As I mentioned in the “preface“ to these “essays ” I have had many religious and mystic experiences in my life. I have made a cursory study of some mystical paths though my main focus of study in this matter has been the psychology of religious and mystic experience. Understanding them has interested me more than learning how to induce them. However, my passion for religion in general and my thirst for knowledge had me naturally doing things which helped to bring on said experiences. We will look at these momentarily.
Some time ago I began wondering about a mystic path of Wiccan/Paganism. More recently I decided to actually study the subject. The first step I took was to Google “pagan mysticism”. This search revealed two sites dealing with the subject. The first, pagan-network, asks, “Why no modern Pagan mysticism ?“ and then proceeds to suggest the adapting of a Hindu path (Vigyan Bhairav Tantra ). The other ,paganmysticism.wordpress, suggests adapting the practices of a variety of mystic paths, but mainly of Catholic and Hindu.
As you can see, the two sites I found dealing with Pagan Mysticism assumed there is none and suggested adopting and adapting mystic paths of other religions. There is certainly nothing wrong with adopting and adapting the practices of other mystic paths; I, in fact, have made a daily ritual of yoga and meditation for a very long time. I find it to be an enhancement to my Pagan practices, not a replacement.
Instead of taking the mystic paths of other religions and adapting them to fit Wicca/Paganism we should find the Wicca/Pagan mystic path and then, where possible, enhance it with the knowledge and experience of other paths. If there is no Wiccan/Pagan mystic path then, in my opinion, it is not a religion, this following on Alan Watts’ assertion that the mystic experience is the seed of religion: preceding the root as it’s source and proceeding from the flower as it’s final product. I hope, to show in the following study that anyone practicing Wiccan/Paganism is already following a mystic path. Srds lists 21 "triggers" of mystical experience. Among these are: natural beauty, participation in religious worship, literature, music, sacred places, silence, solitude, psychedelic drugs and sex. This pretty much says it all but I will continue anyway.
If you believe in the gods and goddess you have an object of adoration, which is helpful in attaining mystic or, at least, religious experience. After all, if you hope to achieve mystic union with a god or goddess it certainly would help to believe in the actual existence of said god or goddess.
However it is not necessary. You may achieve union with the energy which is the source of everything. Or with an energy which has taken on the attributes of a god or goddess through centuries of manipulation by humans. Mystic experience, in fact, is obtainable without belief in anything other than what is in your own subconscious mind. Plato.stanford states "Nontheistic experiences can be allegedly of an ultimate reality other than god or of no reality at all…. Buddhist experiences are sub sense-perceptual, and mystical.…” Many do not believe in gods and goddesses or even in energies which have taken on the characteristics of a particular god/goddess from centuries of being believed in and worshipped. There are those who believe only in what is in our own subconscious, in the collective unconscious and in energy which can be manipulated by our conscious will. As one who believes the latter I must say that this belief has not hindered me from behaving as if gods/goddesses actually exist. Nor has it hindered my ability to attain religious and mystic experiences.
Let us consider why it seems that there is no modern Pagan Mystic path. I believe it is largely due to the persecution of pagans. We have not been able to form large organizations which are capable of supporting “monasteries”. This actually may be a good thing as the lack of organizations allows Wicca/Pagan to remain a living religion.
A recent post on Facebook by the "Witches and Pagans" page and written by Sara Amis discusses the American council of witches. In her article, Sara Amis quotes terry Pratchett from his book “Witches Abroad”: "Your average Witch is not, by nature, a social animal…. The natural size of a coven is one. Witches only get together when they have to.” Of course this isn’t completely true as there are an abundance of covens and organizations with more being added every day. Still almost every comment on this post was to the effect of, “I am solitary for a reason and no council will ever speak for me". William James wrote that “… when a religion becomes an orthodoxy, it's day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand and stone the prophets in their turn.”
