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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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,126 Ratings  ·  44 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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Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Elsa Fourie
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“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
Ron Grunberg
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirit
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.
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Pranada Comtois
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.

Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting classic on the subject of mysticism. Generally a good book and it covers authentic mysticism which is refreshing and not the diluted "new age" idea of mysticism which is now sadly all too common.
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
A classic early monograph on mysticism. A must read for those interested in the question of mysticism.
Jun 01, 2009 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.
Rick Folker
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
everything you ever wanted to know about mysticism - Underhill is the expert
Shal J
Jan 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Br. Lawrence
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is essential reading for anyone serious about mysticism. There is absolutely nothing 'occult' about this subject as presented here. It is as important in its own way today as is William James' Varieties of Religious Experience still a relevant.

Debbie Hoskins
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I couldn't find the picture of the edition I read in 1982. If I find my book, it probably got lost in a move, I'll take a picture of the cover. I read this book for a course, Mysticism in the Arts. I remember being so fascinated by it. I have found that I read books when I was young that I wouldn't have the patience for now.
I was thinking about trying to read it now, but I can't get past the hard to understand words for the chapters. It looks like your reviews for this book, will give me a refre
Alex Obrigewitsch
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book took me quite a while to read, and not at all because it is difficult (it isn't). I struggled to finish this book due to its inanity.

Underhill was obviously not a mystic. She never had a "true" mystical experience. For had this have been so she would have known that the entirety of her book is pointless. That which is the mystic experience is completely outside of language and human conception - it is outside of the human. And what does Underhill do? She tries to analyze this experien
Ulrika Eriksson
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill
Idries Shah wrote somewhere that everybody should read this book. So Ive done and it took me quite a long time. It is compact and academic and it has a beautiful old fashion language. As a reference book over the history of mysticism, especially in the West, its fantastic and Underhill re-establishes the meaning of the word Mysticism that has with time departed considerably from its original meaning. The mystic faculty is latent in all of us to a higher or lesser de
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
Ron Krumpos
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Mark Austin
May 27, 2016 rated it liked it
★ - Most books with this rating I never finish and so don't make this list. This one I probably started speed-reading to get it over with.
★★ - Average. Wasn't terrible, but not a lot to recommend it. Probably skimmed parts of it.
★★★ - Decent. A few good ideas, well-written passages, interesting characters, or the like.
★★★★ - Good. This one had parts that inspired me, impressed me, made me laugh out loud, made me think - it got positive reactions and most of the rest of it was pretty decent too.
Brandon Peele
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Stacy Heatherly
Sep 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable easy read, would have probably been more intrigued if I had read it when I first bought it, 25 years ago, but still...
Only the penultimate chapter, The Unitive Life, droned on a little too long...but I most enjoyed the appendix: A Historical Sketch of European Mysticism From the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Death of Blake. If one doesn't wish to put up with reading the whole thing I recommend to just read that.
Sky Feather
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Beautiful and uplifting read; a meditative mystical experience by itself; exposing the vast palette of the mystical life with its own array of colors. One finds himself shedding behind the old or falsely defined idealistic clothing, proceeding subsequently into the garden of the sublime and ineffable path made to be walked by the few ~
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.
John Backman
Jun 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: spirituality
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.
Sigrid Fry-Revere
May 14, 2016 rated it liked it
A curious read. A bit tedious and repetitive but interesting from a historical and psychological perspective. I like the idea that all human life has a mystical component, but I can't buy that our highest nature is expressed through transentrental unity with a higher being or state.
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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 about Evelyn Underhill...

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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.” 30 likes
“For a lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday” 15 likes
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