A non-Christian school of Gnosis was also to be found in the pagan philosophy of Hermeticism. The exact origins of the Gnostic "movement" may never be known, but a fascinating scripture-The Gospel of Thomas was found in the priceless scrolls uncovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. The Gnostics were definitely one of the lost offshoots of Christianity. A very hopeful and striking declaration is made at the very beginning of The Gospel of Thomas-"Whoever finds the meaning of these sayings will not taste death." The Gospel of Thomas is one of the most interesting of the scriptures unearthed at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. This gospel is very short and only fills twelve pages in one standard edition. However, the brevity of Thomas belies its importance and it has received more attention than any other Gnostic scripture. Many of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas are like the ones in the New Testament. The words attributed to Jesus in Thomas are fairly abstruse: "Be passers-by" (Thomas, 42.). "I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am watching it until it blazes." (Thomas, 10.). "When you see one not born of woman, fall upon your faces and prostrate yourself before that one: it is that one who is your father." (Thomas 15.). It almost seems as if some of the sayings and teachings in Thomas are not meant to be taken literally in such a way that contemplating them causes the mind to look more deeply inward.
Perhaps the inward nature of the gospels that are considered Gnostic are part of the reason mainstream Christianity renounced Gnosticism. Inner spiritual work and illumination is very difficult and aslo illusive-no guarantees or set timeframe. So much easier is it to preach fire and brimstone, sin and atonement to placate the judgment of a angry and vengeful god. This style of anticipating and appeasing the wrath of an angry god is exactly the stance adopted to pagan antiquity in relation to their own deities. In fact, the angry, wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament is not always easy to reconcile with the infinitely loving God of Jesus' teachings. One philosopher eho was around centuries before Christianity seems to have had a profound effect on Gnosticism. His name was Plato and he lived in the fourth century BC. He founded an institution of higher learning called the Academy in Athens. Plato's influence on Western philosophy can't be stated enough. Some maintain that all Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Plato describes reality in an esoteric fashion. But this does not mean that his thoughts are difficult to grasp. Esoteric derives from the Greek word esotero, which means "further in." Two meanings of this word can be thought of in regards to Plato.
He felt some of his teachings could only be passed onto his more advanced pupils who were "further in" his circle of students. Another-and I think important meaning can be taken from his use of the word. This would mean that his teachings are about inner experience-"further in" towards the Truth the mind can envision in its more sublime moments. Modern philosophers and thinkers tend to look at the vast inner "soul life" of the mind as purely subjective and therefore unreal. Esoteric philosophy says that not only is the "soul life" of the mind as purely subjective and therefore unreal. Esoteric philosophy says that not only is the "soul life" of the mind real, but that the dimensions the mind encounters have their own objective reality and can be described. Plato basically turned conventional thinking of his day completely around. The world that is comprehended by the human senses is the one that is unreal. The solid objects of mundane reality are merely copies or imitations of ideal "archetypes" that he called "forms"-non-concrete images that exist in the realm of thought. It is the "forms" alone that are real Plato believed, because they are eternal and unchanging-unlike the constant state of flux "our" world is ceaselessly undergoing. Timaeus-a late dialogue is the most important of Plato's works in regard to Gnosticism. Timaeus expounds on quite a few ideas. This is the work that introduces the lost continent of Atlantis (Plato said that records of Atlantis were preserved in Egypt). The dialogue then gives an esoteric view of the creation of the universe.
Here is a beautiful Gnostic statement that leans towards a definition and some conclusions about the experience of gnosis:
What makes us free is the gnosis
of who we were
of what we have become
of where we were
of wherein we have been cast
of whereto we are hastening
of what we aree being freed
of what birth really is
of what rebirth really is. (Excerpta de Theodoto)
I think Gnosticism has some of the most interesting religious and philosophical concepts when looked in a certain light. One of these ideas/concepts is the idea of the archons-a concept I read about almost twenty years ago when I read my first copy of Gnosis magazine. More on the archons later. Getting back to the previous Gnostic statement, Excerpta de Theodoto-it would be thought that one who intuitively apprehends the correct answers to these questions has attained liberating gnosis.
These questions and their answers are central to Gnostic doctrine and to the very heart of both gnosis and Gnosticism. Whereas many religions, especially those of the Judeo-Christian traditions accuse the transgressions of the first human couple, Adam and Eve, for not only the fallen state of the human race-but of all creation. The evil present in our world is a consequence of this fall. Gnosticism has quite a unique take on this. The Gnostics tell us that the insanity and evil in our world are there because our world and the universe was created by an insane, crazy or evil (perhaps a combination of all three or two depending on which Gnostic sect one refers to) god called the Demiurge. Gnostics and Buddhists have often been thought of as pessimists and haters of our material reality. The Gnostics would certainly agree that life on the earth plane is filled with suffering and misery. Looking at the situation from on high it would seem that all forms of life on earth (except for the plant and mineral kingdoms) sustain their existence by consuming other forms of life. This whole cycle of course perpetuates pain, fear, death and of course great emotional sadness where higher life forms are concerned. In fact, the "higher" up the ladder and more complex a species is-the greater its ability to feel these negative emotions. However, for the Gnostics (and Buddhists) there are paths that lead to liberation from this suffering and delusion.
