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I'd say there is no "Gnostic" view. There are many Gnostic views however. Try Elaine Pagels' Beyond Beleif The Secret Gospel of Thomas for a more attractive view

I seem to recall reading (was it in Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels?) that there were several different schools of thought that were collectively branded as Gnosticism, but that there were broad differences between the various schools. I also remember reading something about a particular school that taught that the way to salvation involved complete, abject decadence - something to the effect that engaging in as many sinful acts as possible would exhaust all physical desire and therefore free the soul.(!!!)

There may be some validity in these ideas as psychological allegory. An example is The Secret Book of John's verse:

The One is the Invisible Spirit.

It is not right to think of it as a God or as like God.

It is more than just God.

If this is interpreted as suggesting that God always transcends any definitions applied to it, then I would have agree. But barring that interpretation, I can only agree with MP that these are disturbing metaphysical ideas if taken literally.

Perhaps its like ice cream flavors everyone has their taste. The way that you interpret the divine may not sit will with those who see it another way.

the beauty of gnosticism is the idea of gnosis, or knowing. All paths lead to the same ends, being connected to the divine. Perhaps though, what you see as mean spirited, is rather those who are seeking that knowledge perceiving those that shun them.

I think that there is value in the teachings of Gnosticism so followers of the cross can find their own path to the divine, rather than the Nicean one.

Michael, I find Gnosticism to be a useful foil for Christianity itself, which gets an unfair rap from Objectivists and other materialists for being anti-body, etc. Actually, it is Gnosticism which most non-believers have in mind when they criticize Christianity -- the idea that, upon death, we all evaporate into disembodied souls, forever wandering heaven and uniting in a decidedly nonmaterial, non-fleshy way with God. Pas du tout! Traditional Christianity believes in the resurrection -- that day, after the last judgment, when all people who are saved (and we can leave for another discussion who gets saved!) are resurrected into their familiar bodies, but now transfigured into even greater bodies than they were (the "Resurrection body"), at which point there will be a "new heaven and a new earth." So bottom line, if you enjoy your body, its pleasures, functionalities, capabilities, etc., don't knock Christianity for scorning that -- it doesn't.

MP, it almost sounds like a cult of Lucifer worship. Who is the other "divine being" that did not create the world, the one who is supposed to be the "true god"? Or is that supposed to be the secret?

If my hunch is correct, they didn't hide it very well.

Whenever I read any book I sift through it and take what I find useful and discard the rest. It doesn't have to be "all or nothing." I figure all religions are a mish-mash of different psychic experiences along with a dash of the local culture and huge gobs of embellishment. The trick is to be able to sift through it all and make use of that which resonates with one's own ideas.

“I also remember reading something about a particular school that taught that the way to salvation involved complete, abject decadence - something to the effect that engaging in as many sinful acts as possible would exhaust all physical desire and therefore free the soul.(!!!)”

This is an interesting idea. Can we exhaust our physical desires and then find they did not or do not bring us the peace and joy we yearn for or can we just change our thoughts and then have no need to engage in such physical desires.

Also how do we know how many of those decadent desires we have expressed in possible past lives and we no longer have many of those “sinful” acts to exhaust. It appears that more than individual effort is needed to advance the soul.

Also maybe there are many paths to this inner peace and bliss maybe the exhaustion of physical desires is one of them. Dr Hora talks about two paths to our awaking process; one is wisdom and the other is suffering. He goes on to say most choose suffering.

If we change our thoughts and we no longer feel a need to these physical desires are we just suppressing them to a sub consciousness level? And in a next life or dimension do they come charging forward.

I lean in the direction at this time there may be many paths to advance our souls in love and divine intelligence. Maybe we all have to find out what does not work before we know what really matters. An interesting side note is that vanilla is the number one selling ice cream for those into the many flavors of taste as an analogy of the journey of the soul.

Ummm. That's merely ONE of MANY views of Ancient Gnosticism, actually it's the *Extremist* Sethian/Ophite Gnostic World View. Others were totally different.

