2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Philosophy

Mysticism from the Greek μυστικός (mystikos) "an initiate" (of the Eleusinian Mysteries, μυστήρια (mysteria) meaning " initiation") is the pursuit of achieving communion or identity with, or conscious awareness of, ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight; and the belief that such experience is an important source of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Traditions may include a belief in the literal existence of realities beyond empirical perception, or a belief that a true human perception of the world trancends logical reasoning or intellectual comprehension. A person delving in these areas may be called a Mystic.

In many cases, the purpose of mysticism and mystical disciplines such as meditation is to a reach of state of return or re-integration to Godhead. A common theme in mysticism is that the mystic and all of reality are One. The purpose of mystical practices is to achieve that oneness in experience, to transcend limited identity and re-identify with the all that is. The state oneness has many names depending on the mystical system: The Kingdom of Heaven, the Birth of the Spirit, the Third Awakening, Illumination, Union (Christianity), Self-Realization, Reintegration, Nirvana (Buddhism), Samadhi (Hinduism), and Gnosis, to name a few.

The term "mysticism" is often used to refer to beliefs which go beyond the purely exoteric practices of mainstream religions, while still being related to or based in a mainstream religious doctrine. For example, Kabbalah is a significant mystical movement within Judaism, and Sufism is a significant mystical movement within Islam. Gnosticism refers to both a mystical movement within Christianity and various mystical sects which arose out of Christianity. Some have argued that Christianity itself was a mystical sect that arose out of Judaism. While Eastern religion tends to find the concept of mysticism redundant, non-traditional knowledge and ritual are considered as Esotericism, for example Buddhism's Vajrayana. Vedanta is considered the mystical branch of Hinduism.


Only a mystic is truly qualified to write of mysticism for mysticism can only be experienced, never understood by the mind. When non-mystics try to interpret mystics (Christ and Buddha being two famous mystics) or write about their teachings, what results are religions or dry intellectual reports that cannot communicate the experience of the diety (which is itself ineffable). Non-mystics writing about mysticism is like trying to communicate Beethoven's 9th Symphony through a written report --and that written by someone who has never heard the Symphony itself.

Mystical doctrines typically refer to religious texts that are non-canonical to the major branches, as well as more mainstream canon. Within particular religious frameworks, mystical traditions are by nature controversial, and may be considered heretical. Most mystical teachers typically have some type of history or connection with a mainstream branch—controversial or otherwise.

The term mysticism connotes stepping beyond traditional interpretation and mystical traditions are often considered to be more inclusive and universalist, rejecting of particular doctrines associated with traditionalist, exclusivist, fundamentalist, dualist, or extremist beliefs. As such, mystical traditions have historically provided a platform by which cultural interchange of religious belief and concepts can occur, as well as to present for non-natives an otherwise culturally exclusive system in an explanatory manner.


Mystics hold that there is a deeper, more fundamental state of existence hidden beneath the appearances of day–to–day living (which may become, to the mystic, superficial or epiphenomenal). For the mystic, the intangible is the focus, and may be perceived in any of various ways—as God, ultimate reality, a universal presence, a force or principle, psychological emancipation—and be experienced or realized directly. Such experiences are spoken of, variously, as ecstatic revelation, theosis, direct experience of the divine or of universal principles, nirvana, enlightenment, satori, samadhi, etc. They are sometimes characterized by a fading or loss of self, or a perceived interconnection with all existence, and are often accompanied by feelings of peace, joy or bliss, as well as severe cultural alienation. In other traditions such as Bhakti the experience is given as one of a deep loving interaction with God.

Mysticism is usually understood in a religious context, but as William James and Ken Wilber point out, mystical experiences may happen to anyone, regardless of religious training or inclinations. Such experiences can occur unbidden and without preparation at any time, and might not be understood as religious experiences at all. They may be interpreted, perhaps, as artistic, scientific, or other forms of inspiration, or even dismissed as psychological disturbances. With that in mind, the word mysticism, is best used to point to conscious and systematic attempts to gain mystical experiences through studies and practice. Possible techniques include meditation, prayer, asceticism, devotions, the chanting of mantras or holy names, and intellectual investigation. Mystics typically go beyond specific religious perspectives or dogmas in their teachings, espousing an inclusive and universal perspective that rises above sectarian differences. (see interdenominationalism, interfaith, and perennial philosophy).

