What is Gnosticism?

wil

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a figment of your imagination
Oh, don't mind me, stir away!
Stirring the pot often brings up the interesting bits clinging to the bottom
The tastee bits! Gotta love the changes that heat can bring to the table.

Of course this was the my downfall in Sunday school as a kid, but also my goal as a Sunday school teacher...discovering what I could learn from the kids!
 

Ella S.

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That's interesting! Which Gnostic scriptures were not embedded in the Biblical context? (I know you're not referring to Buddhist ones). Even Mani styled himself an "apostle". Were there explicitly Classical Pagan Gnostics?

Oh, that's not what I mean. I mean Non-Abrahamic in the strict sense, which refers to worship of the God of Abraham. I see the God of Abraham as not the true God of Christ, but the Demiurge, and I do not worship him. Certainly, Gnosticism is still highly influenced by, if not directly branching out of, Abrahamic religion.
 

Ella S.

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That's a challenge for esoteric currents in any religious context, isn't it? The aura or even accusations of elitism.

A friend of mine likes to turn this on its head, however. He compares people who engage with esoteric or mystical disciplines to the sufferers of infectious disease, not to disparage them, but to illustrate their predicament: Often, such seekers begin their spiritual quest after some kind of spiritual event or experience took place - sometimes triggered by engaging with mystical practices, sometimes unprovoked, often unremarkable at the time even, but generally irreversible. One gets inculcated with the gnosis/insight/spiritual-quest virus, and the only treatment is to engage with it, through more mystical practices, to ride it out. This even happens to atheists, as I can report, and I think my friend's assessment of "the only way out is through" is very much to the point.

I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of insufferable pompous would-be mystics, gnostics, and esoteric hoodwinkers out there who do like to present themselves as a spiritual elite.

I think, for me, mysticism is more like life support. It's what keeps me going, even on days that seem like too much, to try to stay alive for the sake of helping others even when I'd rather not be a part of this world at all.
 

Cino

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I think, for me, mysticism is more like life support. It's what keeps me going, even on days that seem like too much, to try to stay alive for the sake of helping others even when I'd rather not be a part of this world at all.
Does modern Gnosticism have an oral tradition, which is transmitted in face to face meeting between students and masters?

Most mystical schools seem to have these teachings which can only be learned from living example, not books. How was this spark preserved across the centuries, was there some infusion via other traditions, a Gnostic master who originally trained with a Christian one, for example? Or is there Gnostic continuity since antiquity?
 

Ella S.

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Does modern Gnosticism have an oral tradition, which is transmitted in face to face meeting between students and masters?

Most mystical schools seem to have these teachings which can only be learned from living example, not books. How was this spark preserved across the centuries, was there some infusion via other traditions, a Gnostic master who originally trained with a Christian one, for example? Or is there Gnostic continuity since antiquity?

Nope, there isn't any of that. If there was ever a line of succession, it was broken some time around the Albigensian Crusade.

One could make the argument that there's a link between Gnosticism and Hermetic alchemy. Zosimos of Panopolis is an example of that. The Archons are also consistently linked to the planets, in order of how one "ascends" them, and therefore there's a good link to the 7+1 operations of alchemy.

I am initiated into a lineage of Western alchemy, and we did discuss the various Hermetic, Gnostic, Christian Cabalist, and Daoist approaches to the subject. The consensus in that Order was that the practice between Hermetic alchemy and Gnostic alchemy is generally the same, but the schools of thought surrounding it had a bit of variation.

They're both steeped in Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean thought, but the main difference is one's attitude towards the material world.

That said, I'm skeptical of the necessity of having a master in mysticism, even though I had my own. I feel like undue emphasis is put on that by large institutions out of a desire for control more than anything else. It just helps to have somebody who knows the ropes be there to guide you through them. I think you can totally go at it completely alone.
 

Cino

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They're both steeped in Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean thought, but the main difference is one's attitude towards the material world.

Is it about transcendence vs immanence, or is there more to it?

You mention the ascent via the planetary spheres. In ancient philosophy, there was also the concept of "Katabasis", the descent into the underworld: in the Odyssey, in Parmenides, in Vergil's works. Related, there is plenty of Christian speculation about Jesus' doings in the underworld between the crucifiction and resurrection. Is this also a part of Gnostic teachings?

