Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Day

The Renewal of Life

Behold, I make all things new.

The liturgical year begins on the first Sunday in Advent, beginning the sacred year anew. However, in our culture this is the day of the New Year. A somewhat arbitrary point, originally associated with the Winter solstice, on which we start the calendar year over—the wheel turns anew.

We normally live in a very linear view of time, ever focused on the future and tied to the past, rarely does the present get its due. Sacred time is seen as cyclical, the ever returning, and in a way essentially never changing. Of course, we live with both concepts, and it is on this day that the two mesh. The turning of the year to go through the cycle of months again, and the newness of a new cycle.

If we live within the bounds of linear time, the weight of it can grow very heavy indeed. What a marathon life is! Hadn't we ought to have accomplished so much more by now? How much life is over, how much life is left? It is into this state that the eternal strikes. The transcendent cuts through time like Alexander's sword slicing through the Gordian knot we are hopelessly tied up in. And we know that we have always and will always extend beyond it's bounds. The touch of the Divine renews us, it frees us from the confining horizons we live within. It makes all things new.

The path of Gnosis is a long one, a linear path, and a cycle of cycles. It leads to and revolves around a mystery, a mystery beyond understanding, that transcends the cosmos, yet is found within you. It is the Gnosis of this that renews us, the little epiphanies that give us light and renewed strength for the journey.

Readings for the day.

Guides and Leaders

The only followers the Gnostic Church needs are the ones that go on the tops of the candles. Though a friend of mine found it extremely amusing that you could go to a church supply store and buy followers: those kind are handy, they save the candles and keep wax from getting everywhere. The human kind are more problematic, the best you can hope for is that it's a phase that ends relatively well—and soon.

People can benefit greatly from guides, organizations can benefit greatly from leaders. This distinction is of primary importance, though rarely noted. The Gnostic focus is upon the individual: Gnosis and the transformation it brings can only be found there. There is nothing more important, nothing more precious, and nothing more real. One cannot be given Gnosis by another, nor have another walk one step for you. But there are those who have been down the path a bit further than you have, and they may act as guides to some degree.

An organization, in addition to working towards its goals/purpose, must also remain an organization if it is to continue to do so. This adds another layer, an organizational layer, to everything any organization does. The very name says it, an organization is organized somehow: it is a micro-cosmos, an ordering on the small scale. It has its rules, its way of doing things, its past, and the stamp that previous leaders have left on it. It also has at least one serving leader, or it doesn't have any vitality, or anything to hold it together—it's just an idea, a habit, or something on paper.

Note that it must be a serving leader. “Minister” is Latin for servant. We must keep in mind Paul's warning that there are those that position “puffeth up,” that Ego Inflation is a constant danger. Many seek leadership as a means of mitigating an inferiority complex, and I'll let you in on a little secret—we all have one. Who doesn't want to feel good about themselves? And it's so much easier to let someone else do it for you, instead of having to actually accomplish something: such as becoming conscious of your inferiority complex.

Anyone who's ever held a job has probably seen this at work (literally). The boss's toady, who's only job is to make the boss feel good about him or herself: at company expense, of course. This has become the norm in our ever more inefficient corporate society. Think of how much corporations would save if they paid for, and encouraged/rewarded mental health? Not including the lawsuits avoided over the inappropriate use of power.

Another danger is power itself. In the workplace the power is over your livelihood. It may really be the power of life and death for yourself and any dependents, or it may just be the power to set you back. Regardless of how many of a certified panel would agree with your diagnosis of your previous boss, you will never be able to mention it when looking for work. Every boss has an inferiority complex and is afraid of anyone who mentions psychopathology, no matter how indirectly. In “one true” religions, the power is over your eternal disposition. In these cases, you may or may not have options in the human face through which you interact with the church, but they will still hold power as being part of the necessary church. The protestant reformation may have broken the monopoly of church, but it replaced it with a monopoly of the Bible which can easily be misused in the very same way.

In the Gnostic understanding of church, not only is no particular institution necessary, but none are—they can aid, and pass on aid. The same goes for scripture, and anything else of the world. Gnosis is the path, liberation is the goal—what helps, helps. No church or cleric can either deny you, or grant you, Gnosis. There is only aid offered, and so, no actual power over anyone. It is such a radical difference that it can take time to understand, and unfortunately, not everyone does.

Being a minister is a difficult position, if not an outright impossible one. To be a servant of the Divine, both transcendent and present within every single person, means that you will always fail to some extent. Ego Inflation is a constant danger, the temptation to identify with the role, to take credit for what happens both because of, and in spite of, yourself. Yes, you are a part of it—but there is so much more. The ego wants to believe that “there are no other powers beside me,” yet a servant knows that they serve a greater power. A life of service is not often rewarding in a self-gratifying sense. If it was, it wouldn't be service.

A true servant is certainly not someone who will “lord it over you,” treat you as a lesser being, hold you down to keep themselves up, bring you the rope to hang yourself with, or use your best impulses to your detriment and their benefit. Someone in minor orders (junior clergy who serve at the altar) has jealously ranted about someone who isn't in orders performing a valuable service—because, they weren't clergy. The opposite of the spirit of service that is the heart of a real ministry.

I have also seen others who are clergy-on-paper, that occasionally dress the part when there is occasion to be admired, and disappear when the potential admirers do. And there are those whose ministries are sincere, profound, and life-long, who will never take orders, or even think of what they do as ministry. Service is the point of being a servant/minister, if it is not merely being puffed up.

Problems with would-be-leaders, though worth covering, are nothing new. I started out by talking about followers, and they are an intrinsic part of the equation. The way in which most churches operate in the world provides unhealthy patterns and expectations for those who arrive on our doorstep. A certain persona is expected, and it is rare to meet someone who bothers to see past the title and the collar; or, if they do, who don't think so much less of you for being a real person. People usually see someone who can act as a guide entirely from outside, not taking into account their perspective, or wanting to. Often people seem to seek an idealized guide, as if unconsciously trying to replay a previous abusive relationship. The only ideal people are make-believe: either they know it, and are somewhat dangerous; or don't, and are very dangerous.

Leaders are also usually seen entirely from outside. They personify the organization to us, particularly any issues we have with it, and we tend not to empathize with them because of that. I remember the first time I truly realized what hard work and dedication is required to provide regularly occuring Gnostic church services. It wasn't when I was first attending them here, nor even after I had been helping with the physical setup and serving at the altar for years. It was when I moved, and was faced with the daunting task of trying to do so myself. Only then did it really sink in.

When the guide and the leader are the same person, as is often the case in the Gnostic Ecclesia, there can be twice the reluctance to empathize, to see beyond and accept the real person. Part of this is individual need. There is a process that Jung called the transference where a therapist carries a part of the client's soul as a projection as part of the transformational process. This is delicate work, and requires a very grounded and ethical person to perform this dangerous work without causing harm. The counterpoint of this Jung called counter-transference, where the therapist projects back onto the client. One can see this in one aspect of the role of the Bishop as Hierophant to clergy. One projects the completion of the journey onto the bishop, who then returns the projection, over time as you are ready, through the ordination process. That is not all that is going on, but it is an essential part. To a lesser extent the same dynamic occurs in the Eucharist. We project and receive back in communion; again not all that is occurring, but an essential aspect.

Yet, everyone who can really serve anyone on their path has been born and grown up in this world, and is therefore a flawed and wounded human being. You don't get through life without your tender and sore spots, without having over-reacting defenses, and without being vulnerable. We cannot become perfect in the sense of never having been wounded or flawed, but we can become conscious and use consciousness as a counter-force to the other forces within us. Hopefully, we can become conscious of unhealthy patterns before they play out in our lives, but at the least we can admit them and make amends afterwards. For in true ministry, service is the process through which we can become free of the false ideas of ourselves.

Whatever our role, or lack thereof, we are all in this together. Fellow seekers of the Light who can be of service to one another. You don't get exempted because you don't have an official role, or because you do. Everyone has their own burdens, some will weigh you down with theirs, others will help you pack yours and show you what they know of the way—and they don't want followers or servants, but to serve the Divine, and to have companions on the journey.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Gnostic Calendar

After months of research, graphic design, and hard work—it's here! The first Calendar specifically for Gnostics! The calendar features the Liturgical Calendar of the Ecclesia Gnostica: the Sundays and Holy days/holidays as observed by the EG and most Gnostic churches; with the liturgical color of the day in the upper right hand corner.

