Mysticism is the mystical experience of an altered state of consciousness which is either attributed to a religious or a spiritual journey to become one with God or the absolute. A common misconception about Mysticism is that it is often associated with paranormal activity or magical experiences, but that is far from the case. Mysticism is more authentic with the individual self and can sometimes be divine. It’s related to many occasions, such as deep peace, euphoria, enlightenment, and holiness.
Many religions, from the Abrahamic to Hindu and Buddhist religions, have recorded within their holy texts Mystical experiences. And that the religion’s profits have undergone mystical experiences and have encountered God while having these experiences. The relevance in philosophy for Mysticism is questioning these magical experiences and whether these experiences should be considered evidence of mystical claims. Can we discount their knowledge in good faith regardless of how absurd or minor an experience claim is? One person’s experience will never be like another, even if they experience similar conditions, but that is what we intend to find out.
Types of Mystic Experiences
There are many variations of mystical experiences that philosophers and researchers have studied. Because every experience is wildly different, philosophers and researchers must take specific experiences and classify them accordingly. Below are the different classifications that have been categorized.
Extrovertive Mysticism is a form of Mysticism where the individual experiences a sense of oneness with the external world. This can be done through altered states of consciousness or simply paying close attention to the world around them. Extrovertive mystical experiences often report feeling a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty and complexity of the universe.
There are many examples of Extrovertive Mysticism throughout history. One famous example is the experience of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. St. Paul experienced a blinding light in this instance and heard a voice calling his name. This voice told him to go into the city and preach the gospel. After this experience, St. Paul became one of the most important early Christian missionaries.
Extrovertive Mysticism is essential because it can help individuals feel connected with the world. This feeling of connection can be precious in promoting personal growth and development. Extrovertive Mysticism can also help individuals develop a greater appreciation for the natural world by listening to the universe around them.
Introvertive Mysticism is a type of Mysticism that emphasizes introspection and inner experience. This may include practices such as meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Introvertive mystics often seek to transcend the everyday world and achieve a higher state of consciousness through themselves.
There are many different variations of introvertive Mysticism. Still, some standard features include a focus on the self, a sense of oneness with the universe, and a belief in the power of the mind to transcend ordinary reality.
Introvertive Mysticism helps a way for people to connect with their spirituality and find peace and clarity in their lives. It can also be used as a tool for personal growth and development and is often used as an empowerment tool within the professional sectors in the workforce.
Theurgic Mysticism is a type of Mysticism that is focused on the relationship between the human and the divine. It is often seen to experience God or the gods directly, without intermediary steps or objects. The term “theurgy” comes from the Greek θεουργία, which means “working with the divine.”
Theurgic Mysticism can be deeply meaningful and help people understand themselves and the world around them in a new way. Theurgic Mysticism can also lead to experiences of joy, peace, and love. The ritual often helps individuals find their inner divinity within themselves. It can shift our perspective and help us understand the universe around us.
Dualistic Mysticism is a type of Mysticism that believes in the existence of two separate but interconnected realms. Dualistic mystics often believe these two realms are the spiritual and physical worlds. Dualistic Mysticism is not just a belief system but a way of seeing the world. Dualistic mystics often see the spiritual and physical realms as two sides of the same coin.
They may believe that we are all connected to the spiritual realm and that our physical bodies are temporary vessels for our souls. Dualistic mystics often think that we can access the spiritual realm through meditation, prayer, and other metaphysical practices. Dualistic Mysticism is practiced to this day through acosmism teachings in the Hindu and Buddhist religions.
Monistic Mysticism is a type of Mysticism that believes there is only one underlying reality to which everything else is connected; the concept is the direct opposite of Dualistic. This underlying reality is often seen as being divine or sacred and is personal to every individual. Monistic mystics often seek to experience this underlying reality directly through practices such as meditation or prayer.
Some examples of monistic mystical traditions include Christianity and Judaism, but they are also essential to many Sufi traditions with Islamic Mystics. It provides a way for people to connect with the divine or sacred without going through an intermediary. It also allows people to experience the world differently, which can be a very eye-opening and transformative experience for people wholly devoted to God.
Apophatic Mysticism is a type of Mysticism that emphasizes the idea of negatives or negation. This typically manifests in negative theology, where the divine reality is seen as beyond all human comprehension and language. Apophatic mystics often use paradoxical language to describe their experiences and beliefs. As they believe explicit descriptions of the divine are impossible.
