Some Western mystical traditions have an element of esotericism or secrecy, restrictions on who can learn the mysteries and how. For example, Judaism traditionally restricts the Kabbalah to men above 40, preferably married with children. Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and their descendants (eg Rosicrucianism) are also full of secrecy.
I’d like to learn about why the mystics thought their content should be kept secret.
I understand the reasoning for mystics who believe their practice is magically efficacious: you don’t want “powerful” magic to fall into the wrong hands. But it seems to me that many mystics have downplayed the “efficacious” aspects of their practice while holding onto secrecy. To use the Hermetic example again, even those who only care about the theoretical Hermetic corpus seem to buy into esotericism. But why?
Im familiar with the Jewish myth of the Four Sages in Paradise, which provides only a very partial explanation of the idea. An analytic treatment of that myth or a collection of commentaries on it would be very helpful in answering my question. I’ve also read Ginzburg’s “High and Low,” which is more focused on the Christian conception of mysteries. That was very helpful and has clued me into earlier and later discussions. As I read Ginzburg, he chalks it up to a priestly desire to maintain a monopoly on religious interpretation and a popular desire to quell sectarianism.
But I want to widen my range of sources. Why do the mystics want to keep their mysteries mysterious?