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Mysticism. I. Definition of Mysticism (Evelyn Underwood, Practical Mysticism : Mysticism is the art of union with Reality, The mystic is a person who has attained that union in greater or less degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment. But.

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I. Definition of Mysticism (Evelyn Underwood, Practical Mysticism: Mysticism is the art of union with Reality, The mystic is a person who has attained that union in greater or less degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment


A. What is Reality? From this definition only a mystic can answer and in terms which only other mystics can understand

B. What is Union? From the mystic’s perspective it is not an “operation” but an activity which is being done, every conscious moment of time with great intensity and thoroughness—we can know a thing by unity with it

I. Ineffability—a negative

A. Mysticism defies expression—no words are adequate its content

B. It must be directly “experienced”

C. It cannot be imparted or transferred to others

II. Noetic Quality

A. Mysticism is a state of insight into depths of truth unknown through discursive intellect

B. The areas of knowledge are “illuminations” or “revelations”

III. Transiency

A. Mystical states cannot be sustained for any great amount of time

B. At times, when faded, their quality can be imperfectly reproduced in memory

IV. Passivity

A. The mystic will feel that his/her own will were in abeyance, sometimes as if grasped and controlled by a superior power

B. The “control” factor will lead at times to secondary phenemena

1. prophetic speech

2. automatic writing

3. mediumistic trance

I. Mysticism is practical, not theoretical

II. Mysticism is an entirely spiritual activity

III. The business and method of mysticism is love—love is:

A. The active, connotative, expression of one’s will and desire for the Absolute

B. One’s innate tendency to that Absolute, one’s spiritual weight

IV. Mysticism entails a definite psychological experience

V. As a corollary to the four rules, emphasis should be made that true mysticism is never self-seeking

I. The object confronted in mystic experience is thought by the mystic to be somehow ultimate

A. A belief that a mystical experience is the ultimate experience one can have on earth

1. Richard Rolle--the object is the “fire of divine consolation”

2. St. Bernard--comparable to the “Beatific Vision in Heaven”

B. It is asserted that the object is the ultimate experienced possible to human awareness because it is the ultimate reality--the deity

1. St. Catherine of Siena--the “Sea Pacific” in which she felt herself immersed in God

2. Origen-It is the Word; the second person of the Trinity

II. The manner of confrontation is always immediate and direct

A. It can an intuitive one-to-one cognitive relation between subject and object, as found in St. Augustine

B. It can an “insight”--the unmediated perception of a higher coherence--St. Ignatius Loyola or St. Teresa of Avila

III. The confrontation is always different from the familiar exercises of either sense perception or of reasoning

A. Differing backgrounds of mystics will cause the mystical experience to be explained in different terms

B. Yet, there are similarities which go beyond religious beliefs, for example, the self, itself, becomes awareness

I. The reputed experience does not follow as a doctrinal conclusion from a person’s basic philosophic or theological position, but is counter to it.

A. In writings of Pseudo-Dionysius or Meister Eckhart, the experience which is so highly extolled is the last logical step in a rigid speculative system

B. Either of them may have been authentic mystics, but one cannot come to that conclusion from their writings only

C. When the experience does not fit in at all with the person’s speculative suppositions, the chances are that it was a genuine experience

II. The reputed experience is not an instance of wish fulfillment, but is counter to one’s wishes

III. The reputed experience alone gives consistency to the speculation

A. In Gregory, the experiences will be seen to be to the “luminous” center in the light of which Bible and philosophy and current theological controversies are understood

B. In St. John of the Cross, everything takes its coloring from the experience

I. Life as it concerns God

II. Life as it concerns the creature

III. An intermediate life, a mixture of the former two

IV. Examples

A. Plotinus—3 descending phases or principles of Divine Reality

1. The Godhead, the Absolute, and Unconditioned One

2. God’s manifestation as the nous, the Divine Mind or Spirit which inspires the “intelligible” and eternal world

3. Psyche, the Life or Soul of the physical universe

B. The Upanishads

1. Brahma is the “heart of reality”; other then the known, and above the unknown

2. Ananda, (being) that spiritual world which is the true object of aesethetic passion and religious contemplation

3. The world-process as we know it, which represents Ananda taking form

C. Richard of St. Victor

1. “Dilation of mind”—enlarging and deepening our vision of the world

2. The “elevation of the mind”— in which we behold the realities which are above ourselves

3. “Ecstasy,” in which the mind is carried up to contrast with truth in its pure simplicity

