Gnostic Practice 3: Working with the Heart

Throughout this series of posts I have been grappling with the dilemma of how we might reconcile the radical dualism of some gnostic groups (e.g. the Sethians), with an experience of the material world that acknowledges its rich complexity and the sensual pleasures associated with it. In my own explorations I have found something of a mediating position via the ‘soft’ dualism contained in the Corpus Hermeticum, which sought to incorporate a more emanation-based model. In keeping with the insights of much Neo-Platonic thinking, the light of the Godhead still permeates the lower realms of matter, even if in a more dilute fashion. The crafted realm of the demiurge contains a messy diversity that our ordered minds sometimes struggle with. For our Universe to exist at all, it seems that it must operate with a rich complexity that we may find bewildering.

As a chaos magician I am thankfully spared the dilemma of whether such speculations are ultimately true (apparently “nothing/everything is true”), but my desire to explore this territory continues to be far more that mere hipster paradigm shifting. Perhaps as evidence of my human curiosity these mythic riddles act like Zen koans in breaking apart my all too linear attempts to comprehend. Perhaps the genius of much Gnostic mythology is that in contemplating its paradoxical nature, so it triggers new, more lateral insights. The bearing of such tensions is far from the path of the armchair magician; in seeking wisdom this alchemical process forces us to confront the limits of what we know. Like Socrates we proclaim:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”

If the path of the Gnostic is primarily concerned with the incoming of knowledge and startling new insight, it might lead us to conclude that it is a somewhat dry path when contrasted with the orthodoxy of a believer’s faith. To some extent such a contrast is fitting, in that the Gnostics seemed to have been dissatisfied with relying on the revelations of others rather than seeking them for themselves. Such advancement seems more reliant on personal effort rather than appealing to the sentimentality of a loving God.

In my view the full implication of any gnostic insight can only be fully comprehended if we able to integrate it at both a physical and emotional level. While we might contrast the Gnostic path with the more faith and emotion focused emphasis of the believer, we must remain awake to the central importance of the heart in seeking to cultivate wisdom.

When we seek to comprehend the tension that is central to so much of the Gnostic schema, it is the figure of Sophia or Divine Wisdom that provides some reconciliation between apparent duality. She acts as the mediatrix between the lofty aspiration of the Pleroma and the embodiment of the demiurge. In the ritual poem that we use at our monthly Zen Hearth meetings, we declare:

“We come seeking Gnosis
And the Wisdom to apply it”

The path of Sophia seeks to integrate any insights gained via gnosis and make them manifest through right attitude and action. As with Hegel’s conception of thesis, antithesis and the reconciling synthesis, so the Pleroma and Demiurge represent a polarity that Sophia balances and contains.

To make a wise old owl you start with fresh clay

To make a wise old owl, first take some fresh clay

In my own endeavours to work with the heart from a Gnostic perspective I have sought to engage both artistic creativity, and, less goal focused magical practices. The setting up of an altar space to Sophia allows me a form of shy invocation – an engagement with the senses, a gentle simmering of devotion that seeks to avoid some brash cut-and-paste results magic. In these reflections I’m drawn to past memories of Ruach, Shekinah and the image of Wisdom calling out on the street corners:

“Hear how Wisdom calls
and understanding lifts her voice.
She takes her stand at the crossroads,
By the wayside at the top of the hill…
She cries aloud:
“It is to you I call,
To all humanity I appeal”
Proverbs 8: 1-4

Whatever text one chooses, be it ancient or new, the act of Lectio Divina  (conscious meditation and incubation of a verse) allows the Gnostic explorer the possibility for new insights and wisdom to grow.  We need to create space for this process to mature and to take the brave step in admitting that we don’t know or understand something, or even that our previous knowledge needs to be unlearnt.

Seeking the Muse

To seek gnosis via creative means often allows the intrepid explorer access to the unconscious, and a manifestation of wisdom that can potentially hold apparent polarities in dynamic tension. Whether via visual art, music, dance or other means, to create is to channel the incoming genius through the body and to infuse it with impulses that express soul.  One great example of such exploration is my friend Lloyd Keane, who has been using art to explore the concept of Runa or mystery. For those truly brave souls out there, here is a link to some of my own recent musical experimentation that has sought inspiration from the depths of Space.

To create means taking risk and moving from the imagined ideal (the Pleroma) to the messy, dynamic reality of what we can deliver (the Demiurge). Rarely are our first results our best, but in seeking to master any craft we can learn much about ourselves.  To bear the tension of such polarities is a path to Wisdom and emulates Sophia herself:

“It is I who am restraint and unrestraint.
It is I who am joining: and dissolution:
It is I who am persistence:
And it is I who am weakening.
It is I who am descent:
And it is to me that people ascend.”
The Thunder, Perfect Mind


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