New Christian Polytheism

I’ve recently been re-reading Love, Sex, Fear, Death by Timothy Wyllie and was once again struck by the potent iconography and influence of The Process Church of the Final Judgement. The 1960s were undeniably a time of heady social ferment and cultural creativity – the love and peace idealism of the Haight Ashbury set, cross pollinating with student unrest and a growing awareness of the inequalities that were present for many people on both sides of the Atlantic. While many were intoxicated by the popularity of spiritual traditions generically described as “Eastern”, it was perhaps surprising that through a haze of dope and incense, strode the hard-edged Gnostics of the Process.

Business Process

Business Process

“The Process” stood in stark contrast to the loose limbed ascetic of the flower powered. Sporting long robes and satanically shaped beards (optional), The Process appeared to be responding to a darker more visceral vision than many of their peers. In the 9 years during which its co-founder Robert De Grimston was at the helm, the Process integrated some initial insights gained from Scientology with a radical re-working of Judeo-Christian mythology.

Responding to a series of visionary experiences gained while in Mexico, the group set out a polarity in which Christ, Satan, Jehovah and Lucifer were in dynamic tension with each other. As is so often the case, this cosmology then provided much of the focus for initiatory work within the Process. Processeans would often identify which of the specific primary deities reflected their core psychological profile, and, which balancing quality they might need to pursue in seeking integration.

I would highly recommend Wyllie’s book, not only for its brilliant collection of original Process art work and magazine articles, but also its reflections on how group dynamics function within new religious movements. While it undoubtedly displayed many traits that raise concerns about cult-like behaviour, for those of us interested in how Luciferian/Gnostic imagery has been utilised in initiatory work, they provide us with much to learn from.

Data Processing

Data Processing

In my recent series of blog posts Gnostic Musings I sought to explore the potential value of trying to view the players on that mythic stage from a more systemic perspective. While the Gnostic scriptures provide us with a theological model that is full of dualism and oppositional tensions, it can also be helpful to view them with a more pantheon-focused or polytheistic lens. Whatever beliefs that we might hold regarding the ultimate unity (or not) of the Mystery, the reality is that as humans we tend to adopt religious frameworks that allow for some allowance of multiplicity and complexity.

Historians of religious history might consider the virtual impossibility of maintaining absolute monotheism. However desirable the Oneness of God may be at a philosophical level, the messy phenomena of how we do our religions seems to point toward a more team based approach. Whether it’s the 99 names of Allah or the evolution of the doctrine of the Trinity, when faced with the Mystery or “Runa” of whatever is out there, we often need a number of masks for our gods to wear.

As to the “why?” we do this, I’m sure there are a whole raft of reasons, but for brevity’s sake I will touch briefly on two:

Firstly the allowance for multiplicity allows us to make sense of new experiences of the numinous that disrupt our current worldviews. For the first century Jewish community trying to make sense of their encounter with Jesus, there was an inevitable struggle as they sought to harmonize their experience of the risen Christ with their existing monotheism – was this being a God? Should we address our perceived messiah as “Lord”? Certainly we can see the evolution of competing interpretations as the church evolved its thinking in the centuries prior to the Nicene creed (for those interested in this check out “Christology in the Making” by James Dunn). Multiplicity allows us to ‘upload’ new insights and experiences into our perception of the numinous.

As a Gnostic explorer travelling my path, I am aware of my own process of canonisation as I promote and demote incoming ideas and insights within my personal pantheon. While a degree of narcissism is somewhat inevitable for the magician, ideally this process is one slow evolution rather than merely being brash consumerism. In the pursuit of depth in my relationship with god-forms, I cast a spell on my self as their faces are reflected in my art, relationships and the altars I make.

Secondly, I think that many of us seek models of divine multiplicity because they more accurately reflect our experience of self. As human beings trying to make sense of our universe, we have to deal with a whole host of competing desires and demands as we try and prioritise the needs of individual, family and tribe. These competing and sometimes conflicting needs then become translated into self-states that we oscillate between, dependant on a complex mash-up of genes, conditioning and personality structure. To experience such tensions seems to be an inevitable part of the human condition and it is perhaps unsurprising that we seek spiritual myths and metaphors that make sense of them.

My own interest in weird cosmologies like that of the Process and the early Gnostics is that the maps that they were working with seem to have a more creative engagement with both darkness and dynamic tension. Unlike the rather safe stylings of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are rarely at odds with each other, the various players of the Gnostic stage often represent stages of unfolding and the resolution of various core conflicts. It was hardly surprising that as Jung sought to evolve his model of depth psychology, he found so much of interest in these strange waters. Such rich mythic multiplicities steer us away from the shallows of safe ‘belief’ and ask that we push out into the depths of the unknown.

Bon Voyage!

SD

5 thoughts on “New Christian Polytheism

  1. DMS says:

    “Unlike the rather safe stylings of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are rarely at odds with each other, the various players of the Gnostic stage often represent stages of unfolding and the resolution of various core conflicts.”

