The alternatives at the end of a cycle of humanity
What is meant by esotericism? Before introducing our work, it is necessary to ask yourself this question. Too often, the value and scope of esoteric thought are not understood, which most perceive as a dark and superstitious legacy of the times before the scientific revolution or as an unidentified blend of magical knowledge hidden by the initiatory secret.
Undoubtedly the distinction between esotericism – the inner and hidden teaching – and exotericism, the doctrine aimed at a wider audience, has generated a distorted idea. In reality, this separation responds to a precise need: the knowledge of the truth hidden behind the veil of appearances requires the development of a subtle perception that does not need cerebral or dialectical intermediation except in the preparatory stages. The selection, therefore, does not take place due to the will of elitist management of the truth on the part of some but because the exclusive habit of thinking based on facts precludes intuitive knowledge, the very foundation of the initiatory path.
There are cases where the secret has been kept on purpose; see some initiatory schools’ high-grade rituals or practices. If this happens, it is due to an attempt not to debase the teachings, to avoid a trivialisation of words or acts that acquire their true meaning only if used by someone who has a certain degree of knowledge. Sometimes the concealment aims to avoid improper and malicious use of specific techniques by those who, despite having achieved an apprenticeship, decide to deviate from the right path to exploit their knowledge for selfish purposes.
The purpose of esoteric thought and initiatory paths, as long as they meet a standard of validity given by belonging to a tradition, is to create the conditions to overcome the separation between the individual and his objective vision. Whether you use a mystical way – based on the inner acceptance of faith that “shakes the mountains” or a direct way – that burns the impurities of the soul with a wilful effort, it matters little. These are choices dictated by an internal predisposition, and both alternatives eventually meet. What matters is recognising the role that consciousness, as an acting principle, plays not only in the interpretation of reality but also in its creation.
When we try to question ourselves about the meaning of being conscious, we separate ourselves from what we perceive, which becomes other than us. In this way, we become aware of something. We can build an outward relationship based on mental and intellectual exchanges, physical interactions and emotional reactions dictated by our responses to external stimuli. The sense of conventional consciousness is precisely in this mirroring that produces a dual reality: when a phenomenon is established, it is automatically opposed by an observer, who rationalises and reads the appearance through the cerebral instrument; it is a reflection process referring to the lunar symbolism.
All this makes sense because it allows us to orient ourselves in an otherwise chaotic and meaningless world, aiming to develop forms of cooperation that are the basis of human civilisation. It also has a price, which is to exclude from evolution the fundamental role of the individual in the authentic recognition of their vision. In the occult teachings, the way of the heart is a path of rapprochement to a non-dual reality, a condition of intimate union with nature – the phenomenal world – which thus becomes the expression of our true self. The physical heart is, of course, a symbol, the central place where opposites unite. That is the interval between systole and diastole, the moment when the manifestation remains in its potential state.
Every esoteric teaching expression of a genuine tradition pursues this aim: to make the human being a participant in their vision, to place them at the centre of the creative process from which reality is born that weakens the separative illusion. That does not mean cancelling everyday experiences or leading a lifestyle withdrawn and away from worldly temptations to pursue a spiritual quest. That was possible in the past and still is in some rare cases. But the commitments we have made as participants in a rather elaborate social fabric make it impossible to leave personal, family and collective responsibilities. On the contrary, such an attitude would be selfish, in open contrast to the ideal of universal brotherhood expressed by such knowledge. Clearly, the study, practice, and meditation moments require some degree of concentration. However, it is the time taken to improve oneself and, consequently, one’s worldly relationships.
A reasonably common misconception is associated with the term “tradition”, referring to the esoteric doctrines. This word evokes a knowledge linked to ancient times, holders of wisdom that today is either lost or the prerogative of clubs and convivialities that use symbols, rites and formulas whose meaning and operation they jealously preserve. The Latin traditio, which the term derives, means “transmission”. Now, to be genuinely effective, the transmission of knowledge does not pass on the form but the meaning and essence of initiatory knowledge. This essence takes on a semblance appropriate to the time and worldly circumstances that must manifest it. Ancient symbology certainly has a purpose, but when its substance is understood, we can apply its value to the experiences of daily life, which thus become an opportunity for meditation and interior deepening.
We would still like to shed light on a misunderstanding related to the ideas of “unity” and “multiplicity”. We think of the two concepts as distinct entities; therefore, the search for an inner synthesis between the individual and the world seems to exclude or prejudice the richness of the manifestations we experience in ordinary life. It is the same ambiguity present in the separation between spirit and matter, saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. We consider unity or spirit as an abstraction, while the variety of material forms is a world apart, from which we should emancipate ourselves to reach the heights of spirituality. But there is no spirit or matter, unity or diversity. They are two aspects or perceptions of a single reality, experienced as separate by the constraint imposed by our reflected and distinctive consciousness; this suggests that we should respect all diversity but not impose diversity itself as a role model. Think of Spinoza’s  Deus sive Natura, of Nature that cannot be conceived without God, or to the Shekinah of kabbalistic speculation, the immanent presence of God in the world. Finally, meditate on this meaningful phrase attributed to Proclus, the Greek philosopher considered Plato’s successor: “Heaven is on earth, but in a terrestrial way, and the earth is in heaven, but in a celestial way”.
