Review Article

Paths of Power*

Yoni Garb /

Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Shalom Hartman Instztutet

Mysticism: Experience, Response and Empowerment-the recently published work by Jess Byron Hollenback, is an extremely valuable addition to the rapidly expanding theoretical discussion of mysticism. In this review and discussion, I intend to briefly summarize the structure of Hollenback's work, outline what I perceive as his major contributions to this area of research, propose that his work may very well found a new paradigm in the study of mystical experience, and finally present my reservations with regard to the book as well as suggestions for further research required. Mysticism is composed of two sections: an extensive (300-page) theoretical discussion of the nature of mystical experience (pt. 1)' and two lengthy case studies, one of the Native American shaman and leader Black Elk and one of Saint Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth-century Christian mystic (pt. 2). After reviewing and critiquing existing models of mysticism (chap. l ) , Hollenback presents six representative texts exemplifying the nature of mystical experience and extracts from these texts seven salient characteristics of the mystical phenomena (chaps. 2-5). The major focus of this discussion is the importance of recollective techniques (i.e., the practice of one-pointed and sustained concentration) in mystical practice. Book 2 of the theoretical section takes up the close link between recollection, as the core of mystical technique, and the paranormal phenomena that often accompany mystical experience. These phenomena have been marginalized or altogether neglected in the past, and Hollen-

* J . B. Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Responseand Empowerment (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 1996), 646 pp. t My thanks to Professor Moshe Idel for bringing my attention to Hollenback's Mysticism in the course of a seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute and to Dr. Daniel Abrams for his illuminating comments on an earlier version of this article. The major contemporary theoretical debates-besides classics such as those of William James, Rudolf Otto, Evelyn Underhill, and \V. R. Inge-are U ' .T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960); S. Katz, ed., Mysticism and Religious Traditzons (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983); S. Katz, ed., Mystzcism and Language (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); R. Forman, ed., The Problem of Pure Consciousness (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); M. Idel and B. McGinn, eds., Mystical Union and Monotheistic Faith: A n Ecumenzcal Dialogue (New York: Macmillan, 1989). 0 1998 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0022-418919817804-0003$02.00

T h e Journal of Religion
back demonstrates at great length-and conclusively, in my view-that no model of mysticism is complete without bringing these manifestations of mystical "empowerment" into consideration (chap. 15). Hollenback then applies his theoretical conclusions to his chosen case studies: his fascinating examination of the mystical biography of Black Elk (pt. 2, bk. 3) underscores the unique nature of mysticism within the context of a tribal society and enables Hollenback to derive some important distinctions between this form of mysticism and that extant in more universal religious systems such as Yoga or Buddhism (chaps. 18-19). In my view, the second case study (pt. 2, bk. 4), which examines the issue of recollection within the context of Saint Teresa's mystical life course, does not enhance Hollenback's thesis in a manner that justifies the extensive space allotted to it within the book. The insights that can be derived from these chapters (25-31), which I discuss here, could have been fruitfully summarized in additional chapters within books 1 and 2.2 I would now like to present Hollenback's major contributions and innovative arguments through a consideration of the possibilities enabled by his pioneering endeavor in terms of future studies within the field. Hollenback's first contribution lies in his masterful review, discussion, and critique of the previous theoretical literature on the nature of mystical experience.%t the same time, he also suggests a powerful new theoretical framework for the study of mystical texts and phenomena, in terms of guiding interpretative principles as well as the methodology of the actual reading of mystical texts. What I consider to be the major building blocks and implications of this framework can be summarized in four major points: 1. Hollenback provides a greater sense of openness to the full array of mystical texts and phenomena, including the spirituality of the Far East and that of tribal1Shamanistic societies (Native Australian, Native American, Inuit Eskimo, etc.). The importance of this direction does not lie merely in a quantitative expansion of the existing material but mainly in the fact that it enables a powerful critique of the existing theoretical approaches in the field.4 The classical theoretical discussions alluded to above were mainly founded on Christian Mysticism, and even contemporary discussions mainly focus on the Western traditions (including Judaism and Islam) as well as-to a lesser degree-major religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. When one replaces this limitation with a more
This is certainly true of chap. 3 1. "other important review is that of Bernard McGinn in his introduction to The Foundations of Western Mysticism-Origins to the Fifth Century (New York: Crossroad, 1992). This direction was the approach of Mircea Eliade and the Chicago School of Comparative Religion-see M. Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), pp. 7-12-and informs the "\'Vorld Spirituality" series published by Crossroads Press.

