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Last Updated: 18 December 2016
One of the most commonly used symbols of Gnosticism is the simplest form of the Sun Cross, often referred to as Odin's Cross in North-West Europe, aka Gnostic Cross (shown above).
The Sun Cross is defined at the link below. It was used by pagans in pre-historic times. It is also used by Neo-Nazis.
The word 'Gnosticism' is a modern construction, though based on an antiquated linguistic expression: it comes from the Greek word meaning 'knowledge', gnosis. However, gnosis itself refers to a very specialised form of knowledge, deriving both from the exact meaning of the original Greek term and its usage in Platonist philosophy.
Gnosticism takes the view that there are two Gods: the creator of the world being 'Demiurge', an imperfect deity, inflicting suffering on all living beings (considered to be evil by some Sects, or just ignorant by others); and also a benevolent, mysterious and unknowable God, which in some sense one can become part of or connected with to be liberated from the physical world. Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism use the Buddhist concept of earthly and material form being the root of all suffering.
Monad, the One, The Absolute, Aion Teleos (The Perfect Aeon), Bythos (Depth or Profundity), Proarkhe (Before the Beginning), or as E Arkhe (The Beginning). God is the high source of the Pleroma, the region of light...Pleroma generally refers to the totality of God's powers. The term means fullness, and is used in Christian theological contexts: both in Gnosticism generally, and in Colossians 2.9 (KJV): 'For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.'' The various emanations of God are called Aeons, or angels. These are the messengers of light that bring Gnosis or Knowledge to mankind. Jesus Christ is considered by many (by not all) Gnostics to be an Aeon.
Gnosticism (in its different forms) draws upon a variety of syncretic monotheistic and pantheistic belief systems and philosophies from different parts of history, including initially Platonism and Greek mythology, Neo-Pythagoreanism (1st Century AD), Neoplatonism (3rd Century AD) - for the large part (Gnosticism being a more dualistic form of Neoplatonism), Zoroastrianism (founded in 1000 B.C.), Buddhism (6th Century BC) and Christianity (1st Century). Some texts from the Nag Hammadi library and other non-canonical texts were written by Gnostics as a Gnostic interpretation of Christianity, and were in the 20th Century to become an influence again on modern Gnosticism after having been lost for 1500 years.
To some extent Gnosticism combines elements of some or all of these belief systems. Early Gnostic ideas emerged in the two hundred years or so before Christ, drawing on Platonism, Hellenic polytheism, Babylonian Astrology and perhaps some elements of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and even a reverse-Judaism), but the classic Gnostic cosmology (of Evil Creator God and mysterious Good God, and reuniting with the Good God through Gnosis) did most likely not really develop fully until the advent of Neopythagoreanism in the 1st Century and (mainly) Neoplatonism in the 3rd Century which first refined and brought these concepts together, albeit in a slightly different spirit (i.e. introducing the concept of matter being evil or bad and spirit being good). How much some of these early direct influences on Gnosticism were in fact later influences on Gnosticism via Neoplatonism is a matter of debate and beyond my limited knowledge at the stage.
'Gnosis is a Greek word, originally used in specifically Platonic philosophical contexts. Plato's original use of the terms gnostikoi and gnostike episteme were in his text known as Politikos in Greek and Politicus in Latin (258e-267a). In this work, the modern name of which is the Statesman, gnostikoi meant the knowledge to influence and control. Gnostike episteme also was used to indicate one's aptitude. In Plato's writings the terms do not appear to intimate anything esoteric or hidden, but rather express a sort of higher intelligence and ability akin to talent.'
Neoplatonism elaborated on the writings of Plato, but also subscribing to the view that the spiritual seed is in every human, and that the highest goal of existence was to return to the One, or Monad. It elaborated on the concept of Gnosis to mean a spiritual insight to connect with the One. Neoplatonism was not dualistic as such as was later Gnosticism, but regarded the physical world as beautiful. The rejection of physical existence and association of Demiurge as being 'misguided' or 'evil' was a Gnostic interpretation, as is reflected in the Gnostic texts.
The individual religions, faiths and writings which are classified as Gnostic are not necessarily themselves associated with the movement known as Gnosticism, but are adopted and often reinterpreted by Gnostics and given a 'Gnostic slant'. Gnostic Christianity can be considered a sub-set of Gnosticism, but not all Gnostics recognise Christ and could be called Christians in any sense. Some Gnostics recognise Jesus as well as other prophets. The biggest influences on Gnosticism are probably Zoroastrianism, Neo-Platonism, Christianity and Buddhism. Gnosticism is thought to have had an influence on the Jewish Kabbalah, and certainly on the Hermetic Qabalah.
The term Sophia (Greek for "wisdom") refers to the final and lowest emanation of God. Sophia gave birth to the Demiurge, who in turn brings about the creation of materiality. Sophia, Greek for "wisdom", is a central term in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, Platonism, Gnosticism, Orthodox Christianity, Esoteric Christianity, as well as Christian mysticism. Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of God. A Feminine figure, analogous to the human soul but also simultaneously one of the Feminine aspects of God and the Bride (counterpart) of Christ, she is considered to have fallen from grace in some way, in so doing creating or helping to create the material world.
The Gnostic texts vary in their interpretation. Some (e.g. the Nag Hammadi text 'The Apocryphon of John') state that Sophia first reached out of the Pleroma and created instability. . Pistis tried to procreate on her own and gave birth to Demiurge, and then created Sophia as a 'saving grace'. Pistis thus gave rise to both Sophia and Demiurge. Other accounts (e.g. the Nag Hammadi text 'On the Origin of the World') state that Pistis (faith) first reached out from the Pleroma and created the instability. Pistis-Sophia (together) gave birth to Ialdoboath (Demiurge). The Aprocryphon of John accounts appears to be more representative of Gnostic beliefs.
The positive or negative depiction of materiality depends to an extent on mythic depictions of Sophia's actions. She is occasionally referred to by the Hebrew equivalent of Achamoth (this is a feature of Ptolemy's version of the Valentinian gnostic myth). Jewish Gnosticism with a focus on Sophia was active by 90 AD.
Those Gnostic Sects that acknowledge Jesus believe that he was sent from the Pleroma (the godhead, divine 'fullness'), by the Aeon Pistis (meaning faith), to bring awareness and gnosis to mankind and to free mankind from the 'prison of cyclic existence.' The Gnostic Goddess Sophia (Serpent of Garden of Eden) is sometimes seen as Jesus' counterpart, in such that the divine spark/seed is Sophia/wisdom. That is the wisdom of the 'Beast' and the 'Beast is Man'. On the Origin of the World describes Saboath as the son of Ialdoboath. Saboath-Pistis gave birth to Zoe (meaning 'life'). Zoe-Sophia was sent to assist man and to act as their instructor, the 'Beast'.
Demiurge was seen to have created the world poorly and imperfectly, resulting in a material world filled with decay, suffering, weakness and death. Human beings are thus imperfect vessels trapping the human spirit and a spark of a higher spiritual reality within; holding the human spirit 'captive'. The spark of the higher spiritual realm, or gnosis, trapped inside every living human, if developed fully, is believed to liberate a person and help him evolve into spiritual perfection. This is a process of self-discovery, whereby one discovers one's divine identity, one separates from the psychical world by stripping away the consciousness of the physical body, whereupon one can finally experience God's kingdom of peace, light and life.
