Mysticism, history of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K050-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

2. Mysticism of ancient and indigenous communities

So-called ‘extrovertive’ or ‘nature’ mysticism, involving an experience of a sacred unity in and with all things, is a relatively common human phenomenon, even where evidence for other forms of mystical experience is wanting (an example here is the alleged ‘mystical’ quality of many prehistoric cave paintings or ancient carvings). The spiritualities of many archaic cultures and indigenous peoples involve the celebration (and sometimes restoration) of a communal and individual sense of ‘oneness’ with the whole created order.

Eliade (1964) and others discern a mystical element in shamanism, and in the ‘spirit possession’ of African mediums. Native American peoples of the Central Plains region retain the tradition of the ‘vision quest’, in which seekers undertake an ascetic discipline to encounter their ‘spirit guide’. Though the results of these practices may not be an experience of ‘undifferentiated unity’, the processes involved and the ecstatic states attained bear certain affinities to the mystical disciplines of more familiar traditions.

Citing this article:
Payne, Steven. Mysticism of ancient and indigenous communities. Mysticism, history of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K050-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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