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- "I like to say I practice militant mysticism. I'm absolutely sure of some things that I don't quite know."
- –Rob Bell
- "Mysticism is the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for a universal one."
- –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Historical Context Edit
The term “mysticism” is derived from the Greek term meaning “to conceal.” In the Hellenic civilization, it referred to “secret” rituals … not necessarily religious, for it lacked any connotations of the transcendental or divine. But then the Christians got hold of the word and it came to refer to the “hidden” allegorical interpretations of the Scriptures or to “hidden” presences, such as that of Christ at the Eucharist. Then the Christians bent it again, using it to denote three “theological” intertwined aspects of the divine: the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual (or contemplative for non-Christians). Typically, mystics – theistic or not – view their mystical experiences as a stage in human transformation.
Thus, by the Renaissance – when mysticism abounded – it might be best thought of as a constellation of practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions and experiences all aimed at transcendence. Ironically, it also got condemned by the Church, and a lot of mystics – who became identified with the occult – got tortured and burned in their quest for transformation to another state of existence. Later, as human horizons expanded with the Enlightenment, so the threads of all sorts of mysticism got tangled: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Tantric and so forth. The coming of modernity didn’t put these mystical fires out, only threw gasoline on them.
Psychologists such as Carl Jung sought to combine the “authenticity” of science with the mysticism of the spiritual in a search for “undiscovered paths to the unconscious self” that could lead a man towards “realizing his real nature and attaining his real goal.” Of course, the mystics never did quite define what that goal is supposed to be. Whether apophatic (indescribable) or kataphatic (shareable), theurgic (such as the Jewish kabbalah) or theologic, whether the mystic seeks a “union” or an “identity” with a higher intelligence, mysticism persists into the 21st Century.