GNOSIS: The Nature & History of Gnosticism
by Kurt Rudolf
Published in the German Democratic Republic
by Koehler & Amelang, Leipzig as
Die Gnosis: Wesen und Geschichte einer spätantiken Religion
Translation: P.W. Coxon (pgs. 171-274), K.H. Kuhn (pgs.275-376)
Copyright 1977, 1980
GNOSIS: The Nature & History of Gnosticism by Kurt Rudolph is arguably the definitive document on that branch of Judaeo-Christian Gnosticism, which has survived uninterrupted to the present time. Rudolph bases his work on numerous original Gnostic sources including the writings of the early "Church Fathers;" and The Corpus Hermeticum, The Pistis Sophia, The Hymn of the Pearl; various extracts from Mandean literature and, of course, the Nag Hammadi (the Judaeo-Christian Gnostic Texts, discovered in 1947)
Rudolph sets the intellectual tone of the book by describing Gnosticism as the "cyclic theology of revelation."
This is a perfect-as-you-can-express-in-words representation one could note regarding this extensive and complex subject matter.
Rudolf states that the underlying theme of this traditional Gnosticism is (1) Revolt against both the natural and socio-political order, and (2) the belief that the only salvation from the world of darkness lies in the individual ability to unite with the Originating Consciousness through direct Knowledge (Gnosis).
The world is the product of a divine tragedy, a disharmony in the realm of God, a baleful destiny in which man is entangled and from which he must be set free.
The use of the masculine pronoun is specific here, as that branch of Gnosticism described in this book is ascetic and male oriented—at least in its early, possibly pre-Christian stage.
The more closely Gnosticism became identified with the growing Christian Establishment—that is, as an alternative to it —and moved from Palestine to Alexandria and Rome — the more women found a spiritual and intellectual haven in its esoteric doctrines. As the text progresses into later manifestations of Gnostic Philosophy, Rudolph also documents examples of more tolerant, even libertine Gnostic sects.
The role of the feminine spiritual element, however, was pronounced in all branches of Gnosticism, symbolized in Pistis (Faith) and Sophia (Wisdom):
Sophia...wished to work alone, without her consort.
The "consort" is the Demiurge, or false god [p.78] whose formula can be expressed as:
angels [the Zodiac]
x 7 angels each = 84
x 3 powers = 252
+ 108 = 360 or a solar year.
This Cosmology is very closely related to Hermetic Philosophy.
In a passage from the Nag Hammadi texts that pre-figures the central Scientific Illuminist teachings of Aleister Crowley, we find:
God created men, and men created God. So is it also in the world, since men created gods and worship them as their creations. It would be fitting that gods should worship men.
[NHC II 3, 71 (119), 35-72 (120)
This revelation is synonymous with Aleister Crowley’s Scientific Illuminist philosophy regarding the total and complete symbiotic relationship between The Human and The Divine.
The Gnostics have a very different interpretation of The Garden of Eden myth than that of Judaeo-Christianity. Rather than Adam submitting to the false god YHVH, he finds his salvation in awakening
"…to the knowledge of his true origin and of the worthlessness of the Demiurge."
Eve is cast in the positive Gnostic role of the Serpent, i.e. Lilith, a cyclical revelation of The Great Mother:
...it is the heavenly (spiritual) Eve who functions at the behest of Sophia, her mother, as the instructor and awakener of Adam, but also in the form of the serpent continues or repeats the process of redemption in paradise.
Despite this perception into the feminine mystique—(illustrating a Pagan connection with the symbol of snakes, or cyclic revelation & The Goddess)—and emphasis on the Feminine (Shakti) Principle; Judaic-Christian Gnosticism (like its Orthodox counterparts) displays a corruption of the elemental Isis Mythology. [p. 110].
Although Gnostic “Gospels” have been attributed to Mary Magdalene, the elevation of this figure owes more to the middle Ages and recent times, than to traditional Gnosticism. It may well be that the Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene are Biblical composites of one person, possibly the wife of Jesus. It may even be that this historical Mary bore the children of Jesus. It is certainly curious that the New Testament has Mary (the mother) physically ascending to Heaven at death. Out of sight, out of mind?
Perhaps Mary #1 and/or Mary #2 did flee from Israel and a Knights Templar cult formed around her in the guise of The Holy Grail—but all this has absolutely nothing, or very, very little to do with traditional Gnosticism. There were, of course, as mentioned above, small sects that practiced occult ceremonies involving a rotating High Priest/ess model such as Gnostic Pagans continue to this day (described in our founding document FOUNDING DOCUMENT OF THE GNOSTIC PAGAN TRADITION. Initiates familiar with the occult Legend of Pope Joan will see many Gnostic aspects in that intricate and fascinating tale.
The early Jewish-Christian Gnostics, however, were primarily interested in history’s end, and not with its tantalizing details. In a passage that seems to mirror the Gnostic Pagan concept of Kundalini (the Serpent of Fire awakened through Yoga) and TRANSFIGURATION (Union with the Daemon), we find:
Just as man's ignorance is dissolved of itself when he comes to know, as darkness dissolves when the light appears, so also the deficiency dissolves in the perfection. From this time on the (external --Ed.) 'form' is no longer visible, but it will be dissolved in the union (yoga --Ed.) with the oneness...at the time in which unity will perfect the 'spaces' (i.e. the aeons). From the unity each one will (again) receive himself. Through knowledge he will unify himself out of diversity into unity, devouring the Matter in himself like a fire, darkness through light, death through life.
