Sunday, October 29, 2006

The 2007 Gnostic Calendar Coming Soon

The 2007 Gnostic Calendar will be available for ordering in November.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

From Experience to Ontology

The first frame is getting hit in the back of the head by something unseen, in case that is unclear.

Approaches to Gnosticism - 2: The Search for Authenticity in Gnostic Practice

The online abstract debates about sacramental forms, and the arguments that are best described as “the Reformation on replay” that get aimed at long established forms, are really about the basic underlying question of authenticity. In looking at this, I'll try a more narrative approach.

Authenticity in Gnosticism is something that interests all who identify as Gnostics. “What is Gnosticism?” And, “what is Gnostic?” Are questions that, frankly, we as Gnostics haven't explored adequately. And, as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reminds us in a humorous way—the questions are much more important than the answers.

Well over a decade ago, after studying Gnosticism voraciously for years, I received a very sure calling to “Gnostic ministry.” What popped into my mind after that had sunk in for a moment was the very important question—“how?” How does one go about ministering in a way that is Gnostic?

I share this because I have gone through the same process that many have. You recognize that you are a Gnostic, and then... now what? This is a bigger issue if you feel a vocation to ministry. At the time, I had no idea that there were any practicing Gnostics. And much later, when I read an odd account of the Ecclesia Gnostica I assumed as many do today, that something that looked Catholic “couldn't be Gnostic.” Where does this attitude come from? The formation of the shadow projection on Christianity through a dualistic story of Orthodox vs. Gnostic.

“Christianity” in the modern mind is usually a gravely polarized thing. This points to a psychological state more than an actual one, in that “Christianity” in actuality is a hopelessly diverse category, while “Christianity” in most considerations is a thoroughly 'known' and describable thing. It comes down to unconsciously identifying with, or unconsciously rejecting identification with. To use Jung's description, it either becomes a part of one's ego complex or one's shadow complex. The stereotype (if not more of an archetype) of Christianity in the West is Roman Catholicism.

This gets further complicated with issues of “Authority.” We are accustomed to think of authority in only a negative sense, that is, of having it imposed by force. We have also become accustomed to assuming that “Hierarchy” is synonymous with this improper use of power. This is why the lottery-style service described by Ireneus is such a compelling story, it seems to remove all hierarchy leading to a radical equality. (This misconstrues the real radical equality that Gnostics prize that is a deeper equality of potentiality regardless of form, that fits within the framework of a hierarchy of achievement.)

This leaves us with a common pattern of where to look to for authenticity in Gnostic practice, one that will not consider what is not rejected out of hand for unconscious identity-reasons, or what is in the personal or collective shadow complex. The last place many look for authentic Gnostic practice is to historical hierarchical Christianity. I and others have been attacked for daring to do so, as if this contemporary mind-set is the only possible and “one true” one.

When I attended my first Ecclesia Gnostica service, it was two or three years after I received my vocation, and it never entered my mind that this might be an authentic Gnostic practice. I actually went for the talk on the Templars, and brought a few friends along to hear as well. I was initially disappointed that it was going to be a full religious service, embarrassed in front of my friends to some extent. Yet, in spite of all of my preconceptions, ideas, and expectations, the Eucharist service effected me deeply.

I didn't learn the history of the Ecclesia Gnostica, with its ties back to the Gnostic Restoration of the nineteenth century, for years to come. But, I came to understand that we as modern Gnostics are heirs not just of a few fragmentary texts, but also of a highly developed, and richly symbolic, living religious tradition—historical Christianity. Taken out of the context of dogma and literalism, these practices had been developed over centuries as a way of preserving the Canon of the Mass as an experience. With the layers of symbolism being added and refined over a millennia as a means of reaching that psycho-spiritual experience.
In seeing this I was aided with a strong background in Depth Psychology. And the experience of having sought effective symbolic ritual practice for years previously in different settings, including creative eclectic neo-Paganism. In this highly developed symbolic form I found a depth that had been missing before.

In many ways I won a lottery in having an opportunity to experience and then participate in the oldest living Gnostic church on the continent. Being able to learn from and go through formation in a tradition that in specific ways went back decades, in particular ways, into the Nineteenth Century, in ritual form, for almost a millennium; and, in essence, back to the Classical Gnostics and to the ministry of Christ.

