Gnosticism - An Overview - Original Author Unknown
We must first start with an understanding of the word Gnosticism as defined in Webster's Dictionary. "Gnosticism - A syncretistic philosophical-occult movement which in pre-Christian times had fused into one system such widely different elements as Babylonian astral mythology, cabalistic Judaism, Persian dualism, and Greek philosophy. Its main purpose was ETHICAL, its chief doctrine that emancipation came through knowledge, gnosis, the possession of which saved us from the from the clutches of WORLDLY IDEAS."
At its first contact with Christianity, Gnosticism absorbed the doctrine of the person and the work of the Redeemer, and thus arose the form in which it is best known, Christian Gnosticism.
The Gnosticism of the First Century embraced the doctrine of Universal Salvation (Universalism). Simply put, this means that in the final completed act of God's plan - ALL - will be saved. The state of death will be destroyed and God becomes "All in all".
This wonderful sacred secret soon became corrupted by the deception and error the Bible prophesied would occur. This glorious mystery, which reveals the fullest and most Loving quality of the Creator, had hardly left the lips of the apostle Paul when enemies took it, and twisted it, to their own advantage and for their own devices. The Bible however teaches that it is not a change of place that will occur but rather a CHANGE of the STATE.
Mankind is currently made of the dust of the ground but is destined to be made of spiritual substance. It is not that God deems this created physical world of matter as bad, and that He must save humanity from it. On the contrary, it is the redemptive work of Christ that saves us from the CORRUPTION of mankind's perverse thinking.
The original Christian doctrine of universal salvation is not one in which we are saved to something, it is not a place but rather a condition. The Bible is then used to emphasize a spiritual abode, verses the salvation of the physical world from its ignorance, in which Christ, for many eons will undertake, with his saints, to bring about.
At the Second Advent the saints who overcome will have their earthy bodies changed to ones of spiritual substance. They will then, as spirit beings, be the same as Christ, existing in the physical earth and cosmos, to bring about the elimination of ignorance and evil in God's very good creation.
The Bible teaches that our physical world is an excellent creation, not that it is bad, but false teachings have tainted the very message of Christ and His salvation. People need to pay very close attention to the Sacred Scriptures to make sure they are getting truthful teaching. God made everything very good, but it is man's perverse thinking that has corrupted this cosmos, which the doctrine of Christ will save us from!
As plain as day it is not some spiritual place we are whisked off to, away from the evil, but rather, this good creation is waiting to be released from the bondage of corruption and foolish ideas that plagues it currently.
Instead of "folding our hands" and seeking escape to another place we can all presently partake in doing our best efforts to bring about the restored and glorious message of God's plan of the ages, the universal restoration of the universe to Himself, to all those who will have the ears to hear!
Of all the animals on earth man alone is twofold, mortal through his body, immortal through the essential Man. For though he is immortal and has power over all things, he suffers the lot of mortality, being subject to the Heimarmene; though he was above the Harmony, he has become a slave within the Harmony; though he was androgynous, having issued from the androgynous Father, and unsleeping from the unsleeping one, he is conquered by love and sleep.
Where does the word "gnosis" come from and what does it mean? While gnosis itself is not a religion, it is a religious experience par excellence. This was the appropriate hierarchy for discussion of shamanism.
Gnosis comes from a Greek word meaning 'to know' in the sense of to be acquainted. Gnosis in a more specific religious sense refers to the knowledge of God and the fullness of the true spiritual realms through direct personal experience. A Gnostic is someone who has had such an experience or who has been initiated into a tradition which provides access to such personal revelations.
Gnosis is the direct experience or 'knowledge' of the fullness of the Divine Being. It focuses on the illumination of the spirit by the realms beyond the physical and psychic levels. It does not rely exclusively on faith, belief or study or sacred texts. The Gnostic draws upon this inner experience and knowledge to describe the origin and true nature of all things.
Gnosis is not simply a synonym for mysticism, paranormal, occult, metaphysics, esoteric or knowledge. It is a distinct category of mystical experience beyond the physical or psychic levels of being.
