PART 1: INTRODUCTION
The intent of this essay is to set forth the basic theoretical principles and practical methods of Mysticism in the clearest possible language. This will therefore be neither academic nor exhaustive in its extent.
The intended audiences are those who want to learn about Thelemic Mysticism or those who are aware of Thelemic Mysticism but may seek further guidance on their Paths. It is hoped that this essay will help clarify the definition and basic tenets of Mysticism, encourage those who are already aspirants to this Truth, and potentially aid aspirants in avoiding various detours and pitfalls along the Mystic Path.
Since the Mystic Goal is universal, much of the language in this introduction will be generally applicable to all forms of Mysticism, regardless of religion or culture. Nonetheless, since the focus of this essay is upon Thelemic Mysticism which is a particular breed or “flavor” of Mysticism, there will be various quotations interspersed throughout the essay from the Holy Books of Thelema and other important writings of The Master Therion. This is to both help show that Thelema reinforces the same essential principles of Mysticism as well as to show the particular language and style used throughout Thelemic writings.
What is Mysticism?
Mysticism is a name for both the Goal and the Path to the Goal of the Mystic.
As a Goal: Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth.
Since the Mystic Goal involves a direct experience, it can also be called the Mystic Experience or the Mystical Experience.
The Mystic Goal cannot be accurately named because it is beyond the normal distinctions that are inherently made by names and definitions. No name, description, or definition could ever be complete, so the Mystic Goal is ultimately nameless. Though the many names and metaphors for this Goal are necessarily partial, the Goal itself is always the same regardless of whether it is called “crossing the Abyss,” “enlightenment,” “cosmic consciousness,” “samadhi,” “union with the Absolute,” “union with God,” “union of subject and object,” “union of microcosm and macrocosm,” “union of opposites,” “attaining Nirvana,” “accomplishing Great Work” or whatever else.
Since the Mystic Goal is the same regardless of time, place, or culture (despite the outward multiplicity of forms), Thelemic Mysticism is nothing new; it is merely a particular set of symbols and methods that achieve the same Truth as every other seeker of enlightenment in human history.
Thelemic Mysticism is aware of the many strands of Mysticism throughout human history, and it is therefore able to see beyond the partial truths, symbols, and language in which the Mystic Truth is explained by people of various temperaments and cultures.
In terms of Thelemic language, Crowley sometimes equates “Mysticism” with “Yoga,” the latter of which he defines simply as “Union.” Insofar as Mysticism may be understood as Union with God (or the Absolute, or Truth, or Reality, or whatever else), “Mysticism” and “Yoga” are essentially the same and the terms are interchangeable in virtually all cases of Crowley mentioning them.
As a Path: Mysticism is the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal.
There are many metaphors for the Path, “the Path” being one of them. The metaphors can only be maps, and they plot and guide the progress of the individual on her way to Goal.
The Path itself is the various means of discipline and training for attaining the Mystic Goal, and the methods are often of the character of meditation and/or devotion.
All cultures have some kind of system of spiritual training – often called “initiation” in Thelema – yet different systems have different methods and different languages for talking about the Path and the Goal. Nevertheless, the Mystic Goal itself is always essentially the same.
A “Mystic” is any individual who has achieved this Goal or is on the Path to the Goal. Mystics are not content with merely having intellectual knowledge or emotional feelings about Truth, Reality, God, the One, or the Absolute (or whatever name suits you best).
Whether by choice or being called in some way, Mystics are those who strive toward the direct experience of Truth itself and, with the right attitude and effort, attain this experience. If we make the analogy that the Mystic Goal or Truth is like fire, the philosopher is content thinking about and conceptualizing fire, the scientist is content observing and manipulating fire, the romantic is content feeling love toward and writing poetry about fire, but the Mystic is only content in knowing the fire by being directly burnt and consumed by it.
This Mystic Experience or Mystic Goal is not some transcendent world, object, or state that is somehow removed or distinct from everything else. It is only “beyond this world” by metaphor, not in reality. It is an experience that can (and has) been attained consciously while individuals are still alive and awake. Mystics who attain the Mystic Goal are not physically annihilated and most can and do still function within the world. The Mystic Experience is potentially available to everyone if they apply the right methods, just like cells are invisible but available to be perceived if one properly uses a microscope.
Direct experience means not hearing about the Mystic Goal from other people, thinking about it intellectually, or feeling good (or bad) feelings about the idea; it means actually bringing this Goal into our conscious awareness. Direct experience means that we experience the Mystic Goal through a shift in our way of perceiving, a change in our perception itself. We directly experience what the Mystic “Unity” is like in the Mystic Goal in the same way we directly experience what sleep is like in sleeping. It is intimate, immediate, and unmistakable in the same way a headache or intoxication are directly perceived in an intimate, immediate, and unmistakable way. The Mystic Goal is sometimes called “Samadhi” and used in an analogy such Dreaming:Waking::Waking:Samadhi; because it refers to a “state” of consciousness in this way, this is why the Mystic Goal is sometimes called the “Mystic Consciousness” or Unified/Un-differentiated/Cosmic Consciousness.
