I truly enjoyed our episode on Gnostic cinema with Fryderyk Kwiatkowski. Modern Gnostic Gospels are just as important as ancient ones, I contend. While preparing for the interview (and we discussed it during the interview), I discovered a very approachable definition of Gnosticism in Fryderyk’s paper, How to Attain Liberation From a False World? The Gnostic Myth of Sophia in Dark City. Fryderyk draws the definition from the work Gnostic Religion in Antiquity by scholar Roelof van den Broek.
Van den Broek explains that the Gnostic religions is understood as a metaphysical phenomenon that flourished in the lofty myths of the 2nd and 3rd century that spread across the Roman Empire and the Middle East up to the Far East. Van den Broek enumerates four typical features of Gnosticism, easy to grasp by even Saklas, one of the names of the Demiurge in Gnostic texts that means childish or foolish god.
Without any more foolishness, here are the four typical features Fryderyk gleans from Van den Broek:
- A distinction is made between the highest, unknown God and the imperfect or plainly evil creator-god, who is often identified with the God of the Bible.
- This is often connected with an extensive description of the divine world (Pleroma), from which the essential core of human beings derives, and of disastrous “fall” of a divine being (Sophia, “Wisdom”), in this upper world.
- As a result, humankind has become entrapped in the earthly condition of oblivion and death, from which it is saved by the revelation of Gnosis by one or more heavenly messengers.
- Salvation is often actualized and celebrated in rituals that are performed within the gnostic community.
What do you think? Do these features satisfy your inner childish or foolish god? If you want some definitions with more sacrificial meat, take a look at my article where I document the definitions of some of the leading scholars in Gnosticism today:
When it comes to great thinkers (and a Gnostic to boot), I recommend Philip K Dick’s definition of Gnosticism. Of course, Gnosis is one of the central tenets — if not the very revelatory glue — of Gnosticism. So to grasp this spiritual tech, I suggest my other article:
When I began discovering the Gnostics many Isis moons ago, it took me a while to understand them. This was due to misinformation out there from New Age sensibilities; my old orthodox residue still causing psychic rashes; and, believe it or not, too much dependency on Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels — an important work but ultimately strapped with too much sociopolitical agenda. Once I dived directly into the mind of the Sethians and Valentinians, kept it simple, and, looping back to the beginning of this post, looked for the Gnostic ethos in movies like The Matrix, the definition of Gnosticism appeased my inner childish and foolish god — although he still tries to make things complicated once in a while with a tantrum of overthinking.
All of this doesn’t mean Gnosticism is easy to understand. Protean mythology, chameleon praxis, and nuanced philosophical stances make it far more complex. But the provided features and definitions are a proper cornerstone even the Archon-builders of this world will find hard to reject.
In between Saklas and Morpheus, I hope you find a working understanding of Gnosticism that works for your liberation. If not, make more popcorn for your next screening of Dark City or The Thirteenth Floor.
Help Abraxas (and yourself) out, and buy the book by Van den Broek