeo-Christian context to begin with.
But the fundamental argument of Fitzgerald and others—to reduce religious studies to cultural-historical studies or to eliminate religious studies entirely—is quite relevant here because its reductionism would be fatal to the study of Western esotericism. Why? Above all, because anti-esotericism and reductionism so often go hand in hand. One almost certainly will not learn much about, say, actual seventeenth-century alchemy from a scholar whose basic premise is that alchemy was a foolish, misguided pursuit eclipsed by the rising sun of scientific inquiry, nothing more than a chimera chased after by those in a state of delusion. Reducing a beautiful set of alchemical illustrations like Mutus Liber or Splendor Solis to a superceded relic of the past is a form of anti-esotericism different only in degree, not kind, from the hyberbolic denunciations of evil “occultism” to which fundamentalist evangelical Christian authors are prone. Both are reductionist and, as a matter of principle on their authors’ part, anti-esoteric.
Historian of religions Mircea Eliade went even further, expressing a mistrust of some historicism as a form of reductionism. In his journal entitled No Souvenirs, Eliade wrote that

I would like to analyse the attitude of historicists of all kinds. . . all those who believe that one can understand culture only by reducing it to something lower (sexuality, economics, history, etc.) and to show that theirs is a neurotic attitude. The neuropath demystifies life, culture, the spiritual life. . . he can no longer grasp the deep meaning of things, and consequently, he can no longer believe in their reality [13].
But he also remarks that
I have never affirmed the insignificance of historical situations, their usefulness for understanding religious creations. If I haven’t emphasized this problem, it is precisely because it has been emphasized too much, and because what seems to me essential is thus neglected: the hermeneutic of religious creations [14].
Eliade is not attacking historicism in itself, then; he attacks reductionist historicism that does not seek to understand the phenomena it is studying on its own terms, but instead attempts to explain a given religious phenomena away as something else. Reductionism almost always is a function of ideological distortion: one approaches a given topic, like eighteenth century theosophy, with some sort of ideological axe to grind, and while one may offer some limited insight into the social manifestations of theosophy as a result, one will almost certainly do it an injustice precisely because “the hermeneutic of religious creations” has been lost along the way.
I am arguing, here, for an empirico-historical approach that does not descend to mere reductionism, but that remains open to insights that can only come from a sympathetic understanding of one’s subject. This does not necessarily entail an explicitly “believer’s” viewpoint in the sense that a scholar is seeking to “convert” his or her readers, but it does entail some indebtedness to the insights that can only come from within the perspective of that current or figure one is studying. How did this particular alchemist or theosopher understand this tradition out of which he is writing? If we can’t answer that question faithfully, I would suggest there is a serious danger that we are doing that subject an injustice. A studied sympathetic neutrality toward one’s subject allows us to enter at least imaginatively into the alternative worldview we are studying and to faithfully convey it to others. Ideologically charged scholarship may be fashionable from time to time, but because it cannot answer faithfully this question of how a given figure understood and conveyed his or her own esoteric perspective, it is not helpful for the kind of foundational historical research necessary for us to come to understand the breadth and depth of this new field.
If ideologically charged reductionism represents one end of the spectrum we are considering, the other end is surely perennialism or Traditionalism. “Perennialism” is the general term referring to those who see all various world religious traditions as having common features and perhaps as deriving from common origins or spiritual archetypes; “Traditionalism” is the subset of perennialism espoused by figures like René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Frithjof Schuon that insists on the spiritual importance of religious tradition in contradistinction to a decadent modern world.
Traditionalism, as a doctrinal system, insists uncompromisingly that there is such a thing as timeless truth and that the esoterist [note again that this term differs from Faivre’s ‘esotericist’] can have access to it. Schuon writes in a typically uncompromising fashion that
In reality, the philosophia perennis, actualised in the West by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, the Fathers and the Scholastics, constitutes a ‘definitive’ intellectual heritage, and the great problem is not to replace them with something better—but to return to the sources, both around us and within us, and to examine all the data of contemporary life in the light of the one, timeless truth [15].

