Quakerly Mysticism : Mysticism within the Religious Society of Friends


Milford Q. Sibley : "Quaker Mysticism : Its Context and Implications". manuscript written in 1979.


"the Family of Love, which, as Rufus Jones has pointed out, anticipated many later Quaker beliefs.8"

note 8 : "Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion, pp. 428-448 (Macmillan, London, 1923 {this date must be that of a reprint; the original publication-date was 1910})."


Stephen A. Kent : "Psychology And Quaker Mysticism : The Legacy Of William James And Rufus Jones". QUAKER HISTORY Vol. 76, No. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 1-17.


p. 1 "experience of ... "the Light Within" bespeaks the supernatural ... origins of the Society."

p. 4 "Fox's mysticism ... Underhill used ... as "a typical example" of a mystic whose mystical insight did not come suddenly but rather as

[continuation on p. 5] a "gradual and increasing lucidity." In support of this ..., she ... quoted [p. 5, fn. 19 : Underhill : Mysticism, pp. 177-8] from Fox's account ... in ... his Journal. Worth noting, too, is the fact that she connected {Evelyn Underhill : Mysticism, p. 226} Fox and Jacob Boehme at least with regard to quality of mystical experiences ... ."


Mulford Q. Sibley & Rhoda R. Gilman : Authority and Mysticism in Quaker and Buddhist Thought. Quaker Universalist Fellowship, June 1998. [for pagination of the printed pamphlet, click on "eBook" (not on "Pamphlet", leading to a file with scrambled pagination)]


pp. 3-5 Rhoda R. Gilman : "Editor’s Introduction".

p. 3 "The two essays in this pamphlet ... were written

at different times and for widely different purposes. The

piece by Mulford Sibley is a lecture given at the tenth

anniversary gathering of Northern Yearly Meeting in 1985.

It was therefore intended for an audience of people familiar

with the Society of Friends and the tensions within Quaker

history and thought. My own is an article published in the

Spring, 1996, issue of Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner

Traditions under the title “Friends of Friends.” It was written

for non-Quaker readers interested in mysticism, both

Eastern and Western.

There is a common thread, however. It lies in the

authority given by both Friends and Buddhists to personal

religious experience. And this, as Sibley points out, opens

the door to universalism, for mystical experience of the

divine and sacred is universal, not limited ... ... other religious tradition."

pp. 6-20 Mulford Q. Sibley : "What Canst Thou Say? – Quakerism And

Religious Authority".

p. 10 "Many Friends write as if there is a kind of ladder of

religious experience. In the lower stages one is still

connected with the material world and the world of time

and space. Progress in the mystic quest is indicated as time

and space and matter recede and then disappear. In the

void, ... Quaker mysticism

is very much like that analyzed by Plotinus, particularly in

states of the soul’s progress.

As one reads some of the “convincement” letters of

17th-century Friends, one is reminded of certain types of

parapsychological phenomena in the modern world. The

voices heard frequently seem to be “real” voices ... ."

pp. 21-31 Rhoda R. Gilman : "Quakers And Buddhists:

Mysticism In Community And In The World".

p. 27 "the restless mysticism of the Quaker tradition persisted

down the generations. ...

In the early years of the 20th century, historian and

philosopher Rufus Jones led an effort among Quaker

scholars in England and the United States to re-examine

the movement’s 17th-century roots. The result was a clearer

understanding of its ties to Medieval mysticism. Jones

himself had experienced profound spiritual “openings” and

was well acquainted with the work of Evelyn Underhill and

other contemporary Christian mystics. He had deep doubts,

however, about the solitary search for enlightenment or

union with God that he saw in both Eastern and Catholic


Among Quakers, Jones insisted, the presence of the

Spirit had always been most powerfully felt as a community

experience, for, in the words of one 17th-century Friend:

Each partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself

but in all the rest.”"

p. 32 "About The Authors".

"Until his death in 1989, Mulford Q. Sibley was a guiding

light of Minnesota Quakers. ... A professor of ... American

studies at the University of Minnesota, Mulford ... published several highly

regarded books."

"Rhoda R. Gilman ... A long-time editor, writer, and administrator at

the Minnesota Historical Society, she is the author of

several books and many articles on midwestern and Native

American history."


Richard W. Siebels : "Mystical or Not at All". September 1, 2002


"Throughout history, some men and women have been opened morefully than others to the mystery of creation, to a deeper knowing that is beyond words or images. They have had glimpses of a deeper reality, of the way that things can and are meant to be. These mystics have appeared within all major religious traditions and outside of them. Some mystics have been the inspiration for or founders of a new religion, sect, or order—... Jelaluddin Rumi, or George Fox, among many examples. ...