For example, in Valentinianism, which was the largest and most influential movement of Gnosticism in the Early Christian Church (which endured for some 600 years), The Demiurge was NOT evil, but was a Servant of the Highest Powers (comparable to Metatron in Jewish Mysticism), physical matter was NOT evil, just a shadow of the higher spiritual realms, the Old Testament was considered God Inspired because the Holy Spirit (Sophia) spoke through The Demiurge and The Prophets (And Christ created The Demiurge as an Authority of The Father and as a Just Judge in Valentinianism), Gnosis is merely Intimate Personal Spiritual Revelatory Knowledge of God, not a "super duper secret" thing, and morality and ethics were upmost central in Valentinianism, and this world is considered to be used for the spiritual development of human souls in Valentinianism. That's all in Valentinianism.

"It is the Valentinians who reestablish the harmony between the Old & New Testaments when they say that Sophia, the Wisdom derived from the true God has spoken though the mouths of the prophets; when they teach that, in creating the world, the Demiurge was inspired without knowing it by the Spirit or the Logos, of whom he was simply the instrument; when they say that the world was created to allow the perfecting of the seeds of the Spirit that have come from the eternal world." (Petrement 1984)

A great source:

Funny how everyone hears about Sethian/Ophite Extremist Gnosticism, yet the largest and most influential Gnostic Sect, Valentinianism, which is totally different and much closer to mainline Early Christianity, is never discussed.

Valentinus had a better claim to authority than the other Gnostic Sects anyway. Valentinus was a disciple of the Early Christian teacher Theudas who had been a disciple of Saint Paul.

Heck, if you research The Orthodox Early Church Father Clement of Alexandria (who is my personal favorite), and read his writings, he was an Orthodox Gnostic Christian, still well regarded in the Christian Church. As Wikipedia points out...

"Clement of Alexandria (born Titus Flavius Clemens) (c.150 - 211/216), was the first notable member of the Church of Alexandria, and one of its most distinguished teachers. He was born about the middle of the 2nd century, and died between 211 and 216. He united Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine and valued gnosis that with communion for all people could be held by common Christians specially chosen by God. He used the term "gnostic" for Christians who had attained the deeper teaching of the Logos. He developed a Christian Platonism. He presented the goal of Christian life as deification, identified both as Platonism's assimilation into God and the biblical imitation of God."

I'm Eastern Orthodox by the way. Oh, and glad to post here again Michael, this is Eteponge, I use to post here alot, it's been awhile. :)

"Gnosis is merely Intimate Personal Spiritual Revelatory Knowledge of God"

I think this is what attracts a lot of seekers as this is not possible in a lot of orthodox christian traditions. Where you can never come to actually know god or to experience it directly or fully beyond a mental thinking level.
I think it is clear that this depends on what one thinks gnosticism and christianity is. It's like hinduism, many ways to look at it. From polytheism to absolute monotheism...


I think this is what attracts a lot of seekers as this is not possible in a lot of orthodox christian traditions. Where you can never come to actually know god or to experience it directly or fully beyond a mental thinking level.

This would seem to be the case. Jerry Adler wrote an article for Newsweek in 2005, In Search of the Spiritual, which explored how interest in esoteric knowledge was exploding across all faiths. He opens with the sentence, "Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God, and, according to our poll, they don't much care what the neighbors are doing."

Adler does close the piece by noting that not everyone agrees:

We have come a long way, it would appear, from that dark year when the young Catholic philosopher Michael Novak was quoted in Time, saying, "If, occasionally, I raise my heart in prayer, it is to no God I can see, or hear, or feel." To make the point, we gave Novak, who is now 72 and among the most distinguished theologians in America, the chance to correct the record on his youthful despair. And he replied that God is as far away as he's ever been. Religious revivals are always exuberant and filled with spirit, he says, but the true measure of faith is in adversity and despair, when God doesn't show up in every blade of grass or storefront church. "That's when the true nature of belief comes out," he says. "Joy is appropriate to the beginnings of your faith. But sooner or later somebody will get cancer, or your best friends will betray you. That's when you will be tested."

