Mythology Cafe, the New York City chapter of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, met for its monthly dinner-lecture last night, despite the disruption in the neighborhood caused by the visit of President Obama across the street. Our topic was “Mythology and Mysticism” in a conversation capably led by Morrin Bass, one of the principals of the New York Awareness Center.
Mysticism is sometimes taken as the esoteric understanding of God and His works given to a few chosen souls, or as the immediate apprehension of, and even identity with, God Himself. In either case, mysticism found a profound, if occasionally troubled, place in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The sources of the trouble are not far to seek. For one thing, such a privileged understanding seemed to create ‘a church within a church,’ an elite group of believers who, if they did not often trouble those latter members of the flock, certainly troubled their shepherds. And among some of the adepts, their special understanding, their ‘gnosis,’ which they at least thought was more profound, and perhaps even more authentic, than that possessed by the ordinary believer, had the effect of reducing what might be called ‘ordinary revelation’ to an inferior status and, as an occasional corollary, of freeing the adept from the ‘ordinary observance’ prescribed by that other, public revelation. And finally, the mystic’s intuitive leap into the neighborhood, or even the very bosom, of God seemed to violate one of the most profound and strongly held beliefs of the three monotheistic faiths, that in the utter transcendence, the absolute otherness, of God.
Professor Peters’ take on mysticism surely is not foreign to Freemasonry, certain avenues of which are traveled by brethren who discern in its rituals and symbols secrets they appropriate for themselves. I admit to being guilty of this to an extent, but the position held by myself and those like me is not necessarily of our own making. When a member of a private society that exists to explore morality, eschatology, and other adult concerns always is surrounded by fellow members who offer nothing but “kid tested, mother approved” frivolity, even his simple sincerity in studying the rituals and lectures can make him look like an isolated hermit by comparison. He may resign himself to that identity, or embrace it, but it is not entirely of his own creation.
he becomes lonely.”