A Chronology of the Gnostic movement
written by Johnes Ruta
(203) 387-4933, [email protected]
The Discovery of Gospel Texts
Codices written in Coptic script and bound into book form were discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. This collection of texts included evidence that these were transcriptions of more ancient Greek and Aramaic manuscripts, and that these copies were produced in the early Fourth Century at nearby desert monasteries located north of Luxor during the late Roman colonial period circa AD 315, under the leadership of (Saint) Pachomius, a disciple of the aged hermit of the wilderness Palemon. The famous (Saint) Anthony (AD 251-356), "the father of the monastics", was also one of the monks of this monastery.
The mystical tenets and underlying background of myth which in Roman times, by the Second Century, had come to be called the "Gnostic Religion", (from the Greek "gnosis", knowledge, insight), belonged to a diverse tradition of mystical thinking which can be traced from sources in Mesopotamian cosmology, Chaldean magic and alchemy, the speculations of Hebrew Midrashim and Gematria numerology, Egyptian Tarot and Hermetic mysticism, as well as Hellenic mythology and the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies.
In Syria and Egypt at the time of the Judean revolt in 73 C.E., the the Nazarean movement was already widespread and the stories of Christ were appropriated into the system because they seemed pertinent to many of the issues of historical prophecy.
The texts produced during the previous millennium provided the worship scriptures to a vast factionalization of non-Judaic and non-pagan religious practices: those adhering to the ascetic monastic tradition, or to the celibacy, both in and out of wedlock, advocated by Paul and the woman leader Thecla, and as well to those practicing the libertine orgiastics that descended from the mystery cults of Bacchus and Isis.
The collection of texts, also referred to as The Nag Hammadi Library or the Coptic Gnostic Library, contained fifty-two separate tractates, six of which are duplicates, in twelve codices, and the eight leaves of a thirteenth. Previously unknown works, such as writings attributed to Seth (the third son of Adam and Eve), as well as gospels of apocrypha, such as The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene formerly considered lost, were discovered.
As the Roman Empire had undergone its division into East and West in 293 under the reign of Diocletian (284-305). With the removal of the capital to Byzantium under the rule of Constantine the Great (306-337), the Christian leadership left in Rome soon became a virtual government in situ. While Christianity had been made a "permitted religion" in 260 C.E., under Valerian. Beginning in the month of March in the nineteenth year of his reign, 303, Diocletian had issued four edicts renewing the persecution of Christians everywhere in the empire : The first decree called for the destruction of all churches, the surrender of scriptures, and the deprivation of patricians practicing Christianity of their civil rights. The second decree called for the imprisonment of all clergy ; the third decree for their torture and summary execution. The fourth edict invoked a merciless campaign of trials and wholesale slaughter upon all those refusing to sacrifice to the gods (i.e. to touch the rotting Mithraic pagan sacrifice of the bull placed in each town square). As witnessed by the historian Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, the reign of terror extended well into Egypt, with the mass executions of willing martyrs (Greek: "witness" of faith) at Alexandria in 303, including the Bishop of Thumis, and even resistant provincial Roman magistrates.
A year following the abdication of Dioceltian in 305, Constantine was declared Emperor by his army at York, by virtue of descendence from his father the Emperor Constantinus, but he was prevented from assuming power at Rome by the military strength there of Maxentius, (the son of Maximian, Diocletian's Augustus in the West of the divided Empire), Maxentinus again invoked another persecution of the Christians in 311, until Constantine and his legions marched in from the Eastern capital to personally remove him, in 312, defeating him at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge near Rome.
At this time Constantine openly declared himself as Christian, and instituted Christianity as the state religion. With the seat of imperial power shifted to the East, the formerly persecuted leadership was invested with favor and civil office, and was now regarded as the rear guard of an alliance of faith. Meanwhile in Syria and Egypt the practices of Christianity had developed in a blend of regional theologies and customs.
By the time of the Council of Nicaea, in northern Anatolia, in 325, and the codification of the "Nicene Creed" as the official tenet of dogma, the list of Synoptic Gospels had been selected from many diverse texts. In an effort to spread Christianity into northern Europe, anathematic and non-"synoptic" texts not adhering to clear statements on the principles of Trinity, Virgin Birth, and apostolic succession were suppressed by orthodox followers, especially during the next fifty years.
During this period of transition from Mithraic pagan rule to Christian influence, there were thus several critical moments when anxiety in Coptic quarters of a total suppression of unsanctioned literature would have logically compelled the reproduction of volumes for secret storage. That the cache of texts were finally hidden at Nag Hammadi in fear of militant orthodox Christians might be interpreted from the fact that the find also contained a copy of The Republic of Plato, previously considered an acceptable work of political theory.
The only extant works of Gnostic writing until 1945 were in the hands of the British Museum since the late 18th Century: Two copies of the Book of Pistis-Sophia, in Coptic, had been acquired in 1785. Also, two copies in Coptic of Book of Jeu [Book of J], a later treatise of derivative quality, had also been obtained near the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes in 1769. The significance of this purchase was not recognized until late 1800's.
Also known for centuries in Persia, the Mandean text The Acts of Thomas was said to contain Gnostic passages. A codex of three Gnostic documents -- The Gospel of Marcion (Syria), The Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus (Alexandria), and The Valentinian Speculation (2nd Century, Rome), -- was purchased in Cairo in 1896 for the British Museum, but only became available for general study in 1950.
In 1930, a library of Manichaean papyri was discovered in Egypt with about 3500 badly preserved pages dating back to the 4th Century. This collection contained one of Mani's own books, The Kephalaia ["Chapters"], formerly believed irretrievably lost. In the decades following the successful suppression of the Gnostics, the deeply dualistic philosophy of the Manichaean religion, widespread throughout Persia and Syria, became the cause of Christian Church fathers greatest alarm as they witnessed its spread into Central and Western Europe.
In the fall of 1945, a earthen jar was found by a 31 year old camel driver named Mohammed Ali El-Samman while digging for sebakh, a sedimentary topsoil enriched by the annual flooding of the Nile. The jar was unearthed at the base of a talus, a sloping pile of sand and rocks at the base of a cliff, at Gebel et Tarif. El-Samman was at the time involved at the time in a violent interfamily feud and was trying to avoid the authorities. He subsequently left the jar in his home, in the care of his mother, who opened it sometime later, and possibly used several of the leaves for kindling, despite the fear her son had expressed that the jar might contain a dangerous jinn....
1. DUALISM IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
The Mesopotamian Sumerian Creation epic : "The Enuma Elish."
This earliest Western text contains the so-called "panic of the gods.," depicting the battle of the primordial beast Tiamat and her husband Abu-Abyss, against their clamorous progeny led by Marduk and Ea.
The rich agricultural delta region at the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was first entered by peoples arriving from the northern mountains of the Causasus as early as the Ninth Millenium BCE., then joined by Semitic nomadic tribes native to the mountains and desert of the Saudi peninsula. Thirdly, an influx of seafaring peoples arriving from the Persian Gulf around 3000 BCE, the Sumerians, introduced writing and mathematics.
