This blog is an elaboration of the ideas in God Reconsidered: Searching for Truth in the Battle Between Atheism and Religion. I used my training as a business journalist to analyze the major philosophies to find the best answers to the big questions about the purpose of life and what happens after death. There is more material and a Facebook Forum to post questions at www.GodReconsidered.com. All of this is just my opinion—there is no Gnostic Inquisition that oversees doctrinal purity—so others who share the same light shouldn’t be blamed for controversies I occasionally stir up.
In Part 1, I explained why traditional religions East and West fail to give adequate answers to the mysteries of life and why those provided by the philosophy of Gnosticism made the best sense to me:
In Part 2, I made the case that the starting point for determining the truth of why we are here needs to be recognition that the material universe is real (some philosophers have asserted it is an illusion):
In Part 3, I challenged the claim of the major religions that our spirits were sent into this world in order to exercise free will to do the right thing and either become worthy to go to heaven or escape the cycle of rebirth: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58a47f63e4b080bf74f042f3
In Part 4, I provided evidence that the human spirit survives death, regardless of religious beliefs:
Roots of Christian Gnosticism
Gnosticism emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean from a variety of sources in the first century A.D. April DeConick, in The Gnostic New Age, sees the influence of Egyptian mysteries on Greek-speaking Jewish pilgrims, who learned of a Transcendent God who could be contacted by rituals, who was higher than the angels and demons who demanded worship from mortals.
This resonated with those who questioned the justice of the God as depicted in the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Richard Smoley, in How God Became God, documented how the Israelites’ tribal angel YHWH (aka Yahweh or Jehovah) evolved into the Creator God of the universe in their late theology, before their scriptures began to be written down in 400 B.C.
Professor David Brakke, in an interview with Miguel Conner in Other Voices of Gnosticism, adds that the first Gnostics “knew about Jesus and felt that something had changed with Jesus…One reason I believe this, is the decision to make the God of Genesis this malevolent, ignorant deity…It’s very hard to understand any ancient Jew doing this without some message saying that…we’ve had a revelation of a new and higher God…”
Stephan Hoeller, author Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, locates the receptive culture among the Samaritans, who claimed descent from the northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph), as well as the tribe of Benjamin. They viewed their religion as the original form of Judaism, preserved by those who were not taken into captivity by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.:
If someone had asked the early Gnostic teachers about the origins of their philosophy, they would very likely have answered that it was revealed by divine messengers who came from the supernal aeons to bring liberating truth to humanity. And among the revealers...they would have listed Adam, Seth, Norea, Enoch, and Jesus…The earliest Gnostic prophet known to history is Simon the Magician, or using his Latin name, Simon Magus. Simon was born in Gitta, Samaria—a circumstance that identifies him as a sort of heretic by birth, for the Samaratins were long known as followers of a heterodox form of Judaism, which rejected the Temple in Jerusalem ...Simon was very likely a disciple of John the Baptist, who appears to have presided over a school of prophets, one of the ‘graduates’ of which might have been Jesus and another, Simon himself…There is a brief hostile mention in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9-12…The church father Justin places Simon during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) and recounts that Simon had a very large following in Samaria, where he was regarded as a divine being.
Christian Gnostics claimed that Jesus had an esoteric message beyond what he talked about to the masses, as indicated in opening line of “The Gospel of Thomas”: “These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Judas Thomas the Twin wrote down” (scholars have argued for its dating from 30 to 250 A.D. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas). Thomas was the founder of Christianity in India and was originally buried there, according to the Syrian Orthodox Church (his remains were later removed to Edessa, now in Turkey, where the Gnostic leader Bardaisan had been the spiritual advisor to the king of the first Christian state in the second century). In Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Elaine Pagels explored how this mystical tradition is relevant to our challenges today.