That said, I'm skeptical of the necessity of having a master in mysticism, even though I had my own. I feel like undue emphasis is put on that by large institutions out of a desire for control more than anything else. It just helps to have somebody who knows the ropes be there to guide you through them. I think you can totally go at it completely alone.

On the other hand, you had a teacher, and have been initiated into a lineage, so maybe you are taking things for granted that someone who goes at it totally on their own does not have access to? Do you know anyone who successfully went at it on their own?

I'm in a similar situation, and can't really comment on the solo mystic perspective from personal experience. I know I got a lot out of talking to my teacher, and other good friends on the path.
 

Ella S.

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Is it about transcendence vs immanence, or is there more to it?

You mention the ascent via the planetary spheres. In ancient philosophy, there was also the concept of "Katabasis", the descent into the underworld: in the Odyssey, in Parmenides, in Vergil's works. Related, there is plenty of Christian speculation about Jesus' doings in the underworld between the crucifiction and resurrection. Is this also a part of Gnostic teachings?



On the other hand, you had a teacher, and have been initiated into a lineage, so maybe you are taking things for granted that someone who goes at it totally on their own does not have access to? Do you know anyone who successfully went at it on their own?

I'm in a similar situation, and can't really comment on the solo mystic perspective from personal experience. I know I got a lot out of talking to my teacher, and other good friends on the path.

There isn't a comparable descent into the Underworld in Gnostic teachings that I know of. I think that's partially because the material world is already seen as the Underworld, in a way, as the "lowest" place and furthest from God and as the place that the unsaved return to after death through reincarnation. There might be a sect or a text that I'm unfamiliar with that has a comparable concept, though.

You are right, I could be taking it for granted. I certainly don't know anyone who successfully went at it alone. I still think that it's theoretically possible, but it might be a lot more difficult than I may have implied.
 

Cino

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I think that's partially because the material world is already seen as the Underworld, in a way, as the "lowest" place and furthest from God and as the place that the unsaved return to after death through reincarnation.

As a humorous side remark: In one of Terry Pratchett's wonderfully silly books there is a group of little blue pixies who are convinced they all previously died and are consequently abiding in a sort of paradise which is this world... or rather, the Discworld of Pratchett's books.
 

Ella S.

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Is it about transcendence vs immanence, or is there more to it?

I missed this! I must have skimmed over it.

I would say that transcendence vs immanence is a part of it. This leads to viewing the union of the spirit (Sophia or the Lumen Natura) with Christ (Logos or the Lumen Dei) as less of a unification of matter and spirit and more of a return of the spirit.

From this, a dualism is preserved, rather than the monism common in Hermeticism, and from this dualism comes a radically different ethical philosophy. In preferring spirit to matter, for instance, Gnostics frequently dip into celibacy, whereas Hermeticism views Eros and the creation of new life as sacred.

Which is perhaps the most unflattering example for Gnosticism that I could give, but the underlying processes are the same. It's the meaning and value ascribed to them that differ.

As Jung pointed out, this means that monism and dualism could be seen as pointing to the same underlying reality, paradoxically being more about the way you approach that reality than the literal metaphysics of it. I'm not sure that I would go that far, but I see where he's coming from.
 

muhammad_isa

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Here is an interesting take on "the trinity" from gnosis.org ..

http://gnosis.org/ecclesia/homily_Trinity.htm

Many religions besides Christianity include a triune deity. The Goddess of modern Wiccans includes Maid, Mother and Crone. The Hindu pantheon includes the Creator (Brahma), the Destroyer (Shiva) and the Preserver (Vishnu). Religions that have a triad of gods often develop family relationships between the members of the triad. This is particularly the case in the Egyptian mysteries with Osiris (Father), Isis (Mother) and Horus (Son), as well as Ra (Father), Pharaoh (Son of Ra) and Ka (the connecting and transmitting Spirit). The Gnostic symbol of the Trinity incorporates these two trinitarian formulae from the Egyptian mysteries—Father, Son and Holy (Mother) Spirit. The Gospel of the Egyptians describes such an emanation of the Trinity: “Three powers came forth from him; they are the Father, the Mother, and the Son.” Here the Mother (Holy Spirit) is the second person of the Trinity, where she might also be identified with the Egyptian Ka..
...
The Trinity is not something to be argued about or explained in rational terms but a mystery to be experienced, the mystery of our own unity in God. It is a sanctfifying and mysterious presence, like a bright cloud with a voice of fire and the fluttering of wings, an indwelling Spirit, a boundless Light, a presence we manifest in ourselves whenever we invoke the Holy Trinity in the Sign of the Cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


