Today we have posted essay number 8, Faust (One), in the series titled The Darkness of This World. (Find it under Pages in our margin.)
Here are some extracts from it:
Post-Enlightenment Romanticism was an escape from the reality of “this world”, and a belief that there could be a better world realized in Art, or in a future brought about by political action. …
The Romantic Movement was seeded in France with the revolutionary idealism of Rousseau, and flowered first in England as resistance to the iron reality of the Industrial Revolution, but found its natural home in Germany. There God died, but the Devil lived on.
The death of God was announced by the German philosopher Nietzsche in 1882, but when had it occurred? God was still alive, tussling with the Devil for the souls of men when the first part of Goethe’s play Faust was published in 1808, so the event must have come about, quietly, sometime in the intervening seventy-four years.
The legend of Faust and his pact with the Devil had arisen in Germany soon after the Reformation began there [in 1517], and about two hundred years before the Enlightenment seriously weakened the power of the Churches. …
The legendary Faust is a man who chooses to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, honor, wealth, fame; delight of the senses and satisfaction of the appetites, especially lust; and knowledge (of both the scientific and the intuitive sorts), for the duration of his life on earth, usually twenty-four years from the day of the compact. As his splendid life goes on, he wonders at moments if he could repent and be saved. He is exhorted by well-wishers to turn to God for mercy. But he chooses to renew his fatal pact. When he dies he goes to hell …
There was a real historical Dr Faust, “magician, necromancer, sodomist, astrologer and palm reader”, living in Germany in the early sixteenth century, and it was on his character, skills and escapades that the legend was based.
His birth name was Georgius Sabellicus. In 1505 he was helped by a certain Franz von Sickengen – who interested himself in mysticism and the magic arts – to obtain the post of schoolmaster in the Rhineland-Palatinate town of Kreuznach. Exposed as having forced boys of his classroom to perform “acts of lewdness”, Sabellicus disappeared from the school and the town. Two years later, as “Johannes Faust”, he was granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Theology by the University of Heidelberg. He came top of his class of fifteen, so either he was a brainy fellow, or he had already sold his soul to the Devil.
The graduate called himself “the Second Magus”, signaling that he was the successor to Simon Magus, the 1st century Gnostic teacher of St Paul’s day, written about scornfully in the New Testament and condemned by the Catholic Church as “the father of all heresies”. (See our post, The father of all heresies, February 21, 2010.)
He stayed in Heidelberg for some years and acquired a dubious reputation as a man of extraordinary powers.
While most commentary on him both in his lifetime and for a few years after his death (which was probably in or about 1540) portrayed him as no more than a braggart, a fraud, and a petty thief, some took him more seriously. An agreement made between himself and the Devil soon became an essential ingredient of his legend. It was related in tones of thrilled horror that he had referred to Satan as his “Schwäger”, his brother-in-law. A demon spirit who takes the form of Helen of Troy occurs in almost all the versions of the story. (She had been Simon Magus’s consort. Though he had found her in a brothel in Tyre, he taught that she had been incarnated in one of her lives as Helen, “the most beautiful woman in the world”, and had descended again from the highest heaven to help him with his mission of redeeming mankind.)
The idea that supernatural powers could be bestowed on a man by the Devil, but had to be paid for with the man’s soul, probably arose from the anathematizing accounts by the Catholic church fathers of the Gnostic cults. Because the Gnostics did not worship the Creator God of the bible but another god whom they “knew” by the gift of intuitive knowledge (the Gnosis); because many of them declared the Creator God to be evil; and because the worship of their god took the form of drugged orgies, perverted sex (anal and oral in order to avoid conception), and the deliberate flouting of biblical commandments, they were considered by Catholics to be devil-worshippers, and their rites Satanic. Their doctrines and practices were deplored in the pulpits of Christendom, embellished with fearful details and scary myths, not only to condemn them and warn the awestruck laity against them, but because the clergy was genuinely full of superstitious terror of the Devil. For centuries Gnostic ritual was considered by Christian theologians to be devil-worship. The Catholic Church succeeded in wiping out Gnosticism in the Middle Ages, using the instrument of the Inquisition. (See our post The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011.)
When the centuries of Church power were brought to an end by the Enlightenment, and Christianity itself took a beating, Faust and the Devil not only survived but flourished.
The Industrial Revolution made it possible as never before for individuals not born to riches and power to acquire them. To those who understood economics it was not an inexplicable phenomenon. But to those who wanted as little to do with the racket and dirt of industry as possible, who were nostalgic for the past, and who continued to believe in the supernatural though the priests had been shouted down by Reason, it was uncanny, magical; and ever-present envy had no trouble diagnosing the cause as demonic. So with the Devil living on in the psyche of Christian Europe long after God had died, Dr. Faust had a new lease of life. …
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
The Enlightenment dethroned faith and crowned reason. And reason launched two of the most important advances of our civilization: Science, and the United States of America.
Science was enormously advanced by the philosophers of Reason. Locke, Hume, Spinoza, and Voltaire not only challenged religious certainties and so weakened the suppressive power of the Churches, but with their radical rationalism they positively impelled free enquiry into the laws of nature.
But at the same time, from the very heart of the Enlightenment, came the rot that would corrupt the new culture. Reason, which had struggled against the ignorant arrogance of the Catholic Church, was now, from the moment its golden age began, assailed by a new adversary, a new form of irrationalism that imitated the religious tyrannies it had overcome: Romanticism.
The rot is easy for us to spot because we know what it led to. It was in the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Voltaire saw it at the time, immediately. With typically wry and stinging humor he wrote to Rousseau: “I have received your new book against the human race, and thank you for it. Never was such cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid. One longs, in reading your book, to walk on all fours.”
Rousseau was holding up the pre-civilized, or “natural” man as superior to the civilized. He did not actually use the phrase “noble savage” but it sums up his idea. …
The whole of this essay may be found on our Pages, added to the earlier essays under the same title. Access it by clicking on The Darkness of This World under the Pages heading at the top of our margin, and scroll down to Our Gnostic Age 6.
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
Sensitive souls recoiled from the products of reason; from the iron mills of new industries with their grating noise, the vulgar crowds swarming into the cities and decking themselves out in the cheap finery they helped to mass-produce. Sensitive souls hated the cheerful optimism of the growing urban middle class, the healthy economy, and fat Britannia setting her imperial boundaries wider and wider across the world. Their reaction was to look inward; to seek emotional solace, become preoccupied with feeling; and often to find a perverted form of satisfaction in melancholy and illness. Such was the despondent though also rapturous mood, the sad sick spirit of nostalgia and unfocussed longing that spread over Europe like a miasma and came to be called the Romantic Movement. ……
The whole of this essay may be found on our Pages, added to the earlier essays under the same title. Access it by clicking on The Darkness of This World under the Pages heading at the top of our margin, and scroll down to Our Gnostic Age 5.
Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the fourth essay under the title The Darkness of This World. (For the first three put Our Gnostic Age in the search slot.)
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
In its defiance of religious and cultural norms, most New Age doctrine and practice (briefly described in the last essay) is comparatively mild. Far more savage messages have come from thousands of pop songs and rap “flows” since the 1960s. Cruelty and religious images are a large if not predominant part of their stock-in-trade. Themes of rape, murder, massacre, torture, Satan, devils, demons, sado-masochism, ultimate doom, universal destruction by nuclear bombs or climate apocalypse, terrorism, suicide, death, are common, hugely popular – and therefore enormously lucrative. Here are words from a rock song called Demons. It was sung by a group named Rigor Mortis – typically connoting something dreaded, in this case death: “We come bursting through your bodies, rape your helpless soul …we force you to kill your brother, eat his blood and brain, shredding flesh and sucking bone till everyone’s insane, we are pestilent and contaminate, the world Demonic legions prevail.”
Such songs could be, and sometimes are, interpreted as instructions to do evil. But then, almost any song could be – and was. Charles Manson, mass murderer and cult-leader of a mass-murdering group, declared himself profoundly stirred by a Beatles song called Helter-Skelter, into whose quite innocuous words about sliding down a fairground slide, he read a coded message about the coming of a final conflict between the black and white races. 
