Mysticism – Definition and Meaning

Definition of Mysticism

Mysticism is a belief in or the pursuit in the unification with the One or some other principle; the immediate consciousness of God; or the direct experience of religious truth. Mysticism is nearly universal and unites most religions in the quest for divinity. It can also be a sense of mystical knowledge. Dionysius the Areopagite was the first to introduce the concept «unknown knowing» to the Western World. In areas of the occult and psychic it denotes an additional domain of esoteric knowledge and paranormal communication. Even though it is thought that just monks and ascetics can become mystics, mysticism usually touches all people at least once in their lives.

The term «mysticism» comes from the classical Greco-Roman mystery cults. Perhaps it came from myein meaning «to close the lips and eyes, and refers to the sacred oath of the initiates, the mystes, to keep secret about the inner workings of the religion.» In Neo-platonism «mysticism» came to be associated with secrecy of any kind. The term mystica appeared in the Christian treatise, Mystica Theologia, of an anonymous Syrian Neoplatonist monk of the late fifth or early sixth century, who was known pseudonymously as Dionysius the Areopagite. In this work mysticism was described as the secrecy of the mind.

Despite the various approaches to mysticism it seems to possess some common characteristics. Such were the findings of the philosopher W. T. Stace, who discovered seven common themes of mysticism when studying Roman Catholic, Protestant, ancient classical, Hindu, and American agnostic mystical experiences. They were (1) a unifying vision and perception of the One by the senses and through many objects; (2) the apprehension of the One as an inner life; (3) and objective and true sense of reality; (4) feelings of satisfaction, joy, and bliss; (5) a religious element that is a feeling of the holy and sacred; (6) a paradoxical feeling; (7) and inexpressible feelings.

From the above is can easily be seen that mysticism is not the same to every person experiencing it. Therefore, there are various kinds or types. Various mystics subscribe to one of two theories of Divine Reality: emanation or immanence. In the emanation view, all things in the universe are overflowing from God. In the immanence view, the universe is not projected from God, but is immersed in God.

Mysticism is usually thought of as being of a religious nature, which can be either monistic or theistic. The objective of monistic mysticism is to seek unity and identity with a universal principle; while theistic mysticism seeks unity, but not identity, with God.

The ultimate expression of monistic mysticism is perhaps best displayed in the Upanishads of India, as in the concepts of «I am Brahman» (the all-pervading principle) and tat tram asi «that thou art,» meaning that the soul is the eternal and Absolute Being. Monistic mysticism is also found in Taoism,, which seeks unity with Tao, the ineffable way. Theistic mysticism, unity with God, characterizes Christianity, Judaism (in the Kabbalah), and Islam (the Sufism sect), and is also found in Hinduism.

There are other forms of mysticism throughout the world. Many assume a religious nature according to the beliefs and practices of the practitioners. Most of these states of mysticism commonly possess what is deemed a mystical communion with what is considered sacred which varies from group to group, even subgroup to subgroup, and includes dance, song and chant, the sacred pipe, purifying sweats (a preliminary for undertakings), fasts, dreams, vision quests, and the occasional use of psychotropic drugs.

Apart from religious mysticism, but not entirely separated from it, is nonreligious mysticism. This is more of an experiencing mysticism through, or from, Nature, although some have discovered God or the Absolute of Nature through such experiences. An authentic experience of mysticism derive from Nature is essentially the unity of the subject and the object. In other words, the person becomes one with Nature; all boundaries or separation between the person and Nature disappears. The person becomes part of nature and is not separate from it.

This is clearly seen in the Goddess religion, which includes neo-Paganism and neo-Pagan Witchcraft, which worships Nature. Such worship includes love where the separation between the subject and object vanishes. Starhawk, in The Spiral Dance, defines it as immanence. Immanence is one of the three core principles of the Goddess religion, the other two being interconnection and community. «Immanence means that the Goddess, the Gods, are embodied, that we are each a manifestation of the living being of the earth, that nature, culture, and life in all their diversity are sacred. Immanence calls us to live our spirituality here in the world, to take action to preserve the life of the earth, to live with integrity and responsibility.»

A similar point was made in the description of Gaea, previously called Terrebie, or the planet Earth by Otter Zell (formerly Tim Zell), founder and high priest of the Church of All Worlds in Ukiah, California. He redefined divinity and deity as the fulfillment of potential as «the highest level of aware consciousness accessible to each living being, manifesting itself in the self-actualization of that being.» So, the cell is thought of as God by its components; the tissue is God to the cells, and so on. The human being manifests a whole new level of awareness, organization, and «emergent wholeness.» When describing this level of organization Zell wrote, «We find it appropriate to express recognition of this Unity in the phrase: ‘Thou art God.'» And as all things are connected biologically, all eco-systems express a new level of awareness. Therefore, Mother Earth is seen as God. Of this, Zell wrote:

Indeed, even though yet unawakened, the embryonic slumbering subconscious mind of Terrebria is experienced intuitively by us all, and has been referred to instinctively by us as Mother Earth, Mother Nature (The Goddess, The Lady.)

Instinctively every one has done what the neo-Pagan openly admit doing, calling Earth, Mother. This recognition of Earth as our Mother is justified because we all are dependent on her for our survival. Just as the child comes to love the mother who cares and nurtures him, so too, we love Mother Earth who we know loves and nurtures humankind as her children. By definition, this is mysticism.

See also Modern day mystic


Sources: 28, 301; 29, 387-389; 71, 22.