'Demiurge - the Latinized form of Gk. demiourgos, literally "public or skilled worker" (from demos "common people" + ergos "work") and hence a "maker", "artisan" or "craftsman". In later philosophical and religious language it became a term for a creator deity, responsible for the creation of the physical universe. In the sense of a divine creative principle as expressed in ergon or en-erg-y, the word was first introduced by Plato in Timaeus, 41a (ca. 360 BC). It subsequently appears in a number of different religious and philosophical systems of Late Antiquity besides Platonic realism, most notably in Neoplatonism. In Neoplatonism, Plotinus identified the demiurge as nous (divine mind), the first emanation of "the One" (see monad). Neoplatonists personified the demiurge as Zeus, the high god of the Greeks. The term also appears in Gnosticism and within Gnosticism, the material universe is seen as evil or at least created by a lesser and or inferior creator deity. The Gnostics attributed much of the actions and laws that in the Tanach or Old Testament are attributed to the Hebrew God Yahweh to the Demiurge (see the Sethians and Ophites). Alternative Gnostic names for the Demiurge, include Yaldabaoth, "Samael", "Saklas", and "Kosmokrator", and several other variants. He is known as Ptahil in Mandaeanism. The figures of the "Angel of YHWH" and the "Angel of Death" may have contributed to the Gnostic view of the Demiurge.'
Demiurge is associated with the creator deity of the Old Testament (i.e. Jehovah/Yaweh). Demiurgus is associated by Neoplatonism as being the Greek God Zeus, the father of all other Gods; the Roman equivalent being Jupiter.
The Catholic Encylopedia cites Origen as defining the chief archon Jaldabaoth (later Demiurge) as being the planet Saturn. This is a feature of Eastern-Persian Gnosticism which drew on Babylonian Astrology.
'Origen (Contra Celsum, VI, xxxi), referring to the Ophitic system, gives us the names of the seven archons as Jaldabaoth, Jao, Sabaoth, Adonaios, Astaphaios, Ailoaios, and Oraios, and tells us that Jaldabaoth is the planet Saturn.'
'In the hellenized form of Gnosticism either all or some of these names are replaced by personified vices. Authadia (Authades), or Audacity, is the obvious description of Jaldabaoth, the presumptuous Demiurge, who is lion-faced as the Archon Authadia.'
'Zeus in Greek mythology is the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky and thunder. His symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull and oak. In addition to his Indo-European inheritance, the classical "cloud-gatherer" also derives certain iconographic traits from the cultures of the ancient Near East, such as the scepter. Zeus is frequently depicted by Greek artists in one of two poses: standing, striding forward, with a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand or seated in majesty. Zeus was the child of Cronus and Rhea, and the youngest of his siblings. In most traditions he was married to Hera, although, at the oracle of Dodona, his consort was Dione: according to the Iliad, he is the father of Aphrodite by Dione. He is known for his erotic escapades, including one pederastic relationship with Ganymede. These resulted in many godly and heroic offspring, including Athena, Apollo and Artemis, Hermes, Persephone (by Demeter), Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen, Minos, and the Muses (by Mnemosyne); by Hera, he is usually said to have fathered Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus.'
'In Roman mythology, Jupiter [aka Jove] held the same role as Zeus in the Greek pantheon. He was called Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (Jupiter Best, Greatest); as the patron deity of the Roman state, he ruled over laws and social order. He was the chief god of the Capitoline Triad, with Juno and Minerva. In Latin mythology Jupiter is the father of Mars. Therefore, Jupiter is the grandfather of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.'
Quoted from Manly P. Hall's 'Masonic, Hermetic, Quabbalistic & Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy':
"After dismembering him, the Titans first boiled the pieces in water and afterwards roasted them. Pallas [Athena] rescued the heart of the murdered god, and by this precaution Bacchus (Dionysos) was enabled to spring forth again in all his former glory. Jupiter, the Demiurgus, beholding the crime of the Titans, hurled his thunderbolts and slew them, burning their bodies to ashes with heavenly fire. Out of the ashes of the Titans - which also contained a portion of the flesh of Bacchus, whose body they had partly devoured - the human race was created. Thus the mundane life of every man was said to contain a portion of the Bacchic life."
From the Rites of Ecstacy, on The Bacchants:
'Although the image [of the soul as a raven] recalls the beliefs of the primitive shamans, such tales of soul journeys - and the ability of a disembodied spirit to function independently of the constraints of the physical form - mark a significant advance in the concept of the soul. This notion of the soul freed from the body was a core belief of a cult devoted to the worship of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine.'
A history of Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism can be found in the book 'Ancient Beliefs in the Immortality of the Soul with Some Account of Their Influence on Later Views 1931' by Clifford Herschel Moore. This book can be read on line by clicking here.
This same story is relayed in Moore' book, that the titans ate the god Dionysus thereby taking into themselves the "divine spark" at which time Zeus [Demiurgus] destroys the titans and humans sprung from the ashes of the Titans. Thus, humans are seen to have this same divine spark trapped within them. This is the same concept of divine spark trapped within humanity as Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. The concept of the soul escaping the trappings of the human body can be found mentioned in the Rites of Ecstacy c/f the Cult of Dionysus above.
Rosicrucianism holds that Freemasonry's Great Architect of the Universe, the creator, is the same as the Supreme Being. Much of Luciferianism holds the same premise (except Gnostic Luciferianism). This is perhaps in slight opposition to the Gnostic concept of the 'evil' or 'ignorant' Demiurge, the creator. However some forms of Gnosticism hold that Demiurge was 'benevolent' but perhaps a little 'ignorant'.
'Neoplatonism (also Neo-Platonism) is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, founded by Plotinus and based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists. The term was first coined by Thomas Taylor, in his translation of Plotinus' Enneads. Taylor was the first to translate Plotinus' works into English. Neoplatonists would have considered themselves simply "Platonists", and the modern distinction is due to the perception that their philosophy contained enough unique interpretations of Plato to make it substantively different from what Plato wrote and believed. The Neoplatonism of Plotinus and Porphyry has been referred to as really being orthodox (neo)Platonic philosophy by scholars like Professor John D. Turner. This distinction provides a contrast with later movements of Neoplatonism, such as those of Iamblichus and Proclus. Movements which embraced magical practices or theurgy as part of the soul's development in the process of the soul's return to the Source. This could also be due to one possible motive of Plotinus, being to clarify some of the traditions in the teachings of Plato that had been misrepresented before Iamblichus (see Neoplatonism and Gnosticism). Neoplatonism took definitive shape with the philosopher Plotinus, who claimed to have received his teachings from Ammonius Saccas, a dock worker and philosopher in Alexandria. Plotinus was also influenced by Alexander of Aphrodisias and Numenius of Apamea. Plotinus's student Porphyry assembled his teachings into the six Enneads. Subsequent Neoplatonic philosophers included Hypatia of Alexandria, Iamblichus, Proclus, Hierocles of Alexandria, Simplicius of Cilicia, and Damascius, who wrote On First Principles. Born in Damascus, he was the last teacher of Neoplatonism at Athens. Neoplatonism strongly influenced Christian thinkers (such as Augustine, Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius, John Scotus Eriugena, and Bonaventura). Neoplatonism was also present in medieval Islamic and Jewish thinkers such as al-Farabi and Maimonides, and experienced a revival in the Renaissance with the acquisition and translation of Greek and Arabic Neoplatonic texts.'
'Neoplatonism (also Neo-Platonism) is the modern term for a school of Hellenistic philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and some of his early followers. Neoplatonism took definitive shape with the philosopher Plotinus, who claimed to have received his teachings from Ammonius Saccas, a dock worker and philosopher in Alexandria. Neoplatonists considered themselves simply "Platonists", although they also wished to distinguish themselves from various earlier interpreters of Plato, such as Arcesilaus and the New Academy. A more precise term for the group, suggested by the scholar John D. Turner, is orthodox (neo)Platonism.'
'Gnosticism is a term created by modern scholars to describe a collection of religious groups, many of which thought of themselves as Christians, and which were active in the first few centuries AD. There has been considerable scholarly controversy over exactly which sects fall within this grouping. Sometimes Gnosticism is used narrowly to refer only to religious groups such as Sethians and Archontics who seem to have used the term gnostikoi as a self-designation, even though early Platonists and Ebionites also used the term and are not considered to be Gnostics. Sometimes it is used a little more broadly to include groups similar to or influenced by Sethians, such as followers of Basilides or Valentinius and later the Paulicians. Sometimes it is used even more broadly to cover all groups which heavily emphasized gnosis, therefore including Hermetics and Neoplatonists as well.'
