I have made all my mysticism notes into revision cards. Note that I have left out Sufism/ Islamic mysticism as I have already made revision card resources for that religion.

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  • Created on: 19-12-15 20:58


The word 'Mystical' comes from the Greek word 'Mu' meaning to close or to hide. The word is associated with people who have direct and intimate experiences of God

Teasdall defines mysticism as "direct immediate experience of ultimate reality. For Christians, it is union and communion with God. For Buddhists, it is the realisation of enlightenment".

Bauerschmidt defines the term Mystic as "someone who has experienced an altered state of concsiousness that has brought them to a new awareness of ultimate reality".

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Walter Pahnke

Pahnke lists 5 characteristics of mystical experiences:

1. A deeply felt positive mood- elements of joy, blessedness, peace and love to an overwhelming degree of intensity
2. Sense of sacredness- non rational, intuitive, hushed response of awe and wonder. The main elements include awe, humility and revelence
3. Paradoxicality- the logical contradictions that become apparent if descriptions are carefully analysed. 'An identity of opposites'.
4. Alleged ineffability- the experience is felt to be beyone words and impossible to describe, and yet the experiencer makes elaborate attempts to explain it.
5. Persisting positive changes in attitudes and behaviour- changes are towards self, others, life and the experience itself.

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Buddhist Mysticism

There are a range of different techniques and approaches to meditation. This can include concentrating on your breathing or reciting mantras. The technique of mental concentration is called Samatha which is to discover the real nature of the body and the mind by overcoming attatchments.

Zen Buddhism's key practice is 'Zazen'. This means meditating so that you become fully in touch with the true nature of reality.

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Jewish Mysticism

The Torah contains stories of mystical experiences such as visitations by angels. The Oral Torah gives an inner meaning to the Torah which has been handed down through word of mouth. the Oral Torah constitutes the Kabbalah which is a mystical branch of Judaism.

Originally the two main subjects of Jewish mystical thought were the ma'aseh bereishit (the work of creation) and ma'aseh merkavah (the work of the chariot- Ezekiel's vision). The ma'aseh merkavah is also mentioned in the Bible. Exekiel describes his experience as "the heavens were opened and i saw visions of God.... I looked and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north- an immense cloud with flashing lighting and surrounded by a brilliant light" (Ezekiel 1:1,4). After this he also describes the chariot and the throne of God.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov founded the Hasidic movement which emphasised on good deeds and piety throught joy of worship. 

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Christian Mysticism

This is often described as a 'union of God' and the doctrine of incarnation (God becoming flesh) is central to this.

St Teresa of Avila wrote that the soul is fully awake as regards to God, but wholly asleep as regards things of this world.
Teresa's most famous book The Interior Castle describes a person's soul as a multi-chamber castle. Going deeper and deeper into your soul and facing your own fears, self-interest, ego temptations gradually leads you to a deeper relationship with God. At the very central chamber the soul is at complete peace and complete union with God.

Neo-Pentecostalism Phenomena includes 'being slain in the spirit' which occurs when the believer is taken over by the power of the holy spirit, looses all motor control and falls to the ground. another example is the 'Toronto blessing' which includes people weeping incontrollably, laughing hysterically, toppling over or crumbling silently, jerking and twitching, acting as if they were drunk, abdominal spasms, roaring like a lion or barking like a dog.

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Types of Mysticism

1. They are all one and the same- the experience is the same but they interpret it differently according to their cultures or faiths.

2. there are a few types that cut cultural barriers- Walter Stace identifies 2 basic types of mystical experience; extrovertive (which looks outwardly through physical senses to the external world) and introvertive (which looks inwardly and loses identity as a separate individual and merging into the divine unity. Zaehner distinguishes 3 types; nature (the experience of oneness with nature), monistic (an experience with your own spirit as the absolute) and theistic (a union or communion with God).

3. it is impossible to classify them- Steven Katz believes that it is impossible to classify them and that there is no such thing as a pure or unmediated experience.

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Mysticism and the Numinous

Ninian Smart distinguished between the experience of the numinous and the mystical experience.
differences include:
1. Numinous always involves an awareness of how different the experiencer is to the deity while mystical has an emphasis on union. 2. Numinous involves a sense of dependancy on something external whereas mystical focuses on the internal. 3. Numinous usually happens suddenly and unexpected while mystical often has preparation.
The word 'Numinous' was coined by Rudolf Otto
"The deepest and most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion"
The word comes from the Latin 'Numen' which means divinity. For Otto, religious experience is about a feeling. In particular, experience of the holy. It is something 'Wholly Other'.
Mysterium tremendum et fascinans-
Otto presents the tremendum componant as comrising of;
Awefulness (inspiring awe), Overpoweringness (inspires feeling of humility), Energy or Urgency (immense viguor, compelling)
the mysterium component has two elements;
Wholly Other (totally outside your normal life) and Fascination (causes subject to be caught up in experience)

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Mysticism and the Numinous- Examples

Isaiah's vision:
" 'Woe is me!' I cried 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord Almighty' "

Calling of Simon Peter in Luke 5:8 shows this deep conviction of unworthiness and the need to be cleansed:
"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

The aspect of awe and dread and resulting humility of the numinous can be seen in the writings of Julian of Norwich:
"... who whole creation, wondering and astonished, will have for God a dread and reverent and beyond anything known before, that the very pillars of heaven will tremble and quake... as they marvel at the greatness of God their Maker, and the insignificance of all that is made. The consideration of all this makes the creature wonderfully meek and mild."

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