Christian Gnosticism flourished in the second and third centuries in such movements as the Marcionite Church and the Valentinian “heresy.” The proto-Catholic fathers regarded them as their main rivals and frequently denounced their ideas as dangerous. By the fourth century, the Catholic faction had triumphed with the blessing of the Emperor Constantine and the Gnostics faded away in their original homeland. According to Andrew Philip Smith in The Gnostics: History, Tradition, Scriptures, Influence, similar groups emerged in Europe centuries later and may have influenced Catharism, a mass movement in southern France starting in the 12th century. Alarmed by the strength of this heretical rival, Pope Innocent III declared the only crusade against fellow Christians in 1209, which wiped out a million adherents and allies of the Cathars within a few decades, according to Time magazine. In 1321, their last known leader was burned at the stake. Except for a small sect in Iraq, Gnosticism would remain underground for the next six centuries.
Its most successful version, however, was Manichaeism, which recognized Jesus as a major teacher of enlightenment. It began in the third century in Persia and spread as far east as China, where it survived until the 16th century.
Gnosticism rests on the possibility for individuals to receive inspired insight (gnosis) into the nature of metaphysical reality, which includes our direct connection to the True God, as well as awareness that this world was not his creation, but the result of a cosmic accident and actions by a lesser being known as the Demiurge (though not all flavors of Gnosticism have the same emphasis, they do share what DeConick calls “a type of spirituality that was so revolutionary that ancient religion was turned on its head,” that self-knowledge was to know God).
Modern Gnostics view the ancient stories about the creation as mythology, symbolic tales full of deep truths, not to be taken literally like fundamentalists do with Genesis. But they are free to interpret elements of the forces in the universe according to shamanism (there are entities that are friendly to humans and others that are hostile), from a psychological standpoint (God is the Higher Self and the Demiurge is the Ego), or some blend of both (such as regarding the gods as archetypal projections from our collective unconscious). Some now also combine Gnosticism with ideas and practices from the Kabbalah, Mahayana Buddhism, and other mystical paths. Regardless of the exact form, it is recognized as an important part of the Western Mystery Tradition.
This edition of my blog will focus on why I think it makes sense to embrace a Christian version, which has to start with an examination of the fundamental problems with accepting the orthodox interpretation of the scriptures on which mainstream Christianity is based.
Why The New Testament Cannot Be the Basis For True Christianity
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 22% of Americans believe the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally (if it says the world was created in six days, this is believable because God is all-powerful; if scientific evidence says the earth took billions of years to evolve, that is a satanic fraud to deceive). Some 28% believe the Bible is the actual word of God, but many interpretations can be legitimate; another 28% say they accept it as inspired, but that it should not be taken literally. Around a fifth of Americans think it is purely the work of men.
As a one-time missionary who taught Bible classes, I knew the authors of the New Testament made many mistakes, even if I felt they were, overall, inspired. It was obvious that the scriptures could not be “inerrant”—the fundamentalist evangelical position that insists that the original documents were perfect, which is not much help in determining what to believe, since we do not have them. Fundamentalists point out that although there are hundreds of thousands of discrepancies in the manuscripts we do have, most are minor errors of transcription.
The bad news is that no matter which translation you prefer, the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) disagree sharply with each other, as well as with the letters of Paul, in what they say about the life of Jesus, his mission, and teachings. This is not obvious unless you compare the narratives very closely in parallel columns, something few without a degree in religion have done (that many graduates still maintain a conservative approach to the Bible is a true leap of faith). The one-time evangelical scholar who has done the most to bring this information to the general public is Bart Ehrman.
In my book, I cite his 2010 masterwork Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), which shows that on the most basic facts about Jesus’ life, including the final week on which traditional Christianity is founded, there are irreconcilable differences between the Gospel authors. These are not minor details: they tell astonishingly varied stories about the resurrection. They were obviously not written by the apostles whose names were attached a century after they were written down. Those individuals were likely illiterate, Aramaic-speaking Jewish peasants who never left Palestine, while the Gospels were written by educated Greek speakers somewhere in the Roman Empire between 70 and 100 A.D.