A large number, perhaps a majority, of Wiccan/Pagan practitioners are solitaries. Being solitary allows us to be alone with our own thoughts and to cultivate our own relationship with the divine. Probably most spend some time in solitary communion with nature. "Naked comes it into the world and lonely; and it has always, for a time at least, driven him who had it into the wilderness, often into the literal wilderness out of doors, where the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, St. Francis, George Fox, and so many others had to go." ( W. James )
Alan Watts wrote "There is much evidence to show that for anyone who passes through the barrier of loneliness, the sense of individual isolation bursts, almost by dent of its own intensity, into the 'all-feeling' of identity with the universe." ( Nature, Man and Woman" pg 31-32)
It is not only an extended period of time communing with nature which brings on mystic experiences; the mere act of being in nature can facilitate experiences. A large portion of mine have occurred in connection with nature such as when viewing a sunset or sitting on a mountain top and looking across a wide valley while on a very short walk.
Tess Whitehurst wrote in her blog on witches and pagans.com "While taking a walk may not seem as glamorous as, say, dream interpretation or tarot, it can be just as effective, if not more so when it comes to aligning with the Universe and gleaning the divine wisdom at the heart of it all."
William James) wrote on this, "Certain aspects of nature seem to have a peculiar power of awakening such mystical moods. Most of the striking cases which I have collected have occurred out of doors." If I may be allowed one more quote, this from Alan Watts "But I'll tell you what hermits know. If you go into a far, far forest and get very quiet you'll come to understand that you're connected with everything." Paganmysticism.wordpress points to the catholic mystic practice of reading and meditating on Christian scripture. He pretty much dismisses the idea of reading myth in this manner though he suggests the reading of "The Charge of the Goddess" or any writing "purporting" to be “spoken by the god or goddess that you are devoted to.” I would basically agree with the last of this except for his use of the word “purporting “ which suggests the possibility of a false claim. And I would say there is no reason for not reading myth in this same manner.
Jung, Campbell and others give us the view that myths are inherent in the human psyche; that they spring from a place at the farthest reaches of the subconscious.
Carl Jung referred to this as the “collective unconscious", which is not to be
misunderstood as something stored apart from the human psyche, such as the Akashic records. Rather it is knowledge which is passed down from the most primitive pre-human to modern humans, possibly in the genetic code, "much as are instincts in animals".
The language of the collective unconscious is symbolic, the same language as dreams. Stenudd.com states "We react to those universal elements of myths and other stories, because we recognize them and can relate to them. Otherwise they would leave us indifferent.... They do ring a bell in our minds." I see it as the myths creating a “sympathetic vibration “ in the human psyche.
Jung and others have writtern a lot on the symbolism involved. According to them the myths of a dying and resurrected human, god/goddess or half-god/goddess are symbolic of mystic experience as are also myths of the hero’s quest. One website states, “The myth is kind of a self therapeutic manual and the final outcome for the successful user of it is an enlightened mind, someone who truly knows himself….It mainly consists of joining the unconscious with the conscious, by having the knowledge of the former rise to the latter.” Yet while the study of myth symbolism may be enlightening to those who are so inclined, it is not necessary.
I especially like Innana’s descent to the underworld. Halexandria offers an in depth look into the symbolism of this myth for those who are interested.
Another myth which I have long found especially enlightening is that of Psyche and Eros. For a complete study of this myth I would suggest that by Ironlithium . Note especially that in the end Psyche, the soul, is granted divinity.
There are many more myths which possibly relate to mystic experience; too many to go into here.
The reading of a lot of other things would do the same. Paganmysticism.wordpress states “As pagans, we don’t have religious texts …. We certainly don't view religious texts as 'scripture' in the same way that a Christian might view the Bible." It is true that, generally speaking, we don’t have a short list of texts which we believe are the only true writings. On the other hand, our list of acceptable texts is limited only by our own personal preferences; our canon of scripture is whatever has meaning to us individually.
