Many atheists, believers (especially fundamentalist Christians and Muslims) and supposed “mystics” (i.e. New Agers) equate all mysticism with ‘occultism’ and ‘esotericism’, i.e. the discovery of hidden knowledge through altered states of consciousness. Such a misunderstanding is unfortunate, since true mysticism denies that ‘anything’ can be comprehended from the experiences.
So what do we mean by mysticism? We do not mean occultism, esotericism, theosophy, magic, hermeticism, the New Age, or anything promoted by Aleister Crowley, Helena Blavatsky or Deepak Chopra, rather we mean the experience of the divine, typically through contemplation and self-surrender
That’s all it is, experience of the divine, it needn’t have anything to do with magic, reincarnation, “chakras”, Astral Projection, Divination, or the like. It is not about gaining occult knowledge, but rather mystic experiences tend to be apophatic, they cannot be described, except through what they are not.
Why Mysticism is Relevant Today:
In his book ‘The Trace of God’, Joseph Hinman argues that mystical experiences are real, and demonstrable via science. I don’t wish to comment further on Hinman’s book, since I haven’t read it, however, even if mystic experiences cannot be shown to be real experiences with the divine, there is much to be said for mysticism as a practical way of life. In our modern day materialistic world, people live for nothing more than finite goods; money, sex, food, drugs, video games, all gives temporary satisfaction only, and no fulfilment, since the satisfaction is finite. Only pursuing the infinite can we achieve real satisfaction and fulfilment. You can eat a tasty burger and it won’t come back, but God will always be here. For this reason, we need to contemplate the divine.