Sunday, September 10, 2006

20 Questions, Pt. 2

Here are the last 10 questions in reply to Father Jordan Stratford+'s request for his upcoming book "Living Gnosticism". The previous 10 can be found here.

11) What is the role of the Divine Feminine in Gnosticism? Why are some attracted by this idea, while others are repelled? Is Sophia a Goddess?

Along with God the Father, there is God the Mother. One could view the Pleroma (“Fullness”) as an androgynous being, just as Adam Qadmon (Adam meaning its original meaning of “Man” as in mankind, not the male sex) was before splitting into the sexes of male and female. So, God is not male, as such, nor female (irregardless of familiar terms like “he” or “his”), and some Gnostics use a polarization of divinity like that found in modern Paganism (i.e. a Father God and Mother Goddess [who tends to be Sophia, or Sophia in her “higher” aspect as Barbelo]). Given the rise of the feminist and other related movements, and the reemergence of Paganism, and Wicca especially, it is obvious that there are many people out there who are seeking the Divine Feminine. Since there tends to be a gap between Paganism and orthodox Christianity, exemplified by the division of female and male, Gnosticism allows both of these concepts of God to be worked into one harmonious tradition.

12) Why do you think orthodox Christianity is still threatened by the message of Gnosticism?

Many of the heresiologists of ancient times would have considered Gnosticism as more dangerous than other opposing religions or heathen faiths, mainly because Gnosticism penetrated Christian tradition, offering alternate or opposing views to what would eventual became the orthodox ones, and was therefore threatened to divide the community into many differing viewpoints, irregardless of whether they would consider themselves as still belonging to the “one catholic church” or not. In the modern world, when orthodox Christianity is suffering a decline, Gnosticism continues to offer an alternative religious experience, one that, while being alternative, is still heavily invested in the indigenous traditions of the West. Many people might be dissatisfied with Catholicism, Protestantism, and other orthodox approaches, but feel at odds with other traditions like Paganism or Buddhism – Gnosticism, especially in its ecclesiastical form, can act as a bridging tradition for people in orthodox faiths, giving them the same familiar language, but a whole new meaning and experience of the Divine. Some Christians will never consider becoming Pagan or Buddhist (or other religions), no matter how dissatisfied they are with their current religion, but they may consider Gnosticism as a viable alternative – this could be seen as a major threat to orthodox Christianity.

13) If you admit there is not one, continuous, unbroken Gnostic church throughout history, how is Gnosticism not a "revival" religion, or a kind of "dress up"?

How can there be one, continuous, unbroken Gnostic church? Gnosticism, by its very tenets, is a broad, open, multi-cultural, and multi-religious experience. There have always been many different Gnostic groups, many opposing or alternate views, and many people who brought ancient teachings forth into the modern day through different means (such as the Rosicrucian movement, which gave rise to a lot of modern occultism). In order to have a continuous, unbroken, and verifiable line throughout history, a universal creed would have had to have been enforced, to ensure the tradition remained “as is” when it was handed down – that simply doesn’t work with the evolutionary nature of Gnosticism. Gnostics took myths that mattered to them and shaped them into applicable teachings – we now have access to modern myths, alternate cultures and religions, and various applications of Gnosis and Gnosticism in the world, so we cannot help but let our changing world shape our changing, growing religion. Some people can claim valid apostolic succession to “prove” that there was a genuine handing-down of the Gnostic tradition, but I honestly do not feel the need to defend the historical validity of Gnosticism in the modern day (which simply is not a “neo-“ anything or a pretentious attempt at ancient tradition). It’s the Gnosis that matters, and we should be more concerned with how to attain that and help others do likewise than spend our time here arguing about lineages.

14) How does "the occult" factor into Gnosticism? Do you practice ceremonial magic or cast spells or read tarot cards?

The occult doesn’t necessarily have to factor into Gnosticism at all. However, there are many people interested in Gnosticism who are also interested in various esoteric subjects, and both Gnosticism and Esotericism are often complementary traditions. The Qabalah is one tradition that is commonly used by Gnostics (and is a kind of “Jewish Gnosticism”, the scholar and literary critic Harold Bloom might argue). Hermeticism as it stands today is quite Gnostic in character, and many Hermeticists and ceremonial magicians would use the word “Gnostic” and “Gnosis” quite liberally to their pursuits. I, personally, am a ceremonial magician, with my main interests in that regard being Qabalah and Enochian. I don’t “cast spells”, nor do I use the Tarot for divination, but I do consider the Tarot a wonderful tool for growth, being symbolically deep and artistically pleasing.

15) Do you believe in reincarnation?

Yes, I have, for most of my life, believed in reincarnation in some form or guise. We are caught in a cycle of rebirths until we “learn our lessons” (this is what karma means to me – learning), remember our true identity, and transcend the bonds of this world. When we achieve a certain amount of growth (enough to propel us “inwards and upwards”), we break free from this cycle of rebirth and return to the Pleroma (though I believe we still retain some of our personal identity [i.e. we don’t just become one with a “nothingness”], albeit in a different form, since our previous growth would have developed our persona into something much more epic and transpersonal). For those who don’t learn their lessons, there’s always the next incarnation, so in this way, everyone is “saved” at some stage – whenever they are ready. This is very similar to the Buddhist belief of breaking free from samsara (reincarnation) and achieving nirvana (enlightenment), though I do not believe we transmigrate into animal or insect bodies (if we do/did, then it would have to be only at the beginning of our journey), as a human is a human and after ascension is still human – albeit the heavenly human (i.e. Adam Qadmon) that is much more true of ourselves than our current bodily cages. I believe nous (mind) is an essential element of our growth and liberation, and without it (i.e. if we were not in human form) we cannot escape from bondage and illusion (though admittedly, the intellect can equally act as a binding and restrictive force).

