This article will introduce you to the complex world of modern European mysticism through studying its psychological thought. We shall see that modern European mysticism has its own unique psychology. We will meet contemporary scholars who are open to the possibility that mysticism can empower the mind and enable achievements that are not possible for everyday consciousness; yet we shall see that modern mystics have formulated insights also on the intimate levels of daily life: emotions, gender and sexuality, political critique, etc.
During this period course instructor was Jonathan Garb – a Gershom Scholem Professor of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is head of the Amirim Honors Program in the Humanities, and teaches in the Department of Jewish Thought and in the School of Philosophy and Religions. His main areas of teaching and research are the modern Jewish and European mystical worlds, with a focus on psychology, political thought, hermeneutics, and the interrelationship of mysticism, law and ritual. Talks and articles by Jonathan may be found at http://huji.academia.edu/JonathanGarb
And teaching assistant was Shlomo Danziger – an M.A. student in the Department of Cognitive Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My fields of interest are the philosophy and the history of the mind, and I’m writing my master’s thesis on the relationship between action and perception in psychology. I also devote attention to areas of Jewish Thought that involve reciprocal relations between mind and action, such as the philosophy of Halacha (Jewish law).
In the revival of mysticism today, mysticism has become more psychological while psychology is increasingly interested in mysticism. This course will provide an entry into the complex world of modern mysticism, through studying its psychological thought. We shall begin with exploring the interpretations of mystical experience offered by psychoanalysts in the twentieth century, starting with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and ending with contemporary thinkers such as James Hillman. However, we will see that the European mystical traditions, including Kabbalah in the Jewish world and those of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant worlds, developed their own elaborate systems of psychological thought. Thus, we will mostly examine mystical psychology on its own terms. We shall especially look at two terms that are very much in use also in general culture: the heart (as an emotional rather than a physical center!…) and the soul, looking at the unique mystical concepts of their nature and destiny and asking if there were influences and meetings between the different religions.
Q & A
According to J. B. Hollenback (Mysticism: Experience, Response and Empowerment), how does mystical practice grant one abilities that he or she didn’t previously have?
Although mystics and non mystics have the same starting point, their paths are later very different, depending on how they shape their shared reality. Mystic does not change the physical world, but change perception of it. When after some time mystic master his inner way of thinking, then changes effects the world around him. Changed perception. Like gaining extra slots of intelligence, mental power. More details can be seen, more insights.
Just like ordinary lamp light versus laser light. Light of the lamp gives ordinary light, which is not with special characteristics, while the laser light is a special condition of light, with application of certain principles that gets new features and thereby increasing the quality of the light. Mystic can focus his mind and achieve some upper states. Mastering dreams is one of skills for that, lucid dreams. Check this book.
By learning special set of skills to think by, how to read some texts and extracting some deeper levels of meaning from it, you can find hidden meanings. Hidden because the non skilled individual can’t read/see it clearly. Can’t focus on it properly. This transformation sets mind on higher thinking level, then it was before. It changes one.
Explain what main social developments occurred in the Safedian Kabbalah (2nd wave) and in the Hasidic movement (3rd wave).
Main thing about 2nd wave is that kabbalah was on the path of modernization after long period of time. With tendencies to work in larger groups of scholars, covering different topics on Jewish mysticism. Work of Rabbi Moshe Cordevero and Isaak Luria was crucial for that period. Cordavero systematized knowledge that was previously scattered and they, one after another, revolutionized kabbalistic systems. They placed, especially Ari, human soul at the center of the study and started using term tikkun in sense of fixing the human soul, trying to fix it’s broken form. Something like psychological movement within mysticism.
On the other hand, 3rd period and Hasidic movement meant another period of intensive development in the background of other major social changes in the world of that time. Among some great Hasidim scholars often occurs messianic tendencies, so they acts like Jewish shamans. Their groups become even larger than ones in second wave, all around charismatic leaders. Their goal was to create a mass movement and living Kabbalah system.
In one of the titles accompanying this week’s lecture we defined trance as one’s journey into the depths of his or her unconscious, using various techniques such as counting down ten imaginary steps. This definition describes how one can use trance to undergo a mystical transformation, by oneself. Explain how trance, as a method for mystical transformation, was used in the 3rd wave of Kabbalah in a social way: Who were the ones who used the trance method? How was this method applied in social interaction, and what was its purpose?
