Gnostic Musings – Part 4, The Troubling Logos

In the first three parts of these musings, I have tried to honestly engage with some of the core beliefs of those groups of people that we currently categorise as “Gnostics”.  As we have emphasised, the view that our world was the product of an imperfect craftsman often led to the belief that the realm of matter, the body and the earth needed to be escaped from.

In wrestling with my own discomfort with this perspective, I began considering hermeticism as a potentially more subtle interface between a shamanic/earth focused path and the transcendentalist impulse. Many of the complex cosmologies within the wider Hermetic tradition contain ladders of ascent (and descent) that seek to acknowledge that the divine may manifest in differing ways during different aeons. Given the apparent linearity of such maps, it could be easy to type-cast earlier stages as somehow “primitive” and thereby missing the subtlety of the mythic terrain that they are trying to describe. The gods of shamanism should not be type-cast as simplistic faces of animism; although their focus is inevitably more on the concerns of pre-industrial cycles, the intricacy of their stories reflect a complex of ideas that remain key to our embodied humanity. In contrast to the cosmic escape-plan envisaged by many dualistic Gnostics, the Hermetic perspective seeks a more integrated holism that endeavours to hold together the apparent disparity of above and below so as to synthesise a new position.

And when they were only halfway up...

And when they were only halfway up…

Some contemporary practitioners seek to describe such a path as being that of non-dual gnosis, but for it to retain any connection with historic Gnostic traditions, it may be more accurate to describe it as ‘less-dual’ or a form of soft-dualism. While many view the concept of dualism as innately negative in nature, I would argue that it can still contain valuable insights if applied thoughtfully.  As with many spatial religious metaphors, the sense of otherness and distance that they are seeking to evoke often relates to spiritual aspiration and longing. It’s interesting to consider how many magical traditions would be able to maintain a viable metaphysic without at least some sense of movement from our current state to a desired destination.

In seeking to actively engage with the dualism present in the primary texts of the Gnostics it would be easy to problematize the tensions that exist in the dynamics between the Pleroma, Sophia and the Demiurge. In contrast to this perspective, I find myself being curious about the manner in which they may be viewed as encapsulating the core process of how we as humans wrestle with dilemmas, of both our humanity and creativity. The threefold schema of hylic, psychic and pneumatic (approximately body, soul and spirit) reflects the dynamic tension that many of us experience in our lives. Those of us drawn to engaging with the Gnostic material are usually well aware of these dilemmas, and are rarely placated by either simple answers or promises of peace:

Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will rule over all.”  Gospel of Thomas v.2

To walk the path of the Magician often involves the conscious induction of those states of mind and body that will precipitate change. In contrast to my own more orthodox Nicene beginnings in which the Logos (word of God) was an external focus of belief, the path of the Gnostic explorer is one in which we seek both the joy and terror of the word entering our own flesh. The disquiet that we may experience leads to an awareness of our longing; a longing that only the stillness of the Pleroma and wisdom of Sophia will resolve.

In contrast to more catholic or sacramental forms of contemporary Gnostic practice, my own approach to accessing gnosis has been to utilise a form of “deep listening” practice that has many parallels with Buddhist inspired mindfulness practices and centering prayer.

It seems a somewhat obvious thing to say, but many of us live our lives very quickly, bombarded by information, struggling to get our bearings in a world that seems to be ever changing. If nothing else these stillness based approaches give us a chance to slow down. With more mental space at our disposal our ability to truly listen and therefore to learn takes on a radically different quality.Access to these states is rarely permanent, as the complex beauty of our own incarnation oscillates as part of Nature’s dance around us.

The warnings that magic is a dangerous path are in many ways accurate, but so potentially is the psychic death of not responding to the “still, small voice” of what we might become. In cultivating practices that seek to pull in the aeonic words of the logos, so we pursue the fabulously messy work of integration:

“Enlighten your mind…Light the lamp within you. Knock on yourself as upon a door upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on the road, it is impossible for you to go astray…Open the door for you so that you may know what it is.”  The Teaching of Silvanus, The Nag Hammadi Library


