Western Esoteric Tradition

In the early ages of the world, the wisdom of men was concentrated in the easternmost parts of the earth; and the nations which had disseminated themselves along the shores of the Mediterranean, to the west of the plains of Mesopotamia, were obliged to return towards the East in search of the knowledge of their forefathers. The West was then a place of darkness, and he who sought light was obliged to leave it and travel to the East. In astronomy, there is the same peculiarity in relation to the course of light. The earth revolves upon its axis from west to east. But the sun rises in the latter point, and while the eastern hemisphere is enjoying the light of day, the western parts of the globe are enveloped in darkness; until, by the diurnal revolution of the earth, they are brought towards the East, and placed within the influence of the enlightening rays of the solar orb.

 

From cosmology to philosophy

Philosophy among the Greeks slowly emerged out of religious awe into wonder about the principles and elements of the natural world. But as the Greek populations more and more left the land to become concentrated in their cities, interest shifted from nature to social living; questions of law and convention and civic values became paramount. Cosmological speculation partly gave way to moral and political theorizing, and the preliminary and somewhat fragmentary questionings of Socrates and the Sophists turned into the great positive constructions of Plato and Aristotle. With the political and social fragmentation of the succeeding centuries, however, philosophizing once again shifted from the norm of civic involvement to problems of salvation and survival in a chaotic world.

Very interesting is the fact that somewhere around 600 B.C. a group of wise men appeared, like Pythagoras, Lao tse in Chine and Lord Buddha in North India. In Magna Grecia, particularly, there was the school of Pythagoras, closely linked with the esoteric teaching of the Orphic group. It is impossible to go deeper into the Pythagorean doctrine; his Golden Verses, the Rules for Silence and the division of his school into two groups of adepts is certainly known.

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            Western mystery tradition is the body of teachings and practices indigenous to the West, including the lore of ancient Mystery Schools and lost traditions, such as Celtic, Pythagorean, Mitrhaic and the Druidic Schools. In contrast to the Oriental teachings, which emphasizes enlightenment and liberation from the illusions of the sensorial, time-bound world, the Western Mystery tradition stresses bonding with the natural world and commitment to exploring the mysterious element of time. Initially disclosed to the public through the Hermetica, reputed to have its most well known expression of Rosicrucianism. Currently undergoing an enormous revival within the New Age Movement, though still less well known than the Eastern paths and as yet virtually obscure to the general public.

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In the Roman Empire the mysteries gained ever more in importance, as the seekers after truth were no longer satisfied with the official Roman religion. There were the mysteries of Dionysus, of Hekate, of the Great Mother Cybele, of Serapis. And at the same time the cult of Isis grew steadily more important and held its own over a long period of time in spite of Christianity. However there existed a number of Christians, who desirous to go further than mere faith, went in search of knowledge, i.e. Gnosis, which would give an answer to the burning questions on all sorts of problems. In those Gnostic doctrines one finds Egyptian, Persian, Greek and others elements. With regards to initiation amongst the Gnostics, they had an initiation ritual, sacraments, magic formulas, passwords, signs of recognition, and so on.

We should not omit to mention the religion of the Sun-God Mithras, brought back home by the roman legionaries from Persia. The initiates of Mithraism who usually met in grottos had their secret signs of recognition and formed a Hierarchy of seven degrees.

When the dark clouds of almost complete ignorance descended on Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages, groups of the Gnostics, the Essenes and a small sect in France, the Albigenses, were all silently and courageously passing on the esoteric teaching.

 

Knight Templars and Holy Grail Brotherhood

And so we come to the Knights Templars, originally a military body who, during the Crusades, had come into touch with their Arabian contacts. From this source came knowledge of the Kabbalah as well as to the Tarot cards. The esotericism of the Templars is still very much an enigma. We know it was a very famous Order, founded in 1117 for the protection of the pilgrims to the Holy land. The story of the tragic process conducted by the envious King Philip against these men.