Paths of Power
multicultural approach, then the focus of investigation shifts from the philosophical and linguistic concerns of more literate cultures to the more experiential Sitz-in-Leben of nonliterate societies. As Hollenback shows, the mystic of a literate tradition such as Kabbalah or Sufism should be studied in tandem with the shaman in a nonliterate society such as the Iglulik Eskimos. This comparison can enable a substantial reappraisal of the nature and role of the former's experience, as I describe below." Yet a further extension of the material encompassed by studies of mysticism is reflected in Hollenback's readiness to consider the evidence of contemporary mystical practitioners involved in techniques such as astral projection, telepathy, and reading of auras. ?'his material, which had been previously ignored or devalued by scholars, is fruitfully compared to the more "respectable" testimonies of well-known mystics such as Muhyiddin Ibn-Arabi or Saint John of the Cross. 2. To paraphrase Thomas Kuhn, the study of mysticism in the last two decades could be characterized as "preparadigmatic."" In other words, the field was split between two opposing approaches, each of which strove to become the dominant paradigm and thus structure the direction future investigations would take. The first approach, which is basically that of Walter Stace and Robert Forman, claimed that mystical experience is a universal essence and that the substantial differences one encounters in the mystical symbolism and language of various traditions belong to a secondary layer of description of the experience, rather than to the experience itself. The second approach, whose primary representative is Steven Katz, claims that mystical experience is constructed by language and sociocultural belief systems and that difference, rather than a common core of experience, is the primary characteristic of mystical experien~e.~ Hollenback proposes an unique synthesis of the two approaches. In my opinion, this synthesis is powerful enough to become the new paradigm On the one hand, he makes a powerful case in the study of my~ticism.~
This approach is the basis of a study of mine-entitled "When God Was an Animal" (Jerusalem, 1994). In this paper, I suggest that the experience of "Unio Mystica" in mystics such as Abraham Abulafia should be understood in light of shamanic experiences of unification with animal powers. For now, see my "Trance Techniques in the Kabbalah of Jerusalem,'' Paamim 70 (Summer 1997): 56 and n. 43 (in Hebrew). T. Kuhn, The Strzvtzrre of Srfentzfic Re7~olutions(Chicago: Universit) of Chicago Press, 1970). ' It is interesting to note that Gershom Scholem made a strong case for this thesis even before it became the topic of extensive theoretical discussion. See G. Scholem, On the Kahhalah artdZts Symbolism (New York: Schocken, 1965), pp. 15-21. See also the review and discussion in E. \Volfson, Through a Speculum That Shines: 15szon and Imagzlzatiolz in iCledieiia1Jewish ,I!fysticism(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), chap. 2. Hollenback himself refers to a "paradigm shift" from the essentialist to the constructivisticontextual view (p. 11). However, in my opinion, it is more true to the Kuhnian terminol-

