Mysticism is an area of pursuit ranging from the esoteric (mysterious, obscure, arcane) to the sublime (spiritual, exalted). From ancient rituals shrouded in secrecy to the Hallelujah chorus, it’s an acknowledgement that we seem to have a spiritual component in our make-ups which lies just beyond physical reach and that we’re more than flesh and bones.
We’re all made up of elements which came from star-dust, so it could be said that we’re all vessels of divine knowledge. Hesiod (early Greek poet thought to have been active between 750 and 650 BC) claimed that when he was pasturing sheep on the slopes of Mount Helicon in his youth he encountered the Muses (who inspired him, and he began to sing of the origins of the gods.
When Zeus has finished sixty wintry days after the solstice, then the star Arcturus  leaves the holy stream of Ocean and first rises brilliant at dusk. After him the shrilly wailing daughter of Pandion, the swallow, appears to men when spring is just beginning. Before she comes, prune the vines, for it is best so.
Since ancient times, openness to the idea of God acting as a benevolent force in the world has been subjected to the rise of rationalism. In the spirit of protecting religious freedom from governmental interference, secularism (separation of church and state first arose out of an attempt to offer a universal creed to quell (religious strife in Europe, viewing everyone as being duty-bound to strive to be virtuous (a common core belief among all religions). A higher standard of living for large numbers of people was made possible by industrialization (the impetus towards specialization which was already underway in the Industrial Age), giving rise to a middle class by the end of the Victorian era (1837 to 1901), and certainly by the end of the Edwardian era (1901 to about 1912). An upwardly mobile middle class placed ever greater demands on centralized governments.
Romanticism (a political, philosophical and cultural movement which championed individual freedom and validated imagination and feeling as a backlash against the cult of reason) was actually anti-Victorian in sentiment because it objected to some of the social values brought about by the trappings of success of the newly birthed bourgeoisie. The late romanticists shared a fascination with the mystical and spiritual. Musical Romanticism was predominantly a German phenomenon generally regarded as having only ceased as a major artistic force as late as 1910.
The impact of the emerging scientific worldview on civilization had already spawned new age movements theosophy (an esoteric view of the universe) and existentialism (a somewhat atheistic philosophy which emphasizes making the right choices) by the time the 1900s rolled around. They were composed of free thinkers who weren’t enthusiastically religious and who challenged the aristocracy. They acknowledged the order, precision and beauty of the natural world as evidence of the divine, but used advances in science and physics as a basis for subjugating religious truth to the authority of human reason.
…In the history of Christian mysticism the problem how to discriminate between such messages and experiences as were really divine miracles, and such others as the demon in his malice was able to counterfeit, thus making the religious person twofold more the child of hell he was before, has always been a difficult one to solve, needing all the sagacity and experience of the best directors of conscience. In the end it had to come to our empiricist criterion: By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.
Some authors whose heyday was in between the two World Wars felt a growing sense of alienation as romanticism gave way to mechanization. Musical neoclassicism (reminiscent of the music of the 1700s), a new style of music which particularly flourished at that time, represented a departure from idealism and intense emotion (characterized by late romanticism) as well as a call for return to virtue.
After WWII, La Vie en rose, a song in the traditional pop genre, was often played. Mysticism itself is less a paranormal phenomena than it is an attempt to recapture a sense of the divine in everyday life by allowing a deeper consciousness to emerge.
We have a sense of a higher self (soul, spirit guide, guardian angel), a transcendent, subliminal silent partner which is always in the background in all of our thinking, to which we have access. Be it astrology, contemplative prayer, meditation, or the tarot, it’s less about which discipline is practiced than it is about how it’s used, less about what is taught than how it’s taught. Whether it be genius in art, wisdom in writing, or eloquence in speaking, experience is the best teacher. A master is a servant whose chosen vehicle is his chariot. Who rides who? A Zen-like answer might be ‘the rider and the horse are as one.’ Mozart’s vessel was his musicianship. He (b. 1756 – d. 1791) was a classicist who preceded romanticism.
"Be a master of your craft, but know that you are not THE master."
The mid-1970s (the Malaise Era, commonly defined as the decade from 1973 to 1983) was the peak of the New Age movement (characterized by a preponderance of self-help literature and a hunger for a sense of meaning). Those who came of age here in the west at the time (the younger half of the baby boomers) were beginning to make their ways in the world as the dawn of a new age (the Information Age) had literally approached (as did, for example, Chinese-Australian ballet dancer Li Cunxin, b. 1961, in the east).
What a dynamic duo. This has to be the art of dancing at its best. I’ve read that ballet is the most complete workout because it uses every muscle in the body. They show it. Talk about some serious legs (and they know how to use them).
I’m surely not the only maestro on Earth. Please allow me to continue my discussion (and forgive me if it now pales in comparison to what you’ve just seen). Some may have felt a sense of no going back (a vague uncertainty in the ethers), or may have even secretly wished that their grandparents (who may have seemed perfect, like saints) were their parents (who were, on the average, teenagers during WWII, many of whom were left with what’s commonly referred to as a survivor’s mentality, the poor dear souls). Clichés (presumably tried and true) abounded, thanks to America’s shadow government for propagating them in popular culture.
How did I, for example, avoid becoming lost in the devil’s triangle and (according to urban legend) plastered on the side of a ship in the Philadelphia experiment? My answer is I paced myself by not getting caught in the new wave movement.
Pun intended. The new wave movement was a subgenre of music that became popular at the time.
What? Me, worry? I never pursued musician_ship. (Another bad pun).
Back to my discussion.
The premise of Modern Mysticism: Jung, Zen and the Still Good Hand of God is that religious experience, however discovered, is something which flows from within, a natural phenomenon of the mind as opposed to something foreign or supernatural. By drawing on a fair variety of sources and pertinent examples, Gellert attempts to address the fundamental schism rooted in Western civilization between man and God by showing that (what psychologists call) the unconscious is the way to a full realization of the divine.
While he acknowledges that mechanistic thinking still permeates psychology in America today, I wasn’t so sure he wasn’t the pot calling the kettle black. He states that Satori (Zen terminology for the experience of “at-one-ness”) is the quintessence of mysticism. (The Christian counterpart is a “state of grace.”) I’m not arguing with that, but he also recounts, for instance, the testimony of a close-encounter experiencer which is very peculiar, yet seems to be inclined to want to pass it off as a projection of the unconscious in the hopes of making his case.
I found him unconvincing. I’m not at war with Christianity just to hang out with fat cats. No wonder Ms. Wessel was quoted in Forbes. She bravely sat back in a den by a real tiger in India, when all she would’ve had to do was visit my blog, which spells it all out and then some. She’s young, but cocky. My generation was the last of the real ladies and gentlemen…here in the States. (You don’t see me being quoted in magazines like Forbes, do you?)
Page published February 5, 2014 (Page updated 25 Jun 2017)