Virtually all the main aspects of Western esoteric traditions have their foundations in antiquity and, in fact, make direct or indirect reference to their origins there. Nevertheless, many scholars have abandoned earlier concepts which characterized the esoteric in the sense of the Greek meaning for ‘inner’ or/and ‘secret’, whereby others see it as a particular worldview.
With the rise of the Roman Empire, there was a notable change in people's religious needs. Greek rationalist philosophy had made the gods abstract and remote from human needs. While public worship of the Olympian gods and agricultural rites were maintained, the absorption of independent cities and states into the empire had created a climate of multiculturalism and religious relativism. At the same, time, urbanization removed people from the settled life, customs, and religious practices of the countryside. Increased social mobility, the breakdown of strong family units, and cosmopolitanism all fostered a need for a more direct and personal relationship with the divine than the official state cults could offer. New religions, mystery cults, sages, prophets, magicians, and healers arose in response to these new circumstances. The cosmopolitan nature of Hellenistic Alexandrian culture chiefly expressed itself in religion through syncretism. Given colonial contact with the oriental world of Egypt and Chaldea (Babylonia and Assyria), the rational mind of Greece combined with the enthusiastic cults and mysterious wisdom traditions of other nations, to create new religious belief and practice. Alexandrian culture became adept at "philosophizing" and systematizing the exotic mythology, theosophy, and gnosis of the East and introducing their oracles, apocalypses, and initiatory lore to the Western mind.