James points out that a mystical experience displays the world through a different lens than ordinary experience. The experience, in his words, is " ineffable" and " noetic"; placed beyond the descriptive abilities of language. While there is debate over what this implies, and whether the experience actually transcends the phenomenal or material world of ordinary perception, or rather transcends the capacities of ordinary perception to bring the phenomenal and material world into full view. Such debates are not a mainstay of mystical teaching. Mystics focus on the experience itself, and rarely concern themselves with ontological discussions. (see the discussion below)

Understanding the mystical perspective

The difficulty with definitions

The mystic interprets the world through a different lens than is present in ordinary experience; this can prove to be a significant obstacle to those who research mystical teachings and paths. Much like poetry, the words of mystics are often idiosyncratic and esoteric, can seem confusing and opaque, simultaneously over-simplified and full of subtle meanings hidden from the unenlightened. To the mystic, however, they are pragmatic statements, without subtext or weight; simple obvious truths of experience. One of the more famous lines from the Tao Te Ching, for instance, reads:

My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practise;
but there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to practise them. (Legge, 70)

Readers frequently encounter seemingly open-ended statements among studies of mysticism throughout its history. In his work, Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, a prominent 20th century scholar of that field, stated: The Kabbalah is not a single system with basic principles which can be explained in a simple and straightforward fashion, but consists rather of a multiplicity of different approaches, widely separated from one another and sometimes completely contradictory

Strategies used, and avenues of failure:

aphorisms, poetry, and etc.
semi-artistic efforts to crystalize some particular description or aspect of the mystical experience in words
  • God is Love (Christian and Sufi in particular), Atman is Brahman (Advaitan), Zen haiku, Rumi's love poems (Sufism). Often these are taken as slogans or as art, and so lose their core meaning as depictions of practical experience.
koans, riddles, and metaphysical contradictions
irresolvable tasks or lines of thought designed to direct one away from intellectualism and towards direct experience
  • The classic "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" (Zen) or "How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?" (Christian/philosophical). Sometimes these are dismissed as mere incomprehensible silliness (see humor, below); sometimes they are taken (erroneously) as serious questions whose answers would have mystical significance. In either case, the intention is lost.
humor and humorous stories
teachings which simultaneously draw one away from serious discussion and highlight metaphysical points
  • Primary examples are the Nasrudin tales and Bektashi jokes (Islam), and the Animal Spirit stories passed down in Native American, Australian Aboriginal, and African Tribal folklore. " Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby", for example, is fairly acute psychology wrapped in a children's tale. Humor of this sort is often corrupted into mere jokes: some Nasrudin tales have a clear metaphysics built in, while others are little more than depictions of a crazy, dimwitted old man.
parables and metaphor
stories designed to teach a particular but unconventional view of the world indirectly, by using analogy
  • Christ consistently used parables to teach: e.g. the "Master of the House" parables which convey—contrary to the conventional reading of the book of genesis—a world belonging entirely to God, where man's place is that of a servant whose master is away.

These categories are, of course, intended only as guidelines; many mystical teachings cover the gamut. For instance, Yunus Emre's famous passage:

I climbed into the plum tree
and ate the grapes I found there.
The owner of the garden called to me,
"Why are you eating my walnuts?"

is humor, parable, poem, and koan all at once.

Overlap with nondual traditions

Mysticism is often found in common with nondual worldviews and many mystics, from whichever religion or tradition they originally came, also describe in many ways a non-dual view of existence. Ramesh Balsekar comments on nonduality and mysticism, that it is in order for phenomenae to occur, that the illusion of personal existence and doer-ship (ego) is present, and explains mysticism and nonduality in fairly accessible (conventional) terms:

"Consciousness-at-rest is not aware of Itself. It becomes aware of Itself only when this sudden feeling, I-am, arises, the impersonal sense of being aware. And that is when Consciousness-at-rest becomes Consciousness-in-movement, Potential energy becomes actual energy. They are not two. Nothing separate comes out of Potential energy... That moment that science calls the Big Bang, the mystic calls the sudden arising of awareness..."

