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19th July 2009, 23:14
The Mystics

Why did mysticism flower in the medieval world—and why did women often lead in it?
Dr. Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Medieval Women's Visionary Literature (Oxford, 1986).

All this blessed teaching of our Lord was shown to me in three parts, that is, by bodily vision and by words formed in my understanding and by spiritual vision. But 1 may not and cannot show the spiritual visions to you as plainly and fully as I should wish; but I trust in our Lord God Almighty that he will, out of his goodness and for love of you, make you accept it more spiritually and more sweetly than I can or may tell it to you. Julian of Norwich

Mysticism has been called “the science of the love of God,” and “the life which aims at union with God.” Mystics may be found in every religious tradition, sometimes as central participants but often on the periphery of accepted practice, for they map out new experiences of the divine.

There is no identifiable mystical type (although scholars at times have tried to identify one). Mystics may be women or men, educated or uneducated, from wealthy or deprived backgrounds. Mystical experiences may be primarily visual or auditory, or so abstract as to elude any verbal formulation. The mystical path may be based either upon developing love or on the growth of the intellect. Mystical experiences can occur spontaneously, unexpectedly, at any time and place; yet many religions endorse ascetic practices and modes of prayer that encourage the development of mystical experience in some people. All traditions seem to agree that mysticism is a speciai gift, not fully under the control of the recipient.

Why Mysticism Flourished

Julian of Norwich Showing of LoveDuring some historical periods, mysticism seems more prevalent and more authoritative, and mystics are more needed by their communities. Valerie Marie Lagorio, in her essay, “The Medieval Continental Women Mystics,” quotes Evelyn Underhill in support of the idea that mysticism not only seems to intensify in certain periods, but is itself richly creative: “The great periods of mystical activity tend to correspond with the great periods of artistic, material, and intellectual civilization.… It is always as if [the mystics] were humanity’s finest flower; the product at which each great creative period of the race had aimed.”

One such period was the High Middle Ages in Europe (1100–1450), a time of great social change as the feudal system gave way to capitalism, cities, and a new middle class. We think of the Middle Ages as the age of faith, and so it was, but it was also an age of crisis. In such a context, mysticism was not a retreat from the negative aspects of reality, but a creative marshaling of energy in order to transform reality and one’s perception of it.

Mystics were the teachers of the age, inspired leaders who synthesized Christian tradition and proposed new models for the Christian community. We know some of the men—Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas—but we are not as familiar with the women, although they were actually more numerous. Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Beatrijs of Nazareth, Angela of Foligno, Julian of Norwich, and other women mystics drew on their experience of the divine to provide spiritual guidance for others. Such women became highly respected leaders of the faithful. Their role as prophets and healers was the one exception to women’s presumed inferiority in medieval society.

What Female Mystics Experienced

Medieval mysticism was primarily visual and affective; the mystic saw and felt truth, saw God or Christ or the saints, and was flooded with love for what she saw. So powerful was this love that she felt compelled to share it with others.

Indeed, perhaps the only voice women heard that told them to do something was God’s voice in visions. But God’s voice was the only one that was really necessary, for with divine permission and guidance, anything was possible. As Dame Julian of Norwich said in her Showings: “ … God forbid that you should say or assume that I am a teacher … for I am a woman, ignorant, weak and frail. But I know very well that what I am saying I have received by the revelation of him who is the sovereign teacher … because I am a woman, ought I therefore to believe that I should not tell you of the goodness of God, when I saw at that same time that it is his will that it be known?”

We should not think of medieval women mystics primarily as hermits withdrawn into a private world of prayer and meditation. These active women had completed a lengthy apprenticeship in the religious life, and they were capable of being spiritually responsible for large numbers of people.

Although medieval women mystics came from different classes, in different parts of Europe, and experienced spiritual awakenings at different ages, many of them did not become great teachers until they reached middle age. As children they were marked by precocious piety, and their rebellion often took the form of asceticism. From adolescence through their thirties they often lived withdrawn or secluded lives; if they were married, they were absorbed in family responsibilities and childbearing. All this changed, however, around their fortieth year, when they had the freedom to be visible as active leaders and effectively offer spiritual advice to others.