The wall calendar features many additional dates of interest. It is an introductory outline, in calendar form, to different threads in the Gnostic Tradition. Also included are many unofficial Gnostic holidays, historical days of note, secular holidays of the US & Canada, humorous/fun holidays, Tibetan Buddhist holidays, solar holidays, full and new moons, and yes, more. It includes quotes from many of those listed. Facing pages feature original art on Gnostic themes by a Gnostic Priest, and quotes from Gnostic Scriptures.

The pocket calendar comes in a high quality clear checkbook cover, features the Liturgical calendar, a few unofficial Gnostic holidays, secular holidays, solar holidays, and full/new moons. Additionally, there are aids to help Gnostic clergy keep their parish running smoothly, such as, lists of reminders for Holy Week services.

Wall Calendar price: $18 per wall calendar not including shipping. $20 with individual shipping in the US & $21.50 to Canada. $19 + actual shipping cost to anywhere else. About what you'd pay for any non-generic calendar at a retail outlet.

Pocket Calendar price: $8.00 per pocket calendar not including shipping. $9.00 with individual shipping in the US & $9.50 to Canada. $8.50 + actual shipping cost to anywhere else. The "Liturgical Pocket Secretary," which comes in Roman Catholic or Episcopalian editions costs $6.50, requires extensive editing, and has very small print. The Gnostic Pocket Calendar features a different layout, easy to read print, and blank space for additional notes or appointments.

Send orders to:
Rev. Troy Pierce
PO Box 25835
SLC, UT 84125-0835

Make check or money order payable to: "Rev. Troy Pierce"
(Online ordering is available at

Please note: prices are in US dollars. There will be no "mark down" prices on the Gnostic Calendar as there are with other calendars.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Gnosis and Delusions

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

Know what is in front of your face, and there is nothing that will not be revealed to you.

The path of Gnosis isn't only a straight and narrow one, it is a spiral one as well. The descriptions and insight given to us by the Gnostic Tradition are applicable not just once, there is no mere one-to-one correspondence, but again and again. When you find something that they apply to, don't think you've now 'got' it—that you 'know' exactly what it means.

Gnosis is akin to recognition, and the ideas and descriptions are truly helpful in that they aid us in recognizing, and making sense of, our experiences. But there will always be those who have had an experience, and have used it to propel themselves into a delusion that they think is liberation.

Jung termed it Ego Inflation, and it is akin to Paul's comments that there are those who grow into a position, and those that it just 'puffeth up.' An experience of something beyond the ego, is then hi-jacked by the ego. It is a spiritual short-circuit: instead of taking up the next task on the path to the divine, you plop down on a couch and say, “enough, I'm God already.” For example: you enter the Presence, God fills your heart with love, and 'you' take credit for it, “see how loving I am.” Or you have a flash of Gnosis, things 'click' they make sense in a new way, and immediately the thought comes, “see how clever I am.” Ego Inflation is inevitable, but hopefully short lived. It can even be used as a tool of transformation, helping you pass barriers that seemed insurmountable—as long as your feet land back on the ground afterwards.

The danger is that the feeling of Ego Inflation is pleasurable, and your ego wants to believe it is true—desperately. I have had the misfortune of watching many people that I have cared deeply about, walk down this path instead of the one that leads to liberation. They mistake the attempts of the ego to hi-jack the spiritual experience as being the point of the spiritual experience. If they had Gnostic ideas, they mistake the euphoria of Ego Inflation for the liberation of Gnosis. It can become an addiction of sorts.

One of the things that never fails to strike me is how often someone will come into our Ecclesiastical environment, check to make sure we don't have rigid dogmas—then set about trying to impose their own on everyone. The liberation Gnosis offers has nothing to do with the freedom to be an orthodoxy of one, or to impose one person's delusions on others.

If someone walks in and says that God has been talking to them, the only sane response is, “I'm glad you have noticed. It is probably a good indicator that you are at the beginning of a lot of personal work.”

We must always be mindful of the Lord's admonition to remove the beam from our own eye before we go around doing vision correction surgery—yet that doesn't mean we can't see for ourselves at all. Forcing your notions upon others is a different thing altogether from allowing their notions to be forced upon yourself and others.

By their fruits you shall know them: if their fruits are rotten apples and sour grapes—and especially, if their fruits are empty promises and self-importance—they weren't harvested from the tree of Gnosis.

What Gnosis Is: a Description

Your consciousness is in God; draw it into yourself, and it will appear; will, and it takes birth; suspend the senses of the body and the birth of the Godhead takes place. But first you must purify yourselves from the mindless torments of matter, one of which is ignorance, though there are many others, which force the man who is confined to the prison of the body to suffer by way of the passions. But these at once depart from him on whom God has had mercy, and so the body of Gnosis in man is built. This is the way of true rebirth.
-The Hermetica
(If you haven't already, you may want to read my earlier posts What Gnosis Isn't and What Gnosis Is: a Prelude before proceeding.)

Earlier, I tried to weed out some of the truly bad ideas about Gnosis that have been bandied about for the past couple of millennia, today I'll start to talk about what Gnosis is. Gnosis is the only point to Gnosticism, so it is important to try to describe what it is—even if that it cannot be done directly.

A simple description is fairly straight-forward, but remember, it is a description of something real, not a definition of something abstract. Try not to make the same mistake that Socrates was always grilling people over twenty-five centuries ago. Also remember, that there are preliminaries that seem necessary to follow the path of Gnosis that are reflected in what I've called a Gnostic attitude. (Summarized, unfortunately, in numbered points in 'What Do You Believe?')

The potential of Gnosis comes through individual experience, it is experience of what is real, but of, or echoed in, the internal real. Like the example from the Hymn of the Pearl in which the letter comes to aid, and is recognized because its contents are also written on the heart of the receiver. Gnosticism provides opportunities for Gnosis to be evoked in individuals, it leads them to both have and recognize those essential experiences.

The experience, and the recognition of it, are not enough, however. The experience, the opportunity for Gnosis, needs to become something deeper—for Gnosis is knowledge/experience both of something, and that leads to something. You must be able to keep the experience and its effects long enough for them to have an effect. It cannot occur without consciousness, and so many forces within ourselves, and within our world, would high-jack these profound experiences for their own ends. In this, Gnosticism acts as a container: a chalice, an alchemical retort, a cauldron—a context for such experiences that allows you to live with them until you “catch up” with them and become them.

Gnosis is, ultimately, a transformative knowing—a knowing that you become, because, in the deepest sense of the mystery of your being, it is your truest self. This is the point to it all. This is why Gnosis isn't this, or that; it is the very real process of truly knowing, becoming, who we truly are. That is why it cannot be transmitted directly, why you cannot have Gnosis of somebody else's Gnosis, why you must do it yourself. Let us be clear: this is a deep, long, and real process—one that leads to liberation, and beyond.

Accepting Gnostic descriptions as articles of faith, won't do a bit of good, nor will any false 'realization' of Gnosis, nor any other tricks of the mind. All of that exists to keep you from Gnosis. The path of Gnosis is a life-long commitment, and because of the nature of the cosmos, Gnosis can never be perfectly realized here—you are never done, there is always more work. It is difficult, and always seems to require the more difficult of any choice, but it is rewarding in the way nothing else can be—it is real. And remember, the Redemption (liberation) is only the sixth of seven mysteries. (Though understanding the seventh before you understand the sixth would be 'premature enlightenment' indeed.)

The closest parallel to reach for is Buddhism. It is a different path to liberation, and we need to be careful as Gnostics to not make metaphysical speculations about Gnosis outside of the Gnostic experience. Buddhist liberating experience has a different experiential quality to that of the Gnostic, and there is a very real different in means/approach, however, it does share many key understandings with Gnosticism. For example, Enlightenment is a state of being arrived at through a process of inner transformation. It is real, and can be recognized in people. No amount of study will give it to you, though it does help, and may be necessary. Though it makes no sense to consider it much before you have achieved a basic level of Enlightenment, there are levels of Enlightenment—the work continues. And, Buddhism without Enlightenment makes as much sense as Gnosticism without Gnosis.

We must become Gnosis, live Gnosis—live out our truest nature and highest calling. There is nothing more important, or precious. Nothing to be more concerned about, and careful with. For when, as in the Dunsany story I retold in the prologue, we attain Gnosis we cannot go back, there is nothing worth more. If you own the world and lack yourself—you have nothing.

Peas on Earth

Okay, so I sometimes find myself 'filksinging' in my head. It usually happens in the “morning” when I'm cooking breakfast, or in the shower. This one occurred while fixing a nice cheese omelette, which may or may not account for the cheesiness. It goes to the tune of “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” A song I first encountered at Salt Lake City's Annual Interfaith Celebration of the Human Spirit, which, as Stephan Hoeller said, is probably more than adequate for the human spirit. I've since heard it in the Christmas song line-up, did the usual 'peas' for 'peace' substitution, and got this:

Let there be Peas on Earth,
and let there be some for me.

Let there be Peas on Earth,
and fresh in crisp po-ods be.

To savor each morsel,
each round tasty morsel,
with unabash-ed glee!

Oh, let there be Peas on Earth,
and let there be LOTS for me!

Someday, I may inflict “Waking up is hard to do” on you. Consider yourselves warned.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

'What Do You Believe?'

I used to answer this question, and variations thereof with, “That beliefs aren't very important.” I was never quite satisfied with it, except that it does serve to turn the question in on itself, and show that it is the wrong question. I've since changed my answer to, “That beliefs are usually deceptive.” Which serves the same purpose, but is much more satisfactory—since beliefs can be very important, as things to watch out for.

Gnosis is not beliefs (for more, see my earlier post What Gnosis Isn't), and we're not just saying that because our beliefs are somehow special and we give them the code-name “Gnosis.” Gnosis is of a different order to beliefs, and beliefs can be the biggest barrier to achieving Gnosis.

Living without beliefs would be both insane, and incredibly time consuming. It would be like living without any functional memory. For a belief is a place-keeper in our minds for things that we are not currently verifying or in a position to verify. If I look out the window and my car is gone, I will be surprised, because the last time I was in a position to see it, it was where I left it. And in general there is no problem with beliefs as such, for why should I continually look out the window at my car, to live as if it were there?

The problem is that people become so enamored with their beliefs that they no longer treat them as place-keepers for verification, they become of primary importance and no amount of evidence to the contrary can dislodge them. This is another form of insanity, one that seems the norm in the world we live in. The examples inundate us, from a recent news story of a couple starving their infant children because they believed that only a strict raw food diet was healthy for them; to, the newspaper clipping I keep in my copy of the Nag Hammadi, about a man who starved to death snowed in his truck, who believed God would rescue him, and so didn't walk the few hundred yards back to a road that was plowed regularly and lead to aid.

That is why one must first become an Agnostic before one can become a Gnostic (see post). How can you possibly free yourself from the real world, if you haven't freed yourself from the world as an idea, a realm of make believe, within that world? The same goes, of course, for freeing yourself of major psychological complexes, as well: which are often the reasons for our beliefs when they trump reality.

So, while it is possible to come up with a list of beliefs associated with Gnosticism, they are of a different order, and serve a different purpose than most other religious beliefs. They are place keepers for what we have come to know ourselves, and ways of expressing that Gnosis. There are many similarities across time and space because Gnosis is real. There are many differences even within a particular time and place, because Gnostics are also real.

Things that I would expect from anyone with the perspective of Gnosis (and what else might a Gnostic be?) can loosely be grouped into two categories: one that I'll call a Gnostic attitude, and the other what Rt. Rev. Stephan Hoeller calls a Gnostic World-View: recognizable Gnostic stories, descriptions, story elements, etc. They are both indirect evidence, symptoms if you will, of Gnosis. They are not Gnosis, and you could have all of them without Gnosis.

At it's most basic, a Gnostic attitude can be described/summed up as:

  1. Recognition of a reality external to oneself. This is where Gnosticism and the New Age have irreconcilable differences. You don't make your own “reality.” The ego is not its own Demiurge, except in fantasy land. You can transform yourself, your consciousness, and you can act in and on the world, but you aren't that world. This is the point that some self-identifying, but not actually, Gnostics take exception to, either directly or pragmatically. However, Gnosis is “Gnosis of” something, and that something is real and not made up by us, or, it is meaningless.

    It also follows from this that one must be diligent and careful in one's exploration of that reality, to make sure that it is reality, and not something else.

  2. Recognition of a very real and distinct difference between what we can learn, or accept from others, and what we can learn or verify for ourselves (in a way that involves consciousness and inner confirmation via our truest nature), i.e., some sense of Gnosis. The idea of “Gnosis” isn't necessary, but living Gnosis is.

    In ways this follows from 1. There is an external reality, so there are different ways of knowing about it. However, it goes beyond the mere recognition of the psychological aspects of knowing, in that it recognizes a way of knowing that is deeper still.

  3. Recognition that the condition we find ourselves in is fundamentally alien to our truest selves. This is the sense of having “fallen” that we all feel. The Buddha stated this as his first Noble Truth, “life is fundamentally unsatisfactory.”

    This is simply being honest about our experience of the world. While there are “rainy day 'Gnostics,'” that is, people who have a greater affinity to Gnostic descriptions when things are going badly in the world for them, and are more Calvinistic when things are going well for them; that isn't being honest. The world is a place of mixing, there's good and bad, beauty and horror, and while some of it may satisfy for a time, not all of it does, and certainly not all of the time.

  4. The recognition, or intuition, that there is a way out of this condition through a transformation of ourselves, i.e., liberation occurs at the individual level and cannot occur without individual transformative work. Again, echoing one of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths, number four.

    This comes from 1, 2, and 3, yet also contains something new. This is the difference between the Gnostic's and the Existentialist's attitudes (along with 5) that there is a way out of this state, and furthermore, a larger meaning.

  5. Recognition that there is Divine/transcendent aid available, that is both useful for, and necessary to, attaining Gnosis—and ultimately, liberation. This aid is experienced and therefore described in different ways, but is ultimately beyond our comprehension: we cannot 'grasp' it with the mind, only experience it.

    This, again, just comes from being honest about our experiences, and being open to them.

  6. A pragmatic and individualistic approach to transformative practice. What works, works. What doesn't, doesn't. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. This doesn't mean that anything goes, or that we are setting up orthodoxies of one, those are just ways of setting up yet another church of the ego. But rather, that the deep effects are what are important—Gnosis is the point to all of it.

    At the first ordination to the priesthood that I attended, in his homily Rt. Rev. Hoeller said of the ordination process, “Some of you may be wondering if all this is necessary. And you may be surprised by our answer... it may not be necessary, but it sure does help!”

  7. A poetic non-literalist interactive approach to stories and symbols. This goes beyond the Joseph Campbell understanding of Myth in that it includes the ability to play with the myths, stories, and symbols the way a Jazz musician plays with old standards. To make them so much your own that they include counterpoints, variations, improvisations, and contradictions. Because they aren't the point, they are tools to attaining Gnosis, and indirect expressions of Gnosis.

  8. A sense of humor and playfulness. This goes with 7 and beyond it. As William James pointed out in his magnum opus The Varieties of Religious Experience, the solemn has always something of a twinkle in it's eye. The opposite of taking religion solemnly is to take it grimly, and taking Gnosticism grimly is to miss the whole point of Gnosis—liberation. Being grim about religion takes it back to its worst common denominator—defensive egotism, and we don't need any more churches to honor that. Missing 8 is like missing 1, it's just setting the ego up as a new (and disproved) Demiurge.

    A grim Gnostic is an oxymoron, either they've missed the point entirely and are just enamored with Gnostic myths, or they're just missing it while they're being grim, and we should try to get them to laugh. After all, humor is liberating: you can look and see prison bars, or, with a sense of humor and play, you can see monkey bars. What the Archons fear most is real laughter.

This is by no means a check list for seeing who is a Gnostic, though it may give you a good idea of who isn't. Think of them as representing necessary attitudinal elements, not as sufficient criteria to make one a Gnostic. It has the same staggering limitation that all such attempts have—it is a description of the signs of something that cannot be described; a translation into the rational of a process that is truly one of recognition. Being a Gnostic is not a matter of beliefs, it is a way of living that is focused on attaining liberation through Gnosis: and also, something deeper as well, but much harder to describe. Given what these things indicate, a Gnostic can come up with a description of their condition in story form, a mythos, entirely on their own that would ring true to other Gnostics (and therefore satisfy the World-View approach): however, it would be like being a writer without access to the work of other writers—a very small and limited literature indeed.