Gnostic strategies for accomplishing the work of transformation for the liberation of the soul all rest upon the belief that the `divine spark' in man is not a mere inert and alien residue locked into the material world and longing to transcend it, but it is an attribute that retains its endowment of divine power to bring about change in the world and in the self.
Magic and alchemy were two such strategies, and astrology was a third. All lent themselves to debased and superstitious practices, but at their loftiest they brought together imagination, will, reason, and knowledge to constitute a powerful spiritual force.
Soul, in its essence, is a divine spark and the Call to gnosis, sometimes referred to as the Call of Soul, is the awakening to that spiritual potential. In many systems this is facilitated by a great revealer whose origin is in the highest heavens.. (Please note that soul in the above paragraph refers to the spark of individualized spiritual essence that dwells within the consciousness or mind.)
The world is often seen as a training ground or prison for soul as it seeks spiritual liberation, a return to its true home in the Pleroma or realms of pure spirit beyond the physical and psychic regions of matter, emotion and the mind. The true nature of Soul is as a divine spark which originally issued forth from the fountain-head of God.
Systems of gnosis often teach that only through the intercession of a messenger from the pure spiritual realms can the soul become acquainted with God. The original Greek word, gnosis, as noted above, meant knowledge in terms of being 'acquainted with'. The Gnostic in any form is a 'friend of God'.
A Historical Summary
A Gnostic religious-philosophical movement flourished during the first centuries of the current era. Although much of the academic interest in gnosis has focused on the early Christian versions, gnosis itself is an experience found at the heart of every religious tradition and cannot be singled out as applying to only one such tradition. An active debate among scholars about the origins of gnosticism and gnosis is a major focus of academic research and discussion.
The effects of the presence of Gnosticism as a systematized religious and spiritual practice were felt throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. These effects continue to be felt today. While much of the focus in Gnostic studies has been with the Christian forms of gnosis, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, pagan and other versions are also present in the historical and contemporary record. An active academic debate about the origins of gnosticism and gnosis is a major focus of many scholars. The discussion and study of gnosis as an approach to spirituality cannot be easily tied to any single religion.
Today, new schools of gnosticism such as the Ecclesia Gnostica have emerged in the West. The ancient movement still thrives in several Sufi orders of Islam. (The Arabic term for gnosis is marifat.) There are also strong Gnostic influences in Jewish Kabbalah, and in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Similar patterns are found in India in the teachings of the Fifteenth Century poet Kabir and in the Sikhism. There is also increasing interest in the marifat of Sufism in Islam.
As a field of academic study gnosticism has risen to prominence as a result of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library materials in Egypt in 1945 and earlier discoveries of Manichaean materials. This document is intended to serve as a foundation for a continuing serious exchange of information, questions and views about historical and contemporary gnosis, Gnostics and Gnosticism.
One of the aeonial beings who bears the name Sophia (Wisdom) is of great importance to the Gnostic world view. In the course of her journeyings, Sophia came to emanate from her own being a flawed consciousness, a being who became the creator of the material and psychic cosmos, all of which he created in the image of his own flaw. This being, unaware of his origins, imagined himself to be the ultimate and absolute God. Since he took the already existing divine essence and fashioned it into various forms, he is also called the Demiurgos or half-maker There is an authentic half, a true deific component within creation, but it is not recognized by the half-maker and by his cosmic minions, the Archons or rulers.
This document contains a general overview of gnosis. It should be read by anyone interested in understanding the what gnosis is and what differentiates it from other forms of mystic experience. Future editions of this document will include sections summarizing various schools of gnosis. Additional information is also available at most libraries by looking up Gnosticism or Sufism in the subject index.
The general overview of gnosis is not intended to be the last word or the definitive work on this subject. Rather it is, as its title implies, intended to provide the participant or reader with a set of guidelines that will familiarize them with the general use of the terms gnosis, ma'rifat, jnana, mystical ecstasy and other related terms. It will also review the trends, study and practice of historic and contemporary experience of gnosis.