In another groundbreaking work, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, published in 2016, Ehrman reports spending two years immersed in a study of eyewitnesses and the science of memory. He shows that even if the Gospels had been based on accounts by Jesus’ apostles, they would have been circulating orally for decades before they were written down. Contrary to what many believe, he notes, oral cultures do not have superior ability to memorize anything word for word and studies of eyewitnesses have proven they are very unreliable, no matter how vivid and accurate they think their memories are.
It is highly unlikely any scribe wrote down what Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount; it seems probable that things he said at various times were remembered and stitched together into this one speech (there are significant differences between the versions of the Sermon in Matthew and Luke, while Mark and John do not even mention it). But the stories were obviously changed as they were retold for decades before they were written down, probably to make them relevant to their audiences in different places and circumstances.
Other than two comments by Jesus at the Last Supper, there are only two other statements that Paul attributes to Jesus. One is that preachers should be paid; the other is the condemnation of divorce in the Sermon on the Mount. One would think that this would elevate it to the top of a list of commandments about which there can be little dispute. But Ehrman shows that there are five different versions of what he said about this and the implications:
In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says if a man divorces his wife except on grounds of sexual immorality (presumably on her part), he makes her commit adultery; and if a man marries a divorced woman he commits adultery. It is not obvious why a man would make his wife commit adultery by divorcing her. Possibly the logic is that if they are “united” as “one” in marriage, and he divorces her, but then she remarries, she is considered to have committed adultery against him, even though he was the one who pushed for the divorce. Still, it is hard to see how the man “makes” her commit adultery: did he force her to remarry? In any event, that rule does not appear to apply if she first committed a sexual impropriety, presumably with someone else. Moreover, if he marries any divorced woman (even if she was divorced for the reason of sexual impropriety of her husband?) he commits adultery.
Ehrman then contrasts these confusing comments with later ones in Matthew, as well as those in Mark, Luke, and in Paul’s letters. It is a doctrinal mess and it is no wonder that Protestants, especially, just ignore them (they would rather focus on things they imagine were more central to Jesus’ message, about abortion, gay marriage, and the gospel of prosperity).
The Life and Mission of the Orthodox Christ
Ehrman does an excellent job illustrating the dramatic differences in even the most basic elements of Jesus’ life as recounted by the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), so-named because “synoptic” in Greek means “seen together,” since they were regarded early on as being quite similar, as contrasted with John, written much later. But there are major contradictions even in such seemingly important stories, such as of John baptizing Jesus, how Jesus chose his first disciples, and the meaning of the miracles. The accounts of Jesus’ childhood by Mark and Matthew agree on just two points: he was born in Bethlehem to a virgin.
There is an evolution in the Synoptics as to Jesus teaching about the coming Kingdom of God, according to Ehrman. Jews understood that the prophesied Messiah would be a divinely-appointed king who would destroy their enemies (“Christ” is the Greek equivalent to Messiah, “the anointed one”). Mark, the first Gospel to be written around 70 A.D., has Jesus predicting that this new age would come within the lifetime of his disciples.
According to Mark (we’ll use that name as the author for convenience), Jesus was transformed into the “Son of God” at the time of his baptism, but he kept his mission so secret that not even his disciples understood who he was until the resurrection (“son of God” was a phrase applied in the Old Testament to those with a special relationship to God, including angels, pious men, and kings of Israel, while the New Testament uses this to designate a follower of Jesus).The verses that come after chapter 16 verse 8 (which ends with the women discovering Jesus’ empty tomb) were added in the second century.
According to Mark 10:45, Jesus gave his life “as a ransom for the many,” bringing about a new relationship between people and God.
Most scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were written in 80-90 and they also portray Jesus as a Messiah who will establish an earthly Kingdom as the Son of God, a status they give him from birth (although Luke seems to say he became this at the resurrection in the Acts of the Apostles, which he also wrote). Matthew writes for an audience of Jews and advocates that followers of Jesus should keep the Hebrew Law. Luke wrote to the same group Paul preached to, the pagans or gentiles (non-Jews), and he viewed the Law as having been “fulfilled” by the coming of Jesus and no longer binding, certainly not on non-Jews.