I especially like 2nd timothy 3:16 (yes, the bible, if I may) in this matter. In the English interpretation this verse reads, “ all scripture is given by inspiration of God …. “ I won't go into my specific reasoning at this time but I translate this verse from the original Greek as, “All things written are given by inspiration of a divine being”(pasa graphe theopneustos). We, as Wiccan/Pagans, are free to learn from any writings which inspire us: the ancient texts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism as well as the books which were used by the early Christians though not included in the Christian bible. Or even the Bible. If you enjoy poetry you probably find that some speak especially to you, striking a chord in your soul. There are a lot of modern myths as well; "Star Wars" comes especially to mind. There is almost no end to the list of texts which can be read and contemplated by the open minded and earnest seeker of spiritual knowledge. Any text which speaks to our soul and our spirit is our scripture.
As we turn now to ritual you will notice frequent use of the term "altered states of consciousness", or actually the abbreviation, ASCs. Most Wiccan/Pagan practitioners are probably at least aware of, if not experienced with ASCs. "Entering an ASC is normally part of the process of stepping onto the astral plane, reaching the Otherworld, tapping racial memory or the collective unconscious, contacting inner guides or obtaining information from your own unconcious." ( sacred-texts.com ).
Stanley Krippner identified over twenty different ASCs. One of these he identified as "expanded consciousness". This one he divided into four more categories, the fourth of which he labels "integrative“. Adam Cash writing on psychology for dummies, explains integrative conciousness as, "A religious and/or mystical experience.... The person usually feels merged with or at one with the universe." V. George Matthew on psychology4all.com labels the mystic experience "...the most important of all the altered states of consciousness." And “…the basic altered state of consciousness with which all other states are compared." There is, however, no guarantee that achieving other ASCs will automatically lead to mystic experience but it certainly puts us in closer range.
Many Wiccan/Pagan practices seem specifically designed to bring about altered states of consciousness; drumming, dancing and chanting seem especially notable. When Butterfly dances around a fire at a drum circle it looks as if her feet have a life of their own. In fact, it looks to me as if her whole being has been absorbed into or by something “other”. From my perspective it appears that she has a mystic, or at the least, a strong religious experience. She doesn’t know what to say about it, how to describe what she feels, which is consistent with mystic experience.
The purpose of ritual is to alter our state of consciousness. Wikipedia (click the "Practices" tab) says, "Contemporary pagan ritual is typically geared towards 'facilitating altered states of awareness'...." Spiralnature writes, "To raise power many enter an ASC [altered state of consciousness] by dancing, chanting, or using breathing techniques. It's then much easier to focus your concentration, draw on energy and let it flow into the object of your spell." Wiki adds drumming, singing and meditation.
Any ritual can aid in facilitating ASCs. Pre ritual bathing, lighting candles and incense, casting the circle, calling the directions and casting spells all help to put us in the proper frame of mind.V. George Matthew writes on psychology4all.com. "It is not what you actually do, but the mental state which counts."
If you perform the drawing down of a god and/or goddess you are performing a mystically inclined ritual. If you perform this ritual and actually feel the presence of said god or goddess, this is a religious experience; if you lose all sense of being a separate entity so that you become that god or goddess, that is a mystic experience.
Although I have been speaking mainly of solitary ritual, group rituals also aid in bringing about experiences of altered consciousness. "Group rituals, especially rhythmic rituals...have the power to inhibit ordinary self-conscious...and provide pleasurable ego-loss as well as social connection and bonding." (Sarah Perry on ribbonfarm.com).
Mystic paths generally require long hours of study, contemplation, meditation and a daily practice of rituals. Concentrating, such as when crystal gazing, brings on an altered state of consciousness which quickly leads to a religious experience and eventually can lead to a mystic experience.
Many of my mystic experiences have resulted from long hours of concentrating on an astrology chart or a tarot layout. Others have noticed this also, as one site states that “…even astrology, in spite of it’s meditative capacity, is still an intellectual exercise.” Notice, of course, "meditative quality".