D. Jacopone da Todi—uses symbolism of three heavens

1. When the mind has achieved self- conquest, the “starry heaven” of multiplicity is revealed to it; its darkness is lit by scattered lights (points of reality which pierce the sky

2. The “crystalline heaven” of lucid contemplation, where the soul is conformed to the rhythm of the divine life—by its loving intuition it apprehends God under veils

3. The “hidden heaven” or “ecstasy”—lifted up that ineffable state where it enjoys a vision of imageless reality and “enters into possession of all that is God”

E. Ruysbroeck

1. The natural world, theatre of our moral struggle

2. The essential world, where God and Eternity are indeed known by intermediaries

3. The super-essential world, where without immediary, and beyond all separation, “above reason and without reason,” the soul is united to “the glorious and absolute One”

F. Jacob Boehme

1. The “deepest Deity, without and beyond Nature”

2. The Eternal Light-world, the manifestation of Deity

3. The outer world in which we dwell according to the body, which is manifestation, image or similitude of the Eternal

G. Dionysius the Areopagite

1. The way of purification, in which the mind is inclined to learn true wisdom

2. The way of illumination, in which the mind by contemplation is kindled to the burning of love

3. The way of union, in which the mind by understanding, reason, and spirit is led up by God alone

I. Pastoral Homilies--the writings of the mystic’s intimate communion with the Divine, sometimes the writings are written from sermons preached

II. Theological Treaties--directed to an analysis of the mystical experience

III. Personal Advice--written to meet the need for instruction in the mystical of some definite person or persons

A. The advice is personal in two ways at once

B. Author-mystic, in the light of personal experience

C. Reader-mystic, counseling for personal need

D. This category has many anonymous works which are considered to be “classical”

1. The Book of the Poor in Spirit

2. Theologia Germanica

3. The Cloud of Unknowing

IV. Confessions

A. Most famous practioner of this type is Augustine of Hippo in his Confessions

B. William of St. Thierry, in his On Contemplating God

V. Spiritual Accounts--direct and to the point; purpose is simply to tell what occurred

A. St. Ignatius Loyola

B. Marie of the Incarnation

C. St. Paul of the Cross

I. Meister Eckhart (1260-1329 CE)

A. The process of reality is a series of emanations

1. From the Godhead to the Unspoken Word (the Father)

2. From the Unspoken Word to the Spoken Word (the Son)

3. The Spoken Word to Love (the Spirit)

4. From Love to ideal creation

B. Humans return to the Godhead in a reverse order

C. The practical spirit of Eckhart

1. The first stage of the soul’s return is regression from phenomenon, that is, from creatures in their actual state because they are not merely nothing, they are annihilating

2. The second stage is the beholding of the uncreaturely in creatures; that is, of creatures in the ideal state

3. The third stage is introspective; that is, one meditates upon the purely spiritual faculties of the soul, the trinity of memory, understanding, and will

D. The soul’s ultimate destiny is not the Trinity, but what is beyond the Trinity—The Godhead itself

1. Thus, there is a fourth stage

2. It consists in passing beyond memory-understanding-will to the delicate simplicity of the soul’s pure nature, to a oneness so rarefied that it is almost as though it were not in man at all

II. The Sufi Rabi’a of Basra (d. 185/801)

A. Unlike many other Sufis, she did not pay heed to the beauty of nature

B. She was marked by an extremely other-worldliness

C. An important aspect of her thought is her concept of pure or disinterested love—the Love of God for Himself—O my Lord, if I worship thee from fear of Hell, burn me in hell; and if I worship thee from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise, but if I worship thee for Thy own sake, then withhold not from me Thy Eternal Breathe

D. Her doctrine of disinterested love would influence not only later Sufis but traditional Islamic teahing

III. The “Intoxicated” Sufi Abu Yazid (d. 261/875)

A. Regarded as the first of the “intoxicated” Sufis who would find God within his own soul

B. He scandalized the orthodox Muslim by ejaculating, Glory to Me

C. He was also the first to take the Prophet’s Ascension as a theme for expressing his own mystical experience

D. He developed the doctrine of Fana (“absorption” or “annihilation” which would play an important role in later Sufi teaching

neo platonic and neo pythagorean influences
Neo-platonic and Neo-Pythagorean Influences