The essential message of the mystics has been remarkably consistent. St. Martin of Tours, a fourth‐century monk and pioneer of Western monasticism, commented that “all mystics come from the same country and speak the same language.” At a core level, their message transcends theology and time. It comes with a certainty, a depth, and a passion that does not waver. ...

Our Earth and its incredible variety of life are faced with overwhelming problems. ... I believe that at the core of all these problems is the lack of a deep spiritual foundation. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, remarked that the fundamental problem for all his patients over age 35 was, at its core, a spiritual problem. ...

Is it perhaps time to honestly open ourselves to what the mystics have been urgently telling us? ... Andre Malraux, a French writer, historian, and politician, said, “The 21st century will have to be mystical or not at all.” This prophetic statement, I believe, points to the need to develop a mystical sense ... . ...

First, some caveats. The mystics consistently caution us that the ultimate answer is not one that we can know in the usual way; it cannot be fully conveyed by words or images; it cannot be known through intellect or logic. At best, words can point us in the right direction. ...

Intellect and logic are not the source of the answers that we need. The Tao Te Ching says, “Not‐knowing is true knowledge.” The contemplative classic The Cloud of Unknowing states, ... We are asked to enter the place of “unknowing” where true knowing begins.

There is an interconnectedness, a oneness, an interrelationship of all life. We are not separate, isolated beings, but are all part of the great mystery of creation. ...

The answers are not “out there,” but are within each of us. ... In Your Sacred Self, Wayne Dyer, a contemporary teacher of spirituality, writes about turning our gaze around and looking inward, and I find that image helpful. ... From this inward looking, we will come to realize the divinity within us ... .

Love is the answer. Like ... agape, the love for everyone : an unconditional, sacrificial love ... . This is the love that the mystics talk about. ...

Letting go, emptying out, or “dying” is necessary in order to find true peace, in order to find real answers. This is not a physical death, but a surrendering to the great mystery that underlies our very existence. This is key if we truly want to open to the mystic way. ... Buddhist guides sometimes talk about becoming totally empty vessels. ...

This process is not necessarily easy ... . It means ... the process requires a major transformation, but the result is beyond our imagination. ... Thomas Keating, the Cistercian monk who founded the Centering Prayer movement, tells us ... that the “Divine Therapist” will be there with us in the midst of the journey. ...

I believe it is extremely important that we open ourselves to this mystic vision. We must listen ..., but with the ears of our soul. ... We must look deeply within ourselves to find the divinity within us ... . Through this opening, we will come to realize our true destiny. ...

I believe that it is now imperative that we try the way that the mystics have been pointing to for thousands of years."


Brian Drayton : "Douglas Steere : The Mystical in the Everyday". March 1, 2004


"Over his long lifetime of ministry, Douglas Steere’s writing was relentlessly grounded in daily life, but his view of the inward journey was deeply informed by his habit of visiting persons of authentic experience. Glenn Hinson’s fascinating biography (see below) describes how Douglas Steere early formed a habit of alertness to news of men and women who were well traveled in the life of the Spirit, whatever their creed or tradition. When he learned of people who seemed to have ... some fresh grasp of ultimate realities, he would figure out some way to visit them. It didn’t matter if the person was living quietly and unheralded in the Scandinavian countryside, or pursuing the life of a well‐known scholar or spiritual director. ...

This direct approach can also be seen in his encounter with the mystics of the past ... . He ... seeks resonances, and he has striven to find out something of the personality behind the documents and histories. As a result, his writing is filled with stories and references about spiritual masters rarely heard of, as well as anecdotes and remarks from casual life, the mystics’ friends, and other ... details that are shared with the reader as ... with a friend. The effect is refreshing and exciting, and the resulting sense of spiritual unity across cultures and centuries ... . ...

The inward journey, he wrote, is the hardest one; the Spirit’s birth pangs are pangs indeed. ... As he writes in On Beginning from Within, the key is to dare to long for, reach for, a great goal that is within anyone’s reach who longs for it :

The saint is … a man or woman ... [for] whom a love at the heart of things has so satisfied that he {or she} gaily reduces his cargo to make for that port.… He {or she} is one who is doing what he wants to do, not … this minute, and the next minute, and the next minute, but what beneath the minutes and the days and the years he would want to do if all of them should vanish and leave him forever at it. … He is radical in the true sense of the word, for he has gone to the root of things, and found the root good.