And, in the words of Kenneth Oldmeadow,
[T]raditionalism is grounded in the premise of a Primordial Tradition, or Universal Wisdom which, through manifold Revelations, is manifested in the different religious traditions. Further, each of these traditions includes within itself a core of esoteric metaphysical wisdom always shaped by the same principles which constitute the sophia perennis [16].

From both of these quotations, we can clearly see that a Traditionalist perspective insists that it has access to the ultimate truth, and it is this insistence that generates the resistance to Traditionalism one finds prevailing in academic circles where it is far from fashionable to make such claims.
A fairly ineffective critique of Schuon’s The Transcendent Unity of Religions, for instance, is to be found in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, in which Richard Bush writes that he is not impressed by the concept of transcendent unity Schuon envisages, and further is “deeply troubled because of the further division between an elite few. . . and the masses of human beings who cannot participate in the transcendent unity. A metaphysical dualism has been avoided at the cost of an epistemological and anthropological dualism, both of which are grounds for a subtle arrogance which is hardly becoming in those who desire religious unity [17].” This charge of elitism and arrogance is not an uncommon one, but it does not as such address the fundamental question of whether or to what degree Traditionalism might form a basis for an approach to the study of Western esotericism or to the study of comparative religion more generally.
A more telling critique has been offered by Wouter Hanegraaff. Hanegraaff argues that the “first necessary step towards establishing the study of esotericism as a serious academic pursuit would be to demarcate it clearly from the perennialist perspective [18].” He insists that because perennialism [Traditionalism] “considers its own metaphysical framework to be the absolute truth about the nature of religion,” this “logically precludes the possibility of discovering anything new or unexpected.” Traditionalism is based, he holds, on the premise that “if you understood, you would agree; if you disagree, obviously you don’t understand [19].” Indeed, one scarcely finds any references among the Traditionalists to Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy or Christian theosophy, and in their works the term “esoterism” replaces “esotericism” as a theoretical concept expressing a unity of all religions rather than referring to any particular form of esotericism. In short, Hanegraaff concludes Traditionalist “esoterism” [note the different word] is a means (for the most part from outside academia), for the comparative study of all religions from a particular doctrinal basis, and thus is not relevant for the study of Western esotericism [20].
As Hanegraaff points out, Traditionalism does reflect a fairly radical perspective that rejects modernity as degenerate and that dismisses much of contemporary academic study. Yet it does raise questions that eventually must be answered when we turn to the comparative study of religions and in particular to the study of various forms of esotericism not only Western but also Asian. On what basis can one compare, say, Buddhist Tantric and European alchemical traditions? Is it permissable to acknowledge that the Ungrund or Nichts of Böhme corresponds in some respects and perhaps in many to the Buddhist concept of shunyata or emptiness? And if so, then does this in turn mean that these disparate traditions do indeed point toward the same experience of transcendence, as a Franklin Merrell-Wolff would certainly insist? Or are we to claim dogmatically that we must study European traditions only in relation to themselves and that there is nothing to be gained by seeing whether there are parallels or correspondences between, say, Sufi, Taoist, Hindu, or Buddhist and European forms of alchemy? If one says ‘yes’ to this last question, one has effectively cut off the possibility of any comparative study of esoteric traditions.
Comparative Esotericism
A somewhat more moderate set of criteria than those of Traditionalism for the cross-cultural comparison of esotericisms, including Western esotericism, is to be found in the work of Pierre Riffard. Riffard, in his book L’ésotérisme (1990), outlines eight characteristics of esotericism, and these are: 1. authorial impersonality; 2. an opposition of esoteric to exoteric; 3. the concept of the “subtle” mediating between spirit and matter; 4. a theory of correspondences; 5. the esoteric significance of numbers; 6. the ‘occult sciences’; 7. the ‘occult arts’; 8. initiation [21]. It is interesting that, while Riffard’s set of characteristics are more inclusive than Faivre’s, he too does not include gnosis as a central element.
