You may have heard the term ‘esoteric’ thrown around and been curious about what it means. The term ‘esoteric’ is the opposite of ‘exoteric,’ and in regards to spirituality, they describe two different types of knowledge.
Exoteric spirituality is the outward teachings: the surface-level stuff that’s easily understood by the masses. Examples of exoteric spiritual teachings are, say, Buddhist teachings, or what the pastor shouts about during Sunday mass.
Esoteric teachings, on the other hand, are the inward, layered teachings that are more difficult to understand. Many esoteric teachings are closely associated with the occult (a word that literally just means hidden), which makes sense because esoteric knowledge is often hidden in plain sight.
Exoteric Teachings vs. Esoteric Teachings
Exoteric teachings are those which can be understood at face-value. For example, if you read the Bible and consider it to be a literal retelling of an old story, you are reading the exoteric Bible.
However, the Bible can also be read esoterically. The entire Bible – as well as many other ancient religious texts – can actually be read in 4 different languages. Each one of these languages is hidden beneath one another. The first of these languages is exoteric, the other three are esoteric.
- Literally, or exoterically. The stories can be read as just that: stories, which often encourage good moral behaviour.
- Allegorically, in which the stories serve as an allegory for human behaviour and spiritual growth.
- Symbolically, in which certain words, terms, and ideas are given much deeper significance and relate to each other in an completely different way than the literal meaning.
- Gematrically, an exceedingly complex method of reading which involves understanding the numerical and symbolical value of each letter of each word.
In Hebrew, the language in which the Bible was originally written, each letter stands for a sound, a number, and a symbol. This means that a Hebrew word can actually be read as a mathematical calculation (by adding the values of the letters together) and a symbolic representation of an idea that’s different from the word itself.
Reading the Bible this way (which very few people can do) provides profound insights into mathematics, astrology, and some of the mechanics which govern our spiritual lives.
So Why Hide the Esoteric Truths?
The thing is, esoteric truths aren’t really hidden. Rather, they’re hidden in plain sight.
The issues are twofold: firstly, people don’t know want to take the time to learn how to speak and read in the language of symbols, and secondly, people are often unsettled by the truths that they discover during esoteric study.
Another issue is the great depth of knowledge that is required to explain simple esoteric concepts. Esoteric concepts are often explained through the use of strings of symbols or symbolic ideas.
A symbol might be defined by several sentences, paragraphs, or even pages worth of knowledge. When an esoteric idea is conveyed through the use of four or five symbols, the knowledge conveyed within those few symbols might be enough to fill several chapters of a book.
This means that esoteric information simply can’t be passed on to just anyone. Esoteric knowledge can only be communicated between those who have studied the symbols and understand their meanings.
Exoteric and esoteric knowledge are two wildly different, and sometimes completely opposing, types of knowledge.
Esoteric knowledge is available, all a person needs to do is ask for the keys to understand it. Through the study of symbology, astrology, theology, and linguistics, people can begin to read texts esoterically.
Exoteric knowledge, on the other hand, doesn’t require a key. It can be taken at face-value, without having to think about it. This is what makes it more appealing to the general public.
Written by Nigel Ford