In the Synoptics, Jesus performs miracles to help people, not prove that he has divine powers, and he is evasive when asked who he is, though the authors assert he was God’s Messiah who will return to reign.
The contrast with John could not be greater. In this Gospel (written 90-95), Jesus is declared to be a preexistent divine being through whom God created the world and who has incarnated to reveal the truth. There is to be no Kingdom of God on earth, it is in heaven, and those who believe in him can have eternal life there, while those who reject him will be punished forever. John has Jesus boldly making his claim to be divine even to his enemies. “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” Some Gnostics interpreted John in a way compatible with their mystical philosophy.
Paul also holds Jesus to have been a divine being before he was born. As for Jesus’ life, he barely references even the most basic facts, as if the story that dominates the Gospels is not important, except how it ends with the resurrection (though he says nothing about the empty tomb that the later Gospels emphasized as evidence of this). For starters, he doesn’t mention that Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a virgin, that he was baptized by John and tempted in the wilderness, that he foretold a Kingdom of God on earth, that he related parables, exorcized demons, healed people, had many things to say about how to live ethically, had confrontations with Jewish leaders, and was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. While Paul never met Jesus (except when Paul believed he encountered him in a vision), Paul did meet three of the first apostles and would have heard the full life story of Jesus, yet apparently did not believe was very important.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
It is also worth noting here that Paul’s seven authentic letters (six attributed to him were clearly written by others later) were written in 52-64, long before the Gospels. The first collection of a proto-New Testament was put together by the Gnostic teacher Marcion around 150, who included 10 of Paul’s letters and an edited version of Luke. The proto-Catholics put together their version in reaction, which became the official version after dissenters were suppressed.
Some might object citing Marcion as a Gnostic, since he did not teach that a divine spark was in everyone or mention an experience of enlightenment, but he obviously believed that his teaching was divinely inspired (a kind of gnosis) that the Old Testament’s Jehovah was not the True God (the same can be said of some other Gnostics, such as Basilides, Cerinthus, and the Cathars). Another prominent Gnostic teacher who claimed to have received the correct, esoteric way to interpret Paul’s writing from Theudas, a disciple of Paul, according to Elaine Pagels in The Gnostic Paul. Other Gnostics also interpreted John in a mystical way compatible with their views.
There is an obvious problem for orthodox Christians with all these varied accounts: even John makes clear that Jesus is the Son of God, not God the Father. John does have him say (10:30), “I and the Father are one,” but this is explained in the prayer of Jesus to the Father about his disciples in 17:20-21: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word; that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they all be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
In other words, Jesus was saying he was united with God in love and spiritual intent. That is not what the doctrine of the Trinity, declared at the Council of Nicea in 325, claims: mainstream Christians today insist that the Father, the Son, and the mysterious Holy Spirit, are all one being (Gnostics do talk about the Trinity as a metaphor, but do not view Jesus as the True God and consider the Spirit a functional aspect of God).
Jesus never even refers to himself as the Messiah or Christ; he does call himself the Son of Man, a rabbinic term meaning a member of the human race. Yet once you strip away two millennia of Christian dogma, the truth is obvious:
°Jesus prays to the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.
°He casts out demons in the name of the Father.
°The three Synoptics relate a story about a young man who addresses Jesus as Good Master and he responds, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”
As Ehrman writes in his 2014 volume How Jesus Became God, “Jesus went from being a potential (human) messiah to being the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection; to being a preexistent angelic being who came to earth incarnate as a man; to being the incarnation of the Word of God who existed before all time and through whom the world was created; to being God himself, equal with God the Father and always existent with him.”
Death, Resurrection, and Atonement
As I mentioned, the New Testament accounts about Jesus’ critical last week are also amazingly varied and contradictory. Just to give a few examples about the resurrection:
°According to John, on the third day after Jesus’ death, Mary Magdalene went alone to the tomb where his body had been placed. Mark says she, Mary his mother, and Salome went together. Luke mentions a number of women from Galilee and elsewhere.