(NAC 13, 24, 28-25, 19)
This Gnostic philosophy transforms pagan gods (aeons) into Redeemers, as Gnostic Paganism posits the transfiguration of the True Individual Self (Atman, or Daimon) as The Messiah and The Christ.
Blessed is he who has crucified the world, and not allowed the world to crucify him.
On the purely physical plane the Polynesians had a saying, "Either you eat life, or life eats you." On the unified plane Gnostic Paganism asserts that the Great Work is to be accomplished before, or without, physical death.
The coming into being of the world, which is regarded as calamitous,
has its goal in an end which restores the beginning.
We would state it like this: In order for creation to happen, The One had to admit that something was lacking in perfect solitude (or equilibrium). Thus Self-Awareness opened the door to Life and Death and Betrayal—the Crucifixion of Being. Additionally, Gnostic Paganism overcomes the dark, reactionary impulse of the Demiurge (mortal ego-mind) by the Celebration of Earth Blessings and Transubstantiation of Nature (so abhorred by the traditional Gnostics and Orthodox Christians alike).
In other words, Nature is a Good Thing.
The central Gnostic theme that only through the self-activation of Spiritual Knowledge can one be "saved" is aptly documented on Pages 184 - 185:
For if this power acquires the proper skill (technique), it illuminates what comes to pass. But if it fails to acquire it, lack of skill and obscurity result, and just as if it never existed, it perishes with the man at his death." Redemption will thus belong only to those who have actualized their divine tendency though knowledge, the others go the way of destruction, the end destined for matter...
If men do not first experience the resurrection while they are alive,
they will not receive anything when they die.
In other words, they will not attain “eternal light (life).”
Gnostic Paganism confirms this central doctrine in the suggestion that the soul is relative to the understanding (Sophia) one attains through its knowledge (Gnosis). This means that through Disbelief and Inaction, one may condemn oneself to darkness or oblivion.
Pages 187 through 195 document a doctrine of "daemon" and "new body" that prefigures our own:
…you surrender your character (ethos) to the daemon as no longer effectual. The
sensory organs of the body return to their origins (sources), they become separate
parts and (with the formation of a new body) are compounded again for effectiveness.
Compare this with the allegory attributed to Jesus, that he would tear down the Temple and in three days build it up again. This gets very close to replicating at least a fraction of the true inner teachings of that great Rabbi and Incarnation of Messiah (The Conquering One). This occult teaching is Hermetic and Alchemical in substance, and at the core of the Gnostic Pagan doctrine of the Daemon. The indication of this formula is that (for us) liberation comes through the realization of Truth-in-Matter (symbolized by the goddess Ma’at):
It is therefore needful to rise in the flesh as everything is in it.
The above statement is a poetic and precise illustration of what we call TRANSFIGURATION and TRANSUBSTANTIATION. This central doctrine of Gnostic Paganism states that the forces of ENERGY that we perceive as MATTER are capable of a process of METAPHYSICAL CONVERSION TO A HIGHER STATE OF MANIFESTATION IN THIS WORLD VIA THE HUMAN BRAIN.
The so-called Physical Body is NOT LIMITED TO “PHYSICAL” PERCEPTION.
All living beings perceive reality expanded or limited by their physical structure.
The ascetic Gnostics despised the world of matter and sought liberation through its complete annihilation at the endzeit (end time)--and this included the destruction of the Daemon, or the Ka, the Spiritual Life Force emanation of the Higher Self. Obviously we disagree with the Gnostics on this major point.
We do not despise material creation.
We seek to TRANSFORM it.
In a passage that indicates a strong element of Gnostic Predestination we find,
We are already saved, we have received complete salvation.
In other words, simply by the act of being a Gnostic, the believer is "saved." Good works play no significant part in this world-view, and the mass of humanity is doomed by its ignorance. This is an elitist doctrine--and a false one. People are not damned or "saved” at birth. There is always the option (free will) to seek Truth, or reject it.
We agree with the Gnostic vision in that once an Initiate unites with Originating Consciousness (Conservation with the Holy Guardian Angel, Union with the Daemon, or The Great Work), the Law of Karma for that Awakened Individual has come to an end.
On page 206 are found some interesting remarks pertaining to the Gnostic definition of God. The Deity is referred to as the “Unbegotton God" and "The Hidden God"--terms also used in ancient times (and also by Gnostic Pagans today) to describe AMUN. This "God" is distinct from the monotheistic "God" of other religions owing to its nature of origin in the world. YHVH, Yahweh, or Jehovah is the product mortal ego-mind, arising from social value for the sole purpose of reinforcing social value (i.e. social conformity). The priests of Amun were guilty of this error during the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. AMUN, the Hidden God, is not a person, but is rather an individual self-revelation and pre-exists social value or political power structure.
Expressed in an alternative formulation: God is the Process of Existence & Creation—not a Person.
Speculations pertaining to the inner social structure of the early Gnostics are just that--speculation, as Rudolf indicates on page 208. In fact, most of the information available is derogatory, presented by Pauline Church Fathers opposed to the "foreign or oriental elements" of the Gnostic sects and factions. For example, the Gnostic Rite of The Sacred Marriage or The Bridal Chamber was twisted by the Holy Gentlemen to suggest that the Gnostics engaged in wild sexual orgies. These falsifications were similar in content to the charges leveled against "heretics" by the Inquisition during the witchcraft paranoia.
