The Mystical Core of Mormonism: A Very Brief Introduction

17 thoughts on “The Mystical Core of Mormonism: A Very Brief Introduction”

  1. I side more with Bill Hamblin. I think historical mysticism stems from imitating the forms of the priesthood but lacking its power. This is the heritage of the Egyptians, for example. They had only an imitation of the real thing. Therefore, they could only go so far with regard to unlocking the heavens. Even so, they were given special blessings regarding the earth–and I believe that included many things that would seem to us, today, to be “enchanted.”

    The same can be said for Jewish Kabbalistic or Christian Gnostic beliefs. They were developed and practiced in lieu of the true Rites of the priesthood. And so it is today, IMO. My sense is that without the Holy Order of the priesthood one can only actuate a form of godliness that may, indeed, have some edifying power, but will only be a faint imitation of the true heavenly gift.


    1. Thank you for your comment, Jack. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the subject. But I must disagree. Having personally practiced mysticism (through meditation) for several years, I can positively say that there is a infinite power beyond egoic comprehension in it. It is no mere imitation of the real thing. It is very much the real thing. There is more godliness in it than I have ever encountered before in my life. It is, as President McKay said, one of the most secret and most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. I know that. And the only way to know it is through direct personal experience. At least that has been my personal experience. But I thank you again for providing your perspective.


  2. Truman Madsen discusses the difference between mysticism and Revelation. Mormonism does not have a mystical foundation, but a revelatory foundation. A mystical experience is for the individual. A revelatory experience is an ineffable experience. While a revelatory experience must be definable, describable and communicable. It must be shareable. It must be reproducable by following similar principles. The same is not true of a mystical experience, in my experience. Consider Lehi and Nephi seeing the same thing. Consider Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon seeing the same thing and reporting on it, describing it to those present.
    The foundation of the LDS church is revelatory. Mysticism can be godly, but not of necessity. Revelation by nature is of divine origin.
    I think they are quite different.


    1. Hi Rand. Thanks for your comment. I’d like to read the discussion you note from Truman Madsen. Do you have the reference?

      It seems to me that mysticism and revelation are two aspects of the same experience. The prophet, seer, revelator, mystic, monk, saint, nun, or seeker will seek direct communion with God through various means and then God will be revealed to them (the mystical part), and then there will be a host of insights, realizations, recognitions, understandings, and revelations imparted to the individual’s consciousness (the revelatory part). The person that receives the communion will then often try to interpret their experience and new found knowledge and share it with others. This is often very difficult, because the experience is ineffable, and so the visionary often resorts to poetry, metaphor, figurative language, past experience, and cultural understanding, to convey the revelations received. Their various accounts will often differ from one another, and be dynamic, as the visionary attempts to shape the experience into symbolic language that others will understand, although language will always fall far short in perfectly describing the experience.

      Often people can experience mystical experiences together, in a kind of shared divine communion. They become linked together as it were, one in heart and mind, and often describe seeing similar things in their vision, in their expanded awareness, and receiving similar insights and revelatory information, particularly if they are speaking to one another throughout the experience.

      I think Mormonism very much has a mystical/revelatory foundation, but we have traditionally not seen it as such. I think there is much value in studying it from this perspective. Mysticism is often defined as direct communion or union with the divine, or God. It seems that Joseph was very much engaged in this kind of activity.

      Thanks again for sharing your perspective.


  3. Very interesting indeed. I think a lot of people will find the nomenclature (and the subject) somewhat off-putting because it’s not in line with traditional church jargon, but I welcome your perspective and agree with most of your thoughts on the matter.
    If you recall, The Vision recorded in Section 76 was seen by both Joseph and Sidney while others were in the room watching on. They perceived the vision with their minds, by the “power of the Spirit.”
    Paul, Moses, and Nephi’s experiences being “caught up” to a high mountain (or higher spiritual state) was similar to what I believe Joseph experienced with the First Vision. He finally came to on his back, and had lost a sense of time. As Paul described it, he wasn’t sure whether it was in or out of the body. My belief is that in these cases their spirits actually left their physical bodies for a time to be able to more fully comprehend and commune with the Lord. This leads to more questions about the particulars of transfiguration. Though I believe we can each personally tap into that power to elevate the consciousness without necessarily being transfigured.


    1. Thanks Patrick. Great thoughts. I think perhaps when people feel as if their spirit has left their body, this may also be an effect of activity in the brain and mind. There are processes in our brain that structure our perception of our bodily selves, our body positions and boundaries (related to proprioception). If the activity in these areas of the brain go offline or are disrupted, then one might feel as if they are no longer embodied. The mind no longer places itself in a particular space associated with the physical body.


  4. Bryce, I appreciate your work here.

    I’d like to point out that kensho–Zen insight–is *not* an altered state of consciousness; rather, it is seeing things as they really are, without all of our preconceptions and judgments and mental constructs getting in the way. From the Zen point of view, all of *those* things are the altered states of consciousness, and they get in the way of seeing our true nature, which is *original* consciousness.

    Ultimately our true nature is intelligence–pure intelligence. This intelligence (which *is* us) was not created but has always existed. Meditation actually helps *remove* the altered states of consciousness that get in our way so that we can see who (and what) we really are. Joseph Smith touches on this in his King Follett discourse:

    It’s also discussed in D&C 93:

    And in the book of Abraham:

    Best wishes,
    Jack Lyon


    1. Hi Jack,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think we might be looking at the same thing from two different vantage points. From our common conscious state, kensho is altered. From the kensho state, our common consciousness is altered.

      I refer to kensho as an “altered” state of consciousness because it is a state very different from our typical state, the one from which most people operate most of the time. Kensho is a state in which we can see the true nature of things, as they really are, and see who and what we really are, even our true nature (see also D&C 76:94, D&C 93:24, D&C 5:13). This is not our common state of consciousness most of the time, which is full of preconceptions, judgments, and constructs. It takes a significant change in our state of consciousness to obtain that purer state of consciousness, even if it is a removal or cleansing of these accretions and defilements in return to a more original state, as is done in meditation. Because of the change that is required from the common state of consciousness, that is why I call kensho “altered.” Other words we might use could include “non-ordinary,” “non-standard,” “atypical,” “uncommon,” “alternate,” or “alternative.”

      The Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes well these contrasting perspectives, which differs in the various schools of Zen:

      Thank you again, Jack, for sharing your views and adding to this conversation.


      1. Yes, from our usual way of thinking, kensho would be an altered state of consciousness. From the Zen way of thinking, kensho would be our ordinary consciousness. It doesn’t really matter what we call it.


  5. So, do I need to go out and find a stone? 😉
    It seems that all of the spiritual or mystical experiences that people have are very personal and we should be cautious in sharing them because they can be misinterpreted so easily. I know what I know and believe what I believe because of these holy experiences. The Brethren have encouraged us to seek out these things so that they can be efficacious in our lives, if we seek them with pure intent.


    1. 🙂 No, you don’t need a stone if you don’t want one. But I do think it helps to understand how the stone may have “worked” for Joseph.

      Yes, we should treat spiritual experiences with care.

      Thanks Russ.


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