I have been vastly enriched by the work of Gary Lachman. Beyond his keen enquiry on Western Esoterica, Gary’s historical research on consciousness intersects well with my research on Gnosis.
(As an example of how Gary’s views have influenced me, you can find how Gnosis and consciousness intersect in this article I wrote on the Hermetic tradition.)
Gary’s latest book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, continues to inform my views on Gnosis, as well as historical Gnosticism. Some of you may wonder what does a biography of Colin Wilson have anything to do with the ancient Gnostics.
A lot, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The Gnostic as the Outsider
Wilson, of course, is known for his groundbreaking book, The Outsider, where he delineates a special breed of individual who perennially went against the very grain of manifest existence. Sound familiar? It certainly sounds like the ethos of ancient Gnostics—those rebellious mystics (as I argue in this article) who throughout history found themselves as the ultimate Outsider of all religions, governments, and even societies.
But talk is cheap, and blogging almost as cheap, so please allow me to quote a passage from Beyond the Robot that connects the Outsider to the Gnostic (and Gnosis to consciousness):
The Outsider is someone who sees “too deep and too much” and that most of what he sees is “chaos.” He or she lives in the world with a sense of “strangeness” and “unreality.” The safe, stable reality that most of us perceive is for the Outsider an illusion, a façade obscuring a more dangerous and threatening possibility: that of nothingness, nihilism, and the void, the complete inconsequentiality of human life and all its achievements. For the Outsider, the values and meanings that constitute life for most people—A good job, a big home, a nice bank account—are empty and makeshift; they are, at best, “attempts to gloss over, to make look civilized and rational something that is savage, unorganized, irrational.” He stands for Reality. He seeks a meaning and purpose that the everyday world cannot provide and his salvation lies in understanding this and embracing it with total conviction.
For anyone who has listened to Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio—and all its hundreds of lauded guests—I think you’ll see the plight of the Gnostic described in this passage.
The Gnostic as the New Existentialist
Furthermore, Wilson wrote The New Existentialism. The book, in essence, argued for a separate type of Existentialism beyond the secular type that defined much of the postmodern angst of a nascent nuclear age. The New Existentialism placed a mystic experience or consciousness-expansion right in the middle of the “darkness of mere being” CG Jung wrote about and Jean-Paul Sartre got nauseated over. The Gnostics called it the Divine Spark: the infinite yet dormant shard of unbound potential lost within a predatory universe and our own robotic existences. Like the Outsider, the New Existentialist and Gnostic found the Divine Spark and the seemingly-impregnable prison around it—embracing both “with total conviction.”
I see this ontological approach as very positive, mind you. I feel both Lachman and Wilson would agree.
This is a very important point I cannot stress enough: The Gnostics were never really about world-rejection, reality-denying, or universe-transcendence. They were about freedom. Complete and absolute freedom from the constraints of the material world in all its grand illusions (borrowing from Styx). The Gnostic “stands for Reality” and does something about it.
As in the past, I’ll quote Erik Davis from his book, Nomad Codes:
The Neoplatonist’s ascent through the spheres, the Gnostics’ sudden awakening, the desert monk’s rejection of the elan vital—is not simply a philosophical error or the mark of patriarchy, but is fired by an intensely lucid yearning of the highest of goals: liberation.
Or as Gary writes on Wilson’s early moments of Gnosis in another section of Beyond the Robot:
It’s a recognition that “life does no lead to anything,” but is an “escape from something.”
An escape from the nausea of temporality and into the Divine Spark, I would say.
The Gnostic as the Gnostic
It’s only when you realize how bad things are you can start doing something about it (borrowing this time from Jeremy Puma). You can do the things you need to do to find breathing room in the vacuum of a dying universe. And help those you need to help. No person is entirely free if others are in chains. All of this is the way of the Outsider and New Existentialist—from Blake to Hesse, from Dostoyevsky to Nietzsche, from Goethe to Proust.
It’s also the way of the Gnostic. And it’s very positive because of that highest of goals: liberation. Even if, as Andrew Phillip Smith said in his book John the Baptist and the Last Gnostics, Gnosticism is “a religion of the underdog.”
That’s fine. I’d rather be the underdog Outsider and in the company of the thinkers I mentioned—even if I pay a price like they did. I’d rather be that Outsider that, as Wilson writes, sees “too deep and too much.” I’d rather be an Outsider than an insider in the establishment—selling my humanity for that “good job, a big home, a nice bank account.”
I’d rather be free. I’d rather go beyond the robot and into Mr. Robot.
How about you?