The decay of spiritual perception of existence is certainly not a recent phenomenon. However, we can affirm that today as never before have we witnessed the rapid degeneration of the inner vision and the social and material foundations on which we build our certainties. Today our physical plane development is not animated by an ethical dictation that can only come from knowing the laws that govern the spiritual world. Thus, it all results in false progress driven by the lowest and most chaotic instincts, whether we are aware of it or not. Unfortunately, the recent developments we are witnessing in the West are proof of this. Instead of relying on an increase in personal responsibility and discriminating faculties, a thought pattern based on nothing is superimposed on standardised and continually contradicting phrases that tickle the most volatile and more easily influenced emotional states. In this way, it is possible to easily set the desired reaction without the individual having the slightest inkling of the deception to which he is subject. Nor is it better on the front of initiatory teachings, where the trap of spiritual materialism – the use of spiritual practices to strengthen selfish instincts – is always lurking. In short, we are on the threshold of the periphery of time, the linear time that proposes the utopia of indefinite progress; it replaces existential emptiness in minds now devoid of interior light.
In 1928, a work by René Guénon, La Crise du Monde Moderne, (The Crisis of the Modern World) was published. It was one of the first attempts to examine the relationship between esotericism and Western civilisation in view of a traditional awakening that would counter the West’s degeneration. Guénon identified three potential support centres, the only ones that still possessed a traditional footprint capable of inspiring a spiritual awakening. The first of these, by relevance, refers to Hindu doctrines, particularly the Vedānta  (this before he joined Islamic Sufism). Second, he considered the Catholic Church to be practically the only holder of traditional symbolism in the Western world, even though the true meaning of its rites was now lost. And again, Freemasonry, even if its state of estrangement from the founding principles gave it very little hope. What Guénon was hoping for at the time was the establishment of what he called an intellectual elite – where the intellect is knowledge of the universal dogmas – capable of taking humanity to the next cycle while preserving its traditional values. Guénon was also aware that the setback humanity was going through was inevitable when viewed from the much broader perspective of cosmic cycles. However, given the premises, his purpose was not to avoid the inevitable but to transform the transition into non-destructive.
Julius Evola too published works on the relationship between esoteric thought and its social implications. In Rivolta Contro il Mondo Moderno (Revolt Against the Modern World, 1934), he painted a fresco of human evolution in the light of the four cosmic eras. In 1953 he published Gli Uomini e le Rovine (Men among the Ruins), an indictment of democratic egalitarianism that strips the individual of their natural dignity. Cavalcare la Tigre (Ride the Tiger, 1961) is a guide to developing the self in a world whose spiritual values have been lost. Guénon and Evola, although coupled by a common feeling, did not share the apparent gap between action and contemplation. For Guénon, in a traditional society, the priestly class had to maintain supremacy in transmitting the universal principles as representative of the immutable laws that govern the manifest world, the unmoved mover at the centre of the movement. Evola believed that action was the privileged means of shaking the masses from their submission to Western civilisation. For him, it was a question of re-proposing in a social key the eternal struggle between the Olympic gods and the titanic and telluric forces capable of dragging humanity into the enslavement of spiritless matter. As we have already observed, this contradiction is more apparent than real, even remaining in the field of Hindu doctrines so dear to Guénon. The school of Sāṁhkya, for example, proposes an apparent dichotomy between Puruṣa, the transcendent element devoid of attributions, and Prakṛti, nature as a substance from which the various differentiations derive. Or, again, we see this fictitious contrast in Shaivism with Śiva and Śakti, the god and his pure power. As in action and contemplation, we are not dealing with oppositions, but with aspects, to different degrees, of a single reality. The difference can only exist on a relative level; in this case, the particular circumstances dictated by the time and culture may suggest a modus operandi tending more towards the centre (contemplation – Puruṣa – Śiva) or the peripheral manifestations of this same centre (action – Prakṛti – Śakti).
This last consideration leads us directly to the central theme of our conversation: the possible interactions between esoteric thought and “profane” civilisation or, recovering the etymology of the term, what lies outside the sacred place. There is no need to be prophetic to grasp those signs that, on the whole, indicate a sudden acceleration towards a chaotic state of consciousness and, consequently, of natural experience itself. Despite being a valuable tool for observing reality, scientific thought breaks down into many branches, each claiming its autonomy, thus placing itself outside an organic and global vision. The social fabric is held together by a sort of “democratic conformism”, which selects those behaviours functional to induce the suppression of discriminating thought. The culture of emergency generates a state of permanent alert that weakens any act that does not conform to the moment’s needs. Nature is not transformed but exploited, deprived of the fruits and, therefore, of the possibility of self-regeneration. The consumer model leads to the creation of economic-financial power centres that become the new sacred, the sun of reality entirely subservient to profit. Some might argue that these approaches are the prerogative of the so-called West. Perhaps this was once the case, but today the term “western” has lost all geographical connotations to become a model of thought, prevalent even among the cultures that Guénon defined as “genuinely traditional”.