Astrology I find especially notable as I have spent a few days concentrating on a natal and progressed chart and then matching those against a transiting chart. Concentrating on a crystal ball or the bottom of a tea cup can, of course, also produce the same result though you are not likely to concentrate on any of these for a couple or a few days as you might an astrology chart. People who are accomplished at these arts are able to enter an altered state of consciousness on a few seconds notice.
The site which asked, “Why no modern pagan mysticism?“ states as his first probable reason , “Pagans are more interested in magic. Traditionally the paths of magic and mysticism have been seen as opposites, such as in the Cabala and Buddhism ….”
I have not studied Cabalism but I am aware that there are magic systems based on cabalistic knowledge. The main goal, at least of early cabalists, was the cultivating of prophetic abilities, which is a form of magic. That it became a mystic path is not surprising.
Buddhism, on the other hand, admits to, and in some cases cultivates, psychic abilities. The Buddha himself did not warn away from them but merely cautioned against making uninitiated persons aware that you have abilities. Many Buddhists and Hindus, however, consider psychic abilities to be a distraction and, therefore, pretty much ignore them. Nonetheless, the path which leads to mystic experience also develops psychic abilities. And vice versa.
People who are on a mystic path frequently either join a religious order or follow a mendicant lifestyle, become almsmen. "Since Hindu fakirs, Buddhist monks and Mohammedan dervishes unite with Jesuits and Franciscans in idealizing poverty as the loftiest individual state, it is worthwhile to examine into the spiritual grounds for such a seemingly unnatural opinion." ( W. James-scroll down to just below the Rodriguez quote) This gives us the time necessary for the pursuit of the spiritual. It also relieves us from the “cares of the world “ which so bind and sidetrack us. “In short, lives based on having are less free than lives based either on doing or on being, and in the interest of action people subject to spiritual excitement throw away possessions as so many clogs. Only those that have no private interests can follow an ideal straight away." (W. James scroll down below Edward Carpenter quote)
At first glance there would seem to be no room for a philosophy of poverty in Wicca/Paganism, considering the abundance of prosperity spells and potions. However, book called "The Prosperous Pagan" by Kathy Cybele states "There is an interesting myth that implies that pagans must struggle just to get by and never live a life of prosperity.... I have always wondered why this is a prevalent belief when our faith is one of abundance". There are Wiccan/Pagans who embrace a life of poverty. Gavin and Yvonne Frost took a vow of poverty and gave all their possessions to the Church of Wicca, which they founded.
Some say, perhaps somewhat rightfully so, with Yasmin Galenorn that praising poverty "...has been a good way for some disciplines and governments to keep the poor from feeling too upset about their current conditions." ( "Embracing the Moon" pg 147 ) We see the opposite approach being employed; promises of wealth being used to keep people working hard for low pay.
Using our greed against us they convince us that we need a lot of things which we do not need. By doing so they become richer and more powerful while we retire at sixty-five with nothing of any real value to show for our years of hard work. We, personally, prefer to give as little of our power as possible to people who already have way more than any person should.
Note however that being anti corporate greed and power does not translate to anti technology. We believe that technology is the key by which the human race will gain entry to the paradise on earth. "The works of man are the works of nature also." (Alan Watts)
Although a lot, perhaps most, mystic paths suggest poverty as the highest ideal and although we have accepted poverty for ourselves, we would not suggest that you must be poor in order to follow a mystic path. Nor would we say that a wealthy person cannot achieve mystic experiences; a camel passing through the needle's eye is not as impossible as it sounds.
A major method for entering altered states is sacraments; usually, though not always, plants. I am sure that a lot of Wiccan/Pagan practitioners use one or more sacrament, whether it be marijuana, hallucinogens or even alcobol or opium. “It is the infinite for which we hunger, and we ride gladly on every little wave that promises to bear us towards it." (Havelock Ellis "The New Spirit" pg 232) Spirituality health says “many of the earliest human artifacts - from mushroom shahman effigies in prehistoric African cave paintings to marijuana incense burners in shrines in ancient Europe - depict entheogenic fungi and plants with clear associations to ritual and religious activity. The 'foods of the gods‘ have been with us from the beginning….The gift of entheogens is the difference between saying my religion teaches that God is love and we are all one ‘ and saying ‘I know that God is love and we are all one because I have experienced It myself and can confirm that it is true.’”