But songs, however gruesome, and even if sometimes inspiring real cruelty and murder, are not the source of the moral rot in twenty-first century Western culture. Nor are the video games that require the killing off of humanoids in such profusion that they’re often blown away as copiously as brown leaves in a gale. Such popular indulgence in Halloween-like fantasy are analogous not to the old Gnostic cults themselves, but to imitations of their rites as pictured and misunderstood by less educated outsiders. The deliberate “sinning” of the Gnostics, with orgies and drugs, was performed for several reasons or excuses: to “use up sin” – ie. commit as much sin as possible in order to hasten the end of the world, on the assumption that there was a fixed amount of sin pre-ordained by the evil Creator, and when all of it had been committed his creation would be done for; or on the grounds that it wasn’t sin at all, only named so by the evil creator, and by defying him they were acting for the good; or on the grounds that true Gnostics – the “Spirituals”, or “Masters”, or “Perfects” – were incapable of sinning and so were free to do anything they liked. Those who were fascinated by the cults but excluded from them – being despised by the Gnostics as “hylics”, “animal men”, creatures irredeemably belonging to the earth – caught rumor of the rites and misunderstood them to be ways of worshiping the Devil.  The performance of “Satanic” rituals such as the Black Mass may very well have begun in imitation of Gnostic rites as imagined by “hylics” who hoped they would summon up the Devil to grant them occult powers. The Devil was supposed to be able and willing to sell such powers to any buyer willing to pay the price of his or her “immortal soul”. Sometimes the drug-intoxicated, orgiastic rites included human sacrifice. To the Christian churches such beliefs and rituals were not only heresy, they were blasphemy; and through the Middle Ages, when such blaspheming heretics were sniffed out by the moralists of almost any Christian denomination, they were punished with torture and fire; burnt at the stake as witches and “black” magicians. It’s certain, however, that they did far less harm, hurt and killed far fewer victims, than did the churches themselves.
No. The power to effect evil on a vast scale lies not with the many but with the few; not with the uneducated but with the educated; not with adolescent entertainers but with intellectual elites. Evil as, or for, a “higher good” becomes a force that deforms civilization only when it issues from the top of the tower. They affect the way teachers teach, students learn, and governments govern. They are professors, philosophers, priests, psychologists, writers, critics, film-makers, rogue scientists, politicians. They are the revolutionaries with a long reach. They could be called the legislative branch of the new orthodoxy. They write the laws of “political correctness”.
The executive branch whose members are responsible for disseminating the toxic ideas, are the powers that appoint the teachers at the universities; publish books and newspapers; choose the plays and the works of art that are to be presented to the public. They are the givers of grants and awards, the producers of films, the social-engineering bureaucrats.
A counter-culture with a mood of sustained rebellion has become dominant in the early twenty-first century in the West not as an imp daring to do mischievous things to provoke an old-fogey establishment, but as a loud, bullying, relentless thug. It rules in the academies and the press; it permits and cheers on the jolly viciousness of popular culture. And it has come to political power throughout the Western world. It is no longer an amusing adversarial movement confined to a demi-monde of the young, the envious and the frustrated; it is now the culture itself. It camps on the public square, wallowing in its own detritus. It stinks. It threatens. It crows triumphantly on its own dung-heap. It gloats over its crimes. It riots in the streets of the cities, smashing the windows of stores, setting fire to banks regardless of whether there are people in them. It burns cars. It shrilly demands much in exchange for nothing. And it legislates, and it taxes, and it makes war on small nations for no better reason than sentiment.
It prevails. And it seems to have come upon the prosperous, brilliant, powerful West quite recently. It has called itself the Red Army of this or that; or Anarchists against Capitalism; or a movement for Hope and Change; or the Occupy Wall Street Movement… It entered the Parliaments of Europe late in the last century, and now it is in the White House of America. But actually it grew slowly through the last three centuries.
It began in Europe, it spread from Europe, and in Europe it became malignant. It began as a reaction to the Enlightenment, that marvelous long morning when the sun of Reason rose to its zenith in the eighteenth century, and the Age of Science gathered pace. Technology, the daughter of Science, gave birth – first in England – to contraptions, contrivances, devices and engines that spun wheels and let off steam and smoke, appalling those blessed or cursed with sensitive souls. Religion blanched. The power of the Churches drained away. Christianity itself declined, but with its fading came a nostalgia for its mystery, for its visions of dim glories, and even for its guilt and its terror.
Jillian Becker October 31, 2013
1. In August 1969, Charles Manson sent Susan Atkins with two other women and Charles “Tex” Watson to a house in Beverly Hills to kill the actress Sharon Tate and anyone else they found there. Atkins states in her autobiography Child of Satan, Child of God, that as they approached the house, “I was deeply aware of Evil. I was Evil.” She and her companions brutally murdered Sharon Tate and four other people with knives and a gun. “Tex” Watson said to one of the victims (according to Atkins), “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” Atkins wrote: “I was to learn later that this was the home of the beautiful Miss Tate and [her husband Roman] Polanski, who was out of the country at the time. … Polanksi had produced the controversial Rosemary’s Baby, a film about a woman who bore a child by Satan.” Shortly before meeting Manson, she records, she had refused to participate in a ritual of Satan-worship conducted by Anton LaVey – occultist and musician, founder of the Church of Satan, author of The Satanic Bible, father of a son named Satan LaVey – because she believed in God. When she joined the Manson “family”, she thought that Manson “might be God himself; if not, he was close to him.” Her life with the Manson “family” was full off drugs and orgies which made her feel that she was “one with everyone”. “What Charlie taught us,” she said, “was love”. She bore a child which she insisted was not Manson’s, and named him Ze Zo Ze Cee Zadfrack “for no other reason than that at the torn and twisted time it seemed like a good name”. (So it must be a coincidence, though an intriguing one, that the magic formula for gaining direct access to the highest heaven of the Gnostics, according toThe Book of Ieû is: aaa ooo zezophazazzzaieozaza eee iii zaieozoakoe ooo uuu thoezaozaez eee zzeeezaozakozakeude tuxuaalethukh. – Gnosticism: An Anthology by Robert M. Grant, Collins, London, 1961.)
2. A misinterpretation of Gnostic ritual as devil-worship probably accounts for some of the testimony given at the trial in France, in 1310, of the Knights Templar, a military branch of the Cistercian order specially founded “to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land”. King Philip IV, known as Philip the Beautiful, feared their power and coveted their wealth. They were the international bankers of the age, as well as a considerable military force and an efficiently organized intelligence network. They owned vast estates in France. Their reputation as heroes of the Crusades, as warriors and carers of the sick and wounded, made them glorious in the eyes of the common people. Philip was determined to bring them down, to confiscate their lands and treasure, to extirpate them from his own realms and destroy the order wherever his power or influence could reach. The means he chose was to accuse them of heresy. On the night of October 12, 1307, every Templar in France, along with his servants and dependants, was arrested and imprisoned by order of the King. Two and half years later the trial began. Witnesses told of secret meetings behind locked doors, through whose keyholes they had seen and heard abominable rites. Almost all said that the Knights had denied Christ, spat upon the Cross, and declared that it was right only to believe in “the Highest God”. Some reported that they had seen them pay reverence to idols and the devil. Some Knights, being broken by torture and unable to face the terrible punishment that awaited heretics, themselves “confessed” to performing such rituals. Though their legal defense was cleverly devised and persuasively presented, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. The last officers of the order were burnt at the stake on March 19, 1314. Some historians maintain that all the accusations were false and the order was free of any taint of heresy, and no direct evidence has ever been found to prove the case one way or the other. But the more credible testimony of the witnesses strongly suggests that what they glimpsed and heard through keyholes was a Gnostic rite as had been practiced by the Cathars in the Languedoc region of southern France, of whom the last few were then being hunted down and burnt to death by the Inquisition. But beside the possibly true witness accounts, tales were told of devil-worship, including the ritual kissing of the Devil’s behind, which were probably the stock-in-trade of common gossip in those heresy-obsessed ages of Catholic tyranny.
3. One example of sentiment at work in international affairs to brutal result arose out of the United Nation resolution known as “R2P” – The Responsibility to Protect. It requires the strong and wealthy nations of the West to be guardians of vulnerable populations in any foreign state. It was invoked as a reason for French, British and American intervention in Libya in 2011, to overthrow the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, to the time of this writing, there has been no effective government in Libya. Rival Muslim terrorist groups control their fiefdoms, ruling arbitrarily and ferociously by a mixture of sharia law and vicious whim. The population is a lot worse off than it was under Gaddafi. An earlier example was the interference in the 1990s by the West – chiefly America – in the Balkans. The socialist governments of Western Europe and the Democratic government of the United States believed it was right according to leftist principles to make war only where the interests of their own countries were in no way served by it. The American and NATO soldiers who died saving Kosovar and Bosnian Muslims from alleged Catholic or Orthodox Christian oppression (so positively assisting Muslim terrorist groups in Kosovo), gave their lives not for their country, or freedom, but for the need of their leaders to feel good about themselves. The idea that it is the height of morality to sacrifice oneself (or one’s country’s soldiers) for others, particularly if the others are perceived as underdogs, derives directly and exclusively from Christianity.
