The Nature of Love, Part 3: Mystical Concepts

Last time in Part 2 of this series, I talked about how Greeks and Christians classified love. This time, I'm going to look at the mystical traditions, and how they view love.

Whereas the Greeks and Christians were fairly clear in how they classified types of love, other traditions weren't always so obliging. We're going to look at two of these. First, in this part, we will look at the Mystical Christian tradition which, though still Christianity, is different enough from "lay Christianity" to be considered a separate tradition. The second one, which we will look at in the next part, will be Chinese Daoism and it's concepts of love.

By "mystical traditions", I'm including several related but not directly connected systems of study, including Gnosticism, Mystical Catholicism, and several Occult traditions. In many of these mystical schools, time was seen as a cyclical concept, instead of the linear way most people tend to see it today. As a result, love tends to be seen in the same manner: cyclical love.

Cyclical love begins with the parents's love, which leads to the child being conceived, and then into parental love for the child. Following this is the love of the child for the parents, usually for the mother first, followed by the father. Over time, the child's love spreads to siblings, friends, and other family members. Eventually, the love may even spread to students, teachers, and to society or parts of society, such as a small community. It may even spread to a love of God. As the child grows, he or she develops romantic feelings for others, and thus the cycle begins again. There are also other elements that may appear as part of this cycle, the most notable of which is love of the self, which is an acceptance of and respect for one's self. This can manifest at any point in the cycle.


Although this won't be discussed in detail until a later part in this series, it is still worth noting at this point that this whole cycle begins with erotic or sexual love, and culminates in love for the divine, while cultivating self love along the way. This process - sexuality leading to spirituality, with a prerequisite of getting to know one's self - is an immensely important concept in many esoteric teachings. It is usually referred to as sexual alchemy, the alchemical transformation of sexual energy into spiritual energy. It is predominantly in this area, sexuality, that Mystical Christianity differs from popular Christianity. Lay Christianity has removed all sexuality from humans and the divine, the culmination of which is symbolized with the "virginization" of Mary.

Much like mainstream Christianity, Mystical Christianity also breaks love into four categories. However, the categories are neither the same nor what one might expect.

Mother-Child - This the first classification of love. The two main places in the Bible that this type of love is symbolized is with the Virgin Mary and with Jerusalem. The first is self-explanatory. In the second, often Jerusalem was seen as "the mother of the community" or the "mother of the Church", because it was there that the first Christians came together. This is described in Isaiah 66:10-13:

"Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:

That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.

For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.

As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem."

Father-Child - This is the second category of love. It is interesting to note that unlike other traditions, which usually focus on a single type of parent-child love, the Mystical tradition separates it out into Mother-Child and Father-Child. This form of love is the simplest for a Christian (mystical or otherwise) to understand. It is exemplified in the relationship between God ("The Father") and humanity, between Jesus and humanity, and between God and Jesus. It is worth noting that, depending on one's perspective, Jesus serves the role of both father and child in this form of love. This idea of one person being able to server both sides of a dual-sided relationship will become more important later on, once we discuss soulmates.

Sibling and Friendship - Whereas the parent-child love was broken up into two separate parts, the Mystical Christians combine sibling and friendship love into a single type. These two kinds of love are seen as being slightly different manifestations of the exact same thing (as shown by the tendency of people to refer to extremely good friends as "brother" or "sister"). The Biblical passage usually associated with this form of love is Romans 12:9-10:

"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;"

Romantic and Erotic Love - The final category of love is the one that makes most mainstream Christians uncomfortable. Since Biblical writings were essentially "scrubbed clean" of this concept and the dogma modified in order to demonize sexuality, most people were raised without the benefit of understanding the intimate connection between sexuality and the divine. But it was not always so. The mystical traditions, including Gnostic and Catholic Mysticism, not only preserved these ideas, but fostered them.

Typically, the use of sexuality is seen in two prominent symbolic concepts. The first is the idea of "penetrating God", both in the sense of getting to know Him and in the sense of merging with Him. The second idea is the desire - some would say craving - of the human soul for a total and complete union. A complete fusion both with God and, in some situations, with another soul.

The few remaining references to "divine sexuality" in the Bible can be found in the Song of Songs:

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." - Song of Songs 1:2


"Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.

Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.

Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies." - Song of Songs 4:3-5


"My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies." - Song of Songs 6:2-3

Outside of Biblical sources, other aspects of this divine sexuality are explored in more detail. Some of the best examples, surprisingly, come from the Catholic Mystics, particularly St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. For example:


"O guiding night!
 O night more lovely than the dawn!
 O night that has united
 the Lover with his beloved,
 transforming the beloved in her Lover." - St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Stanza 5

"I abandoned and forgot myself,

  laying my face on my Beloved;
  all things ceased; I went out from myself,
  leaving my cares
  forgotten among the lilies." - St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Stanza 8


And of course, one can have no doubt about the connection between sexuality and God after reading St. Teresa describe her religious visions and experiences as being virtually the same as an orgasm, and complete with phallic imagery, nonetheless:

"During the ecstasy the body stops moving,
breathing becomes slower and weaker,
you only sigh and pleasure comes in waves." - St. Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila

"He seemed to pierce my heart several times
so that it penetrated to my entrails.
When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it
And he left me completely afire with a great love for God.
The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans;
And so excessive was the sweetness caused me by the intense pain
That one can never wish to lose it..." - St. Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila

A more detailed explanation of the connection between human sexuality and divine love, including how to transform one to the other, will be discussed in the final part of this series. For now, it should be clear how different the understanding of love and it's ultimate purpose is between mystical and "standard" Christianity, and how much has changed over the centuries.

In Part 4, we will talk about Buddhist and Daoist concepts of love.

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