... While writing for a general audience, he placed Quakerism’s testimonies alongside the other great traditions; when writing for Friends, he showed how the riches of Quakerism’s methods can be strengthened by dialogue with other traditions, without losing its essential character—a lesson that modern Friends, who are so accustomed to reach out to other faiths for nourishment, can always revisit with profit."


Tracy Davis : "Quakers Are Mystics". December 5, 2014


"Quakers are mystics. ...

As it should be mysticism is, indeed, at the center of Quaker praxis, both personal and corporate. From our meditative practice we each gain insight that guides our actions. Some receptive mystics hear, sense or dream very specific instructions ... . ...

Becoming ... humble ..., we can operate at a higher vibrational frequency the more we open to the mystical.

            We Friends have not lost our mystical foundation ... . ... Friends must be willing to nurture Spirit despite the disapproval of the dominant culture focused on often empty promises of intellect and reason and on a false sense of security in material attainments. Friend Marcelle Martin writes of her life-changing commitment to a mystical path: “I had come to the moment when I wanted nothing more than to discover the truth about life, when I was finally willing to give up being ‘normal’ in order to do so . . .I believe I opened to mystical experience by opening first to the direct experience of ... a direct and feeling confrontation of my deepest questions and fears” (Martin 1995, 1)." [reference :- Martin, Marcelle. "What Canst Thou Say? Friends Mystical Experience, and Contemplative Practice". Newsletter #5, July 1995] ...

Recently I learned of a newsletter entitled “What Canst Thou Say?” that a small group of volunteer Quaker mystics publishes. In it Friends share many varieties of religious mystical experiences. ... In 1996 Pendle Hill hosted a gathering, Mystics Among Friends Today, which filled to its 50 person capacity and required a waiting list. Bill Taber, Marcelle Martin, Marty Grundy, Patricia McBee and Mike Resman led workshops there. In response, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article entitled "QuakersMystical Heritage."


Marcelle Martin : "Gathering in the Divine Mystery". May 12, 2015.


"I believed that only those who experience a mystical connection to God can hear and respond to a true prophetic call. From the books I read, especially about George Fox, it seemed evident that the early Quaker movement was both mystical and prophetic. ...

During vocal ministry, I sometimes spoke of unusual inward experiences, such as seeing a spiritual Light flowing through all things, hearing a voice giving gentle guidance, feeling a fiery energy inside, having vivid dreams and visions about the power ... to heal the world. My heart pounded when I felt a prompting to speak about such an experience during meeting for worship, and there was a mystical sense that the prompting came from beyond me, from something larger and divine. ...

Wondering if Quakerism was, indeed, the right faith community to nurture my sense of a direct connection with the guidance and leadings of God, I attended the summer FGC Gathering and took a five-day workshop on Quaker Mysticism.  I met Quakers from across the country who’d had similar experiences ... . Many had felt the need to be “in the closet” in their monthly and yearly meetings about the nature of their spiritual experiences.  I then joined some ongoing groups of Friends who gathered once or twice a month to share about our spiritual lives. One group identified itself as mystics ... . ...

More than twenty years later, sharing mystical or contemplative experiences is more comfortably received in most meetings. However, many Friends with a clear sense of divine guidance ... simply help deepen the meetings for worship in which they participate and pray for others without giving a name to their experience. However we speak of ourselves, many of us still feel called to gather from time to time with others who are drawn to mystical communion ... . My Pendle Hill pamphlet Invitation to a Deeper Communion describes the long meetings in which, sometimes after hours of silence together, early Friends felt themselves gathered into the Kingdom of Heaven, present in their midst. ...

In addition, editors of the newsletter What Canst Thou Say? have organized a few weekend retreats for Quaker mystics and contemplatives. ... Some experienced a universal sense of divine presence ... . During the two days of extended worship, many received a taste of contemplative depth, and there was also a prophetic quickening among us. ...

Gathering in the Divine Mystery: ... Have you had spiritual experiences that involve ... heavenly peace, inward voices, visions, senses, knowings, leadings, or fiery spiritual energy? Would you like to enter a deeper communion in which you might hear and discern more clearly the leadings of the Spirit? Have you found ways to gather with Friends who share similar experiences and spiritual longings?"


"Of Martyrs, Monks, and Mystics : A Yearly Meditational Reader of Ancient Spiritual Wisdom

Reviewed by William Shetter". June 1, 2016


"the editors mean ... “the re‐enchantment of the modern world.”

