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Mysticism is Evelyn Underhill's seminal work on the subject. The book is divided into two parts, "The Mystic Fact" and "The Mystic Way." In the first part Underhill explores the theological, psychological, and philosophical underpinnings of mysticism from a historical perspective. In the second part Underhill examines the application of mysticism in one's life as a means fMysticism is Evelyn Underhill's seminal work on the subject. The book is divided into two parts, "The Mystic Fact" and "The Mystic Way." In the first part Underhill explores the theological, psychological, and philosophical underpinnings of mysticism from a historical perspective. In the second part Underhill examines the application of mysticism in one's life as a means for spiritual growth. Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism is both a fantastic introduction to the search for spirituality through mysticism and an almost encyclopedic examination of the subject....

Title : Mysticism: A study in the nature and development of man's spiritual consciousness
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ISBN : 9780874718836
Format Type : Unknown Binding
Number of Pages : 576 Pages
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Mysticism: A study in the nature and development of man's spiritual consciousness Reviews

  • Sarah Clarkson
    2019-05-23 05:23

    This book really challenges me in a way I rarely experience in spiritual reading. I think there is such a strong idea of mystics being extreme hermits who live in caves, that the whole understanding of Christian Mysticism has been undermined. But really, what this book is helping me to grasp, is that mysticism is simply the concentrated focus of one's entire life upon the person of Christ. The mystics were people who chose to live in such a way as to powerfully encounter the reality, the living, true, real as my breath reality of God.Encountering them through the scholarly, but poignant and passionate writing of Evelyn Underhill is a reading experience I am reluctant to leave (and I won't have to anytime soon since this is a 500 page book!).

  • Elsa Fourie
    2019-04-30 00:32

    “It is no argument to say that most men see the world in much the same way, and that this “way” is the true standard of reality: though for practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbors” page 10“Now and then an artist is born, terribly articulate, foolishly truthful, who insists on “Speaking as he saw.” Then other men, lapped warmly in their artificial universe, agree that he is mad: or, at the very best, an “extraordinarily imaginative fellow” page 10“Is your world of experience so well and logically founded that you dare make of it a standard?” page 25“It has been said that ‘Whatever we may do, our hunger for the Absolute will never cease’” page 39.“Only the Real can know Reality” page 43“was prepared for the remaking of her consciousness by years of loneliness and depression” page 181.“Hence, whilst the practice of magic—like the practice of science—does not necessarily entail passionate emotion, though of course it does and must entail interest of some kind, mysticism, like art, cannot exist without it. We must feel, and feel acutely, before we want to act on this hard and heroic scale”Page 72“Over and over again the great mystics tell us, not how they speculated, but how they acted” Page 83“Thou art enough for me!” page 85 “Mysticism, then, is seen as the “one way out” for the awakened spirit of man; healing that human incompleteness which is the origin of our divine unrest” Page 94“The high Might of the Trinity is our Father, and the deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, and the great Love of the Trinity is our Lord: and all this we have in Nature and in our Substantial Making” P 112“ The words are different, the paths are many, but one thing is signified; the paths lead to one Person.” P113“Hence the title of Repairer applied by Boehme to the Second Person of the Trinity” P 120“Whatever be the theological creed of the mystic, he never varies in declaring this close, definite, and actual intimacy to be the end of his quest” P127“Those in whom this growth is not set going are no mystics, in the exact sense in which that word is here used; however great their temporary illumination may have been” P198“The soul,” says St. John of the Cross, “is not empty, so long as the desire for sensible things remains. But the absence of this desire for things produces emptiness and liberty of soul; even when there is an abundance of possessions” P211“The stronger the death the more powerful and thorough is the corresponding life; the more intimate the death, the more inward is the life” P218“The death of selfhood in its narrow individualistic sense is, then, the primary object of mortification” P221“The mystical consciousness, as we have seen, belongs—from the psychological point of view—to that mobile or “unstable” type in which the artistic temperament also finds a place. It sways easily between the extremes of pleasure and pain in its gropings after transcendental reality. It often attains for a moment to heights in which it is not able to rest: is often flung from some rapturous vision of the Perfect to the deeps of contrition and despair” P227“With her, as with all truly heroic souls, it was love for love, not love for joy” P248Characteristics of true mysticism (page 81):1. True mysticism is active and practical, not passive and theoretical. It is an organic life-process, a something which the whole self does; not something as to which its intellect holds an opinion.2. Its aims are wholly transcendental and spiritual. It is in no way concerned with adding to, exploring, re-arranging, or improving anything in the visible universe. The mystic brushes aside that universe, even in its supernormal manifestations. Though he does not, as his enemies declare, neglect his duty to the many, his heart is always set upon the changeless One.3. This One is for the mystic, not merely the Reality of all that is, but also a living and personal Object of Love; never an object of exploration. It draws his whole being homeward, but always under the guidance of the heart.4. Living union with this One—which is the term of his adventure—is a definite state or form of enhanced life. It is obtained neither from an intellectual realization of its delights, nor from the most acute emotional longings. Though these must be present they are not enough. It is arrived at by an arduous psychological and spiritual process—the so-called Mystic Way—entailing the complete remaking of character and the liberation of a new, or rather latent, form of consciousness; which imposes on the self the condition which is sometimes inaccurately called “ecstasy,” but is better named the Unitive State.“Mysticism, then, is not an opinion: it is not a philosophy. It has nothing in common with the pursuit of occult knowledge. On the one hand it is not merely the power of contemplating Eternity: on the other, it is not to be identified with any kind of religious queerness. It is the name of that organic process which involves the perfect consummation of the Love of God: the achievement here and now of the immortal heritage of man. Or, if you like it better—for this means exactly the same thing—it is the art of establishing his conscious relation with the Absolute” page 81

