Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Midweek Mysticism: Do you have to be spiritual to be a mystic?

Dark Walk This is a perennial question, so let’s see if it can be answered without writing a thesis or sending everyone to sleep.

Many people would reply to the title of this piece with a “Yes!”, but the plain answer is “No, of course not.”

The one caveat is that if someone is so self-absorbed that they are incapable of seeing anyone else’s point of view, however reasonable, they will simply not recognise the mystic portal if it leapt up and thumped them in the face.

However, a spiritually-inclined attitude can be an introductory form of mysticism. It always carries a sympathy for another’s view of the world, provided it’s not violently anti-social. It is that depth and width of vision that opens up the pathway to mystical experience, not an emotional spirituality.

One doesn’t even have to be religious in a conventional way — which is just another form of divisiveness. The mystic way is to see the world as a whole by going beyond it.

Again, that doesn’t mean having no ideas of your own, or assuming that everything is “good” in itself. One remains human and very capable of using early experiences as a means of distinguishing between ideologies and their effectiveness.

Ultimately, the mystic has a tendency to leave the “things of this world” to the people of this world, and to concentrate on what lies beyond.

Mystics are hard-headed observers of how things work, and crisp assessors of situations and philosophies. They deal with the real world, not the outer shell. They might even be thought of as spiritual “scientists.”

Okay, I hear you say, but if it’s all a state of mind, how do I get from this one to the other state of mind?

Actually, it’s about leaving states of mind behind and entering the much wider viewpoint of consciousness. That brings you much closer to the soul and keeps you poised to plunge into what I call Impersonal Consciousness — the realm of God, or the Absolute.

If that seems to you “a bit over the top”, what do you imagine mystical experience is if not entering a place where human consciousness gives way to God Consciousness? And why bother?

In the end, it is not swapping religious viewpoints, or being converted to something else, it is the ultimate leap — not of faith, although that may help in some circumstances — but giving up all of what you think you are so that you can see what’s left!

Many folk believe they are too Earth-based to make such a journey. A mystic would tell them that even this planet is part of the heavenly realm when seen through the eyes of mysticism.

It’s not about changing yourself, nor life or reality, but losing your resistance to them that gives you the whole universe.

John Evans

Coming soon: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

Author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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Saturday Ramble: Richard Holloway’s Honest Doubt

Richard Holloway
Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh

The BBC has asked me to inform readers that its brilliant radio series from June 2012, Honest Doubt: The History of an Epic Struggle by Richard Holloway, is now available as an MP3 download and written transcripts (Amazon) from Monday 29 April.

At the time it was only granted seven days on the iPlayer, but the Producer, Olivia Landsberg, writes: “we were inundated with requests for the download”. Hence the new releases.

I wrote a review of the series here: A personal introduction to God.

Other Reviews:
“A rich gift and definitely one worth sharing” — Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph
“Made me stop in my tracks” — Thinking Liberal Review
“Thought provoking, enlightening, educational, moving, humbling. Too good to miss ” — Daily Strength

Here’s a reminder of the content:

Synopsis
In Honest Doubt: The History of an Epic Struggle, the author and former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway considers some of the universal questions about our existence and the meaning of life, and how some of humanity’s best thinkers and most creative writers have approached these “literally life and death questions”. In exploring the relationship between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years, he looks at its impact from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Victorian period, the horrors of World War II, right up to today. Joining him on his journey are: Karen Armstrong, Richard Dawkins, Sir Anthony Kenny, Sir Andrew Motion, AN Wilson and many others.

A starry cast indeed, and well worth a listen, especially as many appreciators of the series will have missed some or most of it, as did I, only catching the last ten of its 20 essays.

MP3 Download: AudioGo — £6.99.

Written Transcripts: Amazon — Kindle, £10.74.

Enjoy.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming eventually: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

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Midweek Mysticism: Sermons are too often mosaics of stale thoughts and ancient iconography

Richard Chartres

The best part of any church service should be the sermon, for, while every other ingredient is known, the sermon is, or should be, original, imparting either a unique lesson or a well-worn one expressed freshly. No one does this better than Richard Chartres, Bishop of London (Pictured above with the Queen).

True to form, he produced a sparkler during the Funeral Service for Margaret Thatcher at St Paul’s Cathedral this morning. Soaked in mysticism — and a little humour — its theme was immortality, or “everlasting life” as Christians prefer.

There was a glancing reference to that most mystical of Christian texts, The Cloud of Unknowing, and he spoke refreshingly of the Afterlife as “another dimension of existence”.

Christians often find comfort in the ancient phraseology and poetry of the biblical texts, which have taken on the quality of music. Some get quite heated about the Authorised Version and the Book of Common Prayer, which they would like to be set in stone.