The Journal of Religion
for the fundamental role played by cultural context in the construction of mystical e ~ p e r i e n c eOn . ~ the other hand, he avoids reducing this experience to cultural belief systems. Rather, Hollenback's work goes further than any previous scholarly effort in accepting the ontological reality of mystical phenomena. To illustrate the unique nature of this synthesis, it is instructive to consider the case of astral projection. Drawing on contemporary practitioners of this technique as well as on tribal Australian accounts, Hollenback raises the following questions: Why is the astral body described in contemporary accounts as being clothed rather than naked? Why is the astral body represented in the Australian tribal tradition as taking on the form of an animal? Hollenback draws on the role played by cultural expectations to address these problems:1° as the habitual mental image of oneself is accompanied by clothing, this image shapes the form taken by the astral body when projected in a trance state. Thus, in the tribal Australian context, the cultural belief in the "animal double" gives this particular form to the astral projection. However, he avoids the move of reducing descriptions of astral projection to mere cultural belief systems, despite the fundamental role played by culture in constructing this experience. Rather, he ascribes the effect of culture to the nature of this experience, as a real phenomena with its own unique laws. According to his model of mystical experience, which I shall expand on below, astral projection is enabled by the empowerment of the imagination, which is developed through techniques of recollection, or concentration. Recollective techniques empower the mind to such an extent as to produce the phenomena of enthymesis-a state in which thoughts and images have actual effects on objective reality. This enables the mind to exteriorize these images in the form of the astral body and thus travel out of the body. However, as the astral body is created by the power of the mind, it necessarily takes the form dictated by the practitioners thoughts and images, which in turn are determined by cultural representations. Thus, this kind of synthesis enables Hollenback to incorporate cultural beliefs
ogy that Hollenback-correctly-employs to see these two views as two would-be paradigms that lack the explanatory power to become "normal science." In other words, each approach can only explain certain aspects of mystical experience. The reason I contend that Hollenback's work may well found a true paradigm is that-as detailed below-it possesses the ability to explain within one single framework those aspects of mysticism that were previously addressed by only one of the contending approaches. "n my view, Hollenback's most compelling argument for cultural construction of mystical experience is to be found in his seminal discussion of "Unio Mystica" (pp. 221-22). Succinctly stated, his thesis is that union is always with a specific, culturally conditioned object rather than with a universal oneness. A similar argument has already been advanced by Moshe Idel (in The Mystical Expertenre in Abraham Abulafia, trans. J . Chipman [Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 19881, pp. 124-34) with regard to .Abraham Abulafia's description of union with the "active intellect." ' O See Hollenback, pp. 213-14.

Paths of Power
within the very structure of mystical experience rather than assigning them to the secondary level of description. However, it enables him to incorporate an account of phenomena such as astral travel or telepathy, which are not explainable-if one avoids the trap of reductionism, which is not borne out by the texts themselves but rather represents the bias of the researcher-in terms of the contextualist approach." 3. At this point, I would like to discuss what I see as Hollenback's major innovation, which will undoubtedly provoke extensive debate and controversy. This is his emphasis on the role of paranormal powers in mystical attainment. Succinctly stated, his thesis is that the essence of mystical technique is the practice of single-minded concentration, accompanied by a lifestyle of exclusive devotion to mystical goals-thus avoiding disruptive factors. When sustained over time, this "recollection" leads to the empowerment of the imagination and thus to phenomena such as exstatis (i.e., astral projection, "ascent of the soul," etc.), enthymesis (or direct translation of thought into objective reality), telepathy, reading of auras, and so on. Although Hollenback is fully aware that many mystics regarded the development of such abilities as subsidiary to mystical goals proper, or even as obstacles to their attainment,12 he nevertheless critiques the approach taken by previous research, which in effect internalized this attitude to paranormal powers.13 In contradistinction, the importance of such powers (as a sign of mystical attainment, and in some cases, as the mystical goal itself) in understanding the nature of mystical technique and experience is central to his model of mysticism. What is especially important in Hollenback's discussion of these powers is that he is willing to turn to scientific evidence related to phenomena such as the construction of vision and hypnotic suggestion in order to show that the mind-especially in a state of enhanced awareness-has the power to transcend "private" experience in ways that are both ontologically and epistemologically meaningful.14 In other words, Hollenback is willing to take mystical claims seriously rather than ignoring, devaluing, or explaining them away. This openness, and respect of the viewpoints of the texts one studies, may well transform Mysticism into an essential tool for the study of mysticism in the future. 4. Finally, Hollenback's emphasis on the role of affect, or emotion, in the construction and enhancement of mystical experience highlights the

Ibid., pp. 293-94. Ibid., pp. 109-14. " For a similar critique of scholarship on this issue, see R. J. 2. I+'erblowsky,Joseph KaroLauyer and Mystic (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1980), p. 166. l 4 See, e.g., Hollenback, pp. 226-29, for his devastating critique of psychologism.
l1 l2