16) Is Gnosticism best pursued in a specifically Gnostic organization, exclusively solo, or in a broader community (ie Unitarianism, Society of Friends, Theosophical Society?)

Gnosticism is best pursued in whatever form, organization, or community the individual person “clicks” with, whatever will allow the best pursuit of gnosis for them. If they want to do it “solo”, then by all means they should do so (though I would suggest they still keep certain communication with others, to avoid becoming too stagnant in their own views). If they want to set up a Gnostic study group or parish, then, again, by all means, do so! We could certainly do with more of such in the world, to help offer an alternative path for those who might want or need it. However, if that isn’t your cup of tea, stick with the Unitarians or other groups (actually, you can still stick with these groups even if you decide to work with a specifically Gnostic organization). Many of these will be open to your views, and you never know, you might find like-minded company there. Indeed, Valentinus and his followers mingled quite happily with the growing orthodox church of his time, so we shouldn’t feel the need to divorce ourselves from our previous associations with other organizations.

17) How will the growing popularity of Gnosticism affect what's happening now? How will it affect your practice and expression as a Gnostic?

The growing popularity of Gnosticism will have two effects, which, sadly, are necessary complements of each other: 1) it will give rise to a barrage of “hip” Gnostics, with Gnosis key rings, anti-Archon slogans, and basically a watered-down idea of what Gnosis and Gnosticism is; and 2) for every 1,000 of these (or thereabouts, though don’t quote me on figures), there’ll be one genuine person who discovers Gnosticism through its growing popularity. Is this monumental surge in “popcorn gnosticism” (or “McGnosis” as some call it) worth it if only a single person, a single divine spark, is awoken? Yes!!! Of course it is. You are all worth it.

18) How did you come to identify yourself as a Gnostic? Are you "out" about this identity?

I came from a Catholic background, but was dissatisfied with it. I then moved to Paganism and then to ceremonial magick very quickly when I found that Paganism didn’t satisfy my “spiritual hunger” either. I encountered the Qabalah and it instantly “clicked” with me (the Qabalah, I believe, is inherently gnostic, so this would have been one of the early stages of my “push” towards Gnosticism). I then encountered Enochian and Gnosticism at the same time and both “called” to me very deeply (I find the Christian mythology to be very beautiful and powerful). Joining the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Light allowed me to explore these two subjects more deeply, and found that they slotted into place with my own personal views, views to which I could find no label or mythology to express them. It was only then, after much more study and meditation, that I realized the inevitable – I’m a Gnostic. As for being “out” regarding this, I always have a problem with people feeling the need to tell everyone about things like their religion or sexual preference. If people ask, by all means, tell them, and you can be fairly public about these things if it really calls for it (i.e. if you’re a Gnostic priest, being open about such might actually be beneficial to others who might be seeking Gnosis). I am fairly “out” and open about these things, but I won’t start my conversations with strangers by saying “I’m Gnostic”.

19) To which Gnostic historical figure do you most relate (even if that person was not Gnostic per se, such as Joan of Arc)? What's the most meaningful Gnostic scripture to you personally, and why?

I think Valentinus “speaks” to me most, but that would tend to be because I would have a slight Valentinian bias in my spiritual beliefs and practices. However, I do like many other historical figures and their writings (St. John the Baptist, St. John the Beloved, St. John of the Cross, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Gregory Palamas, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, among others). As for scripture, the “Gospel of Thomas” has a special place in my heart (likewise for many Gnostics), though I also like the “Gospel of John” (NSRV) for its poetry and beauty, and the same with “Thunder, Perfect Mind”. Others include the “Gospel of Philip” and the “Gospel of Truth”. Anything that speaks poetically gets my vote, really.

20) What is the most important thing that Gnosticism has to offer non-Gnostics? What's the one thing you want everybody to know about Gnosticism?

Gnosticism can offer an alternative view for non-Gnostics. It can show people the age-old mythology of the West and how it can be used for spiritual growth. It can show people that personal responsibility and personal divinity are important steps for the human. It can highlight ignorance and illusion and can offer an arsenal of poetry, myth, and ritual to dispel these things. Most importantly, it shows how a multi-cultural and multi-religious system can work, that no one’s personal beliefs are wrong or invalid, and that we can and should work together with all our Brothers and Sisters around the world to liberate ourselves from ignorance and oppression. If people are to walk away now knowing but one thing about Gnosticism, I would want them to know that Gnosticism is about freedom – freedom of expression and practice, freedom to believe or worship in whatever way is personally rewarding with gnosis, freedom from illusion, cosmic lies, and self-deception, and freedom to reclaim our divinity and craft a new divine world to live in.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

How do you reconcicle a belief in reincarnation with an exponentially growing population?

Thanks, love your blog.