  • Ron Grunberg
    2019-04-26 03:37

    Read this book a long time ago, but I throw it down here because the memory of it still lingers, strong. I remember being mesmerized reading page after page of summaries of the mystics in history, Jacob Boehme, Emmanuel Swedenborg, William Blake, Dante, Meister Eckhart, the list goes on and on. Ms. Underhill, another of the great largely unheralded women writers of the 20th century, succinctly and without diminishing her subjects' greatness, presents their thinking, excerpts from their work, and clearly illustrates the thread common to all their writings which weaves its way through their common fabric. Eminently readable, incredibly instructive, Mysticism offers a huge menu of great men and women from whose work to further pursue on your own.

  • Abailart
    2019-04-27 05:39

    It's a book to outlast a bookshelf. It is a thorough, insightful, clarifying overview and well referenced approach to a word which is actually quite difficult to pin down. In returning to it, I am inevitably darwn to the sections on acidie, dark nights of the soul etc. as a resource to help distinguish spiritual aridity from medical depression.

  • Acid
    2019-05-08 01:24

    this is a work of scholarship on the subject of is one of the more in depth books i have read about the subject...covering all the stages of the mystic journey... I learned that a mystic always holds love as the highest aim of the work begun in the individual...that no one mystic has ever revealed all of the stages that are present in any single journey toward god...that the stages appear in no particular order...after the initial contact with the absolute...I love to read this book...its many quotations from known mystics blake, theresa, fox, etc... are really interesting...mike seely and the acid tong

  • Andrew
    2019-05-10 03:45

    This is a wonderful book, but one that I'm having to approach more as a textbook than reading it straight through. Underhill was a genuine genius, incredibly well read, scholarly, and willing to probe deeply into an esoteric subject like mysticism without being a cold materialist. The density of her writing is impressive, which is why she takes so long to read. I've had to buy a couple of books that I can use to follow up on some of her references. This is a book that will never be completely "read", but one that will become a life-long resource.One note: I'm reading the 1930 edition of Mysticism. I bought the copy originally owned by Edith Randall of Los Angeles, who was known for her work in astrology & tarot. Cool!

