Father Jordan Stratford+ of the AJC posted a list of 20 questions for fellow Gnostics to answer for inclusion in his latest book (due out early next year). The thread is here and my answers to the first 10 questions are below:
Gnosis is experiential knowledge of the Divine. Gnosticism comes in two guises: 1) a blanket term for a huge number of “heresies” at the beginning of the first century CE (and before and after), and 2) a living, breathing, and growing religion with the attainment of Gnosis as its core. Gnosticism is not required to attain Gnosis, as Gnosis is perennial, but Gnosticism as it stands today is an alternative religious/spiritual path that can aid towards this attainment. To distinguish between the two, the idea of “small g” gnosticism (blanket term) and “big G” Gnosticism (religion) is helpful.
2) Is Gnosticism a distinct religion, an approach to religion, or a sect within another religion?
Gnosticism is a distinct religion that has influenced other religions and has drawn influence from other religions. It is not a breakaway group or heresy from orthodox Christianity, but has lived and grown alongside those orthodox groups. It also draws from other paths, including Judaism, Hermetism, Buddhism, and Platonism. As it currently stands, it can potentially bridge the gaps between the major and minor religions of this day.
3) As a Gnostic, have you achieved gnosis? What is your experience of gnosis? If gnosis is "knowledge" of the Divine, do you believe in God?
I don’t believe gnosis is a solitary event in our life. We don’t just one day “wake up” and say “Ah, I’m Enlightened”. Gnosis, to me, is a continual unveiling of that which is eternal. I have achieved gnosis and experienced the Divine in various guises, but I feel I’m a long way away from declaring myself as “Enlightened” or free from all bondage. As for God, I do believe in God, but I do not believe God is a bearded old man sitting on a cloud loving or judging is. I believe in the supernal Father, the Monad, who cannot be described accurately by us, but can only be experienced. This experience is gnosis.
4) How do you express your Gnosticism in your daily life?
Although I use prayer, meditation, and ritual in my daily life, I believe reading and pondering Gnostic texts (both ancient and modern) and other inspirational works is an act of meditation that is a valid practice towards gnosis (“Know Thyself”, as the old Delphi maxim says, and if we take Harold Bloom’s statement that “we read to find ourselves” as true, reading can become an intensely spiritual practice in the pursuit of gnosis). I also see all art as an expression of gnosis (which would explain why so many artists were/are drawn to Gnosticism), so all of my fiction, poetry, and spiritual musings are also a contribution to my spiritual life.
5) I think I'm a Gnostic! What do I do now?
If you think you’re a Gnostic, then think and study and read and meditate until you know you are. There are quite a few books out there on the subject now, so reading them is a good place to start, but there is also a strong Gnostic community online, drawing from all corners of the world. But don’t restrict yourself to reading – go and find someone (or many people) to talk to, either in “real life” or in the virtual world. Ask questions, bounce your ideas back and forth, and discuss things. Don’t take them at face value, and don’t accept beliefs and myths just because you want to become more Gnostic – explore them until they ring true in your heart; there are enough variations on the Gnostic path out there to choose from alternate ones, and if there isn’t one there that “clicks” with you, then make your own. What then? Do something. Do anything that might help you attain gnosis – meditate, pray, perform ritual, etc. Don’t just read about it – experience it.
6) If the sacraments don't lead to gnosis, automatically or even eventually, what's the role / need for the sacraments in Gnosticism?
I see the sacraments as extremely potent rituals that have been tried and tested, and then handed down through the various generations. They invest the physical with the spiritual, which is specific to the West and an essential practice while living in the Western world. However, there are other rituals and techniques that can do this, so they aren’t the only path to go, but offer a tried and tested means. In and of themselves, they are a way to “open the door”, but we still have to individually walk through it, so it only guarantees potential, nothing more.
7) Is the Demiurge real? What role does having the Demiurge or Archons in your world-view play? Is an evil god the cause of evil in the world? Does this evil god create earthquakes and tsunamis?
The Demiurge and Archons are symbolic representatives for the forces of bondage that keep us blind to our origin and our inner light. They are personified because it’s easier to fight “Mr. Bad” than the force called “Evil”, and the personification gives us a powerful literary weapon that speaks to the heart, soul and spirit in us. I don’t necessarily consider these forces as inherently evil, but they can definitely be misguided, confused, blind, and ignorant to a higher purpose or supernal light, and therefore do not necessarily have our highest interests in mind (which would explain wars and “natural” disasters – even the myth of Noah’s
8) What's the difference between Gnosticism and "mainstream" Christianity?
The disagreement regarding salvation through faith (pistis) or knowledge (gnosis) is a major element that divides these two communities, as is the Gnostic idea of a divine spark in everyone and the potential for “enlightenment” or personal ascension in the here and now as apposed to an “eternal reward” in an afterlife. Gnostic poetic interpretation versus orthodox literalist interpretation is also another difference, though there are many in the orthodox “camp” that see scripture as metaphor, analogy, etc., so this “difference” isn’t water-tight.
9) What role does the concept of sin play in Gnosticism?
Although the term sin has a huge array of negative connotations now, it wasn’t always like that. The original meaning was to “miss the mark” – i.e. to fall short of your intent. So, if you mean to be nice to someone and you “miss the mark”, that would be sin. However, it doesn’t mean you’re now damned to hell or need to say 100 Hail Mary’s to atone – it simply means you have to try to “hit the mark” next time. This is how I view sin and atonement in the Gnostic sense. I do not believe we should whip ourselves on a daily basis because of some concept of “original sin” – what happened at the time of Creation, for me, was that we became ignorant of our true divinity. That is “missing the mark”, and the only concept of “original sin” that I can accept (i.e. sinning against the Original, the Monad, Pleroma, etc.).
10) If it's gnosis that saves, what is the role of faith? If gnosis is necessary for salvation, are non-Gnostics saved? Saved from what?
The argument over soteriology (the study of salvation, from “soter”, Greek for “salvation”, and “logos”, Greek for “word” or “study”) is long-standing and one of the main divisive issues between Gnostic and orthodox groups. I personally consider the “exoteric church” (orthodox) as an essential part of the equation of evolution and growth, a necessary step for many of us to avail of before embracing the “esoteric church” or “inner church” of Gnosis. This essential step includes faith. Sometimes we just have to believe, because we don’t have “personal proof” (I find the concept of proof highly debatable in the first place, so the idea of “personal proof” here is the experiential inner knowing that is gnosis), and we have to struggle on with belief until we can know. We don’t live in a constant state of gnosis, as our lives are lived in a world of distractions and illusions (which is why practices like meditation are so essential), so in those “between times”, we keep faith in our gnosis until we again experience it and do not require faith anymore. Gnosis is necessary for salvation from ignorance and illusion, so if there is no inner knowing, then this cannot be attained right now. However, many people have gnosis and don’t know it, and those who don’t are not doomed or damned – they can grow and attain it as humanity evolves and pushes every closer to a wider state of illumination and freedom (even if it takes several incarnations for them). We are saved from ignorance, from the “World of Lies” that has denied us our birthright and knowledge of our true origin.