Feb 182009
 

I had mentioned in one of my posts earlier the categories “mystic” and “esoteric”, and that there is a distinct difference between them. I ran into this distinction in a really excellent book by Richard Smoley titled “Inner Christianity“. Since the distinction is his I’d best let him clarify it:

Esotericism is characterized by an interest in these different levels of consciousness and being. Mysticism is not quite so concerned with these intermediate states; it focuses on reaching God in the most direct and immediate way. The mystic wants to reach his destination as quickly as possible; the esotericist wants to learn something about the landscape on the way. Moreover, mysticism tends more toward passivity: a quiet “waiting upon God” rather than active investigation.

I had mentioned that Eckhart Tolle, for example, is a mystic, whereas I think Ken Wilber is more of an esotericist. Myself, I’ve wandered back and forth as the mood strikes me. This distinction is similar to Ken Wilber’s distinction of “ascending” vs. “descending” spiritual currents. The “ascenders” focus on finding God in the absolute, infinite unity of being. They often disdain the physical manifestations. This group includes such folks as most gnostics, particularly Manicheans. Also in this category would be the Christian contemplatives and practitioners of Raja yoga.

The “descenders” on the other hand, celebrate God in the infinite variety of physical manifestation. Most forms of wicca, paganism and shamanism fall into this category, along with tantric yoga and “social” Christianity. The descenders often seem somewhat unconcerned with higher reality as a goal.

Both currents of spirituality are important, because God exist equally as the infinite one, and as the infinite many. Perhaps this makes esotericism a sort of compromise, because it seeks the divine unity while making plenty of interesting tours of the infinite many on the way up.

What can be frustrating about esotericism is that the “facts” of the esoteric tend to vary somewhat from teacher to teacher and from school to school. One of my favorite topics, for example, is angeology. But although nearly every religion and every esoteric school agrees that there ARE angels, and that they are important – none agree about exactly what they are, what their nature is, or their names, activities and heirarchy.

The trick seems to be to pick a system and stick with it, while realizing that all esoteric systems are somewhat arbitrary – vehicles for focusing the efforts of the student as he or she progresses on the spiritual path.

How about you? Are you a mystic or an esoteric?

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  8 Responses to “The Mystic and the Esoteric”

  1. I’ve never heard of this formal distinction before…interesting way to look at things. As for myself, I’ve given up on the idea of transcendence; not because it does or doesn’t exist (I suspect we’re talking brain states here), but because I’ve become philosophically opposed to the whole enterprise. Nowadays, I see it as just another try at escaping reality, rather than discovering it. An attempt at broadening context and opening a gap into which we can place our hopes that life isn’t just what it is. Or maybe we want something to worship, an ideal whose brilliant light can wash away the pain of real existence.

    I suppose the axiom that comes closest to the truth was a sign John Larroquette had in his office at the bus terminal in the old ‘Larroquette’ show…’Life is a Dark Ride’. This is why I’m an antinatalist.

  2. I’ve never heard of this formal distinction before…interesting way to look at things. As for myself, I’ve given up on the idea of transcendence; not because it does or doesn’t exist (I suspect we’re talking brain states here), but because I’ve become philosophically opposed to the whole enterprise. Nowadays, I see it as just another try at escaping reality, rather than discovering it. An attempt at broadening context and opening a gap into which we can place our hopes that life isn’t just what it is. Or maybe we want something to worship, an ideal whose brilliant light can wash away the pain of real existence.

    I suppose the axiom that comes closest to the truth was a sign John Larroquette had in his office at the bus terminal in the old ‘Larroquette’ show…’Life is a Dark Ride’. This is why I’m an antinatalist.

  3. re: “Life is a Dark Ride”

    I look at it more like this. There are dark channels you can “tune into”. But in the same space, there are also “light” channels. I don’t think one is any more “real” than the other. But I will say that the closer I seem to get, phenomenologically, to “bare” experience, the lighter it seems to be. Can’t say why, but it just is. I’ll be sure to visit your site and torment you with cheery comments 😉

    ps. hmm… html not working? That’s odd. I’ll look into it.

  4. Sorry for the double post, TA. The loading page never closed out either try…I didn’t think I’d gotten through at all. Oh, and it looks like maybe I skipped the space between ‘a’ and ‘href’…I’ll try it again here.

  5. Test of reply

  6. Nicely explained difference that made me wonder. I took both words as synonyms until now. My goal is of a mystic but I suppose I do want to know the esoteric way alongside.

  7. I prefer to call myself both at the same time, an esoteric mystic. Mainly because I practice both… I do like the definition given here; both are correct. As a Wiccan now (a solitary practitioner, I find I can be an esoteric and a mystic as well..), both the mystic and the esoteric were very present were I grew up… Also, as a Tarot Reader, I find myself leaning heavily towards the esoteric mysticism in the Cards…

    • Here I go again. I ended up in this website looking for explanations on the word of God because I want to stop being a lukewarm Christian and start obeying the Lord. So how come Tarot reading (divination) is mentioned in here when we know that it is forbidden by God?
      What are your thought on this Reverend?

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