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Moller, H. (1965). Affective Mysticism in Western Civilization. Psychoanal. Rev., 52B(2):115-130.

(1965). Psychoanalytic Review, 52B(2):115-130

Affective Mysticism in Western Civilization

Herbert Moller, Ph.D.

Affective mysticism, an overtly emotional religiousness, was a distinctive feature of Western Civilization from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries. Its influence fostered certain culture traits, particularly greater sensitivity to the feelings and needs of individuals than most other civilizations had shown. It strengthened the Christian idea that sick or morbidly sensitive people are possessed of special grace. Furthermore, affective mysticism promoted an interest in psychological self-observation which appears to be connected with the feminine aspect of this variant of religiousness. The capacity and interest in self-observation presupposes an intensive narcissistic orientation and, as Helene Deutsch observed, “The continuation of this function of narcissism beyond adolescence is a specific and differentiating trait of femininity.”1

The majority of the practicing mystics—to distinguish them from the mystical writers—were women. Even some of the more outstanding male mystics produced their most important ideas under the direct influence of women.2 Many men involved in these religious manifestations showed strong feminine traits; others were the ‘directors of conscience’ or ‘soul leaders,’ clergy who specialized in spiritual ailments. The methods used by these men varied considerably from direct teaching and sympathetic listening to encouragement to ‘talk it out’ with or without transference attachments. St.

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