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Western esotericism and consciousness

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This article introduces the relatively new field of religious studies devoted to Western esotericism, or Western esoteric traditions including alchemy, various magical traditions, Christian theosophy, Rosicrucianism and other secret or semi-secret groups. In it Versluis also argues that Western esoteric traditions as a whole rely on the power of the written word or image in order to convey and perhaps generate changes in consciousness. Thus Western esotericism tends to see and use language in a fundamentally different way than many of us are familiar with -- here language is used not for conventional designation in a subject object relationship, but in order to transmute consciousness or to point towards the transmutation of consciousness through what Versluis terms hieroeidetic knowledge. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy, troubadours and chivalry, the Lullian art, magic or theosophy, pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry, one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness, which is to say, of awakening latent, profound connections between humanity, nature and the divine, and of restoring a paradisal union between them. Hieroeidetic knowledge can be understood in terms of a shift from an objectifying view of language based on self and other to a view of language as revelatory, as a via positiva leading towards transcendence of self other divisions. It is here, in their emphasis on the initiatory, hieroeidetic power of language to reveal what transcends language, that the unique contribution of Western esoteric traditions to consciousness studies may well be found.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: ATL Department, 235 Bessey, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2000


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