I’ve discussed aplenty the relevance of Gnostic philosophy in our modern times. If people can’t see the relevance of The Matrix and Philip K. Dick narratives — as well as the need for a Jungian inner journey paired with a Blakean fiery imagination to salvage our authentic selves — then, brother, that Blue Pill is lodged in your throat.
It is my hope that Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio has brought the right data and insights to waking individuals to the reality we linger in a faked world ruled by wickedness in high places. And that the right information will set us free into pastures of fertile, ecstatic praxis.
As Philip K. Dick wrote in VALIS:
We did not fall because of a moral error; we fell because of an intellectual error: that of taking the phenomenal world as real. Therefore we are morally innocent. It is the Empire in its various disguised polyforms which tells us we have sinned. “The Empire never ended.”
I also want to deliver what Mal says in the film Serenity to show the peril and opportunity of knowing you are innocent but falsely accused by the Demiurge:
I ain’t gonna kill ya. Hell, I’m gonna grant you your greatest wish. I’m going to show you a world without sin.
Having said (and quoted) all of this, I must explain that my understanding and the very study of Gnosticism have shifted, ultimately positioning Gnostic philosophy as even more relevant today. It seems the Gnostics have come full-ouroboros-circle when it comes to their threat and promise.
In short, this is a summary of how Gnostic studies evolved to become a crucial Red Pill for a psychically-malnourished civilization.
Shiny Happy Gnostics Scholarship
Back when I started Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio more than a decade ago, ancient Gnostics were perceived, in my view, as largely chill Christians who embraced reincarnation, sex-equality, and boilerplate mysticism. In fact, the Gnostics were often relegated to being merely “alternative” Christians.
What’s more, works like Rethinking Gnosticism by Michael Williams and What is Gnosticism? by Karen King even went further and questioned if there were any “Gnostics” in early Christianity — and should the term Gnosticism even be employed. Williams further proposed calling these alternative Christians “Biblical Demiurgists.”
Doesn’t roll off the tongue easy, does it?
Add to these perceptions the dated scholarship but enduring success of Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels, which doesn’t even mention the Archons once (except to quote the Nag Hammadi library’s Hypostasis of the Archons). What you had, I contend, was sterilized Christians that better fit a progressive agenda or ecumenical atmosphere. The Gnostics were, in essence, marketed as these nice, feminist, New Age fellas. They were part of Christendom, might have wagged their fingers here and there at conservative dogma, and eventually became marginalized by orthodoxy.
The word “defanged” comes to mind — something history has always done to the Gnostics when not branding them as evil-doers that want to eat babies and sodomize the minds of church-goers.
Don’t get me wrong. The scholars I just mentioned are brilliant. I’m also not saying the Gnostics didn’t own the doctrines above — but their work and the modern trending views limited the Gnostic ethos and whitewashed them to fit an agenda of inclusion.
I feel that’s a gross mischaracterization. I’m not alone in this view. Friends with far more brilliant minds like Jim West and Chris Knowles have shared the same position in private conversations.
And a shifting paradigm proved us right.
Subversive Gnostics Scholarship
About seven years ago came a wave of scholars who, I feel, truly distilled the spirit of ancient Gnosticism, in a way refurbishing the primordial Gnostic scholarship of such thinkers as Hans Jonas and Kurt Rudolph. This wave included David Brakke (The Gnostics), Nicola Denzey Lewis (Introduction to “Gnosticism”), Dylan Burns (Apocalypse of the Alien God), and April DeConick (The Gnostic New Age).
These academics not only moved the needle rapidly to establishing Gnosticism as a separate category but accentuated the transgressive vibe of the ancient Gnostics. The Gnostics were indeed part of the early Christian conversation, often embedded in mainstream communities and churches, but also provided a radical view of the cosmos and the nature of man that the world had never seen before.
As an illustration, Burns said in our interview:
I think that “Gnosticism” is a modern term that we scholars can make up and use as we like, much as we make up other words we use to describe the phenomena of the ancient or pre-modern world like “Philosophy” or “Religion” for which there are no exact equivalences in the ancient or pre-modern world but things that may be similar or useful to categorize using this term or another today. In other words, Gnosticism is not something that existed per se in the ancient world. People didn’t walk around talking about Gnosticism 2000 years ago.
There’s no word “Gnosticism” in Greek or Latin but there are discrete phenomena that may be useful for us to call Gnosticism and these phenomena are related to individuals who were called “Gnostics” or were said to call themselves “Gnostics”…and the set of myths and ideas which seem to be associated with what we know about these individuals who were said to call themselves “Gnostics” may be usefully designated “Gnosticism” much as we might say that ancient philosophers talked about something called “philosophy” were people who did particular kinds of rituals in the ancient world were practicing something that we might want to call “religion” or bears a similarity to what we might call religion today.
Included in the reboot of Gnosticism is the very counterculture feature. As DeConick writes in The Gnostic New Age:
What I realized as I studied the Gnostic literature is that the Gnostic scriptures didn’t become forbidden scriptures. They were forbidden scriptures.
She further writes:
Gnostic movements are not about civic or familial duty. They are not a contest in appeasement or a placation of a God to be feared. They are not premised on attempts to secure God’s favorable judgment and recognition in order to procure a better life here or hereafter. They are about the renewal of the human as God and the wielding of this personal power to forge a better life in the here and now and forever after.
Ancient Gnostic movements and religions reoriented the focus of religion from the welfare of the gods to the health and well-being of humans, who were not meant to submit to the gods of this world but to vanquish them.
That’s controversial on its own, isn’t it?
And far from the sterilized version of Gnosticism we got at the beginning of this century.
I mean, removing the gods, who fueled the universe and human civic culture, would be akin to these days someone unplugging the internet for a few months. And even today, relegating creator gods to Bond villains doesn’t go well with a majority of the world.
But the subversive Gnostic vibe is positively engaging for a population that increasingly understands that the stakes are high and the rot goes all the way to the top.
Six aethyrs of separation
Both Erik Davis and Gordon White have mentioned in the past that what separates the ancient Gnostics from other emanation-divine-mind groups of their era (Neoplatonists, Hermeticists, Neopythagoreans, etc.) was their introduction of Archons. Taking this element out, as Davis explained at the Gnostic America Conference, makes Gnosticism just another form of perennialism (or “see no evil” Egypto-Hellenistic-Judeo esotericism). What’s more, the Gnostics made most of the universe an extension of the Archons, thereby ramping up the rebellious and edgy and existentialist.
Sorry, Mal, but that means there is a lot of work to be done to show humanity a world without sin — since it’s all sin, as a matter of fact (I’m looking at you, Floyd fans).
But going back to the Dick quote, we are all innocent and simply need the right information to save us. Then we light the mechanistic universe with our divine spark and the shamanistic war against the Archons really gets going.
At least this new paradigm in Gnostic studies is not an intellectual error.
Please help keep this Red Pill Cafeteria open. We are 100% audience supported: