A Gnostic View of Suffering Part 2
In the first part of this article, I presented the Gnostic worldview on suffering. It basically goes: “Welcome to Hell, can I take your order?” Suffering is embedded into the fabric of reality, and it is not going away.
Yet the ancient Gnostics offered solutions to suffering. The solutions had to do with taking astral flights across various times and places to procure healing revelation (really their solution to essentially everything, even parking tickets). This included many safaris to the past (and possible pasts as well). How they engaged in these mystic voyages is mostly a mystery, but it possibly involved theurgic rituals, active imagination, copious amounts of drugs, or just making sh*t up.
In any event, to understand and exorcise suffering, the Gnostic took these steps:
- Trace the various strains of iniquity back to their primordial source, all via Gnosis.
- Discover what cosmic trauma had caused the primordial source to infect the universe with suffering.
- Understand the reasons for the cosmic trauma, look past them, and thus unveil a prior and ideal existence beforehand that could be accessed as a healing font.
Some may see this as basic depth psychology put in mythic terms, as seen in such works as The Secret Book of John. It probably is. It is certainly plausible that the Gnostics intended their texts to double as mental therapy. After all, the Hermetic axiom goes “As Above, As Below,” so it would seem that “As Within, As Outside” would work as well.
This approach to fiercely access and face the past in order is exemplified in the Gospel of Thomas:
The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?”
Jesus said, “Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is.
Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”
For some reason, the above interplay between Jesus and his bumbling sidekicks, always reminds me of the also-wise words of a certain Adam-esque figure named Pinocchio:
Go to the beginning to get to the end. Find out what is real to know the pretend.
Pinocchio wanted to become human to find liberation; the Gnostics wanted to become living Christ’s to find liberation. And both agreed that to find existentialist relief one had to travel back in time and space.
This notion may seem radical to modern occult sensibilities sadly too steeped in the New Age and lukewarm spiritually. But it is really not that radical in true esoteric circles. In Revolutionaries of the Soul, Gary Lachman draws upon the insights of such occult luminaries as Colin Wilson and Hermann Hesse, making the case that “being in the now” is one of the most absurd states a human being can linger in. Accessing the energies of the past and future, in order to fuel expeditions into timeless realms, is the natural mark of any individual seeking an expanded state of consciousness. Lachman astutely writes that “in a very real sense, to “be here now” is something that imaginative human beings simply find a bore.”
I also should add something important to the Gnostic answer to combating suffering: Do the possible to alleviate the suffering of others. I deal more with this in Do Gnostics Believe in Charity and Good Works? In that sense, the Gnostics were not that different to other, more mainstream faiths.
This is all an elemental take on suffering through the Gnostic lenses, part of their formula to see through a glass darkly no more. I always liked the message of Valentinus in The Gospel of Truth, where he mythopoetically writes about the fog of error entering creation, causing havoc by instilling forgetfulness, separation, and ignorance upon every sentient being.
And I’m sure created many strains of iniquity, until we can retrace those tortuous steps back to beginning of so many ends.
Maybe I’m the one in the fog of error when it comes to suffering, but at least I accept that denial is no longer the location of a once-enlightened civilization and that Isis is no longer a savior goddess but the shadow-side of a frustrated Sophia. Suffering is everywhere in the universe.
Yet I have a fighting chance now that I have embraced the Gnostic worldview—the genesis of a mystic voyage away from the now where suffering takes its true seat.
Article inspired by recent episode with Scott Smith, where he further addresses the Gnostic view of suffering: