Religious Studies 1 (2):177-184 (1966)

A considerable part of mystical literature deals with, or reports on, experiences that are of a cognitive and not merely of an emotive nature. Information is alleged to have been received not only from higher spheres but also about these higher spheres. Detailed, and at times highly complex, theories are put forward regarding the nature and evolution of the cosmos, the essence of man and his place and function in the scheme of things. The writings of many mystics reveal mysteries that have been infused from above, or apprehended ‘from below’ by the development and use of special spiritual or mental organs. What all these higher insights have in common in spite of their great diversity, is their discursive, objective and detailed, elaborate character. Mysticism of this type is a kind of supernal science. It is distinct from ordinary science as regards its origin and its emotional charge, but it is similar to science in terms of its formal structure. The Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah is, I think, an instructive example of this discursive tendency, for the literary output of the kabbalists very largely substitutes a theosophical dialectic for the traditional legal dialectic of the Talmudic rabbis. In the case of the kabbalists this tendency was indebted to the medieval identification of mysticism and prophecy: like prophecy, every illumination by the Holy Spirit was supposed to be a matter of ‘clear and distinct’ contents. But, of course, not every form of cognitive mysticism is related to doctrines of prophecy. Cognitive mysticism can be found everywhere, in the revelation of gnostic mysteries as well as in the quest of modern ‘spiritual’ sciences, such as theosophy and anthroposophy, for hidden and occult truths.
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DOI 10.1017/S0034412500002456
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