Practically every philosophy of our existence can be placed into one of three broad categories: scientific, mystical, or spiritual. Of these, mysticism and spirituality often overlap as components of one’s religious heritage while science generally maintains that mysticism and spirituality are only “psychological remnants” from our pre-technological societies and therefore should not form the basis for explanations of events in the world around us.
Science emphatically rejects the concept of a supernatural (which can be defined as anything not existing in the physical, everyday, world) explanation for any observable phenomena. All science is based on the premise that the world around us can be explained in terms of physical laws that do not require the existence of anything, or any being, that cannot be subjected to unbiased testing. This insistence on “hard” data that can be evaluated by others in a different location and at a different time is sometimes referred to as “scientific empiricism.”
Mysticism can be defined as the belief that there are two distinct levels, or “planes” of knowledge. The first plane, and the most commonly experienced or “knowable,” is that of the physical world. To mysticism, this knowledge is sufficient for understanding that which can be seen. The second plane, however, can only be experienced by those who have “prepared” themselves to receive this “hidden” or otherwise “secret” knowledge, and usually only after long periods of study or self-sacrifice.
Mysticism is probably one of the oldest attempts to gain knowledge of what cannot be directly experienced. In the ancient world such knowledge was usually maintained by various “mystery cults,” such as those associated with the Egyptian goddess Isis or with Dionysus in Classical Greece.
As time passed, new civilizations replaced older ones (such as the Roman conquest of Greece) and many mystical beliefs found their way into the religions and philosophies of other peoples. The basic tenets of mysticism have survived into the modern era was well. Mysticism, for example, lies at the heart of Islamic Sufism or the study of the Kaballah in Judaism, but can also be found in practically every religious faith.
Spiritualism, broadly, is the belief that supernatural knowledge is freely available to all who seek it. In many cases it is difficult to separate spiritualism from a more formally organized religion because they will share many basic tenets such as the belief in a single, omnipotent God or the belief that God exists within each living object and thus the contention that “all are holy.” In doing so, spiritualism tends to reject the notion that one must accept one philosophy or organized religion as superior to another. Rather, it holds that all equal but that each tends to focus on one aspect of the “eternal” and thus, by accepting all as equal to each other, knowledge of the “supernatural world can be attained.
Obviously, there are many areas in which the basic divisions mentioned here will overlap but, by understanding the basic concepts of each, it will be easier to recognize points of both commonality and difference.