We tend to think in terms of beliefs, even among Gnostics, and speak of what we construe this or that Gnostic group to have believed. Yet a true expression of a Gnostic mythos can be found in a movie, a comic book, in a sixteen hundred year old codex, or the dream you had last night. And you can use any or all of them to your heart's content, and not be a Gnostic, or understand your experience in a form so idiosyncratic that it may never be shared, and still be a Gnostic.

Asking, “what do you believe?” of a Gnostic as if the answer could be given in the same way as an orthodox believer, precludes the possibility of Gnosticism, since its point is far beyond belief—it is Gnosis.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Nativity: The Coming of the Divine Light

Incarnation of the Redeemer
Behold, this day is born unto you ... a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Many are the wonders of Thy nativity, O Jesus; yet when we say “Thy nativity,” who could have created Thee, O Lord Jesus, Thou who are eternally life from life?
Did a redeemer incarnate in Palestine two-thousand years ago? The only way to know, is if that redeemer incarnates within you. The fantasy writer Peter S. Beagle wrote in an introduction of feeling like a secret agent, but one who doesn't know what his mission is, or even if he has one. This resonated deeply within me then, and does still—except that I now know that I have a mission. The Gnostic can say with The Blues Brothers, “We're on a mission from Gaahd.”

Gnosticism holds the view that the ultimate unknowable God doesn't hold the puppet strings to every molecule in the world. There are other forces at work in the kosmos, we call them Archons, or the powers. Murphy's Law has always been understood by Gnostics. In this world bad things just happen, God doesn't necessarily have anything whatever to do with any of it. So, if God isn't hurting us “for our own good” then how is God acting through the world to directly help us? Well, you didn't think the “do-it-yourself” of Gnosticism ended with attaining Gnosis, did you?

We are the secret agents of God. We must live out the Love of God in the world. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to act in those very small, very real, ways that incarnate the Love and Light of God into the world. There is a divine spark, a seed of light, within every one of us—yet so often it isn't apparent. The idea of it, and the fact of it, are equally unimportant if left in that abstract realm. That is information, not Gnosis. The indwelling Christ is a reality, yet if we never incarnate Christ into our lives, that reality neither effects us, nor the world.

There are many Gnostic takes on Christ. In one of them, Christ is seen as a higher being who comes into Jesus at his baptism, that is to say, Jesus incarnated Christ in his life. This points to a truth that we in our small way can try to emulate: in a gesture, in a word, in a touch, in a thought, in our hearts, we can provide a place for the Divine to live in the world. We can incarnate the Redeemer in very real, though little, ways within our lives, both for our own sakes, and for the sake of all the Children of the Light. For as the Lord said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I.”

My Xmas Rx

No, I'm not a real doctor, and I've never played one on TV, or anywhere; but, if you're suffering from xmas overload (as opposed to Christmas) then you may want to follow my prescription anyway. I do.

Xmas has become some great daemon turning the kosmic wheel of our economy—an Archon who's job it seems to be to make sure we don't get to really experience Advent, or even Christmas. The good thing about being a bachelor is that I get out of most of the oppressive elements of xmas (aside from those xmases I worked at bookstores during college, yikes), but I realize we don't all have the option of, or want, the completely detached approach—and the moment somebody has kids, it isn't an option anymore, anyway.

So, here's my xmas prescription, I do it on Christmas morning, but I imagine that Boxing Day would work just as well. Sleep in after midnight mass, fix a nice pot of good coffee, mix liberally with Irish Cream, and watch Monty Python's Life of Brian. Substitutions on the drink can be made, of course, but a warm tasty beverage is key. Some sort of pastries or other finger food is also recommended, croissants rather than doughnuts though, who needs more sweets?

After a few long sips, and the opening sequence of The Life of Brian, I guarantee you'll feel better, maybe not much better, but hey, at least it's something. It sure helps me get over the fact that Santa never brings me that race of atomic supermen to rule the world with—I guess I'll just have to make them myself.

The Historical Christ

I know, we're only supposed to talk about “the historical Jesus” and get all defensive about whatever position we're routing for. But then, I'm a Gnostic, and so what I do has little to do with what I'm supposed to do. And in that spirit, I thought I'd bring a Gnostic perspective to the whole “was there, or wasn't there” debate about Christ.

Personally, I think the same way about those who attempt to show that there wasn't a person at the beginning of Christianity, the same way I think of the attempts to show that Shakespeare didn't write those incredible plays. It tells you more about those making such attempts, than it does about history—the unknown becomes a Rorschach test, what you see is largely you. If the name Jesus (rhymes with 'cheeses'), or the very cheesy or terrifying idea of him, has been used as a weapon by the powers in your life, then you need to do something about it. And if it hasn't: what planet are you from, when did they let you out of the cellar, or how did you get so lucky?

The natural mechanism of basic survival is to either reject the parts of ourselves that don't fit in with the ideas of the powers, or to identify with the rejection and send it right back at them, and in that way reject the parts of ourselves that do fit the ideas of the powers. Initially, winning is survival; but later, when you have gained more autonomy, winning becomes a matter of undoing the whole loose-loose proposition. Liberation must primarily be sought within.

It seems that given this situation that we all find ourselves in, there are two options: retrench your defenses, and in doing so build a stronger prison for yourself; or seek liberation, by making the weapons of the powers into tools for your escape.

James Hillman is perhaps the most famous of the mis-users of C. G. Jung's work, and may be responsible for more new-agey Jungian books than any other individual through his Archetypal Psychology. What is the basis of all of this? A retrenchment of defenses. Hillman is uncomfortable with Jung's notion of Self. I remember first reading his “arguments” against Jung's use of Self. They were not really arguments, they were not even incomplete arguments, they only made sense in you already had an unconscious complex which his statements could evoke. He defended himself against the archonic idea of a monotheistic God, and retrenched himself against it and anything he associated with it, even the divine within himself.

There are many examples of this: someone is hailed as a liberator, yet all they do is help us live more comfortably with our unconscious complexes; give us redecorating tips for our prisons. The one example with which we are all, unfortunately, probably familiar is the Da Vinci Code. If you look, the different threads in that book have actually nothing to do with one another. It makes very little sense, unless you share an unconscious complex that is, apparently, very common.

So, back to the problem of the 'idea of Jesus' as a tool of the powers. What can you do to free yourself? Neither blind acceptance, nor blind rejection; nor any continuance, or flipping back and forth between them, will free us. (Though they can to make a nice change of pace that feels liberating for a time.) Placing the focus on Jesus, seems to be the problem: that is, after all, how the powers framed the whole mess in the first place. And it keeps us from focusing on ourselves, the only place where liberation can happen.

As a Gnostic I know something happened some two thousand years ago, because of the effects it is still having on me. We can't clearly see how such a splash was made in the kosmos, but the ripples from it continue to this day. Do we follow Ockham's razor and go with the simplest and most likely explanation: that at the heart of it was the person that we have traditionally called Christ? Or do we need to say that it was something else that just seemed to be a person known as Christ after some point in history. The latter just sounds like the whole “the Artist formerly known as Prince” fiasco, i.e., “the phenomenon formerly known as Christ.” Or, of talking about “the writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare,” as opposed to, say, Shakespeare. Someone may feel better thinking that a noble or a scholar wrote such literature, rather than the actor son of a glover—but they are looking at it backwards. The plays are Shakespeare to us, the Shakespeare we know, and the one that lived long ago.

What happened at the center of the ripples two thousand years ago? To us it can be either distant, unreal, or we can receive those ripples into our lives: a living presence with the power to aid us in liberation. It can only become the later within us—within our lives right now. And it can only become that within us, if we are willing to give up our outmoded defenses and be healed.

It is not necessary to receive Christ, to receive aid in attaining liberation. The Gnostic tradition has recognized other Messengers of the Light. However, without healing the “Jesus” wound that is inflicted upon us by the powers of the world to keep us from such aid, it is hard to hear any of the Messengers without hearing the echo of that wound.