Let us now examine the reaction potentials in the face of such a state of affairs. The creation of an “elite”, one or more entities that deal with transmitting universal values to the social context, appears to be somewhat problematic. The current state of humanity is at the extreme periphery of the spirit. There is a lack of the intermediate structures necessary to cascade the teaching of the philosophia perennis into the various sectors of human development. We cannot deny that there are centres of knowledge – overt or occult – all over the world which preserve ancient wisdom according to forms linked to different cultures; nor do we doubt that these centres favour a raising of consciences. But all this is not enough to reach the critical mass necessary to trigger a transformation. The opposing forces have the power of matter on their side, of what does not require commitment or renunciation to be seen and desired; the risk of relapse is always present, like feeling holy for a day and then falling back into the daily reality. Not to mention the danger of being misled by false teachings of characters who proclaim themselves masters only to glorify and expand their ego when not for personal gain.
On the complementary side of action, things are no better. In the current state of things, the action advocated by Evola would not be inspired by Olympic ideals at all, as it lacks the basis of that inspiration from above, which alone would guarantee the propulsive thrust. Evola himself, as he wrote in his autobiographical work Il Cammino del Cinabro (The Path of Cinnabar), had little hope for that in the last years of his life. The fact is that the political conduct of governments, rather than serving a greater good, is primarily self-referential and open to change to the extent that it reinforces the status quo. This attitude is, in some ways, natural and complex to scratch because any organism, both biological and social, aims at survival. However, there is a third way; before introducing it, a brief digression on the esoteric schools and their symbolic apparatus is necessary.
Undertaking the initiatory journey means sooner or later coming across some form of teaching or institution that has its roots in a more or less remote past; there is nothing to object to. Problems arise when one believes that the goodness of rituals and symbolisms depends on their “antiquity”, on being children of a time when humanity was still imbued with a magical thought. But a symbol, whatever its form, is universal and applies to the everyday experience too. Knowing a symbol means extracting it from its covering to use it for everything connected to it analogously; then, it becomes “alive”, capable of effecting an interior transformation. Otherwise, the symbolic object remains a dead letter, and no rite or external source can set it in motion.
The initiatory training conducted according to the ancient teachings is helpful to the extent that, once the meanings have been understood and practised, we get rid of the superstructures and look for the expressive modalities connected to them. Through the symbolic deciphering of reality, the discontinuity of our personal experience gives way to a broader vision of the meaning of our existence, guiding us in the continuation of the journey.
Aware of the inevitability of a cycle of change in the destinies of humanity, we should ask ourselves how a sum of conscious individual attitudes can help alleviate the risks of a problematic change, to say the least. As we have had to examine, both the elitist approach and the drive to act busily would do little given the current circumstances. However, through a work of real social alchemy, if it were possible to assign universal meaning to the various categories of experience and human knowledge, the destructive potential would become a transformation resource. Therefore, there would be no need for a more or less gory ending. There would be a problematic transition but supported by the awareness of operating according to a spiritual dictate, free from the superstructures created by the rational mind.
Such an intervention is complex and not of short duration since it involves the myriad of particularities on which our civilisation is structured. In 1917 Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the anthroposophical movement, proposed a social threefolding mechanism. Instead of centralised state management, he presented a subdivision into relatively autonomous systems, each inherent in the economic, legal and cultural spheres. This division aimed to realise the ideals of the French Revolution: freedom for the cultural sphere, equality for the juridical one and fraternity for the economic sphere. The economic domain was in charge of managing the relationships with the elements of nature to transform them into goods of equitable sustenance for the social organism. The juridical environment regulated public and political law searching for balance in human relationships. Finally, the cultural domain aimed to integrate individual talents into the larger social organism through free study and spiritual aspirations. Steiner tried to broaden the audience of subjects potentially interested in the tripartition, proposing memorials to the German and Austro-Hungarian governments, but to no avail. To date, small local and entrepreneurial realities apply the tripartite scheme.
What does this failure show us? That transformation cannot take place through the change of a structural model, even if it is advanced; the fear of losing the support of a vicarious but solid social structure, at least in appearance, makes one refractory to regime change. The only solution seems to involve many personalities who have reached a spiritual understanding of reality. Such individuals can grasp the vital aspect of the various parts of the social whole, of the sciences and the arts, starting a process of osmosis that restores the essence, the gold of the hermetic philosophers, even to everyday experiences conditioned by matter.
Unlike the priestly or contemplative path, this way aims to preserve traditional knowledge and spread it. And unlike action without the support of spiritual understanding, here we want to complete the individual so that he can cast the unifying light of essence into the mundane experiences that destiny prepares for them. It is not a question of attempting an improper influence on socio-political structures that are too calcified to be scratched. Instead, it is an attempt to transmute one’s sphere of experience alchemically and create mutual sharing with the experiences of other practitioners to raise the vibrational level of the material plane. With such widespread work, one can contribute to the betterment of humanity and the purpose of every genuinely universal work: to bring together what is scattered.