What is known is that the early Gnostics practiced a form of organizational secrecy called "arcane discipline." There were probably very good reasons for secrecy, self-survival being paramount among them. Early "mainstream" Christians were forced to practice their faith literally underground in Rome. Today Gnostic Pagans only insist on a pledge of mutual confidentiality between Celebrants and Messengers.
On page 242 Rudolph quotes an Agape (Love) Feast and Communion Invokation. [NOTE: Gnostic Pagans recite this Invokation during Sabbat and Esbat Ritual. The words or phrases in [brackets] are those we substitute for the original. Words in red are deleted from the Gnostic Pagan version. Words in (parenthesis) are alternate translations or substituted for lost text.]
Come, gift of the Most High.
Come, perfect compassion; come, intercourse with the [Conquering One.] male.
Come, holy Spirit (of might).
Come, you who know the mysteries of [AMUN] the elect one; come, you who share in the contests of the noble [warrior.] contestant (athlete).
Come, glorious treasure; come, beloved compassion of [The Holy Mother.] the Most High.
Come, repose, who reveals the majesty of the whole greatness.
Come, [Divine Isis, you bring] you who bring the hidden things to light and cause what is secret to be revealed.
Come, holy [One,] dove, who give[s] birth to the Light.
Come, hidden mother; come, you who are manifest by your deeds and supply rest to those who are bound up with you [bound as one within you.]
Come and take part with us in this [Communion] Eucharist which we perform in your name, and in [this] the love-feast (agape) for which we are assembled at your invitation.
[Acts of Thomas, ch 50]
In other words, The School’s version is:
Come, Holy Spirit of Might.
Come, you who know the mysteries of Amun; come, you who share in the contests of the noble Warrior
Come, glorious treasure; come, beloved compassion of The Holy Mother.
Come, repose, who reveals the majesty of the whole greatness.
Come, Divine Isis, you bring the hidden things to light and cause what is secret to be revealed.
Come, Holy One who gives birth to the Light.
Come, Hidden Mother; come, you who are manifest by your deeds and supply rest to those who are bound as one within you.
Come and take part with us in this Communion we perform in your name, and in the love-feast for which we are assembled at your invitation.
Several historical allusions are illustrated in this remarkable Invocation. Firstly, it is easy to misconstrue the suggestion of an erotic-spiritual element in the text (compare this with the poem by St. John of the Cross quoted in Artist of the Month, Vesta 1997.) This fact, combined with the observation that there were "deviant" Gnostic sects that incorporated certain aspects of Pagan fertility rites, then one can see why the Church Fathers felt so threatened by Gnosticism in general. Naturally, Gnostic Pagans Celebrate the Pagan connection with Gnosticism. Bearing these details in mind, one can also see the strong, positive influence Gnosticism had on the writings of Aleister Crowley.
Regarding the cultic associations and the Love-Feast, Rudolph comments:
...the ceremony only superficially resembles the Christian eucharist, but rather continues older Greek and Hellenistic secret cults (like that of Eleusis and that of the god Sabazios, in which the snake was worshipped as a symbol of the chthonic deity and fertility). For the Ophites or Nassene gnostics the snake was a medium of revelation and mouthpiece of the most sublime...
It is well known that snakes have been venerated as Revealers of Knowledge in many cultures around the world--for the exception of patriarchal Judaeo-Christianity, whose petty "god" fears Human Knowledge. The myth of “Saint” Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland was a very deliberate propagandistic falsification designed to overturn pre-Christian Cults (Cells, or Covens) of Knowledge.
[NOTE: Fundamentalist Christian “snake handlers” have no connection with Paganism, and by their rather colorful practices seek to show their domination over nature. It also provided good theatre for people in the Southern back hills with limited access to other forms of entertainment.]
How much sexuality was really involved in Gnostic fertility rites? Rudolph quotes from Epiphanius' Panarion:
They gravitate...around speculations on the collection of the seed of light, which in the form of the male semen and the female menstrual blood must not be allowed to escape, but must get back to God.
This is suggestive of Kundalini, Tantra and Crowley's esoteric sexual philosophy. (For a more recent exposition of this theme, see The Hidden God by Kenneth Grant.)
Actual sexual intercourse probably did occur among various sects, but it was not a feature of ascetic or mainstream Gnosticism.
Also from Epiphanius we find:
They refuse to give birth to children.
This was almost certainly true for many, possibly the majority of Gnostics. The reasons were two-fold: As Gnostics perceived the material world to be inherently evil, subjecting children to its darkness of separation would be a cruel action in itself. In addition, procreation was a waste, rather than reflection of, creative energy.
Marriage and children are a burden which obstruct the way to salvation and serve only to divert a man from his true goal.
We might not go that far, but The Gnostic Pagan School does retain and then reinterprets certain aspects of this a-procreation philosophy, and applies it to the unfolding Aeon of The Child.
Our spiritual world-view unites theory (the idea, or the psychic) with practice (biological reality). This UNIFIED AWARENESS (Gnosis) is an extraction of the underlying (daemonic) reality of human existence and combines this with historical (biological) materialism. This Essence is then applied to contemporary reality. In the case of Gnostic a-procreation, Gnostic Paganism reinterprets the Essence of this idea to the unfolding Aeon.
Biological Procreation is not the supreme end-all of human biological existence.