°Mark says they saw a young man there, Luke says there were two men, Matthew reports it was an angel, and John has no one there.
°Mark says the women were told to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Luke reports that the disciples were to be told to remember what Jesus had told them while in Galilee, that he would die and rise again, and they should remain in Jerusalem, where he appears to them the same day.
Nor was it immediately clear to those who knew Jesus so well, exactly who the being was they encountered after Jesus’ death. On the road to Emmaus (Mark 1:12), they do not recognize him. Mary Magdalene at the tomb thinks he’s the gardener, then when she recognizes him, he tells her not to touch him (John 20:11-17). Ehrman points out that in Matthew 28:17 after he does appear to 11 of the 12 apostles, “some doubted.” In John 20:20, their skepticism is only overcome by touching the wounds from his crucifixion. In Acts 1:3, he spends 40 days with them convincing them by “many proofs.”
Obviously, he had something other than what we would understand as a mortal body when he resurrected, since he could disappear, walk through walls, and his face “shone like the sun.” That he could be touched is not evidence the body was material. That a spirit could be felt is occasionally reported in the literature of the paranormal. Gnostics took different positions on whether Jesus even had a normal body before he died, but they did not believe this was important, nor did most think that his death was central to his mission. They interpreted the resurrection in metaphorical terms as a spiritual transformation that all people would go through who became enlightened.
The claim that hundreds of dead people came out of their graves at the time of Jesus’ resurrection and walked around Jerusalem is likely an imaginative addition, since this event would have generated reports beyond the Christian oral tradition.
Nor does Paul’s claim to have been visited by Jesus in a vision make him an expert on the meaning of his life and death. Visions of spirit guides were common among pagans of the time and they continue to be reported among Hindus and Buddhists. Roman Catholics claim their faith is supported by the visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary across the centuries, with the apparition or related phenomena witnessed by large crowds, including members of other religions and even atheists (see Scott Rogo’s Miracles: A Scientific Exploration of Wondrous Phenomena for the impressive details and an alternate theory about how individuals and crowds could psychically project such visions). And, as Harold Bloom noted in The American Religion, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was one of the few religious leaders able to have others witness his angelic visions (even close followers who later became bitter enemies did not recant their original claims).
But what exactly was the purpose of Jesus’ death? You would think this would be the one message that would be clear, yet the Synoptics only refer to a vague idea that he helped people have the right relationship with God. Although God created humans, according to the Bible they were somehow inherently flawed and needed to be “saved” from their natural inclinations. This led to the theory of the “atonement,” which began evolving from the second century onwards to try to make sense of Jesus’ mission https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity. Some of the leading ideas include the Ransom Theory (Satan has claim on the sinful, but Jesus was perfect and his life had to be paid to rescue imperfect people), the Satisfaction Explanation (God is so dishonored by our sins that only the sacrifice of his son could satisfy the punishment required), and Penal Substitution (God’s moral law was broken by mortals and Jesus accepted vicarious punishment).
As Elaine Pagels documented in Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, the New Testament’s last book, which takes a fiendish delight in imagining the torture of unbelievers, has symbolism that has been clearly misinterpreted, another sign that traditional Christianity lacks divine inspiration.
The Protestant Reformation drew Christianity even further away from the conception of Jesus as the savior sent from a loving God, with doctrines like the Calvinist belief that everyone’s fate has been predestined and Martin Luther’s insistence that nothing we do to be good can help make us worthy to go to heaven, only faith in Christ.
That the Bible, which most people could not even read in most languages until relatively recently and whose messages have so many different interpretations, should be considered the basis for determining our eternal fate makes it the most enduring idol of all time.
