Mystical experiences are found in every religion and many happen spontaneously. These are experiences of mystery and wonder – beauty and power that overwhelms us. They are first hand experiences of spiritual beings and knowing things we had no way of knowing. Many are ineffable – impossible to describe in words.
For the most part, these experiences are not harmful, but they can be dangerous. They can turn your life upside down, show you Life as it really is, and cause you to re-evaluate your priorities. Many people who have mystical experiences rationalize them away, some because their worldview says they don’t exist and some because they don’t want to deal with their implications.
But mystical experiences are very real. It’s important to talk about them, to support each other and start building a new consensus reality that has room for these most meaningful and powerful religious, spiritual, and magical experiences.
Mystical experiences happen in their own time. We can invite Gods and ancestors to speak to us, but they are sovereign beings just as we are. They may choose to come, or they may not. Even beings who are traditionally summoned (i.e. – demons) don’t always show up on demand. Natural forces can have great impact on us, but they’re even more difficult to predict.
One of the simplest things to do to promote a mystical experience is simply to stand outside under the full moon. That’s easy, but the moon is only full three days out of the month. If the sky is overcast during those three days, you can’t see it. It’s still there and you can still do full moon magic, but without that beautiful bright light in the sky, experiences of mystery and wonder are far less likely to occur.
On the other hand, if you never go outside at night, you’re guaranteed to never see the full moon. All you can control are your actions – the results come in their own time.
Build a foundation of regular devotion. If you want Gods and spirits to talk to you, start by talking to them. Earlier this year I wrote about Beginning a Devotional Practice: create an altar, pray, meditate, and make offerings. Read, study, and talk with more experienced practitioners. Above all, be consistent. Lots of people call on Gods when they’re in trouble or when they’re curious – far fewer demonstrate the consistent dedication that shows they’re looking for a relationship and not a parlor trick.
Do the prep work. We cannot command mystical experiences, but we can facilitate them – we can make them more likely to occur. Put yourself in the right frame of mind: grounding and centering will help you let go of the stress of ordinary life, if only for a short time. Light candles and incense, wear your magical jewelry. Do whatever preparatory ritual you do: cast a circle, call the spirits of the directions and elements, invoke the land, sky, and sea. Find some good devotional readings and read them out loud, even if you’re the only one present… especially if you’re the only one present. Make offerings – put some effort into researching traditional offerings or offerings that contemporary practitioners have found to be favorably received.
Does this preparatory work increase the odds a spiritual being will speak to you or does it increase the odds you’ll hear them if they do speak? A little of both, I think. All I know is that it helps.
In wild places. The Gods can speak to you anywhere, but Nature spirits are far more likely to speak to you in the wild – because that’s where they are. Powerful experiences of wonder and awe can happen in the woods or desert or oceanside, but they’re not going to happen in your living room. There is magic in wild places – if you want to have a mystical experience, visiting wild places greatly increases your chances.There is nothing like spending time in true wilderness. But most of us don’t live that far away from civilization. Visiting accessible natural places is the next best thing: parks and rural areas work well; even your back yard will do. Maybe you can only visit true wilderness once a year. But you can visit a local park once a week or so, and you can spend time in your back yard every night. If you don’t have a back yard, put some plants in your kitchen window. Making use of what you have is far more effective than doing nothing because you don’t have access to a perfect environment.
In dark places. Spontaneous mystical experiences can happen at any time of the day – one of my strongest was in the middle of the afternoon. But if you’re trying to encourage one, it helps to work with as little light as possible – whether you’re practicing indoors or outdoors. Darkness blocks out distractions and focuses our concentration on our immediate surroundings.
And let’s be honest – most of us associate magic and mystery with the dark. That’s one more thing to put us in the right frame of mind.
Patience and persistence. You can do all these things with perfect intention and perfect execution and still get nothing. Mystical experiences cannot be commanded.
Sitting outside for 15 minutes didn’t produce anything? Next time try 30 minutes. Or two hours. Or from dusk till dawn. Or try an hour every night for a month.
Does that sound excessive? It may very well be, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Spiritual experiences happen on their own timetable. Gods and spirits speak to us when they choose, but I have found that persistence will often get their attention when hit-or-miss practice will not.
About entheogens. Entheogens are chemicals (mostly from plants) that produce a change in consciousness that make it more likely that a mystical experience will occur. Most of them are illegal, and with good reason: the wrong dosage can kill you, and you’ll hurt a lot while you’re dying. But people have used herbs, mushrooms, and other psychoactive substances in rituals of thousands of years – used properly, they work. If you feel this is for you, find an experienced practitioner to guide you through it… and that probably means leaving the country to do it.
The only entheogen I’ve ever used is alcohol. I won’t touch it before a public ritual, but I’ve found it to be helpful in certain private rituals. For me, the “goldilocks zone” is when I’m still legal to drive but not safe to drive. I’m still able to focus on what I’m doing, but my filters are lower: I’m more open to unusual inputs and experiences, and I’m less likely to judge them while they’re happening.
This can be addictive – handle with reverence. There is nothing that can compare to a mystical or ecstatic experience, whether it’s a message from a God or the vision of a spirit or the loss of self and sense of unity that comes with natural experiences of wonder and awe. When you have one, you’ll want to have another and another and another.
Mystical experiences aren’t cookies and they don’t happen for your enjoyment. And sometimes they aren’t enjoyable at all – sometimes they’re painful, sometimes they’re hard, and sometimes they call us to do something that itself is painful and hard.
More importantly, they’re sacred. And because they’re sacred they must be handled with reverence – with the appreciation that they have a sacred source and a sacred purpose and they connect you to something bigger than yourself. Show these experiences the respect they deserve.
Mystical experiences take many forms, but they happen in every culture, including our mainstream culture. Most people ignore them or rationalize them away, but for those of us who understand and appreciate them, they can be the deepest, most meaningful experiences in our lives. We cannot control them and we cannot command them, but through deep practice we can make them more likely to appear in our lives.