1. In the city of Eridu -- Water is considered the beginning of all things:
The inhabited world sprang up from the deep and is still encircled by Khubur, the ocean stream, beyond which the sun-god pastures his cattle.
2. In the city Babylon (later) -- Heaven is a solid vault, the foundation of which rests on the vast ocean (Tiamat) which also supported the earth.
Tiamat and Apsu - (in the Sumerian text Enumah Elish) are the dragons of the primordial void: Tiamat - "watery mass" (salt water) & Apsu - "sweet waters" (fresh water) are mingled together in a divine androgynous matrix. (Tehom - Hebrew in Genesis : lit. "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.")
The universe is divided into four major domains:
1. Sky = Anu - descendant of Apsu and Tiamat.
2. The Earth = Enlil - ("Lord of the Storm") of the mountains and eventually the Earth, venerated at Nippur.
3. The Waters = Ea - (closely associated with Apsu) - also god of magic and wisdom. In the Enuma Elish, Ea is the creator of man.
4. The Underworld = Nergal ("Ne-iri-gal" - "powers of the great abode") also assumed functions of Erra, originally the God of Pestilence. In Babylonian mythology, Nergal descended into the underworld and took control of it by force from Erishkegal, Queen of the Lower Regions. The cult of Nergal is centered at Kutha.
Marduk and The Panic of the Gods
Marduk was the eldest of the great-great grandchildren of Tiamat and Apsu. The dragons had grown weary of the ceaseless din of their progeny. The rumour began to circulate among the lesser gods that Tiamat was about to destroy them all for the sake of quietude, and they were terror stricken:
The gods wept as they hastened.
Silence reigned as they sat whispering.
The exceedingly wise one, the clever in skill,
Ea, who knowesth all things, conceiveth their plan.
Ea, god/godess of dawn, by an incantation, puts Apsu, the male dragon, to sleep in a cave, and then kills him. Tiamat, now ready to avenge her husband's death, creates a host of monsters to destroy her children the gods:
They cursed the daylight and went forth at the side of Taimat.
With poisonous blood she filled their bodies.
Gruesome monsters she caused to be clothed with terror.
She caused them to bear dreadfulness, she made
them like gods.
Whosoever beholds them they ban with terror.
Their bodies rear up and none restrain their breasts.
When Ea hears of Tiamat's host of monsters,
"painfully he becomes faint, like one that lapses into
silence,he sits down". He appeals to his father, who goes
to ask the sky-god Anu to make an attempt to attack Tiamat,
Anu makes this attempt, but flees in terror before her, and
all the gods now appeal to Marduk: he is the only one who
can rescue them.
Marduk makes ready a bow and arrow and takes a toothed
sickle in his hand. He creates the Seven Winds, takes out
his quiver the "Cyclone", and drives his chariot of the storm.
A sheen of flames surround his head and he advances against
Tiamat, bearing "the plant of extinguishing poisons."
Marduk draws nigh and peers into her lower inward parts.
There he sees inside the waiting open jaws of Apsu Kingu her husband,
apparently revived in the womb.
His confidence falters, his mind becomes distracted and his
movements disordered. The gods are faint with despair, but Marduk
rallies to battle.
As Tiamat opens her mouth to devour him, Marduk's raging winds rip into her belly and weaken her. His arrow tears through her belly, severs her inwards, and rends asunder her heart.
Finally, he splits her into two parts, and with half of her, he makes his own way up to the heavens.
The Legends of Seth, 3rd son of Adam and Eve
The creation of Adam:
Adam is visited by succubus causing nocturnal emissions.
The creation of Eve:
Eve is a daughter of Sophia (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:25):
When realizing she was desired by incubus, Eve hid from them by leaving her counterfeit image beside the sleeping Adam. But the progeny of her raped image became a race of demons.
When Adam first saw Eve, he recognized in her not a mere marital partner, but a spiritual power: 'And when he saw her, he said, "It is you who have given me life, you shall be called the Mother of the Living [Eve]; for it is she who is my Mother. It is she who is the Physician, and the woman, and She Who has Given Birth."'
The episode of the temptation of Eve is interpreted through the eyes of the Snake, who is sympathetic that God wishes to keep his created creatures in a state of ignorance of the underlying nature of reality. He offers a perception that subordinate forces have claimed supremacy in the universe, symbolized in the danger of the "fruit" of the tree of knowledge.
The Apocacalypse of Adam (Nag Hammadi text):
Adam's vision of the Flood was conveyed to Seth in his dying testament on his death bed. Seth is given a set of prophecies of events to occur during Seth's life time and succeding generations, including the tribulations of Noah and his wife.
The "Gnostic Seed of Seth":
Seth was the offspring of Adam and Eve born to replace the slain Abel. His descendants were entrusted with the oral history of his family.
The Apocryphon of John
Noah and his wife Norea - "virgin daughter of Eve" (in Archons) (cf. Talmud : Naamah - a descendant of Cain) Norea, banned from entering the ark, burned it four times.
Legends of the Canaanite storm gods :
North Canaanite epics, older than the Torah (the Five Books of Moses, beginning with Genesis), vividly depict the exploits of the weather-god Baal, the Rider of the Clouds, who with two clubs bludgeoned the gods of the sea and river, Prince Yamm and Judge Nahar, confining them to their proper spheres.
The Book of the Angel Raziel -
In the Book of Genesis, the legends are referred according to worlds created by God, ours being the last and the only attempt which pleased Him, because he created it according to strict Justice. He then saw that Justice alone would undermine this creation, so he affected it with Mercy, and made them to rule jointly, and thus prevailed Divine Goodness.
And so in every Nisan, at the time of the Spring Equinox, the Seraphim would approach the world and intimidate the myraids of evil spirits at large, so that they fear to do harm to men. In Tammuz, at the time of the Summer Solstice, the tame animals are given protection from the wild ones, when the strength of the Behemot is at its height, he roars so loud that all the animals hear it and are affrighted and made timid for one whole year. In Tishri, at the time of the Autumnal Equinox, the great bird Ziz flaps its huge wings and utters its cry, so that the birds of prey, the eagles and vultures, blench, and they fear to swoop down upon the others and annihiliate them in their greed. At the time of the Winter Solstice, in the month of Tebet, the great Leviathan spouts up water from the deep, and the fish become uneasy, and restrain their appetites, and the little ones escape their rapacity.
That the goodness of God may rule upon the Earth as in heaven, the Angels of Destruction are assigned a place at the far end of heaven, from which they may never stir, while the Angels of Mercy encircle the Throne of God, at His behest.
The Hittites & the later Anatolian kingdoms in the Histories of Herodotus.
The Bronze Age and the development of metallurgy.
The mysterious origin of the Aeons :
The thirty archons, the Duodecad, Decad, and Ogdoad (12, 10, & 8) of Neo- Babylon, bearing the familiar names of Metatron, Abraxas, Adamas, Christos, and Sophia.
The Hypostasis of the Archons
The Apocalypse of Adam
Classes of Angels
The first created order of beings: in the Kabbalah, the innermost circle of angels surrounding the so called "glory" (spectral radiance) of Godhead, considered to be mute messengers.
A principal name in gnostic theogony, The Supreme Unknown, the unknowable; in earlier Persian mythology, Abraxas is the source of 365 emanations; the name is often found engraved on gems used as amulets. In the Kabbalah, he is named as Prince of the Aeons, (The Sword of Moses, The Book of the Angel Raziel). The magical word "abracadabra" was reputedly derived from his name. The later gnostic writer Basilides claims that Abraxas was the archon-ruler of 365 Heavens and acted as mediator between the animate creatures of the earth and the Godhead.
The first (as also the last) of the 10 archangels, called king of angels, prince of the divine face or presence, chancellor of heaven, angel of the covenant, chief of the administering angels, and the lesser YHWH (Tetragrammaton). He is charged with the sustenance of mankind. In Talmud and Targum, he is the link between the human and divine. In his earthly incarnation he is identified as Enoch, although also claimed to be the angel Michael. In Kabbalah, he is the angel who led the children of Israel through the wilderness. Upon arriving in heaven as Enoch, he was equipped with 36 pairs of wings and innumerable eyes. His name has been interpreted as "the one who occupies the throne next to the divine throne." When invoked, he appears as "a pillar of fire, his face more dazzling than the sun.." In the later Zohar, Metatron is spoken of as the "rod of Moses", from one end of which comes life, the other end comes death. Also thought to be the supreme angel of death, to whom God gives daily orders of which souls to take. Also thought to be the angel who stayed the hand of Abraham, on the point of sacrificing Isaac. Also, thought to be the teacher of prematurely dead children in Paradise.
The 13th and last of the initially created Aeons. The personification of Wisdom.
Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, was considered the source of a Semitic gnosis, spread from Mesopotamia into Canaan and Assyria, in which Sophia is the name of the 13th, last, and only feminine entity of the initially created Aeons, the first created order of beings, considered to be the mute messengers of Jehovah. Of these, Abraxas is the first, the Supreme Unknowable, the source of 365 Emanations. Even in the later Kaballah, the Aeons are the innermost circle of angels, surrounding the spectral radiance of God; Hokhma, Wisdom, is one of the ten points of light composing the sefiroth ladder of illumination.
Sophia is the Aeon of Wisdom, who is anguished with her subordinated and isolated position in the heavens. Wishing to create a perfect universe but being unable to find a partner in the Pleroma, the upper "fullness," she unlawfully seeks one from the lower regions, the Kenoma, the chaotic abyss or void beneath. She tries to procreate with her own personified Anguish from within the Void, but produces only abortive matter -- the abominable birth of Yldaboath -- the dark Demiurgos of the physical world...[The Tree of Gnosis, Ioan P. Couliano, pp. 70-88; Harper San Francisco, 1992]
The 13th Aeon or archon, Sof ia is found by the Savior Archon Christos, seated below the others, weeping : Having once caught a glimpse of the Supreme Light, normally obstructed from her view by the positions of the first twelve archons, Sophia is seized by the desire to fly up to it. But Adamas, ruler-Archon of her proper place, becomes enraged at her act of rebellion against himself and causes a false light -- ignis fatuus -- to shine upon the waters of the subjacent Chaos; she is lured down into the Abyss and beset by spirits eager to deprive her of her native light. By the Savior Archon Christos aid, she ascends through the positions of all twelve Aeons and sings a confession at each stage of her deliverance out of chaos. [Gnostics & Their Remains, C.W. King; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1887]
In the parallel narrative, Jesus is speaking. Each confession is proposed by Jesus to one apostle at a time for explanation. Mary Magdalene mainly answers the propositions, as though possessing foreknowledge, and only Peter rebukes her for not allowing the men to speak as Pistis-Sophia regains her lost position.
Creation and Salvation according to Mani (C.E. 216-275):
Mandeanism -- a belief in the parity of Darkness and Light in the Universe, practiced throughout medieval Europe until banned and persecuted as heresy, also practiced
in present day Iraq & southwest Iran.
2. Hieroglyphics & Hermetics
The Gods of the Nile Valley:
Amun Ra, Horus, Hathor, Osiris, Isis, Seth, Anubis, Ptah, and Thoth.
Symbol and Magic in Egyptian art.
The inventor of the hieroglyphic alphabet, and his tributary Hermes Trismegistus, writer of the Poimandres (the Hermetica.,) the earliest extant alchemical and gnostic treatise. Represented the divine intelligence, which at the creation uttered the words that were carried into effect by...
Ptah ("The Opener" : connection with truth upon the earth) and Khnemu ("The Moulder"; connection with the primeval water, inundation, and "Lord of the Cataract.") Thoth was self-produced, and was the great god of earth, air, sky, and sea; and he united in himself the attributes of many gods. He was the scribe of the gods, and regarded as the inventor of all the arts and sciences. Thoth was the god of right and truth. As the chronologer of heaven and earth, he became the god of the moon; as the reckoner of time, he obtained his name Tehuti, "the measurer"; he had the power to grant life for millions of years to the deceased.
The Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus "Thrice Great Hermes" (in Alexandria identified w/Thoth): The Primal Man sinking into nature is the dramatic climax of the revelation, matched by the ascent of soul.
The scientific traditions of Geometry, Astronomy, Medicine, Chemistry, and Architecture in the temple schools.
3. Ancient Greek Gnosis
The Hyperboreans, Ophion, the Titans, Apollo, and the Pantheon of Zeus.
The Keraomos & Creation (Greek: the chaotic commixture of Light and matter.)
Eurynome - In the Pelasgian Cosmology of Hellas:
The Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial to support her feet. Eurynome therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves towards the south, and set the wind in motion behind her. She turned about and caught the North Wind, Boreas, between her two hands and rubbed them together until a great coiling serpent appeared, Ophion. She danced about wilder and wilder to warm herself, until Ophion, grown lustful coiled about her divine limbs and was moved to couple with her. Eurynome then assumed the form of a dove, brooding upon the waves, and in due process of time, laid the Universal Egg of the Cosmos. At her bidding, Ophion coiled seven times around the egg until it hatched and split in two. Out tumbled all things that exist, her children: sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with its mountains, rivers, trees, herbs, and living creatures.
Eurynome and Ophion made their home upon Mount Olympus, where her vexed her by claiming to be the author of the Universe. She thus bruised his head, kicked out his teeth, and banished Ophion to the dark caves below the earth.
The Greek sciences and technology:
Geometry, Harmony, ship building, engineering, medicine, and atomic theory.
The Theory of Harmony & Harmonics in Pythagoras.
The heliocentric and geocentric systems of Greek astronomy.
4. GNOSIS in the HOLY LAND
Torah, Midrash, Mitzvot, Pseudigraphia, and the roots of Kabbalah in the Book of Enoch.
Testimony of Truth - Midrash
A commentary on "Creator's" deficiency in the matter of the forbidden fruit: "Adam, where are you?" indicated he didn't know where he was despite His omniscience. This passage is also interpreted by other sources as being actually a reproach or lament.
Halakhah - The laws of ritual handed down into the great tomes studied for the literal observance of the 613 Laws of Hebrew ritual, of calendar, and the dietary kashrut, and of virtue and mitzvoh (good deeds).
Haggadah - The non-legal miscellany of ancient tales and knowledge handed down from oral tradition into literature. The symbolic/ poetic interpolation and of Halakhah.
Kabbalah - the "Hidden Wisdom" underlying Mosaic Law.
The Tetragrammaton is the secret Name of Power, composed of the four characters in the Hebrew alphabet (translated in Roman script as YHVH. The true pronunciation is reserved unto the highest priest of the ark, due to its tremendous awesome power.
As with the label "Gnosticism", the name "Kabbalah" was also a later appellation given to the Judaic texts which were concerned with mystical experience and its relation to the observance of the covenants with Hashem (Yaweh) : circumcision, kashrut, meditation on the Torah, and Shabbes (the Sabbath).
Sefira - a divine emanation through which God manifested His existence in the creation of the universe. In the Kabbalah, there are 10 holy ones issuing from His right side:
1. Kether (Crown)
2. Hokmah (wisdom)
3. Binah (understanding)
4. Chesed (mercy)
5. Geburah (strength)
6. Tiphereth (beauty)
7. Netzach (victory)
8. Hod (splendor)
9. Jesod (foundation)
10. Malkruth (kingdom)
Also, 10 unholy ones issue from His left side:
1. Thaumiel- The two contending Forces [Ashmedai]
2. Ghogiel -- The Hinders [Kafkefoni]
3. Satariel -- The Concealers [Tanniver (the blind dragon)]
4. Agshekeloh -- The Breakers in Pieces
5. Golohab -- The Burners
6. Tagiriron -- The Disputers
7. Gharab Tzerek -- The Ravens of Death
8. Samael -- The Liar or Poison of God
9. Gamaliel -- The Obscene Ones
10. Lilith (Sammael's mate) -- Queen of the Night and of Demons
Gemmatria - numerology system of the Hebrew alphabet, (from the vision of the tablets at Mount Sinai - based on the value in repeating series of 1 through 9 of the
characters of the Hebrew alphabet, black fire painted on white fire.)
The Bahir Illumination (12th Century)
First published around 1176 by the Providence School of Kabbalists, circulated to a limited readership in manuscript form. The first printing at Amsterdam, 1651. The text can be roughly divided into five parts:
1. The first verses of creation.
2. The Alphabet.
3. The Seven Voices and Sefirot.
4. The Ten Sefirot.
5. Mysteries of the Soul.
Jewish and Zoroastrian messianism, and the prestage of Christianity.
A Chronology of the Israelites --
c. 2000 BCE. - Abraham arrives into Palestine from Mesopotamia.
He is said to have lived to the age of 175 years. His grandson Israel (Jacob) with his numerous progeny subsequently took up residence in Egypt at the approximately the time of the usurpation there by the Hyksos, who were also a Semitic people.
c. 1425 - The events of the rebellion of the Israelites enslaved to the building of the pyramids, the Pasover, and the flight out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
Pentateuch written by Moses:
Genesis I; II
Fifteenth to Eleventh Centuries B.C.E. - Conquest and settlement of Palestine, including the defeat of the Phillestine invaders in control of the coastal plain until the 11th century.
Kings I - IV
1013 - 973 - Reign of David, following death in battle of Saul military leader of the tribe of Benjamin. David eventually captured Jerusalem and extended rule over whole all of the Hebrew tribes of Palestine.
973 - 933 - Reign of Solomon, son of David, developed Jerusalem as the capital, and built the grandiose First Temple, where sacrificial worship was to be concentrated.
933 - Ten northern tribes broken away and formed by Jeroboam into the Kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria. Conquered by Assyria in 721 B.C.E. and most of its
933 - 597 BCE. - Kingdom of Judah, capital at Jerusalem.
579 - Assyria, still a menace, and Judah both overwhelmed by the armies of the new
Babylonian Empire. In 586, all inhabitants but the lowest classes removed into servitude into the central Babylonian provinces, the "Babylonian Captivity."
539 - Babylonian Empire overthrown by the Persian, Cyrus the Great, who encouraged their return into Palestine. Second Temple built over previous site on reduced scale.
481 - Xerxes (c.519-465) King of Persia, son of Darius I, who rules Judah as an autonomous province, attempts to impose control over Greece after Darius' defeat at Marathon, 492, but is defeated at Salamis, 480. Xerxes is historically identified as King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, his queen, whose Judeism is unknown until Xerxes prime minister Haman plots to kill all the remaining Jews in Persia. His plan is frustrated by Esther and her cousin Mordecai.
454 - The building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
331 BCE -- Alexander the Great conquers Anatolia (Turkey), Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and moves his armies towards the Empire of Persia. With subsequent colonization, Hellenic systems of mathematics, science, and philosophy are introduced into Eastern thinking and social organization. Greek democratic political ideology is greeted with social popularity, and so-called "Hellenized Judaism" develops.
63 BCE - Roman Pompey's Syrian Campaign, conquest, and colonization. Sadducees, keepers of the Temple sacrificial activities rose to prominence following Roman colonization.
70 CE (Common Era) - destruction of Second Temple by Romans --> rise to prominence of more liberal Pharisees, advocates of household ritual, kashrut, leading to decentralized and scholarly rabbinic Judaism.
College of the Essenes - dedicated to Diana (Greek) & Megabyzae (magian) "curious arts". Following the final prohibition of Jews from Palestine (CE 132), a collection of texts in scrolls of the Essene group was hidden in a cave overlooking the shores of the Dead Sea in Galilee.
Mani (Persia, C.E. 216-275) Mandeanism -- a belief in the parity of Darkness and Light in the Universe, practiced throughout medieval Europe until banned and persecuted as heresy, also practiced in present day Iraq & southwest Iran.
The Book of Zohar - "the Splendid Lights" (13th Century)
The messianic testament of Jesus Christ and the 13 Apostles.
The Theurgy of Jesus, and his encounter with Simon Magus.
The Secret Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Thomas - collection of 114 sayings of Jesus
The Gospel of James (brother of Jesus)
Simon Magus - a later contemporary of Jesus. (described in Acts of the Apostles 8:9-11)
The Light Imprisoned in the Body of the Whore
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene.
Concerning the spiritual knowledge and theurgic powers of Jesus of Nazareth: The extant text can be easily divided into two parts. The first section describes the dialog between the risen Savior and his disciples, where he answers their questions concerning matter and sin. The Savior argues that sin is not a moral category but a cosmological one, due to the improper mixing of the material and the spiritual.
The second section begins with a description by Mary of a revelation given to her by the Savior not before disclosed to them: the answer to her question of how one sees a vision. The Savior explains that the soul sees through the mind which is between the soul and the spirit.
The Great Questions of Mary (never found)
Epiphanius (4th Century) - recounted story contained of Jesus taking Mary onto a mountain where she witnesses Him produce a woman from his side and begin to have intercourse with her. cf.: Jesus (in Gospel of John [Synoptic]): "I have told you of earthly things and you do not believe; how can I tell you of heavenly things?" (3:12) and "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (6:53).
The dualism of Mary the Virgin and Mary Magdalene.
The Gospel of Marcion:
The angels that made the world.
Faith (as opposed to Knowledge) & the Ascetic morality.
5. The Roman "Pneumatics"
The "Pleroma," or "fullness in the world of the Aeons," in the profound cosmology of Valentinius, 2nd century Roman bishop from Alexandria, then taught in Rome, CE 135-160, possibly also the author of the "Pistis Sophia."
The Gospel of Truth
Crisis in the Pleroma
Restoration of the Pleroma
The Sufferings of the Lower Sophia
The Origination of Matter
Derivation of the Single Elements
The anti-heretical bishops:
The existence of the Pneumatic Gnosis was preserved in the repressive attacks in the writings of Iranaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Augustine, while the texts
in question eventually disappeared following their being banned by the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, when orthodox Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire during the rule of Constantine.
Iranaeus - Five Books Against the Heresies, (born in Gaul) - disciple of Polycarp (disciple of St. John), elected Bishop of Lyon AD 174.
Hippolytus - Refutation of all Heresies
Bishop of Ostia [Portus], not invective, put to death AD 222.
Tertullian - (AD 160 - c. 225) Wrote vigorous defences of orthodox Christianity against
Gnosticism, Marcionism and Sebellianism. Later came into sympathy of Montanist sect and abrogated the Catholic Church in its favor.
St. Augustine - Confessions describes the autobiography of temptations of a young man coming of age in the late 4th century. Civita Dei (City of God).
The Council of Nicea, reduced the formation of the "New Testament" to the "synoptic gospels" of Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul.
6. GNOSIS in the RENAISSANCE.
Dante and Giotto : the preservation of Classical philosophy, and the Christian geo/cthono-centric visual cosmology.
The Gnostic Prayer
Our Father and Mother God,
you are within us all,
and you make all things holy and united,
as you are holy and united, one God living and true.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
which is love to all that lives in the heavens and on the earth.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and let us give our daily bread to those who have none;
and heal our broken spirits,
as we heal and forgive others.
And lead us, through the darkness of your mystical love,
to the light of the pleroma,
The Hail Sophia
Hail Sophia, Lady of Light,
Mystical Lover of my spirit.
Blessed are you, Woman of Wisdom,
and blessed are the gifts you bestow on us your children.
Holy Sophia, goddess who leads to the One God,
fill me with your emptiness,
and darken my spirit with your light,
Sophia's Light (A nighttime prayer)
In darkest night, when lights are dim,
and all in sight seems sad and grim,
I find you there, your arms surround me,
your spirit fills me and it grounds me.
I look to you, Lady of Truth,
most ancient One, yet eternal youth,
to keep me safe, protect my heart,
and with the wisdom you impart
fill up my empty mind and soul
so that, my Lover, you can make whole,
all that was broken in this day –
and that is what I ask and pray.
Salve Regina (Sophia)
Hail, Queen of Heaven,
Mother most merciful,
our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
You lead us on this pilgrim journey,
and to you we cry when we seem mired,
in the pain of exile from our true home.
And, gentle Mother Sophia, you soothe our tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us,
and bring us into the unity of the Pleroma,
with your heavenly consort, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer Before an Old Oak Tree (by Brother Matthew)
Great Sister Ancient Oak Tree, I stand here in your presence,
and bow humbly to the mighty spirit,
that dwells deep within you.
How, long have you stood here, Great Sister Tree,
and what has this place seen?
Were you standing here, Great Sister Tree,
when the Nag Hammadi texts rose from the Egyptian sands?
Did your spirit rejoice to magnify the work of God here on Earth?
What was standing here, Great Sister Tree,
when people first looked up at the sky,
and dreamed of things beyond the stars?
What prayers did men and women say, Great Sister Tree,
the first time they prayed in this great forest?
Did they pray before you, as I am now?
Great Sister Tree, have you felt sorrow, as I have?
Did you weep to see your brother and sister trees
ripped from the earth to make way for highways of vanity?
Did your ancestors, great Sister Tree,
feel the earth shudder beneath them,
as the wood of the earth was forced to form a bonfire,
to burn the holy men and women of the Cathari,
sacrificial victims for hatred?
Did your ancestors, Great Sister Tree,
cry out from the weight as the wood of the earth,
was shaped into gallows
to destroy those who would not accept or conform?
Did they feel the singe of heat, Great Sister Tree,
when our Gnostic saint Priscillian was burned for his "heresies"?
Great Sister Tree,
have you communed with that tree-spirit
on whose branches hung the very savior of this world?
Did her branches scream in pain as she was sawed
and shaped into an instrument of torture
by the men of hatred, the religious leaders?
How did she feel?
Did she die inside as well?
Or, great Sister Tree,
did she soften her branches,
and suspend the ancient rigor of her form,
and transform herself into a gentle burial shroud
for the One who loved, like no one else had ever loved?
Give her my regards, Great Sister Tree,
and my homage that I pay to her and you,
head bowed in honor of an Older Sister,
a partner with me in the work of salvation here on the Earth.
Stand tall, Great Sister Tree, until that time,
when the spirit inside you and the spirit inside me
shall rise from material form to be reunited
with those who burned and those who were forced to kindle,
with those who hanged and those upon which they hung,
united, forever, in the oneness of God, who made us,
who shaped our spirit from the fire of love.
Great Sister Tree, pray for me...
OSTIC PRAYERS -
Yeshua said, "If your leaders tell you, "Look, the kingdom is in heaven," then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, "It's in the sea," then the fish will precede you. But the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are sons and daughters of the living father.