'There are four major epocs in the history of Platonic thought: the "Old Academy," the "New Academy," Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism. After Plato's death in 348 BC, the leadership of his Academy was taken up by his nephew, Speusippus, and then by Xenocrates, Polemon, Crantor, and Crates of Athens, who had been leaders of the "Old Academy." Following Crates, in 268 BC was Arcesilaus of Pitane who founded the "New Academy," under the influence of Pyrrhonian scepticism. Arcelisaus modeled his philosophy after the Socrates of Plato's early dialogues, "suspending judgment". Antiochus of Ascalon, who headed the Academy from 79-78 BC, sought to intellectually maneuver around the scepticism of the New Academy by way of a return to the dogmata of Plato and the Old Academy philosophers. Antiochus argued that the Platonic Forms (see Platonic realism) are not transcendent but immanent to rational minds (including that of God). This position, along with his treatment of the Platonic Demiurge (from the Theaetetus) and the World-Soul (a notion from the Timaeus that the physical world was an animated being), framed the work of other middle Platonists (such as Philo of Alexandria) and later Platonists such as Plutarch of Chaeronea, Numenius of Apamea, and Albinus. These treatments of the forms and of the Demiurge were crucially influential to both Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. Neopythagoreanism seems to have influenced both the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics as well. Further, Neopythagoreanism and Middle Platonism seem to be important influences on Basilides and on the Hermetic tradition, which seem in turn to have influenced the Valentinians. Indeed, the Nag Hammadi texts included excerpts from Plato, and Irenaeus claims that followers of Carpocrates honored images of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle along with images of Jesus Christ.'
'Scholarship on Gnosticism has been greatly advanced by the discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi texts, which shed light on some of the more puzzling comments by Plotinus and Porphyry regarding the Gnostics. More importantly, the texts help to distinguish different kinds of early Gnostics. It now seems clear that "Sethian" and "Valentinian" gnostics attempted "an effort towards conciliation, even affiliation" with late antique philosophy, and were rebuffed by some Neoplatonists, including Plotinus. Plotinus considered his opponents "heretics", "imbeciles" and "blasphemers" errorniously arriving at misotheism [hatred of God or Gods, i.e. hatred of Demiurge] as the solution to the problem of evil, taking all their truths over from Plato. Coupled with the idea expressed by Plotinus that the approach to the infinite energy which is the One or Monad can not be though knowing or not knowing. Although there has been dispute as to which gnostics Plotinus was referring to it appears they were indeed Sethian. The earliest origins of Gnosticism are still obscure and disputed, but they probably include influence from Plato, Middle Platonism and Neo-Pythagoreanism, and this seems to be true both of the more Sethian Gnostics, and of the Valentinian Gnostics. Further, if we compare different Sethian texts to each other in an attempted chronology of the development of Sethianism during the first few centuries, it seems that later texts are continuing to interact with Platonism. Earlier texts such as Apocalypse of Adam show signs of being prechristian and focus on the Seth of the Jewish bible (not the Egyptian God Set who is sometimes called Seth in Greek). These early Sethians may be identical to or related to the Ophites or to the sectarian group called the Minuth by Philo. Later Sethian texts such as Zostrianos and Allogenes draw on the imagery of older Sethian texts, but utilize "a large fund of philosophical conceptuality derived from contemporary Platonism, (that is late middle Platonism) with no traces of Christian content." Indeed the Allogenes doctrine of the "triple-powered one" is "the same doctrine as found in the anonymous Parmenides commentary (Fragment XIV) ascribed by Hadot to Porphyry ... and is also found in Plotinus' Ennead 6.7, 17, 13-26." However, by the 3rd century Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus, Porphyry and Amelius are all attacking the Sethians. It looks as if Sethianism began as a pre-Christian tradition, possibly a syncretic Hebrew Mediterranean baptismal movement from the Jordan Valley. With Babylonian and Egyptian pagan elements, Hellenic philosophy. That incorporated elements of Christianity and Platonism as it grew, only to have both Christianity and Platonism reject and turn against it. Professor John D Turner believes that this double attack led to Sethianism fragmentation into numerous smaller groups (Audians, Borborites, Archontics and perhaps Phibionites, Stratiotici, and Secundians).'
'Gnostics borrow a lot of ideas and terms from Platonism. They exhibit a keen understanding of Greek philosophical terms and the Greek Koine language in general, and use Greek philosophical concepts through out their text, including such concepts as hypostasis (reality, existence), ousia (essence, substance, being), and demiurge (creator God). Good examples include texts such as the Hypostasis of the Archons (Reality of the Rulers) or Trimorphic Protennoia (The first thought in three forms). Gnostics structured their world of transcendent being by ontological distinctions whereby the plentitude of the divine world emerges from a sole high deity by emanation, radiation, unfolding and mental self-reflection. Likewise the technique of self-performable contemplative mystical ascent towards and beyond a realm of pure being is rooted in Plato's Symposium, and common in Gnostic thought, was also expressed by Plotinus (see Life of Plotinus). Divine triads, tetrads, and ogdoads in Gnostic thought often are closely related to Neo-Pythagorean Arithmology. The trinity of the "triple-powered one" (with the powers consisting of the modalities of existence, life and mind) in Allogenes mirrors quite closely the Neoplatonic doctrine of the Intellect differentiating itself from the One in three phases called Existence or reality (hypostasis), Life, and Intellect (nous). Both traditions heavily emphasize the role of negative theology or apophasis, and Gnostic emphasis on the ineffability of God often echoes Platonic (and Neoplatonic) formulations of the ineffability of the One or the Good. Nonetheless there were some important philosophical differences. Gnostics emphasized magic and ritual in a way that the more sober Neoplatonists such as Plotinus and Porphyry would have been uncomfortable with (although perhaps not later Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus). But Plotinus' main objection to the Gnostics he was familiar with was their rejection of the goodness of the demiurge and the material world. He attacks the Gnostics as vilifing Plato's ontology of the universe as contained in the Timaeus. Plotinus accused Gnosticism of vilifying the Demiurge or craftsman that crafted the material world, even thinking of the material world as evil or a prison. As Plotinus explains in his works that the demiurge is the nous (as an emanation of the One). The nous is the ordering principle or mind also reason. Plotinus was also critical of the gnostic origin of the demiurge coming from wisdom as a deity. Wisdom (called Sophia) being anthropomorphically expressed as a feminine spirit deity not unlike the goddess Athena or the Christian Holy Spirit. Plotinus stating at one point that if the gnostics did so believe this world was a prison then they could at any moment free themselves by committing suicide. These charges do seem to hold for some of the texts discovered in Nag Hammadi, although others such as the Valentinians, or the Tripartite Tractate, wished to insist on the goodness of the world and the Demiurge.'
The 'Gnostic' gospels are seen by some critics as using the purported conversations of Jesus with his disciples as a framework for imparting Gnostic doctrine and theology.
Whilst there are similarities between the Biblical Jesus and the Gnostic Jesus, for example, the concept of the truth setting you free (in different senses), and Jesus coming to earth to free one's soul from the trappings of the physical realm (in one capacity or other), there are some significant differences also. Firstly, there is the concept that self-consciousness of one's own divinity is the first step to salvation, rather than a new awareness of sinfulness, salvation and the true spirit of the Scriptures.
E.g. Thomas 3: 'Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."'
The Gospel of Thomas also promotes the idea of casting aside our physical nature to achieve salvation. This is slightly different to the Biblical concept of giving one's worldly possessions to the poor and following Jesus, or to not worry about tomorrow, or indeed that God will provide for one's subsistence.
e.g. Thomas 37: 'His disciples said, "When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?" Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid."'
