I truly enjoyed a recent episode with Andrew Phillip Smith on the Mandaeans, the last remaining Gnostic sect from antiquity. Andrew’s keen research has enriched the field of Gnosticism for decades. More important, I feel the Mandaeans deserve much more attention today, especially due to their terrible plight in Iraq and its brutal proxy wars.
Mandaeism is a living religion bursting with fascinating mythology and magic (and loads of magic realism). I contend this Gnostic religion provides some forgotten gods that could be very useful for today’s culture where imagination, inventiveness, and wonder are evanescing under the crushing gravitational pull of global idiocracy caused by the Archons of this age.
Particularly one god.
The Gnostic Mandaeans
First, let me recap our interview, where Andrew discussed his latest book John the Baptist and the Last Gnostics. As the title says, the Mandaeans are indeed Gnostic, much more than ever assumed before according to the latest scholarship. Here are some of the Gnostic characteristics that permeate Mandaean culture:
- A cosmology and cosmogony that could comfortably fit in the Nag Hammadi library or come out of the mouth of the Prophet Mani.
- A negative view of astrology and fate.
- An emanation theology that originates with a supreme yet alien God (the Great Life).
- Powers of darkness that sabotage the soul’s ascent to the Great Life.
- A concept of Gnosis (Mandaeans, after all, means Gnostic).
- A view of the Platonic Demiurge that is less than positive.
Furthermore (and just as fascinating), the Mandaeans possess the Gnostic propensity for deconstructing and inverting Abrahamic luminaries (like putting Cain or Judas in a positive role). The Mandaeans go even further, casting Gnostic heroes as villains! Here are some examples found in their sacred texts:
- Sophia (called Ruha) becomes a ruthless demon queen terrorizing the cosmos.
- Jesus is cast as an apostate Mandaean whose magical shenanigans end up destroying Jerusalem, the original home of the Mandaeans.
Like many Gnostic sects, the Mandaeans viewed Moses in a negative light (basically a good fellow who was duped by rebellious angels); but they go even further, rooting for the Egyptians to chase the Israelites off the face of the earth.
All of this is merely a snapshot of Mandaean folklore. I posted the interview with Andrew at the end of this article where you can find much more on these Gnostics including their rituals. Certainly check out Andrew’s thought-provoking, third-eye-opening John the Baptist and the Last Gnostics.
Let’s get to the main event (or worship).
The Coolest and Most Relevant God for Our Age
His name is Dinanukht. As Andrew writes in his book:
Dinanukht is a being who is half-man half-book and able to read himself.
How cool is that? Forget gods with bestial features or good Caucasian looks! I’ll explain exactly why, but here is a picture of the mighty Dinanukht from original Mandaean art:
According to Mandaean myth, Dinanukht sits by the waters in between worlds reading himself. Now that’s a powerful symbol of education, self-knowledge, and Gnosis in general. This deity doesn’t just navel gaze in eternity, though. In one tale, he battles another half-man, half-book god named Disai (perhaps a symbol for other polemical religious texts). In another story, Dinanukht travels the heavenly realms towards the Great Life, ultimately failing after being thwarted by the seductive Ruha.
Andrew further writes:
There is surely no other story in the whole of mythology about a half-man half-book who makes an incomplete ascent of the soul!
Dinanukht is not only intriguing but relevant in a time when self-exploration and reading are being strangled by the average Social Media feed or celebrity Instagram photo. Even better, the Gnostic myth can be rebooted by switching Disai into an even worse Archon: The Kindle—representing the ignorance-inducing, soul-trapping powers of the technocracy that controls society.
Picture Dinanukht and Kindle battling it out, hopefully not in a film directed by Michael Bay.
As a Bonus, Another Cool-Ass Mandaean Deity
Sometimes gods arrive not to save our souls but to make things nice on a planet where evolved monkeys have been warring for millennia. Therefore, another Mandaean god that could be very beneficial today would the demon Krun. No, he’s not imposing like Set or enigmatic like Lucifer. Krun, according to Mandaean myth, is just a “great hill of flesh who has no bones.”
Here is a modern representation of Krun, followed by his description:
Krun is the greatest of the five Mandaean lords of the underworld, the others being Shdum, Hagh, Gaf, and Zartai-Zartani, according to the 5th book of the right half of the Great Treasure (Ginza Rba) of the Mandaeans, their most sacred text.
He is represented by the image of a lion on the skandola talisman, which is used to seal the graves of the newly dead, but according to an oral account collected by E.S. Drower, his appearance is that of a giant louse.
If the above graphic doesn’t work for you, we can always find a proxy from the Deities & Demigods and its presentation of Shub-Niggurath from the Cthulhu mythos:
If that doesn’t work, how about this:
Or maybe not. Use your imagination before the Archons of this age crush it.
In any event, wouldn’t Krun be a great mediator in the eternal and intense war between Vegetarians and Meat Eaters? Jesus gave his blood, but Krun would grant everlasting meat while sparing innocent animals.
Is there anything those Gnostic gods can’t do?
I understand that these mentioned gods and the overall Mandaean mythology may seem just bizarre to many. Yet there was a method to the madness of the Gnostics. In a New York Times article, William T. Vollmann wrote the ethos and purpose of Gnostic scriptures:
As a corpus, the scriptures are nearly incoherent, like a crowd of sages, mystics and madmen all speaking at once. But always they call upon us to know ourselves.
To the Gnostic, finding that self-knowledge that liberates us from Samsara is a supreme endeavor. That is Gnosis, in essence. Reading books is a chief way to find any liberating information—not Facebook posts, tweets, or Netflix binge-watching. Lastly, reading carefully the story that is your life—partly ghostwritten by hating angels—is another avenue for liberation for you will understand the plot fully (if it’s not from a Kindle screen that makes referencing so difficult).
In Gnosticism, the best way to worship a god is to become like that god. Regardless, I can’t think of a better god than Dinanukht, even if it’s for a parody religion (but aren’t they all one in the end?). After all, the idea of sitting in a bardo between realities reading a book seems like Paradise to me. But in a world of false wisdom and weird wars on all sides, reading anything deeply, gaining any valuable information is exceedingly difficult.
No ever said Gnosis would be easy; no one said knowing yourself would be easy. And Krun is always looking for his pound of flesh. So all I can say is:
All Hail Dinanukht!
The Secret History of the Mandaeans