In a subsequent article, Riffard goes on to outline further characteristics by which one may compare esotericisms, including
1. Mythical origins; 2. Cosmic cycles; 3. Chains of initation; 4. Secret books;
5. Mystical names; 6. Occult etymologies; 7. Anagogic translation; 8. Spiritual translation; 9. Magical uses [of esoteric writings or art works] [22]. But these may remain what Riffard calls “external” methods of comparison, and so he also insists on the importance of what he calls “internal” methods, which correspond to the distinction between emic and etic approaches. The example he gives is this: it is true that A.J. Festugière offered information about the Corpus Hermeticum, but Marsilio Ficino, while his external data about the Corpus may have been inaccurate, offered insight into the Hermetic tradition itself [23]. Both are important approaches, but it is wrong to valorize historical information while denigrating an esotericist’s insight into the tradition itself; in brief, an emic or internal approach may be much more valuable and insightful than an etic or external one.
If Riffard offers a framework for a methodological approach to comparative esotericism, a comparative esotericism in practice was created by Henri Corbin (1903-1978), whose many and influential books were based upon his phenomenological or internal approach to Islamic and primarily Persian Sufi works, but with an eye to the works of such European figures as Swedenborg, Böhme, Oetinger, and Baader. Corbin is perhaps best known for bringing to the fore the concept of the mundus imaginalis, or imaginal realm of visionary encounters with revelatory spiritual figures. This concept of an imaginal realm had a substantial impact in the world of arts and letters as well as psychology via such figures as British poet and scholar Kathleen Raine (1908 -), American psychologist James Hillman (1926 -), and American author Robert Sardello (1942 -), to name only a few. Corbin revealed the spiritual worldview of figures like Sufi visionary Suhrawardi from what Corbin held to be the inside out—he saw things as much as possible from Suhrawardi’s own perspective while drawing on his own background in Western esotericism.
Although he did not directly address methodological considerations in the rigorous way of a Hanegraaff or even of a Riffard, Corbin thus may be seen as a pioneer in the field of comparative esotericism, a pioneer who insisted on the central importance of understanding one’s esoteric subjects from within, not merely from without. Yet Corbin is in fact contemptuous of historicist emphasis on accumulating external data; for him, far more important is one’s understanding of the esoteric perspective about which one is writing. Of course, Corbin may well be charged with having gone beyond what is proper to the historian of religions precisely for this reason, but this charge he would probably wear as a badge of honor. For Corbin’s work is like that of no other scholar I know: with his open exhortation to his readers to enjoin in a “battle for the soul of the world,” to become warriors in a spiritual chivalry, to transcend what he saw as a modern imprisonment in mere history, to enter into the visionary world of Persian spirituality, his work may indeed be seen as a kind of spiritual exhortation as much as an effort in comparative esotericism.
Like the Traditionalists, Corbin could well be considered a primary rather than a secondary source, but regardless of how one views these authors, there is no doubt that Corbin’s work—like that of Guénon or Evola—is well worth close examination not least because it represents a major intellectual contribution to contemporary thought in its own right. Mircea Eliade wrote of Guénon that his work represents a mythological way of understanding the world, and the same may certainly be said as well of Corbin and, for that matter, of Evola and of the various Traditionalists [24]. While the works of these figures may not all be entirely academic, and may even evince hostility to contemporary academia, they are certainly themselves worthy of academic study as manifesting important reactionary currents of thought in the modern era.
Gnosis: A Modest Proposal
Having offered this overview of various methodological approaches to the study of esotericism, what may we conclude from it? As editor-in-chief of an academic journal for the study of esotericism, I frequently confront the kinds of questions we have been considering during this methodological survey, and from the beginning chose to accept a wide range of approaches in the journal, so long as the work in question was acceptable to our editorial board. The only approaches that our journal, Esoterica, refuses out of hand are those that derive from manifestly anti-esoteric or reductionist perspectives. We see no point in offering a forum to those who, rather than investigating a given subject in its own right, instead approach it with some sort of ideological sledgehammer and attempt to pound it into a shape that corresponds to a particular pre-ordained thesis [25]. Nor do we see any point in offering a forum for someone to denigrate the field or a particular topic within it. But in my own view, also, no single methodological approach—be it empirico-historical, typological, internal, or otherwise—should dominate this field of study, for each genuinely investigative approach has something to offer in developing a broader and deeper understanding of esotericism.
