Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness
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Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  744 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Mysticism is Evelyn Underhill's seminal work on the subject. The book is divided into two parts, "The Mystic Fact" and "The Mystic Way." In the first part Underhill explores the theological, psychological, and philosophical underpinnings of mysticism from a historical perspective. In the second part Underhill examines the application of mysticism in one's life as a means f...more
Paperback, 356 pages
Published January 1st 2005 by (first published 1911)
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This book really challenges me in a way I rarely experience in spiritual reading. I think there is such a strong idea of mystics being extreme hermits who live in caves, that the whole understanding of Christian Mysticism has been undermined. But really, what this book is helping me to grasp, is that mysticism is simply the concentrated focus of one's entire life upon the person of Christ. The mystics were people who chose to live in such a way as to powerfully encounter the reality, the living,...more
Ron Grunberg
Read this book a long time ago, but I throw it down here because the memory of it still lingers, strong. I remember being mesmerized reading page after page of summaries of the mystics in history, Jacob Boehme, Emmanuel Swedenborg, William Blake, Dante, Meister Eckhart, the list goes on and on. Ms. Underhill, another of the great largely unheralded women writers of the 20th century, succinctly and without diminishing her subjects' greatness, presents their thinking, excerpts from their work, and...more
Elsa Fourie
“It is no argument to say that most men see the world in much the same way, and that this “way” is the true standard of reality: though for practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbors” page 10

“Now and then an artist is born, terribly articulate, foolishly truthful, who insists on “Speaking as he saw.” Then other men, lapped warmly in their artificial universe, agree that he is mad: or, at the very best, an “extraordinarily imaginative fel...more
This is a wonderful book, but one that I'm having to approach more as a textbook than reading it straight through. Underhill was a genuine genius, incredibly well read, scholarly, and willing to probe deeply into an esoteric subject like mysticism without being a cold materialist. The density of her writing is impressive, which is why she takes so long to read. I've had to buy a couple of books that I can use to follow up on some of her references. This is a book that will never be completely "r...more
This book took a very long time to read. It is a must read for anyone interested in mysticism. I believe Underhill was the first woman to teach theology at Oxford and her knowledge of the spiritual life is amazing. I would have to spend a few years to fully grasp this book, but I suppose her main points can be summarized as follows:

1. Mysticism is practical, not theoretical.
2. Mysticism is entirely a spiritual activity.
3. The business and method of mysticism is love.
4. Mysticism entails a psych...more
Aug 02, 2008 Acid rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any student of mysticism, religion,
this is a work of scholarship on the subject of is one of the more in depth books i have read about the subject...covering all the stages of the mystic journey... I learned that a mystic always holds love as the highest aim of the work begun in the individual...that no one mystic has ever revealed all of the stages that are present in any single journey toward god...that the stages appear in no particular order...after the initial contact with the absolute...I love to read this bo...more
It's a book to outlast a bookshelf. It is a thorough, insightful, clarifying overview and well referenced approach to a word which is actually quite difficult to pin down. In returning to it, I am inevitably darwn to the sections on acidie, dark nights of the soul etc. as a resource to help distinguish spiritual aridity from medical depression.
May 22, 2008 Jann rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who want to submerge themselves into descriptions of mystical states
Shelves: spiritual
....very interesting, however, western mystics' descriptions (quotes) of the various transcended states became tedious and repetitive for me. Evelyn needed a good editor. St Teresa's quotes were the most interesting. Evelyn's organization of the subject, however, was excellent. I think I was looking more for a cultural history of mysticism.
The primary source for a first understanding of mysticism. A monumental work. One of the Sayers-Lewis collective. Did you know St. Catherine lived for years running on nothing but one communion wafer a day - never lost weight or energy? A dangerous path to start if you like your HDTV and couch sitting.
Ron Krumpos
Underhill’s book, “Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness,” is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in mysticism…Christian or not. She quotes many Sufi mystics, speaks about Eastern influences, and gives insightful perspectives on contemplative prayer.