There would be fewer damaged and severely disturbed children in the world if adults would spend at least as much time on spiritual development as they spend submitting to uncontrolled sexual urges. This is not an anti-sex philosophy: it is simply common sense. Even childless Gnostic Pagans have a wealth of inner strength to offer ALL THE CHILDREN of the world. And for those of us who do have children, we strive to know ourselves well enough to see children as individuals, rather than as mere reflections of a dysfunctional parental ego.
The resulting benefit of population control arising from this view is self-evident—and, like the Gnostic Pagan philosophy of Global Collectivism, will become increasingly relevant as the Aeon progresses. Old Aeon religions are scrambling to appear less reactionary, but they cannot hide their past and responsibility for advocating anti-humanist dogma. The Gnostic Pagan School enlightens post-modernism by focusing on the present and the future.
Pages 253-273 illustrate the close theoretical connection between early Gnosticism and Aleister Crowley's "Law of Thelema": DO WHAT THOU WILT SHALL BE THE WHOLE OF THE LAW...LOVE IS THE LAW, LOVE UNDER WILL.
Naturally drawing this connection was not Kurt Rudolph's original intention as the connection is ours, not Rudolph's. However, as with many other aspects of early Gnosticism, the influence on Crowley is clear to anyone who is familiar with his work.
The Law of Thelema has been seriously misunderstood and, in some instances, even criminally misrepresented by various denizens of the "occult" underworld. The easiest interpretation of the Law is the libertine one: Everything is permitted, do whatever you want, whenever you want, involving whomever you want. There is truth in this, of course--but it wasn't meant to apply to immature persons with absolutely no sense of self-control. Indeed, Crowley himself carried the art of self-mastery to downright masochistic levels.
We do not recommend that extreme either. As for misapplications to various sexual fetishisms often ascribed to Crowley, it's useful to bear in mind that "The Master" had his human foibles--including a tendency to hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. We make no apologies for the frailties of our major modern Forerunner (Ancestor).
We simply note them for purposes of historic clarification.
The Law itself really implies that the Initiate is in contact with the True Self, or Daemon. Preceding from this Union all actions must by their very nature be correct.
Love is the essence of reality directed by Will (Individual Attainment of The Great Work).
In Rudolph's work he notes that both the ascetic and a-moralistic or libertine branches of Gnosticism ...expressed the same basic attitude: a protest against the pretensions of the world and its legislative ruler; a revolution on a moralistic plane. Which of the two fundamental views is the older and more appropriate remains up to the present an unsolved problem. [P. 253]
Presenting an argument for the libertine doctrine, Rudolph quotes from scholar H. Jonas:
...it expressed in the best way possible their self-esteem and sense of freedom (i.e. from every kind of cosmic coercion)...
The whole idea revolves around the conception of...the noble privilege of a new kind of man who is subjugated neither by the obligations nor the criteria of the present world of creation...a kind of declaration of war and even...active uprising itself, the revolution...revealed. To this extent libertinism lay at the core of the gnostic revolution.
Naturally such a revolutionary "theology of freedom" presented during an era of pervasive superstition as existed at the beginning of the Common Era lent itself to enormous excess and abuse.
For example, the libertine Gnostic leader Simon Magus encouraged his followers to abandon the biblical prophets and follow their own will. Unfortunately he added the precept that “only through his (Simon's) grace men are saved." [P. 255]. This simply brings believers under the domination of yet some other mortal will. Sad to relate, many contemporary "disciples" of Aleister Crowley continue to do this as well in a sort of mindless recitation of The Law of Thelema. We can only encourage them to mentally jump-start over to the currently unfolding revolutionary era and to get positively involved with the Collective Reality.
Freedom must therefore be gained by a complete demonstration of it here on earth.
Kurt Rudolph continues to documents early Gnostic beliefs and organizational forms that also demonstrate our historic connection with the Gnostic philosophy.
Consequently rejection of marriage and certain foods (especially meat) are among the first degrees of Gnostic asceticism.
OK, let's start with the issue of marriage--and we are not necessarily commenting on this subject from an ascetic perspective.
The concept of marriage as a legal institution and social mandate should have gone out the window with the Bolshevik Revolution.
Enlightened artists, activists and social progressives completely and appropriately addressed this entire question in the latter part of the 19th Century. It is only with the 1980's rampant victory of resurgent International Capitalism that once again the advance guard must explain the Socialist view of the repressive nature of The Nuclear Family and The State.
If people want to sexually bond, mate and produce children--well, that's their choice. But why should private mating habits be a question of State Sanctification? It may well be true that children generally thrive best--and this is indeed still an open question--living with both parents under the same roof. But, again why must such an arrangement fall under the jurisdiction of State Authority? The answer is really quite simple--the State needs these units of conformity in order to bolster up its own power over the individual and any meaningful expressions of non-conformity.
An extensive quotation from the Nag Hammadi Codex describes traditional Gnosticism in a "nutshell"
In regard to [those who belong to] the world we do not concern ourselves; if they [slan]der us, we pay no attention to them...For they go to their work, but we wander about in hunger and thirst, looking toward our dwelling place, the place to which our public conduct (politeia) and our conscience look forward. We do not adhere to the things that have come into being but draw back from them, because our hearts repose on the things that (really) exist...a great strength is hidden within us.
[NHC VI 3,27.6-25]
Rudolph notes that the text illustrates how the devil (mortal error) seeks to seduce the soul with "false food" (vices, or subjugation to gross materialism).
First he casts sadness into your heart until you are troubled (even) by a trifle of this life, and (then) he seizes us with his poisons and thereafter with desire for a garment in which to pride yourself; (then follow) love of money, ostentation, vanity, envy that is envious of another envy, beauty of body, fraudulence; the worst (vices) of all these are ignorance and indifference. Now all these things the adversary (anti-keimenos) prepares nicely and spreads them out before...(the heart)...As with a net he draws her by force of ignorance and beguiles her until she conceives evil and bears fruit of matter...and the fleshly sweetness draws her on in ignorance. But the soul which has recognized these desires to be ephemeral withdraws from them and enters into a new way of life...and from then on despises this present life because it is transitory and longs for the food which will lead her to (eternal) life and leaves behind her those false foods...
[NHC VI 3, 30.26-32.3]
From the "Gospel of Phillip" Rudolf quotes:
He who has the knowledge (gnosis) of the truth is free. But the free does not sin...knowledge lifts up (their) hearts, which means it makes them...and makes them lifted up above...the world...But he who has become free through knowledge is a slave for love's sake to those who have not yet been able to take up the freedom of knowledge.
[NHC II 3, 77 (125), 15-33]
These essentially Christian elements of early Gnosticism explain the proselyting nature of Christianity in general, and foreshadows one of the dominant themes that underscores the writings of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81), namely that to the moral man sin is its own punishment. "Sin" or "error", represents bondage to gross materialism, subjugating the Daemon ("Higher Self") to the lower nature (ethos), and as such represents a form of moral slavery.
...the free does not sin. This is not meant to imply that the guilty avoids the legal ramification of his act. Accepting legal responsibility is just the first step on the road to redemption according to the great author.
In the beginning Christianity represented a Jewish response to the political repression the Israelites had suffered under various political authorities including Rome. The concept of Messiah was always a militant one, and Christianity finally fulfilled its Messianic mission by conquering non-Christian nations and converting them. It is in this role that Christianity itself became Anti-Christ(ian), the Whore, or Scarlet Woman, corrupt with her own opulence and power. It was in this guise Constantine conquered and the distortions of the Nicene Creed (CE 325) were promulgated. And in this the Gnosis of Christianity came to an end and the quasi-legal framework was established to encourage the persecution of the Gnostics--and the Pagans--and all others who refused to submit their conscience to The New Rome.
Christianity became the master of duplicity, one of the most monumentally hypocritical institutions to manifest on the collective plane. What started out as a liberation movement degenerated into a hammer for the ruling class. The Church told slaves and the poor to accept their fate as the "Will of God," and sanctioned the rule of every sort of miserable wretch and exploiter by "Divine Right."
[NOTE: It would take the evolutionary revelation (Gnosis) of a 19th Century German Jew and avowed Atheist, Karl Marx, to set the record straight and place religion in an historic (materialistic) context.]
The Gnostics, however,
...considered these relations (arising from the socio-political power structure--Ed.) as "ungodly" and inaugurated solely by the evil and "stupid" creator of the world. Whilst Hellenistic political theory understands earthly sovereignty as system controlled by divine reason (nous, logos), and so provides a justification for it, Gnosis disputes the alleged conformity to reason of the whole world, since this world had its origin in a blunder...The gnostic who has gained this insight and has recognized the true reason beyond all earthly things, which is at the same time akin to himself, can thereby subdue the world and renounce all obedience to it.
And, commenting on an even more militant Gnostic declaration, Rudolph states:
Gnosis and Apocalyptic are
To change the world means for them to do away with it. Their judgment of the world
is judgment of history as such. They rebel against all rulers
and long for a world without laws...They have no interest
in any existing order, for nothing is in order,
and they strive for a world that needs no ordering hand. They put God
and the world into opposition, thus claiming God entirely for themselves.
While the contemporary Gnostic Pagan School is deeply sympathetic to basic idea of the content in the above, we reject the "Libertarian" political implications as well as the obvious religious elitism.
The ancient system of rule has been divested by Gnosis of its sanctity; it has been "degraded from the alleged dignity of an inspired...order to a naked display of power...which at the most could exact obedience but not respect."
The Gnostic Pagan School and the early Gnostics are very close in this political arena. Where we see Gnosis evolving as a counterpoint to mortal institutions; they saw it as a complete rejection of historical materialist conditions. However, we agree on the necessity for an "ideal rebellion" or "metaphysical emptying" of the old rule by advocating,...a practical devaluation and weakening of political conditions.
The early Gnostics, in their moral self-absorption and political abstention, viewed this undermining and weakening of temporal authority as an end in itself, and in this respect they were true anarchists. Again, Gnostic Paganism has its roots in this noble idealism--and, again we apply it to the unfolding collective reality. In our social and political criticism we do indeed seek to expose the modern social order for what it is and to denounce its exploitative nature. We do want to overthrow it...by encouraging individual liberation through collective action.
In the Apocalypse of Adam (NHC V 5) is written the perfect gnostic belongs to a "kingless race" which excels all "kingdoms" (i.e. aeons--Ed.) of the past and present. [P.266]
As the central core section of GNOSIS (Nature and Structure) draws to its conclusion, further parallels between the early Gnostic Tradition and our own are clearly illustrated.
The Mandeans also, by virtue of their bad experiences, tolerated an "intellectual reservation" (reservatio mentalis), i.e. concealment of their real faith in the face of persecutions.
This issue rose again during the Inquisition when it is suspected that the term "warlock" (oath-breaker) was first applied to male "witches." Concealing one's true faith was often necessary for survival during the Divorce and Succession Crisis under Henry VIII and his ruthless royal heirs. Gnostic Paganism condones the necessity for this reservatio mentalis in modern times owing to the challenging nature of our beliefs.
Rudolph cites sources which promote "the removal of any relationship of dependence here on earth and stands for their complete liquidation..." [P. 268]
This statement has many applications and ramifications, and deserves special attention.
The Gnostics were specifically referring to a disruption of the ancient slave/master relationship, as well as restricting many familial and other intimate, social relationships.
The first disruption is familiar to Judaeo-Christian religious themes--although the Gnostics had a decidedly pre-communist construct, as we shall soon address. In the Gospel of Phillip we find,” In the world (kosmos) the slaves serve the free. In the kingdom of heaven the free will serve the slaves. [NHC II 3, 72 (120), 17-20]
It is in regards to the downplaying or outright rejection of family or other close relationships that we confront a controversy that is very much alive today. This idea definitely connects with the earlier statements indicating a Gnostic tendency to avoid marriage and childbirth. It also raises questions about the purpose and nature of a modern religious or spiritual cult.
To address this question of "cultism" we must digress here somewhat.
Currently the term "cult" conveys extremely negative connotations--and deservedly so. Who isn't familiar with the truly evil effects of cults controlled by pathological, totalitarian leaders? The last Century could almost be called the Century of Dangerous Cults. The Cult of Stalin. The Cult of Mao. The (Fundamentalist) Jesus Cult. The Cult of Evita. People's Temple. Scientology. Heaven's Gate. The Aryan Cult. The Cult of Satan. One could seemingly go on indefinitely with this laundry list of 20th Century depravity, greed--and, yes, just plain foolishness.
But are all cults inherently evil?
And what is the definition of a "cult"?
The Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Desk Dictionary (1985 Edition) defines “cult” as: 1. A system of religious rites and observations. 2. Zealous devotion to a person, ideal, or thing. 3. The object of this devotion. 4. The followers of a cult.
That is a fair and accurate description of both the ancient (sacred) and modern definition of a cult.
All Pagan religion was cultic in origin--that is, centered on a specific deity (or, as the case in Ancient Egypt, a triad of deities). Judaism clearly originated as the Cult of Yahweh, just as Christianity began as the personality Cult of Jesus as the Christ or Messiah. Most Protestant religions were formed around charismatic (or at least very compelling) personalities--such as John Knox, Martin Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, etc.--and more recent historical figures such as Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Jim Jones, etc. (And of course there were the prophets of Islam and later BAHÁ'Í). Cults that eventually evolved into enduring mass movements are most often considered today as "good"--whereas smaller or more exclusive groups are (often justifiably) thought to be "evil" or at least dangerous.
Taking in consideration all of the above, yes, The Gnostic Pagan Tradition is a cult in the most ancient and sacred meaning of that term and, no, we are not "dangerous." Individuals and groups hiding behind the banner “anti-cultism” have also been known to generate a great deal of mischief. This is not the place to elaborate on this particular theme, but we will mention two examples for the purpose of clarification.
Partially as a backlash to the Gnosis expansion of the 1960's (and much of that based on the "psychedelic experience" and militant social activism), certain Fundamentalist factions (many supported by corrupt Conservative politicians and other rightwing "leaders") launched a modern Inquisition to stamp-out the imaginary existence of a "Satanic cult of child abuse." Targets of this deranged witch-hunt were most often teachers and day care centers (day care centers are often viewed as expressions of women's liberation and budding socialism, places to be feared by the bigots). Many lives were ruined and families broken apart before this tyranny finally came to an end in the late 1980's when no material evidence of any national or global "Satanic Plot" could be exhibited--and more enlightened social leaders finally dared to come forward to denounce this sinister nonsense.
The other example, promoted by the same Fundamentalist idiots, was the concept "Facilitated Communication." This handy little "Witch's Hammer" was formulated to makeup for the lack of empirical evidence to charge people they didn't like with child abuse. "Facilitated Communication" was an even more dangerous myth as many scientists, teachers and lay people who were not necessarily directly connected to Christian Fundamentalism initially bought into it.
One report reached us of a specific incident that occurred as late as 1992 in a day care center for developmentally challenged young adults in Petaluma, California.
In this instance the "Facilitator" was a Fundamentalist office worker who saw examples of "demonic influence" everywhere and whose only "training" came from "support groups” in her church. This woman became fixated on a non-verbal, relatively low functioning female client who never exhibited any of the classic symptoms of sexual abuse. Nonetheless the office worker, determined to find a self-righteous cause in her own backyard, began to "experiment" with the client, "guiding" her hand on a computer keyboard. Predictably, against any possible suggestion of such complex and cognitive skill on the young client's part, she began to write out an intricate narrative of physical and sexual abuse committed by various family members. Naturally when the family got wind of this misguided and manipulative activity all hell broke loose and the "facilitation sessions" were abruptly terminated by court order. By this time "Facilitated Communication" had been largely refuted in most other areas of the United States.
[NOTE: The 17th Century Salem Witch-hunt hysteria ended only when the wife of the provincial governor was herself accused of prancing about with Old Nick under the light of the moon. It was one thing to persecute old women and farmers, but “crying out” a member of the ruling elite was quite another.]