I. All of Plato’s works were preserved during the Christian destruction of Greek literature

II. Plato’s “Academy” continued from the time of Plato until it was closed in 529 CE

. III. Between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE, Platonism underwent a revival—this revival is referred to as Neo-Platonism

IV. The nature of Plato’s philosophy is positive toward syncretism; other systems could be easily added—especially true of Neo-platonism which included neo-pythagorean and Hermetic concepts

I. Tradition states that he lived around 2670 BCE

II. Hermes Trismegistus is the Greek equivalent for Thoth and means “The Thrice Great”

III. Legend claims he was an Egyptian priest, legislator, and philosopher and was to have written 36 books on theology and philosophy and six books on medicine

IV. The 46 books are divided as follows:

A. Ten books of laws, deities, and the education of priests

B. Ten books of sacrifices, offerings, prayers, hymns, and festive processions

C. Ten books of cosmographi and geographical information

D. Four books devoted to astronomy and astrology

E. Two books containing a collection of songs in honor of the gods and a description of royal life and its duties

F. Six books known collectively as the “Pastophorous” and deals with medical subjects

G. These writings were imparted, according to tradition, to Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Herodotus
other legends
Other Legends

I. Thoth was thought to govern over mystical wisdom, magic, writing, and healing; Hermes was the personification of universal wisdom and the patron of magic


II. Both are associated with writings

A. Thoth was credited with writing the sacred books of Egypt

B. According to Iamblichus (c. 250- 300 BCE), Hermes wrote 20,000 books and Mantheo (c. 300 BCE) thought he wrote over 36,000 books

III. According to legend both revealed to humankind the healing arts, magic, writing, astrology, science and philosophy

IV. Hermes Trismegistus provided the wisdom of light to the ancient mysteries of Egypt. “He carried an emerald, upon which was recorded all philosophy, and the caduces, the symbols mystical illumination. Hermes Trismegistus vanquished Typhon, the dragon of ignorance, and mental, moral and physical perversion

the emerald tablet
The Emerald Tablet

True, without falsehood, certain and most true, that which is above is the same as that which is below, and that which is below is the same as that which is above, for the performance of miracles of the One Thing. And as all things from the One, by the meditation of One, so all things have their birth from this One Thing by adaptation. The Sun is its Father, the Moon its Mother, the Wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the world. This is the Father of all perfection, or consummation of the world. Its power is itegrating, if it be turned into earth

You shall separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity and skill. Your skilful work ascends from earth to heaven and descends to earth again, and receives the power of the superiors and of the inferiors. So thou has the glory of the whole world—therefore let all obscurity flee from thee. This is the strong force of all forces, overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing. So the world was created. Hence all were wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner. Therefore I am called Hermes Trismegistus having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. What I have to tell is completed during the Operation of the Sun
V. Several Fathers of the Church thought that Hermes was pre-plato; Lactancius, St. Augustine, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Cyril of Alexandria

VI. Other Greek scholars included Zosimus, Jamblichus, Fulgentius, and Julian the Emperor

the truth
The Truth

I. Until 17th century CE, it was generally accepted that Hermes lived before the pre-Socratics and wrote a considerable body of religious, philosophic, and scientific literature.

II. The works attributed to Hermed are referred to as “The Corpus Hermeticum”, composed by a circle of Greek-speaking Egyptians working in and around Alexandria in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE

III. The Hermetic writings show influence from Platonic, Stoic, and mystic Jewish traditions

IV. No Christian influence, although there are many phrases and ideas that seem as if they might be from the Christian tradition: For instance, in the Pimander there is an account of the creation of the world by the “luminous Word” who is the “Son of God”

V. Some scholars believe the similarities are due to the fact that Hermes and Christianity have some of the same sources

VI. The manuscripts of the Corpus Hermiticum were discovered in Constantinople by agents of Cosimo Medici (a ruling prince of Tuscany)

VII. Cosimo was so eager to know the contents of the material that he had Marisilio Ficino interrupt his translation of Plato and devote his energies to the translation of Hermes

VIII. He finished the translation in 1464; being a Platonic expert he was able to see the Platonic elements in the corpus; but he believed Plato got his ideas from Hermes.

