| up a level
from the wait-till-your-father-gets-home dept.
It is sometimes claimed that historical Gnosticism was fatally flawed in its negative view of the world and the body, in its enthusiasm for the transcendent realm of Gnosis. Some have even gone so far as to say that the dualistic tendencies within Christianity are due to Gnostic influences, particularly on the apostle Paul.
I'm not convinced that it's fair to point out Gnosticism as particularly possessed of that destructive brand of dualism that characterizes the Christian era. Dualism is a component of Gnosticism as well as Christianity, of course, but it is also a part of most spiritual traditions, East and West.
As I see it, the dual and non-dual schools are equally valid modes of teaching, and equally vulnerable to abuse. Certainly, non-dual schools such as Dzogchen are most impressive, but that doesn't mean that other schools are valid only to the extent that they agree with the tenets of Dzogchen. Dualistic tendencies can be seen in many of the greatest teachings, from Hermes Trismegistus to Siddharta Gautama to George Gurdjieff.
Not all of these speak out against the "darkness of the world" to such an extent as the Gnostics, but even here, I think that differences in terminology can be misleading. Since we only possess a small portion of their teachings, it's hard to be certain, but the level of insight demonstrated by many of the Gnostic fragments leads me to believe that what the Gnostics often meant by "world" is related to what we would call "ego" today: evidence of a misplaced concreteness.
Of course, dualism can be dangerous. But there are pitfalls to non-dualism as well. I think especially of the tendency to accept as perfection matters that might have been improved. Alan Watts might serve as an example of a teacher who left us vast treasures of his writings, expressing that all we need to do is to accept our own nature. All the same, he had great unresolved psychological conflicts, and drank himself to an early death. I would also count as noteworthy non-dualists Werner Erhardt and Charles Manson.
If we wanted to compare the damage inflicted by the two schools, clearly the dualists would take the lion's share. But since the dualistic schools have generally been far more popular, I would assert that they've led more people to realization as well (granted that they must eventually leave their dualism aside for realization to be complete). Krishnamurti lectured his whole life that perfection is innately available without striving, but how many people in his audiences were ever capable of perceiving at Krishnamurti's level?
The anti-world, anti-body philosophy that has so marred our progress is Christianity (and Islam, learning from Christianity's example). And what made their dualism so onerous was authoritarianism and the doctrine that salvation is only available through an outside agent, both of which were anathema (anathemae?) to the Gnostics.
But really, this is all beside the point in relation to Thelemic Gnosticism. I see no evidence that Crowley ever thought of Gnosticism in terms of dualism or being "anti-world." To some extent, I think he was drawn to the idea of a solar-phallic tradition (for so Gnosticism seemed before the discovery at Nag Hammadi) considered heretical by the Church Fathers. But his central connection to the Gnostics, I believe, is that the Cakes of Light consumed in the Mass refer to the accusation in Iranaeus' Against Heresies that the Barbelo Gnostics ate their babies in order to free the young souls from service to the Demiurge.
True, he inherited the Gnostic Church as part of the legacy of OTO. But, as with so many other parts of his work, his use of the term "Gnostic" is centered around a mischievous joke.
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