The Rev. John Goelz, an EG priest in Los Angeles, has been a long time practiser of Tibetan Buddhism. At one point his teacher, a Tibetan Lama, asked Rev. John to start coming in his priest's collar, and would then divert questions that were addressed to him, but that were really about Christianity, to Rev. John to answer. Unfinished personal work, is unfinished personal work, no matter the setting. Fleeing is not necessarily escaping, and we need to escape.

All of this needs to be taken with the caution, to paraphrase Jung, that it is for internal use only. Following a different path does not indicate unfinished work. But this pattern is something we all need to watch out for in many forms, and this seemed like a good example to use, as this particular form is often evoked this time of year.

So, this Christmastide, let us celebrate the historical Christ as messenger of the Light long ago; along with the ever-coming and redeeming Christ who lives within us—for, in our lives, there is no distinction, the Living One lives within us.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

What Gnosis Is: a Prologue

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, better known as the Lord Dunsany, was an incredible writer of early imaginative fiction. Years ago, I read one of his stories that has stuck with me, and that I have retold many times. Yet, like a character in a Borges tale, I have never been able to find that story again. So, I do not know it's name, nor in which of Dunsany's collections of stories it is to be found. And, my telling has probably drifted far from the original, so judge it not by my poor summary.

The setting for the story is a valley kingdom through which a stream flows. The people of the kingdom know only their valley—though from time to time, a lone shepherd in the foothills might catch the sound of a distant ocean wave crashing, carried inland by the wind, and smell the slight smell of salt on that wind. Over the years, from these slight hints, theories of what lay beyond the mountains developed. The foremost of these was that on the other side of the mountains is a great river, like the river in the valley, only far, far larger. So large, that it carries whole trees down its current and they crash one into another making the loud noises that can sometimes be heard, and the breaking apart of these trees gives the air the smell of their salty sap. Many learned discourses have been written on this very subject, and while there are still proponents of the salt deposit theory, the tree sap theory has largely won out.

The king has read these scholarly treatises with interest, and has a fascination with, and fear of, what lay beyond the mountains like all in his kingdom. Over the years of his reign he has sent many to travel over the mountains to see the great river, and report back to him. None have ever returned. And with each disappearance, fewer have been willing to go, even as the offered rewards have risen. Until finally, the king offers his daughter's hand in marriage, along with half the kingdom, and the other half when he dies: to any man willing to brave the journey and return to report.

In the valley was a shepherd, who has fallen in impossible love with the king's daughter. He over hears the king's offer to his courtiers, and the thought of marrying her fills him. A way has been opened to him to fulfill his dearest wish, and in spite of his trepidation, he resolves to undertake the journey, no matter how perilous, and win his love's hand.

When the shepherd announces his intentions, he is celebrated as a hero. A banquet is given in his honor, where he is presented to the king's daughter, who seems pleased with him as well. There are toasts to the shepherd's bravery. They have him swear oaths to return and report of the great river so they may know, for certain, that the prevailing theory is correct. Some scholars even pull him aside, or whisper in his ear, to tell him what he should look for in particular, to solve this or that dispute among them.

And so, with great aplomb, and even greater expectations, he begins his journey, following the shepherd's paths he knows so well deep into the foothills. Then he begins to climb, following animal paths. And , finally, up where there are no paths at all. He travels through thick fog, hearing the mysterious sounds grow louder, imagining all that he had been told were their causes—these growing larger and more terrifying in his imagination as he continues. Many times he begins to turn back, but steels himself with the thought of his love, and the disgrace if he returns a failure.

Finally, he comes over a rise, and sees before him the vast expanse of the ocean. He walks forward down the slope as the sun slowly sets beyond the endless water, and he realizes that something in him has changed. He knows with certainty that he will never return to the valley—now that he has beheld the ocean. Not only is the valley too confining, but he has become a stranger to it.

So it is with Gnosis. When we gain Gnosis we are transformed, we can never go back. The path of Gnosis is always forward, towards the depths.

Gnosticism: Ancient & Modern?

An Academic asked me what connection our church has to ancient Gnosticism. The following is the response that I never sent.

I am a Gnostic. I live as Gnostics always have and always will, in the world I find myself in, making use of the resources that I find here to attain Gnosis, and ultimately, (I hope) Liberation. I am not a re-creator or re-enactor of an ancient Gnosticism, nor am I trying in any way to live out an historical Gnosticism—because Gnosis is not found in any other time or any other place, it is here, it is now, it is within you or it isn't going to aid you in liberation. There is ultimately no distinction, to the Gnostic, between ancient and modern Gnosticism.

Philip K. Dick had an experience which elucidates this, he saw himself as existing in two time periods at once. One was modern day California, the other was ancient Rome. The phrase that he associated with this experience was, “The Empire never ended.” This points to the truth that time and history are a part of the kosmos--while Gnosis points to the ultimate truth of, and beyond, the kosmos. To place the path of Gnosis in history, is a trick to make it inaccessible. We have the same inner experiences, we have the same Gnosis.

If Valentinus were reincarnated in contemporary North America, he wouldn't insist on speaking only Latin, or on wearing roman garb to the supermarket. The point is the “incarnation” part. We are different people, in different times and places, speaking different languages, be they literal or symbolic, yet we are all on the path of Gnosis.

A useful exercise is to replace “Gnosticism” with “Mathematics.” What relation does modern Mathematics have to ancient Mathematics? In a way the modern is a continuation of the ancient in that it has access to some of the work of the prior, though each individual must learn it all for themselves. In another, they are the very same thing in that they are doing the same type of work in different contexts. The same is true of Gnosticism.

What does my celebrating the Eucharist in vestments from the first half of the last century, in a chapel of even older origin, have to do with the practices of Gnostics centuries past and oceans distant? The answer is Gnosis.

We are heirs to a rich tradition of ancient Gnostic texts that can aid us in attaining Gnosis, yet we are also handed the idea of “Gnosticism” which can become a barrier to attaining Gnosis. We are heirs to a rich Ecclesiastical tradition that can aid us in attaining Gnosis, or can become an end in itself and act as a barrier to attaining Gnosis. The answers to questions of “how” and “why” must lead ultimately to Gnosis, if they are to lead to liberation and not into a new (though, perhaps, improved) form of imprisonment.

Gnosticism is a radical, yet subtle, departure from what we have come to consider as religion in our culture. Our choices are to either make a stripped-down “pretend” Gnosticism, one without living Gnosis, that will fit the questions we are asked—or take on the questions themselves. The academic study of Gnosticism as a distant historical object of study, is analogous to performing an autopsy. It has its uses, but they are limited to the examination of a corpus (literally, 'corpse'), not the living truth of Gnosis: like analyzing the body without knowing how it could ever have been alive. Or to pick another analogy, it's like studying Buddhism without seeing that liberation through enlightenment is the point of it all.

I invite academics to continue to ask questions, but be warned: either ask bigger questions, questions that don't prevent the real answers; or, be prepared to have them dismissed through humor, or by turning them back in on themselves. After all, Zen Buddhists don't pretend they fit into the standard academic ordering of the world, why should we?

Pierce's Law

The only way to avoid misunderstanding is to avoid understanding.

Now that's funny. Not the contents (well, not necessarily, at least), but the presentation. I often speak of the ego-body complex as one thing, and compare those egotistical moments to breaking wind. It is best to do both in private, but we all do them in public occasionally.

Personally, I find my egotistical tendencies to be an inexhaustible source of amusement, and so I thought I'd share and present this little nugget in the form of “Pierce's Law.” After all, I entered university to become a theoretical physicist (how's that for egotism?), and always wanted my own law (dito).

Now I feel like St. Francis after he had built his “family” out of snow: cold... no, I mean um... cold and silly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Messenger of Divine Healing

The Holy Raphael
'God has healed'
So Raphael was sent to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the film from his eyes that he might see God's light; and Sarah by giving her in marriage to Tobias, and by setting her free from the wicked demon Asmodeus.
The account of the Archangel Raphael is found in the Book of Tobit, which is numbered among the books of the Bible by some and among the Apocrypha by others. Two things from Tobit come to mind, one absurd, the other profound.

The absurd aspect is found in the Medieval “Tobias nights” a sure priestly revenue stream. Based on the account of Tobias remaining chaste for three nights after his marriage (part of surviving his demon possessed wife), this was presented as a holy obligation of newly married couples. Unless, of course, you paid a 'slight' fee to a priest to be released from it. (Where are fund-raisers like that when you need them?)