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
New Age religion is – according to taste and judgment – a rich diversity of “spiritualities”, or a junk-heap of irrationalities.
It arose in the West as an unplanned rejection movement against reason, science, capitalism, Western political institutions and cultural norms, often to the point of antinomianism. It started as a counter-culture, but many of its beliefs and practices have come to be accepted as normal. Most obviously it impacts the lives of almost everyone in developed countries through Environmentalism, one of the most successful of its superstitions.
New Age includes mythical, mystical, and simply fantastical cult ingredients. Its theorists draw on the occult and witchcraft; on religions of the Far East ; on the modern mystic faith of psycho-analysis (in particular the theories of C. G. Jung); on Richard Wagner’s mythology and mysticism ; on UFO legends; on “alternative” Western religious cults and systems – Scientology, Mormonism, Hare Krishna, Shamanism, pop-Kabala, Environmentalism. Among its assorted mysticisms and occultisms are: astrology ; fortune telling by tarot cards, I Ching, Ouija boards; spirit guides; processes of faith healing or imaginary empowerment through the use of crystals and pyramids; chanting, dancing, meditation, Yoga exercises. It was partly inspired by the hundred-plus years old, Orient-derived, Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky, and its offshoots, including the Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner with their theories of education, art, agriculture, and health.
As a religion rather than a life-style movement – which it has primarily become – New Age is loosely likened to the Gnostic sects of the 2nd century and the Middle Ages because it is mystical, esoteric, and challenging to the “revealed” religions. There are also specific similarities.
First, like the Gnostics of old, New Age acolytes revile the “God of the bible” (whatever they conceive him to be – Jehovah, “God the Father”, or the Trinity), and they “know” the “true God” by innate knowledge.
Second, as in the Gnostic cults, there is a hierarchy of classes in New Age doctrine. The divisions are according to “spiritual” ability. The highest class is that of the adepts, the Masters, who have attained “cosmic consciousness”. They know they possess the innate knowledge (gnosis) of the real God. Below them are Disciples, whose minds are open to New Age teaching but have yet to master it. At the bottom are the rest, “animal men”, unenlightened by the faith.
Third, those who have the gift – the Masters – can release, or bring to consciousness, or make effective, or bring into being (all of those effects are stated or implied at different times), the “divinity” they “know” is within them by achieving a state of ecstasy. And like the Gnostics of old, they do this by taking drugs and indulging in sexual libertinism. Each New Age participant’s “divine blood” asserts itself as the right guide to human thought and action. In a New Age orgy, “group-consciousness” reveals itself and exerts its will.
Fourth, in New Age as in old Gnosticism, believers rebel against ethical norms by reversing conventional values: what is generally accepted as good is held to be bad, and vice versa.
But in one important respect there is a difference between old Gnosticism and New Age. To almost all the old Gnostics, this earth and everything on it (except their inner spark of Knowledge) was evil, the creation of an evil God, so they were defying evil by doing what the ignorant masses called sinning; defiling their bodies to express scorn for the dirt they were made of . But New Age holds the earth sacred, and sensual experience is a sacrament in itself, often the supreme sacrament.
The old Gnostics, to defy the Creator God, would destroy his earth to save man – or at least themselves. The new Gnostics claim to be God, at least potentially, and would destroy man – or at least a lot of other people – to save the earth .
Being a hotch-potch of beliefs – belief in almost anything that reason rejects – New Age religion inevitably contains contradictions. For instance, while some of its authoritative theorists hold that the divine dwells within the human species (even in the “animal men”, the general theory implies) , the earth is an external and separate goddess, “Mother Earth”, identical to her whom the ancient Greeks called Gaia. She has suffered “ecological wounds” through human industrial activity (thus the specie-sin of “anthropogenic global warming”), and she needs to be “healed”.
These different attitudes to nature between the ancient and the new cults entail different attitudes to sex. To the ancient Gnostics, everything material, including the human body, was evil, so they indulged in sacramental orgies of conventionally forbidden sex in order to defy the Creator God of this world and his commandments. But New Age orgies – similarly considered to be sacraments – are performed as acts of Earth worship. They celebrate the physical, not scorn it.  Sensual pleasure is a good in itself. The performance of communal rituals – chanting, dancing, sado-masochistic sex, all-gender-inclusive sex (with male homosexuality particularly stressed by Matthew Fox ) – advances the coming into being of a new synthesized God: “I” become God; “we” become God; Man, God, and Nature become One, and the one is the universal God, the “Cosmic Christ”.
New Age writing is full of vapid declarations expressed with stirring passion rather than semantic sense. It is verbal impressionism. Matthew Fox, for instance – one of the most widely read New Age writers, blends “the Cosmic Christ” with “Mother Earth”. The Cosmic Christ is an eternal Being who became incarnate in Jesus – so far in tune with at least some long-established Christianities – but is also (if not exactly “incarnate” by the actual meaning of the word, “made flesh”), one with Mother Earth. She is crucified like Jesus; and as such she is a symbol of the incarnated Cosmic Christ, or of the Cosmic Christ as Jesus crucified; or Jesus crucified is a symbol of Mother Earth crucified:
The appropriate symbol of the Cosmic Christ who became incarnate in Jesus is that of Jesus as Mother Earth crucified yet rising daily … like Jesus, she rises from her tomb every day [so not quite like Jesus] … wounded, yet rising, Mother Earth blesses us each day. 
New Age has had an effect on conventional religious institutions. Some of the established churches, Catholic and Protestant, have picked out bits from New Age to add flavor to their own offerings  – which may indicate how weary, stale, flat and washed out they must feel their own faiths to be. As for social and political effects, New Age cults contribute cumulatively to the character of the times, but most of them have had little or no effect on major events.
There are two exceptions. One is Liberation Theology (an emulsion of two opiates of the people, Marxism and Catholicism), which has had an historical effect in South America as an ideological cause of the rise of terrorist organizations.
Marxism comes into our purview. New Age harmonizes with Marxism easily, both being collectivist ideologies. In almost all its manifestations, New Age requires group practice. Its ultimate vision is of a single shared human consciousness (rather like the imaginary alien species called the Borg in Star Trek, whose every individual is one with the “hive mind”). The Catholic writer Teilhard de Chardin had a strong influence on New Age theory. In his book The Future of Man, he foresees “the end of a ‘thinking species’; not disintegration and death, but a new breakthrough and a rebirth, this time outside Time and Space. Man would at some future time ‘form a single consciousness’.”  ). New Age goes further yet: humanity will share its communal consciousness with the Earth. 
Marxism and magic (and pacifism and feminism), came together in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), starting in Britain in 1958 and continuing through the next three decades. Most of the CND protestors did not know that their leaders received funding from the USSR; they were simply the “useful idiots” of Lenin’s famous phrase. In the early 1980s a Women’s Peace Camp was set up on Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest against NATO cruise missiles being deployed at the RAF base situated there. The women would hold up mirrors to “reflect the evil” of the weapons back over the fence.
The other exception is Environmentalism, which has entranced half the population of the First World and pesters the whole human race.
Other than these, New Age cults, though numerous, are for the most part comparatively harmless and few will be mentioned in these essays. Most New Age leaders and followers don’t think of themselves as doing evil, only redefining what good is. Homosexuality was bad until the 1960s; so to New Age devotees it was super-good. Alternative medical practices were bad; so to New Age devotees they were super-good. One of the most egregious examples of New Age success, of how it has penetrated even some institutions that by their nature should be impregnable to cults of unreason, is that practitioners of “alternative medicine” are working alongside physicians and surgeons in Western hospitals. They may do harm, but they probably do not intend to.
What these essays are concerned with is the deliberate choosing of evil. They are not about common crime, nor the immoral things everybody does from time to time. They are about evil intended as such, and the intended evil is the willful harming of human beings. The doing of it is advocated by a self-elected elite – intellectuals who claim to have a vision beyond the understanding of the rest of us – with verbal violence to scandalize the conventional. They often rationalize it with sophisticated philosophical excuses, arguing for instance that it is necessary for the attainment of a “higher good” for the whole human race, including the uncomprehending masses. The “higher good” is different now, the excuses more sophisticated, more subtle and complicated than they were for the Gnostics of old. The sins are less ingenuous, the evil more profound and more extensive. In sum, the new Gnostics are far more dangerous and destructive than the old.
Not only is evil preached, simulated in theatre or performance art, solemnly celebrated in religious or quasi-religious ceremonies, it is also done in reality. While most of its priests and shamans confine themselves to gestures and make-believe, others do it.
Jillian Becker September 5, 2013
1. The re-interpreted oriental religions are chiefly Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and Hinduism, and in particular the doctrine of reincarnation. The re-interpretations were brought to the West by Indian gurus (such the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, popularized by The Beatles). Some Westerners took themselves to the East to garner its wisdoms and returned home with a new name and guru status (such as Richard Alpert, a Bostonian psychologist who journeyed to India and returned as Guru Ram Dass – see Understanding the New Age by Russell Chandler, Word Inc., Dallas, Texas, 1988, p 63).
2. Wagner’s myths – Lohengrin, Siegfried, Parsifal – were superficially Christian and his heroes Christ-like redeemers. But he dilates at length in his massive prose writings on what is wrong with Christianity and Judaism, especially Judaism and even more especially Jews. He was of the opinion that Jews could only be redeemed by annihilating themselves. The Germans, he declared, needed to be “emancipated from the Jews”; “redeemed” from them by a real-life Parsifal. He praised pre-Christian polytheism. He praised the ancient Greeks for being “intuitive” – which means he loved the savage rites of their Dionysus worship, but ignored their fertile use of reason, their invention of logic and science. Reason, he opined, was a Jewish thing. He drew mostly on Nordic legends, which he considered quintessentially German. Among the ideas he passionately promoted were these: German heroes act out of feeling, not reason, being moved by “the god within”; the only god dwells within us and within nature; there is a “world spirit”, the quintessence of Being, which is within both Man (Germans, that is) and nature; “We are God” and “to become God we need only instinctive Knowledge of the Self” – the indwelling divinity; the taking of hashish releases the feeling of being divine. As poet-priest and prophet, he looked to the coming of a German leader – a Führer – who would mount a “destructive revolution to destroy our civilization”, a civilization which he despised as weak, unheroic, built by Jews. He died before his prophesied Führer was born, but Hitler was intensely inspired by Wagner’s operas from the age of twelve, when he saw one for the first time. It was Lohengrin. And there is a portrait of Hitler as Lohengrin, not (disappointingly) mounted ludicrously on a swan as the knight is in the opera, but on a black horse, in white Medieval armor, carrying the Nazi flag, his head in profile, scowling, unmistakable with his little brushy mustache.) The echoes of Wagner’s ideas in New Age are loud and clear. To hear a full discussion of them, go to a YouTube video titled: Wagner’s Musical Religion: Art, Politics, Genocide, in which two authorities on Wagner, Margaret Brearley and Robert Wistrich, lecture on his life and works and quote his words.
3. Astrology and the signs of the zodiac feature large among New Age superstitions. The New Age is also called “The Age of Aquarius”.
4. One exception among the old Gnostics was Epiphanes. He contradicted the usual Gnostic belief that this world is evil. All creation, he taught, belongs to all mankind. In his rituals, sexual intercourse was performed publicly as a sacred rite and called a love-feast. Drugs, especially aphrodisiacs, were routinely used. When he died at the age of 17, the islanders of Cephalonia, where his mother came from, built a temple to him and proclaimed him a god. His memory was also honored there with a museum which housed the many books he had found time to write in his short life. We have been protected from them by the Christian Church; but the Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, who was allowed to read them before they were destroyed, has left us brief summaries of their contents. Clement’s account shows Epiphanes to have been full of “back to nature” idealism; a lover of animals; an aesthete moved by the beauty of the earth and the starry skies, rather than one who condemned this world as a place of darkness. God lets the light of the sun and the stars, Epiphanes said, fall equally on all human beings. Even the beasts are blessed by the light. Each man and beast takes his enjoyment of it without depleting it for any other. The sun causes the earth to be fruitful and the fruits of the earth are for all. Beasts are exemplars of communitarian life, and being so they are righteous. Together they graze, equal, harmonious, and innocent. And so would we be had not the Law made transgression possible. The Law “nibbled away” the fellowship of nature. Righteousness lies in fellowship and equality, in sharing and caring, which is to say in mutual and general love. Into every male God put vigorous and impetuous desire for the sake of the continuance of the human race. No law can take that away. It is right and good for a man to enjoy sexually every woman he desires. That a law should say ‘Thou shalt not covet’ is laughable. And the very idea of marriage is absurd since all women naturally belong to all men. (For more see Erotic religion, The Atheist Conservative, January 24 2010.)
5. The anti-human campaign among Environmentalists will be the subject of a later essay.
6. In some texts it is “within everything”.
7. “All worship leaders need to be instructed … in body awareness and awakening’.” The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance by Matthew Fox, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1988, pp 216f – quoted in Matthew Fox and the Cosmic Christ, an essay by Margaret Brearley in Anvil, Vol. 9, No 1, 1992, p 44. I have relied on Dr Brearley’s meticulous scholarship, and with her permission taken my examples from her papers on New Age – and Matthew Fox in particular – so avoiding the punitive labor of reading more than a very few New Age texts myself. Most of the words and phrases marked as quotations come from this source.
8. “In practice Fox demands: worship in circles, ‘preferably on the soil of Mother Earth’ (Fox p 217); the centrality of Eros; and the breaking of divisions between body and mind using ‘rituals of the native peoples’. These would include sweat lodges in every church and synagogue, Sun dances with drumming, moon rituals, drinking the ‘blood of the cosmos’ and radically replacing the existing liturgical calendar. Fox seriously suggests, for example, that each Sunday could be devoted to celebrating a different organ of the body.” (Brearley, p 46]. “Fox cites the Hindu god Shiva, the creator and destroyer [as saying]: ‘The phallos is identical with me …. The phallos is … the symbol of the god’, and adds: ‘This is Cosmic Christ language …. There alone will men recover active respect and reverence for their own amazing powers’ (p 176). Fox teaches that one must ‘recover the sense of sacred phallos … by way of drumming, dancing and entering into the irrational processes … puberty rites … celebrating one’s chthonic wholeness in the company of male adults’ (p 177). ‘Love beds are altars’ (p 177) and the sense of lust should be recovered as power and therefore as virtue: ‘it takes courage to be lustful.’ (p 178) Mystical sexuality is an ‘important base for cultural renewal and personal spiritual grounding’ (p 179). … ‘[G]ay people need to lead straight people.’” (Brearley p 45)
9. Fox p 145 (Brearley p 44)
10. Although Matthew Fox writes such predictions as this: “Christianity as we know it now will not survive …. The issue is the survival … of Mother Earth” (Fox p 149) [Brearley 54], New Age doctrine has made “inroads into the Protestant and Catholic Church worldwide” and “creation liturgies inspired by creation spirituality are increasingly being used in cathedrals and churches”. (Brearley p 53)
11. Teilhard de Chardin, trs. N. Denny, The Future of Man, Collins, London 1969 p 302 (Brearley p 46).
12. Another leading New Age writer and spirit medium, David Spangler, also visualizes a “planetary spirituality” which “will be holistic, affirming interconnectedness and Gaia; it will be androgynous, mystical, global – with ‘world communion’ -, and will seek synthesis of person and planet. Above all, the New Age is a spirit, a ‘presence made up of the collective spirit of humanity, and the spirit of our world, of Gaia’.” [D. Spangler, Reflections on the Christ, Findhorn Publications, Findhorn 1981, p.84. [Brearley p 52]
Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the second essay under the title The Darkness of This World. The first can be found here.
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
The Gnostic in ancient, medieval, and modern times, rejects “this world”.
