5. Psychological Introduction

Mysticism is, after all, a state of consciousness, whether that be pure or intentional consciousness. As such, we should be able to consider psychological causes and effects of such a state. Some (e.g., Fritz Staal, Exploring Mysticism) have tried to argue that mysticism is investigatable as an empirical phenomenon, since mystical experiences are reproducible. Staal does not think that mysticism is just a psychological phenomenon (in fact, he argues that psychological studies miss the point about the meaning of the experience), but he does think that it can be studied in what is essentially a psychological manner, inducing the experience through drugs, through traditional methods like gurus, etc.

There are also those who have constructed models that incorporate mystical consciousness into our various forms of consciousness. Some of these models (e.g. Roland Fischer's) place mystical ecstacy and the meditative trance at the extreme points of a circle/continuum of consciousness, where they meet and become the other.

There is another angle on the psychology of mysticism. It is clear that, for some mystics, there is a psychological explanation for the experience. Hildegard, for example, is said to have suffered from severe migraines. Certain visions or experiences seem to come when extreme circumstances are happening -- physical peril, torture, etc. Some ascetic mystics even advocate this kind of physical pain to induce mystical experience. They call it "denying the body". What is the relationship between these very natural conditions, and the mystical experience? Some researchers identify a close relationship between mysticism and schizophrenia. Is mysticism nothing more than a mental disorder?