Gnosticism, and what it means to me
- I am interested in Gnosticism.
But i don't know if I am totally a Gnostic.
I believe in the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
I believe "as above, so below," and "what is inside then becomes outside (the body)."
so it starts in the heart.
if you don't have love in your heart, you won't find it outside in the world.
at least the potential. the seed.
we like stories, by our nature. we tell stories. dreams are stories. our life is a story.
and it seems the gods keep the plot moving along, usually.
everything works by the law of seedtime and harvest. "as you sow, so you shall reap."
Jesus is the Savior. The Buddha can also be the Savior.
Anyone who has something to say on religion, on faith, on spirituality, can be a Savior to someone else.
anytime you help other people, you are being a Savior to them, a little bit.
so i like when Jesus says, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
Jesus had all of these sayings, but when Christianity, mainstream Christianity,
starts going off on other directions and saying that Jesus died for all of our sins,
maybe that's true, and maybe it's not, but to me the main purpose of the New Testament
is found in the words of Jesus, about loving other people.
I do not know if Satan is wiser or more foolish than God
maybe Satan is the Fool of the tarot deck, and maybe that represents our conscious mind,
with all of the foolishness we get involved in every single day,
with selfishness, collecting junk, mean-spiritedness, and so on.
If dinosaurs evolved into conscious reptiles, who could walk and talk,
then maybe God turned them into today's snakes, as a punishment for letting human beings know good and evil
but also the snake, some say, became part of the human body,
and that was when we could consciously control our own sexuality----
maybe knowing good from evil, knowing both, was language and culture's beginning
since language is based on meaning, and meaning is based on duality, dualism, good from evil, for example.
the indians in america say that the gods themselves taught the indians how to speak each language
and how to be a tribe,
so i tend to think that the indo-european language and people were that way because the gods wanted them to exist
but we are a war-like people, and we are up against a much more numerous people, the chinese and east asians,
so that makes religion extremely important.
we want to be seen as peaceable and peaceful and wanting the best for all concerned
not a war-like empire based on fear and violence.
we may be in for some tumult because we are in a materialistic society that pollutes everything and creates diseases in animals.
so i think the words of Jesus are extremely important, about love,
and i also think the words of Jesus in the Gnostic Gospels have a particular set of meanings
that are transformative.
i believe there are infinite universes
and so what happens on earth has infinite importance
so-- pay attention to your dreams.
eden represents, perhaps, when a child is still feeling loved in a family.
at some point he realizes there is both good and evil in the family and in the world.
at some point he is out on his own and has to make his own way in the world.
(he leaves eden.)
Jesus said in a Gnostic Gospel that at the end of days, people will be naked and not be ashamed.
this represents when a man is not ashamed to be naked in front of a woman whom he loves and who loves him,
perhaps in a marriage,
and when a child is born, this represents the universe beginning again.
this is just an idea, and i do not claim it is original. "every philosophy is the philosophy of some stage of life." --nietzsche
some people say lizard people are still in existence, deep underground
and then you have the idea that hell itself is deep in the earth, while heaven is above.
my point is: the words of the Bible are transformative. they will transform your life.
for the better.
Gnosticism, however, is the logic of the unconscious mind, which translates into dreams, into images, into stories.
so i believe God tries to communicate with you through your dreams.
the world of the 5 senses, and what the origin of that is---- Gnosticism does not shy away from talking about that.
was there a problem from the very beginning? was it a Goddess who masturbated, thus this world
was spiritually incomplete? certainly sometimes it seems that this world is a nightmare.
other times it seems it is a very pleasant dream.
i think the fiction of lovecraft tends to point to this idea that there are "old ones" or old gods
who care nothing for humanity, and who are malicious and mostly sleeping now.
Christianity is a much more pleasant story, with a God who loves us.
but h. p. lovecraft reminds me of the ideas of Gnosticism, of nightmares and alienation and secret truths.
for example, the idea that the creator god is insane and an idiot.
there is a song where the lyrics go, "the world is a vampire." and maybe the wealthiest among us
are more vampiric than others, thus they gather their wealth, their possessions, and so on.
or the idea that the wealthiest and most powerful among us have some dragon blood in their ancestry, some reptile.
and then we get to solipsism and the idea that i must logically maximize my own possessions, money, and pleasure.
the opposite of this is simply to love other people as you love yourself.
when you realize that your decisions have consequences, and they could be good or evil, helpful or destructive,
causing happiness or causing pain or death, then you realize that life is not just a game for your own amusement.
God's mercy is why you are still alive, but we all have to die sometime.
i think it is good to try to do all the good you can while you still can.
"welcome to the realm of infinite influence," someone said to me once.
when you "take responsibility" for your world, you try to do the best you can to do good.
zen buddhism would put it this way: absolute attention to the present moment, and absolute compassion.
maybe in the future people will not just be "one" religion to the exclusion of all others,
but like me, will try to find truth wherever they can, the truth of a better way of being for humans.
Thank you for sharing these well written and thought-provoking
reflections. I do have one question. You state the following:
of Valentinus, a second century gnostic teach that an
"elect", known as the pneumatics are destined to
return to the ineffable god beyond this world. In
effect, their spirits are the same divine essence as
that of the ineffable god. Ritualized magic was
therefore used to portend the elect's progression
toward that perfection.
I am curious to know more about these rituals. Can you direct me to
some of the source material? Also, I am curious to know if these
Valentinian practitioners actually understood these rituals
as "ritualized magic."
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Chester Elders
> No matter how sharp boundaries may seem, it's
> always possible to imagine a scale where "this" and
> "not this" mingle with tenebrous and attenuated
> fingers. Just as dusk is the border town between night
> and day, so every boundary is an outpost between
> what's on either side. Such frontiers are strange
> hybrids where the breath of one side mixes with the
> breath of another. The deciduous shadows of early
> morning are more a shade of light than of darkness.
> The black sky of the east blends seamlessly with
> sunset red.
> So, if I am "something", whatever that may be,
> then the boundary between what I am and what I'm not
> must follow the same logic. My edges diffuse into
> other edges which in turn diffuse back into me. Just
> as the tide is an amorphous boundary between coast and
> sea, the light of my self-awareness ebbs and flows
> redefining my edges. My outermost layer is also the
> outermost layer of the "other". So, while noon and
> midnight remain safely distinct, "day" is still more
> than noon just as "night" is more than midnight. The
> point is that, in order to know myself I must also
> know that which lies just beyond me, because it really
> Imagine the slightest possible breeze rustling
> through the hairs of your arm. The sensation is so
> slight you're not sure whether you feel it, at all.
> Somehow though, the breeze becomes an extension of
> your skin; it seems to move in syncopation with your
> pulse. The breeze carries your ambit temperature
> beyond your skin and for a systolic instant the atoms
> of the breeze are warmed with the heat of the atoms
> inside of you.
> When that happens, the breeze is like a phantom
> limb; you try to move it and it seems like maybe you
> actually have. Nerves wind like coiled snakes tapering
> into the nothingness of gentle air. Imagine when you
> lie on your arm and it goes numb. Isn't it more like
> moving an external weight rather than your own body?
> The experience takes you beyond the boundary of your
> own skin. The sensation is so brief, though you can
> experience it only as a memory. Yet, within that
> memory it's as if the whole cosmos were layers of your
> nerves and muscle.
> What does all this have to do with gnosticism?
> Before going farther, let me acknowledge just how
> problematical that word is. It's become a pernicious
> artifact of modern scholarship. There's just no one
> kind of "knowing" which the gnostics can be said to
> have utilized. (To justify this claim, I refer you to
> Michael Allen William's book Rethinking "Gnosticism".)
> When I use the word "gnosticism", I personally have in
> mind the least possible meaning it has when applied to
> the various texts known as gnostic. I'm happy with
> whatever modicum of sense the word happens to make
> when interpreting those texts. How can I be sure this
> claim makes sense? I'll explain what I mean by that.
> First, though lets note that Catholic dogma looks
> on gnosticism as little more than an attempt to
> placate and appease the governing archons of the world
> with magic. In a sense, they're right. The disciples
> of Valentinus, a second century gnostic teach that an
> "elect", known as the pneumatics are destined to
> return to the ineffable god beyond this world. In
> effect, their spirits are the same divine essence as
> that of the ineffable god. Ritualized magic was
> therefore used to portend the elect's progression
> toward that perfection. You might think of it as a
> "dress rehearsal" for salvation. Now, in order to
> appreciate those rituals, it's necessary to assume
> that you're also one of the elect, as well.
> This is where I flesh out what I meant by the
> modicum of sense implicit in the word "gnosticism".
> When I talked about the experience of the whole cosmos
> being an extension of your body, that is exactly how I
> believe the elect recognized themselves. It's likely
> the old Platonic notion that all knowledge is memory
> was familiar to the gnostics of antiquity. If I
> remember the fleeting experience of the cosmos being
> my body, that's because it's real. Since that memory
> is forever precluded from conscious experience, it's
> easy to understand the longing early gnostics had to
> articulate and give it meaning.
> I believe (and, I admit this is speculative) the
> knowledge which the gnostics talked about was this
> very same memory. It's as if the whole cosmos were a
> giant anthropos, or human body and the elect is the
> spirit. We can reverse this insight with even greater
> clarity: our physical bodies are a cosmos, in
> miniature. Magical ritual is necessary to express the
> mystical rapport between ourselves and the greater
> world. A tenet of many gnostics schools is that
> something of the ineffable and perfect god is trapped
> in the dross of matter. Just as perfection is trapped
> in the imperfection of the cosmos, so the same is true
> of our own bodies. In effect, matter is dessicated
> "spirit". In order to redeem that "spirit", elaborate
> rituals were enacted to show how "perfection" could be
> expunged from imperfect matter. In effect, then each
> of the elect could identify with the spirit of the
> cosmos. This provided the rational for the ephemeral
> experience of feeling connected with the cosmos.
> The fleeting memory which the elect have of the
> cosmos being their body, then is the minimal sense
> which we can attribute to "gnosticism". Ritual is how
> they bridged the gap between themselves and the
> cosmos. Just as a language remains unintelligible to
> those who don't know it, so the rituals of the
> gnostics were unintelligible to the so-called hylokoi,
> or people without souls or spirits. The gnostics were
> besieged and generally misunderstood, being a
> relatively tiny minority. So, naturally they would
> cloak their wisdom in arcane ritual. To make matters
> more complicated, humanity was also divided into those
> without a spirit yet who had a soul. They could either
> choose salvation or else perish along with the
> holokoi. For them, salvation came through the
> arbitration of the orthodox church.
> The elect, however are saved already. They alone
> are capable of the more penetrating hermeneutic which
> discerns the truth in orthodox scripture. They
> understand the hidden allegory which others missed.
> Their salvation gave them the freedom to see whatever
> they needed to see in the plain texts of the
> burgeoning church in order to justify that salvation.
> (For example: in her book, Gnostic Paul, Elaine Pagels
> discusses the hermeneutic used by the second century
> Valentinians to reinterpret the Apostle Paul.) In
> fact, the early third century church father Tertullian
> decried the gnostics for inventing new fables instead
> of being faithful to tradition as espoused by the
> church hierarchy. To him, such "innovation" was a sure
> sign that the gnostics were indeed heretics. After
> all, the gnostics texts are basically scripture,
> Hellenistic and eastern philosophies cobbled together
> with wild ecstatic experiences.
> Does that make the gnostic scriptures less
> valuable? There's precedent for such creative, if not
> tortured exegesis. Following the destruction of the
> first Jewish temple, Hebrew exegetes did the same
> thing. That suggests an interesting possibility, to
> me. Did the gnostics respond to what seemed to them to
> be an equally egregious catastrophe? In other words,
> just as Judaism either adapted to the destruction of
> the temple or else face spiritual and social
> bankruptcy, did the gnostics intuit a similar
> "bankruptcy" in orthodox Christianity? (Note: I'm
> using the term "orthodox Christianity" knowing full
> well that it's an anachronism. I believe it's useful
> enough, though in the present context.)
> I believe the gnostics did sense that orthodox
> Christianity had indeed lost something; namely, the
> immediacy of the divine. Hebrew scriptures are
> littered with so-called Epiphanies. Very ordinary
> people encountered God. According to scripture, those
> encounters were often hair-raising. That, however is a
> threat to organized religion with it's cadres of
> priests who want to mediate god. (This, of course is
> the thesis of Elaine Pagel's book The Gnostic
> The psychologist, Carl Jung spoke of what he called
> the "archetypes", those numinous yet formative images
> from deep in the subconscious. In order to put skin on
> an archetype, you have to incorporate it into ritual,
> in effect making it formulaic. Doing that, however
> robs the archetype of it's numinous attraction. (A
> cross pedant somehow lacks poignancy, doesn't it?. The
> horror of the brutal death it supposedly represents
> gets edited out.) As the Catholic church became more
> enmeshed in tradition, it's formulaic and bland
> rituals robbed the experience of god of it's
> numinousity. The gnostics wanted to rescue, well...
> let's call it the visceral spookiness of what made
> religion "religion", to them. (That explains the
> apparent discrepancy when I said, earlier that
> gnostics had no one way of "knowing", yet I claimed
> they "knew" themselves to be linked to the cosmos.
> Modern scholarship seems to regard "knowing" more as a
> social structure than as a numinous experience.)
> Mystics throughout history have recognized the
> dilemma of talking about numinous experiences. Talking
> about such experiences diminishes them; not talking
> about them, at all is to never understand the
> experience. However, as soon as you try to land on one
> side of the divide, you realize you've already crossed
> it. The gnostics had some pretty bizarre and twisted
> explanations of how the world was created. They were
> every bit as tortured and strained as any doctrine the
> church came up with. Yet, something of the truth
> survives even the distortion of such banal
> formulation. The difference between the gnostics and
> the catholic church is that the gnostics were willing
> to break the husk of their own narratives to redeem
> the truth. That's why there are so many conflicting
> accounts of where humanity came from in gnostic
> The gnostics were willing to break the husk of
> their own narratives in order to redeem the truth...
> Explanations always pull us away from the truth, don't
> they? Which is greater: a given experience, or the
> telling of that experience? I personally would rather
> see a beautiful woman than to hear about her. For me,
> it's better to stay as close to the experience as
> possible and to use as few words as possible to
> describe it. Of course, it's not possible to stay
> there, camped out next to an ineffable experience;
> mysterious currents always seem to carry us farther
> and farther away. That's why it's necessary to
> constantly deny the description of the truth and
> instead return to where descriptions aren't needed.
> This is what the gnostics tried to do.
> That's what I desperately want to do. I want to
> talk about the truth, and then immediately smash my
> own words. My words are like empty vessels into which
> I pour a precious liquid for storage, only to realize
> the liquid is then tightly sealed up and can't be
> used. There's a deep ennui which comes from knowing
> you can't have it "both ways". I need words to make
> experiences intelligible; yet they carry me far away
> from the very thing which gives the experience
> That "ennui" is the surest sign that I'm on the right
> track. Wisdom is a measure of what we've lost. It's
> like being blind while standing in front of the
> greatest possible beauty and having someone with
> touretts and a cleft palate describing it to you.
> I think Satan is wiser than God; after all, he's
> known both heaven and Hell, whereas God hasn't. Maybe
> that's why the gnostics known as the Ophites venerated
> the serpent: the tempter offered Adam and Eve
> knowledge of what it means to lose paradise. We, too
> lose paradise the moment we try to describe it. I've
> always been put off by Christians who anticipate
> Heaven. They want a perfection to which we can't
> return. I believe that, once the "elect" return to the
> pleroma, they don't know they've arrived. It's like a
> drop of water dissolving into the ocean: it's no
> longer a drop of water.
> To me, the gnostics were more honest than the
> "orthodox" church, whether they knew it, or not. They
> implicitly realized that "anticipating" and
> "having" must ultimately be severed. We might know
> that we'll be saved; we just can't know when it
> happens. The "knowing" part of me and the rest of me
> get seperated at death. Just as I didn't know myself
> before birth, I won't know myself after death. I find
> this to be oddly comforting: being and becoming
> in the grave just as they did in the womb. This is
> what gnosticism means to me.
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