To the Gnostic of the early centuries C.E., “this world” was the physical earth and everything on it, all created by an inferior god. He knew that somewhere, elsewhere, there was something immeasurably better, purely good, because he had a minute spark within him – gifted to him by a higher source of existence who was Goodness itself – which informed him through his intuition that it was so. This inner spark was his Gnosis (Knowledge). Having it, he was on to the scam that nature and the ignorant mass of mankind tried to put over on him. So he fought against the world, a saintly warrior for the Good. He fought against nature by defying it – refusing to beget children; and against civilization by reversing its values – declaring everything commonly believed good to be evil, and everything commonly believed evil to be good. His reward lay beyond and above this world. 
To the Gnostic of the Middle Ages, “this world” was not only this earth but also the Catholic (Universal) Church. Informed by that same Gnosis which guided the Gnostic of antiquity from within, he fought against Catholic doctrine and practice with the same refusals and reversals. To him everything the Church believed and did was evil; its priests were the servants of Hell. The Church would sniff him out, hunt him down, destroy his body with fire, but he would rise after death to the realm of the Good. 
To the Gnostic of our era, “this world” is the political-economic system of the Western nation-state. As a warrior for a never-yet-realized reign of the Good on this earth, he fights against the established order in theory and practice. He holds the values honored by custom and defended by law to be evil; the values they abhor to be good. He does not want to reform or improve the system; he wants it wholly overthrown. He is a revolutionary. He feels passionately that “this world” needs to be transformed.
Recently commentators have been writing about traditional Western values being inverted.
We live in a backwards world in which the decent are regarded as indecent, defenders of western institutions are considered as terrorists, correct naming is derogated and often prosecuted as slander and “hate speech”, violence is justified if committed by our enemies, unseasonable cold weather is interpreted as an infallible sign of global warming … It is a world in which Iran chairs the UN Conference on Disarmament; and Syria  was recently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. … We have, for the most part, colluded in an agreement that upside-down down is right-side-up, backwards is forwards, and madness is sanity … 
In the essay quoted, David Solway cites a book by Melanie Phillips (whom I much admire for her courageous and percipient defense of many a just cause). It is titled The World Turned Upside Down.  She believes that the topsy-turviness – which she deplores – results from a loss of faith in “God” and detachment from the West’s “Judeo-Christian roots”. I have no doubt that Europe is becoming less religious. But I do not think Christianity (which is what is generally meant by “Judeo-Christian roots”) was good for the West, or its values ideal. Nor are they the values that are being inverted. The values that the Gnostic revolutionary scorns are those of the Enlightenment.
Enlightenment thinking was rational, skeptical, and humane. Gnostic ideology is emotional, dogmatic, and cruel.
Daniel Greenfield – the editor and writer chiefly responsible for the sustained excellence of Front Page Magazine – comments on a Time Magazine article typical of topsy-turvy thinking among media pundits:
News coverage has nothing to do with reality. Instead it is a deliberate inversion of reality in which the murderers are the heroes and the greatest threat comes from their victims. The bad guys are the good guys. The good guys are the bad guys. The slavery of Islam is freedom. The freedom of America and Israel is slavery because it has to be defended against the slavery of Islam. 
Such defiance of civilized values arose as a significant historical factor with the Romantic movement around the middle of the 18th century. The Romantics hated the Industrial Revolution, its “dark satanic mills”, its noise and ugliness. They did not care if it made life better for most people – which it did, however ugly and squalid living conditions were at first for the workers in the industrial cities. The Romantic movement was a backlash against the Enlightenment, against scientific and technological advance, against capitalism, against reality. Romantics dreamt of utopias: beautiful societies consisting of ideal human beings who would live for the happiness of their fellow creatures and share all material goods. And all they had to do to win such a world was, they believed, to destroy the world they lived in. Merciless brutality to living people would be justified by the creation of a heaven on earth inhabited by imaginary angelic beings.
Socialism, Communism, Nazism, Alinskyism, Environmentalism … all revolutionary ideologies spawned by the Romantic rebellion against the Enlightenment.
How do the revolutionaries know that after vast destruction their beautiful new world will be born? They know it. They are the Gnostics of the modern age.
They made revolutions in the twentieth century, whether by constitutional process or by violence. They took the reins of power and set about creating their new worlds, which lasted for years here and decades there; and wherever their utopias were, and in the name of whichever ideology they were governed, they stand out as exceptionally marked by terror, pain, cruelty, despair and death.
But the idealists learnt no lesson from the failure of their terrible experiments. The dreamers did not lose their faith. Instead of fading away, withered by disgust and contempt, the faith spread, and is becoming so prevalent that some observers – I among them – see it now as characterizing the West.
The Gnostics who dream on of destroying our civilization should not be ignored. What have they said and done? What are they saying now? We must pay attention. They mean it.
Jillian Becker July 14, 2013
1.These are the essays on ancient Gnostic sects in the The Atheist Conservative: How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus and Menander); Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Valentinus, February 14, 2011; Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites); The sinning Jesus, the laughing Christ, and the Big Bang of Basilides, April 6, 2013. See also Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013.
2. These are the essays on Gnosticism in the Middle Ages: Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars). In the Bugomils’ case, their resistance was maintained against both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
3. Iran is working to become a nuclear-armed power, and has threatened Israel with total destruction.
4. The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, like his father before him, is notorious for the oppression, torture, and mass killing of tens of thousands of his own people.
5. David Solway, Living in a Backwards World, frontpagemag.com, July 2, 2013.
6. The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth and Power, by Melanie Phillips, Encounter Books, New York, 2010.
7. Daniel Greenfield, Time Mag: Muslim Terror No, Buddhist Terror Yes, in The Point, frontpagemag.com, July 11, 2013.
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
French philosophers in the last century advocated the deliberate doing of evil. Why? Maybe they were helpless instruments of the Zeitgeist. Maybe they were insane.
There was a time long ago when dozens of philosophers, or mystics, or religious teachers, did the same: they taught that this world is evil, and the moral thing to do in an evil world is disobey its moral laws.
Their cults arose and flourished in the 1st and (mostly) the 2nd century C.E., and their doctrine came to be called “Gnosticism” by post-Renaissance historians.  It may not be the best name for it. It is derived from their belief that some human beings are capable of escaping this evil world and entering an eternal sphere of pure goodness by being blessed with an inner knowledge of the otherwise unknowable Godhead who dwells there. This intuitive knowledge they called, in Greek, the Gnosis.
The reversing of conventional values so characterized the old Gnostics that they might be called “reversalists”. It was their reversal of values, not their doctrine of intuitive knowledge, that made them dangerous in the ancient world. And as certain recent thinkers propound just such a reversal of values, the word Gnostic is applied to them. Modern Gnostics (or “post-modern” as many of them prefer to call themselves) have had a significant and baneful influence on our age.
In this series of essays we will be looking with a hard and critical – not to say merciless – eye at a selection of influential Gnostics, including French philosophers, Austrian actionist artists, Teutonic terrorists, English entertainers, and American academics.
Jillian Becker June 23, 2013
1. See our posts on some of these Gnostic cults:
The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus, and Menander)
How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion)
Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes)
Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010
Valentinus, February 14, 2011
Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites)
The sinning Jesus, the laughing Christ, and the Big Bang of Basilides, April 6, 2013
Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013
This essay continues our series on obscure and lost religions, Gnostic cults in particular. It follows on these: Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009 (on Zoroastrianism); How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus, and Menander); Yezidis and Mandeans, April 4, 2010; Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); Valentinus, February 14, 2011; The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars); Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013; Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites).
Chronologically and ideologically, Basilides and his son Isadorus followed Simon Magus – whom the Catholic Church Fathers called “the father of all heresy” – and Simon’s disciple and successor Menander. Our short account of Menander and his sect was added recently to the post titled “The father of all heresy”.
Basilides and Isadorus
Simon Magus, his disciple Menander, and their respective sects came to their ends. But the Gnosis of Simon Magus survived and developed as the 2nd century CE wore on. Menander was succeeded by his disciple Basilides, who, in his turn, improved the mystic vision of his master into something richer and stranger, and with it won a large and enthusiastic following in North Africa, Spain, and even – it has been contended – in Britain. It is probable that he was the first thinker to propound a theory of the Big Bang – though he did not call it that. He might also have been the first to propound a theory of the causes of what nowadays is called “anti-Semitism”. And, uniquely, he proposed that Jesus sinned.
Basilides was born in Antioch (Syria) and began teaching in 117 CE. Jewish by birth, he was won over by the Gnosis of Menander. When he was ready to lead a following of his own, he went abroad – perhaps because it is always hard to be a prophet in one’s own land. He established his name as a Gnostic leader in Alexandria.