One of the most famous examples of apophatic Mysticism can be found in the writings of Meister Eckhart, a medieval Christian theologian. In his work, Eckhart speaks about how God cannot be known through our senses or intellect but can only be experienced through direct mystical experience. For Eckhart, this experience was not something that could be put into words. Still, it was instead something that had to be directly experienced.
Apophatic Mysticism is essential because it highlights the limitations of human language and understanding. It reminds us that some things in life are beyond our comprehension and that we should not try to force them into neat little boxes. Apophatic Mysticism encourages us to open our minds and hearts to new experiences, even if we cannot fully understand them.
Cataphatic Mysticism is a form of Mysticism that focuses on using symbols and images to communicate with the divine. Cataphatic mystics believe that God can be experienced through our senses and that by using symbols and images, we can tap into that experience.
In the early days of Christianity, some famous Cataphatic mystics include Saint Augustine and Saint Teresa of Avila. The concept is also popular among the Desert Fathers and Mothers, some of the earliest Christian monks and nuns.
It allows us to experience God in a very direct way. Cataphatic mystics believe that God is present in all things, and by using symbols and images, we can connect with that presence which can help us comprehend God’s glory. This direct connection can be compelling and can help us to understand our place in the world.
Cataphatic mystics believe that God is beyond our understanding but that we can get a glimpse of divine nature through symbols and images. This exploration can be beneficial in our spiritual journey. It can lead to a deeper understanding of who we are and what we believe through aesthetic works of art.
What are the Characteristics of Mysticism?
A mystical experience is a broad term to identify an experience that is almost impossible to explain. Because every person that has had one has encountered different events, some people experience relief, peace, happiness, or a profound sense of mystical euphoria. The only way we can genuinely understand Mysticism is by experiencing it for ourselves, but everyone’s experience will vary. It all depends on the individual and their commitment to the practice. For research’s sake, four core mystic experiences can be studied.
William James, a distinguished psychologist who has studied religious experiences, has found there be four Characteristics of mystical experiences:
- Noetic Quality
Understanding the characteristics will give scholars a better understanding of what the individual experiences through a mystical journey. However, there is an argument for classifying the features of Mysticism as paradoxical. For instance, how can someone experience something but not be able to describe what they have gone through? Did they genuinely experience the euphoria, or are they lying to themselves about sharing something that is essentially not there? How can we consciously contain the mystical experience into four classifications if it’s something that we all must experience yet have no words to describe?
Ineffability is a characteristic of Mysticism that refers to the inability to put an experience into words. It is often said that mystical experiences are “beyond words” or “ineffable.” An example of ineffability would be if someone had a religious experience that was so powerful and overwhelming that they could not find the words to describe it. Ineffability is a key component of many mystical traditions and is often considered one of the defining features of Mysticism.
However, there is a philosophical issue regarding ineffability. How can someone experience something so breathtakingly amazing, that they describe something ineffable? Is not something being described as indescribable a description of an experience that cannot be explained? So, can something truly be indefinable if it is ineffable?
Transiency is one of the critical characteristics of Mysticism. Transiency is defined as the quality or state of being transient for a brief period. This characteristic is significant in Mysticism because it emphasizes the temporary nature of our existence. It reminds us that everything is impermanent and that nothing lasts forever. Transiency teaches us to appreciate the present moment and to live in the moment. It also reminds us to be grateful for what we have because it will not last forever.
Noetic quality is another characteristic essential to a mystic experience’s structure. A noetic quality is when some message or comprehension has taken place during or after the mystic experience. However, it is unclear where this type of message stems from, where newfound knowledge has been put in place, or whether the message or the mental apprehension is relevant or correct.
Passivity is the last characteristic of a mystic experience, and it portrays the mystic experience as being either exposed to a divine entity or in the presence of one. Often the individual will be transcended from their reality and merged with another. An analogy to understand this concept is a raindrop falling from the sky and connecting with a large body of water. To the raindrop, an ocean or a river is much larger than itself and cannot comprehend the vast reality.
What religions believe in Mysticism
Mystic experiences aren’t unique to one religion or culture. It has been recorded in many central and minor faiths worldwide. Most religions that have recorded these experiences have similar anecdotes that a certain profit either has a physical or spiritual journey where they have either interacted with God or been shown something so great that the profit could not describe the experience verbally.