A. This misdating led him to believe that he had the oldest knowledge

B. Dating the corpus to the 2nd millennium BCE made it the basis of all wisdom

C. Ficino also thought that Hermes and Moses were contemporaries; he even speculates that they might be the same person

D. Thus, the corpus gave the 2 great streams of knowledge—the philosophical writings of Plato and the Old Testament

E. His translation and commentary helped to establish a Christian Hermetic tradition that flourished well into the 17th century CE

I. Contemporary of Ficino

A. Began his study of philosophy under Ficino

B. Pico’s importance is that he added to the magic of the Hermetic tradition the magic of the Cabala

C. He went to Rome in 1486 with 900 theses or points drawn from all philosophies which he wanted to debate in public that points were reconcilable with one another

D. No debate occurred, but it helped to continue the Renaissance’s interest in magic through his books such as the Dignity of Man, Apology, and Oration.

E. He later had to appear before a commission appointed by Pope Innocent VIII; the commission was to investigate the heretical character of some of Pico’s theses

F. In 1487 Pico made a retraction of his beliefs

G. In 1492 a new pope, Alexander IV, came to the rescue of Pico

I. Wrote Celestial Hierarchies

II. Claimed to be the Dionysius who met St. Paul in Athens—accepted by many scholars of the early church

III. Real author is unknown, but wrote under neo-platonic influences

IV. The work would become important in the synthesis neo-platonism and Christianity

V. The link is done by identifying the angelic world with what the philosophers call the intelligible world

VI. The world is divided:

A. Angelic (intelligible)

B. Celestial

C. Sublunar, which we inhabit

I. Born in 1486 in Cologne, Germany

II. He confided in a latter at an early age that he possessed a curiosity concerning the mysteries (Albertus Magnus (1193-1280, famous occult scholar lived in Cologne)

III. Went to the University of Paris where he gathered a band of fellow students interested in the same subject

IV. In 1510 he wrote the first draft of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy—first published in 1531,33

V. His work is divided into 3 books:

A. Natural Magic, or magic in the elemental world

B. Celestial Magic

C. Ceremonial Magic

D. These divisions correspond to the divisions of philosophy into physics, mathematics, and theology

VI. In Book I he divides the universe into three worlds

A. The elemental world

B. The celestial world

C. The intellectual world

VII. The final chapter of Book I discusses the relation of letters of the Hebrew alphabet to the signs of the zodiac, planets, and elements which give that language a strong magical power

VIII. In Book II emphasizes mathematics and images

A. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have numerical value and they are potent for number magic

B. He discusses the general principles of the making of talismans imprinted with celestial images

IX. Book III turns to higher matters; to know that part of magic which helps one to come to the divine religion

X. The information contained in the chapter should be kept secret; for the mysteries of God are always hidden

I. Born in 1548 in Nola, Italy; entered the Dominican order at age 15

A. At an early age he came under influence of Hermetic tradition

B. He would committed to both his Catholicism and the Hermtic corpus

C. He would later be charged with heresy; he would later renounce his Dominican orders and became an “apostate”

D. He traveled to many of the capitals of Europe

E. He would be burned at the state in 1600 for his heretical views

II. His program of “religio-magico-scientific reform”

A. He believed that he was reviving the magical religion of the ancient Egyptians which he believed was older than Judaism or Christianity

B. He thought that even though the magic tradition had been suppressed that it would be revived

C. Bruno believed that the religion of Hermeticism was the “only true religion

D. He believed that Copernicus’ heliocentric theory was a portent of the revival of Hermeticism

1. In De Revolutionibus, Copernicus would refer to Hermes and stated that the sun is the visible god and ought to be the center of the world

2. Bruno thought that Copernicus failed to understand the deeper meaning of his discovery

3. He linked animism, heliocentricism, the notion of an infinite universe, and political reform to the reemergence of the Hermetic revolution

4. He also believed that the existing Roman Catholic church would be incorporate the Hermetic tradition as part of its belief

5. The Catholic church would condemn certain forms of magic in 1600, immediately after his execution

D. This would mark beginning of a decline for the Hermetic tradition

1. Progress in Greek philology in the 16th and early 17th CE enable Isaac Casubon to date the composition of the Hermetic corpus in the 2nd century CE