For what it's worth, the concept of matter as inherently evil is, in my opinion, a misunderstanding that one can easily arrive at by skimming several esoteric spiritual teachings. Manly P. Hall illustrates this throughout his masterpiece, The Secret Teachings of All Ages. The actual idea, as I understand it, is that spirit has been trapped in matter, and that the goal of the spiritual seeker is to transcend the apparent duality. Hall illustrates this idea in his retelling of an ancient story at the close of the chapter>Qabbalistic Keys to the Creation of Man:

In this ritualistic drama--possibly derived from the Egyptians--Adam, banished from the Garden of Eden, represents man philosophically exiled from the sphere of Truth. Through ignorance man falls; through wisdom he redeems himself. The Garden of Eden represents the House of the Mysteries (see The Vision of Enoch) in the midst of which grew both the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Man, the banished Adam, seeks to pass from the outer court of the Sanctuary (the exterior universe) into the sanctum sanctorum, but before him rises a vast creature armed with a flashing sword that, moving slowly but continually, sweeps clear a wide circle, and through this "Ring Pass Not" the Adamic man cannot break.

The cherubim address the seeker thus: "Man, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return. Thou wert fashioned by the Builder of Forms; thou belongest to the sphere of form, and the breath that was breathed into thy soul was the breath of form and like a flame it shall flicker out. More than thou art thou canst not be. Thou art a denizen of the outer world and it is forbidden thee to enter this inner place."

And the Adam replies: "Many times have I stood within this courtyard and begged admission to my Father's house and thou hast refused it me and sent me back to wander in darkness. True it is that I was fashioned out of the dirt and that my Maker could not confer upon me the boon of immortality. But no more shalt thou send me away; for, wandering in the darkness, I have discovered that the Almighty hath decreed my salvation because He hath sent out of the most hidden Mystery His Only Begotten who didst take upon Himself the world fashioned by the Demiurgus. Upon the elements of that world was He crucified and from Him hath poured forth the blood of my salvation. And God, entering into His creation, hath quickened it and established therein a road that leadeth to Himself. While my Maker could not give me immortality, immortality was inherent in the very dust of which I was composed, for before the world was fabricated and before the Demiurgus became the Regent of Nature the Eternal Life had impressed itself upon the face of Cosmos. This is its sign--the Cross. Do you now deny me entrance, I who have at last learned the mystery of myself?"

And the voice replies: "He who is aware, IS! Behold!"

Gazing about him, Adam finds himself in a radiant place, in the midst of which stands a tree with flashing jewels for fruit and entwined about its trunk a flaming, winged serpent crowned with a diadem of stars. It was the voice of the serpent that had spoken.

"Who art thou?" demands the Adam.

"I," the serpent answers, "am Satan who was stoned; I am the Adversary--the Lord who is against you, the one who pleads for your destruction before the Eternal Tribunal. I was your enemy upon the day that you were formed; I have led you into temptation; I have delivered you into the hands of evil; I have maligned you; I have striven ever to achieve your undoing. I am the guardian of the Tree of Knowledge and I have sworn that none whom I can lead astray shall partake of its fruits."

The Adam replies: "For uncounted ages have I been thy servant. In my ignorance I listened to thy words and they led me into paths of sorrow. Thou hast placed in my mind dreams of power, and when I struggled to realize those dreams they brought me naught but pain. Thou hast sowed in me the seeds of desire, and when I lusted after the things of the flesh agony was my only recompense. Thou hast sent me false prophets and false reasoning, and when I strove to grasp the magnitude of Truth I found thy laws were false and only dismay rewarded my strivings. I am done with thee forever, O artful Spirit! I have tired of thy world of illusions. No longer will I labor in thy vineyards of iniquity. Get thee behind me, rempter, and the host of thy temptations. There is no happiness, no peace, no good, no future in the doctrines of selfishness, hate, and passion preached by thee. All these things do I cast aside. Renounced is thy rule forever!"