There are many and various scandalous stories about the beliefs and practices of Basilides recorded by the Church Fathers – Origen and Clement of Alexandria among others – and for the most part they are not consistent with each other. They broadly agree, however, on the Gnostic type of the Basilidean teachings, and they are all startling, elaborate, fantastic (in the true meaning of the word), and preposterous. We cannot know which of them is accurately attributed, for not one of Basilides’s own books has survived. There were many of them, including 24 volumes of commentaries on the four canonical gospels – although in public he deplored book-learning, and preached the value of being without it. Practicing in secret what he outspokenly preached against, he wrote under a number of pseudonyms, among them Cham, Barcabbas, Barcoph and Parchor. A certain treatise was attributed to him titled On the Additional Soul. Christian critics who read it before they had it destroyed, say that it expounded the idea that men have, in addition to a First Soul that is the gift of the supreme Father, another with which they have been cursed by a lower power. The second soul is manifest in the passions which drag men down into sin.
By some accounts, Basilides was himself a man of high moral principle, and it was his followers who turned, against his teaching, to libertinism. Some stated that libertinism was permitted or even enjoined by Basilides for those who attained perfection, because a Perfect (or Pneumatic) cannot sin no matter what he does. They say his sect was not exclusive. All men and women were welcome to join it, even those who came from the cloddish majority called the Hylics. An initiate had to prove his seriousness of intent by not uttering a word for five years (a practice derived perhaps from the school of Pythagoras). A successful candidate might then, by striving to find and strengthen the spark of gnosis within him, particularly by participating in the sacramental rites, or orgies, for which uninhibited sexual self-indulgence was prescribed, rise to join the Psychics, in whom the light of Gnosis was kindled if yet but dimly; and a Psychic, with luck and spiritual labour, conscientious ritual defiance of all common sexual taboos, and presumably some manifest conviction that the Gnosis was strong within him, rise to be accepted among the Pneumatics, who alone were the true Gnostics. Basilides spoke of the “faith” of the Psychics, the “gnosis” of the Pneumatics. He also used the word Noesis – derived from Nous – to explain what the Gnosis was: an intuitive certainty of understanding. All who did not achieve or were not gifted with the experience of Gnosis were tied to the earth by their passions, literally their “attachments”, and each was destined to be reborn again and again (an idea which might have come, by many a winding path, from India), until in some eventual incarnation the true light of Gnosis broke within him.
Others say Basilides was himself a libertine and charlatan in the style of Simon Magus: that he practised the magic arts, used drugs to assist his promiscuous seductions, and prescribed sexual licentiousness. He was adept at Numerology – finding magical significance in words and names according to numbers held to be the equivalent of letters. Far from welcoming all who would join him, he was an extreme elitist, regarding only those gifted with the Gnosis as “true human beings”; the rest of humankind as “of no more worth than pigs or dogs”. This version of his nature is improbable, if he really did acquire the vast following that many historians grant him.
By all accounts Basilides propounded an elaborate and voluminous theogony, but there are differing accounts of it. Broadly speaking, it was along these lines: At the top was the First Principle, the Source, who was God the Father and the Ultimate Truth. He had another, secret name, imparted only to the Pneumatics, who alone were enlightened enough by the inner spark of Gnosis to recognise the truth and endure the implication of so terrible a revelation: for this secret name of God was – Nothing.
Something comes out of nothing: the most insubstantial of things, but something. A thought, the archetype of a thought, Thought itself. It emanated from Nothing. Nothing was a thought-emanator by its nature, though it was a negative, a not-nature. So Nous was the First Emanation – or (according to other early researchers) the Logos. Volumes have been written about the meaning of Nous and Logos in Greek philosophy. In the New Testament, the Logos is translated as “the Word”. Nous or Logos, either will do for our outline if they’re both taken to mean “the Intellectual Principle”.
Then comes the Second Emanation. Not from Nothing, but from the First Emanation. Thus, Nous or Logos emanated Phronesis (Prudence). And Phronesis emanated two beings, Sophia (Wisdom) and Dynamis (Power). Sophia was the feminine, passive, conceiving principle; Dynamis the masculine, active, effecting principle. Sophia and Dynamis generated lesser Powers, Principalities, and Angels – the hosts of heaven collectively called the Aeons – who themselves made the First Heaven and generated more Aeons, who made the Second Heaven and generated yet more Aeons, who made the Third Heaven … and so on through 365 heavens, and then a last generation of Aeons made this world and created mankind.
By some accounts, not only Sophia and Dynamis, but every Aeon had its anti-type, as male and female are anti-types. As in many other Gnostic theogonies, Aeon and anti-Aeon descend from their begetters in pairs which are called szyzygies.
To the mystics who described such visions of the beginning of things, there was an important difference between emanating – explained by the analogy of the sun giving out its light, which light was not the same thing as the sun though inseparable from it – and generating, by which immaterial offspring were spiritually begotten as separate beings. Creating was different again, it being the means by which the first human pair were made. The lowest Aeons could create material things, including human bodies, but the human spirit had to come from much higher in the hierarchy of spiritual beings. In the Basilidean scheme – some say – it came directly from God the Father himself. Others assert that Basilides abhorred the idea that God emanated anything, preferring rather to say “God spoke and it was”.
An alternative account of the Basilidean creation myth starts the same way but introduces a new idea. Before time began there was Nothing, which was absolutely nothing, nothing whatsoever. Even to call it nothing is to assert something about it that is too positive. It was an absence. It was God Non-Existent. It was God Non-Existent, without thought, without impulse, without desire. Yet because we must tell with words what words are inadequate to tell, we must say that this Nothing had or ‘spoke’ a thought without willing to do so, and the thought was to make a world. What was made in that first instant was a world-seed (analogous to the infinitesimally small, infinitely dense something which, in the “Big Bang” theory, expanded to become the universe). Thus the Non-Existent God made a Not-Yet-Existing-World from non-existence, by bringing into being a single seed which contained all of which the universe consists: not only this material World and everything in it, but also the heavens and the Divine.
The implication of this account is that matter, having the same origin as the Divine, is not evil in the theory of Basilides as it is in most other Gnostic theories. Basilides and his son Isadorus were both reputed to “love nature”, unlike the Gnostic teachers in whose schemata nature is the creation of an evil god. And as Basilides had a son, and as he did not consider all things material including human flesh to be evil, it would be reasonable to suppose that he was not ideologically against marriage, reproductive copulation, and the begetting of children as were other Gnostics.
Evil does exist in the Basilidean schema, however, in the lower heavens. Among the Aeons there are two Lesser Rulers of the spheres of the fixed stars and the 7 planets, but neither of them made or rules this world (which came into existence when the world-seed expanded). The Higher Ruler (not to be identified with the highest god Nothing) abides in an upper heaven, the Ogdoad (meaning “the eightfold”); the Lower Ruler beneath him in the Hebdomad (“the sevenfold”). The Lower Ruler is a Bad Angel. He has the power to inflict suffering on mankind, and this he does.
In time this World became peopled, and the peoples divided into nations. Then each of the lowest Aeons chose a nation for his own. The chief Aeon among them, the Lower Ruler, Lord of the Hebdoad, chose the Jews, and wished to subject all other nations to them, but the other Aeons opposed him, so all nations are opposed to his nation: all are opposed to the Jews.
International strife was only one of the afflictions visited on mankind by this Lord. It was he who sent the Law to the Jews through Moses. All the prophets before the Christ believed – mistakenly, as did Moses himself – that the Law came from God the Father. The Law was a heavy burden on suffering mankind (the whole of which at this point becomes oddly identified with the Jews, the bad nation who alone were subject to the Law of Moses). After long ages the true God took pity on the human race, and to salve the sufferings of all mankind sent down the First Aeon, Nous, or the Logos, or the Christ, who for a certain time was united with the person of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ did not suffer crucifixion in the person of Jesus. Some say this was because the Christ parted from Jesus before the crucifixion; others because the man Jesus himself was not crucified. The latter taught that Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross for him, died on it in his stead, and Jesus with the Christ still in him took the form of this Simon and laughed at the Christians for believing that it was he who had died on the Cross. For this reason Basilides taught that the Crucified must not be worshipped, nor the Cross held holy.
