Mystics and visionaries are now as rare in the West as the Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat.
“Where there is no vision the people perish”, says the proverb and we need only watch the news tonight to see the truth of it. A culture without mystics is bland, superficial and blind to alternative possibilities and deeper insights. Mystics challenge our perceptions, unsettle us with their divinations and encourage us to try new ways of dealing with old problems.
Where are they when we need them?
Aldous Huxley, a visionary writer himself, saw two reasons for our mystic apocalypse:
Firstly, our culture has no room for mysticism:
In the currently fashionable picture of the universe there is no place for valid transcendental experience. Consequently, those who have had what they regard as valid transcendental experiences are looked upon with suspicion, as being either lunatics or swindlers. To be a mystic or a visionary is no longer creditable. (Heaven and Hell, p.96)
Secondly, we eat too much:
For almost half of every year our ancestors ate no fruit, no green vegetables…very little butter or fresh meat, and very few eggs. [By spring], most of them were suffering, mildly or acutely, due to lack of vitamin C, and pellagra, caused by a shortage in their diet of the B complex. (Heaven and Hell, p.97)
Eating so frugally burdens the brain and causes it to work less efficiently because it’s more susceptible to stress than other areas of the body.
Huxley believed the brain evolved a mechanism he called the “cerebral reducing valve” which filters out anything unrelated to physical safety, survival and security. Mystical experience, being inessential for survival, would normally be stopped by the brain’s reducing valve unless the brain is stressed.
A malnourished brain is a stressed brain and it cannot filter experience efficiently. The result: mystical visions.
Is it any wonder, given our brimming supermarket shelves and burgeoning waistlines, that mystical experience is less common?
Mystics and Visionaries Revival
Time for a mystic revival – I’m sure it’s possible even if we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Here are some underrated bygone mystic careers you may like to resurrect:
- Bibliomancy: Bible divination
- Empyromancy: a divination whereby eggs, flour and incense are thrown onto a sacrificial fire and its behaviour observed
- Axinomancy: an Ancient Greek, criminal-finding divination using an axe. A stone was placed on a red-hot axe and a person’s guilt was divined via its motion
- Haruspexy: a Roman official would divine the will of the gods by inspecting the entrails of sacrificial animals
- Sieve and shears: shear points were stuck in the wooden rim of a sieve and two people supported it upright with the tips of their two fingers. A Bible verse was then recited and St Peter and St Paul were asked who the guilty person was. The sieve would suddenly turn if the guilty person was named. This method was also used to see if a couple would marry.
Reference: Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Vintage Books, 2004