Jan 13 2009

Esoteric vs. Mystic

Published by at 8:38 am under Poetry Chaikhana Misc.


/ Photo by larry&flo /

I often use the word “mystic” in my commentaries. To me it suggests one who is concerned with inner truth and realization, as opposed to a mere follower of rules, theologies, and surface observance. “Mystic” is a word free from most religious or sectarian definitions and, therefore, well suited to an interfaith site like the Poetry Chaikhana. Less often I’ll use “esoteric,” and when I do, I generally use it to mean the same thing, perhaps slightly emphasizing the more academic-sounding heft of the word.

Some writers, however, make a strict distinction between the words “mystic” and “esoteric.”

They point out that esotericism is concerned with with the essential, the essence of things. An esotericist is exclusively focused on God or enlightenment, and not the subtle/psychic/spiritual phenomena that may be encountered along the way. A mystic, by contrast, is interested in the entire landscape of spiritual experience.

Those can be important distinctions to keep in mind for certain uses but, from my perspective, it is an artificial distinction that only a lexicographer can love.

In my opinion, the only valid goal is the esotericist’s. And the only responsible approach to the journey is the mystic’s.

In other words, to be successful, an esotericist must also be a mystic.

So I hope you’ll forgive me as I continue to use a very broad definition of “mystic” as it swirls and merges with the “esoteric”…

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Esoteric vs. Mystic”

  1. Alexanderon 14 Jan 2009 at 8:25 pm

    The dictionary (Merriam-Webster specifically) describes “esoteric” as knowledge reserved only for the initiated. “Mysticism” is called the belief that knowledge of God can be attained through immediate intuition and contemplation (innate means), and also mentions knowledge only held by the initiated.

    All knowledge, however, is held only by those “initiated” to it — for example, I was not initiated into the secrets of shoe-tying until I learned. If this is true, everyone becomes a mystic when they “have a first experience of God,” so to speak. Before this, knowledge of God is esoteric to that person.

    As for the valid goal and the responsible approach, a person only concerned with God must eventually learn that such concern still bars one from God, and the one who is interested in the landscape of spiritual experience must eventually learn that such interest also bars one from God — that the only Way is the Way, and that much of the landscape of “spiritual experiences” are actually by-products of a process and are not spirituality of themself. Such things may be signposts to a person who knows how to read the signs, but should not be allowed to become distractions.

  2. Triodítison 17 Jan 2009 at 10:51 am

    What else is there to say? You have said it all.

    Blessed Be,

    –T. (formerly Athena)

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