They should realise that these words are not meant to be entertainment, but a living expression of the highest spirituality — which is distinct from emotionality. When emotion prevails, as it often does in church services, the essential mysticism is drowned out. The Bishop ably avoided the trap.

If all sermons could be set in such pellucid language as this one, I believe attendances would rise. The Bishop has an instinctive awareness of this, saying that it was typical of Margaret Thatcher that she was always trying to help out in “typically uncoded terms”.

He quoted her on the purpose of going to church: “We often went to church twice on Sundays, as well as on other occasions during the week. We were taught always to make up our own minds and never take the easy way of following the crowd.”

Today, there was no shortage of people in St Paul’s, mostly the “great and the good”. Margaret Thatcher herself was undoubtedly both great and good, although the small bands of protesters outside the cathedral will never accept that. They have been mesmerised by the stale thoughts and unworkable ideas of Karl Marx and his modern followers, such as Ed Miliband, who was present.

Marxism is a perverted reworking of Christian ideas, where harsh “solidarity” has replaced the simple companionship of the original. Marxists regularly blame religion for subduing “the people,” blind to the fact that Marxism itself has become an angry secular faith intolerant of all others.

For religion in general to prevail in our shrill, noisy and overcrowded society, it must demonstrate in clear, approachable language the whole object of its being: everlasting life — immortality.

The iconography of the Church derives from ancient Jewish texts which baffle the young and anyone not brought up in a Christian context. The Bishop resisted the prevailing showy language and posturing. I often wonder why he is usually passed over for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury, as happened again in recent weeks.

In his later work, The Book of Privy Counselling, the anonymous Cloud author sets the standard very high, as does his subject matter. It is the logical, if counterintuitive, way into the modern world for the Church of England.

Today, the Bishop of London, who is patron of London Internet Church (.org.uk) showed how it could be done.

John Evans

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Midweek Mysticism: The Big Society in action

Hermits

Until the time of Henry VIII, many of the public carriageways and river crossings in England were built and maintained by religious solitaries who lived nearby and collected alms from the local populace for the purpose.

It seems to have been a satisfactory arrangement for all concerned, not least for the hermit, who maintained himself as well as the road.

In pre-Reformation times, hermits were not as isolated as many suppose. They were in part a kind of municipal service in the days before municipalities. Their unofficial duties also included giving advice on all topics spiritual as well as a wide range of mundane matters.

In Christianity, a hermit was generally given the blessing of authority through consecration by a bishop, and often lived under direction. He was, to some extent, free to move around, and even to work for his living.

Hermits were the first lighthouse keepers and watchmen on the coasts and estuaries. The present-day Trinity House, which has overall responsibility for British waters, evolved from the Fraternity of the Blessed Trinity, a religious guild formed in Deptford in 1514 as an aid to mariners.

Seamen often showed their gratitude for these services by visiting the hermitage/lighthouse when ashore and doubtless a discreet and pious offering was made towards the upkeep of the service.

In 1470, Sir Thomas Malory, writing about hermits in the Age of Chivalry, thought that in King Arthur’s day, “the hermits held great household, and refreshed people that were in distress”. No doubt some were fine Gentlemen, like Sir Perceval, in pursuit of the Holy Grail.

According to Rotha Mary Clay: “During the Middle Ages … ministering hermits, often of the peasant class, were found throughout the country, dwelling beside the highways, bridges and fords. Their duties were those of host, guide, light-bearer, labourer, alms-gather, turnpike man, or bridge-warden.”

Manual labour had replaced the knightly crafts. The Big Society pre-dated the gleam in David Cameron’s eye.

Plainly, the life of a hermit in pre-Reformation England was not one of total seclusion. Almost all long-term jobs in a fixed location were undertaken by “recluses” of varying hue. Apart from a fairly reliable guarantee of honesty and industry, they were probably the only type of person who would put up with the isolation and impoverishment, except forced prison labour, which had no choice in the matter.

Far from complaining about the conditions, the hermit almost certainly welcomed the arduous toil, meagrely rewarded, as a way of serving God, the people and his calling.

He (and it was always a he beyond church boundaries) was also a source of religious learning and spiritual direction for many folk in the district, including the less cynical clergy.

Some solitaries nonetheless, are known to have succumbed to temptation when holding funds for the maintenance of a bridge or the King’s highway. William Langland, the poet and social reformer, in his Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman (1360s), wrote of hermits who took the habit to avoid earning their living by ordinary work and to collect alms instead.