Most are not so lucky. They have go through many attempts, and find their way through many ideas, to find something that will “work” on any level. There is no completely original “Gnostic only” form of practice today. What we have that works, works because it is based upon something that worked before. But this is the way it has always been. The ancient Gnostics practiced sacramental mysteries, and in the texts we have no distinction is made between “Gnostic” forms and any other form of these practices. Some waste time looking for an authentic specifically “Gnostic” hammer, others pick of any hammer and build a chapel for services devoted to Gnosis.

Perhaps it is all but impossible for modern minds to tease out the differences between ancient individual striving and modern individualism. But it is our individual striving and succeeding that matter, and what helps with that is what is of most value to us.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Your Scholarship Can Win Cash & Prize Award

Remember, Remember
The Fifth of November...

One of the ways the Gnosis Institute will be encouraging scholarly work in the field, and work on Institute projects, is through Awards that include actual money. As we only have two basic memberships to work with, the amounts will be small to begin with, but I'm throwing in a special award version of the 2007 Gnostic Wall Calendar.

So, brush off those papers, or polish them up, or write a new one! The criteria are that the work has to meet the standards of scholarship: use and note references, track assumptions, be explicit about arguments, etc. It also has to fit into one of the project areas of the Gnosis Institute, of which there are many. If you have a question on that, just ask.

The award for best submission for October will win $50 and an award version of the 2007 Gnostic Wall Calendar. As the Institute grows, the wider variety of awards that are listed at the site (and more) will be granted, and the amounts will be increased.

The contest will be void if there are fewer than two entries that are considered to be up to standards. In that case, the contest will be extended for another month. The award will be made by vote of all Gnosis Institute Community members. Submission for publication to the Gnosis Institute grants the Institute perpetual rights to publish the work electronically without consideration or remuneration, and, in print for a standard post-sales percentage as set by the board of directors.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Approaches to Gnosticism - 1: Contexts for Understanding Gnostic Texts

We understand everything in a context. The problem is not that we do this, but that it is so often a context that we are unconscious of having. Instead of seeing it for what it is, we generally think of it as the “neutral” or “one true” framework for understanding something.

This has been very apparent in online discussions of Gnosticism, yet it is a difficult concept to get across. What follows are the standard approaches to Gnosticism looked at from the contexts through which they approach Gnostic texts. These patterns are typical and as such risk being stereotypical.

The top three are the top three approaches that seem to be favored by those online who self-identify as Gnostics (with connections to the historical tradition). The contemporary approach is largely Protestant in form: the individual approaches the texts by themselves, through their understanding of religion from the current religious and cultural contexts. The most common of these within this largely Protestant approach are Protestant in nature. This leads to a type of “Sola Scriptura Gnostica” approach, a severe limiting of meaning to scriptures identified as Gnostic understood through standard theological reasoning.

The idiosyncratic approach can lead to wild eclecticism and to orthodoxies of one. We will be looking at this in different contexts to show the difference between idiosyncratically approaching Gnosticism and personally approaching Gnosticism.

The Polemical approach, when it isn't simply name-calling, is a repeat of ancient arguments that were based upon ancient propaganda only slightly modified, if at all, for contemporary use.

The academic approach also includes an understanding of religion from the current religious and cultural contexts. These are presented as models and definitions of religion that are based upon Protestant understandings of Religion. This is the standard “beliefs & practices” model of religion, and the definitions of religion as involving “supernatural beings.”

The Depth Psychological approach was the first that recognized Gnosticism beyond the beliefs & practices model. Seeing the Gnostic texts not as abstract theological treatises or as guides to winning a salvation game. The Depth Psychological approach grounds Gnosticism within the human being, not just human ideas.

So, what's a Gnostic to do? The approach I am familiar with, and originally assumed other Gnostics used, combines the elements of the Depth Psychological and Academic approaches. It rejects the model of religion as beliefs and practices, or as an external or abstract thing. But as something with real inner Psycho-spiritual transformative effects on human beings. This gives us more than a few fragmentary texts understood from a Protestant perspective: a few ideas that are identifiable as “Gnostic” from the texts, understood in a modern religious context. But rather, a rich tradition of Gnosis in which we can use the ancient Gnostic texts as guides, mirrors, and community.