7 thoughts on “Gnostic Musings – Part 4, The Troubling Logos

  1. Mike Kay says:

    The charge that the Gnostic saw incarnation as something to be despised, and creation as something to be spurned has often been leveled against the Gnostics, even though there remains plenty of confusion on who those pesky Earth haters actually were, or what they believed.
    In an earlier comment which never got published, I mentioned that Gnostic duality was not meant to be resolved. How indeed, can one resolve a polarity? The existence as a material being and also a spirit is another polarity. The western mystery tradition is literally stoked to the gills with oppositions, and without them, the dynamic would grow lethargic, and eventually freeze up.
    Practically speaking, the mystic, who by nature of the calling requires large blocks of time for contemplation and synthesis, would certainly appear to the average commerce driven individual, as somewhat unworldly, perhaps one who even has distaste for the world of profit and position. Christianity, and in fact all the abrahamics lend themselves quite well to the commerce driven, but then they never had an effective mysticism, despite what they claim.
    One thing is absolutely certain, and that is those fabulous mystics who we lump together as Gnostics were not pretenders to their calling, trading bank notes for spiritual favors, they were the genuine article.

  2. zenelf says:

    Agreed Mike-for me the duality is used to create change and to bring about new insight. In one of the posts on Gnostic practice I compare the Gnostic myths to koans-i.e. means for breaking apart our limited, linear perception.
    Certainly when we look across the vast array of groups-from the radical Sethians to the more integrative Valentinians, we can see a whole variety of differing takes on what this stuff might mean.

  3. Mike Kay says:

    Yes, and that is, for myself at least, a large aspect of the value of the continuing study of Gnosticism. I believe that one big gift Gnosticism gives us is that very ability to be guided by a living mythology without being smothered by a dogma.
    That said, the realm of living myth is not exactly rational, and not exactly irrational, either. The mythic dimension either works with great power or it does not, it cannot merely aspire to, or try for that goal.
    Currently there is a bit of a scholarly attempt to pretend that Christians did not murder Gnostics on genocidal scales. According to at least one of these scholars, Gnostics just sort of lost their power, and faded into the sunset.
    The absurdity of this insouciant claim is especially evident in the fact that Gnosticism has never lost its power, nor has it ever died-much to the chagrin of the abrahamic authorities.
    I noted that you did dedicate an earlier post to Northern European Gnosis. This is an area of particular meaningfulness for myself, as I have long had that reckoning. It came back especially strongly when I was able to view a facsimile of a zierscheiben.

  4. zenelf says:

    Thanks Mike-for me the connection between Norse mythology and an exploration of dualism is really interesting. For me much neo-pagan theology is based on a rather naive, idealised view of the natural world. In contrast, those who had to actually live in it had to wrestle with both its challenges and bounty!

    Odin’s ordeal on the World Tree for me, represents a type of cosmic descent, and as he takes up the mysteries of the Runes, he does so roaring or screaming. As we seek the mysteries, so they break us apart as we gain new gnosis-not always easy!

  5. Mike Kay says:

    I don’t know enough, personally, about neo-paganism to make any kind of significant observation about it. I do respect the drive to move away from a stifling abrahamic world view, but I do believe we must be very careful to avoid replacing one dogmatic, inflexible master with another of the same ilk.
    Those of us who were indoctrinated in the abrahamic tradition find growing past it, or simply abandoning it to be something of extreme difficulty. From my perspective, this is so because abrahamic tradition carries with it a range of powerful methodologies that shape and re-shape the psyche. Thus, one can abandon externalities, while carrying on with the essential programing, as it were. That essential programing, unless supplanted with a numinous and liberating counter program of equal power, continues on in the most pernicious of ways.
    However, in the remnant of Norse tradition, and in Gnosticism, we can find exactly those elements which have the power to defeat the abrahamic codes.
    Why should we care, after all, if we are tools of the abrahamic system? Because that very system has always been about disempowering the psyche, and weakening the human spirit, about providing political and temporal power to the few, via the enslavement of the many.
    Norse tradition is clear that enslavement, disempowerment, and subservience is NOT part of the agenda.
    Rune Magic, the craft of the Galdramann, is something I have been a perpetual student of. It can still leave me laughing and stupid at the edge of the world. I am thus such a rank beginner that I can offer no advice, no comment, and no direction. That said, Zenelf, it is paths like this that have true merit.

  6. zenelf says:

    Thanks for your reply Mike-agreed we are all beginners, and all the better for recognising it.

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