Mysticism: What Are Mystical Experiences?

We explore descriptions and common characteristics of mysticism...

What Is Mysticism?
Mysticism can be defined as having a personal, life-changing, transcendent experience.

Mystic Experiences & MysticismAccording to author and lecturer William James in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience,there are 4 primary observations that he made about mystical experiences. The first two characteristics seem to be most prominent, essentially the hallmark of mysticism. The second two marks of mysticism may accompany the first two; but they certainly are not something experienced by everyone who has had a revelatory moment.


The mystical experience, itself, is often difficult to explain to others who have not had them. Being hard to put into words, the person who has experienced such things will realize that what they encountered was something unique and personal, making it difficult to be fully understood by others. James defined this as the
quality of 'ineffability.'

Noetic Quality

Mysticism is known to help a person transcend beyond just the earthly perspective, typically imparting hidden knowledge or 'revelation.' Mystical journeys can lead to what is often dubbed 'enlightenment,' providing insights into deeper truths about the universe. James believed the mystical experience to have a 'noetic quality,' meaning the supranatural event imparts a wisdom to the intellect of the person.


Mystical experiences can sometimes have a transiency quality about them, meaning they seem to come and go as they please and are short in duration. Even though short, mystical states are impactful. The experiencer will often recall the details, later, in an effort to ponder, better understand and, perhaps, apply what was learned to improved self-development.


Accounts of mysticism often reveal times where the mystic seems governed by a greater force. James observed that this governance of an unseen power over a person can also lead to metaphysical phenomenon, such as prophesying, mediumship, trance-like states, and even automatic writing.

Describing Mysticism's Transcending Experience
Now that we understand the common characteristics that may be found within mystical experiences, what are the transcending revelations that are often described by the mystic? The following are some descriptions for the 'sense of knowning" that is beyond our normal comprehension:

  • A sense of having a deeper significance
  • A sense of having "been here before" (e.g. deja vu)
  • A realization that everyone and everything is connected and unified (One)
  • A realization of eternal life and the reconciliation of all
  • An overwhelming feeling of being deeply loved
  • A profound sense of peace and elation (joy)
  • An awareness of a 'greater consciousness' and that 'we are not alone'
  • An understanding of order, everything having its place
  • The sense that our connection to everything is within us and not something external from our being

Mystical journeys may be short, as in minutes, or extend up to an hour or two. And you might imagine that practicing meditation seems to aid in having such experiences - but it does not guarantee them. Mysticism has ties, certainly, with various religions, but these unique transformational events can come with, or without, religious practice or dogma.

Mysticism is not something to be afraid of, and the word should be used to describe moments in our lives when we connect with something greater beyond the natural world, what some may call the 'kingdom within.' - Louis