The darkness of this world (3) 2

Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the third essay under the title The Darkness of This World. The first two can be found here and here.

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The Darkness of This World

essays on

Our Gnostic Age

3

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 [1]; on the modern mystic faith of psycho-analysis (in particular the theories of C. G. Jung); on Richard Wagner’s mythology and mysticism [2]; 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 [3]; 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 [4]. 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 [5].

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) [6], 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. [7] 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 [8]) – 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. [9]

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 [10] – 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’.” [11] ). New Age goes further yet: humanity will share its communal consciousness with the Earth. [12]

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

NOTES

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]

Erotic religion 4

Here’s another essay in our series on religions to entertain our readers. This is about the Gnostic cults of Carpocrates and Epiphanes.

1. Carpocrates lived and flourished in the great Egyptian city of Alexandria in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138). He was said to be a scientist (whatever that meant in the second century), and an authority on Plato. His theogony conformed to the Gnostic pattern – a remote unknown God emanated a series of Aeons or Archons, the lowest of which created the material world and man. Man was a badly made creature wallowing in filth, until the remote God took pity on him and sent into him a tiny spark of knowledge of Himself.

Like many another, though not all, Gnostic sects in his time, his was communistic. It seems that the initiates lived together, since they held all property – including women – in common. They occupied themselves with practising magic. Ritually they took drugs and intoned magical formulae to conjure up spirits – ‘incantations and philtres,’ as the shocked Church Fathers would have it; and held ‘love-feasts’; and deciphered secret meanings in ancient texts (probably the Jewish scriptures) by means of numerology.

As all flesh in their beliefs (or most of them) is evil, they were against normal sexual intercourse because to beget children was to bring more fleshly creatures into this evil rotten world.

Jesus, they maintained, was not divine, only a righteous human teacher and healer, the natural son of Joseph and Mary. When the soul of Jesus became pure and strong (with baptism?) it remembered its origin in the remote unknown God, the Primary Source, the Good, which granted him the power of communicating directly with itself, without his having to go through the intermediaries of the World-Creators and the higher Aeons. This power was not necessarily unique:

‘Whoever,’ Carpocrates taught, ‘despises this world and all that is in it more than Jesus did, can become greater than he.’

All things on earth are evil except one: human nature when it is ‘true to itself’, to its own deep instincts, those very urges that the Law decrees to be wrong. All moral laws proceeded from the evil creator-powers, so it is man’s duty to break them.

To do what the law forbade was to defy evil and thus serve good. He who abided by the law was committing evil. He must also deliberately think the very thoughts that were conventionally held to be unthinkable, appalling and corrupting. The man who did not do and think everything the wicked world calls evil in one lifetime, would be reincarnated again and again until he had comprehensively carried out these sacred duties. The Chief of the Creator Angels sent the Devil into the world to harvest the souls of those who failed to commit all possible ‘sins’ in a lifetime, and once gathered in, another of his minions would imprison each of them in a new body, until at last the creature came to know that only Faith and Love were good: one faith – in the Primal Source; one love – of the God Knowable Only By Instinct Illumined By The Gnosis.

Two aspects of the Carpocratean schema are particularly worth noticing:

First, that here the Chief of the Creator Angels is not the same Being as ‘Satan’ or ‘the Devil’, while others among the early Gnostic sects called the Creator by those names, or implied an identity between the Jewish God and the Devil. However, a doctrine of the Creator’s evil intention and evil work are common to almost all the cults.

Second, with Carpocrates a difficulty of language inherent in the Gnostic reversal of values becomes distinct. If everything conventionally described as good is to be re-branded as evil, and vice versa, the problem arises as to what words to use in praise or in condemnation of anything. It was all very well to call the ‘Good Lord’ evil, but what did that make the Devil? Who could be said to serve the now-Evil Lord – some ‘Good Angel’, meaning a bad one? And what word could be used for the other, the high God whom Gnostics – if they allowed him any attribute at all – knew to be ‘all Good’? The conundrum was insoluble, and the name Satan and the office of the Devil with conventional connotations of evil were still found useful.