A certain William Blakeney (quoted by Clay) “was brought into the Guildhall … for that, whereas he was able to work for his food and raiment, he … went about there, barefooted and with long hair, under the guise of sanctity, and pretended to be a hermit, saying that he was such … and under colour of falsehood he had received many good things from divers people.” Since many a causeway was kept open from the nearby hermitage, it can only be assumed that these reprobates were few in number.

Judging by the results of the hermit of Highgate, most performed well: “Where now the school stands was a hermitage, and the hermit caused to be made the road between Highgate and Islington, and the gravel was had from the top of Highgate Hill, where there is now a pond of water.” Modern environmentalists would be proud of him.

Whichever way you look at it, the hermits offered a better service than modern local authorities. And “council tax” was voluntary. How’s that for the Big Society?

Could Dave be missing a trick?

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming up: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

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Midweek Mysticism: Are you Born Again?

Afterlife

Born Again is an intriguing and evocative phrase in the Christian pantheon. It arises from the Baptist version of the faith and traces its origins back to John the Baptist in the New Testament, in particular to the scene in the Gospels when Jesus is “baptised” in the River Jordan by what seems to be the leader of a mystery school, so typical of the period.

Immediately after he was baptised, as he was praying, the heavens opened and a dove came down and rested on Jesus. It was the Spirit of God in the form of a bird that had come down to show who Jesus was. Jesus saw it and John also saw the dove. Suddenly there was a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.

This account, with its burst of light, the dove and a voice, has all the hallmarks of a mystery rite, presided over by an adept, and accords with specific states known to manifest in such a context.

Born again lives on today in the southern states of America, where being a born again Christian is a settled part of the religious heritage of the Old South.

This ceremony is now widely imitated in churches around the world. In modern times, a Born-Again Christian is someone who has been baptised into a Baptist church or another denomination, usually by two burly men dunking them in a river and declaring the dunkee “born again”, a mere shadow of the ancient procedure.

I was “Christened” into the Church of England as an infant when a Vicar put a finger into a font of “holy water” and traced a cross on my forehead, a sad case of reductionism.

The emergence from water to air imitates the action of birth. Modern clergy are often ignorant about real spiritual states and resort to play-acting rather than the initiations found in the ancient mystery schools and in the solitary practices of genuine mystics.

But what does it mean? Are people really born again? The truth has its origins in ancient Egypt, with echoes of it living on in the higher degrees of masonic rituals, in the spontaneous, or induced, mystical states of mystics, and in near-death experiences (NDEs), widely reported in hospitals.

Here’s how it’s presented in my book The Eternal Quest for Immortality — Is it staring you in the face?: “The process involves the emergence of something alive, though not physical, from out of the body. There is a distinct “plop” or shock as it happens. The living body remains unaware that the separated part has gone, temporarily in the cases we are describing. This “soul” is the personal consciousness and is therefore the essence of a person. It is the part that survives bodily dissolution at death. The undisputed fact that it can leave a living body shows that anecdotal reports of the soul departing a person in pain and distress, as in near-death experiences, are true. Death is not the fearful thing it seems to outside observers. It’s as if a lifeboat removes consciousness from the worst aspects of physical shut-down.”

In ancient Greece, young soldiers were put through a process leading to this experience as a means of removing all fear of death. The tiny force of Greeks who sacrificed themselves against the vast armies of the Persian king Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae, gives a sense of their fearlessness in the face of assured extinction.

In his book A Search in Secret Egypt (1935), Paul Brunton illustrated how the mystery schools precipitated this mystical state in their candidates. According to Brunton, the candidate was taken to a chamber deep inside one of the pyramids, tied to a sarcophagus and left in total darkness in the sealed room overnight. You can imagine the terror of the situation, even if you were not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.

Fear was the essence of the practice. So horrific was the experience that the personal consciousness (soul) springs out of the bodily envelope into a place of supreme calm, where darkness doesn’t exist.

This is the after-death state, the Bardo of the Tibetans and for which all cultures have a special name. In the Far East the experience is called “a showing of the nature of reality”, demonstrating its temporary nature. Dante calls it Purgatory — you can’t get away from sin in Roman Catholicism.

Many commentators wonder why modern Christian denominations in the West are declining so fast that they are being ignored in favour of secular governance and more mystical philosophies.

The reason is obvious: churches have become meeting places for the nostalgic, and comfort stations for the elderly. All the life and living truth has been sucked out of them, as science replaces genuine mysticism in public discourse.

Religion will only become relevant again when the real story behind the much edited texts of antiquity is told without the concealments. Total honesty is the only way to resurrect the original meaning. That is Syntagma’s mission statement.

Christianity in particular must be Born Again!

To round off this discussion, here’s a link to my own experience of the state. If you read Syntagma regularly, you have probably come across it before and are excused: Consciousness after death

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming up: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

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