Interesting..
The Gospel of John is known for its "Christology", but I would agree with the author of the above.
The trinity derives from so-called "gnosticism" .. it is a "mystery" :)
 

RJM

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The trinity derives from so-called "gnosticism" .. it is a "mystery"
I believe Gnosticism says the virgin 'entity' of the Barbelo realm decided to conceive within herself without consulting the 'Infinite Godhead' and so gave birth to a misguided false God named Saklos who believed himself to be the Infinite Godhead and created a false world (this world) in this false belief. Gnosticism believes this Saklos is the God of the Old Testament.

The Christ is believed to be the true 'offspring' of the 'Infinite Godhead' and the virgin Barbelo entity, sent to lead man back to the Infinite Godhead. Most Gnostic literature is around this concept of the creation of the world and of man?

Of course my rough outline is subject to correction by those who know Gnosticism far better than I do ...
 
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Cino

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In preferring spirit to matter, for instance, Gnostics frequently dip into celibacy, whereas Hermeticism views Eros and the creation of new life as sacred.
For all that this can be observed, there is still a good amount of erotic "bridal chamber" symbolism in the surviving ancient Gnostic texts. Jung must have been onto something there ;)

Speaking of ancient texts: Is there any tendency to close the received Gnostic canon, so to speak, or are there new, inspired works emerging (as distinct from scholarly or commentarial literature)?
 

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Hi Ella S —

Would you say the negative view of the material world is a fundamental axiom of Gnosticism?

I'm wondering if there are any Gnostic texts that align more with Genesis, or the Atma/Maya perspective, that it's not so much good and bad, as each in its own sphere?
 

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Many religions besides Christianity include a triune deity.
True, but the nature of the triune is not the same.

Then again, as a Christian, I'd say there's a reason that humanity has arrived at 'three' as a significant number. ;)


The Hindu pantheon includes the Creator (Brahma), the Destroyer (Shiva) and the Preserver (Vishnu).

As I understand it, this triune – the trimurti – is somewhat artificial, and means more to westerners than it ever did within the religious traditions. There is One God, Three Gods, Five Gods, etc. Again, the roles and functions of the trimurti have no correspondence with the Christian Trinity.

Religions that have a triad of gods often develop family relationships between the members of the triad...
Indeed, and these often reflect agrarian origins, but again, the familial or agrarian models do not fit the Christian Trinity.

The Trinity is not something to be argued about or explained in rational terms ...

I always find these statements surprising in their assumptions. As a discourse it's not easy, for sure, but then the interiority of God is, reasonably and rationally, a Mystery – the finite cannot contain the Infinite.

The Gospel of John is known for its "Christology"
And Paul isn't?

A 'High Christology' of John, as against a 'Low Christology' of the synoptics, has been increasingly pushed to the periphery since the 1970s.

Interesting, one theory is the 'Big Bang Christology' (Explosion Theory) that proposes 'the highest Christology' was the view of the earliest Palestinian Christian community. The recognition of Jesus as divine was not a development of the community, it was there from the get-go – it 'exploded' right at the start. Paul's writings – starting in the 50s – are of the 'high Christology' order.

The trinity derives from so-called "gnosticism" ...
I rather think that does the homily a disservice?

As an archetype, the Trinity arises in every culture, in every place and time. Even in terms of physical processes, most every phenomenon can be described as a trinitarian expression—active, passive, and their connecting interaction; motion, inertia and rhythm; thesis, antithesis and a resolving and connecting principle.
And the triunes go on, ad infinitum ... but then I would suggest that's because the world was shaped by a Triune God.
 

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I rather think that does the homily a disservice?