This said, I would like here to offer another framework for understanding the study of esotericism, one that lends itself also to the comparative study of esotericisms and that informs this historical survey of esotericism. I think we should begin by defining “esotericism,” rather straightforwardly, as a term referring to cosmological or metaphysical religious or spiritual knowledge that is restricted to or intended for a limited group, and not for society at large. The word “esoteric,” in other words, refers to secret or semi-secret spiritual knowledge, including both cosmological and metaphysical gnosis; and I think that one cannot exclude from this definition phenomena classed as “mysticism.” We must look at all esoteric phenomena, and not exclude one area or another for convenience’ sake. Analyzing what is esoteric and why should not be restricted to more or less cosmological forms of esotericism.
Furthermore, as we look over Western esotericism from antiquity to the present, we can discern one characteristic that emerges as central throughout the entire period: gnosis. Once again, the word “gnosis” refers to direct spiritual insight into the nature of the cosmos and of oneself, and thus may be taken as having both a cosmological and a metaphysical import. Indeed, one may speak of these as two fundamental but related kinds of gnosis: under the heading of ‘cosmological gnosis’ we may list such traditions as astrology and the various forms of -mancies such as geomancy, cartomancy, and so forth, as well as numeric, geometric, and alphabetic traditions of correspondences and analogical interpretations, traditions of natural magic based on these correspondences, and so forth. Cosmological gnosis illuminates the hidden patterns of nature as expressing spiritual or magical truths; it corresponds, more or less, to the via positiva of Dionysius the Areopagite. Metaphysical gnosis, on the other hand, represents direct insight into the transcendent; it corresponds, more or less, to the via negativa of Dionsyius the Areopagite, and is represented by gnostic figures like Meister Eckhart and Franklin Merrell-Wolff, to offer two historically disparate examples. These terms are not mutually exclusive but exist on a continuum: visionary experiences in general belong to the realm of cosmological gnosis, but they may nonetheless convey metaphysical gnosis.
I choose to define esotericism primarily in terms of gnosis because gnosis, of whatever kind, is precisely what is esoteric within esotericism. ‘Esotericism’ describes the historical phenomena to be studied; ‘gnosis’ describes that which is esoteric, hidden, protected, and transmitted within these historical phenomena. Without hidden knowledge to be transmitted in one fashion or another, one does not have esotericism. Alchemy, astrology, various kinds of magical traditions, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, Jewish or Christian visionary or apophatic gnosis—under the rubric of ‘Western esotericism’ are a whole range of disparate phenomena connected primarily by one thing: that to enter into the particular arcane discipline is to come to realize for oneself secret knowledge about the cosmos and its transcendence. This secret or hidden knowledge is not a product of reason alone, but of gnosis—according to esotericism, it derives from a supra-rational source.
Gilles Quispel, the scholar of ancient Gnosticism, has argued that European tradition may be demarcated into a triad of faith, reason, and gnosis, with gnosis being the third and hidden current of Western thought. While I do not agree with some of Quispel’s Jungian premises, I do think that he is fundamentally right in proposing this triad, and further think that we cannot investigate European, American, or other categories of comparatively recent esotericisms without reference to their historical antecedents at least as far back as late antiquity. One cannot fully understand the triad of faith, reason, and gnosis without considering the full range of European history in which it manifests itself. What is more, we cannot adequately investigate, singly or comparatively, variants of esotericism without an awareness from the outset that we are entering into unfamiliar territory for the strictly rationalist or scientific mind, and that in order to understand it in any genuine way, we will have to learn at least imaginatively to enter into it.
There have already been some limited or preliminary efforts by a few scholars to begin a comparison of Gnosticism in late antiquity with Vajrayana Buddhism, with Böhmean theosophy, or with Persian Sufism, to give several examples [26]. And such efforts are bound to suggest new insights into these disparate but sometimes apparently parallel traditions or spiritual currents. But what we are discussing here is no simple matter. For while the conventional historian must work with rather straightforward historical data—dates, events, major figures—to this the historian of esotericism must also confront an entirely new additional dimension that we may as well describe from the outset as gnosis. This dimension cannot be addressed by conventional history alone, precisely because gnosis represents insight into that which is held to transcend history. A visionary revelation, for instance, occurs in time, but according to the visionary that which is revealed does not belong to time alone. As eighteenth-century visionary Jane Leade wrote, to enter into the visionary realm, one must cast off from the “shoar of time.” So must the historian of esotericism attempt to do, at least imaginatively if not in fact, or his or her history may well devolve into mere reductionism and even denigration due to a failure of understanding. And this imaginative effort is all the more difficult if one is attempting to deal with not one but two culturally disparate forms of esotericism.
