Is there a word (or maybe a metaphor) to cover the idea of religion, mysticism, occult, and philosophy all together?

In other words, how would you name a bookshelf with books and other texts by or about the following authors?

  • Thomas Aquinas
  • George Gurdjieff
  • Aleister Crowley
  • Aristotle
  • 6
    'Spiritual' is a much-overworked word sometimes seen in bookshops. But I think philosophy, at least, doesn't really overlap sufficiently. Commented May 25, 2023 at 14:41
  • 1
    Metaphoricals? Isms? Commented May 25, 2023 at 14:48
  • 5
    On a shelf labelled esoteric, or arcane? Commented May 25, 2023 at 14:52
  • 7
    One might question why this shelf is trying to serve so many purposes. While some branches of philosophy are intertwined with religion, many are explicitly not. This shelf threatens to devolve into "Stuff people think about," and collapse. Admittedly, if you have a "philosophy" shelf and "spirituality" shelf, you might have a hard time categorizing certain people like Descartes, Swedenborg, or indeed Aristotle. But that might be a better challenge than hunting through the same shelf to find both Nietzche and Augustine. Commented May 25, 2023 at 15:42
  • 3
    Professional philosophers have traditionally worked very hard to separate their work from both the mythological accounts of the world and from various ideologies. They would perceive somebody's lumping all these things together as either a misunderstanding of what philosophy is, or (when it comes from somebody well-educated) as a deliberate put-down.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 15:57

5 Answers 5


You'll have a hard time finding a single word that is broadly understood to encompass all of the authors and topics you list.

In bookshops, I often see a shelf labelled "Religion & Spirituality". Since that may or may not include classical philosophy, you might prefer

Spirituality & Philosophy

But if you really need a single word, how about



  • Isn't religion is a sub-conception of spirituality? I myself think the closest thing is to call it "Religion, mysticism, philosophy", but this is neither a single word nor a short and nice metaphor, not even close.
    – jsx97
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 15:28
  • Yes, and that's the reason I suggest "spirituality and philosophy". I am curious as to why you need it to be a single word. In my experience, not all ideas can be given a one-word name (that is meaningful to more people than the writer, i.e. without coining a new usage).
    – Glaucon
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 15:36
  • 1
    Another user suggested "Esoteric" (esoterica?) in a comment to your question, which is not a bad fit for your examples, taken as a collection.
    – Glaucon
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 15:39
  • 1
    @TinfoilHat I've never seen it used that way, not even online. That usage might not be as widespread as you think.
    – Glaucon
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 18:35
  • 4
    @TinfoilHat isn't that erotica? People misusing the word esoterica is no reason to stop using it. Commented May 25, 2023 at 20:15

I suggest Western Esoteric Traditions.

The four authors mentioned in OP's question, viz. Thomas Aquinas, George Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, and Aristotle all appear in the index of a book published by OUP in 2008 - The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.

  • 1
    Many philosophers did not think of what they were doing as particularly esoteric. And some explicitly separated the esoteric and exoteric parts of their teachings.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 16:02
  • 3
    Calling it 'Western' would mean you need a different shelf for Bhagavad Gita and I Ching. Commented May 25, 2023 at 16:13
  • Indeed. And psychologists are not usually pleased at being classified as European. Commented May 25, 2023 at 16:54
  • Valid points. I didn’t think it fully through. I happened to find the four names OP mentioned in the book I cited and suggested part of the title as a possibility.
    – bookmanu
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 22:25
  • 1
    This reflects the vagueness in the question. Aristotle certainly influenced a lot of esoteric and religious traditions, and some books about him would be relevant, but a lot of his writing would not be classed as religion or esoterica.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 10:26

Theosophy; the study/philosophy of, theology, philosophy, esotericism, and ethics, as well as any basic foundation type (though sometimes dated) ideological school of thought.. .

  • >As presented by Blavatsky, Theosophy teaches that there is an ancient and secretive brotherhood of spiritual adepts known as the Masters, who—although found around the world—are centered in Tibet. These Masters are alleged by Blavatsky to have cultivated great wisdom and supernatural powers, and Theosophists believe that it was they who initiated the modern Theosophical movement through disseminating their teachings via Blavatsky.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 1:56
  • >They believe that these Masters are attempting to revive knowledge of an ancient religion once found around the world and which will again come to eclipse the existing world religions. Theosophical groups nevertheless do not refer to their system as a "religion". --- Yeah, no. That's just still religion. Not a bad answer tho.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 1:57
  • 1
    It’s too bad the term theosophy has been co-opted by the Theosophical Society. Commented May 26, 2023 at 2:08
  • Theosophy: The attainment of direct, unmediated knowledge of the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe. Smashed it. Commented May 26, 2023 at 5:46
  • Yeah, I agree that theosophy is nowadays largely associated with Blavatsky: see the Wikipedia article on Theosophy. Of course you're free to call the section in the bookshelf anything you like, even "brainy stuff" or "thinky books", but it would be preferable to use a commonly-used, generally-understood term.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 10:27

This may not actually be what you are looking for, but it does further the "thought" theme from Glaucon above:

Epistemology - (n) a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

  • 1
    Epistemology, as the quoted definition says, is a branch of philosophy, while the OP seems to be looking for a word that encompasses all of it plus some other things. Some of the writings by Aristotle and Aquinas are on topics in epistemology, but most aren't.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 16:31
  • To extend @jsw29's observation, I would be hard-pressed to describe Gurdijeff's work as epistemology, and Crowley's work is definitely not about theories of knowledge. However, as a sibling answer notes, all four wrote about metaphysics. To be pithy: epistemology is "how do we know about that?" while metaphysics is "does that exist?"
    – Corbin
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 19:19

Consider weltanschauung or worldview.

From Wiktionary on weltanschauung:

A person's or a group's conception, philosophy or view of the world; a worldview.

… and worldview:

  1. One's personal view of the world and how one interprets it.
  2. The totality of one's beliefs about reality.
  3. A general philosophy or view of life.

Also Wikipedia on worldview:

A worldview or a world-view or Weltanschauung is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual's or society's knowledge, culture, and point of view. A worldview can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.

In my understanding this fails to capture the more practical aspects of philosophy, religion, and occultism such as applied ethics, rituals, or religious communities. However, my educated guess is that this is not what you are after.

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