In the sixth chapter of Tobit, we find the young man (Tobias), the angel (Raphael), and a dog journeying together. This in itself is a wonderful image of our multifaceted selves. The angel is an aspect of our highest self, mysterious, seemingly remote, and in touch with an even greater mystery. The young man is our everyday self, our ego and persona complexes, forever unsure and with something to prove. The dog is our physical nature, the evolved part of ourselves, in closest touch with our instincts and needs.

In the story, the young man is soaking his feet in a river, when, suddenly, a great fish comes up from the deep to swallow his foot. This is such an apt metaphor for what happens to us too often: on our journey we relax our consciousness a bit, and a complex comes up out of our unconscious to swallow us—to take over our ego and send us reeling. The angel comes to the aid of the young man, telling him to catch the fish. That is to say, to become conscious of the complex.

When this is done, the angel tells him to gut the fish and to keep the heart, the gall, and the liver as these can be used in healing, but to dispose of the other entrails. This is the most important part, for if the complex were merely thrown back into the unconscious, it would return again and again. One must bring it to consciousness, and go through the difficult, and often very disagreeable, process of analysis to remove and retain the vitality at the heart of the complex. The young man eats of these parts of the fish, reintegrating that vitality back into his life. In doing that, his part of that particular work is completed, he has been healed.

However, the angel further instructs him to take of the heart and liver and burn them to smoke where there is someone possessed, and that this will heal the possession. And to take the gall and anoint those whose eyes are covered with a film and they will see. It is by doing our own psychological and spiritual work that we may have something of value to aid others going through similar work. We can transform our own internal demons into balms for the aid of others oppressed by their own. It is important to remember, and the wise never forget, that as we cannot do someone else's work, we cannot push healing upon someone else—and we can only aid insofar as we ourselves are truly healed. “Physician, heal thyself,” and “remove the beam from thine own eye,” for it is such a healing that benefits the world.

May we be open to the Messenger of Divine Healing, to the healing power that transcends and pervades all things. And, in some small way, follow his example in our own lives.

Readings for the day.

Wikipedia Entry.

The Book of Tobit at CCEL.

The Twin of the Lord

Holy Thomas
Apostle, Martyr, and Guide to Gnosis

Today is both the Winter Solstice and the Day of the Holy Thomas 'the Twin.' Having the day of Thomas at this time makes sense in two different ways. First, Christmas is, essentially, a solstice holiday. The date having been chosen as the feast of Sol Invictus, 'The Invincible Sun.' So named for the Sun's triumph over the darkness. As Thomas is the Twin of the Lord, his day occurs on the actual solstice, just as our Lord's birthday occurs on the date upon which the solstice was anciently celebrated. There is also a contrast in this, as “the day of” indicates the day that someone died. So, the death of Thomas and the birth of our Lord are also juxtaposed, like the death of the old year/sun and the birth of the new year/sun. Thomas is the twin, the mirror image, after all.

The other way in which celebrating Thomas today is deeply appropriate, is the story that comes to us from the Acts of Thomas. Thomas is imprisoned before his execution, the other inmates entreat him to teach them, so he tells them the story of the Pearl and the Robe of Glory. The beautiful story of our journey: from our true home into the world, through forgetfulness to anamnesis—in order to obtain the Pearl and return. In the darkness of the world, be it in the darkest prison, or the longest night, the light shines forth.

In the story, when the hero is lost in forgetfulness, a letter is sent that is also an eagle. When the letter/eagle arrives, the hero knows the words of the letter to be true, because they are also written in his heart—Gnosis Kardias.

Let us reflect upon the Holy Thomas, who through his Gnosis came to be called the Twin of the Lord. For this is the deepest truth and highest mystery—we are all such twins in our truest nature, and through living the path of Gnosis we may become so, bit by bit, in our lives as well.

Readings of the day.

The Hymn of the Pearl.

The Gospel of Thomas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Exploring the Psyche

My friend Adaire at Gnostic-Utah, has gone through the trouble of resurrecting some introductory articles on Jung that I wrote about ten years ago. As I have been busy trying to get a complete Gnostic wall calendar done in time for next year, I've been light on the postings of late. So, why not recycle? You can find them here.

The Day of Mevlana

Jalal al-Din Rumi
Mystic, Poet, & Guide of Souls

You are the truth
from foot to brow.
Now what else would
you like to know?

In Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem writes that the mystics of different traditions have more in common with each other than they do with the more orthodox minded of their own tradition. Gnosis is always Gnosis of reality. If it is real, then it is outside any sphere of belief; outside any religious or philosophical world view. The mystic is someone who has experiences of the deeper and transcendent aspects of reality. They are changed by those experiences, and also make something of those experiences to give to others: how else would we know they were mystics? What they make of it to give to others, is shaped by a greater or lesser extent by the world view and religious culture that they have.

Some mystics transcend these limitations of world view and culture more than others. Rumi is a mystic that cannot be said to belong to mystical Islam, or the Sufi tradition, but grew from their rich soil to be a guide for all who will listen. In Turkey, Rumi is often referred to simply as Mevlana, which means 'our guide.'

Wikipedia entry.

1207 - December 17, 1273

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Nature of the Redeemer

The heterodox view of redemption is to load it all onto one historical act, making it a fait accompli. They do not consider participating in redemption, only lining up for their part of it. This circumvention of the nature of redemption in our lives, removes it to an abstract theological realm. In the Gnostic tradition nothing is over and done with, nothing is merely historical; it must live through us, be done through us—or it hasn't truly been done. Just as you cannot have Gnosis of somebody else's Gnosis, you cannot be redeemed through someone else's redemption—not even our Lord's.

In our liturgy we speak of “The ever-coming and redeeming Logos.” This points to the Gnostic understanding of the Redeemer. Not someone who did something long ago, but an ever-present force for liberation. I sometimes speak of Gnosticism as the do-it-yourself religion; ultimately, no one can do your part for you. Yet, that doesn't mean that your's is the only part to play.

Within us all there is a Mystery, we often call it the Seed of Light. Who we think of ourselves as being, is the soil in which that seed is nurtured or lays dormant. Without our work, the seed cannot grow. However, that is not all that a seed needs, it can sprout, but will not grow further without sunlight. The Logos is associated with the Sun, which is why we celebrate the festival of the coming of the Logos in this season. For, one of the ways of seeing this time of year is that the old sun seems to grow weak, to grow old, and in the darkness of the year a new sun is born.

The Logos is the Sun that shines upon the tender sprouting Seed of Light within us, giving it that which we ourselves cannot provide: a greater illumination, a light transcending the world in which the seed grows, the necessary aid for redemption. Rich soil and divine light, both are necessary for the Mystery we bear within us to be brought to a greater life. That light shines in the world and through the world; this is the place of mixing, the Light is always here—no darkness can change that.

Let us diligently do our part, reaching towards that which reaches back toward us. Opening ourselves to that which nourishes us from above. Let the ever-coming Redeemer come to you, always. Let that Light shine on you, in you, and through you. And the divine Mystery, the Seed of Light, within you will grow—it will grow and, perhaps, come to bloom.

May the ever-coming and redeeming Logos be with you.

Readings for the day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Happy Birthday Phil!

Philip Kindred Dick
Gnostic, Visionary, Writer, & Prophet?

“[G]nosis, then, consists of disinhibiting instructions, with the core content actually intrinsic to us--that is, already there.”

The great explorer of mind and reality warping fiction was born on this day in 1928. He was born a twin, and although his sister died in infancy, his longing for her can be seen in some of the metaphors he used. The deepest longings of his heart were the colors with which he painted his compassionate prose; it doesn't explain away his symbolism, it deepens it. I invite you to read or reread Valis with this in mind.

His refusal to accept any account of his experience as the final or complete one is an example to us all.


I will save further reflections for a later post.

Wikipedia Entry

Phildickian Gnosticism

Robert Crumb comic strip about Philip K. Dick's theophany

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The OTO's Gnostic Mass

I have been asked what I think about the OTO's Gnostic Mass in SLC. And while it has been many years since the one that I attended, my take on it hasn't changed. A friend who attended with me asked afterwards, “Was that Gnostic?” To which I replied, that depended on Gnosis, that I didn't see any evidence of it, but that didn't mean it wasn't there. She continued, “What I meant was it didn't seem to have anything to do with the [historical] Gnostics.” And I could only agree.

