This is the second talk in a series on Western esotericism through the ages. In my first talk, I went as far back as possible in history, to Ancient Egypt, Central America, Atlantis and Greece. In today’s talk I will continue from classical Greece through to the Middle Ages in Europe. In the first talk we saw that the esoteric or hidden doctrine has always existed in its totality.


Since the early stages of human development the esoteric doctrine has come down to us from the unbroken oral teachings that were revealed by living divine men to the elect of humanity.


The teachings have reached us unaltered.


And there still exists a great brotherhood of humans, called the masters of wisdom and compassion. These masters are thoroughly versed in the sciences based on the uninterrupted teachings.


Through the ages, the teachings have taken on various forms depending on human development. Before the Christian era, there was in Greece, the Empire of Alexander the Great. This empire stretched across Egypt, Western Asia and into some provinces of India. It was easy then for a multi-cultural exchange of knowledge. The Greeks absorbed ideas from Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Persia. In their turn they gave us the Hermetic tradition and the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato. Greek philosophy was their noblest achievement. In the West they were unsurpassed in their quest for wisdom and their love of truth. 


Hermetism was taught to the Greeks by the Egyptians. It is secret and esoteric teachings that went back to ancient times. Later it gave birth to the traditions of Cabbalism, Alchemy, Gnosticism and Rosicrucianism. It teaches us, that what above is, so is it below. This is the knowledge that mankind is not a special creation in the universe. From the smallest atom to the immense galaxies, everything has the same divine essence and comes from the same source.

Hermetism is identical to theosophy. It teaches the unity of everything in the universe. Life is governed by laws or ‘the Law’. These laws are eternal and not created. Deity is Law and Law is Deity.


Firstly there is the law of constant change and movement.


Secondly the law of cause and effect, or Karma. The strictest and most impartial justice rules the worlds. Infinite love and compassion is the heart of universal Nature. This is Infinite harmony. Therefore we would do well to give each other mutual help in the carrying of our burdens. We should refrain from evil doing in any manner whatsoever.


At the beginning of the Christian era, the Roman Empire which had taken over authority and power from the Greeks, was already in decline. In the second century the early Christian church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Augustine, had the highest respect for Hermetism. In the beginning of its development, Christianity was seen as a threat to the Roman tradition and the Christians were persecuted. Later Christianity changed and became more popular with the people. With the decline of the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity because it was popular. By the third and fourth century Christianity became an autocratic religion. The hermetic teachings of the Divine Laws of karma and reincarnation were condemned by the ignorant church fathers.

Because of these ignorant church fathers, a lot of information from the past was seen as heresy and this information was destroyed. The esoteric knowledge had to be hidden.

What is the difference between esoteric and exoteric? Esoteric knowledge teaches that everything happens through a cause. Exoteric knowledge in the west teaches that through chance, or fortuity the life of human beings and other entities are lead. An example: God a big man in heaven made the trees with his own hands.

Esoteric knowledge teaches that a seed from which a tree grows, this growing force comes from the seed itself. No external God or divinity made the tree.


The stubbornness of the church fathers could not discourage the development of esoteric learning in the west. In Egypt in Alexandria, there was a theosophical school lead by Ammonius Saccas. He kept alive the ancient theosophical teachings.

What is theosophy then? “It is the accumulated Wisdom of the ages. It is man’s heritage of cosmic knowledge and spiritual wisdom. This reservoir of spiritual force has been slowly filled through enormous periods of time. It is guarded by those who through their own efforts have achieved the right and power to do so. From time to time, as men have need for it, a Master of Wisdom comes into the world to teach some aspect of it to some group or race of men. Thus the great and lesser religions are born.


Our era has seen the rise of Christianity. With the ascendance of Christianity to the Roman Empire, Europe came under the rule of Catholicism and clericalism. As a consequence of this, Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages. This is a period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the high Middle Ages, 500 – 1100 A.D. There was a rise in the population of Europe. Germanic tribes swept through Europe and North Africa, often attacking and destroying towns and villages. This was a period of un-enlightenment and ignorance. Example: the belief was that the Earth was a flat surface and not round. Or that the Earth was the centre of the universe.