The Gospel of Thomas also implies the Gnostic distaste for the concept of the physical resurrection, in opposite to the Bible's quote from Jesus as claiming that the temple of his body would be destroyed and rebuilt (resurrected) in 3 days.
e.g Thomas 71: 'Jesus said, "I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it [...]."'
John 2:19 (KJV): 'Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'
There are clearly a variety of views of Jesus within Gnosticism, reflected in the diversity of Gnostic sects:
1) Jesus is identified by some Gnostic sects as an embodiment of the supreme being who became incarnate to bring gnosis to the Earth. This is the view of Christian Gnosticism (aka Gnostic Christianity).
2) In other sects he was thought to be an 'angel' or Aeon (a servant or instrument of God, not actually God himself), taking human form in order to teach gnosis to humanity. 3) Others regarded Jesus of Nazareth as a man, a wise prophet.
4) And finally some Gnostic sects regarded Jesus of Nazareth as a man and a false prophet and disregarded his teachings entirely.
For example, the Gnostic view of Jesus as the most enlightened and holy prophet, born of immaculate conception and one who was not physically resurrected ties in with the Muslim view of Jesus in these respects (i.e. somewhere between 2 and 3).
In general, Gnosticism regards Jesus as just spirit, imitating physical form, but not actually a mortal man. Gnosticism denies the physical resurrection of Jesus and believes that he was instead resurrected in spirit, i.e. his spirit simply ascended to heaven. This is a belief known as Docetism. This is an important distinction between the Christian and Gnostic view of Jesus.
Biblical Christianity teaches us that humanity needs a way beyond its power to approach God, and that Jesus Christ needed to die for the sins of humanity, so that peoples sins could be forgiven if one repented. The early Orthodox Church insisted that one could only approach God through the Church, and specifically through apostolic succession, bishops, priests and Popes would acts to lead the souls of humanity to salvation. Without the church, there was considered to be no way of salvation. This is of course not the view of much of contemporary Christianity.
While Gnostics believe that Jesus Christ was indeed the saviour, they do not look to salvation from sin, but rather, to salvation from the ignorance of spiritual realities. Gnostics believe this ignorance will only be relieved through gnosis or 'knowledge'. Thus it is considered that humanity will be saved through Jesus' life and teachings rather than his suffering and death (i.e. the sacrifice of God's sons for the sins of the world.) Gnostics view could be said to be a different interpretation of Christ’s life and message. Gnosis or the knowledge of humanity's true nature is something that has to be discovered and nurtured from within the individual, but has to come initially from outside sources, i.e. from the messengers of light/Aeons, such as Seth, Jesus and the prophet Mani. The exact messenger or messengers that are most revered depends on the exact Gnostic Sect in question.
Jesus explained to the disciplines in Mark 4:11-12 (KJV) why he spoke in parables:
11: 'And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:'
12: 'That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.'
The method Jesus used to communicate the Kingdom of God to the Jewish people was indeed indirect, and arguably in a format that appeals to Gnostics - i.e. to be understood upon reflect on a seed having been planted earlier in time. The sayings of Jesus in the Canonical Gospels are more than just a simple rulebook for the unimaginative. They can be reflected on over many years. The Gnostic or Forbidden Gospels are very similar in this respect, perhaps more diffuse still. This is also discussed in the section on the Trinity. There are a number of references in the Bible to ways of understanding the Kingdom of Heaven. Many Freemasons say that the Bible contains many hidden secrets. Is this a literal truth? Or do Gnostics and Freemasons take certain verses and give them a more Gnostic or panentheistic slant and interpretation, reading more into them than there really is? This is perhaps unlikely given that many of the sayings of Jesus were intended to say much in few words, and only really to be understood by the wisened ear.
Gnostics, particularly early Essenians and later Rosicrucians, often refer to this quotation from Jesus below.:
Luke 8:10 (KJV): '8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.'
Luke's gospel is considered slightly Gnostic in nature by many Christians. What the exact nature of the 'mysteries of the kingdom of God' are is of course open to personal interpretation.
'According to the Esoteric Christian tradition, Essenian and later Rosicrucian, the proximity and entrance in the Age of Aquarius - occurring after the present Age of Pisces (or age ruled by the "Sword") - will bring to the majority of human beings the discovery, true living and real knowledge of the inner and deeper Christian teachings which the Christ spoke of in Matthew 13:11 and Luke 8:10. This age is regarded as an intermediary preparation toward the Christ in the etheric plane, the New Galilee: the "new heavens and a new earth" to come in a future not identified time. In the Aquarian age at hand it is expected a great spiritual Teacher to come ("is coming"), through the school which works as herald of this age, in order "to give the Christian Religion impetus in a new direction". Others who do not herald the idea of a physical spiritual teacher in contrast to the AntiChrist believe that the Spiritual Teacher will truly be themselves, and that Christ will manifest himself within those who seek these Inner Teachings.'
Gnosticism is in many sense more individualistic than Christianity, more about self-conscious spirituality. In some respects NLP has a similar philosophy to Gnosticism, in that one is nurturing one's own psychological self-awareness and wellbeing from within, and not relying necessarily on an external agent or relationship with a divine spirit to change our state of mind.
Some Gnostics, perhaps more Gnostic Luciferians or alchemaic Gnostics, believe that Jesus was leading others to become Gods like he was. It depends to what extent one believes that 'Gnosis' is 'experiencing God', being 'closer to God', 'God-like' or literally an aspect of being a deity that one can embody to become part of that deity oneself (self-deification).
The Gnostic concept of life and death is that at the point of death, if the level of Gnosis is lacking throughout a person's lifetime, the spark of Gnosis/the soul will be thrown back into the 'slavery' of the physical world and 'trapped' inside a new body (i.e rebirth or reincarnation). The process will repeat until the individual achieves a satisfactory level of Gnosis at which point the spark/soul is released from its physical 'prison' (breaking the cycle of reincarnation) and ascends to be reunited with the pleroma for eternity.
In Gnosticism, there are different degrees of dualism, ranging from extreme or radical dualism (in Manichaeanism), to weak or mitigated dualism (classic Gnostic movements) or to qualified monism (in Valentinianism) at the other extreme.
There are two broad categories within Gnosticism.
These are the 'Eastern'/'Persian' School, and a 'Syrian-Egyptic' School:
The Catholic Encyclopaedia categories Gnosticism into the Syrian School, the Hellenistic or Alexandrian School, the Dualistic School and the Antinomian School.
The section below follows Wikipedia's broad definition of categories of Gnosticism.
The Eastern/Persian Schools possess more demonstrably dualist tendencies, reflecting a strong influence from the beliefs of the Persian Zoroastrians. They formed religions in their own right, namely Mandaeanism and Manichaeism. Radical dualism is a form of absolute dualism that posits two opposite forces that are equal to one another. In the Manichaeanism form of dualism, the Good and Evil (or Light and Darkness) are existing independently of one another. Quoted from Wikipedia:
Mandaeanism is a dualistic religion that reveres Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram, and especially John the Baptist. It regards Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as false prophets.
Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was likely influenced by Mandaeanism. He is alleged to have received a revelation as a youth from a spirit, whom he would later call his Twin, his Syzygos, his Double, his Protective Angel or 'Divine Self'. It taught him truths which he developed into a religion. His 'divine' Twin or true Self brought Mani to Self-realization and as such he becomes a 'gnosticus', someone with divine knowledge and liberating insight. He claimed to be the 'Paraclete of the Truth', as promised in the New Testament: the Last Prophet and Seal of the Prophets finalizing a succession of figures including Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus. This clearly did not go down very well with Orthodox Christianity! Another source of Mani's scriptures was a section of the original Aramaic 'Book of Enoch', the 'Book of Giants'. This book was quoted directly, and expanded on by Mani, becoming one of the original six Syriac writings of the Manichaean Church.
Indeed Luciferian Gnosticism appears to draw heavily on Manichaeism. Bestian Gnosticism, aka Aestheteka, is a modern variant of Luciferian Gnosticism. Please see the link below and also the section on Luciferianism and other deities on the Occult page for more information.
