[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine
                              T H E
                           Z E P H Y R
                  __     M A G A Z I N E
                 Issue #60               10-16-88
            A weekly electronic magazine for users of 
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                            (c) 1988

   On boards such as "Heaven's Gates" some users CLAIM to have 
some knowledge of religions. Others actually know what they're 
talking about. 
   One of our regulars, Sue Miller, has done extensive anf formal 
studies in the field. This issue is one of the papers who wrote 
for a class.
   The topic is mysticism.

                          ON MYSTICISM

                         by Susan Miller

     "Mysticism is the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic of 
the feelings."

     This quote by Goethe is one of many attempts to define 
possibly the most indefinable portion of religion -- mysticism 
and mystical experience.  How does one define, let alone study, 


     In attempting to define what mysticism is and is not, below 
is presented a summary of the definitions given by six different 
authorities.  We'll examine these definitions and comment on 
their similarities and differences. 

     Lawrence Fine:

     *   "...mystics seek intimate knowledge of the divine that 
         goes beyond intellectualization and rational thinking. 
         ...are interested in the experience of the sacred in a 
         way that is intuitive, direct, and intense." 

     *   "Mystics tend to find in themselves something in common 
         with the divine.  They frequently turn inward in order 
         to discover that an aspect of their being, or the 
         totality of their being, corresponds to or is akin to 
         God."  Mystics develop their "self-awareness" in order 
         to discover some "identity between the self and the 

     *   Mystics "tend to look upon the world of nature as a 
         whole as an opportunity for discovering the sacred." 

     *   Mystics must follow a disciplined way of life, certain 
         ethical practices necessary to perfect self, attain 
         mystical experiences. 

     *   Mystics use special techniques such as prayer or 
         meditation to help increase their knowledge of the 

     David Blumenthal: 

     *   Mysticism placed at one end of a continuum called 
     *   "...the forms and dynamics of spirituality turn 
         'mystical' when the reports of the experiences involved 
         betray an abstract con-ceptualization of God, as opposed 
         to a highly personalist, anthro-popathic conceptualiza

     *   Emphasis on aspect of "hard work" and "practice" to 
         achieve mystical experiences. 

     *  Warning against reductionism in definition.

     J. Dan:

     *   "Jewish mysticism, like any other mysticism, is based on 
         the deep religious belief that divine truth can be 
         neither found nor expressed in worldly terms.  Divine 
         truth lies in a mystical realm, completely hidden from 
         the human sense and rationalistic analysis." 

     *   "...hints of this esoteric realm in the Scriptures, 
         which, even though written in words, refer to a 
         dimension that is beyond human language." 

     *   Says the bridge between the divine truth and language is 
         symbolism, because this divine truth is completely 
         inexpressible in human terms. 

     Arthur Green: 

     *   Gives a definition of the mysticism "currently available 
         in the intellectual marketplace" which is "an utter 
         absorption within and identification with the deity."  
         He expands this definition into a working definition 
         with the following three points: 

     *   Mysticism is "a religious outlet that (1) seeks out 
         inner experiences of the divine and to that end gener
         ally cultivates the life of inwardness;  (2) longs to 
         recover an original intimacy with God,...; and (3) in-
         volves itself with an esoteric lore that promises both 
         to reveal the inner secrets of divinity and to provide 
         access to the restoration of divine/human intimacy." 

     Steven Katz: 

     *   "...renewed, immediate, non-critical, largely non-cogni
         tive, contact with the mystical depths of Being..." 

     *   "...in the presence of the Absolute...all true seekers 
         come to know - to feel - the sameness which is the 
         Ultimately Real." 

     Gershom Scholem:
     *   Mystic "seeks an apprehension of God and creation whose 
         intrinsic elements are beyond the grasp of the 

     *   Mystical experiences come about "through contemplation 
         and illumination". 

     *   Key phrases: "esoteric",  "cannot be communicated 
         directly", "introspection". 

                          Points of Similiarity

     In the above aspects of mysticism, three things are found 
common to more than one scholar: (1) the esoteric nature, (2) the 
discipline required to achieve the experience, and (3) the indes
cribable nature of the experience. 

     The esoteric nature of the mystic experience seems not to be 
a requirement of the mystical experience per se.  It does not 
result from the difficulty of achieving such an experience, nor 
from the indescribable nature of the experience, but results from 
a tendency of the mystic to limit the availability of the techni
ques for whatever reasons. 

     Several of the authors talk at some length about the 
discipline required to become a mystic.  This discipline might be 
but is not necessarily connected with the possible esoteric 
nature of mysticism.  Blumenthal particularly emphasizes the hard 
work and practice involved in the life of a mystic.  The techni
ques used by mystics and aspirants to mysticism are many - study, 
prayer, meditation, holding to special ethical principles, 
performance of mitzvahs, and so on.  This discipline could 
conceivably include a life of asceticism, although not 
necessarily in all situations or religious systems. 

