Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven in Sethianism

Ella S.

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For this post, I will be primarily referring to the Sethian text titled "Zostrianos" uncovered as a part of the Nag Hammadi library.

For the most part, Gnosticism is considered to not really believe in an afterlife. You generally have two destinations in pop Gnosticism; You fail to achieve gnosis and are doomed to reincarnate or you achieve gnosis and reunite with the One.

This is a decent general overview, but when it comes to specific sects things can get a bit messier.

In Sethianism, we have three afterlife destinations referred to as Sojourn, Repentance, and the Pleroma.

Sojourn is where the discarnated souls of non-Gnostics end up in death, and it is also the dwelling place of the Archons, who are essentially the malevolent demons of Gnosticism. It is unclear whether Sojourn is a permanent residence, but it's sometimes equated with Hades and seems to be viewed more as a temporary holding place for the spirits that are destined to reincarnate in the material world.

While it could be compared to Hell, it does not seem to be a place of any special torment other than the torture of separation from the One, which is similar to some Eastern Orthodox conceptions of Hell.

Above Sojourn, we have Repentance, which is where the Gnostics who failed to achieve salvific gnosis end up. Repentance is, as the name suggests, a place of repenting where the spirits of the dead who intended to achieve salvific gnosis are given a chance to repudiate the material world and move on from the cycle of reincarnation. It is divided into six sections, depending on how much repenting the Gnostic has to do.

In a sense, Repentance is quite similar to purgatory, although, again, it is less torturous. Sojourn is also likely to be where the psykicoi end up, which includes the virtuous believers of other faiths.

Finally, above Repentance, we arrive at the lowest level of the Pleroma; the Autogenes. It is divided into four sections of lower and higher rewards for those who achieved salvation, each overseen by one of the four luminaries. The Pleroma is very often compared to or directly translated as Heaven, although its name actually means "fullness."
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