Gnostic Christian Practices
I believe any spiritual path can benefit the practitioner. However, in the third section of God Reconsidered, I gave detailed reasons why I believe there are philosophical problems with traditional religions East and West. The fundamental issue they all stumble on is the assumption that 70 billion people were thus far created in order to follow divine laws, when the world is full of such chaos (from disease epidemics to car accidents) that this never been a practical possibility for anyone. This is also the worst possible world for anyone to be expected to find the truth. Then there’s the issue of the irrelevance of most our lives to spiritual growth: we spend almost all of our time working, eating, playing, or sleeping.
Christian Gnosticism does not have all the answers about the meaning of life that many of us would like, but at least it starts on a solid foundation by not pretending that an all-powerful and benevolent God created this world. That does not mean we are pessimists—those I know who adhere to this path lead full lives, have a good sense of humor to keep things in perspective, and more inner peace than comes with the traditional religions that emphasize the sinful nature of humans. Gnostics are simply the only ones who are willing to look clearly at the Greater Reality without flinching. That makes it far more likely that spiritual experiences which rest on that foundation are less likely to be due to entities who have the traditional religious agenda to gain influence over mortals.
In “The Story Behind the Story” on my website (the lecture I gave at the book signing at Ecclesia Gnostica in Los Angeles), I discuss one of the mystical experiences I had that led me to become a Gnostic Christian. I have discussed others and the miracles and magical synchronicities that had been part of my life since then, in interviews on the AeonByte podcast www.thegodabovegod.com (search “aeon byte scott smith” for the youtube versions). I believe my life has been guided as a result of daily prayer and meditation: for me, this is not a dead religion based on ancient scriptures, but a living practice in touch with spiritual powers (in chapter 13, I list some of the other ways to increase that connection). Does this mean I have an easy life? On the contrary, I’ve had a much more dramatic one than most people in both the ups and the downs, but my early training in Mormonism (which has similarities to Gnosticism) helped give me a personal foundation of having the bigger picture in mind to help overcome adversity. I have also benefited from Twelve Step programs, whose spiritual principles were inspired by the great psychologist Carl Jung (there are numerous other ways to free oneself from the prison of social conditioning, as Dr. Bruce Lipton discusses here: https://www.brucelipton.com/blog/latest).
Jung has contributed more to a modern understanding of the relevance of Gnosticism than anyone else.
His separation from Freud triggered a spiritual crisis in 1913, leading to visionary encounters with Philemon (who says he was Simon Magus when mortal). Jung also wrote a book in the name of Basilides (a Gnostic leader who claimed initiation from Glaucas, a disciple of St. Peter), which Hoeller has analyzed in The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead. Hoeller, the head bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica, also wrote Jung and the Lost Gospels and has given many lectures on Jung’s illustrated accounts of these experiences, the Red Book, first published in 2009, as well as his thoughts on other aspects of Christian Gnosticism (available at www.BCRecordings.net). Another excellent source on Jung‘s spiritual approach to psychology is Alfred Ribi’s The Search for Roots.
Of particular note, Jung, whose father and other relatives were pastors, did not come from a religious background that emphasized ritual, yet he saw great value in the Catholic and Orthodox versions of the mass (Protestantism was a reaction to what it felt were non-biblical additions to the faith by the Catholic Church, including elaborate rituals). Yet Jung made detailed arguments that the serving of the bread and wine in the Mass (called the Eucharist), had a transformative power through its symbolism. Hoeller has delivered a series of lectures on this under the title “Jung, Gnosis & the Sacraments” (in the BCRecordings section “Gnosis, Gnostics, & Gnosticism”). The Gnostic Gospel of Philip provides evidence that a variety of rituals played an important part in early esoteric Christianity.
In “The Mystery and Magic of the Eucharist” (an out-of-print brochure that is being republished), Hoeller wrote that this is:
A sacred mystery-drama that is designed to exalt the worshipper to the sublime condition of divine ecstasy…The Sacrament of the Eucharist derives much of its power from its origin within one of the most sublime rites of the Egyptian and Greek mysteries. There was a twofold initiation symbolized by bread and wine respectively, or by flesh or blood. The rebirth in the flesh (bread) stood for the purification of the lower self, while the baptism of blood stood for the infusion into the human nature of the divine. ..The Mass is a drama wherein we are to live through our own apotheosis, that is, where we are to become in actual fact shining gods filled with the light and power of the Most High…We must realize that the chief figure of the drama enacted is not the distant, though inspiring figure of the biblical Jesus, but the Christ that is in us.
