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Chthonios Books focuses on scholarly research in western esoteric traditions. You might want to go directly to our Homepage, where you can find out about the best books in this and other fields, as well as read some online research and translations. Or browse awhile below.…
This page gives some background material and explains Chthonios’ approach to Ancient Philosophy and Neoplatonism. Other pages look at Ancient Religion and Paganism I Theurgy I Early Christianity and Gnosticism I Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism I Hermetica and Alchemy I Magic I Mediaeval & Renaissance Esotericism I Esoteric Traditions.
Esotericism is often thought of as a ‘third force’
in western thought, in contrast to biblical faith and Greek
philosophy (particularly that of Aristotle). Traditions in
thought and religion can be defined as ‘esoteric’ in
three ways :
I) In a general way they can be defined as special teachings or experiences reserved for an inner circle of initiates.
II) Another important perspective sees esoteric traditions as undercurrents in western thought and religion. Historically, the most important early streams here are the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato and their followers. Once dominant in Greco-Roman thought, they were pushed to the margins by the rise of Christian orthodoxy.
III) A third way of seeing western esotericism looks at the heterodox, unorthodox and heretical streams which flourished beneath the domination of Christian orthodoxy and normative Judaism.
As we have noted above, the most important streams in ancient
philosophy from an esoteric viewpoint were those of the Platonic
and Pythagorean traditions. Neoplatonism was the bearer of these
currents in late antiquity, and it combined elements from Stoic
and Aristotelian philosophy with its own Platonic and Pythagorean
antecedents. It’s worth noting that Neoplatonism is a term
invented by modern scholars, like Middle-Platonism and
Neopythagoreanism : the ancients merely viewed themselves as
disciples of Plato and Pythagoras.
In late antiquity, as Christianity reached a dominant position and became increasingly intolerant of rivals, so adherents of the various Pagan religions rallied behind the later Neoplatonists (from Iamblichus onwards) whom thus became the spiritual as well as philosophical leaders of the Pagan community. Accordingly, the term Neoplatonism should be understood to denote a religious creed as well as a form of philosophy. The later Neoplatonists not only collected what they felt was the best of the philosophical tradition preceding them, they also garnered the religious traditions of the Greco-Roman world and combined both these streams into one all-encompassing system.
Despite the fact that Christianity was bitterly opposed to its Pagan rivals, both Christian religion and philosophy were deeply influenced by both its Pagan forebears and rivals. This is not really remarkable, as Christianity grew out of the Greco-Roman world-view. What is, perhaps, more surprising is that about 500 AD, an unknown Christian mystical philosopher imported contemporary Neoplatonism wholesale into Christianity. He managed to win orthodox approval for this remarkably audacious enterprise by writing in the guise of a first-century convert of Saint Paul’s called Dionysius the Areopagite. For this reason, he is often known as pseudo-Dionysius (or ps-Dionysius). The ironical result of this was that for a long time Neoplatonists like Proclus and Damascius were condemned for supposedly having thieved their philosophy from Christian sources.
For more on ancient Neoplatonism, see now our online translations and commentaries on ancient texts.
Below is a list of some important terms and people (with variant forms) from ancient philosophy which are important for esotericism. See also Theurgy and Hermetica. (Christian philosophers are under Early Christianity & Gnosticism.)
Ancient Philosophy — Empedocles, Democritus, Platonic Tradition, Middle Platonism, platonists, pythagoreans, Pythagoreanism, Neopythagoreanism, allegory, Plato, Pythagoras, Numenius, Nicomachus, Philo of Alexandria, Macrobius, Stoicism, Demiurge, soul, world-soul, psyche, decad, monad, dyad, triad, tetrad, tetractys, logos, pneuma, hyle; Neoplatonism — neoplatonists, Plotinus, Porphyry, Theodorus of Asine, Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus, Damascius, Simplicius, Olympiodorus, hypostasis, hypostases, emanation, procession, reversion, henad, nous, henosis, mystical union.
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