So the "moral" of this little digression is, don’t believe everything Fundamentalists say--and especially what they have to say about non-Christian "cults."
[Incidentally, it isn't just the Fundamentalist Fringe that is ignorant in regards to cults. Remember just a few years ago when "Cult Busters" were hired by relatives to actually kidnap cult members and then hide them incommunicado, subjecting them to humiliating and often violent "deprogramming"? This practice made a mockery of judicial and Constitutional process. One can't help but wonder about families who have so lost positive connection with their sons or daughters as to resort to such totalitarian tactics in order to "reclaim" them.]
When our Founding Document paraphrases The Christ's teaching by stating, "Becoming your own Mother and Father is a difficult birth...but it is a true one..." does not imply any necessity to negate biological relationships, it is merely stating a metaphysical (psychic) reality.
As previously stated, author Kurt Rudolph indicates early "communist" tones in traditional Gnosticism. This is obviously a very important theme to our own School (in light of our commitment to the goal of International Collectivism, or Scientific Socialism), and so we quote extensively from the text:
[NOTE: Obviously we would substitute the Holy Name AMUN for "God" in the quoted text and de-emphasize the use of the masculine pronoun for The Nameless or Un-Begotten One, but that should be unnecessary for Initiates and would only encumber the text.]
Thanks to certain extracts from the "Carpet-bags" of Clement of Alexandria we know of a unique book which deals with gnostic social criticism; it stems from the second century and bears the title "On Righteousness". It is ascribed to a certain Epiphanes, supposedly the son of the legendary sect founder Carpocrates, who died young. Starting from the gnostic concepts of the world and freedom, it demonstrates by arguments from natural philosophy and logic that the earthly distinctions between "mine" and "thine", riches and poverty, freedom and slavery, rulers and ruled are untenable and not in accordance with nature; these are human, not divine institutions. The author advocates a kind of gnostic communism and in this way shows the latent disruptive in the gnostic view of life. "The righteousness of God", he says, "is a communion with equality, for the heaven, equally stretched out on all sides like a circle, embraces the whole earth, and the night shows forth equally all the stars, and the sun, the cause of day and the origin (actually: father) of light, God has poured forth from above equally upon the earth for all who can see; but they all see in common, for he (God) makes no distinction between rich or poor, people or ruler, foolish and wise, female and male, free and slave. Not even any of the irrational creatures does he treat differently…
The sun causes common food to grow up for all creatures and the common righteousness is given to all equally...But not even the things of generation have any written law--it would have been transcribed--but they sow and give birth equally, having a communion implanted (inborn) by righteousness...(this is proved by the common gift of the eyes to see for everyone without distinction). But the laws, since they could not punish man's incapacity to learn taught (them) to transgress. For the private property of the laws cut up and nibbled away the fellowship of the divine law...Mine and thine, he says, were introduced through the laws; no longer would the fruits either of the earth or of possessions, or even of marriage be enjoyed in community. In common for all he (God) made the vines, which refuse neither sparrow nor thief, and likewise the corn and other fruits. But since fellowship and equality were violated (by the laws), there arose theft of beasts and fruits. In that God made all things in common for man, and brought together the female with the male in common and united all the animals likewise, he declared righteousness to be fellowship with equality. But those thus born rejected the fellowship which had brought about their birth, and say: 'Who marries one (wife), let him have her', when they could all share in common, as the rest of the animals show..." Further on it is pointed out that the words of the lawgiver (i.e. the Jewish God) "Thou shalt not covet" are laughable, and yet more laughable is it to say, "what is your neighbor’s". "For the very one, the lawgiver, who gave the desire as embracing the things of birth commands that it be taken away (again), though he takes it away from no other animal. But that he said 'your neighbor’s wife's is even more laughable, since he (thus) compels what was common possession to become private property". The conclusions affecting the cult which should be drawn from this community are cited in detail by Clement...Elsewhere, in the Iran of the Sassanid king Kavad (489-531), the same brand of socio-critical conceptions were put into practice at a critical period and led to the revolutionary movement of Mazdak (died 524), who in his communistic doctrine also availed himself of gnostic and Manichean concepts and by doing so furnished proof of the disruptive force of this anti-cosmic dualism..."
In relation to the accumulation of gross material wealth, the following passage reflects a Gnostic theme that prefigures our own evaluation (or de-valuation) of the contemporary obsession. Elsewhere in this site we have expressed our admiration of Jesus' militancy in chasing the moneylenders from The Temple. The incarnation of Horus-as-The Christ is an allegorical expansion of Gnosis, representing an aeonic shift of historical emphasis from material power to spiritual power.
ç No More Money Changing, No More Blood Sacrifice!
The condemnation of wealth, chiefly of property, is usual in Gnosis, and closely connected with the fundamental attitude of eschewing the world and all it stands for. This approach however has at the same time a significant socio-critical component, as some evidence shows, although occasionally it is simply the Christian literature that is employed. Lucian relates of the "Christian" Peregrinus that he handed over his property to the community. The Gospel of Thomas clearly disapproves of monetary interest and in its own way reiterates Jesus' parables against the accumulation of riches, even increasing the tone of severity in places...Revealing is a passage from the tractate The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, which denounces the preferential status of the rich: Jesus admonishes his disciples to keep away from the rich men of the city since they did not deem him worthy, but "reveled in their wealth and presumption"...