Trans goes much deeper than meditation, or hypnosis, to find lost fragments of soul and to make some sort of integration of the soul fragments that were disconnected, repairing. It goes directly to the to the soul’s center. Hasidic leaders were kind of shamans, inducting a trance and thereby helping people in their spiritual wanderings but also in everyday issues. From the standpoint of today’s psychology, especially Jung’s, can be said that trans opens collective (un)consciousness, so individual receives valuable soul’s insights. A combination of magic, mysticism and health treatment for individual. Complex systems working on a psychological level but in it’s core based on Kabbalah.
In recent period, role of A.Kaplan was also very important in the field of kabbalah. Here’s his book on this topic.
In the text of Rabbi Kook that was read in class he claims that our notion of free choice is nothing but asuperficial aspect. On the other hand, in the same text he DOES admit that as humans our very essence is free choice. Explain how these two statements can be non-contradictory. Base your explanation on the text by Rabbi Kook.
When Rabbi Kook speaks about idea of free choice we must be aware that he thinks of hidden internal levels behind our material perception of choices. The whole focus is on the inner world that is separated from our basic understanding of free will or good and evil. Also, behind our outer choices and deeds, there are subtle levels that are far more important than the surface we live on. The internal level is higher than morality. Inner forces are trans moral. Not to think in a way of ego, persona, because true freedom choice of soul. Human’s core. He is not negotiating with free choice, not at all, he is thing about our absolute essence, in a way like Freud and Jung were talking about crossing the abyss.
Our regular perception of free choice, or meanings of good and evil are just shadows of true nature of these terms. Pale reflections. Real free choice belongs to inner sections of our souls, separated from physical world we live in, on day to day basis. Time and space themselves are also limited shadow of higher reality.
Many of the rabbis (Jewish religious authorities) of Rabbi Kook’s time held a harsh attitude towards the secular sects of the Jewish world – those that turned their backs on the Jewish traditional law (the Halakha) and had ceased to obey its rules. Rabbi Kook, on the other hand, despite his being a religious observant rabbi obligated to the Jewish law, had great sympathy for those non-observant sects of Judaism, and saw these secular movements as positive ones. Why did Rabbi Kook hold this attitude?
For the Rabbi Kook’s harsh attitude towards the secular sects of the Jewish world we have to look at the time when this happened. Kook criticized Zionism and nationalism but, at the same time, saw the positive side of these two movements. Most of It happened between two great wars, when the mystical thought was at it’s low point due to hard times and social struggles after war. He brought revival of the Jewish psyche, focus on the national soul. In his thinking, we can now say, Kook was near positive psychology of William James, healthy-minded psychology. All of that in a time when Freud had much more pessimistic approach and view. Kook’s standpoint was positive, saying that everything is part of a great cosmic scheme. Various forces that we have to integrate within our mystical practice. Maybe like Jung’s integration of the self.
WWI ended with Balfour declaration on the Jewish national home and it was a way to the later establishment of State of Israel. In that period Kook saw a Messianic dimension of current situation after the war. He saw a Messianic awakening. The Jewish returning to the homeland, restoration of the Jewish people. In his vision it was a great event, a cosmic event. This was a positive view on secular world, Zionism, nationalism, socialism. In period of after war crisis.
In the same time of there was in India Sri Aurobindo, who had similar trajectory in his thinking. A cosmic evolution towards super-humanity. Entering new phase of hidden powers, collective psyche, historical soul.
Great documentary here.
Explain how the title of St. Theophan’s book Turning the Heart to God (19th century) reflects his notion ofsin. In other words: How does St. Theophan describe one’s sin, and what is the connection between this description and the title of his book?
The whole meaning behind naming the book Turning the Heart to God is the need of turning our prayers to be heart related. We’re not really looking into the heart. The center of sin is the self-preoccupation, especially nowadays in modern times defined by society in general. Whirl of distractions, extenal approval. And that is not individualism we are looking for, not a bit, it’s raw conformity. It is not about some set of rules that we do not follow that made us sinners. The reason is egotistical, self preoccupied. Idea of alienation, alienated for ourselves, following social consensus. While trying to reach our inner being we get into trap, by doing it consciously, rather than unconsciously, heart centered.
