By Alexander Maistrovoy
Last September we rested in Lombardy. Then, after the merciless heat and political cataclysms of the Holy Land, it seemed that this place itself was prepared by God for peace and harmony. The shady streets of Bergamo, squares full of cafes, restaurants and shops; steeples and domes of the Old city against the backdrop of the Alps; sedate, restrained and friendly people; the amazing castles of Brescia and Sirmione – everything breathed goodness and tranquility. Could someone imagine that in six months this paradise would turn into hell, where tens of hundreds of people would die every day? Today, looking back, I can’t stop wondering how swiftly the colors of this wonderful world have changed! How incomprehensible and unpredictable is life! Here he is Abraxas in all his horror! “Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness, in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible.”, as Jung famously described it.
… A drama unfolding before our eyes, a pandemic that kills the lives of tens of thousands of people, makes us return to the meaning of being again. To the knowledge that Valentine wrote about: ‘What liberates is the knowledge of who we were, what we became; where we were, where into we have been thrown; whereto we speed, wherefrom we are redeemed; what birth is, and what rebirth.’
In times of horror, chaos and confusion, we are much more acutely aware of the truth of Gnosticism. We understand why Gnostics are so strong despised this ‘vale of suffering’ where everything was permeated with grief, misery, lies, and injustice and where merciless fate (Heimarmene), and not the mind or the conscience, ruled. We understand the depth and truth of Gnosticism.
Paradoxically, but perhaps future generations would recall the current pandemic as an insignificant link in the chain of endless misfortunes of mankind. Indeed, the last two generations in the West are too got used to relative security and well-being; it have generated ridiculous idealism and deprived us of a realistic view of the world.
But the world has not changed and reality has not become less gloomy. As before the humankind is a part of living nature. Elements of the environment suppress humans. Like ants, they are swept away by a gigantic tsunami wave; like bugs, they are squashed by earthquakes; diseases and epidemics cut them down; wounds, fear, and the agony of death torment their bodies and souls. Millions of forces hold them hostage. Like scared and mortally wounded animals, they dart around, trying to find refuge, trampling on their brothers and sisters and inventing increasingly new ways of survival where survival seems impossible.
And, as if all this was not enough, ‘the horror of history’, according to Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade, relentlessly persecutes them like a monster, from century to century taking the shape of increasingly new, unexpected, and frightening forms: pandemics and famine, conquests and empires’ disintegration, tyrannies and wars, invasions and genocides, ethnic cleansings and revolutions. And it’s not difficult to understand why the lives of so many people constitute endless and unbearable tortures.
With their bodies, people pave the path to the future for their descendants who, in their turn, are headed for new and no-less-complicated ordeals. The ‘bridge of life’ of locusts, walking and flying in search of food over the corpses of their fellow creatures—how is it different from human history? What is the difference between gigantic human communities and multi-thousand herds walking to the crossing where they are being awaited by predators? There is the same goal—to reach a new pasture at any cost, and it doesn’t matter how many living creatures, butchered, dying of their wounds, and deprived of their offspring, are left on the other bank.
Being carried by the wave of events, together with thousands, like living grains of sand, humans search for an escape from the trap. They have to move forward. They try to change reality, sometimes even struggling to realize what these changes bring them, all for the sake of breaking free from the pitiful ‘closet’ where fate imprisoned them. These incredible efforts—at times chaotic, at times organized—lead to changes, improvements, and splendid achievements, although almost always at the cost of unthinkable sacrifices and inconceivable losses.
But—and this is crucial—humankind cannot stop this movement, and – once again – there is a keen moment of Demiurge’s plan. The cruel paradox of human development is this: whilst freeing themselves from the snares of nature; perfecting social laws; inventing technological marvels; learning to manage diseases, hunger, and cataclysms; acquiring comfort and prosperity, humans are unable to overcome themselves. Their race is, first of all, an escape from their own selves, which is beyond their control.
Humans are the fruit of a calibrated combination of the same factors that govern the animal kingdom. As we know, living nature is regulated by the laws of survival. An eternal mortal fear combined with a self-preservation instinct makes living beings perfect, as they, from generation to generation, hone the ways of survival. For example, a certain insect plays dead when danger is nearby, a bird dives down to escape the talons of a hawk, a quail feigns lameness to lead a fox away from the nest, a hare doubles speed when fleeing from the predator. Similar rules govern the human world.
Three demons of nature hold humankind hostage, crucifying people on an invisible cross:
- the vulnerability of matter,
- the call of sex,
- and a feverish desire to possess.