And the serpent makes answer: "Behold, O Adam, the nature of thy Adversary!" The serpent disappears in a blinding sunburst of radiance and in its place stands an angel resplendent in shining, golden garments with great scarlet wings that spread from one corner of the heavens to the other. Dismayed and awestruck, the Adam falls before the divine creature.

"I am the Lord who is against thee and thus accomplishes thy salvation, " continues the voice. "Thou hast hated me, but through the ages yet to be thou shalt bless me, for I have led thee our of the sphere of the Demiurgus; I have turned thee against the illusion of worldliness; I have weaned thee of desire; I have awakened in thy soul the immortality of which I myself partake. Follow me, O Adam, for I am the Way, the Life, and the Truth!"

Gnosticism, at least in the accounts that I have read, seems to have much in common with the Buddhist concept of saṃsāra,

Good to hear from you again, Eteponge. I'll have to look further into Gnosticism. As I continue reading Wright's book, I'm becoming aware of his strong animus against the Gnostics. He seems to have a personal dislike of them! His summary of their views is no doubt accurate for some strains of Gnosticism, but as you say, Gnostics come in many flavors.

Previously I read Elaine Pagels' books on the subject (including Beyond Belief, which Tony M recommended in his comment). But Pagels suffers from the opposite bias; she is strongly pro-Gnostic and tends to give them every benefit of the doubt.

I suppose it's hard to find anyone who's really neutral in this area ...

Having now finished Wright's (very short) book, I must say I was disappointed with it, and regret having quoted from it. The book degenerates into mere polemics, and very emotional polemics at that, castigating ancient and modern Gnostics, tarring them all with the same brush.

Wright's principal objection to the Gnostics seems to be that they hope for salvation in heaven, while Wright (an Anglican bishop) hopes for salvation on earth in the form of a general resurrection - that is, a worldwide bodily resurrection that will repopulate the globe. He is probably correct in saying that this was the hope and expectation of most early Christians, but why any modern person should believe it is another matter.

Wright also is downright hostile to the idea of relying on one's personal experience as the basis for spiritual growth, claiming that this approach leads to narcissism, solipsism, imperialism, environmental degradation, and promiscuity, among many other evils.

I've read several of Wright's more scholarly books and found them very worthwhile, but this one is more like a long, angry screed than a polished analysis. The author's thinking seems clouded by the his obvious ego-investment in traditional Christianity, which blinds him to any possible value in alternative approaches.

That's not to say that the Gnostics were necessarily on to something, but Wright's book does not offer a trustworthy basis for evaluating their system.

if you are caught up in materialism - in all its definitions, then yes, i think you are missing something.

I have found the writings of Richard Smoley very informative on the subject of gnosticsm and the Gnostics. You can find some of his online stuff here:

Gnosticism as we know it has much in common with Christianity -- a collection of old myths transmitted as imperfectly as one might expect and a number of historical references, often obscure, plus a very few incomplete documents difficult to translate owing to the content, etc.

Hancock and others speculate on hidden lines of transmission between Gnosticism and the Bogomils, the Cathars, and so on, owing to certain similarities.

Some of the myths remind me of the way certain teachers first demolish students' beliefs before proceeding; that is, they are not to be taken literally but rather as part of a technique or strategy.

What's missing altogether are the "inner" practices, as though we have but a tiny fragment of mere wrappings, scholars basing their opinions on these alone.

"Elitism" -- "secret" knowledge available only to initiates -- was a very common element in esoteric practices in the pre-modern world and for good reasons:

o Certain experiences are exceedingly difficult to effectively transmit;

o Inculcating these requires, in some traditions, definite stages, mastery, isolation, etc.; think of instances such as Egyptian priesthoods, Zen monasteries, obscure brotherhoods, Knights Templars (and what became of their rituals as they continued to be transmitted after the end of the order), and so forth. Think also of the various "mystery schools" of the Hellenic world.

o Another excellent reason for secrecy is owing to severe repression -- think of the Inquisition; think of the slaughter of both the Cathars and the Knights Templars

It's easy to dismiss the Gnostic myths, with their dualism and peculiar hierarchies of beings, etc., but close to impossible to actually know what was truly going on in the experience of practitioners, while again techniques, rituals, methods, etc., are nearly as completely lost as genuine knowledge concerning the lives of actual men upon whom the myth of Christianity is loosely based, beyond what is found in Josephus or the (at times alleged) writings of Paul.