Around 323 – 343 A.D., at the same time that Christianity ascended to the throne of Rome, there was a radical transformation in classical Greek philosophy. From being essentially classical Greek, it developed into a cosmopolitan culture movement. Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician and other near eastern religions and ethical elements merged. Alexandria became the centre of diverse currents of thinking. A new philosophy developed.  

In 750 AD, it moved to the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. This became the heir of Athens and Alexandria: the centre of learning. Most of the Greek philosophical and scientific works were translated into Arabic.


Two centuries later, Cordoba, the capital of Muslim Spain, began to vie with Baghdad as the centre of Ancient Learning. From Cordoba, Greek and Arabic philosophy and science were transmitted across the Pyrenees to Paris, Bologna and Oxford. About 950 AD, Spain began to yield up her scientific treasures to Latin Christendom which had deteriorated into backwardness and degeneration. Arabic versions of Greek originals in Science, mathematics, astronomy and medicine were translated into Latin, Hebrew and other vernacular languages.


For nearly eight centuries, under her Mohammedan rulers, Spain set a shining example to all Europe as a civilized and enlightened State. Art, literature and science prospered as they then prospered nowhere else in Europe. Students from France, Germany and England flocked to drink from the fountains of learning which flowed only in the cities of the Moors. The surgeons and doctors of Andalusia were at the forefront of science. Women were encouraged to devote their lives to study. A lady doctor was not uncommon among the people of Cordoba. Mathematics, astronomy, botany, history, philosophy and jurisprudence, were mastered by the Moors in Spain and in Spain alone, under the Muslims.


Dark clouds formed once again over Europe. The Inquisition arose. An institution, within the Roman Catholic Church, formed to forcefully combat heresy.

In Spain a war broke out and Catholicism won. Muslims and Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain and Portugal. The esoteric tradition had to go underground, for fear of death and persecution.


To understand the esoteric tradition it is essential to study Hermetism. It is the prehistoric wisdom about nature. It has come down to us through the Chaldeans and Egyptians, in the Greek and Arabic languages.

Thanks to the efforts of the Medici family in Florence, Hermetism was rediscovered in Europe. There was a revival of Astrology, Alchemy and Magic. At the Council of Ferrara in Florence in 1431 an attempt was made to reunite the Eastern Orthodox Church with Rome. Sadly it failed, but it did bring about the revival of Hermetism into Europe, from the Near East. The Medici family were the rulers of Florence. Cosimo de Medici acquired the Corpus Hermeticum one of the few extant works of Hermes. The Medici paid for the translation from the old Greek and Arabic writings of Hermes and Plato into Latin.


Who was Hermes? Let us take a closer look at him and see what has come down to us from ancient times. Hermes is a Greek name for the Egyptian god Thoth. He is said to have lived long before Moses, and was one with Adam. Unlike Adam who was not allowed to eat from the tree of knowledge. Hermes on the contrary invented the art of passing on knowledge to the world, by writing and engraving. He is the inventor of the sciences of medicine, astronomy and art. He left us many works on subjects like astrology and occultism. He emphasized cosmic unity and the interdependence of all things.

Thanks to the efforts of the Medici and the translators, Europe saw a rebirth of the arts and sciences. This rebirth of knowledge was called Renaissance. Plato was rediscovered and there was a revival of the ancient systems. Printing was invented and the publication of knowledge in the vernacular languages gave more people access to the various sciences. This also brought about the reformation. Reading the Bible in the vernacular and the spread of literacy changed Christianity. People learnt to think for themselves. Protestantism came about.

Plato left us a systematic philosophical doctrine about the immortality of the Soul. The nature of human happiness through the perfection of mind and character by acquiring virtues such as wisdom, justice, temperance and courage. Through reading Plato’s dialogues we can explore the nature of love in its purest form. Not by putting Plato on a pedestal, but personally examining with an open mind, we can obtain and deepen the understanding of ourselves.  

The Middle Ages were a cruel, uncivilized and primitive period in European history. Despite all that, there was a rise in the esoteric knowledge. Kabbalah is a good example of this. It is the Jewish mystical writings exploring the esoteric side of Judaism. There are two main forms of Kabbalah; One concentrates on gaining knowledge of God through the study of his name. The other is a theosophical tradition: this approaches God through his impact on creation. Trying to understand how a being that is entirely ineffable can produce so much variety that we see in nature. God gives man the possibility of knowing him, but only through difficult and strenuous spiritual exercise.  

Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam. Essentially it was born out of Islam in the East, from the rules and teachings of the Qur’an. Pious individuals can follow the inner path through meditation and spiritual purification. The essential heart of Sufism is the doctrine of the Inner Heart. Through cultivating the knowledge of self we can end up uniting with Divinity. Sufis believe in the unique human right and privilege to understand the reality of the Divine. Knowledge of the heart is the quest to realize.

Rosicrucianism began in the Middle Ages. It is an organization devoted to the study and spreading of esoteric mystical gnosis. Gnosis meaning to know Divine wisdom. It was more than likely founded by Christian Rosenkreutz. During his travels to Spain, Egypt and the Near East, he gathered information about secret wisdom. He founded a brotherhood dedicated to the improvement of mankind and the discovery of the one true way of life. Their emblem is the Rose on a Cross. The cross is the symbol for the human body and the rose for the heart. Like the Sufis, by following the inner path, the heart doctrine, we can gain divine knowledge.

Freemasonry came later. It comes from a much older tradition that goes back to ancient Egypt.  Masonry is concealed in myth and symbols. Masonic myth has three aspects. The building of King Solomon’s Temple, the death and resurrection of the principle builder of that Temple and the search for the secret that was lost because of the builder’s death. The building of King Solomon’s Temple is symbolic for the gradual acquirement of secret knowledge. The erection in the physical world of a spiritual construction of wisdom and light. Built without the sound of a hammer, the voice of a workman or any tools. This construction shines in the darkness of the physical world.

The development of religion in the west at the beginning of this era, took the form of placing God outside and above man. On the contrary, in the esoteric traditions, knowledge of God is attained when we discover our true selves. The doctrine of the heart. “Man know thyself”. The ancients taught this through Hermetism.

This is confirmed by the finding of the Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi. The Nag Hammadi library was found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945. The manuscripts were written in the Coptic language. A mixed language of ancient Egyptian and Greek. They were hidden away to avoid persecution and destruction by Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century. In those days, it was not only the Christian church that drove esoteric knowledge into hiding. The brute force of kingly power deterred progress. Kings felt that they had a divine right to rule the people, this obstructed the formation of democracy. In a following talk we will discuss this subject.

The importance of the esoteric knowledge in our democratic world is demonstrated by the growing interest for it. It is making a re-entry into human affairs. We came speak of a comeback. There are three dedicated university chairs on the subject in Europe. In Amsterdam, Paris, and Exeter.

There has always been a Secret Doctrine that was handed down to mankind. History tells us that it has come down to us from the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and the Arabs.

I will close with some practical suggestions on how to develop our thinking. Try to shut the door of your mind to all distracting thoughts. Try to visualize the unreality of the sense life and the truth of peace in the inner world. The rising up of evil thoughts is less injurious than those of indifferent ones. With evil thoughts you can always be on your guard. Indifferent thoughts distract the attention and waste energy.

The first basic delusion to get over is the identification of yourself with the physical body. Begin to think of this body as nothing better than a house that you live in for a given time. Then you will find it easier not to yield to its temptations. What you experience as sufferings and obstacles are natures efforts to help you in your development. The past cannot be changed. The experiences which belong to the present should not be avoided. In the future, we should try to avoid impulses that might bring pain to ourselves and others.



Source references:

  • The Divine Pymander                                                           Dr. Everard
  • ENCYCLOPEDIC THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY                     G. de Purucker
  • The Esoteric Tradition                                                                     “
  • Dictionary of Gnosis and Western  Esotericism               W. J. Hanegraaff
  • The western Esoteric Tradition                                          N. G. Clarke
  • Plato complete works                                                           J. M. Cooper
  • Oxford dictionary
  • Routledge Philosophy Encyclopedia
  • Blavatsky quotation book                                                   H. P. Blavatsky
  • The Secret Doctrine                                                             H. P. Blavatsky
  • Practical Occultism                                                              H. P. Blavatsky
  • The Secret teachings of all Ages                                        M.P. Hall.
  • Lectures on ancient philosophy                                                   “
  • Science in the Middle Ages.                                                 David C. Lindberg
  • The field of theosophy                                                         T. C. Humphreys


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