Furthermore, humans possess not only intellect, like animals, but also self-consciousness. The laws of the animal world are projected onto the most delicate mental structure. Imagination, conscience, vanity, the pain of loss, and a taste for analysis turn life for humans into a purgatory, and sometimes even hell. People are thrown into a moral dilemma; they are driven by the need for self-realization in society; a constant fight for survival; ruthless competition; the horror of loneliness and dissatisfaction; an unrestrained flight of imagination and attraction to a mystery; an urge to submit to force and at the same time to defend one’s dignity; the ability to create boundless complexes and reflections as well a confused, dark, and controversial inner world.
Humans must have self-identification, and they are prepared to do anything for the sake of it. Passion, fight, grievance, envy, and jealousy possess people. Heroism and self-sacrifice, novelty and thrills attract them however hard they try to force themselves into Procrustes’ bed of constrained minds.
Is it any wonder that even in the absence of natural disasters, people created these disasters by their own hands?
For centuries, humankind tried to avoid wars. People believed that this evil that caused so much grief and suffering could be exterminated by means of getting rid of social vices. Kant believed that monarchy and despotism lay at the heart of wars; Rousseau and consequently Marx were convinced that the root of all evil was in private property, oppression, and injustice; Kropotkin named big cities as the cause of captures and aggression. Erich Fromm maintained that wars were brought forth by economic interests of the elite, and they stemmed from slave-owning societies with their aspiration to subjugate the neighboring states and capture as many slaves and as much property as possible.
All these theories did not withstand the test of time. Wars—no less cruel and bloody—were made long before the existence of slave-owning societies, monarchies, and tyrannies. They were made and are still being made (as it happened before our very eyes in Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo) by primitive tribal alliances that never had before—nor do they have now—any class divide, big cities, pernicious tyranny, or political machinery of suppression. In many cases, this was blood for the sake of blood, madness in the name of madness, atrocity for the sake of pleasure. The tribes of North America did not usurp any property but passionately killed and tortured their victims, scalping them alive and cutting off their heads only for the sake of binding them to their saddles. The hordes of Huns and subsequently Mongols whooshed through the expanse of Eurasia like a hurricane, burning and destroying everything in their path, but they never founded any big cities or took with them any property (it would become a burdensome load in their quests and was unnecessary for primitive nomads). Neither did they create any ‘class communities’. This was an ‘apotheosis of war’ for the love of war.
All scientists’ efforts to explain an upsurge in violence by natural factors also reached a dead end; it became evident that wars in the past were equally waged both in hungry, drought-ridden years and during periods of abundant harvest.
A French researcher of the medieval wars, Philippe Contamine, the author of the famous work War in the Middle Ages, made an effort to classify armed conflicts according to the reasons for their occurrence. He presented seven key reasons for war, and economic reason—war for the sake of usurpation, appropriation of enemy’s property and his resources—took the last line in this register.
Some inconceivable, insurmountable, delightfully painful fascination with war moved already modern, developed nations who had reached the peak of civilization. We can remember an inspired feverish anticipation of a bloody battle enchaining European capitals before the slaughter of World War I. This was total insanity, frantic madness, obsession with blood, intoxication with mutual hate. Related countries (what is more, related in a true sense, taking into account the kinship of the Houses of Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov, and Windsor) were longing to jump down each other’s throats, and it wasn’t a turf war—as the spheres of influence could be simply divided if so desired—that pushed Germans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Russians to the murderous furnace. Rather, it was the darkest, most irrational of animal instincts.
In our time, it appears inconceivable that hundreds—even thousands—of young men and women leaved their quite functional, well-to-do families and countries and thrust themselves towards Iraq or Syria to join the ranks of the followers of jihad. They risked their very lives, subjected themselves to unimaginable suffering, but crave the ‘bloody brotherhood’ in which they can realize their secret desires.
This is not surprising. The façade of civilization is ephemeral. It evaporates like the morning dew at the first rays of the sun at the moment when humans receive permissiveness, when moral prohibitions slip and cultural codes are declared invalid. Genocides and ethnic cleansings, which swept through the Europe of the last century at the peak of Western culture, as well as the Milgram experiment of Yale University and Stanford prison experiment are all sad confirmation of this.
