On Varieties of Masonic Esotericists

Masonic esotericists come in many varieties, and there are numerous ways of differentiating them into groups. For the moment, consider the following five categories:

  1. Observers – Masons in this category are consistently curious about esotericism; they enjoy attending presentations about it and discussing it with others.
  2. Readers – These students of esotericism frequently seek out and read essays, articles, and books to learn more about the subject.
  3. Writers – Typically, these esotericists enjoy the process of clarifying and organizing their esoteric knowledge and questions through the process of writing, whether it is in the form of journaling just for themselves or producing literature for others.
  4. Presenters – Among their peers, Masons in this category have a relatively unusual cache of knowledge and/or insight in one or more esoteric subjects. Furthermore, they demonstrate the ability to effectively engage and inform audiences.
  5. Practitioners – These esotericists are making routine efforts to integrate and apply esoteric knowledge in their own lives. There are two subcategories covering the major areas of practice – external and internal.
    1. External practice may be further divided into two domains.
      1. Formal – The focus is on the production and performance of ceremonies and rituals in ways that enhance their potential transformative effects upon participants.
      2. Informal – The focus is on intentionally and regularly applying esoteric concepts and methods during ordinary relations and activities, such as mindfulness and the disciplined practice of virtues.
    2. Internal practice also has two domains:
      1. Mystical Devotion – The aim is to open oneself to a more direct experience and understanding of the Divine, the Absolute, or the Ultimate Reality
      2. Psychospiritual Development – The aim is to attain greater experience and skill with the many faculties and potentials of consciousness.

In reviewing these categories, I note there is much interaction among the various divisions. I also perceive a generally declining percentage of the Masonic population represented as I move down the list. In other words, there are more observers of Masonic esotericism than avid readers, who are themselves fewer in number than those who write, and so on. In my experience, actual practitioners, and especially those in the internal area, are the rarest sort.

That last observation seems somewhat ironic to me because, in my understanding, authentic esoteric knowledge is predicated upon actual experience with esoteric work. To paraphrase one of my esoteric mentors, “One should actually know how to cook before presuming to teach others about cooking.” This statement was made to me when I was already an enthusiastic reader and writer in esotericism, was beginning to position myself as a presenter, yet was only a novice in practice. Another of my mentors occasionally reminded me, “Borrowed wisdom isn’t genuine wisdom.” Admonishments like these helped me stay focused on inner work, and to circumscribe my writing and presenting for others within the bounds of actual experience.

Even so, it isn’t my intention to deride or even discourage esoteric writers and presenters who have little to no practical experience with inner work. Esotericists of these sorts can be very effective messengers, sharing ideas that inspire others to dig further into the depths of their existence. However, it does seem to me that it’s a matter of integrity to clarify when the message isn’t informed by one’s own actual practice and inner experience. I believe those of us who write and speak about esotericism have a duty to make such clarifications, if for no other reason than to help our audiences understand that esotericism is more than an academic pursuit.

I’ll wrap up these reflections by stating that anyone who pursues Masonic esotericism can and should do so in the ways that are most meaningful for that individual. Some of us need to be observing more, some will benefit more from reading or writing, and so on. Life itself is a fluid thing, and we may thus find ourselves naturally moving the brunt of our focus from one category to another, with no need to fit them into some rigid progression. None of us has unlimited time and energy, and each of us has the right and the responsibility to prioritize things accordingly. In fact, knowing ourselves well enough to carefully assess and apportion our involvements and commitments is itself a meaningful part of esotericism.