The term "mysticism" is often used to refer to beliefs which go beyond the purely exoteric practices of mainstream religions, while still being related to or based in a mainstream religious doctrine. For example, Kabbalah is a significant mystical movement within Judaism, and Sufism is a significant mystical movement within Islam. . Some have argued that Christianity itself was a mystical sect that arose out of Judaism.


Plato, in his dialogue Alcibíades (circa 390 BC), uses the expression ta esô meaning "the inner things", and in his dialogue Theaetetus (circa 360 BC) he uses ta exô meaning "the outside things".The term esoteric first appeared in English in the 1701 History of Philosophy by Thomas Stanley, in his description of the mystery-school of Pythagoras; the Pythagoreans were divided into "exoteric" (under training), and "esoteric" (admitted into the "inner" circle).


Some saw Christianity, with its ritual of baptism, as a mystery religion. None of these are "esoteric" in the scholarly sense. The terms "Gnosticism" and "Gnosis" refer to a family of religious movements which claimed to possess secret knowledge (gnosis). Another important movement from the ancient world was Hermeticism or Hermetism. Both of these are often seen as precursors to esoteric movements in the scholarly sense of the word.

Understanding the Mystic

Mysticism is not an opinion; it is not a philosophy. It has nothing in common with the pursuit of occult knowledge .... It is the name of that organic process which involves the perfect consummation of the Love of God: the achievement here and now of the immortal heritage of man. Or, if you like it better -- for this means exactly the same thing -- it is the art of establishing...[a] conscious relation with the Absolute...It remains a paradox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to aim is really a state of the most intense activity: more, that where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take place. In it, the superficial self compels itself to be still, in order that it may liberate another more deep-seated power which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to the highest pitch of efficiency.

"Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness" by Evelyn Underhill (Public Domain)

Mystical Encounter with Death

Pahnke's mystical categories reflect the most important common denominators of transcendental states. The sense of oneness or unity with other people, nature, and the entire universe is a necessary condition of cosmic consciousness. Ineffability is another important characteristic; the ineffable quality of the experience can be due to its uniqueness, the intensity of the accompanying emotion, or the inadequacy of our language to describe it. The next typical aspect of mystical experiences is transcendence of time and space. This entails a feeling that the experience is outside of the usual space-time boundaries, beyond the past and future, in eternity and infinity, or in a completely different dimension. Noetic quality is another important feature; individuals are usually convinced that they are in touch with a deeper truth about reality and the nature of existence. Experiences of transcendence are always accompanied by a strong positive affect. This can range from peace, serenity, and tranquility to an ecstatic rapture not dissimilar to a sexual orgasm of cosmic proportions. Accounts of mystical experiences are also characterized by striking paradoxicality. Many of the statements about such states appear to contradict each other and violate the basic rules of Aristotelian logic. One more aspect of these experiences deserves special notice, namely the sense of objectivity and reality. An individual tuned into cosmic consciousness usually has no doubt that he or she is confronted with the ultimate reality, which is in a way more real than the phenomenal world as it is experienced in a more usual state of consciousness.
 --'The Human Encounter with Death' by Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax.

  •  "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day."  2 Corinthians 4:16,

Mysticism in Judaism

Mysticism and mystical experiences have been a part of Judaism since the earliest days. The Torah contains many stories of mystical experiences, from visitations by angels to prophetic dreams and visions. The Talmud considers the existence of the soul and when it becomes attached to the body. Jewish tradition tells that the souls of all Jews were in existence at the time of the Giving of the Torah and were present at the time and agreed to the Covenant. There are many stories of places similar to Christian heaven and purgatory, of wandering souls and reincarnation. The Talmud contains vague hints of a mystical school of thought that was taught only to the most advanced students and was not committed to writing. There are several references in ancient sources to ma'aseh bereishit (the work of creation) and ma'aseh merkavah (the work of the chariot [of Ezekiel's vision]), the two primary subjects of mystical thought at the time.

In the middle ages, many of these mystical teachings were committed to writing in books like the Zohar. Many of these writings were asserted to be secret ancient writings or compilations of secret ancient writings. Source: Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism