The Eternal Mystic March 19, 2017Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback
Beach is eternally worried about mystics, people who have or believe that they have paranormal powers. Where do they come from? What do they mean? Most studies of ‘mystics’ put them in a historical tradition. The Cunning Man in the English or, for that matter, New England countryside in the 1700s draws on Christianity, Anglo-Saxon and perhaps Celtic paganism, Renaissance ritual magic and ancient astrology. The spiritualist in his den in the 1890s, with ectoplasm hidden cunningly under his wig, looks back to the Neo-Platonists and the possessed of the Middle Ages. The self help guru raving about NLP and non-existent Harvard studies is just a successor of the enlightenment seers raving about magnetism.
But Beach has always this nagging concern that we are missing something important here: the biological dimension. If you take a thousand eight year olds and drop them on a desert island interesting things will happen. Leaders will emerge, psychopaths will kill fat boys with glasses, and a hierarchy will slowly struggle to its feet. Beach has absolutely no doubt, too, that mystics will float to the surface of the human soup on the island, the ‘Simon’ of Lord of the Flies.* What would they base their experiences on? Memories of church on Sunday, glimpses of marvels in Disney cartoons, sunsets over the Pacific? These mystics would, in any case, have their visions, their invisible friends, their insights… They would curse and they would cure.
Is this all idle speculation? Well, the experiment is unlikely to be approved by an IRB in the foreseeable future. But we have some accidental historical instances where mystics were born and brought up without context. In north-western European countries from the 1880s through to the Second World War the occult was a minority interest and one that rarely emerged into popular culture. The traditional witches of the countryside had altogether perished. The only serious mystical tradition was spiritualism and theosophy.
What did the mystics do who were born in suburbia? Well, they invented their own traditions. The fairy seers of the 1920s and 1930s owe some of their thinking to theosophy and some reading in nineteenth-century folklore, but their ‘religion’ is absolutely new. The witch covens that pop up in Britain before the war are likewise short on antecedents. If God did not exist you would have to invent him: if mystics don’t have a language they create one. Beach remembers here a post on a modern day mystic.
Perhaps historians of magic and belief would do better, when thinking about mystics, to look at the history and the historiography of sexuality. Sex is a human imperative, we are all here because of it and most of us need it. Society filters sex needs in interesting and varied ways, but society cannot fundamentally rewire human beings: for example, the claims for societies where homosexuality or masturbation do not exist are vanishingly small. Mystics should be seen in this light. Some borderline mystics may perhaps not emerge in an arrogantly rationalistic civilization. But strong mystics will come bobbing to the surface no matter what and if they have to invent their own traditions they will do so. In fact, there has to be a suspicion looking at mystics and their magic through history that there is an awful lot of self invention, even in societies with magic traditions on tap: after all, their main source of inspiration are the wiles of their own subconsciouses.
Other thoughts on the eternal mystic: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
* An absolutely irrelevant aside, but what would have happened had there been girls on Golding’s island as well?