Among the Syrian-Egyptian Schools and the movements they spawned embodied a typically weaker (or mitigated) dualism and even qualified monism (whilst still using the concept of Demiurge, or imperfect creator). Notable exceptions include relatively modern movements which seem to include elements of both categories, namely: the Cathars, Bogomils, and Carpocratians.
Quoted from Wikipedia:
'The Syrian-Egyptian School derives much of its outlook from Platonist influences. Typically, it depicts creation in a series of emanations from a primal monadic source, finally resulting in the creation of the material universe. As a result, there is a tendency in these schools to view evil in terms of matter which is markedly inferior to goodness, evil as lacking spiritual insight and goodness, rather than to emphasize portrayals of evil as an equal force. These schools of gnosticism may be said to use the terms 'evil' and 'good' as being relative descriptive terms, as they refer to the relative plight of human existence caught between such realities and confused in its orientation, with 'evil' indicating the extremes of distance from the principle and source of goodness, without necessarily emphasizing an inherent negativity. As can be seen below, many of these movements included source material related to Christianity, with some identifying themselves as specifically Christian (albeit quite different from the so-called Orthodox or Roman Catholic forms).'
'Almost all Gnostic systems of the Syrian/Egyptian type taught that the universe began with an original, unknowable God, referred to as the Parent or Bythos, as the Monad by Monoimus, or the first Aeon by still other traditions. From this initial unitary beginning, the One spontaneously emanated further Aeons, pairs of progressively 'lesser' beings in sequence. The lowest of these pairs were Sophia and Christ. The Aeons together made up the Pleroma, or fullness, of God, and thus should not be seen as distinct from the divine, but symbolic abstractions of the divine nature.'
Aeons are regarded as angels that eminate from the original, unknowable God and that come to earth to impart the ancient knowledge of gnosis for the benefit of mankind. Gnostics recognise the prophets of Islam (e.g. Biblical prophets, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed etc.) as Aeons and prophets, to varying degrees. The difference between Islam and Gnosticism is that Islam believes that the one God is the creator also, unlike much (but not all) of Gnosticism.
The books and Codexes of Syrian-Egyptian Gnosticism are predominantly from Nag Hammadi in Egypt and include Sethian works, Thomasine works, Valentinian works and Basilidian works.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines Gnosticism into the Syrian and Hellenistic/Alexandrian Schools of Gnosticism, the latter group being more abstract, philosophical and self-consistent. The Encyclopedia cites the Basilidians and Valentinians as the defining groups of Hellenistic/Alexandrian Gnosticism.
'The Syrian school represents the oldest phase of Gnosticism, as Western Asia was the birthplace of the movement. Dositheus, Simon Magus, Menander, Cerinthus, Cerdo, Saturninus Justin, the Bardesanites, Sevrians, Ebionites, Encratites, Ophites, Naassenes, the Gnostics of the "Acts of Thomas", the Sethians, the Peratae, the Cainites may be said to belong to this school. The more fantastic elements and elaborate genealogies and syzygies of æons of the later Gnosis are still absent in these systems. The terminology is some barbarous form of Semitic; Egypt is the symbolic name for the soul's land of bondage. The opposition between the good God and the World-Creator is not eternal or cosmogonic, though there is strong ethical opposition to Jehovah the God of the Jews. He is the last of the seven angels who fashioned this world out of eternally pre-existent matter. The demiurgic angels, attempting to create man, created but a miserable worm, to which the Good God, however, gave the spark of divine life. The rule of the god of the Jews must pass away, for the good God calls us to his own immediate service through Christ his Son. We obey the Supreme Deity by abstaining from flesh meat and marriage, and by leading an ascetic life.'
The classification below is therefore slightly inadequate, but hopefully I will refine this in the future!
Sethian works include:
- The Apocryphon of John
- The Apocalypse of Adam
- The Reality of the Rulers, Also known as The hypostasis of the Archons
- The Thunder-Perfect Mind
- The Three-fold First Thought (Trimorphic Protennoia)
- The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (also known as the (Coptic) Gospel of the Egyptians)
- The Three Steles of Seth
- Gospel of Judas
In weak or mitigated dualism, one of the two opposing forces is inferior to/weaker than the other, but both are still divine. This form of dualism is common in classic Gnostic movements, especially Sethian Gnosticism. In the classic Gnostic creation myth, the world was created by an inferior god, Demiurge. Because the inferior Demiurge is responsible for the creation of the material world, it is understandable that the Pleroma created by the True God is radically different from the material world and is abode of enlightened individuals.
Sethian Gnostics regard Seth as the chief saviour or Aeon, rather than Jesus Christ, and regard themselves as direct descendants of Seth.
Thomasine works are so-named after the School of St. Thomas the Apostle. (c/f Thomasine Church). Thomasine Gnostics embrace the philosophy of Illuminism. The texts commonly attributed to this school are:
- The Hymn of the Pearl, or, the Hymn of Jude Thomas the Apostle in the Country of Indians (a.k.a. The Acts of Thomas)
- The Gospel of Thomas
- The Book of Thomas: The Contender Writing to the Perfect
According to the lore of the Thomasine Church, Thomas the Apostle was called the "Twin" of the Savior because Christ referred to him as his spiritual twin and as an intimate confidant; according to the Church, the Thomasine movement began in Edessa, a city in eastern Syria. The modern Thomasine Church originated in the USA and is a revivalist movement for what is seen to be the Thomasine teachings.
The Thomasine Church subscribes to the philosophy of Illuminism (as mentioned above). It is considered a philosophy not religious dogma. Thomasines claim to seek to Know, to Will, to Dare and to Keep Silent. Ignorance is considered the cause of the suffering associated with the human condition, rather than sin; ignorance being the pretext to incorrect thoughts, words and deeds. Ignorance is regarded as the Delusion of the Mind, and keeps one from attaining Understanding, Knowledge and Wisdom. Illuminism then is regarded as the knowledge of the Truth being the goal regardless of religious or philosophical affiliations; through direct experience of the Supreme or Transcendental Light, God, Allah, Tao and Nature, one is said to attain Illumination or Awakening; this goal bringing the unification of all oppositions. Thomasine Church encourages individualised practices and accepts those of any particular religious belief or those with no belief in God. It is said to draw from a variety of sources, including Gnostic texts (i.e. those Thomasine Gnostic texts but no doubt other Gnostic texts that embody the full Gnostic cosmology), the teachings of Jesus, Muhammed, Bah'a'u'llah, Zoroaster, Buddha, and Hindu, Sikh and Jewish texts. Such knowledge or illumination is said to appeal to few; faith is seen as an empty vessel without a corresponding action or application.
'The word Illuminism implies enlightenment and a logically sound understanding of Reality. Illuminism as a term, relates to a philosophical tradition rather than a religious one, and is based on direct objective experience of Reality. Faith and mystical speculations are therefore not preferred. From time immemorial, the wisest among us have discovered that the aim of humanity is to attain Wisdom, Enlightenment or as we call it, the Light of Truth. Only by a combination of two elements, Knowledge and Understanding, can one find the path which leads to Wisdom. The Light of Truth shines with splendor regardless of time or space. The Thomasine Church teaches that certain universal Truths become clear to anyone who seriously and open-mindedly examines Reality by the light of the awakened, intuitive Mind. This paradigm shift from a Fictitious to an Awakened Mind is called metanoia in Greek. These Truths are therefore 'revealed' to the consciousness of the individual. When these universal truths become known to the individual in this way, it is called Revelation. Along the path of enlightenment the initiate becomes cognizant to certain spiritual gifts or abilities; they are; the gift of healing, prophesy, revelation, discernment of spirits (diakresis) and gnosis.'
Jesus is seen as a prime example as he was the 'quaintessential disturber of the status quo, constantly being accused of having relations with those who were the most unpopular or assen as unreligious; Jesus ate,slept and drank with those who were considered sinners and heretics.' Jesus is seen as the inspiration for the Thomasine's ecumenical movement. The Thomasine Creed is summed up in this prayer:
'I seek the illumination of the Light of Truth.