The Journal of Religion
importance of a previously neglected experiential dimension. In Hollenback's model, one of the primary characteristics of mystical experience is that it is "laden with affect." The emotional intensity of mystical experience "charges" it with affective potency, and this in turn is a major component of the phenomenon of empowerment. Cultural context plays a cardinal constructive role in determining the nature of the affect that is manifested within the mystical process. The fundamental contextuality of the affective dimension of mysticism is amply exemplified in Hollenback's discussion of Saint Teresa. This study clearly shows that the importance of affect within the Christian tradition, as well as the specific emotional states mandated by this tradition, determined the nature of this mystic's experience in a manner that clearly differentiates it from that which can be found in traditions such as Buddhism, which aspire to lack of affect.I5 This incorporation of the emotional realm within a comprehensive model of mysticism is an important ingredient in the compelling nature of Hollenback's framework. It is my contention that these four essential innovations may well become the core structures informing future phenomenological and historical investigations of mysticism. This being said, Hollenback's very attempt to provide an extremely comprehensive and airtight model for understanding mysticism will inevitably draw attention to the lacunae and problems in his thesis. I would like to make some preliminary comments with regard to this issue. First, Hollenback's emphasis on the role of recollective techniques in inducing mystical experience and enabling paranormal powers seems to me to be exaggerated. I prefer a more varied model of mystical technique. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (4:1, by chapter and verse), which Hollenback justly sees as one of the most important source texts for understanding these issues, describes several means by which an individual could attain paranormal powers: they can be inborn; they can be the result of the use of psychotropic substances; or they can result from a variety of practices, including tapas (the creation of inner heat), mantra (the use of sound and vibration), and samadhi (a state closely related to recollection). This text seems to offer a more multifaceted description of the possible routes to paranormal achievement than that which one may glean from Hollenback's di~cussion.~"
' j See esp. pp. 317-20. This point necessitates a certain reformulation of Hollenback's argument (pp. 54-55) that it is one of the distinctive features of mystical experience that it is "laden with affect." In light of what the author himself has to say on the Buddhist goal of lack of affect, it would be better to say that mystical experience is closely related to emotional states, whether in the form of affect or its absence. '" I have drawn on the excellent Hebrew translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras by Orit SenGupta (Jerusalem: O r Am, 1994), p. 63. One may add that Buddhist texts refer to two

Paths of Power
Second, although Hollenback does discuss the difference between the "active" and "passive" approach for inducing paranormal manifestations (chaps. 12-13) in constructing his theoretical model, his main focus is on mystical activism. Thus, he downplays the significant place of "quietistic" approaches to mystical achievement in which the mystic is in effect "possessed" by powers external to him or her. Indeed, his discussion of the "passive" approach only deals with present day "New Age" mystics, while leaving out the wealth of discussion of the passive approach in classical mystical literature.17 Third, as noted above, Hollenback has made a significant contribution toward consideration of the role of emotion in mystical experience. However, his discussion of the formative impact of cultural goals on the affective dimension in the history of mysticism needs to be significantly expanded.lVor example, although he emphasizes that recollection is a state that needs to be maintained in the course of everyday life in order to be truly effective,lghe does not appear to sufficiently consider that this is also the case with regard to emotional states. Namely, as the quality of one's affective state is a major factor in enabling empowerment in mystical practice, the mystic must actively construct his or her emotional life in order to maintain the desired affect or lack of affect, as in the case of apatheia. This understanding should lead to extensive study of the manner in which specific cultural systems produce different emotional makeprimary forms of meditation: one form-samayatha-is indeed that of single-pointed concentration; the other-uippashana-is that of paranoramic, spacious awareness without a single focus. For a contemporary discussion, see C. Trungpa, Cutting through Spiritual Materialism (Berkeley: Shambala, 1973), pp. 154-69. For Daoist parallels, see L. Kohn, "Taoist Insight Meditation: The Tang' Practice of Neiguan," in Taoist Meditation and Longevity Techniques, ed. L. Kohn (.4nn Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp. 193-224. For Yoga, see Patanjali, 3:8, 3:37, 4:29. In these approaches, the senses are not suppressed, as in recollection (see Hollenback, p. 131), but rather enhanced. l i Such as the Daoist concept of nonaction, or wu wei-see Tao D Ching (New York: Vintage, 1972), stanzas 2, 10, 37, 48, and the Tantric Mahamudra form of meditation (see T. Namgyal, Mahamudra-the Quintessence o f Mind and Meditation, trans. L. Lhalongpa [Boston and London: Shambala, 19861-or the Christian and Hassidic approaches discussed in R. Satz-Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism-Quietistic Elements in Eighteenth C e n t u ~ Haszdic Thought, trans. J. Chipman (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993). For Kabbalah, see M. Idel, Language, Torah and Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia, trans. M. Kallus (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY, 1989). In my "When God Was an Animal" (n. 5 above), I propose to critique a similar bias in favor of activism in the study of shamanism and to discuss the implications of this critique for Kabbalah research. In line with what I have suggested above, the issue of emotion well deserves a chapter in its own right, alongside with Hollenback's extensive discussion of other faculties (more related, as he himself writes, to the "active" approach) such as "Mind, Will and Imagination" (chap. 9). A significant part of the study on Saint Teresa could have been well utilized in such a chapter. I g See Hollenback, pp. 114-19.

