UU MysticsOne of the most misunderstood concepts, often mistaken with esoteric and far out spiritual paths, is mysticism. Some believe it is the opposite of rationalism, or that mystics are isolated beings disconnected from reality.

This page contains several definitions of mysticism; some are from dictionaries and Wikipedia and others are from some who attended the call to seek a more intimate union with the mystery surrounding us. Would you be surprised either if you find that the definition of mysticism describes your spiritual path, or that you feel the desire to become a mystic yourself?

According to the Collins English Dictionary[1], mysticism is:

  1. belief in or experience of a reality surpassing normal human understanding or experience,  a reality perceived as essential to the nature of life
  2. a system of contemplative prayer and spirituality aimed at achieving direct intuitive experience of the divine
  3. obscure or confused belief or thought.

The American Heritage Dictionary[2] describes mysticism thus,

In religion, the attempt by an individual to achieve a personal union with God or with some other divine being or principle. Mystics generally practice daily meditation.

In the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary[3] mysticism is:

  1. the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics 2 : the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)  3 a : vague speculation : a belief without sound basis  b : a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power.
  2. belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are directly accessible by subjective experience: belief in séances, astral projection, and similar mysticism. 3. Belief that is not based on evidence or subjected to criticism.

According to Wikipedia, Mysticism is a ”constellation of distinctive practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation, variously defined in different traditions.   In modern times, ”mysticism” has acquired a limited definition with broad applications, as meaning the aim at the “union with Absolute, the Infinite God”.  This limited definition has been applied to a wide range of religious traditions and practices.  S ince the 1960s, a scholarly debate has been ongoing in the scientific research of “mystical experiences” between perennial and constructionist approaches.

Again according to Wikipedia, the Christian definition of mysticism is having a divine or sacred significance that surpasses natural humanapprehension.  Also, 1. Belief in direct experience of transcendent reality or God, especially by means of contemplation and asceticism instead of rational thought.  Such experience had by an individual.

From Google, Mysticism is 1. Belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.  2. Belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.

Other definitions by mystic individuals

According to Evelyn Underhill “mysticism is the art of union with Reality.  The mystic is a person who has attained that union in a greater or lesser degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment.”

Seth, as quoted by F. C. Happold in Mysticism, says that “It [mysticism] appears in connection with the endeavour of the human mind to grasp the Divine essence or the ultimate reality of things and to enjoy the blessedness of actual communion with the highest.”

Unitarian Universalist, Sam Berliner, III, says that “Mysticism is quite simply the frank acknowledgement that there is far more to existence than we know and can ever know.”

[1] Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012.

[2] The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[3] Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh Edition. Copyright 2004 by Merriam- Webster, Incorporated.