Access to Western Esotericism

By Antoine Faivre

Subjects: Esotericism And Gnosticism
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9780791421789, 380 pages, December 1994
Hardcover : 9780791421772, 380 pages, December 1994

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Table of contents

Preface to the Present Edition

Book One: Approaches to Western Esoteric

Part One: Methodology and Reflections
I)   Methodology
II)  Some Key Concepts
III) Reflections on "Tradition," or The Three Paths of Esotericism Today

Part Two: A Short History of Western Esoteric Currents (Essay On Periodization)

Chapter One: Ancient and Medieval Sources of Modern Esoteric Currents
I)    Esoteric Currents in the First Eleven Centuries
II)   Esotericism in Medieval Thought
III) Initiatory Quests and Esoteric Arts

Chapter Two: Esotericism at the Heart of the Renaissance and in the Flames of the Baroque
I)   Philosophia perennis, a Discovery of Humanism
II)  The Germanic Contribution: Naturphilosophie and Theosophy
III) Reading the World and Myth

Chapter Three: Esotericism in the Shadow of the Enlightenment
I)   Sunburst of Theosophy
II)  From the Arts of Reading to the Art of Subtle Fluids
III) A Century of Initiations

Chapter Four: From Romantic Knowledge to Programmatic Occultism
I)   The Era of Naturphilosophic and the Great Syntheses
II)  Universal Tradition and Occultism
III) Esotericism in Initiatory Societies and in Art (1848-1914)

Chapter Five: Twentieth-Century Esotericisms
I)   Gnoses in the Wake of the Western Tradition
II)  The Four Winds of the Tradition
III) Arts and Humanities

Book Two: Studies In Esotericism

Faith and Knowledge in Franz von Baader and in Modern Gnosis

The Inner Church and the Heavenly Jerusalem—Foundations of a Cosmic Anthropology According to Franz von Baader and Christian Theosophy

The Temple of Solomon in Eighteenth-Century Masonic Theosophy

The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz as Pilgrimage of the Soul

Miles Redivivus: Aspects of the Chivalric Imagination in Eighteenth-Century Alchemy, Freemasonry, and Literature

Love and Androgyny in Franz von Baader


A) Ontological Androgyny
B) Primitive Adam and Failed Androgyny
C) Situations of Human Love: Dialectics and Oppositions
D) Situations of Human Love: Philosophies and the Life of the Couple
E) Knowledge and Reintegration
F) Baaderand His Time

The Metamorphoses of Hermes: Neognostic Cosmologies and Traditional Gnosis

A Bibliographical Guide To Research


General works


Esoteric Freemasonry

From the second to the 15th century

Renaissance and the seventeenth century

A) Varia
B) The Reception of Alexandrian Hermetism
C)Christian Kabbalah
D)Paracelsism and Philosophy of Nature
E) Rosicrucianism
F) Theosophy

Eighteenth century

Romanticism and Naturphilosophie

Late nineteenth century and the twentieth century

Concerning "Tradition"

Esotericism and Islam

Esotericism, Literature and Art

Journals and serials

A word about Libraries

Index of Names

Index of Subjects


This is the first systematic treatment of esotericism to appear in English. Here is also a historical survey, beginning with the Alexandrean Period, of the various esoteric currents such as Christian Kabbalah, Theosophy, Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and Hermeticism. Common characteristics of these currents are the notion of universal interdependency and the experience of spiritual transformation. The author establishes a rigorous methodology; provides clarifying definitions of such key terms as "gnosis," "theosophy," "occultism," and "Hermeticism;" and offers analysis of contemporary esotericism based on three distinct pathways.

The second half of the book presents a series of studies on several important figures, works, and movements in Western esotericism—studies devoted to some of the most characteristic and illuminating aspects that this form of thought has taken, such as theosophical speculations on androgyny, rosicrucian literature, and Masonic symbolism.

The book is completed by a rich and selective Bibliography conceived as a means of orientation and a tool for research.


Antoine Faivre is Professor at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Religious Studies Section, Sorbonne, Paris. He holds the Chair of "History of Esoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe. " He is the author of The Golden Fleece and Alchemy published by SUNY Press.