The relation of mystical thought to philosophy

To an extent, mysticism and modern analytic philosophy are antithetical. Mysticism is experiential and holistic, and mystical experiences are generally held to be beyond expression; modern philosophy is analytical, verbal, and reductionist. However, this distinction is peculiar to the modern world. Through much of history mystical and philosophical thought were closely entwined. Plato and Pythagoras, and to a lesser extent Socrates, had clear mystical elements in their teachings; many of the great Christian mystics were also prominent philosophers, and certainly Buddha's Sutras and Shankara's 'Crest Jewel of Discrimination' (fundamental texts in Buddhism and Advaitan Hinduism, respectively) display highly analytical treatments of mystical ideas. The rift between mysticism and modern philosophy derives mainly from elements of scientism in the latter: certain branches of philosophy, influenced by the natural sciences, broadly disavow subjective experience as meaningless. That said, several areas of study in philosophy address the same issues that concern the mystic.

Furthermore, Continental philosophy, tends to be concerned with issues closely related to mysticism, such as the subjective experience of existence in Existentialism

Ontology, epistemology, and phenomenology

The focus on experience in mysticism tends to belie ontological questions; mystical ontology is rarely stated in clear affirmative particulars. Often, it consists of generalized, transcendent identity statements—"Atman is Brahman", "God is Love", "There is only One without a Second" — or other phrases suggestive of immanence. Sometimes it is stated in negative terms, instead—from the Hindu tradition, for instance, the word Brahman is usually defined as God 'without' characteristics or attributes. Buddhist teachings explicitly discourage ontological beliefs, Taoist philosophy consistently reminds that ontos is knowable but inexpressible, and certain 'psychological' schools—spiritual schools following after Carl Jung, and philosophical schools derived from Husserl—concern themselves more with the transformations of perceptions within consciousness than the connection of perceptions to some external reality.

Mysticism is related to epistemology as well, to the extent that both are concerned with the acquisition of knowledge. However, where epistemology has always struggled with foundational issues—how do we know that our knowledge is true or our beliefs justified—mystics are more concerned with process. Foundational questions are answered, in mystical thought, by mystical experiences. Their focus, thus, is less on finding procedures of reason that will establish clear relations between ontos and episteme, but rather on finding practices that will yield clear perception. At least one branch of epistemology hints at this distinction by claiming that non-rational procedures (e.g. statements of desire, random selection, or intuitive processes) are in some cases acceptable means of arriving at beliefs. The term "mysticism" is also used in a pejorative sense in epistemology to refer to beliefs that cannot be justified empirically, and thus is considered irrational. According to Schopenhauer, mystics arrive at a condition in which there is no knowing subject and known object:

... we see all religions at their highest point end in mysticism and mysteries, that is to say, in darkness and veiled obscurity. These really indicate merely a blank spot for knowledge, the point where all knowledge necessarily ceases. Hence for thought this can be expressed only by negations, but for sense-perception it is indicated by symbolical signs, in temples by dim light and silence, in Brahmanism even by the required suspension of all thought and perception for the purpose of entering into the deepest communion with one's own self, by mentally uttering the mysterious Om. In the widest sense, mysticism is every guidance to the immediate awareness of that which is not reached by either perception or conception, or generally by any knowledge. The mystic is opposed to the philosopher by the fact that he begins from within, whereas the philosopher begins from without. The mystic starts from his inner, positive, individual experience, in which he finds himself as the eternal and only being, and so on. But nothing of this is communicable except the assertions that we have to accept on his word; consequently he is unable to convince.

Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. XLVIII<

Phenomenology is perhaps the closest philosophical perspective to mystical thinking, and shares many of the difficulties in comprehension that plague mysticism itself. Husserl's phenomenology, for instance, insists on the same first-person, experiential stance that mystics try to achieve: his notion of phenomenological epoché, or bracketing, precludes assumptions or questions about the extra-mental existence of perceived phenomena. Heidegger goes a step beyond: rather than merely bracketing phenomena to exclude ontological questions, he asserts that only 'beingness' has ontological reality, and thus only investigation and experiencing of the self can lead to authentic existence. Phenomenology and most forms of mysticism part ways, however, in their understanding of the experience. Phenomenology (and in particular existentialist phenomenology) are pre-conditioned by angst (existential dread) which arises from the discovery of the essential emptiness of 'the real'; mystics, by contrast generally speak of the peace or bliss that derives from their active connection to 'the real'.