19th July 2009, 23:18
The Mystics

Why did mysticism flower in the medieval world—and why did women often lead in it?

Why Women Were Leaders

Unlike other periods of mystical revival, medieval mysticism was largely female. No one knows exactly why, but we can speculate on some of the factors involved.

Medieval men with religious vocations and leadership ability had a number of choices—they could be active or contemplative, priests, friars, monks, or hermits. Women who felt called to a religious life had one main option—to join a convent or a community of pious lay women. Thus, the primary approved form of religious life available to women was contemplative and enclosed. Medieval society believed women must be protected from violence and from their own sexuality, and women were thought to be “naturally” passive, meditative, and receptive.

Some aspects of convent life probably encouraged the development of mystical and leadership abilities. Until the fourteenth century, a religious community was the only place in which a woman would find a library, other scholars, and the opportunity to read and write. It was also the only place a woman had any privacy. The vow of celibacy exempted women from pregnancy and childbirth, and thus granted them much longer lives than those of married women. Convents also provided opportunities for leadership and teaching, whether in keeping accounts, tending the sick, or instructing children.

In late medieval Europe, women outnumbered men for the first time. Women found creative responses to this situation, and new religious movements of women began. The beguines in northern Europe, and Franciscan or Dominican tertiaries in southern Europe, lived in groups, supported themselves by manual labor, and devoted their lives to serving others and growing spiritually. Many famous medieval mystical writers belonged to these informal communities—Hadewijch of Antwerp, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Siena.

Finally, the spiritual practices recommended to medieval women (and possibly invented by them) encouraged the kind of growth and mental concentration that often led to visions and mystical experiences. We know that women’s practice of asceticism was more austere than men’s. Further, men in religious communities had a more intellectual education; the kind of meditation taught to women was visual and creative, not intellectual or abstract.

20th July 2009, 00:00
The Mystics

Why did mysticism flower in the medieval world—and why did women often lead in it?

Four Great Mystics

The lives of the great women mystics are highly individualized, although there are some common themes in their writings.

Hildegard of BingenThe Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) began her religious life at age 7 or 8, when she joined her aunt Jutta, who was a recluse. Later their retreat was opened and turned into a convent, where Hildegard made her profession as a nun at age 14. Although she was unable to write German, and diffident about the correctness of her Latin, her dictated writings exhibit wide learning. While she claimed that all her knowledge came from a mystical source, she was familiar with the Scriptures, natural science, classical Latin literature, and neo-Platonic philosophy. She was taken seriously as a prophet by everyone, from Bernard of Clairvaux and the pope down to the humblest laborers. She began the Scivias, her major visionary and autobiographical work, when she was 42, but she had been having visions since she was 5. She insisted she saw her vision in spiritual and psychological wholeness, when she was fully conscious and aware of her surroundings. She distinguished between two grades of spiritual vision, her ecstatic awareness of “the Living Light” in which she could see nothing and, as Underhill writes, a “more diffused radiance which she calls the Shade of the Living Light, and within which her great allegorical visions were seen.”

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a Flemish beguine of the first part of the thirteenth century. We know almost nothing of her external life, but we have three books by her: Poems in Stanzas and Poems in Couplets; letters on the spiritual life known as Letters to a Young Beguine; and a book of visions. A brilliant poet who wrote in Dutch, she knew the latest poetry in Latin, Old French, and Provençal as well. As a mystic she believed that the soul, created by God in his own image, longs to be one with divine love again, “to become God with God,” as she put it.

Mechthild of MagdeburgMechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–1282), the most famous of the German beguines and author of The Flowing Light of the Godhead, decided at 22 to devote her life to God. She went to Magdeburg, where she knew no one, to become a beguine. In 1270 she came to the convent of Helfta, perhaps advised to make such a retreat because of her outspoken criticism of corruption in the church. There are seven books of her autobiographical Flowing Light, written at different stages of her life, and utilizing all the poetic and narrative resources of her time—lyric poetry, dialogue, courtly allegory, even homely folk wisdom. The first page of The Flowing Light announces the danger to which Mechthild is exposed because she is a mystic: “I have been put on my guard about this book, and certain people have warned me that, unless I have it buried, it will be burnt. Yet,” she continues, “I in my weakness have written it, because I dared not hide the gift that is in it.”