  • Robert
    2019-04-26 03:51

    This book took a very long time to read. It is a must read for anyone interested in mysticism. I believe Underhill was the first woman to teach theology at Oxford and her knowledge of the spiritual life is amazing. I would have to spend a few years to fully grasp this book, but I suppose her main points can be summarized as follows:1. Mysticism is practical, not theoretical.2. Mysticism is entirely a spiritual activity.3. The business and method of mysticism is love.4. Mysticism entails a psychological experience. Although an incredible book, I still think I liked Huxley's Perennial Philosophy and William James' Varieties of Religious Experience more.

  • Pranada Comtois
    2019-04-25 05:41

    Underhill's bold undertaking of mysticism is still relevant today. Hume wanted academia to catch up and make progress in defining and codifying metaphysics. Maybe Underhill hasn't reached Hume's level of intellectual study of the subject, but her insights are relevant and valuable.As a follower of another metaphysical path I found this an important addition to my library.

  • Jann
    2019-05-13 01:47

    ....very interesting, however, western mystics' descriptions (quotes) of the various transcended states became tedious and repetitive for me. Evelyn needed a good editor. St Teresa's quotes were the most interesting. Evelyn's organization of the subject, however, was excellent. I think I was looking more for a cultural history of mysticism.

  • Patrick\
    2019-05-24 06:29

    The primary source for a first understanding of mysticism. A monumental work. One of the Sayers-Lewis collective. Did you know St. Catherine lived for years running on nothing but one communion wafer a day - never lost weight or energy? A dangerous path to start if you like your HDTV and couch sitting.

  • Entheogenetic
    2019-04-23 04:47

    Interesting classic on the subject of mysticism. Generally a good book and it covers authentic mysticism which is refreshing and not the diluted "new age" idea of mysticism which is now sadly all too common.

  • AM
    2019-05-04 00:50

    A classic early monograph on mysticism. A must read for those interested in the question of mysticism.

  • Grant
    2019-05-18 02:27

    I read the appendix "A Historical Sketch of European Mysticism from the Begiinning of the Christian Era to the Death of Blake." It is a good short introduction to the Western Mystical tradition.

  • Tim Tuttle
    2019-05-07 08:47

    Though not an easy read, this is a must for anyone seriously interested in mysticism and contemplative prayer. Underhill does an excellent job exploring the similarities and differences in cross cultural theologies and philosophical views and also does justice to the psychology of mysticism, especially the dissociative aspects (considering the limited perspective of the early 20th century). Furthermore, she does well in presenting her thesis without blurring the heretical lines of pantheism and Quietism. My only disappointment was the lack of Eastern Orthodox perspective. Nevertheless, this book still merits 5 stars and a permanent spot on my reference list.

  • Galicius
    2019-05-07 08:28

    After the long prefaces and two and half chapters I don't think I see any progress.There is no organization to this long volume. The book is divided into numbered parts and numbered chapters. There are no chapter titles because I don't think the author herself was able to give them any, just a continuous ramble about mysticism, mystics, and mystical: 564 times, "absolute" 109 times, "becoming" 79 times, “philosophy” 40 times, “religion” 46 times.

