I note that in the religious circles emphasis is often put to distinguish between religion and practices such as esotericism, occultism or magic. I've been often told that there was a very substantial difference between the two.
On the other hand, from my experience, people from non-religious circles often claim that there is no substantial difference between these phenomena and Abrahamic religions are nothing more or nothing less than one example of esoteric/occult/magical practices. Such people will often put the following similarities to back up their claim:
- Cross necklaces and devotional medals are amulets, no different than the ones worn by pagans or adherents to comtemporary esotericism;
- Religious rites such as the Mass or sacraments, with their heavy emphasis on symbolism and ritual gestures and utterances are examples of ceremonial magic;
- In particular, the Catholic Sacrament of Eucharist is an example of the magical practice of spirit summoning;
- And other such similarities are noted.
When questioned about these similarities, religious people will, in my experience, note the following differences to back up their claim of dissimilarity between religion and esotericism:
- Magic is best understood as an attempt to control supernatural forces and bind them do the bidding of the sorcerer; religion, on the contrary, is an attempt to follow the will of the deity.
- Magic attributes power to external symbols and ritualized practices themselves, while religion places emphasis on the internal disposition and intention of the practicioner.
- This difference seems to be claimed by the CCC: "Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition."
I only have experiences with Catholic circles. However, from my experience, when Catholic stress the difference between religion and esotericism they do not mean the difference between Christianity and any other religious tradition. Other religions - especially, but often not exclusively Abrahamic religions - are also accepted as "religions", as opposed to, for example, New Age, which is rejected as esoterism.
I checked the Wikipedia (a bad source, I know...) and here is what I found:
- "These ideas [of Western esotericism] and currents are united by the fact that they are largely distinct both from orthodox Judeo-Christian religion and from Enlightenment rationalism." -- article Western esotericism
- "The occult, in the broadest sense, is a category of supernatural beliefs and practices which generally fall outside the scope of religion and science" -- article Occult
From this it would seem that religion cannot be categorized as inherently esoteric or occultistic? However:
Are priests sorcerers? Are missals grimoires?