Angela of FolignoThe Franciscan mystic Angela of Foligno (1248–1309) joined the Third Order for worldly prestige, but when her mother, her husband, and her children died suddenly, her attachment to St. Francis and his order became more profound. She underwent a powerful conversion experience in 1285, and in 1291, when she was 43, she had a vision of God’s love for her as she was walking on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. Since she was illiterate, she dictated her experiences. The Book of the Experience of the Truly Faithful was read immediately and widely copied and circulated.

Message from the Mystics

We too are living in a time of rapid and unpredictable social and economic change. We can certainly take as a model the balance of isolation and community, of reflection and action, that we find in these medieval women. We can use their emphasis on the spiritual life as a progressive climb—sometimes a steep and arduous one. In the writings of these women, God always teaches through love and always stresses the self-worth of the human. We need that love badly, and we need to extend it to others.

"Reprinted from www.christianhistory.net."

12th September 2009, 01:03
Christian Mysticism Religions and Scholars

The Christianity within Christian Mysticism is a very misunderstood subject that relatively few people ever endeavor to explore deeply. One possible reason is that Christian Mysticism is made into an elite philosophy at the hands of religion, religious sects, theologians and scholars. For all their attempts at trying to explain what they essentially do not possess nor understand, they study Christian Mysticism as a history not as a subject in itself, confusing the history with the subject. They see the fruit, are fascinated by its skin, and write volumes about it because it is all they can perceive and quantify, while ignoring the seed, which is the subject, because they can neither see it nor conceive of it. They ignore it and ultimately throw it away never realizing that they have never touched the heart of the matter. It can also be compared to someone writing a book on carpentry without ever having seen wood.

Very few of the historical mystics were in fact Mystics. Most were church saints canonized for propaganda reasons by their church or they very likely may have paid for their title of sainthood. Some were philosophers which means very little as far as mysticism is concerned.

Christ Himself did teach the mysteries to the Disciples to better show them His kingdom. (In the New Revelation in the Great Gospel of John these are clearly described.) What was left of those teachings lived on in some of the Gnostic sects until they too were persecuted by the church. This subject matter which was part of the original Christian mysticism became disassociated with Christianity altogether because of the persecutions of the church. This was not all bad since this type of knowledge in the hands of the immature can cause unwanted mischief. All references to do with Hermetics or hermetic knowledge, have been systematically marginalized, given heretic status, blotted out and presently labeled occult knowledge to be shunned by "good" Christians altogether.

Mysticism is the knowledge implemented towards the conscious awakening of an inner life. It cannot be taught like mathematics or carpentry because it occurs entirely from within - invisible to the outer physical world. There is an incredible amount of scholarly jargon borrowed from an endless line of writers used to describe this process - some scholarly, some genuine

The scholarly work is not entirely without merit. It primarily gives a historical perspective and is generally very speculative and detached from the subject matter itself. To know the scholastic jargon does not bring one any closer to the actual experience and few of the writings and authors depicted were themselves "mystic." Therefore the scholars write about something they themselves have not experienced.

Biblical apologetics also fall into this category. The many works and authors of biblical or Christian apologetics written mainly by scholars remain largely unknown for good reason - they contain very little substance and often miss the intended meaning of the scriptures. Proof of this is that there is little that can be applied from these works towards a spiritual rebirth. They talk about it but do not tell you how it is done, or what it means to be reborn.

The genuine authors who are being written about are also in some cases actual prophets. Who is and isn't a prophet is not for churches to decide because they look after their own interests. The prophets and the works of prophets usually reveal the misguided deeds of people in general and churches and are always persecuted for revealing this. Paracelsus, Jakob Lorber, Franz Bardon, are prime examples in more recent times but in the old testament there were several Daniel being very note worthy. The works of Franz Bardon and Jakob Lorber are modern books that offer an actual instruction into the Christian mysteries with a logical and sequential clarity. They are good for bible study and are at least worth a fair investigation. Even these superlative works for the modern day seeker, like those that preceded them are useless unless they are embodied from within.