I include many quotes from that book in my summary of comparative mysticism called “the greatest achievement in life” at She may not have claimed to be a mystic, but som...more
Jun 04, 2009 Grant added it
I read the appendix "A Historical Sketch of European Mysticism from the Begiinning of the Christian Era to the Death of Blake." It is a good short introduction to the Western Mystical tradition.
A classic early monograph on mysticism. A must read for those interested in the question of mysticism.
Shal J
In reading Evelyn Underhill, I’ve began to think about the differences between Religion and Faith and how they connect to the analysis of Mystical Experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that Religion and Faith are two entirely different things. Religion is an institutionalized set of beliefs, attitudes and practices that are formed over generations. It feels like the practice of the religion takes on a life of its own. The heart of the religion, its core belief is substituted over time by the r...more
Neelesh Marik
A work of great poise, subtlety and erudition.

At the very outset, we are introduced to 4 frameworks of understanding reality:

a) Naturalism: that which is understood b y the senses

b) Idealism: that which is understood by thinking.

c) Philosophic scepticism: refuse to accept the realistic or idealistic answer to the riddle, contending there is no riddle to solve

d) Mysticism: the science of ultimates, the science of union with the absolute.

The book then dwells on the latter in its relationships wit...more
“It is no argument to say that most men see the world in much the same way, and that this “way” is the true standard of reality: though for practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbors” page 10

“Now and then an artist is born, terribly articulate, foolishly truthful, who insists on “Speaking as he saw.” Then other men, lapped warmly in their artificial universe, agree that he is mad: or, at the very best, an “extraordinarily imaginative fel...more
This was an interesting book, but it was published back in 1911 and most of the philosophy, science, and interpretations are profoundly dated.

Good book for historians of modern mystical thought.

3 out of 5 stars.
Pranada Comtois
Underhill's bold undertaking of mysticism is still relevant today. Hume wanted academia to catch up and make progress in defining and codifying metaphysics. Maybe Underhill hasn't reached Hume's level of intellectual study of the subject, but her insights are relevant and valuable.As a follower of another metaphysical path I found this an important addition to my library.

Stacy Heatherly
This book was like coming home.
It was an answer to a lifelong question. What am I?!
After spending an hour talkng to a minister telling her what my life has been like and how I experience God, she stated "you are a mystic" and recommended this book to me.
After I finished reading it, I kept it for two weeks.
Somehow I felt tat if I gave the book back all of what I read.. all the truth I just learned would leave with it. :)
I found the courage to return it and all the truth I learned stayed with me....more
This text has brought to light a lot about myself and many that I have read of. It has sewn together many gaps in what I was seeking in knowing the spiritual experience using a language that spans across many different religious explanations of the journey.
Brandon Peele
Extremely well researched. Anchored in Christianity. A must for seekers more than just curious about mysticism - up there as a foundational work with Future of the Body, Varieties of Religious Experience, Passion of the Western Mind, etc. Evelyn writes beautifully, but needs some editing. It was almost more of a flowerly mystical collection of words about mysticism, than an academic work. Nonetheless, her great writing makes up for her repetition. More than a few times it produced states in me.
John Backman
A hard slog, but still a worthwhile book from one of Anglicanism's most penetrating mystics and academic minds. Her turns of phrase about encountering the Real so brilliantly capture the essence of life with God.
A necessary read for anyone interested in the High Modern poets (especially Eliot) or theology, but probably won't break much new ground for anyone who's already read much in the field.
This book, from the early 20th century, provides a sympathetic study in to religious mysticism (particularly Christian). Well-researched and well-written.
A dense and difficult book. I would only recommend this to readers already familiar with mystical concepts.
Outstanding. Must-read for anyone exploring mysticism, true spiritual experience.
Scott Smith
Referenced in 'Mysteries' by Colin Wilson, pg 589-590.
Fascinating and inspirational as well as challenging.
Seamus Corcoran
Excellent, full of scholarly passion and insight.
Adam Gossman
Brilliant doesn't start to describe.
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Evelyn Underhill was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism.

In the English-speaking world, she was one of the most widely read writers on such matters in the first half of the twentieth century. No other book of its type—until the appearance in 1946 of Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy—...more
More about Evelyn Underhill...
Practical Mysticism; and, Abba: Meditations on the Lord's Prayer Practical Mysticism The Spiritual Life The Ways of the Spirit Concerning the Inner Life

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“In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram —impersonal and unattainable—the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.” 19 likes
“For a lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday” 8 likes
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