The Journal of Religion
ups in mystics belonging to these systems and the effect of these differences on their respective experience^.'^ Finally, although the book has a praiseworthy multicultural openness, it appears to view mysticism with a male eye. Without in any way wishing to be "politically correct," I feel compelled to note that, when Hollenback commences his discussion by adducing six texts exemplifying mystical experience, they are all written by men-this, in spite of the fact that the subject of one of his case studies-Saint Teresa of Avila-is a woman mystic. Furthermore, the wide panorama of mystical texts offered appears to slight one major mystical tradition-the Kabbalah. Hollenback does not adduce any examples of Kabbalistic mystical experiences or theoretical presentations of empowerment within this body of literature, as he did extensively in the case of Sufism and Catholic 'mysticism. This, despite the fact that numerous sources of this nature are readily available in translation." It is my view that addressing this lacuna could significantly enrich any discussion of Hollenback's thesis." Despite these reservations, Hollenback has made an important contribution in terms of "cultural politics," especially in his emphasis on the importance of tribal practitioners, such as shamans or "medicine men." In his description, they are seen in a new light-not as "witch doctors" or "primitives" but as individuals practicing sophisticated techniques and attaining a high level of noetic abilit~.'~
See Hollenback's important, but sparse, discussion of a Tibetian source on avoiding anger on pp. 250-51. Hollenback suggests (p. 240) that the active approach to inducing empowerment is based on "the transfigured imagination," while the passive approach relies on the "transfigured emotions." This comment, which unfortunately is not further developed, may point to the link between Hollenback's neglect of the passive approach to mystical experience and the preliminary nature of his remarks on emotion. 'I See, e.g., M. Idel, Kabbalah-New Perspectives (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988), Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah (Albany, NN'.: SUNY, 1988), The Mystical Experience (n. 9 above); and 'il'erblowsky (n. 13 above). For discussions outside Kabbalah scholarship, see I. Couliano, Out of This World: Othemlordly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein (Boston and London: Shambala, 1991), esp. pp. 154-87; D. Merkur, Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY, 1993); H . Bloom, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams and Resurrection (New I'ork: Riverhead, 1996). In general, Bloom's approach has interesting points of similarity to Hollenback's Mysticzsm. "" One striking example is that of the Golem, or the construction of an artificial anthropoid in Jewish mystical tradition (see M. Idel, Golem-Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1990). Hollenback (pp. 197-204) discusses Tibetian techniques in which the empowered mind materializes Tulpas (thoughtforms) in human visage, which are mistaken for live persons. It may well be that the Golem is another example of a projection enabled by the enhanced power of the imagination in a mystical state. I intend to expand on these preliminary remarks on the implications of Hollenback's work for Kabbalah research in a future study " For an illuminating description of the meditative practice of a Zulu "Sangoma," see S. Larsen, "The making of a Sangoma," Shaman? D7um 35 (Winter 1994): 22-32, esp. 30. Incidentally, this particular description appears to cast doubt on Hollenback's assertionwhich is in turn foundational for his claim as to the fundamental contextuality of mystical

Paths of Power
Having pointed at the importance of examination of these techniques and abilities, Hollenback has also provided us with theoretical tools for doing so. Thus, his book has become an indispensable aid for future amplification of our understanding of these fascinating realms.

experience-that "Kundalini," or arousal of the "serpent power" along the spine, is restricted solely to the IndianIYogic context (Hollenback, p. 78). In this context, see Larsen's comment in Hollenback, p. 32, nn. 9, 10.

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