The term Mystic is derived from the Greek noun ‘mystes’, which originally meant a secret cult or mysterious religious beliefs.

With the fall of the Greek empire and the rise of the Roman Empire, uncertainty and a loss of power filled the daily lives of everyday Greek citizens. Previously, the Greek philosophers had turned away from the Gods as an explanation for the way the world worked. Now belief was growing that some higher power was involved.

A More Complex Character

Philosophy thus began to take on a more complex character. It could no longer be found just in simple dialogues between a teacher and a citizen/student as in Socrates‘ days. It now required profound devotion to study, a deep focusing of oneself on the task, meditation, prayer even – all to reach the goal of understanding.

Philosophy was now meshed into a mystical experience.

Today, the word Mysticism is often downgraded to mean superstition, priest-craft, occultism magic, or other things regarded as irrational. But the basic meaning of ‘mysticism’ is to do with the relationship of human beings to a divinity or deity, or, for non-theists, the ‘ultimate reality’.

Mystical trends are found in all the great world religions. And the descriptions of mystical experiences given by the mystics show a remarkable similarity across all cultural boundaries. It is in the mystic’s attempt to provide a religious or philosophic interpretation of the mystical experience that their cultural background reveals itself.

In Western mysticism – that is, within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – the mystic emphasizes that their meeting is with a personal God. Although God is present both in nature and in the human soul, mystics place themselves far above and beyond the world.

In Eastern mysticism – that is, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese religion – it is more usual to emphasize that the mystic experiences a total fusion with God or the ‘cosmic spirit.’ ‘I am the cosmic spirit,’ the mystic can exclaim, or ‘I am God.’ For God is not only present in the world; he has nowhere else to be.

Both kinds of mysticism occured in the ancient Greek world as citizen’s sought an inner experience with the divine. Practices varied on how to achieve mysticism, but generally you had to ‘lose’ yourself to the higher power you were seeking. Plotinus described this with his phrase, “The flight of the Alone to the Alone.”

Philosophy had shifted from reason, logic and science into inward thinking.

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