Some of history's most influential mystics have had a massive impact, while others have left barely a trace in the register of human events. Important or not, all mystics have one thing in common: they attempt to make contact with the afterlife, the dead, or with their personal concept of God.
Famous mystics tend to craft a system for reaching spiritual goals, but some came upon enlightenment or an important revelation by pure happenstance. It is common for notable mystics in history to begin their spiritual journey in a mainstream faith tradition, only to start their own movement after having major revelations. Some famous historical mystics began as common clergy, monks, nuns, or lay people. There is no road map for the life of a typical mystic: some adhere to strict disciplines and come up empty-handed, while others report success after just a few haphazard attempts to commune with great spiritual powers of the cosmos.
Some historically important mystics had many thousands, or even millions, of disciples; others had none. Another key concept about mysticism history is this: some of them have very bad reputations, and obviously got diverted from their original goal of finding light and goodness. Fortunately, benevolent mystics far outnumber those who drifted over to the dark side. Read on to learn about mystics of major historical importance.
Born in 570 BCE, Pythagoras earned a place in every mathematics textbook with his numerous discoveries in that field, but is perhaps better known for his mystical teachings, which were centuries ahead of their time. Pythagoras of Samos taught a small group of followers his unique doctrine: the soul does not die, but returns as many times as necessary to be pure enough to move on to the next realm. He died in 495 BCE at the age of 75.
The Japanese-born Buddhist monk Dogen trained, and became enlightened, in China, and is one of Japan’s most revered mystics. After studying under Chinese Zen masters in the mid 13th century, Dogen brought his newfound knowledge back to Japan. Considered an eclectic teacher in his day, Dogen emphasized both intellectual study and meditative practice as the path to full self-realization.
Often compared to Shakespeare for his influential and enduring influence on world literature, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, was one of the Arab world’s most prominent mystics. Born at the beginning of the 13th century in what is now Afghanistan, Rumi eventually settled in what is now Turkey. His philosophy enshrined the concept of union with God, even though he believed humans were somewhat base, and far removed from divine origins. Rumi promoted the use of poetry, music, and dance as a way of reaching the Supreme Being.
Those who declare Joan of Arc a mystic do so primarily because of the pervasive influence she had on history, much of which occurred after her death. In fact, Joan of Arc claimed to have had several religious visions in her youth; French military men stationed near her home believed she possessed supernatural powers. At 16, she convinced the crown prince of France she was a messenger of God, and that she should be permitted to lead the French army, despite having no military experience. Joan of Arc served as a source of inspiration for future French leaders, such as Napoleon, making her one of the most important figures in European history