The OTO's Gnostic Mass is the work of Aleister Crowley, who I haven't found in my very cursory reading to have had a Gnostic world view, though he seems to have had a fairly Gnostic attitude. When I think of Crowley's reputation, I think of the beginning of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Ferris licks his palms before holding hands with his parents as a symptom of his pretend illness. He says it's juvenile and silly, but then, so is High School. Some of Crowley's antics seemed juvenile and silly, but then, so is the world: even more so, the Victorian world.

For example, “Let do what thou wilt be the whole of the law” is formulated to get your attention, it had to have been a real shocker to the Victorians. If you don't consider it, it is essentially meaningless. It seems juvenile and silly. But if you do consider it deeply, living the questions: Who is thou? What is will? What is the law? You can see how it could evoke Gnosis.

The way I see it, strictly from the outside, there are two major limitations with the OTO approach to Gnosticism. The first is that it cannot be said to represent a long tradition. As a Gnostic, I know that there is so much that I don't know, and I can turn for guidance to the tradition. As a Gnostic Priest, I know that my own Gnosis is the foundation of my ministry, but if that was all I had to offer, it would be a limited ministry indeed. It is our tradition that allows us to overcome our limitations and weaknesses and to still be able to be of service beyond them.

You could make meals from the content's of both Bilbo Baggins's and Ebenezer Scrooge's larders (if they weren't imaginary): from the one there will always be more than you can eat, from the other there may never be enough. A tradition is like a larder, a repository of the products of many souls in which you can find nourishment, and from which you can provide nourishment. Even if there are things in there that don't arouse your appetite, they may be just the thing a weary traveler has been craving. The connection the OTO ritual has to the larger Gnostic tradition seems tenuous, and through the Hermetic tradition only--a far richer tradition than most will ever have in this world, but a fraction of the larger Gnostic tradition.

The other limitation, seems to be one of mis-perception and perhaps a poor choice of terminology. The OTO ritual seems to be precisely what it was intended to be, a singular addition to a ritual magic path. Viewed in this light it is an interesting, and perhaps useful, symbolic/ritual exploration of a Gnostic experience. Since it only has ties to the Hermetic tradition, it seems “The Hermetic Mass” would have been more descriptive, but it already has its name now. And, when I started writing this I had to resist putting “Mass” in quotes, since it has almost nothing to do with the sense of Mass as the Eucharist. (From “Ite Missa Est,” it is done/released.) But then, people have been taking the central ritual of Christendom and running with it for over a millennia. (“Hocus Pocus” comes from Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum, “this is my body.”) Yet, even should the ritual function as a Eucharistic Mystery for those attending, it would remain only one element of a Gnostic Ecclesia.

In general, I view the OTO's Ecclesiastical functions the same way I do other groups for whom being a Gnostic Church is a (perhaps, very) ancillary concern. To go back to the metaphor, it is like comparing an apple to two courses of a five course meal. We for whom this is a primary concern, cannot be said to provide all the Ecclesia that a growing Gnostic needs, so to speak, and those for whom it is a mere addition have even less to offer as an Ecclesia. This comparison in no way diminishes their value, nor exalts ours. It does point to the very real difference that a different focus makes, and the very real difficulties of trying to provide a Gnostic Ecclesia in the world: even if that is your only focus.

It has always seemed sensible to me when OTO folks have added the Ecclesia Gnostica to their Gnostic path. And clergy who are in the OTO, or have a background in it, is the general situation in most of our parishes to which we here in SLC are an exception. It is a pattern I can see repeating in other places, and has to do with the shadow of Christianity. In this area there is a monolithic Mormon culture, that casts a deep shadow. Those of us who have grown up here have generally felt compelled to identify with that culture or it's shadow. If you identify with it's shadow, it becomes your shadow. And the sense of the whole of Christianity being in people's individual shadow complexes here is very strong: painting all Christians and things Christian with the shadow, treating it all as though they were personal enemies. I was formed in that way, in this place. Shadow work is very difficult, yet is an essential part of the path of Gnosis. Fortunately, that aspect of mine is behind me, but I certainly understand.

The EG is definitely Christian, in the original Gnostic sense to be sure, but it can be very difficult to overcome the aversion to the entire milieu that the more fundamentalist among us have formed within so many of us. The same can, of course, be said of religion in general, which is probably the context in which Ritual Magic is perceived as being more palatable, as well. I have a nephew who won't taste something if he doesn't like the name of it. I hope he grows out of that, but even so, being picky, he won't like most foods he does experience. And, if it helps him if we call Broccoli, “little trees” what does it matter?

The important thing is to be supportive of each other on our individual paths to Gnosis. Offer what you have, avail yourself of whatever resources help, point to other paths when it seems appropriate, and always remember—we are all in this together.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Unapologetically Gnostic

Here in Salt Lake City we are blessed with the use of a beautiful one hundred year old chapel that was donated by the sisters and de-consecrated by the Roman Catholic Diocese when the Holy Cross Hospital was sold and became the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center. This has meant that one of the major hurdles for Ecclesiastical Gnosticism, that of having chapel space, hasn't been a problem for us for a number of years. The other side of the blessing is that celebrating high church liturgical services in an historic Roman Catholic chapel, one gets mistaken as RC.

Though I've never heard it, I can't imagine that it hasn't happened that people have come to check out Gnosticism, and looked in through the glass doors and wondered why there was an RC service going on instead. It has even happened that people have attended the entire Eucharist service and apparently been oblivious to the difference. Of course, this is Utah, and like many places, most people here have had no exposure to high church liturgy of any kind.

In this context, and in the setting of a hospital where the processes of life and death are constantly at their most intense, I have often wondered how Gnostic I should be with people who wander in. There are times when only a somewhat contrived misunderstanding will serve the needs of those who come in from the hospital. For example, a few weeks ago an RC fellow came in after the Eucharist, and asked to receive communion. There was a sign, and there was the December page of the Gnostic Calendar that I handed him. Yet I had the sense that he just wanted to have it go unsaid, and receive communion. So I obliged. I am, after all, there to serve.

Tonight, I set about preparing for the Healing and Sophia service with the expectation that I would be the only one in the Chapel. In years past I have not held one in December since, generally, no one else attends. But I like to think I have matured as a priest since then. As I was setting up, a pregnant woman from the hospital entered the chapel crying and took a seat on a pew to pray. Although people seek compassionate human contact in their grief, they are often shy about being approached by a priest. I offered her the service books as a neutral form of contact, and, as she did not indicate that she wished to talk, I went on with the services.

The Healing Service is like the Eucharist, Gnostic in content, traditional in form. When I asked, she indicated that she wanted to receive unction and communion. However, the Sophia service is not even traditional in form, and I had some concern that it might disturb her, and undo the benefit she seemed to receive from the healing service. I needn't have worried, for even if some of the phrases struck her as being odd, the whole flow of the service seemed to be just what she needed. I heard her crying again, a little, as I sang the Litany of Love, in which love is sent forth to all: passersby, enemies, even demons and dark angels. I broke through some idea that was holding me back, and now I am unapologetically Gnostic, proud to carry on a tradition in which God as Love has no bounds.

I am reminded of an address given by Rev. Sam Osborne, about how the Gnostic view is the view of the downtrodden and oppressed. That in his work with the poor they seemed to already have elements of the Gnostic world view. And even if this isn't so in a particular case, it is the Gnostic view that will aid them in their oppression. In the Gnostic view there is no blame for those who are in any state be it poverty, illness, or despair. Nor is there some “test of faith” to be overcome in suffering. This is what we have to offer, and having it come from someone in a clerical collar may give it some extra force for liberation: for it is not what is expected.

We are truly all in this together. We are all in the darkness seeking the Light. We are the children of that Light—brothers and sisters all.

Advent Reflection

Adventus 'The Coming'

We yearn for the coming of something. For the entry of something into our lives that will fulfill or complete us. We seek it here and there. Is it Love? Is it Money? Is it Fame? Is it the latest consumer product or new age fad? These are things that people mistake it for, or that they think will remove the need for it from themselves.

