In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2
John 14:2 could be a religious text, but for me, it is a classic passage of mysticism, describing not only the place one goes to, but, also, the journey there.
My uncle was a wise man. He once said that Heaven and Hell existed here on earth. To a 10 year old, that was quite interesting. Then everything religion said could be seen in a new light, and our purpose should be not just to understand our relationship with God, but defining our relationship with all the worlds. And therefore, mysticism and spirituality would be the journey; and a philosophy, and not religion, would be the destination, for human beings to reach a true understanding of all that is, and could be.
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil ("The Terrible One or Odin's Horse") also called the World Tree, is the giant ash tree that links and shelters all the worlds. Beneath the three roots the realms of Asgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim are located. Three wells lie at its base: the Well of Wisdom (Mímisbrunnr), guarded by Mimir; the Well of Fate (Urdarbrunnr), guarded by the Norns; and the Hvergelmir (Roaring Kettle), the source of many rivers.
Four deer run across the branches of the tree and eat the buds; they represent the four winds. There are other inhabitants of the tree, such as the squirrel Ratatosk ("swift teeth"), a notorious gossip, and Vidofnir ("tree snake"), the golden cock that perches on the topmost bough. The roots are gnawed upon by Nidhogg and other serpents. On the day of Ragnarok, the fire giant Surt will set the tree on fire. These are wonderful pictures which I won't explain, because mysticism is supposed to evoke something inside each person, and the experience therefore, different, but important, for each. (I'm sorry, I know that's why people find descriptions of other people's spiritual experience so er, mystical, and hard to relate to sometimes)
And carrying the Tree of Life theme further, I would recommend "Understanding the Mysteries of Kabbalah" by Maggy Whitehouse, for more insight. That it links with hermeticism, alchemy, occultism, magic, and the visual symbolism of Tarot really appeals to me. That it acknowledges there are realities beyond ordinary human reality or the understanding of religion, I love that.
But it seeks also to help each person establish direct connection with God, as if that is the ultimate goal, and while important, that is not the only one.
Our definition of God, as religion goes, is based on a creator God, and our relationship with that unknowable being, whereas mysticism seeks more to understand the very nature of God, that very transcendent reality, and nothingness. Brahman, as opposed to Brahma. But, that is not all mysticism does. It seeks to understand ourselves, and our many possible futures. It seeks knowledge of the many worlds, and answers to the eternal questions.
Who are we? What is our purpose in life, and what happens to us when we are gone? Is this life real or illusion, and what are the stages of our evolution? What is the nature of the soul, or is that tied to our ego and personal experiences? What are the lessons we must learn, and why is there suffering? How can we heal ourselves, and many more.
In 'my father's house', there are many mansions, many realms, many loci of energy and the spaces in between. There is the place we go to when we die, and the choices for the future we must make decided. That Nature has a consciousness, we know.
And then again, the place that holds a special place in my heart is that of the native peoples:
1. Native people believe in a spiritual world that exists beyond the physical world that is reached through dreams, visions and ceremonies. They also believe in a single spiritual force.
2. The Ojibwe people believe in Kitche Manitou, an Algonkin term which means “The Great Spirit” or sometimes called the “Great Mystery”. Manitou means Spirit.
3. The Seneca believe in Orenda, a Haudenosaunee term which means “Spiritual Power” or energy. Orenda also means good energy, and Otgon means bad energy.
4. Both tribes believe in the meanings of spirit, energy, mystery and magic as it applies to daily life and nature.
5. However, the Ojibwe use prayers, vision quest and seeking guardian spirits, while the Seneca look for answers in the dream world and make masks as spiritual objects; see how this connects with the Tibetan Buddhism, Siberian and Amazonian shamanism, and Hawaiian Huna spiritual traditions?
The way to see the connections is also, a mystic one. Sometimes in meditation and prayer, sometimes through the hidden knowledge.
That the prophets were also mystics, I know. But the religions they taught also had hidden, inner meanings, which only the initiate could find. But then, religion is only a small part of that transcendent reality, like a rule book for children (Not that children, in many ways, are not closer to God, or wiser than adults)
Then there is the spiritual alchemy required for us to evolve, the mystic blending of forces which will one day lead to our spiritual transformation (hint: it requires a blending of male and female energies)
Is the Mayan calendar date of Dec. 21, 2012 when it will happen? No, because there are many dates and stages of learning, and for most, that will only come much later.
So what, then, is Mysticism? I have described many spiritual events in terms of a journey, of discovery, of a place. Mysticism is the journey that takes to the place of our birth, to where we always return.