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  In Defense of Gnosticism

General Thelema Posted by <Xnoubis> on July 28, 2000 @ 05:19 PM
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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**Re: In Defense of Gnosticism**
by Mordecai Shapiro on Friday July 28, @05:33PM

I would also count as noteworthy non-dualists >Werner Erhardt and Charles Manson.

I can see how “Werner” could be considered a pop non-dualist, but I think Charley is a stretch. He certainly has inveighed against the “establishment”, making a dualistic distinction between it and his vision of the “counterculture”, and I don't see how his apocalyptic revelations of “race-war” could be seen as anything but dualism of the most degraded sort.

  • |Re: In Defense of Gnosticism\\
    by <Xnoubis> on Saturday July 29, @08:18PM

    Yeah, there's no way that he could be described as consistently non-dual. I was thinking mostly of his song, “Always is Always Forever,” which I actually like a lot:
    > Always is always forever\\
    Cause one is one is one\\
    Look inside yourself for your father\\
    All is none all is none all is one\\
    It's time to call time from behind you\\
    The illusion has been just a dream\\
    Valley of death and I'll find you\\
    Now is when on a sunshine beam\\
    So bring only your perfection\\
    For there love will surely be\\
    No cold, pain, fear, or hunger\\
    You can see you can see you can see

    That, and those films of the Manson chicks in cute berets and machine guns, saying things like, “If a baby cries, you just pick it up. And if you need to kill, there's no right or wrong, you just pick up a gun and do it. This is our way.”\\
    But, yes, I admit it's a stretch . . .\\

**Re: In Defense of Gnosticism**
by <Perseverando> on Sunday July 30, @02:16PM

I am assuming that the “mischievous joke” of Crowley's that you have mentioned would be the play on the double meaning of the word Gnosis as “Knowledge”, both as directly acquired information and in the biblical sense of sexual intercourse. If there is another “joke” of which I may be ignorant, please be so kind as to tell us!

Like Levi and Blavatsky and Mathers who came before him, Crowley was a marvelous syncretist, taking what suited him to synthesize his Magick, and tossing out the rest. The term Gnostic is truly an apt description of the Thelemite who operates in certainty rather than faith, not to mention the use of Sexual Magicks to accomplish one's true Thelema - love under will.

As such, one need not emulate the Old Aeon Gnostic in order to be a New Aeon Gnostic, though they certainly had the Gnosis to recognise that YHVH was/is merely number Four, and therefore below the abyss of the Three Supernals.

  • |Re: In Defense of Gnosticism\\
    by <Xnoubis> on Monday July 31, @09:28AM

    That's not entirely the joke I was looking at. See, instead, Liber AL, III:23-25 and Chapter XII of Magick in Theory and Practice.\\
    About the rest of what you say, I'm in complete agreement. Nicely put, too.\\

**Re: In Defense of Gnosticism**
by Alex Chapunoff on Sunday September 24, @01:50PM

I think it's important to clarify what dualism can be, and not only what itfrequently is. There are traditions which incorporate dualism that are healthy and whole, such as Taoism (yin and yang), Qabalah (the hexagram known by some as the Star of David), Alchemy (dissolve et coagula), etc. The dualism to which you refer is the unhealthy type because the opposing, complementary forces are not integrated; there is no transcendent wholeness only because there is an artificial separation between them in the consciousness of the adherents. Sort of an “Us versus Them” mentality. However, it appears that early Gnostic Christianity wasn't always of this variety. Some Gnostics held that Jesus had a twin brother who was his dark, fierce counterpart; apparently he and Jesus respected and loved one another. In other words, there was dualism here but it was frankly acknowledged, which leads to integration. This is similar to Horus and Set, which in some periods were depicted in Egyptian art as sharing one body (with their two distinctive heads). Carl Jung speaks of how in early (gnostic) Christianity, Christ was an archetype of the Self (totality, wholeness) but that as the Roman church grew in power, Christ was increasingly depicted as more angelic, pure, and benevolent; when they made him into a being of pure light, his shadow was in effect extracted and the Christians personified this as Satan. The difficulty arises when the dual forces are considered mutually exclusive and antagonistic; such is not the way of Nature but of human cultural psychology. This attitude has caused much harm throughout history; we tend to have difficulty reconciling (apparent) opposites. I think Crowley in his writing and behavior incorporated great contradictions in order to show that it's okay, that ultimately there is no such thing as contradiction. But for people excessively focused in linear, cause-and-effect thinking this would seem irrational, insane, enigmatic, eccentric, etc. His tantric process of marrying each idea with its opposite (i.e., with its mate) is a work of love, of union. Dualism itself, then, is not the problem because it can lead to union. The problem is dualistic separatism. By definition, natural dualism is the same as union (e.g., the yin-yang symbol depicts the light and dark but is itself ONE symbol). With regards to Charles Manson, he has stated that he identifies himself with Abraxas, which was a Gnostic deity symbolizing the union of the dual strands (feminine/masculine, light/dark), analogous to Baphomet.

  • |Re: In Defense of Gnosticism\\
    by <Diego> on Friday February 16, @06:19PM

    Not bad. Wasn't it Charles Manson who asked of an interviewer once: “Is it hot in here or am I nuts?”\\

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