Whether from the body of Jesus or the body of Simon of Cyrene, the Christ rose again to the highest heaven. Yet it seems that he returned home without having fulfilled his mission on earth. Mankind was not saved by the Christ from the misfortunes visited upon it by the Lord of the Lower Heavens. Now only the Gnosis can save them.
A wonderful variation of this story propounds that when the Divine issued from the world-seed, it released a threefold ‘Sonship’, a Sonship of light which reaches God the Father immediately; a less pure Sonship which needs the aid of the Holy Spirit to reach the Father, and a coarse Sonship. The first two Sons are the Lords of the Highest and Middle Heavens, the third, Lord of the Lower Heavens. Also from the Divine issued the Gospel, not at once to be bestowed upon earth, but whole and ready in the highest sphere. Each of the two higher Lords has a son who “surpasses his father in wisdom and beauty”. These glorious sons “catch” the Gospel “as naphta catches fire from a great distance”, and they declare it to their fathers. It fills the High Lords (all of them, even the highest) with terror and they “repent” – though of what is not disclosed, or the disclosure is lost.
The Lord of the Lower Heavens knew nothing of the Gospel until the coming of the Christ to earth. Then in our world it enlightened Jesus the son of Mary (so the Gospel came before Jesus was of an age to be enlightened), and (yet) everything happened as is related in the (canonical) gospels. According to Clement of Alexandria, the Basilideans taught that when Jesus died (whether on the cross or later in the body of Simon of Cyrene) he was the first man to “have his parts saved in three ways according to the three Sonships, the impure, the coarse, and the fine-pure”. He was Hylic, Psychic, and Pneumatic all in one. “His sufferings befell his impure bodily parts, his mind returned to the (psychic) Sphere of the Seven, a coarse sphere only in comparison to the highest sphere, to which his soul departed and was saved”. Clement infers from this complicated doctrine that Basilides said that Jesus had sinned, since he needed refining and saving.
Basilides’s son Isadorus wrote a number of volumes, among them one titled On the Grown Soul. It argued against his father’s thesis of the two souls. It is a dangerous idea, he pointed out, to propose that the soul is not one; that by another force, the attachments or passions, it is tempted to do evil things, because it gives the evil man an excuse for doing evil, allowing him to claim that it is “not I, my own soul, that sinned”, but that “I was forced against my will to do it” by another power within me that was not sent by God.
This gives substance to reports that Isadorus upheld the virtues of responsibility, self-control and sexual continence. He seems also to have been gifted with some wisdom, recommending that his followers “pray not that you may do right, but that you may do no wrong”. A high ethical tenor was attributed to his books. This might suggest that the view of his father, Basilides, as an estimable man of upright character had some truth in it, since presumably the father was the teacher of the son. Indeed, old commentaries assert that Isadorus’s beliefs were similar to those of his father, including the sinning Jesus and the laughing Christ. So we must assume that there was this other, less admirable, matter in Isadorus’s books, for otherwise the good Church Fathers would surely have allowed them to survive – wouldn’t they?
Jillian Becker April 7, 2013
Sunday being the Christian sabbath, still a “holy” or at least non-working day in some countries where the Christian – mostly Protestant – tradition still weighs heavily with the people (even where most of them are no longer religious), it’s a day on which we are tempted to talk about religion.
Most of the obscure or extinct religions we have discussed are either Gnostic or relevant to the emergence of the Gnostic cults in the Christian era. Put these titles into our search slot to see the posts: Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009 (on Zoroastrianism); How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus); Yezidis and Mandeans, April 4, 2010; Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils);Valentinus, February 14, 2011; The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars); Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013. We will have more to say about Gnosticism in general when the set of essays on a selection of individual sects is complete.
Today the topic is the Ophites, snake-worshippers of the second century CE . (Some sources maintain that Ophitic cults existed before the Christian era, but it is the snake-cults that include “Christ” that are of interest to us.)
What must it have been like for a child forced to take part in Gnostic worship? Pretty horrible, I should think. I can imagine small people screaming with terror when told that it was time for church, so to speak. It’s a consolation to remember that there weren’t many children in the early Gnostic communities. Almost all the sects were doctrinally against having children, though there were obviously some who slipped – we know of Gnostic sons following in their fathers’ footsteps.
A group of sects that practiced one of the most chilling rites were the Ophites. Ophis is the Greek for snake. A similar (or the same?) group of sects were the Naassenes, from the Greek naas, derived from the Hebrew nahash, serpent. To see why they held the snake holy we must look at their mythology of creation. From various scholarly accounts (colourful and dramatic, but not necessarily accurate), I’ve pieced together a fairly coherent picture.
This is the Ophite cosmogony (or an Ophite cosmogony):
The First Source, the Pro-Father, or the Abyss, or the Lowest Depth (in Greek, Bythos), emanated his First Idea, and as consort to the First Idea, Thought (Ennoia). From this first pair descended another pair, Truth and the Word (Logos), and from them another pair, and so on in a long series, the whole of which was called the Pleroma, or Fullness, the region of light.
The last pair were Spirit (Pneuma) and Wisdom (Sophia), and they dwelt immediately above Chaos. Now the elements of Chaos were Matter, Water, Darkness; and Sophia desired to create order out of them, but as she was purely spiritual and entirely of the light, she could not handle them. So she and her consort, Spirit, emanated another pair or szyzygy: one perfect, the Christ (Christos), and one imperfect, Wisdom Unformed (Sophia-Achamoth).
With the help of Sophia, Christos created the Idea of the Church (Ecclesia). Sophia-Achamoth wanted to create Man, and conceived a heavenly model for him called Adam-Kadmon, but she had first to have the world shaped out of Chaos, and for this task she needed to produce a Demiurge (Demiurgos, the Greek for a craftsman). In her efforts to realise her desires, she became entangled with Matter, and all that she could manage to bring forth in that predicament was a Being baser than she had intended, a power polluted by the material, a Demiurge certainly, but a wrong one. His name was Ialdabaoth, also called ‘The Son of Darkness’. When she saw that Ialdabaoth was proud and ambitious, she dreaded the outcome of what she had begun. She managed to free herself from Matter and rose again to the sphere between the spiritual and material worlds whence she had come. She could rise no higher, never having belonged to the spiritual world, but tried to build a barrier to keep the material world in its place.
Meanwhile, Ialdabaoth, knowing nothing of worlds above him or the First Source, produced his own subordinate emanations. Among the first six pairs were Iao and Sabaoth, Adonai and Eloi, Ouraios and Astaphaios – the first four being mystic names of the God of the Jews, the last two Fire and Water. He and the six pairs were the Archons of the Seven Worlds (including Sun and Moon), each inhabiting his own region. Next he created numerous other Archangels, Angels, and Powers, and after that, with the aid of his first six emanations, he took matter and fashioned the earth and Man.
But this was not Man as we know him. It was a thing; a huge, soulless monstrosity, formed in the hideous image of Ialdabaoth, lying helpless in the mud. The six Archons lifted it and carried it to Ialdabaoth to be animated with a spark of spirit. Ialdabaoth could do this because he himself had a spark of the divine light, handed down from his mother Sophia-Achamoth, as she had it from her own begetters. But Sophia-Achamoth, hating what she perceived Ialdabaoth’s nature to be, grudged him this power, and determined to punish him for his arrogant enterprise. However, she took pity on Man, and augmented the spark of divine spirit in him, until he resembled Adam-Kadmon rather than Ialdabaoth. And thus Adam came to be.
When Ialdabaoth saw that Man looked better than he did himself, he was filled with envy and rage. His face, made uglier yet by these evil passions, were reflected in the waters of the lower world, and the image took on a life of its own and crawled on to the land as Ophiomorphos, the Serpent-Form, a creature made of base matter plus hate, envy, and cunning.
Then Ialdabaoth made the Three Kingdoms of nature, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, with all the defects that we know them to possess. He set Adam and the female consort made from one of his ribs, in the Garden of Eden, and to keep them from knowing more than he would have them know, forbade them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge – the Gnosis of Good and Evil.
But the Gnosis was already in Adam and his wife Eve, for it had come to them with the spirit, derived and descended from the unknown Pro-Father, through Sophia-Achamoth. And to strengthen their Gnostic instincts, Sophia-Achamoth (or, by some accounts, Sophia herself) sent Ophis, a serpent opposed to Ophiomorphos, to call them to the Tree and persuade them to eat the forbidden fruit. They did, and the fruit awoke in them an awareness of their corporeal condition with all its defects, and of their divine spirit imprisoned in their bodies. And though their disobedience doomed them to death, they were consoled by the knowledge that, as the body was mortal, the spirit would eventually be set free to return to its heavenly source. So to the Ophites the Fall of Man was not a loss but a gain; not a doom but a liberation.
