A considerable amount has been written on Philip K. Dick’s interest in Gnosticism, including its influence on his groundbreaking fiction. Much of the interest was written by Philip K. Dick himself, as I reveal in Philip K. Dick’s Own Definition of Gnosticism.
In fact, let me quote Dick on how deeply immersed he was on the ethos of the ancient heretics (from his voluminous The Exegesis, Dick’s personal contemplations on many esoteric subjects):
I am too far into Gnosticism to back out. The idea of Jesus opening Adam’s eyes and bringing him to consciousness, the re-linking to the lost primordial state through the Gnosis, the unflinching facing of evil in the world and knowing it cannot have come from (the Good) God — and the Salvador Sylvanus — man as cut off from part of the Godhead.
Why the interest, though? Fr. John Garvey explains the reasons superbly in this article:
Dick’s paranoid vision is a unique, sad, funny, and—in its strange and sometimes very moving manner—even ennobling way to think about what we are meant to be as humans. In his later work, Dick’s outlook became deeply, even explicitly, informed by a Gnostic sense of the struggle to be fully human. Ancient Gnosticism was, among other things, concerned with the dilemma of humanity trapped in delusion, imprisoned in a world ruled by malign and unseen forces—a recurrent theme in Dick’s work.
It’s no secret knowledge that Dick’s two main concerns in his stories were to understand the nature of reality and what it was to be a human being—two obsessions that also soak the Nag Hammadi library and other Gnostic writings.
But there is more on Dick’s affinity to the Gnostics, namely the Aeon Sophia (the personified wisdom of the Alien God outcast in the earthly domains). This Gnostic goddess seems to have a special spot in Dick’s often tormented heart, as she did 2000 years ago for the Sethians, Valentinians and other Gnostic schools of thought. I won’t elaborate more, instead quoting from The Exegesis of Philip K Dick (Page 203):
It is Gnosticism and Gnosticism alone which denies the patriarchal Jewish-Christian religion and enshrines Sophia as the creator goddess. So says Neumann in the EB. My experience of the lady—it is exactly Gnostic. None else. In my revelations all roads and aspects lead to her; this is Gnosticism.
I’ve seen her, heard her, in many guises, and finally the name “St. Sophia.” Gnostic revelation has broken through into my head in the modern world. I think anyone versed in Gnosticism who read my notes would say, “You’re a Gnostic.” I am not happy about this, but it is so, based on 3-74. Simon Magus lives. Also, it is a thoroughly Greek syncretistic system. I must go where truth (as I’ve experienced) takes me; my experience is of St. Sophia. Well, this is a modified Gnosticism, with Sophia sanctified as Wisdom of Proverbs and the book “Wisdom,” so that it can be made to jibe with the Bible; thus Christ become the female spirit Sophia in a male body, a syzygy. Ah! Yes! This is the complete person! The missing half which Plato wrote about. In Jungian terms, psychological completeness; psychic integration. Not either-or but both-and. At least; the repressed female goddess Prinzip breaks through into Christianity, in a Third Testament or Covenant. Father (OT), Son (NT) and daughter or mother (3rd T). The first emanation from God, according to the OT, so I guess daughter as demiurge (cf. Plato). The Godhead remains behind her; I experienced that; she is the Pantocrator. Ma’at. Or rather Pantocratix. Two aspects differ from Gnosticism: it is Holy Wisdom, not just Sophia; and: she was born before and rejected, which identifies her with Christ, hence the Logos. This restores the cosmological quality to the system, lost in Gnosticism; the creating spirit (universe creating) is holy and good, not fallen (blech). And this maintains Christ correctly as the Redeemer and Revealer.
In this passage, Dick veers away from the more negative outlook of the Gnostics, contemplating that the power of the Aeon Sophia might restore soundness to an unbalanced universe. It’s hard to assume this was Dick’s prevalent view, however. After all, like any skilled mythmaker, Dick tended to move the spiritual goalposts in his personal and professional narratives. As an example, in his novel Valis, the Aeon Sophia ultimately fails to bring any succor to the cosmos, ostensibly becoming another failed savior deity.
But moving the spiritual goalposts in mythmaking is a nuanced way of understanding both the nature reality and what it is to be human. As Joseph Campbell wrote:
Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths. By finding your own dream and following it through, it will lead you to the myth-world in which you live. But just as in dream, the subject and object, though they seem to be separate, are really the same.
Therefore, in Valis and the quoted passage I presented, Dick and Aeon Sophia are one and the same. The reader is also the Aeon Sophia—both representing the eternal chronicle of the soul’s fall into the material domains—as well as the sacred and profane quest of self-knowledge and the knowledge of all manifest realities.
In essence, like the Aeon Sophia in Valis, we are all failed savior deities on that sacred and profane quest. We will never defeat or save this universe. And worse, as Ernest Hemingway wrote during a Gnostic mood in A Farewell to Arms:
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
Salvation thus lies only in mythmaking. It lies in writing our own stories instead of having our existences ghostwritten by hating angels and their slaves in the establishment.
After all, according to the Gnostics, we are the lost shards of the Alien God who forgot his own story, fragments of divine information scattered in a poorly-written story called Creation. In the Divine Invasion, Dick encapsulates the plight of humanity and the Aeon Sophia when describing the defeat of the fallen angel, Belial, who “lay broken everywhere, vast and lovely and destroyed. In pieces, like damaged light.”
In between understanding the nature of reality and what it is to be a being a human—in that dream world bardo—we will encounter the Aeon Sophia and continue, like Dick, on the greatest adventure: restoration of the story of the Alien God of the Gnostics.
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Check our interview with Anthony Peake on the life of Philip K. Dick (discussion starts at minute 16:00). Download/Listen to an audio presentation of Dick’s Cosmogony & Cosmology (print version only found in rare copies of Valis)
Cosmology & Cosmogony by Philip K. Dick