This confusion in Gnostic thought was not superficial; not merely terminological. The actual concepts of good and evil were rendered unmanageable. Contradictory views on what needed to be done about evil continued for centuries to muddle the Gnostics’ own explanations of their religious practices. Almost all such sects throughout our common era enjoined the deliberate performance of what the Law calls crimes, and the ‘revealed’ religions call sins, as a defiance of the evil Creator Law-Giver. To carry out this duty, the Gnostic celebrants would commit sodomy, adultery, onanism; they had to steal, rape and murder, tell lies, fast on feast-days and feast on fast-days, pollute their own bodies and desecrate objects held sacred by other faiths, especially Judaism. But if filth was a cleanser, what was the medium in which the lower Archons’ botched Man-thing squirmed until the spirit was sent to him by the Godhead? To teach their creed they had to call this world ‘filthy’. And when committing sins for their own ‘good’ purposes, they had to see them as sins and call them ‘sins’. Some Gnostics explained their ritual sinning – and their secret way of life in which their immoral duties were regularly pursued – by saying that they were ‘consuming sin’, using it up. But this plainly recognises sin as sin.

Carpocrates, though he condemned this world as the work of an evil god, praised ‘nature’.  Nothing ‘natural’ is evil, he proclaimed, only man-made law and opinions make it so. By ‘natural’ he might have meant only the instincts of human beings sent by the unknown God, but his son Epiphanes (surely accidentally begotten?) plainly applied the word to what we would commonly call the natural world.

2. Epiphanes was a precocious sage. When he died at the age of 17, he already had a following of his own. He echoed and laid particular stress on his father’s teaching that the law was wrong and the natural order right. (As with the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’, there was no escape from having to use the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in their conventional sense, in order to reverse the conventional view and so make the Law wrong and the unbridled indulgence of natural passions right.)

Epihanes contradicted the usual Gnostic belief that this world is evil.

All creation – so the lad taught – belongs to all mankind. There should be no such thing as ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. The law invented private property, and so allowed the private owner to steal from the community of men. (An evergreen idea that has often been propagated, and became widely popular in the 19th century when Proudhon declared that ‘property is theft’.)

Women were part of the common property. As all men are equal, women are equally the property of all men. Because copulation is natural, it is holy, but every effort should be made to avoid procreation. Most sexual intercourse was therefore anal and oral, and was performed publicly as a sacred rite and called a love-feast. Drugs, especially aphrodisiacs, were routinely used.

We may suppose that only women who had no objection to being kept as a common possession of the men joined the cults of Carpocrates and Epiphanes – those willing to give up willing. Yet it seems that their chattel status did not prevent them attaining equal stature with the men. At least one female Carpocratean initiate, named Marcellina, was convinced of the rightness of the faith. She carried it to Rome in 150 AD, and there established herself as a cult leader in her own right.

Epiphanes’s mother seems to have been less communal than other women, not only conceiving a child but declaring him with certainty to be the son of Carpocrates. She came from the Ionian island of Cephalonia, and when Epiphanes died, the islanders, or some of them, proclaimed him a god. They built a temple dedicated to him (and consecrated, no doubt, according to the intoxicated and sensual rites of his cult). His memory as a man was also honoured there with a museum which housed, among other relics, 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.

His account shows us a priapic boy with long, long thoughts, 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, so we ourselves should not regard some among us as better than others, discriminating between rich and poor, ruler and subject, the foolish and the wise, male and female, the free and the enslaved. 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.

If like other Gnostic teachers Epiphanes was against the procreating of children, and considered this world a base work worthy only of destruction, no hint of it shows in this sample of his mind. Rather it suggests that he was more of a primitive Dionysian than an Anno-Domini Gnostic. His creed as far as we can know it is a boy’s sweet erotic dream, such as has recurred often enough in every age since then, and almost certainly had many precedents.

Jillian Becker  January 24, 2010