Gospel of Thomas, 3
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We believe in the existence of One True God, without form, shape, gender, or limitation, ineffable and unutterable. In the words of the Apocryphon of John, "The One is a realm that gives a realm, life that gives life, a blessed one that gives blessedness, knowledge that gives knowledge, a good one that gives goodness, mercy that gives mercy and reconciliation, grace that gives grace." The One True God is both utterly immanent and utterly transcendent, and the broadest purpose of Gnosticism is to come to an experience of the "divine profundity," "divine depth," or from the Greek, God's "bathos." (Canon 1, "On God")
We believe that all human beings experience in their lives and in the world around them contradictory realities. On the one hand, we look out on a world filled with suffering – not just suffering caused by human cruelty, but in the very systemic reality of nature itself, which manifests in the suffering of completely innocent individuals. We see suffering not only in human lives but in the totality of the physical world – the suffering of innocent animals, the inescapability of death for all forms of life, and indeed for the Earth and the stars themselves. We acknowledge the same "first noble truth" discovered by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. At the same time, however, we experience profound beauty in the world – in the love of another human being, in learning, in the natural world. We believe these contradictions are rooted in the existence of two separate principles, one of physicality, consisting of limitation, isolation, alienation, mutability, suffering, and death, and one of the spirit, consisting of infinite beauty, connectedness, communion with other individuals and the world around us. We believe that a spiritual level essentially underlies the physical level, and some of the most basic human emotions – feelings such as awe, wonder, and astonishment – testify to the fact that the spirit within us is constantly reaching out to the spirit within other human beings, within the natural world, and ultimately in God. (Canon 2, "On Human Experience")
Because of this, we speak of two worlds, the "cosmos" or physical-material realm, and the "pleroma" or spiritual realm wherein lies our true destiny as spiritual beings. We believe that both nature and human nature are beautiful because they reflect their inner spiritual (or "pleromic") identity, but they suffer because they are overlaid by the material formalisms of the cosmos. Our goal, in all that we do, is to pursue liberation from suffering by attaining knowledge ("gnosis") of our spiritual identity, and by approaching the world around us with a compassion that reaches out to the spiritual identities of other human beings, of the animal and plant worlds, and of nature itself -- a life based on the notion of spirit reaching out to spirit in love and hope. In this sense we are simultaneously anticosmic and pantheistic in a way that challenges the traditional definitions of the terms. (Canon 3, "On Spiritual Reality")
We pursue spiritual liberation through gnosis not merely for ourselves, but for all other living beings through the practice of compassion. The Gnostic journey is ultimately about seeking "to liberate all those not yet liberated, to seek rest for all those not at rest." (Canon 4, "On Spiritual Liberation")
We believe that the perfections of the spirit (pleroma) are rooted in the One True God, who is distinct from the Creator of physicality (cosmos). The creator-being of Genesis is not the same as the True God, who is the “Father in heaven” spoken of by Jesus and the Loving Mother who sends Sophia to comfort and guide us. We refer to the Creator-being as the “demiurge,” derived from the Greek term demiurgos for “one who shapes” or “one who forms.” The demiurge is in some sense the inverse of God; he is the ultimate realization of limitation, form, shape, and physicality. We understand that in talking about the demiurge, we are speaking less of an individual entity than of broad creative forces at work in the universe, so it is equally valid to think of the demiurge as the collection of forces such as the big bang, evolution, the decay of nature into chaos, and so forth, that constitute the very systemic nature of the physical-material cosmos. Whether we speak of him mythologically or metaphorically, we do not believe the demiurge is “evil” in the sense of the Christian devil, but simply imperfect; eventually, his imperfections will dissolve again into the perfections of the One True God at the end of time. We do, however, believe that the demiurge is a powerful adversary (the literal meaning of the word “Satan”) to human enlightenment, as shown in the unwillingness of the Creator-being in Genesis to allow human beings to become aware of the realities of the universe around them. On the other hand, we consider the serpent in the Genesis creation-myth, and "Lucifer" in the Christian mythical system, to be symbols or types of Christ, in that they help human beings break free of the arbitrary and unjust commands of the creator-being/demiurge. (Canon 5, "On Cosmology and the Demiurge")
We reiterate our belief in one God. The demiurge is not a "second god" or an "evil god." In other words, we are not "cosmic dualists." We are monistic -- we hold that there is only one true God, both by conceptual definition and by fundamental reality. The demiurge is neither co-equal with God, nor is he the opposite of God, but simply a powerful but imperfect force in the universe -- the force at the heart of what separates cosmos from pleroma. Although mainstream Christians often accuse us of cosmic dualism, we reply with due respect to our Christian brothers and sisters that Christianity is really the dualist faith, positing as it does a good God and an evil God (the devil). We, in contrast, propound an undiluted monism with regard to the unicity of God. (Canon 6, "On Monism and the Absolute Oneness of God")
We believe that the dualities that usually rule the way we see the universe around us, dualities such as that between “good” and “evil,” “light” and “darkness,” “life” and “death,” and especially “male” and “female,” are part of the process by which limitation and division were superimposed onto the unlimited and undivided life of the spirit. We do not accept the notion that they are fundamental metaphysical qualities. This also means that the "creation" of the physical universe by the demiurge is not really a creation at all, but rather a parody or inversion of creation -- the institution of material formalisms are always about dividing, separating, limiting, breaking into categories. This is true not only on the conceptual level, but on the constitutive physical level: spatially it is grounded in the separation of one "body" from another, of "inside" from "outside," of classes of beings such as "animals, "plants," and humans," and of internal differentiations such as gender. Temporally it is rooted in the separation of "present" from "past," and "past" from "future," of "being" from "nonbeing," of "potentiality" from "actuality," and so forth. In the spatial-temporal interface, the dichtomous separations involve such axes as "motion" and "rest," "life" and death," "reproduction" and "extinction," and related dualities. At the end of time, these dichotomies will disintegrate into the unification of the spirit, in a process we speak of as the Dissolution or the Great or Supreme Rectification. This is our great eschatological hope and faith. In the meantime, we must seek God’s truth in both sides of these dichotomies, particularly that between male and female, especially by rejecting the traditional insistence on recognizing God as a male figure. While we believe that God is ultimately beyond all categories of gender, we understand that we must worship God in relation to us both as male and female because gender is fundamentally tied up with the way we see the universe. God is both our Father and our Mother, both Brother and Sister, both Lover and Beloved of our spirits -- not metaphysically, but relationally in terms of our Gnostic journey. (Canon 7, "On Dualities and Their Transcendence")
As this suggests, we do not believe that "good" and "evil" are fundamental metaphysical categories. However, this does not mean that we do not see "right" from "wrong." We have a strong moral sensibility based on a supreme and absolute mandate -- the need to pursue our own spiritual liberation and the spiritual liberation of other living beings through three great moral principles: Moderation, Right Intention, and Compassion.(Canon 8, "On Morality")
We believe there are two great bridges from the human being to God, which help us to realize our own spiritual potential and achieve gnosis in full knowledge of God and the spirit: Christ and Sophia. (Canon 9, "Introducing Christ and Sophia")
Jesus Christ, or Yeshua the Nazarene, a fully human man fully infused with the spirit of the living God, came into the world as a free gift of God’s love to bring us to an understanding of our spiritual lives. Born just as any of us are, he was simultaneously the full incarnation of divine spirit into the world, the self-emptying of God’s eternal love into the life of humanity. He lived a real human life, filled with all the joy, pain, emotions, suffering, and desires that all men and women experience. He carried this human life through to its ultimate conclusion, suffering real human death as a political dissident at the hands of the Roman empire in Judea . After dying, however, he was brought forward to a new life in the spirit, and the resurrected Christ lives on in our hearts and spirits, forever offering his love as a bridge between ourselves and God. (Canon 10, "On Christ")
