Monday, 27 November 2017

The Esoteric and the Spiritual

I've been reading a book called The Secret Teachers of the Western World which I enjoyed. The author, Gary Lachman, seems to have partly inherited the mantle of Colin Wilson and he has the same easy style of writing. I mean that as a compliment. He puts his ideas across in an engaging and comprehensive way, and certainly knows his stuff as a student of esoteric history.

So I'm glad I read the book. It got me thinking, though, as I reacquainted myself with all the characters he calls secret teachers, who were basically people who sought esoteric knowledge and looked for it outside conventional religion. How many of these were actually spiritual? Spiritual in the sense of totally oriented towards God and the good. Spiritual in the way that the saints were spiritual. And it seems to me that remarkably few were. I know one can't judge a person's soul but, if you go by what they taught, you can form an opinion and most of these people were concerned with knowledge or power or expanding human consciousness or uncovering deeper levels of reality because of frustration with the world as normally understood.  Some had psychic powers. But how many were really motivated by love of God? Indeed, how many truly acknowledged him? The answer seems to me to be not that many. But, as I was informed by my teachers, "it is not necessary to chase after the many mysteries of existence. Live simply in the heart and all mysteries will in time become known to you." This is not an injunction to give up any attempt at understanding life but a matter of putting things in context and not being distracted from the essential, the essential being love of God.

A lot of the things we see as examples of higher consciousness nowadays are actually intimations of higher consciousness as seen through, and often deformed by, lower consciousness. This is well illustrated in ideas about love. What a confused topic! Everyone knows that love is good but that does not mean indiscriminate love applied indiscriminately.  Love must always go with wisdom in a fallen world of ignorance and corruption which this undoubtedly is. Love is not due to everything and everyone equally. More love, or more unqualified love, is due to that which goes with the flow of truth than against it or to higher manifestations of truth than lower ones. 

Another similar example is the prioritising of unity at the expense of quality. You end up losing both.

At various times in my life I have been interested in the occult and the esoteric, what is known as the Western mysteries, including Rosicrucianism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah and so on, but every time I have come away with a sense of their essential shallowness. That might seem a strange thing to say since, in many respects, they are very profound. They are symbolically and intellectually and philosophically rich with explanations of life, both inner and outer, spiritual and material. However, what I mean by shallowness is their lack of a real spirituality. Yes, they have an intellectual spirituality and they appeal to our desire to have a system, a framework of knowledge that can encompass most things, but a true and living and deep spirituality which fills the heart as well as the mind? I'm not so sure. This may be the reason why so many serious people who at one time were attracted to occultism, turn in later life to Christianity. Valentin Tomberg, the author of Meditations on the Tarot, is a good example.

The esoteric is fascinating and marvellous, quite literally. But, when all us said and done, it is concerned with creation not Creator, with God's activity rather than God himself.  This is why it is ultimately unsatisfying for all its mysteries, its ecstasies and the knowledge and power it offers.

If you are an esotericist you must also be a Christian and your Christianity must come first.

Having said all that, and with the proviso that a true spirituality must be founded on religion and love of God first and esotericism second, I should add that esoteric knowledge can supplement religion. It can give it a depth which it often lacks. My appreciation and understanding of Christianity has been deepened, I think, by esotericism. Just make sure it supplements it and doesn't supplant it.


5 comments:

NLR said...

What is your opinion on Pythagoras? While not much is known for certain about his life, from the little there is he comes across as a sincere seeker of Truth and a decent man.

William Wildblood said...

That's my impression too. In fact, he was probably about as wise and as good and as spiritually true a man as you could be before the advent of Christ.

Bruce Charlton said...

I too honour Pythagoras. He was right for his time and place.

However, his kind of idealism - with its divine numerology/ geometry - while beautiful and appealing (e.g. John Michell persuasively and inspiringly advocated this kind of world view) is Not what we need for the future, starting here-and-now...

Chiu ChunLing said...

I have a mixed opinion about Pythagoras, given his reported response to the mathematical proof that the square root of two could not be represented by an integer divided by another integer.

On the subject of love, I must reiterated that it is not a matter of what (or who) deserves love but of what love is. Love is a desire for the increase in goodness of the beloved, to love a type of food is to desire that it is prepared with care and made perfectly, and to appreciate when this is done. So much more so love of something that exists not to be consumed but to endure, love involves cherishing and protecting it from harm, anything that would diminish or injure the qualities which are regarded as good in it. Love of a person is love of what makes them a person rather than an object, their mind, their freedom, their life. A desire to possess, control, debase, and degrade someone is not love, certainly not love of them as a person.

Nor is the desire to cause someone to be brought to a vile state through neglect of their need for spiritual, mental, and physical growth. To tolerate in someone behaviors which are obviously going to destroy their spirit and body together is not loving. It is not much better than hatred, and probably nearest to utter contempt. The problem is not that we are to careless about who we love (though loving those who cannot be both free and happy is certainly a path to great suffering), the problem is that we are content to deem "love" the sort of attitude and behavior that is absolutely contrary to the sane meaning of the term.

On the whole, teachers of especially occult knowledge tend to be frauds. God has made the most important things we have to learn exceedingly obvious, it is our own pride which makes them difficult to accept and believe. There are also those who find and teach knowledge that God has kept hidden for good reason, and these are the really dangerous ones (though I sometimes suspect I am more often than not one of them). But it is true that in many times and places the decadence of society has led to some vital divine truth being so widely denied that it genuinely has been forgotten and must be revealed anew.

I see in modernity many cases...though again I hardly claim to know certainly which elements of hidden knowledge I uncover are true, false, or even dangerous. I feel safest speaking of truths which have not been lost yet, even if they are widely denied by the world.

Not in the sense of ensuring my own safety, but merely of minimizing the danger I pose to others.

William Wildblood said...

I like your definition of love as a desire for the increase of goodness in the beloved. It shows that all love is due to God first and then, through God to our neighbour. It also makes clear that much that is called love is anything but that really.