I am convinced that no discussion of the Ancient Mystery Schools is complete without discussing the works of the French philosopher and purported founder of the Traditionalist school, Rene Guenon, also known as Abdul Wahid Yahya.
He grew up as a Catholic and later became immersed in the growing European occultist scene, joining the Freemasons, and what became known as the Theosophical Society. He was one of the major French commentators on metaphysics and the occult even though he did not complete his academic studies. He would later study a variety of Eastern religions like Taoism, Hinduism, folklore and other mystic traditions, writing extensively on them for European audiences.
Guenon came to oppose the European trends towards occultism, masonry, and theosophy, dismissing them as pseudo-religions and symptoms of a crisis in the modern European world. In doing so, he touches on a key point worthy of discussion. How was it that the ancient mysteries became associated with such trends?
It was exactly these modern European groups that co-opted the notion of “the Ancient Mysteries,” misconstrued the ideas of the Eastern spiritual paths, and attempted to separate spirituality from religion. Guenon rightfully opposed these trends from the perspective of a European who had once been intimately intertwined with such groups and had come to study Eastern religions from their sources in the East. He was also privy to the intellectual fallacies and personal flaws of those in this movement, whose leaders were often charlatans.
The Modern Mysteries
The Ancient Mystery Schools are not the same as the Modern Mystery Schools. The Ancient Mysteries, as we have elucidated before, was how humans maintained the revelations of the early prophets. In the Qur’an it is simply referred to as islam or the path of the Hanifs. Yet, Modern Mystery Schools tend to be hodgepodges of different religions or progenitors of supposedly new doctrines. Some of them lean towards mystical elements while others focus only on a material reality.
The difference between true systems of spiritual knowledge and counterfeit systems is their ability to achieve a balance between the inner and the outer dimensions of human experience. Societies worldwide were based on the true systems, because their origins were from the Creator of human beings, its teachings maintained by the most knowledgeable and sincere in society. As such, they were wholistic enough for people to base their entire lives around them
In contrast, the counterfeit systems of modern times are responsible for the corruption of true systems of spiritual knowledge and the degeneration of societies, as they tend to promote the will of the individual over all things, devalue religious meritocracy by casting doubt on traditional institutions, and foster confusion and dissent among unsuspecting believers.
Contribution of Rene Guenon
Though the Modern Mysteries had been gaining traction for a number of centuries prior, Rene Guenon was able to spot its influence at a critical junction in human history. In his book, Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion, he tells of Helen Blavatsky’s establishment of the Theosophical Society in the United States and her consequent introduction of a new international wave of occultism to the Western Hemisphere.
In this critical biography of the life and works of Madame Blavatsky, he establishes the archetype of the Modern Mystery leader. They often have a checkered history of crime and deception. Many American cult leaders followed in her footsteps, not the least of which have found their way into African American communities, as noted by Wudjau Iry-Maat.
Rene Guenon did a huge service by giving us a formula to unravel such cults:
- Scrutinizing their biographies and exposing lies, inconsistencies, and destructive behavior. This allows us to limit the cult leader’s sphere of influence among decent people.
- Understanding the ideological lineages and using clear logical language to deconstruct and challenge their philosophies. This allows for the long-term resistance to these organizations and their ilk.
Rene Guenon spent the last twenty years of his life in Cairo, Egypt, where he embraced Islam and joined the Shadhili sufi tariqa. According to various sources, he spent his time in spiritual reflection and publishing works that expounded on his ideas and combated the growing influence of the Modern Mystery Schools.