Readers may be familiar with Plato's famous allegory of the cave. This allegory holds that prisoners being held in the cave (being unable to see anything outside of it) mistakenly believe that the shadows on the wall of the cave represent "true" reality. Of course, the light that produces the shadows is the only true reality. This is where an important analogy with Gnosticism comes in. Out created world, along with a large segment of the human mind is seen as evil by the Gnostics primarily because it puts all of a human being's focus on the physcial plane of existence-away from the "true" eternal light of the divine. And the constantly changing nature of the human mind tends to put its focus on itself and trivial things-going from one thought to another in a matter of seconds or less. By the dual distraction of the material world and the tumultuous, constantly changing focus of the mind, the inner, eternal self or soul is consigned to oblivion. However, it is only the inner self or spirit (Greek pneuma=spirit) that has a link to the ultimate, divine reality. The Gnostics lived in a time where Jews, Christians-and even the pagan Hermeticists believed in one god only-monotheism. The God they ascribed to was a supreme builder and architect. Not only did this God create the universe-this God also gave it laws, started time, and propagated it. The Gnostic view of God was more profound and complex than the God of these other traditions.
Similar to the interpretation of the Kabbalists and other esoteric traditions, Gnostics conceived of the universe being an emanation of the Divine opposed to a creation. Going back to the fascinating ideas of physicist David Bohm mentioned previously in this blog about the implicate and explicate orders, with the implicate being the more fundamental level of reality and the explicate the "seen" level of existence, Gnostics imagined a transcendent God who isn't involved with anything of such gross materiality as "building" a universe. The Gnostics believed in a primordial, unmanifest (think implicate order of reality). Perhaps saying this God "existed" in an unmanifest (implicate) level of reality is wrong as this God would embody and actually be this transcendent level of existence. From the implicate, unmanifest level or order of reality the Divine Being emanates forthe in a ray of creation that goes out from it creating at first more subtle forms and modes of being to coarser states of existence.
Like many esoteric systems the Gnostics put our fallen world at a far remove from the Divine source. They also believed that the architect of our human, three dimensional reality believed itself to be the ultimate level of existence. The Gnostics called this architect the Demiurge from the Greek demiurgos (half-maker), because it only made the physical forms but not the inner divine spark of the world. The Demiurge also had helpers and future overseers of this world who they called the archons, using the Greek word for ruler. Most if not all Gnostics equated the God of the Old Testament with the Demiurge. Depending on the offshoot or sect of Gnostics they thought of the Demiurge as evil, insane or stupid-or as stated before a combination of two or three of these. The Gnostics did not think of humans as primarily beings of this demiurgic level of creation. The important thing to keep in mind with this statement is they knew humans had a physical shell (obviously) and a psychic component also and that both the physical and psychic parts perished at death. The Gnostics also thought that each human being had a spiritual component that was eternal and was a part of the divine essence, sometimes called the "divine spark." Gnosticism is one of many religious and philosophical traditions that recognize the dual nature of the human soul, so it is also called a dualistic religion.
In a 1981 entry in his Exegesis (a very large journal he kept to keep up with theories and insights of his 2-3-74 experiences), PKD wrote an honest assessment of his abilities as a writer: "I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & storytelling ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredients in those whom my writing helps: they cannot or will not blunt their own imitations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, &, for them, my corpus is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an integration and presentation, analysis and response & personal history."
Here are the Ten Major Principles of Gnostic Revelation, from PKD's Exegesis. 1) The creator of this world is demented. 2) The world is not as it appears, in order to hide the evil in it, a delusive veil obscuring it and the deranged deity. 3) There is another, better realm of God, and all our efforts are to be directed toward a)returning there b) bringing it here. 4) Our actual lives stretch back thousands of years back, and we can be made to remember our origin in the stars. 5) Each of us has a divine counterpart unfallen who can reach down to us. This other personality is the authentic self; the one we have now is asleep and minor. We are in fact asleep, and in the hands of a dangerous magician disguised as a good god, the deranged creator deity. The bleakness, the evil and pain in the world, the fact that it is a deterministic prison controlled by the demented creator causes us willingly to split with the reality principle early in life, and so to speak willingly fall asleep in delusion. 6) You can pass from the delusional prison world into the peaceful kingdom if the True God placed you under His grace. 7) Christ gave, rather than received revelation, he taught his followers how to enter the kingdom, while still alive. Where other mystery religions bring about amnesis: knowledge of it at the "other time" in the "other realm," not here. He causes it to come here, and is the living agency of the Sole Good God (i.e. the Logos). 8) Probably the real, secret Christian Church still exists, long underground, with its members absorbed into it. Through participation in it they probably have vast, seemingly magical powers. 9) The division into "two times" (good and evil) and "two realms" (good and evil) will abruptly end with victory for the good time here, as the presently invisible kingdom separates and becomes visible. We cannot know the date. 10) During this time period we are on the sifting bridge being judged according to which power we give allegiance to, the deranged creator demiurge of this world-or the One Good God and his kingdom, whom we know through Christ.
It suits the archons just fine that human beings are unaware of the divine spark within them. Being the lesser cosmic rulers, archons want anything that keeps people attached to earthly things-not only material things-but people can also be enslaved by mental ideas and concepts; such as a political philosophy, and of course people can be enslaved emotionally to other people and events in their lives! Another fascinating esoteric and philosphical practitioner and theorist that seemed to borrow a lot from Gnosticism is George Gurdjieff and I would like to talk about his ideals later in the series along with getting back to PKD and other teachers and teachings. I thought this article would be important as far as background information to upcoming articles including more PKD hopefully soon! PS-not really sure where I am going with this series next-it may be more Gnosticism or something different-I definitely would like to come back to PKD, Gnosticism and others at some point hopefully soon-either way I hope people enjoyed information about this fascinating man. Thanks again for all of your thoughtful, intelligent and interesting comments! Here are some links where you can also learn a lot-from Michael's Gosporn blog- HERE and Nina's Musings and Observations blog- HERE
I enjoyed both Michael's and Nina's articles enormously and if anyone else has done anything they feel would fit into this series by all means let me know-I am more than happy to link info up here and would appreciate it actually-as sometimes I am not sure if I am drifting too much and making things unclear. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!