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What Is Western Esotericism

Western esotericism, also known as esotericism, esoterist, and sometimes the Western mystery tradition, is a term scholars use to categorize a wide range of loosely related ideas and movements that developed within Western society.

These ideas and currents are united since they are largely distinct both from orthodox Judeo-Christian religion and Enlightenment rationalism.

Esotericism has pervaded various forms of Western philosophy, religion, pseudoscience, art, literature, and music—and continues to influence intellectual ideas and popular culture.

The idea of grouping a wide range of Western traditions and philosophies together under the term esotericism developed in Europe during the late seventeenth century.

Various academics have debated various definitions of Western esotericism.

Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You
Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You

Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You

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One view adopts a definition from certain esotericist schools of thought themselves, treating “esotericism” as a perennial hidden inner tradition.

A second perspective sees esotericism as a category of movements that embrace an “enchanted” worldview in the face of increasing disenchantment.

A third views Western esotericism as encompassing all of Western culture’s “rejected knowledge” that is accepted neither by the scientific establishment nor orthodox religious authorities.

The earliest traditions that later analysis labeled as forms of Western esotericism emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean during Late Antiquity, where Hermetism, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism developed as schools of thought distinct from what became mainstream Christianity.

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Renaissance Europe saw increasing interest in many of these older ideas, with various intellectuals combining “pagan” philosophies with the Kabbalah and Christian philosophy, resulting in the emergence of esoteric movements like Christian theosophy.

The seventeenth century saw the development of initiatory societies professing esoteric knowledge such as Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, while the Age of Enlightenment of the eighteenth century led to the development of new forms of esoteric thought.

The nineteenth century saw the emergence of new trends of esoteric thought now known as occultism.

Prominent groups in this century included the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Also, important in this connexion is Martinus Thomsen’s “spiritual science”.

Modern Paganism developed within occultism and includes religious movements such as Wicca.

Esoteric ideas permeated the counterculture of the 1960s and later cultural tendencies, which led to the New Age phenomenon in the 1970s.

Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You
Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You

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Esotericism As An Enchanted World View

Another approach to Western esotericism treats it as a world view that embraces “enchantment” in contrast to world views influenced by post-Cartesian, post-Newtonian, and positivist science that sought to “dis-enchant” the world.

That approach understands esotericism as comprising those world views that eschew a belief in instrumental causality and instead adopt a belief that all parts of the universe are interrelated without a need for causal chains.

It stands as a radical alternative to the disenchanted world views that have dominated Western culture since the scientific revolution, and must therefore always be at odds with secular culture.

An early exponent of this definition was the historian of Renaissance thought Frances Yates in her discussions of a Hermetic Tradition, which she saw as an “enchanted” alternative to established religion and rationalistic science.

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However, the primary exponent of this view was Faivre, who published a series of criteria for how to define “Western esotericism” in 1992.

Faivre claimed that esotericism was “identifiable by the presence of six fundamental characteristics or components”, four of which were “intrinsic” and thus vital to defining something as being esoteric, while the other two were “secondary” and thus not necessarily present in every form of esotericism. He listed these characteristics as follows:

“Correspondences”: This is the idea that there are both real and symbolic correspondences existing between all things within the universe.

As examples of this, Faivre pointed to the esoteric concept of the macrocosm and microcosm, often presented as the dictum of “as above, so below”, as well as the astrological idea that the actions of the planets have a direct corresponding influence on the behavior of human beings.

“Living Nature”: Faivre argued that all esotericists envision the natural universe as being imbued with its own life force and that as such they understand it as being “complex, plural, hierarchical”.

“Imagination and Mediations”: Faivre believed that all esotericists place great emphasis on both the human imagination and mediations—” such as rituals, symbolic images, mandalas, intermediary spirits”—and mantras as tools that provide access to worlds and levels of reality existing between the material world and the divine.

“Experience of Transmutation”: Faivre’s fourth intrinsic characteristic of esotericism was the emphasis that esotericists place on fundamentally transforming themselves through their practice, for instance through the spiritual transformation that is alleged to accompany the attainment of gnosis.

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Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You
Understanding Esotericism And Finding Esoterica Stores Near You

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“Practice of Concordance”: The first of Faivre’s secondary characteristics of esotericism was the belief—held by many esotericists, such as those in the Traditionalist School—that there is a fundamental unifying principle or root from which all world religions and spiritual practices emerge. The common esoteric principle is that attaining this unifying principle can bring the world’s different belief systems together in unity.

“Transmission”: Faivre’s second secondary characteristic was the emphasis on the transmission of esoteric teachings and secrets from a master to their disciple, through a process of initiation.

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Conclusion 

Understanding Esotericism, and finding esoterica stores near you is now easier to come by, but you need to know what Esotericism means before entering a tienda esoterica near you.
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