What Mysticism isn’t
Mysticism is only the pursuit of the Mystic Goal, the direct experience of union with God (as it is most commonly called in our Judeo-Christian, Western world). It is nothing else.
Therefore, Mysticism is NOT these things:
- Senses: Mysticism is not the sensory experience of anything, including any tactile feeling, any taste, any smell, any sight, or any sound.
- This is why virtually every single Mystic mentions the necessity of restraining and/or transcending the senses in some way.
- Sensory phenomena may accompany the Path and Goal of Mysticism, and they may even prove useful in various ways, but they are not the Goal itself.
- Sensory phenomena are incredibly “intimate” in that they are felt directly, so there are many sensory metaphors and symbols used in Mysticism (e.g. “seeing God,” “tasting the Divine kisses,” “hearing the voice of God,” “smelling the perfume of God,” “touching” or even sexually uniting with God, et cetera)
- Intellect: Mysticism is not the intellectual knowledge of anything, including math, science, logic, pop culture, and Mysticism itself (knowing about the Goal is not the same as achieving the Goal; the map is not the territory).
- Mysticism is neither Reason nor Faith. The Mystic Goal is often explained to be “beyond” Reason in this way, i.e. intellect, knowledge, logic, or “ratiocination,” and Mysticism has nothing to do with “faith” in the ordinary sense of accepting propositions without evidence. The Mystic demands the supreme evidence of direct experience; they demand certainty, not faith.
- Mysticism has nothing to do with knowledge derived through science (empiricism) or through logic (rationalism); Mysticism is concerned with one special class of knowledge, the direct experience of Truth. To distinguish this from normal knowledge, it is often called Wisdom or Understanding or Knowledge with a capital ‘K’ (or “true” or “perfect” is prefixed to the term to make it, for example, “True Wisdom” or “Perfection of Wisdom”).
- Knowledge may accompany the Path and Goal of Mysticism, and it may even prove useful in various ways, but it is not the Goal itself.
- Emotion: Mysticism is not heightened emotions or any other form of emotional experience (heightened, dulled, strange, unique, potent, expansive, contractive, et cetera).
- This is why virtually every Mystic mentions the necessity of “taming the lower nature” in order to see the Truth; otherwise one’s vision is clouded.
- Emotion may accompany the Path and Goal of Mysticism, and it may even prove useful in various ways, but it is not the Goal itself.
- Visions: Mysticism is not visions of any kind, including the most spectacular spiritual visions of 1,000-armed bodhisattvas, the most dazzling display of 1,000-eyed winged beasts, or even the most lofty visions seen in Crowley’s The Vision and the Voice.
- Visions necessarily deal with combinations of the above – sense, intellect, and emotion – although they are in the “interior world”; visions are the “inner” parallel of our various sensory experiences, and – to the Mystic – they are equally blinds to the Light of Truth.
- Virtually all Mystics of every culture affirm that the ultimate Mystic Goal is beyond names, beyond forms, and beyond all images. In short, a vision of a bodhisattva does not make you a bodhisattva; a vision of Krishna does not make you united with Him; a vision of Horus does not make you the Crowned and Conquering Child. Only through the Mystic’s direct experience of the Mystic Truth does one become a bodhisattva, become united with Krishna, become the Crowned and Conquering Child, or whatever metaphor resonates with you.
- Being a Moral Paragon: Mysticism is not about being a moral paragon, a shining example of virtuousness that is associated with being a “saint”; it is not about “being a good person” or even “being a spiritual person.” The various virtues and vices of common religion have nothing inherently to do with Mysticism. Those vices that prevent the full attainment of the Mystic Goal are vices, and those virtues that aid the full attainment of the Mystic Goal are virtues, but these are seen as means toward the end of the Mystic Goal. The Mystic does not embark and travel on the Mystic Path in order to be praised by his colleagues or to be seen as a shining example of morality. Especially within Thelemic Mysticism, morality is simply the means toward the end of attaining the Mystic Goal, and since everyone is unique, the morality may be unique for each individual. This does not mean that Mystics do not care about vice and virtue, but they see them specifically in the context of hindering or helping their attainment of the direct experience of God/Truth/the Absolute. Contrary to being moral paragons, many mystics are actually criticized, persecuted, and reviled by the masses for their “unnatural,” “uncivilized,” or “blasphemous” behavior. Famous mystics like Meister Eckhart, Mansur Al-Hallaj, and even Christ himself were persecuted for their blasphemy, and the “outrageous” behavior of mystics is so pervasive there is even a term for it: “crazy wisdom.”