The very idea of self that we focus on is not the true self, true goal. And the next sinful step is that we just look forward, not looking inward. This is how society is built and that’s the exact mechanism the we have to change in the first place, within our selves, if we want to advance. To transform the sin, because these are, so called, demonic forces that lead us to sin, trapping us in a very total world. Which creates the habit of the mind and heart constantly moving after these things.
There is something called Daily Dine in Sufism – to see where were our mind and heart at the end of a day.
Mention two main differences between 19th century Hesychasm (St. Theophan the Recluse) and 20th Century Hesychasm (Archimandrite Zacharias).
One of the main differences between 19th century Hesychasm and 20th Century Hesychasm is there is much less talk about demonic forces. There still are demonic forces but there is much more positive approach, much more positive view on this topic. There’s far more positive emphasis and it represents one of the great shifts in 20th century. Now we have positive psychology approach. Big shift towards positivism.
Also another great difference is regarding much less need for mortification. Less need for this approach in the light of positivism. There is also much more transmuting thoughts, transforming and not rejecting them. Thoughts and ideas are not enemies so we don’t need to push them away, to demolish them, because we now can work on them, to do something positive and find their’s right place to fit in in greater picture. 20th century we can name – a human potential movement. Way of reframing thoughts and needs.
All about 19th century is seeing old self as enemy, one that have to die, disappear. No more only the grace of God. Human mind is now more psychological in a vision of a psychological culture.
No more reborn from ashes philosophy which was more shamanic idea, that includes painful proces of fire, reaching rebirth, elevation.
Explain the connection between passivity, trance, and antinomianism (going against the norms or the law), in context of the Catholic modern mystical movements from the 17th-18th century onwards. Back up your explanation with historical examples.
Catholic mystical movements from the 17th-18th century goes towards greater focus on individual, away from establishment. A catholic revival, with developing of spiritual tendencies within religion. There is great focus on imagination and about exercises in guided imagination. Practical instructions on how to use it in religious way. Organized training of imagination, teaching of welcoming emotions and active imagination. There is this great book of Ignatius Loyola (founder of Jesuit movement) called The Spiritual Exercises.
Passivity, trance, and antinomianism are related in a way to improve self awareness by finding God within our selves, in our inner church. Rebellion of authority was the part of modernization of that time. There are two general approaches in mysticism: active and passive:
- Active needs a lot of effort to break through the ordinary perception of reality and it requires concentration of the mind, to become more laser like. There is a lot of tthis standpoint in Safedian Kabbalah and Lurianic Kabbalah – effort of a will.
- On the other hand, passive approach need to empty oneself of one’s own will and let God do the work. Divine influx to come into the psyche and to transform the heart and soul. Less we do it is better because then we don’t get in the way of God and his intentions. There are many parallels in Hasidic context.
Movements from 17th and 18th century were based on this idea of passivity, like – Quietism, with idea of being quiet. Rivka Shatz developed this idea of the connections between Quitism and Hasidism.
When one gets to a certain level of illumination in one’s inner worlds, one can act in the external world with less normative regulation. Going into passive states lead to revelation and manifestation of God. San Juan de la Cruz in his book Dark Night of the Soul says that one must go though a period of spiritual dryness first. When the soul gets to a higher state it does not need outward observance or external rules. Books are not need for spiritual knowledge and if something doesn’t resonate with something inside is’s not meaningful. The core of the book is that the true church is within our self. These are core principles of antinomianism.
In the book of Miguel de Molinos The Spiritual Guide which Disentangles the Soul by bypassing the intellect God can work in the one’s soul. It’s conscious framework in the way of illumination. One must go through a period of darkness in order to find inner light. That stillness, sleep of the soul, we can call trance. ”Relax and know that I am God” (Psalms 46) In Hasidism there is internal soltitude – hitbodedut. One should embrace nothingness and lose oneself in God. Bitul – annihilation.
Passivity, trance, and antinomianism are here to improve our inner potentials, to reach into hidden worlds of our minds and find glimpse of divinity. Modernity, in these three aspects gives a new set of rules for our quest for God, by searching in our own hidden darkness of gold.
We discussed Miguel de Molinos’s Quietist psychology and in we discussed Jacob Böhme’s Pietistic psychology. Explain the difference between the place of one’s own will in de Molinos’s Quietist psychology and its place in Böhme’s Pietistic psychology.
