I think many times our culture produces preconceptions or stereotypes about words, images, cultures, forms, meanings, etc., that may not actually be true. I have found this to be the case with the word mysticism. Oft times I think we associate this word with gypsies, palm readers, fortune tellers, monks, or other so-called strange or mysterious things. But is this a correct perception? Often we just don’t know the origin of a word, which might give us great insight.
Wikipedia defines this word as:
Mysticism (from the Greek μυστικός – mystikos– ‘seeing with the eyes closed, an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries; μυστήρια – mysteria meaning “initiation”) is the pursuit of achieving communion, identity with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the Other, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight.
Basically, mysticism means achieving atonement with God through actions or thought. Here is how others define the word through a simple Google search:
- The search through various prayers and practices to achieve unity with God in life (theosis) (see hesychasm).
- direct communion with the divine through behavioral practice
- The belief that one can achieve direct consciousness of God or truth through meditation and intuition. In mystic practices, one attempts to merge with God or the source of creation.
- Deals with Jewish mystical concepts related to Kabbalah.
- the belief in realities or truths beyond the present reach of reason.
- a conscious (and usually disciplined) quest for direct experience of union with the divine.
- The belief that knowledge of divine truth or the soul’s union with the divine is attainable by spiritual insight or ecstatic contemplation without the medium of the senses or reason
- The doctrine that the nature of reality can be known by direct apprehension, by faculties above the senses, by intuition. …
- Mysticism is the pursuit of achieving communion or identity with, or conscious awareness of, ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight; and the belief that such experience is one’s destiny, purpose, or an important source of knowledge …
- The process of seeking union with God. A mystic is one who seeks union with God through means of meditation, contemplation, and surrender. Mysticism is a devotional, respectful, profound practice; regretfully, its meaning has been diluted and taken too lightly over the years. …
- A belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience.
- Sometimes called the interior life, mysticism is a way that reaches for immediate (meaning no mediator or other mediating influence) awareness of God, and beyond that, for identity in God (in the words of Catherine of Siena, “My me is God”). …
- A belief that beyond the visible material world there is a spiritual reality which may be called God that people may experience through meditation, revelation, intuition, or other states that takes the individual beyond a normal consciousness.
- The term ‘mysticism,’ comes from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal.” In the Hellenistic world, ‘mystical’ referred to “secret”
- Literature that portrays understanding paradoxically, so that the more one understands, the less one knows, implying that an unseen force with a consistent but largely unknown rationale is at work.
- a religion based on mystical communion with an ultimate reality
- The beliefs, ideas, or thoughts of mystics; A doctrine of direct communication or spiritual intuition of divine truth; A transcendental union of soul or mind with the divine reality or divinity; Obscure thoughts and speculations
So is mysticism some deep, dark, mysterious thing? No, but that seems to be our perception of it. It is even listed in our own Topical Guide with the subtopics “False Doctrine; Sorcery; Superstitions; Traditions of Men.” But if these definitions above are any indication, in many ways our experience in the temple is precisely a mystical one. We are seeking direct communion and oneness with God through revelation and behavioral practice, just as the ancients did.
David Littlefield has an excellent blog dedicated to this subject over at Mormon Mysticism in which he quotes Hugh Nibley’s description of mysticism:
…[B]ut that is what Christ meant by the mysteries of the kingdom. He meant ordinances, which were necessary; and these he revealed to the apostles during his very confidential teachings of the forty days after the resurrection. The purpose of such ordinances is to bridge the space between the world in which we now live, the telestial world, and that to which we aspire, the celestial world. ((Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, Deseret Book, pg. 28.))
Mysticism is linked with the word mystery, both derived from the Greek mystes meaning “one who has been initiated.” Mystery or mysteries are words that figure predominantly in the holy scriptures, particularly the phrase “mysteries of God” (see here). Almost always this is referring to ordinances in which specially prepared initiates may gain a fuller knowledge and communion with deity.
As for the word orientation, I learned something new yesterday. It is pretty plain to see now that this word is derived from the word orient, meaning east. Originally orientation meant “to arrange facing east,” or “to face the east,” or “arrangement of a building, etc., to face east or any other specified direction” ((http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=orientation&searchmode=none)). William Hamblin and David Seely explain why in their excellent book Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History:
Temples were often carefully aligned with the sun, the moon, and the stars—demonstrating the centrality of a harmonious relationship with the cosmos. Often temples face east—toward the sun, as reflected by the English word “orientation,” meaning directed toward the east—and sometimes had their corners squared with the four cardinal directions. The gate of Solomon’s Temple was oriented toward the rising sun in the east, in which direction its priests sometimes prayed (Ezek. 8:16). ((Hamblin and Seely, Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History, 11.))
To “determine bearings,” or “the action of determining one’s bearings” are also meanings of this word ((http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=orientation&searchmode=none)). Of course, the temple is the ultimate place where “one gets one’s bearings on the universe” ((Hugh Nibley, “What is a Temple?”, Mormonism and Early Christianity, 357-58.)).