Friends will feel even more at home in the meditations of many of these ancient authors, such as Gregory the Great (sixth century) on the Inner Light and the English mystic Walter Hilton (fourteenth century) on God within. Many authors, such as Saint Basil (fourth century) and Bonaventure (thirteenth century) write about the central importance of silence. In the fourteenth century both Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich reflect on the inner voice, the inner promptings of the Spirit. Abbot Symeon, the eleventh‐century Byzantine mystic, reaches across the centuries to remind us how far back our mystic tradition reaches. The fourth‐century bishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom ... evokes the power and beauty of Nature. For both Origen (third century) and Francis of Assisi a thousand years later, true wisdom comes from what we would now call “experiential living.” Our commitment to patient waiting for the Spirit to speak differs little from the words of Hadewijch in the thirteenth century, and we hear our testimony of equality being given a strong voice in The Cloud of Unknowing. We can feel quite familiar with the words of Hildegard of Bingen (twelfth century) that “each human being contains heaven and earth and all of creation.”

We can feel heartened and reassured on finding here much of the depth of the fertile soil which today continues to nourish our own faith."


Robert Atchley : "Mystical Experience, the Bedrock of Quaker Faith". February 1, 2017


"Rufus Jones (1863–1948) was arguably the foremost Quaker scholar, writer, and advocate of opening to mystical experience as a central practice among Friends. He built on foundations laid by Meister Eckhart, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, William James, and many other ... mystics—people who had had direct experiences ... and ... to describe them. Jones concluded that the founders of most great religions of the world got their spiritual understanding through mystical experience. ... According to Jones, mystical experience is widely available, if we are tuned in to it. He wrote that “many people have had this vital experience.” ...

There is not much vying or trying or hair‐splitting among sages; they have released into the Divine Ground of All Being, where they increasingly abide. ... All this takes place with awareness of the Ground of All Being in the background."


L. Roger Owens : "Rediscovering the Spiritual Writings of Thomas R. Kelly". September 1, 2017


"Kelly’s thinking about mysticism was carried out under the long shadow of psychologist and philosopher William James: Kelly worked with James’s understanding of mysticism as the experience of the solitary individual. Kelly was also writing in the period following Evelyn Underhill’s influential Mysticism—its twelfth edition published during the years he was at Harvard—in which she writes that introversion is the “characteristic mystic art” that aids a contemplative in the “withdrawal of attention from the external world.” ...

Kelly believed that the Social Gospel Movement of his time had too narrow a horizon, having bracketed out the persuading, wooing power of the Eternal. It is ... one place, he noted, that he agrees with theologian Karl Barth. ... In fact, the mystical opening to an eternal “Beyond” opens simultaneously to a second beyond : “the world of ... joy and beauty.” ... For Kelly, mysticism included ineffable, inner experience, but also included a sense of the Eternal’s own turning in love toward the world ... . ...

How will the mystical become flesh ..., here and now, as it so longs to do?"


Sam Barnett-Cormack : "Standing Up for Quaker Mysticism". 21 October 2017


"To me, being a Quaker is fundamentally a mystical path. ...

Certainly, I would wholeheartedly agree with the idea of “spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect”, at least in as much as that knowledge is inaccessible to the intellect alone. No amount of reason, book-learning or hearing of sermons can give us the knowledge we can gain through conscious contact with the divine. ...

But when we seek to know the Divine, we are surrendering a certain amount of control of our own mind – we let it go where the Spirit wills, to dwell on things that would not occur to us, to gain new insights and hopefully some useful guidance, and ultimately be transformed. ...

Thus it is that Quaker practice is mystical. ... We are mystics, and this tells us things we should remember."


"Community-of-Practice Democratizes “Esoteric” Quaker Mysticism". November 13, 2017


"Mystics tap into and experience a much wider swath of reality than most — including non-material reality. ... Mystics have long recognized that duality, or separation between the observer and the observed, is an illusion which Western science now demonstrates through quantum mechanics. ...

WHAT : Community of Practice Goals ...

A “Great UNLEARNING” of material causality and a mechanistic worldview to enhance clarity for informed action is key. ...

Quaker contemplative practice honed to the level of sustained still-point consciousness, (state of stillness detached from physical input) and informed by a scientific understanding of the language, architecture, and function of the mind and brain can facilitate clear, unified vision.

HOW: Community of Practice Processes ...

Realize our true self as consciousness rather than identify with our avatar —the physical body subject to a materialistic rule-set. ...