    This seems confused to me. If the Father represents the active force, the Son represents the passive force and the Holy Spirit represents the neutral force, then how does this not represent “stages of unfolding and resolution of various core conflicts”? These things essentially enact a dialectical process. That Satan represents opposition and Lucifer represents light and the Devil represents wit may or may not have anything to do with the above.

    Anyhow, I doubt that one will gain much insight from the Process Church other than the recognition that people living together with similar obsessions will become obsessed by similar things. Those people seem to have experienced group mentality to the point of exasperation, hence the end of the Process. I consider such as counter to a left hand path perspective considering the politics and hierarchies involved. Granted one may take inspiration from virtually anywhere but why have it bestowed to you by a church?

  2. zenelf says:

    I suppose what I meant in that statement was that from the perspective of post-Nicene Christian Orthodoxy, given that the members of the Trinity are seen as being “one substance” even though different in function-there is a distinct lack of dialectical tension.
    The delineation of active, passive and neutral is certainly one way of looking at it, but in my view doesn’t have much evidence in mainstream Christian theology (with which I was contrasting with a more historic gnostic position).

    As to the value (or not) of the Process-I agree there is much that is hierachical and cult-like, but given it’s use of LHP imagery (and it’s inspiration to groups like TOPY) I still find it of interest. For me whether a group calls itself a church is immaterial-if it inspires, it inspires!

  3. DMS says:

    Yeah, it’s true and unfortunate that mainstream Christianity seldom recognizes the grander theological basis from which it sprang.

    I agree that TOPY was (is?) pretty cool. And I think that my comment came off as more critical than I intended. It’s just that I feel bad for the people who were involved with the Process who were taken advantage of in certain instances. (Though I’m happy if some of them were able to gain from their involvement.) I also appreciate what you and your cohorts do and that you’re able to draw inspiration from many disparate sources.

  4. zenelf says:

    Agreed DMS- for me the inspiration and influence of Pagan sources on early Christianity is what makes it so rich and initially diverse. This influence continued but the “texture” of these multiple voices was sadly suppressed by organisational politics (the drive towards orthodoxy and the impact of Constantine).

    In reading Wyllie’s book, he is good at giving space to the stories of the lost and disappointed- I think that many new religious movements are hothouses for new ideas, lifestyles and ways of doing politics. The hyper acceleration that many of them manifest can be both stimulating and potentially destructive-often (IMHO) the real influence of them can only truly be assessed when we can see their impact and influence upon wider creative culture.

    Thanks for your feedback and glad your liking the blog 🙂

  5. Mike Kay says:

    Dr. Peter Jones, a professor of theology, late from England, and last heard teaching on the west coast of the USA, asserts quite clearly and logically that the Gnostic search is not, nor ever can be christian.
    Indeed, if one follows his cogent and clear analysis, Gnostic theology, with its emphasis on Gnosis, is in fact diametrically opposed to christian sensibilities and approaches.
    Indeed, Dr. Jones has an impressive number of christian thinkers who preceded him, who obviously reached the same conclusion.
    What Dr. Jones does, is clearly define the christian experience, sans of course, all those slightly embarrassing moments, such as the genocide on those who never wished to be christian, the witch trials, the extermination of the Cathars, and the almost endless series of massacres and tortures waged on the defeated remains of new world inhabitants.
    Gnostics, my research tells me, were never christian, even when they mingled with them. Much is made of Valentinus,and his adoption of certain rituals, Marcion, as the first codifier of the bible, but Dr.Jones is right, none of this theology of Magic, ascension, and Gnosis is part of the christian tradition.
    The christian tradition is all about the individual conforming to a system that is already extant. It is not, in any way, about a path of mysticism or discovery, or-heaven forbid-Gnosis!
    Magic-Theurgia-Gnosis most clearly belongs to a tradition that is far older, and far wiser than Constantine’s conglomeration.
    The Daemon of master Abammon, Iamblichus, Porphyry, and Plotinus has no place in the christian mindset, save as a force to pull the believer away from their christian path.
    Irenaeus hated and despised Marcus the Magician. Simon Magus is largely remembered by christians today as a criminal, and the church has never apologized for viciously and brutally murdering hundreds of thousands-if not millions of witches and warlocks and Magicians-does anyone remember Giordano Bruno?!?.
    Looking around today, where the christian mindset reins supreme, we do not experience a world of love and acceptance, Instead, its a world ruled by a deranged elite that never has enough of destruction, and engineered pain.
    Christians, who must believe that all things come from one god, are at a loss to explain the nature of evil and suffering, so evident in our world today.
    Gnostics, who view the creation of the cosmos as an incredible anomaly, are not so hindered.
    Yes, Dr. Jones is correct! The way of Gnosis can never be the way of the christian-and to that I say THANK YOU GOD!

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