The term “mystical psychosis” was coined in the ‘70s, but the experiences that relate to this category are ancient. In fact, the mystical experiences of indigenous peoples, saints, yogis, and other mystics would today simply be categorized by many mental health practitioners as psychotic.
Many ancient indigenous peoples routinely practiced altered states of consciousness with drugs, ecstatic dancing, drumming, and chanting. These could include communication with spirits or gods/goddesses as well as possible embodiment of such spirits.
The ancient Greeks had their oracle at Delphi where kings as well as individuals went for national or personal prophecies. Soothsayers and seers, dreamers and sorcerers were a common part of most ancient civilizations. Saints and mystics from numerous religions had extraordinary experiences.
The term itself may be unfortunate and even misleading. A psychosis is a break from reality. One loses touch with normal physical reality and enters a world of hallucination, delusion, and possibly severe paranoia. In spite of the attempts by some to glamorize mental illness, it is a daily hell for most who experience it.
A true mystical experience is also a break from reality but it does not lead to something that is abnormal. Rather it opens one up to a different reality, a higher or spiritual reality.
Joan of Arc is an excellent example of someone who may have had a mystical psychosis. The question that has not yet been fully answered and may never be fully answered is: was she really crazy or was she divinely inspired? The line between psychosis and mystical experience can sometimes be a bit blurry.
Nevertheless, those who believe they are Jesus or God are probably simply psychotic. There is nothing mystical about their experience. Those who are told by God to kill others are not having a mystical psychosis. They are simply experiencing a psychotic episode. There is nothing mystical about it.
And when politicians tell you that God told them to go to war, they may be crazy but they are most certainly also lying. The same is true of religious leaders who claim to have spoken to Jesus or God and were told they needed to raise a lot of money or God would take them away. I would personally withhold my money just to see if they actually died.
There are some mystical experiences that happen to people spontaneously and the victims of these experiences may think they’re going crazy. One of these is the raising of the kundalini.
In Hindu theology the kundalini is described as a female energy that is coiled, like a serpent, at the base of the spine. Through prayer, meditation, and other yogic practices, the faithful attempt to awaken that energy and draw it up their spine through the seven spiritual centers or chakras.
This is a great accomplishment when realized but when it happens to someone with no knowledge of such a thing, it can be quite frightening. This is still not a psychosis but a spontaneous occurrence that has not been well understood. It also happens that some people will spontaneously become enlightened even when monks and others will practice for years and never become enlightened.
For these people there are groups that help them through their experiences, which have come to be called Spiritual Emergencies. Stanislov and Christina Grof started an organization in California to address these types of spontaneous mystical experiences.
People still have mystical experiences today and there is still big difference between a genuine mystical experience and psychosis. Although a mystical experience can certainly disrupt one’s life, it will never lead to harming another or making exaggerated claims about the self.