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1 Introduction

“God is a religious term for the “supreme reality.” In many religions, God is the creator of the universe and the ultimate source of knowledge, power, and love. God is sometimes portrayed as a humanlike male with supernatural powers. However, most religions teach that God has many different forms. Christians believe that God appears in three ways: as Father and Creator, as His Son Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit. Hindus refer to the ultimate reality as Brahman, but they believe that God is also revealed in more than 1,000 other gods and goddesses. Although Buddhists do not accept the idea of God as Creator, the role Buddha plays in their religion is similar to that of God in other religions. In the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, God is called by a variety of names, such as Yahweh (Jehovah), Elohim, and Adonai. Muslims call God, Allah, as well as 99 other names that describe perfect qualities.

Some early religions came to associate a sky god with the entire expanse of the universe. The Greeks’ Zeus and the Romans’ Jupiter, for example, emerged as super gods. In other religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the cosmic God has been thought to be the sole creator and sustainer of life.

In many religions, people believe that a supreme God has been revealed as a friendly human being. For example, most Christians believe that God is seen through the person of Jesus Christ. In Hindu tradition, the god Krishna is portrayed as a lovable and intimate human being, especially in stories about his childhood. In some traditions, intermediary spirits, such as the Buddhists’ Bodhisattva, bridge the gap between humanity and a remote and distant God. In other traditions, even the distant, cosmic God is sometimes believed to interact in a personal and loving way with His followers. In the Shinto religion of Japan, gods are thought to reside in particular trees, rocks, and streams. In other societies where natural forces are an important part of life, gods have also been identified with nature. In the religion of the Hopi Indian tribes, divine spirits are identified with eagles, foxes, and buffaloes.

Many theologians have used rational arguments to defend the existence of God. Some have developed cosmological arguments, which state that a first cause must have started the process of creation, a cause that can only be God. Others have set forth theological arguments based on belief in a grand design, or purpose, for the world that only a Supreme God could have created. Some modern Christian theologians suggest that “God is dead.” They argue that the traditional image of God as a father figure with supernatural powers does not reflect the modern world’s scientific view of reality. Other theologians have kept the idea of God but used names that are not personalized or limited, such as “the unconditioned ultimate” and “the wholly other.”

Mysticism is the belief that God, or spiritual truths, can be known through individual insight, rather than by reasoning or study. All the major religions include some form of mysticism. Most mystics find such experiences difficult to describe. Many say they were filled with light, had visions, or heard inner music or voices. Some mystics fell that their spirits flew out of their bodies, or became possessed by a higher power. During these experiences, mystics may feel ecstasy or great peace. Mystics differ in their practice and experiences, even within the same religion. However, most mystics share three basic goals:
. Knowledge of a spiritual reality that exists beyond the everyday world.
. Spiritual union with some higher power.
. Freedom from selfish needs and worldly desires.

To attain these goals, most mystics follow some form of self-discipline. For example, they may isolate themselves from material comforts and other people. In addition, they may subject themselves to extreme mental and physical activities. Buddhist mystics may meditate for hours, or even days, without moving. Jews who belong to the Hasidic group often shout and twist their bodies while praying. Some members of the Islamic Sufi sect go into a trance as they perform a whirling dance. Mysticism has played a prominent role in many religions. Devout Buddhists and Hindus may dedicate their lives to the mystical search for direct spiritual experience. Christian mystics have included several Roman Catholic saints. In Islam, Judaism, and other religions that emphasize the role of a supreme God, mystics may believe that their experiences result from divine actions. In religions in which many gods are worshiped, such as Hinduism and Taoism, mystics may attribute their insights to their own individual efforts.

Within the Christian perception and experience of God, definite characteristic features stand out:
– The personality of God.
– God as the Creator.
– God as the Lord of history.
– God as Judge.

On the one hand, the believer maintains acknowledgement of divine omnipotence as the creative power of God and, on the other hand, trusts in the world, which is understood as one world created by God according to definite laws and principles, and according to an inner plan. God as the Lord of history is the main feature of the Old Testament understanding of God: God selected a special people and contracted a special covenant with them. The God of history is also the God of judgment.

The most advanced forms of Christian mysticism have emphasized the absolute impossibility to know God. They suggest that true contact with the transcendent involves going beyond all that we speak of as God to an inner “God beyond God,” a divine Darkness or Desert in which all distinction is lost. This form of “mystical atheism” has seemed suspicious to established religion; its adherents have usually tried to calm the suspicions of the orthodox churches by insisting on the necessity, through incompleteness, of the affirmative ways to God. The main exponent of this teaching in the early centuries was the Pseudo-Dionysus who distinguished “the super-essential Godhead” from all positive terms ascribed to God. In the West this tradition is found in the Rhineland school. According to Eckhart, even being and goodness are “garments” or “veils” under which God is hidden. The notion of the hidden Godhead was renewed in the teaching of Jakob Böhme, who spoke of it as the “Ungrund”, the “great Mystery”, “the Abyss”, and “the eternal Stillness.” He stressed the fact of divine becoming (in a non-temporal sense): God is eternally the dark mystery of which nothing can be said but ever puts on the nature of light, love, and goodness wherein the divine is revealed to human beings”.

A precise historical analysis of the many religions, sects, Mystery Schools, and godmen that have existed in the past -some of which are still alive today- would require a whole book. Here we intend to give a summary of the main aspects and events without entering into too much detail. Consequently, many secondary -but still important- religions, sects, Mystery Schools and Godmen will be left out, or barely mentioned. This will displease some experts who will criticize us, but it is unavoidable. The subject is too vast.

However, we will try to be as complete as possible where the main organisations and godmen are concerned. Readers interested in more detailed description of specific aspects can always consult the books dealing with their particular points of interest. We will describe the following religions, Mystery Schools and other organisations as well as their godmen.

– Judaism
– Christianity
– Islam
– Buddhism
– Shinto
– Taoism
– Confucianism

Mystery Schools
– Egyptian Mysteries
– Persian Mysteries
– Greek Mysteries
– Roman Mysteries

Other spiritual movements
– Mithraism
– Gnosticism
– Mysticism
– Hermeticism
– Shamanism
– Magic