Esoterism contra Exoteric Universalism

Quite often, when an esoteric view is expressed, the listener hears a universalist statement. We must define our terms carefully in order to clarify the point.

Universalism is the view that all religious and spiritual modalities wind up at the same salvation in the end, regardless of differences and distinctions in character or application. This is popularly expressed as “all religions are basically the same” or, with somewhat more sophistication, “all paths lead to the same goal.”

Esoterism is a focus on the way in which any given religion or spiritual modality may be turned inward upon itself so that the individual practitioner may also turn inward upon himself. Esoterism is the sum of mysticism, gnosis, and magic—what the author of Meditations on the Tarot refers to as Hermetic philosophy or what Schuon calls Perennial Philosophy or Traditional Metaphysics.

Esoterism states that the possibility of inwardness exists in principle in any authentic religious or spiritual tradition while acknowledging that it is more difficult to access in some than in others, sometimes considerably so to the point of practical impossibility. A religion may be called spiritually alive insofar as this possibility is actualized in the persons of living representatives of that tradition.

An esoterist will certainly focus on the practice of a particular tradition but, unlike the purely exoteric (outward) religionist, will not be uncomfortable with taking lessons from or even engaging in the practices of a genuinely living religion or spiritual tradition. What works, works. To put it more concretely: A Yogi who has, even for the briefest moment, touched the feet of God will feel no discomfort in the magical application of the Psalms. Game recognize game.

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3 thoughts on “Esoterism contra Exoteric Universalism

    • Magic is not an easy thing to define fully, but in this context the point of importance is that it is a natural unfolding of human potential arising from deepening reintegration with the Divine Totality.

      To once again quote from Meditations on the Tarot,

      “The mystery of the God-Man is the key of divine magic, being the fundamental condition of the work of the Redemption, which is an operation of divine magic comparable only to that of the creation of the world.
      […]
      “The magus in sacred magic play sthe role of the last link in the magical chain which descends from above, i.e. in order to serve as the terrestrial point of contact and point of concentration for the operation conceived, willed and put into action from above.”

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