There are those who have little respect or appreciation for the occurrence of mystical experiences in another individual’s life. These people are often wrapped up in a guise of scientific skepticism and have no way of relating so-called “paranormal” occurrences to their own lives. It is these people who have a tendency to dismiss mystical experience a priori: they have predetermined that such experiences can not possibly be real, and so, they make claims that the experiences of any given mystic are something other than what the individual interprets such events to be. Often reductionist in aim, the sceptics are wont to say that religious oriented experience “comes down” to merely x, y, and z (fill in the blanks with your favourite “scientific” terminology). In the cases of Western (i.e., Christian) women mystics who experience a “divine rapture””?a sexual and erotic union with the “other””?some of these scientific sceptics assert that such experiences are merely repressed sexuality. It seems to me that such a statement is empty of content: the assertion does no work in explaining what the mystical experience is. Moreover, even if we assume that an erotic union with God is the result of so-called “repression” the actual experience itself is not found in the mystic’s denied sexuality”?the denial allows for such an experience. It is my opinion that we can see how a denied or repressed sex-drive may create an avenue for religious experience with an erotic flavour, but the reductionist explanation of the sceptic does not explain away the mystical union.
The very first thing we need to note here is that there are many traditions which teach the practice of abstinence as a gateway to religious experience. Many ascetics inside a given tradition will endorse the denial of sexuality as a means in which to promote the religious experience that they are seeking to manifest. The aim here is not to validate this practice by saying that many people have undergone similar self restrictions in order to have mystical experiences, but simply to note that it is a practice which has been endorsed by a wider range of people than those mystics who are only celibate Christian women. If we take a good look at a cross-cultural variety of traditions, then we find that both men and women have taken this path to religious experience: repressed sexuality, in these contexts, becomes a means to an end, but not an end in itself”?as the sceptical assertion seems to claim (that is, the sceptics see the denial of sexuality as explaining what the mystical experience is). Our next step will be to understand how the denial of physical sexuality”?that is, performing the act with a human partner”?might lead to an erotic encounter with a “divine other.”
Many of us can recognize that participation in an actual sexual union with another human being often involves copious amounts of energy. This energy is built up (ideally, but not always) in both of the participants long before the sexual act ever occurs. Such accumulation of energy is the result of both psychological (desire, need, etc.) and physical processes found in most human beings. I intend to focus on some of these physical aspects of human sexuality at this time: it is in this sense that we can see humans as, what I will call, “biological batteries.” This description of humans is not meant to reduce us to mere biological machines, but to draw out a portion of the complex system that a human being is, and focus on a specific part of our physical qualities.
The instinct for sexual union stems from, in part, the biological need to breed. Our bodies are set up in such a way that, for most of us, there are many chemicals and hormones at work inside us which encourage us to experience the desire to reproduce. This seems to be a biological necessity”?a trait that is “hardwired” into the very nature of the human as a physical system: our DNA encodes and constructs us in such a manner that we seek to perpetuate this code’s growth and continued existence. This we do through the act of sexual union. Sex for pleasure is certainly a distraction to the ascetic mystical pursuit; however, the fact that the average human is driven to have sex for biological reasons is quite a different type of distraction! We can see the former as something which can be controlled simply through changing one’s attitude”?deny the need to experience the pleasure, but the latter is a denial which demands that the energies of the human chemistry be overcome. It would appear that the denial of biological necessity leads to a situation where the biological battery must be discharged in some manner, and since the act of sexual union with a human partner is not an option for the individual practicing abstinence, this discharge must take some other form. In the cases of the female Christian mystics this energy seems to be consumed in a mental-physical encounter with the object of their affections: God or the Lord Jesus.
The main thrust of the preceding paragraph was to suggest that the chemical energies that build up as a result of the biological need to reproduce must be directed somewhere. Our science tells us that energy can not be created (from nothing) or destroyed, but only transformed; thus, the reactions in the biological battery which take base chemicals and combine them in such a way that the new energy is designed to be directed at the necessity of reproduction must come to be expelled in some manner. We can look at this energy build up in a given human being as potential energy, which through our biology, demands to be utilized in some manner. We see that this energy has to go somewhere; thus, the repression of one’s sex-drive leads into a state of charged potential in the individual. This charged potential demands to be spent, and so, the energies of “repressed sexuality” must be redirected into some other avenue of expression. The direction which the energy flows in the mystic is towards the generation of the mystical union.
By the argument thus far we see that the sceptical claim regarding “repressed sexuality” is better described as, “redirected sexuality.” In this light we see what is occurring in these people such that the erotic elements of their divine union easily follow. We have seen that, in these cases, the energy being directed towards the manifestation of this type of religious experience is sexual energy; thus, it should come as no surprise when people describe the event in terms of erotic imagery”?it was their own transformed sexuality, which allowed (in part) for the experience in the first place! With respect to the Christian women who experience the divine union we can see that they are more likely to accept the physical qualities of this encounter as a reality: the Christian deity is conceived of as male; thus, a woman is normatively comfortable with fulfilling a heterosexual union, whereas a Christian male would be pressured to speak of the sexual elements as metaphor due to the socially unacceptable homosexual overtones. Regardless of how the values of society influence the interpretation, we find that redirected sexuality leading to mystical experience gets described in erotic language by many mystics”?female and male.
The view that I have illustrated with respect to sexually motivated religious experience is different from that of the sceptic in subtle but important ways. Where, it appears, the sceptic desires to reduce the erotic encounter with the divine other as repressed sexuality, I am stating that such repression may lead to the mystical encounter”?my opinion on the matter is not a reduction, but a composition. I am suggesting that it is the build up of biological energy in conjunction with a certain state of mind, namely, the mystic’s belief apparatus and structure (as well as other factors (1)), which allows for the manifestation of a pseudo-physical erotic encounter: the built-up potential of sexual energy is released through a sex act not with a human partner, but with an “other” which is made possible through the paradigm of the individual’s belief complex. Thus, it is my opinion that mystical experience is not found in repressed sexuality, but that the denial of a necessary biological drive creates an opportunity for the manifestation of a mystical encounter.
(1)A qualifying statement: other factors are not immediately important to the point being developed in this paper, and so, do not need to be delved into in this brief exposition; however, this is a recognition that there is more to mystical experience than only the factors being examined here.
b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.