For Gnostics, Christ was not a bloody "sacrifice" offered for human sin, since "sin," like "good" and "evil," is a product of cosmic dualities rather than a genuine metaphysical reality. Rather, Christ's life and resurrection bridge the chasm between our lives as conglomerate pleromic-cosmic beings and the divine "bathos" of God in the unadulterated light of the pleroma. We encounter Christ thus as both a teacher and as a gateway to our own human liberation, rather than as some sort of bizarre human sacrifice offered to appease an angry "god." Where Christ walked, we walk. As Christ lived, we live. As Christ was raised forward to a new life in the spirit, we will be raised forward to a new life in the spirit, if we seek to understand the same divine nature that we share with him. He has laid forth the path that we are to follow in our lives. (Canon 11, "On the Gnostic Christ")
Sophia, or Wisdom, known as the “Great Consort” of the Christ, is the personification of divine wisdom. She has been worshipped throughout much of human history; Mesopotamians knew her as Astarte, Queen of Heaven; Jewish mystics penned tributes to her as the manifestation of Wisdom; Greek mythology personified her in the characters of Athene, Aphrodite, and Artemis; Jesus described her as both a Holy Spirit and the Advocate of human beings in their quest for enlightenment; modern pagans recognize her as the Great Goddess, Mother of the universe. We embrace all these different aspects of her reality. She is the supreme manifestation of the divine bathos and thus the depth of her love, her beauty, her supreme gift of spiritual understanding can never be fully uttered or comprehended. She is the source of all true gnosis and human knowledge. (Canon 12, "On Sophia")
Sophia is Christ’s Great Consort in that she forms a perfect complement to him in the work of salvation. Where Christ became incarnate, Sophia is unincarnate, pure spirit. Where Christ represents the male principle in the spirit, Sophia represents the female principle in the spirit. Where Christ is an active teacher, Sophia is a passive font of wisdom into whose depths we enter in a baptism of love as we move along the path toward gnosis. Where Christ is the new Adam, broken free of slavery to physicality, Sophia is the new Eve. Where Christ is the bringer of light that reveals God's love, Sophia is the dark night of mystical union with that same divine love. Where Christ is a mountain upon which we ascend to touch the face of God, Sophia is a darkened valley that reaches down into the deepest depths of divine bathos. (Canon 13, "On the Complementary Nature of Christ and Sophia")
Some of the titles we use for Sophia in our devotions to her are Queen of Heaven, Gateway of the Pleroma, Spiritual Eve, Mother of All Life, Princess of Light and Darkness, Divine Lady, First Thought, Last Thought, Mistress of the Holy Night, Sovereign Mistress, Great Goddess, Lover of the Spirit, Mother of the Church, Holy Spirit, and Advocate of the People of God. No single title or phrase can sum up the reality of Sophia's great beauty as the source of all human wisdom and understanding through God's love, so we must often speak of her in paradoxes. The mysteries of Sophia’s existence are extolled in the ancient Gnostic poem, “Thunder, Perfect Mind,” where we hear her speak to us, saying, "I am the first and the last. I am the honored and scorned. I am the whore and holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the mother and the daughter. I am the members of my mother. I am the barren one, and the one with many sons. I have had a grand wedding and I have found no husband. I am a midwife and I do not give birth. I am the solace of my own labor pains. I am bride and groom, and my husband produced me." We see Sophia as being represented in some way not only by the feminine Wisdom of the Jewish bible and the "Holy Spirit" of Christianity, but also in the Goddesses of many other religions -- from Hinduism to classical paganism to modern paganism to Native American religion to traditional African religions -- that we view with great humility and joy as representations of the Beautiful One we call Sophia.
We believe it is appropriate to venerate Sophia as a Goddess, but we use this term only insofar as we mean to indicate and honor her role as the supreme carrier of divine wisdom and spiritual liberation. This term is not used to suggest a multiplicity of absolute divinity, since we believe in the absolute existence of only One True God, as (Canon 14, "On the Multiplicity of Sophia and the Appropriateness and Meaning of Venerating Lady Sophia as a Goddess")
We believe that while the essence of God is unutterable and can never be contained in any human words or thoughts, we encounter God in a multitude of ways in the world around us, guided by Christ and Sophia. Moreover, God, while absolute transcendent, is at the same moment absolute immanent, insofar as God is immediately present within each individual as a spiritual being. We discover God and spiritual reality, as the Gospel of Thomas reminds us, inside of ourselves and all around us. (Canon 15, "On the Absolute Immanence of God")
We encounter God in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Eucharist or Holy Communion, where the sacred mysteries of our life in the spirit are portrayed in verbal and visual signs. While these signs do not constitute the reality they signify, they help us shape our bodies and minds to aid in our spiritual awareness.
We encounter God in various forms of meditation, because meditation allows us to commune with the spiritual principle that dwells within us. We also encounter God in prayers of thanksgiving, petition, and worship.
We encounter God when we doubt, and indeed when we are angry with God, when we demand answers to the deepest mysteries of our lives as human beings, for where there are doubts, there we encounter the mysterious gates of knowledge, Christ and Sophia. Without doubting and questioning, we cannot find gnosis.
We encounter God in service to others, as Christ promised we would. (Canon 16, "On Encountering God")
We are called to help those in need, not only through acts of charity and love but also by fighting for justice on the face of the Earth. We are called especially to take up the fight of spiritual and material liberation for those who are most rejected by mainstream society. Important Gnostic social causes are:
the fight for equality for racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities such as gays, lesbians, and bisexual people
the fight for peace and an end to the practice of all forms of colonialism and imperialism, especially by the nations of "the West"
the fight for economic justice and an end to the structural inequalities that are used by capitalism to shore up the vicious circles of poverty and drug abuse
and the struggle to build a culture that respects human life, particularly by fighting against that most heinous and vicious of practices, the disgusting pursuit of capital punishment, in which the state, which is mandated to protect its own citizens, instead consumes them bodily like some kind of horrific and perverted postmodern Kronos, eating its children after it has forced them to go astray by its own patterns of socio-economic inequality. (Canon 17, "On the Fight for Social Justice")
Finally, we encounter God in the community of the Church, because it allows us to reach out with our spirits to the spirits of others who are on the long pilgrimage to gnosis under the loving embrace of Christ and Sophia. (Canon 18, "On God's Presence in the Church")
We believe that all men and women are called to exercise the priestly function by Christ and Sophia, and that all are equally capable and worthy of presiding over the liturgies of the Church, including the celebration of the Eucharist. In other words, we believe in the "priesthood of all believers." We take this concept much further than do any Christian groups, since we practice what we call radical open communion. (Canon 19, "On the Universal Priesthood and Radical Open Communion")
Some of us believe in metempsychosis, or reincarnation of those who are not able to achieve gnosis within a single lifetime. This is an unresolved issue within the Gnostic tradition, but we are all able to share the belief that, whether reincarnation takes place or not, we are able to achieve gnosis within a single lifetime, for the kingdom, as Christ taught, is both inside us and all around us. (Canon 20, "On Metempsychosis or Reincarnation")
Finally, we believe that Gnosticism has always been a religion of tremendous internal diversity and this is in fact one of its strengths. We are not a dogmatic faith, but a faith geared towards experiencing the love of God, seeking spiritual knowledge (gnosis), and making this love and this knowledge manifest in our world. We have room to disagree on many specific doctrinal issues within the broad framework that unites us as Gnostics. Because of this, we follow the guiding principle, "In essential things unity, in non-essential things liberty, in all things charity." Gnosticism is not about forcing people to believe certain "doctrines" or "truths," but rather about seeking that great source of Truth, the pleroma, through the grace of our great guides Christ and Sophia. We are absolutely dedicated to intellectual and spiritual freedom -- and open debate -- within the context of our faith. (Canon 21, "On Diversity and Spiritual Liberty")
The preceding paragraphs (or "canons") present some of the key points involved in classical Gnostic beliefs. They were officially approved and promulgated by the AGCA in 2004. None of these, however, are to be considered in any way doctrinally binding on individuals in their own journey toward the fulfillment of gnosis in Christ and Sophia; rather, they represent an attempt to make a common statement of our shared faith, retaining always the guiding principle "in essential things unity, in nonessential things diversity, and in all things love.". The material written in parantheses lists the canon number for easy reference and the brief title of the canon. We are in the process of posting extended explanations about many of the canons, which you will be able to read by clicking on the relevant links. After you read this document, you may also want to view our responses to common misperceptions about Gnosticism, and we particularly invite you to read more about our theory of liturgy and worship.
