Esoteric cosmology is cosmology that is an intrinsic part of an esoteric or occult system of thought. Esoteric cosmology maps out the universe with planes of existence and consciousness according to a specific worldview usually from a doctrine.
Esoteric cosmology almost always deals with at least some of the following themes: emanation, involution, spiritual evolution, epigenesis, planes of existence or higher worlds (and their emanation and the connections between them), hierarchies of spiritual beings, cosmic cycles (e.g., cosmic year, Yuga), yogic or spiritual disciplines and techniques of self-transformation, and references to mystical and altered states of consciousness.
Such cosmologies cover many of the same concerns also addressed by religious cosmology and philosophical cosmology, such as the origin, purpose, and destiny of the universe and of consciousness and the nature of existence. For this reason it is sometimes difficult to distinguish where religion or philosophy end and esotericism or occultism begins. However, esoteric cosmology is distinguished from religion in its more sophisticated construction and reliance on intellectual understanding rather than faith, and from philosophy in its emphasis on techniques of psycho-spiritual transformation.
Examples of esoteric cosmologies can be found in Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Nagualism (Carlos Castaneda), Tantra (especially Kashmir Shaivism), Kabbalah, Sufism, the teachings of Jacob Boehme, The Urantia Book, the Sant Mat/Surat Shabda Yoga tradition, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, The Cosmic Tradition of Max Theon and his wife, Max Heindel (The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception), elements of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, Meher Baba, the Fourth Way propounded by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, PaGaian Cosmology and many current New Age teachings, to give only a few examples.
Gnostic teachings were contemporary with those of Neoplatonism. Gnosticism is an imprecise label, covering monistic as well as dualistic conceptions. Usually the higher worlds of Light, called the Pleroma or "fullness", are radically distinct from the lower world of Matter. The emanation of the Pleroma and its godheads (called Aeons) is described in detail in the various Gnostic tracts, as is the pre-creation crisis (a cosmic equivalent to the "fall" in Christian thought) from which the material world comes about, and the way that the divine spark can attain salvation.
Kabbalah combines orthodox Judaic, Neoplatonic, Gnostic, and philosophical (e.g. Aristotlean) themes, to develop an elaborate and highly symbolic cosmology in which God, who is ineffable and unknowable, manifests as ten archetypal sephirot, each with its own Divine attributes, and arranged in a configuration of interrelated paths called the Tree of Life. The original Tree gives rise to further trees, until there are four or (in Lurianic Kabbalah) five worlds or universes (Trees) in all, with the lowest sephira of the lowest world constituting the material cosmos.
This cosmology proved highly popular with occultists, and formed the basis of Western hermetic thought (e.g. the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and subsequent organisations), where it is associated with a form of astral travel called "pathworking".
Although under Plotinus, Neoplatonism began as a school of philosophy, the teachings of later Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus and Proclus incorporate additional details of the emanation process in terms of the dialectical action of the hypostases and further subdivisions from Plotinus' original three hypostases. Each higher hypostasis constitutes a more sublime deific state of existence. There is also a tendency in later neoplatonic thought towards increasing transcendentalism and dualism. Although Plotinus saw spiritual ascent as leading ultimately to the One (The Absolute), in later Neoplatonism the best one can hope for is irridation of the Soul by the Nous above.
Neoplatonic ideas were later taken up by Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Christianity (Pseudo-Dionysius), and, in the 19th century, Theosophy.
Max Heindel presents in his The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception (1909) an evolutionary process of man and the universe, correlating science with religion. This work of esoteric knowledge contains the fundamentals of the Rosicrucian Philosophy and also deals, among other topics, metaphysics and cosmology. The second part of the book contains the scheme of Evolution in general and the Evolution of the Solar System and the Earth in particular, according to Heindel. In the field of cosmology (Cosmogenisis and Anthropogenesis) it teaches about the Worlds, Globes and Periods, Revolutions and Cosmic Nights related to life waves and human development and also the constitution of our solar system and of the Universe: The Supreme Being, the Cosmic Planes and God.
Theosophy & Anthroposophy
H.P. Blavatsky in her Theosophical writings presented a complex cosmology, in terms of a sevenfold series of cosmic planes and subplanes, and a detailed sevenfold system of cycles and sub-cycles of existence. These ideas were adapted by later esotericists like Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophy), Max Heindel, Alice Bailey, and Ann Ree Colton, and some of these ideas were included in New Age thought.
Max Theon and the "Cosmic Philosophy"
The occultist Max Theon developed a sophisticated cosmology, incorporating Lurianic Kabbalistic and other themes. This describes a number of divine and material worlds, and four or eight "states" (equivalent to the Theosophical Planes), each divided into degrees, each of which are in turn subdivided into sub-degrees. The details of these various occult worlds, their beings, recognisable colours, and so on, were all laid out, but very little of this material has yet been published.
- S. K. Basu Encylopaedic Dictionary of Astrophysics 2007, p. 73
- Tim Voigt The Grand Fantasy of Einstein: The Search for the Theory of the Universe 2010
- Rosemary Guiley The encyclopedia of saints 2001, p. 396
- Virginia Hanson H.P. Blavatsky and the Secret Doctrine 1988
- Puranic Vaishnava cosmology - planetarium
- Planes of Existence - Kheper website
- The Thirty-one Planes of Existence - according to Buddhist cosmology
- Sant Mat / Surat Shabd Yoga charts