Those who adopt a phenomenological approach to mysticism believe that an argument can be made for concurrent lines of thought throughout mysticism, regardless of interaction

Other perspectives

The philosopher Ken Wilber who has also studied mysticism and mystical philosophies in some depth comments that:

"There is nothing spooky or occult about this. We have already seen identity shift from matter to body to mind, each of which involved a decentering or dis-identifying with the lesser dimension... consciousness is simply continuing this process and dis-identifying with the mind itself, which is precisely why it can witness the mind, see the mind, experience the mind. The mind is no longer a subject, it is starting to become an object [in the perception of] the observing self. And so the mystical, contemplative and yogic traditions pick up where the mind leaves off... with the observing self as it begins to transcend the mind."
"The contemplative traditions are based upon a series of experiments in awareness: what if you pursue this Witness to its source? What if you inquire within, pushing deeper and deeper into the source of awareness itself? What do you find? As a repeatable, reproducible experiment in awareness? One of the most famous answers to that question. begins, There is a subtle essence that pervades all reality. It is the reality of all that is, and the foundation of all that is. That essence is all. That essence is the real. And thou, thou art that. In other words, the observing self eventually discloses its own source, which is Spirit itself, Emptiness itself... and the stages of transpersonal growth and development are basically the stages of following this observing self to its ultimate abode."
Q: "How do you know these phenomena actually exist?
A: "As the observing self begins to transcend... deeper or higher dimensions of consciousness come into focus. All of the items on that list are objects that can be directly perceived in that worldspace. Those items are as real in [that] worldspace as rocks are in the sensorimotor worldspace and concepts are in the mental worldspace. If cognition awakens or develops to this level, you simply perceive these new objects as simply as you would perceive rocks in the sensory world or images in the mental world. They are simply given to awareness, they simply present themselves, and you don't have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if they're real or not."
"Of course, if you haven't awakened to [this] cognition, then you will see none of this, just as a rock cannot see mental images. And you will probably have unpleasant things to say about people who do see them".

Differences of terms and interpretation

Goals sought and reasons for seeking

Michelangelo's interpretation of Heaven
Michelangelo's interpretation of Heaven

Theistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic metaphysical systems most often understand mystical experience as individual communion with a God. One can receive these very subjective experiences as visions, dreams, revelations, or prophecies, for example.

Thomas Aquinas, a Christian mystic of the 13th century, defined it as cognitio dei experimentalis (experiential knowledge of God). In Catholicism the mystical experience is not sought for its own sake, and is always informed by revelation and ascetical theology.

Enlightenment is becoming aware of the nature of the self through observation. By observation of the self (our self) with detachment, we can become aware of its processes without being caught up in them. Doing such allows one to better interact with others and our environment.

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Sun Tzu, The art of war

Two different terms for a desired afterlife are Moksha (liberation or release) and heaven (usually understood as a gathering place for goodly spirits, near to God and other holy beings). Nirvana (literally extinction), however, is not an afterlife concept. Each of these terms is defined very differently by various persons within a given religion, and their usage within mysticism is often no less imprecise.

Types of experience

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes three common classifications of mystical and religious experiences:

  • Extrovertive – mystical consciousness of the unity of nature overlaid onto one's sense perception of the world.
  • Introvertive – any experience that includes sense-perceptual, somatosensory, or introspective content. An experience of " nothingness" or "emptiness", in some mystical traditions, are examples of introvertive experiences.
  • Theistic – experiences of God.

The soul

Abrahamic religions conceive of a soul that lies within each individual, which is of great spiritual significance. However, Judaism, placing more focus on this world than others, has resulted in multiple views... that man is a partner in God, all the way to the mysticism of numerology and the Kabbalah. Christian mysticism has diverse takes on the relationship between God, the soul, and the individual. In Islam the mystical path is often incorporated within Sufi.

Jains view soul as a peceivable non-matter which has the ability to have infinite knowledge but we cannot see that knowledge of soul since it is covered with the blanket of karma but as we loosen the karma everything can be seen clearly and finally we achieve nirvana(salvation). Pure form of soul can be achieved when all karmas are destroyed.