You can read more about our Church on our website listed above.
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The Ouroboros: A Gnostic Sacred Symbol
The image of a snake or serpent (sometimes winged) that forms an eternal circle by consuming its own tail was adopted by many Gnostics in the early Christian era and remains our most important sacred symbol. It is theOuroboros rather than the cross that defines our visual iconography as Gnostics. As mentioned in many of our prayers and liturgical expressions, we believe that we are called to be a truly "Ouroboric people," both individually and collectively as a Church. What does this mean? This page will help you learn a bit about the history and meaning of the symbol, and suggest an iconographic interpretation to explain its centrality to the Gnostic faith.
The image of the Ouroboros itself has roots in ancient Egyptian religion, and may have been a sacred symbol in Egypt several hundred or even a thousand years before the birth of Christ. However, it is an interesting and in some ways perplexing fact that the Ouroboros and other serpentine symbols found their way into the art and religious imagery of many pre-modern around the world, apparently independently of each other.
We are all aware of the image of the serpent in the creation story of the Book of Genesis, and a subversive Gnostic reading of the myth suggests that the serpent is the bringer of wisdom to men and women ("the Instructor"), thus challenging the autocratic and arbitrarily tyrannical refusal of the "god" in the story to allow human beings to even be aware of the nature of the world around them ("the knowledge of good and evil"). That serpents may have sometimes been considered sources of life and knowledge is suggested by other references such as the recurrent relationship between Moses and serpents (Moses, as a deliverer of those in the darkness of slavery, demonstrates his power and role by transforming his staff into a serpent, for example). In this vein, the serpent also plays a role as the guardian of wisdom and eternal life in Mesopotamian myths such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Thousands of miles away, serpents played a central role in the religious imagery of Native American and Meso-American cultures, as in the Mayan city of Chichen Itza, the Aztec myth of Queztlcoatl (the "feathered serpent" god) and the well-known "serpent mounds" of North American indigenous peoples
Thus it is no surprise that in classical Greek culture, the Ouroboros was considered a guardian of the temples of Athena, the
goddess of wisdom. The term "Ouroboros" itself is derived from Greek, and the word just describes the image and the
mythological creature as "one that consumes its own tail" or more simply "tail-devourer." It seems most likely that early Gnostic
inherited the symbol through Greek art from the earlier representations of Egyptian iconography.
What is the visual or symbolic imagery of the Ouroboros beyond its basic associations with the serpent of wisdom? The eternal life that the Ouroboros ("tail-devourer") gains by constantly consuming its own tail is a kind of bittersweet meditation on human
life, reflecting hope in the immortal existence of the spirit while simultaneously referring to the cycles of birth, death, pain, and
loss that form the crux of the physical life in which the spirit finds itself.
The Ouroboros is a challenging, paradoxical symbol, like the cross, in which an instrument of death becomes a sign of life. In the case of the Ouroboros, the eternal life of the serpent as a cosmic entity comes only with repeated consummations of the snake as a physical entity, as it constantly consumes itself. To us Gnostics, this speaks about what Jesus taught us, that to gain eternal life we must in some fundamental way experience a "death to the world" and to physicality – not, of course, the bodily death that we all eventually will experience, but more fundamentally a spiritual death in which, as Lao-Tzu might say, we "make small our desires" and direct both our bodies and our minds to the work of the spirit, through the fundamental Gnostic moral principles of moderation, right intention, and non-harm.
There is even more at stake in how the image is constructed, however. We are immediately drawn to the two contrasting circles
formed by the Ouroboros – the inner circle bounded by the snake's body, and the outer circle extending from the serpent out
into the infinity beyond. In this, the serpent's body itself becomes a representation of gnosis, the process by which we come to
experience knowledge of the spirit in ourselves, in others, and ultimately in the totality of God. Only by braving the mystery of
the serpent and opening ourselves up to the exposure of spiritual knowledge can we make the passage from the limitations of physical existence to the limitless existence of the Aeon. For Gnostics such as myself who believe in metempsychosis or reincarnation (not all do), there is an added poignancy to this image, since the constant revolution and rebirth of the serpent shows us the ever-revolving wheel of rebirth and reincarnation, until the freedom of the Aeon is attained, and we move beyond the strictures of space, time, and form as we know them.
From another direction, the inner circle can represent the community of other Gnostics. In the "circle" or family of our brothers
and sisters in Christ and Sophia, we find the support and the love that can help us bridge the great divide, cross the great chasm, and ascend the great peak of gnosis. Nietzsche once told us to remember, "When you stare down into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you," and when we face the mysteries of the cosmos, it helps us to have the community of fellow seekers around us. So the inner circle represents to us in the AGCA our brothers and sisters in the Church first of all, then all our Gnostic brethren and sistren, and then all who are called to the life of gnosis, whether they call themselves Gnostic or not, since "God shows no partiality."
Finally, for those of you who may be familiar with a symbol I personally admire, the Byzantine Ouroboros associated with Greek alchemical traditions (if you are not familiar, it is the image placed at the top of this page), you will note that the serpent is half black and half white, half feathered and half smooth. I think this was a very clever way for early Gnostics to represent their concern with the dualities we experience in life. As the Gospel of Philip tells us, dualities such as "light" and "dark," "male" and "female," "good" and "evil," are not metaphysical qualities, but unstable dichotomies that will eventually dissolve in the wholeness of the pleroma -- the level of spiritual awareness and unity that we reach through the gnosis that the Ouroboros promises us and calls us to through the ages of human time.
Apostolic Gnostic Church in America