I seek reintegration with the Living Father, the Ruler of Rulers, the Silence and the Deep.
I seek the annointing of the Mother, the Holy and Comforting Spirit, who is the front of all wisdom, to guide me to find that which internal, invisible, universal and secret.
I seek the knowledge of the Master, the Living Jesus,
upon whom the annointing of Truth, Light and Life was given.
I seek to remove the veil of the Wicked Ones, so that I may obtain true
understanding and attain liberation.
The Thomasine Church is a philosophical body that employs an ecclesiastical structure but claims to not use this structure to create and enforce dogma or to instill a sense of superiority or to subjugate its members. The clergy have merely an advisory role. Members are encouraged to study theology and have a good working understanding of a variety of philosophies and religions. The focus of practice is on Hesychasm (see above).
'Illuminists adopt a critical skepticism not unlike the modern scientific method. The major distinction is that the Illuminist laboratory rests within the Mind. The Illuminist even makes an assault on his or her preconceived opinions. A favorite saying of Thomasine Illuminists is 'be slow to agree or disagree'. The Thomasine method of hesychasm is much like that of its orthodox counterpart. The initiate learns methods of detachment and contemplation which are prescribed by an approved master. There are essentially three fluid stages of Enlightenment. The first stage involves detachment from the emotions and is called apatheia. The second is called hesychia or stillness, which requires detachment from the discursive intellect, the imagination, and opinions. The final step is an abiding state of illumination called reintegration or perfect union with the Light of Truth. A Thomasine hesychastic teacher will prescribe a combination of very specific chants, meditations, and readings for the individual initiate. Rather than trying to obtain knowledge about Reality through emotive thought, the Illuminist is seeking to awaken the mind into higher levels of consciousness in which the object of inquiry can be interacted with directly without the intermediary of generalizations. In many diverse religions around the globe one may notice a halo in their iconography. This light around the head is there not by chance or mistake. Illuminists say that when people give up their dogmatic stances and begin to listen to their inner voice again, they begin to radiate a glow about them. The Light of Truth seen by Thomasine hesychasts is the same as appeared at Christ's Transfiguration. He was reintegrated with the Light of Truth and everyone was able to see this Light physically manifest.'
The Truth has never been written down by any spiritual master, e.g. Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed etc. The Kingdom of Heaven has never been described verbally (successfully). Thomasines argue that the Truth has been preached and championed over the course of human history by those who do not understand it.
The Thomasine Church states that it is in the business of living in harmony with the Earth and its environment, rather than dominating it. However, even the Catholic Church is now preaching on the subjects of global warming, so this is not something that is completely novel for Christian or Fringe Christian churches.
'We encourage initiates of the Thomasine Church to study their own ancestral traditional life ways. It is by understanding the physical world that surrounds us that we may better understand the world within. For those seeking more information of the Druid Way go to http://www.druidry.org.'
It would appear that although nominally embracing the Thomasine Gnostic Gospels, the Thomasine Church appears to embody a somewhat wider form of Illuminism, in its embace of 'Nature' and more specifically Druidry. Druidry is a modern 'revivalist' pagan and occult movement. The church would therefore appear to accept actual occult practitioners, although it could be argued that these are people who are seeking enlightenment and ultimate understanding of Reality. To what extend Druidic practices make up the practices of Thomasines, it is not know by me. It is certainly not quite the 'standard' practice of Hesychasm. There seems to be a little sycretism within the Thomasine Church, with its central focus on God; although perhaps members do not believe so and believe it to be more a 'pick and mix' and personalised type of 'illuminism'. It is certainly not quite the same type of 'Illuminism' as that of say, Gnostic Luciferians, for example, which clearly varies in practice, approach, goal and ideology - where the focus is more on the occult, hedonism, balance and perhaps the ego side of the Ego/Self dichotomy. However, how much overlap there really is is difficult to determine in absolute terms without complete immersion in both. If the web site had not mentioned Druidry or Rosicrucianism (see below), then I might have believed it to be the least dualistic and most accessible of the Gnostic groups. However, the way the Thomasine Church portrays itself is a little misleading, as it is highly likely that Rosicrucianism and Gnosticism's cosmology of rebirth/reincarnation is a key component of many of the philosophies and religions examined, and that it is highly likely that the mainstream religious texts are interpreted within the Gnostic context/cosmology.
I would be interested to know where the approved advisors of the Thomasine Church draw the line in terms of the occult and pagan religions. There clearly is one, but it is not really elaborated on on their web site. Clearly it is up to the individual as to which philosophies ring true the most, but there are presumably boundaries of some sort. A clear statement of intent would seem appropriate.
To what extent other Gnostic sects adopt the philosophy of Illuminism (which is another word for seeking Gnosis in some sense) and adopt astrological and druidic practices is not certain, but there are clearly some elements of these within Gnosticism as a whole. I subscribe to the philosophy of intellectual Illuminism on some level, but has not found any 'fringe' groups that really embody his personal tastes, preferences and slants that he feels 100% comfortable with. That is after all the whole point of illuminism, that is a personalised experience, but clearly there must be some common ground in terms of approach and actual practices.
The Rose Cross is a Thomasine Church society dedicated to researching and preserving religious texts and 'methods of Illumination'. The Thomasine Church cites publication of the Rosicrucian work 'Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis' in 1610 as the beginning of the shift in European thought towards Illuminism. The name 'Rose Cross' clearly derives from the Rosicrucian 'Rosy Cross'. To what extent Rosicrucianism (itself influenced by Gnosticism) plays a role in the Thomasine Church is not known by me, but it clearly significant. Below is the Thomasine symbol of the Rose Cross - perhaps there is some parallel to the Chaos Magic symbol (8 pointed star?)
Valentinian works are named in reference to the Bishop and teacher Valentinius (aka Valentinus), circa 153 AD. Valentinius developed a complex Cosmology outside of the Sethian tradition. At one stage he was close to being appointed the Bishop of Rome (of what is now the Roman Catholic Church). Works attributed to his school are listed below, fragmentary pieces directly linked to him noted with an asterisk:
- The Divine Word Present in the Infant (Fragment A) *
- On the Three Natures (Fragment B) *
- Adam's Faculty of Speech (Fragment C) *
- To Agathopous: Jesus' Digestive System (Fragment D) *
- Annihilation of the Realm of Death (Fragment F) *
- On Friends: The Source of Common Wisdom (Fragment G) *
- Epistle on Attachments (Fragment H) *
- Summer Harvest*
- The Gospel of Truth*
- Ptolemy's Version of the Gnostic Myth
- The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
- Ptolemy's Epistle to Flora
- Treatise on Resurrection (Epistle to Rheginus)
- Gospel of Philip
In qualified monism, only one of the forces is considered divine. The Valentinians are perhaps the best example of those that believe in a qualified monist theology. To the Valentinians, the Demiurge created the world, not out of any moral failing on his part (or an 'evil' nature), but simply because he was ignorant of any higher being. Because of this ignorance, the Demiurge was not divine. If Demiurge had known that there was a true God Monad, and had still created an imperfect material world, then it would have been an evil act of contempt or malevolence. Valentinian Gnostics have less cause to treat the physical world with contempt than those that practice Manichaean Gnosticism or Sethian Gnosticism.
Valentinius, an early Gnostic Alexandrian theologian, regarded Jesus as an 'Aeon'. He was seen as trying to combine Christianity with the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato. The Nag Hammadi Codex, the Gospel of Truth, is most often associated with the ideas of Valentinius.
Bardaisan Gnosticism combined Valentinian Gnosticism with Babylonian astrology. The belief system is likened to those of Origen (who combined Christianity with Neo-Platonism).