Human aspirations to achieve happiness and harmony, the most sublime ideas inevitably run against base nature of human being, forcing him or her to flee from himself. This is a bitter paradox, but a negative or a positive (from the point of view of a spiritual ideal) content of this or that idea does not matter whatsoever. Nazism, which divided people according to the purity of their race, seems to be an antipode of communism, which promised people equality and brotherhood, a paradise here and now at an arm’s length of one or two generations. But both ideologies have one and the same denominator, and this denominator encompasses power, repression, hate, barracks for slaves, and a pathological enjoyment of violence. The ideal of charitable Christian love is a heavenly temple over a swampy swale of idolatry and superstitions, but it is difficult to find deeper hideousness than that committed on behalf of Jesus and in the name of Jesus Christ. No matter how severe and wayward Babylon—the embodiment of pagan avarice—was, it never stooped to the irrational madness of the Church. Judeans and Muslims glorify a just, virtuous, and merciful Creator. Rome did not believe in one Creator, and its gods were militant and knew no mercy. But it never occurred to Romans to destroy and humiliate the ‘infidels’ only because they were infidels; they never made others change to their faith at the threat of torture and banishment; they did not stone for adultery; neither did they bury alive for sexual deviations. Their conditions were cruel but quite rational. While laying claim to power and resources, they did not seek to claim human souls. Monarchy transfers power to one person while democracy promises subjects freedom of choice and conscience. But would the twentieth century have known the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism if it had allowed strong absolutist monarchies (albeit more militarist ones like the regime of Frederick the Great or Nicholas I) to stay in power instead of giving the helm of state to the crowd—greedy, short-sighted, ignorant, unprincipled, and cowardly, inviting death and misfortunes?
Science seemed to be the salvation from the obscurantism of religion, but prevailing over the latter endowed itself with the ‘only true knowledge’ and turned into a ruthless persecutor.
Human ideas are not important for this Mathematician of the universe and the Alchemist of human spirit just as separate people are not important either. It’s not important for him what force drives individual people, human masses, and civilization. The script repeats itself; it is unchangeable: darkness, striving to escape from darkness, the idea of a saving staircase to light, encouraging contours of the building of the future, an acquisition, dusky conclaves of squalor and ignorance, the triumph of flesh and decay, darkness, grumble, revolt and, again, not-yet-formed hankering for light.
This again and again this brings us back to the original dilemma—the question Why?. Why the nonsense, absurdity, and gloomy onerousness of existence? Why the blatant injustice and cruelty of all living things?
If we want to live with dignity in the world of the Demiurge, we must understand his plan and its laws.
Gnosticism was the only religion that gave exhaustive answers for eternal questions of humankind: the reason for existence, the origin of evil, and the reasons for suffering. Humanity was created by the Demiurge the way it was meant to be created. Humans are the personification of the demiurge’s plan—perhaps not primarily evil but certainly flawed. However vague the purpose of this plan, pain, ordeals, and trials are the main ingredients of the ‘stew’ which we start tasting as early as childhood and stop consuming only when we leave this world. This is the constant equation, the meaning of which fully opens in history. Evil is not a whim or accident; neither is it the deficit of love or social injustice. It is the spring of the material world.
Despite the external pointlessness, ugliness, and randomness, human civilization presents an ideal formula, calculated and verified with the same meticulous accuracy that helped to lay the ideal physico-chemical development parameters for the material world. This imperative is in eternal movement; in the most precise, calibrated combination of suffering and will to live which encourages humankind to constantly and fatefully strive after happiness. Suffering has been made the focal point of the whole construction by default; it is an integral part of the gigantic living organism we call humankind. On the other hand, without the powerful survival instinct, our existence would be unbearable and odious. This combination is a perpetuum mobile—perpetual motion—of its kind: the eternal force of progress, however sacrilegious and cynical this sounds.
For Creator of this world, mass disasters, cataclysms and misfortunes – no matter man-made or not – are nothing more than fuel injected into this engine in order to make lazy biomass run faster.
The current pandemic is a cruel and fearsome reminder of an ominous reality. A reminder that we are cornered by the merciless laws of the Demiurge; that we are agonisingly cramped and frightened in ‘the closet of the Creator’. It’s a reminder of ‘How wide are the boundaries of these worlds of darkness!’ (the Ginza Rba, the book of the Mandaeans).
We, human beings, endowed with intellect, reason and will and are able to resist evil. We should not in any case turn into infantile children living in their pink dreams and in castles in the air. We must understand the laws of this world – merciless and inexorable. All of us are prisoners of the merciless Rock, Heimarmene, capable of crushing us at any moment and in any place, even so idyllic, like dear to my heart Bergamo.
And on other side we are endowed with souls—the pneuma — which can take them to other dimensions and worlds. We endowed with knowledge, and this knowledge frees us from the captivity of the Demiurge and his archons.
‘I went and found my soul—
What are to me all the worlds? …
I went and found Truth
As she stands at the outer rim of the worlds ….‘ said Adam said in Ginza Rba, when he woke up and acquired inner sight…
Author of “Gnosticism through the Prism of the Third Millennium: Or between God and the Creator” Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.