     It seems obvious that any mystical experience, dealing as it 
does with some unnamed connection of the mystic with the divine, 
would be quite indescribable by normal human language.  Just 
about all of the authors make this point quite definitely, and go 
on to discuss the heavy use of symbolism needed in order to 
attempt to communicate mystical experiences in a way that others 
can attempt to understand. 

                      Points of Difference

     The above descriptions of mysticism differ in the subtle 
point of identifying the exact goal or object of the mystical 
experience: is it union or identification with deity, or simply 
knowledge of deity? 

     There is a difference, and it seems that various mystical 
traditions approach the matter in different ways.  In Buddhism, 
for example, the ultimate goal is an exact identification with 
that which is Absolute Reality, in which there is no self, nor 
any "other" against which to compare the Absolute. The Buddhist 
emphasis on non-self (Sanskrit: an-atman) is similar to the 
Hindu's goal to identify with the only true self, the Universal 
Atman, but some Hindu traditions are reluctant to regard the 
union with the Universal Atman as complete; there is sometimes a 
vague sort of distinctness between the one who has merged with 
the All and the nature of the All itself. 9  On the other end of 
the continuum are mystic traditions that strive for a knowledge 
of deity without a complete identification with the object of 
knowledge.  In such a "gnostic" mysticism, there must often be a 
partial merging of self with deity in order to obtain the mystic 
gnosis, but there is always a separateness between self and 

     It makes sense that Fine and Green, who both emphasize the 
goal of union with deity rather than simply gnosis, also agree 
that an aspect of mysticism is that it attempts to find the 
divine nature in man. When there is a piece of deity inside a 
person, that person is more apt to want to want to locate his/her 
"roots" in the deity of the same nature.  There is then a deep 
yearning to reunite with the ultimate being of like substance.  
Fine and Green naturally are also the two who point out the 
inward nature of mystics, which makes sense if that is where one 
can look to find deity. 

     The alternative emphasis, provided by Katz and Dan, is on 
the knowledge, rather than the union with, the Ultimate Reality.  
This is naturally the position when we de-emphasize the deity in 
man, and have less motiviation to lose our self in something of a 
different nature. Katz and Dan both mention the goal of a 
mystical knowledge of reality, but neither mention the aspect of 
a divine spark in man, or of a goal to become identical with the 

     These two ends of the spectrum are connected by Scholem's 
dualistic model of Jewish mysticism.  With Scholem, neither 
extreme describes the Jewish mystic.  The mystic does not have a 
"profound yearning for direct human communion with God through 
annihilation of individuality".10  Neither is God so distant that 
one cannot merge identities with God to some degree.  To Scholem, 
the Jewish mystic's concept of Deity is "dualistic", in that God 
is always simultaneously transcendent and immanent.  One can 
search for God inwardly and locate some measure of deity there 
with which to identify, without losing the distinction between 
self and God.  

                     The Study of Mysticism

     Now that we have come to some understanding of what 
mysticism means, it is important for us to discuss methods for 
investigating it.  In general it seems useful to use those 
scholarly techniques of study already employed in the examination 
of traditional religious writings, with one special caveat: 
reductionism must be avoided at all times.  We must not reduce 
the mystical experience into completely human terms, although 
naturally that is a very tempting way to deal with it.  Although 
mystics are not necessarily at odds with the traditional 
religious community of their culture, the experiences of mystics 
are quite foreign to the average person, and tension over 
difficulties in communication will certainly occur.  

   The natural starting place for mystical study by non-mystics 
is the literature of mysticism, first and foremost that produced 
by the mystics themselves as well as by commentators and critics.  
The latter works must be examined with care, always searching for 
the inevitable bias(es) that the writers will bring to their 
writings.  The literature of mystics should be compared and 
contrasted with the traditional writings of the religion in 
question as an aid to discover the cultural basis from which the 
mystic has arisen.  The student of mysticism would also profit 
from a careful study of the historical background of mystics and 
mystical works, since clues to deciphering the symbolism involved 
might be gained by this.  Time spent in philological study would 
also seem to be an aid toward this end. 

   The goal of studying mysticism is an understanding of mystics 
and their experiences, although this is by definition impossible 
for the non-mystic. As William Inge aptly phrases it, "...the 
relation of the individual to the Absolute, an essential them of 
philosophy, can only be mystically apprehended." 

Until Next Time

   Your own views of mysticism could make for some interesting 
conversation here. The number of tangent issues and ideas could 
keep us running for years. It's a bit more than someone hanging 
out a sign that says, "Tarot Readings."
   As for myself, I've just about completed the present book 
project ("Run For Freedom"). Before digging into the next (on 
how to design a home), I'll do up a couple of new issues for the 
magazine here. I can't tell you what they'll be about, because 
I don't know myself at this point. 
   Meanwhile, if anyone else has something they'd like to 
contribute . . . 

Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.