Basilidian works are named after the founder of their school, Basilides in 132 AD. These works are mainly known through the criticisms of his main opponent, Irenaeus, in his work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). The other pieces are known through the work of Clement of Alexandria. Basilidian Gnosticism is known for its belief that Jesus did not die on the cross but swapped places with Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry his cross.
- The Octet of Subsistent Entities (Fragment A)
- The Uniqueness of the World (Fragment B)
- Election Naturally Entails Faith and Virtue (Fragment C)
- The State of Virtue (Fragment D)
- The Elect Transcend the World (Fragment E)
- Reincarnation (Fragment F)
- Human Suffering and the Goodness of Providence (Fragment G)
- Forgivable Sins (Fragment H)
'The Egyptian Gnostic Basilideans referred to a figure called Abraxas who was at the head of 365 spiritual beings (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, I.24); it is unclear what to make of Irenaeus' use of the term 'Archon', which may simply mean 'ruler' in this context. The role and function of Abraxas for Basilideans is not clear. The word Abraxas was engraved on certain antique stones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which may have been used as amulets or charms by Gnostic sects. In popular culture, Abraxas is sometimes considered the name of a god who incorporated both Good and Evil (God and Demiurge) in one entity, and therefore representing the monotheistic God, singular, but (unlike, for example, the Christian God) not omni-benevolent (See Hesse's Demian, and Jung's Seven Sermons to the Dead). Opinions abound on Abraxas, who in recent centuries has been claimed to be both an Egyptian god and a demon, sometimes even being associated with the dual nature of...' Lucifer/Satan or perhaps even God/Satan.
The Ophites or Ophians (Greek for snake) is the term used to refer to any of numerous Gnostic sects in Syria and Egypt around 100 AD, who gave great importance to the serpent of the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, connecting the Tree of Knowledge (of Good and Evil) to gnosis. In contrast to Christian interpretations of the Serpent as Satan, Ophites viewed the serpent as the hero of Genesis, and in line with classic Eastern/Persian Gnosticism, regarding the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as the the 'evil Demiurge'.
The Luminist League's link below is actually about Ophites, not Orphites - this is a typo in the html page name.
The following Sects are regarded as being/having been Ophite Gnostic Sects:
- Naasseners (from Hebrew na'asch = snake)
- The Sethians
- The Mandaeans are considered an Ophite religion that has survived (up to and including the present day).
- The Perates (from the Greek language peras, "to penetrate")
- The Borborites
Ophites should not be confused with Orphites, who were followers of the Greek God Orpheus. It is speculated that Ophites were inspired by the earlier Orphites, but perhaps this is simple word association. However, it is clear from examination of Greek mythology that the myths around Zeus and the Titans, and also the ideas of Plato had a major influence on Neoplatonism and hence Gnosticism, which developed these ideas further, Gnosticism further incorporating religious figures and prophets from other religions within this framework.
'Orpheus is a figure from Greek mythology born in the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace (now partly in Bulgaria), king of the Thracian tribe of Cicones. His name does not occur in Homer or Hesiod, but he was known by the time of Ibycus (c.530 BC). Orpheus was called by Pindar "the father of songs". He was a son of the Thracian river god Oiagros and the Muse Calliope....The Greeks of the Classical age venerated the legendary figure of Orpheus as chief among poets and musicians, and the perfector of the lyre invented by Hermes. Poets like Simonides of Ceos said that, with his music and singing, he could charm birds, fishes and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and even divert the course of rivers. He was one of the handful of Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return; even in Hades his song and lyre did not lose their power. As one of the pioneers of civilization, he is said at various times to have taught humanity the arts of medicine, writing (in one unusual instance, where he substitutes for the usual candidate, Cadmus) and agriculture, where he assumes the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus. More consistently and more closely connected with religious life, Orpheus was an augur and seer; practised magical arts, especially astrology; founded or rendered accessible many important cults, such as those of Apollo and the Thraco-Phrygian god Dionysus; instituted mystic rites both public and private; and prescribed initiatory and purificatory rituals, which his community of followers treasured in Orphic texts. In addition, Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts.'
'When Orpheus' wife, Eurydice, was killed by the bite of a serpent, he went down to the underworld to bring her back. His songs were so beautiful that Hades finally agreed to allow Eurydice to return to the world of the living. However, Orpheus had to meet one condition: he must not look back as he was conducting her to the surface. Just before the pair reached the upper world, Orpheus looked back, and Eurydice slipped back into the netherworld once again. Orpheus was inconsolable at this second loss of his wife. He spurned the company of women and kept apart from ordinary human activities. A group of Ciconian Maenads, female devotees of Dionysus, came upon him one day as he sat singing beneath a tree. They attacked him, throwing rocks, branches, and anything else that came to hand. However, Orpheus' music was so beautiful that it charmed even inanimate objects, and the missiles refused to strike him. Finally, the Maenads' attacked him with their own hands, and tore him to pieces. Orpheus' head floated down the river, still singing, and came to rest on the isle of Lesbos. Orpheus was also reputed to be the founder of the Orphic religious cult.'
'Friedlander goes on to set forth the daring hypothesis that such 'Christian' heresies as those of the Ophites, the Cainites, and the Sethians, as well as the Melchizedekians, are the progeny of the radical antinomians against whom Philo had polemicized. According to the oldest patristic accounts, the Ophites-who according to some accounts are closely associated with the Sethians -were antinomian and venerated the serpent as the revealer of gnosis and as an incamation of the divine Wisdom. Reflected in these ideas is the Alexandrian-Jewish doctrine of the divine dynamis. Philo and other Alexandrian Jews regarded Sophia as a divine dynamis. The Ophites simply took up this doctrine and interpreted it in a heretical fashion.'
Gnostic codes of morality and behaviour have varied from historical time period, Sect and from its culture of practice, and at varying times have embodied both the morality of Christianity and even the spirit of free love. As a general principle, Gnosticism, with its pursuit of knowledge or gnosis and rejection of the trappings of the physical world (as in Buddhism), is ascetic rather than hedonistic or indulgent.
There were notable exceptions, for example, the Phibionites.
'The Phibionites in Alexandria were a Gnostic sect described by Epiphanius. They gathered at banquets that became ecstatic orgies. Married couples changed partners for dramatic sexual performances. Sperm and menstrual blood were gathered and offered as a gift to God before being consumed as the Body and Blood of Christ. By such erotic communions they sought to regather the elements of the world-soul (psyche) from the material forms into which it had been dispersed through a cosmic tragedy at the beginning of time. The regathering amounted to salvation, for all things would be gathered up into the one glorious body of Christ.'
The accuracy of these claims by Epiphanius regarding the Sethian inspired Phibionites, aka The Libertine Gnostic Sect of Borborites cannot be verified and it is possible that he was exaggerating slightly or even grossly exaggerating and slandering them in an attempt to denigrate their spiritual ideas, which was not uncommon in this era. Perhaps it was subjective by perception but not entirely untruthful. The article 'The Libertine Gnostic Sect of the Phibionites According to Epiphanius' by Stephen Benko, published in the Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 21, No. 2 (May, 1967), pp. 103-119, examined the myths around the Phibionites. Does anyone have a copy?
Some commentators have linked Gnosticism to Kundalini and Left-Handed Tantra, and its practice of sex rites/magic.
'Clearly, then, the mythical serpent worshipped by the Ophites cannot be equated with the reptilian predators described in Gnostic texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls. More likely, the Ophite serpent is not entirely a mythical version of the serpent of Eden, but is identical with Kundalini, the serpent power that resides at the base of the spine in human anatomy. This being so, sexual orgies among the Gnostics would not have been merely for the pleasure and indulgence (although they would not have excluded that, either!). They worshipped the supernatural force that resided in their own bodies. In fact, the word 'orgy', Greek orgia, means simply, 'working, activation'. The orgia of the serpent power was a rite for activation of Kundalini in Tantric and Gnostic practices alike.'
