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a few definitions of esoteric

by Clarence Anderson

Mackey, Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry:


That secret portion of Freemasonry which is known only to the initiates as distinguished from Exoteric Freemasonry, or monitorial, which is accessible to all who choose to read the manuals and published works of the Order.

The words are from the Greek, esoterikos, internal, and exoterikos, external, and were first used by Pythagoras, whose philosophy was divided into the exoteric, or that taught to all, and the esoteric, or that taught to a select few; and thus his disciples were divided into two classes, according to the Degree of initiation to which they had attained, as being either fully admitted into the society, and invested with all the knowledge that the Master could communicate, or as merely postulants, enjoying only the public instructions of the school, and awaiting the gradual reception of further knowledge. This double mode of instruction was borrowed by Pythagoras from the Egyptian priests, whose theology was of two kinds—the one exoteric, and addressed to the people in general; the other esoteric, and confined to a select number of the priests and to those who possessed, or were to possess, the regal power.

And the mystical nature of this concealed doctrine was expressed in their symbolic language by the images of sphinxes placed at the entrance of their temples. Two centuries later, Aristotle adopted the system of Pythagoras, and, in the Lyceum at Athens, delivered in the morning to his select disciples his subtle and concealed doctrines concerning God, Nature, and Life, and in the evening lectures on more elementary subjects to a promiscuous audience. These different lectures he called his Morning and his Evening Walk."

Waite, A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry:

"Esoteric Freemasonry

It has been said that there is a hidden side of Masonry which is known to none but initiates and is therefore esoteric, in contradistinction to Monitorial Masonry, which is exoteric and accessible to all. In the sense and the manner put forward there is no such part or aspect, and no one has attempted to carry the statement further, furnishing exlanation or evidence. By those who are on the circumference of the Masonic circle - by the tyros and young craftsment

-- the suggestion will be understood as an allusion to hidden Grades: but no such Grades exist. By anti-Masonic Leagues and Latin Christianity generally it will be collected eagerly as an unguarded admission of their own contention

-- that the Order has a concealed purpose, a secret plan of the political and religious kind. There is no such purpose in Masonry. On the other hand, in a sense which is not intended, there is that assuredly which may be called Esoteric Masonry, if we like to adopt an arbitrary and undesirable label; for there is that which can be imparted to no one by the study of monitorial text-books, or even the books in extenso containing the Rituals of the Rites: it is the essential life of the Order which can be found and shared only by integration therein. . . .There is another Esoteric Masonry, and this is the meaning which lies beneath the surface of the Grades and can be drawn forth only by those who have a living familiarity with the history of universal initiation, who have become qualified by its comparative study to look beyond mere records and disern in part the true end of initiation. Out of this there is evolved a third Esoteric and indeed Transcendental Masonry, which those in fine attain who have entered into union with the end. . . . It is individual to each who attains, though it is one at the root for all, being the figurative process of the progress of the soul in God."

Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, p. 249- 250:

"Christ himself spoke in parables and allegories, John borrowed the enigmatical language of the Platonists, and Paul often indulged in incomprehensible rhapsodies, the meaning of which could have been clear to the Initiates alone. .

. . Pythagoras and Plato, the most mystical of the Grecian Philosophers (the latter heir to the doctrines of the former), and who had travelled, the latter in Egypt, and the former in Phoenicia, India, and Persia, also taught the esoteric dotrine and the distinction between the initiated and the profane. . . .
The distinction between the esoteric and exoteric doctrines (a distinction purely Masonic), was always and from the very earliest times, preserved among the Greeks."

W.L.Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry, p.21-23:

"It is well to emphasize then, at the outset, that Masonry is a sacramntal system, possessing, like all sacraments, an outward and visible side consisting of its ceremonial, its doctrine and its symbols which we can see and hear, and an inward, intellectual and spiritual side, which is concealed behind the ceremonial, the doctrine and the symbols, and which is available only to the Mason who has learnd to use his spiritual imagination and who can appreciate the reality that lies behind the veil of outward symbol. . . .The Craft whose work we are taught to honour with the name of a "science," a "royal art," has surely some larger end in view than merely inculcating the practice of social virtues common to all the world and by no means the monopoly of Freemasons.
Surely, then, it behoves us to acquaint ourselves with what that larger end consists, to enquire why the fulfilment of that purpose is worthy to be called a science, and to ascertain what are those "mysteries" to which our doctrine promises we may ultimately attain if we apply ourselves assiduously enough to understanding what Masonry is capable of teaching us. . . . In all periods of the world's history, and in every part of the globe, secret orders and societies have existed outside the limits of the official churches for the purpose of teaching what are called "the Mysteries": for imparting to suitable and prepared minds certain truths of human life, certain instructions about divine things, about the things that belong to our peace, about human nature and human destiny, which it was undesirable to publish to the multitude who would but profane those teachings and apply the esoteric knowledge that was communicated to perverse and perhaps to disastrous ends."

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary:


Very particularly abstruse and consummately occult. The ancient philosophies were of two kinds, -- exoteric, those that the philosophers themselves could partly understand, and esoteric, those that nobody could understand. It is the latter that have most profoundly affected modern thought and found greatest acceptance in our time."

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