On the other hand, a great variety of methods and techniques of many types have survived through the ages, influencing whole societies, particularly in Asia.

These need not be at all secret in today's world, but using and understanding them defies intellectual analysis alone, as though they pertain to areas of mind and being still poorly understood -- if understood at all -- within the framework of beliefs most of us have been brought up within.

My own experiments have begun to combine meditation (with some assistance from friends who can illuminate such practices with a bit of mediumship or channelling) with the "Chi" of Asian thought and belief ("Ki" in Japanese), the focusing on the fingertips sometimes found in Indian practice and some martial arts practices, and related areas, but in a way that seeks to start from scratch, with as few preconceptions as possible.

I've started a section on this, adding to it as my experience grows, as #9. Just What Are Those Methods? found at

Bill I.
Magnolia, MA

I spent about 20-25 years in various fundamentalist/pentacostal churches and found that at the end I had more unanswered questions than when I began, and more to the point, I was living in fear of a very mean-spirited god that would (according to some of the evangelists that came through) strike one down for even relatively minor sins. The takeaway for me was that the god they preached was either not the same god that Jesus talked about, or they were getting something seriously wrong.

In retrospect it almost seems to me like the Bible melds (at least) five different religions: Pre-Judiasm (basically a very condensed and sanitized rewrite of early sumerian and babylonian texts, but still with enough to raise eyebrows if you read it with an open mind) in the first part of Genesis, Judiasm (Abraham's time going forward), the teachings of Jesus (the four Gospels), the teaching of Paul (who was supposedly a "reformed" Pharisee, but his teachings weren't all THAT reformed), and the other non-Gospels in the NT not written by Paul.

Then there's the book of Revelation, which was written by someone named John (but we aren't sure which John) while imprisoned on the island of Patmos, which was famous for being infested with what we today call "magic mushrooms" - was Revelation partly the result of a 'shroom trip?

Yet fundamentalist Christians want to belive that every reference to any deity in the bible is to the one and same God - if so this God must have multiple personalities or something. And just one other thing, they believe (and promote) the idea that one must be saved before they die or they will spend eternity in a Dante's Inferno-type hell. Trouble is, that view of hell is not supported by the original languages of the Bible (not to say there are no hellish realms in the afterlife, it's just not necessarily what the church teaches). But where, exactly, does it say that you absolutely cannot call out to Jesus after death and be heard? Several people who have had NDE's report being in a hellish realm, calling out the name of Jesus and being pulled out of that realm. So I'm just saying, I think the big reason people are looking elsewhere is that they know in their hearts that the churches are lying to them on some very important points (probably to compel church attendance and money in the collection plate) and are trying to find the truth, and will at least look at the beliefs of any group that predates the institution that became the Catholic church (from which the protestant churches later split).

“Several people who have had NDE's report being in a hellish realm, calling out the name of Jesus and being pulled out of that realm.”

This is an interesting comment. I suspect that it is the calling out that allows them to be pulled up from that realm. Most people that talk of seeing Jesus if we investigate closely meet a light or an entity that gives them an overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance and because of their religious beliefs assume it must be Jesus.

My research suggests that it is the asking for help that allows a person to go to a higher realm. This appears to be valid whether the person has had an NDE or is a spirit coming through a medium from the other side and talking about their experience of crossing over to another dimension.

“I think the big reason people are looking elsewhere is that they know in their hearts that the churches are lying to them on some very important points”

Not sure most are lying but many are filtering how much they tell their followers. Example how many priests preach mass on the sermons of meister eckhart or st john of the cross two catholic mystics. I think most preachers really preach what they believe and to protect those cherished beliefs filter out any incoming information that challenges those beliefs.

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