The Benefit of Church Teachings

Christian Mysticism is not to be confused with present or past Christian Church Teachings. Church teachings are not necessarily bad in themselves but they offer only a very rudimentary guidance. Offering only very basic information that can serve as a foundation to plant a small but important kernel of belief. This belief remains in its infancy with church teachings alone.

Acting on our belief guides us to knowledge. this is true in any endeavor. If you believe that something reasonable is possible it will in time manifest. In biblical teachings it states that "the kingdom of God needs to be taken by force." This force is created by a disciplined belief that compels us to search for this Kingdom. Christ also stated that the "Kingdom of God is at hand." If this kingdom is within as Christian Mysticism teaches, then the kingdom is already within us waiting to be awakened through spiritual rebirth. Once awakened there is no more "death." because the Spirit within us does not die and therefore lives in eternity. Eternity is not a physical concept. To live in eternity is not based on or measured in time. Eternity is a conscious life in the Spiritual world only possible with an awakened spirit, a reborn spirit, and enlightened spirit, all of which are the same - where there is activity but by definition no death. Unknown to most Christians, this is the goal of Christian belief - to achieve this state.

From this very good inception we start to teach ourselves by seeking out for ourselves within this fundamental framework. To discover Christian Mysticism, a mature person will not be satisfied with church teachings alone. Church teachings serve to establish and nurture belief which is invaluable. As children our parents raise us to be honest, good, trustworthy, not to lie and to have many other positive traits - if you have good parents. But when we leave home we should build on this base. We soon realize that although what they taught was good - the world proves not to be as pure as we may have been taught. We must then make use of the solid foundation they provided to affront the less than straight forward business of life.

Church teachings are similar to this. But if we do nothing but attend church without searching for a spiritual purpose it would be like being well taught by our parents and never leaving home. At home there can only be a limited, or at best a stifled growth because we cannot discover who we are as people as long as we are told what to do by our parents.

Spiritual growth requires some basic searching.

Do not be afraid of the effort involved in seeking for yourself. A detached "cold blooded" questioning of teachings requires that one look deeper, past the teaching. The Biblical words contain enough truth in them to lead towards a very complete Mysticism but they need to germinate from within.

If you are already Christian this process should strengthen your belief in the Divinity of God as you will create within yourself a clearer understanding of why you believe what you believe. Mysticism takes you to a closer participation with God and the mechanism of creation by laying out the Laws of existence and rendering them tangible, understandable and useable. Through diligence this leads to Eternal Life, which is nothing more than the ability to knowingly differentiate while working simultaneously in the Physical, Astral, and Spiritual levels of existence for the Glory of God and the benefit of your fellow human beings. As was promised by the Lord Jesus Christ at this level of maturity and having acquired these abilities one has acquired Christian Mysticism - death will no longer exists. This exalted journey begins with a disciplined, informed and humble belief. All church dogmas have always been a dead end road.

Hermetics as part of Christian Mysticism

Event though Hermetics is part of Christian Mysticism and the Christian Mysteries it is understandable that because of the distortions made to modern day Christianity through time one might not recognize this as such. It should be remembered that there is only One leader of Christianity and that is Christ. All others are imposters and do everything in their power to keep Christianity from the world. This statement need not be believed. One simply needs to look at history and observe the behavior of those who have called themselves or made themselves the leaders of Christianity. Paracelsus says it best!
- "do not be surprised, that those who proclaim that they are Christian, are against Christianity."

Belief in Christ, to live by the Commandments, to sincerely love God and ones fellow man are the only prerequisite to being Christian. This is not and was never expected to be a blind belief. Only the institutions of Christianity expect and have enforced a blind belief. Having been endowed with Free Will we are allowed and are compelled by an inner need to search deeper for the Truth ourselves.