Often, Hoeller said, he will find himself in an altered state during the performance of the mass, sometimes he has sensed spirits attracted by the ritual, and once watched as the bishop he was assisting sent the wafer floating through the air and into the mouth of a communicant. Such things are not entirely unexpected, given that the highly-regarded clairvoyant C.W. Leadbeater, in The Science of the Sacraments, reported sensing psychic energy rise to fill chapels where the Catholic Mass was performed (those who prefer the Gnostic wording could say it to themselves at such services).
Spiritual Manifestations of the Living Gnosis
Finally, I’d like to add some brief profiles to show how diverse the paths are of those who have come to acknowledge important insights of this Western Mystery Tradition.
Bishop Stephan Hoeller of Ecclesia Gnostica
As Hoeller has acknowledged, the insight of gnosis—the spiritual awakening that recognizes the fundamental truth about our connection to God and the cosmic trap of the material world—can come in many ways, sometimes dramatically, other times over a long period of time, until one crosses over the line from ordinary thinking. He has seen it manifest both ways in his own life and is close to finishing his memoirs that will detail some of his encounters with the Other World. He also spoke about these things in a recent AeonByte interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIt_QjdmVuw and in Gnostic Society lectures www.gnosis.org (go to Ordering Lectures and select Potpourri for the two-part “Autobiography”).
In our interview, he recalled constant and uncannily vivid dreams as young child of being overwhelmed by an ocean tide, though living in Hungary he had never been to a beach. He floated among fantastical creatures under water and came to understand this as meaning that his world would be completely changed, but he would thrive. It was the 1930s, and in the next decade his homeland would be overrun, first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets. He escaped to Belgium in 1945. This where his spiritual journey really began. As a child, he had read a novel about the last pagan emperor, Julian, who reigned 361-63, andconvened a conference on religion. Hoeller was uncannily riveted by a scene in which a procession of Gnostics came into the court. Now in exile, Hoeller was invited by a Cistercian abbot to help research occult phenomena, which led to taking part in a two-day exorcism, during which the possessed levitated and spoke in languages she didn’t know. Hoeller continued on a path to become a priest, studying in Rome, while drawn to reading about the Gnostics, sometimes encouraged by teachers. This led to a spiritual crisis in which he realized that he should not be ordained and he left the program in 1952 to emigrate to the U.S.
Having joined the Theosophical Society in Europe and then in Los Angeles, he began writing and lecturing about the occult. In 1958, he was ordained as a priest in the American Catholic Church, one of many offshoots of Roman Catholicism that respected its rites, but felt the institution had become corrupt. In 1967, Hoeller and some friends went to hear a lecture by Bishop Richard Duc de Palatine, head of a Gnostic Church in Britain. While he was speaking, Hoeller saw Palatine’s face change many times, so that he appeared to be more than one person, which he interpreted as a spiritual manifestation to get his attention (no one else noticed). In a private meeting the next day, this phenomenon continued and later Palatine would show an ability to control occult forces, such as levitating a small sword. He ordained Hoeller to take charge of the North American church. The night Palatine died in 1977, he appeared to him in a dream saying, “Now I’m really free.” The same year, the Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi were published and a New Age of appreciation for the insights of the ancient philosophy dawned.
