– Ralph Waldo Emerson states that “Mysticism is the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for a universal one.”



I’m playing Civilization 6, a video game on PS4, and they give insightful quotes about the different cultural and technological advancements from different inspirational figures when you finish researching them. Normally it seems like common sense or it’s obviously related. Regardless, this one went way over my head and I’d never even heard of the apparently famous person. Please help =(

In: Culture

This quote is part of Emerson’s *The Poet*, in which he describes the difference between poets and religious men. He says that a poet sees what nature has to offer, it’s color and form and meaning, and uses them as exponents to make greater works and thoughts.

Mystics (his term for religious men) on the other hand, create symbols out of what nature has given them. He thinks this is a bad thing, because he believes all natural things are transitive, meaning they change over time (and often quite rapidly).

In essence, the quote means that because nature is constantly changing, any individual symbol that a religion adheres to is going to change over time and therefore cannot have any real universal meaning. Furthermore, it means that religious people have to look at all of the individual symbols in their religion and translate them into things that they can relate to in a meaningful way, rather than just taking them for their original meaning.

It is a criticism of mysticism.

I means seeing a lightning strike or a shooting star and thinking it is the universe’s personal message to you, rather than the happenstance shared by millions that it is.