What Is Mysticism?

Mysticism. noun. A feeling of God's presence -- without media.

There are two types of theistic personnel.

One is intellectualist and grasps God through ideas, beliefs, terminology. The other is mystical and apprehends God without ideation, without creeds, without words in a row.

Or so it is claimed.

Mysticism asserts on behalf of mystics that im-mediate experience of God is possible and preferred. This means that nothing mediates the experience of God for the mystic -- not a holy book, not a holy person, not an idea, not a church, not a synagogue, not a temple, not a mosque, not a bent knee, not a pinched-shut eyelid nor lips parted in prayer.

Or so it is claimed.

BUT since the age of language and the birth of culture, can there be an un-mediated experience of anything?

If a mystic had neither read nor heard any religious ideas, if a mystic was never exposed to religiously interpretive templates that hover at the ready for explanatory offerings to brain and tongue -- then we might speak of an un-mediated religious experience.

As it is the mystic's experience is always mediated.

Where did the mystic get the idea of that which the mystic experiences? Was there no prior notion of God, of transcendence, of mysticism itself?

Of course there was prior knowledge. And the prior knowledge mediated the mystical event.

If we took the bare mystical experience -- a feeling, really -- and if we ask mystics who have those feelings in different geographic locations, we will get different interpretations of the feelings, depending on the locale.

Did the mystic have the feelings in Little Rock, Arkansas? Then Jesus was experienced (coincidentally, a Jesus with a Southern Baptist hue). Did the mystic have the feelings in Tehran, then it was Allah (of Shia cast). In Kyoto, then Amida Buddha. In Mumbai, Shiva. And so on.

The linguistic-ideational culture was not only there to interpret the feeling, it actually mediated the feeling.

(Is it noteworthy that in the 1980s the Virgin Mary appeared to to six mystic Mejugorje, Yugoslavia school children who were raised in a community given to Marian devotion and attending a church with a huge mural of Mary on its walls? Is it interesting that no one but Catholic mystics experience visions of Mary?)

There is also the business of the corporeal mediation of spiritual things. The entire catalogue of mystical occurrences takes place on a very small section of brain tissue, notwithstanding corollary effects on pulse, skin, emotion.

This piece of brain matter, smaller than a howler monkey's pinkie fingernail, is the medium of mystical sensibility. And we may ultimately discover that the material medium of spirit is a single solitary microscopically perceptible gene, found in many, but far from all, humans.

This gene, and the mystical portion of the brain, is activated by words, by ideas.

None of this it to deny the mystic's claimed experience of a feeling. We may, however, deny the assertion that that experienced feeling was not mediated. (And some people may further deny the interpretation of the feeling.)

And so:

A religious mystic is not really a separate type of religious person from the religious intellectualist.

The mystic has simply seen the living properties of religious words and ideas, many of which are inherently potent and seem to effect that to which they refer.

There can be no argument about God's existence for the mystic. The God idea exists, and that is as good as a God for the mystic.

Lastly, there's something odd in mysticism:

Mystics claim their experience of the divine is ineffable, indescribable, beyond words. And then those mystics who are capable write inch-thick books to convince us of it, including lengthy descriptions of inexpressible encounters.

from An Opinionated Dictionary of Religion at uponreligion.com.