Many people have written on the propensity of certain substances to induce religious and mystic experience. W. James wrote: "I refer to the consciousness produced by intoxicants and anaesthetics, especially by alcohol. The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to it’s power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature ….. Nitrous oxide and ether … stimulate the mystical conscicusness in an extraordinary degree….Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the living sense of it’s reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.” Elsewhere James relates a case of someone who took Peyote. I presume the reason he never mentioned Marijuana or Psilocybin is because he had never heard of them. Among primitives the use of such plants was not illegal though they may have been taboo; i.e., for use by or under the direction of the tribal holy person only. I am not going to say that you need guidance in the use of entheogens as I had no guidance. When I first began using them, in fact for the first few years after discovering the spiritual nature of entheogens, I believed that I had discovered something new and that there was no one to guide me in their use. After learning that this idea was not new at all and being someone who has never looked for a guru or any any other such spiritual guide, I looked to books for my guidance. I became quite fascinated by Alan Watts‘ books and found William James’ "The Varieties of Religious Experience“ to be very enlightening. Other authors I learned much from include Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Carlos Castaneda. That was back in the early to mid 70's; there is deffinately a lot more information available now.
Many Wiccan/Pagan practitioners engage in sex ritual, the idea being that sex raises energy to an extraordinary degree. Instructions are generally that one concentrate on the desired result while raising and releasing sexual energy; not an easy task. Sex is also considered a trigger for mystic experience. However, probably due to sexual repression, not much work on this subject exists in the west. We have found one good book titled "Transcendant Sex" by Jenny Wade PhD. This book is based on the case studies of 91 people who claim to have had transcendent experiences which resulted from sex. It also gives advice on ways to facilitate this experience. A good study of this book can be found at primal-page.There is, of course, a lot of information at transcendentsex.org. And the book can most likely be purchased on Amazon.
Now comes the question of how a mystic path of Wiccan/Paganism may look. It would first require a passion for matters of the spirit. The earnest seeker will find what they seek.
You may want to begin the day with some form of ritual such as saying good morning to the four directions, to the sun, and to your god and/or goddess. This might be a good time for smoking a bowl of wild crafted or homegrown tobacco on the grounds that native Americans believed tobacco opened the gate to the creator who was in the east, the direction of the rising sun of course.
We begin our day with a cup of coffee, which is as much a religious act as the zen tea ceremony if partaken of in a religious frame of mind. Some stretching exercise helps to wake the body and the mind. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an elaborate yoga routine. Or you may prefer some sort of a dance exercise.
You might choose to meditate or contemplate or you could read some mythology such as Ovid’s "Metamorphisis “ or the Elder Edda or poetry or any other work which speaks to you. This is a good time for reading tarot whether it be a single card drawing, a three card layout, a celtic cross or any other layout of your choosing. You could draw a rune, study your astro chart or perform any other sort of augury.
There is no end to the list of things you might do in a religious and spiritual framework. Throughout the day take time to contemplate on religious and spiritual matters; perhaps what you read or the card you drew this morning. Take time to cultivate your psychic abilities, contemplate a spell you plan to cast, practice astral travel or seeing auras or whatever else you may be involved in on a psychic level.
Make time to walk in nature to some place where you can find peace and quiet for exercise, contemplation, meditation and/or performing a ritual. Be sure you say hello to the nature spirits. It might be best to leave your phone behind or, at least, to turn it off. Or you may wish to bring it so that you can read some religious or spiritual text or watch some inspiring videos. In the evening perform another ritual; read, meditate, contemplate, say goodnight to the directions and hello to the moon and stars (even when the moon is dark ).
All of these are merely suggestions. You, of course, are the only one who knows what rituals will fit you. The whole point is that you be truly involved in your religion and your spirituality. Again, "It is not what you actually do, but the mental state which counts." 3>