Quakers view the soul as inner light, an inherent presence of God within the individual. Other Christian traditions, such as Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, hold a more distinct division between the individual soul and God, given the traditional belief that the salvation of the soul and union with God will occur after death at the resurrection, but these faiths generally hold that righteousness is possible during life. Christian mystics seek this state, variously, through intense prayer, ascetism, monasticism, or even mortification of the flesh.

In Catholicism, saints and other beatific individuals are said to have received the Holy Spirit—a movement of God in their souls that grants them miraculous, prophetic, or other transcendent abilities—and this belief is taken up in certain charismatic and evangelical faiths that seek out testaments to divine revalation through speaking in tongues, faith healing, the casting out of demons, etc.

Islam shares this conception of a distinct soul, but with less focus on miraculous powers; the muslim world emphasizes remembrance ( dhikr, zikr): the recalling of one's original and innate connection to Allah's grace. In traditional Islam this connection is maintained by angels, who carry out God's will—though only prophets have the ability to see and hear them directly.

Sufism (the mystical aspect of Islam) holds that God can be experienced directly as a universal love that pervades the universe. Remembrance, for Sufis, explicitly means remembrance of divine states of love, and Sufis are particularly noted for the artistic turn their forms of worship often take.

Eastern philosophies, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are less concerned with the individual, and instead seek dissolution of the soul and ego ( moksha) into transcedent reality (generally Brahmanor Ishvara). In the mystical aspects of the Vedic tradition Atman (something not entirely different from the werstern concepion of the soul) is believed to be identical with Brahman. Hindu mystical practices aim for God-consciousness and loss of self.

Buddhist teaching holds that all suffering ( dukkha) in the world comes from attachment to objects or ideas, and that freedom from suffering comes by freeing one's self from attachments. The doctrine of anatta suggests that the soul, or the perception of an unchanging and cohesive self, is a mental construct to which one may be attached, and thus a source of suffering. While conventional Buddhist religion has an assortment of deities and venerated beings, the mystical sects of Buddhism at minimum avoid affirming, and in some cases overtly deny the existence of a permanent or unchanging soul, or of any permanent or unchanging being to the universe.

Taoism is largely unconcerned with the soul. Instead, Taoism centers around the tao ('the way' or 'the path'). The human tendency, according to Taoism, is to conceive of dualisms; the Taoist mystical practice is to recapture and conform with that original unity (called te, de, which is translated as virtue).

Regardless of particular conceptions of the soul, a common thread of mysticism is collective peace, joy, compassion or love.

External or internal divinity

From the inner light of the Quakers to the Atman of the Hindu, many have found a soul or other essential essence within themselves to be a centre of focus. Even the buddhist who seeks Buddhahood through anatta places a great deal of emphasis on their inner world.

In contrast some (particularly gnostics and other dualists) see the self as wicked and deserving of punishment or extreme neglect through asceticism, with positive values placed only upon the transcendent.

Pantheism and acosmism

Pantheism means "God is The All" and "All is God". It is the idea that natural law, existence, and/or the universe (the sum total of all that is, was, and shall be) is represented or personified in the theological principle of 'God'.

In contrast Acosmism denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory ( maya), with only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real.

There are also dualist conceptions, often with an evil (though existent) material world competing with a transcendent and perfect spiritual plane.

Mysticism and syncretism

Mystics of different traditions report similar experiences of a world usually outside conventional perception, although not all forms of mysticism abandon knowledge perceived through normal means. Based on extraordinary perception, mystics may believe that one can find true unity of religion and philosophy in mystical experience.

Elements of mysticism exist in most religions and in many philosophies, including those where the majority of the followers are not mystics. Some mystics perceive a common thread of influence in all mystic philosophies that they see as traceable back to a shared source. The Vedic tradition is inherently mystic; the Christian apocalyptic Book of Revelation is clearly mystical, as with Ezekiel's or Daniel's visions of Judaism, and Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel revealed the Qur'an in a mystical manner. Indigenous cultures also have cryptic revelations pointing toward a universal flow of love or unity, usually following a vision quest or similar ritual. Mystical philosophies thus can exhibit a strong tendency towards syncretism.