But this imaginative effort is critical if one is to truly begin to understand one’s esoteric subject from within as well as from without. It is here that the work of a Corbin, like that of Eliade and of Scholem, reveals its importance. Here I am not referring to the accuracy or lack thereof of Corbin’s work—I am not a scholar of Persian spirituality—but to the effort to enter into the perspective one is studying. This is the adventure the study of esotericism offers the scholar that few other fields can present. In the future, comparative esotericism will take its place as a subspecialty, but for now the field as a whole is in its infancy, with vast primary research yet to be done, whole histories yet to be written. Before we can compare European alchemy with that of South India, we must first have a firm grasp of European alchemy itself! And that is a goal as yet not attained, one that will require not only a wide range of knowledge, but the imaginative capacity to interpret it.
While it may not always be easy to chart a course between the extremes of wholly embracing and wholly rejecting esotericism, this is what is necessary if we are to come to understand this complex and subtle field. An investigator must attempt to understand the world in almost certainly unfamiliar ways, and this requires a sympathetic approach to various figures, writings, and works of art, open to the unexpected, yet also retaining some sense of critical distance. Western esotericism as it is outlined in this book is a vast and profound area for research, one that could perhaps best be characterized as a long series of different investigations into the nature of consciousness itself. It is entirely possible that an investigator into it will discover in its various forms of cosmological or metaphysical gnoses unexpected insights into hidden aspects of nature, of humanity, and of spirituality.
Central to these insights is the relationship between self and other, or subject and object. In an article published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, I argued that
Western esotericism tends to see and use language in a fundamentally different way than many of us are familiar with—here, language is used not for conventional designation in a subject-object relationship, but in order to transmute consciousness or to point toward the transmutation of consciousness through what we may term hieroeidetic knowledge. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy, troubadours and chivalry, the Lullian art, magic or theosophy, pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry, one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness, which is to say, of awakening latent, profound connections between humanity, nature, and the divine, and of restoring a paradisal union between them. Hieroeidetic knowledge can be understood in terms of a shift from an objectifying view of language based on self and other to a view of language as revelatory, as a via positiva leading toward transcendence of self-other divisions. It is here, in their emphasis on the initiatory, hieroeidetic power of language to reveal what transcends language, that the unique contribution of Western esoteric traditions to consciousness studies may well be found.
Near the end of this article, I remark that
The massive edifice of the modern technological, consumerist state was built from a materialist, secular, and objectified worldview, and the participatory, transformative, and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that edifice. Still, for the first time now there are numerous scholars examining both Western esotericism as a general concept, and particular currents within esotericism, and it may well be that such studies will eventually offer unexpected insights into the historical origins of the modern era, as well as further insight into the relationships between Western esoteric traditions and consciousness [27].
It is important to recognize how different are the premises of Western esoteric traditions from modern ways of thinking and understanding, and that by entering into these currents of thought we may indeed see our own world in new ways.
If Western esotericism is to fully develop as a field of scholarly inquiry, its unique nature must be recognized. Most unique about it is not its transdisciplinary nature alone, but the fact that its manifold currents are each concerned with new ways of knowing, with the transcendence of the self-other dichotomy, be it through alchemical work, visionary experience, or apophatic gnosis. While purely historical research obviously has its place in this field, the most important works will be those, like the works of Corbin, Eliade, and Scholem, that also seek to reveal the kinds of consciousness esotericism entails, that seek to bring us into new ways of seeing and knowing. It is here, I am convinced, that the most vital and profound contributions of this emerging field will be. There is much yet to be accomplished.

1.See, for example, Harry Oldmeadow, “The Western Quest for ‘Secret Tibet,’ in Esoterica, III(2001): 83-85, where he cites passages from Lama Govinda’s writings that correspond more or less closely to Faivre’s defining elements of Western esotericism.
2.See Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology, (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2000): 10-14.