The dawn of Christianity brought to philosophy new tasks. St. Augustine (354–430)—the philosophical bishop of Hippo—and the Church Fathers used such resources of the Greek tradition as remained (chiefly Platonism) to deal with problems of creation, of faith and reason, and of truth. New translations in the 12th century made much of Aristotle’s philosophy available and prepared the way for the great theological constructions of the 13th century, chiefly those of the Scholastic philosophers St. Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274), St. Albertus Magnus (c. 1200–1280), St. Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon (c. 1220–1292), and John Duns Scotus (c. 1266–1308). The end of the middle ages saw a new flowering of the opposite tendencies in the nominalism of William of Ockham (c. 1285–c. 1347) and the mysticism of Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1327).

In Italy we find Dante Alighieri, from 1265 until 1321, who has been called “the most famous initiate of the middle agers”. Violently opposed to Papacy, he seems to have played a decisive role in the secret societies of those days. After a century Lorenzo of Medici founded the Academia in Florence. Marsilio Ficino, Leonardo da Vinci, Pico della Mirandola and Demetrios Chalkokondyles were the famous members of the Medici Academy.

So we come to one of the most beautiful legends, of the middle ages, the legend of the Holy Grail. The Grail is the sacred cup whish, according to the legend, was used during the Last Supper. It can be found in a great number of legends of the middle ages, invariably dealing with the “search of the Holy Grail”, i.e. the search of wisdom lost. We must think in this respect of the famous story of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table.

We should also mention as an initiatory organization, the alchemists, a movement that was permantly condemned by the Church. And we should not forget the occult teaching of Kabbalah or “tradition”. This Hebrew esotericism had ancient roots on numerous Egyptian adepts, but also containing Gnostic ideas.

Amongst the many secret organizations of the middle ages we find also the so-called Guilds, in which initiatory rites were practiced, amongst whom the most advanced were the masons, builders of cathedrals and palaces, adepts of the “Royal Art”, as architecture was then called. One might say that the Pythagorean esoteric geometry has been transmitted from antiquity to the fraternities of builders; a ritual of initiation into geometry was passed on from generation to generation, which played a most important role. From those master-Builders, from that so-called “operative Masonry”, modern speculative Masonry has come into existence.

 

The Rosicrucians

During the fourteenth century a few learned men gathered around a mysterious figure called Christian Rosenkreutz. This group was important insofar as they revived certain ancient teachings and they took for their chief emblem the Rose and the Cross. This, with another of their symbols, the pelican feeding he young with blood from her own heart, supreme sacrifice, is still used today. We are told that the essential inspiration of the Rose Cross esoteric movement developed by disciples of Paracelsus, whose theory is known under the name of Pansofia. Nicholas Flamel, Jacob Boehme, Commenius, John Dee, Johann Valentin Andreae and count Alessandro Cagliostro were some of the well-known Rosicrucians.

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The mysteries Of Egypt and Persia reached Europe via Arabia thorough the Knights Templars and Rosicrucians. One of the truly great minds of the secret fraternity, in fact the moving spirit of the whole enterprise, was Sir Francis Bacon. In many occult writings the esoteric importance of Sir Francis Bacon has been stressed, in some of them it is said that in other incarnations he was as Roger Bacon, earlier than Francis, the famous Hungarian Hunyadi Janos, Christian Rosenkreutz, Prince Rakoczi of Hungary, later known as the Comte de St. Germain, and there are those who think he is actually one of the masters of the mystic Hierarchy.

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            The most famous writer on the Order of the Rose-Cross is their English Grand Master, Dr. Robert Fludd. One might say that this teaching is a vast system of theosophy, esoteric Christianity, strongly influenced by Hermetism, Kabbalah, Neo-Platonism and the Gnosis, a composite synthesis therefore in which are united the traces and remains of all the secret traditions of the middle ages and the Renaissance.

 

The Modern Esotericism

            We should not forget to mention various esoteric movements like the Theosophical Society, originally founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the teachings of Agni Yoga and those of Tibetan Master, written by Alice Bailey.

            In the Treatise on the Seven Rays Tibetan master says as follows: The teaching planned by the Hierarchy to precede and condition the New Age falls into three categories: (1) Preparatory, given 1875-1890, written down by H. Blavatsky; (2) Intermediate, given 1919-1949, written down by A. Bailey; (3) Revelatory, emerging after 1975.

            We must mention here the very important teachings of Don Juan Matus, written by Carlos Castaneda, which swayed the New Age Movement.