It was twenty years ago when I began researching the Alice Bailey teachings for my PhD. I found myself in the School of Social Ecology at Western Sydney University under the supervision of Dr Lesley Kuhn who steered me in the direction of epistemology, a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of knowledge. I had to consider what kind of knowledge is conveyed in the Bailey books? I needed to explore the metaphysical underpinnings. But my main focus was studying esoteric ways of knowing.
I followed in the footsteps of William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience and Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. And I went on an experiential journey of my own. I’ll never forget those months of dedication and journalling. As I read and read, I applied the Alice Bailey teachings to myself and my life, noting any insights, reactions, observations as they sprang to mind. I laid myself bare. I wrote 100,000 words of journal material.
Esoteric Ways of Knowing
My engagement with the teachings led me to ponder esotericism as a way of knowing or perceiving ourselves and the world around us. I came across a paper by leading scholar of Western Esotericism Walter Hanegraaff in which he referred to two kinds of gnosis – occultistic and artistic. The former tends to regard esoteric knowledge as concrete truth and the latter adopts a more fluid approach, regarding esoteric knowledge as metaphoric rather than literal. This distinction between two ways of knowing lodged in my mind and I used it as a discriminatory tool in my thesis.
What Hanegraaff was describing I knew all too well. Esoteric knowledge itself is always contestable and the sceptic can easily dismiss such knowledge as bogus or nonsense or fantasy. The spiritual seeker, on the other hand, meeting such knowledge for the first time, may not only decide that the knowledge represents something real, but that it is of itself absolutely literally true. It’s like auto-indoctrination.
Accessing Esoteric Knowledge
Esoteric ways of knowing rely on esoteric knowledge to access metaphysical reality. Access is gained through both imagination and intuition, both relying on esoteric knowledge to provide the map.
Alice Bailey provides us with a map.
It is very easy to mistake the map for the territory. It is very easy to get lost inside or lose your head inside esoteric knowledge. The Bailey teachings are abstruse and authoritative. They present an elaborate metaphysical cosmology in intricate detail, they position humanity, right down to the human unit – you, me, us – as central to the evolution of the entire solar system. It’s exhilarating and awe-inspiring as a whole new reality opens up in the reading. It might be worth using Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism as a companion read to offset the dangers of ego-inflation.
Esotericists talk of veils and hidden truth.
Somewhere on my own journey I realised the teachings, while magnificent in themselves, are, in their entirety, a veil.
Isobel Blackthorn, PhD, is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey and the biography Alice A. Bailey: Life & Legacy. Her PhD, polished and rendered much more readable, can be found here https://isobelblackthorn.com/2022/05/31/experiencing-the-texts-of-alice-a-bailey/ She is also the author of Spiritual Changemakers, a documentary memoir of the Twelves meditation group as they advance the work of Alice Bailey’s Triangles.