The SPRE Position

A Call for Rational Esotericism 

The intelligent, thinking man of this modern age seems in all-to-many cases bound to be an Atheist, for if he rejects the dogma (and in some cases patent absurdity) of much of organized Religion, and the overly credulous and un-skeptical attitude of the “New Age” movement, Atheism can seem the only tenable course.

There is, however, another path: a path as equally distant from the dogmatic close-mindedness of a fundamentalist Christian as it is from the cold (and equally dogmatic) certainty of a scientifically minded Atheist.

There is a path of skeptical credulity and rational esotericism, a point of view wherein a person looks to the phenomena of this world with open eyes unbiased by preconceptions.  Such a person can rigorously analyze the various beliefs which people have held over our recorded history, seeking the kernels of wisdom and grains of essential truth upon which to base a reasonable and rational system of metaphysical beliefs.  Such a person can access the enormous practical utility of a rigorous Metaphysical practice.

The full capabilities of the human mind and body are only rarely glimpsed, but each one of us has the ability to train and develop these capabilities.  There is, fundamentally, more to the experience of living than the current predominant paradigms can explain.  The reality we perceive is a bare fraction of what exists.  There is more to all this, and at some fundamental level, many of us are convinced of this while at the same time rejecting conventional explanations for what it is — both those found in Mainstream Religion and in Mainstream Science.

This is not a new idea.

Grave and serious Occultists in the 1800s and early 1900s adhered to this philosophical approach.  Unfortunately, pseudo-science, falsified antiquity, and even claims of “Secret Chiefs in Tibet” were much easier to give credence to in an age when modern science was nascent and when travel to Tibet was nigh impossible.  The rampant fraud and poor quality of the spiritual movement of the early 1900s has left a bad taste in the mouths of intellectuals who might otherwise have been more open minded.  What passes for rigorous intellectual occultism today is, in large part, no better than the Theosophical ramblings of the charlatans of old.  But one can be Metaphysically minded without wearing a hat made of aluminum foil.

Just as a few unethical scientists do not make science untenable, the proliferation of second and third rate Occultists does not invalidate esoteric spirituality.  There are vast portions of the human experience and of our material world that cannot be explained away by our current science.  It is no accident that those branches of mainstream science that attempt to understand in a holistic way the macrocosms and microcosms of our world start speaking in a way which more closely resembles the philosophers than their engineer cousins.

Rational Esotericism is the birthright of those born into Western culture.  The ancient thinkers in Classical and Preclassical times were not fools —after all, logical, rational analysis (and even logic itself) is their legacy, and not a discovery of modern thinkers.  However, they were not base materialists.  Far from it.  Their highest rational thought and deepest learning were preserved in the Mystery Schools, and the elite of their society were initiates of these mysteries. Unfortunately, we as a society have little comparable to the ancient mystery schools that for many centuries were the mainstay of the Greek and Roman intellectual elite.  Those which exist have mostly devolved into fraternal dinner clubs and civic organizations, and despite some recent resurgences, are largely no substitute for the institutions of Classical antiquity.

The Society for the Promotion of Rational Esotericism aims to bring about a resurgence of those traditions of the serious occultists of the 19th century.  We aim to be open-minded without being foolish; to learn through experimentation, observation, and a healthy skepticism that examines without blindly discarding anything which might challenge our worldview.

January, 2012 — The Editors of the Journal of The Society for the Promotion of Rational Esotericism

Sleep on, Sleep on! while in your pleasant dreams
Of Reason you may drink of Life’s clear streams.
Reason and Newton, they are quite two things;
For so the Swallow & the Sparrow sings.
Reason says “Miracle”: Newton says “Doubt”.
Aye! that’s the way to make all Nature out.
“Doubt, Doubt, & don’t believe without experiment.”

— William Blake (1757-1827)