I'm not saying that the author is in agreement with me, obviously. :D
I'm saying that while most Christians claim it to be orthodox belief, I say that it is no
different than gnostic belief in general .. which is "mystical" in origin.
Jesus taught parables, but not irrational, mysticism.

Orthodox Christianity could have gone down many lines, and was influenced by many things.
It is a series of human decisions / judgements.
 

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I'm saying that while most Christians claim it to be orthodox belief, I say that it is no
different than gnostic belief in general ...
But the Christian doctrine came first.

which is "mystical" in origin.
All the religions are 'mystical' in origin and by nature, in that they are founded on Revelation. The Nature of the Divine is a Mystery.

Mystery definition
In the theological sense, "religious truth via divine revelation, hidden spiritual significance, mystical truth," via Latin mysterium "secret rite, secret worship; a sacrament, a secret thing" from the Greek mystērion (plural mysteria) "secret rite or doctrine.

The Greek mystērion was used in the Septuagint for "secret counsel of God," which in the Vulgate is sacramentum.
(etymonline.com)
 

Ella S.

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I found this 40 minute video/podcast very clear and learned a lot from it:


@Ella S.
Does it seem accurate to you?

This is a great video that I've actually recommended to others. It does primarily focus on a specific interpretation of Sethianism, which isn't necessarily applicable to all Gnostic sects, but the video explicitly states that itself. The Sethians are essentially the only sect that pretty much everyone agrees was Gnostic, so it's a good choice to hyperfocus on.
 
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Ella S.

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Hi Ella S —

Would you say the negative view of the material world is a fundamental axiom of Gnosticism?

I'm wondering if there are any Gnostic texts that align more with Genesis, or the Atma/Maya perspective, that it's not so much good and bad, as each in its own sphere?

Yeah, matter is evil, I'm not sure that there's a way around that, but many Gnostics that I've met still find beauty in the world and care about the living things within it. Their argument is usually that living things have a spark of the divine in them and that beauty itself is divine; even with this world being a poor imitation of the Pleroma, it still reflects much of its divinity. So it's not always as straightforward as a negative view towards the world as a whole so much as it is a negative view of matter.

The reason why matter is "evil" is because we don't belong here. Our true home is in the Pleroma, which we've been separated from.

That said, a negative view of the world is compatible with Gnostic thought, and it seems to have some degree of historical precedent.
 

Ella S.

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Here is an interesting take on "the trinity" from gnosis.org ..

http://gnosis.org/ecclesia/homily_Trinity.htm

Many religions besides Christianity include a triune deity. The Goddess of modern Wiccans includes Maid, Mother and Crone. The Hindu pantheon includes the Creator (Brahma), the Destroyer (Shiva) and the Preserver (Vishnu). Religions that have a triad of gods often develop family relationships between the members of the triad. This is particularly the case in the Egyptian mysteries with Osiris (Father), Isis (Mother) and Horus (Son), as well as Ra (Father), Pharaoh (Son of Ra) and Ka (the connecting and transmitting Spirit). The Gnostic symbol of the Trinity incorporates these two trinitarian formulae from the Egyptian mysteries—Father, Son and Holy (Mother) Spirit. The Gospel of the Egyptians describes such an emanation of the Trinity: “Three powers came forth from him; they are the Father, the Mother, and the Son.” Here the Mother (Holy Spirit) is the second person of the Trinity, where she might also be identified with the Egyptian Ka..
...
The Trinity is not something to be argued about or explained in rational terms but a mystery to be experienced, the mystery of our own unity in God. It is a sanctfifying and mysterious presence, like a bright cloud with a voice of fire and the fluttering of wings, an indwelling Spirit, a boundless Light, a presence we manifest in ourselves whenever we invoke the Holy Trinity in the Sign of the Cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


Interesting..
The Gospel of John is known for its "Christology", but I would agree with the author of the above.
The trinity derives from so-called "gnosticism" .. it is a "mystery" :)

Gnostic sects were frequently Docetists or Adoptionists. I actually don't know any Trinitarian Gnostic sects. They probably did exist, but they aren't the ones that I'm most familiar with. Personally, I am a Non-Trinitarian; I am an Adoptionist.
 
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