  • Rick Folker
    2019-04-30 04:29

    everything you ever wanted to know about mysticism - Underhill is the expert

  • Shal J
    2019-05-24 06:24

    In reading Evelyn Underhill, I’ve began to think about the differences between Religion and Faith and how they connect to the analysis of Mystical Experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that Religion and Faith are two entirely different things. Religion is an institutionalized set of beliefs, attitudes and practices that are formed over generations. It feels like the practice of the religion takes on a life of its own. The heart of the religion, its core belief is substituted over time by the routine nature of the practice of the religion. An idea is stacked upon another idea until these ideas become the religion and the core belief is often forgotten or at the very least its importance is minimized. Faith is different. Faith is personal. Faith comes from the realization that there is something beyond our stream of consciousness. This would make Faith the root of Mystical experience. There is no coincidence in our world. It almost seems as though God gives all of us ample opportunity to find Him/Her/It. A Mystical experience doesn’t have to be limited to something transcendent in nature. It’s just as a painter finds Faith as he or she paints, or as an athlete experiences Faith through competition. No matter where we turn we see Faith at work. This is the true vocation of Mystical experience. God never changes and the truth is we don’t either. We think we do and often spend our whole lives to vainly trying to prove otherwise. Life is about faith. As I read these theories and definitions of religion and mystical experience it almost feels like it takes away from the actual experience of faith in itself. The more intellect that’s forced onto faith, the farther away we truly get to the experience in itself. When Evelyn Underhill describes the five aspects of Mystical Experience, That brings forth another theory. It is possible that suffering is a necessary part of spiritual growth. Evelyn Underhill’s 5 Stages of Mystical Experience (The Transformation of the Self) is the perfect example of this theory. We can experience an ultimate reality; it transcends and goes beyond natural culture. It is a state of pure consciousness that can only be realized through the most difficult of times. It starts with the Recollection or Awakening where people realize that there is an underlying reality and desires this experience again. What gets in the way of this experience? It leads to sense of self and start to see your flaws of ignorance and selfishness. Then there is Purification or Detachment the realization of self and detachment of the world from reality. Getting caught up in materialism in order to awaken and detach from materialistic ways. Illumination & Contemplation is the third stage where conversion occurs, living life differently, and moving from seeing yourself as center of universe but instead as apart of it. You shift your focus and you find a new sense of self. Then we come to the most important stage, the Dark Night of the Soul, the true vocation of mysticism. “At one time or another, most people go through a period of sadness, trial, loss, frustration, or failure that is so disturbing and long-lasting that it can be called a dark night of the soul.” Thomas Moore . It’s a spiritual journey, part of a religious development only occurring through the experience of despair and darkness, the experience of suffering from a real spiritual high. It’s like a collapse a break up of a new state into a new way of being. Your being shifts from having a powerful sense of presence in their life like God in theistic religions, almost like God is walking beside them to suddenly feeling the loss of this presence. That kind of blankness on an emotional level, a state of passivity, overwhelming grief or sadness, bi-polar description of uncontrollable apathy, deprivation, lack of passion, cynicism, self hatred and the feeling of “nothing matters”, “nothing has meaning” becomes the most horrid kind of suffering a person can experience. The complete loss of control over self, over mind becomes a complete destruction of the self. Yet it’s only through this complete overwhelming suffering that you can reach the fifth stage of unification, a State where one has let go of “self” concept and almost has a spiritual re-birth. Perhaps, suffering therefore is caused to test our spiritual boundaries bringing about another theodicy. In this battle it’s impossible to escape because we are so drawn to analyzing the nature and vocation of mystical experience that we forget about Faith. When we forget about faith we can’t absorb the true experience that we are expecting to receive in theory. It becomes as dry and routine as religion has become. I think the only way to get back to the core belief, to the heart of religion is to open ourselves up to Faith, and that isn’t necessarily not to question or make analysis on mystical experience, but perhaps just to keep an open mind to the fact that there may not be any way to theorize an experience that is encompassed by Faith.

  • Br. Lawrence
    2019-05-17 08:42

    This book is essential reading for anyone serious about mysticism. There is absolutely nothing 'occult' about this subject as presented here. It is as important in its own way today as is William James' Varieties of Religious Experience still a relevant.

  • Debbie Hoskins
    2019-05-17 00:49

    I couldn't find the picture of the edition I read in 1982. If I find my book, it probably got lost in a move, I'll take a picture of the cover. I read this book for a course, Mysticism in the Arts. I remember being so fascinated by it. I have found that I read books when I was young that I wouldn't have the patience for now.I was thinking about trying to read it now, but I can't get past the hard to understand words for the chapters. It looks like your reviews for this book, will give me a refresher and translation of what it is all about.