- Causing Change in the World: Mysticism is NOT the change of anything within the world. The bestowal of gifts or alms, the incitement of political change, acts of kindness and malice, the use of divination to ascertain and affect the future, and it is even the progress through any kind of organization (whether “mundane” like a corporation or “sacred” such as an esoteric organization) have nothing to do with the Mystic Path or the Mystic Goal. It is for this reason that Mysticism is often distinguished from Magick, although they inevitably intertwine, interconnect, and – in certain ways of thinking about and enacting Magick – have the same Goal.
Mysticism is ONLY the Goal or the Path toward the Goal of direct experience of the Absolute, the ultimate spiritual Truth, the quintessential Mystic Goal.
Magick vs. Mysticism
Magick is often defined in a way that complements or contrasts Mysticism. Liber ABA: Book Four, the Magnum Opus of Aleister Crowley, has four parts: the first part is titled “Mysticism” and the second part is titled “Magick.”
Magick is famously defined by Crowley as “the Science and Art of causing Change in conformity with Will.” Magick therefore involves many methods whereby the Magician may progressively expand, conquer, and enrich her Will. The Magician is concerned with more Power to execute her Will through, essentially, more control (of body and mind), more knowledge (of both self and the world), and more skill.
Mysticism is defined above as “the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal.” Therefore, there is no Goal other than attaining this direct experience. Anything that hinders the attainment of this Goal through distraction from the Goal is not part the Path. Anything that helps attain the Goal by focusing further upon the Goal is part of the Path. It is for this reason that most Mystical systems of training involve the divestment of most things that will distract the aspirant through their senses (food, luxury), emotions (sex, intoxication), and minds (mundane knowledge, concern about worldly affairs); it is also for this reason that most Mystical systems do not even bother with “magical powers” (known as siddhis in India) even though they are naturally acquired by many along the Path.
Some may (rightfully) argue that Magick and Mysticism are not as opposed as stated here. It is true that Magick and Mysticism both terminate at the same Truth. It is a certain perspective of Magick that is opposed to Mysticism. Magick is sometimes divided into “thaumaturgy” and “theurgy.”
- Thaumaturgy – literally “miracle work” – involves causing changes in the world based on magical knowledge and skill including but not limited to divining the future, obtaining money, obtaining love, seeing remote places, virtually any psychic phenomena, or even various ways of improving or perfecting the body, mind, emotions, and will of the individual. This is the type of Magick that is distinguished from and opposed to Mysticism.
- Theurgy is the magical practice of achieving union with the Source, the Divine, the Godhead, the One (et cetera). Insofar as Magick is “theurgic,” its aims are identical with those of Mysticism. This is the Magick that is only different in Path but not Goal from Mysticism. The “theurgic” perspective on Magick is the one Crowley takes when he writes at the beginning of Magick in Theory & Practice, “There is a single main definition of the object of all magical Ritual. It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or, in the language of Mysticism, Union with God.”
To the Magician, works of thaumaturgy are useful to help expand the power and dominion of the individual’s sphere of influence. To the Mystic, works of thaumaturgy are distractions at best and delusions that perpetuate falsehood at worst. Thaumaturgy involves most or all of those things that Mysticism is NOT as explained previously. Mystics are concerned with the Mystic Goal and nothing else, and all other things – magical or otherwise – are distractions from that Goal.
- As a Goal, Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth.
- The Mystic Goal is ultimately ineffable or unnameable. All cultures have various languages of describing this Mystic Goal, but all Mystics of all times and places attain to the same Truth despite the variety of ways of speaking about it.
- As a Path, Mysticism is the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal.
- Anyone who walks this Mystic Path and/or achieves this Mystic Goal is a “Mystic.”
- Mysticism is a direct experience, or a state of being, that is available to anyone through the right attitude and efforts. This direct experience is not something outside of the world in another realm or beyond death: it is an experience available to each individual while they are consciously aware and alive.
- Direct experience means that we experience the Mystic Goal in our own awareness, through an intimiate and unmistakable change/shift in our perception itself, rather than merely hearing about the Mystic Goal, thinking about it, or conceptualizing it.
- Mysticism is only the attainment of the Mystic Goal. It is NOT the senses, the intellect, the emotions, having visions, being a moral paragon, or even causing change in the world in any way.
- Insofar as Magick is “thaumaturgic,” dealing with changes and powers within the world, it is distinct from Mysticism. Insofar as Magick is “theurgic,” seeking union with the Divine, it is identical with Mysticism.
Despite these definitions and clarifications, it is still yet to be seen exactly what the Mystic Goal really is and what the Mystic Path really involves. The next two parts of this essay will delve further into (a) the Mystic Goal and (b) the Mystic Path – that is, they will deal with (a) Mysticism in Theory and (b) Mysticism in Practice.