Mysticism in Judaism
Mysticism is a religious concept that centers around believing humans can experience a direct, personal connection with the divine. In Judaism, Mysticism has been an essential part of theology for centuries, and examples of Jewish Mysticism can be found in many of the religion’s holy texts, including the Torah.
One of the most famous examples of Jewish Mysticism can be found in the story of the Exodus when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. According to Jewish tradition, Moses could commune with God directly and received essential guidance and instruction from the divine during this time. This direct connection between Moses and God is just one example of Jewish Mysticism that can be found in the Torah.
Mysticism in Christianity
Christian Mysticism is a branch of Christian theology that emphasizes the experiential and mystical aspects of the Christian faith. Christian mystics believe through direct experience of God, they can gain a deeper understanding of Christian teachings. This direct experience can take many forms, such as prayer, contemplation, or service to others.
Christian Mysticism has its roots in the early Church when Christians were encouraged to seek a personal relationship with God. Mystical traditions have continued throughout the history of Christianity and often flourish during times of religious turmoil or change. Christian mystics have included some of the most influential figures in Christianity, such as Augustine of Hippo, Teresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton.
Today, Christian mysticism is enjoying a revival as more and more Christians seek a deeper, more personal faith in Christ. Through direct experience of God, they can gain a deeper understanding of Christian teachings.
Islamic Mysticism is a branch of Islamic theology that deals with the nature of the divine and the relationship between humanity and God. Islamic mystics are known as Sufis. Islamic Mysticism has its roots in the Quran, which contains numerous references to mystical concepts such as tawhid (the oneness of God), fana (Passing away), and wahdat al-wujud (the unity of existence).
The Islamic mystical tradition is often divided into two main branches: Sufism and Shi’ism. Sufism is the more popular branch, and its adherents often seek to live simple life to focus on their spiritual development. On the other hand, Shi’ite mystics tend to be more politically active and often hold positions of power within Islamic governments.
Islamic Mysticism is an integral part of Islamic theology because it offers a direct experience of the divine. Mysticism is also seen to achieve inner peace and self-awareness.
Buddhist Mysticism is a branch of Buddhism that deals with the mystical and spiritual aspects of the religion. It is concerned with things like meditation, enlightenment, and nirvana. Buddhist mystics often use practices like yoga and chanting to help them reach a higher state of consciousness.
Mysticism is a vital part of Buddhism because it helps followers connect with the religion on a deeper level. It can also be used to find peace and calm during chaos. Buddhist mysticism examples include things like Mahayana Buddhism, which is a type of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation and compassion. Another example is Tibetan Buddhism, which includes many different types of meditation and spiritual practices.
Hindu Mysticism refers to the mystic and esoteric traditions of Hinduism. Hindu mystics believe they have attained a higher state of consciousness through which they can directly experience divine reality. Hindu mysticism includes many practices and beliefs, from yoga and meditation to chanting and mantras. Hindu mystics often seek to transcend the physical world and attain a state of bliss or enlightenment.
Hindu mysticism is an essential part of Hindu theology. Hinduism teaches that there is an ultimate reality that is beyond our everyday experience. The goal of Hindu Mysticism aims to help us connect with this ultimate reality and be one with God. Hindu mystics believe that through their experiences, they can help us understand the nature of reality and our place in it.
The Philosophy of Mysticism
Mysticism is an interesting philosophical take, as it’s almost impossible to debate whether someone had a mystical experience. For instance, who is to question anyone’s personal experience that someone may have had with God? In almost all aspects of Mysticism and religious texts, God cannot be comprehended. To us, God is an ineffable entity that transcends every paradox that can be logically constructed. For someone to have experienced God firsthand and then be tasked to describe the event is something that cannot be done.
However, philosophers must take into consideration if the individual is lying. And what would be a motive to lie? It’s a possibility that must be considered and questioned to grasp whether the mystical experience was genuinely authentic. If the individual were lying about the incident, we would need to challenge the motive behind the lie. Is there some gain, whether it be financial or fame? That could be an indication of a false mystical experience. Someone who has just seen God would likely not care for something like fame or fortune. More than likely, the message behind the experience would invoke the individual to follow and leave all secular values behind.
Regardless if a person is lying or if the event is true to that person, there is no natural way to tell if the event occurred. Many people have claimed to have a mystical event happen, and it has spanned across countless religions. It may all be a façade, or it could be the real deal, but whatever the case, why should we discredit the experience? If the experience motivates the other person, helps them find their passion, or lives a better life, then the experience is a real phenomenon that should be recognized.