Reviewing the Valentinian Sacrament of Bridal Chamber from the Gospel of Philip, and the above links between Tantra and Gnosticism, there is probably a good chance that sex rites were incorporated into the practices of certain Gnostic sects.
Gnosticism was viewed by proto-orthodox Christianity as heresy and the greatest threat to Christianity, and rejected its dualistic cosmology. Gnostics and Zoroastrian priests intensely hated each other. Gnostic priests and Christian priests also similarly detested each other. Whilst many of those of the Jewish religion regard Jesus as a heretic and false-prophet, Gnosticism raises an interesting debate about the nature of God before and after Christ. Gnosticism predated Christianity as we have discussed above. It is likely that its predominant Zoroastrianism incorporated some of the beliefs and ideas of Christianity into the Zoroastrian belief system, combining the two religions in effect. Gnostic Christianity in some respects deviates from other Christian Sects and is regarded as heretical by many Church denominations.
However, it should be noted that many of the Nag Hammadi and related texts bear some elements of Gnosticism, but are by no means Gnostic in the fullest sense. These are most commonly those of the Syrian-Egyptian School of Gnosticism, in particular those Gnostic Christian Codexes. That is, they do not contradict the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as God, the Trinity and do not embrace the idea of Demiurge. They just give a different recorded insight into the life of Jesus, the relationship between the disciples and the nature of some of the teachings of Jesus, e.g. The Gospel of Thomas (a matter of debate!) It is naive to think that those texts that contain Gnostic elements are necessarily the property of Gnostics and are only read by Gnostics, as there are many shades between a fully blown Gnostic and a Catholic, Protestant or Evangelical Christian, that do not believe in the concept of Demiurge and acknowledge Jesus as both God and man. Where one draws the line is of course a matter of personal judgement.
Gnosticism was no doubt influenced by Buddhist concepts of earthly suffering and achieving Nirvana, and also Plato's ideas about the evil creator God. However, certain aspects of Gnosticism or even Buddhism could be applied to Christianity without actually incorporating the concept of Demiurge. For example, the goal of Buddhism and Gnosticism is the spiritual ascension from the material world and material suffering, to attain enlightenment by becoming spiritually at one (equal on some level) with God or the essence of God. This is similar in concept to embracing the Holy Spirit, but may be expressed a little differently. One may view God as being a figure of an intelligent, self-conscious deity (monotheism), or a spiritual essence which occupies the entire physical Universe (pantheism) and all of reality (panentheism and/or monism), the good, creative force of the Universe, that is a part of everything, that is in everything, that one can tap into and take notice of, and tune into, to become a better person, for spiritual enlightenment and for the good of humanity. Or one can view God as being both. Or perhaps in an Agnostic sense that one is not sure on specifics and can never be 100% sure, but has some ideas on how one's faith might be (i.e. Christian Agnostic - Agnostic in the first instance, Christian in the second instance) . Or perhaps in an Existentialist manner, in which God comes to you as an individual and that Biblical truths are only applicable when they are embraced on some level. There are clearly many ways of looking at what God is. Various Biblical and non-canonical texts touch on this, but ultimately it is up to the individual to figure out for himself.
A view of how Gnosticism has been adopted and influenced modern philosophies and literature, including William Blake, Carl Jung, Theosophy (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky), Thelema (Aleister Crowley) and Rosicrucianism can be found on Wikipedia at the link below.
If the literal Gnostic interpretation of Jesus was in fact true, and that the Hebew God was not actually the true God, but the 'evil' or 'ignorant' Demiurge, then one should consider the following. Jesus was preaching to the Jews in Israel, and was indeed well versed in Judaism and the Torah of the time, according to the New Testament. The Torah were his scriptures. It is unlikely that if this was the case that he would have held the belief that the God of Judaism was in fact not God at all! One would therefore have to reject nearly the whole New Testament and assume that Jesus was very much anti-Jewish religion. If he had indeed believed that the Hebew God was in fact not God at all, then this would have been a core teaching in his ministry. He was preaching to Jews and would have had to have been very clear in this respect. The Gnostic Gospels, whilst containing various gnostic elements regarding gnosis, do not contain the entirety of the Gnostic Cosmology, and as such do not back up the idea that Jesus was in opposition to the Hebew God. To find the full Gnostic Cosmology one has to turn to other Gnostic texts, which do not mention Jesus or describe the life of Jesus.
One could argue that Gnosticism in some sense misunderstands the creative principle of the universe and does not link this with the divine or spirituality, which is the core concept of most religions and indeed the new age. The creative principle of the universe, the psychological state of creativity and spontaneity could be considered to be synonymous with a Person (e.g. Jehovah) or could be considered to be an essence that is in everything in the Universe (panentheism) or a combination of both. It is not an all or nothing choice.
To expand on this concept, in nature, destruction often results in the creation of life, e.g after forest fires, the burnt ashes can serve as fertiliser for buried seeds and cones, to grow into new trees. Creation and the generation of new life, through seeds and cones, through the growth of algae, is a dynamic and virtually unstoppable process. It is not akin to the slightly anaethetised state of much of Western industrial societies. It is vibrant and takes everything it can get. Sperms rush through the womb and fight with everything they have to reach the egg first. Plants grow in the most unlikely places. Life seemingly springs out of nowhere, and what was once a disused area of ground can grow into a magnificent forest over many years. On our planet, life just 'sprung up' out of the protein soup, when the right combinations of amino acids were formed in the water and mud, life just materialised. Is that incredible? Or is it just a 'drag'. Modern people in our clinical, modern societies (of our own making) are the only animal that considers life dull. And whilst our environment could always be better, humanity has always caused its own problems and the mind causes one's own personal 'prison', regardless of how good or bad the environment may be. Indeed, these arbitrary judgements of the external environment and our bodies are just that. Arbitrary. It is the meaning that you associate with them that counts. Negative judgements and meanings sap that creative force and that sense of creativity. One allows oneself to be conditioned by one's environment, by sticking to rigid routines, by what people say to us, by what we 'say' to ourselves (i.e. our criticising and judgemental ego that tells us we were rubbish at something or that we cannot do something) and by our fears. This in turn results in limiting beliefs and restricts our behaviour, freewill and sense of creativity. It strangles us. And it disassociates us from God, from the divine. This is explored more in the Psychology section under Focus and Belief.
Death is a natural part of life. It could even be seen as poetic as birth can also be, or rather the spirit can be. Many corpses look more relaxed and at peace than they ever did during life, because the facial muscles actually relax/release tension for once! This assumes that the corpse has a head of course. Could life exist without death? Death and ageing bring change, allow the opportunity for new ideas, new life to come up to replace it. Reproduction is not only enjoyable but is the process whereby we create our 'replacements'. Your children are there to 'replace' you. And your job is to help them grow up and look after them and nurture them until they can fend for themselves, to help them think and look after themselves. Life without reproduction and without death would be ever so boring. Imagine how dull life would be if it had no end. Confining life to a given period of time gives it a sense of vitality and urgency, and a sense of dynamism and purpose. One's outlook can evolve and mature as one goes through the different phases of one's life and life cycle. If one looks to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and the Biblical account of the creation of the human species, they were designed from the beginning with the reproductive organs. These organs were not formed when they were cast out. It was inbuilt from the beginning that this was the way it should be. If you live forever, you would never have been 'young'. Of course, this is no reason to abuse your body and to wreck it, in the interests of short term pleasure, but to keep it as vital and energetic for as long as possible, and extent your life as long as possible, whilst maintaining good health and vitality. Wouldn't you rather feel like you were 30 when you are 60 rather than be confined to a nursing home or even dead? To view death as bad or birth as bad is in my opinion missing the point somewhat. Do plants sit around moping or feeling sorry for themselves? No! They grow as much as they can, given the right amount of water, fresh air and natural light/dark. And so it should be with human life. No matter how much we pollute or encroach on natural environments, plants and animals, persist and survive, albeit with certain specific casualties that cannot adapt. Life is a vital state.
© 2006-2014 Fabian Dee