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Esoteric cosmology is cosmology that is an intrinsic part of an esoteric or occult system of thought. It almost always deals with at least some of the following themes: emanation, involution, 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, 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.
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The Rig Veda is adored by Hindus as the most sacred scripture, and the Vedas have traditionally been lauded as containing the secrets of cosmogenesis. The knowledge of cosmology, of physical processes and particles, of the creative-destructive interplay of matter and energy contained in the Vedas is very abstruse, and thus was and is still well beyond the comprehension of ordinary humans. Therefore, Vedic sages coded their knowledge in a simple form in which the underlying principles and processes could be taught and understood. The sacred words of Vedas are a representation of the creation and unfolding of the universe, the process of cosmogony. The nature of atomic and subatomic particles, gravity, electromagnetism, the cohesive forces of the universe, the wave function and entropy have all been anticipated and described in the words of the Rig Veda.
"The Vedic mantras are in the never-decaying remotest sky, wherein the devas reside. One who does not know that, what will he do with the Vedic mantras? One who knows that, the devas stay with him." (Rig Veda 1.164.39)
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.
Michael Sharp in The Book of Light elucidates a Kabbalistic cosmology where "consciousness is the root" of all things including (and perhaps especially) the physical universe and all its dimensions. According to Sharp, consciousness "unfolds" from the original, monadic I (the single point) to the current state of trillions upon trillions of monads which exist in multiple dimensions and in multiple universes. As consciousness unfolds through the twelve levels of The Unfolding, dimensions are added as a sort of epiphenomenon (i.e., they emerge because of the peculiar state of consciousness). First there is perspective, then chance, then time, space, etc. All told there are twelve "dimensions" of existence that correspond to the twelve levels in The Unfolding. Not all of these dimensions correlate directly to physical aspects of the physical multiverse but all of them are rooted in the changing composition (state) of consciousness.
Sharp's cosmology is particularly interesting because no matter how complex the universe gets, it is ultimately all an aspect or a state of the grand creator consciousness. It is also interesting because the cosmology does away, for better or worse, with traditional esoteric canon regarding "soul evolution" and replaces it with the collective alleviation of boredom. That is, it is not our purpose to advance towards God, work towards redemption, or redeem ourselves from sin. Like the artist who paints a canvas or the musician that plays a song, it is our purpose to create in an interesting and entertaining fashion.
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.
- Blavatsky, H.P. (1967). Practical Occultism. ISBN 8170590760. http://www.theosophical.ca/practicalocc.htm.
- Blavatsky, H.P. (1972). The Key to Theosophy. ISBN 0911500073. http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/key/key-hp.htm.
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1999). Vedic Physics. ISBN 0968412009. http://books.google.com/books?id=npIKAAAACAAJ&dq=Vedic+Physics.
- 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