  • Alex Obrigewitsch
    2019-05-20 05:44

    This book took me quite a while to read, and not at all because it is difficult (it isn't). I struggled to finish this book due to its inanity. Underhill was obviously not a mystic. She never had a "true" mystical experience. For had this have been so she would have known that the entirety of her book is pointless. That which is the mystic experience is completely outside of language and human conception - it is outside of the human. And what does Underhill do? She tries to analyze this experience in an all too human way - through the lense of what in her day was called Science.An example. Underhill often speaks of surface intelligence and some "deeper mind". She continuously embeds herself in such binary, hierarchical thought. What she fails to realize is that it isn't about any depth of thought or conception, but rather a completely other way of thinking and conceiving, beyond all conception. The mystical transgresses all that is human, shattering the organizations and the order that we impose through language and knowledge. To see the world in a single flower is to break out of all that is human in our experience - truly an impossible act, from our all too human standpoint in which all experince is imbedded in concepts and patterns.Underhill finds that all she can do is turn to writers who may have had such an experience, and quote from them excessively. If you find the writings of St. Francis or Teresa enlightening then read them; don't read someone continually rephrasing what they are telling you is already an inadequate description. Underhill is repetitive, and not as in a dirge or fugue - simply stumbling, saying the same words in trying to unify a chaos beyond all speech and thus all unity.I wanted to enjoy this book, to learn from it. Mystical thought is very important to my own thinking. But this book, and its past popularity, are astonishing to me. There is so little of mysticism here, and so much of the human grasping that the mystics spent their lives distancing themselves from.

  • Ulrika Eriksson
    2019-04-25 01:25

    Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill Idries Shah wrote somewhere that everybody should read this book. So I´ve done and it took me quite a long time. It is compact and academic and it has a beautiful old fashion language. As a reference book over the history of mysticism, especially in the West, it´s fantastic and Underhill re-establishes the meaning of the word Mysticism that has with time departed considerably from its original meaning. The mystic faculty is latent in all of us to a higher or lesser degree and is an integral part of humanity, says Underhill and shows how mysticism like a red thread goes thorough the history of humankind. There has always been individuals driven by a wish to be able to perceive Ultimate Reality, beyond that filtered and distorted by our senses and she writes about the psychological process that each individual has got to go through to do so. Many of those who has done this journey towards a “Union with God” has tried to communicate their experiences as best as they have been able to with words that are far from sufficient and even though their statements vary in temperament, the different phases in the process seem to conform.Much of it I recognize from the books about Sufism by Idries Shah that I´ve read. But what the Sufis consider an absolute must – a Guide - not to get lost on the Way, with smaller chances of success than from the start -that is not mentioned in Underhill´s book. She seems to have a certain bias towards Western Mysticism: ” With its (the Greek mystery-cults) half oriental fervours, its self-regarding glory in personal purification achieved, and the spiritual superiority conferred by adeptship, may be compared the deeper and lovelier experience of the Catholic poet and saint, who represents the spirit of Western mysticism at its best” and she has not mentioned how the mystics and saints in the west coped with the Catholic church and the Inquisition and vice versa

  • Neelesh Marik
    2019-05-03 05:38

    A work of great poise, subtlety and erudition. At the very outset, we are introduced to 4 frameworks of understanding reality:a) Naturalism: that which is understood b y the sensesb) Idealism: that which is understood by thinking.c) Philosophic scepticism: refuse to accept the realistic or idealistic answer to the riddle, contending there is no riddle to solved) Mysticism: the science of ultimates, the science of union with the absolute.The book then dwells on the latter in its relationships with psychology, theology, symbolism and magic.The main, second section of the book called 'The Mystic Way' traces the mystic's emergent journey - awakening, purification, illumination, voices and visions, introspection (recollection, quiet, contemplation), ecstasy and rapture, the dark night of the soul, and finally the Unitive Life. The coverage is almost completely of the Christian mystical tradition, and hence misses out on many other traditions. That is not a shortcoming of the book, since I believe that the stages of the mystic way are tradition agnostic and universal. For anyone who found Aurobindo's work a bit abstruse, this book provides similar scale and scope of coverage.