(Sources: NHC II 2, log. 95; NHC II 2,log.63; Luk.14,
NHC VI I, 11, 27-12, 13)
The Gnostic Pagan Tradition interprets the Gnostic ascetic aversion to gross materialism in a non-dualistic and non-escapist manner. While we recognize the dangers inherent in the negative attractions (Maya) of material wealth and social position, we do not encourage Initiates to withdraw from the world of glamour and illusion--rather we encourage Celebrants to transubstantiate it. Nor do we beg for financial handouts from Members. We do encourage Initiates to practice Hatha Yoga and Meditation on a regular basis as a partial counterpoint to the snares of material Illusion.
As we stated at the beginning of this review, the earliest traceable birth of traditional Gnosticism during the Aeon of Osiris was ascetic and male oriented--that is, basically Patriarchal. History shows that male asceticism and misogyny almost invariably go hand-in-hand. Fortunately this propensity was softened by the Gnostic recognition of the Divine Female Principle Gnostic Pagans refer to as Nuit, Isis, Ma'at, and/or Shakti.
Rudolph indicates that with the growth of Gnosticism, The equal standing of women in cultic practice...appears to have been relatively widespread... (P. 270).
These "cultic practices" were often based on ritual magic--with Pagan origins--and the "cells" or "circles" of female and male Gnostics are likely candidates for the initial sources of the infamous and "licentious" Witch's Coven.
Rudolph writes, Frequently bi-sexuality became something of an ideal for Gnosis; it is attributed among others to the highest being. The Mandaic Eve speaks to Adam in the following instructive statement:
When there was no unevenness
(then) we had (but) one form.
We had (but) one form
and we were both made as a single manna (spirit)
Now, where there is no evenness (or: equality),
they made you a man and me a woman.
[Right Ginza III]
As Kurt Rudolph indicates, the Gnostic Gospel of Philip lays the blame for the separation of the sexes at poor old Eve's doorstep--while also illustrating a very interesting occult principle.
When Eve was (still) in Adam, there was no death. When she separated from him, death arose. When she (or it, death) enters him again...there shall be no (more) death... If the woman had not separated from the man, she would have not died with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Therefore Christ came that he might set right again the separation which arose from the beginning and unite the two, and give life to those who died in the separation and unite them.
Students of esoteric philosophy will perceive for themselves the possible multidimensional ramifications of the above.
Obviously skeptics will not.
We see in this the early foundation of the concept of the Holy Marriage. Christian Gnostics viewed this as the union of Christ (the bridegroom lover) with the faithful (the bride beloved). From the Pagan vantage point is seen the Sacred Union (Tantra) of Shiva with Shakti.
The passages are also suggestive of Genesis 27: So God created man in his own image...male and female created he them.
Incidentally, this is one of the few passages from the Old Testament that we find of Gnostic significance. Other passages may possibly be appreciated for their poetic virtue--but too many others are overtly racist, nationalistic, patriarchal, narrow-minded, bigoted and barbaric.]
When Genesis II, 6-7 states: But there went up a mist from the earth...and the Lord God formed man...and man became a living soul. We are in agreement with Christian Science in that this passage represents an embedded clue to true esoteric doctrine. By virtually negating the bisexual reality asserted just 12 passages earlier, the "mist" represents Illusion, or the deception of MORTAL EGO MIND (JEHOVHA/DEMIURGE).
The last section of GNOSIS (History) deals with various cultural and ideological transmutations and developments of Gnosticism from its pre-Christian and early Christian origins. There is a certain degree of inevitable repetition from the previous sections and so we will briefly describe only those elements that illustrate varying degrees of direct or indirect correlation with The Gnostic Pagan Tradition.
"World spaces" = aeons, and the last Aeon = Sophia. [P.319]. Gnostic Paganism attributes the last or fifth aeon to Ma'at, the Daughter of Spiritual Fire. [NOTE: The first aeon = Set, the Lord of Material Fire; the second aeon = Isis, the Mother of Earth; the third aeon = Osiris, the Father of Water, the fourth aeon = Horus, the Son of Earth, Water, Air and Fire.]
The ascetic attitude to life...consists in reducing all relations to a minimum.
And we add that even these ”minimal” relationships should reflect fairness, courtesy and forbearance.
Manichean ethics: ...three seals of the mouth, the hand and sexual organs, i.e. they have to keep away. from consuming meat...from lying and hypocrisy...from damaging nature by...ill treatment of animals, damage of plants...pollution of water, all involve "tormenting" of the light enclosed therein and are sacrilege. The "perfect" must dedicate themselves to the study, copying and translating of religious writing...
In this regard the Gnosticism prefigured the Environmental Movement.
Unforgivable is only the sin of the conscious resistance against the redeeming knowledge, the illumination by the light...the Holy Spirit; this leads without fail to the final subservience to the darkness.
In concluding remarks Rudolph notes that traditional Christianity). After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. the Judaic Gnostics came under increasing persecution first by the Jewish Community, and then by the Roman, Gentile-friendly Christian Church. The Gnostics were forced to flee Jordan, but the sacred waters of the East remained of major symbolic importance. To Gnostic Paganism the allusion refers to the Waters of the East from which the Living Light (Horus) rises in all the splendor of spiritual rebirth.
I see that all is suspended on spirit,
I perceive that all is waft upon spirit.
Flesh is suspended on soul,
And soul depends on the air,
Air is suspended from ether,
From the depths come forth fruits,
From the womb comes forth a child.
Valentinus (d. appx. 160 CE)
VI 37, 7, transl. D. Hill