Jenny Gomes, creator of Gnostic Café on Facebook (4,545 members as of July 2017)
Jenny was prompted to form the Facebook discussion group Gnostic Café after a series of experiences, which she shared for this blog:
“My experiences had Christian overtones since I was of a Christian mindset at the time. Whilst going through a traumatic time with a young son who was ill and had to be in the hospital for weeks at a time, I prayed a lot. I’ve always resonated with the Western Mystery Tradition, which to me is more aligned with Christianity than some of the Eastern paths. One day my son asked me if he was going to die; it was a brutal question for any mother to hear coming from a beloved 10-year-old who was so sick. I replied that I honestly didn’t know, then sobbed my heart out. He then said a strange thing, this from a child who had refused to go to any of the churches I had been attending during those years: “Don’t be too said, I’ve lived before and will live again!” I was stunned, since I had never discussed reincarnation or anything like that with him.
“I was strangely comforted. After that, I had a vision of what I would think of as Christ showing me rolling hills of green pastures, while we stood on top of a hill. It was a vibrant and heartwarming moment. After that, I began getting messages in dreams, knowing what the outcome of tests would be, even before the doctors. As time went on, my son got better and at times had the specialists scratching their heads at his quick and excellent improvement, contrary to their expectations. All of these experiences prompted me to begin looking into other religions, as well. This is when I found what I call the Golden Thread through all teachings, which led me to form the group Gnostic Café.”
Rafi Simonton, member of the Inner Sanctum of Gnosis Facebook page
“I’m from Seattle and as is common there, not raised with religion at all, nor were my parents. I went back to school in middle age, major in botany, minor in forestry, because I was interested in ecosystems and how to preserve them. I also have a labor background and realized that ecological issues cannot ignore economic equity. Fairness is a matter of ethics and morals, which in the West are derived from Judeo-Christian traditions, so I had to look at that. These seemed to provide a framework for understanding a lifetime of esoteric experiences. I became Eastern Orthodox because of its acceptance of mysticism and the Transcendent, and I studied for a time at St. Vincent’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. I returned home to go to Seattle University.
“In 2005, I was at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley around Easter and had just suffered an ankle sprain and stuck inside with no help. My mentor had abandoned me, my closest spiritual friend had picked a fight with me for no apparent reason, and a professor was giving me a hard time. It seemed to me this vaunted ‘Christian’ tradition was worthless if that’s all it had produced. I’d had it and reached up to rip the Orthodox icons off the walls of my dorm room—but then I saw the figure on my Catholic Benedictine cross smile at me, which made me pause and take a closer look. Just for a moment, all a limited being could withstand, I was allowed to feel what Jesus had experienced on the cross. While going through the horror of crucifixion, he bore all of the hurt, fear, loneliness, and bewilderment of the entirety of creation, while simultaneously feeling abandoned by God. I fell back into my bed, stunned. Then I ‘heard’ him say, while smiling slightly, ‘It’s worth it, you know’: the struggle to understand, to become spiritual, to become deified.
“I did my best to take scholarly theology seriously, but in the end couldn’t make the Procrustean bargain. Four years ago, I returned to reading about Gnosticism, after being a away from it for nearly 20 years. I found information there that filled in the spaces left by Apostolic Christianity. But my 2005 experience was evidence that Gnostics who view God as remote and unreachable are not entirely right. Perhaps S/he is at full force, which could be why a step-down transformer version of Jesus as God in human form came into being. I’ve had some direct experiences as well and, believe me, they were like fire. But what is gnosis about, if not knowing God? I’ve also seen demons and been attacked by them. As collective projections, I think archons are frightening, but limited. We are gods in potential and they are just powers.
“Nowadays, I describe myself as Eastern Heterodox or as a Christian gnostic (small ‘g’). I’ve had people ask me how they might get mystical experiences themselves. I’ve used my own model of Kabbalah and Tarot paths as templates, which meant dealing with physical and cultural realities, all the personal psycho-spiritual aspects, including the terrifyingly negative ones, and with what transcendence means. Tentatively, I’ve concluded that prophetic (social justice), gnostic, and mystical experiences can be reached by the slower path of step-by-step work: it takes all three pillars to find wisdom.”
If readers are interested in contributing their mystical experiences to future editions of this blog, please send one paragraph to one page descriptions, with a summary of your spiritual journey (and how to ID you if not by your name): firstname.lastname@example.org.