We live in a time and place of both a great blessing and a great curse. Never before in the history of humanity has everyone had access to all the world's mysteries and wisdom. The great blessing is this—the religions, myths, rituals, and spiritual techniques of almost all traditions are available to us. We can go to the library, to a bookstore or online to search and find a little bit of information on any mystic tradition. It's quite amazing, and nothing in the ancient world can compare to it. Though information and teachings were traded among mystics in the ancient world, such as the information passing from the Egyptians to the Greeks, it was not so readily available to the average person in society.
The great curse of our time is that never before in the history of humanity have we had access to all the world's mysteries and wisdom. Wait a second … wasn't that our blessing? It is both a blessing and a curse, both a strength and a weakness. The blessing has created a wonderful buffet of choices for our spiritual diet, giving us a range of experiences and ideas. The problem is that many of these systems are inherently linked to a culture or specific worldview, and the full practice of the tradition, a dedication to it, is what grants spiritual awakening, centeredness, and spiritual insight. Just tasting it occasionally doesn't grant any of the benefits of the tradition, and some would argue a random sampling of many practices could even be detrimental. It's like a buffet, but you never get to the food that really grants nutrition if you stick with the exotic and pretty looking ones simply because they are new. Though you are eating often, the lack of spiritual nutrition means you are really starving. Another image used to describe this phenomenon is the well. When you start a tradition, you are digging a well, but if you never finish digging the well and hit water before starting another one, all you have are a bunch of holes in the ground. By committing to a tradition for a time, you reap some of its benefits, its water, and can then decide if it's for you in the long term.
One aspect of this blessing of information is the opportunity to see the similarities between so many world traditions and techniques. When you strip away the cultural connotations from many traditions and get to the core, you see that many of the mystical religions of the world are all saying the same thing, and have similar methods to reach deeper levels of awareness. My teachers have said to look at how the same wisdom shows up in many places. In it, you find truth. But it takes an education in mystical theory, in seeing the patterns that run across cultures and in learning how to use them in our daily life. In this age of the great blessing and curse, we are challenged to reweave the mystical traditions into new forms for the new century, without losing the essential wisdom at their core.
In our modern "New Age" spiritual traditions, education of mystical theories, history, and ideas are not often stressed. Though wonderful techniques are taught based upon what the student desires to learn, sometimes the big picture is lost. I know that's been the case for me, even with the best of intentions as a New Age teacher. Not too long ago, I had a student who learned a specific meditation technique with me. The technique is perfectly safe and is a wonderful addition to any spiritual practice, but the student had no other background in metaphysics, and came from a fairly conservative religious family. He practiced the technique diligently until he had a conversation with his grandmother, who said, "Meditation, hmmm. That can open you up to demons." And then he got frightened and stopped. He then came to me afraid and agitated, full of questions. Ultimately it was a good thing for him, but if he had been studying a particular tradition, with its worldview on spirits, demons, angels, psychic defense, prayer, and a whole host of other topics, I don't think her comment would have shaken him as much. He would have been a student of metaphysics, of mystical tradition, rather than just a student of a meditation technique, no matter how good that technique is. A tradition gives a context for those experiences and can help dispel such fears, but our New Age worldview doesn't really have a primer to explain our new collective, multicultural worldview—so I set out to write one.
Though most of my students come to me either seeking to study the healing arts of Reiki or those of Wicca, I have a lot who enjoy meditation and mystical work, without committing to either of those traditions. I wrote The Mystic Foundation for those students. It's an education book stripped of specific religious connotations, but gives mystical theory and understanding to a wide range of practices that can be found in many cultures. If you were just starting your journey in the spiritual world, and wanted to know enough about a wide range of topics to effectively choose your next step on the path, The Mystic Foundation will provide you with the information and exercises you need. It fills in the holes for students of specific traditions, and gives them the ability to relate their practices to a larger worldview. The last section of the book details spiritual traditions, relating theology and mystical texts, so that you can see what inspires you, and possibly dedicate yourself to the study of a specific tradition. Let The Mystic Foundation help you build a solid, core foundation for your own spiritual practice, so you can later build upon it.
Christopher Penczak is a Witch, teacher, writer, and healing practitioner. He is the founder of the world-renowned Temple of Witchcraft and the Temple Mystery School, and he is the creator of the bestselling Temple of ...