WHO: (f)Friends, Activists, and Allies who are passionate about :


Marcelle Martin : "The Light That Shines in the Darkness". March 29, 2018


"One dark night, as I walked home ... and looked up into the sky ... and the stars ... That’s when divine reality became visible. Suddenly, an inner eye opened. I “saw” that the stars and I are intimately connected in a larger Oneness. I experienced a divine Light flowing through all things, including me and those far-away lights. They were in me, and I was in them. I felt this Light flowing up my legs and through my heart and arms, out my fingertips into the world. I became aware of an invisible Power great enough to heal any problem on Earth. I discovered my true existence in this vast, radiant wholeness. It was more cosmic than any notion ... I had been given in my religious upbringing, and more powerful. The experience altered my awareness and re-oriented my life forever. ...

That moment of revelation was a call upon my life, a call to learn to become a pure channel for the divine Power that is ready—if we will open to it—to heal the human world and our planet. Other “openings” followed, along with the unfolding of new kinds of perception and inner abilities. ... I learned a variety of spiritual practices, ways to participate in the Spirit-led inner unfolding that over time has helped me increasingly trust divine reality. Eventually I experienced a call to help others open to that same transforming spiritual power."


"A Seeker’s Theology ... Reinterpreted as Mysticism Reviewed by Brian Drayton". April 1, 2018


"Mysticism, a way of being in the world organized by the personal experience of the holy, has seemed to give him powerful tools for understanding ... the universal dimensions of the Spirit ..., the nature of human spiritual growth, and authentic worship. His particular take on mysticism is linked to his stance as a “panentheist” ... .” (This is a stance taken, for example, by Thomas Merton; and see Tom Gates’s Pendle Hill pamphlet #422, Reclaiming the Transcendent.)

With this background, Macort sees Quakerism as described by Rufus Jones and Douglas Steere, as one among many mystical movements that have sprung up across centuries and cultures."


Michael Birkel : Quakers Reading Mystics. BRILL RESEARCH PERSPECTIVES. Publication Date : 17 July 2018

https://brill.com/view/title/38493?lang=en & https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004373747

"Over the centuries, Quakers have read non-Quakers regarded as mystics. This study explores the reception of mystical texts among the Religious Society of Friends, focusing in particular on Robert Barclay and John Cassian, Sarah Lynes Grubb and Jeanne Guyon, Caroline Stephen and Johannes Tauler, Rufus Jones and Jacob Boehme, and Teresina Havens and Buddhist texts selected by her. Points of connection include the nature of apophatic prayer, suffering and annihilation of self, mysticisms of knowing and of loving, liberal ... attitudes toward theosophical systems, and interfaith encounter."


Viv Hawkins : "The Mystic Soul of a More Whole Religious Society". January 1, 2019


"Society of Friends! Some of us have yearned for the Mystic Soul Conference ... . ... The Mystic Soul community was curated in large and small ways toward its purpose : to “center ... at the intersections of contemplative (mystical) spirituality, activism, and healing.”"


"An Encounter between Quaker Mysticism and Taoism in Everyday Life Reviewed by Bob Dixon-Kolar" February 1, 2019


"Kim, a professor ... and a member of Daejeon Meeting in South Korea, discusses how his

... faith—particularly his decision to become a Quaker—arose within a Korean religious milieu that blended Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist, and local folkways and beliefs. His religious faith was also strongly influenced by the late Korean Quaker Ham Sok‐Hon ... . Like Ham before him, Kim is a universalist Quaker, who is, in his own words, “freed from ... Christianity ... and ... the Bible ... .” ...

An overriding theme of Kim’s lecture is that religions, like all things in the universe, change with time. Indeed, if a religion is to survive, it must change to meet the needs of each new era. Quakerism is no exception. Kim says, “I think it would be meaningful to look into Taoism for the purpose of expanding the religiosity of Quakerism.”

Taoism and Quakerism, each in their way, affirm the importance of ... a mystical foundation, which can give anyone access to an “an inner light … an inner teacher … all can find a way to ... get in touch with Tao.” ...

As for Kim’s exposition of Taoist principles, ... He writes :

Tao does not work by human power but proceeds in its own way and time. This means that we should not regulate or direct life by civilisation and institution. “Doing nothing” is the pursuit of a life that renounces morality, law and form. An anarchistic life can be considered.

Do nothing? Renounce morality, law, and form? Consider an anarchistic life? These counterintuitive assertions beg for more elaboration. But, all in all, Kim is making a case for what he calls “positive passivity,” a sense of spiritual liberation and power that many Quakers experience when sitting in gathered silence with fellow Friends."