Yet it is in this dark time of the year that we can see the futility of these attempts more clearly. As the world darkens, what is more important than light? We try to distance ourselves from our experience of this time of the year, by intellectually knowing that this darkness will pass. But if we open to the experience, we can feel the changes that the growing darkness works in us, and the yearning it fosters all the more within us.

We are incomplete. A part of us is a seed or a spark, not grown nor kindled. It is coming, if we nourish that seed and breathe on that spark. A part of us is a distant star shining in the night. It is coming, if we reach out to it, it reaches back to us. It is a Mystery. It is other. It is our truest self.

The Day of John of the Cross

Juan de la Cruz
'John of the Cross'
Carmelite Prior, Priest, & Mystical Poet

'Live in the world as if God and your soul only were in it; so shall your heart be never made captive by any earthly thing'

A younger contemporary to Teresa of Avila who joined with her in her reformation efforts, and was imprisoned by resisters to that reformation. While held captive he composed much of his Spiritual Canticle. He is perhaps best know for his work The Dark Night of the Soul.

1542 - 1591

Christian Classics Etherial Library Entry.

Wikipedia Entry.

What Gnosis Isn't

With something so central to Gnosticism as Gnosis, it is important to say what we mean and don't mean by it. And since it is much easier, and will narrow the field of discussion greatly, I will begin by discussing what Gnosis is not.

Gnosis is not withheld information. This was the accusation of the early heresiologists starting with Ireneaus writing against the “so-called knowers.” It is the “I've got a secret” view of Gnosticism, as a needlessly elitist, “we could tell you but we won't” group who's knowledge is entirely limited to easily sharable information. This is still a common misunderstanding among those who are not Gnostics, and cannot see any difference between knowledge and information.

Gnosis is not whatever someone wants it to be. This is the take of the use of Gnosticism in the political writings of Vogelin. In this view the Gnostic is like an older taller child holding the ball up out of the younger shorter children's reach. Instead of playing “I've got a secret” they are playing “you can't argue with my position, I'm special.” This view would put Gnosis under the same aegis as revelation. There are modern pseudo-gnostic groups that one could replace “Gnosis” with “special revelation” in their documents and not change the meaning.

Gnosis is not revelation in the traditional sense. The claims of “Revealed Religions” is that one or more individuals received unique information from the Divine, that is universally applicable. We are familiar with the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran, of the fundamentalists: these are seen as “revealed truth,” information given by God in that same form. The weakness in this view is that people always show up claiming to be a newer prophet, and so a rigid hierarchy is needed to control what information is and is not “revealed truth.” Other than the fact that they are more than willing to share this information by force if necessary, it is the very same view of religion that the early Gnostics were misunderstood and accused of having, it is just that they were seen as having revelation experiences outside of the control of the hierarchy.

Gnosis is not whatever we want it to be. This is a trap to which the modern mindset is particularly prone. In this world of oppression, when they hear of Gnosticism, many hear foremost the social and religious liberation to be had. They fall in love with those ideas, and do not see deeper—that they are expressions of the pursuit of ultimate liberation. They see themselves free from oppressive hierarchies, and perhaps for the first time, feel free to have spiritual experiences and relate them to others, but they have not matured into a Gnostic understanding. Therefore they can fall into the trap of many a mainstream Believer, jumping from a few spiritual experiences to vast conclusions that are psychological in nature. Something that assuages the psychological needs of the personality or the ego is certainly not Gnosis.

Gnosis is not any kind of information. While we might say that scripture, for example, contains Gnosis--it is a manner of speaking, a metaphor. What scripture contains is far greater, it contains means of evoking Gnosis in us. Gnosis is not contained in books, although it can be found in books through our interaction with them. I am not suggesting we stop speaking in metaphors, or replace “Gnosis” in such contexts with “things that can evoke Gnosis.” But when we speak of Gnosis itself we must be clear. If we are not clear about this central concept in our tradition, how can we hope to be of service in helping as many as will seek Gnosis? Gnosis is not found in books, it is only found in people. It cannot be directly transmitted only evoked. We are heirs of a rich tradition, but that tradition is not Gnosis, it is a path to Gnosis.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Happy Birthday Sir Laurens!

Sir Laurens Van Der Post
Writer, Storyteller, Statesman, and Sage

Author of many novels and memoirs, including Jung and the story of our time. An insightful account of Jung by a contemporary and friend, rather than by a student or disciple.

His journeys and stories continue.


Wikipedia Entry

Apostolic Succession

It is common nowadays to dismiss such things as ordination or the Apostolic Succession among those who study Gnosticism. They are seen as antithetical to Gnosticism, as tools used by orthodoxy to enforce hierarchy, this is a view articulated by Elaine Pagels in the Gnostic Gospels. It is important to remember that Prof. Pagels is primarily a social historian, and that this represents a phase in history. Exoteric bishops objected to those annoying Gnostics undermining their authority, and that was an impetus towards the formation of the church hierarchy as it stands today. The Gnostic view then, and it is still a valid one, is that ordination and consecration do not confer any greater access to Gnosis. So that, a bishop arguing against Gnostics solely upon the authority of his office was, and is, absurd. This silly use of the Apostolic Succession as a granter of unassailable authority in doctrinal matters, does not mean that the Apostolic Succession is itself silly. The test for the Gnostic is always experience.

Although I didn't think about such things much in my early years of formation in the Ecclesia Gnostica, my ordinations provided me with Gnosis of the reality of the Apostolic Succession, in particular, my ordination to the priesthood. It is one thing to look on from in front of the altar, and not consider these things, but when it comes time to step behind the altar you are faced with an impossible task. How can I do this? Until you are on that threshold the question hasn't been lived. How can I give the blessing of God? How can I consecrate the host? The answer is, of course, I can't. I am just another human, limited and flawed. It is in the ordination that the means is given, one receives something that cannot be described, a grace one conveys to accomplish these things. It is only by being a conduit of this grace that one can function as a priest.

Proper adherence to the tradition of the Apostolic Succession can convey this ineffable something which we call grace. Think of it as a necessary but not sufficient condition for conveying the mysteries. There are many bishops, and even more priests who hold valid Apostolic lineage, and through whom the world is none the better. Others, use the grace conveyed for the purpose for which it is given, becoming stewards and conveyors of the mysteries.

We must be mindful to be Gnostics in all things, to withhold belief and to seek Gnosis, especially in the ever churning muddy waters of religion.

Agnostic and Gnostic

One of the common misunderstandings when you tell people that you are a Gnostic is that they hear the more familiar word “Agnostic.” (This becomes quite amusing when they mishear “Agnostic Priest,” or “Agnostic Eucharist.”) This becomes a good opportunity to elucidate one of the truisms of contemporary Gnosticism: You have to be an Agnostic before you can become a Gnostic.

The original differences between agnostic and gnostic are the “privative alpha” of Classical Greek. This prefix functioned like “un-” or “non-” and thus linguistically the two words are opposites, literally 'Knower' and 'Un-Knower.' (incidentally, the “a” was the first syllable, and the “g” was pronounced in both.)

However, this is Modern English and not Classical Greek, and so both terms have come to have certain more specific meanings. An Agnostic has been jokingly called a “cowardly Atheist,” but is generally someone who knows that they do not know about the divine from the reports of others.

As William James says, most people have faith in someone else's faith. They believe they know because they have beliefs that have been given to them. While this is entirely satisfactory in some aspects of life, for example if someone tells you what they know about Aruba from their readings, it is unlikely that you will have a need or desire to check their facts, you are satisfied with their account. However, It is highly unsatisfactory when it comes to the truly important aspects of life: the ultimate nature of oneself, the Cosmos, and the Divine.

In rejecting the answers of the Believers, the Agnostic withholds belief, and knows that he does not know. Someone who mistakes belief for knowledge, as most do in this world, will wrestle with the question of existence in the manner of belief: seeking stronger belief and assuaging doubts. It does not occur to Believers that they do not know, it only occurs to them that they do not believe. Thus an Agnostic has made a great deal of progress towards becoming a Gnostic, and has developed the attitude a Gnostic must have. For while a Gnostic knows from experience (has gnosis of), there is so much that a Gnostic does not know (has no gnosis of), and in these matters must maintain the attitude of an Agnostic. We can turn to scripture, tradition, and others for guidance in those aspects for which we personally have no Gnosis, but we cannot have Gnosis of someone else's Gnosis.

To know that one does not know is the starting point of the path of Gnosis.