German Pietism represents more intense spiritual and psychological Protestantism and it’s in the core of Jacob Bohme’s book Forty Questions of the Soul. Bohme speaks of inner psychology of God and God’s various psychic forces. That act of Creation is God’s own therapy. God’s creation is working through pressure and the attachment, He explores his own psyche, his own forces.
There is big Kabbalistic part of Bohme’s ideas – as Gershom Sholem said. Part of general Christianisation of Kabbalah. It was so strong that became a part of German intellectual culture. So, many translated Kabbalistic texts into European languages, or created their own, inspired by Kabbalah, like Liebniz or Hegel.
Will – For resolving issue of Will one must go beyond own hunger, self-will, to align oneself with divine will. In Protentstantism there is a sense that one shouldn’t rely so much on one’s will, but to put emphasis on faith, grace. Bohme departs from this tradition, he focuses on will, very kabbalisticly influenced. Parallel to Jewish Kabbalah is with Rabbi Kook, allignment one’s will to God’s. Way to self knowledge is to ask questions about the soul, using dialectical methods of getting to its depth.
Without desires you only have stillness, what would be way of Quitists. They think this is a good state – to have quiet sleep, stillness, but Bohme is someone who wants to be involved in creating process, in the world. To find out what God wants for you, to find divine creative desire, then God’s will will reveal itself in your will and give you power. This is very strong move towards modernity, from reason to will. To cast away outer daily reason.
Pietistic tradition is about finding mystical experiences in everyday experience, like in Hassidic movement. So Kabbalah is part of German intellectual history.
In class, Prof. Garb spoke about the transition from “mysticism” to “spirituality” in the 2nd half of the 20th century, and pointed out some of the drawbacks of this transition. Explain what the transition from “mysticism” to “spirituality” is, and express your opinion about it: Do you think this transition is a positive phenomenon? Or, do you think we should go back from “spirituality” to “mysticism” of some sort? (Your answer may be in accordance with Prof. Garb’s opinion, or against it, or somewhere in between.) Explain your opinion. Make sure your explanation or opinion includes reference to the difference between the “social sciences approach” and the “historical approach”.
Best way to describe modern transition of mystical experience is in terms of moving from the outward to the inward. To go inside oneself from everyday reality. Trying to unfold interior mystical geography, to get aware of it, and exploring unconscious topographical structure. As our inner world changes we become more powerful, waking up our hidden potentials. Achieving things not achievable un the ordinary external senses. Developing stronger experience of the reality of soul and heart, as they have many different zones and levels, as Kabbalists say. Populated by different personas and other various images and symbols. External world, from mystical point of view, is called one-dimensional man.
Now, as we face world wide globalization of mysticism one must adjust to new set of rules, as World Wide Web for example. Transition is inevitable as time passes. Like our consciousness is growing, and opening, so and our ideas within and we have to find another way to use these valuable information written down long time ago. Main thing about human thought is growing bigger, that includes changes in time, modifications and re-use in different grounds.
We can find some great examples of this changes, and growing, in the begining of the 20th century, which includes development of social sciences. There are also religious studies, psychoanalysis, paranormal and spiritualism and other forms of psychology (gestalt, brain science, etc). In the field of Kabbalah we have great Gershom Sholem who founded new grounds of modern kabbalistic understandings and his other researches. We even have golden age of European mysticism, development of Christian Kabbalah with presence of Aleister Crowley and his viewpoints. Tremendous intellectual firmament. Horizons are becoming much wider, global opening up and from mid 20th century it’s no longer possible to speak about mysticism in isolation. World has become global arena, now even connected all around. Now with internet we have period of later modernity.
In early 20th century there is strong presence in psychoanalysis (now all documented in Red Book, Jung’s mystical experiences book and it goes even deeper than just psychoanalysis). Psychologization goes along with globalization. It brings interaction between mystical traditions and psychology as well as science.
Globalization is less focused on specific traditions, they are all merged now. That means we have created some new terms to describe some of older concepts, in more up-to-date light. Spirituality instead of mysticism. There is a bad side to all of that – this could to Presentism and to forgetting the richness and complexity if mystical traditions, but we as intellectual beings can’t let such thing. We must prevent it, in order to be in touch with past.
Time passes, mind changes and this human characteristic is main engine that drives us to become smarter species. We can still remain in deep contact with tradition, in deep contact with texts, but in tune what is going up today in the world. Shifts are normal and one just have to be aware of it and use it in a best possible way.
For P.U.L.S.E World: Dražen Pekušić