Ialdabaoth did all he could to make the sons of Adam forget what the spirit told them. He sent Ophiomorphos to corrupt Cain, and Cain killed Abel. But then Adam and Eve begat Seth, who did not forget and was not corrupted. Seth’s descendants are the Gnostics, scattered among men, each bearing within him his spark of divine light. They bless the counsel given to their first forebears by Ophis, the Serpent in the Tree, the form on earth of heavenly Wisdom.
As only the children of Seth remembered what the spirit told them, for them alone, after long ages, Christos descended through the Seven Spheres of the Seven Planets into the world, sent by Bythos at the behest of Sophia, yielding in her turn to the prayers of Sophia-Achamoth. And Jesus, the son of Mary, received Christos into himself when he was baptized.
Christos, for as long as he was on earth, was filled by Sophia with perfect knowledge, the true Gnosis, and he taught it to those of his apostles who were fit to receive it. When Jesus was about to be crucified, Christos left him and rose to the lower heaven and sat at the right hand of Ialdabaoth, unperceived by the Demiurge, there to catch and save every soul – or “spark” – purified in its lifetime.
When all the scattered sparks of divine light have been gathered up by Christ from Ialdabaoth’s creation, the work of redemption will be accomplished, and the world will come to an end. All will then be reabsorbed into the Pleroma.
While condemned to live this life, the Ophites worshipped Sophia, Sophia-Achamoth, Ophis, and Christ.
A congregation paid its gratitude ritually to the Snake of Eden whenever the Eucharist – Holy Thanksgiving – was celebrated. A snake was released to crawl over loaves of bread spread on the altar before the celebrants devoured them, drank wine and menstrual blood, and in defiance of laws imposed on mankind by Ialdabaoth, stripped themselves naked to perform systematically every forbidden act of sexual copulation and self-gratification. Nobody knows whether the snake had a further part to play in the love-feast, but every imagination is free to surmise its worst.
Jillian Becker March 24, 2013
Gnosticism, with a capital G, is a system of religious belief. It is derived from the word gnosis, the Greek for knowledge. “Gnosticism” implies the possession of a particular sort of knowledge, a kind that needs no objective proof, but exists to the knower as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty. It arises by instinct, by private experience. To Gnostics, inner certainty is the sole source and authentication of their religious belief.
Gnosis is the opposite of doubt. It eludes enquiry, defies rational argument. Science demands objective proofs and practices doubt through experiment. Gnosis neither seeks nor offers proof. In this sense, Gnosis and Science scorn each other. They are two different ways of knowing: by intuition the one, by reason the other. Many European languages (Greek-descended or Greek-influenced) recognize two different ways of “knowing” by having different words for them. In French, for instance, “connaitre” and “savoir”; in German, “kennen” and “wissen“. In “connaitre” and “kennen” the Greek root “gnosis” can be seen, as in the English word “know”. The English word, however, does for both senses: being acquainted with directly (“I know him”, “Je le connais”), and being aware of, having learnt (“I know Euclidean geometry”, “Je sais la géométrie euclidienne”).
A Gnostic system was an elaboration of instinctual belief as direct knowledge. Doctrine and practice were taught just as they are in the “revealed” religions. Some Gnostic teachers established schools of thought, their successors carrying on their teaching, though often altering details of vision or ritual. Some started in the tradition of one or another school but came to be so far at variance with the founders that they broke away and launched sects of their own, which in turn could develop into new schools and traditions.
Founders of Gnostic sects described each his own vision of heaven and earth, prescribed each his own rites. But though they varied and became numerous, all the sects had enough in common for them to be grouped together as “Gnostic”, and the term has a set of special connotations. The name is particularly applied to a category of sects that arose in the first and second centuries CE, a few of them to last for hundreds of years; and also to sects of similar theology and practices that appeared in the Middle Ages.
Most of them shared these beliefs: -
That this world is evil: all of it, every material thing. Every flower, every tree, every blade of grass, every fruit, every stream, the land and the ocean, every bird, fish, insect, animal is evil. Every human being is base, vile, made of filth. And as an evil creation has to be the work of an evil creator, he who made and rules this world is an Evil God (or, in a minority of systems, a God who is not outright evil but yet not very nice, being a stickler for justice).
But, the Gnostic believed, there is something in this world which is not evil, and that is his knowledge itself. And since an evil god can only create evil things, this knowledge cannot come from the creator of this world. There has to be another source, another god who has nothing to do with this vile world, but exists outside and beyond it, and is good. The Good God is the Primary Source, pure Being, the One. Only good can come from Him.
Yet Evil exists. How did it come into existence? To answer this question, the Gnostics chart a family tree of divine beings: a theogony. At the summit is pure Being, the Source, which is purely Good. From the Source descend “hypostases”, beings whose degree of divinity diminishes the further they are from the Source. Each lesser being receives from the one immediately above him a portion of his divinity, and passes on a portion of what he receives to the one below him. From being to being descending, goodness diminishes with each diminishing degree of divinity. The goodness runs out before the divinity, however, and the lowest god receives none of it. He has the divine power to create, but no good to put into his creation. So what he makes is evil. He is the creator of this evil world and all that dwells therein. He is often named Ialdabaoth, and is comparable to the “demiurge” (demiurgos) of Greek philosophy: the divine artisan or smith who takes everlasting Matter and shapes it into the things of our world. In many Gnostic systems he is identified with the God of the Jews.
And yet something of the good, a miniscule spark of the Good itself, did come into human beings (or at least some of them), to remain deep within them, trapped inside their vile bodies throughout their lives on this earth until finally it is released when they die. But how did it come into human beings? It could not have come from the evil creator of this world – it was not his to give. It came, the Gnostics said, directly from the Source. It is a gift from the Highest, it belongs to Him, and to Him it will at last return, to be again one with the One. And for the time that people have to endure life in this world, by that spark they may know the good, and the layered heavens full of immortal beings, and the Supreme God Up There.
Up there the One is at a distance immeasurably remote; but within the Gnostic, He is intimately close. And the Gnostic knows that He will at last redeem – take back – the vital spark.
Did the Gnostics believe in such “redemption” for everyone? The answer to that is not easy to find. Some Gnostics knew that the minuscule spark of the divine was in all human beings. But others – an apparent majority – knew, with equal conviction, that it was the property of only a privileged few.
These few, in most systems, were the true Gnostics. They were also called Illuminati, or Pneumatics (meaning that the Spirit or Pneuma was in them).
Those who had not discovered the spark within them but might yet – being disciples of the Pneumatics, observing the rites and rules of the faith, and showing themselves to be a cut above the rest – were called Psychics (those with a Soul).
The masses of the unillumined were called the Hylics (those consisting only of Matter). Hylics were nothing but vile clay, the stuff of which this base world is made. They were of the earth earthy. This was their world, the only one to which they belonged and to which they were tied forever, in life and in death. They worshipped the God who made it. They mistakenly believed him and his creation to be good.
The Illuminati, and possibly the aspiring Psychics, held that they were strangers in this world. As long as they sojourned on earth they must remain hostile to it. The reversal of values that their creeds propounded – whatever most mortals saw as morally good being evil and vice versa – made them rebels born. As the enemies of God the Creator, it was their holy duty to defy him and scorn all his works.
Having two Gods, Gnosticism was dualistic. In most of the sects in the Roman Empire, and later in medieval Europe, the Evil God that created this world was an inferior power to the Good God. In others – chiefly those whose geographical origins lay further East, in Persian Zoroastrianism with its twin gods of Good and Evil – the Second God was equal (or nearly) in status and power to the First.
Most Gnostic sects from the second century on were Christian in the sense that they included Christ in their theogonies, as messenger or Son sent to earth by the True God, with a redemptive role to perform in the divinely decreed drama of human history. There is nothing about their creeds which makes them more or less absurd than other Christianities, including Catholicism and the Protestant denominations – or more or less than any religion whatsoever.
Jillian Becker March 3, 2013
We have posted outlines of several Gnostic creeds and histories, and will post some more. See: How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus); Yezidis and Mandeans, April 4, 2010; Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); Valentinus, February 14, 2011; The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars).
On Zoroastrianism see Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009.