Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Gnostic Approach to Gnosticism

I doubt I'm the only one who feels disappointed at the level of discussions on Gnostic forums, including our own participation. However, criticism isn't enough, we need an alternative. In my own work I have been trying to use a Gnostic approach to Gnosticism. Various aspects of this have been mentioned in previous posts, but I would like to elucidate them here.

What's wrong with the old patterns? They focus on our intractable differences, and they are not Gnostic except perhaps in subject matter. The pattern we are used to is that of articulating beliefs and opinions. The problem with this is that beliefs are rarely a rational matter: either they come from experience, serving as place-holders for experience, or they come from the culture or from psychological needs. In either case, there is no arguing about them, only if one is removed from the belief are arguments relevant—but knowing when this is the case is very difficult. And regardless of their origin, beliefs and opinions are inherently ego territory, they are “mine” and must be defended first and maybe looked at later.

The other big problem is related, our beliefs and opinions are not Gnosis. We can argue that we 'know' all kinds of things, but how much of that would stand up to our own scrutiny from a Gnostic perspective? We fall into patterns of stating things that we think we know, 'knowing' them from very second and third hand sources, and defending them like dogma. The very nature of a forum pulls us into this, as there are legitimate basic questions, to which this kind of 'knowledge' provides the answers. In that cultural-default mindset we begin answering questions, and stay in that mindset. All such 'knowledge' is founded upon shaky ground, belief in someone else's beliefs or opinions, in one story or another than can be told about the same facts.

So, what is the alternative? A Gnostic approach to Gnosticism would first and foremost acknowledge how much we don't really know. There is an unbridgeable difference between Gnosis and information, ultimately the latter is only useful if it can lead to the former. Being a Gnostic means having some Gnosis, and having some Gnosis means you know that you don't actually know some ninety-nine point something percent of the time. And what you do have Gnosis of cannot be fully articulated, the best we can do are symbols and stories that may lead back to the experience that was the seed of the Gnosis.

Gnostics are generally very smart, well-educated, people who have done a wide variety of studying until they finally found out that what they are is “Gnostic” and then continue from there. Many study Gnosticism for decades before finding someone else to discuss it with, giving us plenty of time to develop our own meanings for terms, associations with ideas, and unfortunately not having anyone to help us along by calling us on our biases. It will take effort, and endless amounts of humor, to pull ourselves out of those deep ruts again and again. But the path of wisdom has been described as coming to know how much you don't know, and we need to put our Gnosis into practice.

Gnosticism as an ancient historical phenomena isn't available to us, we have a few texts, and a few symbols; what has been preserved in the exoteric Church; and the thread of Hermeticism that leads through alchemy and magical systems. We can study these few remains like archaeologists or we can move in and live there. We know where taking the standard comparative religion beliefs/practices approach to Gnosticism leads—to something that doesn't make sense. We need to be like William Blake or wacky Zen monks and not get trapped in someone else's system, or misunderstanding of what it's all about. It's about Gnosis, the practice not the definition. And we'd be doing the world a favor if we point and laugh when someone tries to push us onto any procrustean bed, rather than argue about the details of the amputations.

Not only is there so much that we don't really know, the most important things we never will. We need to take to heart the unknown and the unknowable. Mysteries can be experienced, but they are outside the grasp of the mind, it can only reflect on facets or elements of them. A definition of Gnosis is less useful than a description. In definitions we run the risk of thinking that we have captured it, that it is the definition. So many real and important things aren't subject to definitions (read some early Platonic dialogs if this isn't already apparent). If we can't adequately define Love, why should we think we can do so with Gnosis? We need to be willing to live with the important questions, to give guidance but not necessarily answers.

How do we keep away from the “anything goes then” mentality? First we must recognize that the current strategy of doing that, a quazi-historic academic approach, isn't doing us much good. If its all in the past, where is the Gnosis? If it is Gnosis, then it isn't “just you,” and you should be able to find the signs of it in others however distant in time and place. This is a grounded living Gnosticism, not stuck in the past, but guided by what remains, and testing our realizations against those of others ancient and modern.

This is just a first attempt at articulating what a Gnostic approach to Gnosticism might be, but my intuition is that the only way to keep this path of Gnosis from being swallowed up again is to change our focus. Taking a Gnostic approach to Gnosticism is the only way to keep it alive.


Coe said...

Great post. I'm glad I came across your site. (I found it through Jordan's site.)

I sometimes find myself on the fence between knoweldge and gnosis. By this I mean that I read and read and read and spend precious little time contemplating anything or putting gnosis into practice. This post was a good reminder of that for me.


Hoomer said...

A man may watch an artist for millenia, until they have picked up a brush and used it.....they have done nothing.

Gnosis is dvine union...anything else is "pretend"....is it not?

Joshua said...

The more I learn, the more I understand I know less and less about more and more. I understand, looking at myself, how one could confuse the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. In my understanding acquiring gnosis is the process of contemplation of the environment around us and of ourselves in that environment. I guess what I'm trying to say is evaluating objectivly whether or not we are conducive to broadening the conciousness of those around us or are intersted in obtaining gnosis for ourselves primarily - only to then go help others. I know this sounds elementary to most readers, but I've only been studying gnosticism for about 6 years and I haven't seen many postings or blogs from gnostics on this idea. I personally think one of the keys to progression is not over-doing the personal p.o.v. for the acquisition of gnosis. I think, perhaps, that focusing on the environment around ourselves not only helps promote, Gnosticism in general, but allows the experiencing of gnosis so as to aid in making the case for a repeat visit to good and decent human wisdom. I apologize if this was a bit off subject in regard to the posting but it was what came to me when reading it. I hope I have not been too irrelevant in this. Thank you.