  • Ron Krumpos
    2019-05-20 00:45

    Underhill’s book, “Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness,” is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in mysticism…Christian or not. She quotes many Sufi mystics, speaks about Eastern influences, and gives insightful perspectives on contemplative prayer.I include many quotes from that book in my summary of comparative mysticism called “the greatest achievement in life” at She may not have claimed to be a mystic, but some of her friends said that she was. Few true mystics claimed that designation; some tried to avoid it because of most people’s misunderstanding or misconceptions of what a mystic is.For a more detailed description of Evelyn Underhill's life and work see:

  • W.R.
    2019-04-27 00:40

    “It is no argument to say that most men see the world in much the same way, and that this “way” is the true standard of reality: though for practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbors” page 10“Now and then an artist is born, terribly articulate, foolishly truthful, who insists on “Speaking as he saw.” Then other men, lapped warmly in their artificial universe, agree that he is mad: or, at the very best, an “extraordinarily imaginative fellow” page 10“Is your world of experience so well and logically founded that you dare make of it a standard?” page 25“It has been said that ‘Whatever we may do, our hunger for the Absolute will never cease’” page 39.“Only the Real can know Reality” page 43

  • Mark Austin
    2019-05-08 01:40

    ★ - Most books with this rating I never finish and so don't make this list. This one I probably started speed-reading to get it over with.★★ - Average. Wasn't terrible, but not a lot to recommend it. Probably skimmed parts of it.★★★ - Decent. A few good ideas, well-written passages, interesting characters, or the like.★★★★ - Good. This one had parts that inspired me, impressed me, made me laugh out loud, made me think - it got positive reactions and most of the rest of it was pretty decent too.★★★★★ - Amazing. This is the best I've read of its genre, the ones I hold on to so I can re-read them and/or loan them out to people looking for a great book. The best of these change the way I look at the world and operate within it.

  • Brandon Peele
    2019-05-11 01:29

    Extremely well researched. Anchored in Christianity. A must for seekers more than just curious about mysticism - up there as a foundational work with Future of the Body, Varieties of Religious Experience, Passion of the Western Mind, etc. Evelyn writes beautifully, but needs some editing. It was almost more of a flowerly mystical collection of words about mysticism, than an academic work. Nonetheless, her great writing makes up for her repetition. More than a few times it produced states in me.

  • Stacy Heatherly
    2019-04-30 02:22

    This book was like coming home.It was an answer to a lifelong question. What am I?!After spending an hour talkng to a minister telling her what my life has been like and how I experience God, she stated "you are a mystic" and recommended this book to me.After I finished reading it, I kept it for two weeks. Somehow I felt tat if I gave the book back all of what I read.. all the truth I just learned would leave with it. :)I found the courage to return it and all the truth I learned stayed with me. :)

  • Rob
    2019-05-03 04:42

    Enjoyable easy read, would have probably been more intrigued if I had read it when I first bought it, 25 years ago, but still...Only the penultimate chapter, The Unitive Life, droned on a little too long...but I most enjoyed the appendix: A Historical Sketch of European Mysticism From the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Death of Blake. If one doesn't wish to put up with reading the whole thing I recommend to just read that.

  • Sky Feather
    2019-05-22 01:40

    Beautiful and uplifting read; a meditative mystical experience by itself; exposing the vast palette of the mystical life with its own array of colors. One finds himself shedding behind the old or falsely defined idealistic clothing, proceeding subsequently into the garden of the sublime and ineffable path made to be walked by the few ~

  • Stephen
    2019-05-14 02:49

    This text has brought to light a lot about myself and many that I have read of. It has sewn together many gaps in what I was seeking in knowing the spiritual experience using a language that spans across many different religious explanations of the journey.