Some systems of mysticism are found within specific religious traditions and do not relinquish doctrinal principles as a part of mystical experience. In some definite cases, theology remains a distinct source of insight that guides and informs the mystical experience. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas' mystical experiences all occurred squarely within the love of the Catholic Eucharist.

See perennial philosophy.

Mysticism and Religion

Conventional religions, as a rule, are marked by strong institutional structures. A religious faith will generally have most or all of the following:

  • an established hierarchy
  • a definitive creed
  • a set of approved central texts
  • regular public services
  • an accumulation of rites, rituals, and holy days
  • a clearly stated ethical code or set of moral laws

Adherents of the faith are expected to respect or follow each of these closely. Most mystical paths arise in the context of some particular religion but tend to set aside or ignore these institutional structures, often styling themselves as the 'purest' or 'deepest' representations of that faith. Thus, to the extent that a mystical path has a hierarchy, it is generally limited to teacher/student relationships; to the extent that they use a central text or ethical code, they view them as interpretable guidelines rather than established law. Conventional religious perspectives towards mystics varies between and within faiths. Sometimes (as with the Catholic church and Vedantic Hinduism) mystics are incorporated into the church hierarchy, with criteria set up for validation of mystical experiences and veneration of those who achieve that status. In other cases, mystical paths follow a separate but parallel course. Traditionally, Buddhist monks were closely interwoven into the fabric of village life through most of Asia, but had no authoritative position in the community; likewise, Sufis are somewhat peripheral to Muslim culture, viewed by more conventional Muslims as an interesting curiosity. Some faiths—including most Protestant Christian sects—find mystical practices disreputable; mystic practices and beliefs are restricted to specific sects, such as the Society of Friends or certain Charismatic groups, which have implicitly incorporated them.

The mystic's disregard of religious institutional structures often lends a quasi-revolutionary aspect to mystical teaching, and this occasionally leads to conflict with established religious and political structures, or the creation of splinter groups or new faiths.

New Religious movements

Because of the need to interpret metaphorically, it is often difficult to distinguish mystic statements from mere obfuscation, a problem which became particularly acute in the occult movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries and has extended itself into many New Age and New religious movements, some near universally regarded as fraudulent cults.

The late 19th century saw a significant increase of interest in mysticism in the West that combined with increased interest in Occultism and Eastern Philosophy. Theosophy became a major movement in the popularization of these interests. Madame Blavatsky and G. I. Gurdjieff functioned as central figures of the theosophy movement. This trend later became absorbed in the rise of the New Age movement which included a major surge in the popularity of astrology. At the end of the twentieth Century books like Conversations with God(abbreviated CWG) (a series of books which describes what the author claimed to be his experience of direct communication with God) hit the bestseller lists. In late 2006, a new science of spirituality, Psycanics, born out of the experiences of the mystic, Thomas Michael Powell, became available. Psycanics affirms most of the concepts of CWG and provides a technology of self-work to apply those concepts to achieve acclerated spiritual growth.

Self-transcendence, self-discovery, and entheogens

The term perennial philosophy, coined by Leibniz and popularized by Aldous Huxley, relates to what some take to be the mystic's primary concern:

[W]ith the one, divine reality substantial to the manifold world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one reality is such that it cannot be directly or immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit.

Some mystics use the term to refer to a manner wherein the mystic strives to plumb the depths of the self and reality in a radical process of meditative self-exploration, with the aim of experiencing the true nature of reality.

In some cultures and traditions, mind-altering substances—often referred to as entheogens—have been used as a guide; the Uniao do Vegetal being a notable modern example.

Rosicrucianism and Masonry

"The Temple of the Rose Cross," Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, 1618.
"The Temple of the Rose Cross," Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, 1618.

The Rosicrucian Order is a legendary and secretive Order publicly documented in the early 17th century. It is generally associated with the symbol of the Rose Cross, which is also found in certain rituals beyond "Craft" or " Blue Lodge" Freemasonry. The Rosicrucian Order is viewed among earlier and many modern Rosicrucianists as an inner worlds Order, comprised of great "Adepts." When compared to human beings, the consciousness of these Adepts is said to be like that of demi- gods. This "College of Invisibles" is regarded as the source permanently behind the development of the Rosicrucian movement.

Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organization. Members are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature and, in most of its branches, by a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.

