Many have already observed that mysticism may move man into various and varying directions: some to conservatism, others to revolution; some to deeper commitments, others to anarchy and nihilism.

For some the experience is a rediscovery of self, enhancing and reinforcing their personal, social or religious identity by lending it deeper meaning, new dimensions.

Others again are led to a radical reinterpretation of their philosophical or religious systems, often to an allegorical spiritualization of the external forms and dictates of their tradition.

For many it is the conscious or subconscious excuse for a self- indulgent anti-nomianism in which the experience, the personal "turn-on," is the standard and the goal.

It does not matter to them whether the experience is a striking flash of intuition from without, or whether it is induced from within by the mechanical means of auto-suggestion, meditation or drugs.

An historical review of mystics and mystical schools, in the East and in the West, within our Jewish tradition and outside of it, readily offers evidence of these trends.

We are familiar with giants of the spirit who were intoxicated by their insights and experiences to a renunciation of the self.

They were moved to forgo all pursuits of the ego and submerged themselves in the ultimate reality of omnipresent Divinity to become a vehicle for the Will of G‑d.

We know also of movements and individuals who intoxicated themselves to reach altered states of consciousness for their self-indulgence, and used their illusions to justify excesses of all sorts.

This polarity is reflected in the very nature of mysticism.

For mysticism is by definition monistic and pantheistic. There are, though, two kinds of pantheism:

a) There is a physiomonistic pantheism which identifies the world, the physical realm, the here-and-now, as the sole reality: the "I, man, world, nature" is the centre of all - indeed, is all. Good and evil, therefore, are not distinguishable in any absolute sense; they are but in the eye of the beholder.

b) There is a theomonistic pantheism which recognizes G‑d alone as the ultimate reality: "there is nought but He alone." "I, man, world, nature" - these have no reality of their own and exist solely by virtue of the Creator's Will. This is not simply pantheism, but panentheism: G‑d is in all; all is in G‑d; G‑d is all. The world is not a place that contains Him, but He contains the world. His Will, therefore, is the criterion for right and wrong, good and evil. There are absolute values.

This brings us back to our problem:

How and where do we draw the line between authenticity and self- delusion?

Are there objective standards to serve as guidelines, or must we find our own way in a chaotic jungle of subjective feelings and relative insights?

Are mystical schools just different fads or forms of cults - some of which appear acceptable because (generally speaking) they conform to basic social and philosophical standards, while others are rejected because they contravene conventional norms?

As for Jewish mysticism:

Is it just one other school, just one more facet, in the wide spectrum of mysticism?

Is it distinguished from all others merely by its particular religious label, but otherwise essentially the same?

Before trying to answer these questions we must first define the term "cult," especially in its presently negative connotation of "extravagant and faddish attachment to a person or system of worship or ritual."