Chatting to a close friend recently, he noted that in contrast to a New Age “flake” that he had encountered that day, at least I “knew it was all made-up.” I had to laugh! My humanist chum is well aware of my metaphysical experimentation, and his take on my belief system is that basically that I seem to believe in everything and nothing at all. Oh shit I thought if by “believe” he means “have faith”, he got the measure of me all right!
To be fair I have had a serious punt at believing something, in my case it was Christianity and frankly the psychic meltdown that eventually resulted was not pretty. Thankfully those naughty Gnostics came to my rescue. These spiritual adventurers opened my eyes to the psychological richness of metaphor and the joys of heretical rebellion. Their crazy wisdom was balm to a psyche cracking under the strain of faith and orthodoxy.
The gnostic impulse almost certainly pre-dates its predominantly Christocentric expression, and reflects an understanding of humanities’ struggle with belief, meaning and our experience of suffering. If you try reading the primary sources of classical Gnosticism (the Sethians, the Valentinians etc.) you can’t but be both impressed and frankly bewildered by the way they engage with myth, symbol and the goal of personal liberation. The Gnostics viewed their spiritual hero’s less as figures that needed to be believed in, and more as exemplars of a heightened consciousness that we should all seek to aspire to. These were gods that I actually liked rather than being required to “love”!
What drew me to them then and keeps me hooked, is the way in which revelation and insight are not the sole domain of a chosen prophet, rather it is something organic, emergent and mutating. Religious expression is seen as part of our human encounter with reality rather than something dropped out of the sky.
Even a cursory study of religious phenomena reveals both our greatest aspirations and depths of our prejudices. Humanities religious expression, be it tribal deities, anthropomorphized monotheisms or Lovecraftian terrors all mirror our collective journey through history. This is not to imply some bleeding out of mystery; rather it glories in religion as art. The gods are real precisely because we’ve made them so (see Pratchett’s “Small Gods” for a fantastic exposition on this concept).
Whether our inspiration is the Supernal Triad of the Kabbalah or a chthonic serpent deity all are filtered through our beautifully human struggle. People may be drawn to more historic faiths because of their romance or track record of effective transformation but these were also made-up, just by someone really old or dead.
While some purists may groan at my trendy preoccupation with Eris, sub-genii and other such oddities, I love the fact that the manufacturers label is so clearly on the tin. Unlike those faiths whose claims to certainty seem shaky at best, the path of the modern gnostic explorer recognises that the map and the territory are clearly not the same. You’ve made that up! Yep, you’ve got me! It’s both limited and absurd-and brilliant and a clearly heroic attempt to wrestle with the Mysteries.
Hail Eris! Pastafari!