Freemasonry is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not generally disclosed to the public, but it is not an occult system. The private aspects of modern Freemasonry deal with elements of ritual and the modes of recognition amongst members within the ritual.


Gnosticism is a term for various mystical initiatory religions, sects and knowledge schools which were most active in the first few centuries of the Christian/ Common Era around the Mediterranean and extending into central Asia. These systems typically recommend the pursuit of special knowledge ( gnosis) as the central goal of life. They also commonly depict creation as a dualistic struggle between competing forces of light and dark, and posit a marked division between the material realm, which is typically depicted as under the governance of malign forces, and the higher spiritual realm from which it is divided. As a result of these traits, dualism, anticosmism and body-hatred are sometimes present within Gnosticism. There is, however, variety, subtlety, and complexity in the traditions involved.


Mithra and the Bull: This fresco from the Mithraeum at Marino, Italy (3rd century) shows the tauroctony and the celestial lining of Mithras' cape
Mithra and the Bull: This fresco from the Mithraeum at Marino, Italy (3rd century) shows the tauroctony and the celestial lining of Mithras' cape

Mithraism was an ancient mystery religion based on worship of the god Mithras who derives from the Persian and Indic god Mithra and other Zoroastrian deities. That the school was a mystery in no way proves or even indicates that it did indeed have any relation to mysticism defined as personal experience of the deity.

It is difficult for scholars to reconstruct the daily workings and beliefs of Mithraism, as the rituals were highly secret and limited to initiated men. Mithras was little more than a name until the massive documentation of Franz Cumont's Texts and Illustrated Monuments Relating to the Mysteries of Mithra was published in 1894-1900, with the first English translation in 1903.

However, it is known that the centre of the cult was the mithraeum, an adapted natural cave or cavern, preferably sanctified by previous local religious usage, or an artificial building imitating a cavern. Mithraea were dark and windowless, even if they were not actually in a subterranean space or in a natural cave. When possible, the mithraeum was constructed within or below an existing building.

In every Mithraic temple, the place of honour was occupied by a representation of Mithras killing a sacred bull, called a tauroctony.

The mithraeum itself was arranged so as to be an 'image of the universe'. Members of the cult are thought to have moved about the mithraeum in imitation of the sun and constellations through the universe. It is noticed by some researchers that this movement, especially in the context of mithraic soterism, seems to stem from the neoplatonic concept that the 'running' of the sun from solstice to solstice is a parallel for the movement of the soul through the universe, from pre-existence, into the body, and then beyond the physical body into an afterlife.

Also thought to take place in the mithraeum, and revealed by the relief on a cup from Mainz, is the mithraic initiation. In this act, as depicted on the cup, the initiate would be led into a location where the cult's 'Pater' would be seated in the guise of Mithras with a drawn bow. Accompanying the Initiate is a 'Mystagogue', who explains the symbology and theology to the initiate. The Rite is thought to re-enact what has come to be called the 'Water Miracle', in which Mithras fires a bolt into a rock, and from the rock now spouts water.

Mystical Traditions

An all-seeing Eye of Providence that appears on the tower of Aachen Cathedral.
An all-seeing Eye of Providence that appears on the tower of Aachen Cathedral.

Examples of major traditions and philosophies with strong elements of mysticism are:

  • Bahá'í Faith
  • Christianity
    • Christian meditation
    • Christian mysticism
    • Esoteric Christianity
    • Spanish mystics
  • Faith healing
  • The Fourth Way
  • Ghost Dance ( Nineteenth Century Native American)
  • Gnosticism ( Christian)
  • Hesychasm ( Eastern Orthodox)
  • Kabbalah (Judaism, Christianity, Occult)
  • Mormonism
  • Mystery religions
  • National mysticism
  • Nazi mysticism
  • Near-death experience ( New Age)
  • Occult
  • Religious Society of Friends
  • The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception ( Rosicrucian)
  • Sufism (Islam)
  • Taoism
  • Theistic Satanism
  • Thelemic mysticism ( Thelema)
  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • Transcendentalism ( Unitarianism)
  • Vedanta (Hinduism)
  • Yoga (Hinduism)
    • Bhakti Yoga
    • Surat Shabd Yoga
  • Zen (Buddhism)

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