Mysticism in the African Traditional Religion and the Bahá'i Faith:
classification of Concepts and Practices

By Enoch N. Tanyi

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #36
London School of Economics: London, England
July 13–15, 2001
(see list of papers from #36)

published in Lights of Irfan, volume 3, pages 155-172
© 2002, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    Both African Traditional Religion (ATR) and the Bahá'i Faith (BF) originate from the same source, God, but at different times in the evolution of humankind. The former precedes the latter in time. Since God is the source of mysteries and is, indeed, mystery itself, the two religions are essentially mystic in nature. Owing to this common origin, the two have much in common. But owing to the time variable, their concepts and practices are different from each other. The Bahá'i Faith teaches mysticism but does not expressly classify the types found in its teachings. In comparing the two religions on this theme, the approach adopted is to determine a Bahá'i classification system and then to fit the ATR concepts into this system. Attempting this exercise is the object of this paper. According to this research work, there are six classes of mysticism in the Bahá'i teachings. They are defined as follows:

    Class One or True Mysticism. The ecstatic joy that results from communion with the Souls of the Manifestations leading to physical martyrdom or the living of a life of self-sacrifice and saintliness . This is a more refined state of Incipient True Mysticism.

    Class Two or Incipient True Mysticism -- The state of spiritual communion or feeling (which is the core of religious faith) uniting man with God, and which can be chiefly brought about and maintained by means of worship, prayer and meditation, for the sake of union with God and the acquisition of human virtues and powers for the development of the individual and society.

    Class Three or Cognitive or Coronary Mysticism. The realm of spiritual meanings and realities not apparent to the senses or obvious to the intelligence. This has to do with reflection upon scriptural and religious writings, i.e., the mystic meanings of the words and symbols in the Holy Writ, the profound emanations of sages and mystics, or the spiritual significance of certain religious acts.

    Class Four or Biological and Societal Mysticism. The adolescent, developmental stage of an individual or the stage `in the evolution of the organisation of human society... ` the collective life of mankind,...endowing the whole human race with such potentialities of well-being as shall provide, ... the chief incentive required for the eventual fulfillment of its high destiny.

    Class Five or Natural or Mundane Mysticism. Concepts and practices not purely for union with God and the development of human virtues, but aimed basically at solving mundane and orthodox occult problems and, in some cases, keeping harmony between the living world on one hand, and the spirit world and ancestors on the other. These concepts are, largely, either upheld by the Bahá'i teachings or are neutral. They are basically true.

    Class Six or Orthodox Occultism. Concepts and practices not purely for union with God and the development of human virtues, but aimed basically at giving free rein to the ego, or at seeking to appear mysterious and powerful before other mortals. They are often used for nefarious or inimical activities, and are either prohibited by the Bahá'i teachings or discouraged. They are also mainly true, but some aspects of some of these concepts are false.

    The ATR concepts can be fitted into this Bahá'i classification as follows:

    Class One. Ecstatic joy resulting in physical martyrdom or the living of a life of saintliness and self-sacrifice.

    Class Two. WORSHIP, PRAYER, Meditation (B), and Self-sacrifice (B).

    Class Three. The comprehension of the hidden, inner meanings of scriptural and religious writings and acts.

    Class Four. Adolescence in the individual and in society.

    Class Five. MIRACLES, Medicine (A), TRADITIONAL MEDICINE, THE GIFT OF HEALING, HERBALISM, SOOTHSAYING, ANCESTRAL REVERENCE, DREAMS and VISIONS, TALISMANS and CHARMS, Protection against knife cuts and bullets(A), Libation (A), Animal sacrifice (A), OTHER OFFERINGS (A).

    Class Six. Black magic (A), Witchcraft (A), Sorcery(A), Necromancy(A), Mediumship (A), Spirit-possession(A), Dreams and Visions(A), Talismans, Charms and Spells (A).

    As conclusion, mysticism in the Bahá'i Faith can be classified into six classes in descending order of importance, using as criterion the essential objective of the concept or practice and its vitality in the fulfilment of the purpose for which man was created, which is, to know God and to worship Him directly and indirectly by serving his fellow creatures.

    Class One mysticism has no parallel in ATR. Class Two mysticism is common to both religions insofar as worship and prayer are concerned in basic principles. Class Three mysticism is also shared by both religions, but the basis of the essentials of this class is less authentic in ATR, limiting the sayings and acts in ATR to the emanations of sages, mystics, and religious leaders. Class Four mysticism is shared by both only insofar as in ATR, adolescence or the coming of age in the individual's life is concerned. Almost all the concepts in ATR fit into classes five and six of this classification system.

    NB: Concepts in capital letters apply to both religions; concepts in small letters and (A) are either solely or mainly of ATR; concepts in small letters and (B) are either solely or mainly of the Bahá'i Faith

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