This classification is a product of merging two fundamental, ancient, and commonly used distinctions: those between the transcendent and immanent and between the transcendent and esoteric conceptions of Spirit. For purposes of elegant consistency, in the new classification these older terms have been replaced with the terms supernatural, natural, and paranatural: super- means “above” or “outside of”; para- means “beside” or “side-by-side with.”

Here is what Wikipedia says about the distinction between transcendence and immanence:

Transcendence refers to the aspect of a god’s nature and power which is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all physical laws. This is contrasted with immanence, where a god is said to be fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways. In religious experience transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it.

 Immanence refers to those philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world. Immanence is usually applied in monotheistic, pantheistic, pandeistic, or panentheistic faiths to suggest that the spiritual world permeates the mundane. It is often contrasted with theories of transcendence, in which the divine is seen to be outside the material world.

 The second distinction – that between the transcendent and the esoteric conceptions of Spirit – was clearly described by Mike King in Mapping Spirituality for the 21st Century:

Put simply, the “esoteric” category includes animism, shamanism, occultism, esotericism, and the imaginal, and is defined by the belief in and experience of a spirit world or non-material world of disembodied entities and forces. It is inflected by its location, whether in pre-scientific, proto-scientific or scientific cultures… This spiritual orientation or impulse… experiences the physical world as a manifestation of the spirit world, or interpenetrated by the spirit world, or informed by it in some profound way, and seeks deeper contact with that world for a variety of reasons, even if, in its modern incarnation as the ‘imaginal’, it does not insist on the ontological status of that world as separate from the human mind. The transcendent, or unitive, on the other hand is indifferent to the existence of such a world – and may or may not give credence to it – but seeks something quite different: union with the whole, a state of non-duality, or a state of transcendence. The precise formula varies from tradition to tradition, but generally involves some or all of the following terms: the infinite, the eternal, the imperishable, the stainless, the unborn, or the unmanifest; and usually states the goal in terms such as union, liberation, freedom, moksha, nirvana, or enlightenment. In turn the esotericist finds little of interest in this vocabulary.

To illustrate this polarity I like to contrast Rudolf Steiner and Jiddu Krishnamurti, both spiritual teachers arising from a Theosophical background and fully aware of exemplars of both orientations. Steiner explicitly rejects the transcendent after reading the mystics because he finds in their rejection of the world of imagination – read ‘imaginal’ – that they live in a kind of darkness (Steiner 1986, 124). (We do not know exactly which mystics Steiner was referring to, but I would assume from the general habit of ‘reading the mystics’ in the late 19th century that they would include St John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Plotinus, and perhaps Eckhart, all of whom I label as unitive-transcendent in orientation.) Krishnamurti poses quite the opposite view: that ‘Imagination in any form destroys truth’ (Krishnamurti 1970, 114) and rejected all of his training with disembodied occult Masters and other staples of Theosophy for a highly pared-down spiritual philosophy of choiceless awareness. Other great teachers of the unitive-transcendent are clear that the seeking of occult powers or ‘siddhis’ is a distraction at best, or a slide into darkness at worst.