2. But many believed that the 2nd century CE documents could have been copied from older ones

3. Humanist scholarship recovered other ancient documents opposed to the animism of Hermeticism

4. There also occurred an intellectual reaction known as the “skeptical crisis”; a consequence of Descartes’ teaching of a mechanistic philosophy opposed to Hermeticism

I. Name is derived from Christian Rosencreutz or “Rose Cross”

II. The Rosicrucian “Manifestos” are two short pamphlets—the Fama and the Confessio and the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz (1616)

a historical interlude
A Historical Interlude

I. The reigning Duke of Wurtemberg, Frederick I, was an alchemist, occultist, and Anglorphil

II. He wanted an alliance with Queen Elizabeth of England and to obtain the Order of the Garter

III. The Garter was conferred upon him by James I

IV. Thus, it would seem that James was making alliances with the protestants in Germany

V. There seems to have been a secret treaty in 1604 between James, the King of France, and the Duke of Wurtemberg


The Naometria

  • A. An unpublished apocalyptic-prophetic work which used numerology based on the Temple of Solomon which the writer believed led to events in European history
  • B. Writer predicts that in 1620 Antichrist will be defeated (papacy). In 1623 a new age would begin
IV. Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalism

A. The term Kabbalah is literally “tradition” and implies that the mystical teaching represents the true interpretation of Scripture

B. Abraham Abulafia (13th century CE)

1. His works remained unpublished until the 19th century

2. His essential aim was to open the way for the perception of Divine Reality

a. He found the means through the Hebrew alphabet

b. The contemplation of God’s name, he was taught, would lead to mystical ecstasy


Influenced by the Sefer Yetsira (Book of Creation, 3-6 century CE)

  • Divine language was the substance of reality; the pure thought of God is expressed by a spiritual language, the letters of which are the elements of spiritual being
  • Every language, not only Hebrew, may be a medium whereby the language of God is apprehended by human consciousness
6. As one contemplates God’s name, one is led to seed the name of God and angles in the heart

7. The soul will then leave the body in ecstatic joy and will receive an influx of spiritual life

8. He also brings forth rules of bodily posture—a kind of “Judaized Yoga”


The Zohar (“brightness” or “splendor”)

  • 1. Supposedly the work of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai (2nd century CE); probably written in 13th century CE
  • 2. It is in most ways a commentary on the Pentateuch, which interprets it through mystical symbolism
  • 3. The Zohar expresses outlook of a school of Kabbalists whose earlier work was the Bahir (“Brightness”), 12th century CE
4. The Zohar represents a development of Bahir’s ideas concerning God, human destiny, and the significance of the Torah

5. It takes as a starting point the assumption that underlying all reality is the creative power of speech—embodied in the written words of Scripture

6. Essential meaning of the Torah is its symbolic meaning

7. The central figure is the Sefiroth—living numbers, conceived as divine emanations; they are regarded as “grades” (degrees of creative or divine manifestation)

8. They are the qualities, attributes, and agencies of God

9. The Sefiroth are divided into three triads, with a tenth representing the harmony of them all

the first triad
The First Triad
  • Highest is Kether, the “Crown of God”—it is the mystical “Nothing”, a primordial point
  • From Kether proceeds Hokhmah (Divine Wisdom); here is enshrined the ideal existence of all things in an undifferentiated unity
  • From Hokhmah comes Binah (Divine Intelligence); in which all forms of pre-exist in the Mind of God which sees them itself
  • It was said that the Divine Wisdom is the “Father”, the active principle producing all things; The Divine Intelligence is the “Mother”, the passive or receptive principle

The Second Triard

  • Hesed (“Love”, “Mercy” of God
  • Din (“Power” of God), manifested mainly as the power of judgment or punishment
  • Tifereth (“Beauty”) or Rachamin (“Compassion”)
  • Hesed is a male principle; din, a female

The Third Triard

  • Netsah (“Victory”—lasting endurance of God); seen as masculine
  • Hod (“Glory” “Majesty” of God); seen as feminine
  • Yesod (“Foundation”)—the ground of stability in the universe

The Tenth Principle

  • Malkuth (“Kingdom” of God or Shekhinah (Presence of God in the Universe
  • It is the principle which harmonizes the rest
10. One tradition says that the Sefiroth was first revealed to Adam in the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge taken together, Adam would separate the two—and so introduced the principles of division and isolation in the world

11. Evil is traced to the introduction of disharmony among the Sefiroth