Concerning the Practice of Concealing Spiritual Wisdom
Thoughts on the persecution and exclusion of the marginalized ‘esotericist’ in Western Culture and the difference between Ancient and Modern Esotericism in an illuminating paper from Michael L. Frazer’s “Esotericism Ancient and Modern:
Strauss Contra Straussianism on the Art of Political-Philosophical Writing,” Political Theory 34:1,
February 2006, pp. 33-61.
In Stanley Rosen’s Hermeneutics as Politics, a critique of post-modern thought, he asked that “the serious question is not whether philosophers practiced esotericism—every thoughtful human being does so to one degree or another—but why.” This is a question that has long been made a complaint Michael L. Frazer adds.
This paper on Strauss got me thinking about this practice and its reasons. This practice it is understood is broad, and leads into misleading obscurantism, and the lies and disinformation that are created in the practice of secrecy. But let us say this…In our times, over more than a century after the Western Enlightenment period, it is relatively a more liberalized age in comparison to certain other regions and the periods the philosophers we speak of endured — or so we think. While we feel we are able to promote pro-esoteric perspectives freely, we are not truly entirely at liberty to do so. I will explain this in “Why the Academic Study of Western Esotericism is not as Popular as Critical Theory and Women’s History?” about Wouter J. Hanegraaff on “Rejected Knowledge” in the book Hermes Explains.
The practice and methods of esotericism were not made secret, because philosophers occupied with occultism are primarily “persecuted” or would be by the multitudes, but because the practice of concealing spiritual knowledge from the masses is natural. Jesus in the New Testament himself preferred death over revealing too clearly secret knowledge, one could not possibly understand in ordinary mental condition. Like Shakyamuni, he spoke one form of communication to his disciples, and to others, in another form. These “esoteric truths” cannot also be entirely understood through concepts by the mind and physical brain still tied to the physical plane, its illusions and desires. The human mind in its ordinary condition as it is with any of us reading this minute, mistakenly believes it can, but it cannot.
Nature itself conceals these truths, and all creatures have limited sight, because of nature, not primarily because of any nefarious Other is hiding truths from us. You must assimilate the radiance of the higher human mind, rather than allowing the mind to gravitate towards its animal side. It is unreasonable to expect the mass of humanity to make such a leap of faith and sacrifice their passions, the very passions which move day to day human interaction, and if given the truth, are not likely to accept it, nor comprehend it. In this sense, esotericism is conceived as being virtually eternal, and its propagation is done so by gradual inculcating and dissemination, then allowing the effects to work out. The masses are constantly being tested. You cannot begin to fathom beyond these physical limitations without approaching philosophy and contemplating on the higher metaphysics, to forfeit the physicalism that teaches our consciousness is subordinate to the matter in our physical brain, and become intimate with hidden forces and hidden faculties. See! It already sounds insane and troubling does it? This particular somatic and psychic teaching is put in the background, while philosophy and ethics are put to the forefront.
This brings us to the role of the philosopher and the potential philosophers, the latter of which we say are of “mystical inclination.” There will remain essentially a gulf between the ‘wise’ and the ‘the masses’ for as long as humans exist, just as there exists between any professor and his students, or the old from the young, the fit and athletic from the unfit in a physical race, &c.
The attempt at popularizing esoteric philosophy is indeed a “forlorn hope,” but it is the effort to enlighten a mass of people, that are not interested in philosophy which still put certain causes into motion that will be beneficial in the long run.
This is recognized by Philip Jenkins in Alternative Scriptures: Theosophy and the Esoteric Tradition, when he writes:
“Whether we are looking at Gnostic and esoteric views of early Christianity, feminist interpretations of the role of Mary Magdalene, or the influence of Essene doctrine, very few ideas that we might today regard as radically modern and daring were in fact unfamiliar back then. Far from being confined to elite scholars, such ideas were very widely disseminated in mass media and popular culture. One great vehicle for such ideas was the large and flourishing esoteric or occult movement that enjoyed such a global boom in those years. (…) One movement in particular – Theosophy – sparked, inspired, directed, and mobilized the esoteric quest for Jesus that still flourishes today. Theosophists furnished all the essential maps and guides to anyone interested in following that path. Without acknowledging Theosophy, we can never understand the history of the popular interest in the gospels, in Gnosticism, or in alternative Christianities.”Philip Jenkins, Alternative Scriptures: Theosophy and the Esoteric Tradition, 2017.
We see the importance of action and putting causes into motion that are able to influence history in Maria Carlson on the Influence of Theosophy on Russian Culture in the Russian Silver Age, and broaden the creative intelligence of the people. We must acknowledge this fact, that at one point, the potential did not flourish into exactly what thinkers of these movements expected, but there was a great deal of interest in the mass market for alternative ideas about religion that demonstrated the emancipatory power of folklore tales, myth interpretation, and esoteric philosophy. Moreover, it paved better ways for people of all faiths and religions to create spaces for interreligious dialogue and diplomacy.