The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction

The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction

The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction

The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction

Synopsis

Western esotericism has now emerged as an academic study in its own right, combining spirituality with an empirical observation of the natural world while also relating the humanity to the universe through a harmonious celestial order. This introduction to the Western esoteric traditions offers a concise overview of their historical development. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke explores these traditions, from their roots in Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, and Gnosticism in the early Christian era upto their reverberations in today's scientific paradigms. While the study of Western esotericism is usually confined to the history of ideas, Goodrick-Clarke examines the phenomenon much more broadly. He demonstrates that, far from being a strictly intellectual movement, the spread of esotericism owes a great deal to geopolitics and globalization. In Hellenistic culture, for example, the empire of Alexander the Great, which stretched across Egypt and Western Asia to provinces in India, facilitated a mixing of Eastern and Western cultures. As the Greeks absorbed ideas from Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia, they gave rise to the first esoteric movements. From the late sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, post-Reformation spirituality found expression in theosophy, Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. Similarly, in the modern era, dissatisfaction with the hegemony of science in Western culture and a lack of faith in traditional Christianity led thinkers like Madame Blavatsky to look East for spiritual inspiration. Goodrick-Clarke further examines Modern esoteric thought in the light of new scientific and medical paradigms along with the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. This book traces the complete history of these movements and is the definitive account of Western esotericism.

Excerpt

The Western esoteric traditions have their roots in a religious way of thinking, which reaches back to Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism in the Hellenistic world during the first centuries A.D. In the Renaissance, the rediscovery of ancient texts led to the scholarly revival of magic, astrology, alchemy, and Kabbalah. Following the Reformation, this spiritual current gave rise to theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry, and the modern occult revival extends from nineteenth-century spiritualism, H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, and ceremonial magical orders to twentieth-century esotericists such as Rudolf Steiner, Alice A. Bailey, and George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, and the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung.

The scholarly study of Western esotericism is a comparatively recent phenomenon. There are three dedicated university chairs in the subject at the Sorbonne, Amsterdam, and Exeter, and master’s programs in the subject are offered at the latter two universities. Faculty at a growing number of other universities in Europe and the United States offer courses involving Hermetic philosophy, mystical traditions, and the history of esotericism in the medieval, Renaissance, and modern periods. This volume is intended to serve as an introduction to this growing field of study, offering a concise historical survey of its major movements and figures, and a guide to further reading.

What is esotericism? From the Enlightenment until the middle of the last century, magic, astrology, and occultism, to take a few of the . . .

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