3.See, on Böhme’s concepts of the ungrund and nichts, Arthur Versluis, “The Mystery of the Ungrund,” Studies in Spirituality, (XV: 2001):
4.Another example, if we need to multiply them, is Franz von Baader. Baader is clearly a gnostic; he is also a theosopher, and the subject of a lengthy section in Faivre’s Access to Western Esotericism. Baader was the rediscoverer of Eckhart in the nineteenth century. Are we to ignore Baader as gnostic and view him only as a “Western esotericist”? If so, why?
5.See Wouter Hanegraaff, “On the Construction of ‘Esoteric Traditions’” in Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, (Leuven: Peeters, 1999): 42-43.
6.Hanegraaff, “On the Contruction of ‘Esoteric Traditions,’” 13.
7.See for example T.A. Idinopulos, and E.A. Yonan, eds., Religion and Reductionism: Essays on Eliade, Segal, and the Challenge of the Social Sciences for the Study of Religion, (Leiden: Brill, 1994).
8.See Wouter Hanegraaff, “Some Remarks on the Study of Western Esotericism,” in Esoterica, I(1999): 3-21; see also Hanegraaff, “On the Construction of Esoteric Traditions,” in Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, (Leuven: Peeters, 1998): 11-63
9.Fitzgerald, op. cit., p. 67
10.L. Austine Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism (London: Allen, 1895), 444-448, cited in Geoffrey Samuel, Civilized Shamans, (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1993), 261
11.See Samuels, op. cit., 262
12.See Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religion, (New York: Oxford UP, 2000); D.G. Hart, The University Gets Religion, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1999)
13.Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs, (New York: Harper, 1977): 144
14.Ibid., 121
15.Frithjof Schuon, Stations of Wisdom, (London: John Murray, 1961): 43.
16.Kenneth Oldmeadow, Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy, (Colombo: Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies, 2000): 180.
17.Richard Bush, “Frithjof Schuon’s The Transcendent Unity of Religions; Con” in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, xliv(1976)4:716-717.
18.Hanegraaff, “Empirical Method in the Study of Esotericism,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 7(1995)2:110.
19.Ibid.; see also Len Bowman, “The Status of Conceptual Schemata: A Dilemma for Perennialists,” ARIES 11(1990):9-19.
20.Hanegraaff, “On the Construction of ‘Esoteric Traditions’,” op. cit., 26-27.
21.Pierre Riffard, L’ésotérisme (Paris: 1990):245-306. See, for a brief discussion of Riffard’s work, Riffard, “The Esoteric Method,” in Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, op. cit., pp. 63-74.
22.See Riffard, “The Esoteric Method,” op. cit., 65-71.
23.Riffard, “The Esoteric Method,” op. cit., 73
24.Eliade, No Souvenirs, op. cit., 291.
25.Exemplary of this tendency is Eric Voegelin, whose work is based on a total misreading of the concepts of gnosis and Gnosticism. For a damning reading of Voegelin’s confused anti-esoteric works, see Hanegraaff, “On the Construction of ‘Esoteric Traditions’” op. cit., 29-36. Another such author is Carl Raschke, whose book The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the Origin of the New Religious Consciousness (Chicago: 1980) is somewhat better informed than the works of Voegelin, but like Voegelin’s work is painted with a very broad and undiscriminating brush.
26.See Versluis, “Christian Theosophy and Gnosticism,” Studies in Spirituality 7 (1997):228-241; the comparative work of Henry Corbin includes such works as L’Imagination créatrice dans le soufisme d’Ibn ‘Arabi, (1958), Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969); Terre céleste et corps de résurrection, (1960), Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977); Temple et contemplation, (Paris: Flammarion, 1980). John Reynolds and Keith Dowman, both pioneering translators and interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism, have employed the term “gnosis” in their analyses of Dzogchen and other advanced Buddhist practices. Reynolds has even indicated, in private correspondence, that he is interested in publishing a book comparing Gnosticism in antiquity with Vajrayana Buddhism, which he thinks may be historically linked. See John Myrdhin Reynolds, The Golden Letters: The Three Statements of Garab Dorje, (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1996): 110, 122, 205, 270, and Keith Dowman, Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal, (London: Arkana, 1984): 333, for examples of the use of the term “gnosis” in translating a Buddhist concept.
27. See Versluis, “Western Esotericism and Consciousness,” The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7