Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gnostcism and the gods

"I know this idea isn't central to Gnosticism and historically the gods of various pantheons (Zeus, Odin, Thor, etc.) don't play a part in Gnostic lore. But how would a Gnostic explain or interpret the gods according to their own mythology? I've been reading about aeons and archons, and it seems to me that most of them would fit in with the latter.

"From the various books and websites I've looked over, it sounds like opinions differ on whether the demiurge and archons are evil or just ignorant of what exists above them. If so, perhaps the more enlightened among the gods would be reaching for Gnosis as well?"
Aeons are emanations of the highest divinity, and so are aspects of that transcendent divinity, akin to Kabbalistic sefiroth. They often have allegorical names.

Archons are powers in the cosmos, and so are more like the classical understanding of gods and daemons. It is a distinction of genus, the nature and origin. In the generic plural form, Gnostic texts tend to view Archons as detrimental to liberation due to their ignorant exercise of power. However, in the texts that give accounts of the creation of the cosmos, there are individual archons who immediately recognize the truth when it is told to them by Sophia and leave the service of the demiurge. Even the demiurge may eventually give up his willful ignorance.

Abraxas is an interesting figure. He is described as an archon in the secondary literature, yet is a figure who unites the opposites of the cosmos and aids one in transcending the cosmos. So, there are powers in the world that not only recognize the need for Gnosis, but also aid humans in attaining it.

From a Gnostic perspective the figures of ancient pantheons are not theologically defined entities, but something that we experience as beings. They are not a matter of belief, but of encounter. We may encounter and experience what the ancient peoples who described these pantheons and deities encountered and experienced. All are not necessarily detrimental to us, and so may be beneficial to us in a limited way. The key factor is that they are limited. But this is the ancient view of such beings as well.

What are gods from a polytheist perspective may be archons from a Gnostic perspective--but they are the same beings, largely understood in the same way. The way of understanding this is similar to that in Tibetan Buddhism, in that the mission of conversion to Buddhism in Tibet is described as including the teaching and conversion of the individual deities there. And that these deities are still honored, they may even aid one in seeking enlightenment, but, they are understood within the larger framework.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've often thought that the entities in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" had some parallels here. Actually, an interesting question is are the "ghosts" in that story outside agents that intervene in Scrooge's life for his benefit, or are the interior aspects of Scrooge's psyche or soul. There seems to be a gnostic message here when one takes the position that Scrooge is liberated at the end of the story based on a personal experience. Rev. Troy, do you have a more learned take on this story?

Troy W. Pierce said...

That would be something interesting to look at at length. The structure of the tale is one in which Scrooge is actually liberated from himself. This occurs through a process of examining his own story, his own myth. His past, present, and future are reexamined from an outside perspective. It is this examination or retelling of his myth that paves the way for a new myth, a new story. As the ancient Gnostics understood, our sense of meaning flows from our stories and if we are to become free from them we must understand and recreate them.